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Sing You Butterflies

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Harry didn’t mean to stomp on the begonias.

He was just walking along, snuffling about on the forest floor, following the saccharine scent of burnt sugar and fresh raspberries. Someone was baking, and unicorns love sweets.

He wanted to inhale the warm smell on the afternoon breeze and let it carry his mane and tail, velvety pink nostrils flaring. But a little gopher hole, or maybe it was an extra large toadstool, made its way under the narrow splay of his cloven hoof, somehow, and before he even realized what was happening, he was tripping face first over a low, haphazard fence and into someone’s garden.

Unfortunately for Harry, the baking and the begonias belonged to a witch, and as soon as she realized that he had trampled her flowers, she cursed him. Put a glamour on him. Left him in a heap of ruined flowers, naked save for the glitter that he’s covered in, the remnants of his old form.

He’s human now, he thinks. His skin is pink-white, like a peachy rose, and his front legs are arms that basically don’t work. There’s a paralyzing ache in his head, and when he nuzzles into his—shoulder?—to soothe the burn, he notices that his pearly mane has been replaced with an absolute mess of brown curls. Which would be sad but tolerable if it weren’t for his horn. His beautiful horn, formerly six inches of majestic, swirly magic, has been reduced to a nub. A nipple. No more than the tip of a baby bottle. (Harry doesn’t know much about humans, but he knows about babies and baby bottles. Sometimes he sneaks into the village outside his forest so that he can rest his head on the flower boxes of nursery windows and watch them sleep. They’re so tiny, so brilliant, so new. They sometimes wake and see him, a shimmer of coral-tinged silver in the moonlight, and they smile.)

Harry prods the nub with his shoulder, jabbing the dull, absurd little thing (like a goat’s horn, honestly) into himself until he remembers that he has hands with fingers that can feel stuff. He sits in the clover and taps at his hairline with these new, weird appendages before feeling the nub hidden in his curls more prudently. It’s just so little and so sad. He whimpers and tries to get up, which only causes him to topple over again, collapsing on his weak limbs and crashing into a massive artichoke plant that partially breaks his fall.

The witch yells from her window before storming out her front door, smelling for all the world like the raspberry scones that Harry is not eating, shaking her cane with its carved vulture’s head at him, its ruby eyes glinting in the sun. “Here,” she snarls, magicking him out of her garden to a spot just beyond the fence. He lands in a flurry of glitter with his legs in the air, a pair of ugly, over-large, pink silk bloomers dropping on his chest with a soft thud. “Put these on,” she orders. “No one wants to see that.”

It takes Harry a very long time to actually get his (hideous, long, awkward) legs into the shorts; he keeps missing the holes, and everything is uncoordinated and trembly and distantly painful. Once they're actually pulled up over his bum, he continues to sort of sit there, wondering what he should do. It’s not as if he can walk. He already has bruises from the artichoke plant fall to prove it.

The witch creeps closer, waving her cane in the air, the absolute picture of exasperation. “You’re a human now!” she blusters, shooting magick left and right, singeing the curls tumbling over his shoulders. “Which means that it’s time to get your clumsy self away from my begonias and into the village, where humans belong.”

“I’m still a unicorn,” he reminds her, pointing to his horn. If you could even call it that. “You did a poor job.”

But before he can hear her reply, he finds himself quickly, instinctively, scrambling away on all fours through the mud because the spells coming his way in a fury aren’t glamour. They’re scary and mad. Better a tiny horn and a human body than nothing at all.

The village isn’t that far away, if he remembers correctly, so he sighs and starts to crawl in that general direction, glitter still sifting out of his hair every few seconds, head still pounding. He only wanted some sweets.

—-

Louis’s on his way to the only Tesco in his town, a village, really, a place where nothing exciting ever happens, so at first he thinks he must be hallucinating. Beautiful boys don’t just show up off the coast of Yorkshire, and if they do, they certainly don’t stumble in on their hands and knees, weeds and rushes in their wild hair, mud (and is that…glitter?) glistening on their lovely, broad shoulders.

Louis’s probably imagining this boy, perhaps from the sheer force of his want, of his loneliness.

It’s not until a woman screams and covers her child’s eyes, steering her away from the unusual sight, that Louis realizes it’s not just him who can see this boy.

This strange boy, bits of iridescent pink shining at the tips of his hair, an odd and indescribable shimmer on the outermost curve of his bicep as he tries to push himself up onto his legs using the strength of his arms. It doesn’t work, and he spills out onto the pavement like a newly born foal. If Louis didn’t know better, didn’t know that this boy obviously wasn’t a horse, he’d swear he was witnessing one try to find its wobbly legs. Even if that makes no sense, none at all.

Louis stares for a moment before some primal sympathetic force in him activates. He has to help this boy. He can hardly walk, and he seems so young (yet ageless, beyond age, like a sea turtle or a parrot or a tree or something else odd and magical), and on top of all that, he really does have body glitter clinging to his skin, like that roll-on stuff his sisters used to use as preteens, only pink-gold and twice as thick. It’s, like, professional grade. He’s also wearing grass- and dirt-stained pink silk women’s underwear, so maybe he’s from London. Maybe he’s a drag queen who crawled all the way from a nightclub in Soho just to save Louis from his horribly mundane and woefully heterosexual neighbours out here in the middle of nowhere.

Valiantly, Louis whirls into action, stripping off his denim jacket and rushing to help the boy to his feet.

It proves to be a far more labour-intensive task than Louis initially thought. The boy’s skin is slippery with the glitter, and he’s extraordinarily clumsy, his knees visibly shaking every time his legs nearly straighten. “S’alright, mate,” Louis assures him gently, straightening his jacket over the boy’s shoulders, glad that he favours oversized clothes because otherwise it would be too tight for this boy, who’s both built and delicate, svelte like a deer. Or a horse. “Looks like you had a hell of a night. Let’s get you somewhere safe, yeah?”

“My night was fine...slept well,” the boy huffs out, blinking up at Louis with the most spectacular green eyes. He has cupid’s bow lips, and if Louis didn’t have mud and glitter on his fingers to prove that he had touched him, he’d wonder if any of this was real. “It was my afternoon that was rough. I was cursed...or glamoured. Not sure yet, but I hope it’s glamour. Don’t wanna be stuck like this, s’awful, this body…no offense,” he adds quickly, gaze sweeping up and down Louis from where he’s sitting on the pavement, legs somehow everywhere. “Your body’s fine. S’quite nice, actually.”

Louis knows that most of what this boy has said is absolute nonsense, but he forgets it all because the only thing he’s capable of processing in the moment is that a fit, glittery stranger in women’s bloomers just told him he has a nice body. “Thank you,” he smiles shyly, buttoning his jacket up over the boy’s toned, pale chest, a remarkable feat given that he isn’t entirely sure he knows what buttons even are at this point, let alone how to use them. “Erm, what’s your name? And where are you from?”

“My name’s Harry,” the boy answers, which is normal enough. “M’from the forest, just there,” he gestures, and that’s not normal at all.

“The forest?” Louis asks, brow furrowing. “That one? Sherwood?” he clarifies, pointing down the road to the edge of town, where the train stop is the last visible bit of civilization before the landscape gives way to dense trees. Harry keeps gesturing loosely with a big but somehow still oddly graceful hand, nearly hitting Louis in the face with it as he waves it about.

“Yes, I suppose, but that's not what we call it,” Harry says, licking his lovely pink lips.

“We? Are you an elf? A fairy?” Louis half-jokes, rubbing his fingers together to feel the grit of the glitter, which isn’t actually gritty at all. It falls away into golden nothingness, soft like the iridescent powder of a butterfly’s crushed wing.

“No, well, actually…,” Harry trails off, pursing his lip and pushing his tongue into the side of his cheek, like he isn’t sure he should tell Louis what he really is. “A human. Yeah, I’m a human,” he declares, after a long moment of visible deliberation.

And, well. Louis has never believed in magic or aliens or ghosts before this, but he might be starting to. Because he’s never seen such an adorably blatant lie.

—-

The boy looks like a prince. Blue eyes and copper hair and a face like something from stained glass. Harry feels as if he’s seen this boy before, somehow, but perhaps only in storybook illustrations and tapestries, which often feature unicorns, too. Harry likes to look at himself, and he likes to look at drawings of human boys.

He likes to look at this boy, too. “Are you a prince?” he asks him as he helps Harry to his feet for the fourth time since they started walking to his house. Harry’s legs don’t work very well yet because he isn’t used to having his weight distributed on two points instead of four. He feels unstable and top-heavy, constantly pitching forward with his hands out until the boy notices him starting to topple and catches him before he hits the ground. He’s shorter than Harry but sturdy and strong, and he feels incredibly solid clutching at him, steadying him. If Harry wasn't falling for real, he’d pretend to, just to feel that remarkable solidity.

“Goodness, no, m’just a lad who works the farmers market,” he explains, fingers digging into the joint in Harry’s front legs. His arms. His elbows, he thinks they’re called. “Selling the apples we grow in an orchard.”

Harry perks up at that, weaving a bit as he tries to stay upright. “Apples?”

“Yes, apples. Are you a fan?”

“Very much so,” Harry enthuses, dazzled by the boy’s bright eyes, the elegant arch to his brows. He isn’t a fan of his new fingers, exactly, but he’d like to trace the lines of this boy’s face with them, at least. “So, you aren’t a prince but a lad. Lads have names, don’t they?”

“Oh, shit, I totally forgot, how rude! M’Louis,” he babbles, eyes still so blue, like the sky, like the sea.

“Louis,” Harry repeats, and it feels like a song in his mouth. “Magick. Like a spell.”

“Don’t get too excited,” Louis tells him, fingers digging into his arms as Harry’s hooves (no, they’re feet now) slide and fail to stabilize. “M’but a mere mortal. So boring.”

“You aren’t boring,” Harry assures him, hands all over his chest, his shoulders. They’re flat and warm, and the heat under these new, weird appendages make his heart beat faster. Who knew humans were so good to touch? Not Harry. Before, he had only enjoyed watching them. “You’re fit. And firm.”

“Erm,” Louis stammers, knocking Harry’s hands away, “let’s get some clothes on you and some food in you before we start talking like that.” And there’s a nervousness to his voice, a sharp edge, something that Harry could cut himself on and stain his white coat blood red if he gets too close. Except that he doesn't have a coat anymore, just this weird, clammy skin, so maybe it’s a sign that he should keep pushing.

They make it to Louis’s house, and, god, is Harry relieved because his knees are seconds away from giving out. It’s a cottage, really, with a cobblestone path and climbing roses growing up trellis fences framing its front garden, looking for all the world like something from a fairytale, and Harry feels a strange, nameless pang of longing. It’s hard to identify these sorts of things when you’re a fantasy yourself, when you’ve been written into fiction for countless generations. He isn’t sure how he’s feeling in his new body, so far from home. He isn’t sure if this is a fairytale or his old life, his true form. “This is where you live?”

“Yeah, I know it’s small…it’s small even for me, me mum, and me sisters, to be honest, so you’ll have to lay low. I can’t imagine my family being totally thrilled m’showing up with some strange man.”

“M’not strange,” Harry pouts, arms and legs akimbo, hair curling and getting pinker somehow as it dries, and well, maybe he is. But he’s trying.

“I didn’t…I didn’t mean it in a bad way. M’sure you’re very nice. Just...you showed up starkers in the middle of the village.”

“I had these on,” Harry reminds him, tugging at the scalloped hem of his shorts.

“Doesn’t help your case much, love,” Louis tuts sympathetically, guiding him through the door with a gentle hand on his elbow. “Let’s get you some tea.”

And Harry doesn’t know exactly what tea is, but he wants it, especially if Louis’s calling him love while offering it. If Harry knows anything about humans, it’s what love means to them, the subject of all their songs, all their poetry, all their dreams. Unicorns don’t love things, not really. When you’re immortal, it’s somewhat beside the point. Love is something you feel when you have very much to lose, and Harry has never quite understood that before, even if he wants to. Even if he’s always wondered what it might feel like.

With his heart in his throat, he lets this prince (not a prince, but Harry feels fooled, lied to on that front) help him over the threshold, and then he collapses onto a wooden chair to watch Louis boil water. The room (kitchen?) smells like sugar, and Harry's been cursed or glamoured or worse, his horn is a disgrace, and he’s pretending to be human to a boy who isn’t a prince, but he can’t help feeling like this is where he’s supposed to be.

—-

Louis burns himself on the kettle.

His hands are shaking, and he has no fucking idea what’s happening, really, he might have an alien in his kitchen, but he doesn’t even care because he’s such a cute, charming, lovely alien. Or whatever he is. A forest-dwelling, apple-loving, girls’-pants-wearing incandescent thing of glory. Louis brews them some Yorkshire and finds a half-finished tube of iced biscuits that he empties onto a plate, hoping they aren’t too stale.

He doesn't know how aliens take their tea, so he brings out some sugar cubes and a bit of milk, too. He’ll try not to judge if Harry ruins his tea with either of them.

“Thank you,” Harry says politely, messing with his dirty, tangled hair, pushing it over his brow into an awkward sort of too-long quiff. There’s something poking through, Louis sees just a glimpse of it, but then Harry leans down and snuffles curiously at the tea, and his curls fall back to cover whatever it was. He exhales cautiously, wrinkling his nose and shaking his head. Then, he zeros in on the sugar.

After everything he’s seen today, Louis shouldn’t be shocked. But that’s exactly what he is when Harry starts eating sugar cubes straight from the ceramic bowl, pink tongue dusted in crumbly white. He doesn't even use his hands to pick them out first (which is actually probably a good thing as they’re equally shiny and filthy with glitter and mud), prompting Louis to just sort of stare, mouth actually hanging open, hand tightening reflexively on his tea cup. “Harry,” he says, clearing his throat. “If you’re hungry…if you’re hungry, you can eat the biscuits. Or I have apples, too, of course. You don’t have to eat sugar straight from a bowl.”

