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a promise lives within you now

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Seven/Eight

“Ava sorya! Tullen tye-rehtien!”

The sound of voices speaking in a foreign tongue wakes Harry up from the light doze he'd fallen into and he shakes himself awake, frightened and confused. He peeks out from the dirty blanket he'd hidden under and, to his horror, sees his family's ruined, mangled tent and his mother lying slumped near what used to be its entrance. No, it - so it wasn’t a nightmare, this is real -

“Mi vanig?”

Harry startles at the sound of the voices, closer this time, and makes an involuntary little noise of grief and fear. He clutches the blanket closer, closing his eyes and then gasping and opening them again when all he can see on the backs of his eyelids is his mother's terrified face as she pushes him into the corner and throws a blanket on top of him.

“Pedig edhellen?”

Harry starts to cry, and as he hiccups in fear he tries to stay as quiet as he can, shaking and shivering and trying not to close his eyes.  He grips the blanket tightly, trying to make sure every part of his body is covered.

A different voice is speaking now, lower and softer but in the same language.  After a beat, the first voice says loudly, “Hello?  Do you speak the Common Language?”

They’re not Orcs, clearly, but Harry is still terrified.  He can hear the voices getting closer, but he can’t hear any footsteps.  They prattle back and forth in that same mysterious language for a bit before the voices seem to stop right outside Harry’s tent.

“This is the one, Father!” comes the first voice enthusiastically.  Harry becomes paralyzed with fear – his limbs are heavy with it, like his blood has frozen and pooled in his fingers and toes.  He wants to cuddle close to his mother and make sure she’s hidden, too, but right now lying still is probably the best course of action for her.  If she plays dead, the newcomers won’t pay any attention to her.  “This is the tent I saw.”

“You should announce yourself first,” the deeper voice says.  “You do not want to frighten him any more than he already has been.”

“Hello!” says the first voice.  “I am not here to hurt you, Man-child.  I want to help you.”

Is he talking to Harry?  Harry doesn’t know how to respond, so he doesn’t say anything.

“I am Louis, Prince of Mirkwood,” comes the voice, echoing inside the small tent.

That’s nice.  Harry still doesn’t respond.

“Father, why isn’t he answering me?” the voice asks, a bit petulantly.

The deep voice speaks again in the language that Harry can’t understand.

“Okay,” the first voice says.  “Okay, I’m going to enter the tent now, Man-child.  Please don’t be afraid.”

Harry is afraid, though.  He’s gone past the point of crying, instead staying absolutely still under the blanket while trying to control his breathing.  He feels like all of his bones have turned to stone.

He hears the flap of the tent open and almost throws up.  Harry thinks of his mother, how motionless she was lying, and wonders when she’s going to wake up, when she’s going to get up and protect him.

Terrifyingly, though, she doesn’t, and Harry hears light, quiet footsteps make their way over to where he’s hidden underneath the blanket.  He stops breathing altogether, holding his breath and hoping the footsteps are going to retreat.  His heart feels like it’s beating in his throat, like it’s going to burst out of his mouth any second –

And then light floods his pupils as the blanket covering him is swiftly drawn back, and Harry is so surprised and so afraid that he can’t even find the ability to scream.  He does instinctively curl into the fetal position, though, protecting his head with his hands and scrunching up as small as possible on the dirty ground.

“There you are!” Harry hears the same musical voice exclaim.  “Don’t worry, I’m not going to hurt you.  I’m not an Orc.”

Orcs were what attacked their camp, Harry’s sure of it.  There were only about forty of them, just women and children with a few of their village’s best warriors to escort them, trying to make their way to some place called Rohan. Harry doesn’t know why they had to leave, but he had heard his mother tell another townswoman that Orc attacks were getting more frequent and that the men of their village had wanted to gradually move all of them to safety.

Harry feels cold without the blanket, conscious of the early morning chill seeping through his thin clothes, and before he knows it he’s yearning for his mother’s warm touch.  But he – he knows what happened, he knows what it means that his mum hasn’t gotten up.  He’s seen it happen to some of the other children’s parents, too, like during last winter when an illness swept their village, but it’s only just hitting him what that means, that he’s never going to feel his mother’s touch again, that there’s no one left to take care of him, and no one left to love him, and – the fact that there aren’t any “other children” now, not here, that no other person who was travelling with him is going to get up, and –

Harry can’t help it.  He starts to cry, right there on the dirty ground, in front of a stranger who may or may not be about to kill him, and he can honestly say that he wouldn’t mind if they did.  At least he’d get to be with his mum again.

“Oh, no, please don’t – Father, he’s crying, what do I do?”

Is it another child who pulled the blanket off of him? Harry doesn’t care.  Harry can’t be bothered to look.

The tent rustles and Harry can sense another presence inside, now, and he tries to curl into a tighter ball and press his face into the ground.

Suddenly, he feels a warm hand on his shoulder, the touch feather-light but comforting.

“Child,” Harry hears a deeper voice, feels the hand on his shoulder vibrate musically with it, “My name is Aron, Lord of the woodland Elves and King of Mirkwood.  We are here to take you to safety, my son.  And provide a proper burial for your mother.”

Harry cries harder and doesn’t answer.  It’s all happening so fast, seems too final too soon.

“Child, what’s your name?” the man holding his shoulder asks.  He begins to rub soothingly over Harry’s back, and it makes Harry feel better in spite of himself.  “We want to be able to help you.  Elves have no quarrel with Men.”

It’s only then that it registers with Harry that they’re Elves.  He’s never met an Elf before, only heard about them.  That must be why they were speaking a different language earlier – they were speaking Elvish.

Harry does know, though, that the Elf is speaking the truth – Elves and Men aren’t enemies.  He’s heard his mother speak kindly about them once or twice in conversations with other adults.

“Harry,” he croaks out eventually, his voice hoarse and cracked with tears and disuse. “M’name’s Harry.”

“That’s a nice name.  A good strong name,” says Aron kindly.  “Now, Harry, the last thing I want to be is indelicate – I know what it’s like to lose family to the Orcs – but we’re going to need to move back into the cover of the forest soon.  The pack of Orcs that attacked your people may come back to raid the campsite, and we didn’t bring a large group of Elves with us, nor are we prepared for battle.”

Harry doesn’t want to leave his mother there, especially now that he knows the Orcs might come back.  “What – w-what about my mum?” he asks quietly, his eyes still tightly shut.

“We’re going to take her with us,” Aron tells him, rubbing at his back again.  “Was anyone else in your family traveling with you?”

Harry shakes his head.  “I don’t have any other family, I don’t th-think,” he stammers out, his voice wavering as tears leak from the corners of his eyes.

“Okay,” says Aron, “okay.  We’ll have some of our company come back here later to do last rites for the rest of the people traveling with you.  Unfortunately, we can’t take them all with us right now.”

Is Harry really the only one who survived?

“So, with your permission, Harry, I’m going to have two Elves come in here and pick up your mother so we can take her with us.  Is that okay?”

Harry nods, trying not to let any more tears leak out, but he ends up bursting into tears again as he hears the tent rustle and knows that there are two Elves lifting his mother’s body off of the cold ground.  He doesn’t want to look, doesn’t want to make it final, so he buries his face in his hands instead and lets the tears fall thickly.

“Shh, shh,” Aron murmurs soothingly, rubbing Harry’s back in a way that reminds Harry of how his mother used to.  It just makes him cry harder.

The Elf king begins to sing, a haunting, wordless melody of mourning that’s perfectly in tune with the grief pouring out of Harry in waves.  It’s soft, so soft, but it seems to reverberate around the tent and fill Harry’s lungs up, coursing through his blood and making him feel lighter.

Lighter, but – more tired, like he’s being lulled to sleep.  In Harry’s mind, the melody seems to transform into the lullaby his mother used to sing him when he was smaller, and he finds that sleep seems to be rushing up to greet him.  The last thing he hears before the darkness is Louis asking, “Are you sure he’s going to be alright, Father?”

xxx

When Harry next wakes up, he comes to very, very slowly.  He seems to be moving, a gentle rocking motion, and he has a faceful of hair, for some reason.  Harry goes to move his arms up and swipe the hair out of his face when he discovers that his hands are tied together.

That gets him up fast, panic zinging through him and consciousness roaring back to him as he remembers the state of his traveling party, how everyone –

Did the Orcs get him after all? Is he on his way to be slaughtered? Harry’s eyes pop open and he starts to thrash around wildly.

“Aiya!” cries the figure he seems to be attached to.  “Stop that!  You’re going to pitch us off!”

It doesn’t sound like an Orc, more like an – Elf. Oh. Right. Harry forgot about that part.

“Sorry,” he mumbles around the hair in his mouth, wishing he could wipe away the dried crust of tears that’s sticking his eyelashes together.

“No, sorry, you just scared me,” says the Elf. Louis, Harry thinks his name was.  “After you fell asleep, Father tethered you to me so you wouldn’t fall off my pony.  Here–”

Seconds later, the cord that had tied his arms around Louis is unknotted by the Elf’s nimble fingers, and Harry keeps one steadying hand on Louis’s side as he uses the other to wipe at his eyes and shake Louis’s hair out of his mouth.

So, they’re on a pony.  Harry looks around with his newly-usable eyes and discovers that they’re in a thick forest, the sunlight filtering green onto the group of Elves he’s traveling with.  Ahead of him is a single white horse carrying who Harry presumes to be Louis’s father, Aron.  But he’d said they were traveling with a small group, so Harry looks behind him and sees five, maybe six elves on white horses, one of the horses pulling what looks to be a cart.  Which probably – they’d taken his mother, too, so. That must be her.

Harry feels his eyes start to burn with grief again, so he turns around, wrapping both his arms around Louis’s middle and snuggling into his back, trying not to let any more tears fall.  Louis smells calming and nice, like clean, fresh water and flower petals, and it helps Harry bite back the urge to cry.

“You can cry more, if you’d like,” he hears Louis say.  “It’s quite alright.”

Harry sniffles.  “I don’t want to think about it anymore.”

He feels Louis nod and clings to him tighter, hoping that Louis doesn’t mind.  He doesn’t know anything about Elvish customs.

They progress on, the sun shifting in the sky as the Elves move wordlessly (and almost soundlessly, Harry notices – their horses don’t break branches or crunch leaves on the ground) through the forest.  Harry doesn’t feel like sleeping anymore, but he doesn’t really want to be awake, either, because that means he’s at the mercy of his own thoughts.

After a while, though, an interesting thought occurs to him.  “Louis?”

“Yes, Harry?”

“How’d you know what happened?  How did you know where to find me?”

Louis doesn’t answer for a little bit.  Harry has to ask, though, because he’s pretty sure there weren’t any Human settlements between his own hometown, Langwell, and Helm’s Deep – otherwise they surely would have camped there for the night instead of out in the open like they had.  He probably would have died alone in the middle of that barren field if the Elves hadn’t found him.

“I had a dream,” Louis answers finally.

Harry sits up a bit.  “A dream? About me?”

“Yes,” says Louis.  “You were – it was a vision, really, a vision that I got while I was asleep.  I saw you, in that tent, and you were crying and scared and all by yourself.  I saw the outside of the tent, too, and the larger area of the field that you were in.  Then, when I woke up, I told Father about my dream and he said it was – Father, what did you call it? The dream?”

“Foresight,” Aron’s voice comes floating back to them.

“Foresight,” Louis repeats, rolling the new word around on his tongue.  “I was seeing the future.  Or, the – the now.  The – present, that’s what it’s called.”

That’s never happened to Harry.  “Does everyone have it?”

“I don’t know if Men do, but Father said it’s very common among Elves,” Louis tells him.  “Although he also said it usually doesn’t happen to Elves as young as me.  I guess I’m just special.  Or–”

Louis pauses.

“What is it?” Harry asks.

“Maybe you’re the special one,” says Louis, like he’s trying to work it out in his head.  “You were special and you needed my help so you popped into my head while I was sleeping.”

Harry smiles for what feels like the first time in ages.  He likes that idea.  He likes the idea of being special to someone, now that his mother –

Well, there goes his fleeting good mood.  Harry decides to try to get some more sleep, as he isn’t sure exactly how long their journey is going to be and he doesn’t particularly enjoy the company of his own thoughts.  He wraps his arms more securely around Louis’s middle and tells the Elf, “’M gonna try to sleep some more.”

“Alright,” says Louis.  “I’ll make sure Suldal is gentle.”  He pats the pony’s flank and murmurs something to it in Elvish, and he’s still saying soothing things in that beautiful, foreign language as Harry drifts off to sleep.

xxx

“Harry. Harry? Wake up, we’ve arrived!”

Harry startles awake once again, gripping a bit too tightly onto his companion reflexively before loosening his arms after Louis lets out a squeak.  “Sorry.”

“It’s okay,” says Louis.  “We’re back home now, though, so you’ve got to get off of my pony.”

“Oh,” says Harry.  It’s just a pony, a lot smaller than the other Elves’ horses, but.  He’s never dismounted a horse by himself, is the thing.  He could just slide off to the ground and hope for the best, but he figures it’s better to say, “I, um. Louis? I don’t know how.”

Louis giggles.  “I’ll help you, then.”

He moves Harry’s hands off of him before swinging one leg over the pony’s back, propelling himself off of Suldal and landing gracefully on the ground.  He holds a hand up for Harry, and Harry shakes off the wonder and admiration in order to take Louis’s hand and use it to help himself clumsily to the forest floor.  Harry lands much less gently than Louis had.

“That wasn’t so bad,” says Louis kindly.  Harry blushes, looking Louis in the face for the first time since – actually, the first time for any significant length of time.  He’s quite pretty for a boy, at least compared to the other boys Harry had been growing up with (although maybe Elves are different, Harry isn’t sure), with big blue eyes and fine, soft-looking hair the color of the sweet toffee that Harry’s mum used to give him on his birthday.

Before Harry can think any more about his mother, though, Louis’s father (should Harry be calling him King Aron?) speaks.  “Welcome to the kingdom of Mirkwood, young master Harry.  We have made our home in this forest.”

Harry looks around in wonder, noticing the staircases spiraling up several of the thicker trunks that are disguised to look like the trees themselves.  A glance around reveals an entire kingdom nestled among the trees, great structures of stone built around the forest’s intricacies.  It spans further upward than Harry can crane his neck to see, and several of the larger stone buildings have roofs; here, though, they’re in some sort of public square, and he can look above him and see sunlight.  He can see other Elves up there moving about, some peering down to look at them and chattering amongst themselves and some going simply going about their daily business, whatever that entails for Elves.  The structures seem grandiose, almost regal, while at the same time appearing to fit in naturally with the foliage, like the Elves and the forest have come to some sort of agreement regarding the décor.

“We passed through the gate while you were sleeping,” Louis informs Harry.  Then, he asks King Aron, “Is Harry going to stay with us, Father?”

“We’ll have to discuss it amongst the Elders, but I believe he will be staying with us, yes.”

Harry gives Louis a weak smile after Louis looks at him excitedly.

Harry is soon given a quick tour of the palace (“That’s where my father sits!” Louis informs him proudly when they pass a large, cavernous room with a throne in the middle) and is set up with a room of his own down the hall from Louis and King Aron’s rooms, complete with a large portion of Louis’s own wardrobe since they’re roughly the same size and Harry doesn’t have any clothes to wear.  It’s apparently in the royal wing of the palace, and Harry feels uncomfortable taking up space there.  Once Harry voices this quietly to his new companion, though, Louis huffs and says, “Well, where else would you rather sleep?  You don’t know anyone else.”

That’s true, Harry admits.  He doesn’t know anyone else here.  Half his village is slaughtered, his parents are now both dead, and the only people he has to talk to are Elves who are smarter, fitter, and more regal than him.  He doesn’t really have anyone, does he?

Harry sniffles as his puffy, sore eyes well up with fresh tears.

“No, don’t cry,” pleads Louis, sounding desperate. 

Harry can’t help it, is the thing. Everything that happens is a constant reminder that he’s alone and is going to remain alone.

“I’m sorry,” says Louis, “I didn’t mean it like that.  That wasn’t very kind of me to say.”

“S’true though,” sniffs Harry.

Louis frowns.  “Well I’ll just have to introduce you to more Elves, then.  Father’s put me in charge of taking care of you.”

Harry feels even worse hearing that.  “You don’t - have to, if it’s too much trouble, I’m sorry-”

“Stop that. Stop saying sorry.”

“Sorry.  Wait - sorry. Sorry for saying sorry.”

“Harry.”

Louis grabs Harry’s hand impatiently and marches the two of them down the hall until they reach a room that’s in between Harry’s and Louis’s.  Louis knocks on the door and a soft voice calls, “Tula e’.”

Louis pushes open the door to reveal a dark-haired Elf boy sitting at a desk sketching some wildflowers.  The Elf turns around once the two of them have entered the room.

“This is my brother, Zayn,” Louis tells Harry.  “Zayn, this is Harry.  Has Father already told you what happened today?”

Zayn nods, giving Harry a sympathetic smile.  “It’s nice to meet you, Harry,” he says, standing up from his desk and walking over to shake Harry’s hand.  “I’m sorry for your loss.”

“Thanks,” Harry tells him.  He wonders how Louis and Zayn can possibly be brothers; they don’t look alike at all.

“It’s because we have different mothers,” Zayn says without missing a beat.

Harry startles, letting go of Zayn’s hand and taking a step back. How did he -

“Oh, did he read your mind?” Louis asks casually. “He does that sometimes.  It’s quite creepy.”

“Sorry, sorry!” Zayn says quickly, holding his hands up in surrender.  Harry is still very alarmed.  “I’m still learning to control it.  I didn’t mean to pry.”

“You can read minds?” Harry asks him, awed.  “That’s amazing!”

“Yes,” Zayn replies.  “It’s not as fun as it sounds, to be honest.  And it’s a very rare gift, so not many Elves are available to teach me how to use it.”

“Oh.”

“He’s just being dramatic,” Louis assures Harry, ruffling Zayn’s hair.  Zayn scowls and bats Louis’s hand away.  “Anyway, Zayn, I’m just showing Harry around and introducing him to new Elves, and you were the first Elf on our list. Don’t you feel honored?”

Zayn rolls his eyes.  “Of course I do.”

“Don’t be rude,” Louis admonishes him. “Harry hasn’t met anyone else yet.”

Zayn nods.  “We should eat together at dinner, then. I’m sure Father will let Harry sit at our table.”

“Of course he will,” says Louis.  “Do you know where your mum is?”

“Last I checked she was in the library,” says Zayn.

“She’s always in the library. You’re always in the library, too,” Louis says, rolling his eyes.

“I’m not always-” Zayn starts to splutter, indignant.

But Louis has already started to drag Harry out the door.  “Bye, Zayn!” Harry calls over his shoulder.  “Nice meeting you.”

“You too, Harry.”

“He can read minds,” Harry repeats, still stunned, as Louis leads him toward (presumably) the library.

“Mhmm,” Louis murmurs.

They walk in silence for a few minutes before Harry tentatively asks, “Zayn said that… um… you two have different mums?”

Louis nods curtly.

“Is that normal for Elves?”

Louis shakes his head. “No, it’s not, but my mother died when I was only a few weeks old.  Zayn’s a little over a year younger than me.”

“I’m sorry,” Harry says quietly.

“Me too, but I don’t remember her at all, so.”

When Louis doesn’t continue any further, Harry asks, “So how old are you, then?”

“I’m eight.  What about you?”

“Just turned seven.”

“Oh, so you’re a few months older than Zayn then.  He’s still six, he’s practically a baby.”

At this point, Harry and Louis reach what can only be Mirkwood’s library.  The huge gilded doors make it clear that this is a very important part of the palace, and just inside Harry can already see giant rows and stacks of thick tomes.

“Milui should be in here,” says Louis.  Harry assumes that Louis is referring to Zayn’s mother.  He notices that he doesn’t call her “Mother,” which makes sense; if Harry’s figured it out correctly, Zayn’s mother is Louis’s step-mother.

“Milui?” Louis calls loudly once they step into the large, cavernous space.  A blonde Elf sitting at a nearby desk looks over, her face pinched in disapproval at the loud sound. but she bows her head and turns back to her reading once she sees that it’s Louis making noise.  Harry had almost forgotten that the Elf standing next to him was a prince.

“Louis? Naa tanya lle?” a voice calls softly from somewhere behind the first two stacks.

Louis pulls Harry toward the source of the voice instead of answering, as he’s seemed to remember that he’s in a library.  Harry has only ever been in a library once in his life, but he knows that the cardinal rule is to keep quiet.

The next thing he knows, Harry finds himself shaking the outstretched hand of a pretty, regal-looking Elf who can only be Zayn’s mother.  She has the same eyes, the same dark hair, and the same facial structure.  Halfway through the handshake, Harry remembers that she’s the Queen, and so he hastily bends his body into a low bow.

“You don’t have to do that, child, it’s quite alright,” says Milui.  Her voice is beautiful, musical and pure. 

Harry straightens up, blushing.

“Louis’s father told me what has happened,” Milui says.  “I’m so, so sorry for your loss, little one.  Have they gotten you set up with a place to sleep?”

Harry nods, swallowing hard.  “Yeah, I’m - um - I’m right by Louis, if that’s alright.”

“Of course it’s alright.  Our home is yours now, Harry.  It’s the least we can do.”

Her warm brown eyes are kind and sincere, and it’s all Harry can do to keep his lip from wobbling (he’s not entirely sure he succeeds).  Why is everyone being so nice to him?

“Is there anything else you’d like that we haven’t gotten you already?” asks Milui, her eyes shining as she looks down at Harry.

Harry doesn’t want to inconvenience them any more than he already has. There is one thing, though, and as soon as Harry remembers it he bites his lip so hard he draws blood trying not to cry.  He’d left - he’d left his stuffed teddy bear at the ruined campsite, assuming it hadn’t already been trampled or burned before he woke up in the tent.

“What is it, child?” the Queen asks, concerned, as she watches Harry’s eyes fill up with hot tears.

“M-my - um - I d-don’t know if Elves have them,” blubbers Harry, trying to keep his voice down.  He wraps his arms around himself, trying to squeeze hard enough to keep all of his tears in.  “B-but I lost my, my teddy bear.”

Queen Milui looks confused, so Harry quickly explains, “It’s… it’s a stuffed animal, like a pretend animal that children sleep with.”

“Oh, I have one of those,” pipes in Louis.  “It’s my medli. He can have mine.”

“Are you sure?” asks Miliu.  “I know you love yours very much.”

“It’s alright.  He needs it more than I do,” says Louis confidently.

Harry blushes and smiles gratefully, looking at his feet.

“If that’s okay with you, of course,” Louis says, turning to Harry.  His little pointed ear pokes out as he tucks some hair behind it.  “It’s a bit beat-up, since I’ve had it for eight years, but - yours was too, probably, so it’ll be more like what you had.”

Harry needs to get away from all of this so he can have a proper cry by himself.  “Th-thanks, you don’t have to-”

“Shh,” Louis says, putting a finger over Harry’s lips.

“Louis!” Milui scolds the Elf.

“He’s too polite,” Louis complains, taking his finger away.  “It took Father and me half an hour to get him to accept my clothes.”

“That doesn’t mean you can just shush him whenever you like,” chides Milui, closing her book.  She must have decided that, with Harry and Louis here, she clearly isn’t going to get any more reading done.  The Queen stands up, smoothing her dress down, and then pats Harry on the head, pulling him into her side.  “But, Harry, Louis does have a point.  We want to take care of you, sweetheart.  You’ve been through a lot today.”

Harry nods, swallowing again.  He can’t look at either of them, already feels like he owes them too much.

“Now, it’s almost time for dinner, isn’t it?” says Milui brightly.  “You can get Louis’s medli from him after dinner, Harry, but I think we should get some food in you.”

“I haven’t eaten all day,” Harry says, suddenly realizing this fairly important fact. 

“You’ll feel a bit better once you eat, I think,” Milui says, stretching up to reshelve the book she was reading.  “And then we’ll all leave you alone so you can have some time to grieve. I know that’s important to do as well.”

Harry sits with Louis, Zayn, and a couple other young Elves at dinner in a large, cavernous hall that seems to be situated almost directly underneath the library, dug into the forest floor and smoothed over in stone so it feels like a comfortable, welcoming place.  His dinner companions mostly speak in Elvish, which Harry doesn’t speak a word of, so Harry mostly eats in silence, picking at the vegetables, roots, and nuts on his plate.  He’s used to a square meal of game and potatoes, so this is a bit different than what he was expecting, but Harry is so hungry that it doesn’t matter.  He scarfs it all down quickly, loading his plate up with seconds and thirds.

Louis will occasionally talk to him in the Common Tongue, translating what the rest of them are discussing and asking him how he’s doing. Before dinner, Harry learned that Louis and Zayn started learning the Common Tongue as soon as they said their first word in Elvish, since it’s important for them as royals to be fluent; most of the other Elf children are apparently still learning it.

“This isn’t what you usually eat, is it?” Louis asks at one point, watching Harry attempt to figure out how to crack open a walnut.

“No,” Harry says after an awkward pause. 

Louis laughs.  “Here.”

He takes the walnut from Harry and shows him how to use the flat, smooth stone next to Harry’s plate (where the spoon usually goes, Harry thinks) to press the shell down into the sturdy wooden table until the nut cracks open.

“Thanks,” says Harry.

“Don’t mention it,” says Louis.  “Here, you try.”

Louis made cracking the walnut open look a lot easier than it actually is.  Harry’s quite awful at it, actually.

“It’s okay,” Louis says gently after the twelfth try, when Harry drops the stone and huffs in frustration.  “It took me years to master.”

Harry nods, feeling useless and still hungry.

“You’ll get it eventually,” says Louis kindly.  “In the meantime…”

Before Harry knows it, fifteen unshelled walnuts are sitting on his plate and Louis is dusting his hands off, looking proud of himself.  “There you go!”

Harry thanks him and eats gratefully, scooting a little closer to Louis so he can try to pick up what the other Elves are saying.  He can’t, of course, since they’re speaking Elvish, but he likes listening to the lilts of their voices, Louis’s in particular.  The Elvish language is fairly soothing on the ears. 

After dinner, Louis and Zayn lead Harry back up to the royal wing while the other Elves they were eating with disperse to other corners of the palace and surrounding homes, wherever it is that they rest.

xxx

That night, Harry has trouble falling asleep, even after Louis gives him his medli.   It turns out to be a soft parcel of cloth with fragrant herbs and flowers stuffed inside as cushioning with a pleasant-looking face sewn on.  Not exactly a teddy bear, but it’s something to hold onto, which Harry really appreciates.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t really make him miss his own bear any less, and he knows he’s never going to see it again.  It’s probably caked in mud, trampled into the ground. Gone. He’s never going to see anything of his old life again.  It’s all gone.

Everything’s gone.

Harry starts to cry, then, really cry, thick tears of grief spilling out of his eyes while sobs spill from his mouth.  It’s the first time he’s been able to really cry by himself, and with no one there to worry about embarrassing or burdening, he nearly screams with how sad he is, burying his face in his new pillow and clutching Louis’s teddy tightly to his chest, shivering and shaking and curling up into the fetal position.  He was too young when his father died to really understand what it meant, but now he knows, he can feel every gut-wrenching thought drill its way into his brain and he can’t stop it.

He cries so hard that sleep eventually takes him mid-sob, his body too exhausted from the day’s harrowing events to continue being conscious.  He wakes up not half an hour later, though, after nightmares of Orcs attacking their campsite force him back into consciousness, crying before he’s even fully awake at the mental image of his mother’s terrified face, the last time he saw her alive.

“No,” he sniffles, wishing his brain would just let him go to sleep, a dark, dreamless sleep.  “No.”

“Harry?” a soft voice comes from the doorway.

Harry gasps and sits abruptly upright, suddenly embarrassed at himself even as tears are still running down his face.  “Who is it?”

“It’s Louis,” says Louis, stepping into the room.  The moonlight filtering in through the window illuminates the Elf enough for Harry to confirm that it is, in fact, Louis.  “Sorry, I hope I didn’t, um, wake you up-”

“No, you didn’t,” says Harry bitterly.

“Oh,” says Louis.  He pauses, and Harry has to wonder why he’s here, why he can’t just let Harry be miserable by himself.  “I - er - I was getting ready for bed, and I heard you crying.”

This makes Harry feel even worse.  “Sorry, I - I must have been crying in my sleep.”

In the moonlight, he sees Louis’s mouth twist into a frown. 

“I’ll try not to,” Harry continues in a small voice.  “If it was keeping you from falling asleep, I’m sorry-”

“No, no, it’s fine,” says Louis.  “Elves don’t really sleep, anyway, not like Men do.  I’d call it more of a rest.”

