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There's Such a Lot of World to See

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Harry’s falling.

It’s the strangest sensation, really. He’s on his back and he can see that he’s hurtling through the air by the way that the blue and green lights around him are nothing but a blur, but at the same time he feels like he’s floating, like a leaf bandied about by a gentle autumn breeze.

His heart is pounding so hard, like it’s about to crack his chest wide open. Blue lightning crackles around him and every hair on his body stands on end. Harry’s mouth falls open in a silent scream as a pain so terrible he can’t even comprehend it rips through him; it’s as if he’s being shattered into a million tiny pieces and being scattered all across the universe.

Maybe he is.

Sheer terror and panic overcome him. He has no idea what’s happening to him; he doesn’t know where he is, nor does he have any idea where the pieces of him could possibly be going. He just knows they are going somewhere.

He’s everywhere and nowhere all at once.

Tears prick at Harry’s eyes and he chokes out a sob as the strange blue lightning flashes again. He gasps for air and a single tear rolls down his cheek as he squeezes his eyes shut. As soon as they close, he’s assaulted by a myriad of images flickering in his mind’s eye, memories he’s never had before suddenly crystallizing in his brain, clear as day, as if they’ve always been there.

It’s like he’s lived a thousand lives, in a thousand different places and, in this moment, he remembers all of them.

He’s born. He lives. He dies.

And always, there’s Louis.

Always Louis.

Every lifetime ends the same way.

He saves Louis. Over and over and over again. In any way he could possibly be saved. Sometimes it’s as simple as Harry locking (or unlocking) a particular door; other times it’s more drastic, with Harry shouting out his name or throwing himself directly in the line of fire. Harry’s always there. He’s always been there, from the very first day Louis started running.

Most of the time Louis doesn’t even know him.

Often, they pass each other like ships in the night, Louis running right past him, dragging one of his numerous other human companions behind him as he’s chasing after whatever monster has put the universe in danger on that particular day. Sometimes they simply lock eyes across a room and Louis does a double take before darting off on another adventure. But every once in a while, in the best lifetimes, the hand that Louis grabs is his. There are the times Louis gives him that crinkle-eyed smile that Harry loves with every fiber of his being as he says one word to him, his favorite word in the whole universe.

“Run!”

And of course, that’s what Harry does. He’s always running after Louis. He’ll never stop chasing after him.

Harry blinks his eyes open and looks around, tears streaming down his cheeks. He’s still free-falling through the abyss, picking up speed as he plummets. He takes a deep and cleansing breath and suddenly he feels completely at peace.

What was it that Louis always called him?

His impossible boy.

Harry smiles contently. He doesn’t know where he’s going and, in this moment, he doesn’t really know where he’s been. But he does know one thing: Louis is safe now. He’s always going to be safe, thanks to him.

Harry cranes his neck to the side, wind whipping his long curls around his face. He can see the ground (at least he thinks it’s the ground) rapidly approaching. He closes his eyes, spreading his arms wide, accepting his fate.

He’s the Impossible Boy.

And his story is done.

Chapter Text

Gallifrey. 1963.

The alarm rings for the third time that morning, its shrill chime echoing in the small dorm room. With a groan, Louis blindly fumbles for the clock on his bedside table, triumphantly smashing the snooze button down once he finds it. He huffs, burying his face back in his pillow and squeezing his eyes shut.

Just a little while longer.

One would think that after ninety-two years of training to be a Time Lord of Gallifrey that Louis would have been able to figure out how to avoid mornings entirely by now. Unfortunately, despite his best efforts, the concept has eluded him. Louis burrows down in his sheets, a small grunt of frustration escaping from his lips. What’s the point of being a master of time travel and manipulation if you can’t manage to drum up a few extra hours of sleep every day?

Louis focuses on taking deep and even breaths, willing himself back to sleep. He feels the beats of his two hearts slowing as he starts to drift off.

The alarm goes off again, effectively killing any chance he has of falling back to sleep, though goddammit, he’s gonna try. He reaches for the snooze button for the fourth time, but someone else beats him to it, pressing the off button.

“Romana will have your head if you’re late again, Louis. You gotta get up, mate.”

