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Sail Across Me

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Harry is fairly certain that he could wake up every morning for the rest of his life with his cheek pressed against silk sheets and never, ever get tired of it.

There are a lot of drawbacks to being a prince; people only like you for the power, constant parties to attend with people you don’t like, constant talk of duty and propriety and what’s appropriate for one of his standing. But if there is only one bright side, it would be silk sheets. Pure indulgence, and Harry loves every minute of it.

It's one of those lazy mornings where he has nothing to do all day and he knows it, so lying in bed and letting the hours pass by is as easy as breathing. Maybe later he’ll go swimming in the sea, or play polo with some of the less detestable nobles hanging around the castle. For now, though, he's content to just lie between his nice sheets and relax.

The only problem with this plan was that even half asleep, Harry can recognize the antsy rustle of clothes as his manservant, Zayn, sits across the room and waits for Harry to wake up. It's his job to be at Harry’s beck and call from sunup ‘til sundown, and the sleepy ache in Harry’s limbs says it must be past noon. Zayn is likely going crazy with boredom just watching Harry sleep, and that more than anything has the prince propping himself up on his elbows and rubbing the sleep from his eyes.

“Your highness, you’re awake,” Zayn says quietly, and yes, there is barely concealed relief in his voice. “I was beginning to worry you might have been poisoned by a rival or something.”

There’s a teasing lilt to Zayn’s voice that makes Harry smile sleepily. “If anyone had poisoned me, it would be that idiot Justin. He’s always had it out for me.”

“I think perhaps he’s jealous, sir, of your status.”

“Or of the fact that none of the women flirt with him any further after I walk into the room.” Harry’s eyes have drifted shut once more, but he knows that if he looks, Zayn’s expression will be just as amused as his own. They both know that there is no reason for the women to flirt with their prince. He's less the type of man to be enchanted by the dainty hands and rosy cheeks of a lady than he is the type to be enthralled by the muscular arms and a strong jaw of a lord. A knight in shining armor certainly never went astray.

Zayn doesn’t bring that up though; the castle is full of listening ears and the heir apparent’s preference for men is technically a secret, albeit a poorly kept one. No matter how many people whispered, the king insists that nothing be confirmed. He claims it's to prevent scandal, but privately Harry believes that his father is still holding out hope that one day Harry will wake up and fancy a maiden or two sent to his room.

But this morning is not that morning, and Harry sits up and stretches the sleep from his joints just as gay as he’d been the day before.

“Forgive me, sir, but you ought to be getting dressed soon,” Zayn says with a clear of his throat. “It’s now half noon, and your presence is required in your father’s quarters at one.”

“’My father’s quarters?’” Harry repeats in confusion. “I asked you last night what was on today’s agenda and you said the day was free.”

“It was, sir, forgive me. But this morning one of the castle messengers brought a note requesting an afternoon audience.”

He holds out a small square of paper and Harry takes it with his brow still furrowed. It’s the familiar scrawl of his father’s scribe, simply stating that he should come at one for a private audience with the king. It is not, as Zayn had politely euphemized, a request. This is an order that Harry could not weasel his way out of, no matter how ardently he wishes to do anything but visit with his father.

“Very well,” he sighs, pushing off the covers and swinging his legs over the side of the bed. “Hopefully he doesn’t need to talk about too much. I can only spend half an hour with him before I feel the need to rip my curls out, and wouldn’t my suitors just be so sad at that?”

“You shouldn’t speak ill of His Majesty in this manner,” Zayn cautions, though there’s a smile tugging at his lips. “To do so is treason.”

Harry lets him slip a tunic over his head and takes the breeches offered without protest. “Yes, well, to speak well of him is torture.”

Of all the rooms in the castle, it is those belonging to his father that Harry knows the least. He can tell you where every mop and broom is in the maid’s closet, give a detailed account of the cabinets of the kitchen, or give a guided tour of the servants’ quarters. But Harry makes it a point to avoid his father as much as possible and as a result that part of the castle is largely unknown territory.

It’s not that they don’t love each other, exactly. They’re just… different men.

King John is a hard-nosed man with zero tolerance for mischief or mistakes, and after ruling for as long as he has, there is also no tolerance for change. He likes the typical, the usual, the perfectly ordinary. He doesn’t like policies that needed updating or sons that refuse to produce an heir.

Prince Harry, on the other hand, is perhaps best described as a flower floating down a stream. He's bright and friendly and sweet, all dimples and fond smiles, happy as ever to go with the flow. He's more inclined to hang out in the stables or ask the seamstresses about their day than he is to argue politics with visiting noblemen. In his eyes, all people are intrinsically good and if we could spend half as much time being good to one another as we do fighting over material gains, the world would be a far better place.