That’s nice.  Unfortunately, Harry doesn’t particularly care about that right now.  He’d just like everyone to leave him alone - Louis, yes, but mostly his own brain.

“Anyway, I thought you might like some company to make you feel better,” says Louis.  “If you cry in your sleep again, or something.”  A few seconds later, he adds in a small voice, “Plus I’m kind of missing my medli.  I didn’t think I would, but-”

“Do you want him back?” asks Harry, guilty but suddenly reluctant to give up the toy.  He’s gotten attached to it in the few hours he’s had it, seeing as it’s one of the only sources of comfort he has.  “I can-”

“No, no, you should have him,” says Louis firmly.  “You need him more.  But maybe we could - maybe we could share?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, we could both cuddle it, and I could cuddle you, too, and make sure you aren’t sad while you’re sleeping.”

That sounds alright to Harry.  He still doesn’t know Louis very well, but having someone else with him might help him sleep better.  And if it doesn’t, he can always sleep on the floor or ask Louis to leave.

“Okay,” he says, shifting over in the bed and making room for Louis.  “I only have this one pillow, though.”

“That’s fine,” says Louis, getting into bed.  He and Harry snuggle up face to face, trying to both get their arms around the makeshift teddy bear. 

“I didn’t think this through,” Louis admits after both of them struggle to find a comfortable position.  “But I’m fine with it as long as you’re comfortable.”

“I’m fine,” says Harry.  It feels nice to have this warm Elf boy next to him. 

After a few minutes, Harry has failed to fall back asleep, so he asks, “So if Elves don’t sleep, what exactly do you do at night?”

He feels Louis shrug.  “I just rest my mind, really. Think about pretty things. Look at pretty things.”

Harry hopes there’s enough pretty things in his new bedroom to keep Louis occupied while he himself is asleep; he doesn’t want Louis to get bored.

“None of that matters, though, because you need to get some rest,” Louis says decisively.  “Father said you’ll feel better if you get lots of sleep.”

“Okay,” says Harry, turning onto his back to lie next to Louis, who does the same.  They each have one hand on the medli so that their arms are pressed together, and Harry's eyes slip shut again with his new friend’s comforting presence beside him.

When he next opens his eyes, he’s back at home in his village of Langwell, helping his mum make stew for dinner.  Well, trying to help - his mum won't let him cut the vegetables because she says it's dangerous for him, so he's just sitting on the countertop and watching her do it instead, his little legs dangling as he kicks his feet back and forth.

"No, no onions," Harry pleads once his mum has finished cutting up the carrots and selects an onion from the basket of fresh vegetables on the countertop.

 "I thought you liked onions now, darling," his mum says, ruffling his hair with her non-oniony hand. "You liked the soup I made the other day, that had onions in it."

Harry makes a face. "Ew, it did?"

She nods.

"I decided I don't like that soup anymore," Harry informs her primly.

His mum laughs.

Before they can argue any more about what's going into the stew, though, there's a commotion outside in the street. It starts with just raised voices but quickly turns to screams that have his mother abandoning the cutting board and running to the window to see what's happening. After a swift glance outside, she pulls back from the window and turns around with fear splashed across her features.

"Get under the table, Harry," she orders him. "Now."

"What?" Harry asks, still swinging his legs back and forth. 

"Harry," his mother pleads, urgent this time as she runs across the room to try and lock the door, "please, do as I-"

The door crashes open before she can lock it, and Harry's mother is thrown backward as a fully armed Orc bursts into their tiny home. Harry screams as the beast starts to attack his mum, jumping off the counter and running to her defense as the Orc pushes her up against the wall with one hand and draws out a knife with the other.

"No!" Harry screams, and it makes the Orc pause, turning around with the knife still clutched in his dirty hand. When he sees Harry he grins, his lips curling to reveal a set of pointy, misshapen teeth.

"Been a while since I've tasted child-flesh," says the beast. Harry's blood runs cold as the Orc lets go of his mother and starts advancing on Harry instead.

"No, don't hurt him!" cries his mother, grabbing the Orc by the shoulder.

The beast turns around and slashes her across the neck with the knife and Harry screams, horrified, as his mum falls to the ground clutching at her throat, bright red blood pouring out over her fingers.

"Mum! Mum! No!"

"Harry? Harry!"

Harry wakes up suddenly, and it's only then that he realizes he was dreaming. A few more seconds are all it takes for the details of the previous day to come rushing back to him, and he bursts into helpless tears.

Suddenly there are arms around him, comforting him, and it's only then that Harry realizes that someone else woke him up from the dream. Louis.

"Harry," Louis says sadly, cuddling him in close. Harry lets him, curling up as small as he can and hoping that Louis's arms around him will stop the tears leaking thickly out of his eyes. "Were you having a bad dream?"

"Mhmm," Harry mumbles, sniffling.

"I thought so,"says Louis. "You were shouting in your sleep.  That's why I woke you up."

"Thanks," says Harry.

"You're safe here, though," Louis informs him. "You can go back to sleep if you want to try. I've got you."

Harry nods gratefully and tries to stop crying, snuggling the makeshift teddy bear close as Louis snuggles him. He falls back asleep and, with Louis's arms securely around him this time, doesn't have another nightmare for the rest of the night.

(At Harry's quiet, ashamed request, Louis sleeps with Harry again the next night, and the night after that as well. Harry starts to think of Louis as his own personal dream-catcher, because the nightmares become less and less frequent each night Louis holds Harry close and watches over him while he sleeps.)

xxx

It’s been three days since Harry arrived here, three days since everyone he’d ever known was slaughtered and he was spared and found, by some miraculous stroke of fate, by the Elves of Mirkwood.

Yesterday, he’d been informed that his mother’s body was ready to – ready to pass on, and that whenever Harry was ready to say goodbye he should do so.  The Elves were very gentle to him – they experience death less often than Mortals do, so they seem to have a lot of respect for its magnitude and the grief it causes.

He’d been led into a small clearing containing a group of Elves, including King Aron, standing in a circle.  And at its center, resting on a white marble slab, had been – his mother.  She’d looked beautiful, clean, as radiant as she had in life – so alive, even, that Harry had half expected her to get up like she’d just been taking a very long nap.  Harry had immediately burst into tears, not bothering to fight then when he’d felt them well up painfully in his eyes and make the back of his throat ache.

He’d flung his arms over her still form, burying his face in her shoulder.  She’d smelled clean, but – foreign clean, not the way she’d smelled when she was alive.  Some Elves must have cleaned her off, fixed her up with magic and prepared her with one of their special salves.  Probably the same Elves who’d dressed her in the beautiful blue and white dress that she’s wearing.

Harry had clung to her desperately, relishing that last hug, knowing it was the last one he would ever get.  He’d cried into her skin, salty tears running into her hair and probably ruining whatever ointment the Elves had applied to her skin, but he hadn’t cared, wanting her to have some part of him she could take with her into the Afterlife.

He’d held on to her for over an hour, feeling the sun shift in the sky as its heat changed the way it hit his shoulders.  No one had said anything, no one had tried to move him. They’d had all the time in the world, then.  Harry remembers bitterly thinking that time meant nothing to him now that he didn’t have someone to guide him through it with a warm, steady hand on his shoulder.

After his body could literally no longer produce tears, he’d stepped back, hugged her again, tried to step back again, and then latched onto her one more time.  Finally, he’d told King Aron that he was ready.

Louis’s father had smiled kindly at him, his knowing eyes full of sympathy, and he’d led Harry away from the clearing as he explained again how they were going to bury her, how her body was going to nourish a seed planted alongside it.  In a week, thanks to Elf magic, a sapling would spring, grown from his mother’s essence, and in less than a year it would be a full-grown tree that Harry could visit any time he wanted.  As the tree respired, Aron had said – whatever that meant, Harry hadn’t been sure – her essence would be breathed out into the air and float up into the heavens,  a gentle and beautiful way for her to pass on.

Harry’s head had been spinning by the time he’d gotten back to his room and King Aron had taken his leave.  So many big words, so many concepts Harry hadn’t really been introduced to yet.  But he’d really liked the idea of having a tree that his mum helped grow, and so even as he’d had a good cry by himself in his room, he’d felt better.  Hopeful, almost.

Today, he’s dressed in nice white trousers and an important-looking white shirt.  Harry had lost all of his belongings in the Orc raid, so King Aron had given Harry a portion of Louis’s wardrobe to wear because they’re about the same size.

A knock on his door makes Harry glance up from where he’s trying to wedge on a pair of Louis’s shoes.  His feet are slightly bigger than Louis’s, but he doesn’t want to whine about it and be an inconvenience when the Elves are literally providing everything for him.

“Harry, we’re ready to begin anytime,” says King Aron, appearing in the doorway. He’s clad in a flowing white tunic, his feet are barefoot, and his hair is braided intricately where it falls to his waist.  “Are you ready, child?”

“I think so,” says Harry, standing up and feeling his lip wobble. He closes his eyes for a second, willing himself not to lose it, not yet.

When he opens them again, he sees Louis peeking out from behind his father.  “Hello,” he says softly.

“Hi,” Harry greets him, striding forward and wincing the tiniest bit as the shoes pinch his feet.

As the three of them proceed out of the royal palace, they’re joined in the proceedings by Queen Milui and Zayn, also wearing white.  Harry’s surprised – he appreciates that they want to be there for him, but he’s only just met them.

“We go to every burial ceremony, Harry,” Zayn says abruptly.  “The royal family does.”

Oh, Harry forgot about the fact that Zayn can hear thoughts.

“Zayn,” his mother scolds him.

“Amin hiraetha,” Zayn says quickly, his eyes flicking to Harry guiltily.  “I didn’t mean to, Harry, I’m sorry.  I just have trouble sometimes telling the difference between spoken words and thoughts.”

“It’s alright,” Harry assures him.

“I told you it was creepy,” Louis whispers to him, making Harry crack a ghost of a smile.

They walk a ways into the forest, and Harry has to look down at the ground to make sure he doesn’t trip over roots and stray branches.  Finally, other Elves come into sight, about ten of them standing on a small bare patch of grass.  The trees are thin enough here that a large amount of sunlight is able to filter through them, which Louis told Harry is what makes trees grow.

Once they’re close, Harry’s eyes dart to four of the Elves, who are holding a long white bundle in their arms, wrapped in strips of fragrant cloth interwoven with yellow and white flowers.  He makes a single, wounded sound of grief when he realizes it’s his mother and that he’s never going to see her face again.

Harry bites his lip hard to stop the tears from falling but they come anyway and, next to him, Louis takes his hand in one of his own and squeezes it.  Harry holds on gratefully and sniffles, his throat burning with the effort of holding in his sobs.

The ceremony is short, mostly in Elvish.  Louis translates into Harry’s ear quietly for Harry’s benefit, but Harry tunes him out, instead watching his mother’s body and knowing that he can probably literally count down the seconds now until he’ll never see her again.  He catches something about “passing on” and “being freed” and takes comfort in the fact that he’s at least mortal and only has to wait a single lifetime to see his mother once more.

Then, all too soon, the four Elves holding his mother’s body begin to lower her into the ground.  Harry can’t watch, doesn’t want to see her covered up in dirt when she used to be so bright and lively, even if she is going to help a tree grow, so he turns his face into Louis’s shoulder, breathing in great, shuddering gulps of air as he hears the sound of shovels and earth being displaced.  Louis squeezes his hand and Harry whimpers, a low noise of sorrow slipping out unbidden along with a few tears.

He starts crying in earnest once he opens his eyes again and sees that a mound of fresh earth is covering up the hole, that his mother’s body his gone, and he feels a little embarrassed but too sad to protest when Queen Milui gathers him up in her arms and starts to walk them both back toward the palace.  Harry stops crying on several occasions long enough to apologize for ruining her nice white gown, which she shrugs off while petting soothingly through his hair.

Harry cries so hard that he doesn’t even notice that they’re back in his room before Milui is laying him down on his soft bed.

“Would you like me to stay with you, child?” she asks quietly.

Harry thinks about it, then shakes his head.  He’d feel bad inconveniencing her.

“Would you like me to get Louis?”

Harry’s only known Louis three days, but right now Louis is the one being alive that Harry’s closest to, and – “If – if he’s okay w-with it.”

“Of course he will be,” says Milui, her musical voice like balm to Harry’s soul.

Harry listens as she exits the room; when she’s gone, he turns to face the wall, curling in on himself and wondering if he’s ever going to feel happy again.

A few minutes later, Harry hears his door open once more.  He doesn’t hear footsteps, but then there’s someone climbing in behind him and hugging him and Harry knows that it’s Louis.

“Hello,” says Louis quietly, nuzzling into his neck.  It feels nice to have someone cuddling him, Harry thinks.

He immediately feels awkward, though – guilty, like he’s being a burden.  “You don’t – I’d be fine by myself, if you have, y’know, other stuff to do.”

“Shh,” Louis shushes him.  “You shouldn’t have to cry by yourself.”

Harry sniffles.  “But I – you shouldn’t have to, like, take care of me–”

“I want to,” Louis cuts him off, squeezing him until Harry squeaks.  “I’m the one who found you, and I’m putting myself in charge of making you feel better.”

Harry sniffles again, feeling gross.

“You’re like my baby,” declares Louis, making Harry snort.  “My very own baby.  Do you want me to sing you a baby song?”

“A what?” asks Harry, a small smile creeping onto his face.

“I’m not sure how to translate it into Common Tongue,” Louis admits.  “It’s a song that you sing to put babies to sleep.”

“A lullaby,” says Harry quietly.

“A lullaby,” Louis repeats.  Harry can feel its unfamiliarity in the way Louis says it.  “There’s one that I really like that my father used to sing to me all the time.  He still does, sometimes.  Would you like me to sing it to you?”

“Sure,” says Harry, turning his face into his wet pillow.

Louis starts to sing a few seconds later, a beautiful Elvish melody complete with words in that strange, musical language, and Harry only makes it five seconds before he bursts into tears at the memory of his mother singing him lullabies that sounded very similar.

He wants to apologize to Louis for crying over his pretty singing but he can barely get enough air in to sob, let alone for anything else, and so he just lets Louis hold him instead.  Louis continues to sing until Harry cries himself to sleep.

 

Eight/Nine

“Lookin’ good!” Louis hears Niall shout mockingly across the treetops.

Liam and Zayn join in laughing a few beats later, and Louis looks wildly around to try and find the source of their amusement.

Oh, it’s Harry.  Of course it’s Harry.

Clumsy, lovely Harry who’d wanted to join them today as they’d climbed their tallest tree yet.  Niall and Liam aren’t always here – they’re Louis and Zayn’s cousins, sons of his father’s brother Togdir, who likes to leave Lothlorien and visit Mirkwood at least three times a year.  When they do visit, King Togdir and his wife keep the King and Queen busy enough that Louis and Zayn can often sneak off with Liam and Niall and get up to some mischief.

Harry had wanted to go with them this time, and Louis’s cousins have been making fun of him relentlessly for how terrible his balance is and his poor ability to climb trees.  Of course, Harry doesn’t know they’re making fun of him, since they’re speaking Elvish.  Harry’s been learning it, yes, but his vocabulary isn’t extensive yet.

“Stop that,” Louis scolds them.  “He’s just a Man, he’s doing his best.”

“I don’t see why he had to come,” complains Niall.  “He’s slowing us down.”

“You’re being rude,” Louis says icily as Liam silently drops down a couple branches and lands right in front of Harry, making Harry scream and almost lose his balance.  “Stop it! Both of you!”

Liam’s doubled over laughing and Harry looks discouraged and frightened.  Louis climbs down quickly to where Harry and Liam are, making sure to intentionally rustle a few branches so Harry knows he’s coming.

“Hi,” Louis says, elbowing Liam off the branch, who yelps indignantly before halting his fall several branches down.  It makes Harry crack a smile, so Louis thinks it was worth it.

“I feel bad,” Harry admits quietly.  “I don’t think your cousins like me very much because I can’t do anything as well as you all can.  They were like this last time they visited, too.”

Louis frowns.  He hates it when Harry’s upset, because he always feels somehow responsible.  “I’ve tried to get them to stop,” he tells Harry, watching as Liam climbs quickly back up to join Zayn and Niall, who are laughing as they try to knock each other down and race for the highest branch.  “Do you want to go back to the palace?”

“No,” Harry says quickly.  “I want to – I want to get better at this.  Unless you, um, want me to leave, which–”

“Of course I don’t!” Louis cuts him off quickly.  “I just wanted to make sure you were doing okay.”

“I’m trying,” says Harry, shrugging in a very endearing way and reaching for the next branch.  He slips just after he’s got hold of it, almost plummeting down to the forest floor as he shouts in fright and clings to the tree, hanging there helplessly.

“Rhaich!” Louis swears.  He reaches out, just barely managing to get both of his hands fisted in Harry’s shirt.  “Try to swing this way if you can, then let go.”

Harry does so, letting Louis pull him back to safety and swaying on the spot once he’s finally got his footing.  Louis can hear the others laughing at them.  “Alright, that’s it, we’re going.”

He gets an arm around Harry’s waist as Harry protests, “We don’t have to leave because of me, Louis, I’m sorry, I’ll do better–”

“It’s not you,” says Louis, jumping down branch by branch.  “I just don’t want to be around them anymore.”

“Ah, save me, Louis, save me!” Liam calls after them in a mocking, high-pitched voice.

“Go kiss a dwarf!” Louis spits back at him, continuing his descent and clutching Harry tightly.

“Louis!” he hears Zayn gasp, scandalized.  Louis doesn’t stop, though, just gets angrier and angrier with each leap downward, still residually frightened for Harry’s safety after he almost fell, resenting the fact that Harry feels bad about being different from the rest of them.  He likes that Harry’s different.  It’s really very cute.

He lands lightly on the soft earth, setting Harry down and brushing a few leaves out of his hair.

“Are you upset with me?” Harry asks, looking worried.

“No,” Louis assures him.  “Everyone but you, actually.  And maybe Zayn.”

His brother didn’t really do anything, after all.  He’s always been perfectly lovely to Harry.

“Okay,” says Harry quietly, still looking upset.

“Do you want to go learn some more Elvish?” Louis asks him, taking both of Harry’s hands in his own and trying to make the smile return to his face.  “We can sit in front of your mum’s tree and everything.”

Harry glances up at him from under his messy curls, smiling.  His mother’s tree is Harry’s favorite place in the whole forest, Louis knows.  “If you want to teach me.”

“I always want to,” Louis tells him.

Harry tucks some hair behind his little round ear. “Thank you.”

“Don’t mention it.”

“You’re-” Harry starts, then stops, cocking his head to the side and frowning in puzzlement.

“I’m what?” Louis asks.

“You’re quite… pretty, for a boy. Has anyone ever told you that?”

A little flare of warmth bursts in Louis’s stomach at the compliment, but it’s kind of confusing to him, so he ignores it. “Well... we Elves are the fairest race, you know. Come on, let’s go learn some more Elvish.”

xxx

After dinner that night, Liam approaches Louis privately as Louis is just getting ready to change into his nightclothes.

“I’m sorry for how I acted earlier today,” he says quietly.  “Niall is too.”

Louis looks at him tiredly.  “You do it every time you visit.”

Liam looks guilty.  “I didn’t – we thought it was a bit of fun, but.  Zayn told us how much you care for him, that you care about him a lot.”

“How does Zayn know – oh, right.”

“He said your thoughts were really loud today when you were angry at us,” Liam tells him.  “He was actually covering his ears while the three of us were still up in the trees, like that could’ve done anything.”

Louis chuckles at the mental picture but then says, “Sorry, I just – he really can’t help it, and making fun of him isn’t helping anything.”

Liam looks at him carefully, nodding eventually.

“Hey, guys?”

Liam and Louis both startle at the sound of Harry’s voice.  Harry has just poked his head into Louis’s bedroom.

“Harry,” Louis says happily.

“Zayn, um, Zayn wanted me to ask you if you want to come watch the stars with us.  He and I are going to leave in a few minutes, I think.  But if you’re busy-”

“Not busy at all,” says Louis.  “I’d love to.  Liam?”

“I’ll go,” says Liam.

As Liam and Louis get ready to go outside into the night, Louis says, “You know, Liam, it’s not really me you should be apologizing to.”

Liam nods.  “Yeah, I don’t want to make him uncomfortable while we’re outside in the woods.  I’ll get Niall and we can apologize on the way there.”

Liam stays true to his word; as the five of them make their way to one of the best stargazing clearings that Mirkwood has to offer, he and Niall make amends with Harry, each slinging an arm around him afterward as Harry smiles happily.  Louis watches his smile spread, lighting up Harry’s face and making Louis feel warm all over.

He’s so busy watching Harry that he trips over a root and almost falls down, Zayn’s hand on his shoulder the only thing steadying him.  His younger brother gives him an odd, unreadable look that Louis chooses to ignore as they reach the clearing.

The five of them settle in the center of the open space, lying on their backs so that the treetops frame the dark sky with its seemingly infinite number of bright stars.  Louis ends up laying next to Harry, their fingers brushing as they watch the stars twinkle.

 

Nine/Ten

“I can’t believe it’s been two years,” says Harry, staring at his mother’s tree.  He’s never seen a tree grow as fast as this one has, but then again he’s still not too experienced with Elf magic.

Next to him, Louis shifts until he’s sitting more comfortably on the ground.  “Her tree is beautiful, Harry.”

“I know,” says Harry, feeling his voice thicken.  Louis lays his head on Harry’s shoulder, grounding him and making him feel better.  “It’s been – it’s really lovely here, but I miss her so much.”

Louis nods against him, remaining silent as they watch a bird land on one of the branches and pick off a few insects.

“I’ve never told you how my mother died, have I?” Louis asks eventually after Harry has spent several minutes staring at the tree and trying not to cry.

“You – you told me she was killed.  By Orcs,” says Harry slowly.

Louis nods.  “I was only weeks old.  I obviously don’t remember it,” he says.  “I don’t remember her at all, actually. I wish I did.”

Harry makes a sad noise, leaning into Louis so that his head is resting on Louis’s.

“There apparently used to be a tradition,” begins Louis, “that when the royal baby was born, the King and Queen would take the baby on a tour to all of the other Elvish domains so that the other Kings and Queens could meet him.  When I was born, that was still something Elves did, so Father and Mother got me all swaddled up and set out with a small company for Lothlórien.  To – to get to Lórien, you have to leave the cover of the woods at some point, which hadn’t been a problem for hundreds of years, but–”

“But the Orcs,” Harry finishes knowingly.

Louis nods.  “They hadn’t been so aggressive in centuries and we were outnumbered, Father says.  He only told me this once, not that I was ever going to ask him again and force him to relive it and retell it.  Anyway, they attacked us, right there in the open, and of course we fought back, trying to keep me and my mother protected and out of the fight, but one of them – one of them, um.”

Louis pauses, and Harry hears him swallow several times.  When he speaks again, his voice is thicker.  “Sorry, it’s stupid, I don’t have any memories of her at all but I always get upset thinking about it.  I’ve seen paintings of her, she was so lovely, and-”

Harry frees one of his arms so that he can wrap it around Louis.

“So, one of them – threw an axe,” says Louis slowly.  “I’m not sure if they were aiming for Mother or not, but – she didn’t even see it, Harry, she didn’t, it h-hit her in the back and it – she died, that’s what killed her.  And she was – she was holding me, right, but of course after that I slipped from her arms because she wasn’t – um, around.  To hold me.”

Harry feels so sad for him.  “I guess you survived, then,” he says.

Louis laughs humorlessly.  “Barely.  We overpowered the Orcs eventually, but when I fell I hit the ground really hard and didn’t wake up for a whole year.”

Harry gasps.  “A whole year?”

“Yes,” says Louis.  “I was breathing, but the healing Elves couldn’t rouse me, and no one was sure if I was ever going to wake.”

Harry thinks for a second.  “Is that… this is probably going to sound rude, but is that why your father married again so soon?”

Louis nods.  “We were maybe going to go to war, where Father had a chance of getting killed, and he didn’t have a wife or, as far as anyone knew, an heir.”

“You didn’t end up going to war, though, right?”

“We’ve been on the brink of war ever since, and now Father says that since they’re being openly hostile to Men and not just Elves, we might actually have to go to war soon.  Elves are hardly ever the ones to instigate a war, but – we all need to be safe, you know?”

Harry nods in agreement, watching a green leaf flutter down from the tree and into his lap.

“So, by the time I woke up, my father had a new wife and she was already pregnant with Zayn,” Louis says.  He sounds like he’s trying not to sound resentful, but Harry understands.  He also understands that Louis probably doesn’t want to talk about it anymore.

“What made you wake up?” Harry asks him.

“Don’t know,” says Louis, holding his arm up and whistling.  The bird on Harry’s mum’s tree flies down to perch on his finger, as do several other birds from the surrounding trees.  “I woke up in the winter of the following year during that terrible thunderstorm.  We call it fundaloss – thunder-snow – and the only reason we still talk about it and have a word for it is because the winds from that storm destroyed a good part of the forest.  Were you alive for that?”

“I was born during that!” Harry exclaims in amazement.  “Mum used to call me her ‘thunder-baby’ because of how rare thunder is during blizzards.”

“Thunder-baby,” Louis repeats, smiling.  The birds decorating his arms and shoulders titter, and one of them flies into Harry’s hair and starts trying to nest.  “So I woke up when you were born, hmm, thunder-baby?”

“Guess you wanted to meet me,” says Harry, laying his head on Louis’s shoulder and making the bird in his hair chirp angrily as its nest is upended.

He sighs happily when he feels Louis’s fingers come up to run through his hair, getting the tangles out.

“You’re not, like, weird, though,” Harry says eventually after they’ve sat in companionable silence for a few minutes.  “Even though you got dropped as a baby.”

“My Father said he came and spoke to me for hours every day,” Louis tells him.  “I had to have – heard him, somehow, because I was able to speak very basic Elvish when I woke up.”

Harry makes a noise of amazement.  “Elf magic.”

“Elf magic,” agrees Louis.  “Don’t know how you get along without it.”

“I manage,” Harry shrugs.  “The birds like me almost as much as they like you, and you sing them magical songs.”

“Yeah, but your hair looks like the perfect place for them to start a family,” Louis says.

“Hey,” Harry protests indignantly, knocking Louis over and trying to wrestle on top of him.  The birds that had settled on both of him fly away in a swarm of bright colors as Louis bats Harry’s hands away, laughing as Harry tries to mess his hair up.

When Louis gets the upper hand (but not before Harry has rubbed as many leaves as he can find into Louis’s straight, silky hair), he flips them over, pinning Harry to the forest floor and laughing excitedly at his victory.  The sun’s shining through the treetops just enough to frame Louis’s beautiful face in a soft glow as he’s looking down at Harry, and for one brief, wild second, Harry gets the impossible and confusing urge to press his mouth against Louis’s own.

The fleeting urge is gone almost as soon as it came, and if Louis notices a shadow of something different pass across Harry’s face, he doesn’t react to it.  Leaves are sticking haphazardly out of his hair and he’s breathing hard, triumphantly lowering himself to sit on Harry’s chest.

Harry’s mind is still reeling from the fact that he thought about kissing Louis, that that was an actual thought that came into his brain, when Louis crows, “There’s no use denying it, Harry, I’ve won.”

“Okay,” Harry breathes, still dazed.

“Okay?” Louis repeats, frowning.  “That’s it? No more fighting?”

“I – um–” Harry stammers, trying to come up with an excuse better than I don’t know if I can get close to you again without wanting to kiss you, “I wouldn’t want to… get more leaves in your hair, would I? So I have to let you win.”

Let me win?” Louis asks, like it’s the most insulting thing he’s ever heard.

Harry realizes just a second too late that Louis is going to retaliate, and he squeals as Louis starts to tickle him mercilessly.

“Louis–” he gasps, laughing uncontrollably.  He tries to buck Louis off, but Louis is sitting too high up on his tummy.  “Stop, stop–”

“See, I would,” says Louis, digging his clever fingertips under Harry’s armpits and making him flail helplessly, “but I wouldn’t want you to think you’re letting me win.”

Louis is grinning as Harry keeps getting the laughter forced out of him, thrashing around and smearing dirt into his clothes.  “Stop, s-stop, you – you win, and ‘m not – letting you, you win, Louis, ah, stop– ”

Louis considers this a bit longer as Harry continues to laugh stupidly, afraid he’s going to pee himself if they keep this up much longer.  “Alright,” Louis says finally, taking his hands away and picking a few twigs out of Harry’s hair instead.

Once Harry can move his arms again without feeling like they’ve lost all their bones, he returns the favor and starts to brush leaves out of Louis’s hair with his fingers.

