14 April 1912
Louis wakes up alone in a bed that’s too large, too soft, and he’s wearing far too little clothing.
He stretches, luxuriating in the feel of fine linens dragging over his bare skin. The room slowly comes into focus. Instead of a set of bunk beds mounted to white walls, he’s met with oak furnishings and red panels.
That’s right. I stayed with Harry. The memory of last night has something warm curling in his belly. There’s no regret, no guilt at all. It’s a pleasant surprise, and Louis finds himself wishing that Harry was still lying next to him.
“Oh, you’re awake.” Harry’s voice, gruff with sleep, draws Louis’ eyes toward the wardrobe.
Harry is dressed in his Sunday best, adjusting his cuff links as Louis’ gaze finds him. He smiles, wide and lazy, before holding his arms wide. “How do I look?”
Exquisite, in a word. A grey morning coat hugs Harry’s lithe body, tucking at the waist to flare over the striped trousers beneath. A perfectly knotted cravat peeks through his lapels, the striped material a little daring but somehow seeming perfect on Harry.
“Like you’re about to go somewhere without me,” Louis rasps, rolling himself up in the bedding. “Is it time for breakfast?”
“We’ve missed breakfast, I’m afraid,” Harry chuckles, moving to sit on the edge of the bed. “I’m going to the church service.” He bends down, pressing his lips against Louis’. It’s sweet and chaste, yet it still fuels the fire growing in Louis’ gut.
When they part, Harry is smiling dreamily, a dimple gracing his cheek like another accessory to his outfit. Louis can’t resist reaching out, taking Harry’s large hand in his own, feeling the hills and valleys and barely there scars, committing to memory the way he can feel Harry’s pulse speed up when he drags his fingers over the soft skin of Harry’s wrist.
“You’d kiss me and then go stand before God?” Louis murmurs, pointedly avoiding Harry’s eyes. He’s afraid of what he’ll find there, perhaps the dawning realisation of the sin they committed in this very bed.
Gentle fingers grasp Louis’ chin, lifting his face so that he’s looking straight at Harry. “Kissing you has brought me closer to God than any sermon ever could,” Harry replies quietly, stroking along the sharp line of Louis’ jaw, dusted with hair and in need of a shave.
Louis can’t help the way his breath hitches at Harry’s words. “You really believe that, don’t you?” he asks in awe.
The hand holding Louis’ is brought to smiling lips. “I meant it when I told you that this isn’t wrong, Lou.” Harry kisses Louis’ hand, oblivious to the shudder that courses through Louis’ body at the nickname. “I’ve made my peace with God. Were it not for the laws of man, I’d kiss you in the middle of the street, where everyone could see.”
A few more kisses to the back of his hand has Louis desperately wishing he could just pull Harry into bed and stay there for the rest of the trip. Instead, he interlocks their fingers, giving an affectionate squeeze before pulling away. “You might’ve made your peace, but you still don’t want to be late.”
Heaving a sigh, Harry brushes his lips against Louis’ forehead before climbing off the bed. “I’m afraid you’re right.” He runs his hands down his body, smoothing any wrinkles in his suit left from sitting down. “You’re welcome to stay here, of course. You can use the bath and my shaving things, and I’ll be back soon.”
“I could probably do with a bath,” Louis admits, wrinkling his nose. “We’ve only got the one in Third Class, and I don’t fancy sharing it with that many blokes.”
Harry frowns, looking at Louis incredulously. “You have one bathtub? For all of Third Class?”
Shifting under the intensity of Harry’s gaze, Louis nods. “Well, two—one for men and one for the ladies,” he explains. “Most of us just scrub up in our cabins.”
“Then I insist you use mine,” Harry says, shaking his head in disbelief. “The only people who have access to it are Gemma, my uncle, and myself, and we’ll all be at the service.” He pushes his mouth out in a pout. “Which I really must get to.” Ducking down one last time, he catches Louis’ lips in a kiss. “I hope you’ll be here when I get back.”
“I will, I swear it,” Louis vows, flapping his hand toward the door. “Now go, before your sister comes to collect you and finds a strange man in your bed.”
Harry mutters something under his breath that sounds suspiciously like ‘wouldn’t be the first time,’ but with one more dazzling smile he’s out the door, and Louis is left alone in the spacious stateroom.
He collapses back in the bed, savouring the warmth and the way he sinks into the mattress. Growing up poor wasn’t easy, but he never found himself wishing for things he couldn’t have. Now, though, having tasted luxury, the thought of crawling back into his own bunk with its thin blanket, no sheets save for the threadbare ones he brought from home, has Louis’ heart sinking down into his stomach.
That’s a worry for later, he scolds himself. For now, he has a First Class stateroom at his disposal, and the reminder of last night dried on his stomach makes a bath sound like an excellent idea.
A soak and a shave have Louis feeling like a new person, reborn into a life of fine silk and plush carpeting. It feels a bit inappropriate to lounge about Harry’s cabin in a state of undress, so Louis pulls back on the steward’s uniform. He can’t help smiling as he fastens the buttons, thinking that he owes Liam Payne a very heartfelt thank you for all his help. After all, it’s Liam who encouraged Louis to believe there was a chance that this could work, however small, and Louis had taken it.
By God if it didn’t seem like it was going to work out after all.
A sharp knock on the door pulls Louis from his thoughts. Surely Harry wouldn’t knock on his own door. Icy lines of fear spread over Louis’ chest, heart pounding loudly in his ears. It could be the steward, coming to change the linens, but certainly he’d know that Louis wasn’t where he belonged.
He only realises that the knock was coming from an interior door when it swings open.
At first he thinks it might be the door connecting to Gemma’s room—but then Charles Styles steps over the threshold, eyes narrowing as they land on someone other than Harry in his nephew’s room.
“Mr Tomlinson,” Charles speaks, slow like Harry, though the pace seems designed to intimidate, rather than indicating thoughtfulness behind his words. “I wasn’t expecting to find you here. And in uniform, no less.” He smiles, cold and calculating, and Louis feels like he could use another bath.
“Harry isn’t back yet,” Louis replies evenly, trying valiantly to keep the tremble from his voice. “I just came for a visit.”
Charles steps closer, reaching out to touch the sleeve of Louis’ jacket as if to test its authenticity, frowning when Louis flinches away. “I have to wonder what the officers on board would have to say about one of their stewards having an illicit relationship with a passenger,” Charles sneers, circling Louis like a wolf eyeing its prey. “Let alone a male passenger.”
“I would think that someone of your intellect would realise that such a scandal would reflect poorly on Harry as well,” Louis says coolly.
With a snarl, Charles pushes Louis up against the wall, fists tight in the fabric of his jacket. “You’d do well to hold your tongue, Tomlinson,” he says, spittle flying from his lips. “You’re going to leave, now, and forget all about my nephew. Do that, and it might just slip my mind that I found you in his room. Understood?”
Louis wants to scream, to fight, to promise he won’t forget Harry as long as he lives, but in reality he doesn’t have much of a choice. Slumping forward, he nods weakly, tears pricking at the corners of his eyes as the fight goes out of him. If he doesn’t do exactly as Charles says, he’ll be arrested—and not only for impersonating a steward. Worse, Harry would be in danger as well. Surely this isn’t worth that.
Louis isn’t worth that.
The hands gripping his jacket ease up, Charles smoothing out the material from where it was bunched in his fists. “I thought you might see things my way,” he says, finally taking a step back.
“Harry deserves better family than you,” Louis spits, one last moment of bravery before his retreat. All it serves to do is make Charles laugh, his beady eyes rolling skyward.
The man plods to the door leading outside, holding it open for Louis. “That may be true, boy, but at least I’m blood. You’re nobody. Harry would have tossed you away the second we got to shore, just like he tossed away that James fellow.”
Louis freezes on the spot, ice trickling through his veins. “No, he loved James. James was sent away,” he argues, fear clenching his heart like a vice.
“And I’m sure he’ll tell the next one he loved you,” Charles gloats, gesturing impatiently at the door. “Goodbye, Mr Tomlinson.”
It takes every bit of strength Louis possesses not to react, brushing past Charles and all but running toward the stairway Liam showed him what feels like ages ago. He holds it together as best he can, taking each step with ragged breaths and a racing mind, heart aching both because he’ll never see Harry again—and because maybe he doesn’t want to, if Charles’ words hold any truth.
