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As Cold as a Whisper

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The dark wood was shiny and slick, freshly polished and slippery beneath their feet.  They scurried down the hall anyways, Louis trying to contain his laughter every time Niall would abruptly stop, or slip, and he’d run into the back of him.  His fingers gripped to the fabric of Niall’s shirt as they ducked down to see if there was anyone in the adjacent hallway.

When no one appeared they each had another running start, falling onto their rears near the end and trying to hold back their snorts of amusement.  So as not to draw attention to themselves.  They would most certainly have been yelled at if they were found, as they were supposed to be currently in the study, doing their readings.

Niall had instigated their departure, but Louis had been the first to notice the floors and remove his shoes, so he could slip around in his socks.  He may have been sixteen, but boredom was the wickedest thing Louis knew, and he did not wish to aggravate it with reading.

Not when he had more interesting things to be doing.

They were on the floor of the hallway, near the drawing room and their father’s office.  The door to his father’s office open, which meant that he was not there.

It may have been the way Niall seemed to throw him a challenge with his eyes, or perhaps it was that Louis wanted to show that he did not care about the consequences.  Even if they plagued him with fear and worry every day.  He stood, stepping on his tiptoes towards the door, peering into the grand room.  The window’s brightened the old wood bookshelves and furnishing with the snow from outside, white and sparkling against the suns ever present reflection.

Niall put a hand on his shoulder, leaning in close to peek as well.  Louis almost jumped at the action, but contained how startled he was, chest beating rapidly at the implications of what they were doing.

Boredom would not get them yet.  Louis took a small step inside the office.  Nothing happened to him, and no one appeared to yell at him either.  He straightened up, saying.  Whisper quiet, still. “Come on, Niall.  Father’s not here.”  They had been in his office before, hid there a few times when they were younger, finding their own enjoyment in adventures and sneaking around.  But they only ever did it when their Father was out of the house.  Not when he could’ve been a few steps away from finding them.  Once when the madam of the house had found them she had yelled at Louis so fiercely he had thought he would have been left out in the cold, alone.

If it were not for Niall sticking up for him, he well may have been.  Niall was the youngest boy after all, and her favorite.

Louis turned back to watch Niall make a face of indecision before glancing down the hallways once more and stepping in.

Again, nothing happened.  They were just stood in their Father’s room.  They shared grins, expressions impish because they were doing something they shouldn’t.  And getting away with it.

Louis walked further into the darkened office, over the rug that laid asleep against the wooden floor.  He creeped over to his father’s desk, feet light and quiet, picking up the quill that sat atop its imposing surface.

He turned back to Niall to show off his riches.

Niall grinned again, moving closer to him as well, so he could pick up his own item.  Louis glanced down following Niall’s movements as he went around to the box on top of the desk, opening it up to reveal a clutter of items, a few coins, a couple more quills, and a necklace, silver and sparking sharply where the sunlight hit its pendant’s face.  Niall decided upon a bottle of ink, shutting the box after he’d picked it up, and cutting off Louis’ attention from its contents.

Niall grinned at him and Louis smiled back, wanting to reach out to ruffle Niall’s blond hair.

But before he could do so, a distinct few voices could be heard coming from the hall.  He shot Niall a look of panic before they were tossing the quill and bottle of ink onto the table and scurrying towards the wall to the side of the door.

The paneling in the wall was broken, that they had played with many times when they were younger, that only they knew about, giving way beneath their touch to a space just large enough for the both of them to fit. 

They had found the space when they hadn’t wanted to do their chores, hiding in their father’s office since no one would suspect they’d be in there.  And when Niall had tripped over his own two fledgling feet and had fallen, forcing the paneling aside they’d thought they would’ve been punished momentously.  It had closed though, as easily as it had opened and it didn’t look like anything had happened to it at all.

Escaping from their siblings had become much easier after that.

They quickly shuffled in, Louis hitting his ankle on the frame and squeaking a noise as they swung the secret door shut.

The voices grew louder, easy enough to hear in the room.  He rubbed at his ankle, slats in the wood allowing him just enough light to see Niall’s face.

 

He could immediately hear the madam of the house’s voice.  She sounded shrill and anxious about something.  If Louis had not already been listening in, the words out of her mouth would’ve immediately stolen his attention. “Give him Louis.”    Her voice was in a hushed whisper, though not nearly silent enough for Louis not to here.  Niall met his eyes where their ears were pressed to the wood.

There was a long silence.  Until he could make out his father’s low baritone.  His calculated words.  “Perhaps this… ritual has gone on for far too long.”  Louis felt only hesitantly warmed by his sentiment, by the sound of his father not immediately agreeing to the request.  Whatever it was.  He had always known the master of the house had a soft spot for him.  But he was still unsure what they were talking about.  Felt anxious from the way the madam was speaking.

“Maybe it has, but I will not be the one to risk it.  Not while I and our children are alive.”  It only stung a little at the casual way she dismissed him.  But he was used to it then, more so than when he had first arrived.  There was silence for a long moment.  Louis could imagine the madam staring her husband down.  “We have to send him someone or suffer the consequences.”

Louis’ brows pinched, wondering who the ‘him’ was that she was referring to.  It certainly wasn’t himself.

His father let out a long breath.  The sound of his old chair creaking when he sat.  “You know what he does to them.”  He didn’t give Louis enough time to wonder what that was before his father was continuing, “And those were always maidens…”  Louis couldn’t look over at Niall, could feel his eyes burning holes into his cheek nonetheless, “It won’t work if we send him a boy.”

“Do you want it to be one of your own children, then?”  She asked next, tone shrill and still hushed. As if she were afraid she could be overheard.  It was too late for that.  “Those are our only options.  You want to send him Liesel, Klara, or Alva?  He doesn’t need to know Louis’ just an orphan we took in.”

His father scoffed, “I think he’ll realize he’s a male, Signe.”  She had no response to that, his father continued, “Regardless, Louis is like one of my sons.  What you are asking me to do is harder than you think it is.”

Louis bristled at the invitation those words brought.  “He’s a stray.  You never should’ve gotten attached.  You have your own sons, Liam and Niall to think about.”  A beat, Louis pressed his ear harder to the wood, “It’s our family’s turn to give –”

“I know whose turn it is!  I know what the agreement is.  It’s because of that damn agreement that Louis was orphaned to begin with.”  Louis’ stomach twisted immediately at the statement, feeling that familiar chill that accompanied any thought of that night.

She was silent for a very long moment and Louis wondered if she would respond at all.  It was only another pause before Louis’ heart was sinking even further than it had already gone.  “Good, then you understand it’s the only way.  Tomorrow we will have Louis prepare his things, and the following day he will hold up our end of the bargain.”  The clip of her boots could be heard against the floorboards as she made her way out, shutting the door with much more composure than her statement had held.  His father didn’t say a word.

 

Louis was packing the chest they had given him, removing his clothes from the one he had shared with Niall.  He was sitting on the floor by the side of his bed, trying to keep his garments folded and orderly.  So he wouldn’t make any bad impressions.  He still wasn’t sure how he felt since he and Niall had heard about the agreement.  They had stayed hidden in the secret cupboard for much longer after Niall’s parents had left the room.  Niall hadn’t said anything, just held his hand and frowned, brow furrowed where Louis’ expression was blank.

His father had told him that evening, about the arrangement, a marriage…  Had made an announcement at breakfast the next day.  And that might have been worse, his siblings all delving into conversation, talking about him as if he weren’t even there.  It wasn’t as if he weren’t used to it, but it still made his skin prickle and his nerves flare as hot as the porridge sat in front of him.

He’d barely managed to take a bite.  Had considered skipping dinner as well, but his stomach would not have it.  And he knew he would regret not being with his family for one of their final meals together.

When he had returned to his room, he knew what was instructed of him.  He had put it off until then anyways.  One final act of defiance, even if he never really dared to defy his parents before, lest they decided to rid themselves of him once and for all.  It seemed that time had finally arrived.

Liesel and Klara were there with him, in his and Niall’s shared bedroom, whispering to one another and lying on their stomachs on top of his bed.  Watching him work.

He would’ve found it annoying if he did not enjoy their company as much as he did.  And he did not have to wait very long for them to share their secrets, as he placed another one of his shirts in the chest.  “You know what happens on a wedding night?”

Louis shook his head, looking wearily up at Klara.  Knowing already that he no longer wanted to hear what she had to say.  She glanced over at Liesel with a grin.  Before leaning closer to lower her voice, “You have to consummate the marriage or it doesn’t count.”

He pulled a face, cheeks warming slightly.  The thought hadn’t crossed his mind…

He knew it was something that happened, but he hadn’t thought he would be doing it so soon.  Or ever.

He had never had many friends in class, had never had a liking for any of the girls’ there.  The boys had never thought too much of him either, had always believed he was odd for having lived so far off in the woods so early in his life.  Thought he was strange, and they ostracized him for it.

But he had Niall and his sisters sometimes, and Liam even less often.  Who was too strict, and too old to pay much attention to Louis anymore, even if he had used to play with him and Niall when they were younger; had taken care of Louis like he had all of his other younger siblings.

The girls’ giggling caught his attention again, even if they pretended they were being discreet and doing it into the tips of their fingers, hiding their smiles.  “Are you scared, Lou?”  Liesel asked quietly, around another laugh, “Of the man who lives up in that castle?”

He knew nothing about the person living there.  Nothing about the castle except the stories his classmates had often made up about it.  The boasts about having gone up there and having returned without so much as a scratch.  How it really wasn’t as frightening as everyone said it was.  They would claim this while paranoid eyes continuously looked back over their shoulder.

Louis didn’t have time to respond, before the Madam’s voice cut into the still air of the room.  “Louis.”

He stood up then, turning towards the door, where the Madam stood, looking him over with her preferred shrewd gaze.  An anxious crease still in between her brows.  That hadn’t left since he had seen her leave his father’s office that day before.

She waited for him to give her a “Yes,” to indicate he was listening.  He tried not to fidget under her stare, knowing it irritated her when he did.

“Sleep early tonight, and sleep well.  This union must be maintained.”  It was a moment longer that she continued assessing him.  “Do you understand what I’m saying?”

He glanced down at the wooden slats on the ground, feeling his cheeks warm again.  It was so much more embarrassing hearing it from the Madam.  His sisters were silent behind him, must not thinking it was very funny either.  “Yes.”

She looked at him for another moment.  “Good.”

She left and Louis glanced back at his sisters who were frowning up at him, like they may have just started to rid themselves of their amusement to feel bad for him.  He grabbed the edge of his blankets, tugging them up a little to indicate they should get off.

They did so after another yank, leaving with murmured, “Goodnights,” and shuffling feet.  Louis got into his bed, blowing out the candle beside him and trying to relax into the mattress.  The darkness was crawling in slowly around him, tucking itself up against his spine, overwhelming in its presence.  He could feel his cheeks flame once again, his chest tight.  He breathed it in, that black air, curling his legs closer to his body, quilts pulled up to his chin.

He was scared.  He was so, so scared.  He didn’t want to leave, he didn’t want to be away from Niall or his sisters, even if they aggravated him at times.  He didn’t want to live in a castle.  That childish delusion buried deep, long ago.  He just wanted to stay home.

He didn’t relax, couldn’t fall asleep until he felt Niall sneak into his bed instead of his own and twist around him as best he could.  That loosened the tension in his lungs the slightest bit and he scooted closer, breathing him in.  Familiarity.  It was Niall’s snuffling snores that eventually put Louis into a fitful sleep.  Certainly not what the Madam had wanted.

 

 

Louis stared up at the castle, that seemed so magical and grand, especially to one as young as he was, with eyes as wide as his.  It was tall… surrounded by trees several times Louis’ height.

A small part of him was anxious, looking up at it.  Letting his eyes glide over the wind darkened stone and the way it towered above the rest of the village, high atop its mountain peak.  Louis had always heard frightening things about the castle, had been told to never step foot near it.

When he was even younger he’d remembered the school children talking about a monster that lived up there.  Louis hadn’t been sure about a monster, but he rather liked to imagine a Prince living in the castle.  Or a Queen and her family.  He’d wished his momma and he could’ve lived in a castle together.  And then she wouldn’t have had to work as hard and they could’ve just played together all day.

He didn’t think it was bad to want that.  Maybe she would marry a king and they could live happily ever after like all the fairytales had said.  He hadn’t thought it would be bad of him to imagine such a thing.

Chapter Text

Louis leaned closer to Niall where they were stood outside their home, murmuring with concern and apprehension lacing his tone, “You’re not coming with me?”

Niall gave him an apologetic look, shaking his head.  His own voice dropped low, so they could keep their family’s attention away from them.  “No one else wants to go up there.  Mother said I had to stay or I would go with you.”  Niall gave him one more hug, Louis’ eighth after his siblings and parents, and it wasn’t enough.  Even the Madam had hugged him, though he was sure it was more for show than anything else.

Louis pulled back from Niall’s arms and was soon, quickly ushered into the carriage.  Alone.  With his chest of belongings and himself, dressed in a cloak to ward off the cold.  It was supposed to be warming up, snow and ice disappearing in anticipation for the summer, but it still clung to the dirt and dying grass like the overwhelming uncertainty Louis felt as they rode up the winding path to the castle.

The wind bit at his cheeks and ears and he exhaled puffs of heat.  The coachman was bundled appropriately against the cold, and Louis wished Liesel had told him to wear more layers.  She was older than him and she usually was the one to remind Louis if he was doing something he would regret.  But perhaps she didn’t even know how the air turned colder the further away from home Louis traveled.

He recognized parts of the forest as they passed through it, though it could’ve been his mind playing tricks on him.  The place he’d lived before was somewhere along the path, hidden in the trees and far from the watchful eyes of the road.

He didn’t know what he was supposed to say to the man at the castle when they would get there… the man he was to wed.  He had a letter tucked away in his coat for him, from his father’s careful hand, but he did not know the reasons for their arrangement or the agreement he had overheard his parents speak of.  He did not even know if the man would want him.

Louis exhaled a small breath, watching the warmth rush away.  He pulled his legs up to his chest, pulling the cloak tighter around them, ducking his head into his knees and away from the sharp sting of the cold air.  Glad it was not snowing down on him too.

 

The castle was even larger than he’d expected, and it wasn’t so much a castle as it was a dwelling, a home, made of hard stone with black slanting roofs and archways that looked like fingers, long and twisted together in a prayer.

It was brooding, the presence of it like a thick fog, to keep out unwanted visitors and unwelcome sights.  Louis stood alone on the cobblestone path.  Ankles cold from the snow, even in his boots, limbs frozen like ice as he stared up at the dwelling’s tall daunting frame and weeping walls.  Winter was supposed to be dying, but Louis wondered, as another wisp of his breath struggled to vanish in the icy air, that maybe it could never become summer up there at all.

The coachman grabbed Louis’ chest of belongings; was being paid for bringing Louis there and had to see his job through.  Even if he stared at the castle with trepidation in his eye and fear etched into every small movement he made.  Louis stepped forward to knock on the door.

It stayed silent and shut tight, and he knocked again when no answer could be hear.  When the second hesitant knock rung out, the door swung open.

Where Louis had thought he would be greeted, there was nothing, there was no one there.  He took in a deep breath, the bitter air stinging his lungs.  The first thing Louis noticed was that it was dark.  So very dark inside.  Like a candle had just been snuffed out.

He stepped through the doorway, nerve and courage a tight ball in his chest.  There was a grand staircase in front of him, chandeliers hanging high above in spectral silence, not a jewel stirring at their entrance.  He could hear the coachman shuffling in after him and letting out a quiet curse at the magnificence of the place.  Though it was stone, it was clean and it was huge, and nothing, not a frame or portrait or stitch of the rug was out of place.

An open door to their left caught Louis’ attention, an orange light seeping out into the hall.  He moved towards it with less uncertainty in his step, watching the flames flicker across the floor and against the toes of his shoe.  Though they could not light the whole room no matter how much they wished they could.

The heat of the fire tried in vain to reach out and tear away the cold still clinging to Louis’ cloak, its icy fingernails digging and sinking into his skin beneath.  He walked further into the room, noticing the quiet anxiety of the paintings on the wall, the chairs and settee’s settled around, sharing secrets with one another in the dark.

A figure stepped out of the shadows and Louis’ attention immediately stuck to him with a hard thump of his heart.  A quicker repetition than before, that traveled to the tips of his fingers and the pulse points in his wrists.  By the way the man stood, so similar to the castle they were hiding in… brooding, threatening, dark, he had to have been the one Louis was to marry.  Louis’ heart picked up even faster at the way he was being watched, like an enigma, like prey, telling his instincts to bolt, his intuition that he would feel no other way about a man if it were not the one he would wed.

He took a step, and his features were striking, sharp even where they shouldn’t have been.  His smile was a mask, lips full and curved up at the edges.  It wasn’t a whole smile, like the ones Niall always gave, teeth concealed behind his mouth like the swirls of his eyes hidden behind each slow blink he procured.  His strides were long, purposeful, and elegant.  The way his footfalls were silent like a predators reminded Louis of a wolf in in plain sight.

Nothing had been said yet, no greeting or indication that Louis was welcome.  Just the sweeping gaze of the man as he stepped towards Louis, assessing and stalling at the blush blooming in his cheeks.  When he stopped, he was a marble statue.  Imposing and regal, looking almost as if he could be made of stone himself, smooth to the touch and hard as rock.

Louis swallowed thickly, unnerved, looking at himself when the man’s stare followed the trail down Louis’ torso, along the thin line where Louis’ clothes could barely be seen, as if he wanted to assess the Louis beneath the folds and fabric of his cloak.

“You’re a boy?”  He didn’t sound displeased.  He didn’t sound pleased either, expression and tone as neutral as the moon and the sun and the coming and going of the nighttime sky.  Expected and unending.

Louis wondered if their arrangement would not hold through.  If he really did only want maidens.

Louis nodded his head, and the heavy, loud clunk of his wooden chest hitting the ground behind him, startled Louis enough to immediately turn his attention.  If his pulse had not already been beating so thoroughly, it would have started then.

The coachman’s face went white as he apologized, profusely.  For dropping it and causing the ghosts in the room to stir.

“You can leave.”  The man’s loping words cut the coachman’s frightened rambling off and he ducked his head a few times before leaving immediately from where they’d come.  He spared Louis nothing, not one last glance before he was gone.

Louis watched him leave with a longing so full that it almost stung at his eyes.  At being left completely helpless, without any way of escape if he wanted it.

He could not cry though, not in front of his betrothed.  A pressure at his collarbones had Louis’ attention immediately back in front, as he took a startled step away and exhaled a surprised and shaky breath at their sudden proximity.  At the hand the man had unfastening the clasp of his cloak.  Louis’ eyes widened in panic.  And still he didn’t stop, even if he must’ve realized by Louis’ expression, only a rather small distance away.

Louis could study the man’s face closer then.  Could see the murky pools of green in his eyes, like the fir trees painted in sheets of white outside, disarming and frightening with how Louis couldn’t tear his gaze away.  Couldn’t until the man looked up to meet his stare, and an icicle cut through Louis’ chest.  He could feel the heavy material being pulled from his shoulders, leaving him oddly warmer than he’d been before.  The ice fairies no longer pinching at his skin until they created bumps like goose flesh along his arms.

A heavy hand settled on Louis’ waist and if Louis had any air in his lungs it would have vanished in that moment, disappeared completely to leave him drowning for breath.  As it was, he took a small inhalation, still drawn to the man’s beauty, his captivating attention. 

The man opened his mouth to speak, voice low and drawling, like a lullaby, honey stirring in Louis’ stomach.  If he had not looked away in that last moment, he would’ve stared at the way ruby red lips formed his words.  “You must be cold.  Come closer to the fire.”

It was a request and a demand, Louis guided back with that hand at his waist, until he was sure the flames were licking at his spine and trying to pull him into the hearth with them.

The man’s eyes shined with flecks of gold, appealing in the glow.  Louis could feel himself relaxing more, the cold he had brought in with him melting against his brittle bones and setting them into jelly instead.  Even the touch at his side did not keep his focus, when words were spoken once again.  “How old are you?”

Louis fidgeted with the front of his shirt slightly, the fabric soft and clinging beneath his touch.  The man’s gaze flicked down to the movement and gave Louis reprieve, he could glance away again, off to the side, like a spell had been broken.  His response was tentative, as if he was afraid of doing wrong by not giving him the answer that was wanted.  “Sixteen.”

He dropped his hand after another moment, Louis’ skin tingling beneath his shirt where his palm had been.  He turned, striding a few paces forward to lie Louis’ cloak smoothly against the arm of the chair there, pulled close to the fire for a reason.

“What is your name?”  Louis blurted, to find something to hold onto, a reprieve from the curiosity weighing down on his mind.  “Mine… my name is Louis.”  He whispered it, slipping from his tongue in a caress.

The man paused his movements, lines of his back growing taught as he straightened himself to his full stature, hand against the top of the chair, shoulder height to him.  He was tall and his dark curly hair was long, stopping at the collar of his shirt.  “You can call me Harry.”

The name bubbled warmth in the bottom of Louis’ stomach.  He stayed facing away and Louis withered momentarily in the uncertainty of why that was.  Was he not what Harry had wanted?  Would he send him away?

Louis almost wished that he would, though a small part of him clung onto the idea of being wed.  Now that he had met the man he would be committed to.

He was still scared.  Was still anxious and frightened by the castle and the mysteries of the man in front of him.  But he also felt a pull, a curiosity to know more.  He wanted to have a home that was really his again.  “Does anyone else live here in this castle with you?”

Harry finally turned back slightly, running a hand through his curls. “No.”  Came his reply, a moment later.

Louis watched the movement, noticing his hands again, how large they were, how large they had felt at his side.  He noticed the flex of his arm, beneath the tight wool of his shirt and he could feel his cheeks heating again, his stomach squirming.  There had never been anyone as attractive as Harry down in the village.

Harry took in a slow breath, before gliding over to Louis again.  Hand reaching up to thumb across Louis’ cheekbone, which had flowered pink once again at his thoughts.  Louis couldn’t help the longing exhale that left him or the way his eyes widened after.  In surprise, in shameless expectation.  Louis had seen Liam and the girl he was always with before, kissing behind a tree outside their house.  And his eyes fell to the slow curve of Harry’s mouth turning up once again when he realized where Louis’ thought were headed.

Louis had never been kissed before.

Harry leaned in the slightest bit as if to test Louis’ reaction and Louis blinked slowly.  Harry’s voice was just a whisper, “There are a few rules I have for you, Little One...”  The name teased Louis’ heart and Harry’s smile grew only the tiniest bit larger at the provocation.  Still closed lipped and quiet.

“Yes?”  It seemed Louis’ eyes were glued to Harry’s mouth, until his statement registered more properly in his mind and he realized, with a start, he wouldn’t be getting what he wanted.

His eyes flipped up to Harry’s immediately, a frown clinging to his mouth and his stomach twisting in embarrassment.  He didn’t know why he suddenly wanted to be kissed, by a complete stranger, even if he would be his husband.  Louis had never felt that pull before, that magnetism, slow and unfurling like a fox from its den, snapping its teeth, somewhere deep in his chest.

Harry continued the soft caress of his cheek and Louis was taken by the action.  “I will add more rules when I see fit.  But for now, know that you are not allowed to leave the grounds without my permission.  And never at night, unless I am accompanying you.”

Louis nodded, noticing Harry’s other hand come up to rest on his hip again.  The hand was removed a moment after when Harry realized Louis wouldn’t be able to concentrate on his words if it were there.  He removed his hand from Louis’ cheek for good measure causing Louis’ brows to pucker slightly.

Harry continued, “I often leave for days at a time… on business.  I could, at other times, be in the house, but somewhere where you are not.  If you ever need me, just call my name and I will come find you.”  His voice was so deep and enticing, a blanket of warmth on an icy winter morning.  Louis felt compelled to take a step closer, but withheld the impulse.  Trying to focus his attention on Harry’s rules.  Not wanting to break them and ruin their arrangement before it even began.

“If you need anything, or want anything ever, then you come to me first.  Do you understand?”  He waited for another sign of acceptance before he was placing his hand low on Louis’ back, having to step intermittently closer to do so.  Louis’ brows shot up, until Harry turned him and guided him towards the door.  Keeping his hand there.  Louis felt his stomach jolt forward at the motion, as if simultaneously repelled by the touch and desiring its continuance there.  It felt like fire, keeping him warm where the rest of the house was not. 

“I’ll show you to your new home so that you may become better acquainted with it.”  Harry directed and Louis nodded once more.  Though he quickly began to speak up once they walked from room to room, asking, tentatively at first, about everything he could keep his eyes on.  Trying to mentally remember where everything was.

He felt calmer and calmer the more they explored.  Though the darkness and what it held had his heartstrings in a tight grip. 

Louis had never been afraid of the dark, but the way it seemed to awaken there, buried layers deep beneath years of solitude made him uneasy.  The fact he would be surrounded by it from their marriage on.

Louis briefly wondered if he would be lonely hidden away from the rest of the world, but he remembered when it had just been him and his mother in the woods.  And he had been happy then…  There was no reason he couldn’t be happy again, with Harry.

The more they explored together, the more the man seemed so mysterious.  Accommodating in some ways, but rather stoic and quiet in others.  He explained what each room was when they would enter, and then would allow Louis to look his fill, before guiding him to the next room that was important for Louis to know.

On the second floor, directly across from the staircase was the library.  And the sight of it snatched Louis’ every thought away; the bookshelves, grand and full, stared back at him in quiet judgement.  They covered the entirety of the walls and not a speck of dust was on any one of them.  Even though most could not possibly have been read in years.  Harry was only one man after all.  Who Louis didn’t think had visitors often enough to read the books in his stead.

Louis went over to the nearest shelf, fingertips tracing over the titles as a smile formed on his lips.  The library at home meant studying and books that had to be read.  Harry’s library was like a wonderland, an adventure where Louis could pick and choose whatever he wished to happen next.

He glanced over to find Harry staring at him again, no smile present on his face.  It made Louis’ own falter though he was quickly coming to realize Harry did not smile often.  “What is your favorite book?”

Louis watched as Harry moved to another bookshelf, on the opposite side of the door, picking one up before returning to Louis’ side with it.  Louis eagerly reached out when Harry offered him a look.  Which brought a little twitch to Harry’s mouth.

He quickly glanced down to scan over the cover and then the first few pages when he didn’t understand what it said.  “What language is this?”  He looked back at the cover more steadily, which held the drawing of a wreath of flowers and leaves surrounding the title and the authors’ name.

“German…  Kinder- und Hausmärchen by the Brothers Grimm.” He read the title, and Louis had never heard German before, but it sounded as if Harry were fluent, words coming out smoothly despite the harsh sounds.  It was a moment before he explained, a touch quieter, “They’re fairytales.”

Louis looked back up to him to offer a small smile.  “I like fairytales.”  Harry assessed him a moment longer, until Louis was recalling the message he’d been given to pass along.  “Oh…  I forgot.”  Louis reached down, before remembering he was no longer wearing his coat.  “I have a letter for you.  In my cloak…”

Harry contemplated this, glancing over Louis’ expression.  It was a long moment before he decided, “I will go read it then, and return to your side after.”  He turned then to go back towards the door.  Stopping before he left with a warning, “Behave.”

Louis’ smile grew larger at the almost playful tone to his word, and he waited for the door to click shut behind Harry before he turned back to the shelf, putting the fairytale book down on a nearby table.

Louis glanced through the shelves for a little longer, pulling books from their places to read their titles and then putting them back where he’d grabbed them from.  He would read some the following day.  For then, he wandered back towards the door.  

The silence followed close behind.