“We’ve got dirt all over our clothes,” Harry informs him once they’ve stood up.

“Want to go roll around in Zayn’s bed and get his sheets all dirty?” Louis asks excitedly, making sure to rub a fistful of earth all over the front of his tunic.

“He hates when we do that,” Harry protests weakly as they start to head back toward the palace.

“I know,” says Louis, quickening their pace.  He takes Harry’s hand and drags him faster and faster until Harry’s keeping up with him.  “It’s so much fun!”

 

Ten/Eleven

“I have no idea what you’ve caught,” says Louis despairingly, watching Harry blow his nose for what seems like the thousandth time before flopping back pitifully on the bed.

“It’s a code,” Harry responds mournfully.  “I used to get theb a lot when I lived in Lagwell. This is the first one I’be gotten since I’be libbed here.”

“A code?”

“Code,” says Harry, clearly trying to enunciate.  Louis has no idea what he’s saying.  “C-o-l-d.”

“Oh, a cold,” says Louis.  “I still don’t know what that is.  I don’t think Elves get that.”

Harry sneezes into one of the many handkerchiefs Louis has stockpiled for him, then groans and covers his face.  “You don’t hab to be here.  I feel really gross.”

Louis frowns.  “Well, I wouldn’t be a good friend if I abandoned you.”

The curly-haired boy sniffles and curls up into a little ball.  “I wouldn’t be a good friend if I let you stay around me while I’m sick.”

“I can’t even catch what you have,” Louis scoffs, scooching a little closer to Harry on the bed.

Harry doesn’t respond, just blows his nose again and sulks.

“Can I at least get you some tea?” Louis asks.  “I’m sure one of the healing Elves would be able to make something that would help you.”

Harry nods, then doubles over as he’s wracked by a coughing fit.

“Alright,” says Louis quickly, patting Harry on the back.  He doesn’t like to see Harry not feeling well.  It makes Louis upset.  “I’ll be right back.”

A trip to the currently completely empty palace hospital reveals two healing Elves, Eru and Imlad, sitting down and having a chat over a plate of fruit.

“My Prince,” says Eru, standing up and bowing.  Imlad does the same a moment later.

“Good afternoon,” says Louis, motioning for them to sit down.  He always feels weird when other Elves stand up in deference to him, the most prominent reason being that he’s not fully grown yet and almost all the other Elves are taller than him.  “My Human friend is ill, and I’m wondering if you haven’t got some herbs, or something to put in tea that might make him feel better.”

“What are his symptoms?” asks Imlad, getting up and striding to one of the many cabinets of medicinal herbs.

“Well, he’s blowing his nose a lot, and sneezing, and coughing,” recounts Louis.  “And his head sounds like it’s clogged up, like a dammed river.”

Eru laughs.  “Well, we can put in lots of honey for his cough.  It’ll soothe his throat.”

“And something to help him sleep,” says Imlad, plucking a vial of crushed flowers from one of the shelves.  “And this should help his clogged sinuses.  Humans are prone to the most disgusting ailments, really.”

Louis bristles a bit at that, but doesn’t say anything about it.

Two minutes later, Louis leaves the hospital wing clutching a large mug of tea made from the herbs the Elves had selected, plus a bag of the extra tea leaves in case Harry needs more.  When he gets back to his room, he finds Harry in the same state he’d left him in, even curled up in the same position.  Louis knocks on the door lightly to announce himself; he knows Harry hates when he can’t hear Elves approaching (which he often can’t).

“Lou?” Harry asks without turning to face the door.  He punctuates the end of his question with several dry, painful-sounding coughs.

“I brought you something,” says Louis gently, crossing the room to Harry’s side.  He’s only eleven, but he still feels like taking care of his responsibility.  Louis would much rather take care of Harry then have some other Elf do it, anyway.  “It’s tea with honey and herbs that can make you feel better.”

Harry grunts and rolls over, and he looks so pathetic that Louis sets the tea down on Harry’s bedside table in favor of giving him a cuddle.

“No, no, I’b all gross,” Harry protests weakly.

“Shh,” Louis shushes him.  Harry’s running hot today, Louis can feel how warm he is through both of their tunics and undershirts.  “You’re warmer than usual.”

“That’s ‘cause I’b sick,” says Harry.

Louis doesn’t know why that would be the case, but Humans continue to confuse him.  “Well, you probably don’t want to drink hot tea, then, but it’s going to make your throat feel better and put you to sleep.”

Harry whines a little and paws at the bedside table, like he wants those things to happen to him but he’s too weak to reach up and grab the tea.

“Gods, you’re useless,” Louis laughs, poking him in the cheek.

Harry makes a sad noise, and Louis finally takes pity on him.  “Oh, alright, I’ll get it.  Sit up a bit.”

Louis plucks the tea from the bedside table and, after Harry’s hauled himself up into a semi-sitting position, brings the mug to Harry’s chapped lips.

“It’s not too hot, is it?” Louis asks after Harry’s taken a sip.  Harry shakes his head and takes another sip.

“It’s sweet,” says Harry after he’s drank about half the mug.  Louis sets it down on the table and brushes Harry’s sweaty curls off of his forehead.

“Do you feel any better?” Louis asks, not sure how quickly the tea is supposed to work.

“My throat does,” Harry tells him, nuzzling into his hand a bit.  “Thanks, Lou.”

Louis feels his whole body go warm all over at the nickname.  He hopes he hasn’t actually caught what Harry has.  “You’re welcome, Harry.”

After Harry’s finished the mug of tea, Louis lets him lay down again, keeping Harry’s head in his lap so he can keep his hair off of his forehead and hopefully help him feel cooler.

“What tibe is it?” Harry asks eventually, yawning.

“The sun was just about to set when I came back,” Louis tells him.

“Dunno why I’b so sleepy, then,” murmurs Harry.

“They put something in it to help you sleep,” says Louis.  “You need your rest, after all.”

“Mmm,” Harry seems to agree.  Louis watches his eyes flutter closed, staring perhaps a bit too long at the way his dark eyelashes contrast against his pale skin.

Louis stays with Harry while he sleeps, maybe drifting into a little doze himself when he rests his head against the wall behind him and lets Harry use his lap as a pillow.  He’s woken up by Milui poking her head into the room and asking him if he’s ready for dinner.

“Yeah,” says Louis quietly, putting his finger over his lips as he nudges Harry’s head carefully off of his lap, trying not to wake the curly-haired boy.

Harry doesn’t stir at all, Louis notes proudly.  Milui gives him a curious but fond look once he’s climbed off the bed.

“Can we bring something back for Harry after dinner?” Louis asks her as he walks out into the hall.  “He’s ill and I don’t want to wake him.”

“Of course we can, love,” says Milui.

xxx

A week later, Harry is completely healed, to Louis’s satisfaction.  He’s back to his usual energetic self and ready to start learning Elvish again.  Louis has taught him well (at least that’s what Louis likes to think); Harry’s gotten to the point where he can communicate and identify many questions and commands and have simple, basic conversation with other Elves.  He just needs to expand his vocabulary more, which is what Louis has been focusing on lately.

“Do you remember the word for ‘eye?’” Louis asks him.  They’re sitting cross-legged, facing each other on the floor of Harry’s room.  “We haven’t done body parts in a while.”

“Hen,” says Harry immediately.

“And the plural?”

Harry’s mouth twist into a frown.  “Hens?”

Louis laughs.  “No, no, it’s hendi.  Plurals in Elvish aren’t the same as in the Common Tongue, you know that.”

He bops Harry on the nose, making Harry’s face scrunch up like a bunny’s.  Louis giggles.

“Okay, okay.  Nose?”

“Nem.”

This time it’s Harry who pokes Louis in the nose.  Louis supposes he deserves it, but he tackles Harry onto his back anyway, making Harry squawk and flail his arms around until he undoubtedly realizes that Louis has him pinned.

“Let’s keep going,” says Louis casually, holding Harry’s arms down and giggling when Harry tries unsuccessfully to flip them.  “Chin?”

“Venta,” says Harry, his brows furrowing as he tries to wrestle with Louis.  Louis supposes that the fact that Harry can recall words while he’s distracted means that he knows them pretty well.

It’s only when Harry stops struggling and goes still and quiet, breathing hard, that Louis asks the next one.  “Hair?”

Louis lets up a little so Harry can run a hand through his hair. “Fin.”

“Good,” says Louis, feeling Harry tug on a few strands. He closes his eyes and makes a happy noise.

“When’s your hair going to get long like your father’s?” Harry asks him.

Louis shrugs.  “Not for a while.  He said it stops growing after about a hundred years, so.”

Louis realizes after he’s said it that, barring some sort of undiscovered health benefits from living among Elves, Harry probably isn’t going to be alive in a hundred years.  He feels his mouth twist in a frown as he watches Harry play with his hair, and he can see in Harry’s eyes how Harry’s picturing his hair, what it’s going to look like in a hundred years.

“It’s going to look really beautiful,” says Harry, snapping Louis out of his unpleasant thoughts.  “I can already tell.”

Louis laughs, pleased.  “Because you know so much about Elven hair.”

Harry shrugs.  “’S just how I picture it.”

“Imagine if you tried to grow your hair like that,” says Louis, eyes flicking to Harry’s unruly head of hair.

“It wouldn’t grow down,” says Harry.  “It would grow out.”

“It would grow everywhere,” agrees Louis.  “Maybe someday you can patrol the borders of the forest and scare off our enemies.  They’d all scream and run away from… the hair-monster.”

Harry laughs, then his brow furrows.  “The…fin-ulundo?”

Louis can feel his face light up at Harry’s quick translation into Elvish.  “Aw, you’re so good!”  Harry’s hand has left his hair by now, but now Louis winds his own into Harry’s curls to pet at his scalp.  Harry makes a happy, pleased sound and nuzzles into Louis’s touch, and it makes Louis’s stomach feel funny so he stops doing it and hurries on to the next word.

“Lips?”

Harry makes a quiet little noise and his eyes drop to Louis’s lips.  Louis feels a confusing flutter in his chest and pushes it out of his mind, waiting for Harry to respond.

“I – um,” stammers Harry, his eyes a bit unfocused.  “I can’t remember.”

The word for lips is peu, and so Louis purses his lips, puckering them and mouthing a ‘p’ sound to maybe give Harry a hint.  Harry’s eyes widen, though, and the next second he’s leaning upward, closer to Louis’s face than he’s maybe ever been, and then he’s pressing their lips together.

For a second or two, Louis’s eyes flutter closed and the butterflies in his stomach return full-force at the feeling of Harry’s warm, soft mouth pressed sweetly against his own. 

Then, he remembers – this is Harry, his best friend, and a boy, he shouldn’t be kissing a boy, he shouldn’t be kissing anybody, he’s not old enough, but especially not a Human.

Louis scrambles off of him, panicked, and Harry sits upright immediately.  “Lou?”

“What – what?” Louis asks, his voice higher than he’s ever heard it. His heart is hammering against his ribcage and it feels like someone’s tied his stomach in an intricate knot.

“Sorry, I thought you – I’m sorry, I’m sorry–” Harry blurts, looking miserable.

“No, it’s – it’s fine–” stammers Louis.  Does Harry fancy him?  “I’m just going to – um, go to my room, now.  I – I don’t feel well.”

“No, Lou–” tries Harry, his voice thick, as Louis gets to his feet.  “Don’t – I’m sorry, please don’t go, I won’t do it again–”

“It’s fine, Harry, don’t – I just want to be – by myself, now,” Louis insists, feeling like his heart is going to leap out of his throat if he stays a second longer.

“O-Okay,” says Harry, turning away from him like he can’t even look at him, and Louis sees Harry’s arm come up to wipe at his face as soon as his back is turned.  “I’ll – I’ll see you later?”

Sheer panic courses through Louis’s blood and he blurts out, “At – at breakfast, yeah,” and then quickly leaves the room, not wanting to be there if Harry is going to cry.  He hates when Harry cries; usually Louis is quick to be there for him and try to make the tears go away, comforting Harry and stroking his hair, but this time Louis is the cause of it.

He hurries back to his room, feeling like the apple tart he had for dessert earlier is about to come right back up.  He doesn’t want to think about the fact that he’d enjoyed the kiss - at least before he’d come to his senses, that is.  Louis feels frightened and nervous, because that’s not natural and surely isn’t going to be helpful for when he has to pick his future queen.

Then he thinks about that - the fact that he has to eventually pick an Elf girl to marry - and even though he knows it’s something that has to happen eventually, he feels even worse because he can’t stop thinking about how Harry would feel about it.

Then, Louis realizes that he himself is going to be around for hundreds of years, if not thousands, and that Harry’s only going to be around for a fraction of that – a Man’s lifetime is but a blink in the lifetime of an Elf, his father had once told him – and feels, quite possibly, the worst he’s ever felt.  Louis hadn’t thought about that until now, but now he knows that he won’t be able to even look at Harry again without feeling upset.

Louis makes a low, hurt sound, but luckily by that point he’s reached his room.  It’s nearing bedtime, which usually means that Harry arrives in around an hour or so to come snuggle him and fall asleep, but.  Louis doesn’t want to be around Harry right now, is the thing.

It just - it hurts too much.  He’s filled with dread and anxiety and nervousness plus a huge helping of confusion, but all of that pales to the foreign twisting sensation he’s feeling deep in his gut.  His lip trembles as he thinks about Harry, how Harry is - he’s fragile and open and so important to Louis, someone Louis never wants to lose.  He shouldn’t be thinking about a boy like that, Louis knows, especially shouldn’t be thinking about a Human boy like that, and that just makes Louis feel even worse.

xxx

That night, for the first time since Harry arrived at the palace three years ago, Louis sleeps with his door locked.  He falls asleep quickly under the crushing weight of his sadness and doesn’t stay awake long enough to hear the doorknob jiggle, and the soft, sad “Louis?” that follows.

 

Eleven/Twelve

It’s been four months since Louis hurried out of Harry’s room and locked his door, four months since Harry has really talked to Louis beyond cordial conversation at meals.

Harry feels awful.

The first few weeks had been the worst, because Harry had to get adjusted to sleeping in his own bed for, really, the first time ever (a few days after Harry’s mum’s funeral, Louis had informed Harry primly that his own bed was much more comfortable, so if they were going to be resting together on a regular basis they might as well rest there instead). Sleeping by himself, too, without anyone to snuggle with.  The nightmares of his mum’s death had returned for a bit, even, and he’d woken up crying several nights in a row without anyone there to hold him and stroke his hair.

After a couple weeks, though, Harry learned to deal with it.  He still never sleeps soundly, but he’s progressed to getting a full night’s sleep without waking up crying, so that’s something.  He’s found other Elves to talk to as well, since Louis has distanced himself enough that Harry needs to fill his now-copious amounts of free time with other company.  Louis still gives Harry his Elvish lessons, but they’re always in the company of other young Elves like Zayn, or some of Harry’s new friends like Althirn or Loth, and Louis will never quite look him in the eye.  Harry’s getting very good at speaking Elvish after having taken years of lessons and living among the Elves, but he isn’t enjoying the lessons anymore.

The worst part is that Harry doesn’t know how to fix this, or if he even can fix it.  Every single day, he regrets kissing Louis, but.  But.  Every time he thinks about it, he also thinks about those one or two seconds at the beginning of the kiss where Louis didn’t pull away, where Louis’s soft lips gave just the tiniest bit against his, and it makes Harry’s heart hurt to know that Louis clearly thought about it extensively and then decided that it still wasn’t what he wanted.

Winter settles over the forest, and Harry spends long days with Zayn and Althirn and Loth (and sometimes Louis) sprinting through the woods, trying not to trip over snow-covered roots.

One day, they decide to play hide and seek.  Usually, Harry loses terribly at this because his tracks in the snow give him away instantly, but today he resolves that he’s going to give Althirn  the slip, at least for a little bit.

As they walk deeper in the forest and further from the palace, Louis, Loth, and Althirn run on ahead, pelting each other with snowballs and laughing all the while.  Harry sees that Louis has brought his bow and a few arrows, probably to practice shooting pine cones that the other Elves throw up in mid-air. (Harry had always been the one who threw the pine cones ever since Louis started learning archery two years ago, but Louis hasn’t asked him to for months.)  Zayn hangs back to walk with Harry.

“How have you been?” Zayn asks eventually, once the other three are a safe distance ahead.

Like you don’t know, Harry scoffs in his head.

“That’s true,” agrees Zayn.  Harry laughs.

“I’ve been better,” says Harry.  “But – thanks for inviting me to come with you guys today.”

“Harry, you’re our friend, of course you’re coming with,” says Zayn, frowning.

Harry kicks at a giant snow-covered mushroom and doesn’t respond.

“He misses you,” Zayn says quietly after a pause.  Harry’s stomach feels warm, too hot.  “You miss him.  I wish you two would just move past… whatever happened.”

Harry knows Zayn is acting ignorant only for Harry’s sake; Zayn undoubtedly knows exactly what happened, probably got assaulted with it from both Louis and Harry’s thoughts the day after Harry kissed Louis.  He wonders if Zayn thinks him a freak, or unnatural.  He wonders what his life is going to be like in the future if Louis doesn’t forgive him.

He hopes that his own turbulent thoughts at the moment, regret mixed with bitterness and longing and hurt, are enough of an answer for the Elf walking next to him. Sure enough, Zayn drops the subject and the two of them catch up with the other three in silence.

Finally, they reach a spot that Louis declares is a good place for Althirn to count while the rest of them scramble to find hiding places.

“Remember to cover your eyes this time,” Louis says to Althirn.  “Don’t think I’ve forgotten that you cheated last time.”

Harry feels a little, miserable twist of fondness in his gut and has to bite his lip in order not to laugh.

Once the countdown has begun, Harry decides to stick with his plan of doing the unexpected and giving Althirn the slip.  So, after Louis, Zayn and Loth have taken off quickly and silently, Harry runs a little ways away from where Althirn is counting, and then climbs a sturdy-looking tree, reasoning that they’ll never expect that.

Higher and higher he climbs, even using a couple branches to transfer himself shakily over to the next tree, until he’s many yards away from where he climbed his first tree.  The snow underneath him is unsullied and smooth, pure white, and Harry grins gleefully, thinking that it’ll be ages before Althirn finds him, and that Althirn might even find one of the Elves before he finds Harry.

Harry tries to stay completely silent, focusing on breathing as quietly as he can.  And it’s only because he’s being so quiet that, fifteen minutes later, he hears the soft, almost imperceptible rustle of the trees behind him.

When Harry turns around, his first scream dies in his throat, but his second one rips past his vocal chords and echoes around the silent forest.  A gigantic spider is staring back at him, and it clicks its pincers angrily at the noise and begins advancing toward him, its eight legs moving its giant body along grotesquely fast.

Out of reflex, Harry takes several quick steps back as his body buzzes with almost-paralyzing fright, but those steps carry him clean off the branch he was standing on, and he plummets to the forest floor, screaming all the while, until he finally hits the snowy ground and pain explodes out from his tailbone and his leg.

On his back with the wind knocked out of him and terribly, terribly in pain, Harry can only stare upward in horror as he watches the giant spider descending quickly down the trees after him, its many eyes fixed on him.  Harry finally manages to get his arms to work again when the spider is only feet from him and he scoots backward quickly, dragging himself through the snow as fast as he can as the spider lands heavily on the forest floor right where Harry had been laying seconds earlier.

“Help!” he cries, grappling behind him for something to defend himself with.  He definitely isn’t able to move his right leg much, if at all – if he can’t stand up, then –

Harry gets a grip on a large chunk of dead wood just as the spider lunges for him, and he screams again as he heaves it around to hold it in front of his body, trying to fend the spider off.  Its heavy body collides with his own as it tries to crunch the wood between its fangs so it can get to Harry.

He forces another cry of, “Help!” out of his paralyzed throat as he pushes back against the beast with all of his remaining strength, kicking and screaming with all his might as the spider’s fangs inch ever closer to his face.

At the last second, right when he thinks that he’s done for and can feel his arms starting to give out under the spider’s strong pressure, he hears someone else cry, “Heca ulundo!”

It draws the spider’s attention enough that Harry can look over as well, and – thank the gods, it’s Louis, and he’s got his bow out.

When Louis draws the bowstring taut and aims an arrow straight at the spider, the beast makes a garbled, gross hissing noise and releases Harry.  It turns to face Louis instead, rearing up menacingly and clicking its pincers before starting to chase after him, moving unnaturally fast.

Louis shoots the arrow and it hits the spider in the shoulder, knocking it backward and making it shudder but not stopping it completely.  Harry’s heart leaps into his throat when he thinks the spider’s got Louis cornered, but then Louis leaps upward, grabbing onto a low-hanging tree branch and notching another arrow while he’s still in mid-air.  In flight, he takes aim, and it all seems to happen in slow-motion as Harry watches, the way Louis arcs through the air the arrow soars straight and true right into the spider’s head.

The spider makes a horrible, high-pitched squealing noise, twitching around for a few seconds before it collapses onto the forest floor, drawing its legs inward as it dies and Louis lands on top of its broken body.

Harry’s left to stare open-mouthed, his eyes darting between Louis and the spider so fast it makes him dizzy as the other three Elves come crashing through the snowy undergrowth.

“What was that?”

“Gods above, what’s happened?”

It’s only after a commotion breaks out among all of the Elves that Harry’s body seems to remember that it’s broken in several places.  As the adrenaline fades, the pain returns, shooting up his leg and radiating out from his tailbone.  It hurts so badly, and Harry’s still so scared, that he starts to cry, trying to keep it as quiet as he can.

Louis is quick to rush over to Harry’s side then, and it makes Harry feel like it’s several years ago, the way he’s in trouble again and Louis is coming to his rescue.

“Harry,” Louis says softly, sounding miserable and frightened.  Harry doesn’t want to cry in front of him, but he can’t stop the tears from coming because it hurts so much.  “Harry, where does it hurt?”

“E-Everywhere,” Harry chokes out, closing his eyes and laughing hysterically.  “I’m s-sorry, I shouldn’t have climbed–”

“No, stop,” says Louis at once, cutting him off.  “You haven’t got anything to be sorry for.”

Harry’s eyes fly open when he feels Louis’s cool hand stroke down his cheek.

“Hey,” Louis says softly, “stay with me, alright?  You shouldn’t be sleeping now.   Try not to close your eyes for too long, Harry.  We have to go get you looked at and healed.”

Harry nods glumly, feeling confused as Louis wraps his arms around him.  Why is Louis being so nice like this if he doesn’t like Harry anymore?

“Here, let me–” Zayn says, starting to grab at Harry’s other arm.

“Don’t touch him,” snaps Louis, and Zayn recoils, shocked.  His eyes are as wide as Harry’s feel.  “Sorry, sorry, I just – I’ve got him, is all,” Louis amends seconds later, sounding shaken.  “Up you go.”

His vision getting hazier by the minute, Harry feels himself being lifted as Louis takes him into his arms and stands up.

“We need to mark a trail back so we can show Father where to find this,” he hears Louis telling Zayn.  Harry wraps his arms around Louis’s neck and holds on as tightly as he can, still hiccuping from the pain.

“We can do that, you go on ahead,” Zayn says.  “I’ll get your arrows, too.”

“Thanks.”

Harry smiles into Louis’s neck at the fact that he can still understand Elvish under extreme duress.

“I can feel you smiling,” Louis says as they start to head back to the palace.

Harry immediately drops his smile, not wanting Louis to get distant again.  “S-Sorry, I – I was just thinking about how I can really u-understand Elvish now, is all.  Sorry.”

“Harry, don’t – you don’t have to apologize for smiling, gods,” says Louis, holding Harry a bit tighter.

“I don’t want you to – be upset,” Harry says, so loopy from the pain that he’s being a bit more honest than he’d like.

“Stop talking like that,” Louis mutters.  “Rhaich, I’ve mucked this all up, haven’t I.”

Harry doesn’t know what that means, but the pain’s starting to become too much again.  “Lou, hurts – it hurts,” he whimpers, starting to cry again as his leg shifts just the tiniest bit and a fresh wave of pain overwhelms him.

“I know, love,” says Louis.  The endearment slips out quickly and naturally, and it makes Harry blush as he smiles through his tears.  He wonders if Louis notices he’s said it.  “I think your leg might be broken, but I don’t know a lot about healing yet, so.”

Harry nods and doesn’t say anything else, trying to focus on not passing out from the pain.

“How did you get hurt?  Did that – thing break your leg itself or did you fall?” Louis asks after another minute of walking through the snow.  He’s slowing down a bit, and Harry thinks that he probably must be getting tired, considering that Louis is carrying someone the same size as him.

“I w-was up high in the trees trying to hide from Althirn,” Harry tells him, “and then I h-heard something behind me and I – I turned around and–”

He cuts off, still scared and shaken, as a fresh wave of tears wells its way to the surface.

“Shh, shh, okay,” says Louis, slowing down even more.  “So you fell and that’s how you got hurt?  It didn’t – bite you or anything, did it?”

“No,” Harry chokes out, shuddering.  “I just – it really hurts.”

“Okay,” Louis says.  “Harry, do you mind – sorry, I have to take a little break.”

Harry feels Louis stop and kneel down, depositing Harry gently to rest sitting up against a large tree trunk.  Louis settles next to him, getting his bow and an arrow out and looking carefully at the forest around them and checking, presumably, for anything dangerous.

“How much further?” Harry asks, feeling the cold snow numb his sore tailbone.

“Probably only two or three minutes,” says Louis.  “My arms were just getting tired and I didn’t want to drop you.”

Harry nods, wanting very badly to nuzzle into Louis’s side.  He doesn’t.

“Are there often giant spiders in Mirkwood?” Harry asks.

“I’ve never seen one before,” Louis admits, still looking around warily and clutching his bow.  “My father will want to know about this.  I can’t believe – I’m really glad I found you when I did.”

“It was about two seconds away from eating me, I think,” says Harry, shivering.

“Don’t say that,” pleads Louis, sounding scared, and the next second Harry feels Louis’s arms around him for the first time in four months and Louis is holding on tightly, like he’s afraid Harry’s going to run away even with his broken leg.  “Harry, don’t – hmph.”

Harry isn’t sure what’s going on, but he doesn’t think there’s ever going to come a time when he doesn’t want Louis holding on to him like this, so he shifts as best he can so that he’s snuggled closer into Louis’s side and basks in the glow of Louis’s full attention that’s finally, finally back on him, even if it’s only because Harry almost died.  He’ll take it.

After the chill of the wet snow starts to seep through Harry’s trousers, though, he asks, “Louis, are you – are we going to head back to the palace soon?”

He feels even colder once Louis’s warm arms aren’t encircling him anymore.  “Right, yes, of course.”

Louis picks him up again and stands up.  Harry’s started to shiver from the cold, which makes the business of Louis carrying him even more difficult.  “When you get back from the hospital I’m going to draw you a hot bath and make you some tea,” Louis declares.

Harry isn’t sure why Louis is being so nice all of a sudden.  “Lou, I thought – I didn’t think you really wanted anything to do with me anymore.”

There’s a pregnant pause.  Then, Louis says, “I don’t think this is the best time to be having this conversation.”

Harry frowns.  “When, then?”

“After you’re healed,” says Louis.  “It shouldn’t take long.  Then we can get you a bath and we’ll talk after you’re all warm and dry, okay?”

His voice is warm and kind, the way it used to be before Harry kissed him and ruined everything.

“Okay.”

xxx

It turns out that Harry’s tailbone is merely bruised, but his right leg is broken in two different places.  The healing Elves place a sweet-smelling cloth in front of Harry’s face that makes him lose consciousness, and the last thing he feels before the darkness takes him is Louis’s hand squeezing his own.

When Harry comes to, the sun has set and he isn’t in pain anymore.  Louis is sitting by his bed, and he jerks to attention immediately when Harry blinks his eyes open.

“Harry!” he exclaims happily, drawing one of the healing Elves over with his shout of Harry’s name.  “How are you feeling?”

“Much better,” says Harry gratefully, wiggling his toes and bending his knee.

“Careful, careful, don’t jostle it too much at first,” says Harry’s nurse.  “I need to make sure it’s fully functional before I let you walk on it.”

Once Harry has been given the go-ahead to leave the hospital, Louis walks with him every step of the way back to Harry’s room, watching carefully and attentively as Harry becomes more confident in using his right leg again.  In Harry’s room, he finds that his bathtub has already been filled with hot water.

“I hope it’s still hot,” says Louis.  “I filled it with boiling water about fifteen minutes before you woke up.”

Harry tests it and finds that it’s indeed still very hot.

“Excellent,” Louis says.  “Now, I’ll, um – I’ll just wait outside, then–”

“You don’t have to,” Harry interrupts him, then blushes and continues, “well, you – if you want to, you can, but I don’t mind if you’re still here.”