Louis sits up reluctantly, his blankets pooling in his lap as he stretches his arms over his head. He frowns at his roommate Stan, who’s standing by his bed in only his pants, his hair still damp from his shower.

“What does it matter though?” Louis asks, immediately flopping back down and pulling his duvet up to his chin. “It’s just the same old shit, but a different day, isn’t it? It’s not gonna be anything new, so just let me sleep.”

Louis pulls the duvet over his head, burrowing down into his pillow. Stan promptly yanks the duvet off the bed.

“Fuckin’ hell, Stanley!” Louis yelps. “Really?”

“We have finals next week, Lou. You know? That whole graduation thing we’ve been working towards? You can’t skip class again. You already have the maximum amount of demerits; you’re gonna get kicked out.”

“Oh, come on,” Louis whines, reluctantly getting out of bed. Stan tosses the duvet back, hitting him in the face. “It’s just gonna be more lectures, some history lessons on our never-ending conflict with the Daleks, more theories on time travel and technology, maybe a science experiment or two if we’re lucky.”

“We don’t have lab today.”

“See, that’s what I mean,” Louis groans. “Just a whole bunch of talking. Never doing anything. Christ, Stan, all we fucking do is sit there all day and have her talk at us. Don’t you want to do something?”

Stan looks puzzled as he pulls his crisp gold school uniform out of the closet.

“Isn’t that how it’s supposed to be though?” Stan asks, pulling on his trousers. “We’re going to be Time Lords. We observe and we learn. It’s not our place to interfere in the workings of the universe. It never has been.”

“Yeah, well, maybe it bloody should be,” Louis grumbles, making his bed sloppily, not even caring if there’s a surprise room inspection. “All I know is I’m a hundred years old and I haven’t left Gallifrey. Not once. Hell, I’ve barely even left the capital. And we’re supposed to be masters of time travel? I just...don’t you want to see what’s out there instead of just theorizing about it?”

“Are you okay, Louis?” Stan inquires, his eyebrows knit with worry. “You’ve been acting really weird lately. Like...weirder than usual. Is it graduation?”

Louis sighs, running his fingers through his messy brown fringe. Once again he tries to find the words to explain to Stan the mounting sense of unease that’s been building in his gut over the past fifty years. (Or really over the past ninety-one, if he’s being truly honest with himself.) He feels like he’s on the verge of being trapped – trapped on this planet, trapped in this life. A life that Louis is certain he doesn’t want to lead. A life that he’ll have no choice in unless he does something drastic. And fast. Because his time, ironically, is rapidly running out.

Except Stan, God love him, has always played things by the book. He’ll never understand; Louis has tried to tell him many times over the years, but has always been met with the same response.

That’s just how things work on Gallifrey, Louis.

So really, it’s just easier to go along with things.

“Yeah,” Louis replies weakly. “That’s totally it. I’m really worried I’m not gonna pass and this has all been for nothing.”

“I’ll help you study, don’t worry,” Stan assures him. “You only need fifty-one percent to graduate. And after that...what do you have to worry about? You have everything lined up and waiting for you as soon as we’re out of here.”

“Yeah,” Louis laughs bitterly as he shucks his pajama pants, wadding them up and tossing them in the hamper. “Junior under-secretary to the third minister under the Chancellor of the Celestial Observation Agency. Where I’ll be expected to stay for the next several hundred years paying my dues before climbing up the ranks to eventually join the High Council. Just like my father did and just like his father did and so on and so on. Real exciting, Stan, I can’t wait.”

“It’s better than some of us are gonna get,” Stan says pointedly, buttoning his shirt. “Not all of us benefit from a family legacy.”

Louis’ shoulders slump and he feels like a right prick. Stan’s a good lad, coming from one of the lower ranking Gallifreyan families. They’ve been roommates since day one at the Academy and Stan has always, always been one of the hardest working students in their class.

It’s not Stan’s fault that Louis feels like he’s shouting in a crowded room and not a single person even bats an eyelash. Louis would give Stan his “legacy” in a single set of heartbeats if he could.

“I’m sorry,” Louis says ruefully, patting Stan’s shoulder as he crosses the room to their ensuite. “Don’t pay me any mind, Stanley. I clearly woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning.”