Harry loves his father, honestly, and there is bound to be a part of his father that loved him, too. It’s just that they're cut from different cloth. Very flammable cloths that tended to combust upon any form of contact.

When he knocks on the door it’s opened by a servant named Ezekiel and he’s immediately ushered inside. “Your Majesty, pardon me. His Royal Highness Prince Harry has arrived,” he announces at the door to the sitting room, and must be dismissed because he bows low and scampers off, leaving Harry to enter the room alone.

The king is sitting at his desk having an amber drink out of the fancy glass tumbler he got the last time their neighbors from the north visited. Both the crystal and the liquid are reflecting the afternoon sunlight, throwing little rainbows around the room in a false display of cheeriness. Harry bows from the waist, resisting the urge to curtsy cheekily like he’s always wanted to do, purely to get a rise out of his father. There’s a solemn look on the man’s face that says today is clearly not the day to test him.

“Have a seat, Harry,” says the king with a nod to acknowledge the bow. “I wish to talk to you.”

“I assumed as much when you invited me here,” Harry deadpans. He doesn’t sit.

The sass is allowed to slide with little more than a pointed glare. “Have you been paying attention to the discourse each night in the Great Hall?” he asks, apparently all business.

He’s referring to the political discussions that go on every night after dinner between the monarchs and the noblemen and dignitaries at court. They’re dreadful, in Harry’s opinion, but as the heir to the throne he’s required to go. He listens but doesn’t comment, letting the others argue back and forth about policy and action and formulating ways that he’ll do this differently, when he’s king.

“I have,” is Harry’s only reply.

“Then you know of the friction along our eastern border?”

“A few of the lords are considering seceding to join our neighbor nation unless their taxes are reduced,” Harry answers at once, because the fact that he doesn’t like politics doesn’t mean he can't recognize its importance.

“The situation is getting worse every day,” the king states simply. “Our scouts came back last night with reports of countrymen being armed and trained. They’re going to secede soon, by force, if something isn’t done.”

“Shit.”

“Precisely.”

“So what’s the plan?” asks Harry uncomfortably. There’s something unusual in the way that he’s being told of this now, here, instead of in the Great Hall tonight with the other noblemen. Technically he outranks him so an advance warning wouldn’t be so very unusual, except that it is. This father-son duo aren’t in the habit of private discussions about anything, much less something so obviously out of Harry’s league.

Harry’s father just looks at him steadily. “We’re going to fight back, Harry. And you’re our secret weapon.”

All of the blood rushes from Harry’s face, he knows it does; he can feel himself suddenly lightheaded and clammy and his mouth is too dry to speak for several long seconds. “You’re joking,” he finally chokes out. “My militarism tutor went grey before his thirtieth year because of me. I can’t win a game of checkers, much less a battle- or a war-”

“You’re not going to be fighting,” the elder Styles interrupts. “I want to win, not lose half my army.”

He should probably be insulted but honestly Harry just feels relief. “What kind of weapon am I, then?”

“One of peace. Diplomacy. You’re a charmer, and handsome enough.”

“Erm- thank you?”

“Can I be honest, Harry?”

If he is, it might be one of the first times in Harry’s memory. The king is a man of cunning and manipulation and he is rarely straightforward about what he wants- or rather, what he intends to take. Harry hardly dares to hope for true honesty, but he nods anyways. “Please.”

“You know Duke Richard of Eisley?”

Harry nods again. Brother of one of the rebellious lords, not all that bright but not repugnant either. A buzz in the courts due to his open preference for men. His name is usually spoken with a mix of fascination and distaste by nobles here in the castle.

His father picks up the glass his fingers have been toying with all along and knocks back the rest of the liquor it contains. “You’re going to marry him.”

“I’m going to what?” Harry gasps before he can consider whether shrieking it is the wisest course of action. “You’ve got to be joking me!”

“Do I look like I’m taking part in a bit of banter?” his father fires back, refilling his glass from the decanter. “This is the last thing I wanted, for you to be revealed as-- but Eisley won’t be satisfied with anything less than an enormous show of good faith. Marrying his brother to one of the royal line, even if nothing can come of it--”

“You’re bloody right nothing will come of it,” Harry protests with a splutter. His eyes are wide and his heart pounding, still waiting for the moment where the farce will falter and they’ll both laugh at what a funny scare this was for Harry. They’ve never shared a joke before, but there must be a first time for everything and Harry desperately, illogically hopes that this is their first.