Harry looks up at him through his lashes, crystalline bits of white clinging to his smooth and violently pink lips. He licks them off, and Louis’s whole face feels hot. “How am I supposed to eat it, then?”

“You’re not supposed to eat it,” Louis tells him, heart racing as he grabs the bowl out from under Harry, who’s diving back in for more, tongue first, diabolical mouth shining.

“Then why did you put it in one of these things you eat food out of?” Harry asks plaintively, making a face.

“It’s for the tea,” Louis explains, pointing to the steaming cup. “You put it in, if you want to. Personally, I think it’s better without it.”

Harry sniffs the Yorkshire again. “Hot leaf water,” he declares, and, well, he’s not wrong. “Smells bitter. Why go through the trouble of making a bitter thing sweet when you can just eat the sweet thing?” He’s asking genuinely, and something about the wide, pure curiosity in his eyes makes Louis’s heart ache. He wants to protect this boy. He wants to wind the shimmery pink tips of his hair around his fingers and pull him closer by a gentle fistful of curls. He wants to ask him, where on earth did you come from?

Eat the biscuits,” Louis says instead, pushing them across the table toward Harry. “You’ll like them if you like sweets.”

Harry’s tentative at first, but then he’s devouring them straight off the plate, licking the tops where the white icing is hardened in uniform little zig-zags. Louis just watches, tracing a marker stain on the tabletop from when his sisters went off the paper while scribbling. He’s glad he can feed Harry, who’s apparently very hungry. “So,” he says, drumming his fingers beside his tea cup while he waits for it to cool. “What exactly is your story? How did you end up here? How come you don't know what plates or bowls are?”

Harry looks up at him, chewing his biscuits with his mouth open. It’s alarmingly charming. “I got lost?” he offers, as if trying to convince himself. “And…confused.”

“Right, so this is, like…a temporary and selective amnesia? Or what?” Louis asks, pushing, wanting to know. He's met people who have gone mad, seen them in the streets of Camden asking for trolley fare even though there is no trolley in Camden. He knows the wildness to their eyes, or else the haze, and Harry has neither of those things. He’s odd, but he isn’t mad, he’s completely lucid, completely aware.

The way that he says “yes” in response to Louis’s questions, curt and noncommittal and insistent and fake-casual all at once, is calculated. He’s lying about something, and Lois wants desperately to know what it is. He wants to know Harry. He wants to help him.

“Are you sure you aren’t a fairy?” he asks hopefully, taking his first tentative sip of tea.

It burns his tongue, and he winces as Harry answers, “Yes, m’sure.”

“Hmm,” Louis murmurs, because Harry wasn’t lying that time. Louis can tell by the uncomplicated conviction in his voice, whereas every other time he’s answered a question, he’s stumbled over the words, not sure if he’s getting it right, whatever it is. Louis watches Harry finish off the biscuits and lick up the crumbs, hands in his lap all the while, as if he doesn’t know how to use them. So not a fairy, but something.

—-

Harry thinks he’s doing a pretty excellent job of playing human. He walked on two legs for, like, a considerable distance, he went inside a house and sat down at a table, he ate food. He’s even wearing clothes. Louis thinks he’s strange, but he isn’t scared or overly suspicious. Harry can fake it a bit longer, at least until he figures out this curse or until the glamour wears off.

“Before anyone else sees you like this, we need to take care of some stuff,” Louis tells him once he finishes his tea. “You’re dirty, for one. We need to get all the dirt and glitter off and get you in proper kit…you can borrow my clothes, I think,” he observes, sizing Harry up with his eyes. It feels good, to be surveyed like this, to have his new body examined and understood by someone who actually gets it. It also feels good to think about wearing Louis’s clothes: Louis smells very good and is very warm, and Harry imagines that, by extension, his clothes will smell good and be warm, too. “And we need to do something about your hair. It has a lot of…I don’t even know...vegetation?...in it, and is that paint?” he asks, pointing to the pink bits, and Harry recoils, remembering that colourful hair like his isn’t totally normal, isn’t a natural human thing.

“We could cut it off,” he suggests, shaking the curls around his shoulders. As much as he loves his long, luscious mane, this new hair isn’t it. It’s glamour hair, anyway, so when he turns back into his real form, he thinks it won’t matter what he's done to this version. The changes probably won’t be permanent, so he can hack away the suspicious bits to look more human. “You’ll help me? M’not good with my, erm, hands.”

“I’m sure you’re fine with your hands,” Louis sighs, pinching at the bridge of his nose and making a pained expression, teeth visibly grit. “But sure, I’ll help you. Let’s, erm, let’s get you to the washroom first, yeah?”

Harry follows Louis through the house, feeling bad for tracking mud and glitter in with his bare feet. There are toys everywhere—dolls, interlocking plastic blocks, stuffed animals—and Harry really doesn’t want to step on anything, but it’s difficult considering that he barely knows how to walk. He wobbles along as best he can, weaving between obstacles and managing to crack only a single plastic Barbie hairbrush along the way. He thinks of the begonias and feels guilty.

They make it into a clean-looking tiled room, and Louis turns on the tap to a tub, testing the heat of the water with his palm, wrist looking soft and elegant, tongue pressed into the side of his cheek.

Harry really, really loves looking at him, all his angles and tender bits obscured by swirling steam. “You’re probably cold, aren't you?” he asks, and Harry is, so he nods, even though Louis isn’t looking. His legs feel chilled through, half-numb even. Maybe he’d be better at this whole walking thing if he could feel them. “You can rinse off the worst of the dirty stuff here, under the shower tap, then we can make a bath for you, yeah? We have a few hours before mum comes back with the girls, anyway,” Louis explains.

Only bits of it make sense, but Harry knows about baths. He takes baths in the creek sometimes, and they always make him feel clean, refreshed, special, like time slows down, his universe reduced to the suspension of his body in water. He likes the way the current carries his mane, he likes swishing his tail, letting it skim the surface and chase water bugs.

He has no tail, and there are no water bugs, but he would like to be clean, so he struggles with the fastenings of Louis’s jacket, eventually shouldering it to the floor before sliding the bloomers down his thighs.

“Oh,” Louis says suddenly, standing up and turning his back to Harry, cheeks red where they’re peeking out from between splayed fingers. “I’ll just, erm, leave you to it, then. Shit. M’sorry...didn’t mean to see you like…yeah.”

Harry didn’t know that Louis was looking at him, watching him, and that knowledge makes his stomach coil up. “Wait,” he yelps, not wanting Louis to leave. He isn’t sure what he’s going on about, so he steps closer, curious, drawn in by some new and vexatious heat. “Leave me to what? I mean, I don’t know how this thing works, not really,” he adds, gesturing to the place where he’s supposed to take a bath.

The water’s pouring down from the nozzle above their heads like concentrated rain, and he isn’t sure if he’s supposed to do something about it or not. Louis sighs deeply and half-covers his eyes as he yanks the curtain open and points to the tub. “Can you step in there without hurting yourself?”

“Erm, I think so,” Harry nods, fumbling a bit but managing. The water is so warm, almost too warm, and he coughs on steam. It fills his lungs, and he feels dizzy, surrounded. Filth and gold dust are washing down his pale body in rivulets, leaving a flushed pink in their wake.

“Good,” Louis grits out, yanking the curtain back into place. “Rinse everything off, and once you’re clean, we’ll stop up the bath. Jesus, I can’t believe you’re trying to convince me that you’re actually human. Spoiler alert, humans don’t walk around waving their willies about.”

Harry resents that; he wasn’t waving it anywhere, it simply exists between his thighs. Humans have so many rules. “Sorry,” he mumbles, deciding to rinse that particular part of himself with prudence, eyes narrowed at this new, strange version of it. It’s not all that different, really, just…shorter. Less flared at the tip. Smaller overall, like his new horn, because humans are not only mortal, they’re fragile.

He sighs when he’s done. “M’ready for the bath now.”

Louis sighs back.

—-

While the tub fills, Harry sits inside it, and Louis tries to figure out what the fuck to do.

Like, it’s becoming increasingly clear to him that Harry, whatever he is and wherever he’s from, cannot be trusted unsupervised in his home. Particularly not in a place like the bathtub, where he might drown or forget to shut off the water and flood the place or something. Louis doesn’t think Harry himself is dangerous, but his general state of being might be.

So Louis has to watch him all the time. And as much as he wants to, he also feels weird and guilty about it because, god, Harry’s fucking beautiful, there’s no way to sugarcoat it. He’s stunning and shamelessly naked, not to mention probably magical. Like, Actually Magical. Louis feels drunk and dizzy and enchanted around him, as if he’s moving beyond his will, outside of his own control.

Or maybe that’s just the thrill of something so exciting happening in his otherwise humdrum, apple-farming life.

He dumps half a bottle of his little sister’s bubblegum-scented bath soap into the tub so that he doesn’t have to worry about what might happen if he catches sight of Harry’s pretty cock. It was soft when he saw it, hanging loose and delicious like overripe fruit on a low-slung branch between Harry’s pale thighs, the tip peeking out of the foreskin, just enough for him to cover with the swipe of his tongue.

He shakes his head, carding his fingers through his hair. He shouldn’t be thinking about licking magical boys’ dicks. He shouldn’t be taking in strays. He shouldn’t be sitting here on a bath mat that smells of mildew and old rubber, but here he is.

As if he can sense Louis thinking about him, Harry lets out a small, shaky sigh.

“Water too hot?” Louis asks, dipping his fingers in tentatively, a safe distance away from Harry’s body.

“No, s’perfect. Feels good…I didn’t really realize how tired I was. Or how much my body hurt from crawling through the forest,” he explains, trailing his long fingers through the sweet-smelling foam, pursing his lips. They’re so red, so plush, and Louis’s heart clenches at the sight of them, forces him to look away. “Thank you for helping me,” Harry adds, water licking noisily up against the side of the tub as he adjusts his position, shifting his weight so that he’s sinking down into the bubbles, his pink, bruised knees poking out. Louis wants to kiss them.

“Of course,” Louis answers. “I couldn’t just leave you there, stumbling around town in women’s pants. I…I was worried. You looked like you needed a friend.”

“I did,” Harry tells him, looking up, eyes radiantly or perhaps radioactively green. It takes Louis three attempts to turn off the water properly. “I’ve never had one of those before, not really. I mean, there aren’t that many...people…in the forest.”

It’s awkward, and he stumbles a bit at the end, just like he does every time he very nearly forgets what he’s playing at and almost reveals that he's an alien or an elf or an extremely corporeal ghost or whatever he is, but Louis doesn’t push this time. His new plan is to wait it out. “Well, m’honoured to be your friend, Harry.”

Harry grins at that, perhaps for the first time since Louis scooped him up off the pavement and guided him home. His teeth are so white against the raspberry wine stain of his mouth, and he has dimples, his features seemingly too large for his face. Louis’s chest throbs, and he has to look away again. Harry’s just too much for his eyes, like something he isn’t supposed to witness, something too vast and brilliant to behold. Maybe he’s an angel; people always describe those sorts of encounters as akin to staring at the sun. “I’m gonna go get some stuff to cut your hair,” he says shakily after clearing his throat, cheeks hot. “I’ll be right back.”

He sneaks into his mum’s ensuite for the haircut scissors, which he finds between the paracetamol and the nail varnish remover. When he closes the medicine cabinet, he tries not to look at his reflection for very long. He’s worried that Harry has changed him somehow, or that his possibly preternatural attraction to Harry has. He’s worried that he’s glowing, that his cheeks are still pink, that there’s something hiding in the pupil of his eyes that will give him away. Make him confess, I’m thinking all sorts of things about you that I shouldn’t be. I wanna cut your hair so that I can touch it, feel the sift of your curls through my fingers. I wanna know so, SO badly who you are. What you are. I want to be more than just your friend.

It’s all such ridiculous shit to think about someone that he’s just met. Particularly when that someone apparently lives alone in Sherwood Forest and still hasn’t told him why he ended up in the village covered in glitter. Louis’s probably losing his mind. Or a spell has been cast on him. Either option seems equally probable given today's events.

Harry’s sitting demurely in the bathtub when Louis comes back, sugary-smelling bubbles swirling around him as he sits up. “You’re going to get rid of the weird bits?” he asks, toying with the very tips of his curls, which have darkened to a deep mulberry now that they’re wet.

Louis nods, sitting gingerly on the edge of the tub and gesturing for Harry to slide closer. He does, water dripping from his hair to his lovely, broad shoulders as Louis gingerly sifts his fingers through the curls. While he’s waiting for the first snip, Harry spots a bar of soap resting in the soap dish in the corner of the tub and reaches for it. Thinking that he’s just going to scrub his arms clean with it or something, Louis allows for the motion, but instead of using the soap bar or even offering it to Louis to use, Harry brings it up to his mouth and tries to take a bite out of it.

Louis notices and stops him before any critical damage is done, grabbing his wrist tightly. “What the hell are you doing?!”

Harry licks his lips and wrinkles his nose. “It was pretty...thought it might be a giant sugar cube or something else to eat,” he pouts, shaking his head and dislodging Louis’s hands. “Yeuch.”

“It’s to clean with, here, like this,” Louis tells him, dunking it in the water to get it frothy before handing it back to Harry. “You rub it on yourself. My god, how do you get clean where you’re from?”

“I just am clean, I stay clean…,” Harry’s voice trails off quietly as he slides the bar up his arm experimentally. “It’s just the way things are.”

Magic, Louis thinks, sectioning off Harry’s hair and using a few of his sister’s pink hair ties to create some ponytails to chop off. Or alien powers. Something like that. It’s then that his fingers bump against a hard little nub, a lump hidden in Harry’s unruly, tangled curls, at the forefront of his hairline. Louis inhales sharply, parting the hair around it to examine.

It’s a horn. A tiny, baby horn, pearly and faintly iridescent, like an abalone shell. “What’s this?” he asks, rubbing his fingers up the slight length very, very gently as Harry gasps.