“How is that different from any other morning, Lou?”

“Oi! I’m not that bad.”

“Sure you aren’t,” Stan replies easily. “It’s been the same thing for almost ninety-two years. Want me to grab you some breakfast from the dining room? They’re closing in ten minutes, you’ll never make it if you’re showering.”

“Cheers, mate,” Louis grins. “You really are the best, you know.”

“I know,” Stan states, rolling his eyes fondly. “See you in the first lecture. I think it’s supposed to be another one on the inner workings of a TARDIS.”

“I can’t wait,” Louis deadpans.

********

Louis passes his final exams, putting in the minimum amount of effort and earning exactly fifty-one percent.

He’s officially a Time Lord now.

He spends the days before the elaborate graduation ceremony vacillating between a sense of total numbness and utter panic. He stands next to Stan (who’s graduating at the top of their class) during the ceremony rehearsal, blindly going through the motions as they’re walked through the steps of the ritual. Louis’ fitted for his robes; the rich golden velvet and sparkling brocade engulf him, the fabric dragging behind him on the gleaming marble floor and the tight collar threatening to suffocate him. The exaggerated solid gold shoulder plates embossed with the Seal of Rassilon and corresponding elaborately fanned golden headdress sit heavy on his slim frame, weighing him down.

“We look fucking ridiculous,” he mutters to Stan out of the corner of his mouth as a tailor makes an adjustment to his long bell sleeve.

Stan snorts with amusement, biting back a grin as he nods.

The night before the ceremony, Louis lies awake in his bed, staring up at the ceiling as his hearts pound in his chest, trying to keep the hysteria threatening to overwhelm him at bay. Finally he sits up, wiping sweat from his brow as he attempts to steady his breathing. Peeking over at Stan, who’s sound asleep in his own bed across the room, Louis carefully eases out of bed, wiggling his feet into his slippers. He tiptoes over to his closet and grabs his dressing gown, shrugging it on quietly and then easing their door open with a click. After taking equal care to shut the door behind him without waking his roommate, Louis leans against the wall, scrubbing his hands down his face.

He pads down the hall, holding his breath as he gingerly pushes the door to the stairwell open. Stepping inside the alcove, he closes the door behind him with a snick. He exhales loudly, his body relaxing ever so slightly. He quickly clambers up several flights of stairs, his footfalls echoing in the empty tower. He shoves the door open at the top floor, stepping out onto the roof deck and allowing the door to slam closed behind him.

Tears sting at his eyes as he takes a few shuddery breaths, the tightness in his chest loosening ever so slightly as they spill over. Louis pulls his dressing gown around him tightly, shivering slightly in the cool night air. He shuffles over to one of the chaise lounges, flopping down onto it and swiping the tears from his cheeks.

Louis stretches out on the chaise, resting his arms behind his head as he stares up at the blood orange sky. Gallifrey’s two moons are full tonight, large and glowing brightly. The stars are twinkling; Louis spots the red planet of Karn among them, as well as Skaro, the home of the Daleks, Gallifrey’s greatest enemies. He tells himself that the tiniest star, the second one to the right just past Gallifrey’s coppery moon, is the planet Earth, 250 million light years away. He can barely make it out, but he knows it’s out there.

God, he’d give anything to see it in person.

Another tear slips down his cheek.

Louis sniffles and thinks back to when he first arrived at the Time Academy. It feels like a lifetime ago, but it also feels like yesterday. In their first week, all the novice Time Lords are initiated into the Academy by being taken to the sacred Untempered Schism, so they can look directly into the Time Vortex itself. Louis remembers being terrified; looking into the vortex is meant to inspire and reveal your true purpose, but he’d heard tales of it driving novices mad. (It’s a bit barbaric, he thinks now, forcing children to do this, but that’s the Time Lords for you.) Louis will never forget how his forehead had beaded with sweat, nor the way his hearts had pounded as he had stepped up onto the dais and approached the ornate round window that would supposedly show him his future.  

They weren’t supposed to talk about what they had each seen, though naturally, everyone did. Louis sat around in the common room with his mates that night and listened to them rhapsodize about how they had seen things like infinite wisdom and knowledge and power. Louis kept his mouth shut, nodding along with what they were all saying, even as a feeling of dread started to bloom in his chest.