“It is our best course of action,” the king simply continues. “You will be married, and Eisley will call off his secession. The other lords will follow his lead-- they don’t have half of the resources he has. This is where you’ll be most valuable to the kingdom.”

“I’m not a bloody piece of property!” There are tears of hot anger in Harry’s eyes. “You don’t even accept the fact that I’m attracted to men, don’t pretend like this is something you think will make me happy! You’re blatantly using me.”

“I am calling upon you to do your duty as an heir to this throne!” yells his father, slamming his glass on the table and standing so he’s eye to eye with Harry. “What other good are you? Eh? I’ll get no grandson of you! You’ll win no wars! You’ll bring no honor to our family name!”

“You’re a drunk fool,” Harry hisses, “if you think that I’m going to agree to be married off to some idiot just because we happen to both be gay.”

“Just be happy that I’m not marrying you to a woman!” The king laughs, bitterly, and it makes Harry’s blood go cold. “You’re lucky there was another sinful disgrace like you to make this convenient.”

A silence falls over them, heavy and thick, dragging the king back into his seat and pulling Harry’s head down from the clouds and grounding him. The red doesn’t fade from his vision, but the tears prickling in the corners of his eyes at least refrain from falling until he turns away. “A drunk fool indeed,” he snarls.

He almost hits Zayn with the chamber door when he throws it open and storms out, but he’s too mad even to apologize. “Leave me,” he hisses when Zayn scurries to catch up to him, and is relieved to hear the footsteps behind him halt. There are some days when Zayn’s undying loyalty is a gift. There are others when it makes Harry feel almost guilty for needing to run away, to escape, to be alone.

He’s at his hideaway in record time. There’s a spot in the cliffs that overlook the sea only accessible by a hike through a narrow opening in the rocks that leads you to a little shelf tucked back into the face of the cliff. Above is an overhang that keeps out the sun and the eyes of anyone who might peer down in search of him. Below is a hundred feet of air and a collection of rocks that the waves love to beat against, relentlessly.

The solid coolness of the rock wall behind him is somehow soothing to Harry as he leans back against it. There’s enough space on the shelf for him to stretch his feet out and just barely have his feet hanging out over the side. He’s grounded here. There is a mountain at his back and the unassuming sea before him, both of which are steady and sure and quiet.

“It’s not fucking fair,” he says lowly, because neither the mountain nor the sea will judge him. They won’t tell him that arranged marriage is part of his duty, that politics are his entire life, that he should stop focusing on the negatives and be grateful for all of the many beautiful possessions he owns as a part of his life of privilege and luxury.

There’s one wild moment where Harry thinks about how little it would matter if he flung himself off his secret little cliff right then and there. Eventually they’d find him and declare it a tragic accident, and the nation would mourn for him. Maybe the loss would calm the dissidents’ rage against the crown. His father was in good health, and Gemma had just had a son who would be old enough to take the throne in fifteen or twenty summers. The world would go right on without him, probably.

But it’s the idea that things would happen and he wouldn’t be a part of them that keeps Harry pressed up against the rock face, drawing patterns in the dirt. There’s too much adventure to be had in this life yet, and he can’t stand the thought of missing out.

Instead of throwing himself into the sea, Harry just reaches up and yanks the gold chain decorating his throat until it snaps and dangles limply from his hand like a shimmering snake, then throws that as hard as he can. The sunlight is drawn to it the entire fall, a glittering meteor sparkling its way into the sea and disappearing beneath the waves.

It makes Harry feel just the tiniest bit better. Maybe if he throws all of his lovely things into the sea, he won’t have to accept the responsibility that comes with them. It’s of more use out there in the world than it is around his neck, anyways, he thinks. Maybe it’ll wash up on the shore and some little ones playing pirates will find it and declare it treasure and sleep happy that night with dreams of a life at sea dancing in their little heads.

He doesn’t blame them for dreaming of lives as criminals in defiance of the land he’ll one day inherit. After all, the sea is far more lovely than any kingdom ashore could ever be.

Harry stands so quickly that his balance falters and he has to cling to the rocks to prevent an unwanted tumble. The idea has struck him like a lightning bolt, so clear and bright that he wonders that it took him so long to see.

To stay and subject himself to a political, unwanted marriage to an unlikeable man is unthinkable, but to leave this world and to miss out on all of life’s grand adventures is a tragedy. Harry still wants life, he just wants one that isn’t his.

It's an easy decision, really, standing there looking out over the water. The sea has always been his true love. Why shouldn’t he make his new life with it?