His hands fly to his scalp, and he touches the horn with frantic, clumsy fingers, like he's only just remembered that it’s there. “Oops,” he whispers, looking up at Louis, brows raised. “I guess you know now.”

“Only sort of,” Louis answers, eyes fixed on this strange marvel, the inch or so of proof that Harry is not like him. He knew, but now he really knows. “Honestly, what is it? What are you?”

Harry pulls his knees to his chest and sighs again, dropping the soap bar into the water to disintegrate. It makes a thunking sound against the bottom of the tub, and Louis should fish it out, but he lets it go, for now, because Harry’s about to speak.

“I’m a unicorn,” he monotones, his voice deadpan and serious enough that Louis knows he isn’t joking.

It’s…not what he was expecting, is the thing, even after finding a shimmery white horn on his head. He's seen Harry, been looking at him for hours, and although he positively exudes horse-like sensibility, he is a human. Or at least a humanoid. “Huh,” Louis says, thumbing up the back side of the horn, mildly surprised that Harry’s still letting him touch it, that he’s leaning into the pressure of Louis’s hand, even. “Are unicorns, like, shapeshifters, then?”

Harry frowns. “No, unfortunately not...there was a witch, and she was making something sweet, but I somehow ended up stomping on her flowers, and she cursed me, put a glamour on me. I have no idea how long I’ll stay like this, I mean, it could go away today, or I could be stuck like this forever. I don't really know what to do…I just sort of wandered into the village, and then you found me,” he shrugs.

“Oh, love,” Louis coos gently, smoothing his hand down the back of Harry’s neck and squeezing it in what he hopes is a reassuring way. He's soothed horses before, and his instincts are kicking in. Or maybe they’ve been there all along, his heart already knowing what Harry was, what he needed, even before he told him. “We’ll figure it out. Once you get better at walking and get your strength back, we’ll go to the witch. Maybe she can fix it.” And I’ll never see your perfect boy-body ever again. Which is probably for the best, he thinks.

“Thank you, Louis,” Harry sniffles, reaching up and tentatively covering Louis’s hand with his own. It’s big, heavy-warm, and Louis thinks about how it very recently was a hoof. It should be weird, but it isn’t. Instead, he just feels sympathetic.

“Lemme cut your hair now, yeah?” he asks.

Harry nods, and Louis gets to work, chunks of dark brown frosted in pink falling through his fingers and into the bath to float on a layer of bubblegum bubbles. Unicorn, he thinks, trying the label on, imagining Harry four-legged and snow-white and stunning. A flash of ivory half-glimpsed between trees.

He waits to feel freaked out and then wonders what it says about him that the freak out never comes.

—-

“I have to leave you here for a bit,” Louis says, shielding his eyes with one hand while he guides Harry into his room with the other. Harry hasn’t quite mastered how the towel works, so he’s just holding it while he drips all over the floor. Louis won’t look at him while he's naked, which Harry thinks is absolutely absurd because humans will look at a horse or a unicorn without clothes on and not care a bit, but seeing each other is apparently too much? It’s totally illogical, it makes no sense, and Harry refuses to play by these dumb rules; he’ll be naked if he wants to. Louis will just have to deal with seeing a penis. He has one, so it shouldn't be too traumatic.

He gingerly, clumsily sits down on Louis’s floor and looks around, carding a hand through his newly shorn hair. “You have a lot of things on the wall,” he observes, fiddling with the towel in his lap. The carpet is sort of springy under him, like moss on the forest floor. He likes it.

“Yeah, s’just stuff I’m into…footie players, bands,” Louis sighs, sounding exhausted. “You can look at it, but please…don’t touch too much. Or at least, don’t eat anything that you aren’t supposed to. Nothing in this room is edible, got it?”

“I mean,” Harry starts, raising the towel to his mouth and sniffing. It smells mildewy under the chemical burn, and he doesn’t want to take a bite from it, but he will, to prove a point. “Anything is edible if you try hard enough.”

“Don’t,” Louis warns, reaching out to grab the towel as his fingers stop short, whatever safeguards he has in place preventing him from looking at Harry naked keeping him from touching him too much, too. There are so many rituals, there’s so much restraint with humans. Harry wishes he knew what they all meant. “Don’t you dare eat that towel. My sisters and mum will be home from a community service thing any minute now, and I need them to not know about you yet, yeah? So that means just, erm, you being in here, sitting quietly, getting some rest. Not eating towels or soap or anything else that might make you sick.”

“I am quite tired,” Harry admits, yawing as he watches Louis bustle about his room, tugging a duvet from his bed and an additional pile of blankets from his closet.

“Here,” he offers, dumping them on the floor. “Feel free to make a nest, cuddle up, whatever, and I’ll be back in a few hours. I’ll bring you some dinner, too, yeah? If anyone knocks, it won’t be me, so don't answer.”

Harry nods, even though he’s only catching half of what Louis’s telling him and processing maybe a third of that half. Louis’s voice is nice to listen to, sort of high and tinny yet raspy, like boiled sugar left to dry into a crystal gossamer, dew on a spider’s web. Harry closes his eyes and just listens to the tenor of it, not the words. “I’ll be here,” he mutters out softly on another wide yawn. In your space, smelling your smell. Learning more about you, if you’ll allow me that.

Good,” Louis nods, pausing for a moment to stare down at Harry, a confused line through his brow as if he's really seeing him for the first time. “M’afraid we made your horn more noticeable when we cut your hair, which wasn’t the desired effect.”

Reaching up and touching it to check, Harry shrugs before pushing his curls messily over the nub. “It’s alright,” he says. “No one is seeing me much but you, yeah? Hopefully, the spell wears off by morning, and it won’t matter. If not, we’ll figure it out.”

Louis shakes his head and makes a scoffing noise in the back of his throat, causing a neck muscle to flicker. Harry imagines pressing his muzzle—his face—to that golden fluttering place so that he can feel the delicate movement of Louis’s pulse. “Hard to believe you're real,” Louis marvels quietly, almost to himself. Then he shakes his head again.

Harry isn’t sure why Louis’s surprise makes him feel distantly sad. “I am,” he says, meaning it. Desperately wanting Louis to know how real he is, wanting to remind him. Real, real, real. Me and everything else magick. All real.

I’ll try and hurry,” Louis promises, shoving his hands into his pockets, tearing his eyes away. “Don’t wanna keep you waiting very long.”

And then, like that, he’s gone.

Harry sits there for a while, dripping until he shivers, the water from his hair chilly and raining down onto his shoulders, making his strange, new skin prickle with bumps. He rubs at them anxiously, never sure what’s permanent.

After some fumbling and troubleshooting, he realizes that the point of the towel is to get rid of the water. It’s absorbent and wicks away moisture like magick, and Harry’s sort of amazed by the stuff that humans come up with. So many items, all with their uses or lack thereof. He lays the blankets out and bunches them in a sort of semicircle around his body, trying to replicate the soft, rounded comfort of his clover circle at home in the forest.

It’s surprising, though, how little he misses it, how little he’s grieved the loss of his old body since being given this new one. It was annoying at first, but he hasn’t thought much about it, really, not as much as he thought he would. He’s pretty sure that's all Louis’s doing. He doubts he’d be anything other than miserable if he didn’t have a pretty prince of a boy making sure that he was clean and warm and fed and had blankets, giving him a home away from his home when he had filth on his bruised knees and nowhere to go. Belonging to neither world. But he feels like he could sort of belong here, maybe.

He lies on his back and stares at the ceiling, peering at the plastic cutouts of stars adhered there with some sort of sticky something or other, before his gaze sweeps down the walls and takes in the elaborate decoupage. Pictures of other boys, Louis in the center, arms slung round shoulders in front of a cinema, on a green football pitch. Art and pressed flowers and other pretty things on every surface that isn’t a window or mirror. Harry’s sure that if he were a human, he’d have a name for these things, he’d be able to construct a story out of them, but he isn’t one. So he can only dream and wonder and write his own strange sort of fairytale.

—-

Louis’s breathless and half-mad by the time his sisters are put away to bed and he can do the washing up in peace while his mum drinks her tea at the kitchen table, scarf still on, hair a hastily pinned wreck. “Ta, Lou,” she sighs wearily, biting into a crumbly biscuit. Louis eyes it, planning on bringing an inconspicuous handful back to Harry when he gets a chance. If Harry’s really still up there, if he’s really a thing that actually happened and not a figment of Louis’s strange, overactive, and terrifically lonely subconscious. “M’feet are aching something awful, just needed to put them up. You’re a dear. A real love.”

“Of course, mum,” he says, scrubbing stains from a mug. “You deserve to sit. You deserve to go to bed, in fact. God, you must be knackered.” He shoots a glance over his shoulder and notices that her eyes are closed, mid-chew, like she's nodded off while eating, and why shouldn’t she? Six kids besides him, two pairs of twins, five of the lot being girls in various states of learning to master the shrillest of screams. Louis loves his siblings, but there are so many of them. His mum works terribly hard, and it’s not just his increasingly urgent desire to rush back to his room and make sure that the unicorn-boy hiding up there hasn't discovered his stash of condoms and tried to ingest them that’s motivating him to usher her off to bed. It genuinely makes him sad to see her so tired, so worn out. Doing so very much.

“C’mon, mum,” he murmurs, drying his hands and walking over to kiss her brow, jolting her awake from where she’s quietly, delicately snoring. “I’ll clean up the biscuits and shut off the lights and lock the door and all. You get yourself tucked in.”

“Oh, Lou,” she smiles sleepily. “Why don't you have a boyfriend again? You’ll make such a sweet, lovely husband for him.”

Louis wrinkles his nose and thinks of his own nails caked in glitter, of the way that Harry’s skin looks like pearls melted over it, the strange, shimmery glistening of him making even the muscled stretch of his shoulders seem delicate. He thinks of his wide, river-water green eyes, his mouth like a piece of fruit, the mossy-rosy smell of his hair under the new note of bubblegum. Because there are no boys out here in the middle of nowhere. Except for ones who are mostly horses, who will only be boys for as long as it takes them to turn back into a white streak bolting between trees and disappearing again, like smoke. Can’t imagine you’d be exactly supportive of that.

Because you'd be positively drowning in Barbies if I left you with all these children,” Louis jokes, deciding that now is not the time to tell his mum about the naked sort-of man-thing up in his room right now. Perhaps there never will be a time to tell her that. “Bed. Now,” he orders, like he’s the mum.

“I’m going, I’m going,” she chuckles, patting his cheek with a warm, calloused hand.

Louis waits until she disappears up the stairs before cutting two apples into quarters and grabbing a short stack of biscuits. He’s halfway up the stairs before he remembers that there’s a half-finished jar of caramel sauce in the fridge, so he goes back down to grab that, too.

Harry’s very much alive and very much asleep when Louis tiptoes in. He’s curled up like something from a tapestry, and it’s only old blankets around him, but somehow they look wild, like a thatch of flowers, thistles, and ground cover. Louis blinks, and the illusion fades. He’s debating whether or not to wake him to eat when Harry snuffles and opens his eyes, all soft and blinky. “Hello,” he whispers, voice sleepy.

Louis’s chest feels warm and tight and prickly all at once as he swallows and whispers back, “Hi, yourself.” The fairy lights hanging on his wall are casting a golden hue on Harry’s faint iridescence, and for the briefest of moments, Louis admits to himself the full scope of his want. That he’d like to suck marks all over this boy’s chest, and then lower. That he doesn't even care what he is or about the tiny horn poking out from his unruly curls. He just wants him, all of him.

But he quickly pushes it all back into the recesses deep within himself, the dark places he tries not to touch too often, a valiant effort to avoid getting soot on his fingers. “Brought you some snacks.”

“No soap?” Harry asks, sitting up and shaking himself out in a distinctly horse-like way, his hair falling in his face like a forelock. “Oh, apples! Wonderful!”

“There’s caramel sauce, too, which is basically melted, milky sugar,” Louis explains, pushing the plate across the carpet to Harry. “And some tea biscuits. They aren’t as sweet as the iced ones you were positively annihilating earlier today, so don’t feel pressured to eat them if you don't like them.”

“We could always put sugar on them,” Harry suggests helpfully, taking a tentative nibble. “Or caramel. They’re good, though.”

“M’glad,” Louis sighs, toeing off his shoes and collapsing onto the bed. He’s so tired that he can hardly make sense of anything, and his room is wheeling around him like a carnival ride, a mess of spinning lights. He closes his eyes and listens to the oddly comforting sounds of Harry eating. He’s delightfully, almost scandalously, rude about it, just crunching and chewing away with his mouth open, smacking his lips and probably getting crumbs all over Louis’s duvet.

Louis is seconds from drifting off into a light doze with his jeans still on when he feels the mattress bow under a conspicuous weight, prompting his eyes to snap open.

Harry, naked and glorious and backlit, is sitting on his bed. “M’cold,” he pouts, which is very, very dangerous. “Fancy a cuddle?”

Louis considers it for an inappropriately lengthy moment before he shakes his head. “There are blankets for you there on the floor. Wrap them around yourself.”

“Body heat is warmer,” Harry recites matter-of-factly, creeping forward as Louis stares at his face because otherwise he’d be staring at his dick. It’s such a nice face, but it isn’t helping the wave of panic rising in his throat, seeing his flushed skin, that parted splay of a mouth that seems to go on forever, a wet gash, a wound that Louis wants to suck the lymph from. He firmly shuts his eyes. “Why are you afraid of me?” Harry asks then, voice not condemning, only curious. “Magick…curses, they aren’t contagious. You can’t catch anything from touching me.”

“That’s not…,” Louis stammers, shifting closer to the wall in spite of himself because Harry keeps moving into his space, bringing the duvet and covering his bottom half with it, which is, at least, somewhat of a relief. He’s close enough now that Louis can see a lovely brown freckle in the green of his eye, can feel a hot huff of honey-sweet breath as Harry exhales. “S’not that. It’s more that...I feel like…like, because you aren’t really human, and I am, that m’taking advantage of you, somehow. Like, you don’t know what it really means, here, to cuddle like that. And I do. It seems unfair to pretend that we’re the same.”