Because no one had seen what he had seen. No one.

It was that night that Louis knew he was different, something he knew without being told that he had to keep to himself. Even at eight years old, Louis knew that if there’s one thing you can’t be on Gallifrey, it’s different.

When Louis had stared into the golden light of the Time Vortex, the only thing that he saw was possibility.

Possibility that he’s clung to for the past ninety-two years. Possibility that the whole of time and space is just out there and his for the taking. Possibility that now feels like it’s about to slip away entirely. He’s expected to report to his new position at the Celestial Observation Agency the day after tomorrow. A whole lifetime of observing and cataloging the stars and planets, but never actually seeing them. If he plays his cards right, he may be lucky enough to work his way up to an ambassador position within the High Council, allowing him to travel around the galaxy, but even that position is limited and definitely several hundred years in the future.

With a huff, Louis gets up and walks to the edge of the roof deck, resting his elbows on the ledge as he looks out over the gleaming capitol. The city has spared no expense ahead of tomorrow’s lavish festivities, all the Academy’s buildings festooned with the banners of the individual colleges, colorful bunting and elaborate floral arrangements draped on almost every available surface. It’s supposed to be a celebration of the next generation of Time Lords, but to Louis, it feels like a funeral procession.

Suddenly, a strange wheezing and groaning sound breaks the silence, inexplicably giving him a feeling of hope. Louis whirls around, searching for its source, his eyes falling on the hangar adjacent to the citadel where the commencement ceremony will take place in the morning. The big bay doors open slowly, revealing about a dozen cylindrical ships, some in desperate need of repair while others shine bright and silver as if brand new. Louis’ eyes go wide at the sight.

Of fucking course. Why didn’t I think of this before?

TARDISes. Time And Relative Dimension In Space, also known as Gallifrey’s greatest technological achievement, capable of traveling anywhere in space and time. Also known as Louis’ ticket out of here.

Louis’ mind races as he observes the night crew scurrying out like an army of ants, working to load the new arrival into the hangar. This TARDIS has definitely seen better days; it’s a little battered looking and its chameleon circuit is clearly acting up as its shape flickers between the standard cylinder shape and some sort of blue box looking type of thing.

As he watches the hangar doors slide shut, a feeling of certainty settles in Louis’ gut. He can’t do anything tonight, he knows that. The city is too quiet and the hangar is too tightly guarded; he’d get caught for sure. But tomorrow? Tomorrow when the entire city will be focused on the graduation ceremony and every available resource and guard will be funneled into the citadel?

Tomorrow he’s going to steal a TARDIS and get the fuck off Gallifrey.

********

Graduation Day dawns bright with fluffy pink clouds dotting the apricot sky. Louis does his best to maintain a calm facade at breakfast even though his stomach is caught in an endless loop of somersaults. He listens as his classmates chatter about the day ahead of them, nodding on occasion, concentrating on looking as engaged and excited as they are. Meanwhile, he just counts down the minutes until he thinks he can make his escape.

He convinces Stan to linger in the dining hall, cheerfully insisting that it’s their last breakfast together and that they should savor it.

“Who knows when we will have a moment like this again, Stanley?” Louis asks, batting his eyelashes and making sure his voice is extra bright and chipper.

Stan rolls his eyes but helps himself to another few slices of bacon and an extra pancake as he continues chattering about how excited he is to start his job with the Chancellery Guard and how his final placement in the top tier of their class opened up so many new doors for him and how proud his family is.

Louis smiles and nods the whole time, feeling bad that his friend is playing right into his plan.

“Shit!” Stan cries suddenly. “Goddammit, Louis, do you realize what time it is? We have to be dressed and at the holding room in fifteen minutes!”

“Shit,” Louis echoes dramatically, shoving his tray away and standing up. “I wasn’t paying attention.”

They sprint back to their room; Stan is so focused on getting himself dressed that he doesn’t even notice that Louis forgoes the traditional dress uniform under his robes, opting instead for soft black joggers, a plain white t-shirt, and black sneakers. Louis sweeps his hands through his hair, reaching for his headdress.