 

Louis took a few steps forward after shutting the libraries doors behind him, glancing down the grand staircase to see if he could see Harry.  He could only find the soft glow of the fire against the stone floor.  He paused only another moment before moving towards the right of the steps, walking down the hall until he reached the first door.  It was a bed chamber and he quickly moved to the one next to it, finding a similar lay out. 

Across the hall from the two, alone with nothing near it for a stretch of the wall, was another door that Louis stepped up to.

He had the full intention of going to explore when Harry’s voice caught his attention.  “Louis.”  He stood at the top of the steps, watching him with a frown marring his mouth.  It was the first time he had said his name, and it sounded harsh in that moment.  Louis immediately dropped his hand from the door handle, suddenly feeling like an intruder. 

Harry held the letter from Louis’ father in his hand, and Louis’ eyes fell to it, wondering what it said inside.  Harry continued to speak, oblivious or uncaring towards his wondering gaze. “You are not allowed to go into that room.”

Louis glanced back at the door, nodding at Harry’s tone.  No hesitancy in it, even as Louis’ mind swarmed with even more questions.  Harry let out a breath after a moment, and it loosened the tightness in Louis’ chest. 

He quickly moved back towards him, though his limbs seemed to protest the idea.  Of moving back towards Harry, who was so much larger and stronger, and potentially more dangerous than himself. 

“You must be tired from your journey...  Let’s go eat an early supper and then rest for the night.”

Louis nodded, following after Harry when he went back down the steps, wanting the man’s hand to settle again on his lower back to guide him.  The touch never arrived and when they entered the dining room, there were already plates set out, at the head of the table and the seat beside it.  Louis could tell he was getting hungry just from the thought of food.  He couldn’t wait to eat.

Harry sat down after Louis took his seat, removing the covers that had kept their food warm.  Louis looked down at his meal, a candle glistening off the reds on the plate and the juices coating the bottom of it.

The entree was some type of meat.  And it looked much richer than what Louis had ever eaten back at home.  He wondered who had cooked it, if Harry was living alone.  Though he assumed even he must’ve had someone to help clean the house and tend to his orders.  At Niall’s home they’d had a cooking staff.

Harry indicated that Louis could start and he did, cutting off a bite to eat.  It melted in his mouth, the vegetables and potatoes beside it also delicious.  Louis ate his full, Harry beginning after a few moments, not eating very much at all.  Stopping often in between small bites of the meat.  His was much redder than Louis’ was.  Though it was hard to tell in the minimal light.

Louis noticed then, that all of the windows they had passed when he’d been discovering the house had all been covered.  Curtains were hanging walls keeping the inside secluded and alone.  He didn’t even know how late it was.  But he was tired, and the food was so filling.

It was not long before he was finished and Harry was taking him from the table, a hand on his back again as he lead him back up the stairs.  Louis was beyond pleased at the development, leaning ever so gradually into the touch.

He took him to a room, left of the library, on the other side of the house from the room Harry had told him not to go into.

Louis was feeling so very drowsy, suddenly.  He must’ve been tired from his day’s excursion.  From all the nerves he had felt.

Harry’s voice was soft and Louis’ consciousness clung to it.  “This will be our room.  You may stay here tonight…  Get accustomed.”  Louis looked around, but his sights set on the bed almost immediately.  Harry took him over to it, as Louis removed his shoes, pulling back the blankets and awaiting for Louis to crawl beneath.

He tried blinking up at Harry when he was settled, eyes bleary with exhaustion.  Harry shifted the blankets up to his shoulders, brushing a hand through his bangs.  His fingers were cold, so cold when Louis hadn’t thought they had been earlier.

He didn’t care, though, didn’t care that he was still in his clothes from earlier in the day.  He just breathed even, breathed deep, and closed his eyes.

 

The next morning he woke up and on a jolt of panic, on a rush, stumbled towards the window, where a sliver of light had been allowed to peak through.  Louis’ head hurt and he really just wanted to go back to bed.  His and Harry’s bed.  His eyes immediately shot back to it.  It was a large bed, blankets warm and inviting.  And it would be where they would sleep… together.

The madam’s warning came back to him and Louis wondered when they would be married.  He wondered where Harry had slept the night before.

The room was rather simple, a rug on the floor, a few pieces of furniture sitting around.  Louis’ chest of belongings was near the foot of the bed, and he quickly went over to it, to change from the clothes he had slept in.  Wanting to be presentable in case Harry were to come back.

He went down afterward to see if Harry was in the room they had met in the day before, the parlor. 

He wasn’t.  And Louis went to the dining room next, finding one set of utensils and a meal prepared and waiting for him.  He wondered if Harry had already eaten, if that was why there was nothing set out in front of his seat.

The food was still hot and Louis glanced around once more before deciding to sit quietly and fill his stomach.  The meal was again delicious and Louis savored every spoonful.

He checked in a few other rooms when he was done, but couldn’t find Harry in any of them.  He tried to not let himself feel distraught about that fact, or wonder too much on where it was that he’d gone.  Harry had told him the day before that he would be hard to find, and that Louis could call for him if he really wanted.

Louis didn’t want to be a burden though, and he didn’t need him for anything, really.  So he went to the library, pulling open the heavy curtain so he could see the sun melting the snow on the tree’s pine needles and leaving behind droplets of glass in its place.

He started a fire in the fireplace with the kindling and logs there, hoping he wouldn’t get in trouble for it, setting about reading one of the books he had seen the day before.  His mind continuing to wander back to Harry even as he poured over the words and flipped from one page to the next.

When he went back to the dining room for his supper later that night, there was still no Harry there.  He pushed the food around a bit on his plate, wondering if he had somehow put Harry off the day before, or had done something to keep him away.  On only the second day of their meeting.

 

When Louis had returned to the library, the firelight was the only source to read by, the moon from outside too dull behind the clouds to provide him much assistance.

He curled up in the large armchair he’d been in before and read for longer, almost beginning to feel drowsiness rest heavy on his eyelids.  Not realizing there was another person in the room until Harry stepped into the light.  Much like the day before.  Louis’ heart sped and he nearly dropped his book, losing his place in its pages.

Louis was compelled to draw nearer, though he wasn’t Harry’s husband yet.  Didn’t have an obligation to provide for him or care for him.  He still sat up, placing his book down to smile up at Harry, and then close his teeth over his lower lip in uncertainty of whether moving closer to him was an odd thing to do.

It was not like Harry was smiling at him back.  Though when he reached his hand out for Louis, Louis quickly stood and took the few remaining steps towards him.  Until Harry’s fingers grasped onto his, touch cool as if he’d been standing outside for too long.  Louis didn’t wish to extract his hand even at the way his own blood chilled beneath his fingertips.

Harry stepped even closer after a moment, riling Louis further, to lean forward and press a kiss to Louis’ forehead.  Louis’ chest went dizzy when Harry pulled back, thumping and reeling at the softness of his lips and the tenderness of the gesture.

He pulled back, in surprise, to look down at their hands when Harry slipped a ring onto his finger; it was heavy and gold in the light.  Exuding the magnificence of something very, very old and well-worn through generations of Harry’s ancestors.  He felt a hand cup his chin then, to tilt his gaze back up towards Harry’s.  Voice twisting itself into the softest parts between Louis’ ribs.  “You’re mine now, Little One...”  Louis’ heart beat harder, stalling and dropping into the tips of his toes, rising back up again to his fingertips right after.  The ring sat like a tether against his skin.  “Do you understand, Louis?”

He waited for Louis to nod, stroking the backs of his fingers against Louis’ cheekbone.  The touch causing Louis’ stomach to flutter and his cheeks to blush warm.  Harry stared down at the color, voice quieting slightly, “And I am yours, now, too.”

Louis nodded, to indicate he understood.  Stomach aflutter even more at Harry’s last statement.  At what it meant.  He glanced up at Harry from beneath his lashes, breaths small and sharp.  Heart beating a sporadic rhythm in his chest and cheeks flushing a softer pink, “Will we… tonight?”  He ran his fingers over the ring, fiddling with it and averting his gaze.

Louis felt Harry’s thumb at his mouth and he parted his lips when Harry traced over the lower one, burning to be kissed.  “Will we make the marriage official, you mean.”  He leant forward, and Louis let out a small breath when he felt the ghost of Harry’s mouth brush against his own, and the soft whisper, “If that is what you so desire.”

Chapter Text

Louis frowned down at his hands, the morning light streaming into pools against the rug on the floor.  He was still in bed, his back against the headboard, looking at the ring sat in his palms. The heavy weight of it and the way it seemed to gleam even more golden against the white of his sheets.

Harry had taken him to their bed the night before, Louis’ heart had set a furious beat in his chest, had been focusing on the point of contact where Harry still held his hand.  Mind stuck on the lips that had brushed across his own.

He had stopped him at the edge of the bed and Louis had shut his eyes when the soft touch came back.  Harry must’ve noticed how easily the blush came to Louis’ cheeks, how quick his breath fell from his lips, in little litanies for air.

Harry had pulled back before he’d even started, leaving Louis disoriented as he blinked his eyes open to look up at him.  To bite lightly over his bottom lip, which tingled from the barely perceptible kiss he had received.  If that’s what it had been.

Harry looked down at him, lips twisted into a wry smile.

Louis was about to ask if there was something he should do, but Harry merely took another step back, with the words, “Not tonight, Little One.”  He had let his eyes wander back down Louis’ body, to stall at the shake of his hands. 

Louis noticed them a moment after too, hadn’t even realized he’d been trembling, or that his stomach was churning in upset.  Like his body was repelled by Harry.  Trying to keep Louis away from him in any way it could. 

Screaming at him that Harry was dangerous, to get away as fast as he could.

Louis didn’t know what was happening, felt a sudden sharp disconnect from what he’d thought he’d wanted to how his body was actually reacting.  His chest tightening in anxiety instead of the excitement he’d believed it was.  He clenched his hands into fists, staring down at them as if that could force them to stop their shaking.

He blinked his eyes closed, feeling an ache begin to pound at the front of his scalp.  When he’d opened them again, Harry was at the door, stepping out into the hall.  “Wait,” His voice came out choked, dry, frantic.  He stared at the slope of Harry’s shoulders, the tautness of his back. 

Louis had licked across his mouth, asking quietly, “Will you sleep here tonight?”

“Yes.”  A twinge of his chest despaired at the statement, the rest of him almost begging for it to be true.  Louis was Harry’s husband.  They would have to be close, he wanted to be close.  No matter what his instincts shouted at him.

“I’ll wait for you,” Louis allowed to slip from his mouth.  He saw the movement of Harry’s curls against the collar of his shirt as he gave a nod, before he was shutting the door behind him.

Louis had stood there for much longer than anticipated, legs frozen to the spot.  Before he’d shuffled over to his chest, in the marbled silence, changing into his night clothes.  He had fiddled with them for much longer than he needed before lying down on his side of the bed, sinking into the warmth of the sheets, and warring with himself on how close to Harry’s side of the bed he could sleep on. 

He’d tried to keep his eyes open, to stay awake, but he could feel his mind fogging over with tiredness. 

When he felt the blankets shift and the light weight of Harry getting into the bed, much, much later he was at the brink of unconsciousness.

A hand had settled low on his waist and his heart had thrummed at the touch, a soft, sleepy sound calling forth from his lips, when he really just wanted to say Harry’s name.  Harry had moved close enough that Louis could feel his solid body weigh down the mattress in front of him.

Louis had buried himself closer until he could feel his forehead pressed against the space between Harry’s collarbones.  The rest of their bodies separated by the distance Harry maintained.   He smelled so incredible, Louis wanted to be closer; too numb for his body to sense that Louis was doing what it hadn’t wanted.

The hand running so slowly along his hip sent Louis back to his dreams. 

He had awoken alone.

 

The ring glinted up at him and he slipped it back onto his finger, taking it back off to repeat the movement.  Wondering why he hadn’t woken up when Harry had.  If he had he could’ve apologized for his behavior the night before, could’ve asked him where he was going and if Louis could join.

As it were, Harry would probably be away again, like the day before, until he decided to come out of hiding.  If he even decided to do so.  Louis laid back in the bed, scooting over to where he’d been when he’d awoken, rubbing his cheek against the sheets there.  He took a small breath, wondering what he should do.  He didn’t want to read and he wasn’t allowed to go to the village without Harry’s permission. 

It was not as if he wanted to leave the castle just yet.  But his thoughts and emotions were a mess, running all over him and leaving behind scratches and welts.  He didn’t understand why his body was reacting the way it was.  Back and forth and fraying his nerves.

He got up when his stomach grumbled.  So he could finally change and go down to see if there was anything for him to eat.  Breakfast was waiting again.  Accompanied by the stillness of the air.

As if no one had been there in a long time, even though his meal was still steaming like it had just been placed down.

Louis ignored the creeping sensation of someone knowing where he constantly was and dug in.  Deciding that once he was done he would go outside for some fresh air.  Harry had only told him he couldn’t leave the grounds, which didn’t mean Louis couldn’t go outside.  It wasn’t as if Harry were there to stop him anyways.

Louis went back to the parlor to find his cloak.  Going out the front door after and noticing how the sun immediately set the air at ease.  He took in a long breath, the trees no longer covered in snow, only a layer of it still left on the ground. 

He glanced back up at the castle, still impressive even in the sunlight.  Even if it was far prettier and much less foreboding than when Louis had first arrived, the blue sky doing a tremendous job at making the castle seem more welcoming. 

Though that could have only been because Louis had already been inside its winding halls and through its towering corridors for two nights already.  His body seemed more relieved, less tense out there in the open.

Louis stepped into the snow, walking along the walls of the house, fingertips dragging along the rough stone.  The trees thickened a little ways from the walls, leading to mysterious and unfamiliar places. 

Louis wondered what creatures hid out there and remembered that when he was younger he was sure there were sprites, whizzing around and dancing along the mushrooms and new spring grass, singing their secret songs.  Louis didn’t know how far Harry’s grounds extended and did not want to risk his disappointment, or anger, by going to explore deeper into the woods.  But he knew he would eventually.  Boredom would inevitably convince him of doing irresponsible things.

For then, Louis did not want to do anything that could ruin his and Harry’s arrangement.  As tentative as it still was.  It had not been made legitimate yet, and breaking one of Harry’s rules would surely end it.

The thought sat heavy in his stomach.

But he quickly ignored it to enjoy moving out among the clumps of snow, walking with the bark of the trees watching over him.  It reminded him of his childhood.  When he’d searched the woods with his mother by his side.

He continued his wandering, until his toes were a little cold in his shoes, and he was at the back of the castle, bushes and trees sprouting up in a prearranged order.  A fountain sat in between it all, though no water gushed from its spouts.  It was frozen like everything else outside.  Winter having done its damage and lingering for as long as it could.

Louis found his footing along the dirt path there, the inch of snow not keeping him from knowing it wasn’t grass he was stepping on.  He neared the fountain, looking up at the angels there, marred with black streaks shaped like tears where they called up to the heavens.  It was chilling and Louis felt colder looking up at them than he had felt at all outside the house.  He cleared a spot along the lip of the fountain anyways and sat down against its damp surface.  Maybe the angels would listen if he spoke.

He rested his head against his knees, where he’d pulled them up to his chest, eyes shut.  Starting to tell them about his day, about his insecurities and worry.  About Harry and their arrangement.  No one spoke back, but it felt oddly comforting, to get it off his chest.  Until he felt as if someone was watching him and he looked around, to notice nothing out of the ordinary.  Just woods, surrounding the clearing.  And a bit further away from the house what looked like a cemetery.

Louis’ legs took him towards it to investigate, before he could allow the phantom eyes to scare him back inside.  No one was watching him.  No one from the village came up there, even if the children would claim they did.  And if one had, they certainly wouldn’t have wandered to the back.

He looked around again, wondering if maybe Harry was near again.  But his eyes didn’t land on anyone, didn’t find those captivating green eyes looking back.

Louis huffed, continuing down a slight incline towards a wrought iron fence surrounding the weathered and battered stones of Harry’s ancestors.  He didn’t dare enter the home of the resting, standing at the edge of the gate instead and scanning over the stone’s faces.  The closest one to him was a bit hard to read with the roughening of age against its face.  But he was sure he’d seen the name Anne.  The date of death was at least a century before and Louis wondered how far the stones went back, how long Harry’s family had owned the castle.

He wondered back to how Harry had said he lived alone in the house.  Louis was curious if his parents had passed or whether they just lived somewhere else.  He wondered if Harry had any siblings or if he was an only child like Louis had been.  Perhaps they were more similar than Louis had first thought, if they both had a shared orphaned past between them.

He lingered for a bit longer, until the wind started to kick up and his cloak could not do much to keep the chill from slipping beneath its fabric.

 

Harry was waiting for him when he stepped back inside, where he’d found a door at the back of the house, and it was such a surprise that Louis jumped slightly.  Before smiling and wondering if it would be okay for him to come closer.  To have an actual kiss, other than the ones from the night before, which though they had made him breathless, hardly qualified.  He didn’t think his body would react so negatively again either.  At least, he hoped it wouldn’t.

And Harry and he were married.  Which meant they should’ve been kissing…

Even his father and the Madam had shared a kiss here and there.

Harry’s gaze pinned him to his spot though and any thought of moving closer flitted away.   “Are you lonely, here?”

The question immediately confused him.  It had only been two days and Harry must’ve thought there had been a reason Louis had gone outside.  Louis wondered if Harry hadn’t thought he would come back. 

He had an answer for him almost as soon as Harry had asked his question and Louis’ cheeks flamed pink at the tentative request.  “I, umm, would like it if we could spend more time together...”  He couldn’t really believe he’d just said that aloud.  Even if it didn’t seem that difficult an appeal when they were married.

Louis enjoyed his time alone, but he was also so used to being surrounded by others.  With talking to Niall and sitting in the drawing room with his sisters.

And every time Louis woke up Harry was nowhere to be found.  Harry nodded after a moment, taking a few strides closer.  “Should we have a ball to celebrate our marriage?”

Louis lit up at that.  He had never been to a ball before, had only ever read about their excitement and opulence in his books.  He grinned quite bright, “Can we invite the village?”  He didn’t care for most of the villagers, but he knew his parents would only come if the rest of them were coming.  And if his parents came, his siblings would be allowed to follow.

Harry gave him a small smile, tucking a strand of hair behind Louis’ ear, “Yes.”  Louis leaned into the touch, as if he couldn’t help it, the fluttering in his tummy and his chest making him feel ever lighter.  This was what he’d wanted.  When he’d asked for them to spend more time together.

Harry’s eyes dropped down to the portion of Louis’ neck he’d exposed with the movement.  Harry’s fingers stroked through Louis’ hair, “I will send invitations then.  To my own acquaintances as well.”

Louis nodded his head, his heart swelling and bounding in fields of daisies and snowdrops.

Harry removed his hand after another caress.  And he allowed Louis to join him the rest of the day, where he sat at his desk writing letters of invitation.  Louis read from books in the corner, frequently wandering over to Harry’s side, to see his looping black scrawl on the parchment.  Hoping his parents would agree to come after they received their invitation.

He wasn’t sure they would, especially after Niall had told him that no one had even wanted to take him to the Castle the other day.  But he still hoped, couldn’t stop the skip in his chest.  He wanted to show them around his new home, and see them all again.  He wanted to tell them all of the little things he knew about Harry, even if that wasn’t a lot, and about how being married wasn’t bad at all.  Even if Harry sometimes set his nerves on edge as much as he did intrigue him.

Harry even joined Louis for dinner, but did not eat much again, listening rather, to what Louis had to say; how he had never been to a ball before and wondered what he would wear.  About what he had discovered earlier that day outside.  And how he seemed to like every single book he picked out of Harry’s library.

Harry smiled at him most of the meal, adding in his own soft comments and deliberately short replies.  Louis felt more at ease.  Just listening to Harry and watching his mouth form words.  Even when a glint of sharpness caught Louis’ attention and he looked intently towards Harry’s mouth, sights lingering on his teeth, wondering if he’d just imagined what he saw. 

He wondered if there was a reason Harry never smiled quite as largely as Louis sometimes did. 

He was distracted from the thought by Harry’s own eyes lingering on his mouth.  On his lips, tracing them as if he wanted a bite.

Louis glanced away, a fluttering sensation taking over his stomach.  He wondered if that night would be the night they made their marriage official.  Wondered if he would start trembling again in fear.

The thought placed a small frown on his mouth.  He had been sure he’d wanted to be together the other evening, but his body had clearly thought otherwise; had wanted to get as far away as possible.  It was only when he’d been half asleep that he’d gotten closer to Harry.

He got up when Harry did, finished with his meal.  And they walked together towards the front of the house, until Harry was stopping them in between the grand staircase and the door that lead outside.  “I’m leaving tonight…”

Louis started, looking up at him and feeling an even larger frown take over his face.  “Where are you going?  When will you be back?”  He reached forward, hand gripping lightly onto the fabric of Harry’s shirt, worry creeping in to the edges of his mind. 

He almost pulled his hand back after he’d realized what he’d done, but decided better of it.  He didn’t know why Harry was leaving so late.  Didn’t want to be left completely alone in the house.

“I have business to attend to.  I will be back in a few days…”  Harry placed a hand against Louis’ waist, either to keep their distance or to feel closer to Louis, like Louis wanted, with his fist in his shirt.

Louis let out a small breath, brows pinching together, “But, so late?  Why not leave tomorrow morning?”  It didn’t make sense why Harry would go out at night.  Louis could feel his heart rate picking up.  Harry thumbed at the corner of his mouth and offered no words of comfort.

It was his lack of a reply that pushed more questions from Louis’ mouth, even as random and nonsensical to the conversation as they were.  “Who cooks my meals?  And keeps the house so clean?” 

“I have a staff.”  Was his befuddled, slow response.

Louis frowned a little harder, looking up to Harry for answers.  Hand gripping his shirt a bit more, as if that would keep him from wandering out at night.  When it wasn’t safe.  “I thought you said you live alone up here?”

That seemed to bring a small smile to Harry’s lips, as he soothed Louis with an, “I do.  My staff do not live in the house.”  He began to run his hand along Louis’ side and Louis felt gooseflesh dot his skin, as it warred with leaning closer and moving back.

“Are they villagers?” 

He thought he would’ve known if one of the villagers worked at the Castle.  Harry leaned down to kiss his forehead again, like the day before when he’d given Louis his ring.  “Not your village, Little One.”  Louis’ grip loosened at the kiss, until he was dropping his hand altogether.

He was silent for a moment, reveling in the warmth of Harry’s mouth.  His voice a whisper, as much of a demand as he could make, “Stay safe…”

The tickle of one of Harry’s errant curls against his cheek as he nodded indicated that Harry understood. He repeated the sentiment back to Louis, before pulling back and grabbing a coat resting against a table, an empty vase beside it. 

Louis watched him leave with a heavy, anxious heart before he turned back towards the stairs to return to their room.

 

The next day was dull and Louis spent it alone, except for the company of the shadows lurking in every corner of the house.  He wondered where Harry was.  When he would be home.  He had even told Harry he wanted to spend more time with him and the man had still left later that very same day.

Louis was feeling very pouty, and trapped, alone up in a castle no one wished to near.  He’d still yet to meet the staff Harry had claimed he had.  Even if his food arrived to the dining room table every morning and evening.  And every time he left books out in the library, they would end up back on the shelves the next morning unless they were bookmarked to indicate he was still reading them.

It was on the second day of Harry’s absence that a knock on the door startled him from his book.  It had definitely come from the entrance hall and Louis knew because he had left the library doors open so he could hear if Harry arrived home.

He snuck down the stairs, continuing to study the door, wondering if he maybe had imagined it.  Until the sound came again.  Harry had never told him he couldn’t answer the door when he was away, hadn’t indicated that that was a rule. 

Louis moved towards it, pulling opening the heavy wood after another second.

A gust of wind blew in and a crop of blond hair popped into Louis’ vision, with a large smile.  As Niall busted through and pulled him into a hug.

Louis’ nerves at having Niall there were quickly overshadowed with joy and disbelief at seeing him again.  It had been so long, he wrapped his arms around Niall’s back as well with a smile.  Harry had never said he couldn’t have guests.

“Niall, what are you doing here?” 

Niall pulled back, already reaching up to take off his cloak and wait for Louis to shut the door behind him.  “I couldn’t wait any longer to see you.  Mother doesn’t know I’m here.  Thinks I’m out with Liam.”  He rolled his eyes at that, before turning a giddy expression on Louis, “But what have you been up to.  How is it here?”  He glanced around and his eyes widened further, voice lowering to a bit of a whisper, “Can’t believe you live in a castle.”

It only took him another second before his gaze was focusing in on the ring around Louis’ finger.  Louis could feel himself blush even though he felt pleased that Niall was noticing it.  Niall glanced up at him, mouth pursing, as he continued his whispering, eyebrows lifting, “Is he here?  Your husband?”

And Louis’ heart plummeted again.  How embarrassing to admit he didn’t know where his husband was.  He was pretty sure he was doing it wrong if that were the case.  “Not exactly…”

Niall’s mouth formed a circular shape.  “Okay… well do you like him?”

Louis nodded, his heart speeding up again.  “I do…”  His smile fell a little when he glanced back at Niall, lowering his own voice, “We haven’t… made it official yet.”

Niall frowned at that, concern etching his brow.  “Really?”  He looked like he was losing himself to his thoughts, a gloomy expression coloring his face.

That had not been how Louis had thought he would react.  Had thought he’d sympathize or something.  “What is it?”

Niall’s face cleared when he asked if they had somewhere to sit.  Louis took him into the parlor, and pulled their chairs close, opening a curtain to let the watery light in.  Niall stayed quiet for a moment and Louis’ confusion only grew.  Niall was never quiet for long.  Without blurting out what was bothering him.

Niall’s eyes squinted slightly as he looked down at the floor.  “Mother was worried you hadn’t done anything yet…  Hadn’t been ‘holding up your end of the bargain’,” he quoted, glancing up at Louis, “I’d overheard her talking to Father.”  He paused a second before befuddling Louis more, when he asked, “Do you know Mira?  She used to go to school with Liam?  She disappeared the other night.”

Louis’ skin prickled.  “Disappeared?”

Niall nodded, “No one’s been able to find her.  I don’t know why mother thinks it’s your fault, but that’s what it sounded like.  Maybe it has to do with that letter they gave you for--” He paused, brows scrunching.

It took a moment for Louis to realize what Niall wanted.  “Harry…” He supplied.

Niall continued at that, “For Harry.  Who knows… I mean he does live alone up here.  In a creepy castle.”

Louis’ mouth pinched at that, as he picked at the fraying edge of the armrest.  “He’s not alone anymore...”

Niall shrugged, noticing after a moment the look on Louis’ face, before he was stumbling over his next words, placing a hand over Louis’.  “I’m sure it’s nothing really... Mira probably just ran away, to be with that one farmer.  You remember him?  She’d sneak off from school to be with him without her parents knowing.”

And the conversation was switched to a lighter topic from there.  Though Louis’ mind kept going back to what Niall had said.  About the implications of him not solidifying their arrangement.  He didn’t think Mira’s disappearance had anything to do with Harry, but it brought him back to memories of his own mother’s disappearance.

He listened back in when Niall started talking about how Alva had taken to following him around the house.  Since Louis wasn’t there to play with her.  That made Louis smile.  He did always like playing with Alva, she was younger than both of them and had the sweetest laugh.

When their stomachs began to grumble Louis took them to the dining room, momentarily forgetting he hadn’t told anyone he had a guest and that there would likely only be one dish awaiting them.  He was surprised to find two.  One in his normal spot, and the other beside it.  Not at the head of the table where Harry always sat.

Niall commented on how delicious the food was and he ate quickly, so he could sneak back to the village before nightfall.  And before Liam decided to stop waiting around for him and go back home as well. 