Finally the emergency door leading to the Third Class corridor comes into view, and that’s where Louis’ legs give out. He crumples into a heap at the bottom of the stairs, sobbing quietly and feeling lonelier than he has since he watched England fade into the distance.
It could be minutes or hours later when a pair of strong hands pulls Louis to his feet. His first thought is that Harry’s come to find him, to tell him that Charles was lying, and to kiss away the tears streaking his cheeks.
Instead of green, though, he’s met with the fearful brown eyes of Liam Payne.
“M– Mr Payne? What are you doing here?” Louis winces at how pathetic he sounds, but Liam merely offers him a handkerchief, pushing it into his hand when Louis hesitates.
“I could ask the same of you,” Liam says, clasping a hand on Louis’ shoulder and moving his fingers in soothing circles as the other man noisily blows his nose. “What’s happened? Were you caught?”
The entire conversation replays itself in Louis’ head for what must be the hundredth time. With a wounded sound, Louis drops the sodden handkerchief and begins tearing at the uniform, undoing the buttons as fast as his trembling fingers will allow. “Here, take this,” he says in a low voice, shoving the jacket roughly at Liam. “I won’t be needing it anymore.” He ignores Liam’s confused gaze to work on the trousers, not caring that he has nothing else to wear, when he feels the weight of Harry’s watch in the pocket. “Damn it!” he howls, dropping hard on the steps and sobbing into his hands like a child.
“Shh, it’s all right,” Liam’s voice says close to Louis’ ear, the steward lowering himself on the step next to Louis. “Is there something I can do? Shall I go get your clothes for you?”
Louis nods, but clutches at Liam’s arm before he can leave. “Could– could you do something else for me?”
“Anything you need, Mr Tomlinson,” Liam says gently, smiling patiently at the broken wreck of a man on the steps below him. “Anything in my power.”
He shouldn’t ask, but he has to know the truth, has to make sure Harry knows the truth. “Could you please get a message to the man I’ve been visiting in First Class?”
“I can certainly try,” Liam replies. “What’s the gentleman called?”
“Harry Styles,” Louis says in a rush, both scared and relieved at finally sharing the name with another person.
If Liam recognises the name, he doesn’t let on, nodding earnestly as he asks, “And what would you like me to tell Mr Styles?”
Harry Styles is no saint, but usually he’s capable of sitting through a church service.
Today, however, he finds himself nearly groaning with each new hymn. He’s hungry, and tired, and—most importantly—he has a very lovely man back in his stateroom. His sister catches on to his disquiet, elbowing him as discretely as possible, but Harry barely notices. At least Charles is nowhere to be seen, and for that he offers a silent prayer of thanksgiving, before returning to his quarters in his imagination.
Just thinking of Louis makes the time pass faster, and before he knows it the service has ended and stewards are rushing to set the Dining Saloon back up for the next meal.
“Lovely service, wasn’t it?” a smooth voice asks in his ear, making Harry jump. He turns to find Gemma eyeing him curiously, a knowing smile on her face. “Not that you heard a word of it.”
Chuckling, Harry holds out his arm, waiting for Gemma to take it before leading the way back to their rooms. “Am I that obvious?”
She titters, squeezing his arm fondly. “Only to me, I think.” She stops at the foot of the Grand Staircase, looking him up and down. “It’s wonderful to see you like this. It’s been far too long.”
“Happy,” she replies simply, taking his arm again as they ascend the magnificent stairs.
His lips turn upward of their own accord. “I am happy,” he tells her, lowering his voice in case any prying ears are nearby. “I think I’m in love with him, Gems.”
Gemma doesn’t break her stride, but her eyes crinkle with how widely she’s smiling, and she looks so, so much like their mother. It feels as if Harry’s getting both of their approval.
“Don’t let him get away, then,” Gemma replies, just as quietly. “Anyone who pleases you this much is worth keeping around.”
“I don’t intend to,” Harry assures her. “He’s waiting in my cabin, actually.” His heart swoops at the thought of coming back to Louis, coming home to him. It’s enough to give him the courage to tell Louis how he feels. He swallows hard, mouth suddenly dry around the words. “I’m going to tell him when I get there. That I love him.”
By the time Harry is standing in front of his door, Gemma bundled into her stateroom with a kiss on the cheek and promises to see her later, Harry’s grinning like a man possessed.
The person he loves is on the other side of this door, and he’s going to tell him. He’s always been a bit of a romantic, a notion he thought had died when he realised he would never take a wife. Now, with Louis in his life, suddenly everything he ever dreamt of seems possible. There’s a happy ending just within reach and, by God, Harry’s going to grasp for it.
It doesn’t strike him as peculiar when the door opens to an empty room. The door to the bathroom is closed, light creeping underneath, and the thought of Louis emerging from the room, his tan skin wet and glistening, has Harry’s trousers feeling far too tight already.
Not wishing to startle his guest, Harry settles down on the end of the chaise, angling his body toward the closed door. “I’ve come back, Louis!” he calls, the smile evident in his voice. “I thought we could go and have an early lunch. Or perhaps I can see if the steward would bring something here, if you’d rather stay in.” The thought of curling around Louis, feeding one another bits of food with sticky fingertips, kissing the taste from each other’s lips like a new kind of delicacy, has Harry almost shaking with need.
But the minutes creep by, and cold worry floods Harry’s stomach. It’s too quiet, no footsteps or splashes, no noise at all, and all Harry gets in reply to his knocking is more of the same. Finally he can take no further suspense, reaching for the knob on a shaky inhale.
When the bathroom door swings open, every shining fantasy comes crashing down.
It’s empty. Louis’ gone.
It feels as if a hand is wrapped around Harry’s throat, slowly squeezing until his breaths are coming short and fast, not nearly enough oxygen to feed his anxious body.
Frightened eyes scan the room, and it’s then he notices the steward’s uniform missing from where it had been flung over the back of a chair. Louis’ shoes are gone as well, along with any trace that the man was here at all.
It’s all far, far too familiar, and Harry’s crying before he can make sense of why.
It was precisely like this the day James was sent away. He’d gone to his lover’s flat in high spirits, though now whatever he’d been so excited about has faded into a vague recollection. A younger, less jaded version of Harry had let himself inside, slipping off his shoes and bounding up the stairs to where he knew James was waiting, lost in a book or tuning his violin or just waiting in bed for Harry to join him.
He’d known the minute he opened the door that something was wrong. The room he almost dared to think of as theirs was packed up in bags and boxes, violin put away in its case, shelves empty. He discerned what happened long before James’ mother delivered the news with cold finality, all but pushing him out into a world that seemed that much darker for his broken heart.
Not again. Please, God, not again.
It’s almost worse, this time, knowing that Louis is somewhere on the same ship, still so close. Harry wouldn’t know how to find him if he tried, and what would he even say to the man? He’d been too intense, far too quickly, and now Louis is gone because of it.
A gentle tapping at the door revives the hopeful creature lying dormant in Harry’s chest. Perhaps Louis had stepped out and gotten lost, or was bored and went exploring. He’s ready to laugh at himself, to pull Louis into the room and kiss every bit of his skin once for each tear he’s shed, but when he answers the knock it isn’t Louis who has come to call.
“I’m sorry to bother you, Mr Styles.” Anthony Wheeler is stood in the corridor, wringing his hands together nervously. “D’you think I might come in and have a word with you?”
Harry steps numbly aside, allowing the steward entrance. The sight of his uniform has new tears pricking at the edges of Harry’s eyes, but he blinks them away. “What is it you’d like to discuss, Mr Wheeler?” His face is calm but his voice betrays the emotion coursing fast and unrelenting beneath the surface.
Wheeler frowns, focusing hard as if he’s trying hard to remember something. “I have a message for you,” he says slowly, “from a passenger. A Third Class passenger.”
Harry’s eyebrows shoot up at that. It’s Louis, it has to be, though how he found Wheeler is impossible to guess. “And what might that be?”
Wheeler’s eyebrows, just as red as his hair, creep together on his forehead. “A Mr Tomlinson says that he spoke to your uncle, and he won’t be bothering you anymore.” The steward toes the carpet, ill at ease with whatever he’s found himself in the middle of. “Sir, if someone is disturbing you, just say the word and I’ll have them seen to,” he offers, clearly pained at the thought that one of the passengers in his charge might have been harassed.
It takes Harry a moment to process Wheeler’s words, too caught up on ‘spoke to your uncle.’ “No, no, it’s fine.” He shoves a hand into his pocket, thrusting whatever money he finds there into Wheeler’s palm without bothering to look at the amount. “Thank you, Mr Wheeler. I’m hoping this can be kept between us.”