“Lou, there is no way we can run in those things,” Stan says urgently. “We can put them on when we get there. You ready? We have to go!”

“Yeah, yeah,” Louis replies breathlessly. “I’m ready.”

They run down the hall, slamming the door to the staircase and scrambling down the two flights of stairs. They burst out of the building, bobbing and weaving through the crowd as they run across the campus, their golden robes billowing behind them.

“Should have taken the back way!” Louis laughs breathlessly as they finally crash through the citadel doors and jog towards the lecture hall where everyone else is gathering. “We should have known better.”

“I can’t believe you’re laughing,” Stan pants, adjusting his robes and fastening his collar. “We could have gotten in some serious shit, Louis.”

“Would you relax,” Louis admonishes, rolling his eyes. He gestures at the other stragglers making their way down the hall. “We’re hardly the last ones here, it’s fine.” He shoves his headdress on his head. “Now. Be serious. How do I look?”

He does a little twirl for Stan, who frowns at him.

“Lou,” Stan says worriedly, pointing at him. “You forgot your Seal of Rassilon amulet.”

“Shit,” Louis gasps, purposefully widening his eyes. “Shit, I think I left it on my bed? Fuck, I know I did. I can see it sitting right there.”

“They won’t let you walk without being in full regalia,” Stan says worriedly, patting his own large golden amulet as if to reassure himself that he didn’t forget it as well.

“What should I do?”

Stan hesitates for a moment before checking his pocket watch. He looks around, taking in the dwindling stream of late arrivers.

“I’ll cover for you,” Stan says finally. “If you take the back way through the tunnels, you should be able to make it back here before the processional.”

Louis’ hearts surge with affection for his friend. He thinks of the letter he slipped under Stan’s pillow before they left for breakfast this morning, hoping that Stan will eventually be able to forgive him for what he’s about to do.

“Thanks,” Louis says, throwing his arms around Stan and squeezing tightly. Tears prick at his eyes in spite of himself. “You’re a good lad, Stanley,” he says thickly.

“I am,” Stan laughs, hugging him back. “Besides, today won’t feel right if Romana doesn’t yell at you for being late.” Stan shoves at his shoulder. “Now go! You’re wasting time, you idiot!”

“I’m going,” Louis laughs wetly, walking backwards down the hall. “I’m going.”

He turns and jogs down the hall, Stan calling after him to hurry. He gives Stan a thumbs up and turns left, running down the hall to the back stairwell.

Holy fuck, I’m going. I’m really doing it.

Louis shoves a door open and clambers down the stairs, his hearts thudding in his chest. Pushing another door open when he reaches the bottom, he finds himself in an empty hallway.

“Won’t be needing these,” he mutters, peeling his robes off and depositing them in a trash can that sits in the corner. He tosses the ornate headdress in as well, feeling about a thousand pounds lighter. “Good fucking riddance.”

He sprints down the hall in his comfortable joggers and sneakers; the hum of activity going on above him seeping in through the vents making the whole hallway buzz.

Chest heaving, he reaches the door that will lead him up to the service entrance of the TARDIS repair bay. After pausing for a moment to catch his breath, he nudges the door open. Louis’ stomach is in knots as he jogs up the two flights of stairs. He reaches the top and says a quick prayer that the repair bay door isn’t locked. Holding his breath, he pushes.

The door opens easily.

Louis sneaks in, pressing himself against the door as he carefully slips it shut with a soft click. He stands completely still, taking in the space around him and looking for any signs of activity. The hum of the crowd outside is louder up here; most of the lights are off, only a few work lights are on in the corner. Sunlight filters in through the skylights, casting shadows around the dozen TARDISes in the center of the hangar.

After a few tense moments, Louis lets out a sigh of relief as he determines that he’s completely alone.

Time to get the hell out of here.

He jogs towards the center of the hangar. Rounding the TARDIS on the end of the row, he collides with something solid and warm that knocks him flat on his ass. Quite literally.

“Oops!” A deep voice exclaims.

Louis gasps and scrambles to his feet as quickly as possible, coming face to face with a beautiful boy who appears to be his age (though you can never really tell on Gallifrey. This boy could be 1500 years old for all he knows) dressed in a green maintenance uniform.