The news Niall had brought with him worried Louis.  He didn’t want Niall to go back alone and get lost in the woods or disappear like Mira had.  But he promised to follow the trail and sounded much too confident for Louis to tell him to stay.  He knew their parents would surely worry if Niall didn’t return home that night.

He pulled Niall into another big hug before he left.  Stopping him, right before he stepped out the door. “Did you get the invitation?  For the ball Harry and I will be having here?”

Niall gave him a confused look, before his eyes brightened, “Yes.”  The beating in Louis’ chest eased at that, momentarily worried that Harry hadn’t sent out invitations to the villagers.  “Not sure Mother or Father will let us come, but perhaps.  Klara and Liesel really want to see the Castle on the inside.”

Louis smiled at that.  Pausing momentarily before saying, “Tell everyone I said hello.”  Niall nodded, and Louis watched him turn around and disappear down the road.  Pace fast so he could make it back before the sun could set completely against the horizon.

 

Louis knew, whatever the agreement was, he had to uphold it.  If only for the reason that the Madam couldn’t blame him or Harry for what was happening in the village.

Louis took a deep breath, making his way back towards their room.  He wondered when Harry would be home again.

He eyes fell on a broad back, pale and muscular, before the cloth of a shirt was cascading down over it.  Louis looked up to the brown curls, heart immediately picking up its pace when he realized Harry was there in their bedroom. 

Harry glanced over his shoulder at him, green eyes sharp and captivating.

“You’re home,” slipped from Louis’ mouth, as he watched Harry move towards the bed.  His husband was home.  He immediately moved closer to him, to place a hand on his back, wanting the touch, wanting to feel him, solid beneath his fingertips.  Harry’s skin was cold.  Like a sting, Louis pulled his hand away.

At the movement, Harry turned to face him, still not giving an explanation for where he had been or what he had been doing.  Louis looked up to his gaze and then down to his fingertips, pulling them towards his chest.  “Why did you not tell me?  When you got back?”  His mouth pressed into a line, when he thought to how he hadn’t been able to tell Niall where Harry had been.

A hand touched at his cheekbone, smooth, not as cold as his back had been.  “I did not want to disturb you or your guest.”

Louis blinked up at him, taking in a small breath.  His voice was small, “I wanted to introduce you… I want… I want to know when you’re home.”  His stomach churned and he looked away.  He didn’t know why he was so drawn to Harry, why he wanted to be wanted so much, by him.

His touch caused goosebumps to prickle down Louis’ skin, as Harry’s hand fell to his jawbone, and further down to the buttons on Louis’ shirt.  Louis sucked in a silent breath when long fingers began unbuttoning his shirt, slowly to reveal his skin beneath and the silver necklace gleaming against his sternum.

Harry traced his thumb around the pendant, not touching it and Louis’ heart rabbited at the circular motion against his chest.  “Who gave you this?”  His voice was low, questioning.

Louis looked up to Harry’s expression, where his head was tilted in curiosity, his eyes darker than before.  “M-my father…”  He reached up to grip onto the bottom of Harry’s shirt, to keep him close again.  To steady his suddenly dizzying head.  He wanted to be so much closer to Harry, when he looked at him like that.

He jolted slightly, at the odd emotions stirring within him again, taking in a breath of air.  “Do you want me to remove it?”

Harry shook his head, hands shifting back up to his jaw, to thumb against the bone there.  Louis’ breathing picked up a touch, lips tingling with want.  Harry leaned closer, breath sweet and cool against Louis’ mouth.  “No, keep it on…”  Louis pulled a little on Harry’s shirt, feeling overwhelmed by their proximity.  “I only want you to remove it when I tell you to.”

Confusion darted through Louis’ mind momentarily as Harry’s words registered, but his previous promise to his father, of never taking it off at all, flit away.  “Okay,” he shut his eyes when Harry’s mouth pressed against his own.  More than before, cool and soft.  For an overwhelming moment of peace, mind stilling and every sensation focusing on his mouth.  The motion, the pressure of Harry’s lips.  He wanted to press closer, but when he tried, Harry’s hand fell to his hip to grip in warning.

Louis stayed where he was, needing to take in a breath, but not wanting to pull away.  He wanted, he needed.  He made a small sound, shuddering when Harry’s hand slipped beneath his shirt.

Harry pulled back without another touch, or another word.  In the blink of an eye.

Louis was dazed, blinking up at Harry who was a step back then.  He could feel his cheeks were pink, mouth wet and soft.

He glanced away, embarrassed.  Wondering why Harry would pull back.  “It’s time to sleep, Little One...  Get changed and come to bed.”

Louis nodded, feeling a prickle of rejection.  Deliberating whether he was being denied again, if he had done something wrong.  Louis wondered if it was his inexperience. His hands were not shaking that time, his body oddly resigned to Louis’ wishes. 

Perhaps Harry was just weary from his trip.  Louis looked up to see that there was no darkness beneath Harry’s eyes, like there had been before.

He looked well rested, watching Louis and waiting for a response to his statement.  Louis nodded and Harry stepped further away to go to his side of the bed.

Louis quickly changed, blushing faintly when he imagined Harry watching him do so.  It was only a brief warmth, before he was crawling beneath the quilts and scooting closer to him.

“I’m glad you’re home…” He whispered, even if it made him feel so much more vulnerable.  He pressed a hand to Harry’s arm and Harry turned to face him at that.  Louis just wanted his husband to want him.

Harry grabbed Louis’ hand to hold and it felt like the sun peeking through the bitter frost and winter clouds.  “I’m glad to be home as well.”

Louis shut his eyes, trying to calm his hearts frantic beat so that he could sleep.

Chapter Text

Louis stood in front of his father’s desk, candles flickering against the early morning light flooding in through the windows.  He would be leaving later that morning.  After breakfast with his family; their last meal all together.  Sent away to be with a man he didn’t even know...

His father sat at his desk, writing a letter Louis was to give the man, the silence and delicate air of the room reminding Louis of that very first day he had stood there.  When Niall’s father had taken him in.  Had brought Louis into his family like it were of no consequence to him, of no concern.

He had always struck Louis as a strict man, thoughtful, calculative.

At first he had made Louis anxious, but he had quickly learned it was not him, but rather his wife Louis had to watch out for.  Who had never wanted him there from the beginning. 

The creaking of his father’s chair broke him from his reverie, as he closed the letter and set it down, looking up at Louis with a quiet contemplation.  “Come closer, Louis.”  He stood and Louis did as asked, as his father opened the box on his desk, that Niall and he had dug through the two days before.  A glimmer of silver caught his eye, from his father’s palm as he lifted something out.  It was quickly shielded from Louis’ gaze when his father came around the desk to be nearer.

“This is for you.  It was your mother’s…”  Louis’ brows furrowed as he was presented with the necklace he had seen, the pendant at the bottom dainty and sharp.  “Your real mother’s.”

He held it out for Louis and Louis let it pool into his palm, the chain light and cool to the touch.  He hadn’t known Niall’s father had ever met his mother.  “You must promise me that you will never take it off so long as you are away.”

Louis noticed the pattern on the pendant, a tree, intricate and full against its face.  He pulled it over his head when his father continued looking expectant. With a nod and a quiet, “I promise.”  He let it slip beneath his shirt collar, so that it could rest against his chest instead.  It felt even colder there, and he wondered why his father had not given it to him before.  If it had used to be his mothers.

He was handed the letter next and they walked out of the office.  Louis did not have the energy to ask.  Contemplating meeting his future husband instead.

 

 

There had never been so many people in the castle.  At least, not since Louis had begun living there.  All of their guests were dressed so nicely, immaculate, not having refrained in wearing their nicest of silks and richest of fabrics.  Dresses and shirts, collars and jackets expensive, beautiful, opulent.

Louis would’ve thought it was like the balls he’d read about in his stories if there were not a stale, worrying atmosphere scratching claw marks into the thinning walls.  Sticking into them and clinging for as long as it could.

He was feeling unnerved.  Glad Harry had not removed his hand from his lower back the entire night.  Even as guest after guest came up to them, to speak with Harry about things Louis could not grasp; many speaking in hushed languages Louis could not understand.

A few offered him gifts, the loveliest of jewels and bottles of perfumes.  They were all lovely, but Louis could hardly focus on the presents when each person giving him something was hypnotically gorgeous and eerily kind.  Their eyes always wandering from Harry’s protective grip on his back to the silver necklace sitting against his chest, where Harry had wanted him to present it.  Assessing and frightening.

Most had brought guests or partners with them, some of who seemed disoriented as they looked around with a sickly pallor to their faces.

Louis kept glancing at the entrance of the ballroom, hoping to see a familiar person come through.  A villager he knew, or one of his siblings.

There was still part of the night left for his family to make an appearance.  For any of his old schoolmates and their families to arrive. 

Louis was excited to show off to his sisters and Liam the outfit he wore.  One Harry had given him after a night apart.  It was beautiful, made of the finest material and Louis felt very special and nice in it.  Even if he had never been one to want to dress up before.

He had wanted to look presentable in front of Harry’s friends and he had wanted to get compliments from his family.  He wished to see them very much.  Was eager to speak with them again after so long.

Music played and the night wore on, and it began to look less and less like they would come at all.  Eventually their guests began to drift out, one by one, flooding back into the night and leaving the home to just Harry and Louis once again.

Louis had watched with a scrunch in his brow and twist in his gut.  Embarrassed that Harry knew not one person had showed up for Louis.  He tried not to feel upset that no one had come for him, tried not to let his disappointment play out on his expression or in the heavy blinks of his eyes.  His chest was tight and he did not know why he’d ever thought any of the villagers would come.

He would not cry at his own idiocy.

He did not cry even when it was just him and Harry, alone again, like it always was.  They were in their room, darkness surrounding them and the smell of candle smoke, from the blown out wick, still present.  Harry was on his side of the bed and Louis was on his own.

They had still not consummated the marriage and Harry had still not done anything with Louis more than give him the small barely perceptible kisses he would sometimes receive.  He would not even hold Louis fully at night, no matter how much Louis wished he would.  He always kept his hand at his hip or at his waist to keep their distance.

Louis’ body was growing more used to Harry’s sometimes unnerving presence, though he still occasionally had the urge to bolt when Harry’s eyes would fall on him and his stance was almost predatory when he stalked through the rooms they were in.

And Harry still would frequently leave at night, worrying Louis and making him wonder where he was at.  Fortunately he had decided to not leave that night, even as all of his acquaintances made promises to meet with each other again.

Harry was there and he had been the only one that night that Louis had known.  Louis blinked back the wetness in his eyes, voice shaky and in a stuffy whisper, chest beating in rhythms of doubt and disappointment.  “None of them came…”  No one had wanted to wish Louis a happy marriage or at least see the castle they all talked about so often.  Louis felt small and insignificant. 

He’d known none of them had liked him, but not even his own family had come.  Besides Niall, he hadn’t seen any of them in two weeks.  He wondered if they did not miss him at all.

Harry stroked a hand along Louis’ back, down his spine and it made his little breaths fall a bit easier.

He was facing away from Harry, something he usually never did.  Like he was turning his back on a lynx or a bear.

“I’m sorry, Little One…”  Harry’s voice was kind and gentle, soothing his nerves and his stinging eyes.

Louis shut them against the dark in the room, so they would have less of a chance to become teary and drip poison down his face.  He didn’t want to be a bad husband, didn’t want Harry to not want him anymore.  Yet he couldn’t stop the next statement from leaving his mouth, “I miss my family,” making it seem as if Harry wasn’t enough for him.  That he was a small child that needed to go back to them.

Harry’s hand stalled at Louis’ lower back and Louis wondered if he was bothering him, worried that Harry just wanted to sleep and not comfort Louis for something so juvenile.  Harry’s tone was calm and comforting still.  “Would you like to visit them, Louis?”  His thumb created circles near the dimple at the bottom of his spine.

Louis reached up to wipe the tears from the corners of his eyes, trying to keep the tremor from his words.  “Can I?”

Harry was silent for a long moment. “You can go tomorrow.  If you’re back before nightfall.”

Louis took in a breath, pressing back more into Harry’s hand and whispering in reply, “Okay… I will be.”

The room was quiet once more, falling asleep around them, until Harry’s voice spoke again in an assurance, “If you aren’t, I will come get you.”  Louis nodded and Harry removed his hand.  Louis almost asked for it back before he could feel it settling against his waist instead.  He knew there was still space in between their bodies, but he felt more protected, knowing Harry was so close behind him. 

He relaxed into dreams.

 

The journey back was slow, Louis taking his time walking down the road, in between tall spruces and evergreens, dirt clumped beneath his feet.  Intermittently kicking tiny rocks with the toes of his boots.  The cloak he wore kept out the cold breeze and he was glad it was not snowing, nor that there was any ice on the ground, slick and awaiting his feet to slip.  Spring would soon settle into the fabric of the grass in the woods and the bark of the trees, hard and brittle from frozen winds.

Louis moved to the side of the road, so he would not run into a carriage if it were to pass.  The path was rockier there and his feet tried to stumble even where he watched them, stepping over jagged rocks with his hand against the trunks beside him.

He pulled his hand away when he felt something tacky and wrong beneath it.  Looking to the tree to see a clump of grey fur matted to it.

It looked like wolf’s hair… but it was too high up on the tree to be a wolf.  He stared at it for a moment, wondering if the dark brown liquid sticking to it was from an injury, if the animal had been wounded.  He quickly stepped back and moved on, clearing the curiosity from his mind.

He had somewhere else to be.

The forest was calming in the day, a soft trail with an even light falling through the trees to paint the ground warm and bright.  Birds chirped, far in the distance, squirrels rustling nearby.  Louis quickened his pace when he realized how close he was getting to the village, wanting to see his family.  He was still upset no one had shown up the day before, but he tried not to think about it, knowing his siblings would have come if it had been their choice.

He walked through the outskirts of the village, barely passing anyone lingering outside their homes.  He was so close.  He paused his movements only momentarily when the house finally came into view.  Smoke bloomed into the air from the chimney and Louis felt as if his gut was filling with the warmth instead. He had arrived home.

He let his fist come down against the door in a few even knocks.  There was nothing for a long moment until one of their younger maids was opening the door and, upon realizing who he was, quickly allowed him in.  She shut the door tightly behind them.

Louis shared a few words with her before he was moving towards the parlor, to see if he would find anyone there.  When his gaze landed upon Liam, Klara, and Alva, he smiled quite largely.  Klara immediately sat up a bit straighter upon seeing him, with a surprised, “Louis.”

She looked as if she were about to get up, but Alva beat her to it, scurrying off her seat to run over and give him the biggest hug.  He squeezed her very tightly back, her brown hair tickling his nose.  He received a hug from Klara next, and it was a tighter embrace than he’d ever received from her before.

He was so happy by their hugs, not noticing the forlorn looks flickering across their faces.  He glanced around when she pulled back, to ask, “Where are Niall and Liesel?”

Klara immediately responded, tone hitching, “Liesel’s missing.” Liam came over to place a hand against Louis’ shoulder, in a welcoming gesture, in a grounding motion. 

Louis looked to her, chest instantly tightening, to see her starting to tear up.  Worry collecting in the pit of his stomach and something catching in his throat, “She’s missing?”  He looked to Liam for an answer.  An explanation, anything.

Liam did not meet his eyes, dropping his hand from Louis to go back over to the chair he had been sitting in, shoulders hunched when he did sit down, foot tapping against the floor.  “She went out the other day and never came home.”

Louis didn’t know what to say to that.  Couldn’t believe something had happened to his sister.  Thoughts of Mira circled his brain, what Niall had said about her disappearing.  Louis’ stomach felt full of lead.  He moved to sit beside Klara, who was already being hugged by Alva, and was trying to even her breathing, hands covering her face.

Louis tightened his fingers together, fiddling with them in an attempt to distract himself from the thoughts filling his mind.  “When?” He asked, when he’d gotten control of his vocal chords again.  “When did she go missing?”

“A few days ago… The entire village has been out searching for her.  It’s just like when Mira--,” he cut off and he swallowed.  Unable to finish his sentence.  Liam was the strongest person Louis knew; he was his older brother.  If he was so distraught as to not be able to finish what he’d been saying, Louis couldn’t imagine how his mother or father were feeling.

A pang of regret struck through him, in tiny pinpricks for attention.  If he had been home, he would’ve known.  He could’ve helped somehow, maybe.  He shouldn’t have been upset the night before when no one had come to his and Harry’s ball.  He felt ill, restless, didn’t understand what was happening.

Emotions weighed heavily on him when he thought to how he had almost decided not to come that day, so he could’ve spent it with Harry instead.  He had even waited to leave, after a late breakfast that morning, distracted by his husband when he had allowed Louis to touch his hair.  The curtains had been shut tight in their bedroom, but a candle flame had illuminated their faces and the private smile Harry had shared with him.

Louis had stroked through the strands, heart jumping too quick and a smile of his own finding its way onto his lips.  Especially as Harry continued watching him back.  It had felt so intimate and Louis had not wanted to leave in that moment.

He was glad he had though, even to hear the horrible news his siblings just told him.  If he hadn’t left, he never would’ve known about his sister.

He spoke with them for longer, about Liesel and where they had already looked.  Niall came in later and he came to sit beside Louis, trying to change the topic to lighter subjects.  Liesel’s absence hung heavy in the room.

The Madam appeared long after Niall’s attempts fell flat, expression hard when she called his name. “Louis.”  He bristled immediately at her tone, nodding when she said, “Come with me.”  He gave his siblings one last look before following her down the hall. 

She led him to his father’s office, where the fireplace was lit and burning against the dry logs there.  His father was not present.  It was just them and the Madam stopped when they were both inside, tone hard and unforgiving, even though he hadn’t said anything yet.  “Have you consummated the marriage yet?”

He was surprised by that, taking an uncertain step back, as if thrown off balance by her questioning.  He knew he would be in trouble, had already felt as if she were ready to punish him.  He inhaled a small breath, with a quiet, “No…”  He glanced up at her back, hair pulled tight into a bun, dress flat against her figure.

She looked back to him with a glare marring her features.  She looked anxious, had to have been upset by Liesel’s disappearance.  Her eyes were still sharp, in anger, an unending distaste for him.  She turned, voice hysterical, almost, a touch off, “Why not?”

Louis bristled, her panic falling to the floor and biting at his ankles.  “I… I don’t know, we just… we haven’t.”  He rubbed at his wrist, anxious.  The next words out of her mouth stunned him until he stopped his fidgeting, brows drawing together instead.

“Liesel is dead because of you.”

The statement clung to him and whispered itself again in his ears.  He shook his head, shook it off, so unbearably confused.

Guilt, that he wasn’t sure should even have been his, weighing on his chest.  “I don’t understand!  How is it my fault she’s missing?”  He had never spoken back to the Madam before.  But then, he couldn’t have stopped himself.  She was blaming his sister’s disappearance on his marriage, on him.  Which didn’t make any sense.  The reminder of what he and Niall had overheard in his father’s office that day so long ago came back to him, about an agreement.  “Why did you arrange a marriage between me and Harry?”

He waited only another moment before asking, on a breath, “Is there something you’re not telling me?”  He knew there was.

She was silent and Louis waited, pulse drowning out the sounds of his thoughts.  He could not believe he’d just spoken to her like that.  That she had blamed him and Harry for something as horrible as his missing sister.

Her posture was tense, as she looked him over with a severe stare.

And her demeanor suddenly shifted, to confusion and shock, as she stared down at the pendant lying against his breastbone.  The one that had used to be his mothers.  Her eyes were wide, as if surprised to be seeing it again, disbelieving, “Where did you get that?” 

He watched as she neared, to lift it so she could get a better look.  It made him uncomfortable to have her so near, touching what had used to be his mother’s.  He did not step back though, allowed her to grip it and trace her thumb over its face.  He watched the fire flicker back into her expression when he replied, “Father gave it to me…”

And she yanked on the chain, stunning Louis when she pulled it from his neck and left a scratch where it had been.  A few of the smaller pieces fell to the floor and she held it in a tight fist.  Letting it drop to the ground in front of his feet.

“Do not wear this in my house ever again.”

He immediately bent down to pick it up, a few of the links snapped and scattered on the floor.  His chest felt hollow and he did not respond as she walked out of the room, with one last, “If you care at all about your siblings then make your marriage official.  Do not come back here until you have.”

Chapter Text

It was getting very late and Louis wasn’t sure he’d make it back home before the sun set.  He quickened his pace, trees suffocating the sound of his footsteps as he moved along the road.  The sun was dropping rapidly behind the line of trees, in an array of pinks, oranges, and reds.  Sky falling black behind it.

He was still not close enough, cheeks pink from exertion, still hot from the madam’s scorn and what she had said.  He hoped Harry wouldn’t be upset with him for not being home when he’d said he would be.  He stuck his hand in his pocket, necklace chain loose in his grip, tangling with his fingers.

He hoped Harry wouldn’t be upset that he wasn’t wearing it.  When he had promised to keep it on until Harry had told him he could take it off.

If Louis hadn’t tried to fix it then, hadn’t tried to find all of the missing links, he wouldn’t have left as late as he had.  Wouldn’t have shamefully fled without another word to his siblings.

The forest was dark, sun sinking below the tree tops and the thick woods drowning out all color from the sky.  Louis slowed his steps to make sure he stayed on the path.  He could not see anything except where the moon shined through the clouds and guided his way. 

The trees were much scarier then, ominous and silent in the dark.  Unlike earlier, there was no sound of scurrying animals or rustling birds.

Louis tried to listen for them, for anything, but could only hear the music of his own breathing, heavier than it’d been before.

When he did hear a noise, it caught his attention, hyperaware that he was not alone out there.  He heard a snapping, that of a stick, and he began to move quicker again, trying not to trip over anything and hurt himself or fall off the road.  Branches reaching out to grip his cloak and drag him further into their depths.

Another snapping sound could be heard, closer than before.  When suddenly everything stilled, even his own feet, in fear. 

Louis looked behind him, to see nothing, until a flash of movement, too fast to see clearly.  Forcing Louis onto the hard dirt path and knocking the breath out of him, blood beating loudly in his ears.  Crying out in terror.

Louis turned around on the motion, to be on his back.  The beast was heavy and it looked almost like a man, if it were not so animalistic, with a wideset mouth, claws and fingernails sharp where they tried tearing through Louis’ clothes and skin.

Louis’ breath came fast, panic coursing through him and pinching at each of his nerve endings.  Begging him to escape, to get away from the creature.  He was pinned down, struggling and scared.  Reaching for anything that could help.

It was leaning towards his neck, baring its teeth, two large fangs on another frightening snarl and Louis scrambled around by his side, feeling the silver of his necklace, that had fallen from his pocket, and a large jagged rock.

He tightened his fingers around the rock, squirming still and getting his arm out from underneath the creature to hit its temple, across the face, the chain from his broken necklace caught around the rock.  It screamed when Louis hit it, and backed away enough for Louis to shove out from underneath it, wide eyed still and unable to get on his feet to run, moving as far back as he could manage.

He blinked and under the white light of the moon, another creature suddenly stood in front of him, picking the writhing beast up by its throat.  The man had his back to Louis, but Louis could easily discern who it was.  Posture rigid, every muscle tense and taut, hair curled and falling to his shoulders.

Louis watched in dismay, in terrified silence, what he could see.  The creature had a brand on its face, a mark that had not been there before, what looked like a burn in the shape of the chain from Louis’ necklace.

He writhed as he was lifted off the ground, letting out a bloodcurdling sound that abruptly ended when Harry’s hand pulled away from its neck, liquid, blood, black in the moonlight spilling from the gaping, gurgling hole left behind.

Dripped wet from Harry’s fingertips at his side, when he dropped the corpse at his feet.  Louis felt bile rise up in his throat, heart hammering against his ribcage, breaking it and leaving sharp bone to pierce his lungs, making him incapable of taking in any air.

Harry did not turn around to face Louis yet and Louis’ body screamed at him to take the opportunity and run.  Run until he couldn’t anymore, until his lungs collapsed out of breath and he was either safe and away or caught back in Harry’s gaze.

Harry turned then, and his eyes were darker than the heavens and just as green as the haunting woods surrounding them, entrapping Louis.  Focused, and clear.

Louis’ heart rattled in his ribcage, shaking, wanting to escape his unmoving body.  Harry walked closer and Louis’ eyes stayed on him, breath leaving in a sharp exhale when Harry bent down to touch his face.

Harry touched him as if he were made of glass.  Maybe Louis was, where Harry was concerned.  Perhaps to Harry, Louis was breakable.  He did not say a word, and Louis wasn’t sure he would’ve been able to respond if he had.  Nothing except to scream, to cry.

Harry tilted his chin up, to expose his neck, reaching down to trail his fingertips over it, checking for something.  Louis was sure Harry could feel the beat of his pulse, like a cornered, frightened animal.  Wanting nothing more than to disappear.

Goosebumps rose on his skin at the thought of Harry getting the blood from his hand all over his cheek and neck, and Louis reached up to feel the tackiness smudging his jaw.  His vision swam, breathing picking up again.  Harsh against the silence between them, muscles straining, fighting against his wishes.  He still couldn’t move, was frozen in fear.

Harry’s voice was soft, alluring, when he spoke, as if nothing had happened.  As if Louis had not just witnessed what he had.  “Come, Louis… Let us go home.”  Louis didn’t know if he wanted to move anymore.  To go anywhere with Harry.  Chest ready to collapse in on him.

Harry stood and it took everything in Louis not to flinch away when Harry’s hands came down to pick him up, holding Louis to his chest as he began to walk them back up the mountain.  Louis felt paralyzed, frozen, every muscle tense and ready to snap.

He blinked against the black night, stars illuminating their path, nothing more coming out from the woods.  Though a distant howl could be heard from deep within the forest and Harry’s posture only stiffened slightly at the sound.

When Louis could see the castle break through the trees, he did not feel relief at being able to get away from the outside world.  He felt like he was being taken to his grave, to be buried beneath the ground as it collapsed on top of him.  Like his sternum compressing against his lungs and heart.  Leaving him silent, speechless.

He shut his eyes when they stepped into their home, trapped.  He did not reopen them until he was being placed down, the familiar touch of their bedroom’s quilts beneath his palms.  Harry walked towards a wash basin that was there in their chambers, letting the blood clear from his hands.  He brought a damp cloth back to Louis and began to wipe at what he’d left on his neck and jaw.

The water was cold and Louis looked up at him, trying not to pull back or imagine Harry were going to hurt him, with his hands so close to Louis’ windpipe.  Like they had been to that beast’s.

Harry’s long fingers stalled at one of the top buttons of Louis’ shirt, gaze roving, assessing.  “You lost your necklace…” 

What the Madam had done was nothing compared to what had just happened.  Her words came flooding back to him anyways.  About Liesel.  About how he had been the one to kill her; about his arrangement with Harry. 

Louis found his voice, though it was shaky and barely loud enough to be heard over the battling of the candles flames against the shadows in the room.  “Is that what happened to my sister?”  He waited a moment before meeting Harry’s eyes, chest tight and lungs constricting, breathless. “Did you kill her?”

Harry stared down at him, continuing the slow drags of the cloth against his skin.  He was so sure, so direct and unquestioning when he responded, “No.”

Louis’ pulse fluttered when Harry pulled his shirt further away from his neck, to reveal the slightest bit of his shoulder to Harry’s quiet observation.  Louis’ heart was still erratic, stomach shaking in the worst way.  Hands shivering where he pressed them against his knees, “What was that thing?”

He remembered the heavy weight of the beast, holding him down, the flash of teeth, sharp and aiming to tear Louis apart.  The trembling in his hands worsened.  Harry’s voice brought him back from the nightmare, “Do you believe in monsters, Little One?”

Staring up at Harry, Louis wasn’t sure anymore.

Harry met his eyes for a moment, tilting his head in silent question.  Before his mouth was forming the words, revealing as little of his teeth as he could, “That ‘thing’ was a monster.”