Eyes wide, Wheeler nods quickly, pocketing the tip and standing up as straight as he’s able. “Yes, sir, of course,” he says in a rush, looking as though he’s seconds away from saluting. “Is there anything else I can do you for?”
“I don’t suppose there’s any way you could return a message to Mr Tomlinson for me?”
Wheeler smiles, cheeks just the slightest bit pink, as if the idea of playing secret messenger is more excitement than he’d been expecting for a Sunday at sea. “I’ll do my best, sir. What would you like me to say?”
Once Wheeler has been sent away, having recited the message twice to make sure he memorised every word, Harry steels himself to face his uncle. He should have known Charles was behind this, should have known better than to leave Louis alone, especially when he didn’t see his uncle at the church service.
Raising a clenched fist, knuckles white and tendons flexing beneath the skin, Harry raps sharply on the door separating his room from Charles’. There’s no answer, and Harry doesn’t hesitate before shoving the door open, stepping into his uncle’s room ready to get to the bottom of things.
The room is quiet and empty, barely looking lived in at all. There’s a stench of cigar smoke and cologne, soaking into the carpeting and walls as if Charles leaves a stain on everything he touches.
Cursing to himself, Harry stalks back to his room and out into the hallway in search of his uncle. The ship is massive, true, but Harry has a very good idea about where this particular vermin goes to hide during daylight hours.
It’s almost laughable how easily he finds Charles, tucked away in a corner of the Smoking Room with three other men whose names Harry should probably know but hasn’t bothered to learn. The green table between them is littered with cards and glasses filled with various spirits, cigar smoke curling thick and heavy between them like miniature versions of the funnels overhead.
Something dawns in Charles eyes when he spots Harry manoeuvering through the tables with precise determination. The bastard has the gall to smile, voice cutting through the haze and chatter to greet his nephew. “Harry! To what do I owe the pleasure?”
Keeping up pretenses, as always. Harry isn’t about to play along, not this time. “I need to speak with you,” he grinds out, barely unclenching his jaw enough to speak.
Charles shifts in his chair, the red leather protesting under his bulk. His eyes flit to the faces of his tablemates, all gone silent at the tone in Harry’s voice. “I think anything you and I have to discuss can wait until later,” he replies, eyes snapping back to Harry’s, raising an eyebrow as if to challenge him to bring up such matters in public, knowing full well what Harry’s come for.
Unbothered, Harry seizes his uncle’s arm and hauls him out of the chair, grip firm as he steers him to an empty section of the room. The walls, a dark mahogany, seem the perfect backdrop for Harry’s rage, hard and unyielding. Inset stained glass panels featuring various ships and ports make the room feel almost like a cathedral, and isn’t that a fine place for confession.
“What did you say to Louis?” Harry snarls, aware of the scene he’s causing. Countless pairs of prying eyes dart their way, too polite to stare but too curious to help themselves. It’ll be the talk of the ship this evening, he’s sure, yet another black mark on Harry’s reputation that Charles can bemoan to anyone willing to bend an ear.
It’s clear Charles wasn’t expecting Harry to call his bluff, air puffing past his lips and eyes wide. “I don’t know what you mean, Harry, I—”
Harry cuts him off by pushing him back just enough for his shoulder blades to press against the wall. “You’re lying. Tell me what you’ve done.” It’s a demand; he’s finished with asking nicely.
There’s a beat of silence until Charles chuckles, a wet sound that has bile rising in Harry’s throat. “So quick to blame your dear uncle.” He claps a palm on Harry’s shoulder, raising an eyebrow when Harry swats the hand away. “I haven’t done anything that wasn’t necessary,” he says scathingly, surveying his nephew with disgust. “Honestly, Harry, I thought you could control yourself for the length of a bloody voyage.”
Every muscle in Harry’s body is tense, his spine ramrod straight as he stares down his uncle with clenched fists. “Tell me what you said, Charles,” he spits the name like a swear word, “or I’ll make sure everyone in this room has something to whisper about at dinner.”
Protecting his precious reputation wins out, Charles glaring Harry down even as his shoulders sag in defeat. “Since you insist, I told your dear Mr Tomlinson that I wouldn’t hesitate to turn him in. Shameful, isn’t it, for a steward to be dallying with a passenger?”
Harry tries not to react, to let his uncle see just how much he’s frightened at the possibility of Louis being handed over to the authorities. He swallows hard, turning his back so he can go try to find Louis and warn him, when his uncle’s voice stops him in his tracks.
“Funny, though,” Charles says, a sadistic joy tingeing each word, “I did ask around, and there aren’t any stewards on this ship called Tomlinson.”
The very blood seems to freeze in Harry’s veins, but he doesn’t look back, won’t allow his uncle the satisfaction. All he knows is that he’s got to get to Louis and explain himself, before it’s too late.
But how? He wouldn’t know how to navigate to Third Class if he tried. He realises belatedly that he’s never exactly asked Louis how he snuck upstairs time and time again. Even if he had, Harry’s clothes would give him away in an instant—he’s not allowed there any more than Louis is here. And while Wheeler might be willing to deliver the occasional message, he highly doubts the man will be keen on sneaking a passenger into areas of the ship he’s forbidden to enter.
Maybe Gemma will have an idea, he thinks, heading back in the direction of his cabin. His mind churns so rapidly that he barely pays attention to where he’s going, nearly running straight into a man in his haste. “Sorry,” he mumbles, glancing up just long enough to see that the man is another steward with close-cropped hair and kind brown eyes. He isn’t Louis, though, and at the moment that’s all Harry cares about.
He’s in such a state when he reaches his cabin that he doesn’t notice the echo of a second set of footsteps on the linoleum. It’s a surprise, then, when he goes to let himself into his room and finds that he’s not alone.
It’s the same man he bumped into. He’s worrying his thick lower lip, eyes darting around like someone might be trailing him. It reminds Harry so much of how Louis looked those first couple days, out of place and frightened, and Harry’s heart gives an unpleasant twist at the memory.
“Are you following me?” Harry asks calmly, leaning against the door to his stateroom.
The man shifts from foot to foot, clutching a bundle Harry had failed to notice before now close to his chest. “I am, actually,” he admits, a charming lilt to his nervous voice.
“May I ask why?”
“I think that would be best discussed inside, if you don’t mind,” the man replies, tilting his head in the direction of Harry’s room.
Harry hesitates just a moment before opening the door, allowing the now relieved looking stranger to step inside. It crosses his mind that this will be the third man he’s had in his room this morning alone. No wonder I’ve gotten a reputation.
The steward wastes no time once the door closes, tucking his parcel under one arm and extending the other to Harry. “Liam Payne, sir. I take it you must be Harry Styles?”
“I am,” Harry responds, shaking Liam’s hand briefly before taking a seat, inviting his guest to do the same. “What happened to Mr Wheeler? I was under the impression that he was my steward. Is he off duty today, then?”
Liam glances down at his uniform, laughing brusquely. “Right, the uniform.” He offers Harry a sly smile. “This isn’t mine, I’m afraid, though you have seen it before. It’s the one Mr Tomlinson’s been wearing to visit you.”
Harry grips the edge of the table so hard he imagines he hears it crack under his fingertips. This is it, we’ve been found out, he thinks. His uncle’s gone and told someone, or Louis got caught trying to come back upstairs. Whatever the case, people know, and now he might never see Louis again. “I can explain,” he chokes out, his dry tongue not properly releasing the words. “Please, it was all my idea. Leave Tomlinson out of it.”
Liam’s face contorts in confusion before breaking into a wide smile, shaking his head as he laughs at Harry’s begging. “No, sir, I’m afraid you’ve got it all wrong,” he says, still grinning. “Mr Tomlinson sent me here. I’m the one who got him this uniform in the first place.” He tilts his head thoughtfully. “Though I suppose he got the first one from me too, even if I wasn’t aware of it at the time.”
“You’ve been helping him?” Harry asks incredulously. “You’ve known he was sneaking into First Class and didn’t stop him?”
“Worse than that, I showed him a better way to go about it!” Liam crows, rapping his knuckles against the table. “He’s the reason I’m here, Mr Styles,” he says, softer. “He wants to see you again, but it’s too much of a risk for him to come back with that uncle of yours sniffing around.”
Harry slumps miserably back in his seat. “I know,” he says sadly. “He’s risked so much for me. It wouldn’t be fair to ask any more of him.”