“H-hi,” Louis chokes out, raking his hands over his face.

“Planning on going somewhere, are you?”

I’m fucked, I’m fucked, I’m fucked.

“No. Yes. Maybe? Shit,” Louis stammers, bile threatening to rise up his throat. “I’m just – I wasn’t – fuck.”

“You okay?” the boy asks, his bright (really bright) green eyes filled with concern as his brow furrows. “You look like you’re about to be sick. You’re like deathly pale and green all at the same time.”

“I...I didn’t think anyone was here,” Louis says lamely, looking at the door and wondering if he should make a break for it. He could still make the graduation ceremony and just pretend this whole disaster never happened.

“I’m not here though,” the boy whispers conspiratorially, winking at him as he tucks one of his chin-length brown curls behind his ear. “You never saw me. And I certainly never saw you.”

“Wh-what? Are you serious?”

The boy just whistles, turning on his heel and walking down the center of the aisle of TARDISes.

“Are you having me on or something?” Louis calls after him, narrowing his eyes suspiciously.

The boy just keeps whistling, his hand brushing each TARDIS door as he walks by them.

Is he really not going to stop me?

“Okay then,” Louis mutters under his breath.

Checking the time and noting that his window of getting out of here unnoticed is rapidly dwindling, he goes over to a shiny, new-looking TARDIS and fiddles with the door handle. Naturally, it’s locked, but Louis came prepared for that. He fishes the pin that held the collar for his robes together out of his pocket and inserts it into the lock, jiggling it around.

“A-ha!” Louis cries as he feels the lock give way after a few moments.

“You’re about to make a huge mistake, Louis.”

“Oh here we go,” Louis rails, whirling around to face the boy, who’s leaning against a battered looking TARDIS with a bemused expression on his face. “You don’t know a single bloody thing about me, mate, so don’t even start. It’s not a mistake. It’s not! I can’t stay here, I have to get out of here or I’ll fucking go mad, so like, you can try and stop me, I guess, but you’re not stopping me and I don’t know why unless this is some sort of plan to stall me or something and how the fuck did you know my name?”

The boy’s smile is dazzling, his dimples carving deep craters in his cheeks; it knocks the breath straight out of Louis’ chest.

“I just meant that you shouldn’t take that one,” the boy says, affection in his voice. “You should take this one.”

The boy pats the TARDIS he’s leaning against fondly; Louis recognizes it as the one he saw being loaded into the hangar last night.

“What the fuck are you on about,” Louis cries disbelievingly as the TARDIS flickers, briefly changing into a bright blue booth, the words “Police Public Call Box” lighting up above the door. “That one’s a mess! This one’s all nice!”

“Oh sure,” the boy shrugs, walking towards him, his eyes glittering with amusement. “The chameleon circuit’s gone dodgy. I should say that the navigation system’s properly knackered too. This one definitely has a mind of her own. Temperamental as hell. But,” the boy says, leaning into Louis’ space, his breath hot against his ear. “I can promise you that you’ll have much more fun with this one.”

Louis stutters a breath, his cheeks suddenly flushing. He pulls back to look the boy in the eyes, their faces so close he can see flecks of gold in the green of his irises.

“Who are you?” Louis asks breathlessly, eyes briefly flicking down to the boy’s lips. “Have we met before?”

The boy merely smirks, dimples popping.

“You should get going,” he says lowly. “So which one will it be? The shiny new one that’s boring or the dodgy one that’s fun?”

Louis looks between the shiny new TARDIS and the dodgy one, chewing on his bottom lip in contemplation.

“Dodgy one,” Louis says definitively, walking over to the battered TARDIS.

“That’s the spirit.”

Louis presses on the door to the TARDIS and it opens for him. He peers into the cavernous control room and laughs out loud.

“They really are bigger on the inside, aren’t they?”

The boy honks a laugh.

Louis steps inside the TARDIS; the instant he does, the whole interior lights up and it’s like everything clicks into place.

He does a little twirl around the console in the center of the room.

He’s home. He’s finally home.

(These stark white walls have got to go though. First chance he gets, he’s redecorating. Except for maybe those round things on the walls. They can stay.)