Louis pauses, then says, “Alright, well, I’ll stay, then.  Just to make sure you don’t slip and brain yourself on the porcelain.”

Harry laughs.  “I wouldn’t put it past me.”

Harry’s never had any shame getting naked in front of anyone – he might have if he had continued to be raised among Men, but Elves have no care for such things as nakedness.  It’s actually nice how Elven children aren’t raised to be ashamed of their bodies, Harry thinks as he undresses.  Louis helps him into the tub, and Harry sighs happily as he settles into the hot water that goes up to just above his shoulders.

“Good?” Louis asks.

“Mhmm,” Harry confirms, shivering pleasantly as warmth suffuses through his tired, cold bones.

He just lays there for a while, grateful to be out of the cold and out of danger and completely healed.  After the water’s begun to lose its heat and has progressed to only being warm, though, Harry says, “I should probably wash my hair and get out before the water goes cold.”

“I can do it,” Louis says quietly, “if you want.”

Of course Harry wants, but he doesn’t understand why Louis would want to do this for him, since Louis has made is perfectly clear that he doesn’t like Harry back and has gone out of his way (until now) to make sure that they are never alone together.  “Sure.”

It’s all Harry can do not to purr as Louis rubs soap into his hair, his dainty little fingers scratching at Harry’s scalp and making him shudder involuntarily.  He splutters when Louis’s fingers leave him and instead warm water is cascading down his hair and into his eyes.

“No warning,” he grumbles as Louis rinses out his hair.

“Sorry,” Louis says, not sounding sorry at all, “you looked a little too happy.”

They both laugh, Harry feeling almost light-headed with how normal and natural it feels to be talking and bantering with Louis again.  Like this is the huge piece that was missing from his life for the last four months.  (It was.)

Once Harry’s gotten out of the tub, dried off, and dressed himself in a pair of pajamas, he feels an overwhelming desire to rest his tired body on the bed.

“Can we talk on the bed?” he asks Louis sleepily, not even waiting for an answer before he’s wandering over and flopping down.

“Of course,” says Louis.  Harry feels Louis climb into the bed also, but he doesn’t snuggle right up against Harry like he used to.

“So,” Harry sighs.

“So,” Louis echoes him.

Harry figures that Louis has been particularly indulgent and tolerant of him today (and that he can chalk it up to being delirious later), so he doesn’t feel afraid to start the conversation with, “So we haven’t talked since I kissed you.”

“Right for the throat,” Louis says quietly.  They both laugh hollowly.  “Okay, so.  Harry, I’m a prince, right? An Elf prince.”

“Mhmm.”

“I have to rule Mirkwood one day – hopefully long in the future, but still.”

“Mhmm.”

“I’ll have to have a queen.  I’ll have to have children.”

Stupidly, this thought hadn’t occurred to Harry at all.  He’s never seen Louis interact with any of the Elven girls, at least not willingly, and his mouth twists into a frown as he tries to imagine Louis married to one of them, Louis with babies.

That doesn’t sound right to Harry at all.  Harry is supposed to be Louis’s baby.  He doesn’t want to share.

“You hadn’t thought of that, had you?” Louis asks.

Harry shakes his head no, feeling miserable.

“I hadn’t either, honestly, until – that same day, when you asked about my hair, and I realized you wouldn’t be around in a hundred years to see it at its full length.”

They were talking about body parts in Elvish, Harry remembers.

“And I got pretty upset at the thought, but then you kissed me and – and I thought maybe you – fancied me or something, and I couldn’t – I didn’t want you to get that attached to me, because that would put us both through a lot of pain, Harry,” Louis continues.

Gods, Harry hadn’t even considered that.

“And I’m sure I went about it the wrong way – you were terrified of me earlier today when I talked about how you were smiling, so clearly I’ve done everything wrong – but I was just trying to make it easier for us.  Later.”

“That’s a bad way to think about it,” says Harry, rolling over so he can see Louis.  “But you’re right, though, I hadn’t thought about – that stuff.  The rest of it.  I hadn’t – I guess I forgot I wasn’t an Elf.”

Louis smiles at him, and Harry feels a warmth inside him that has nothing to do with his hot bath and clean pajamas.  “Silly Harry.  You’ve got round ears, of course you aren’t an Elf.”

Harry tugs self-consciously at his own ears, feeling a smile stretch across his face.  “Hey, I like my ears.”

“I like them too.  They’re cute,” says Louis.  He clears his throat and the smile drops off his face again.  “Anyway, I – that’s what I was thinking, and I thought you should know.  But I haven’t been very happy since then.  I haven’t slept well.”

“Me neither,” Harry admits, peering up into Louis’s eyes hesitantly.

They look at each other for a little while before Louis finally blurts out, “I miss you, Harry.  I miss – how we were.  A lot.”

Harry heaves out a relieved breath and butts his head into Louis’s chest gently.  “Miss you too.”

One of Louis’s hands come up to tentatively brush through Harry’s drying hair, and it unleashes some sort of emotional dam inside Harry, who immediately continues, “Gods, I miss you so much, Lou.  I want – can we be best friends again? Please say we can be best friends again, I miss that more than anything.”

He keeps his eyes shut until Louis says, “Of course we can.”

Harry’s never felt so relieved in his life, taking that as permission to snuggle closer into Louis’s chest and shivering happily when Louis wraps his slight, warm arms around him.

“Also, I – I don’t know if you still want to, but when we first kissed, before I – decided I didn’t want to, I think I liked it.”

Harry laughs.  “I liked it too, if you couldn’t tell.  It felt – like something we were supposed to be doing.”

“It did, didn’t it?” asks Louis, sounding relieved at Harry’s confirmation.  “It felt right.  We can – we can keep doing that, if you want.  I like kissing you.  We just have to remember that it’s not always going to be this way.”

Harry swallows around the lump in his throat and nods.  After all, it’s not Louis’s fault that he’s an immortal prince and needs to produce an heir, and Harry’s just the simple mortal son of a tailor.  Louis isn’t upset with him anymore, was never, really, and that’s what matters.  He tilts his head up til it isn’t nestled into Louis’s chest anymore, and this time it’s Louis who leans down and joins their lips together, Louis who doesn’t let Harry pull away until both of them are dizzy and laughing happily into each other’s mouths.  Harry’s lips don’t stop tingling for the rest of the night, even after they’ve both gone to bed, curled around each other and breathing contentedly until they drift off.

 

Twelve/Thirteen

Things become relatively calm and routine after that, which Harry loves.  Zayn tells King Aron about the giant spider they’d found in the woods, and the king takes a large band of Elves far outside the kingdom’s walls to investigate.  They only find the one, though, and have to eventually write it off as a disturbing, isolated incident.

Another year passes, another year filled with perfecting and polishing his Elvish and playing with the new friends Harry’s made, goodnight kisses from Louis and sleeping next to him, cuddled close.  Harry even tries his hand at using a bow and arrow for the first time, and promptly discovers that, like with all things Elvish, he’s completely hopeless.

“No, you have to hold it like this,” Louis corrects him countless times, coming up close behind him and maneuvering his arm into the right position.  Harry doesn’t mind, not when Louis sometimes uses that as an opportunity to sneak quick kisses when no one else is looking.

Even with Louis’s help (and sometimes Zayn’s, too), Harry is completely inept.  Liam and Niall visit again the following spring and set up a target practice course in the forest for all of them to shoot at, and Harry can tell that they have to practically bite their tongues not to make fun of him and his shoddy marksmanship.  It’s alright, though, because they don’t make fun of him, is the point.  He’s actually grown fairly close to them as they’ve visited over the years.

“Time for the final tally!” Liam yells, startling Harry out of his thoughts.  They’d each wrapped chains of different colored flowers around the shafts of their arrows so that everyone’s could be identified once they were embedded in the targets.

“Coming in at last place,” says Niall dramatically, “to absolutely no one’s surprise, is-”

“Oh, stop,” snaps Louis, but there’s no heat behind it.  Harry laughs, looking around for his arrows, most of which had flown off into the surrounding bushes.  One of them made it onto the targeted tree, though, which gives him hope for the future.

“I’m only teasing, Harry, I know you’ll get better,” says Niall, patting Harry on the back.

“Thanks, I guess,” laughs Harry.  “Besides me, though, all of the other arrows look pretty close together.”

Liam shakes his head.  He’s always been fiercely competitive.  “There’s only one bullseye, though.  Only one chance to shoot your enemy straight through the head.”

“He’s right, you know,” says Zayn.  “I’ll go check.”

Zayn nimbly climbs up the first tree, peering at all of the arrows clustered together.  “Looks like Louis got the bullseye on this one.”

Louis grins and Harry cheers for him, happy.  Zayn continues to flit from tree to tree, calling down, “Liam,” “This one’s mine,” and “Niall” one after the other.

“That means this tree’s the tiebreaker,” observes Louis as they all turn to face the fifth and final tree.

“We literally split the bullseye, Lou,” Zayn calls down after he’s inspected the arrows.  “Looks like the rest of you lost!”

The two of them spend the rest of the day rubbing it in their cousins’ faces, especially after Liam insists on climbing up himself to check and make sure Zayn’s not lying (he’s not), and Harry just looks on fondly.

xxx

Spring passes into summer, and Harry wakes up one morning hot and sweating, having kicked all of Louis’s sheets off of him in his sleep.  He’s lying facedown on the plush mattress, and one of Louis’s arms is slung over his back, his tiny hand warm where it’s making contact.

Harry feels – odd when he wakes up, yes, odd is the only word to describe it.  His lower abdomen feels like it’s wound too tight, like there are some muscles he needs to stretch or squeeze or something, and he feels like he’s lying on something firm.

He doesn’t know what it could be, but it’s uncomfortable, so he rolls over onto his back as carefully as he can, trying not to disturb Louis’s arm too much.  What he sees is horrifying – whatever he was laying on is inside his sleep pants, much too close to his prick for comfort.  He quickly pushes them down, only to discover that it’s – it is his prick that he was laying on, but it’s – bigger.  A fair amount bigger than it usually is, and it isn’t soft like it normally is when he’s got it out to have a wee, either.  It’s hard and flushed, so foreign-looking to him that he immediately rolls back onto his stomach because he doesn’t want to look at it anymore.

That turns out to be a mistake, however, because it’s only when he presses his hard prick into the bed that he discovers how sensitive it’s gotten.  Harry moans out loud before he can stop himself at this new feeling, pressing his hips harder into the bed and gasping at how good it feels, at the foreign pleasure that flows from his prick up his spine.

He presses his hips down again, grinding down and trapping his prick between his tummy and the mattress, applying pressure until it just barely starts to hurt and then letting up.  He does it again and again until he gets into somewhat of a rhythm, gracelessly jerking his hips forward to make his clothed prick rub against the sheets.

Unfortunately, Harry’s so caught up in this new pleasure that he forgets that Louis is still asleep right next to him.  He only remembers when he feels the Elf shift beside him, and he quickly stops the motion of his hips, not sure if Louis is going to know what’s going on or not.

“Good morning,” Louis says sleepily.  “It’s a bit early, isn’t it? The light’s still pink outside.”

Harry tries to come up with a response, but his entire body is screaming at him to get moving again and work his prick toward – something, there’s some sort of goal Harry’s body has in mind and he can’t for the life of him figure out what it is.  He ends up groaning into the sheets with the effort of keeping his body still.

“Are you hurt?” asks Louis quickly, the sleepiness dissolving from his voice at once.

“I don’t think so,” mumbles Harry.

“What’s wrong then, love?”

“Don’t know,” Harry gasps, moving his hips forward and biting his lip when the friction against his prick makes his head spin all over again.  “Louis, I don’t know–”

“Harry, what’s – here, you have to turn over–”

Harry doesn’t want Louis to see him like that, but he feels trapped in a cycle of pleasure and chase, and it’s a place he really doesn’t want to be anymore.  It’s frightening, and he’s not sure if it’s ever going to end –

“Oh, Harry,” Louis says quietly upon seeing him, his voice rough like Harry’s never heard it before.

“Is it bad?” Harry squeaks out, his eyes still closed.  “Do I need to go to the hospital?”

“No,” laughs Louis, “no, nothing like that.  This happened to me for the first time last winter, when we weren’t – um – sharing a bed.”

“So it’s normal?”

“Mhmm,” says Louis.  “Here, pull your trousers down, I’ll show you how to get back to normal.  It’s really fun.”

Harry snorts, doing as he’s told, willing himself not to look away as he looks at his rigid, unfamiliar prick once more.  “It looks weird.”

“I think it looks nice,” says Louis, taking one of Harry’s hands in his own.  He guides Harry’s hand down, holding his wrist lightly, and helps Harry wrap it around his shaft.

The feel of his own hand on himself makes Harry whimper, canting his hips up instinctively into the tight fist Louis has made with Harry’s hand.  He does it again, shutting his eyes and turning his head to smush his face against Louis’s chest.

“Does that feel good?” Louis asks.  Harry can feel the rumble of the words through the Elf’s skin.

“Mngh,” Harry groans, continuing to hide his face as he thrusts up into his hand.

“You can move your hand, too, not just your hips,” says Louis, sounding a bit breathless.

Harry feels Louis’s hand apply gentle pressure to his own, and he starts to stroke himself up and down, up and down, while he continues to move his hips.  It feels amazing.

After a little bit, though, Harry figures he must be gripping too tight, or something, because it’s starting to feel sore and hurt just a tiny bit.

“Is there – is something supposed to happen?  It’s starting to hurt,” he tells Louis.

“Hmm,” mumbles Louis, a puzzled note to his voice.  “You aren’t getting as wet as I usually do.  Here.”

He takes his hand off of Harry’s, and Harry lets his hand fall to the bed, staring at the angry red prick jutting out of his trousers.  It’s been leaking a small amount of clear fluid out of the tip, Harry’s noticed, but it’s not urine – it’s much slicker.

Louis spits into his hand and brings it back to smooth the saliva over Harry’s prick.  Harry’s whole body jolts when Louis wraps his hand around him – Louis’s hand feels so different than Harry’s own, so much better.

“There you go,” Louis says kindly a few seconds later.  “That should be more comfortable, now try it again.”

“Want you to do it,” Harry says, whining when he feels Louis’s hand leave him.  “Please, Lou, it feels so much better when you do it.”

There’s a pause, during which Louis seems to be deliberating.  Harry shifts so that he’s staring into Louis’s face instead, opening his eyes to find that Louis’s own have gotten much darker than normal.

“Please,” Harry tries again, his own voice unfamiliar to his ears.

“Okay,” says Louis, blinking slow and syrupy, “okay.  But we shouldn’t… we shouldn’t make a habit of this, alright?  It’s something you’re really supposed to do yourself until you get married.”

Harry nods quickly – whatever it takes to get Louis’s hand around him at this exact moment.

“Alright,” Louis says, like he’s reassuring himself, and then his hand’s back around Harry’s prick, wet with spit and sliding up and down.

Harry whines as quietly as he can as he watches Louis’s small hand move over him, coaxing sensations from him that make his toes curl and his skin tingle.  It’s making slick, obscene sounds every time Louis’s hand squeezes over the ridge near the tip of his prick, which is – gods, even more sensitive than the rest of it.  His mind flashes to what Louis had said – “You aren’t getting as wet as I usually do” – and he imagines Louis doing this to himself, his prick wet and leaking as he strokes himself, and it makes Harry feel like he’s just gotten punched in the gut.  His insides feel even more twisted, like after another minute they’re all going to snap and uncoil.

“Lou,” he moans, his voice sounding lower and rougher than he’s ever heard it before, “Lou – what’s happening–”

“Shh, you’ll see,” Louis shushes him, moving his hand faster and making Harry squeak as his hips jerk up uncontrollably.  “Just relax, Harry, you’ll feel even better.”

Harry tries, tries to make his body go boneless and relax into the bed, but the insistent motions of Louis’s hand on his cock start feeling even more intense when he does so.  “Louis, oh – oh–”

“That’s it,” he hears Louis say encouragingly, “I think you’re almost there.”

Harry opens his eyes and sees that Louis is watching him, watching his face with dark, hungry eyes, and something inside Harry just releases.  He isn’t even able to look away from Louis when he feels his prick twitch, waves of relief and paralyzing pleasure seizing his whole body as he thrusts up into Louis’s hand over and over again, making an embarrassing amount of noise.  Harry shudders as Louis kisses him to swallow his sounds, letting Harry moan into his mouth and suck on his tongue instead.

When it’s over, Harry falls back against the bed, his lips leaving Louis’s.  He looks down at himself and discovers that his prick’s shot white streaks onto his beige sleep shirt and all over Louis’s hand.  Even as he watches, he can see his prick start to soften up, shrinking a bit.

Louis giggles and wipes his hand on Harry’s shirt, smearing more of the white into the fabric.  Harry feels content and absolutely boneless, like he never wants to get up again, but he shifts a bit to get even more comfortable and ends up getting poked in the hip.

“Yours is hard too,” he realizes, pressing his hips more firmly into Louis’s body and getting rewarded with a sharp gasp.

“Yes, well, you’re – yes, it is,” Louis mumbles.

“Do you want me to do you?” Harry asks, moving his hand up and down to mimic what Louis just did to him.

Louis seems to weigh the question in his mind, but ends up pulling his prick out of his own sleep trousers.  Harry starts to reach for it, but Louis says, “No, I – I know how to do it, I don’t need any help.  But – can you kiss me?”

“Yeah,” Harry breathes, leaning in.  Always.  He can always do that.

It doesn’t take long for Louis’s body to do the same thing that Harry’s did, but not before Louis is positively whining into Harry’s mouth as his lips go slack with pleasure.  When they break apart for air at one point, Louis buries his face in Harry’s shoulder, muffling a moan into his skin as he works himself over.  Harry chances a glance down and sees that, just how he imagined, Louis’s prick is slick and pink, his hand gliding wetly over himself and making filthy noises that cause Harry’s whole body to go hot.

Eventually, Louis starts to shake, and he bites at Harry’s shoulder to keep himself quiet and Harry gasps, watching the same pearly white substance spurt out of Louis’s prick in short, powerful little bursts.  Harry feels a stupid flash of jealousy at the fact that he wasn’t the one to make Louis feel good like that, but of course he doesn’t voice this out loud.

xxx

Over the next several weeks, Harry learns all sorts o words in both the Common Tongue and Elvish for the new changes his body is experiencing.  He gets lectures from both Louis and a few other older Elves, as well as an extremely awkward five-minute talk from King Aron, who’s the closest thing to a father figure Harry has (but not close enough for Harry to want to talk to him about sex). Zayn shows him some scientific books from Mirkwood's vast library that talk about these new experiences - puberty - in all sorts of different races, including Elves and Men.

Harry appreciates that everyone is trying to help him figure out his body, but the insistent talking about it makes him constantly aware of it, which in turn makes him almost constantly horny.  He wakes up almost every morning with his cock (Harry also hadn't known before how many different words there were for his prick) rock hard, his entire body sometimes even pressed against Louis's back and humping mindlessly against him before he's fully awake.  Of course, Harry will then blush and rush off to Louis's bathroom to get himself off before Louis wakes up, but.  He sometimes wishes that Louis would... want to do it with him again, is the thing.  It felt so good the first time that Harry's own hand can’t ever really compare.

Louis remains adamant that they shouldn't give each other orgasms, though, and so Harry sulks for the better part of a year as he continues to wake up hard and frustrated with Louis wrapped around him every single morning.

 

Thirteen/Fourteen

The following autumn, another group of traveling Men on their way to Rohan is attacked by a pack of Orcs, causing renewed rumblings of war among the Mirkwood Elves as messengers are sent back and forth to converse and congregate with other kingdoms of Elves and Men (and even some Dwarf communities).

Louis, Zayn, and all of the other Elf children (plus Harry) are forbidden from going more than one mile outside the palace's walls, and if they do venture outside of the gates, they're now required to tell a grown Elf where they're going.  Louis pouts and whines and raises a general fuss about it, because he’s always viewed the forest as his safe place – plus Harry’s mum’s tree is out there, grown big and strong, and he wants to make sure Harry gets to visit it s often as possible – but his father doesn’t budge.

Three months after the attack, a party of Men from Gondor visits the kingdom of Mirkwood to talk with King Aron and the rest of the high council about the upcoming possibility of war. While King Elvellon and his advisers meet with King Aron and the Council, Queen Milui receives Queen Lendis and Louis and Zayn are left to entertain Nick, King Elvellon's son.  Louis brings Harry along because Nick is very funny and he wants Harry to meet him.

"Louis! Zayn! It's been years!" says Nick after the three of them enter the large, luxurious room he's staying in.

"How was the journey?" Zayn asks as they embrace.

"Not too long," says Nick, pulling Louis into a hug as well.  "Colder than I thought it would be, but Father brought some extra furs, thank the gods."

Nick is a few years older than Louis – sixteen, now, if Louis remembers correctly.

Harry stands awkwardly off to the side until Nick asks, "And who's this?"

"This is Harry," Louis says.  Nick hasn’t visited Mirkwood since Harry arrived; Louis had visited Gondor a couple years ago, but Harry obviously hadn’t come with them.  "Lots has happened since you last visited, Nick, including-"

“Oh,” says Nick, looking at Harry with renewed realization, "so this is the Human that Mirkwood adopted all those years ago.  I remember hearing about that, mostly because my father was insistent that we take you in instead and raise you among Men.  Caused quite a stir, you did."

Harry blushes.  "Nice to meet you, too."

He holds out a hand that Nick takes, bemused.

"It happened in the first couple days you were here," says Zayn, in response to a question Harry hadn’t asked.  "I don't think Father wanted to bother you with it, what with everything else you were dealing with." A pause.  "Wait, rhaich, I'm sorry."

"It's alright," Harry laughs.  Zayn must’ve plucked the question from his thoughts. "I've pretty much accepted that you know everything about me by now, Zayn."

"I know everything about everyone," Zayn grumbles.  "It's awful.”

Louis wonders if Zayn’s ever found out about that time that Louis got Harry off, then immediately wishes he hadn't when he sees Zayn's eyes go wide.

"Anyway," Harry says, looking at Zayn strangely, "so, yeah, I guess I turned out alright being raised by Elves."

"Even sticking to the atrocious Elven diet, I'm impressed," says Nick, laughing.  "You're going to want to eat more protein as you grow older, I expect."

"He's growing up just fine as it is," Louis says fondly.

Something that either Nick or Harry thinks in the following seconds makes Zayn's eyes almost fall out of his skull.  "I'm... I need to use the restroom, I'll be right back," he says, quickly leaving the room.

"So you've learned Elvish and everything?" Nick asks, sitting down on his bed as Louis pulls two chairs up, one for him and one for Harry.  Louis wonders what both of them are thinking; Zayn’s reaction made him curious.

"Yeah, I'm fluent now," Harry tells Nick proudly.

"What about fighting?  Have they trained you with a bow and arrow?"

"We've tried," says Louis.  Harry bursts out laughing.

"Yeah, I'm not very good," he admits.

"Not many Men are, to be honest," says Nick.  "What about other things?  Daggers? Swords?"

"No, nothing else," says Harry.  Now that he thinks about it, he'd be totally helpless in a fight.

"Well that's just a crime," says Nick, looking at Louis sharply.

"What? I couldn't teach him how to use a dagger, no one's taught me that yet either," Louis replies indignantly.

"I'll teach him," Nick declares, getting off the bed and crossing over to his closet.  "I think Father had someone bring my good swords in out of the cold.  Here they are!"

He comes back over with an impressive array of six or seven swords with jeweled hilts.  "Here, pick one.  They'll all be a bit big for you, I think, but you can grow into it."

"Oh, I couldn't-" Harry starts.

"Really, it's nothing, I have twenty more back home," says Nick, shrugging.

Harry thanks him profusely and then chooses the sword with sky blue gems decorating the handle.

"Alright, let's go out in the woods," Nick says.  "I'll teach you how to fight with a sword.  It's something every Man should know."

Louis huffs, standing up as well.  "I'll go with you.  To protect you,” he says abruptly, suddenly wanting an excuse to be there.  “In case there are any… any Orcs about and you don't see them because you're practicing."

"An excellent point," says Nick.  "Shall we have Zayn come as well?"

"If he's feeling better," Harry says, looking concerned.  He clearly doesn’t realize that either he or Nick thought something that forced Zayn to go collect himself elsewhere.

Zayn gets back about two minutes later, his cheeks red, and the four of them go out into the surrounding forest, informing one of the Elves guarding the gate that they won't be going far.

“What did you hear?” Louis asks Zayn once Harry and Nick have blundered through the snowy undergrowth a significant distance ahead of them.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” says Zayn primly, looking up at the trees.

“Zayn.”

Zayn doesn’t say anything for a while, and the two of them listen to Harry and Nick’s footsteps ahead of them while, of course, making almost no noise themselves.  Eventually, Zayn allows, “All I’m going to say is that you’ve got some competition.”

Louis wonders what that means.

“It just means that you’re not the only one who thinks Harry’s cute,” Zayn answers.  “Nick’s thoughts are even louder than yours, and he’s sixteen, so they’re – um – more graphic.”

“I don’t – I don’t think he’s cute, Zayn, gods,” Louis protests weakly, his thoughts more consumed with what Nick could possibly be thinking about Harry.

“No, stop, not you too,” Zayn groans, after Louis’s thoughts flash to the way Harry looks when he comes.  “Am I the only person on Middle Earth who doesn’t think about Harry that way?  Your thoughts make it hard to like girls, sometimes.”

Louis laughs.  “I like girls too, I guess, it’s just – Harry.  Anyway, it doesn’t – it doesn’t matter what I do or don’t like.  We’ve got to keep an eye out for Orcs, look sharp.”

That’s the end of that, as far as Louis is concerned.  Up ahead, Nick has apparently decided on the perfect spot for teaching Harry to fight with a sword, so Louis and Zayn settle on the edge of the small clearing and use their sharp ears to listen carefully to the rest of the woods.

The sword that Harry’s holding is, as Nick said, a little too big for him, but he looks more at home with it than he ever has with a bow and arrow.  Louis feels something ugly twist in his stomach as he watches Harry try to mimic what Nick’s doing, Nick’s Human capabilities and strengths that match Harry’s.  Harry starts positively glowing with happiness as Nick continues to teach him to fight better than Louis has ever been able to.

There’s a simple explanation, really – Louis is an Elf and Harry is a Man, and Louis will never quite be able to fully understand everything Harry can and can’t do.  He was supposed to be his mentor ever since Harry came to Mirkwood, and he was, it’s just – Louis taught him the ways of the Elves, the only ways he knew.  What Harry probably should have been learning all along was the ways of Men, which he is obviously more adept at.  Their bodies will always just be – different from one another, really, there’s no getting around it; Louis and the other Elves have sharp eyes and steady hands, perfect for shooting an arrow with precision, but Harry doesn’t have those things.  What Harry does have is this kind of wiry strength to him that no one had thought to tap into until now, and now that Louis is seeing him with a sword he can imagine him perfectly in battle, slicing down enemies left and right and running them through with his sword.

“Yeah, that’s right,” Nick is saying kindly, taking a few lunges at Harry and watching with approval as Harry blocks him.  “And I’m supposed to believe you’ve never done this before? You’re a natural.”

Harry laughs happily.  Louis can see his eyes sparkling from all the way across the clearing, the way he’s taking to this new form of combat like a duck to water.  “No, I haven’t, I haven’t, I promise!”

"He's doing very well," Zayn comments quietly after about an hour has passed.

Louis doesn't respond, just huffs out a breath and continues staring at Nick and Harry, arms crossed.  He isn’t sure why he’s feeling so jealous of Nick; he’s always gotten along well with Nick in the past, had even viewed him as something of an older brother.

"Are we... are we still supposed to be watching for Orcs?" asks Zayn.

"I don't think we're needed at all," Louis replies bitterly. "I think Nick and Harry here can probably hold their own, now, since Harry’s such a natural."

Zayn doesn’t ask anything else after that.  Half an hour later, Harry actually manages to catch the other boy in the side with his sword.

"Ah, sorry, sorry!" he exclaims, dropping his sword immediately and rushing over to Nick.

"Stop, it's quite alright," says Nick, his voice just a little bit weaker than usual.  "That was a good jab, never apologize for that.  Besides, these Elves can fix me up right quick, can't you?"

"I still don’t know how to heal,” Zayn admits.

“Me neither,” says Louis shortly.

“Come on now, you’re going to be of age soon!” exclaims Nick, still holding his side as he cheerfully makes conversation on their way back to the palace.  “You have to learn these things at some point.”