“I’m not asking you to pretend anything,” Harry counters, a furrow in his brow. “I know we’re different. M’just asking you to help keep me warm. Help me feel safe. You’re my only human friend, I’m far away from home, everything’s so strange…is it wrong or bad to want that sort of closeness? Why are humans so terrified of their own bodies?”

It hits Louis like a sucker punch, robbing him of his air, making him gasp like a fish pulled from the water, a hook through his lip. He feels so exposed, but he doesn't want Harry to be right. You’re just a silly unicorn, he wants to tell him, I’m not terrified of my body, I’m not terrified of anything. How dare you act like you know so much about humanity? But he can’t make his throat work, he can hardly speak, so he just holds his arms out, feeling helpless. “Alright, come on, then,” he grinds out.

Harry smiles and settles in. He smells like lavender and rain, like soil and sage, like one hundred other things that Louis has no name for. His horn pokes into Louis’s chin, and even though he’s taller, he curls up small and tight so that Louis can wrap an arm around his bare back. “Do you really think so little of us? Of humans?” Louis asks after a moment, when his heart has slowed down a bit. (But only a bit.)

“I don’t think little of you,” Harry answers, voice low without being rough. It’s like sunset, like caramel sauce. “I just don’t understand. M’trying to, though.”

And like that, Louis in his clothes and Harry with his knees drawn up between their bodies, they lie together. Louis’s utterly drained; he keeps nodding off before jolting awake again, but he doesn’t want to sleep, not yet. What if he wakes up, and Harry is a dream? What if none of this has actually happened, and sleeping is the spell that shatters the illusion? He fights the sting and forces his eyes to stay open.

Harry cuddles closer, and Louis inhales deeply, thinking that he’s gotten all the notes of his scent, but he hasn’t, not really. Harry is a whole host of smells, an entire forest of them under the bubblegum. He smells spicy like winter cider and comforting like elderflower, fresh and green and new like when you’ve just pulled up a buttercup or a dandelion and the wet of it is still on your fingers. The life before the death. He smells wild and strange, and Louis’s dizzy with it, maddened by the warm, improbable softness of him nestled so close.

Eventually Harry pulls back and just looks at Louis, like he’s a puzzle to figure out. Bravely, perhaps even defiantly, Louis returns his steady gaze for a few heavy, tension-thick moments before the prickle at the back of his skull is too much, and he has to look away. Still, they remain less than an arm’s distance apart, Louis’s hand resting awkwardly on Harry's bicep, where it burns, strange and guilty and wondrous all at once.

He must be staring because Harry licks his lips and says the worst possible thing: “Why do you keep looking at my mouth?”

Louis flushes, every muscle in his body tensing before he can unclench and make himself relax again. After all, Harry didn’t ask with judgment, he asked because he was curious. Everything is curiosity with Harry.

There’s no reason to lie, either, not to a unicorn. He’s probably used to humans staring, pursuing him, always trying to catch a glimpse of glimmering white between sun-speckled trees, a flash of light amidst the ivy. Louis doesn’t even know if unicorns understand what kissing is, so he can let fragments of the truth slip out without worrying about the implications. This is what he tells himself, at least.

“I think your mouth is pretty,” he admits, voice high, a barely there thing. “I keep imagining kissing it. Which probably means you should get back in your blanket fort and out of my bed, yeah?”

“No,” Harry says, licking the lips in question again with a wet slip of tongue. “It means that you should probably listen to your instincts and kiss it. M’always wondering what it would feel like, I mean, in general, but especially with you.”

Louis’s stomach curls up, hot and tight and sudden, as he shifts away from Harry, his back hitting the cold, flat wall that his bed is pushed up against. Harry follows his movement, pressing into him. “I’d be taking advantage,” Louis voice stutters out, though it sounds far away. “I’m…I dunno, a human. I’m older. I know better.”

“You’re not older,” Harry insists, scrunching his nose. “M’just a baby, an adolescent unicorn, actually, but that’s, like, two hundred something years old. Pretty sure humans don’t even live that long, so technically I’m older,” he argues, and Louis feels like he’s gone mad. Like the fibre of realty is deteriorating around him.

“Two hundred? Really?”

“Two hundred and something, I’ve lost count,” Harry corrects.

Louis thinks about kissing him again, that mouth like an English rose, so pink and lush and wet with spit, like dew drops, but then he shakes his head. “No, I seem older because I know more about human things. I’m a human. You tried to eat soap.”

“Yeah, and if I took you into the forest, you’d try and eat a poison mushroom or something. I could teach you to forage, how to find the softest plants to sleep on. I have more experience in some places, with some things, and you have more experience as a human. Like with kissing. We could share those experiences, like, show each other,” Harry explains, like it’s logical. Maybe it is.

“Kissing is different than mushrooms,” is Louis’s weak, flimsy counterargument. He’s already salivating, his mind full of fizz and static and fire and Harry, the smell of earth and herbs all around him.

“Prove it, then,” Harry smirks.

It’s a dare, a taunt, even. Louis can see through Harry in this moment, past the glamour to the trickster, fae creature underneath, his magic shining from the human veneer like a gemstone half-buried among pebbles. Louis wants to kiss him. He wants to do it so badly, like there’s nothing left in the world but this want, a powerful surge of hunger inside him that ripples down to his fingers, which clench aimlessly, uselessly, in longing.

“Okay,” Louis murmurs. And then he does.

It’s very quick and very chaste. A simple brush of their puckered lips, kissing like children who have only their parents to go by or scenes in movies. Harry’s lips are soft and pillowy, and he whimpers as Louis pulls away, gasping, dizzy even from just the pantomime of something messier, more raw.

“I was hoping for a taste,” Harry whines, eyes flickering beneath the lids, private like a secret.

“You’re supposed to take it slow your first time,” Louis tells him, trying to instruct even as he’s drowning, even as he’s falling apart. “Let me…just let me show you more,” he says, fingers moving on their own accord over Harry's cheeks, feeling the heat of his new flush. Harry smiles widely at that, like someone who has just gotten exactly what he wants and doesn’t intend in any way to hide his satisfaction. Louis kisses that smile, and Harry softens like something melting over a low flame. After that, they don’t stop for a long time.

Louis forgets why he ever felt like he should be holding back. Harry’s so eager, mouth wet and fingers digging into skin with his broad, exploring hands, palms so hot that they burn as they push under Louis’s shirt, clutching and squeezing and scratching and pressing like he’s trying to put something broken back together again. Louis tries hard to keep himself in check, but it’s difficult when Harry’s rolling on top of him, pinning him under his weight and raking anxious nails over Louis’s chest before bending to kiss up a trail of pink skin to his swollen mouth. “I see why humans are so obsessed, why there’s so much poetry about it,” he gasps, between sucking all over Louis’s neck, always stopping short of making a mark. “It feels so good. Better than I could have imagined.”

Me, too, Louis thinks, even though he has kissed before, touched a boy before. Not like this, though, he’s reminded, as his fingers sink deep into Harry’s curls and bump up against the base of his horn. Not like this. “You’re a quick learner,” is what he says instead. “Or, you’re an eager pupil, at least. Not sure those are the same.”

“Make me good at kissing, then,” Harry pants, bending down and licking over Louis’s lips messily, sloppily. It’s graceless and wet, but still, it feels so good. “I want to know everything there is.”

And Louis’s so far past the point of denying him anything, really.

Time gets soft and fades at the edges, like an old photograph with water damage. He doesn’t know how long he kisses Harry, smooths the enthusiastic jut of his tongue into something slicker, softer. They melt together, fingertips and rumpled sheets and sugar bubbling up into something warm and gold before it crystallizes. Harry’s lithe, plump thigh between his legs, Harry’s skin sweat-dewy and real under his nails. He licks at the curved corner of his mouth, chasing a smile, and slurs, “We should stop,” to which Harry laughs, pressing their brows together.

“But I'm only now just getting good at it,” he whines, teeth in Louis’s lower lip, something just short of a bite. “I need more.”

Louis giggles helplessly, canting his hips away because his cock is hard, and he doesn’t want it digging into Harry, an indication of how desperate he his, how compromised. His fingers press into the frantic thud of Harry’s pulse, somewhere near the flicker of his throat as he swallows repeatedly, as if his mouth is filled with saliva. Louis wants to be swallowing that spit instead and is jealous of Harry’s throat as a result. It’s an absurd way to feel, but kissing a unicorn-boy is an absurd thing to do in the first place, so Louis doesn’t care about making sense anymore. “No,” Louis yelps, drunk on green eyes, on messy, unpracticed kisses. “You need to be cut off.”

“Cut off my what?!” Harry yelps, misunderstanding, perhaps drunk on saliva and sweets and newness, too. He kisses a path down Louis’s arm, where Louis’s fairly certain he has never been kissed before, mapping out his tattoos and prompting Louis to shiver, so much heat deep in his gut that he feels like a volcano, a cloud of building thunder threatening to erupt. Every kiss is a revelation. “Did you...did you cast a spell on me or something?” Louis asks, half-serious. “Can unicorns do that?”

“I could, if my horn was right,” Harry tells him, pouting a bit, kissable lower lip even more irresistible when he’s pushing it out like that. “But I couldn’t do it like this. When I change back, remind me to show you a real spell,” he grins, and Louis’s falling apart, dizzy as Harry’s breath comes out hot against his skin. “I like this so much,” Harry sighs, changing the subject back to the matter at hand, tongue flicking out into Louis’s elbow ditch. “I don’t wanna stop learning to kiss.”

“Yeah, I get that, but I’m…it’s not gonna be just kissing for much longer,” Louis tries to explain, tugging his shirt down uselessly, covering nothing, burning up.

Harry moves his palm down to the guilty tent of Louis's jeans and squeezes, teeth dimpling his lip white. “That’s great, I want that,” he says as he shifts his way up the bed to suck greedily at Louis’s tongue, swallowing his groans. “I mean, I know that stuff...I have one of those...I know how it works and all,” he babbles, fingers teasing, the pressure deliberate. “It’s less complicated than kissing.”

Louis squirms. He did not need to know that unicorns masturbate. Or maybe he did. He’s not sure. Harry’s hand is so warm and so gentle but definitely not uncertain as it works him over, rubbing experimentally over his length through the rough denim of his jeans. “Fuck. Jesus,” he chokes out, stopping Harry by encircling his wrist in his own fingers.

“Good?” Harry asks. His mouth is open, wet and drooling like something Louis could fall into, and, god, there’s nothing he can do, nothing that could stop him from wanting this badly enough to do it. It helps that Harry wants this, too, it’s so clear and obvious in the deliberate shift of his body, ever closer, the frenetic beat of blood in his wrist as Louis’s fingers dig into it. “It feels good for me, too...just to touch you.”

Louis nods in agreement, “It’s good.” Then, because he needs to know for sure, he adds, You’re alright?”

“I’m brilliant. This feels brilliant, like dawn breaking over the mountains. Like magick,” Harry gushes, fingers clumsy as they undo Louis’s buttons, his flies. He's imprecise but clever, and eventually he gets them open. “Let me feel more?” comes out in a huff of breath, and it smells so desperate, like spit and heat and hunger and moonlight, and Louis is gone. Lost to the sway of wanting as he sifts his fingers through silky curls and presses his lips experimentally to the very tip of Harry’s horn, making him buck.

“Okay,” he shivers, spreading his thighs. “You can have more.”

—-

Harry feels like he’s won some sort of spectacular prize. He can hardly believe his luck, that something wretched like getting cursed could lead him to this, a golden-skinned boy all spread out under him, head thrown back and lashes fluttering against the fine curve of his cheekbones, blood-flushed and shiny. He watches sweat bead in the hollow of Louis’s throat with fascination and feels so moved to be touching him here, where he feels soft-over-hard, silk-flocked steel, the hottest, most miraculous heat. Louis’s small enough that he fits easily in the palm of Harry’s hand but thick enough that his hand still feels full as he tugs on him, working the foreskin back and forth over the shaft until Louis’s fully hard, straining toward his stomach and glistening with fluid at the tip, which is familiar to Harry but still wildly exciting.

He lets go for a moment to bring his fingers to his lips to have a taste of it, and he's thrilled to find it tangier and saltier than he imagined, almost too salty to be real, to exist in nature. Louis’s panting and thrusting in the air, trying to find the pressure of Harry’s hand again, and as much as Harry wants to touch more (endlessly, really, as long as Louis could possibly stand such a thing), he also wants that salt. He wants to drown in it, so he shuffles his way down the bed on his stomach, takes Louis in his palm at the base, and fixes his mouth around the rest.

“Jesus fucking Christ,” Louis hisses, thrashing, stomach rippling and tensing under the splay of Harry’s free hand, which he has spread to steady himself but mostly to feel. Hands are so sensitive, he could hardly have anticipated it, and fingers are so incredibly helpful. He wants to make fists in Louis’s flesh, wants to hold him tight and never let him go, grip him and claw at him and leave marks in his skin. He moans around the heat in his mouth, suckling hungrily, thinking it’s not sugar or apple, but it’s not soap, either. It’s half-baked and salty-bitter and absolutely overwhelming, enough to make him choke, to drool down Louis’s thickness and onto his own palm in a messy froth. He smears it through the triangle of coarse hair between Louis’s thighs, up to his navel, as far up as his chest, so that it shines on his skin under the twinkle of the lights hung in his room. Then he sucks and drools some more, flooding everything. It must feel so messy, but he can’t stop; the taste is too much, all of this is too much, and he’s wet against his own stomach as he bucks into the sheets. He wants Louis all wet, too, both of them stranded at sea.

Louis makes an animal sound, and Harry likes it. He lashes his tongue, and Louis pulls his hair, and he likes that as well.