“Hey,” Louis calls, running back to the door and resting against the frame. The boy looks back at him questioningly. “Do you wanna come with me? Plenty of room for two in here.”

The boy’s eyes light up for a moment before inexplicably turning sad.

“Nah, that’s okay,” he replies softly. “I’m good here.”

“Are you sure?” Louis presses. “’Cause you sure seem like you wanna come. And I want you to? I don’t know why, but I feel like you should. So come on. Lots of universe out there to see.”

The boy smiles, though it doesn’t reach his eyes.

“Someone’s gotta cover your tracks,” the boy says simply. “You don’t just steal a TARDIS and get away with it, you know.”

“How will you–”

“I’ll figure it out,” the boy replies with a small shrug of his shoulders. “Don’t you worry about me. I’ll be fine, Lou.”

Louis’ stomach flips at the easy way the nickname falls from the stranger’s lips. They stare at each other for a long moment, simply taking each other in.  

“Thank you,” Louis murmurs finally. “I’ll never forget this.”  

“Yeah well,” the boy says ruefully. “We had some good times, didn’t we?”

“Best ten minutes of my life so far, mate,” Louis replies honestly. “I really mean that too.”  

The boy smiles, a real one this time that lights up his whole face. Louis marvels at this strange and beautiful boy whose name he doesn’t even know. This boy who’s literally saving him.

“Hey,” Louis says urgently. “You didn’t tell me – I don’t even know your–”

“You need to go, Louis,” the boy interrupts. “Get to it. It’s all out there waiting for you. Lots of universe out there to see, like you said.”

“All of time and space, one might say,” Louis says cheekily.

“So where do you want to start?”

“I think I have a good idea,” Louis grins. “Cheers, mate.”

“Cheers,” the boy says, smiling serenely.

Louis closes the door and flicks the lock. He trots over to the console, flipping it on and punching in some coordinates. The TARDIS groans and shudders, making a vworp-vworp sound as the vortex manipulator comes to life. Louis grabs the throttle and thrusts it forward, cackling with delight as he feels the ship begin to take off. He peeks at the screen that shows the outside world; the boy wiping a tear and giving him a little wave as the TARDIS dematerializes right in front of him. Louis brushes a finger down the screen, a twinge with regret for his would-be companion the only thing marring this perfect moment.

He’s gonna have to find someone to travel with him. Soon.

“Well, it’s just you and me, ole girl,” Louis says to the console, stroking his fingers down the side of it. “How ’bout you show me what you can do?”

The TARDIS rumbles back at him.

“Well, then,” Louis laughs as he familiarizes himself with the layout and the myriad of buttons and screens. “I did always want to see Earth. You can pick the time though, how about that? How’s that for a start?”

Chapter Text

Asylum of the Daleks. 2828.

Clenching the head of a nail between his teeth, Harry grabs the remote for the stereo system, pressing play and then tossing it in the direction of his couch. As the twangy opening notes of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” fill the bunker, he grabs the board that had fallen loose during last night’s attack. He wedges it back into its slot on the door, making sure it fits perfectly between the other boards with no space or overlap. Grabbing the hammer from his utility belt, Harry plucks the nail from his teeth and holds it carefully on the corner of the board; he pounds it into the wood in perfect rhythm with the downbeat of the drum.

“Listen to the wind blow,” Harry sings as he hammers, “watch the sun rise.”  

He continues to sing as he pulls more nails from the pouch on his belt, methodically hammering them in until the board is completely secure. Once he’s done, he stands back, chewing his bottom lip as he observes his handiwork.

They almost broke through last night.

Harry shudders, grabbing another board and angling it diagonally over the others. He fishes out another nail and gets to hammering. These boards have got to hold; the Daleks may look like overgrown salt and pepper shakers on wheels with plungers and whisks for arms, but Harry knows from experience that they are actually the most terrifying and vile motherfuckers in the galaxy, completely single-minded in their hatred. Their robotically insistent shrieks of “EXTERMINATE!” have been his constant companion for the past year.

He’s survived for this long though, Harry thinks as he bangs the last nail in. Those assholes are gonna have to try a lot harder if they want to get the best of him.