“Then may I offer an alternative suggestion?” Liam asks, reaching for the bundle he’s been carrying and shaking it out. Harry’s eyes go wide as they land on familiar white fabric and brass buttons. “What do you say, Mr Styles? Fancy a bit of adventure?”
“Sure you’re not coming, Tommo?” Zayn calls over his shoulder as his three bunk mates head to the first dinner service in the Dining Saloon. Niall’s nickname for him had caught like wildfire, the other two lads (and more that Louis isn’t even sure he’s met properly) quickly adopting it.
Louis smiles weakly from his bunk, doing his best not to worry them. “I’ll catch the second sitting. Still proper hungover, aren’t I?” That’s the story he’d fed them—that he got so pissed last night that he couldn’t remember which cabin was theirs and slept on a bench in the General Room instead. Of course they’d teased him, asked who the lucky lady was and made some rather rude comments about his relationship with the bench, but they believed him. He’d laughed right along with them until the unease in his gut grew too overwhelming, making him clutch his stomach piteously, his ruse of a hangover seeming all the more authentic.
“Get some sleep, we’ll check on you when we get back,” Stan promises, and just like that they’re gone and Louis is on his feet. He paces the length of the small cabin, only a handful of steps from side to side, but he can’t sit still. Not when he’s waiting, has been waiting. Not when Harry is somewhere on this ship and Louis can’t get to him, when Harry’s uncle could rat him out at any moment.
It’s been at least an hour since Liam returned to Louis with a message from Harry...
“I sent his bedroom steward to speak to him,” Liam had explained, breathless from hurrying down the stairs. “He’s a good lad, nothing to worry about,” Liam assured Louis at the panicked look on the other man’s face, peering up anxiously from where he was still curled up on the bottom step.
“What did he say?” Louis had asked, his backside numb from the hard stairs and cheeks sticky from drying tears.
“He said that whatever Charles told you was a lie, and that he meant every word he ever told you.”
Something had broken inside Louis and he crumpled forward, a fresh wave of tears spilling forth, this time in relief. “I knew he wasn’t like that, I knew it,” Louis sobbed, Liam’s hand falling to his back and rubbing small circles. “But now I’ve gone and cocked it all up.”
“Why do you say that?” Liam asked gently, fingers probing at the tense knot of muscle at the base of Louis’ neck.
Louis chuckled wetly, swiping an arm over his face to wipe away some of the mess. “Can’t very well go to him now, can I?” he asked bitterly. “Not with his uncle waiting to catch me at it.”
There’d been no response from Liam other than thoughtful humming. Louis lifted his head, seeking out the steward’s face. “What?”
“What if you don’t go to him?” Liam asked, as if it were the most obvious suggestion in the world. “What if he comes to you?”
Louis’ eyes bulged out of his head at the suggestion, at the thought of Harry in Third Class—so much beauty and grace surrounded by plain white walls and simple furnishings, dirty men in worn clothing and rats scurrying down the corridor to and from the ship’s pantry—like some sort of fallen angel come to preach the gospel to the damned.
“He would never,” he answered eventually, not that Louis would blame him. After all, it had been a treat to sneak into First Class for Harry. Harry, on the other hand, would have nothing to gain by seeking out Louis.
“Only one way to find out, Mr Tomlinson,” Liam said, so optimistic that Louis even dared to let himself believe it...
Now there’s nothing to do but wait, feeling every bit a caged animal in his windowless cell. What seemed so luxurious at first now feels dark and small, the walls drawing in tighter with every agitated breath filling Louis’ lungs. His mind runs through each possible scenario, from Liam getting caught on his way to get Harry to Harry deciding Louis isn’t worth the trouble.
No. He can’t allow himself to think that way. Everything is fine, and Harry wants to see him, and that knock on the door is most certainly not someone coming to arrest him for his growing list of crimes.
“Who’s there?” Louis calls, surprising himself with the amount of bravado he manages to inject into his tone.
“It’s me, Tomlinson, no need to bite,” Liam’s voice grumbles from the other side of the door.
It should make him feel better, knowing that at the very least Liam made the trip unscathed. But what if he couldn’t find Harry? Or worse, Harry refused to come? The idea has the very marrow of his bones aching with each thump of his wildly beating heart.
Still, he has to open the door to find out. Steeling himself for disappointment, Louis pulls open the door in a smooth motion, doing his best to act calm and composed as he awaits the news of his fate.
His façade crumples the instant he sees Harry.
He’s standing there next to Liam, feet together and head bowed, hands clasped nervously behind his back. A familiar white steward’s jacket stretches across his frame, accentuating the width of his shoulders and the smooth, strong lines of Harry’s chest. “Hello,” he says sheepishly, even his deep voice sounding too rich for the unornamented walls.
Louis smiles wetly, ignoring the tears threatening to fall at the corners of his eyes. “You came,” he croaks out, no hint of his earlier bravado.
“I did,” Harry replies, lips spreading in a slow smile. “I think I’d follow you anywhere.”
The words make Louis’ toes curl in his shoes, but he does his best not to let it show, at least not until they’ve talked. Instead, he reaches out and flicks a button, one hanging just slightly lower than the others. “We owe a lot to this uniform, don’t we?” he says fondly. He wonders what the chances are of Liam letting him take it home. If not the whole thing, perhaps at least that damned button.
“And to the owner of said uniform, I should say,” Liam cuts in, looking between the two men with a pleased grin filling the lower half of his face.
Before Louis can help himself, he’s pulling Liam in for a hug. The steward is once again in his spare white jacket, the First Class uniform tucked under his arm as he hugs Louis back with his free one. “Thank you, Mr Payne. I don’t think I can ever thank you enough.”
“It’s been my pleasure, Mr Tomlinson,” Liam replies, clapping Louis on the shoulder as they part. “Just promise me you’ll take care of each other, and remember what I told you.”
“’Where there’s love, it’s never foolish to hope,’” he recites, cheeks going pink as he glances at Harry, quite a lovely shade of scarlet himself.
Liam chuckles, retracting his hand and taking a step backward. “On that note, I think I need to start making my rounds.” He holds out a hand to Harry, giving him a hearty shake. “Just let me know when you’re ready to go back, Mr Styles, and I’ll see you get there safely.”
“Thank you,” Harry replies sincerely, pulling Liam in for his own hug.
A commotion down the hallway has three heads swiveling toward the sound, one of the rowdy voices sounding an awful lot like Niall Horan’s. Louis pales, realising dinner must be over and any second he’ll have to explain to the lads why there’s a strange man in a steward’s uniform in their cabin. He knows it will be nearly impossible to have a serious conversation with Harry in their presence.
Wheeling on Liam with wide, desperate eyes, Louis plasters on a hopeful and slightly desperate smile. “Actually, Payne, there is one more thing.”
The cabin Liam covertly leads them to is another deck lower, empty save for the bedclothes immaculately tucked around the mattresses. It seems to have never been used, and as far as Harry can tell, probably had never been.
“Whose room is this?” Harry asks as he sinks down onto a bunk, fingers going to work unfastening the buttons on the uniform jacket as soon as Payne excuses himself.
Louis takes a seat on the bed across from him, smoothing out a wrinkle in the blanket from his weight. “No one’s,” he explains, lifting his eyes to watch Harry’s hands caress the buttons in a way that has Louis biting at his lip. “The maiden voyage wasn’t sold out, see, so there are empty cabins in every class.”
The way Louis is worrying his bottom lip, the points of his teeth digging in just enough to leave the flesh beneath momentarily white before colour floods back in, has Harry feeling far too warm in the little cabin. He slides the jacket from his shoulders, taking time to fold it neatly before returning his attention to the man across from him.
“I can explain—” he starts to say, the same time as Louis blurts out, “I know your uncle was—”
Both men stop mid-sentence, laughter making the heavy air between them grow lighter. “Let me,” Harry insists, resting his hands on his thighs and digging his fingers in just enough to keep him grounded. Louis sits across from him, still and silent, curious eyes managing to catch the light even in the dim cabin. “I don’t know what Charles told you, but I would never, ever send you away.” He runs a hand through his curls, drawing in a steady breath before he continues. “Quite the opposite, actually,” he says, huffing out a stilted laugh. “I was going to tell you that I’m in love with you.”