“The sea’s going to be my kingdom,” he whispers, just to make sure each crashing wave knows that he’s coming for them. He keeps whispering it, over and over again to himself, as he makes his way back through the rocks and up the cliffs to the castle.

He waits until nightfall to pack. The sun has gone down and Zayn is released from duty, and Harry starts to fill a bag with anything he can find. What does one need for a life at sea? Clothes, he supposes, and coin and valuables in case he needs to purchase or barter. Beyond that, Harry just stops and looks around him at all of the opulence and glitz.

There are so many beautiful things in this place, but their charm has faded and Harry can’t bring himself to be sad leaving them. He makes a vow then and there not to make room for any things in his life that don’t make him happy, no matter how beautiful.

If there’s one regret in all of this, Harry thinks as he sits and waits for time to pass with his heart pounding away in his chest, it’s that there can be no goodbye. No final kiss for Gemma, who was so strong for him when their mother died. No last cuddle for his infant nephew, who would have the burden of taking Harry’s place on the throne someday. Not even a hug for Zayn, who had been at his side since they were ten and twelve. There are people in this life that he loves, but he'll have to leave them because this life has no place for him anymore.

He tries not to think about that as the night creeps on and on.

He should have expected it, though, when there’s someone waiting beside the crumbled bit of castle wall when Harry approaches past midnight. Harry stops dead in his tracks. “Z-Zayn?”

“You’ve been sneaking out of the castle the same way since you were thirteen,” Zayn says calmly, like he hasn’t just caught the prince sneaking from the castle with a bag over his shoulder and fear on his face. “You used to buy us both beer in taverns that knew we were too young to drink. They’d charge you twice the regular price to keep their mouths shut about it.”

Harry remembers well,  his eyes getting strangely misty with it. He pretends like they aren’t. “Are you going to stop me?” he asks, a little hoarse. He doesn’t ask how Zayn knew. They’ve spent ten years together; Zayn always knows.

“From what? From running away from something terrible? Something you shouldn’t have to do?”

“It’s cowardly,” Harry fires back firmly. “I’m abandoning my kingdom. My family. You should call the guards on me and have them drag me back there to do my duty and marry the duke. You’d probably be rewarded for it.”

But Zayn simply shrugs. “I just came to tell you not to forget your sword.”

He offers the weapon to Harry with such nonchalance and such soft eyes that Harry has to wrap him in a hug before he can even think about taking the item. “You could come with me,” he whispers to his servant, to his friend.

“I’m not made for adventure like you are,” replies Zayn, “and I wouldn’t dream of holding you back. Just take care of yourself, yeah? If you won’t have me to do it for you, at least take care of yourself.”

And then the hilt of the sword is being pressed into Harry’s hand and Zayn is gone, disappearing into shadows as he makes his way back to the castle and leaves Harry to embark on his own.

Harry doesn’t look back on where he’s running from until he’s several fields away, pausing at the edge of a stand of trees to remind himself that there’s still time to go back, still the chance to change his mind. But when he looks to the west tower and sees a light go out as his former manservant extinguishes the candles in the prince’s room for the last time, a sort of peace settles over him and he turns away.

The sea sparkles at him through the trees, and that’s enough to convince Harry to put one foot in front of the other and trek through the night to find his new life.

.....................

Louis’ got one hand on the headboard, one hand on the hip of the man he’s pounding into, torso draped across the stranger’s back as both of their bodies move with every thrust. He doesn’t even know the man’s name, which makes it that much hotter when he starts moaning Louis’ own. “Please, fuck, Louis, just like that,” he begs, breathy and desperate.

He’s hot and tight around Louis’ cock and Louis fucks in eagerly, relishing the slide and the pressure of a body clenching to keep him inside. The hand on that narrow hip slides around the front to grab ahold of that beautiful cock. His mouth starts to water and he wants to take it between his lips, to taste this man, but there are too many desperate gasps coming from his lover-for-the-night to interrupt what he’s doing.

Instead, he snaps his hips forward faster, working the cock in his hand in the same rhythm. The man is arching into him, begging for more, pleading for Louis not to stop because he’s so, so close and then coming with a moan all over Louis’ hand.

It isn’t until Louis’ eyes snap open and he glances down to see that the come covering his hand is his own that he realizes he’s been dreaming. Again.