Louis’ thoughts beat harder against his skull, wondering if Harry was one too.  The blood no longer marking his skin in patches of red.  Louis wondered if that was why his body would oftentimes react like it needed to get away from Harry.  Why he’d reacted the way he had the night they were to consummate their marriage.

Harry stepped back after he’d cleared Louis’ skin, going back to the bowl of water.  “I will sleep in another room tonight.”

Harry’s words caused another bout of anxiety to inflame him.  He wasn’t sure whether he wanted to be alone in the dark, in a castle that seemed to call out for terrifying things and hide them away in its walls.  At least Harry he knew.  Was used to the frightening way his own body would react to him, even if he hadn’t known at the time what Harry could do.

He did not speak up, did not tell Harry to stay as he went to the door to leave, without another word.  Without another look back at Louis, to see the fright in his eyes, the unease he held in each taut muscle.  Louis stayed where he was for much too long.  Contemplating briefly fleeing back to his old home.

Except it was what was outside of the castle and his bedroom that scared him from leaving, trapped him inside.  What the madam had said reminded him he wouldn’t have been welcome anyways.

Louis changed into clothes that did not reek of terror and climbed back into his bed.  Only eased slightly knowing that Harry would not come back until it was morning.  He trusted his word, as unwise and misguided as that seemed.

Louis didn’t dare blow out the candle on the table beside him, curled up tight and barely able to shut his eyes without fear pounding against them, pleading for him to blink awake and check that he really was alone.  He wasn’t sure he would sleep at all that night, and when the candle finally burned out a streak of morning light from the window replaced it.

Louis’ head pounded, entire body aching from being scrunched so tightly the night before, into the smallest shape so that he could pretend the blankets would protect him.  Weak from everything it had gone through.

Louis wanted to cry, unsure of what to do.  Not wanting to leave the room and too afraid to do so even if he had.

When there was a knock on the door, Louis quickly sat up, pulling the quilts up with him, as if they could shield him from what he didn’t want to see.

Harry came in a moment later, standing by the door and staying that far distance away.  He watched Louis closely and the usually unnerving gaze seemed to relax Louis slightly.  As if Louis didn’t have to be afraid of anything else when Harry was what occupied his every fear. 

The night before had danced over and over again in his mind, when he’d been unable to sleep.  Pranced around like it was enjoying the sound of his silent distress, laughing in the face of his discomfort.

Harry spoke and Louis listened, heart clamming up in its shell.  “I’ll be gone again, for a few days…”  His voice grew a bit firmer, more of a demand than a request.  “Do not leave the house.”

Louis wasn’t sure he could have.  Not when he knew there were things like that monster out there, hiding in the trees.   Harry watched him a moment longer, tone more forceful, “Do you understand, Louis?  Not even to walk around the grounds.”

Louis’ voice was shaky, as he nodded.  “Y-yes.”

He did not need to ask if Harry would be alright, didn’t need to tell him to be safe.  Wasn’t sure he could have managed to even pretend he was worried.  Not after he’d seen what the man was capable of.

He watched again as Harry turned his back to him and left.

 

 

That feeling was there again, as cold as a whisper against the back of his neck.  It caused the hairs there to stand on end, Louis’ voice calling out in the darkened home, shaky and not nearly loud enough for her to hear, “M-momma?”

He was scared, couldn’t move except to quickly duck down and curl into himself, pulling his knees to his chest and bend his head to hide behind them.  The room was cold, so very cold.  And his mother wasn’t coming to get him.  He was starting to shake, hands clammy and mouth dry, his heart beating too loudly in his ear.

The sound of a door slamming shut shot an immediate reaction through Louis. He bolted up, stumbling downstairs in the dark, so quickly, afraid of what could be behind him.  He stopped in the kitchen, looking around the entire room.  The moon slid through the makeshift windows, coloring the sparse furniture in a frightening white.  “Momma?”

Louis turned towards the door, stomach churning in upset.  He ran for it, throwing it open and stepping out into the banks of snow there.  The moon bathed everything in light, and he looked around as the snow dropped down in large, soft clumps.  His voice growing louder, as he looked for her, as he called her name again.

There were a set of footprints, that matched his mother’s boots.  He fell at the end of the trail when it stopped, leading into the woods, trousers soaking up the snow there and leaving him shaking.  The wind blew hard against his frail skin, clinging to his torso and arms, and biting at his cheeks.  He could feel a wet trail on his face, his nose getting runny as he called out for her again, his insides turning over and over.  “Momma?!”  He called again, and again, as if she would respond.  Begging her to say something back to him.  He didn’t know where she went.  He didn’t know why she wouldn’t respond.

He wanted his mother.  He wanted her to pick him up and take him back inside and hold him in front of the fire.  Kiss his cheeks and tell him it was alright, that it would always be okay.

Chapter Text

The house was silent, unfailing in its solitude, sturdy structure a barrier between Louis and everything that lay outside.  It had been a few days and Harry had not yet returned.  Louis had found himself opening the curtains increasingly more so that the sun could stream in and warm the stone floors and the stretches of rug he would walk on with sock covered toes.  He didn’t understand why Harry never let them open.  Why he preferred the darkness to the light.

He ate supper and breakfast alone and moved through the home on silent feet, always looking over his shoulder to see if anyone were there.  Even amongst the bookshelves silent whispers, his pages turning in crisp movements. 

The more days that passed the more Louis found himself almost longing for companionship, for Harry to be back.  The more days that passed from the terrible occurrence, the more his mind muddled with his memories, with what had happened.  The creature had to have just been an animal...  Louis had imagined the blood and the snap of its teeth near his neck.

Harry had just been protecting him.

Louis shut the book he was reading, eyes barely glossing over the words anymore.  He looked down to the ring he still wore.  Wondering if he should take it off, if he should leave.  Almost glad that he had that opportunity since he and Harry had not completed their marriage yet.  Had not made it official.

Except… he wasn’t glad.  His heart beat, mouth wetting slightly when he imagined being close to Harry.  Skin thrumming and stomach churning in excitement, anxiousness.  Harry was his husband and Louis still wanted to be near him, no matter how that conflicted with his thoughts.  With what he thought he’d seen Harry do.

Thought.  There was no way Harry could’ve done something like that.  Not when he was just a human.  Not when that creature was just an animal… a monster Harry had called it.

What kind of monster?

Louis wanted Harry to come home and explain what he had meant.  Found himself caught, wishing Harry were home and hoping he would never return.  Not until Louis could settle his erratic emotions and mind.

Louis couldn’t understand why he would still want to be with him, if Harry were a killer.  Why heat would rise to his cheeks at the thought of Harry holding him or kissing him again.

The closest Harry had ever allowed Louis’ body to be was when he’d carried him to their home.  When he’d washed Louis’ neck and jaw.  Louis’ mouth tingled, wanting to kiss at Harry’s full red lips again.

Louis was a mess.  A mess of feelings, wants, desires, fears. 

He put down his book so that he could try to find Harry’s staff.  Needing company, wanting the secrets to end.

He searched all evening, going to the darkest, scariest corners of the home.  That he’d never seen before, heart beat unpredictable and worry settled heavy in his bones.  Dread against his skin, right beneath the surface, thrumming through his core and murmuring reminders that some secrets were better left alone.

He left a letter at breakfast that next morning, using parchment he had found in Harry’s empty office.  Had felt rather pleased with himself, thinking he could get away with anything, not caring that he might’ve been doing things he wasn’t supposed to, or going places he shouldn’t.  Almost dared Harry to do something about it.

It was not as if he were home, anyways.  To know what Louis was doing.  And Louis felt a small satisfaction at that.  Harry might’ve had his body and mind, heart and instincts warring with one another, causing havoc inside of him and keeping him on edge.  But Louis could at least do that much.  Try to find answers for himself.

His message asked for the staff to start a bath for him.  And he waited behind the dining room door, ear to the hardwood, to hear any movements of the table being cleared or a letter being read, so he could open it and find someone there.  When it had been hours and there was not even a peep he pushed the door gently aside to find an empty table and no reply.

He was so disappointed he could hardly enjoy the hot bath he had found waiting for him upstairs.  Until he’d actually sat in the steaming water and it slowly rung out all of the tension in his muscles, leaving him soft and forgiving, and for once, not frightened by the shadows watching him from the corner.

Maybe he was used to them again.  Had slowly found their presence an ordinary extension of the home, like he had during the two weeks he’d spent with Harry, after the first time he had left.  His fear had been revived after his attack along the road, but sitting in the warm water, letting the soap wash over him, Louis felt comforted by the gloom.

Felt sleepy and relaxed in the water.

When he stepped out and put on a fresh set of clothes he went back to the dining room, to find that still no one was there.  He had even searched in the kitchens the day before.  Nothing but clean dishes and a pot stewing in the hearth awaiting him.

He went back to the second floor, stalling at the top of the stairs.  Looking towards the library and knowing he ought to spend the rest of his afternoon there.  But instead he turned right, towards the hall he hardly ever walked through.

Skin prickling slightly as he moved through its silence, portraits against the walls watching him.  He walked towards the door Harry had told him he was not allowed to go into.  Waiting at its entrance, for a moment, as if something would stop him from looking inside.

The door opened on a creak, hinges unused and rusted as Louis pushed against them, to quickly step inside.  He left the door a small crack behind him.

There was enough light streaming in from the spaces between the curtains, directly across from him, to illuminate the rest of the area.  So that Louis could see what was there.

Tall structures hung against the walls, covered in fabric to keep them away from prying eyes.  There were smaller ones as well, the size of the portraits hanging outside in the hall, creeping into the center of the room, stacked against one another and concealed in thick robes of cloth.

It seemed as if no one had set foot in there in years, dust coating the surface of the floor and webs decorating the walls in soft intricate shapes.  Louis took a few steps in, wondering why it was that Harry didn’t want him to go in there.  What secrets it held.

The room was cluttered along the edges, a circle that Louis walked along.  He stopped when he was in front of one of the larger structures, bronze peeking out from beneath the cloth’s edge.  He stared at it for too long, heart ratcheting, steady, against his ribs.  Until he was reaching out to feel the velvet beneath his fingertips.

A cool breeze tickled the back of his neck.

Louis had that feeling again.  He had felt it once before, when he had been a child.  A cold curling up his spine, clamping down on it and holding his posture straight. 

A breath escaped him and he gripped the drapes in front of him a bit tighter.

It was only a moment before long fingers were reaching out by his side, to touch over the back of Louis’ hand, grip over it to gently pull it back.  He let the fabric slip from his fingertips.  He could feel the solid warmth of the body behind him, his other hand reaching to grasp at Louis’ hip and slide onto his lower stomach, to pull him back and even closer into Harry’s body.

The press of Harry’s nose into Louis’ neck caused his breath to stutter, his heart to pick up its pace.  Harry dragged his lips over the column of Louis’ neck, stopping beneath his jaw.  To murmur, “I thought I told you to stay away from here…”  The movement of his mouth, cool and just barely there, created sparks beneath Louis’ skin, lighting him up and making him lose the steadiness of his thoughts.

“You did…”  Louis’ voice was surprisingly steady, small and quiet as it was.  Harry had never been so close before.  Had never allowed it.  Louis was not as frightened as he thought he’d be, almost relaxing back into his embrace.

“Do you only listen to some of my rules, Little One?  You didn’t leave the house…”  The way Harry’s mouth lingered against his pulse had Louis’ brain going fuzzy.   Head screaming danger, body pliant beneath his touch.

Louis’ voice was a murmur when he replied.  “I didn’t think you would be back…”

Harry pulled away to grab Louis’ hand and start guiding him back towards the door.  Not a trace of amusement on his face, even as he asked.  “Didn’t think you would get caught?”

Harry shut the door with a resolute click when they were back in the hall.  Dropping Louis’ hand as if he’d remembered what had happened the night before he’d left.  Louis could see the dark colors beneath his eyes, the paleness of his skin, hardly any color to it at all.

Now that Harry wasn’t touching him he felt as if he could move, taking a step back to ease his tumultuous heart.

He had so many questions bubbling up at the tip of his tongue.  He did not ask a single one, knowing Harry would not answer; unsure of how to word what he was feeling.

Instead, he continued looking him over.  Noticing the fabric at the side of his vest was coming up, in undone stitches, as if torn by something sharp.  Four even swipes like claw marks.  Harry did not seem injured though, did not seem to have even realized they were there.

Louis asked, timidly, “Are you feeling ill?”  He would’ve reached up to touch Harry’s cheek, if he’d felt like he could.  If he’d thought his husband would be okay with the action.  Harry’s eyes were dark, mouth pressed into a contemplative line.

He shook his head, but it seemed like he was lying.  Keeping more secrets.  Not even his husband would tell him if he was feeling poorly.  Louis felt a prickling of anxiety, wondering why Harry didn’t trust him.  It was a bit hypocritical when Louis had found himself questioning Harry just as much.  Wondering if he could trust the man who so often had his blood shaking in his veins.

Perhaps if Louis were to know the truth he would no longer be so afraid… Could openly love Harry, want him like he’d felt those first fleeting days of their matrimony.

Harry sat with him at the dinner table that night, posture tense and not even feigning to eat the meal set down in front of him.  He did not stay in their bed again that night and Louis didn’t ask him to.  Though worry filled his veins and caused him an ill spent rest.

 

Harry was sitting beside him when he woke up.  And it should’ve startled Louis, when Harry hadn’t slept there the night before, but it did not.  Louis merely blinked, noticing the book in Harry’s hands, that he was looking at.  The one he’d said was his favorite when he’d first showed Louis his library; words written in German, that Louis would’ve tried to read if he could’ve understood the language.

Harry realized he was awake, the movement of his hands against the pages slowing.  Louis watched him for a long moment.  Before he was murmuring, “My mother used to read me fairytales…,” sleep laden still.

Harry looked down at him after another turn of the page, enquiring lightly, “Would you like me to read you one?”

Louis nodded his head, soft pillow against his cheek.  Harry turned to a different section of the book, fingers delicate with the worn pages.  Before he began, tone soothing and quiet among the faraway thoughts in Louis’ mind.  “Once upon a time there was a sweet girl…  Everyone who saw her liked her, but most of all her grandmother, who did not know what to give the child next.”

He glanced down at Louis periodically, maybe to see if he was enjoying it, or to see if he was drifting back to sleep at the gentle lull in Harry’s voice.  But Louis was listening intently, feeling more comfortable than he had since the evening he’d returned from Niall’s home.  “She gave her a little cap made of red velvet…  Because it suited her so well, and she wanted to wear it all the time, she came to be known as Little Red Cap.”

The story made Louis think back to when his mother would read to him, in their house deep in the forest’s bed.  He smiled up at Harry when Harry looked back down at him, not really needing to look at the pages to know the tale by heart.  He must’ve read it so many times when he had been younger. 

Maybe his mother had also read to him.  “The grandmother lived out in the woods, a half hour from the village.  When Little Red Cap entered them a wolf came up to her.  She did not know what a wicked animal he was, and was not afraid of him.”

It was like Louis’ home had been, out among the trees.  Perhaps Louis was living in his own fairytale.  There were monsters in the stories, like the creature that had attacked him.  There were princes too, and castles, and children walking by themselves on the road.  Wolves hiding in plain sight.

“Then he said, ‘Listen, Little Red Cap, haven’t you seen the beautiful flowers that are blossoming in the woods?  Why don’t you go and take a look?  And I don’t believe you can hear how beautifully the birds are singing.  You are walking along as though you were on your way to school in the village.  It is very beautiful in the woods.”  Louis leaned the slightest bit closer, to press his hand to Harry’s side, wanting the distance between them to go away.

Harry was his husband and he was Harry’s…  He didn’t want to be afraid of him.

In the story the wolf ate the grandmother and Little Red Cap proceeded to her house still.  Louis shut his eyes tight, leaving his hand there as Harry continued, words slow and drawling.  “She walked into the parlor, and everything looked so strange that she thought, ‘Why am I so afraid?  I usually like it at grandmother’s.’”

Louis took in a small breath, trying to relax.  Until Harry’s hand, the same one that had grabbed his the day before, found its place back on top of his own.  Smoothing out the tendons there, lifting his fist so he could curl their fingers together instead.

The breath in Louis’ lungs flew out.  He kept his eyes closed but could feel his muscles loosen just the slightest bit.  The smallest of graces.

Harry continued his reading, holding Louis’ hand so gently.  Louis’ mind flickering from the point of contact, the touch, to Harry’s melodic words, how the wolf ate Little Red Cap up as well and a huntsman was able to save her and her grandmother.  Louis was sure he had heard the story before, a long, long time ago.  Much longer than he could quite remember. 

The final sentence of the fairytale resonated with him, a warning, “And Little Red Cap thought to herself, ‘As long as I live, I will never leave the path and run off into the woods by myself if mother tells me not to.’”

Harry’s fingers were like an anchor against Louis’ hand, his knuckles, reaching down to curl across his wrist and feel the pulse beneath the bone.  The rush of blood in his veins.

Chapter Text

Harry, as the days progressed, continued looking more and more gaunt.  Skin colder and movements sharper.  More frenzied.  Louis wondered what was wrong with him, sent Harry to their bed numerous times, to have him rest so he could get better.  Harry would fight him on it every time, rarely with words, refusing silently to do as Louis asked.

Louis hated it.  Wanted to take care of his husband.  He felt so useless, knowing there was nothing he could do.  Nothing he could do for Harry… nothing he could do for anyone.

He had thought of his sister a number of times since his return to the castle, stomach twisting into knots and emotion pinching at his eyes when he remembered the creature that had attacked him.  Wondered, again, if the same thing had happened to her.

He wished he knew whether she had been found, or if she really was dead like the Madam had said.  He hoped she wasn’t, prayed his family could tell him the opposite.

But he was being kept away in Harry’s castle and couldn’t leave to see them.  Knew what the Madam wanted of him before he returned to her home.  To sleep with Harry and make their arrangement valid.

He still didn’t understand why she had blamed him, why he had to uphold an agreement when he wasn’t even sure what the terms of it were.  He knew he wasn’t ready for it yet, though… not with the knowledge of everything that had transpired the night Harry had saved him.  Not with so many secrets keeping them apart.

Even if the idea of being with Harry like that made his cheeks warm, hot like the sun knocking at the window.

Louis set his book down, he hadn’t been reading it.  He could hardly get himself to read at all when everything in his brain was so muddled.  So many questions and uncertainties carving themselves into his skull.

Louis wondered how he could have been expected to read when Harry’s behavior confused him more than anything else.  He glanced across the room to see him hunched over his desk, writing something in hard scrapes of his quill against parchment.  Louis sat up a little straighter in his chair, waiting for Harry’s hand to pause, to ask, “Who are you writing to?”   He kept his book open to a page in his lap, so he could glance at it and pretend he was reading if Harry turned to look at him.  Pretend he wasn’t listening intently and wondering if Harry would answer him at all.

A few long moments passed and Harry did not stop his incessant scrawl when he finally replied, “A business contact…”

Louis’ foot tapped against the floor lightly, restless energy.  “Is that where you go then?  When you leave?”  He glanced at Harry’s back, to see him straighten slightly, hand slowing the tiniest bit.  “To visit a ‘business contact’…?”  He thought back to those people who had attended their ball.  The way they had observed his every movement.

Harry stayed silent again, for longer, before he was setting his quill down altogether.  He didn’t turn, his tone terse, “That is correct.” 

Harry had gotten much more irritable over the past few days.  The sicker he looked, the shorter his temper grew.  Louis had a habit of riling him up when he was like that.  It was terribly easy to.  He barely had to do anything before Harry was glowering at him.

Louis watched Harry for a second longer, skin crawling with spiders, “Why is it that people from the village keep disappearing?” 

The room went as silent as the dead.  More than it had already been.  Stoking the fire of his enquiring mind and burning at his thoughts.  It was a moment before Harry responded.  “Why do you think I have an answer for you?”

Louis pursed his mouth, words quieter as he picked lightly at the edge of the page he was on.  “Well, you knew that thing in the woods had been a monster…”

Harry turned around to look at him then and Louis’ eyes quickly fell back to his book.  He only managed a small glance up at Harry, to see a stony expression and his mouth set in a quiet line before he spoke, murmuring a deliberate, “I want to protect you.”  Louis’ cheeks flushed, his brows furrowing as Harry continued, tone tightening a touch as he stared at the way the blood rushed to Louis’ face. “Sometimes it’s best not to know what will only frighten you.”

“I’m not scared…” slipped from Louis’ mouth.  In a whisper.  In a lie.  Harry looked as if he wanted to draw closer, but stood to move towards the door instead.

With his back to Louis he replied, shoulders stiff, “Do not say things you'll later regret, Little One.”

He walked out before Louis could form a response, dumbfounding him.  Louis stared after his retreating figure, heart beating quick and muscles tensing.  He jumped up to follow after him. 

Harry wasn’t in the hallway when Louis got there and Louis called out his name, loudly.  The loudest he’d ever been in the castle, hoping that Harry would come back.  The sound of his voice echoed off the high ceilings and shook the sudden anxieties in his chest.

He’d promised he’d come if Louis ever called for him.  There were no footsteps to indicate he was keeping to that promise. 

Louis moved down the hall towards the stairs, a little more panicked, Harry’s name twisting out of his mouth and spiraling up into the tangled jewels of the chandeliers.  Louis looked down the steps towards the entrance of their home.

He stared at the door for a long moment, wondering if Harry had left completely.  He wasn’t in their room, wasn’t in the library either when Louis looked.  Louis felt a prickle of nerves, wondering where Harry had gone, why he was ignoring him.

Louis turned again and noticed the room he’d been found in before.  The one Harry had told him not to go into. 

On a rush, a jolt of necessity he went to it, opening the door to reveal the insides, drowning in the dark.  He immediately went to the nearest structure, yanking the cloth from its frame.  Needing to know what it was.  Even if Harry had told him to stay away. 

What stared back at him was himself, his reflection in a mirror.  Shadowed images appearing over Louis’ shoulders and making his pulse race harder.  Louis tore to the next one, pulling the fabric away to reveal the same thing, a glass surface, bringing into focus his sharp features, breaths heavy as he pulled away the concealments from the other mirrors in the room.   Some of them were broken, had been for a long time, shards of glass fragile and creating distorted images of his face.

He wondered how they had broken, pieces falling at the pull of the covering, creating a symphony as their sharp edges clinked against the hard floor.

He was left staring back at himself everywhere he turned and he stepped away from the images, until he was in the middle of the room.  Looking at the distorted, haunting reflections watching him back. 

Louis’ pulse was running through his veins, hard and heavy, panting around his confusion.  Expecting something in the image to come to life in the age old mirrors, dark smudges in the corners of the timeworn glass tricking his mind.

There was concern etched into his brow, a wideness to his eyes.  Harry appeared in front of him and the sound of rain slammed against the floor as the glass shattered with his fist against it.  Distorting the image of Louis on its once smooth surface.  Louis drew in a harsh breath, moving back. 

He didn’t know how he hadn’t seen Harry approach, how he had just appeared.  Like the night he’d killed that monster.

Louis stumbled a few more steps further when Harry looked at him, panic rising up his throat and coiling around his words.  “I didn’t—I.”  Harry’s eyes were piercing, wild.  He pulled back from the glass and no blood dripped from his hand that time.  Nothing to indicate he’d just broken the mirror there.

“You didn’t listen to me.”  Harry’s voice was low, foreboding and he took slow paces towards Louis.  Stalking, creeping.  Louis took his own back, still, to keep the distance between him.

The air in the room was alive suddenly, no longer the stale breath it had been.  Louis felt his muscles tightening, with the need to bolt.  His brain telling him that running right then would be the worst thing he could do.

He looked towards the door, eyes falling on another mirror instead.  It only had one reflection glittering off of it and his mouth fell dry as he searched the other mirrors for Harry’s image, to see him trailing closer.  He could not find him in any of them.

“You said you weren’t afraid.  Are you still not afraid, Louis?”  His tone was hostile, lilting in a melodic, enticing drawl.  Inviting Louis closer.  His shoulders were hunched, eyes setting each of Louis’ limbs on fire.

Louis’ stomach lurched, his hands by his sides.  They weren’t shaking like they had so long before.  Though every muscle in his body that Harry rested his eyes upon did instead.  A small, unnoticeable movement.  A quiver of adrenaline and fear.

Louis looked towards the mirror again, knowing he wouldn’t see Harry that time.  The discrepancy between his previous reality and what was there sent jolts of panic down his spine.  Leaving him undone, defenseless.  Terrified.  It was only another moment before Harry was in front of his vision again, sending glass onto the hard floor as he slammed into the new mirror that held Louis’ gaze.  And then to the rest of them in the room, shattered crystal falling all around him.

Harry’s movements were quicker than the breath running from Louis’ lungs.  Speeding even further as cracking sounds filled his ears, Louis’ eyes trying in vain to find him.  To locate the danger in the room, the monster.

Harry’s voice could be heard over the sound.  The soft clank beneath the heel of Louis’ boot as he stepped onto the glass already on the floor behind him.  Words a growl, a rumble of thunder across the clouds.  “You should have listened to me, Louis.  If you’re so afraid of what I am then don’t look!”

Louis’ heart beat erratically.  Legs unable to carry him to the door.  He backed onto the shards of mirror decorating the floor, stopping when his hands came up to keep him from falling onto them.  His hand slicing into the glass there and filling the room with copper and rust as red dripped onto the splinters of glass beneath him.

Harry stopped immediately.  Poised like a porcelain doll, a statue.  The crying angels imprisoned to the fountain outside.  He was across the room from Louis, eyes going even darker, all the green that had been there before turning black, obsidian.  There was a sharp stinging at Louis’ cut and across his cheeks when he felt the horrified flush crawl up his neck.

Harry was there a second later gripping hard to his bleeding hand, and Louis’ heart spiked when he saw the way Harry was looking at him, with frenzied, feverish intent.

Chapter Text

Harry’s hold was tight, sharp, nails digging further into the soft flesh of his palm.  Louis let out a cry, Harry’s gaze dipping darker at the sound.  Like he enjoyed it.  He let his fingers trail to the back of Louis’, entwining them and forcing Louis’ hand open for him.

Louis’ eyes stung and he took in a shuddery breath, skin breaking out in a cold sweat, shivering and hot all over.

Harry moved his mouth down to the cut, shifting the two of them until Louis’ back hit the glass, as he let out a choked, hiccupped, “H-Harry.”  He reached forward with his free hand to grip onto the front of Harry’s shirt.  Yank as if that could do anything, shove.  But Harry remained unmoving, solid and strong.  Like the rush of his heart, firm and unyielding.  Scared and panicked.

Harry’s other arm caged Louis against the glass.  Pressing him further back into the broken mirror, more of it falling to the ground at the action.  As if Harry wanted further cuts to slice across Louis’ skin, leaving him bleeding and hurt.

Louis’ cheeks burned, throat dry.  Unable to say anything more, lungs forced shut with a hand gripping them tight.  Harry’s tongue came out to press against the red, rough line on his palm and Louis let out a low whimper, insides squirming at the feeling.  The soft, wetness against his hand, Harry’s massive body against his front.  Trapping him and keeping him there, emotions bare and vulnerable.

His heart was growing flighty, beating at an unpredictable speed.  Louis was sure he saw a flash of fangs, like the creature from before, when his eyes fell to Harry’s mouth, blood smudging his lips.  Louis’ blood.

Louis could feel his brain going hot, cut hurting less and less with each careful stroke of Harry’s tongue, thorough drags, as he pressed his body closer and their hips lined up in the barest brush of motion. A slow heat was unfurling in Louis’ tummy and he exhaled a breath, a hitched, quiet moan.  He couldn’t pull his hand back, had nowhere to go.  A pull curling up his body and settling itself heavy on his limbs, at the bottom of his spine.