He’s savouring that zinging tug at his scalp, resisting it to heighten the sensation, when Louis promptly and decidedly yanks him off. It feels dramatic and jarring, and Harry sputters with it, lips still connected to the hot, red crown of Louis’s cock by a glistening filament of spit. “Fuck,” Louis groans, voice coming out ragged and thick, his particular accent somehow more pronounced when he’s slurring, aroused. “You’ve gotta stop before I choke you.”

Choking on Louis doesn't sound all that bad, so Harry makes a face and tries to go back in, but Louis’s holding him fast by his hair. He remembers that he has hands, though, so he smooths them up to the sticky-slick flesh, feeling Louis’s thick length with both palms and ten greedy fingers, squeezing and loving how Louis yelps, bucks. “What’s wrong with that?” he asks, stunned to find his own voice hoarse, too.

Louis laughs, and it sounds sort of crazy, sort of broken. More air than anything, and Harry loves that he’s done this to him, that he has no experience in pleasuring humans whatsoever, yet he’s managed to make the most beautiful one in the world’s voice get all high and reedy. “Jesus,” Louis whimpers, head lolling on the bed. “What are you even doing.”

Tasting,” Harry reminds him, Louis’s momentarily slackened grip letting him tug away from the clenched fingers in his hair to steal a filthy little lick to the slit. Louis goes limp before he tenses up, a live wire. Harry wants to see that reaction again and again. “Told you, I wanted a taste.”

“Yeah, you said,” Louis mumbles somewhat unintelligibly, carding one hand through his own hair, which is starting to go dark with sweat at his temples. “But you’re gonna get more than you bargained for if you keep it up much longer. You know what it means to come? What do unicorns call it?”

“What, climaxing? You think I don’t know about that? I’ll eat it all up, promise. Just watch me,” Harry tells him, a little offended that Louis thinks any animal with a dick wouldn’t know what a climax is. Humans are so wildly arrogant. He punishes him with a few fleeting, slick-soft laps at the underside of his shaft before pulling away.

Louis’s eyes are clenched shut tightly, his lashes all dark and tear-clotty as he groans pitifully, wordlessly. “You’re…this can’t be real...I have to be dreaming,” he babbles, and now Harry really is offended. Louis’s one of the few humans with proof that magick and unicorns and witches and curses exist, and he’s still questioning the reality of it all? Of Harry, when he's right here, his drool glistening over the unsteady heave of Louis’s chest as he pants?

“I’ll show you how real I am,” he grits out, burying his face in the inside of Louis’s thigh, inhaling the spicy-salty human musk of him, cloying and delicious, before he nips at soft flesh. “Let me make you come,” he growls, using the word that Louis used. “Let me swallow it.”

“Fuck,” Louis whines once more, chewing his lip in a moment of indecision before his doubtful expression gives way to nothing but want. He guides Harry’s head back down, pushing him with a firm palm, fingers snagging in curls. Harry feels triumphant, eyes watering as he takes Louis in as deeply as he can, tongue moving in sloppy, eager, unpracticed motions all around him, the underside, the very tip as he pulls back, breathing harshly through his nose.

It doesn’t take much. Louis makes a noise, choked and high and vulnerable, and Harry wishes he could be sucking on him at the same time that he’s kissing him so he could swallow that sound, too.

It’s good to swallow his come, though. Too good, good enough to die by. Pure salt, like the sea, and there are tears streaming down Harry’s cheeks as he chokes it down, his throat burning. He stays there, licking and slurping as Louis shudders, shocked and delighted by every little twitch and motion of his cock, even long after Louis has finished and is just lying there limp and whimpering. Harry only lets him slide slick and messy from his lips when Louis pulls away and out from under his weight, pouncing on him, rolling him onto his back easily. Harry hasn’t yet mastered control of this body (though he did pretty good with the mouth part, he thinks), so he goes easily and in a tangle of limbs, breath forced out in a startled oof.

You,” Louis whispers, palming up his chest, into his hair, down his shoulders, eventually to the swells of flesh at his hips, where he squeezes meaningfully. “Are lovely.”

“Thank you,” Harry says politely, coughing and licking his lips. “You’re the loveliest, though.”

“No, it’s you,” Louis tells him, mouth hot and wet all over his throat, his temples, like the fat, wet drops of a summer rain just beginning. Harry shivers and just lets the affection come, overwhelmed by it, trembling beneath so many kisses. “Did you like that? Seems like you quite enjoyed yourself.”

“You taste much better than soap,” Harry assures him. Louis looks taken aback for a second, so he immediately adds, “I loved it, I wanna do it to you again and again.”

“I need time to recover, love,” Louis smiles after his face softens a bit, eyes bright. “How do you want me? I mean, how do you like it best? Want me to suck you off, too?”

Harry studies Louis’s mouth for a moment, realizing that he hasn’t quite considered being on the receiving end of something so dirty, so wonderful. He thumbs over Louis’s lower lip curiously before nodding, “Yes, I’d like that.” At least he thinks he will. His own cock is throbbing between their bodies, heavy against his stomach, wet and hot and just different enough from what he’s used to that it feels exciting-strange more than frightening-strange.

Louis grins brilliantly before kissing down his chest, his stomach, tongue flicking out every so often to lap sweat from his skin. His hair tickles, and Harry’s skin is so absurdly sensitive, shimmering a faint iridescent pink in the warm glow of the lights. Louis presses a heavy, lingering kiss to the head of his cock, and Harry gasps, spasming beyond his control. “Oh!” he yelps, canting away even though he wants more. “That’s…that’s!”

“Want me to stop?” Louis asks, gaze hazy, eyes full of pupil.

“Absolutely not...I might scream, though. Or cry. I dunno, I feel like there’s no room for all my…everything to go,” Harry tries to explain, his heart beating so rapidly against his chest that he presses an open palm over the thud of it, trying to keep it inside. He isn’t sure that his new body or his glamour can actually withstand something this intense, can withstand coming. It would be so embarrassing to disintegrate back into a unicorn here in Louis’s bed. He wants his mouth so badly, though, wants everything that he can get from this boy while he's a boy, too. “Go slow?” he asks, and Louis nods.

“Just don’t scream...we don’t wanna wake anyone up, yeah? Bite the pillow or stuff something in your mouth.”

Harry does, distracting himself from the searing overwhelm of Louis’s touch with the dry drag of cotton over his tongue. And to think, Louis’s hardly even doing anything, he’s just mouthing over him, soft, light kisses and wet, delicate licks of his tongue, but it’s still so much. Harry can feel building pressure in his gut before Louis even sucks him down, so as soon as he’s encompassed in that slick heat, he loses it.

He does scream. Thankfully, he’s got a fistful of Louis’s pants between his teeth, so it comes out muffled. Louis clambers up him before tugging the fabric out of his mouth to kiss him, and when he does, he tastes like Harry, a faintly floral, rosy edge to the salt-bite of come. “Sensitive boy, so easy,” he murmurs fondly, collapsing on his side and rolling Harry into his chest, arms tight around heaving shoulders.

It takes a long time for their breath and hearts to slow, and in that time, Harry thinks up a million different stories, all of them ending here, in Louis’s arms. The glamour never wears off, so they get to stay like this and live happily ever after. The glamour does wear off, but Harry’s infused with new powers that extend beyond the customary ones, and he can magick himself back into a human or perhaps Louis into a unicorn, and they live happily ever after. The world ends, so they never have to leave this bed. Happily ever after.

Harry doesn’t want to go back to the forest alone, he realizes. He ponders this revelation, pouting when Louis whispers, “I can’t believe I got seduced by a unicorn. I can’t believe I let a unicorn seduce me.”

“I can’t believe you thought you were older. And resisted my seduction,” is what Harry replies, but he’s thinking, I can’t believe it took me only a single day to fall in love with a human.

---

Louis curls his arm around Harry’s waist and cuddles up against him, brow pressed to his spine and breath coming out laboured because he still feels wrecked from coming, from making Harry come. He totally wasn’t planning on bedding a unicorn tonight, in fact, he was going to try and avoid his embarrassing feelings all together, but Harry had other plans, and Louis is so, so glad that he did. Harry’s skin is sticky with perspiration, and Louis loves every place they’re adhered together; it’s in this position that they nod off, nestled tight like spoons in a drawer.

He sleeps hard and dreams of pale skin dusted in glitter, in curls tipped in pink.

When he wakes up, he has a moment of foggy panic because he thinks that Harry has gone, but then he rolls over and sees him there, faintly incandescent in the grey light of dawn, looking at Louis curiously, arms pillowed loosely under his head. “Have you...have you been watching me sleep? Like a creepy vampire?” he croaks, reaching out to draw his fingers lightly down Harry’s cheek, checking to make sure that he isn’t a hologram or anything. His skin is soft and warm, and it makes Louis’s heart hiccup a bit in his chest.

“Yeah, s’watching you, but not like a creepy vampire. More like a creepy unicorn,” Harry slurs, breath sweet and delectable and sleepy. Louis shifts closer so that he can inhale it better, steal tastes. “We don’t sleep much or for very long, I guess? Unicorns, I mean. More like lots of tiny naps.”

“You aren’t creepy,” Louis whispers, still catching up, eyes slowly blinking, lost in awe. This boy is still here. This wonderful, magic boy, with his big, green eyes and his long, weird fingers and his tiny, pearly horn. Louis strokes Harry’s curls to seek it out, delighted when Harry hums gently as he rubs it, eyes fluttering closed. Louis’s defenses are down; he’s half-asleep, and the room’s still dark, so maybe that’s why he realizes all that he’s feeling, the vast surge of it choking him every time their eyes meet, is love. He doesn’t fall in love with Harry in this moment, as it isn’t a new thing. It’s been there for awhile, like a stone half-covered in earth, washed clean and glittering in the new rain. Oh, he thinks. “Did you...did you enchant me?” he asks very quietly, furrowing his brow.

Harry furrows his back. “No! I don’t have that sort of magick. I have, like…make-things-grow-a-little-faster-in-the-winter magick. It’s small,” he explains. “How would I have enchanted you? Do you feel enchanted?”

I feel in love, Louis thinks, but he can’t just say that, not after a single night, not to someone who might not even understand the concept of human love. “I feel like...I don’t want to leave this bed. Like I want to just kiss you and suck you and make you come apart for, like, hours. So, yeah, a little enchanted.”

Harry beams. “I won’t stop you, if that’s what you want to do. M’also glad I, like...don’t have to use magick to make you want me so badly.”

Louis pulls him in then, kissing him hard, sliding his palm down his back to feel his vertebrae, the way they fit his palm so easily, the notches between his fingers. “Can’t,” he sighs as Harry tries to deepen it, tries to twine their legs. “I want to, but I have to work today. There’s a farmers market on...gotta sell apples.”

Harry makes a face. “See, if I enchanted you, your work wouldn’t matter,” he murmurs, leaning in and licking Louis’s cheek, which is sudden and wet and animal and hot, something that Louis didn’t anticipate. Heat coils in his gut, and, fuck, he really has to stop, he has to dredge himself out of bed before his mum wonders what’s wrong and comes knocking. And finds a magical creature disguised as a naked boy in his bed.

“Wanna use your growing-stuff magic to help me sell apples?” Louis asks, carding a hand through Harry’s hair, watching him stretch and mewl and buck at the touch, so fucking responsive and sensitive. “I could always use an extra hand. Plus you’re pretty. That always helps.”

“I’d rather you kiss me and suck me and all that,” Harry pouts, settling in, laying his head on Louis’s chest, nuzzling into his heartbeat. “But apples are good, too.”

“You can’t go to a farmers market starkers, though, love, gotta get you in some clothes,” Louis says as he feels Harry up, gripping his waist, his ribcage. He looks so delicate, but the reality of him is solid, broad, strong. Louis has enough oversized jumpers and hoodies that the top half shouldn’t be a problem, but he’s a little worried about the bottom half, those long, long legs. “Maybe that pair of hand-me-down dungarees,” Louis mutters to himself, lifting the duvet to peer at Harry’s knobby knees, his narrow ankles. Instead, he ends up looking at his cock, which is so lovely and half-hard under his gaze, the pink tip poking out of his foreskin, slick with precum. Louis licks his lips. “God, that’s pretty,” he admits.

Harry reaches down with his index finger and dabs it into the shininess bubbling up from his slit, then lifts it to Louis’s mouth, pushing it past the slack disbelief of his parted lips and smearing it directly onto his tongue. “Please,” he begs quietly, politely, the salt and bitter of him maddening, making Louis forget why he needs to get up, why he should ever get up when Harry’s right here, pleading eyes and skin so hot and perfect under his palms.

“Fuck.” Louis rasps, going a little crazy, kissing Harry hard, making him taste himself. He can’t stop thinking about how fucking easy and fast Harry came for him last night, how all it took was kissing and messy licks and a single, slow suck around his crown before he was falling apart. Louis wonders if he can make him last longer this time, if he’ll actually get to choke on him, feel the weight of him, get his fingers in him, Jesus, fuck. “Yeah, okay, once,” he groans, reaching between them to grip Harry’s length, swallowing the greedy moan that it elicits. “Then apples.”

---

After Harry comes, he can’t possibly imagine surviving the horrible ache of not making Louis come, too, so in spite of Louis’s feeble and incredibly unconvincing assurances that they should wait lest they be late to the farmers market, Harry manages to convince him that they should stay just a bit longer. A bit longer turns into quite a bit longer because Harry doesn’t want to stop. He loves having Louis in his mouth, can’t think of a better or more absolving sensation than trying to breathe around his full mouth, heat pushing down his throat, splitting his lips, making his jaw ache, his eyes water. It’s just so good. He wants more and more, a fucking eternity of this.