“Bloody hell,” grumbles Louis, pulling his hand from his breeches and wiping it on yesterday’s tunic, which was helpfully slung over one bedpost. The lack of catcalls at his door would seem to indicate that either he’s kept the volume down this time or that no one happened to be nearby. On the other hand, the crew might just be desensitized to the sounds that often came from the captain’s room. Louis Tomlinson is rarely a quiet man, and the fact that he hasn’t had a partner in longer than he’d like to admit doesn’t stop his body from having needs that it intends to have satisfied whether Louis is conscious and willing or not.

“Fucking wet dreams at twenty-two,” the man grumbles to himself as he goes about getting ready for his day. The light through the porthole is bright enough that Louis can tell the sun is fully risen, and therefore he should really be getting up, too. He's been captaining The Rogue for 3 years now, and still the crew can't manage to do a thing without him. The longer he sleeps in, the more likely that someone will crash his beautiful ship into an island or something, so it's really best that he rejoins the world.

Liam is already hard at work by the time Louis sneaks into the kitchen. “Morning, Captain,” he says cheerfully, then gestures to the far counter with the knife he's using to dice up potatoes. “Got your breakfast over there.”

“You're lucky we're getting rations in town today,” Louis yawns as he goes to retrieve his plateful of bread and a small hunk of cheese. “We've been eating the same shit for months now and it's sort of making me want to throw you overboard.”

Luckily Liam knows better than to take anything that Louis says seriously. “I'll have a word with the captain and tell him he needs to pull into port more often so I can get new rations. Don't get your hopes up though, I hear he's a real tosser.”

That sort of sass warrants something hard as a rock to be thrown at Liam's head, but Louis doesn't want to waste his bread that way.

He takes his meal up to the bridge and eats leaning out over the railing. They’d pulled into port just before sunset the evening before, and most of the crew had immediately gone out into town to cause trouble. He can see them now, stumbling back up to the pier looking worse for the wear but altogether cheerier. It isn't a large crew, just shy of forty, and Louis is able to greet them all by name as they stagger aboard.

Niall, a particular favorite of the captain for his endless enthusiasm and iron liver, looks especially bright this morning. “Ahoy!” He exclaims upon seeing Louis, leaning up against the rail next to him. “You should have come out with us last night, Captain,” he continues easily. “The tavern was about to shake apart, we were all singing and dancing so hard.”

“Well I usually make it a point not to enter buildings that are threatening to collapse,” Louis answers evasively. “Did you have a good time?”

“The absolute best, as usual. I swear it gets better every port.”

“Well I hope you've racked up enough memories to outdo the last one, because we'll be gone soon.” Louis flicks the last inedible crust into the water and brushes the crumbs from his tunic. “I think we'll pull out this afternoon.”

“Why so soon?” questions Niall, eyes dimming a little in disappointment.

“If we stay too long, someone will figure out what this ship is and who I am. Let's just say that I have a bit of a reputation for intercepting ships from this kingdom, and the king lives right up the hill there.” Louis grins fondly up at the castle like he’s remembering his very best handiwork, which is an arguable point. “I'm not very popular in this town.”

Niall's smirk matches Louis' own. “I imagine you're not too popular in any city.”

“Well that's true enough, but so be it. Go on then, get to work. I don't want to hear anything about a hangover!”

With a raucous laugh, Niall jogs off to obey. Louis returns to gazing out over the docks, answering questions and giving orders whenever his sailors approach him for guidance but mostly just watching the familiar bustle.

Over the course of the next half hour the entire crew is back aboard and about their jobs, and Niall is not the last to inquire as to why the captain didn’t go into town the night before. It isn’t all that often that they pull in these days, so the opportunity should surely be seized, yes?

It isn’t a lie when Louis answers that he just couldn’t bear to be apart from the ship. These 80 feet of wood and nails were all he had in this world, and while a happy crew and fresh supplies were always welcome, Louis doesn’t really have any desire to leave it.

Well, except for the fact that it was eighty feet of exactly no one he could fuck, but that was beside the point.

Even still, he supposes it would be in good form to at least touch dry land while he has the chance. Louis strolls down the gangplank and makes his way down the pier, dodging fishermen and shipping containers all the while. He’s almost made it to actual land when he spots something strange and beautiful at the end of the dock.

It’s a boy- a young man, really, not too much younger than Louis himself, perched on an empty crate and staring contemplatively out at the ships tied up in the harbor. Louis calls him beautiful because he’s just simply stunning, all long, curly hair and bright green eyes and lanky limbs that Louis wants sprawled out before him. He calls the man strange, though, because he’s wearing a shirt that’s as much as about three years’ pay for most of this fishermen, yet he pays no mind to the fact that there’s a young boy sneaking up behind him and about to steal his purse.