It’s out there now, the words seeming to hang in the air between them like the airship Harry’s dad took him to see when he was a boy; seemingly far too large to take flight, but capable nonetheless. That trip to London is one of the last fond memories Harry has of his father—it had been just the two of them, and there were so many people, but Desmond kept a hand on Harry’s shoulder as they faced the crowds together. “That’s the future, son,” he’d said, eyes fixed ahead on the large craft. “That’s the future.”
For the second time in his short life, the future is right in front of Harry. Only now, it looks a lot like Louis Tomlinson, and isn’t that something to look forward to.
“Say something,” Harry pleads, gripping at the fabric of his trousers. “Please, Louis. Tell me to get out and I will, but please—”
His words are swallowed in a kiss, Louis crossing the distance between them and crashing their mouths together. His hands twine through Harry’s curls, his torso coming to rest against Harry’s as they fall back together on the small bed.
“I love you too,” Louis gasps, pressing a kiss to the spit slick corner of Harry’s mouth. “It frightens me how much I love you.” He groans as Harry claims his mouth once more, Harry carefully rolling their bodies so that he’s hovering over the smaller man.
His hands slide over Louis’ shirt, far thinner than the steward’s jacket and patched in places. It’s strange—Harry has seen Louis in some of the finest suits money can buy, yet here he is looking just as dashing in threadbare linen.
The need to express himself is overwhelming, love pouring out of Harry in the form of a line of kisses trailing down Louis’ neck. In return, Louis is incredibly responsive, sighing with pleasure at each brush of Harry’s lips. Taking great care not to dislodge any buttons, each one seeming to have been sewn on again and again, Harry carefully opens Louis’ shirt, planting a kiss as each new bit of quivering flesh is exposed.
Finally the shirt is open and Harry is nipping at the soft skin just above the waistband of Louis’ trousers. The corduroy is tented with Louis’ erection, and Harry can’t resist placing a kiss directly over the top of it.
“What are you doing?” Louis gasps, though his hips buck into the touch of their own accord.
Harry pulls himself up to sitting, finding one of Louis’ hands and covering it with his own. “I want to do something for you,” he says, drawing figure eights on the back of Louis’ hand with the tip of a finger. “May I?”
There’s a moment of hesitation, a lip tucked between teeth, before Louis dips his head in a nod. “Yes,” he replies, in contradiction of the uncertainty flickering behind his eyes.
Squeezing once more, Harry pulls his hand away and lowers himself to his knees on the floor, Louis’ legs hanging off the mattress on either side of him. Louis watches every movement with intense curiosity, following Harry’s fingers as they undo the fastening of his trousers.
The garment is soon shed, Louis lifting his rump to allow Harry to pull the trousers completely free. It’s breathtaking, seeing Louis like this, spread out and vulnerable just for him. Ribs and collarbones are a bit too visible for Harry’s liking, each jut of bone speaking of missed meals and poor nutrition, but Louis still manages to look like a work of art.
Fortunately for Harry, that isn’t the case, as he has no intention of just looking at this particular masterpiece.
“Is this all right?” Harry murmurs, running his palms up Louis’ bare, muscular thighs, stopping just shy of where he most wants to touch. To taste.
“Yes,” Louis gasps, wriggling as if to get Harry to move his hands. “Yes, Harry, please.”
That’s all the incentive Harry needs to take Louis into his mouth, using his lips and tongue to give pleasure in a way that fingers simply cannot. If the strained string of curses is anything to go by, the action catches Louis off guard, his hands tangling themselves in Harry’s curls and holding on for dear life.
The end comes quickly, Louis pushing his hips into the velvet warmth of Harry’s mouth, his own pleasure escalating with every moan and swear drawn from Louis’ bitten lips. He doesn’t pull his mouth away until Louis is spent and boneless, whimpering and pawing at Harry until he joins him on the bed.
“How are you?” Harry asks, cuddling Louis close to him and stroking at his hair, the strands damp with perspiration.
Louis smiles dazedly up at Harry, his face flushed and pupils seeming to swallow up the colour of his eyes. “I– I didn’t know people did that,” he admits, a hint of what might be shame peeking through the exhaustion in his tone.
“I can show you a great number of things people do with each other, if you’ll let me,” Harry promises, moving to kiss Louis’ lips and laughing when the other man turns away with a wrinkled nose. “It doesn’t taste bad, you silly man,” he chides, relenting and kissing Louis’ cheek instead.
“’M not silly,” Louis replies, fighting a yawn. “Though I could do with a nap, after all that.”
“Then nap we shall.” Harry manouevers them so they’re lying correctly on the bed, Louis’ head pillowed on Harry’s chest. It’s far more cramped than the bed in Harry’s stateroom, though neither man minds having to be in such close proximity.
It certainly isn’t how he pictured himself a few days ago, curled up in a strange bed with a man he’s come to love held tight in his arms. A journey that once seemed like an ending has somehow managed to turn itself into a new beginning. In a few short days they will be on a new continent, together, and to Harry the possibilities seem astoundingly limitless.
They fall asleep like the sun sets—sinking down gracefully and leaving behind splendour in their wake.
When Louis wakes up to the supper call, his arm is asleep and there’s a clump of thick, dark hair caught in his mouth. He chuckles to himself as he removes it, taking in the sleeping form twined around his body.
Harry is still fully clothed, one leg hanging off the edge of the bed and the arm not holding Louis flung over his head. His hair is in disarray, what appears to be dried spittle flecking the corners of his gaping mouth. At least, Louis thinks that’s what it is, feeling his face go hot as he recalls their pre-nap activities. He can’t believe that Harry put his mouth, well—down there—and seemed to enjoy it.
Not that Louis’ complaining; it had been the most exquisite sensation he’s ever felt in his life. The slick, wet heat, the suction, the clever motions of Harry’s tongue… it was paradise. If what they did last night gave Louis a glimpse of Heaven, then today he could have sworn he caught sight of God Himself.
A protesting growl from Louis’ stomach reminds him that he’s skipped not only breakfast but dinner and tea as well—something he was used to this time last week. It’s amazing how much he’s grown accustomed to steady meals and a warm place to sleep—a warm body to sleep next to.
Said warm body stirs in his sleep, stretching like a large, spoiled house cat, a small hum slipping out of his mouth. It’s a sight Louis could get quite used to, if he’s honest.
“Harry.” Louis runs the back of his hand down Harry’s cheek before settling it on his shoulder. “Harry, it’s time for supper.”
Dark lashes slowly part to reveal sleepy green eyes. They roam the strange room for a moment before finding Louis, the resulting smile enough to have Louis considering skipping his third meal of the day to keep it in place.
“Are you hungry?” Louis asks, running his fingers through sleep-tangled curls. “It’s time for supper, if you’d like to eat.”
“I’m famished,” Harry admits, turning his head to kiss Louis’ hand before rolling himself out of bed. “My stomach is not pleased with me for missing two meals in one day.”
Louis shrugs as he stands, looking around for wherever his clothing ended up. “You get used to it,” he says nonchalantly, finding his trousers and stuffing his legs into them before moving on to his shoes.
It’s been silent for just a little too long when Louis straightens back up, shoes in place. Harry is staring at him with a clouded expression, a sad tilt to his mouth and eyes shining with the threat of tears.
Louis’ heart twists at the spectacle. Beautiful people should never look so downtrodden. “What’s the matter?”
Scrubbing his hand over his face, Harry takes a deep breath before he speaks. “It’s just– I can’t bear to think of you going hungry,” he admits softly, voice cracking in the middle. “Were it up to me, you’d never miss a meal again.”
There’s a part of Louis that wants to be annoyed, wants to remind Harry that the world is filled with starving people who will never be spared a second thought, wants to scream that he isn’t Harry’s to save.
But then he thinks of life after this ship, potentially a life with Harry, and it dawns on him suddenly that there’s a very real possibility he will never go hungry again. Not that it has any effect on his feelings for Harry—he’s never used someone for a handout, and isn’t about to start now—and of course he plans on doing his share of work. Louis Tomlinson will be a kept man for no one.
Still, Harry has the means to make sure Louis will be taken care of for as long as Harry wants him. Maybe, just maybe, that means he in turn can better care for his mother and sisters. It’s such a beautiful thought, he can’t stop the tears slipping down his own cheeks.
It’s been an emotional day.
He is back in Harry’s arms in the blink of an eye, clutching tightly to the warm, solid man he’s grown so terribly fond of in such a short period of time. Growing up poor, imagining a better future was something akin to the bedtime stories he told his sisters—full of dragons and faeries and other equally far fetched things. Now, that life is within reach, and Louis can barely allow himself to believe he got so lucky.