It hits him then that he can’t have it if he turns back into his real form, and he realizes, as he struggles to inhale, that maybe he likes this new body better. After all, it’s the body that Louis’s attracted to, the body that he feels coveted in, cherished in. His normal form makes him feel beautiful because he is, but not in the way that things are truly beautiful, shining from the inside out in spite of flaws, in spite of the messines of humanity. Rather, it’s the way that a sunset is beautiful, the way that the cliffs of Dover are beautiful. Objective and grand but untouchable, unreal. Remote. He doesn’t feel seen in his real form; even when people see him, he feels invented, objectified. A part of someone else’s fairytale.

But here, in this bedroom, with Louis in his mouth so fucking deep that Harry’s gagging, snot on his upper lip and cheeks so red they’re burning, hands all over the flex of Louis’s golden thighs, it’s different. With Louis praising him, petting his hair and gasping and choking out that he feels so good, so amazing, the best, sweetest, hottest mouth he’s ever had, Harry feels beautiful. More importantly, Harry feels seen.

Louis comes, and they kiss for awhile and then hold each other for a little while longer than that.

They’re certainly going to be late to the farmers market, and Louis says that it’s a bad thing, but Harry doesn’t really believe him, not with the way he’s smiling so much, the way he keeps throwing him soft, private looks as he packs the flatbed trailer with a table, boxes of different-coloured apples, and a tent-thingee (it’s called an E-Z UP, Louis had giggled when Harry referred to it as an ezup). The apples smell amazing, and Harry wants desperately to eat them all in their shiny skins, even though he’s already had, like, four. This was after Louis helped him struggle into a t-shirt and a pair of ripped, too-short dungarees, which he kept having to fight the urge to rip off. Clothes are weird, they feel weird. He wants to be skin-to-skin with Louis again, that was so much better.

Still, watching him drive a pickup truck and sip tea from a My Little Pony thermos as they head to the farmers market isn’t terrible either. It gives Harry time to really just stare at Louis, to memorize the angles of his face, the sharp line of his nose, the curve of his lashes, which are long enough to cast a shadow when he blinks. Harry finds it to be such an unfathomable face, sharp and impossibly soft all at once, like thorns cloaked in velvet, protected so they won’t draw blood. Harry imagines getting to look at this face every day, pressing constellations of kisses to it in the kitchen, in the street, in the apple orchard, in Louis’s heavenly bed. “I wouldn’t be terribly sad, you know,” he says, getting sleepy as he rests his cheek against the window, eyes sliding shut so that he can break from the intensity of observing Louis, catch his breath.

“What do you mean? Terribly sad about what?” Louis asks, an almost-laugh making his voice breathy.

Harry blinks at him and smiles a slow, messy, unguarded smile. “If I never get my real body back. This is nice...I like wearing your dungarees.”

He expects it to just fall into the space between them and be forgotten like so many words before it, but Louis tenses, looking at him with narrowed eyes like he doesn’t believe him. “Really? But, like, this isn’t you, yeah? You’re a unicorn...in your soul or whatever.”

“I’m a unicorn, but I can be a unicorn in any body, I mean, I’ve been a unicorn for two hundred years, Lou...might be nice to be something else for a change,” Harry muses, feeling mad for saying anything at all. Unicorns are immortal, and pretty much everything else is not. He might be forfeiting eternal life by staying this way. But growing old doesn’t seem so bad, really, not when it means kissing Louis’s cheekbones every morning, falling asleep in his arms every night.

“If you...if you did stay this way,” Louis stammers, like it’s a choice, like Harry is in control of what happens to him, “you could stay with me, I’d take care of you.” The way it comes out of him is so quiet and serious that Harry’s stomach seizes up, tightens, making him squirm in the passenger seat.

“I could be yours?” he asks, like he isn’t already, like he hasn’t already made this wish one thousand times in the last few hours, like he hasn’t prayed that nothing changes so he can keep choking, eyes forever streaming.

“If that’s what you wanted,” Louis replies carefully, reaching for his knee, squeezing, voice hushed even as his cheeks flush. “You could...I dunno, I’d take care of you, however you needed me to. I like you a lot.”

“This feels like a fairytale, doesn’t it?” Harry blurts, grabbing Louis’s hand and squeezing it. The pickup swerves a little, Louis’s eyes getting wide as they sweep back to the road. “Except I hardly ever get to play this part. M’always just some streak of white in a forest, granting wishes. Unicorns don’t get to fall in love.”

Louis makes a sound in his throat, shakes his head. “Maybe they do.”

---

Everyone loves Harry at the farmers market, and why the fuck wouldn’t they? Louis loves Harry. He’s objectively lovable, a tall, gangly mess in faded dungarees buckled haphazardly over an old shirt of Louis’s that was once white but is now stained a faint pink from a stray red sock in the wrong wash load. He’s overly friendly and overly curious, and he can’t stop eating the apples that Louis’s trying to sell, but Louis doesn't even care because for every one that he sneaks, he draws three more customers. Maybe it’s his mouth, the way the pink looks against waxy green-gold skins. Maybe it’s the way that he keeps yelling, “Hi, lady with the red hat!” or “Hey, handsome man with the hair on his face!” before adding an ever-eager, maddeningly sincere inquiry, “Would you like to taste the tastiest apple you ever tasted?”

People eat it up. The apples, of course, but Harry, too. Harry and his wide, sparkling eyes, Harry and his dimples. Every Nan wants to pinch his cheeks, and all the teenage girls want to date him, prompting Louis to just sit back and grin as he shakes his head. “Look at you,” he chuckles when there’s a bit of a lull in the crowd, pulling Harry toward him and encircling him in his arms. “A natural salesman.”

“They’re just really good apples,” Harry assures him, kissing his nose. Louis pets his hair and frowns, realizing that at certain angles, his little horn is poking out suspiciously.

“C’mere, love,” he beckons, fishing around in the burlap sack of random emergency shit that he stores in the pickup. Amid the jumper cables, apple corers, pocket knives, wellies, rain slickers, and flares, he’s looking for a somewhat crushed, straw cowboy hat that he sometimes wears when it’s sunny. After he finds it, he plops it triumphantly onto Harry’s head, grinning at his bewildered expression, the way that he sidesteps like a spooked horse. “Easy,” he jokes, “s’just to cover your horn. We can’t have civilians know how special you are...they’ll want to buy you along with the apples.”

Harry adjusts the brim, shooting Louis a coy look from beneath it. “Would you let them? For the right price, I mean?”

Louis scoffs and leans in to steal a kiss. It shouldn’t be so exciting, it’s just a press of their lips, hot and quick and chaste, but still, Louis’s heart is pounding as he pulls away. “Not a chance,” he tells Harry. “You’re priceless.”

And he’s half-joking, really, but Harry’s looking down at him so seriously, eyes wary and half-lidded as he studies his face. “And m’ yours, completely,” Harry shrugs. “Takes a lot to catch a unicorn. S’practically impossible, really, unless we want to be caught. We’re immortal, you know.”

And Louis didn’t know, actually, so the realization hits him like cold water, stops him in his tracks. Harry isn’t just two hundred years old, he’s never ending. Eternal. Louis’s hopelessly sad for a second before he shakes the feeling away, because how absurd, to grieve something like that, something so much more vast and unfathomable than his tiny existence. “Wow,” he marvels, shaking his fringe from his eyes. “It’s mad...so mad to think of that, to think that you’re here, in this body, hanging out with me, finding me and my apples interesting at all when you’re, like, this immortal creature.”

It’s Harry’s turn to look at him like he’s crazy. “Louis,” he admonishes, crossing his arms. “Immortality is boring. You’re the most interesting part of my whole life thus far.”

Perhaps stupidly, Louis hopes that this is true.

-----

The more time that Harry spends with Louis, the less motivated he is to change back into himself. It doesn’t even feel right to think of his unicorn body as “himself” anymore, really. After all, he’s still himself in this body. In fact, he feels even more like himself somehow, now that he’s been in Louis’s arms, Louis’s bed. Initially, being human was so foreign and confusing, but now it feels like a miraculous and natural evolution, and he doesn’t miss his four legs, his shimmery mane, his cloven hooves. Even his horn, which was perhaps more a part of him than anything else.

Louis changed him, maybe. Or maybe he changed so that he could find Louis. Everything feels predestined and magical and fated now, like he’s stumbling toward his future, and changing back into a unicorn wouldn’t fit that change, wouldn’t feel like a future at all. It would feel more like stumbling blind and backward into his past.

The crowds at the farmers market thin as dusk approaches, so the other vendors begin to pack up their veggies, their honey, their handmade soaps that Harry mistook for candies just 24 hours earlier. “Do we eat the rest?” he asks Louis hopefully, eyeing their remaining wares.

Louis raises an eyebrow. “Those hipster soaps? I promise they don’t taste as good as they look, Hazza.”

“Heyyyy,” Harry giggles. He’s gotten good at figuring out when Louis’s teasing him, when he’s gently poking fun, and something about the lilting warmth of it all delights him. “The apples, I mean,” he clarifies, nudging Louis with his knee, eager to touch him however he can. Legs are fun, now that he knows how to use them properly. He wants to trap Louis between his, drag him close, kiss the perfect dip below his clavicle. “Those soaps look so tasty, though...I don’t understand why humans would make something so appetizing if you can’t actually eat them.”

“I know, right? It’s so frustrating, I mean, you’re so delicious looking, but you aren’t actually edible, how very dare you,” Louis teases, stepping into Harry’s space and biting his shoulder swiftly, playfully. Harry yelps, rounding on Louis, cheeks hot as he laughs breathlessly. He wants to kiss Louis, wants to drop to his knees and suck him off right here in the stall, but even he knows that that’s not appropriate human behaviour. He sighs, rubbing the sting of the bite away with anxious fingers.

“Yeah, it’s really frustrating,” Harry agrees. “So can we go home now?”

Louis snorts. “You’re so transparent, I love it,” he grins as he begins to pack up their apples and tables, and Harry stares, wondering if he really loves it, or if this is more teasing.

“What do you mean?” he asks.

Louis’s quiet for a moment, eyes fixed on the cash box as he rifles through the bills, presumably counting them before locking it up. “Well...I mean, like, well, other guys, non-unicorn-guys, they play hard to get. It’s this whole confusing game. But you aren’t like that, you just say what you want.”

“And...you love that? It’s not bad?” Harry presses, feeling like it might not actually be a good thing if he doesn’t seem like non-unicorn-guys. Like all his magick is seeping through, revealing him, leaking through cracks in the glamour.

“Yeah, it’s wonderful,” Louis gushes, shooting Harry a smile so tender and warm that it makes his heart pound. “It’s really refreshing. I’d rather not play games, would rather know for sure when a boy wanted to get me back in bed and have his way with me.”

“I definitely want that,” Harry interjects, his voice loud enough that an older couple milling around the last few open stalls stares at them, the picture of shock. Louis laughs, shaking his head like Harry’s the most brilliant and absurd thing that he’s ever met.

“I know you do...I can tell, and I love it,” Louis tells him quietly as he dips in and gives Harry a quick kiss. His lips are a bit chapped, and his scruff scrapes against Harry’s chin, but it’s all so good and not nearly enough, making Harry whimper when he pulls away. “The faster we pack this stuff up, the sooner we can make all your dreams come true. So help me, yeah?” Louis asks, slipping his fingers deftly under the denim strap of Harry’s dungarees, petting the cotton beneath it.

And in this moment, Harry has never been more certain that he does not want to change back.

-----

Louis can’t stop thinking about a tomorrow with Harry, a next week with Harry, a lifetime with Harry. His lips forever sweet-tart and sticky like apple juice, crows feet forming around his forever smiling eyes, dimples etching permanently into his cheeks. He knows that he’s getting ahead of himself, but he just...he’s never felt anything like this before. It’s like he can’t keep the grin off his face, can’t keep his heart from thundering. He’s never thought much about what a future might look like here, in this village with its single, measly Tesco (Tesco Express, at that) because he always assumed that he would have to get out if he ever hoped to encounter anything exciting or worth while.

But it turns out that the most exciting thing of all was waiting for him here, tucked away in the dark, twisting green of Sherwood Forest, and now he doesn’t want to leave at all. Unless Harry wants to leave with him, maybe to see London or the Louvre or the Empire State Building or anywhere, really.

Louis imagines taking him to all those places as he nods off, limbs heavy from coming so hard, jaw aching from sucking Harry off more than once because he comes and gets hard again so wonderfully fast that they can just keep going and going. He thinks about Harry’s messy mop of curls in crowds of tourists, his clumsy arms faintly sunburnt at the beach, his eyes reflecting back the northern lights. Harry in so many places, Harry making anywhere Louis’s home.

He’s in this so deep already, but he doesn’t even know how to hold himself back from falling. Even as he sleeps, he dreams of tomorrow, next week, a lifetime.

But when he wakes up, the sunlight grey-white and filtering in through his blinds, Harry’s gone, and there’s a horse in Louis’s bed.

He panics for a few seconds before he remembers that this horse probably is Harry. Most definitely is, now that he’s really looking at him, gaze bleary with sleepy confusion.

He’s smaller than a horse, actually. Pony-sized but more delicately built, finer-boned. A slender white body, tucked up against Louis’s chest, under the weight of his splayed hand, and even though everything about him feels streamlined and lithe, the mattress is still bowing dramatically under the added weight, and Louis definitely feels outsized, crushable. It makes him dizzy with a weird combination of fear and disbelief, like he knows this is mad and maybe a little dangerous, but he can’t even trust it to be real enough to properly worry about it.

Harry. Harry is this horse. This almost-horse, he’s reminded as his eyes fall on Harry’s horn, which is newly lengthened, a twisted dagger of pearly white glittering in the dawn light like abalone. Louis wants to touch it, but he’s sort of scared of what might happen if he wakes him. Harry’s snoring lightly in whispery snuffles, twitching here and there and making the mattress whine. Harry, the unicorn. Harry, who he believed when he told him what he was, but maybe didn't fully believe until right now, in this moment, the incarnation of a story so strange that Louis’s flesh didn’t fully commit to it being true. Harry, who he sucked off last night.