Harry shifted back, just enough to move his mouth to Louis’ neck instead.  Press it along the line of his throat.  Louis’ mind was too fuzzy, irregular bursts warning him to get away, the rest of him defiant to its will. 

Harry’s mouth against his cut had caused his muscles to grow slack and his eyes to close, letting Harry do to him whatever it is he wanted.  Louis let out another moan, a delicate sound.  Breaths falling out of his mouth in quiet pants.

Harry’s lips brushed against the sensitive skin beneath his jaw, searching for the fluttering pulse there.  His voice was husky, sent shivers down Louis’ skin when he murmured, “Tell me it’s okay.”  His breath came out soft against Louis’ skin, spellbinding.  Louis’ knees went weak, as he gripped harder to Harry’s shirt.

His mind spun, murky in the room.  He could feel the faintest points of sharpness, dragging across his neck, making goosebumps appear.  He shut his eyes tighter, resisting the temptation to bare his neck for Harry more.

It was a moment, Louis’ face tilted away, when Harry’s back loosened beneath Louis’ hand, that had found its way to his shoulder blade.  Louis didn’t dare open his eyes, even as Harry pulled away completely from his neck; even as he could feel the faintest sweep of a knuckle across his cheekbone.  A jolting, quiet, “I’m sorry…” 

The statement jarred Louis, confused him.  Made his heart spasm again, tear tracks cool against his cheeks.

Harry pulled away even more, stepped back, and Louis collapsed, Harry’s arms reaching out to catch him immediately, scooping him up to take him from the room.  Louis’ vision swam when he opened his eyes, trying to grasp onto something, shutting again without his permission.  Blinking in slow, even movements, hummingbird’s wings against his cheeks.

Harry laid him down against the sheets of their bed and Louis could feel where Harry was touching his hand, in soothing motions, wrapping it in a thin strip of cloth.  More mumbled apologies, Louis’ brain quieting against the murmured words.  Falling dark to the world, with the last feeling of Harry’s fingertips wiping at the dampness against his face, clearing it away.

 

Louis awoke with a jerk, mind pounding heavy, cotton to his senses.  He stared down at the floor, letting the darkness in the room settle.  Before he was reaching for the candle stick beside him, to bring light into the room.

He stood, on shaky legs, hand finding the bed’s post to keep himself steady.  It was a moment before he was taking himself and the candle towards the door, creeping shadows trying to enter the circle of brightness the flame provided.  He ignored them, stepping out into the hall and calling out Harry’s name.  Afraid he wouldn’t respond again, like before.  Afraid he would and Louis would be once again ensnared within his proximity.

But Harry hadn’t killed him…  Had apologized even.  At least, that Louis thought he remembered.  The sound of a door swinging open caught Louis’ attention.  It was the library.  Harry must’ve been there, letting Louis have the chance to change his mind and go back to their room.  To be alone, or to face his fears and go to him instead.

On an unsteady breath he moved towards the library, steps soft against the floor.  When he entered, his eyes fell upon his husband.  Next to the fire, leaning against the mantle and staring at the way its flames licked up the sides of the hearth.  Begging for escape.

Harry didn’t move, didn’t look towards him and it would’ve been unnerving, the way he stood so still, if Louis had any more nerves to fray.  Louis skirted around him, staying farther back.  Knowing if Harry wanted to bridge the gap between them, he could.  Before Louis even realized he’d done it.

He’d been so fast earlier…  As fast as Louis’ heart, which started turning, like a clock running out of time.

Louis set down his candle against a table.  Glancing down at it instead of Harry’s back.  He would not allow fear or anxiousness to cloud his words, speaking slowly, so as to make sure his thoughts were coming out clearly.  His first question of many floating around in his mind.  “Was that creature in the woods… Are you and that,” monster, he stopped short.  Rearranging his thoughts to say instead, “are you the same?”

Harry stayed silent for a few moments, as if he had noticed Louis’ mistake, knew what he had wanted to say.  He nodded, the slightest movement of his head.  Still facing the flames.  Even as he clarified, voice deep and low, “The same, but the creature in the woods was beyond coming back… likely hadn’t fed in weeks.”

That brought the thump back to Louis’ chest, unpleasant against his skin.  Had to be bruising with the force of it.

Fed… the monster had tried to tear Louis apart.  Almost like Harry had.  His words came out in a whisper and he tried to make them stronger.  To hide his insecurities.  “Would you become like that?”

Harry didn’t take as long to respond that time, standing straighter and moving back from the fireplace.  “If I waited long enough to feed, yes.”  He still remained facing away and it helped lessen Louis’ anxieties.

Louis knew the answer before he asked his next question, breathy and quiet. Needing to make sure his notion was correct.  “What do you feed on?”

Harry turned then, walking towards him, pace steady.  Closing the distance between them.  Louis stood tall, trying not to allow his fright get the better of him.  As it always seemed to do. 

Harry stopped in front of Louis, a foot away, to trail his fingertips over the veins in Louis’ arms.  From his wrist to his inner elbow.  Skin sensitive and pulse aflutter. “I feed on what gives you life, Little One...  What circulates through your body and pumps through your heart.”

Louis looked down to where Harry’s hand lingered.  Before he was drawing his arm back.  He needed to concentrate, couldn’t be distracted by the movements Harry made.

He looked back up to find Harry still watching him.  Attentive, following the curve of his jaw to the press of his mouth with his gaze.  “Is that why I’m here?  Is that what our arrangement is…?”  Louis’ rampant thoughts didn’t allow his mouth time to cease.  He continued, tone only a hint harsher, “For you to feed from me and not the villagers?”

Louis did not stop, his brows pinching and his judgements coming more rapidly.  Everything the Madam had said to him, what he had overheard his parents talking about in his father’s office twisting around in his head.  “Since we haven’t consummated the marriage, do you not need to follow the agreement?  Have you been taking the villagers… Mira, my sister?”

Harry’s hand against his cheek brought Louis’ mouth to a sharp close.  Harry gripped at his jaw, not hard enough to hurt, but enough to gather his attention.  “I’ve already told you before.  I have not touched her.  I don’t know what has happened to your sister, where she is, or if she’s even alive.”

The truth behind his words did nothing to calm Louis in wondering where Liesel was, if she was okay.  It did ease some of the franticness from Louis’ thoughts though.  As he took a breath to steady himself, and continued on.  “How long have you had this agreement with my village?”

Harry continued the light pressure of his thumb against Louis’ jaw, a sweeping motion.  As he replied.  “A long time, Little One…”

Louis swallowed down on the unease that tripped through him.  Remembering his father saying that Harry had only ever had maidens before.  “What did you do to the others?  The girls you married before me?”

Harry watched the motion of his hand, murmuring.  “I didn’t want them…”

Louis wanted to pull back, jerk away, but he didn’t.  The staccato of his heart’s beat piercing in his ear.  “So you killed them?”  Harry’s thumb didn’t stop its gentle movement.  It was in such opposition to Louis’ nerves.  Smooth, soothing.  Louis’ next question shook the tiniest bit, as he whispered, “What happens when you don’t want me anymore?”

That had Harry stopping.  To meet his gaze.  Unquestioning, even as he removed himself from touching Louis altogether. “I don’t think that will happen, Little One...”

Louis could not stop the agitation in his heart, even at the words.  Thoughts even more erratic, wondering so many things; why Harry would say that to him.  Why he didn’t think he would tire of Louis, or want to get rid of him like he had his previous partners.

Louis could not ask though, could not when Harry was turning, to sit by the hearth instead and cutting a significant end to their conversation.  Not saying anything more, or even looking at Louis.  Staring into the fire where the flames burned red across the green of his eyes.

 

There were the normal utensils at supper, as there were every night and Louis decided he would keep the knife with him when he left the table that evening.  Harry didn’t seem all too worried by Louis appropriating the object.  He probably couldn’t get hurt if Louis were to use it against him anyways.  Not that Louis had any intention of doing so.

The knife was for another purpose.

He sat down in the parlor by himself, placing the utensil on the table beside his chair.  Staring at it for a peculiarly long amount of time.  He had thought about using it for the past few days, ever since his and Harry’s conversation in the library.  Wondering… wanting to know what the draw was.  The temptation to drink.

He took the end of the knife after a moment, running it along the pad of his finger.  The pain was quick, a dull throb.  Louis watched the droplet of red collect on his fingertip, feeling oddly removed.  Saw the way the flickering light from the fireplace sparkled off of its surface.

Louis brought it up to his mouth, closing his lips around it.  To taste.  Just for a moment.

He immediately made a face after he removed his finger, the blood bitter against his tongue.

Louis knew Harry was there again, knew exactly when he had appeared.  Had felt Harry’s eyes on his profile, watching his every motion when he’d let the blade slice his finger.  Harry drew nearer when Louis made his face, dropping to his knees in front of Louis’ chair. 

It did not scare Louis, their proximity.  Louis was much too tired to be afraid.  Had not rested well ever since he had been attacked in the woods.

Another droplet began to well up on Louis’ finger, he had cut too deep, and Harry watched the motion, before flicking his gaze up to Louis’.  “Not a fan of the taste?”

Louis shook his head, teetering on the edge of something sharp.  “You like it though…” he responded quietly.

Harry looked back towards the red, hands finding Louis’ knees first before running up his thighs, slowly, towards his hips.  He hummed lowly, “I wouldn’t say I have any inclination towards the taste.  It’s more of a compulsion.  To have it...  A need.”

Louis watched him for a moment longer, butterflies turning in his tummy as Harry’s hands caressed over his legs.  As he shifted closer.  Louis pouted his lips out, petulantly murmuring, “It hurts…”  Remembering what it had felt like when Harry had put his mouth against his cut before, how it had tempered the pain. 

A small part of Louis wanted it again, the feeling of being so close to him, to someone.  A small part that Louis wanted to pretend didn’t exist.

The curve of Harry’s lips turned up the slightest bit.  He spread Louis’ legs so he could fit himself between them better.  Voice gentle and tempting, “Would you like me to make it better, Little One?”  He leaned even closer and their proximity brought back the fuzziness to Louis’ brain.  “Would you like me to paint my lips with your blood?”

Louis nodded hesitantly, biting down lightly on his lower lip.  Insides swooping at what he was allowing Harry to do.  He watched as Harry reached up to guide his finger towards his mouth, pressing the tip of it lightly against his bottom lip, turning it even redder.  He parted his mouth and Louis’ heart sped when he could feel Harry’s tongue press, warm, against his finger.

The stinging stopped, a slow suction of Harry’s lips making Louis harden in his pants.  Feel squirmy where he sat.  Harry pulled his finger away and the cut was still there, but no longer bleeding, pain no longer present.

He immediately bent his head up to catch Louis’ mouth with his own.  Insistent.  Louis making a soft sound into the motion, parting his lips when Harry licked against them.  The bitter taste was dull, only a hint, and it was addicting against Harry’s tongue.  He had never been kissed like that before.  Harry so dominant, and craving so much.

Louis roamed hesitantly, Harry’s mouth soft and wet, giving beneath his own.  Louis’ cheeks were hot and Harry’s hand’s moved up to grip at his hips, thumbing along the bone there.

He let out a quiet gasp when something sharp pricked the tip of his tongue.  Pulling away to blink back at Harry.  Who continued to press kisses to the corner of his lips with a murmured, “Be careful, Little One.  Where your tongue may wander.”

Louis caught his breath back, where it was leaving in rushed, overwhelmed huffs, his own hands coming up to grasp at Harry’s strong jaw.  To lean away, and ask, in a soft hush, “Can I see them?”  His heart beat quicker, knowing what he was asking could scare him again.

But he wanted to see, wanted to know.

Harry stayed still for a few long moments, studying his expression, as if assessing whether Louis really wanted what he asked for.  When he found his answer, he bared his teeth, two sharp fangs resting amongst the others, where there should’ve been normal, dull canines.  Louis stared in fascination.  Wanting to touch one, but not wanting to make himself bleed again.  Not yet.

Not when he was still processing everything that was happening to him, everything that had occurred since Louis had revealed the mirrors in that broken room days earlier. 

The way his body was reacting, now, so differently from before.  Towards Harry… towards his husband.

Wanting suddenly so much more.

Chapter Text

“You’re younger than me, Niall, which means we have to hold hands.  So you don’t get lost.”  Niall was only one and a half years younger than Louis, but he didn’t complain.  Happily fitting his smaller hand into Louis’ only slightly larger one. 

They walked through the bustling forest, light streaming down on them and birds chattering among the branches.  Each of their baskets swinging low by their knees.

They stopped when one of them would spot another mushroom, to put it into their baskets, which were already getting full.  But it was so nice outside, among the sweet laughing breeze and euphoric clouds.

Niall dropped Louis’ hand to scamper a few steps ahead and grab another two mushrooms, growing side by side, smiling back at him afterwards and showing him his find.  He continued forward when Louis complimented his scavenging skills, to run in-between more trees.  Louis followed closely behind, thinking he might’ve needed to grab Niall’s hand again.  The Madam would’ve punished him if he lost the younger boy; Liam was supposed to be out with them, but she’d let them go without him, if they didn’t stray too far and Louis watched Niall very closely.

“Niall!”  He hurried after him when his shape disappeared between the foliage.  He only had a second of panic before Niall was calling back, an excited, “Louis!  Come look!”

Louis followed the voice, stumbling upon a clearing among the trees, where bushes of flowers sprung up, poised and ripe for picking.  Niall already had his hand on a few stems, pulling them from their roots.  “We can bring some to Klara and Liesel and Mother.”

Louis watched him for a moment longer, before nodding, with a small smile, “Okay.”  He pressed his mouth together, stepping a bit closer, “Should we get some for the baby in your Momma’s belly?”  Niall shrugged, continuing his picking, and Louis thought he’d do it anyway.  Thinking that maybe then the Madam would smile at him and pet through his hair.  Like his own Mother used to do. 

Louis wished he could’ve gotten her flowers too.  But he wouldn’t have known where to put them, since she wouldn’t have been there to take them herself.

The thought momentarily stung at his eyes, before Niall was presenting him with a rose, and running the petals against his face until he sneezed.  Louis hugged Niall as tight as he could before helping him pick out the prettiest flowers for his sisters.

When they had grabbed as many as needed, they headed back hand in hand again.  Baskets full enough that they left a trail of flowers and mushrooms behind them all the way home.

 

 

Louis had just finished changing out of his bedclothes when Harry came back into their bedroom.  He was holding a letter, walking towards Louis to give it to him.  “There was a letter for you…”

Louis tilted his head, slightly, before grabbing for it.  He hadn’t ever received a letter addressed to himself before.  He looked over its outside, his name written on the front in a familiar scrawl.  Louis tore it open to see his father’s writing, sharp and uneven, and Louis’ brow furrowed.  For just a moment as he read over the contents.

His words were in a rush when he looked up towards Harry, “He wants me to come home.  Says he has a few things to speak with me about.”  He paused only a moment longer before he was folding up the letter and grabbing for his cloak.

Harry’s hand came out to grip his wrist before he could get very far.  He guided Louis towards him, until he could rest his hands against his lower back instead, keep him enclosed in his arms.  “Where do you think you’re going?”

Louis pressed his mouth together, before responding, an unsure, “Going to see him…”  He knew that wasn’t the correct response just by the way Harry was looking at him.  Expression firm as he pulled Louis even closer into his space.

“Did you forget what happened the last time you left?”  Louis bit down on his lower lip, feeling fidgety.  He shook his head, remembering clearly the creature that had attacked him.  How scared he’d been.  How he’d thought he would die.

He had to go though.  “But that was at night.  You told me that you can’t go out during the daytime.  I’ll be careful.  I’ll come back much earlier than before.”

Harry shook his head, tilting Louis’ chin up to maintain their eye contact.  “Do you think I’m the only monster out there?”  He didn’t wait for an answer, warning, “There are those that dance in the light.”

Louis blinked slowly.  He didn’t like the thought of other creatures out there, moving about when he and his family did.  He wondered what they were, where they were.  He would not be afraid though, he had lived his life without the knowledge of them before and he wanted to see his family again.  So much had happened since he last had.

Louis pushed his lower lip out slightly, leaning into the touch of Harry’s hand against his cheek, running his own fingertips over the front of Harry’s shirt.  He moved the slightest bit closer, always so drawn to him.  “I’ll be careful, I promise…”  Harry watched with narrowed eyes, knowing what Louis was trying to do.  Persuade him with a soft pouted mouth and pleading blue eyes.  “Please, can I go?”

Harry pressed his own mouth into a thin line, tracing his thumb across Louis’ lower lip.  It sent Louis’ cheeks into a pink frenzy, as he tried to focus back on what he’d been aiming to do.  Not on what he wanted Harry to do to his mouth right then. 

“No.”  His response startled Louis from his thought.

His brows pinched.  “He’s my father.  You must’ve had a father yourself?  A mother?  Wouldn’t you have done what they asked of you…?”  That seemed to win Louis some ground, Harry’s eyes flicking away momentarily, his muscles easing just the slightest.  Louis pressed closer, leaning his head against his chest, to ask in a smaller voice, “Please, Harry.”

Louis loved being so close to Harry.  He hoped Harry liked it enough too, to give Louis his way.

He shook his head though, again.  Without giving Louis a proper reason, or one that he found acceptable enough.

Harry distracted him from his disappointment after that, by taking him to the ballroom and dancing with him, even if no one were there to play them music.

He kept a watchful eye on him and Louis was content enough to have the attention that he stopped thinking about the letter and his father for a good portion of the day.  He craved any and all attention from his husband, wanted to spend time with him and talk with him always.  Harry had very interesting stories, when he felt inclined to share them.  Even if it seemed he’d rather listen to Louis share his stories instead.

They moved in time across the floor, with only a few missteps from Louis that Harry quickly corrected with compliments and a guiding hand at his waist.  They hadn’t danced at the ball they had held before and Louis was delighted to be doing it then.  Even if Harry had denied him the permission to leave the castle.

Louis knew he would do it anyways, when Harry wasn’t paying attention to him.  

Harry would be furious that he did, but Louis could not bring himself to think about it in that moment.  He had more selfish thoughts weighing on his mind.  His father’s wishes and hearing what he had to say, knowing whether they had stopped searching for his sister, seeing his family again.  Even if the madam wouldn’t want him there. 

The opportunity arose much sooner than Louis had thought it would.

The next day when Louis woke up alone in bed and Harry did not join him for breakfast, it was as if he were giving Louis the opportunity to leave.  Though he likely did not think Louis would disobey him.

Louis was quick when he grabbed his cloak and bolted out the door, trying to be quiet on his feet so that Harry would not be alerted so readily to his departure.  He would not be able to follow him anyways, as Louis stepped out into the sun, but it was still better to let his potential anger have less time to dwell.

It would not be until night fell upon the mountain’s side and creeped its way through the woods that Harry could get to him.  If he really wanted.

 

Louis’ travel back to his old home was without incident.  Though he kept an eye over his shoulder the entire time once he’d left the castle.  He wondered how quickly Harry would’ve realized he wasn’t there anymore.  He’d probably heard when the door had opened, but Louis had already slipped out into the daylight by that time.

Louis felt a little bad, for leaving against Harry’s wishes.  But Harry was always leaving on business and Louis found that he didn’t entirely believe that was actually what Harry was doing.

Still, he kept an eye out for any sign of danger, though the woods seemed tame and the path stayed clear.  Not even the trees seemed to be reaching out for him, staying rooted in their spots by the side of the road.

When Louis arrived at his old home, he was jittery.  Mind coming up with the wildest ideas of what Harry would possibly do when he went back home that night.  He could ignore him, scold him, look at him with disappointment in his eyes.  All options Louis didn’t like very much.

Unhelpfully, his father was not even there when he arrived.  Louis had forgotten he would be at work, and that meant Louis had to stay for longer.

He was almost relieved, though, that it would be longer before he could see Harry being angry with him. 

 

Louis spent most of the morning waiting for his father to come home, sitting with his siblings, who hadn’t gone to school for the past few days because their mother hadn’t wanted them to.  In case something were to happen to them just like it had with Liesel.  Louis also learned that the madam had not left her room for a week, refusing to do so because of how upset she was about Liesel’s disappearance.

There was still a certain stillness settled in the house.  One which Niall tried to break with his laughter and bright smiles, and which made Alva join in as well, always happy when Louis was there. 

It was enough to almost make Louis forget about his potentially livid husband waiting for him at home.

The day passed slowly and it wasn’t until dinner that his father finally arrived.  The Madam did not join them at the table and they ate in an odd, uncomfortable silence. 

After, Louis went towards his father’s office.

He was at his bookcase when Louis was allowed to enter, looking exhausted and haggard, and unusually unkempt.  His gaze flickered all over Louis when he deigned to look at him, moving towards his desk when Louis made his way to the center of the room, where he usually stood on the carpet, a few feet from his father.

When he walked there was a limp to his step, that hadn’t been there before.  A subtle thing Louis only caught because he hadn’t seen his father for so long and was more observant for it.  His eyes fell to Louis’ collar, as he asked, “What happened to your mother’s necklace?” 

He sounded surprised, his tone bordering on immediate dissatisfaction.  “I remember you promising me you wouldn’t take it off…”  He looked towards Louis expectantly, for an answer.  And Louis remembered hating being under that gaze when he was younger.  As if he didn’t give the right answer, he would be in trouble.  His father always had seemed like a commanding force, and one that Louis didn’t want to cross.

“I—,” Louis didn’t want to voice why it was no longer there.  What the madam had done when he’d last visited.  Instead, he replied, “I’m sorry.”

His father’s expression did not change, though he looked away after a long moment, towards the windows lining the wall.  The sun was still in the sky, though Louis knew it would not be for long.  That he had to get back to his husband before Harry came looking for him.

That thought had him fidgeting.  He didn’t want to be outside when it was dark.  Like before.  He wanted to be home and asking Harry for forgiveness.

He studied his father’s face.  The crow’s feet by his eyes led to dark blue irises, what would’ve looked black in the night.  Similar to Louis’, though it could only have been incidental, since he was not Louis’ real father. His next words caught Louis off guard.  “I want you to stay here.  There’s somewhere I want to take you in a few days.”

Louis balked slightly, quickly trying to cover up his confusion for when his father turned back to look at him.  “I can’t just leave my husband…”

Is he your husband?”  Louis had the realization his father was referring to Harry and him consummating their marriage.  It was just as embarrassing having his father bring it up as it always was when the madam did.  “You don’t have to follow the arrangement if he won’t uphold his end of the bargain.”

One thing made itself clear in Louis’ mind.  His father thought that the agreement, that Harry would feed from Louis instead of the villagers, wasn’t being upheld.  Louis’ hands fidgeted, stomach suddenly storming in discomfort.  His father had sent Louis to be with Harry in the first place.  He had known what Harry was.  Louis wondered, suddenly, like the strike of the clock at midnight, if his father had known he could’ve been killed.  If he had sent him to Harry despite that fact.  “He’s still my husband.” 

His father’s eyes grew sharper in that moment, surprising Louis, and he exhaled a breath, as if to maintain his composure.  “No matter…  There is still someone I want you to meet.”

Louis wondered if his father knew exactly what Harry was, that he wasn’t human.  The thought didn’t sit right with Louis.  He didn’t want others to know Harry was dangerous.  He didn’t want any harm to come to him, even if he had killed people before.  Even if he was a monster.  “I thought it was somewhere you wanted to show me?”

“Both.”  There was a long silence, before his father was moving closer to him.  Placing a heavy hand against his cheek, in a familial gesture.  He looked sincere when he said, “I have always considered you one of my sons.”  He pulled back after a moment, moving towards his desk to grab a few parcels sitting on top of it, continuing, “I’ll be going on a trip for a few days.  When I return in three days that is when I will take you.  Stay here while I’m gone.”

That surprised Louis again.  How his father could be leaving when Liesel was still missing and the madam was locked away in her room.  “Where are you going?” 

“I will tell you when I return.”  He looked back towards Louis once again.  Very serious in his tone and almost threatening in his posture, “You will do as I’ve asked, won’t you?”

Louis didn’t respond right away and he took Louis’ silence as confirmation.  Even if that wasn’t what it was.  Louis was at a loss for words, confusion muddling everything else in his mind.  His father expected him to stay there instead of in his home with Harry…

Even if they hadn’t consummated the marriage, Harry was still his husband.  He had never seen his father act so oddly before.  He watched as he quickly finished collecting his things and left the room with an air of finality.

He stayed there for a long time after, trying to piece together what his father knew and what he could’ve wanted to show Louis.  Who he wanted to introduce to him.

Louis went out into the hallway and Alva was there waiting for him.  She smiled, coming over to be closer.  “Do you want to play, Louis?”

It was getting very late already and he knew he had to get back very soon.  She placed her hands in his and he squeezed them, momentarily.  “I can’t, Alva.  I have to go home.”  He didn’t want to experience another night like the one before, when he had been alone on the road in the woods.

She looked disheartened, pouting her cheeks slightly and he smiled at the action, before glancing around.  “You can help me find the other’s though.  That way I can say goodbye.”  She nodded, looking a little happier at the prospect of helping him.  “Do you know where Klara is?  Or Liam and Niall?”

She nodded, “Klara and Liam are in their rooms.  Niall went out to pick flowers for Mother.”  Alva blinked up at him, not seeming to realize he was tensing up.  Though her expression wrinkled in confusion the longer Louis didn’t respond.  “He wanted to go before it was nighttime… He was going to go earlier but then you showed up and he wanted to spend as much time with you as possible!”

Louis didn’t take another moment before he was bending down to hug her, “Alva, I’m going to go out and help him with the flowers, okay?  You stay here.”

She frowned, but nodded, an uncertain, “Okay.”

Louis knew it was a stupid decision, absolutely incredibly stupid.  But he didn’t have a choice.  He ran to Liam’s room, knocking quickly, and hoped that Harry would not be as angry with him if he took as many precautions as he could.  He hoped it would not be a mistake to bring Liam with him.

Liam was sitting at his desk when he told Louis he could enter.  Louis did, immediately speaking in a rush and feeling worry hammering in his veins, “Niall went into the woods and I think we should get him… before it gets too dark.”

Liam must’ve realized the panic in his posture and the way his eyes shifted in concern.  He immediately got up to follow after Louis.  Grabbing for his hunting rifle before they left the house.  Just in case.  Louis did not want to run into anything like he had before.

He was relieved to know Harry would come searching for him once the light fell below the trees.  If Louis called for him, Harry would come.  He had promised him that the very first day they had been together.

Louis went out with Liam, through the woods at the back of the house.  Their steps left a pounding against the ground, bugs quieting their chatter as they passed.  Sun drifting behind the clouds and darkening the woods already.

Louis hoped Niall would be where they used to pick flowers when they’d been children.  He felt a foreboding though, pinching up his spine.  An uneasiness that it wouldn’t be that simple.

They were close when there was a snapping sound that caught Louis’ attention, a loud scuffling and a sudden shout of fear ringing sharp through the air.  A clear, frightened sound.  Louis and Liam moved faster.  They broke through the last of the trees and there were flowers scattered about, trampled on, and a large hulking figure standing over Niall, who was no longer crying out, face pale and eyes unfocused.

Louis would’ve thought the creature was a wolf if it weren’t for the length of its front legs, the curve of its body, and its paws like hands.  Claws stuck in the dirt beneath it.

There were two beasts.  The one standing off to the side turned towards Louis and Liam at their entrance.  Shoulders hunched and teeth bared as it neared them.  It growled and it was for a horrifying moment that Louis thought it would jump at him. 

But it didn’t.  It almost immediately stopped its growling and stepped back, as if stunned, before running off with a yip and its tail in between its leg.