"Oi, fuck off," he says on instinct, though half a second later he isn't sure why. He isn't in charge of protecting this random stranger, and as a miscreant himself he probably should have let the lad get away with it. But he still feels gratified when the boy scampers off and the young man turns around to realize his near danger and looks at Louis gratefully.

“Thank you,” the young man says hesitantly. “I didn’t even see him coming-”

“Don’t worry about it,” Louis interrupts with a casual shrug. “I’ve watched him do that to fifteen people so far this morning. Thinks he’s very sly at it, too.”

He’s got very plump pink lips that curve up into a smile. “Like you think you’re being slick accepting all those pastries from your crew?”

Louis instantly flushes. His love for sweets is no secret, but if it were to get out that his sailors frequently return from town with treats for the captain to garner favor, they’d probably all stop doing it. It’s only special as long as you think you’re the only one doing it, so if he’s had four or five scones this morning that was his business alone.

“What are you, my secret admirer watching me over the garden wall?” he simply says by way of deflection. “You shouldn’t sit around and watch people like that, it’s bloody creepy.”

“You sat around watching that boy.”

He has Louis there. “You have me there.”

“Besides, I wasn’t watching you,” the man goes on. “I was watching the ship you were on.”

If he didn’t already have Louis’ attention, that would do the trick. Ports are unavoidable, and the list of ports where Louis and his ship and crew aren’t wanted includes just about every port this side of the world. When a stranger in one of those ports declares that he’s been sitting and watching Louis’ ship all day, it's bound to make him more than a little nervous. “Oh yeah? Why’s that?”

“Well, I was trying to figure out…” The man leans forward and finishes in a whisper. “Is that a pirate ship?”

Louis’ heart stutters to a stop. “What’s your name, kid?” he asks calmly.

“Erm- Harry.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you. Listen, Harry, I’ve no idea what makes you think you can go around throwing about accusations like that, but I assure you, my ship is entirely aboveboard-“

Apparently whoever this Harry is, he’s got more backbone than Louis’d thought because he doesn’t flinch under Louis’ false affront. “You don’t have a name on your ship. Why is that?”

Because people would recognize it as the one that frequently robs other ships at sea. “I’ve only just purchased it. It’s on the flag, see? Her name’s Amelia.” Louis points up to the top of the mast where a red flag adorned with a black X flew, emblazoned with Amelia in flowing black scroll. “Not that I owe you any explanation.”

Harry’s hands go up in a gesture of surrender that Louis is all too familiar with, and it makes his lips quirk up at the corner to think that he didn’t even have to threaten the kid with his sword to make it appear. He doesn’t seem truly intimidated though. “I didn’t mean any offense,” Harry assures Louis. “I just was curious. I actually- I was actually hoping it would be. I have certain- erm, business matters. To attend to. Which require particular connections.”

The massive amount of effort he’s putting into this attempt at subtlety and tact is so amusing that Louis takes pity on him. “You’re hopeless, kid,” he says with a roll of his eyes, then jerks his head for Harry to stand. “Come on, follow me.”

“Are you saying that it is-?” Harry asks with wide eyes.

“I’m saying you’re an idiot for talking about things like that in a public place and if someone doesn’t get you off this dock you’ll get yourself in trouble right quick. Come on, Harry, keep up.”

They take off down the pier, Louis striding quickly towards his ship and Harry stumbling along behind with his duffel bag over his shoulder. They make it all the way up the gangplank before anyone comments. “Oh ho, looks like the captain wants to stay a bit longer after all if he’s brought some company aboard, eh?” It’s Niall, of course, the cheeky brat. “What’ll it be, then, another fifteen minutes? Twenty tops?”

“What’ll it be for me to cut your purse strings and push you overboard into the harbor, eh?” Louis fires right back, and the Irishman howls with laughter and relents, continuing to coil rope around his arm in preparation for their impending departure. “Ignore my crew,” he says lowly to Harry over his shoulder. “I sail with a rough crowd.”

Harry ducks his head as they descend the ladder into the belly of the ship. “I suppose that’s pretty standard with pirates, though?”

At least they’re inside now. “Jesus Christ, kid, you must quit saying thing like that. Yes, this is a pirate ship. But if we wanted it announced to the world we would have sailed in with the goddamn Jolly Roger, yeah? Criminals don’t typically take very well to strangers who know too much.” This feels like another of the thousand ‘be smart or you’ll be fishbait’ lectures that he’s given to his little sisters, and Louis can’t help but roll his eyes impossibly hard.

They’re at the door to Louis’ quarters and as he turns the key in the lock Louis spares a glance over his shoulder. Harry’s eyes are wide and innocent as he swallows. “Well you haven’t killed me yet, have you?”