It’s just good-natured ribbing, same as always with Nick, but Louis really isn’t feeling in the mood for it today.  “Well, we’re both going to be around for thousands of years, so I figured we had some time,” he replies icily. He wants to add not everyone has to rush to get things done in a century or less, but even he knows that that’s very mean, and so only Zayn hears that little piece of snark as the four of them head back to the palace.

xxx

Later on, once Nick’s out of the hospital wing, Louis runs into him in the hallway as they’re both getting ready for bed.

“Feeling better?” he asks quietly, feeling a bit ashamed of how he acted earlier.

“Yeah, all patched up,” Nick confirms.

Louis nods, smiling softly, and turns around to go back to his own room.

“Hey,” Nick says, stopping him, “everything’s – is everything alright? You seemed a bit… off, today, is all.”

“Oh,” Louis says, blushing a bit.  So Nick had noticed.  “It’s nothing, really, I–”

He breaks off at the sound of a door opening somewhere down the hall.  He and Nick both turn instinctively, but it’s just Harry, dressed for bed already and making his nightly trek over to Louis’s room.  Louis feels his stomach do a stupid little flutter and smiles soppily for a flash of a second before he remembers himself.

“Can’t sleep?” Nick asks Harry, obviously unaware of their sleeping arrangements.

Harry reaches them and Louis can see that he’s blushing too, a bit.  “No, I – I’m going to sleep now, actually, so – goodnight!”

“Goodnight,” says Nick, sounding confused, until Harry darts down the hallway and into Louis’s room.  Nick then turns back to Louis with an arched eyebrow and a smirk on his face.  “Oh.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Louis asks him.

“The only thing it means is that you’re a jealous little Elf,” says Nick, grinning at him.  “And it’s adorable.”

“Oh, Harry’s not – we don’t – he just sleeps better when we’re together, is all.  And so do I,” Louis says hurriedly, realizing that Nick probably thinks they’re getting off together regularly or something.

“Hey, you don’t have to justify yourself to me,” says Nick, raising his hands defensively.  “I lean that way as well, myself.”

“What way?”

“Boys,” Nick replies shortly, looking at his nails.

“You’re – you’re allowed to do that?” asks Louis incredulously.  “Don’t you have to have a queen one day?”

Nick laughs.  “It doesn’t mean I can’t have consorts, now, does it?  After I’ve done my marital duties, helped her pop out a few children, it’s not like I can’t enjoy the company of other people.”

Louis can’t imagine ever being unfaithful like that.  Maybe it’s an Elf thing.  “Elves mate for life, Nick, I couldn’t – I couldn’t do that.  To anyone.”

Nick frowns.  “You’d better sort yourself out, then,” he says, patting Louis on the back sympathetically.  Louis bristles.  “Else I might steal him away once you’re married.”

It’s clearly a joke, but as Nick winks at him and turns to walk back to his bedroom, Louis has never felt so incensed in his life.  He doesn’t – Harry wouldn’t – no.

Louis scowls at Nick’s retreating form, then turns around himself to follow Harry into his bedroom.  Harry’s already in bed, settling himself happily under the covers, and Louis just – can’t get Nick’s words out of his head, gods.

“Hey, Lou,” Harry says, smiling at him.

“Hello,” says Louis slowly, crossing the room and trying to figure out what he wants to do and why his body is thrumming with nervous energy.

He realizes what he wants to do seconds before he does it, when he pulls the covers off and climbs into bed, turns Harry onto his back, and kisses him full on the mouth.

“Mmph!” Harry makes a surprised, pleased noise into Louis’s mouth.  His lips are soft and yielding against Louis’s own, a little bit chapped from the hours he’d spent in the cold outdoors today.

Louis climbs fully on top of Harry, straddling him, and when Harry’s mouth opens on a gasp Louis licks inside, wanting everything, as much as Harry’s willing to give him.  Harry’s hands come up to tentatively grip at Louis’s arms, warm through the thick fabric of Louis’s sleep shirt.  Louis shudders a bit, relaxing down into Harry and fitting their hips together.

Louis can feel himself getting hard where he’s pressed against Harry, and his head is spinning with how much he wants to get Harry off, wants Harry to get him off.

Harry breaks the kiss before Louis can rut against him anymore, though, and says, “Lou, what – what are we–”

“I don’t know,” Louis gasps back, grinding down again.  He feels Harry getting hard now, too, and the motions of Louis’s hips make the boy underneath him bite his lip and close his eyes.

Harry is so beautiful like this, he really is – Louis had forgotten, or maybe tried to repress it, but now he can’t figure out why he ever wouldn’t want to see Harry like this.  The next time Louis grinds down, Harry thrusts back up against him as well, adding more pressure and heat until Louis is dizzy with it.

Then Harry surges up until he’s sitting up, keeping Louis on top of him, and joins their lips together again, running his hands all over Louis’s back.  Louis moans shamelessly into his mouth, their tongues slipping together, and it ends on a little squeak when one of Harry’s hands slides down to squeeze at his bum.

“None of that,” Louis chokes out, half-laughing, as he pushes Harry back down onto the mattress.  Harry’s laughing too, cheeks pink and eyes bright.  The way he’s looking up at Louis makes the Elf’s entire body feel hot and tingly, like he’s the most special thing in the world to Harry at that moment.

Feeling wild and out of control, Louis slides down Harry’s body a couple inches so he can get at Harry’s cock, now fully hard and straining against his sleep pants.  When Louis runs a hand over it, just feeling its hot length through the fabric, Harry jolts, covering his face with his hands as he moans.

“Harry,” Louis says, wanting to be able to see Harry’s face.  “Harry, look at me.”

Harry peeks out from between his fingers like he’s ashamed of the way his hips are moving, making little rolling motions up into the pressure of Louis’s hand like he can’t even help it.

“Hey,” says Louis gently, pressing down a little harder on Harry’s cock and drinking in the sweet, sweet noise Harry makes in response, “hey, you – do you want to do this?”

“Mhmm,” Harry mumbles, still covering most of his face.  He sounds confused, and Louis doesn’t blame him – Louis has spent the last year telling him they shouldn’t be doing this, and now all of a sudden Louis is desperate to get him off.  Louis is still quite confused himself.

“Then I want to see you,” Louis tells him, finally gripping Harry’s cock through his pants instead of just palming over it.  “Your face,” he clarifies a few seconds late, starting to slowly pull down the waistband of Harry’s sleep pants.

Harry slowly draws his hands away from his face, which has turned bright red, and clenches them in the sheets instead.  He’s looking at Louis with wide, trusting eyes that glaze over a bit when Louis finally exposes his hard prick to the cool air.

He’s bigger than he was the last time Louis saw him – a little bit longer, a little bit thicker.  Louis pulls his waistband down a bit more so that he can see everything, feeling a bit greedy.  He watches Harry’s dick twitch as he looks at it and quickly takes it in his hand, feeling how hot and firm it is.

“Mngh,” Harry groans, a little strangled noise escaping his throat as soon as he’s touched.  His whole body shudders a bit, and one of his thighs - the thigh that Louis has ended up straddling - jerks upward for just a moment, enough to make Louis himself groan and collapse forward again as it presses between his legs.  Harry grins, having obviously noticed, and Louis frowns and retaliates by gripping him more tightly and starting to stroke him up and down.

Harry’s face goes slack after that, his eyes slipping closed and his lips parting as he clenches his hands even tighter in the sheets.  As Louis keeps stroking him, Harry starts to whine, jerking his hips up and fucking Louis’s fist in slow thrusts.

He just – Harry looks so good, and Louis doesn’t ever want anyone else to see him like this. He remembers what Nick said, even if it was a joke, that he’d steal Harry away, keep him on the side to kiss and touch as he pleased without being married to him, and – no, Harry deserves better.  He’s all Louis’s in that moment, and that’s what he deserves – to belong fully to someone, and to have that someone belong fully to him in return.

“Lou,” Harry moans, drawing Louis back to the heat of the moment.  His curls have started to stick to his forehead with sweat – it’s really hot in here, even though it’s winter, Louis feels like he’s burning up from the inside as Harry’s cock blurts a little bit of precome to help make the glide easier.  Louis leans down and kisses him, he can’t help it anymore, and it makes the angle of his wrist a little bit more awkward but he manages to keep the same rhythm going, the one that’s making Harry squirm and thrash underneath him.

Harry’s mouth is slack against Louis’s, his lips parting easily when Louis presses his tongue against them.  Harry can barely kiss back, can only pant wetly and sometimes gently purse his lips, and Louis grins at how much of an effect he’s having.

Louis can tell when Harry gets close, too, because he starts to shiver and shake, and the way he’s moving his hips to work his cock up into Louis’s hand grows erratic.  Louis bites cheekily at Harry’s bottom lip and is rewarded with a soft little moan, the kind that makes Louis desperate to touch himself where he’s hard against Harry’s thigh.

“Lou, gonna,” Harry starts, his eyes sliding shut, and Louis pulls back and sits up just in time to watch gleefully as Harry starts to come.  He can feel Harry’s cock pulsing in his hand as he watches it twitch and shoot onto Harry’s stomach, his shirt rucked up from their frantic kissing.  Harry’s legs try to close reflexively as he comes but Louis has situated himself in between them, so Harry just continues to gasp while his legs spasm, squeezing around Louis’s body.

Harry whimpers and pushes Louis’s hand away when he’s done, and Louis gets the absurd, probably-disgusting urge to lick Harry’s come off of his fingers, but he decides instead to use it as lube when he gets himself off.

When Louis pulls down his own trousers and finally, finally gets his wet hand around himself, though, Harry seems to shake off his post-orgasm stupor and says, “Oh no you don’t.”

The next instant, Louis finds himself on his back, the wind knocked out of him in surprise as Harry looms over him.  Harry – flipped them over, which is way hotter to Louis than it probably should be.

“I don’t want to just watch you again,” Harry whispers, his face inches from Louis’s own.

“Okay,” Louis stammers out, suddenly desperate for Harry’s hand around him.  He’s never – felt that, anyone else.  He’s only ever gotten himself off.

“Okay?” Harry asks, like he’s surprised Louis didn’t put up more of a fight.

Louis grins and nods in response, and the next second one of Harry’s hands is snaking in between their bodies and wrapping itself around Louis’s hard cock, and it feels amazing.

Before Louis can even process that first new sensation, Harry’s leaning forward even more and latching his lips onto Louis’s neck, sucking and kissing at the soft skin there in a way that makes Louis feel like melting into the sheets.

“I’ve wanted to do this for so long,” Harry admits into Louis’s skin, twisting his wrist on the next upstroke and making Louis cry out.  “’S it feel good?”

“Yes,” Louis moans, biting his lip and muffling another sob as Harry sucks at his neck again, thumbs over the wet head of his cock.

“You really do get wet,” mumbles Harry, leaning back to marvel at how slick Louis’s dick has gotten his hand.  “Gods, that’s so hot.”

Louis isn’t sure if it’s an Elf thing or what, but he can’t be bothered to care about the differences between his and Harry’s bodies, not when Harry’s other hand is coming up and cupping his balls, squeezing them a bit.

“Ah,” Louis groans, his hips jerking up.

“I do that to myself sometimes,” Harry admits, continuing to play with Louis’s balls and jerk him off.  “Do you like it?”

“Of – course,” Louis almost wails, biting at his knuckles to keep quiet.  It’s the hand that still has a bit of Harry’s come on it, and he finds himself licking at it to see what it tastes like.

The heated look Harry gives him when Louis licks at his come – and the hard, fast pulls he gives to Louis’s cock in response – make Louis orgasm only seconds later, moaning around his own fingers as he spills over Harry’s hand.

His vision whites out a bit from how hard he comes, and the next thing he knows, Harry is lying next to him and flopping an exhausted, sticky arm over his chest.

“That’s definitely the naughtiest thing I’ve ever done,” Louis whispers to him, his face hot.  He can’t believe he – well, he let Harry get him off, for one, and he got Harry off, and he licked Harry’s come off his hand.  What got into him? Shockingly, he can’t even find it in himself to regret it.  It felt right, it felt special, it felt amazing.

“Me too,” Harry giggles, kissing Louis on the cheek.  Louis turns his head so they can kiss properly, their lips moving lazily together.

After they’ve cleaned themselves up and changed into fresh pajamas, Louis turns out the lamps and they crawl into bed, snuggling together under the covers.  Harry falls asleep quickly, snuffling happily against Louis’s shoulder.  Louis stays awake for a while, though, his mind a confusing and painful tumble of I don’t want anyone else to ever see you like this.

 

Fourteen/Fifteen

Sometime during the next six months, those thoughts ferment and turn heavy, weighing Louis down.

Sometime during the next six months, whatever’s between them changes.  It does so quietly, so subtly that neither of them notice it at first.  They kiss more, kiss longer, are more reluctant to let go.  They cuddle more after they get each other off, cling to each other more tightly and press kisses into each other’s skin.  They take longer getting out of bed in the morning, longer to fall asleep at night because they can’t stop touching and whispering.

Sometime during the next six months, Zayn starts sending the two of them worried looks whenever all three of them are together.  He knows.  Louis knows, too, but whenever Zayn tries to bring it up, Louis brushes him off.

Sometime during the next six months, Louis’s father begins to watch Louis closely whenever he’s with Harry.  He probably thinks Louis doesn’t notice, but Louis does.

Sometime during the next six months, Louis admits to himself that his relationship with Harry isn’t normal, and that he doesn’t seem to have any control over how he feels.

(Sometime during the next six months, he also admits to himself that he’s okay with that.  It’s scary, but that’s okay.)

It’s not surprising, then, that after six months have passed, Louis wants to get everything off of his chest.  It doesn’t even feel like a daunting or scary thing to do; he feels like voicing his thoughts at this point is just putting into words what he and Harry have been feeling for months.

“I love you,” Louis whispers into the dark one night when he thinks Harry’s fallen asleep.  The younger boy is spooned up behind him, his slow, even breathing making the back of Louis’s neck prickle with gooseflesh.

“I love you too,” Harry says back.  Louis had thought that he was asleep, but the way it seems to complete Louis’s own statement means that the Elf isn’t startled by Harry’s response in the least.  It would’ve been more surprising if Harry hadn’t said it back, actually, like half a thought, an unfinished sentence.

“Glad that’s settled, then,” Louis says after a bit.

Harry kisses the back of his neck and Louis shivers.  “I don’t feel any different.  I thought I would feel different.”

“You’ve thought about this often, then?” Louis asks, smiling into the dark.

“A lot.  I even had a nightmare that I told you and you rejected me.  I confessed my love for you right underneath my mum’s tree and you punched me in the face, flew into the sky and never came back.”

Louis laughs.  “That doesn’t sound like something I would do. For one, I can’t fly.”

“Hey!” Harry says indignantly, tickling Louis’s tummy until Louis continues, “I - Harry, stop that - I was scared, too, at least a little.  I thought you were asleep when I said it just now.”

“I’m glad I wasn’t,” Harry says quietly, settling down against Louis’s back again.

“Me too.”

 

Fifteen/Sixteen

Months after this confession, Harry begins to notice that King Aron seems to be suspicious of the amount of time Harry and Louis are spending together.  Harry feels a certain bitter sense of satisfaction when Aron casually asks Louis if he has his eye on any of the Elf girls and Louis gives a flat “no” in response. 

That satisfaction is short-lived, though.  One night, King Aron requests that Louis eat dinner with a quiet, pretty Elf named Eleanor that Harry’s never spoken to.  Harry’s left to sit with Zayn, Althirn, and Loth.  The purpose of the dinner doesn’t hit Harry until Althirn whispers to Loth, “Isn’t it a bit early to try and find him a wife?”

“I heard the king’s trying to speed everything up, you know, because we might be going to war,” Loth responds.  “Just to make sure there’s a clear line of succession.”

Althirn shrugs.  “I just thought you weren’t supposed to… rush it.  I thought he was going to wait until Louis made a choice himself,”

“That’s what I thought too,” says Loth.  “But apparently not.”

Eleanor?  At first Harry thinks that the ball of lead that’s just settled in his stomach is because he doesn’t know Eleanor, because there are plenty of other Elf girls that Harry thinks would be better for Louis.

“Can you imagine him with a son, though?” asks Althirn, chuckling.  “I do admit I’m excited about that part.”

“I don’t know if I can, to be honest, I don’t know if he’ll be ready to take care of another Elf for at least two hundred years.  He’s far too young himself - he tripped Zayn in front of half the Council yesterday,” Loth says.

Zayn laughs, shaking his head.

“Well then I expect he’ll teach the child to trip Zayn too,” says Althirn.

“He’s going to do nothing of the sort,” says Zayn.

With a jolt of dread, Harry realizes that the terrible feeling he’s experiencing isn’t just him being indignant on Louis’s behalf.  It’s jealousy.

Harry’s heard enough.  He stands abruptly up from the dinner table, his chair scraping loudly against the floor, and Zayn shoots him a worried look.

“I’m not hungry,” Harry says weakly.  It’s the truth; his stomach feels like it’s tied in knots, and he’s sure he wouldn’t be able to keep anything down anyway.

He can’t control his thoughts as he walks out of the hall, can’t stop his mind from screaming I can’t give him that! I can’t give him children! and clawing his insides apart.  He knows Zayn can hear what he’s thinking as he leaves and he can all but see the shocked look on Zayn’s face in his mind’s eye, but Harry doesn’t turn back, doesn’t respond to Zayn’s call of “Harry!” because it just sounds too pitying.

Harry had – he’d forgotten, what he and Louis were, and what they can’t be.  He’d been so happy for the past year that he hadn’t given a care about the future, a future that – doesn’t hold him and Louis together.  Harry’s not supposed to be part of Louis’s future, even if they both love each other.  It doesn’t matter.

Embarrassingly, Harry feels hot tears start to drip down his face halfway to his bedroom, so he resolves to shut himself inside until the tears stop coming and he stops caring.

He hears Louis come in about an hour later, after Harry’s tears have dried into salty tracks on his cheeks. 

“Harry? Are you awake?”

Harry doesn’t respond, focusing on keeping his breathing even and slow.

“Harry?” Louis tries again, his voice small. 

His lip wobbling, Harry still doesn’t say anything, and a minute later he hears Louis leave the room. 

Later that night, Harry drags himself out of bed to use the toilet and change into his pajamas, but he doesn’t make his usual customary trek to Louis’s room.  Deep down, he knows it’s not Louis’s fault, and that his time with Louis is obviously so limited that it’s stupid not to spend every second he can with him, but Harry doesn’t even want to look at him.  He keeps having awful visions of cute little Elf babies whenever he closes his eyes, visions of Louis’s future life - a life that doesn’t hold a place for Harry.  Everyone else seems to have accepted it but him, seeing as Louis gave him a talk several years ago about how they couldn’t “do this forever,” and how the rest of their friends seem to be excited to see Louis get married.

Harry just needs some time to himself, that’s all - some time to get over this and come to terms with the inevitable conclusion that he and Louis can’t be together.

He startles awake two hours later when a pair of warm arms wrap themselves around his chest.

“Shh, it’s just me,” Louis whispers after Harry’s eyes fly open in fright and fail to adjust to the dark room.

“Oh,” says Harry after a beat, relaxing into Louis’s familiar touch. He wonders why he’s in his own room - they usually sleep in Louis’s room - before remembering the reason he went to bed so early and so alone. Oh.

“I was waiting up for you,” murmurs Louis, snuggling closer and kissing the back of his neck. Harry squirms happily despite himself. “Why didn’t you come in?”

Harry sighs. “Was just tired, I guess.”

“Hmph,” says Louis, grabbing at Harry’s hand until Harry intertwines his fingers with Louis’s. “Well, come be tired in my room next time. I didn’t get to talk to you at dinner, I barely saw you at all today.”

“Okay,” says Harry. His mouth tugs into a smile. Maybe Louis isn’t as accepting of this situation as Harry thought he was.  It still doesn’t - it doesn’t matter, though.  It’s a nice thought that Louis isn’t rushing to get married to someone else, but the fact remains that he has to at some point, and said point is looking to be sooner than either of them had anticipated.  The smile slips from Harry’s face, then.

“Sorry for waking you up,” Louis continues.

“S’fine,” Harry mumbles. “M’gonna go back to sleep now.”

“Sleep well,” says Louis, kissing the back of Harry’s neck again.  Harry tries to ignore the gooseflesh that prickles up all around where Louis’s lips touch his skin.

xxx

There are more dinner dates after that.  Harry knows that Louis can tell something is wrong between them, but neither of them are talking about the widening rift, and Harry just gets more and more miserable every week.  He tries to stay through dinner when it happens, usually, but it doesn’t always work.   Sometimes it’s physically too painful for him not to leave the room.

One of those times, Harry decides to go into Louis’s room instead of his own room, if only so he can have his weekly cry on a bed that smells like Louis.  He’s aware of how pathetic he is, but he’s even more aware of the fact that he can’t help it.

xxx

“I’m partial to oak trees.  They’re very sturdy and durable,” says Eleanor, stabbing a few more berries with her fork.

“I think my favorite are willows,” Louis says.  They’re talking about trees in the forest, which – there have been better conversations, probably.  But he does relish the rare opportunity he gets to talk about Harry’s mum’s tree, which he’s planning on bringing into the conversation the next time he talks.

(The fact that he’s literally planning the slow, painfully drawn-out conversation in his head as it’s happening is upsetting, but so is the way Harry stormed out of dinner earlier.)

“Willows, really?” asks Eleanor, laughing.  “I’ve always thought they were just dreadful.  All drooping and sad.”

Louis isn’t prepared for the way he feels himself bristle, absurdly, on Harry’s behalf.  He’d actually like for this conversation to be over, now, if it’s all the same to everyone involved.  “I can’t say I agree.  I – do you mind if I excuse myself?  I’m not feeling well.”

“Of course,” says Eleanor, pushing more berries around on her plate.  If she’s surprised at his curtness, she doesn’t show it.  “Are you sure you’re completely busy for the next couple of days, Louis?  It would be nice to see you outside of meals.”

Louis feels terribly guilty, but he just – it’s not happening for him, not at all, and every second he spends pretending he’s interested in this, he’s hurting Harry, Eleanor, and his father.  Best to put in only the minimum effort, let everyone down as gently as possible.  “Swamped, sorry. I – I – there’s a whole set of Elvish war vocabulary that I forgot to teach Harry, so.”

“Oh,” says Eleanor.  “Well, tell Harry I said hello, then.”

“I will,” says Louis. (He won’t.) “Have a good night!”

When Louis returns to his room, he finds Harry already lying on the bed, facing the wall. 

“Harry?” Louis asks tentatively.  He’s not sure if tonight is going to be one of those nights where Harry is sulking.  It’s been happening a lot lately.

“Have a nice dinner?” Harry asks bitterly, still facing the wall.  His voice is a bit hoarse, like he hasn’t used it in a while, or like he’s been crying.  So it is one of those nights.

“Not really,” says Louis, shrugging.  “Harry, why are you–”

“Is that who it’s going to be?” Harry blurts.  “Eleanor, I mean.”

“Who’s going to be what?” Louis asks, feeling uncomfortable.

He can see Harry’s jaw shift even though Harry’s facing away from him, and Louis can easily extrapolate from what he’s seeing, knows that Harry’s pretty face is contorting in a scowl.  “Your queen,” Harry snaps.

“No,” Louis says quickly.  Gods, this is something he never wants to even think about, much less talk about.  “No, she’s not – no one’s going to–”

“Save it,” Harry cuts him off.  “Lou, I–” he takes a deep breath.  “When I see you with her, I can’t even be in the same room.  I have to come lie down.”

Louis crosses the room to get into bed behind Harry, deciding to try for a cuddle while he comes up with a response that isn’t absolutely miserable. 

“I think I’m going to have to leave,” Harry whispers, shifting away from his touch and continuing on before Louis can say anything.  “Once you get married, I mean.  And have a – a child.  I don’t think – I don’t think I’ll be able to stay.”

“A child?” asks Louis sharply, his mouth tasting bitter.  He remembers a younger Louis sensibly reminding Harry of his status as an Elf prince, that he has to have an heir one day, that he can’t be with Harry forever - gods, it’s all coming back to haunt Louis now, and he wants nothing to do with any of it. He can’t believe there was once a time when he talked to Harry about the impermanence of their relationship like it was the simplest thing in the world. “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, here.  Where did this come from?”

“I’ve just been thinking.”

“Thinking about leaving?”

Harry doesn’t respond.

“No,” Louis says stupidly.  “You can’t leave.”

“I can’t stay, either,” says Harry.  Louis tries to wrap his arms around Harry’s middle.  “Don’t touch me, not after–”

What on earth.  “Do you think I want this?” Louis explodes, sitting up.  What is wrong with Harry?  He turns Harry onto his back so he can look into the other boy’s eyes as he says, “You’re the only one I want, I’ve told you.  Gods, do you think if there was a way I could marry you and have a dozen little Elf-Man hybrid babies, I wouldn’t?  Why don’t you believe me?”

“Because it doesn’t matter,” Harry says miserably, looking up at Louis helplessly.  “It doesn’t matter what you want, or what I want.  We’re just – we can’t.”

“What brought this on?” Louis asks sadly.  He’d been putting this talk off as long as possible, but.  Apparently it’s happening now, and he’s entirely unprepared.

“Been alone with my thoughts a lot lately,” says Harry, staring at the ceiling.  “Thought about how I love you, thought about how it doesn’t count for shit.”

“Stop it, stop saying that,” pleads Louis.  “We’ll find a way around it Harry, just–” Gods, he has to fix this.  “Just don’t give up on me now.  Not just yet.”

He really doesn’t like how apathetic Harry looks, how resigned, so he leans down to kiss him.  Harry kisses him back for a few moments, bringing a hand up to tease one of Louis’s braids apart and run his fingers through the soft strands.  Louis moans quietly and thumbs over Harry’s cheek when Harry tugs gently.

When they break apart, Harry looks at him sadly, his eyes wet.  “I don’t ever want to do this with anyone else,” he admits quietly.  Thickly.

Louis swallows around the suddenly-huge lump in his throat.  He sees Harry’s lower lip tremble just the tiniest bit and feels like someone’s trying to cut his heart out of his chest with a blunt knife.   “I’m sorry,” he tries, his voice breaking on the word ‘sorry.’  “Harry, I don’t – I don’t want to do this with anyone else either.”

“You’re going to have to,” Harry says, trying to turn away from him.  Louis doesn’t let him, and he watches as a single tear spills out of Harry’s eye and down his cheek.  “I can’t – I can’t stop thinking about it, Lou, I can’t, it’s making it hard to even look at you.”

“No, stop,” Louis whispers as Harry starts to turn away again.  “Harry, I – I don’t want to.”

Harry doesn’t look at him, so Louis tries again, “I don’t want to.”

He says it over and over again, and it’s suddenly rushing out of him like a dam’s been broken, the fact that Harry iswhat he wants and he doesn’t want anyone else, Harry’s what he wants for the rest of his immortal life and he can’t have him.

“I don’t want to, I don’t want to, I don’t want to,” gasps Louis, his thoughts completely out of control.  They’ve been avoiding talking about this for years now, and every dark thought Louis had ever repressed is clawing its way to the surface now.  He thinks about how once Harry dies Louis is going to live out the rest of his immortal life without him, lonely and miserable and loveless, how he’ll have to pretend to be happy for everyone else’s sake, and how he won’t see Harry even in the afterlife, because the souls of Elves and Men go to different places.

How come he only gets a handful of years with Harry? How is that fair?  Louis has been doing some thinking of his own, lately, and he’s pretty sure by now that Harry is his soulmate.  What else would explain the foresight, the way that Louis dreamed about this boy and saved his life, how he woke up when Harry was bornlike some absurd thunderstorm of fate.  He and Harry are meant to be together, why can’t the universe see that? How could the same universe who forcefully threw them together and shoved little pieces of their souls in the other’s bodies be the one to tear them apart for the rest of eternity?

Why can’t Harry be an Elf? Why does Louis have to be in love with him?

Stupid, stupid Louis.  He expects they’ll tell stories about him once he’s gone: the Elf who fell in love with a Human and paid for it for the rest of his miserable existence.

Louis isn’t sure how many of these thoughts make it out of his mouth, but somewhere in the middle of them he starts to cry, and Harry’s finally looking at him again, his own eyes shining with tears as well.

“Lou,” Harry chokes out, starting to cry as well.  Louis falls on him, latching on to Harry and burying his head into the other boy’s shoulder, his body shaking with sobs.  He never wants to let go.  Not ever.

“I love you,” says Harry eventually, sniffling loudly.

“I love you too,” Louis replies.  “More than anything.”

 “She doesn’t love you,” Harry says after a pause, like he’s triumphantly declaring it.

Louis’s mouth quirks into a sad little smile.  “No, she doesn’t.  Not at all like you do.”