A shot rang out and Louis turned to see Liam shoot the beast above Niall.  It stood on its hind legs, massive, howling and moving towards Liam with incredible speed.  Liam shot at it again and it didn’t stall.  He didn’t have time to reload his gun.

Louis yelled out his name, knowing the monster’s claws would tear straight through Liam’s flesh.  The wolf let out a howl of pain, Harry suddenly in front of it, wielding something sharp that glinted with the creature’s blood.

Louis’ eyes widened and he ran forward, not wanting Harry to get hurt as the beast swung its claws towards him.  They were moving too quickly for Louis to see and Louis grabbed Liam’s arm to yank him back where he was frozen in shock.

There was the cracking of wood as something was slammed into the bark, their tornado of movements disappearing into the brush further away, growls and snarls twisting into something ugly and wretched.  Louis was breathing too quickly, cold as he stared after where Harry went with the monster.  He was jerked back to when Liam pulled out of his grasp to run over to Niall’s side.  Louis trailed him, knees knocking into the hard dirt as his hands immediately flew up to Niall’s face.

He pressed over his cheeks, trying to awaken him. “Niall!”  Liam shook at his shoulders, checking his pulse.  It must’ve been aflutter because he redoubled his efforts.  Niall made a groaning noise, and they both in that moment noticed the blood coating the front of his side.  A circle of it, spreading further out onto his shirt.

The monster’s claws had to have cut into his skin.  Louis’ pulse sped, looking to Liam for any indication of what they should do.

There was the crushing of branches, a heavy motion as the wolf pushed past them.  So close Louis was afraid it was going to attack again, but it ran off like the first had, looking like it had been hurt and whining in pain.

Harry didn’t immediately appear and Louis could feel his heart beating more erratically as he looked towards where the wolf had come from.  He bolted up, running through the trees to the clearing they had been in, searching for Harry.  His hands were clammy, his breath wild in his lungs.

A groaning noise called his attention and he looked to it, finding Harry leaning heavily against a tree, a hand at his side.  It looked like he was bleeding just like Niall had been.  Louis moved towards him as fast as he could, panicking, and reaching out to touch immediately.

Harry’s eyes were closed and there were a few small cuts to his face where branches had nicked at the skin.  Louis placed a hand against his arm, another lifting up to flutter across his cheek.  Searching for any way to help, to soothe the pain, to stop the bleeding.  His voice was quiet, a whisper, cloaked in fear and anxiety. “Harry?”

Harry looked to him after a long moment, eyes black like they had been before, in the mirrored room.  His breath ragged.  “I’ll heal…”  He pulled his hand away from the wound at his side, and it was covered in a slick red.  Louis could do nothing to help, his hands fumbling over Harry’s front, as if wanting to find somewhere to touch, something to make better.

Harry grabbed his palm, pulling him back towards where he’d come from, steps less steady than they usually were.  “Your brother won’t heal,” He murmured in explanation, and Louis nodded in understanding.

“Let me help you.”  He let go of Harry’s hand to move under his arm, so that Harry could lean his weight against him.  Liam had Niall in his arms already and they quickly rushed back towards the house.  Niall hardly moving and a sickening paleness to his skin.  A sheen of sweat covering his haunted expression.

Liam led the way, faster than Harry and Louis were, and Louis was so worried.  For Niall and for Harry. 

They moved through the woods, Harry a solid weight against him, heavier than Louis had expected he would be.  He kept looking up to his face, wondering how long it would take before he was alright again.  He had never seen Harry hurt before.

Harry glanced down at him after he’d been staring for a time.  Murmuring, “He hasn’t lost enough blood for it to kill him.  As long as he gets it stopped soon.”

Louis nodded, glancing back towards where he could see Liam looking down at Niall’s face and holding him tighter.

“Are you sure you’ll heal?”  Louis asked.  Heart still beating much too quickly, in unease.  Needing Harry to be better already.

Harry looked down to him again, with a slight nod.  “It takes longer to heal when I haven’t eaten in a long time…  I just need to rest.”

Louis pressed his mouth together.  “But you did recently… You drank from my hand.”

Harry laughed at that, actually laughed, smiling wider than he’d ever smiled before.  Not afraid to show his fangs in the light of the moon.  “That wasn’t enough, Little One…”  Louis wanted to press closer, hold him tighter.  “Nor the drop from your finger,” he added before Louis could remind him of that.

Louis pressed his cheek to Harry’s shoulder, frowning up at him.  He wanted to be enough for Harry.  Felt a bit idiotic for having thought it had been enough before.

They continued on, following after Liam until they could finally see the house again, in a break in the trees.

Harry stalled at the forest’s edge and Louis stopped with him, looking towards his expression.  Harry shook his head and Louis quickly called out to Liam before he could get too far away.  “Liam, write to me.  Let me know that he’s okay…”

Liam glanced over his shoulder, and nodded, face drawn and his own skin uncharacteristically pale.  At witnessing everything he just had.  He quickened his pace even more then, knowing he was so close to getting them to safety.  Louis watched until they disappeared through the door.  And all that was left where the stars glaring down at them. 

They stepped back into the dark of the woods.

Louis knew they needed to get back to their own home.  Before the sun would rise.

But at the pace they were moving Louis wasn’t sure they would make it back in time.  He was so exhausted.  Helping Harry and worrying for Niall causing him to be even slower.

The moon chased them through the trees, as they trekked on, being scratched by branches and bitten by the breeze rushing through the grass.  It wasn’t long before they were jostling into a clearing.  One that Louis recognized almost instantaneously.

It was different, but he had seen it so many times before that it did not cause him to wonder if he was seeing things.  He looked up from the tall unkempt grass, to the cottage standing there against the wood on the other side of the field.

It looked like no one had been there since he had left all those years before.  Harry must’ve realized something was wrong.  By the way Louis had stiffened at his side.  “Do you know this place?”

Louis nodded, voice faint.  “It was where I used to live… with my mother.”  He closed his eyes for a long second, almost able to imagine she was still there, sleeping in the one room up the stairs.  In their small comfy bed, a space in the blankets waiting for Louis to join her, to curl close for warmth.

Louis opened his eyes again at Harry’s voice, his suggestion.  “We should rest here... We won’t make it back home before the sun rises.”

Louis knew Harry was right.  He almost wanted to say no, though, to urge them forward and beg to continue going.  Louis’ home had always brought him so much joy, but looking at it then only seemed to prickle at his nerves.  Its exterior was dark even in the light of the moon, its door holding all of Louis’ memories inside.  Those of his mother waiting for him when he would finish with class.  Smiling and offering him kisses when he’d rush in with his homework and stories of what he’d done earlier that day.

They would eat dinner and she would read to him, tuck him in later upstairs.  He missed her so, so much.  Louis looked towards the forest surrounding them, wondering what had happened the night she had disappeared.

Harry started them moving again, guiding Louis with him.  They walked towards the home and Louis focused back on Harry.  He was no longer bleeding, though his cheeks were pale and thin.  Heavy bags sitting beneath his eyes, as he blinked his perfect lashes.  Harry moved off of him at the door, shoving it aside so they could get in.

Louis reached out for Harry again, not wanting to see what it looked like inside.  Not by himself.  He grabbed for Harry’s hand, holding it tightly as he stepped through the threshold.

The first thing Louis noticed, directly in front of him, was that the stairs were broken.  As if something heavy and large had slammed into them.  It meant they couldn’t go upstairs, but the rest of the furniture was still there.  Their rickety kitchen table and a few mismatched chairs set around it.

Louis took a small breath and moved further in, Harry shutting the door behind them.  It was small, only one room and they moved behind the stairwell, where Louis used to keep his books.  It was darker there, though Louis could see the morning light just beginning to creep its way onto the floor further away from them.  The curtains in front of the window were ripped and torn, bitten through by moths.

Harry laid down with his head in Louis’ lap and Louis pet through his hair, stroking from his temples towards the back of his scalp.  The bruises beneath his eyes were dark, his cheeks hollow.  He was so beautiful and so still.  A statue.  It would’ve frightened anyone else, but Louis just watched him where his eyes remained closed.  His skin was so cold to touch.

Louis’ fingers stalled at his temple and the motion caused Harry to look up at him, irises as green as the vast forests surrounding them.

Louis took in a small breath, pulse skipping as he reveled in the color, in the way Harry was watching him.  Before he was blinking his eyes shut again, his hand coming up to touch the back of Louis’.  In the softest touch.

Louis inhaled another calming breath, his heart already beating quick.  He murmured, “You can drink from me.”

The flash of green appeared again, after another moment, after Louis’ words caressed at his eyelids.  He didn’t move, looking like he wasn’t sure he believed that was what Louis wanted.

But Louis did want.  He wanted so badly to do something for Harry, to make him better.  To be close with him like he had been before.  Louis bit over his lower lip, softly, asking, “You are mine, aren’t you?” 

Harry sat up steadily, only to turn towards Louis with his quiet response, “I am.”

Louis nodded, remembering when Harry had told him so.  When he had given him the ring still wrapped around his finger.  He could feel it there as he blinked, steady.  Whispering, “And I am yours…”  He watched as Harry leaned closer, into his neck. 

He put his hand in Harry’s hair, to grip it, as Harry left a soft murmur against his skin, “Yes. You are.”  Harry’s other hand came up to cup his jaw, keeping him still and offering comfort in the slow movement of his thumb there.

It was no longer than another moment before Harry’s teeth sunk into Louis’ neck and he let out a tiny hitched sound, the warmth of Harry’s mouth, of the blood against his skin, sending Louis’ mind into disarray.

The sting had only lasted a moment, until his nerves were clouded in ecstasy.  Heart pounding in a frenzy.  Harry’s tongue was hot against his neck, a gentle sucking curling in Louis’ tummy.  Heat licking up his spine and shivers crawling through his veins. 

Harry was so, so close to him.  Louis’ fingers tightened in his hair, letting out a quiet sound.  He wanted so much.

He wasn’t sure how much Harry was taking.  He felt fragile, in a trance, vision blurring when he opened his eyes.  It was too much and he kept them shut.  Focusing on every point Harry was touching him.  Hands at his waist, pushing up the cloth there to run against his bare skin.  Mouth pressed to his neck, licking, drinking, kissing.  His breath was soft against the hollow of Louis’ throat.

Louis leaned further into him, grip loosening slightly.  Blackness spotting his closed lids in bright colored lights.  He let out a weak sound, a tired breath.  Exhaustion dripping from his limbs, making everything heavy.  So much heavier.

Harry’s lips were gentle, pressing soft kisses to his throat, to his jaw.  Hands moving over Louis in comforting strokes.

Louis let out another breath and the darkness pulled him under.

Chapter Text

Louis awoke when cool fingertips brushed across his cheekbone, drawing him back towards consciousness.  A solid chest was against his temple and strong arms were wrapped around his body.  He was in Harry’s lap and he didn’t know how he had managed to end up there, but he didn’t want to move for as long as Harry would allow him to stay.  His smell was intoxicating. 

Harry’s hand, at the back of his neck, kneaded the skin there, making him feel boneless and loose.  Everything felt so heavy, and Louis didn’t want to open his eyes.  The heavy weight to his movements, his every breath, was likely due to what Harry had done to him that previous day.  Feeding from him and leaving Louis aching in all the right places.

Those cool fingers didn’t stop their movement, though Harry shifted slightly, to wake Louis further.

A soft voice, sweet, wanting to pull Louis back into the pleasant realm of sleep.  “Little One…”  Harry bent down to kiss the top of Louis’ head, and it seemed to have the desired effect of speeding up Louis’ heart and pumping his blood quicker.  “Louis…”  His hand traveled lower to slip beneath the collar of Louis’ shirt to drag across his collarbones.  Louis curled closer, making a tiny sound and feeling incredibly sleepy, and needy.  “Little one.  You can sleep when we get home.”  He paused a moment, and Louis listened intently for him to say more.  “It’s dark out...  We should leave before anything else uneventful happens.”

Louis tightened his posture slightly, momentarily, loosening again in a stretch, before he was forcing his eyes open.  He looked up towards Harry, blinking slowly. 

Harry looked back at him and Louis pressed his mouth together after he had his attention, pushing his lips out the slightest bit, silently asking for what only Harry could give him.  Harry caught on rather quickly, smiling faintly as he leaned down to press their mouths together. 

Harry’s lips were smooth and satin.  Louis wanted to kiss him more and more but his words registered after a moment and Louis knew he couldn’t do so.

Harry pulled away, with a pleased expression.  Leaning in after another moment to leave a small kiss against Louis’ nose.  Louis smiled so wide his cheeks twinged.  “Let’s go home,” Harry repeated.  Louis nodded and he stood a moment later, more in control of his body than he thought he’d be, after the lightheadedness he had felt before he’d fallen asleep.

Harry steadied him with a hand at his back anyways and Louis took the opportunity to step closer into his space.  Unable to be too far away.  Tummy fluttering with butterflies and hands warm where they pressed up against Harry’s chest.  He looked up at Harry, at the way his eyebrow arched in question and his eyes tracked Louis’ mouth when he spoke.  His heart beat quicker as he murmured a quiet, impulsive, “I love you.” 

His cheeks flushed pink.  It was still loud in the silent room.  The shadows, the dust mites, the moths and spiders overhearing.  And anyone who could see the way Louis was looking up at Harry then, with affection in his smile and a sparkle in his eyes, would know.

Harry did nothing more than cup Louis’ jaw and connect their lips again, their tongues, after caressing Louis’ mouth open.  Licking into it and drawing out the sounds of his love.  Harry’s hands traveled lower on Louis’ back, keeping him close and settling on the curve at the very bottom of his spine, above the swell of his ass.  The touch made Louis’ cheeks burn redder, and Harry pulled away before they got too far, before Louis’ body, his tongue and mouth, begged for more.

They were not in the right place.  Not in the right company to do what Louis wanted.  What he had been wanting very long to do.

Harry nipped at his lower lip, before murmuring a breathy, “Come, Little One, the sun will not wait for us.”  He paused a long moment, meeting Louis’ gaze, before adding softly, “I want to keep you safe…”  He took Louis’ hand, delicately twining their fingers and Louis pressed close to his side, smiling up at him.  It was night outside, the moon peeking through the parts in the curtains that the sun had occupied not long before.  He knew what was out there.  Was starting to know, at least, the horrors that awaited him outside every door.

His heartbeat did not falter.  “I’m not afraid when I’m with you…”

At least, he was not afraid anymore.  Even if his pulse sped and his stomach turned in anxiousness, he knew it was not from fear of Harry, but it was rather nervousness for what he wanted Harry to do to him.  What he wanted to do with him.

When they passed the table that Louis used to eat his every meal at, something caught his eye, a flash of moonlight against a smooth silver surface.  The size of a coin.  He pulled away from Harry, to move towards the table and what sat on top of it, brows immediately creasing and chest constricting.  “How did this get here?”

Confusion flooded his system.  The necklace was there… his necklace.  His mothers.  What he had lost so long before when it had fallen from his pocket on the road.  A tree was still engraved against its surface, alive and reaching towards the edges of the pendant. The chain was no longer broken, and it was shorter than it had been before, with a few links missing.  But it looked renewed; fixed.  The same necklace but offputtingly different, like where he was standing, the home that he used to know.

He reached for it, but stalled when he remembered what it had done to that creature in the woods.  The one that had been like Harry.  How it had burned him. 

He pulled his hand back to his side, looking towards Harry who was staring back, mouth twisted in a frown, in distrust.  He clearly had to have recognized it, and was just as confused as Louis as to how it had gotten there.

“It used to be my mother’s…”

Harry met his gaze, before nodding and turning back towards the door, “Then bring it.  Wear it when I’m not there to protect you.”  Louis watched him for a longer second, brows furrowing.  He looked down to it one more time before moving back towards Harry’s side.

He grabbed his hand again, tugging on it so he would turn to look back at him. “But you’ll always be there to protect me.  And I don’t want to wear it if it can hurt you.”

Harry watched him a moment longer before turning slightly, lightly brushing his bangs to the side and leaning down to kiss his forehead, a small smile gracing his lips.  Louis followed Harry outside, with his own smile, taking the lead to guide him towards the road.  He knew the way well from all of the times he had walked it early in the mornings and again in the afternoons, going to the village and school.

When they reached the winding road, their journey grew easier.  Harry didn’t talk, seeming attentive to their surroundings and Louis was glad for it.  Not wanting the beasts to reappear from the day before and attack them when they weren’t paying attention.  Harry had been hurt by one of them and Louis didn’t want to imagine what would’ve happened if that second one had stayed.

Harry kept Louis’ hand sheltered in his own, keeping his pace slow for Louis’ sake.  The moon was gorgeous against his hair, shining off of the curls in beautiful tangles.  His profile was just as serene as it always was, almost angelic.  And Louis couldn’t believe that he was his.  The thought made him smile delightfully bright.

They arrived back before the night had fully eclipsed.

There was food waiting for Louis at the table and Harry left him while he ate it.  Louis was ravenous and ate much more than he probably should have.  But the food was delicious and he hadn’t eaten for an entire day.

Harry returned before he could completely finish, settling a letter down beside his plate.  “There was a message when we arrived.  From your older brother...”

Louis’ eyes immediately widened, knowing what it had to be.  He quickly reached for it, tearing into the paper to read what was there.

His chest was tight and the sudden breath he let out loosened the tenseness there.  “He’s alright.  Niall’s alright.”  He looked up to Harry, with unprecedented relief as he continued with what Liam had written.  Worry unfurling into a quiet, anxious contemplation, thankful that Niall hadn’t been taken from him.  “If the wound doesn’t get infected he’ll be fine.  He just needs to heal.”

Harry reached down to thumb against his cheek, murmuring, “I’m glad.”

Louis gave a small smile.  Before allowing his own quiet, “Thank you.  For saving us…”  He could not imagine what he would’ve done if Niall hadn’t made it.  If Harry hadn’t shown up.  Louis would’ve lost both Niall and Liam, just like he had Liesel.  Louis could’ve died himself.

“I’ll always come for you.”  Harry replied, thumb still tracing along his cheekbone.  His tone lowered, “Even if you don’t listen to me…”

Louis’ eyes widened slightly.  He almost had forgotten that he hadn’t listened to Harry, when he had left without his permission.  “I, umm,” he didn’t have an excuse, shutting his mouth almost as soon as he had opened it.  He swallowed before offering a small, “I’m sorry.”

Harry pulled his hand from his face and Louis glanced back down at the paper, tracing his fingers along its edges.  It reminded him of the letter he had received before it.  What his father had told him; everything he had wanted to discuss.

Louis turned back to Harry.  To say, “My father hadn’t wanted me to come back here…”  Harry’s brows lifted in silent question.  It was better than any reproach he may have been gearing up to say.  “He told me he wanted me to meet someone.  And to stay there until he got back from a trip.”

Harry was silent for a long moment, before asking, “Were you going to listen to him?”

Louis shook his head, reaching up to lightly touch over Harry’s wrist, “You’re my husband.  This is my home.”  That seemed to satisfy Harry, whose shoulders eased the slightest bit of the tension there.  Louis took in a small breath, tightening his hold, before continuing, “I will have to go back to meet with him, though.  And to see that Niall is okay with my own eyes…”  Before Harry could deny him, Louis looked down to where their hands met, lightly bringing their fingers together.  “Will you come with me this time?  We can leave at night…”

Harry hands were so much larger than Louis’, smooth and soft.  Louis hoped Harry wouldn’t say no like he had before.  He doubted Harry would let him slip out again when he wasn’t paying attention.  Harry’s lips thinned partially.  Before he was exhaling.  “It may be safer for you to go during the day again.  Just… not to come back until I’m there to escort you.”  He eyed Louis skeptically.  “You clearly have a knack for running into trouble.”

Louis lifted his own eyebrows, a small smile already on his lips.  For getting Harry’s permission.  “It’s ironic because you’re my husband.”  And that the trouble Louis continued to run into were monsters that he hadn’t even known existed until he began living with Harry.

The corner of Harry’s lip quirked up as well and he leaned down to kiss Louis’ forehead again.  He sat with him as he finished his meal, a rather quick endeavor as Louis was still hungry.  He wondered if the blood he had lost played a part in his stomach grumbling.

They returned to their bedroom afterwards and Louis was so relieved to see their bed.  Harry’s chest had been a very comfortable place the night before, but that didn’t mean Louis was not ready to fall into the comfort of their quilts and pillows.

Before he could, they had to clean up and he did so as best he could, with a cloth and a wash basin.  Easily slipping into bed after and falling asleep immediately upon his head touching the pillow.

 

It was midday when they awoke.  Louis was groggy and had no intention of getting up for a while.  He scooted closer to Harry who was on his back on the other side of the bed.  He had his eyes closed still and Louis leaned his chin against his shoulder, moving his hand up to touch along his arm.

He closed his eyes as well, again, thinking about how he still felt dirty from the previous day and night.  He wondered if he should leave another note for the staff to set up a bath for him, or if they would magically just know he wanted one.

He considered it some more before he felt Harry turn towards him, an arm slinging over his waist to pull him closer.  Louis smiled into the action, keeping his eyes closed until he was curled up into Harry’s warmth.  Harry let out a breath he could feel ruffle the hair at the top of his head, making Louis’ smile grow even larger.  He loved being close to Harry and he curled even closer because of it.

Harry’s hand came down to pet along his side and the movement was comforting in the silence.

Louis broke it eventually, mind thinking back to everything that had happened the previous two nights.  With a quiet, “Harry?”

He received a hum in response.  His voice was slow, unsure, “What were those things in the woods?”  Louis knew they couldn’t have just been wolves.  They had been terrifying and so much larger than any wolf Louis had ever seen.  One of them had even walked on its hind legs and had been too quick to be a normal beast.

“Werewolves,” Harry muttered.  Louis’ forehead wrinkled slightly.

It had been so dark and yet he had seen so clearly.  One of the monsters could’ve attacked him, but it hadn’t.  It had run off instead.  “There was another one there before you arrived.”

Harry nodded, Louis could feel his chin brush against his hair, could feel his exhale, and the tightening of his arm around his waist. “They travel in packs…”  Like real wolves Louis supposed.  Except, unlike wolves, they seemed to attack for reasons other than hunger or territory.  “There are only three of them left in this pack.”

Harry’s words caught Louis’ attention.  He blinked open his eyes, to see the fabric of Harry’s shirt.  He tilted his head up, as if that would allow him to see Harry’s face.  It only managed to let him see his chin and his neck.  “What happened to the others?”

Harry hummed, “When I’ve been leaving on business—” He stopped.  As if that wasn’t exactly what he wanted to say.  He started over, letting Louis scoot the slightest bit away to look at his expression.  The tension in the space by his eyes, in his temples and wrinkled brow.  “I am in charge of these woods...  This pack used to only hunt on the full moon, but they’ve been attacking outside of their turn.  They need to be hunted down.”

Louis’ brows lifted, voice doing much the same as he asked, “You’ve been killing them?  On your own?”  He reached up to touch Harry’s cheek and Harry opened his eyes to look at him.  Louis pressed his mouth together for a moment, before offering a quieter, “I don’t want you to get hurt.”

Harry closed his eyes again, exhaling, “The only one I have to truly worry about is the leader.  Their Alpha.”  He looked back at Louis in that moment.

Louis pursed his mouth.  Thinking back to the wolf that Harry had fought.  It had been frightening.  Ferocious and haunting.  “Was that the Alpha last night?  It hurt you...”

“No, just a Beta.  I wasn’t in the right mind yesterday.  I was too busy focusing on other things...”  His look was deliberate when he spoke, as if trying to convey that it was Louis who he had been focused on.  As if he had been worried about him.  Louis watched his expression for just another moment before he was moving back in, to wrap his own arms around Harry’s middle.  Holding him tightly and pressing his cheek to his sternum.

Harry’s hand found its way into his hair.  Stroking through the strands as Louis asked, “Do you think they killed Liesel?”

Harry tried to be gentle in his response, a quiet, “I don’t know, Little One, there are many creatures in these woods.”

Louis took in a small breath.  He needed to know for sure, even if he, most likely, would never get the closure he truly desired.  “Do you think she really is dead?”

Harry didn’t respond.  Louis understood his answer in the silence, chest clenching slightly as he let the information settle.  He had known it had probably been like that, but it still hurt to realize there really was no hope to her actually being alive anymore.  It had been too long and she hadn’t reappeared.  Louis hoped she hadn’t been scared when it happened.  That it was quick.  She was his eldest sister, the one who looked the most like him.  Similar hair and smile, giving him the illusion that maybe he really could’ve been a part of their family and not just the orphaned runt her parents took in.

He kept his eyes closed and tried to settle again into Harry’s embrace.  It was not as easy as he’d hoped it would be.

 

Louis did leave a message for the staff, after eating a late lunch.  He took his time moving towards the bathroom, dallying in his and Harry’s bedroom, not even caring that he was giving the staff an opportunity to make his bath without him finding out exactly who they were.  It wasn’t worth it when it would only postpone what he had planned.

When he finally did settle into the water, the steam immediately relaxed his muscles.  He shut his eyes, letting his thoughts coalesce.  Everything that had happened since he had married Harry.  How his sister was likely dead, how Niall had been hurt.  By werewolves.  Louis wondered if his father even knew about Niall’s injury, since he had left earlier that evening, before it had happened.  He wondered what in the world it was that his father wanted to show him.  Why he couldn’t have just done it then when Louis was already home.

He grabbed for the soap, that sat beside the bottles of oils and incense, and the candles, lining the room and creating illusions of comfort in his mind.  They flickered against the solid walls, staining the bathroom in shades of sepia and gold.

He washed his hair and breathed in the fragrant smells, resting against the edge of the tub before he would move on to cleaning the rest of himself.

Louis looked up towards the door when there was a knock.  Attention taken from where he had been studying his knees, sticking out from the dark, still water.  His heart immediately jumped, as he offered an uncertain, “Come in…”

Harry stepped in, and Louis felt his cheeks begin to darken when Harry’s gaze fell to his bare shoulders and across his collarbones.  He looked as if he had intended to say something important, but thought better of it in that moment.

The water made a trickling sound when he shifted up slightly, allowing Harry to see just a bit more of his chest.  He was very intent on doing that and Louis felt his insides flip in arousal.

Harry’s gaze was heavy when he shut the door behind him, voice as low and captivating as it always was, as he asked, “May I join you?”

Louis nodded after only a beat of hesitation.  And he watched as Harry began to undress himself, lean muscle and ivory skin revealed with every drop of clothing against the stone floor.  He was gorgeous.  His skin and body flawless; not a scratch on him from the night before.  Louis met his emerald gaze when Harry stepped towards the edge of the tub, using the ledge to get in.

He made his way into Louis’ space, slow as a predator stalking its prey.  Louis’ heart beat quicker, thumped harder against his sternum as he exhaled a shaky breath.  “Should I help to clean you, Little One?”

Harry was so much bigger than he was.  Strong and broad.  And so beautiful. 

Louis nodded his head again, with a soft, “Please.”

Harry’s fingertips pressed, surprisingly warm, to his skin, beginning to roam along his sides, down every rib and towards his waist.  Taking his time, learning the feel of Louis’ soft skin beneath his touch. 

Louis felt a shiver of anticipation rush through him, Harry’s hands finding his hips next and then further towards his legs, before he was pulling him closer.  Louis sucked in a breath as he settled onto Harry’s lap, thighs spread to fit Harry in between them.

Harry watched his every reaction, from the flush on his cheeks to the faint flutter of his pulse at his wrists, to the sound of his breath catching.   Louis was absorbed in every movement of Harry’s, every flicker of his eyes down his skin, across the planes of his chest and press of his lips.

Harry reached for one of the oils, the one with the sweetest smell, like lavender and wine.  He tilted the bottle, slowly pouring the liquid out.  It was cold where it dripped against Louis’ back, running down his skin in rivulets.  He was sure the flame of the candle was reflecting off the honeyed color in drops of gold.  Harry ran his fingertips through the oil, rubbing it into Louis’ back and it felt so good, like silk and satin against Louis’ bare skin.