“Firstly, I have a soft spot for things that can’t fend for themselves. Secondly, yet. Now in the door with you, there are too many ears in that hallway for us to properly talk.”

Green eyes take a careful survey of the room, from the messy desk and clothes-strewn floor to the curtain which hides the bed from view. “You brought me to your bedroom.”

“To my office, actually.”

“You have a bed in your office?”

“I’ve no idea if you’ve ever been on a ship before, but space isn’t exactly ample. It’s my bedroom and my office both in one, if you want to nitpick. Sit down, will you?” Harry obeys, dropping his bag next to the straight-backed chair Louis indicated and watching carefully as Louis sinks into the plush armchair at the desk. “Now. What business do you have that’s so important you had to risk your life running your mouth on a pier about it?”

“I need help running away.”

Louis stares at him for a long moment, waiting for a punch line, but when none comes he just sighs and reaches for the decanter of brandy in his bottom drawer. “Alright, then, let’s hear it. What’s so bad that a lad like you has to run away to sea? Second son that won’t inherit enough? Did your girl fall for another lord?”

Harry smiles just a little, unoffended by Louis’ condescension. “Right. I suppose rich people can’t have serious problems, too.”

“On the contrary, I’m sure polo shoes that don’t match your horse’s tack is just devastating.”

“More or less devastating than the fact that I’m being married off to someone I don’t want to marry?”

Louis downs a gulp of liquid and then gives an indulgent shrug. “Alright, that’s pretty shit, I’ll give you that. But is she really that bad?”

“He.”

Thankfully his mouth is empty or the pronoun might have made Louis spit drink all over his desk. Men who openly lay with other men were rare enough, and among the nobles it was unheard of- can’t get an heir that way and that, after all, is the point of it all for those people. He does his best to hide the shock. “Oh? Alright, then. Is he that bad?”

“Not- he’s not terrible, I suppose,” Harry ponderes. “It’s just the principle of the thing.”

“Do you not, erm, prefer men?”

“No, I- I do.” Harry blushes, so Louis indulges him a small smile so hopefully the poor lad won’t melt into the floorboards or anything. Far be it from him, of all people, to tease about a preference for other men when his bed is probably still tacky from his eventful dream earlier this morning.

“Well that’s something, at least,” he says kindly. “So if you prefer men and he isn’t awful, isn’t that relatively tolerable given that arranged marriage comes with the money?”

“I suppose. But it’s the reason I’m to marry him that I can’t live with.”

He isn’t exaggerating, Louis can see that. There’s fire in those gentle eyes that doesn’t fit. “Why are you to marry?” he asks quietly, half afraid to hear the answer.

Harry chews his lip for a long time, the struggle clear on his face. To speak, or not to speak? Eventually something in Louis’ patient gaze must convince him that the truth is best, and with a deep breath he tells it. “It’s a publicity stunt,” Harry confesses. “The man my father wants me to marry is the outcast brother of one of our enemies. He thinks that the lord will be so grateful to have his fruity brother married off that he’ll forget about the rebellion.”

The leadership gears in Louis’ brain are turning. “How serious of a threat is this enemy of your father’s?”

“Substantial.”

“And a marriage between lords is supposed to fix it?” Louis’ doubt colors his tone and he pulls a face. “You’d need a bigger olive branch than that, I’d think. Marriage is everyday, rebellion is not.”

“Well,” Harry says thoughtfully, just above a whisper, “it’s not everyday that you’re offered a prince for marriage.”

“Ah fuck,” Louis swears before the words have even fully settled in his mind, and then again when they have. “Oh, fuck. That's fantastic. My savior complex kicks in and the little lost teenager that I decide to snatch up off the pier because he's going to get himself killed turns out to be prince of the bloody country I need to get the fuck out of. That's just perfect.”

“If it helps any, I'm actually 20.”

“No, Harry, it does not. Listen, I’m very sorry that your life is crumbling around you, but I think it's probably best if you go.” Louis is on his feet, picking up Harry's bag and handing it to him. “It's nothing against you, but you can understand how a man of my profession might not feel comfortable consorting with nobles who want to kill him.”

“Well obviously I don't want to kill you, or I would have done it already. And if I wanted to turn you in, I wouldn't have put myself in danger by coming on board.” Harry is entirely too calm, especially when compared to the pounding of Louis’ own heart, but then again all he has to worry about is being turned away. Louis has forty men whose livelihoods depend on him not getting caught and the man sitting across his desk is perhaps the largest threat to that goal he's ever come across.