“And you don’t love her,” says Harry.  It’s a statement, but there’s a note of uncertainty behind it that Louis wants to forever banish from Harry’s voice.

“Don’t be daft,” scoffs Louis.  “You’re – you’re it for me, you know that?”

Harry makes a sad, wounded noise, like he’s been hurt.  “I wish I w-wasn’t.  It’s going to be awful for you when I’m g-gone. I wish Eleanor could m-make you happy, and - gods, I - I wish I meant that.”

Is he trying to make Louis cry?  Well, two can play at that game.  “She’s not the one fate threw at me,” Louis continues, murmuring it right into his ear, thumb stroking up Harry’s side.  “She didn’t wake me up when she was born.”

“You’re just trying to make me cry now,” Harry accuses, hiccupping.

“Maybe I am,” says Louis, grinning through his own tears.  “Thunder-baby.”

“Lou,” groans Harry, trembling with a few fresh sobs.

Louis snuggles into him more, making a face as the shirt that Louis dampened with his tears rubs against his own cheek.

“I want to hold you,” Harry says eventually, turning around and gathering Louis up into his arms.  Harry’s been growing a lot lately; he’s a couple inches taller than Louis, now, and thanks to the daily hours of swordplay practice he’s been fitting in, his arms are larger as well.

“You’re getting too big for me to hold you now,” Louis grumbles into Harry’s neck.  “I don’t like it one bit.”

“I’ll be able to pick you up and carry you for miles soon,” says Harry smugly.   They both chuckle at that – Louis hates to be carried, and kicks his legs out wildly whenever Harry attempts it – before falling silent again, soft sighs escaping them.

Harry pulls Louis in closer and buries his nose in Louis’s hair.  It’s getting longer, now, still not reaching past his shoulders but getting there.  Louis’s taken to braiding some of it even more intricately than he used to; one of the braids near the front even has little wildflowers interwoven in it today, which Harry had complimented him on before dinner (and before Louis had been forced to sit with Eleanor).

“Harry, do me a favor?” Louis asks eventually.

“Mhmm?”

“Try not to… get too upset, if that happens again, okay?  I don’t think Father’s going to stop the dinners anytime soon.”

“I can’t make any promises,” says Harry.

“I know, it’s just.  You don’t have anything to worry about, alright?  I don’t want any of that.  The only thing I want is you and me.  Forever.”

Louis feels Harry nod.

“I’ll have a talk with Father soon, and I think – I think I’m going to tell him,” Louis continues more confidently than he feels, testing the idea out on Harry.

“You’re going to tell him? About us?” Harry asks.  He sounds scared, but pleased at the same time.

“I don’t want to feel like I have anything to hide,” Louis says.  “I want him to know where I stand.  With you, and with Eleanor – anyone else besides you, really.”

Harry smiles.  “Do you want me to go with you?”

“Better not,” Louis says tentatively.  “I don’t know when I’m going to do it yet.”

Or how it’s going to go over, is the unspoken coda to that phrase.  Harry just nods, though, and makes a happy noise as Louis kisses his neck.

“Hey, Lou?”

“Yes?”

“Promise – promise me you’ll look more… unhappy, when you have dinner with her?”

“That’s going to be difficult,” says Louis.  “I thought I pulled a muscle frowning today when she was bashing willows.  But for you, darling, I’ll do my best.”

Both of them burst into laughter.

“I love you,” Harry tells him softly.

“Love you always,” Louis replies, snuggling in closer to him.

xxx

A few days later, Louis goes into the massive Mirkwood library to try and find some books about soulmates – namely, how to tell when they’ve found each other.  He runs into his brother before he can make any progress combing the stacks, though.

“Afternoon,” Zayn greets him.  “What’re you doing in the library, Lou?  I’ve never seen you in here voluntarily, I don’t think.”

“Just… just looking for a book,” says Louis nervously.  Don’t think about it don’t think about it SOULMATES don’t think about it –

“Soulmates?” asks Zayn curiously.

“Stay out of my head,” Louis snaps.

“Believe me, I try,” Zayn says, looking at his feet and blushing.  “I can tune most everybody out, now, unless I want to, but – your thoughts are so, so loud when you’re thinking about Harry, Lou.”

“How’d you know I was thinking about Harry?”

Zayn snorts.  “I’m supposed to believe you think Eleanor is your soulmate, then?”

Louis blushes.  “Well – yeah, no.”

“So you think it’s Harry, then?  Makes sense,” says Zayn, slinging an arm around Louis’s shoulder and leading them out of the library.

How can Zayn act so casual about it?  “I don’t even know if it’s possible,” Louis admits.  “Which is why I was going to go try and look it up.”

“Oh, you won’t find much about soulmates in there,” Zayn informs him.  “It’s not an idea all Elves subscribe to.  Plus, there’s not going to be anything about having a Human as your soulmate.”

Louis had been hoping to just find some general information, but maybe Zayn’s a better resource.  “How can I know for sure, then?  This is important.  I’m probably going to ruin my relationship with Father over it, so I want to be certain that Harry’s my soulmate.”

“What if he’s not?” asks Zayn.

Louis thinks about it for a while as they wander through the halls.  “Actually, I’d probably still ruin my relationship with Father for him.”

He and Zayn both laugh.  They seem to have come to an unspoken agreement to go to Zayn’s room, so when they get there, Louis sits himself cross-legged on the bed.  Zayn sits across from him, and Louis smiles at him.

“So, here’s what I know about you and Harry,” says Zayn, his face turning serious.  “You developed foresight earlier than most Elves ever do - if they develop it at all - because Harry’s life was in danger.  You two don’t sleep well apart and never have since you’ve met.  Whenever you talk, at least when I’m around, you both look at each other kind of creepily, like you never break eye contact.  You can’t actually imagine life without each other, and believe me I know you’ve both tried when you’ve been sad.  I get bombarded with those thoughts every time you eat dinner with Eleanor.”

Louis huffs, but motions for Zayn to continue.

“I think the most important part, though,” continues Zayn, “is that your soul didn’t feel the need to return to this world until his soul entered it.”

Louis’s heart flutters wildly in his chest.  He covers it up by asking, “How’d you know about that?”

“Are you kidding?” Zayn laughs.  “When Harry found that out, his brain wouldn’t shut up about it for days.  He thought it was so cool.”

“It is cool,” Louis says defensively.

“I’m not saying it isn’t,” says Zayn, holding his hands up just as defensively.  “I’m just saying it was hard to tune out.”

They both chuckle for a bit, then fall silent.  Louis sighs, thinking more about his dilemma, as he stares at his younger brother.  Zayn seems to have a much more level head on his shoulders than Louis does.  Maybe he should be king instead of Louis.

Oh.

Louis’s mouth drops open.

Zayn.  Could – could Zayn be –

“What? What is it?” Zayn asks, clearly noticing Louis’s dumbfounded expression.

“You can’t hear me thinking it?” Louis asks excitedly.

Zayn shakes his head.  “I told you, I’ve gotten into the habit of tuning everything out, which almost always works unless you’re thinking about Harry.”

“Okay, well…” Louis tries to figure out how to pitch this to his brother in an appealing fashion.  “How would you like to do me a favor?”

Zayn frowns.  “Depends how big the favor is.”

“It… it may be absolutely colossal,” Louis admits, wincing.

“What is it, then?”

“Is there… is there any way you’d... be able to be king instead of me?”

Zayn’s jaw drops.  “What?”

“I know it’s a lot, but that way I wouldn’t have to have a queen,” Louis says quickly in a small voice.  “I could, like, help you make all the tough decisions and everything, I’m just not interested in the marriage and kids part.”

“I don’t know, Lou…”

“I’ll help you find a wife and everything,” Louis offers stupidly.  “I don’t know if you’d like Eleanor specifically, but there are plenty of other equally nice girls–”

“I – that part’s not the problem,” Zayn cuts him off, a blush coloring his cheeks.  “I already… have someone, I think.”

“Zayn!” Louis gasps happily.  “I had no idea! How come I’ve never seen you with her?”

“She’s pretty shy,” admits Zayn, “but I am too, and.  I don’t know, I think we go together really nicely.  I like her a lot.”

“Aww,” Louis coos.  “What’s her name?”

“Perrie,” Zayn informs him.  “Her name is Perrie. And I – like I said, I like her a lot, but – I’m going to need some time, I think, to make sure she’s what I want for the next couple thousand years, seeing as we’d have to get married soon if I’m to be king.  And I’ll have to ask her and see what she thinks, of course.”

“But you’ll think about it?” Louis asks, hoping the hopeful note he can hear creeping into his voice doesn’t sound too pathetic.

“Yes,” says Zayn.  “Of course I will.  I don’t much fancy the idea of getting between soulmates, which I’d be doing if I were to refuse, so you’ve got me in a bit of a bind.”

“So you do think Harry and I are soulmates?” asks Louis excitedly.  “And – sorry, sorry, I’m being terribly selfish.  The most selfish anyone’s ever been, probably, because this is such a big thing I’m asking of you, but – sorry, I’m just more excited than I’ve been in months–”

“It’s alright, Lou.  And – yeah, I do.  I do think you and Harry are soulmates,” Zayn says, sighing.  “It’s just – what are you going to do after – well.  What are you going to do in a hundred years, then? I’ve read about some Elves actually dying of grief when their soulmates pass away.”

Louis shrugs uncomfortably, a little stab of sadness hitting him right in the gut.  “Gods, well - either that, or be really upset for a long time, I suppose.  But – at least I’ll have gotten to spend his lifetime with him.  He said he’s going to leave Mirkwood if I don’t - well, if I become king. And I don’t like it, but I wouldn’t blame him if he did, so I just - sorry, I’m rambling.”

“Gods,” says Zayn, “and you’re going to pretend like I have a choice in this?”

Louis laughs sadly.

“I’ll talk to Perrie tonight,” Zayn continues.  “It might take a couple months for the two of us to wrap our heads around this, just warning you.”

“That’s fine,” says Louis.  “Just – maybe try to do it before we go to war, I guess, whenever that ends up happening.”

“Let’s hope it doesn’t happen soon, for all our sakes.”

 

Sixteen/Seventeen

War doesn’t happen for the next couple months, and neither does Zayn’s decision.  It takes a while for Perrie to come to terms with what’s being asked of her, and for good reason.  Louis really likes her, though, having forced Zayn to introduce the two of them after their brotherly tell-all and subsequently finding that he and Perrie get along splendidly.

Once Louis decides that Perrie is trustworthy, he introduces her to Harry and explains their situation.  Perrie’s eyes go soft the moment she sees Louis and Harry together – after all, they are adorable, Louis reasons – so he figures that it’s only a matter of time before she agrees to help them out.

The months seem to go by slowly, though, and every day Louis doesn’t have a definitive solution to what he’s deemed the Royal Problem finds the Elf slightly more on edge.

“How are things going?” he asks Zayn one day.  “With – you know.”

“Well, I think they’re going okay,” Zayn replies.  “I’m pretty sure she’s still having some reservations, though.  I mean, she wasn’t raised with the notion that being a queen one day was in her future.  I just – I really hope that she’s only hesitant because being Queen is a big choice, not because she’s uncertain about me.”

“Well, why don’t you just pop on into her head and find out?” Louis asks, mainly joking.

To his surprise, though, Zayn blushes.  “I… can’t.”

“You can’t what?”

“I can’t pop into her head.  I can’t hear her.”

“You can’t hear her thoughts?” Louis repeats stupidly.

Zayn nods.

“Is she the only one you can’t hear?”

“Yes,” Zayn replies.  “It’s actually really nice, because I don’t think that’s supposed to happen in a relationship.  As in, you should have a good idea of what the other person’s thinking about, but for me, I thought I’d have to choose between knowing all of their thoughts at all times or having to make the effort all day every day to keep them out of my head.  I never thought I’d be able to get really close to anyone, just because it would be too invasive and too taxing.”

“But her head’s nice and quiet for you,” Louis finishes, smiling.  “Aww, Zayn, that’s so cute.”

“It is pretty cute, isn’t it?” says Zayn.  He’s smiling too, a stupid big one that he keeps trying to hide.  “Anyway, it means that I don’t know what she’s thinking about this whole royal business beyond what she tells me.”

“That’s alright, it’s no rush,” Louis assures him.  “Well, not… not a huge rush, at least.”

“I know,” laughs Zayn.  “I’ll let you know first thing, okay?”

“Alright.”

xxx

Unfortunately, war seems to be creeping closer and closer as well.  Louis’s father begins to make preparations to visit the Wold, a large and powerful settlement of Men near Fangorn Forest that has promised their support should the Elves go to war against the Orcs, and Louis can feel a kind of uncomfortable expectation in his father’s stare whenever Louis eats dinner with Eleanor, like he’s already planning the wedding in his head or something.  It makes Louis feel uneasy, but also guilty because he’s completely letting his father down.

Aron never says anything outright, however, so the unease inside Louis is kept to a minimum, always simmering but never overwhelming.  The night before Aron and his company, which includes Louis, are due to leave for the Wold, though, something incredible happens: Zayn and Perrie finally give their answer, and it’s a yes.

Louis squeals and attacks both of them with a flying hug, while Harry, who’d remained sitting on their bed, bursts into grateful tears.

“Gods, you’re such saps for each other,” Perrie says delightedly after she’s also hugged a still-blubbering Harry.

Louis can’t even believe it – he hadn’t ever pictured a scenario where Zayn and Perrie said no, but actually hearing this yes and knowing that he gets to spend the next sixty or seventy years with Harry is incredible.  Before Louis knows it, he’s crying, too, and then Zayn starts crying because Harry and Louis are crying (plus he’s probably being bombarded with bittersweet thoughts from the both of them), and all three boys are hugging each other tightly while Perrie looks on fondly.

Emotions are running so high that Louis doesn’t realize someone’s at the door before he hears the newcomer clear his throat.

The three of them break apart, and Louis wipes at his eyes hastily so he can see who it is.  It turns out to be his father, smiling at them with a mildly confused expression on his face.

“What’s the occasion?” Aron asks warmly.

All four of them go very quiet. 

“Actually, I’ve been meaning to talk to you for a while, Father, but I was waiting for the right time.  And – it’s the right time, now, so I’m glad you’re here, because we should talk!” Louis says a bit hysterically, aware that he’s rambling.  He hasn’t really prepared what he’s going to say yet, figuring he’d have some time after Zayn gave his answer, but – it’s now or never, because there’s no going back, Louis supposes.

“Very well,” Aron says, looking even more confused.  “Just remember that we both have to be up very early tomorrow for our journey and you haven’t packed your things yet, so keep that in mind.”

“Noted,” says Louis with a confidence he doesn’t feel.  “Shall we?”

He doesn’t have a good feeling about this as he and his father walk out into the hallway – it’s awkward already and the conversation hasn’t even started.  But Louis can’t back out now, can only continue to blunder forward.

“So, you have good news?” his father asks him.

“I think so,” Louis says tentatively.  “Well, it’s good for me, and I – I hope it’s good for you, too.”

“Is it about Miss Eleanor?” asks Aron, his voice laced with excitement.

“Sort of?” says Louis.  “But it’s – it’s probably not want you want to hear.”

“You don’t have to be afraid to tell me things, Louis,” his father assures him.

“Alright,” Louis says.  He takes a deep, deep breath, steeling himself.  “So… so Eleanor is really nice and I like spending time with her, but I don’t want to marry her, and I know that’s what you want for me, but I really can’t bring myself to do it.”

His face burning, Louis sees his father open his mouth to say something, but he quickly continues, “But it’s not – it’s not Eleanor specifically that’s the problem, it’s just – girls?  And Elves?  And anyone – anyone who’s not Harry, really, because I’m absolutely positive that Harry’s my soulmate.”

Louis automatically winces after he’s gotten all of that out – in one breath, no less – and steels himself for his father’s reaction.

“Louis,” his father says gently, an odd sort of smile on his face, “I… I’m very proud of you for telling me the truth.  And it doesn’t seem like an unfounded conclusion to make.”

That’s it?

“However,” his father continues, “there are certain… duties that you must perform as next in line to the throne, and sometimes that might involve wedding someone who’s not your first choice.  I appreciate how difficult this must be for you–”

“Not my first choice?” Louis explodes, feeling upset and betrayed.  He hadn’t expected his father to understand what Louis was saying yet not care about it in the slightest.  “He’s my only choice, Father!”

“Louis, you can’t think like that, not when you’re in this position,” his father says sympathetically.  “Don’t make me out to be the bad Elf here, it’s not my choice either.  Is that why you were crying just now?”

Suddenly, Louis remembers the recent piece of news he’d received, the reason he felt (relatively) comfortable bringing this up in the first place.

“Oh, no, those were happy tears!” Louis exclaims.  “So.  If a king has reason to believe that he’s unfit to rule Mirkwood, he’s allowed to pass the title on to a close blood relative, right?”

“Yes,” his father says slowly, “but that’s only happened a handful of times in our entire history, and the entire Council has to approve it.”

“Right, but – Zayn already has someone that he wants to marry, and he’s always been smarter than me, I’ve thought, and he probably would be better at being King than I would, so I’ve – I asked him a few months ago to consider taking my place.”

“You asked your younger brother to take over all of your responsibilities?” Aron asks flatly.

Louis winces.  “Well, when you put it that way–”

“So you could, what?  Go gallivanting off into the sunset with Harry and abandon everyone else you’ve ever known?”

“Only for his lifetime,” Louis insists, bristling.  Why is his father getting so upset?  “And who knows, maybe I won’t be too cripplingly depressed for the rest of my life and I’ll actually be able to take over as king when I’m needed.  I just needed some insurance–”

“You didn’t spare a thought to how anyone else would feel about this?” his father snaps.

“What’s wrong with you, Father? I’m coming back, gods, I’ll just be gone for half a century or so.”

“No.  You’re not.”

Louis pauses.  “What?”

“You wouldn’t come back.  That’s not how it works, Louis.”

“You’re saying you would banish me?” asks Louis angrily.

Aron makes a frustrated noise between his teeth.  “No, Louis, of course I wouldn’t banish you.  You’re my son.  But you… you–”

“Well, spit it out,” snaps Louis.  Gods, when did this turn into a full-blown argument?  “Because right now you’re just making yourself sound selfish.”

“I’m making myself sound selfish?” asks Aron, laughing bitterly.  “Louis, if you wed a mortal, you become mortal as well.”

Louis’s jaw drops.  He’d – if he lies with Harry, he’ll become mortal?

You’d be throwing your life away and making your entire family really, really upset.”

Louis tries to come up with a response – he feels dazed and elated all at once, but also terribly, terribly guilty –

“You didn’t know,” his father realizes, sounding like he’s regretting disclosing that particular piece of information.  “And you’re excited about this, aren’t you?  You don’t even care what it would do to the rest of us–”

“Of course I care!” Louis yells, his head still spinning with this new information.  “It’s a really, really terrible situation and I’m fully aware of that!  I just can’t believe you’re calling me the selfish one when you’re the one who doesn’t care if I’m happy as long as I’m doing what you want.”

Aron glares at him.  “I don’t want you to be miserable, Louis, gods.  What I want is for you to be happy, but I don’t think it’s fair to call a father selfish for not wanting his firstborn son to throw his life away.  Harry’s a nice boy, but-”

“I wouldn’t be throwing my life away!” Louis interrupts him angrily.  “He’s not just a nice boy, Father, he’s my soulmate.”

“Louis, there are things other than true love that are of great importance to how societies work,” his father says icily.  “You need to think about what you’re saying before you saddle your brother with a kingdom’s worth of responsibilities and all of us with hundreds of years of grief after you’re gone.”

“You’re making me sound awful, when you’re the one–”

“That’s because you’re being awful,” Aron says, cutting him off.

They glare at each other for a few more moments before Aron continues, “I don’t think you should come with us tomorrow, Louis.”

“Good.  I don’t want to,” Louis spits back, furious.

“It’s not always about what you want,” says his father.  “I’m saying this now because you won’t be a good representative of Mirkwood to other lands until you’ve had some time to sort yourself out.”

“Maybe I’ll marry Harry while you’re gone,” says Louis coldly, his lip curling in a sneer, “and I’ll have aged when you return.”

“I hope you don’t mean that,” Aron says quietly.

“I just might.”

With that, Louis turns on his heel and walks back down the hall to his room, refusing to look over his shoulder to see if his father’s still standing there.

xxx

Of course Louis doesn’t mean that.

Later that night, when he and Harry are in bed, Louis feels all of the anger evaporate from his body only for it to be replaced by miserable, crushing guilt.

“I shouldn’t have said those things,” Louis whispers into the dark.  Harry’s arms tighten around him a fraction.

(Harry, Zayn, and Perrie had, of course, heard the entire conversation.  The celebration that had been going on just minutes before had of course ceased well before Louis returned to his room, and Zayn and Perrie had quietly filed out of the room while Louis hugged Harry tightly and refused to let go.)

“You can apologize when he gets back,” Harry murmurs, rubbing up and down Louis’s arms comfortingly.  “I know you both had… some words, but you have to think about how surprised he must have been with the whole thing.  Neither of you were thinking straight.”

“I know,” says Louis sadly, snuggling closer.  “Now it feels like I have to choose between you and him, though.”

“I mean… you kind of do…”

“Shut up. You’re supposed to be making me feel better,” Louis snaps, poking Harry in the cheek.

Harry kisses the top of Louis’s head, making the Elf fall silent.  “You’ll feel better when you say sorry,” Harry says.  “Until then, we should try and figure out a way to deal with this that doesn’t hurt anyone.  I don’t know if a way like that exists, but I figure it’s worth a try.”

“Right,” says Louis, feeling slightly calmer.

Right.  His father will leave early in the morning and then return back in a week, and by then all of the anger between them will have completely dissipated and they’ll both be more open to talking about what Louis should do.  All he has to do now is wait.

xxx

The messenger arrives two days later.

Louis and Harry haven’t even gotten out of bed yet when Zayn bursts into the room.  Harry can see that his face is wet with tears and contorted, like he’s trying not to cry even as he gets out, “Lou, g-get up.”

“What time is it?  It’s far too–”

“Lou,” Zayn cuts him off, his voice ragged like Harry’s never heard it before, “get out of bed now.  And come to the m-main hall.”

Louis sits up, clearly as alarmed as Harry is, but Zayn’s already vanished, and Harry can hear him crying in the hallway as his footsteps lead away.

“What’s happened?” Harry asks in alarm as they both start to hurriedly get dressed, changing out of their sleepwear and into more suitable attire.

“I’ve no idea,” says Louis, sounding very nervous.  “But I’ve only ever seen Zayn cry a handful of times, so it can’t be good.”

The two of them hurry to the main hall, the sense of dread in Harry’s stomach growing with every step they take.  When they arrive, Harry’s worst fears are confirmed; a large group of shaking Elves has already gathered there, heads bowed and faces tear-stained, and the cavernous walls of the hall are echoing with Queen Milui’s sobs.

Harry recognizes one of the Elves standing closest to the queen as one of the company who left for the Wold two days ago, and his heart plummets into his feet.

“My Prince,” the Elf says upon seeing Louis, dropping to one knee and bowing his head.

“Wh-what’s happened?” Louis asks in a small voice.  Harry’s sure he’s figured it out by now too, but –

“Father’s dead,” Zayn cries from where he’s sitting folded in Perrie’s arms on the cold stone floor, bursting into fresh tears and covering his face with his hands, and the entire world seems to stop.

Harry completely freezes, his jaw dropping, and Louis lets out an agonizing wail and falls to his knees, crumpling onto the ground.  Harry, who’s starting to cry as well, follows him down, wrapping his arms around the Elf and not caring if anyone who’s watching thinks it’s strange.

“Go, Haldamir, go and rest in the hospital wing,” Milui chokes out a short time later.  Harry assumes she’s talking to the messenger.  “Th-thank you for returning.”

Louis looks up at his stepmother eventually, his beautiful face blotchy and tear-stained. “How - how did it happen?”

“Orcs,” says Milui quietly, swallowing heavily. 

Harry can’t believe it - how can - Orcs can’t just get away with all of this, they can’t just kill Louis’s mother and father and Harry’s mother and countless other’s families.

“And Haldamir just ran away and let Father die?” Louis asks sharply, wrenching one of his arms roughly out of Harry’s hold so he can wipe at his face.

“Louis, don’t,” pleads Milui, her eyes filling with tears again. “Aron was the first one to fall. They were ambushed.”

Harry sucks in a sharp, shuddery breath as Louis starts to cry again, his arms falling limp at his sides as angry tears drip onto his tunic. 

No one else survived.

It seems like the entire forest is filled with Elven mourning songs for the next three days; death doesn’t visit Elves often, and when it does they are entirely emotionally unprepared for it.  Louis spends those three days mourning as well – not singing, but crying bitterly and helplessly into Harry’s chest. 

“The last thing we ever did was fight,” Louis wails over and over again, bursting into new tears whenever Harry thinks he might have calmed down a bit.  Harry himself cries a good deal as well – King Aron was the closest thing Harry ever had to a father figure, and he was so kind to him, always looked out for him and made sure he was adjusting well in the beginning.

Harry doesn’t even know what to say to make Louis feel better - in the past, Louis has always been the one to take care of Harry, ever since the first day they met.  Now, though, Louis is the one who needs the comfort and support because he’s so upset with himself.  The Elf is beside himself with grief, never wanting to leave the bed, so Harry brings him meals and bathes him and sings to him, everything Louis used to do when Harry needed him.  Other than that, all Harry can do is hold him close and try to hug the tears away.

Zayn and his mother aren’t much better; mealtimes for them are a silent, bitter affair with the sole purpose of consuming the minimum amount of food necessary for nourishment, and then they always leave quickly to resume crying and grieving.  Queen Milui, as is the custom, has become Queen Regent, meaning that she will make decisions about all affairs concerning the kingdom until Louis turns eighteen in half a year, at which time he will become King.  No one’s really running the kingdom at the present time, though; every Elf is mourning, and the heavy weight of grief has stopped Mirkwood from functioning for the time being.

xxx

Time, as it always does, passes.  After a week, Louis and his family are able to collect themselves enough to get Mirkwood up and running again.  Louis begins to channel all of his guilt and grief into vengeance instead of mourning, laying out an elaborate battle plan in front of the Council and proposing meetings with all of the major kingdoms of Elves and Men.

Everyone else gets behind the idea as well; Elves are not vengeful creatures by nature, but in the last twenty years they’ve lost a queen and now their king to unprovoked Orc attacks, and it’s time to start protecting what’s theirs and make the surrounding fields safe for both settlement and travel once more.

Harry and Louis haven’t talked about them - this, this thing that’s between them - since King Aron was killed, but Harry can feel it changing even as Louis spends his days locked up with the Council and visiting nobility from other lands.   It’s obvious at night in the way they hold each other, more gently but more desperately all at once, and it’s obvious during the day in the way every “I love you” is said like a promise of a future together.

 

Seventeen/Eighteen

The day Louis turns eighteen and becomes King of Mirkwood, they have a simple, private coronation ceremony.  Louis had already explained to the entire kingdom weeks earlier that he didn’t believe he’d be a good king and that, when Zayn came of age in a year and several months, it was Louis’s wish that Zayn should take over.  The announcement had actually gone over surprisingly well; Louis was applauded for recognizing his own shortcomings enough that he was willing to hand the reins over to somebody better suited to lead (of course, he left out the part where he was leaving so he could mate with a Human).  For this reason, the usually-grandiose ceremony is kept minimalistic and elegant, with only Zayn, Milui, the Council, and Louis (obviously) in attendance. 

Harry only gets to see the newly-crowned King after dinner that night, as the ceremony is a fairly long one, from sunup to sundown.

“Where’s your crown?” Harry asks immediately. He’d expected Louis to look - different, or something, maybe more regal or stately, but it’s just the beautiful Louis he knows and loves that walks through the bedroom door. King Louis, he mentally corrects himself.

Louis scoffs, toeing off his white pointed shoes. “Like I was going to wear it to bed. You’d get poked in the eye a dozen times.”

He’s got a point. Harry wants to see him wear it at some point, though, because he thinks it would look very good on him.

“So, you’re King now, hmm?” Harry murmurs once Louis changes into his sleepwear and falls into bed, clearly exhausted from the long ceremony. “I’m very proud of you.”

“Mhmm,” Louis replies, settling back against the pillows.

Harry grins, letting one of his hands wander down to cup Louis’s soft cock through his sleep pants.  “I guess I should pay you tribute, then, your Highness.”

“Harry,” Louis groans, covering his face with his hands as Harry gently pushes down the waistband of his pants.  “You’re so embarrassing, honestly.”