Louis took in a heavy breath, staring into Harry’s eyes.  He could feel Harry’s hands stroking lower and lower until they came to rest at the bottom of his spine, half drowned in the bathwater.  Louis glanced towards Harry’s lips, ruby red and soft in the light.  He leant in, kissing him with a pressure that signified what he wanted.  Breathing him in and making a quiet noise into his mouth.  Harry gripped his hips, moving his hand even lower until he could run his fingers between the roundness of his ass, slowing them when they brushed against his hole.

Louis moaned at the action, as Harry deliberately rubbed his fingers there, licking into Louis’ mouth with want to possess.  Louis let out another higher pitched sound.  A whine, as a finger slipped in between his cheeks and pressed in, the oil making everything slick and wet.  Louis gasped, Harry opening him up unlike anything he had ever experienced before.

Louis’ fingers fought with the tangles in Harry’s curls, as he searched for something to hold onto while his breath was stolen from his lungs, Harry taking it with every pant and gasp he caused.  Harry pulled him closer so his writhing brought their cocks together, and it amplified the jolts of pleasure coursing through Louis’ veins and the stirring in his groin.  The wet heat between them and Louis’ racing heart.

His cheeks were hot like the candle flames that caused their shadows to dance on the wall.  Harry groaned, ripping his mouth away to kiss at Louis’ jaw instead, at the space behind his ear, teeth sharp against his neck.  He didn’t bite, just continued to run his mouth along his throat and leaving for the potential, teasing and making Louis’ insides want, want so much more than they already did.

Ah, Harry,” Louis gasped, breathing heavily.  He gripped onto his shoulders, the muscles in his back.  He was so strong.  Louis wanted to touch himself, where he was aching, but didn’t.  The rubbing was enough, mind dazed enough, dipped in want and ecstasy. 

Harry slipped his hand out to reach for the oil again and Louis found his gaze, shifting in to meet Harry’s mouth once more.  Harry kissed him back like he was everything, moaning when he reached down to slick himself up, maneuvering Louis in the water until he could slide into him.

Louis fingertips pressed harshly into Harry’s shoulder blades at the action, as he was slowly lowered onto him completely.

Harry pressed his hand to Louis’ lower back, the other against his hip, beginning to thrust into him after a few moments of Louis’ harsh breaths and flighty hands.  The stretch was painful in a way Louis had never thought could be pleasurable.  The drag caught his breath and made his cock twitch heavy against Harry’s belly.

Everywhere Harry was touching him, kissing him, everything was too much and yet not enough.  Louis cried out, sounds sharp in the empty room.  Shadows still there, still attentive to their every movement.

Harry ran his hands along his sides, down over his thighs and he was reverent in his touches.  Louis was porcelain to him, glass, and his hands were fire, flames licking up their skin, everywhere they touched.  Hot.  And Louis wanted to burn forever.

Harry reached down to grip him and Louis clenched up around Harry, drawing another beautiful sound from him.  Louis wanted to eat it up, but could only make a noise of pleasure himself.  Grasping onto his shoulders tighter and trying to hold onto what was happening.  Mind dizzy and breath a whirlwind.

Harry bit down against his neck, blood dripping into the water and the pressure of the motion had Louis’ stomach clenching, on another sharp whine.

Harry’s thrusts sped and his grip grew tighter against Louis’ thigh.  Needing it as badly as Louis did.  “Harry!”

Harry kissed him again, and his tongue was tangy, sharp and bitter with Louis’ blood.  Harry groaned against his tongue, moving his hands down to grip Louis’ hips again and hold him steady.  So he could grind up into his ass.  Louis’ breath caught, crying out once more as he came, fog immediately blanketing his thoughts and a heavy weight curling into his body.

Harry continued his movements, and Louis tugged on his curls, pressing closer, mouths heavy against one another’s.  Louis could tell when Harry was close, his movements stopping abruptly on a breath and his entire body tensing with the motion.  Louis could feel Harry inside of him, knew he’d feel it for a while, the stinging still there and reminding Louis of what they did with every small movement he made. 

Harry kissed him when he came down, slower than before, tongue roving gently against Louis’ teeth and the roof of his mouth.  He slipped out and their breathing continued to rush between them in a frenzied dance.

It was a while of their mouths meeting, lingering, and exchanging sighs before Louis was parting their lips, his own tingling pleasantly.  As he murmured, a small, “You didn’t clean me very well…”  That sparked a smile from Harry, one that Louis felt where his fingertips came to rest at the corners of his mouth, eyes still shut in ecstasy.  He never wanted to leave where he currently was, wanted to stay that close to Harry forever.  For the rest of his life.

“Allow me to correct that,” He murmured, hand trailing down Louis’ leg again, squeezing at his ankle momentarily, before he was grabbing for Louis’ foot.  Louis started laughing almost immediately when Harry began touching over it, before he was reaching for the soap to clean it.

Louis fell backwards a little at the motion, but he couldn’t even care, Harry starting to soap up the soles of his feet and tickling them while he was at it.  Louis had trouble not kicking him while he did so.  Harry’s capable hands moved to his ankles next, and his legs, making sure to linger at Louis’ inner thighs as he cleaned, making him gasp again and make a small whining noise in the back of his throat the closer he got to his spent cock.

Harry was slow when he stroked along Louis’ sides and his tummy, gentle near his rear, cleaning him thoroughly there.  He pulled Louis closer again when he lathered up his arms and hands, connecting their fingers in the soapy bubbles that formed.  And connecting their mouths again, in a soft kiss.

Louis’ heart was steady, thrumming and intoxicated with the attention he was being given.  Woozy from every one of Harry’s touches.

He helped to clean Harry afterwards, telling him to turn around so he could trail his fingertips along his back, dragging the suds in sweeping patterns and swirls against the ridges of his spine.  Harry seemed to lean into the feeling and Louis pressed kisses to his shoulder while he did so.  Wanting Harry to feel as good as Harry made him feel.

He cleaned Harry’s body and then his hair, fingers tangling in the mess of curls on top of his head.  He grinned as he did so, gently pulling out the knots that formed with concentration and enjoyment.

They eventually left the bath and Harry wrapped a towel around Louis’ small figure to dry him off.  Louis did much the same for Harry, giggling and grinning after him when Harry walked down the hall and towards their room completely naked, with nothing covering himself up.  There was no one there to see him but Louis still laughed and blushed, the portraits on the wall seeming to avert their gazes when Harry’s still slightly dripping body walked past them.

Louis didn’t let Harry begin to clothe himself before he was climbing back on top of him.  On the bed this time.  Leaving more kisses and grins against his face and jaw and his neck.  His ass was still very sore, but Louis didn’t even care.  He wanted to be close to Harry always, even if it ended up hurting him.

Chapter Text

The next morning, Louis woke up and Harry was still asleep beside him, where he’d held him close the night before.  It wasn’t entirely morning anymore, likely midday if the way the cacophony of birds chirping could be heard, muted, through the walls.

Louis’ body was still sore, pleased when he stretched and could feel where Harry had been the previous day, where he had touched and bitten him.

Louis drifted into the library after he had dressed, moving towards the far walls, with their tall hidden windows.  He couldn’t have the curtains open when Harry was there, but he wanted to see the sunlight.  Feel it against his cheeks and his neck.  He pushed back the fabric to dispel the gloom lurking near his ankles, ready to nip at him whenever it felt so inclined, and he opened his arms, closing his eyes to the warmth the sun provided.  He was so happy and refreshed.

He looked up at the clouds, full and puffy.  White and sporadic across the sky, allowing an ocean of blue to splash down on the grass and the green of the trees. Louis let his attention drift along the outskirts of their grounds.

Across the plush grass, overgrown in spots and flourishing, more than it had in the colder months when it inevitably had been suffocated with the snow.  He looked towards the dirt path and towards the fountain there, less frightening from so far away.  The trail led further through the bushes and thicket towards the black iron wrought fence he had visited before, and the cemetery sat at its feet.

His breath flew out in a rush, arms immediately tensing at his sides.  There was someone there.  By the gate, her long dark hair drifting with each gentle blow of wind.  The same color as his own, chestnut, brown.  He could not see her face, she was too far away, but he quickly tore away from the window to run down the stairs and towards the door leading outside.

His shoes slapped against the hard ground, sun raining down on him and he couldn’t see her but it had to have been Liesel.  The stone angels on top of the fountain watched him as he ran past, his breath already rushed, as he approached the cemetery, where he could’ve sworn he’d seen someone.  Someone who seemed so familiar to him.

He stopped at the black gate and rotting stone, frantically looking around.  His heart slowed when no one appeared, wondering if he had imagined it.

The air left his lungs as quickly as it had come when the woman he had seen stepped out of the shadows of the trees further away.  Blue eyes stared back.  Liesel had brown eyes.

Louis stared at the woman.  Her face was older, similar, a gentle smile and a silver pendant glinting from between her collar.  A familiar tree etched into its surface.  He was still caught by her eyes, that he had seen so many times before.  And suddenly he felt five again.  So unsure, emotions swirling around in his head and none of them sticking, nothing he could hold onto.

The cold point of the medal stung into his palm as he gripped onto one of posts of the fence.  He could barely form sound, had to force his voice to be heard, the wind dropping off at his whisper, his lungs caving in and making it hard to breathe, “Momma…?”

That smile stayed in place and she didn’t say anything in return, her vibrant blue gaze taking him in instead.  Louis could feel tears pricking at his lashes, stinging, brain turning, wondering why she was there, why then, what had happened, why she hadn’t come back for him.

He wanted to ask her, he wanted to yell and scream and cry.  And he wanted her to hold him and kiss his head like she so often did when he was upset.

He felt too stunned to do any of it, teetering where he stood, as if the slightest breeze would knock him to his knees.

She turned, after one final look, and began walking into the forest at her back.  Louis could only stare after her, before his body began to move and he ran after her, calling out for her again.  Like he had done the night she had disappeared.  He wanted her to turn around and acknowledge him, say something.

He couldn’t quite reach her no matter how fast he ran.  She would speed up each time too, and Louis just needed her to look at him again.  Say his name.

He stopped when he needed to catch his breath, and she stopped too, as if she had heard his movements falter and then slow.

He had never been that far into the woods before.  He wiped at his forehead, feeling sweat at his temples, breath heavy.  He realized, then, that he hadn’t even thought of Harry once since he’d left the safety of their home.  Had only thought about the woman in front of him; his mother.  He was alone in the woods again and he had no idea where she was going.  Where she was taking him.

He wasn’t sure he’d be able to find his way back.

He exhaled heavily, looking up at the opening in the trees above his head, allowing the sunlight to filter down and seep through the limbs of the trees.  He had to go back home.  He shouldn’t have wandered so far.

He had just wanted so badly to know why his mother was there, to feel her and know she was real.  He turned around, towards where they’d come from.  He stared at the thick woods, swallowing up everything in its depths.

“Louis.”  The voice was close, soft and gentle.  He turned back to see his mother looking at him, standing much nearer than she’d been before.  She took the last few steps forward, to place a warm hand against his arm.  He almost flinched back at the touch, but his eyes widened and his breath caught in his throat.  He stayed where he was, unmoving, taking in his mother’s features again, this time closer.  He could see where she had aged.  She was still just as beautiful as she had always been; her smile still made his heart glow with warmth.

Her gaze was soft, assessing.  He missed her so, so much.  Could feel it where his chest ached in her absence.  Her hands were the same, if not a bit rougher from age, where her fingers stayed pressed to his arm.   It was only a moment before she was pulling him into her arms, squeezing him tight and leaning her face down into his hair.

Louis shook in her embrace, eyes finally allowing the tears to streak down his cheeks when he moved to hug her back, “Momma…”  She pet through his hair, so familiarly and he cried harder, gripping hard to the cloak she wore over her dress. 

“I missed you, darling.”  She soothed, though hearing her only made Louis hold tighter so she wouldn’t disappear again.  So she wouldn’t be able to leave him again.

“W-why did you run away from me?”  His words were jumbled, messy with upset.

She pulled back slightly to wipe the tears from his cheeks, like she’d done when he would hurt himself as a child.  When he would skin his knees after falling on them.  “Shh, shh, Louis…  There’s so much I have to tell you.  So much.  I wanted to take you somewhere, first.”  Her face darkened in a flash, momentarily, when Louis looked up to it. And he had never seen her lips form a scowl such as that, her eyes darkened chillingly.  “Far away from that monster.”  She looked over his shoulder, indicating where they had come from and he sucked in a breath when he realized she was talking about Harry.

The ring against his finger burned in shame, his heart trembling with her words as he tried to defend, “He isn’t… Harry is my husband.  He protects me, he loves me.”  Except he wasn’t sure if Harry had ever actually told Louis that he loved him.

His mother’s eyes did not lighten as she moved her hand to tilt his chin up.  “He bit you…  He hurt you.”

Louis’ cheeks turned hot, knowing how messy his neck must have looked.  The numerous bites, the bruising against the column of his throat.   His voice shook when he admitted, “I wanted him to.”

She turned her gaze back to his face.  “Is that why you didn’t take this?”  She let go of his chin to touch the pendant at her neck, the silver bright in the sunlight.  “I left it for you.”

Her question distracted him only a little from his discomfort, his brows pinched, “How did you know I would go back to our old home?”   His heart hammered harder when he remembered that night.  Wondering how long his mother had known he was there, how long she had known he was living in the village, but hadn’t come to see him.  Had stayed hidden even when Louis needed her.

She just watched him, keeping her mouth pressed closed.

His voice wavered, when he murmured, “What happened that night?  When you disappeared?”  He felt so confused; had felt so alone.  He just wanted to know the truth.  What had taken her in the dark.

She reached for his cheeks, pressing her palms to them and leaning in to kiss his forehead.  Just like he remembered.  If he wasn’t so lost and anxious he would have reveled in it.  “You will learn soon enough, my love…”  She dropped her hands again, this time reaching out for one of his own, squeezing his palm.  “Let us keep going.”

He took a few steps with her, moving back in the direction they had been going.  He really did feel like a child again, following after where his mother wanted him to go while she held his hand in hers.

His feet stopped, and she stalled at his side.  Looking to him patiently as he blurted, “I can’t.  I have to go back, Har—my husband… he’ll want me back home.”

Her brows furrowed and she actually seemed hurt at his words.  He didn’t want his mother to be upset with him.  Not after it had been so long since they had been together.  She watched him for another moment, before asking, “Don’t you want to come with me?”

He nodded quickly, “I do.  I want to, but I should… Harry should know where I am.”  He briefly thought about the fact that Harry had to have woken up by then.  It had at least been an hour since he had left him.  He wondered if Harry had known immediately that Louis wasn’t there or if he had searched for him, thinking he was in the parlor or the library.  The regret pulled at every inch of his body.  He was making Harry worry and he couldn’t even go home to assure him.

His mother appraised him for another moment.  “You’ll get lost if you go on your own.”

He knew she was right.  He could feel his heart thumping faster just imagining it.  Being lost in the woods, consumed completely by the brush and the trees. His emotions spun further thinking about leaving his mother.  Not being able to see her again.  “Can’t you take me back?  I don’t… I don’t want you to leave me again.”

She only shook her head.  “I have to bring you with me.  Your father wants you to come...”

That grabbed his attention, more than everything else she had told him, his eyebrows creasing.  “My father?”  He wasn’t sure who she was referring to.  Niall’s father or his own, his real father.  She had never talked about him before.  Had never answered him when he would ask who his papa was.

She squeezed his hand in form of an answer, giving him another pleasant smile.  “Let’s go, my darling.  Things will be explained when we get there.”

They walked in silence.  Louis didn’t have a choice.  He wouldn’t have made it back home on his own and he wanted to know where his mother was taking him.  Louis’ mind was alive with so many questions, trying to parse out what made sense and what was still unclear.  His mother kept a firm grip on his hand and he leaned into the familiarity.  He knew if he asked her any questions she would evade them like she had been doing.

He reveled in having her back instead, as surprising and unbidden as it was.  They walked for a long time, until midday started to become late afternoon, the sun creeping down and allowing the heat to ease from the air.

They came to a clearing that extended until it dropped off the side of the mountain’s edge.  The grass was sparse along the dry dirt, and the sun was starting to set already, the clouds painting the sky in streaks of red.  There was one large tree rooted into place near the edge of the cliff.  It reminded Louis of the one on his mother’s necklace.  Thriving and dark.

He wondered if the necklace had been designed after the tree there.  Wondered if there was a significance to it.

It was silent still for another few moments, the breeze whistling against the mountains edge and making Louis wish he had brought his cloak with him.  His mother removed her own to give to him, petting down his cheek after she’d hooked it over his shoulders.  It was only a little bit taller than he was.

His attention immediately snapped to the side, towards the woods when he heard voices, arguing.  They were deep, threatening and Louis stood on edge, but his mother seemed relaxed by his side.  It took him another moment before he could distinguish his, Niall’s, father’s voice from the other.

He let out a tight breath.  The two men entered the clearing a second later and stopped their argument, though the man Louis didn’t recognize still looked ready to argue.  He had a frightening air about him, turned to glare at Louis when he noticed him staring.  His eyes were dark.

His father’s voice called his attention away from the stranger.  He looked uncharacteristically pleased, smiling at him.  Louis was even more puzzled that he was there, though he remembered his father telling him he had wanted to take him somewhere when he got back from his trip.  He could assume that was the place.  “Louis, I’m glad you could make it…  I was disappointed when I found out you were no longer at the house like I told you to be.”

He was so close to giving an apology, the ‘I’m sorry’ at the edge of his tongue.  But he didn’t, couldn’t.  Not with everything still so muddled in his brain.  “How did you know?  Have you gone back?”  He may have sounded a touch accusatory.  If his father had gone back he surely wouldn’t have been there with them, not after seeing that Niall was hurt.

He shook his head, gesturing to Louis’ mother, with a simple, “Your mother saw you leave.”  The way he looked at her made the hairs against the back of Louis’ neck rise.  His father hadn’t ever looked at the Madam like that, when Louis had seen them together.

He gripped at the edge of his mother’s cloak, for something to hold onto.  His voice came out with more heat than he had intended, an edge of disbelief, “How long have you known?”  When his father looked to him in curiosity, Louis spoke again, rushed, “That my mother was alive?”

Realization dawned on his expression and Louis could feel his mother stiffen beside him, at his tone, “Why didn’t you tell me?”

There was only silence as his answer, his father pressing his mouth into a thin line.  Before finally responding, “I have my reasons.”  That didn’t loosen the anxiety in his posture.  Didn’t make Louis’ mind any clearer.

His father let out a breath after a moment, it easing the tension in his expression the barest amount.  “Your mother and I, we wanted to ask you something… show you something beforehand.  We have to wait for the moon first.  It shouldn’t be too long, now.”

It really wouldn’t be.  Louis would be outside at night again.  He couldn’t return home then though.  He had to know what was happening, why the two of them had brought him so far out.

“What is it?”  His tone had a hint of desperation as he looked to his mother.  Troubled by their silence and the rapidly dropping sun.

She reached out to stroke her thumb over his cheek, “Just wait, darling.”  It did nothing to soothe his nerves, his sudden panic.  She seemed to notice it in his eyes, considering, “I know it’s been a long time, much too long…  But I want you to be with me now.  With us.”  Her voice quieting further and she gave him a small smile, “Your father finally agreed to let you join our pack.”

Louis’ gut clawed at his insides, in alarm, “Your pack?”  Things seemed to be clicking together.  He had heard the word the day before, when Harry had been telling him about the werewolves that had attacked them.

The third person spoke, an angry bark that frightened him.  His attention turned to the man who was still glaring in his direction, “You shouldn’t have even brought him here.  He’s a runt.  He won’t do anything but get in the way.”

He didn’t have chance to spit anything more when his father spoke.  “Silence.”  The command in his tone shocked Louis, causing him to stiffen as his head immediately shot back to his father’s.  His demand actually made the man shut his mouth.  His father waited only another moment before telling him, “Transform, won’t you?  Show our Louis what we are.”  He left no room for disagreement.

Louis watched the interaction, the stranger obedient to his father, even though he seemed ready to deny him.  It looked almost as if he couldn’t.

His mother placed a gentling hand against his back, murmuring to him, “Don’t be afraid, darling.”  He didn’t think he could do so, muscles tense and eyes darting between the three of them.  Knowing what was about to happen.  Or, at least, that the monster from the previous night would come back.  He didn’t know how it would work, where it would appear from, but he watched in trepidation.

The moon was full in the sky, a translucent orange color, the sun beneath it, falling below the earth’s edge like the lowering of a coffin.  The final stretch of daylight.

He looked when there was the sound of cracking bone, and the man hunched over, groaning in pain.  It made Louis want to vomit as fur grew from his skin, its spine breaking, enlarging, becoming a beast.  A monster.  Its coat was matted and dark brown, thick in the dying light.

Louis’ breathing was ragged again, pulse unrestrained in its heavy beat.  He tore his gaze away from the horrific scene he had just witnessed, looking to his mother, and trying to keep the fear from his eyes, as the beast stared at him.  “How would you change me?”

“Your father would transform and bite you.”  She assessed him momentarily, voice lowering as she warned, “The transformation will be painful.”

Louis wondered if he was really going to have a choice in this matter.  Or if they would force him to turn even if he didn’t want to.  He didn’t want to.  He asked instead, a wavering, “Why can’t you do it?”

His mother gave him a caring smile, “I’m not the Alpha...”

Louis’ eyes found his father again.  He was the Alpha Harry had been talking about.  The one that could hurt Harry if they ran into each other.

Suddenly it connected.  He took an abrupt step back from his mother, as if he had been burned, “You’re the one in the woods the other night!  The monster that ran away.”  He turned his attention towards his father and then back to her, voice faltering, “Did you kill Liesel?”

His father sounded irritated when he responded, strict.  “I would never kill my daughter.  Your bastard of a husband did that.”

Louis’ expression twisted into disbelief, unease.  He had to get away, he knew he had to get away.  “He wouldn’t have.  He told me he hadn’t…”  He didn’t believe his father.  Could see the wild look to his eyes, could hear the accusation and knew it held no truth.  They still hadn’t found Liesel’s body.  He couldn’t possibly have known that she had died by Harry’s hand, she could’ve been hurt by any creature living in the woods.

That immediately made Louis’ eyes flick back to the monster, the one watching his every movement, as if waiting for him to take the wrong step.  The beast’s face looked familiar then, Louis didn’t know how he managed to speak when his lungs were constricting in fear, a breathless, “You attacked Niall.”  Louis needed to leave, but the beast would run after him if he tried.  Would get to him within moments.

His heart rate beat harder as his father’s face twisted in confusion and dissatisfaction at Louis’ response.  He could see the fear in Louis’ eyes, could hear the quiver in his voice though.  His tone was lower when he demanded, “Louis, what are you talking about?  No one attacked Niall.” 

The beast started making a low growl, baring its sharp teeth.  Just like the time before.

Louis’ pulse was hammering, he felt like a cornered animal, defenseless in front of a starving wolf.  Louis did not take his eyes from the beast even as he responded to his father, a shaky, “You haven’t been home.  You haven’t seen him.  He was attacked the night you left.”  Louis knew it was the same creature, was terrified of what that monster had almost done to Niall and Liam.

His father’s gaze quickly fell to his mother.  His tone even and low as he asked, “Is it true?”

His mother didn’t have the chance to nod before the beast was colliding into his father, trying to tear into him with its open jowls, snarling, as it tried to keep him on the ground.  His father had already begun changing into a monster himself and he was so much larger than the other wolf had been.  He started to fight back, trying to rip apart muscle and flesh.

Louis watched with wide eyes.  He turned and ran, terrified.  His mother called after him, but her voice was caught in the yaps and snarls from the two beasts.

He had to get home.  Had to get away from the creatures.  Had to get to Harry.

He moved as fast as he could, as hard, but he wasn’t in his best form.  He hadn’t eaten that day, only just realized how his stomach was screaming at him, the rest of his muscles straining, crying at his lack of energy.  The bite marks at his neck stung in reminder of Harry drinking from him the previous day, making him even weaker than normal.  His breath was ragged.

He did not know where he was going.  The forest was dark, pitch black and it seemed like it would swallow him whole.  He heard a howl from where he had come from, piercing in the silence of the woods and closer than Louis wanted it.

“Harry,” he shouted for him.  So Harry could find him.  Had promised he would come if Louis ever called.  He didn’t even care if it alerted his mother to where he was.  He just needed Harry.  He needed him more than anything.

He tripped, foot caught in the too long material of his mother’s cloak.  He yelled when his ankle twisted, made a sound like the snapping of a twig.  It felt as if claws were gripping at the skin, talons sinking into his flesh.  He could feel tears rising to his eyes as he gripped at his ankle, feeling the stinging, sharp beneath his fingertips.

He had to get back up, had to keep going.  He couldn’t stay there, vulnerable and waiting for whatever would come find him next.  He stood on uneven footing, ripping the cloak off and dropping it to the ground.  He started forward, limping now, hoping he was moving back towards the castle, towards safety.  He could hear his mother’s voice call out for him again.  And it was like that night she had disappeared, when he had called for her to come back, except it was her asking him not to disappear this time.

His foot dragged him down, made him slower as he tried to push past the stabbing pain shooting up his leg with every step.  He took in a sharp breath when Harry appeared in front of him.  Sudden like so many times before.  Louis could feel his relief wash through him, the tears streak a bit faster, though Harry’s eyes were hard, his jaw set as he reached for Louis.

He lifted him up, one arm beneath his legs and the other against his back.  Louis let out a breath at the action, gripping hard to the front of Harry’s shirt.  Thanking the heavens that Harry had come for him.

Until there was a fierce rumbling from behind them, a growl that made Louis’ blood run cold.

Harry turned around, setting him down in one swift motion, behind him so that Harry was between the beast and Louis.  “Go, Louis.”  Louis stared up at his back, breath coming out quickly.  He didn’t want to go, didn’t want Harry to get hurt.  Didn’t want to be alone.  “I’ll find you again.”

Louis took a step back, gritting his teeth against the pressure on his injury, a few steps until he could see the wolf.  He recognized it.  “Wait!”  He knew he should listen to Harry, knew that Harry would know what was best.  But he couldn’t.  He stepped back to Harry’s side, looking at the monster, that was at his height, only a clearing away.  He spoke to it, “Please don’t hurt him...”

Louis,” Harry hissed, gripping at his arm to force him back.

Louis shifted his attention back to him, with a quieter, “Please don’t kill her.  It’s my mother.  I can’t… I can’t lose her again.”

Harry seemed to bristle at Louis’ words, eyes wide as if processing what he had just been told.  As if trying to understand that Louis didn’t want him to kill the creature.

“Go Louis.”  He said again, demanding, and Louis nodded.  He didn’t know if Harry would do what he had asked.  If his mother would.  And he could feel the tears again, stumbling his way back into the trees.  Before he left, he looked back at Harry one last time, his muscles taut, his tall figure striking in the moonlight.

It was in a flash of movement that something jumped out of the dark from beside the smaller werewolf and it landed on top of Harry, with a roar.  Its claws struck at Harry’s throat and it was with horror that Louis knew it was the Alpha.  Its fur as black as the darkness Louis was heading into, its eyes an unnatural red, deadly and sharp.  Cutting at the oxygen in Louis’ lungs.

Harry struggled beneath it and Louis couldn’t move any further into the brush.  The Alpha could kill Harry.  His father would kill him.  Harry let out another yell at Louis to run and he listened, even if it was so incredibly difficult to turn away.  Turn his back on Harry because he knew he would only be a distraction if he stayed.  His heart raced.  He left even if he was scared, so, so scared that Harry wouldn’t be okay.  That he would die.