“I love you,” is all he can think to say, letting the tears fall.
“And I love you, Louis,” Harry replies softly, holding Louis as close as he’s able, like even a hairsbreadth of distance between their bodies is too great. “Come on, we’ve a meal to get to,” he coaxes, tipping Louis’ head so he can kiss away the tears on his cheeks.
When Louis steps away, his eyes fall on the white of Harry’s jacket, a dark spot over Harry’s heart from the tears Louis’ spilled onto the fabric.
And oh, my, Harry is still in a Third Class steward’s uniform. He shouldn’t be seen with a passenger dressed like this, let alone sitting down to a meal with him.
Harry takes in Louis’ widened eyes before looking down at himself, pieces clicking into place. “Oh. I’m not dressed for supper, am I?” he asks sheepishly.
It’s hopelessly endearing, and Louis can’t help but laugh as he takes Harry’s hand and tugs him toward the door. “Come on, let’s go find you something to wear.”
The other lads have already gone to the Dining Saloon by the time Louis leads Harry to his cabin, which is a blessing: Clothing Harry turns out to be a bit of a challenge, as everything Louis owns seems to be either too tight or too short. After completely emptying the drawer beneath his bunk of his meagre possessions, he finally manages to come up with a shirt that’s only a little too snug on Harry and trousers that almost, almost cover his ankles.
“It’s not much, but it’ll have to do,” Louis laments, watching Harry adjust the clothing. It’s peculiar to see him in Louis’ clothes instead of the other way ‘round, but it does prove that the man looks incredible in any clothing, regardless of quality.
“It’s perfect, Lou,” Harry says, beaming. He takes Louis’ hands, gently untangling anxious fingers and slotting his own between them. “You don’t have to be ashamed of the things you have. I’d rather be here with you than anywhere else in the world, understood?”
The sentiment is almost enough to have Louis weeping again, but now is not the time. They have a meal to get to, and even if there isn’t much to see, Louis is still looking forward to giving Harry a glimpse into life in Third Class. While something dark and frightened inside of him is sure Harry is going to bolt at any moment, back to his fine clothes and soft bed and private room, he’s here with him for now, and Louis intends to enjoy every last second of it.
They make it to the Dining Saloon just in time for the second seating. The tables are filling fast, but Louis can just make out a familiar trio dropping into seats at a table near the opposite wall.
“Come on,” Louis says, bumping Harry’s hand with his own, the closest to holding it he can get while they’re in public. He cuts a path through all the hungry people, Harry sticking close behind, stopping at the end of the table and waiting for someone to notice him.
It’s Malik who spots them first, a grin sliding into place almost instantly. “Well, lads, look who’s decided to join us.”
Horan and Lucas pause mid-conversation to look in the direction Zayn indicates, Stan cheering and Niall nearly dropping his glass. “I don’t believe it!” Niall shouts, enthusiastically slapping the empty seat next to him. “C’mon, Tommo, sit your backside down and tell us again why your bed was still made when we woke up this morning.”
Louis coughs nervously as he slides into the chair, carefully avoiding Harry’s eyes as the other man is sat across from him. Still, Harry’s knee bumps his under the table and he knows his face goes redder still.
“Who’s your friend?” Stan asks, taking notice of Harry since Louis is currently incapable of speech.
Four sets of eyes fix on Harry, who is slouching in his chair and glancing around curiously. He notices the attention and smiles, raising a large hand and wiggling his fingers. “Hello,” he chirps, looking from face to face. “I’m Harry Styles.”
A chorus of greetings sounds, each man introducing himself warmly to the newcomer. Harry’s smile is genuine as he turns to each of them, repeating their names afterward to make sure he’s got them all correct.
“So, Styles, how do you know our Tommo here?” Niall asks, slapping Louis on the back.
Harry quirks an eyebrow at the nickname but refrains from comment, instead taking a sip from his glass and licking his lips before speaking. “We sort of just ran into each other, didn’t we?” Harry asks, looking to Louis for confirmation. “He stumbled into my cabin one night thinking it was his.” He smiles, seemingly pleased with himself for staying as close to the truth as possible.
“Full up to the knocker, wasn’t I?” Louis replies with a grin of his own. “Couldn’t tell me arse from me elbow. Styles here was kind enough to make sure I didn’t get into too much trouble.”
Stan howls with laughter, elbowing Harry in his amusement. “What I wouldn’t give to have seen that!”
“I’ll never forget it,” Harry agrees, knocking his glass against Stan’s, with a brief yet significant glance at Louis. “And you all share a cabin?” he asks the other lads.
“We do when Tommo here actually comes home,” Zayn teases. “Haven’t seen much of him lately.”
“Tommo’s got himself a girl,” Stan whispers conspiratorially, though it’s plenty loud enough to be heard by everyone around him.
Harry’s eyebrows creep toward his hairline, his mouth a perfect ‘o’ of surprise as he turns to Louis. “A girl, you say? He hasn’t mentioned.”
The look on Harry’s face says that he’ll be ribbing Louis about this later, when they’re alone once more. Grumbling to himself, Louis sinks down in his seat, feeling the tips of his ears go red with embarrassment.
Thankfully the stewards start bringing around food, setting plates in front of each passenger and filling glasses. Soon the buzz of conversation lessens and blends with the clattering of silver on china, everyone tucking into the last meal of the day.
Louis can’t help but watch as Harry eyes his food, taking in the simple offering. In Third Class, supper is the fourth meal of the day and a small one at that, the largest meal instead eaten at midday.
But if Harry is disappointed, he doesn’t let it show. Instead he looks over each food in front of him like it’s a rare treat, something to be sampled and savoured instead of wolfed down before bed (or, more likely, drinking). He takes a bite of his gruel and a nibble of a cabin biscuit, sniffing at the various cheeses on the plate. It’s paltry compared to their dinner last evening, but Harry seems to enjoy it every bit as much.
Watching Harry fit himself seamlessly into his surroundings—leading the conversation, laughing and teasing, complementing a passing steward on the service and the food—Louis knows he’s utterly gone for Harry. It gives him reassurance that if he and Harry met under different circumstances, if Harry had to surrender his lifestyle to be with Louis, Harry could still be happy, would still smile just as wide and shine just as bright.
“You boys are coming with us, right?” Stan asks once their plates have been cleared and the Dining Saloon begins to empty, passengers seeking their beds or after-supper entertainment.
The look on Harry’s face says he’s up for anything, meeting Louis’ eyes across the table and flashing his teeth in a grin. “’Course we are,” Louis replies, returning the smile. “Styles here doesn’t get out much, and I reckon we need to fix that.”
The General Room is filled with noise, laughter and clapping and a variety of instruments. It’s exhilarating, seeing people so loud and unrestrained, a far cry from the social gatherings Harry’s grown accustomed to.
This whole day has been rather eye opening.
Just seeing the difference in the Third Class section of the ship, still well crafted and comfortable but missing the extra touches given to other classes, was a huge surprise for Harry. Simple food and simple beds for simple people.
Except these people aren’t simple. They’re clever and talented and fun, carousing together despite language barriers and conflicting backgrounds. They’re so happy, so full of hope that a better life is waiting for them. Harry ardently hopes that it is.
In the midst of it all is Louis, laughing and smiling, clapping his hands along to the music and making up questionable lyrics to the songs. His hair hangs over his forehead, damp with sweat, and he’s rolled up the arms of his thin linen shirt to bare strong, tan forearms. He’s so different here, slinging an arm around Stan and Zayn’s necks, encouraging them to sing along. He’s unbridled, somehow, free to let his spirit shine as brightly as it’s able.
And shine it does. It’s almost as if the lustre of First Class dimmed him somehow, took away some of his radiance, and Harry’s seeing him now for the first time in full colour. It’s breathtaking.
It’s also sobering. They haven’t spoken much about what life after the Titanic will look like for them, but if Louis chooses to stay with Harry, to live a life in the upper echelons of society—well. Harry wouldn’t be able to live with himself if he were responsible for Louis permanently losing some of his shine.
In another life, he’d be right up there next to Louis, belting out ridiculous lyrics and dancing without abandon. For now, though, he’s content to sit and watch the boy— his boy, he dares to think—laughing and smiling as if camaraderie is currency and he’s the wealthiest man in the world.
“He’s somethin’ else, isn’t he?”