He’s getting hard, though, right in Harry’s hand, so Harry figures it must not be too embarrassing.

xxx

Months go by, battle plans come together, and Mirkwood prepares for war.  Harry sees little of Louis during the day; the young king is busy doing, Harry presumes, kingly things, leaving Harry to loiter about the palace and try to help build Elvish weapons.  Unfortunately, Elvish weapons are by definition Elven-made, and if Harry needed another reminder that he’s not an Elf, he gets it (gently) from the blacksmiths.

He is able to lend a hand making other supplies like clothing and armor, though, so Harry keeps himself busy throughout the day. At night, Harry and Louis fall into bed together, and Louis tells Harry excitedly about his day, the new royalty he’s met with, the new strides he’s made toward inter-species cooperation (the Elves and Men have been trying to recruit some of the neighboring Dwarf kingdoms as well).

Sometimes, Louis is so tired that he wants to immediately slip into his haze of restfulness with a sleepy Harry curled up next to him, but some nights the Elf is in the mood to let off a little steam.

Like tonight, for instance.

“How was your day?” Louis asks, rolling on top of Harry immediately after they’ve both gotten under the covers.

“Mmm, it was alright,” says Harry, letting his hands wander all over Louis’s back. “About to get better, I think.”

“Presumptuous of you,” huffs Louis.  Even as he says it, though, he spreads his legs out a bit so his hips cant forward, pressing their pelvises together. 

Harry grins, tugging at Louis until the Elf dips his head down and they can kiss properly.  The last time he kissed Louis was this morning after breakfast, just before Louis was due for a meeting, and - gods, it’s been too long since they’ve known each other’s mouths. When Louis’s lips part on a moan that Harry eagerly swallows up, Harry pushes his tongue into Louis’s mouth, tasting his warmth and stroking Louis’s tongue with his own. Then, when Louis is sufficiently distracted, Harry pulls off and flips them over, pinning Louis to the bed and greedily drinking in the surprised flicker of arousal that flashes through Louis’s eyes.

Harry can feel Louis start to get hard through the soft material of his sleep pants, so he grinds down slowly, drawing a little whimper from Louis’s parted lips.  He kisses up the side of Louis’s neck, sucking gently right under his jaw and making Louis squirm.

It’s only recently that Harry’s been experiencing this pretty intense desire to get… rough, is the only way to describe it.  He wants to tear Louis’s clothes off and run his hands all over him and make the pretty Elf underneath him moan and gasp over and over, pull his head back by his hair and bite and suck bruises into the soft skin of his neck.

Harry bites down a little harder when he thinks about it, and Louis’s whole body jolts.  “Harry–”

“Mmm,” Harry moans, lapping at the mark he’s left.  He takes his hand off of Louis’s cock so that he can better support himself, slipping a thigh in between Louis’s own as a replacement for the constant pressure, and grinds down as they both groan.

“Off, off,” Louis mumbles, his hair fanning out around his head on the pillow.  “Take them off.”

Harry doesn’t have to be told twice; he tugs Louis’s sleep pants down with one hand so he can get his hand around Louis’s cock, now fully hard and already wet at the tip.  Harry sits up on his knees so he can take Louis’s pants off fully, and the way Louis shyly spreads his legs as Harry looms over him has Harry so hard it hurts.

“When did you get to be so big?” Louis asks him, laughing.

Harry waggles his eyebrows suggestively, palming himself through his own pants.

“Not there, gods, you’re so stupid,” Louis snarks.  “I meant in general.”

“Dunno,” says Harry, pulling his own pants down.  His cock springs free and slaps against his stomach.

“Although, there as well,” says Louis, his eyes drifting downward.

Harry laughs, falling back on top of Louis and rutting down, swallowing Louis’s moan with his lips as their pricks rub together.  He imagines that, if he was a little further down on the bed, he might be able to bump his cock up against Louis’s hole, and he wants that so much, wants to be as close to Louis as he possibly can.

“Gods, I – I want to be inside you,” Harry whispers quietly, shamefully, almost hoping Louis doesn’t hear.  Louis does, of course, and he moans loudly in response, his back arching.  “So badly, Lou, you don’t even know–”

“I think I might have some idea,” Louis gasps out, laughing breathlessly.  Harry dips down to kiss his soft lips again, but a knock at the door interrupts them.

Rhaich,” Louis swears quietly.  “Harry, get under the bed.”

(Harry knows that this is all for the sake of propriety; Elf hearing is such that whoever’s outside can undoubtedly hear everything they’re saying now.)

Once they’ve both pulled their pants up, calmed down a bit, and gotten Harry stowed safely under the bed, Louis calls, “Come in.”

“My King,” Harry hears the newcomer Elf say after the door’s been opened.

“Yes?”

“We’ve just received word that an army of Orcs is planning to move on Helm’s Deep in a week’s time.  Rohan has requested our aid in helping to vanquish them once and for all.”

“And Mirkwood will answer,” says Louis at once, standing up.  His bare, cute little feet hit the ground near Harry’s head, and Harry can only assume that Louis is standing up to his full height to try and look impressive.  Harry is stupidly, stupidly in love with him. “We’ve been preparing for this.”

“Yes, we have.”

“Get a good night’s rest, Amarthon.  First thing in the morning, we need to start getting things ready.  We leave at the next day’s sunrise,” declares Louis.

“Thank you, my King.”

Once the door has closed, leaving the alone once more, Louis hisses excitedly, “Harry, did you hear that?”

“I didn’t leave the room,” Harry grumbles, crawling out from under the bed and brushing dust off of his sleep pants.  “Of course I did.”

“Hush,” snaps Louis. “I’m King, you can’t use sarcasm on me. I forbid it.”

Harry happily ignores him and flops back down on the bed, pulling Louis on top of him and bringing their lips together for a kiss.  The announcement of impending war kind of completely ruined the mood they had been in, but Harry’s still content to kiss Louis.  Harry could kiss him for the rest of their lives, probably. He just might do that, after all of this Orc business is over.

“We’re going to war, Harry,” Louis says excitedly when they finally break apart for air. “We’re going to pay those Orcs back in kind.  For your mum, and my parents – we’re going to make these plains safe for everyone.”

xxx

The next forty-eight hours pass in a whirl for Louis, who’s never had so much responsibility heaped onto his plate all at once, and that’s including the past four months of running the kingdom himself.  He meets with the Council from sunup to sundown the first day discussing battle plans, strategies, provisions, everything, and thank the gods he has advisors because Louis would never have dreamed that so many things go into planning battle.

That night, he falls into bed with Harry, too exhausted to do anything but rest, and Harry cuddles him and strokes his hair and tells him he’s doing a wonderful job.

“It’s just everyone else telling me what to do,” Louis mumbles into Harry’s broad chest. “I only have to sign off on everything.”

“Don’t say that, I’m sure you-”

“No, it’s fine, I don’t mind,” Louis assures Harry, who’s gotten all huffy on Louis’s behalf. “They’ve all been through battles before, they know more about this than I do.”

Harry makes a noise of assent in his throat that Louis can feel rumbling through his skin. “Can’t believe we’re actually going to war.”

“If everything goes well, it will just be this one battle,” says Louis, “not a whole war. War’s more of an ongoing thing, and I don’t think the Orcs are organized enough to communicate and strategize on that scale. There’s a lot of them, though, so their only strength lies in sheer brute force.”

“Listen to you, talking like a proper leader,” mumbles Harry, kissing the top of his head.

“Being a proper leader is exhausting if this is what it feels like,” groans Louis. “I don’t know how my father did it.”

They both fall silent at that, and Louis’s stomach twists with sadness thinking of his father, who had led for years with a kind of steady, quiet grace that Louis obviously didn’t inherit. Harry strokes the small of his back soothingly.

“I miss him, Harry,” Louis says quietly, trying to wrap his arms more tightly around the boy next to him, as tight as he possibly can.

“I know you do, love,” says Harry. “I miss him too.”

“We have to win this,” says Louis, and it feels so urgent to him that he continues, “we can’t let them win. For him, for everyone else who’s been slain - there’s no other option, we have to win.”

Harry nods. “Of course we’ll win. We have a cause on our side.”

Vengeance, for one. Safety. Unity.

Love.

“But I’m going to get some sleep if I want to be at all helpful tomorrow,” yawns Harry, cutting off Louis’s train of thought.  “I love you.”

“Love you too,” Louis replies, tilting his head up so they can share a sweet goodnight kiss. “Goodnight.”

Louis used to hold Harry while Harry slept, letting himself sink into that hazy resting mindset that Elves use to restore their energy and spending long hours memorizing the lines of Harry’s sleep-relaxed face.  Lately, though, it seems like Harry’s been the one holding Louis more and more, and Louis gets to feel the way Harry’s arms relax around him as the younger boy falls asleep.  Tonight, Louis is even more grateful for this than usual; he’s holding the entire kingdom on his young shoulders right now, so it feels nice to be held at the end of the day.

xxx

Thirty hours later and after another full day of battle preparations, as the sun rises and casts a barely-perceptible pink glow over the forest and its inhabitants, the Elves leaving for battle say goodbye to the loved ones they’re leaving behind in Mirkwood.

Louis, who is apparently expected to remain kingly and stoic as he surveys the scene, is lucky in a way; his loved one is coming with him to fight, so he doesn’t have to stutter and choke through tearful farewells like the brutal one Zayn and Perrie seem to be experiencing. The flip side of this is, of course, that his loved one is going to be fighting alongside him on the battlefield, and the thought of that makes Louis want to forbid Harry from coming.  Gods, he’d lock Harry up in one of the jail cells underneath the throne room if that meant Harry didn’t have to come with.

Although Harry is accompanying Louis and plans to fight in the battle himself, which means Louis gets to spend an extra few days with his love, this also means that Harry is going to be in danger. They both will be. Grave, terrible danger that Louis hadn’t even thought about today, what with the concept of war always seeming so far in the future. But it’s - it’s here, today, now, and hopefully it won’t be all-out war, but even one battle is enough of a risk to their lives to have Louis overwhelmed with fear for Harry’s safety and their future together.

Louis looks around and spots Harry talking to Loth, and even just looking at Harry is making Louis’s stomach hurt with how nervous he is about this whole thing. Louis walks over to the pair of them, greeting Loth warmly and then turning to Harry.

“Can I talk to you for a minute?” Louis asks him.

“Of course,” says Harry. “What has you looking so-”

“Alone,” Louis amends, grabbing Harry’s hands and dragging him until the two of them are out of view, hidden amongst the trees.

“Louis, what - mmph!”

Louis had completely blanked on what he wanted to say - if he wanted to say anything at all - so instead he’d just pushed Harry up against the nearest tree and kissed him. One of Harry’s hands immediately comes up to cradle his bum while the other presses into the small of Louis’s back. Louis groans and shoves against Harry harder, trying desperately to memorize the feel of Harry’s body against his own, and they kiss for a few more moments before Louis pulls back and admires Harry’s kiss-swollen lips.

“What was that for?” Harry asks delightedly, his hands still resting possessively on Louis’s body.

“I got scared,” Louis admits, kissing Harry’s neck lightly. He feels Harry’s pulse under his lips and has to repress a shudder at how good the warm skin feels under his. “Needed to remind myself that there’s going to be a happy ending after all of this.”

“Of course there is,” says Harry, but Louis can feel his pulse nervously quickening even as he speaks with confidence. “We’re soulmates, Lou, we’re not going to - we can make it through anything, right?”

“Right,” Louis confirms, holding Harry as tightly as he can without squeezing all of the air out of his lungs.

xxx

Once the company sets out from Mirkwood, they ride for three days straight.  This is not a problem for the Elves, who enjoy having their nightly rest but don’t need it to function, but Louis can tell the lack of sleep is having a devastating effect on Harry.

They aren’t stopping for a reason; these plains, as of right now, are essentially controlled by the Orcs, and stopping to make camp every night would make them sitting ducks.  The horses do have to stop for water and food every now and again, though, and one of those times - about forty-eight hours into the journey - Harry walks up to Louis, lays his head on Louis’s shoulder, and immediately starts snoring.

“When’s the last time you had a proper night’s sleep?” Louis asks him, watching the multitude of white horses drink from a stream they’d found.

Harry mumbles something unintelligible in response, his head heavy.

“That’s what I thought,” says Louis. “Do you want to - do you remember the first day we brought you to Mirkwood, how my father tied your arms around me so you could sleep without slipping off?”

Harry moves his head against Louis’s shoulder in a motion that might suggest a nod, snuffling in another sleepy breath.

“Well, you could - we could tie you to Althirn, if you want, and you could sleep on him for a bit,” suggests Louis. It pains him to trust a sleeping Harry to another Elf, but Louis is also constantly in the position of most danger at the head of the traveling party, and he doesn’t want Harry to be in immediate peril  if Orcs ambush them and try to attack the king.  He doesn’t think it’s likely they’re going to be attacked while they’re traveling - the Orcs are probably off somewhere trying to organize themselves just like the Elves and Men are, after all - but Louis doesn’t want to take any chances.

“Wanna sleep on you,” Harry slurs, drooling a little.

Louis smiles fondly. “I know, darling, but it won’t be safe.”

He eventually manages to wrangle Harry onto Althirn’s horse, telling the other Elf to make surely Harry is secured, and then the group sets off again, pure white horses galloping swiftly across the plains as they ride for Helm’s Deep.

xxx

A full day later, they arrive at the stronghold. After they’ve tethered the horses outside and left sentries to guard them, the Elves (and Harry) are admitted inside; some of them will be staying in various unoccupied rooms, but most of them will be spending the night in the cozy caverns carved into the mountain itself. Harry is technically supposed to be sleeping in the caverns, but Louis plans on sneaking Harry up to his room the first chance he gets.

They’ve arrived in time for supper; most of the Elves had just packed small loaves of lambas bread due to their desire to travel light, but the kingdoms already staying in Helm’s Deep have prepared food for their arrival, so the Mirkwood Elves cram into the great dining hall and eat their fill alongside Men and other Elves.

Rohan is already there, obviously, as are the various villages of Men who used to call the plains their home; many cities from Gondor are there, meaning that Nick and King Elvellon are among the people gathered at the head table; and, of course, Liam and Niall are there from Lothlorien with King Togdir and the rest of the Elves.  No Dwarf kings had ultimately decided to come to the aid of the Men and the Elves, but Louis isn’t terribly bitter about it; the Dwarves don’t live on these plains themselves, and they aren’t the kind of race to risk themselves for a fight that isn’t their own.

“Louis, I haven’t seen you in ages!” Nick exclaims. He’s gotten significantly taller and only a bit less ganglier. As Louis sits himself down at the head table between Nick and Zayn and across from Liam and Niall, he sees Harry do the same several tables away with Althirn and Loth.

“I know,” says Louis. “So much has changed.”

The five of them spend the meal catching up, swapping funny stories and talking nervously about the upcoming battle.  As supper comes to a close, Nick leans in close to Louis and whispers, “Did you ever resolve things with Harry?”

Ah, Louis forgot that the last time he and Nick really spoke was when Louis and Harry still hadn’t admitted that they were in love with each other.  He tells Nick about the plan to have Zayn take over as king so Louis can live out a mortal life with Harry, his soulmate.

“Gods,” murmurs Nick, sitting back in his chair with a stunned look on his face. “That’s the stuff you read about in legends.”

Louis laughs. “Zayn says it’s not completely uncommon for Men and Elves to be soulmates. It’s just - not particularly common.”

“I’ll say,” says Nick. “Especially two boys.”

Louis knows Nick isn’t being judgmental - after all, he prefers boys himself. The fact that Louis and Harry are soulmates is rather unheard of in that respect, but Louis has never been more sure of anything in his life.

“Good for you, though,” Nick continues. “I was worrying about you these past few years, I’ll be honest. It seemed like a fairly sticky situation that you couldn’t get out of, but you’ve gone and found a way around the whole mess, haven’t you?”

Louis nods happily.  “I think it’s the best solution it could possibly be, considering every solution had something wrong with it.”

Nick laughs. “That’s how it goes sometimes, isn’t it? I’m happy for you, mate. He is quite a catch, you know.”

“Oh, I’m aware,” says Louis, smirking slightly. He looks over at Harry, who waves at Louis from where he’s sitting.

“Have you two… you know?”

Louis snorts and looks over at Nick. “No, no, not yet. Not that it’s any of your business. But I’ve been informed by several sources that as soon as we do, I’ll become mortal, and I wanted to remain fully Elven for the war, because who knows how my abilities are going to change.”

“Well, your ability to walk might change for a day or two,” says Nick casually.

“Nick!” Louis hisses. On his other side, Zayn chokes on his tea.

xxx

That night finds Louis and Harry in bed clutching desperately at each other, knowing that it’s their last night together before everything’s going to change, for better or for worse.

“I love you so much,” Louis gasps, keening as Harry kisses down the column of his throat. 

“Love you more,” Harry mumbles. He pulls at the hem of Louis’s shirt until Louis lifts his arms up obligingly so Harry can take off the offending article of clothing.

“Not possible,” says Louis firmly.

Harry laughs, kissing right over Louis’s heart. “It’s entirely possible.”

Louis is about to argue, but then Harry closes his lips over Louis’s nipple and he loses the ability to think, letting out a whimper instead of an argument.

Harry is all over him, kissing and licking at seemingly every square inch of skin on Louis’s torso until Louis is a writhing mess, fully hard in the confines of his pants. It’s so good, and Louis never wants it to end - some dark, cowardly part of his mind wants to steal away in secret with Harry tonight and flee to the west without engaging in battle so they can live their lives unharmed in some peaceful, neutral place like the Shire.

His thoughts are interrupted by Harry’s tongue tickling the skin just above the waistband of his pants, making Louis giggle and gasp all at once.

“Lou,” Harry groans, rutting against the bed and making it shake as he mouths at Louis’s hip, “Lou, can I?”

“Yes,” Louis moans, lifting his hips up so Harry can slide his pants down. Gods, he’s so hard, and he wants Harry inside him more than ever. 

It’s chilly in the small stone room and Louis shivers, completely naked, once Harry tugs his pants off.  “Why are you still completely dressed?” he asks, blushing under Harry’s heated scrutiny.

Harry looks down at himself, shrugs, and pulls his shirt off. “Better?”

“Loads,” says Louis. He spreads his legs, trying to bring Harry in even closer.

Harry bends down instead, kissing and biting lightly at all the new skin he’s revealed. He’s never - Harry’s never kissed Louis so close to his dick before, and it’s making Louis’s cock twitch embarrassingly.

Harry’s teasing lips eventually get so close to the base of his dick that Louis can’t take it anymore. “Harry,” he whines.

Harry looks up, his green eyes dark and glinting in the candlelight. “Do - d’you want me to kiss you here?”

He runs a fingertip up the sensitive length of Louis’s cock to make it absolutely clear what he’s talking about. Louis’s hips buck up weakly and he throws his head back, biting his lip. Is that even something that people do? Is that allowed?

“Please,” he chokes out, finding that he doesn’t care.

Louis closes his eyes, too ashamed of himself to look at what Harry’s doing, but they fly open against his will at the first wet, hot press of Harry’s lips on the head of his cock. He looks down and discovers that Harry’s looking back up at him, looking nervous.

“Nnngh,” Louis groans, intending to encourage Harry but instead only demonstrating how much Harry’s turned his brains to mush.  Harry’s eyes crinkle then, like that was the encouragement he was looking for, and he opens his mouth a little wider and takes more of Louis inside.

It’s like nothing Louis has ever felt, so much warmer and wetter than Harry’s hand on him or hips against his, and Harry seems to be really into it too, his eyes slipping closed as he draws back up, his lips dragging against Louis’s cock deliciously.

“Oh, oh,” Louis whimpers, clutching at the bedsheets for support when Harry goes back down again, taking even more in this time. He can feel Harry’s tongue fluttering along the side of his shaft, and when Harry moans around his cock, the vibrations seem to resonate throughout Louis’s whole body.

“Tastes really good,” Harry murmurs quietly when he pulls off, licking at his lips and stroking a hand over Louis’s slick cock. He palms over the bulge in his sleep pants with his other hand.

“Ah, please, please-” Louis mutters nonsensically, slipping unknowingly into Elvish as his eyes roll back in his head.

“Please what?” Harry asks in Elvish without missing a beat, and - gods, even that’s hot, Harry speaking Louis’s native language-

“K-Keep going,” whimpers Louis, rocking his hips up into the tight circle Harry’s made with his hand.

The instant Harry’s lips touch Louis’s cock again, though, there’s an urgent knock at the door. Both of them groan in frustration.

“Louis?” It sounds like Nick. “Are you in there?”

“Don’t answer him,” Harry whispers, licking at the head of Louis’s dick. Louis whines quietly.

“Louis?”

Louis frowns, completely torn. “Yes, b-but I’m - kind of busy-”

“The Orc army has been spotted. They’re twenty miles out.”

That gets Louis’s attention, and he sits up so fast he makes himself dizzy. “They’re going to attack in the middle of the night?”

“No one ever said they were honorable,” says Nick. “We have to hurry, though, if we’re going to meet them before they get here.”

“Got it, I’ll be out in a minute,” calls Louis.

He and Harry stare heatedly at each other as they listen to Nick’s footsteps retreat back down the hall.  Louis is still hard, and the impending threat of battle is igniting a lust in his blood that isn’t doing anything to change that.

“When this is over,” Harry says slowly, still palming his own hard cock as his voice rasps hot and rough with arousal, “once we’ve killed every single last Orc and we can finally be together properly, I’m going to fuck you so hard you’ll never want to do anything else ever again.”

Louis just barely stops himself from whimpering at Harry’s dark eyes and coarse language. His brain is useless because all of the blood in his body feels like it’s currently in his cock, so he leans forward to kiss Harry instead, finally letting himself whimper loudly once Harry’s lips are there to muffle the sound. Gods, he doesn’t - he doesn’t want to do battle right now, can’t it wait?

Harry apparently doesn’t think so, as he pulls away too soon for Louis’s taste and says, “The sooner we get out there and defeat them the sooner I can be inside you.”

“Harry,” Louis moans, “you can’t just say things like that, gods, I’m not going to be able to focus while I’m fighting.”

“It’s a pretty worthy cause to fight for,” Harry jokes, his mouth quirking up but his eyes maintaining their fierceness and intensity.

“Speaking of worthy causes, we need to get changed, then,” says Louis, rolling gingerly off the bed and willing his erection to go down. “We can’t very well fight naked, can we?”

xxx

“Elves of Mirkwood, listen to me!” Louis yells, pacing back and forth in front of the large number of ranks they’ve fallen into. “I know what some of you are thinking. Helm’s Deep is a fortress, designed to withstand weeks of heavy siege - so why are we meeting our enemies at the door?”

There are a few grumblings of assent from the Elves standing near Harry, but Harry doesn’t pay them any attention, only has eyes for Louis.

“I’ll tell you why,” Louis continues. “Eighteen years ago, my mother - your queen - was slain in an unprovoked Orc attack near Gladdon Fields. Since, then four traveling camps of Men have been ambushed and slaughtered as they tried to make their way to safety from the very same Orcs who killed them. And just - just last year, my father, your beloved king, was murdered along with his company as he tried to cross the river Anduin to reach the Wold.”

Harry can’t take his eyes off of Louis, all decked out in his battle finery and gilded crown of antlers. He looks magnificent, and he’s breathing hard, yelling at the top of his lungs as he lets the fiery speech take over him. Harry’s in love.

“Unprovoked attacks, every single one of them,” shouts Louis. “It’s no longer acceptable for us to approach this battle on the defensive side.  If we hide out in Helm’s Deep - and we could, there’s no question - if we let them exhaust themselves trying to gain entry and then allow them to retreat, nothing is going to change.”

Harry sees Nick’s father giving what is undoubtedly a similarly-impassioned speech to the innumerable ranks of Men formed to their right. He’s sure that Louis’s speech is better, though.

“We have only one option today, and it’s not passive,” Louis concludes, bouncing on his toes as he paces back and forth, his bow secured across his chest. “We can’t let them get away unscathed, and we can’t let them continue terrorizing the plains surrounding our home. We have to defeat them - not just survive them, but triumph over them. We have to kill as many of the Orc-scum as possible so the ones who manage to survive realize that they can’t keep practicing their barbaric ways. It’s time to take back our plains!”

At this last exclamation, a mighty cheer rises up from the Mirkwood Elves. Harry stays completely still, afraid that if he moves any part of his body (even if he opens his mouth to voice his approval) he won’t be able to stop himself from rushing forward, dragging Louis to the ground, and kissing his Elf until their lips fall off. He’s never seen Louis this magnificent before - well, not including the times he’s seen Louis naked, because that’s truly the most magnificent sight in all of Middle Earth, but he’s never seen Louis this magnificent clothed before. Louis’s face is alight with battle lust and the promise of vengeance, and his chest is heaving from shouting his speech so all the Elves can hear.  Harry is so stupidly in love with Louis that it makes his stomach hurt just looking at him. 

Louis locks eyes with Harry for a split second, just a fraction of a moment before looking away, but the fire Harry sees in them is enough to half his cock half-hard in his thick trousers.

“Now, they’re almost here,” Louis says, capturing everyone’s attention once more.

It’s true; Harry can see the glow of the Orc army’s torches cutting through the dark night, drawing closer and closer with each passing second. The ground is starting to rumble; they must be running.

“They’re on foot, so we’re going to let the Men who have horses cut through their ranks first,” Louis informs the group. “That should decimate a great many of them. As for the Orcs that make it through, we’re going to take them down with our arrows and, if it comes down to it, our knives.”

Harry is so, so ready but so, so terrified all at once. The Orcs approaching them are doing so with the express intention of killing them; he has to make sure they don’t succeed.

xxx

When the battle starts, every cell in Harry’s body feels like it’s on high alert. The fine hairs all over his body are all standing up, his senses sharp, his heart pounding. He knows it’s not their turn yet, that the horses will do - and sustain, unfortunately - the brunt of the damage, but the waiting is putting him on edge.

He sees Men cutting the Orcs down, but he also sees the Orcs shooting Men off of their horses with dangerous-looking metal-tipped arrows. A few years ago, the finality and obviousness of death right in front of him might have made Harry cry, but now he thinks differently. Now, he internalizes the grief, lets it ferment and turn into anger and fury and the desire to kill and avenge, and so every additional second he spends waiting makes him more and more ready to slay as many Orcs as he can.

Finally, when the line of Men starts to become less than one hundred percent efficient, the first Orcs begin to break through and make their way forward, staggering slightly but then barreling full speed ahead.  Harry sees red when he first catches a glimpse of them; he’d expected he might feel fear, since the last time he saw Orcs was when they were slaughtering everyone he’d ever known, but the only emotion he feels is anger.

He sees Louis notch an arrow onto the string of his bow, watches the Elf pull it back, aim, and launch it at the first Orc. It flies straight and true, embedding itself right in the middle of the Orc’s forehead as the creature groans pitifully and falls down onto its side.

That first hit seems to be the signal for the rest of the Elves to draw their bows and load them with arrows, and Harry’s blood is thrumming with the energy all around him, it’s happening it’s happening it’s happening-

When more Orcs break through the line of horses, the Elves start to release their arrows one by one, and the first volley of arrows fells a significant number of Orcs, but their enemies just keep coming and coming, seeming to regenerate out of nowhere. Finally, it gets to the point where they have to engage in close combat and arrows are less practical, and Harry draws one of his swords with relish, diving into the fray.

xxx

The battle is not easily won, but after a couple hours of fighting, it becomes clear that the Men and Elves have taken the upper hand. The Orcs had seemed surprised at first that they were being met in front of the stronghold and expected to actively fight, and this element of surprise must have shaken their confidence.

Harry, in contrast, is absolutely oozing confidence, slaying Orc after Orc as his mind runs rampant with vicious, vengeful thoughts. He mostly runs them through with his sword, though he does decapitate a few of them simply because it makes him feel even better. On the rare occasion when he needs to engage in one-on-one combat with one of the beasts, Harry is manic, swinging both of his swords in tandem just like he’d practiced back in Mirkwood and overwhelming the Orc to the point where Harry can slit its throat and move on to the next one.

An hour later, when the sun starts to peek over the horizon, the Orcs begin to retreat, and there’s nothing organized about it - the Elves and Men are sending them running back with their tails between their legs, so to speak.  Keeping in mind what Louis had said before the battle started, the Elves try not to let too many of them retreat, felling the beasts with arrows to their backs as they run away (which might not be completely honorable, but neither is attacking defenseless women and children in the dead of night, is it?).

By the time the sun has risen fully over the horizon, most of the Orcs are gone, the majority of them lying dead on the battlefield with only a few having gotten away.  There’s still a bit of fighting going in, but it’s done with a sense of finality, and even the Orcs seem to realize that they’re going to lose and then die.