It should be weird. Louis should freak out. He just…doesn’t, though. He blinks the sleep out of his eyes and sits up gingerly, springs creaking. Then he ruffles Harry’s downy white mane with nervous fingers. “Hey, wake up, love,” he whispers gently, anxiety spiking as he hears his mum bustling around downstairs in the kitchen, the kettle’s plaintive screech, the telly on the mid-morning chat show that tells him his sisters have already taken the bus to school. “We have a bit of a problem.”

Harry stirs, lifts his head (delicate, like an Arabian stallion, profile dished and muzzle dusted in peach fuzz, that horn spiraling up from a wide brow), and looks around Louis’s room, blinking.

And that singular second is the calm before the storm. Louis lies naked, tangled in his duvet, fingers nudging up against the smooth, taut muscle of Harry’s neck, Harry’s white lashes fluttering over those same green eyes. It’s strange, this suspended moment in time, and then everything changes.

Harry must have caught sight of himself in the mirror or maybe looked down at his legs curled underneath his body and realized what has happened because he lets out a shrieking whinny and vaults off the bed, spindly limbs seemingly everywhere. And, like, Louis always thought unicorns were the picture of grace, that if they were real or whatever, they’d be the daintiest of horses, poetry in motion. And Harry maybe looks the part, with his glittering horn, his ears wide and smooth and somehow bigger and more cupped than a horse’s, his hooves cloven, his tail like a lion’s, whip-like with a tapered fluff of shimmery white hair at the tip where it swishes. But he’s a fucking bull in a china shop. Louis would invite the world’s clumsiest unicorn into his house, and as he sits in bed clutching his duvet, watching, mouth hanging open, Harry pretty much destroys his room.

He rears up and hits his head on the low-hanging overhead lamp, getting his horn tangled in the fairy lights, and as he thunders back down to his front hooves, he takes the whole string with him, tripping on the swinging loop of it and catapulting forward onto his face. His stumbling tips the dresser, which dumps hoodies and track pants everywhere, and then he bumps into the bedside table and swipes Louis’s clock radio, a plate, and an empty Ribena bottle off it with his tail before knocking it over completely.

Everything is loud and awful, and Louis is starkers and only just awake, so it takes him a few minutes to realize what’s happening, snap out of his daze, and stagger out of bed, arms outstretched. “Whoa, whoa, whoa, hey, Harry, it’s okay,” he says gently, not sure if Harry understands English anymore, if he even remembers yesterday or last night or being human at all. Louis’s heart clutches pitifully at the thought, at the possibility, of being forgotten, but he knows that he has bigger issues to worry about right now, so he shoves that fear back and tries to grab Harry again, by his mane or by the lights still tangled around his horn, but Harry whips away, eyes wide and scared and…ashamed? Louis can’t tell. Everything is happening too quickly, and he can hear his mum shouting his name from downstairs before the tell-tale sounds of her anxiously padding up the stairs. “Lou?! Is everything okay?”

He has just enough time to grab a pillow and cover his junk before his mum opens the door.

It looks bad, probably. It might even look terrible. Louis’s room is a wreck, he’s got a fistful of pillow on his dick, and the second that the door is flung open wide enough, Harry charges out, presumably falling down the stairs, judging by the horrible sound that he makes as he crashes through the front door. Louis can hear the distant clippity-clop of his hooves galloping down the road, the sound growing more and more faint until it’s gone entirely.

His mum stands there with her hand over her heart, staring at him. “Is that horse okay?” she asks eventually. Not, Was that a horse? or, Why did you have a horse in your room, Louis? but, Is that horse okay? with, like, genuine maternal concern sharpening her voice. She’s such a good mum, the best mum, and Louis isn’t sure why, but this realization is the thing that finally pushes him over the edge from numbness and into tears.

He sniffles, collapsing onto his bed and raking his free hand through his hair. There’s still the faintest smell of lavender in his sheets, biscuit crumbs in his carpet. Small, insignificant bits of evidence that this happened, that Harry existed with him here, if only for a moment. “I don’t know,” he chokes out, beyond trying to lie or explain away any of this.

His mum sits down gingerly on the bed next to him, patting his back. “I thought you had a boy up here last night,” she says, and, well, that’s not what he was expecting at all, so his insides seize up, heart stopping. “I didn't say anything because you were being secretive about it, and I respected your privacy, didn’t want to pry. But Louis, you can always tell me these things, love. Then we won’t end up with horses falling down the stairs.”

“He’s a unicorn,” Louis replies dumbly, rubbing his temples because if his mum thinks that he somehow snuck a whole entire horse up the stairs last night for some reason, she's capable of believing the truth, too. “But he was a boy, yesterday. I didn't know how to explain it, so I was waiting…waiting for something to make it easier, I guess.”

She’s quiet for a long time, likely processing, and then she surprises Louis yet again. “I saw a unicorn, once, you know. On a trip to London, Hampstead Heath, actually, when I was just a girl...I got separated from your Nan. It was getting dark, and I was about to give up, sit down, and have a good cry when a unicorn found me and led me back to the path. No one believed me, of course, and after so many years passed, I didn’t even believe it myself. Sort of decided it was a story my little-girl-mind made up to make sense of being lost.”

Louis swallows thickly. “There are unicorns in Hampstead Heath?” is what he manages to say. Everything else gets lost to a painful tightening in his throat.

“At least one,” his mum shrugs. “Anyway, you’re a kind boy. The kindest, always helping, even when you were a toddler and Lottie was a baby. You have that nurturing heart, Louis, so I’m sure that if you brought a stranger up here to your room and stashed him away, it was because you genuinely thought he needed help. And a unicorn helped me once, too, so maybe this is some sort of debt repaid,” she muses. “You think he’s okay now? Headed back to where he came from?”

Louis doesn’t know, really. He doesn’t know if Harry has left him forever, done with him now that he has his body back, off to live his solitary life in Sherwood Forest again now that there's no need for Louis’s care anymore. But then he thinks of the fear in Harry’s eyes when he woke up, that hint of something deeper, more painful, and wonders if there was something else going on. “I mean, maybe,” he sighs, wiping his eyes. “But he seemed scared...out of sorts. Like he didn’t want me to see him like that? I dunno,” he trails off miserably, face in his hands.

“Well,” his mum says, squeezing his shoulder. “You know him better than I do, obviously. Clean this mess up and figure out what you need to do about your new friend. I’m here for you, and I’ll help you however I can.” She sits up and straightens her jumper over her jeans, surveying the damage to the room. “And Louis,” she adds from the doorway on her way out. “Put some pants on, love. There are some things your mum just doesn’t need to know.”

—-

Harry runs until his heart feels like it’s pounding its way out of his chest, until his sweat is frothing up and flying off in bits, until his cannon bones ache. People must see him as he tears through the village, so he hopes that his horn disappears into the wild mess of his forelock as he runs, that they can’t see what he truly is. Still, he doesn’t stop to find out, to change their memories and remove himself. He just runs and runs with stinging eyes, tears gathering in the tails from the wind buffeting him, giving him an excuse for them, at least.

He’s disgusted, he thinks, hooves pounding the three-beat word into the pavement and later the forest floor once he makes it into the wild green surrounding the village. Dis-gus-ted, dis-gus-ted. The knot in his stomach twists tighter with every stride, and once he’s back in his own particular bit of woods, cool and familiar but somehow not now that he’s been changed, he collapses into his circle of clover and hides his muzzle beneath his knees to cry.

He didn’t mean for Louis to see him like this, even if it’s the truth, even if it’s how he really is. It felt so weirdly vulnerable, like having his skin stripped off and peered beneath, like being turned inside out. He wanted Louis to like him, to be attracted to him, to love him, even, but if he knows anything about humans, it’s that they’re rigid beyond logic. If Louis wanted him, it was only because Harry appeared human. He temporarily fit within the narrow constraints of something Louis could want. But not anymore.

Harry feels betrayed, but also like he betrayed Louis, somehow. Tricked him. Lured him into the darkness, his horn lit up like a beacon in a storm.

The mess of guilt feels horrible, so he buries his nose in clover and sniffles pathetically, tail swishing a curious butterfly away like a reflex. He isn’t sure how this could have happened, really, how in two hundred and some odd years, how he could have never once interrogated his future or wished for something more than an eternity wandering the woods being beautiful, watching humans from afar with mild fascination but nothing even close to longing, and now…he’s fucked it all up in a handful of hours. How can he survive immortality when he’s in love with a boy, someone he’ll never see again, someone who will forget him, and, most horribly, someone who will die? How can he carry on?

His inhalations deepen, and his sweat dries into a crust. His heart slows, but that doesn’t change how broken it feels.

Harry lies there for a long time, feeling confused and pitiful and more alone than he ever has in his whole long life. He isn’t sure how much time passes, he only knows that when he starts to hear Louis’s voice carried on the breeze, choked up and far away, he thinks that it’s his imagination. It’s only when the voice draws nearer and he hears the distinct sound of his own name that he snaps his head up, blinking.

“Harry!” he hears again, sharper this time, more real. Without even meaning to, he’s wobbling up onto unsteady legs, ears swiveling, listening. There's someone crashing over brush, stumbling through the forest, snapping twigs, and Harry hopes so sincerely that it’s Louis, but at the same time, he's terrified of it, dreading it. After all, he's still himself. Four-legged and snow-white, a far cry from the thing that Louis touched last night, palms fiery hot, breath somehow hotter. Harry thinks of kissing him, of things that he’ll never have again, and he balks, hooves digging into the earth, and still, Louis calls. Staggering somewhere nearby but invisible, tucked away behind the ivy, the wisteria, the thin, white birch trunks twisting up into a canopy of emerald, like so many bars of a cage.

Harry manages to take one step, and then another. He’s stumbling blindly, just listening until he picks up on the direction that Louis’s voice is coming from, and even though he’s embarrassed and ashamed and feels awful for ruining Louis’s room and running away from him before he had a chance to talk about the future or confess that he thinks he’s in love, Harry still has to find him. To see him once more, his thin lips and golden scruff and eyes crystal-blue like the sky after a spring rain. To say goodbye, at the very least.

He follows the high, delicate sound of Yorkshire, and when he finally sees him, hair poking out of his hoodie and grass stains on the knees of his trackies, he breaks out into an anxious canter, weaving through trees, leaping over those that have fallen. Louis’s face melts into something between pain and relief, and immediately he starts to run, too, and hidden in the shadowed fresh green, they converge.

Louis throws his arms around Harry’s neck, burying his face in his mane, and says, “I thought I’d never see you again,” voice shaky, thick with tears. The feeling of Louis’s warmth on his neck stuns Harry into silence, so he doesn’t have time to respond before Louis adds, “I don't know if you can even understand me right now, but if you can, you should know that I love you a lot, and I don’t care that you’re a unicorn, I don’t care at all. I’ll come see you...I’ll bring you apples or biscuits or whatever. Just don’t run away from me again, yeah?” he gets out in a rush, and Harry can hardly believe it, nearly shivers back to the ground in that moment, knees weak, head swimming.

“I can hear you,” he admits, using his muzzle to push down Louis’s hood and snuffle into the sweet, oily smell of his hair. “Sorry if that’s awkward.”

“Oh,” Louis gasps, pulling away but only just, fingers still smoothing down Harry’s neck softly, delicately, tenderly. Like a miracle. He colours, his cheeks so pink that Harry can feel the heat coming off them in waves. “I sort of half-convinced myself that you couldn’t.”

“I can,” Harry repeats, laying his chin on top of Louis’s head and closing his eyes. “I love you, too. It’s stupid and inconvenient, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, it is,” Louis agrees after a minute, hands on either side of Harry’s cheeks, exploratorily thumbing over the smooth, white hair there. “Absolutely.”

“I know that you can’t love me love me…not like this,” Harry sighs, self-deprecatingly taking a step back and kicking a bit at the moss under their feet with the sharp edge of his hoof. “You probably feel pretty gross about the sex,” he adds, slightly mournfully.

Louis pets him, threading his fingers through his mane. “Weird, maybe, but not gross. Never gross with you,” he assures him, and Harry doesn't know how he should feel about that, what it means that his heart kicks up with a tiny, illogical surge of hope. Maybe he won’t live forever as the loneliest unicorn in all of England after all. “It’s weirder to see a talking horse, if m’honest. That’s kind of the sticking point for me right now,” Louis grins, raising his eyebrows. “Not the sex”

Harry shakes his head, nudging Louis’s arm with his muzzle. “How about a horse who can talk and cast spells? Wanna see some magick?” he asks, tilting his head.

Louis’s eyes light up. “Erm, yes. Is that even a question?” he quips, and Harry takes a step back, focusing very hard on a wisteria vine that’s only a stone’s throw away from them. He’s nervous, so a few minutes pass before he feels the tingling heat of a spell climbing up his horn, the warmth gathering before it erupts.

The wisteria grows and blooms, its sudden weight enough to bow the vine. Blossoms spiral to the forest floor, and Louis gasps, his hand over his heart. “Wow,” he marvels, sitting down as if Harry’s magickal display physically drained him. “I don't know what I was expecting, really, coming out here and trying to find you,” he says after a while, gazing up at Harry through his wing of auburn hair. “But magic tricks certainly are a surprise.”

Harry collapses next to him after the magick has been reabsorbed. It takes him a few deep breaths and a lot of prudent contemplation before he’s carefully inching his head into Louis’s lap, still not totally believing that Louis followed him, that Louis’s still talking to him, touching him, fingers light and tentative but still so sweet as they stroke through his forelock and mane. He’s sectioning off Harry’s mane to braid delicately, and they rest in silence for a long time, Harry with his eyes closed, imagining Louis as a unicorn or himself as a human again, that they’re the same somehow, that they can twine together without it feeling impossible. “Harry?” Louis asks after a while, dividing his new handful of mane into three sections to plait together. “You know what?”