Harry didn’t even noticed another body join his on the bench, too enraptured by the sight of Louis to pay any mind to his surroundings. He wonders how long Niall’s been sitting there, smiling at Harry with his crooked teeth.
When Harry gives no answer, Niall flicks his head toward the centre of the room, at the man Harry was not-so-subtly gawking at only moments before. “Tommo, I mean. He’s really somethin’.”
“Yes, he is,” Harry agrees, allowing himself to return his eyes to Louis.
He can feel Niall watching him, clever blue eyes sliding over his body in thoughtful silence. Harry tries to keep his face impassive even as he feels the muscles in his back tensing up. He can tell I don’t belong here. I’ve been found out. He knows—
“It’s you he’s been sneaking off to visit, isn’t it,” Niall theorises softly, only loud enough for Harry to hear.
The world seems to narrow down to the two of them, to Niall’s furrowed brow and clouded eyes and the sound of Harry’s runaway heart, pounding loud enough to be heard over the clapping and stomping and carrying on around them. The words catch in his throat, no explanation good enough to keep Niall from turning them in. It’s too late to deny it now; his stunned silence has given him away, and the look on Niall’s face says that the Irishman knows it too.
“Listen, Horan, I can explain,” Harry says quickly, turning to face Niall, carefully making sure their knees don’t touch. He can’t handle the thought of the man flinching away from him, not right now. “It was entirely me, all right? Please, don’t punish Louis for this. I coerced him. I—”
“I’m not going to be turning anyone in, am I?” Niall says, ending Harry’s rambling with a wave of his hand. “I can’t say I understand it, but Tommo’s a grown man, he can make his own decisions.” He runs a hand through his dark brown hair, the strands falling back over his right temple. “I’d also have to be blind not to see how happy you make him. This man,” he says, pointing to Louis, who’s currently trying to coax Stan into waltzing with him, “is not the same one I met a few days ago.”
Harry is speechless, glancing away from Louis to meet Niall’s eyes. They’re blue as well, but not like Louis’. Then again, in Harry’s opinion, no man has eyes like Louis’, and any other shade of blue is merely playing at perfection.
He swallows hard, still reeling from the fact that their carefully guarded secret is no longer theirs alone. “I don’t know what to say,” Harry admits, digging his teeth into the meat of his lower lip. “Thank you, I suppose, for not having the both of us carted off.”
A loud, joyous cackle splits Niall’s face, his hand coming up to playfully thump Harry on the shoulder. “You’re somethin’ else yourself, Styles,” he says, ruffling Harry’s hair in a way that would seem far too forward from anyone else, but from Horan seems almost brotherly. “You don’t have to say anything, eh? Just promise to make that fellow’s dreams come true, and maybe go get us a coupla pints, and we’ll call it square.”
Harry smiles, Niall’s crooked-toothed grin impossible to deny. “I’ll only be a moment,” he promises, hurrying away to find them drinks before Niall catches sight of the tears in his eyes.
It might be childish, but Harry hopes that somehow all of Niall’s dreams come true as well.
The music eventually winds down, segueing from recognisable melodies to a drunken cacophony. One by one passengers say their goodnights and stumble toward their beds, promising to pick up where they left off the following night.
It’s just after ten o’clock when Louis finds Harry losing yet another hand of cards against Zayn. They’re just playing for fun, most of the Third Class passengers not having enough spare money to gamble away, although Malik would have made a pretty penny off Harry’s losses.
“Reckon it’s time to turn in, eh, fellows?” Louis asks, falling heavily into an extra chair. He glances at Harry’s cards and winces, sucking in air through his teeth. “There’s no saving that hand, anyway. Malik here would do you a favour to let you leave with your pride intact.”
Laughing, Harry throws his cards down on the table, Zayn doing the same before stacking the deck. “What pride? He’s beat me at every hand, at every game. My sister’s right; I’m rubbish at bluffing.”
“You’re not so terrible,” Zayn says, arching a dark eyebrow as he shuffles the cards with practised ease. “I’ve just played a lot of cards with a lot of sailors.”
Harry laughs again, standing and tipping an imaginary hat to Zayn. “In that case, it’s my privilege to lose to such an expert.” He turns to Louis, taking in his flushed cheeks and shining eyes, the way his sweaty hair clings to his forehead and the tails of his shirt hang over his trousers, long since coming untucked. “Well, Mr Tomlinson, would you care to walk with me back to my cabin?” He winks at Zayn, quite lasciviously. “As I understand it, it’s on the way to your lady friend’s anyway.”
Zayn guffaws as Louis turns a brilliant tomato red, glaring at Harry in a way that suggests he’d quite like to give the man a good bollocksing. “No need to be jealous, Styles,” Louis shoots back, rapidly composing himself. “I’m sure we can find someone to kiss you goodnight, if only out of pity.” He nudges Zayn with his elbow before scrambling out of his chair and Harry’s reach. Standing, he’s just far enough behind Zayn to avoid being seen pursing his lips at Harry, as if to say, ‘I’ll be the only one kissing you goodnight.’
Harry just smiles back at him before shaking Zayn’s hand, wishing the other man a good evening and assuring him they’ll see each other again soon. “Come along then, Tommo,” Harry teases, jokingly holding out an arm only to have Louis bat it away. “We’d best be finding me that kiss.” He scrunches his nose at Louis, the corners of his eyes crinkling with mirth, and hopes that his meaning is clear:
‘You’re the only one I want to be kissing me.’
The borrowed cabin on G Deck is just as they left it, only one bed unmade to give any indication that someone has been there at all. There’s a note on the bed, black ink scrawled on White Star Line stationery, which Harry scoops up before Louis has a chance.
“‘Misters Tomlinson and Styles,’” Harry reads, holding the paper just out of Louis’ grasp. The shorter man jumps for the note, but Harry lifts it higher still. “’Please feel free to make use of this cabin for another night. I’ll come check in with you in the morning, and we’ll decide how best to proceed from there. Until then, sleep well and don’t hesitate to call if I can be of any further service. Your humble servant, Liam Payne.’” Harry finishes reading just as Louis finally grabs hold of his arm, dragging it down far enough to snatch the letter and read over the messy penmanship for himself.
“What a remarkable fellow,” Louis quips, carefully creasing the paper and tucking it into the pocket of his trousers. “Honestly, I don’t know what I would have done without his help. Been caught by now, probably.” He starts to unbutton his shirt, smiling up at Harry through his lashes. “Or I would have stopped coming to visit you altogether when I got too frightened. He’s the one who encouraged me to go back. Horan too, actually.”
Harry watches Louis undress, removing his own clothing as well. “That reminds me,” he says, taking Louis’ hands in his, pulling him close until their bare chests are flush. “I had a little chat with Mr Horan earlier.”
“Oh? About what?” Louis’ eyes are wide, one brow arched as he lifts his chin to look at Harry.
Unable to resist, Harry plants a kiss on the tip of Louis’ nose before continuing. “Us, actually. He knows,” he says, not missing the way the smaller man tenses in his arms. “Says he’s happy for us.”
“He did?” Louis asks, wonder in his voice. “He’s not bothered that I... that we— ”
“Not in the slightest, love,” Harry assures him, rubbing a soothing hand between the peaks of Louis’ shoulder blades. “You’ve made some wonderful friends on this trip, I think.”
Louis tucks his head beneath Harry’s chin, and Harry can feel the smile Louis presses against the skin of his throat. “We both have,” Louis murmurs, punctuating the thought with a gentle kiss. “Stepping aboard this ship is the best thing that’s ever happened to me.” He pulls back just enough that Harry can see his wide, earnest eyes, the faintest hint of moisture pooling at their corners. “It brought me to you.”
The lump in Harry’s chest seems to swell and then burst, releasing the emotions he’s been trying to hide all evening. A great hiccough escapes his throat as he tries to bite back a sob. Unable to speak, he leads Louis over to the bed, taking a seat and pulling Louis close to him. Louis slots himself against Harry’s side like he belongs there, holding Harry tightly and whispering sweet words into his chest.
“What happens when we reach America?” Harry dares to ask, once his sobs have gentled and allow him to speak properly.
He turns Louis so they’re face to face, the drowsy tilt to Louis’ features evidence that the other man was nearly asleep.
“What happens with us?” Harry asks, looking down at his lap. “I know what I want, but I also don’t want to interfere with your plans, with the life you planned before I came along.” He can still hear Niall’s voice in his head: Make his dreams come true. He intends to, regardless of his part in them.