Well, almost all of them. A few of the remaining Orcs are still fighting tooth and nail, hell-bent on taking as many Men and Elves as they can down with them. When Harry’s dispatched all enemies around him, his heart pounding wildly in his chest, he takes a breather and looks around for Louis.

He sees the Elf already celebrating, hugging Zayn around the middle - thank the gods neither of them were hurt, Harry thinks with relief. He makes his way over to the pair of them, stepping gingerly over piles of dead Orc bodies.

When Harry’s almost reached them, though, Zayn and Louis pull back from their hug and Zayn’s eyes immediately widen. Before Zayn can even open his mouth, Harry’s head is turning in the direction of the younger Elf’s gaze to see a lone, wounded Orc staggering up from the ground with difficulty to notch and aim a poison arrow at Louis’s back.

“Louis, look out!” Zayn shouts, but it’s too late, Louis doesn’t have time to turn, and Harry sees the arrow fly through the air in what seems like slow motion, its metal tip gleaming. Harry doesn’t even think when he reacts, and it’s not his brain that makes his body respond but rather his spine, pure reflex - he launches himself over the last remaining Orc body between him and Louis and spreads his arms wide, trying to prevent the arrow from hitting his love.

He feels it hit him in the chest with a sickening thud, feels his body fly backwards from the impact as his flesh is rent apart, and as pain explodes in his sternum he gratefully lets the darkness take him, his only thoughts being that it didn’t hit Louis, that Louis is safe.

xxx

The next thing Harry knows, he’s blinking his eyes open in a forest, the trees lit up in a soft pink glow that must be the sunset. Is he back in Mirkwood. Wait - is this a dream? Was the whole battle a dream? Where’s-

“He’s awake,” someone calls in Elvish.

“Finally,” another Elf responds.  “I’ll go fetch King Louis.”

Harry tries to speak, to ask what happened, but he discovers that his throat and mouth are both bone-dry.  His eyes dart around; he appears to be in some sort of clearing, set up on a cot with a table and several chairs next to it.  There’s also a small body of water to the left of the cot he’s on, and judging by the steam coming off of it, it must be a hot springs.

“Would you like some water?”he hears the first Elf ask.

Harry nods after he fails to say “please” because of how dry his throat is.  Moments later, a full goblet of water is brought to his lips and Harry drinks gratefully, downing the whole thing before pulling away and looking up at the Elf taking care of him. He’s very surprised when it turns out to be Niall.

“Niall?” he asks, his voice barely there.

“Hello, Harry,” says Niall, smiling down at him. “Thank the gods you’re awake."

“How - are you a healing Elf?” asks Harry, wondering if he’s dreaming.

“Well, technically all Elves are healing Elves,” says Niall, “but, yes, this is what I’ve trained to do. I’m second in line to the throne right now, but after Liam has a child I won’t be in line at all, so I figured I might as well learn to do something useful.”

Harry nods. That makes sense. Speaking of the throne-

“Where are we?” Harry asks. This forest doesn’t look like Mirkwood - the trees are different, and so is the position of the sun.

“We’re in Lothlorien,” Niall tells him, bringing another full goblet of water up for Harry to drink from. “It’s only half a day’s ride from Helm’s Deep, so it made much more sense to bring you here than trying to bring you all the way back to Mirkwood for treatment.”

“Half a day?” Harry splutters as he pushes the water away, trying to sit up and gasping in pain instead. “How - did we win? Where’s Louis? Is everyone okay?”

“Easy, easy,” says Niall, making sure Harry stays lying down. “We did, we won. I’m not sure if everyone is okay, but Louis and Zayn are okay. Louis left Zayn in charge back at Helm’s Deep because he-”

“Harry?” a new voice says, interrupting Niall mid-sentence.

It’s Louis. That’s Louis’s voice, Harry would know it anywhere.

“Lou,” Harry gasps, trying to sit up and failing again.

“Stop that, you’ll hurt yourself,” Niall scolds him. “Louis, I’ll leave you two alone in just a second, but here’s all the medicine you have to apply to the wound.”

Wound?

“This cream needs to be applied every four hours to the wound itself,” Niall continues, oblivious to Harry’s confusion.  “It’s going to sting, a lot, so use a soft cloth instead of your bare hands.  This pink-tinted salve will stop the wound from getting infected, and it needs to be applied once a day to the wound and the skin around it so it can be topically absorbed.  And this oil is just to moisturize the skin around the wound and help prevent it from scarring too much.  It only needs to be applied whenever the skin feels dry.”

Harry’s head is spinning. Is that - is all that for him? Or did Louis get hurt? Is this for Louis?

“Oh, and he should soak in the healing springs for two hours once he can stand on his own,” Niall adds.

Louis finally comes into view as he stands over Harry’s bed.

“Lou,” Harry says again, reaching up - oh, his arms work now, that’s good - to paw at Louis’s front.

“You absolute idiot,” Louis snaps, looking upset.

“And that’s my cue to leave,” says Niall hastily as Harry recoils in shock. “Glad you’re feeling better, Harry, we’ll catch up later.”

Louis and Harry stare at each other as Niall leaves the clearing, Harry withering under Louis’s fierce glare. Strangely, though, even as Louis is looking at Harry like he wants to severely injure him, one of the Elf’s small hands comes up to tenderly brush some hair off of Harry’s forehead.

“What was that for?” Harry asks once Niall’s gone, confused by the mixed signals.

“For completely risking your life,” Louis snaps.  “You almost died.”

“Wait, what?”

Louis frowns at him.  “What’s the last thing you remember, love?”

Harry reasons that Louis can’t actually be too mad at him, not if he’s calling him love.  “I kind of lost track of things after the battle started.  The last thing I remember was your inspirational speech.”

Louis laughs and sits down on the cot, scooting Harry’s leg over to make space for his bum.  “Well… I’m not sure how you were doing for most of the battle, because we were obviously both distracted, but I’m told you cut down quite a few Orcs with that sword of yours.”

Harry preens.  “Then why are you upset with me?”

“I’m not upset with you, just upset,” says Louis.  “You scared me a great deal. I thought we had won, and Zayn and I were celebrating, but - but then Zayn shouted, ‘Look out!,’ and when I turned around you were already collapsing into my arms with a giant Orc arrow sticking out of your chest.”

Harry gasps.  Is that the wound the Elves were talking about?  He lifts up the loose cotton gown he’s been given in order to peer down at his chest and, sure though, there are bandages covering his sternum.

“Wait, so – what did I do? We did win, right? Niall said we won.”

“Of course we won,” says Louis. “Only a handful of Orcs managed to escape with their lives.”

“That’s wonderful!” exclaims Harry.

“Obviously,” says Louis.  “We can talk about that later, though, stop distracting me and let me scold you.”

Harry laughs.

“Don’t laugh, Harry, you – you took an arrow for me, gods above,” whispers Louis, his voice wavering.  “You literally threw yourself into the path of an arrow that was about to hit me.”

Harry feels himself break out in goosebumps - he doesn’t quite remember that, but to be honest, the idea doesn’t sound completely far-fetched to him.  “That sounds like something I would do.”

“You’re not even surprised?” Louis asks, stroking a hand over his cheek and sounding scared.

“Not really,” says Harry, squirming uncomfortably under Louis’s intense gaze.  “I’d die for you, I - I don’t know if I’ve ever told you that directly, but. I would.”

“Don’t say that,” breathes Louis.  “I can’t believe you.”

“S’true,” shrugs Harry.

“No, Harry, I - I would die for you, but you’re not allowed to die for me, understand?”

“Sounds like a double standard to me,” Harry says, arching an eyebrow.

“Of course it is,” says Louis. “But it doesn’t matter. I’m King. I make the rules. No more dying for me, Harold.”

Harry can’t promise that, so he takes Louis’s hand in his own instead and squeezes it, hoping that conveys his message.

Louis huffs. “This discussion isn’t over. Anyway, the arrow was metal-tipped and it pierced your armor, and after I - well, I sort of went a bit mental-”

“What did you do?” Harry interrupts him.

“I… I might’ve disemboweled that Orc with my bare hands,” admits Louis.

“What?”

“No, no, that’s not the point! Anyway, we had basically won by then, so Niall checked you out and discovered that you were still alive, but the arrow was poisoned with something that we hadn’t brought a cure for. So, Niall and I took you here and he neutralized the poison in your bloodstream.”

As the sun sinks below the horizon and the forest takes on an otherworldly blue glow, Louis tends to Harry’s wound, peeling back the bandage so they can both get a good look at it. It’s - it’s a hole, right in Harry’s chest, rough around the edges where they arrow had entered and been removed.  Louis dabs the first cream as best he can onto the wound with a soft cloth while Harry writhes and hisses in pain from how much it stings.

Once the wound is tended to and Harry’s discovered that he has full control of his body once again, he stands up with some help from Louis and walks over to what Niall had called the healing springs. Harry sheds his flimsy robe and gets in, groaning at the heat that suffuses through his tired, worn-out muscles.

“Wait, don’t get your chest wet yet, there’s still two more salves we have to apply,” says Louis, rushing over with the jar of cream and bottle of oil.

“Grngh,” Harry grunts, too taken with the nice feeling of the water all around him. “Can’t it wait?”

“I suppose so,” Louis grumbles.

“You should come in,” suggests Harry, his eyes still closed.

Louis doesn’t argue that at all, and not a minute later the Elf is joining him in the hot water, cream, oil, and clothing left by the side of the springs. He cuddles into Harry’s side, sighing happily at the feeling of their naked skin together, and this - this is the happiest and most peaceful Harry’s ever felt. This is perfect.

“Thank the gods that’s all over,” Louis murmurs. “And that you’re alright.”

“You too,” says Harry sincerely, pulling Louis in close. “Your speech was really great, you know.”

Louis scoffs.

“No, I’m serious!” says Harry. “You were - you’re amazing, Lou. It was all I could do to stop myself from screaming, ‘That’s my Elf! He’s mine! He loves me, he chose me, everyone else be jealous!’”

“Stop it,” Louis laughs. He kisses Harry’s cheek. “I’m still glad it’s over with, though, because having that much responsibility was exhausting.”

“Good to relax here, then,” Harry murmurs, shuddering as Louis kisses him again. He turns his head toward the Elf so they can kiss properly, then, their mouths moving sweetly together as Harry’s heart swells with all the love they’re pouring into the kiss.

Harry still feels slightly on edge from how close both of them came to dying today, and he grips Louis tightly at the thought, pulling Louis fully into his lap so Harry can hold him close. Now that there’s no longer any threat of battle, he never wants to stop kissing Louis.

“Harry,” Louis whines when they break apart for air, his lips dropping to Harry’s neck as he peppers kisses along the warm skin. “Harry, oh - gods, I love you so much-”

Harry gasps, shivering even in the hot water. “I love you too.”

He almost wants to - no, he really wants to mate Louis now. It feels like the right time.

“Lou, can - can we please-”

Louis draws back from where he’d been licking at Harry’s throat. “Hmm?”

“Can we - please, please, I want to make love to you,” Harry moans, leaning forward to rest his forehead against Louis’s. “We’ve had to wait so long.”

Louis makes a quiet, desperate sound. “I want that too. Are you sure you feel, er, well enough?”

Harry’s heart almost stops from how excited he is. “Yeah, I should be fine. Can we?”

His heart pounding in his ears, Harry only barely feels the imperceptible nod Louis gives as confirmation.

“I really, really want to,” Louis whispers, their foreheads still pressed together. “But I understand that you’re supposed to, um, get me ready first. And we don’t have anything to make it - smoother, you know.”

Hmm. Harry wracks his brain for something they can use to make sex more comfortable. “What about-” He reaches an arm behind him, groping blindly until he finds the small bottle of moisturizing oil Niall had left them- “this?”

Louis grins. “That could work.”

He squirms in Harry’s lap and bites his lip invitingly, looking down with those big blue eyes of his that make Harry want to hold onto him forever. Harry can’t even imagine how he’s going to feel inside.

“I don’t know if it would work in the water, though,” Louis continues.

Harry shrugs and leans forward to wrap his lips around one of Louis’s nipples, making the Elf squeak. Gods, the fact that Harry is the one causing Louis to make all of these noises-

“Don’t want to wait any longer,” moans Louis, grinding his hips forward as Harry sucks harder.

Harry doesn’t either, and he lets his hands wander, sliding them down Louis’s back until each of them is cupping one of Louis’s arse cheeks. He spreads them apart slightly, letting one of his fingers slip in between them until it’s snug up against Louis’s hole.

Louis whines, pushing back against Harry’s finger while trying to push his nipple further into Harry’s mouth. Harry laughs, the sound muffled by Louis’s skin, and bites very lightly at the sensitive bud between his lips.

He’s dreamed about this for years, and now it’s finally about to happen.

Eventually, Louis becomes fed up with Harry’s teasing and pulls away from him, wrapping his arms around himself. “Harry, come on. Get up.”

“But it’s so warm in here,” Harry pouts, reaching out to try and draw Louis closer to him.

“Get up. You clearly don’t want this to happen as much as I do.”

That gets Harry up. “Let’s not make rash conclusions, love,” he teases, pushing himself up out of the springs with only his arm strength.

The air is chillier than the water, obviously, but it’s still pleasantly warm, and Harry lays himself down contentedly on the forest floor and looks up at the stars twinkling above them.

“You’ll get your bum all dirty,” Louis says, climbing out after him. The moonlight illuminates the water droplets sliding down his torso, making them sparkle and Harry salivate.

“It’s not my bum we have to worry about,” Harry tells him, and that makes Louis blush, makes him pliant enough that Harry can sit up to fold Louis in his arms and then drag the Elf down on top of him.

The very ends of Louis’s hair have gotten wet, and Harry reaches up to tease the already-messy braids fully apart, running his fingers through the silky strands. It’s pointless to tell Louis he loves him for the millionth time now, probably, because if Harry told Louis he loved him every time the thought popped into his head, he’d never have time to say anything else ever again.

Louis’s hair falls around Harry’s face like a short curtain when Louis leans down to kiss him, relaxing down on top of Harry so their cocks are pressed together. Louis is already fully hard and wet at the tip, and he’s never seemed this desperate for it, the way he’s shoving his hips forward almost imperceptibly like he can’t even help it and groaning into Harry’s mouth when Harry’s hands come back up to squeeze his bum.

Harry keeps one hand there, starting to tease at Louis’s hole again, and with the other he feels around next to him to try and find the oil. By the time Harry finds it, Louis is rutting against him hard, whimpering and shaking from Harry’s finger just pressing lightly on his hole.

Harry has to take his other hand away in order to unscrew the bottle cap, and it makes Louis push his arse back against empty air and murmur, “Why’d you stop?” against Harry’s lips, his voice breathy and hoarse.

“So I can make it better,” Harry grins, pouring out some of the oil onto two fingers. He tries not to spill any but he can’t exactly see what he’s doing, what with Louis’s hair in the way and the Elf in question writhing distractingly on top of him. Harry manages to screw the cap back on with only one hand, then uses that same clean hand to pull Louis’s arse cheeks apart as he rubs the slick around on the fingers of his other hand and dips them back into the cleft of Louis’s arse.

Louis squeezes his eyes shut and hides his face in Harry’s shoulder as Harry pushes a single finger inside, the muscle of his hole drawing Harry inside in Louis’s eagerness.

“Ah,” Louis whines, his body tensing up when Harry’s knuckle-deep inside him.

“S’it hurt?” Harry asks, keeping his finger as still as he can. It’s hard, because - gods, gods, Louis is soft and hot inside and it has Harry so hard it’s starting to hurt.

“N-No,” says Louis slowly. “Just - a bit different, is all. Keep going.”

Harry can definitely do that. He kisses Louis’s ear and forehead until Louis emerges from Harry’s shoulder; Harry wants to see him while they do this, needs to watch his beautiful Elf’s face for any signs of discomfort. There aren’t any so far, so Harry draws his finger out until just the tip is engulfed in that gorgeous, tight warmth and then pushes back in, the fingers of his other hand gripping Louis’s arse tightly.

“Kiss me,” Louis gasps in Elvish, his eyes fluttering closed as Harry continues to fuck his finger in and out. Harry wishes he had more hands so he could rub up and down Louis’s back soothingly while also cupping his cheek and continuing to finger his arse, but craning his neck up to kiss Louis’s soft and yielding lips works just as well.

When Louis’s hole starts to seem a bit less tight, Harry tries working in a second finger. Louis whimpers into his mouth and Harry pulls off, watching Louis’s eyebrows knit together for a split second.

“Keep going, keep going,” Louis instructs him haltingly when Harry makes to cease his motions. Harry presses his finger the rest of the way in so that it’s alongside the first, and if Louis is this tight with only two fingers inside him, Harry can’t imagine how Louis is going to feel around his cock.

It’s hot like this, almost like he can have a grip on Louis from the inside or something, and Harry’s fingers start to curl instinctively at the thought. He’s shocked when this causes Louis to clench up tight around him and moan, his dick twitching against Harry’s lewdly.

“S’good?” Harry asks, not sure if he’s hurting Louis or not.

“Hhnh,” moans Louis, his eyes crossing a little as Harry curls his fingers again. “Oh g-gods, Harry, there’s s-something - ah, feels so good-”

Harry’s drunk out of his mind with pleasure from making Louis feel so good that the Elf practically loses his words.  He curls his fingers once again and finds himself rubbing across a spot that feels a bit different, a bit firmer than the smooth give of Louis’s insides. “There?”

Louis doesn’t answer, just buries his head in Harry’s neck again to muffle helpless, aborted little whining noises that are going straight to Harry’s cock. Louis’s thighs are starting to shake, the tip of his cock blurting out precome onto Harry’s tummy.

After the initial tightening in response to Harry finding that sensitive spot, Louis’s hole has loosened up further, so Harry tries fitting a third finger inside and it slides in easily, making a filthy slick sound that has Louis’s face heating up where it’s tucked against Harry’s shoulder. Harry curls them again once all three are fitted together and Louis actually cries out, biting at Harry’s throat the next second to try and keep himself quiet.

“So hot like this,” Harry whispers, his head spinning as he starts to rut up against the Elf on top of him, keeping his fingers buried deep.

“Why did we w-wait this long?” Louis moans, spreading his legs wider so that Harry’s completely supporting his weight.

Harry doesn’t have an answer so he speeds his fingers up instead, building up a steady rhythm that has Louis grunting prettily into his skin. When he slows down and tries to squeeze his little finger in as well, though, Louis shakes his head.

“Want you now,” he says, clenching around Harry’s fingers. “Want you properly inside me.”

Harry feels a bit dizzy but nods, pulling his fingers carefully out of Louis and rubbing the extra oil around his loosened hole. Louis crawls down his body, then, and Harry’s puzzled until Louis dips his head down to kiss at the wound marring what Harry used to think was a pretty nice chest.

“Don’t,” Harry chokes out, not wanting Louis to look at him, not like this.

“Shh,” Louis shushes him, pressing his lips feather-light all around the injury. Even that brief time in the healing springs has made it hurt less, Harry notices, and it’s a bit less red as well. “You’re even more beautiful now, Harry, you know that? You’re perfect.”

It’s too much, too much for Harry to handle, so many feelings to keep contained in a single body that he’s not even going to try. “I love you so much,” he gasps, not ashamed of the tear that slips out of his eye as he stares up at the stars.

Louis continues to kiss his chest reverently while one of his hands sneaks between their bodies to grasp Harry’s cock firmly. “I love you so, so much,” he murmurs against Harry’s skin as Harry whines and bucks up into his hand. “I want you to be mine forever.”

“Then let’s - please, Lou, please,” Harry begs, so close to bonding for life with his soulmate that he feels like he might actually start sobbing.

Louis seems to agree, because the next second he’s taking his hand off of Harry’s cock and reaching for the bottle of oil. He unscrews it and pours a generous amount into his palm, closing it up again and tossing it to the side before smoothing the oil all down the hard length of Harry’s cock. The suddenness of it makes Harry gasp, which in turn causes Louis to grin down at him. 

“Lou-”

“I know, I know, shh,” says Louis soothingly, wiping his hands on his thighs before straddling Harry once more.  He looks nervous, but like he’s trying to hide it.

“It’s - take your time, yeah,” Harry says, holding onto Louis’s thighs and rubbing his thumbs over the warm skin.

“Mhmm,” Louis nods, his eyes huge and bright in the moonlight. He brings one hand around behind himself to grasp Harry’s cock, and then lowers himself until Harry is right up against his slick hole. Harry groans, biting into his lip to keep from thrusting his hips up.

They lock eyes as Louis lowers himself down even further, keeping Harry’s cock steady so that it starts to push inside him.  Harry can barely keep his eyes open at that, and the slick heat sliding down his cock combined with the warmth radiating off of the hot springs makes him feel like he’s melting into a boneless puddle, sinking into the ground. Louis, on the other hand, doesn’t even try to keep his eyes open, shutting them tightly and groaning as the thick tip of Harry’s cock pops past the tight ring of his hole.

Louis gasps, legs shaking, as he lets himself sink down more and more, blinking his eyes open and groaning gutturally once Harry’s about halfway in. Once he sits down fully on Harry’s cock, though, he doesn’t make a sound at all, just claps a hand over his mouth and stares down at Harry, eyes wide and full of tears. Harry feels as overwhelmed as Louis looks, his chest heaving rapidly as he concentrates on not coming immediately and ruining their first mating.

He can’t - he still can’t believe that he’s inside Louis, finally, and that they fit together perfectly, like this is where Harry’s meant to be. Eventually, Louis takes his hand away from his mouth, his lips bitten red and swollen in the glow of the moon, and presses it against his belly instead.

“You’re-” he tries, tries to get out what he’s feeling, but he’s not having any better luck with it than Harry is.

“I know,” gasps Harry, switching over to Elvish without realizing it, heat flashing down his spine at the sight of Louis’s little hand pressed up against his tummy like he can feel Harry inside him like that. It’s pure, crystalline bliss unlike anything Harry’s ever felt or seen before.

Harry can’t stay laying down after that, instead surging up so he can hold Louis tightly while keeping Louis seated fully on his cock.  He buries his face in Louis’s collarbone and holds him close, moaning loudly into his clean, sweet-smelling skin he feels the wet tip of Louis’s cock brush against his stomach.

“I’m - ah, I’m already close,” Louis gasps out, fisting both of his hands in Harry’s curls and tugging until Harry groans loudly.

“So am I,” Harry admits, playing with Louis’s hole and feeling the way his cock is stretching Louis open. “You feel so good, I-”

He cuts off and moans as Louis tentatively rocks his hips down, his hole clinging slickly to Harry’s cock as he moves.  Then, although his eyes are tightly shut, Harry feels light hitting his eyelids, more light than the moon should be producing, so he opens them to find that - that Louis is the one who’s lit up.

He’s - glowing, is the only way to describe it. Just in the middle of his abdomen at first, but it’s starting to spread outward as he fucks himself down onto Harry’s cock over and over, his head thrown back in bliss.

“Louis,” Harry murmurs in wonder. Louis’s whole body is starting to become illuminated, the pure white light radiating throughout the entire clearing and far outshining the moon.

Louis finally opens his eyes and realizes that he’s glowing, his mouth dropping open in a gasp. “What’s - what’s happening?”

“I don’t know,” Harry admits, holding him tighter. He isn’t worried, though, even though he’s never experienced this before - his body just seems to know that this isn’t a threat. Harry rocks his hips up as much as he can, and it makes Louis cry out in the same way he had when Harry’s fingers were curled inside him, so Harry must have just found that same spot with his cock.

Louis whines as Harry repeats the motion, dipping his head and capturing Harry’s lips in a kiss. He whimpers into Harry’s mouth as the glow continues to get brighter, starts to move himself faster, circling his hips more and making Harry’s toes curl while rubbing his wet cock against Harry’s stomach.  Harry can feel himself getting closer to the edge with how tight and slick Louis is around him but he wants to make sure Louis comes before he does, so he works a hand in between them so he can get at Louis’s cock.

Almost as soon as Harry’s hand touches him, Louis loses it, creaming up in between their bodies with a desperate moan as the tight, rhythmic clench of his hole around Harry’s cock pulls Harry over the edge with him at exactly the same time.  Louis’s body glows so brightly for a second that Harry is blinded in the middle of his orgasm, and then the light explodes outward, lighting up the entire clearing and electrifying both of them from the inside out.

It’s the greatest orgasm Harry’s ever had, and probably will ever have.   He doubts he’ll ever again experience an orgasm where it feels like his entire soul is finally slotting into place, like it’s making room for another alongside it, finally welcoming its other half home.  Harry can feel Louis inside of him now – not physically, but spiritually.

“Oh,” Louis breathes, clutching at Harry tightly as Harry releases into the wet warmth of his body.  “Oh, Harry, I can… I can feel you.”

“So can I,” gasps Harry, suddenly intensely aware of Louis’s presence in every cell of his body.

Once they’ve finally come down, their bodies still connected, Harry collapses onto his back, tugging Louis with him and letting the Elf settle contentedly onto his chest.

“Do you feel… any different?” Harry asks.  He hopes Louis knows that Harry’s not talking about souls, not right now – he’s asking if Louis can tell if he’s still immortal or suddenly mortal.

“Yes,” Louis sighs happily, staring up at him with wet eyes.  “My Light is yours now, Harry.  I’m sure of it.”

Harry’s never heard that term before, not used in the possessive sense.  “Your Light?”

“What makes Elves immortal,” Louis explains, his body clenching weakly around Harry as an aftershock shivers through him.  “Our essence.  You possess it now, darling.  I’m tied to you until death takes us.”

“So you’re saying–” Harry starts, drawing in a shaky breath.

“You’re kind of stuck with me,” says Louis, laughing even as he starts to cry.  “I’m yours and you’re mine, forever.”

“There have been worse deals,” Harry jokes feebly, his eyes watering.  That, more than anything else, makes Louis jerk his head up from where he’d been quietly crying into Harry’s chest.

Louis glares at him through wet lashes but, instead of saying anything, clenches deliberately and tightly around Harry’s softening, oversensitive cock.

“Ngh,” Harry gasps, tipping his head back at the confusing pain.

Louis grins.  “Now I have a way to stop you whenever you make bad jokes.”

“You’re going to be hearing a lot more of them if that’s what you do when I make them,” Harry breathes.

“Mmm,” Louis tuts.  “I have quite a while to convince you otherwise.”

Gods, Harry can’t believe how lucky they are. 

 

Eighteen/Nineteen

“Harry, get up!” Louis hisses, poking his sleeping husband in the shoulder.

“Mrph,” Harry replies, rolling away from him.

“Harry, it’s Zayn’s coronation day,” Louis reminds him. “As long as you get up now and go with me, we have the rest of the day to spend in bed and do whatever we want.”

“We have the rest of our lives to spend in bed and do whatever we want,” Harry mumbles.

It turns out that the bright light Louis’s body had produced during their first joining hadn’t been exactly normal for Elf-Human matings. After becoming aware of this (through Zayn, of course, who’s probably read the entire Mirkwood library three times), Louis had peppered his brother with questions and pestered him to do research until Zayn had discovered that in a single, very rare case, the Elf didn’t become mortal after mating with the Human.

In fact, it was the other way around - in that one instance, the Human became somewhat immortal (gained five hundred years of life) after mating with the Elf, and bestowing the gift of immortality on her lover made the Elf’s entire body glow brightly until they were both temporarily blinded.

They still aren’t sure if this is the case for Louis and Harry - it’s too early to tell, after all, if Louis is aging or if Harry isn’t aging, but if Louis knows anything about fate, it’s that his gut is usually right, and his gut is telling him that he’s going to have Harry around for another five hundred years at least.

“Hey, remember when you thought you were going to have to leave Mirkwood and spend the rest of your life wandering aimlessly? Now you get to spend the rest of your life in bed with me!  But you have to get up first,” Louis teases him, poking him in the side.

Harry rolls over, frowning at him. His hair’s a complete mess. “Remember when I kissed you and you ran away? Now you get to spend the rest of your life making it up to me by letting me sleep.”

“Rude!” Louis gasps, blushing as he remembers how foolish he was.

Harry giggles, unable to keep up his stern facade any longer, and kisses Louis sleepily on the cheek. He’s always cuddly in the mornings, and it’s gotten even better since they’ve been married because it means they get to sleep naked.

“Gods, I love you,” Louis breathes.

“Love you more,” Harry insists.  He kisses the top of Louis’s head and nuzzles into his soft hair.

“I’m going to spend the rest of our lives proving you wrong, you know,” Louis informs him primly.

Harry laughs, cuddling Louis closer to him. “And I’m going to spend the rest of our lives proving I mean it.”