Louis’ chest stung more than his ankle, distracting him from the pain of his injury as the tears scratched down his cheeks.  He could hear the sounds of the fight behind him, the snarls and yelps, and loud rumbling growls.

He wasn’t sure if his mother would follow him, wasn’t sure if she would attack him.  Pin him to the dirt until his father could come and bite him, turn him into one of them.  A monster.

His movements slowed, muscles screaming at him, burning from exertion.  His lungs hurt with every inhale of cool air he took in.  He’d left him, alone.  He’d left Harry by himself.  Fighting against two monsters.  There was nothing he could’ve done, but it didn’t stop his guilt, the worry that Harry wouldn’t be okay, and that it was all Louis’ fault.

His father thought Harry had killed Liesel, he wouldn’t let him live if he could help it.  Louis wondered if he had killed the other beast.  He could only assume that he had, with the same ferocity as he was attacking Harry.

Louis heard a low whining sound and when he turned around, his mother walked out of the shadow, still in her werewolf form.  She didn’t make any attempts to jump at him, didn’t bare her teeth either.  Just stared at him with those frightening yellow eyes.  His throat was dry and a cold sweat already clung to his skin.  He stared back, waiting for her to do anything.

Louis knew he couldn’t go back.  Harry had only gotten hurt the time before because he had been worried about Louis.  He couldn’t do that when he was fighting the Alpha.  He felt hopeless, helpless.

He could feel his body shaking, trembling with anxiety, fear that Harry wasn’t okay. 

His mother still didn’t make any moves, and she left a distance between them.

In a shift of air, Harry appeared again, in between Louis and his mother like before.  He had blood staining his jaw and neck, fangs uncovered, and a low grumble emanating from his chest.  Louis immediately reached out for his arm, coming around his side as best he could.  Harry didn’t take his gaze from the beast in front of him.  His eyes were black and frenzied.

His mother did not make any moves, did not make a sound and Louis glanced at her before tugging on Harry’s arm, scared.  “Please, Harry.  Let’s go home, please.”  He was begging, but he didn’t want his mother to die.  Couldn’t process what Harry had to have done to his father, had to have killed him.  His heart was in disarray, all emotions rattling around in his empty chest and trying to fill the cracks starting to bleed their way in there.  He couldn’t cry.  Had to get home first.  Had to have some semblance of normalcy, his voice wavered again, as he pulled at Harry’s arm, “Please.”

Harry looked at him then, his expression was dark, terrifying.  Gooseflesh prickled up onto Louis’ skin.  Harry was swift when he picked him up like before and they were moving through the forest, faster than Louis could ever imagine going.

They were at the castle within an hour’s time and Louis knew Harry was drained and exhausted.  He hadn’t been as hurt the time before and he hadn’t pushed himself as hard as he just had.  His eyes were still bleeding black and his grip was hard when he yanked Louis into the house.

He disappeared once he had the door locked as if he didn’t trust Louis to stay there.  Louis was alone in the entryway, in the dark.  His breathing picked up again, as he looked around for Harry.  Wondering if he was so furious with him that he couldn’t even stand to see him again.

That was when the tears started again, choking up his chest as he let out a sob.  All of the emotions he had felt earlier coming back with full force.  He had seen his mother again, she was alive.  And he didn’t know whether he would see her ever again after what had just happened.  His father, as frightening as he sometimes had been, had just been killed.  Even if the option was between Harry or him, Louis hadn’t wanted either of them to die.

The darkness felt like it was closing in on him, collapsing against his chest as he fell to the ground, getting the weight off his ankle.  A cold air blew across his face, and a sudden orange light flared in the parlor, just like when he had first come to the castle.  A fire set in the hearth.

Louis’ skin was still cold from being outside in the dark for so long.  He tried standing on shaky legs, and he stalled when Harry appeared in front of him again.  He no longer had blood streaking his mouth or chin, or on his clothes.  He was still dirty from his fight, but he did not have any of Louis’ father’s blood on him anymore, where Louis could see.  That small concession made Louis’ tears slow the slightest bit.

Harry’s eyes were back to their vibrant green shade, even in the dimness of the hallway.  He reached down to wipe away Louis’ tears, even as they continued to fall across his face, hands cold against Louis’ cheeks.  He leaned in to align their mouths, stealing Louis’ cries in a soft press of lips, Louis’ hitched breaths falling away as he focused on Harry’s mouth, on his thumbs stroking along his skin.

It felt like Harry was reassuring himself as much as he was Louis, drawing their mouths apart only for a breath, and putting their foreheads together instead.

Louis sniffled, trying to move closer.  “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, Harry— I didn’t mean to, I…  T-thank you for coming to get me and saving me, and,” his breath was stuttering, coming out hard, but he needed to finish what he had to say, “and, for not killing my momma.  I-I’m so sorry.  Please forgive me.”  Louis knew he was babbling, tears streaming faster now that he was.  Regret pinching at his tear ducts and collecting at his lash line.

Everything hurt.  His limbs were sore, his stomach empty, his head aching.  Harry picked him up again, slower when he moved them into the parlor, where he could seat Louis in the chair positioned next to the fire, where he could warm up.

Harry kissed him again, slowly, reassuring, kneeled down in front of his legs.  “It’s okay…” he murmured, and his voice was low, quiet and soothing.  Louis sucked in a breath, wiping at his face even as he took in every comforting word Harry murmured to him.

Harry draped a blanket over his shoulders and Louis let out another hitched, “Thank you.”  He wanted to take care of Harry, didn’t want to be so useless.  “A-are you hurt?”   He opened his eyes from where he was rubbing at them to see Harry shake his head.

His gaze was intent on Louis’ features.  “Nothing that won’t be healed within a few days.  It helped that I had fed from you last night.”

Louis nodded, feeling only slightly better knowing he had been able to help Harry, even if it hadn’t been his intention when he had let Harry drink from him.  More tears clouded his eyes when he asked in a broken hush, “Did you kill him?”

Harry only nodded, turning his attention down to Louis’ ankle, slipping his shoe off with little protest, though Louis couldn’t stop the low whines of pain that fell from his lips.  He couldn’t be sure if they were from his ankle or from the fact he would never see his father again.

He didn’t know how he was still crying.  After so much, he felt like he was drowning in his own wretchedness.  If he hadn’t gone out nothing would have happened.  Harry wouldn’t have killed his father.

Except.  He knew that wasn’t true, Harry had said he would.  That he needed to hunt them down, had already been killing them off.  If Louis hadn’t left the castle, he never would’ve seen his mother again.  Never would’ve been able to feel her wrap her arms around him and kiss his forehead like when he had been a child.

The reminder made his heart ache.  He wanted his momma back, like before.  He knew he couldn’t have her though, that it would never be like that again.

He couldn’t even imagine what had happened to her in the years when they weren’t together.  She had been turned, had been in pain, had suffered, and had stayed away from him because of it.

Harry put his hands on Louis’ leg and his foot, shifting his ankle to see how the bone moved.  Louis tensed at the discomfort shooting through him.

He tried focusing on anything but what Harry was doing, the pain more excruciating as he set his ankle back into place and stuck a brace beside it to keep it straight.  Louis didn’t even know where he had gotten it from, couldn’t care less.  Tried to settle his emotions, his breathing, his tears that burned down his face like the wax from a candle.

Harry took him upstairs after he had set his ankle and Louis was warmer from the fire.  He laid Louis down in bed and pulled the blankets over him, to keep away the chill that still lingered against his skin, curled deep in his bones.  Harry blew out the candles there, moving beneath the sheets as well.  Tucking himself along Louis’ back, to keep him safe.  So he would know he was there.

Louis’ exhaustion weighed heavily on his body, his limbs, easing him into a dark sleep, tear tracks still damp on his cheeks.

Chapter Text

It was dark when Louis opened his eyes, blinking against the blackness smothering the room.   Harry wasn’t behind him and there was a small crack in the door, a candle in the hallway burning dully, to allow Louis something to see by.  He curled further into the softness of his pillow and blankets.  He had woken only a few times when the sun had been up and peeking through a crack in the curtains, had slept through the rest of the day before, Harry stroking a hand down his arm, entwining their fingers, pressing kisses to his shoulder.

Louis drifted off again, quickly, weighed down with a heavy heart and mind.

When he awoke once more, the room was still empty apart from himself.  He stayed in bed, noting every small movement of his body as he stretched his muscles.  He wiggled his toes and they were cold.  He tensed his legs, relaxing them after.  He rolled onto his back and touched the blankets with his arms.

Louis only stood, on wobbly legs, when he was hungry, could feel his stomach twisting in discomfort from not having eaten in almost two days’ time.  He put on his warmest shirt, walking quietly down the stairs on bare feet.  The stone was cool against his feet, but Louis didn’t mind, he didn’t want to wear his shoes or anything even slightly uncomfortable for the entire day.  He sat at the dining room table and ate the food that had been set out for him, still steaming and warm.  The perfect amount of porridge so that he wouldn’t eat too much and get sick.

He wondered where Harry was, a rush of uncertainty washing over him when he imagined that Harry had gone back out to find his mother.  To finish what he hadn’t the other day.  Louis stared down at his food, swallowing slowly the spoonful he had just taken.  His hand was unsteady and he focused on forcing it to not shake as he finished his meal.

 

Louis found Harry in the study, when he went to go look for him.

Harry did not look himself, seemed paler and sicker, his skin was very cold to touch when Louis reached out to do that.  It was always colder when he needed to feed.  Harry settled his hands at Louis’ waist as Louis shifted down, so that he could sit in his lap, and Harry immediately pulled him close so that their stomachs could touch through the fabric of their shirts.

The motion caused Louis’ heart to stutter, ache with his desire to always be near Harry.  Louis slipped a hand into Harry’s curls, guiding his mouth down towards his neck, not having to say anything before Harry’s fangs were slipping into his skin.  A rush of adrenaline shooting through him, waking him further as he let out a sharp breath and his hand flexed in Harry’s hair.  Harry took what he needed, what he wanted, until Louis was soft, pliant in his arms.

Louis rested his cheek against Harry’s shoulder when he had finished and Harry pressed tender kisses to his temple.  Running large hands down his sides.  Louis shut his eyes at the soothing movements, asking, “Have you been here all day?”

Harry hummed, Louis could feel the vibrations against his skin.  “I stayed in bed for a while.”

Louis nodded, exhaling a small breath.  The shadows loomed around them and it was almost comforting in how used to it Louis was.  The shadows watching over the house, the phantoms buried in the dirt outside, stuck in a different time and perpetually alone.

Louis had felt almost similarly before he had moved in with Harry.  Lonely, even if he had Niall and his siblings.  There was a part of Louis that hadn’t felt complete until Harry had given him the ring still resting against his finger.

He did not want to be lonely again.  Louis’ fingers pressed into the front of Harry’s shirt as he sat up to look at his expression.  Their eyes met, and the words fell from Louis’ lips.  “Do you love me…?”

Harry’s words were as quiet as a whisper, a breath in the space between them, “Why do you ask, Little One?”

Since Louis had learned the truth about what Harry was, he’d thought, by Harry’s actions that he must’ve loved him.  But Harry hadn’t said it back to him the other day when Louis had told him the first time.  Louis wanted to hear it.  Whether Harry really did.  He felt fragile waiting, vulnerable asking, like a moonflower wilting in the daylight.

Harry didn’t speak for a quiet moment.  Until his low rumbling drawl broke through the silence.  Louis watched his lips move, listened to his words, heart drumming at what they meant.  A staccato rhythm lighting up his veins and fluttering through his chest.  “I haven’t seen the sun since I was human, haven’t felt its warmth against my skin…”  He lifted Louis’ hand in his own, gently pressing their fingertips together, dancing in the light of the candle flame.  Louis’ gaze swept to the movement, listening as Harry murmured, “You’re my sunlight, Little One.  You keep me warm.”

Harry pressed his lips to Louis’ temple and Louis took in the smallest breath, leaning in to the action as Harry pressed another kiss to his cheekbone and then to the hinge of his jaw.  Louis shut his eyes at Harry’s next soft words, “I love you more than the heavens, and my own immortality.”

Louis’ heart beat harder and he turned his face, to lean in so their mouths could meet.  Harry’s lips were velvet against Louis’.  He took in a deep breath and Harry repositioned them, to slot their mouths together better, breathing him in, licking into the parting of his lips.

Louis moved into it, trembling against the way Harry’s tongue mapped out his mouth, his hands touched over the curves of his hips, keeping him close.  Louis was still reeling over Harry’s words, feeling so inexplicably warm.

They stayed like that for much of the rest of the night, expressing their love for each other through kisses alone.

It was the next morning, Louis on his way down the stairs to eat when there was a knock at the front entrance.  It shocked him out of his thoughts, almost made him trip over the last step.  Instead his gaze immediately flew to the door, feet stalling on it, his heartbeat ratcheting up again.

He glanced around, wondering if he’d misheard and it wasn’t the door that had just made a noise.  He took the final few steps down to the main floor, moving closer to it.  Louis had an odd feeling in his stomach, telling him to open it.  To see who was outside.

He took a deep breath, only a little frightened by what could possibly be waiting for him.  Louis could feel Harry’s gaze against his back when he reached out for the door handle, watching him from the second floor.  Louis stalled, murmuring after a long moment, a reassurance, “I won’t go out…” 

Harry did not reply and Louis twisted the brass handle, pulling the door aside so he could see who was there.  Surprised to find his mother.

She was in her cloak, the one Louis had lost, her lips curved into a frown and her eyes veiled in sadness.  She was still as beautiful as ever, even as solemn as she seemed, with long brown hair that matched Louis’, and blue eyes just like his. She looked lost, unsure where she stared back at him.  Until she spoke, with an unwavering, “He killed your father…”  As if that information was more important than anything else she could’ve said to him.

Louis’ brows pinched together and he let out his own, “I know.”  His hand was still on the door, to keep it open.  He would not step outside though, felt stuck on the threshold.  Compelled to both reach out for his mother and keep his word to Harry.  He would not go outside again, without his permission.

Louis’ mother pressed her lips together, assessing him.  Her tone was still quiet when she asked, “Are you afraid of me now, darling?”

Louis shook his head.  The thump of his pulse told him it was a lie.  She wasn’t the same woman standing in front of him that he had known before.  She was still his mother and he loved her, but it was almost as if she were a reflection of what she used to be.  Muddled against the glass of a shattered mirror.  If Louis were to pretend everything was the same, that she was the same, that he was the same as he had been so long before, he risked cutting himself against the broken glass.

“I won’t force you to become what I am…”  Louis could barely hear a growling sound from where Harry was still in the house behind him.  As if Louis’ mother even mentioning it was threatening him.  “Your father and I, we just—I wanted to have you back…”  She took in a deep breath, watching him for only a moment longer before she continued.  Her voice was slower, more contemplative as she said, “I’m leaving, Louis…”

Louis’ stomach twisted, mouth opening to ask a question, before he was stopping himself.  He was pretty sure she didn’t know where she would be going.  She didn’t have a home anymore, no one and nowhere to call her own.  Louis, at least, had a home with Harry.

He looked over his shoulder, Harry standing by the banister at the top of the stairs.  He gave a single nod of his head, as if he knew what it was that Louis was asking.  Louis crossed the threshold to throw his arms around his mother one last time.  She held him just as tightly, tucking him into her embrace, and he tried to not let himself cry.

She brushed her hand through his hair and kissed at his forehead.  “I love you, Louis.  You will always be my baby boy.”

His chest ached as the thought about her leaving again, like before.  At her words and the way she kissed his head, like he’d always remembered.  He shut his eyes into the action, voice quiet.  “I love you too, Momma.”

She stroked her thumbs over his cheeks before pulling back.  She studied him for just another few moment, looking wistful.  Louis didn’t notice her hand reaching beneath her cloak until it reappeared again, holding onto something.

She grabbed for his palm, and he finally looked down to see what she had.  It was her necklace and it made his pulse intensify again.  At the reminder of where that tree against its surface had most likely been replicated from.  “Take it.  Even if you don’t wear it, I want you to have it...”  She closed his fingers around the pendant, holding for just a moment longer before letting go to hug him one more time.

Louis felt the pendant hot in his palm.  He leaned further into her arms, asking, “Will you come back?”  When there was silence as his response, he added, voice quieter, “I want you to.”  He pulled away to see her expression.

She gave him a rueful smile, a soft, murmured, “Perhaps.”  She kissed him again on the forehead before pulling back and dropping her arms.  It felt like the time she had disappeared before, when he had been so young.  He couldn’t get himself to tell her to stay, though.  Not this time.  Knew she wouldn’t.  “Goodbye, my little Louis.”

Louis’ voice was only a whisper when he replied, “Bye Momma...”  He watched her turn and begin to walk away, towards the path leading down the road.  He could almost imagine she were just going back to their old home, and that she would be there if he ever wanted to visit her.  His heart pinched against his chest and it hurt.  He wanted her back already.

Louis waited until he couldn’t see her any longer before turning to go inside.

The necklace was still in his hand.  A heavy reminder of everything that had happened.  Of seeing his mother again after years apart, of what his father and mother had wanted to do to him, what they were.  It made him feel childish and afraid.  Louis didn’t want to see the necklace and be reminded of the horrifying things he had seen that night.  He couldn’t wear it because he didn’t want to hurt Harry.

He walked up the steps and Harry followed him with his gaze, likely wondering what he was doing.

Louis walked towards the room he hadn’t visited since he’d learned what Harry was, and Harry trailed after him.  He pushed open the door, hinges sticking at the motion.  The room was still a mess, though glass no longer littered the floor.  Shards still hung from the mirrors though, a trail of sunlight through the curtains burning bright across their dark surfaces.

Louis’ heart immediately began beating harder, remembering how scared he’d been the last time he’d been in there.  How deathly frightened he’d been of the man he had married and what Harry could do to him.  Louis could feel Harry watching him from the doorway now, as Louis walked towards the window, necklace dangling from his fingers.

He stared down at it for a long moment, petting over its face before hanging it from the latch there.  He would leave it. 

The room was eerie and quiet, already full of things that needed to be kept hidden, secrets and shame.

The sun glinted off of the pendant just right to make the tree momentarily disappear within the brightness.  Louis took a step away, moving back towards the hallway.

Harry greeted him when he stepped into the shadows again, hands settling on Louis’ waist, pulling him close.  He was silent for a few long moments, studying his expression, before he was murmuring quietly, “You can visit Niall tomorrow…”  He placed a gentle hand against Louis’ cheek, “I’ll come for you when it’s dark and bring you home.”

It seemed Harry wanted to make Louis happier.  What he didn’t know was that he already did, just being near him made Louis feel safe and warm.  Louis smiled, nodding.  Heart beating in excited rhythms at the permission, at knowing he would see Niall the next day.

He reached up to wrap his arms around Harry’s neck, on his tiptoes so he could reach.  Harry ducked down to help him, holding him around the middle and squeezing him tight.  Louis let out a small breath, turning his nose into Harry’s curls. 

He loved him.  Always.  Whispering, “I want to be close with you, Harry…  Like before.”

Harry pressed a smile into his jaw, kissing there after a moment.  “We can do that…”  He kissed the space beneath Louis’ ear next and Louis’ pulse spiked at that, as if it wanted to reach out and feel Harry’s mouth on its own.

He pulled back to guide Louis towards the hallway, Louis closing the door tightly behind them, not looking back once as Harry led him to their bedroom with a hand on his back.

Louis was already starting to feel giddy, his stomach dancing around inside of him.  He quickly began pulling at Harry’s clothing when they were in the room, unbuttoning his shirt and enjoying the hands Harry slipped beneath his shirt and along the skin near the top of his pants.

It was fast, how they stripped each other and moved to the bed, Harry getting on top of him, strong and muscular, chiseled like a moving statue, marbled stone.  Harry kissed him and Louis opened up for it, pressing together in the heat they created, hands everywhere.  Searching, caressing, gliding over every inch of skin.

Harry slid down his body, kissing his wrists, delicate and sweet.  It made Louis’ pulse beat erratic, his stomach flip.  Nothing separated them.  Warm skin against cool, smooth muscle.  Harry kissed at his hips next and it made Louis squirm.  His breath hitch.

Harry took him in his mouth and it drew a sharp moan from Louis’ lips.  Large hands gripping at his hips, to keep him steady, moving to touch beneath his thighs and spread them wider.

Louis’ hands gripped at Harry’s curls and he whined at the overwhelming sensations, at everything.  The love, the heat pouring out of Harry.  Searing against his skin and causing him to shudder, needing so much.

Harry’s hands slowly, eventually moved to press against his rim, causing the muscle to flutter beneath his touch.  His fingers were slick with oil, that Louis had been too distracted to notice he’d poured out.  He opened him up, taking his time, deliberate and measured, and Louis was sure he wouldn’t last long, that the pleasure would take him immediately.

Harry pulled off of him, to leave marks against the sensitive skin of his inner thighs, making Louis whine and writhe and moan.

He removed his hands from Louis to shift up and hover on top of him again, align their mouths to drown out any more noises Louis made.  He wasted no time in readying himself, Louis’ fingertips finding the hard muscles in his back as he pushed in.

It was dark, all Louis could sense was Harry’s body against his own, breath hard and erotic in the silence.  Harsh as they moved together, interrupted only with soft moans and breathy whines.

It was overwhelming, Harry surrounding him completely.  Filling him so fully.  Louis moved against him, against Harry’s rhythmic movements.

It was a back and forth and it was everything.  It was perfect.  Louis felt so warm, cheeks flushed, breaths heated against Harry’s mouth.

Louis was the first to let go, with a broken off moan and his hands gripping even harder to Harry’s curls, as he shivered through it.  Harry didn’t let up and he came soon after, deep inside of him.  Louis felt euphoric, searched for Harry’s mouth again.  To kiss him with everything he had.  Harry leaned heavily against his front, enveloping him, and Louis had never felt safer.

He giggled a little with how Harry nuzzled into his cheek, couldn’t help it.  He was too happy, happier now than before, having been taken away from thoughts of missing his mother.

He held tightly to Harry and Harry kissed over his cheeks in small pecks that only brightened the smile on Louis’ mouth.  He eventually rolled them over and they whispered to each other, laughed together, until the evening turned into night.

 

It was still light out when he left the next day, the sun high in the sky.  He began his trek to Niall’s home, making sure to stay on the path, keeping his attention on going forward so he wouldn’t be distracted by anything in the woods.  Wouldn’t be tempted to move closer and be consumed within the trees. 

He walked quickly, even though his ankle twinged uncomfortably every other step, his own cloak wrapped around his shoulders and a dagger in his pocket.  Something Harry had given him, as a precaution, though he’d expected Louis wouldn’t need to use it.

Since the werewolves were no longer a threat, Harry seemed much less worried, even if he still wanted to come get him.  Harry had seen him to the door earlier, kissed him once before he’d left.  A lingering kiss and a soft goodbye.

Louis had smiled and promised to be good.  He would stick with that promise. 

He made it to Niall’s home before the sun had even thought about setting.

The madam was still in her room, and though it was better for Louis to not have to see her, he wondered if she knew about his father.  About his death.

Louis quickly, quietly made his way to Niall’s room, so that he wouldn’t have to be the one to tell her.  He didn’t stumble upon any of his other siblings on the way there, and he was almost thankful for it.  Not wanting to cause a ruckus, needing to see Niall right away to really verify he was okay.

When Louis walked into his old room, Niall was sitting in bed.  Cheeks rosy and soft.  Louis almost tripped over himself on his way to him, to wrap his arms around his neck.  Niall hugged him back, only a little bit weaker than his usual hugs were. 

There was a slight sheen to his face, as if he’d been sweating, likely overheated from the blankets resting on top of his lower half.  “I’m so glad you’re okay,” Louis whispered, eyes squeezed tight.  “I’m sorry for taking so long to visit.”

Niall nudged him away to smile at him, with a tired, “It’s okay...  I just woke up anyways.”  He shrugged to let Louis know he meant it, that it really was okay, before leaning against Louis’ side with a wide yawn.

Louis reached up to brush his hand through Niall’s hair.  “How are you feeling?”

They moved to lean back against the headboard.  Niall mulling over his response before muttering, “Fine. It kind of hurts sometimes, when I move too much.”  He didn’t wait for Louis to respond before he was continuing. “Liam said your husband saved me?”  He seemed expectant for Louis to acknowledge that, and Louis was so surprised by the line of questioning, he only managed a head nod. 

Niall’s brows furrowed as he murmured, “Liam wasn’t specific on the details…  He was pretty sure he had been in such shock that he had imagined most of the night.”

Louis continued stroking through Niall’s blond strands, not saying anything.  He’d thought that night had been surreal, he couldn’t imagine what Liam and Niall had thought.  Niall mumbled an additional, “I mean… I’ve never seen a wolf that big before in my life…”  He was looking down at his knees, still tucked beneath the covers.

Louis pulled him closer, warning, “Just… don’t go into the woods again when it’s dark.”  He waited for Niall to acknowledge what he said, with a head nod of his own. 

He didn’t want Niall to mull over it.  Didn’t want him to start questioning how Harry had managed to save them, or the fact that wolves didn’t look like what the werewolf had.  Niall’s next words brought Louis’ attention back to him, as he said, “Thank him for me, will you?”

Louis immediately smiled at that, surprised and happy that Niall wanted to thank Harry.  “I can.”

Niall smiled back, turning his head to look up at him, “You know I haven’t even met him yet… You should invite him next time and then I can meet him.”

Louis’ heart bloomed warmer, but his smile faltered the slightest bit as he looked towards the closed door to their bedroom, murmuring, “I’m not sure the Madam would be comfortable with that…”  He looked back to Niall when he said, “Come visit us at my home and Harry will be there next time.”

Niall nodded, as if he truly would come visit just to meet Harry.

It only took a moment before his expression sobered, his voice dropping to a whisper.  Though no one else was there to overhear them, “Did you hear?  About our dad?”  Louis’ muscles tensed, trying to keep the sadness, the knowledge of what he did know, from revealing itself on his face.  Niall continued, looking so uncertain, “He died…  A woman visited Mother yesterday and told her…”  Louis’ throat tightened involuntarily, knowing it must’ve been his mother.  He wondered if the Madam had known she was alive all these years, or if she was blindsided too when she had found out.

Niall’s voice lowered further, a fragility to it, “I don’t understand why so many bad things are happening to our family.”

Louis hugged him again, tighter than before, but didn’t say anything.  He couldn’t tell him everything he knew.  Knew Niall wouldn’t understand.  He just held him closer, in apology.

He himself wouldn’t have believed Niall if Niall had told him about their father being a werewolf.  Though there was a small part of Louis that wondered if Niall would believe him…  Niall had always been a bit more accepting, had always trusted Louis and done everything he’d ever asked.  Maybe, one day, Louis would tell him.

For then, he changed the topic, moving to lay down beside Niall, like so many times before, and talk with him.

It wasn’t long before the sun was reaching behind the horizon and the sky was falling dark outside the window.  Niall gave him a long look when he noticed, asking, “You’re staying here tonight?”  He sounded like he would protest if Louis said he was going to go home then.

Louis squeezed his arm, with a small smile, “Harry’s outside waiting for me.”  He glanced back towards the window, feeling warm knowing Harry was there, feeling safe even though he was a little scared to step outside after dark.

Louis stood eventually, to gather his things.  Niall hugged him one last time and Louis squeezed him extra tight.  He tried to stay silent on his toes in the hallway, so he wouldn’t wake any of his siblings who might’ve been sleeping, the wood rough and unpolished beneath his feet.

He opened the door leading outside, eyes adjusting to the black sky awaiting him.  It was only a small, hesitant moment before Louis was stepping out, to head into the night and the dark forests surrounding them.