That being said, he does have a point. “How do I know I can trust you?”

“Well if I was trying to trick you I probably wouldn't have come up with such a ridiculous story,” Harry reasons, “and I wouldn't have confessed that I'm the prince. And after all, I told you that I wanted help running away. You can't do that if I have you thrown in jail.”

Slowly Louis removes his hand from the doorknob, no less hesitant. Just because this prince was making a lot of sense didn't mean that he feels any better about the idea of helping him run away. “It's still a shitty plan, you know that, right?”

“No its not,” Harry protests, then pauses. “Why is it a shitty plan?”

“I assume you don't want your former kingdom destroyed?”

“No, not at all. I just don't want to have to do something miserable in order to keep it afloat. I wish that there was a way for me to save it without giving up my freedom…”

“Well if you run away, then here's what's going to happen,” Louis says authoritatively, sinking back into his chair so that the gears in his brain can turn more efficiently. “The prince choosing to defect from the kingdom is going to be a major sign of weakness in the crown. Any rebels will likely see this as an invitation to strike. Not only will your father not succeed in making peace, but the kingdom will likely collapse.”

Harry just stares. “Shit.”

“Which is not to say that it can't be done,” Louis continues. “It definitely can. You just need to do something that gets you away without tarnishing your father’s reputation. Yes?”

“Like what?”

“Maybe try for sympathy. Something tragic happens to you and suddenly everyone feels a little warmer towards your father. You know what I mean?”

Harry hesitates for a second before nodding. “Like if I died.”

“Alright, I suppose faking your death would do the trick,” Louis allows. “That's pretty difficult to do though, I was thinking something a little simpler.” He pauses and looks at Harry carefully. “What if you were kidnapped?”

“Won't that make him look weak though?” Harry asks, confused. “It'll look like he couldn't even keep his family safe.”

“Not if it happens while you're out and about. Then it just looks like a tragedy for your family. Meanwhile, the kingdom gets united against the common enemy- the bastard that kidnapped their prince.”

Harry is shaking his head. “But they won't know that I was kidnapped, or who I was kidnapped by. They’ll just think I disappeared and that I ran away or something.”

“We could spread information about you being kidnapped, and it won't take long for that information to work its way back to the castle. If you give someone a viable suspect, it won't take them long to convict, even if the only evidence is what people say.”

“I don't know what you mean,” Harry says quietly.

“I mean to say that if we start spreading the word around the docks that someone saw the prince being kidnapped by me, it would be believable. People expect a pirate to do something like that.”

“But you would be hunted down,” Harry protests. “Kidnapping a prince wouldn't be taken lightly.”

Louis burst out laughing. “Harry, darling, it's been a long time since I haven't been hunted down. I believe I'm the number one most wanted man in your kingdom, actually.”

Harry cocks his head in confusion. “You’re the Butcher of Norwich?”

“Seriously, I lost my title to someone with a title like that? I’m insulted. No, I'm not the butcher. But I am Louis Tomlinson, captain of The Rogue.”

It's gratifying, seeing Harry's face light up with recognition at the name. “You’re Louis Tomlinson? But the bounty on your head-”

“It’s astronomical, I know,” Louis replies smugly. “Good to see your father is still bitter about that warship of his I took down.”

“You sunk it!” Harry cries delightedly with laughter in his eyes. “An entire warship, and you just sunk it.”

“I made sure everyone was off first,” defends Louis. “I'm not a cruel man. We were barely two miles from shore. I gave everyone the option of joining my crew or swimming back to land, so if they didn't want to swim that was their own bloody fault for not choosing the better option.”

“You're ridiculous.”

“I am. So are you okay with that plan, or are you going to go find some other pirate to give you worldly advice?”

Harry appears to take the question seriously, looking down at his twiddling thumbs as he considers. It doesn't take him long. “You've been honest with me, and of all the unsavory characters I might have to turn to for help, you seem like one who might not murder me in my sleep. I don't think there's a better plan or a better pirate to carry it out with. If you're willing to help still, that is.”

Louis pretends to consider in much the same way, but his mind is already made up. He grins mischievously up at the boy. “I've never kidnapped a prince before. Nor anyone half as handsome as you.”

He can see the shiver that goes up Harry’s spine. The pupils of those green eyes dilate just the tiniest bit. “You're not actually kidnapping me,” he reminds Louis weakly. "You don't actually own me.”

“We'll see about that,” Louis replies vaguely, offering his hand to the young prince to shake. “Welcome aboard The Rogue. We set sail in an hour.”