“What,” Harry mumbles, inhaling from the cotton of Louis’s joggers. They smell like dirty laundry, dirty hair, and sweat, and it’s so insanely good and comforting that Harry doesn’t want to smell anything else for the rest of his life. He had felt so shocked and robbed when he lost his body this morning, but now the form that he’s had for two hundred years is bizarrely, inexplicably foreign to him. He wants to be held again, held like he was last night. He wants to sleep in a bed. He wants to wear Louis’s dirty joggers. The whole thing is absurdly confusing.

“You’re still lovely,” Louis tells him, reaching out and tracing the swirl of Harry’s horn with the softest, most careful touch. “The prettiest, most beautiful thing that I've ever seen in m’life. So no matter what, we’ll figure something out, yeah? This doesn't have to be goodbye forever.”

Tears sting Harry's eyes again, and he lifts his head off Louis's thigh so that those tears don’t fall on him. Unicorn tears are immensely powerful magick, and he doesn’t want to set anything on fire. “Yeah,” he smiles softly, wiping them on his own haunch. “Okay.”

—-

Louis leaves the woods at sundown. He wishes he had more clarity, that seeing Harry had sobered him up or broke the spell of wanting to be near him all the time, but it only confused him more. If he was seeking closure, that’s not what he found. He keeps thinking of the wisteria, growing too massive and lush for the vine to support without snapping, Harry’s horn spilling over like a fountain of light. He keeps thinking about his heart, similarly swollen, similarly dangerous in its vastness.

Falling in love with a magical being is probably the stupidest thing he could have done. But he couldn’t control it, it wasn't his fault. Harry cast a spell, and he was caught in the crossfire, and here he is. Walking home with his hands jammed into his pockets, wishing he had taken a lock of that too-white-to-be-real horsehair so that he could twine it around his finger and know that Harry was safe, just beyond the village.

He imagines a future of coming out here a few times a week, running his palms over silver-white flanks, kissing Harry between the eyes, hair stuck to his lips. It sounds lonely and absurd and not what he really wants, but still, it sounds better than a future without him.

Louis sighs, and beneath the soft glow of the moon, he walks home to overgrown orchards of apples, to an empty bed.

—-

Harry can’t sleep. He's not sure that he’ll ever sleep again.

He doesn’t want this body anymore, is the thing. He feels done with it, ready to move on, like when a caterpillar makes herself a cocoon to stay in for a few months so that she can transform privately, steal away before she emerges evolved and beautiful, iridescent wings wet and papery and rich with colour.

Harry’s ready for his goddamn wings. He's gonna fly back to Louis, let himself in through the window, and never leave. I love you, he imagines saying in this body, his mane coming undone from the delicate braids that Louis put into it. I love you, and seeing you here and there and having you pet me like a dog isn’t enough. I want back in your bed. In your arms. Your mouth. I want you forever, even if that forever is a short and terminal life, and I have to give up an endless future in payment. So be it. I love you. I’d rather die in love than live forever denied it.

It’s a ridiculous thing to imagine in this body. But he remembers how it felt to sit himself flush against Louis and lick into his open mouth, and that, that is what he wants. That’s what feels real, now.

Using the patchy starlight filtering in through the trees, he picks his way toward the smell of scones, of fat sultanas and cinnamon twists. He needs to change back. He can’t do it himself, but there might be someone who can do it for him.

—-

Louis gets home and says nothing to his mum. She just holds her arms open to him from where she’s sitting at the kitchen table with her steaming mug of tea, and he silently goes in for an all-absolving mum-hug, where she pats his back and says, shh, shh, shh, and he cries like he’s ten years younger than he actually is. There will be other boys, she murmurs to him at some point, and it doesn't help because the truth is that he knows there will be other boys. There will be loads of other boys, but none of them will be magic, none of them will be Harry. Louis’s sure that all boys you love feel like a once-in-a-lifetime thing, but he knows with certainty that Harry really is something rare, special.

Everything else feels uncertain, weeping and blurry like an ink letter left out in the rain to bleed. He at least knows that he’ll see Harry again, but what sort of future can he have with a unicorn that lives in the forest? A unicorn that’s too beautiful to behold without his eyes stinging, too soft to touch, his fingers burnt and trembling every time he pulls away? Plus, what does he, a lowly human, have to offer an immortal being? Harry will tire of him, will eventually stop meeting him on the edge of the woods to trade what very little they can exchange. He feels like his days are numbered, like he's already marching toward a slow and quiet demise. Being forgotten, replaced, outlived.

Louis raggedly inhales, hides his face in his mum’s shoulder like a child, and cries until there aren’t any tears left.

—-

Harry knocks on the witch’s door using his knee, neck bent submissively in a premature apology in case he breaks something simply by existing. It creaks open on its hinges, and as soon as she sees him, she frowns. “You,” she gripes. “You didn’t step on anything on your way over here, did you?” She looks past him into her garden, eyes narrowed at the flower beds. “What do you want? You’re back to normal, I see.”

There are more graceful ways to say it, Harry’s sure, but he's too nervous to be eloquent. “I want you to change me back,” he blurts, head still lowered miserably. “I don’t have the magick to do it myself,” he admits. “Not that sort of thing...I’d muck it up.”

For a long time, the witch stands in her doorway, scrutinizing Harry with her eyes narrowed, her heel tapping anxiously against the weathered oak floor of her cottage. “It was just a glamour,” she says eventually. “They don't last, even the most powerful glamours fade away eventually. It would take something big to change what you are. No small price.”

“I know,” Harry urges, hating how frantic he sounds, the razored edge to his voice. “I just…I met a boy. I can’t have him the way I want him, not like this. I know it’s a big sacrifice, but I’m willing to make it.”

She looks horrified. “My goodness! Two nights as a human, and you're already thinking like one…throwing away everything for something as silly as love. It’s not wise, you know,” she sniffs disdainfully.

Harry knows, but he’s desperate. Wisdom seems a small, meek thing in the face of love. Maybe it’s silly, but its huge. It’s real. It’s eating him alive. “I’d leave Sherwood,” he tells her. “I’d never be anywhere near your begonias ever again.”

She considers this for a moment, though it doesn’t take very long for her to sigh and open the door wider. “Fine, then,” she grumbles. “Come in.”

Harry does. He's careful not to knock anything down, though there are plenty of precariously stacked items that he's weaving between, his body feeling too big and cumbersome for these narrow, winding paths. The witch’s house is positively packed, floor to ceiling. There’s a cauldron, of course, but also numerous spice racks, bunches of herbs and thistles, and even a few bones dangling from the ceiling, tied up in twine. There are mannequins draped in swaths of glittering fabric, rugs rolled up and propped against the wall to collect dust, a record player, baking supplies, a Vitamix crusted in something green, and an enormous cat tree. He thinks there are no cats on it at first, but then he notices a few pairs of green eyes peering at him from hidey-holes, watching him warily as he picks his way across the floor, careful not to bump into the copper kettle to his left, the in-progress doll house with it’s drying paint to his right.

“You realize,” the witch says, bustling her way over to an overflowing bookshelf, “that to be truly and indefinitely changed into a human, you’ll be relinquishing everything that makes you magick? No horn, no powers, no immortality. You’ll grow old and die, just like the rest of us.”

It shouldn’t be comforting, but it is. Powerfully so, when he imagines Louis, the lines by his eyes when he laughs, the firm, gentle sweep of his hands over skin that Harry can still remember the feeling of. And maybe this is reckless, but what even is the span of a human lifetime? Eighty years, one hundred if you’re lucky, healthy? Harry’s lived twice that already, he can’t imagine feeling something as massive as regret in such a short time. No, eighty years is the blink of an eye. It would be bliss to spend that with Louis, nothing compared to an eternity of trudging through Sherwood Forest with only the fading memory of him. “I understand,” he says firmly.

The witch wrinkles her nose. “Yikes,” she smirks then, eyebrows drawing together. “You really are in love. It makes things soft, stupid...but also very susceptible to magick. So, if you give me your consent, we can continue.”

“You have it,” Harry vows, closing his eyes. “Do what you will.”

—-

Louis’s lying in his bed on his back, staring at the ceiling. There are plastic moons and stars stuck up there, even a fist-sized Saturn, but they're so old that they don’t work anymore. No matter how long he exposes them to light, they just reflect a faint, eerie green, nothing that genuinely illuminates. It’s sort of how he feels right now, wrung out and too old to carry brightness. Longing for something that he’ll never have, falling for impossible boys. Starlight, magic, fairytales. None of that’s for the real world, for mortal creatures, and Louis knows it, even if it hurts.

He’s thinking about the spaces between his fingers and how Harry’s fingers could slot so neatly between them back when he had fingers, or at least the illusion of them, when he hears a knock at the front door, urgent and clumsy.

There isn’t a single moment that he considers it could be someone other than Harry. He knows this in his bones, has been waiting for it, dreaming of the possibility of him coming back. Still, he freezes, thinking that he's imagined it, that he’s making something out of nothing, that he’s conjuring Harry’s presence out of the creaks in the windows and the wind blowing past.

Then it happens again, and he sits bolt upright. Barefoot and in a robe draped hastily over his shoulders, he pads down the stairs, all the while thinking, it can’t be, it can’t be. Don’t get your hopes up, Louis, you’re probably hearing things, and the forest is a long way away. He hasn’t tripped across the village and risked being spotted just to see you.

But his heart is thudding in his throat when he reaches the door and opens it, fingers trembling and sweat-slick against the brass knob.

And there, in the moonlight, is a boy. Brown curly hair, pink skin but no glitter, teeth chattering and cheeks rosy from the night’s chill. He’s wearing the sort of sack dress that old ladies wear and salon slippers made from nylon.

He’s beautiful.

“Jesus,” he shivers through the wild rattling of his jaw. “It’s much colder when you’re actually human.”

Louis reaches out, throws his arms around his shoulders, and drags him into the most bone-crushing hug that he’s ever given someone. They’re both gasping, but Louis doesn't care that he can hardly breathe, he just pushes his face deeper into Harry’s neck and inhales, mouth open on the thunder of his pulse. “You came back,” he whispers, voice muffled. “And you look…where’s your horn?” he asks, pulling away to card his fingers through Harry’s hair, nails scraping over his smooth, unblemished scalp. “What did you do?”

Harry shakes his head, trembling as Louis touches him all over. Louis doesn’t know how to stop, he has to keep checking that Harry’s really here as he rubs down his goose-bumpy arms and back up again, squeezing him, palming over his neck, up to his face, which he cups between his palms. “I’m not...well, before, I was a unicorn glamoured to look like a human, but not this time…now, m’just a human-human,” he stutters, teeth chattering, tilting into Louis unsteadily, like the transition hasn't quite sunk in. “I hope…I hope that’s not too presumptuous or disappointing. I just...I couldn’t go on without you. Or, I could, but I didn’t want to.”

“Harry,” Louis murmurs, drawing him closer, bringing his flushed face in close enough to kiss, though he doesn't do it yet. “I’ve been up in my room, alternating between crying and saying your name, like, quietly to myself, under my breath, sort of, just to hear it.”

“Does that mean you want me?” Harry asks hopefully, breath skirting over Louis’s lips, warm and tasting like salt and boy, the green-spicy-mysterious note replaced with blood, with reality, with bruises and sweetness and hope. Louis inhales it, stomach clenching.

“It means I love you,” Louis tells him, and those are the last words that he gets in before he kisses him blind. Just presses him up against the wall between the potted plants and his mum’s once vividly painted porcelain cat that she still uses as a doorstop and crushes their mouths together.

Harry makes the same sounds, grappling Louis with the same needy, broad-clumsy hands. Louis wants so desperately to be under them at the same time he so desperately wants to touch Harry everywhere he can, so for a few heated moments, the moon watches them stumble and grope and groan like teenagers, like starved things. It’s only when Harry accidentally bites Louis’s tongue because his teeth won’t quit chattering that Louis makes himself pull away, eyes bright, stomach in knots. “Oh, love,” he coos gently, thumbs at the tails of his eyes, marveling at this slightly different version of the boy he had last night. So human and so gloriously normal, with soft translucent hairs above his upper lip, spots at his hairline. “Let’s get you inside...get you some tea.”

“With sugar, please,” Harry reminds him, as if he could forget.

They stand chest to back as the kettle heats up, Harry with his arms looped around Louis’s waist and his face buried in the ditch of his neck and shoulder, his hands roving over his stomach, his chest. “I’ll die, eventually,” he confesses against Louis’s pulse. “I’m not magic anymore, can’t make anything bloom ever again. M’just ordinary.”

“Ordinary like me?” Louis asks, voice titling and delighted. He’s stunned that Harry could think he would want him any less like this, when he was willing to run off to the forest and turn into something unspeakable just to stay near him. “I thought you found me quite extraordinary, I mean, I must be, yeah? You gave up immortality and all that jazz just to come farm apples with a guy who isn't even a prince.”

“I just want this, you know,” Harry explains, eyes closed as he nuzzles Louis behind the ear, the tip of his nose still icy. “Something small, simple, with you.” Then, after a few slow, measured breaths, “To be loved, and to be in love.”

In the circle of his linked arms, Louis carefully turns around to face him, to pull him closer, to feel their chests rise and fall and expand and contract together, like the tide. “Well,” he huffs out softly, voice muffled against Harry's hair, where his horn once was, now just more skin, more curls, more softness. It’s what he wants, too, what he’s always wanted and somehow felt he would never get, just because he was a boy who loved other boys, stuck in the middle of nowhere-Yorkshire with nothing but apples and forest around him, endless, sprawling green. With a speck of white hidden in the middle of it, apparently, magic just waiting for him to reach out and touch. His happy ending, there all along. “You’ve got it...you’ve got me,” he sighs, and a quiet, sated breath shudders out of Harry.

“Forever?” he asks, “Or as forever as you can have when you're both mortal?”

“Yes,” Louis tells him, loving the thud of their hearts, too close to distinguish from one another. “Forever.”

And they lived happily ever after.