Louis twists his mouth, taking one of Harry’s hands in his own and staring at the smooth, creamy skin. “And what is it that you want, my love?” he asks cautiously, even though Harry can feel the quickening pulse from his hands.
There’s a beat of silence as Harry thinks, carefully deciding how best to word his wishes. Most simply, he wants to be with Louis. But it isn’t simple, is it? Nor can it be, for them. There’s no place for carelessness in their situation, not with the stakes so very high.
“I want you to come with me to Massachusetts,” Harry says finally, decisively. “That’s where we’re headed. My uncle owns property there, and I’m going to look for a place of my own so I can be close to Gemma.” He takes a deep breath, preparing for rejection, but he has to try. “You could move in with me, as a friend. I’m certain you can find a tailor looking for help, and if you ever decide that’s not what you want, I’ll help you find somewhere else to live, no questions asked.”
There’s hesitation in Louis’ voice when he answers, looking at Harry with guarded eyes. “I told you before that I don’t need anything handed to me,” he repeats warily.
“And I don’t intend to do that. Live your life, go to work, earn your own money. Just, please consider doing that with me at your side.” Harry knows full well how desperate he sounds. He can’t bring himself to care, though. Not where Louis is concerned.
Louis deliberates for a moment, fingers idly tracing the veins just beneath Harry’s skin. “And if it were the other way ‘round?” he asks, voice small. “What if I wanted you to come live with me in poverty? Renting a rundown flat and saving every penny and working our fingers to the bone?” He meets Harry’s eyes, the man appearing so young in the dim light of the cabin. “Would you follow me?”
Disentangling their hands, Harry raises his to cup Louis’ face, thumbs brushing over the delicate skin beneath his eyes. “I would follow you to the ends of the earth,” he vows, leaning their foreheads together. “I’d give up everything for you, Louis. All you have to do is ask.”
There’s a choked sound, and then Louis is pressing their mouths together in a desperate kiss, clutching at Harry like he might disappear at any moment. Harry kisses back, licking at Louis’ lips and nearly sighing when they part to allow his tongue entrance. Louis is hesitant at first, meeting Harry’s licks with timid ones of his own, but soon he takes control of the kiss, discovering Harry’s mouth with his tongue and moaning greedily against his lips.
They break apart with a gasp, each man panting through swollen lips. Harry offers Louis a shy smile, like they haven’t just been kissing for the last several minutes, and Louis grins right back at him.
“Yes, I’ll come with you.”
The words are so hushed that Harry doesn’t dare believe he’s actually heard them at first. “What did you say?” he asks, his voice coming out in almost a croak.
Louis looks away, his hair hiding his eyes but not quite covering the flush rising in his cheeks. “I said I’ll come with you, Harry. I’ll come to Massachusetts.”
There’s a small squeak of surprise as Harry scoops the man up in a hug, burying his face in Louis’ chest and just breathing him in. Louis is coming with me. “I promise I will make you happier than you’ve ever been,” Harry swears between countless kisses, worshipping every patch of skin he can reach.
“You already have, Harry,” Louis replies, pressing his own kisses into Harry’s hair.
They wrap tightly around each other, lips finding lips and fingers roaming skin, and they press so close together that even the small bunk feels spacious. They move together like moon pulls at the tide, in great waves and gentle crests, swirling eddies that pull them both so far under that the sky is a distant memory.
And when they surface, both gasping for air and coming down from their highs, it’s a lot like being reborn.
Later, once they’ve cleaned themselves off and are twined around each other beneath the covers, Harry can’t believe how lucky he is, how he’s found everything he didn’t even know he wanted, and how he would do anything to ensure that Louis feels the same way.
“Louis,” he whispers in the dark, nuzzling his nose into the side of Louis’ head. “Are you still awake?”
“Barely,” comes the sleepy reply, cold toes tucking under Harry’s leg and making him squirm. “Why?”
Harry plants a kiss to the tousled brown hair, breathing in the faint scent of his own soap, now masked with sweat and something decidedly Louis. “When we get to America, if you want, we can send for your mother and sisters.” Before Louis can protest, he carries on: “I have the money, and I know how much you worry about them. This isn’t charity; you can pay me back if you’d like, but there’s no reason to wait if you don’t need to.”
There’s a sniffling sound in the darkness, and Harry can tell that Louis is crying. “Louis? What’s the matter?” he asks, petting the other man’s hair and cuddling into him. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you upset.”
“I just love you so much,” Louis replies in a shaky whisper. “Yes, God yes, can we please send for my family?”
“The minute we get there,” Harry promises. “The finest accommodations available, I swear to it.”
Louis snuffles against Harry’s chest, wrapping his arms tighter around the younger man’s middle. “I won’t ever be able to repay you properly. All the money in the world can’t repay such a kindness.”
“You came back to me,” Harry replies simply, wrapping an arm over Louis’. “I’m the one in your debt.”
He stays awake long after Louis has fallen asleep, happy tears still drying on his skin. This is what constitutes his life now, he realises. Going to bed and waking up with this man next to him, sharing kisses and tears, hopes and dreams. It’s someone to come home to and someone to miss, someone to laugh and quarrel with, to make up with. He wants all of that, the good and the bad, and he can have it with Louis. Even if Louis wakes up in a month or so and changes his mind, for while it lasts Harry Styles is the luckiest man alive.
It might be foolish thinking, but he gets the feeling that it’s going to last for a long, long time.
Louis wakes with a start, heart hammering loudly in the stillness of the cabin. The only other sound is Harry’s quiet snoring, his breath reassuringly hot against Louis’ scalp.
Just a dream, he tells himself, letting his eyes drift closed, even though he doesn’t remember dreaming. He’s in an unfamiliar place, he reasons, so it isn’t that surprising he’s having a bit of trouble staying asleep.
Something feels wrong, though—a difference he doesn’t immediately identify. He knows he felt something, something strong enough to rouse him from a deep sleep, and he can’t shake the terrible feeling that there is something truly amiss.
It isn’t until Harry rolls over, the change in position alleviating his snoring, that it hits Louis:
It’s deathly silent.
There’s no constant hum from the engines, no pulse of the propellers pushing them steadily through the water.
“Harry,” he says in a thin voice, reaching over to shake the other man awake. “Harry, wake up. I think something’s wrong with the ship.”
There’s a quiet groan as Harry comes to, rolling toward Louis even though it’s too dark to see his face. “What’s the matter?” he asks sleepily, rubbing at his eyes.
Louis’ heartbeat seems twice as loud in the absence of the ship’s noise. Taking a breath, trying to steady himself, he reaches for Harry’s hand. “The engines have stopped.”
It’s quiet as they both listen, the eerie silence settling over them like a weighted blanket. “I’ll go and find out what’s happened,” Harry says, sitting up and kissing Louis before reaching for his clothes. “I’m sure it’s nothing. You go on back to sleep.”
“No,” Louis insists, tossing his head back and forth. “I don’t want to be alone. I’ll come with you.” He can’t seem to shake the terrible premonition he has, dread chilling him to the core. He shivers involuntarily as he climbs out of bed, tugging on his own clothes.
The hallway is empty, the majority of passengers in their beds for the night. Louis steals a glance at Harry’s pocket watch, still nestled safely in his trousers, to find it’s nearly midnight.
A steward appears at the other end of the hallway, striding purposefully down the corridor. Harry reaches out for him, stopping the man in his tracks.
“Is everything all right?” Harry asks, voice still thick from sleep. “It seems as though the engines have stopped.”
The steward smiles at both of them, but his cheer is obviously counterfeit. “Probably just threw a propeller blade, gents. Nothing to fuss over.” He gives a brief bow before turning on his heel and setting off on his original course.
“See?” Harry asks, stifling a yawn. “Propeller blade. I’m sure they’ll see to it once it’s daylight. Let’s go back to bed.” He turns to head back to the cabin, but Louis doesn’t move, frozen in fear in the centre of the hallway.
“Louis?” Harry asks, lines of worry creasing his forehead. “What’s wrong?”
Without a word, Louis slowly raises his arm, pointing a trembling finger down the corridor toward the bow.
It’s barely there, but Louis knows the moment Harry sees it, can hear the breath catch in his throat as icy realisation settles over him.
There’s water slowly spreading over the linoleum, just enough to reflect the lights lining the corridor.
That’s when the commotion starts, doors flying open and more stewards rushing down the hallway. Someone is yelling, and it isn’t until Harry grabs his arm and hauls him back to their cabin that Louis realises he’s the one producing the noise.