The timer on his oven dings. Harry grins, sliding his hammer into its loop on his belt and trotting over to his little kitchenette. He crouches down and peers into the oven, beaming when he sees what appears to be a perfectly risen souffle. Clicking the oven off, he slides on a pair of oven mitts and opens the door. His heart sinks when the souffle collapses immediately.

Sighing heavily, Harry grips the ramekin in his hands and gingerly places it on the counter, frowning at the goopy remains of the souffle. Where did he go wrong? He used to be a bloody baker; you’d think making a souffle would be a piece of cake for him. But ever since crashing on whatever godforsaken planet this is, he’s lost his touch. Does the bunker’s oven not get hot enough? Is he not stirring the egg whites in completely? Harry grabs a spoon and scoops the ruined souffle in the trash.

He’ll try again tomorrow.

He places the ramekin in the sink, plugging the drain and turning on the faucet. He frowns as he squirts some dish soap in the rising water, knowing that it will take a while to soak off the crusty bits of the ruined souffle. (Why can’t he get them right? Every single one has fallen.) Popping the spoon into his mouth (well, at least it tasted right), Harry strolls over to his bank of monitors and types out a sequence on his keyboard, pulling up the visuals on all the security cameras he’s managed to hack into over the past year. He eyes them all carefully, sighing with relief. The coast is clear.

For now.

Harry drops the spoon into his tea cup from this morning, the metal clanging against the porcelain, and plops down on the couch. He grabs the remote and turns his music down a bit before pulling his dictaphone from in between the cushions and pressing the record button.

“Ensign’s Log, October 21st, 2828,” Harry says into the tiny microphone. “It’s been 363 days since we crashed. But I’m still here! As hard as they’ve been trying, the Daleks haven’t gotten me yet.”

Harry snuggles back into the couch, resting an arm behind his head.

“Last night was bad,” he continues. “They were at it most of the night, trying to bust in here. They were able to knock some of the boards loose but they finally gave up early this morning. They’re most active at night, I don’t know why, maybe they’re like vampire Daleks or something.”

Harry chuckles wryly.

“Anyway, I spent most of the morning reinforcing the door, so the defenses should hold. I hope.”

Harry stares at the ceiling for a long moment.

“Today’s my mum’s birthday. Happy birthday, Mum! I should be making your cake right now, like I do every year. Or maybe not, considering my luck lately. You wouldn’t believe this, Mum, but I’ve been trying to make your souffle recipe and the damn things keep falling. I don’t know why, I’ve never had this much trouble with it before. It’s gotta be the eggs, right? Not stirring them enough, I reckon. Anyway, it’s the thought that counts, yeah? I love you, Mum. I miss you. I miss you so much.”

Harry blinks away tears, his throat suddenly tight.

“I’m doing everything I can to stay alive so I can get back to you though,” Harry chokes out as the tears start to stream down his face in earnest. “I’m still sending out the distress signal. I mean, someone’s gotta be looking for me, right? Someone has to be coming. A big corporation like Cowell Industries isn’t just gonna let a ship go missing and not look for it...right? I know it’s been a year, but I can’t give up. I won’t give up, Mum. Promise. I’ll be making your cake next year, okay?”

Harry sniffles, wiping his nose on the rolled-up sleeve of his disheveled emerald green uniform. It’s due another wash soon anyway and besides, it’s definitely seen worse in the past year. He clears his throat, knowing he needs to get his report back on track.  

“Erm, sorry,” he apologizes. “I know I’m supposed to keep these reports official but I...I feel like I’m going a bit mad to be honest. No one to talk to all by myself here. This is Ensign Styles, signing off. I’ll report back tomorrow.”

Harry clicks the stop button and places the dictaphone on his rickety little coffee table. He leans back into the couch, swiping the tears from his cheeks furiously. He tries not to lose it very often because he’ll never survive against the Daleks if he sits around crying all the time, but on days like today, or like Christmas or his birthday, the reality of his situation can get to be too much.

Harry rolls to his side, looking at his television and eyeing the stack of 5 DVDs that have kept him company for the past year. With a sigh, he hauls himself up and walks over to the entertainment center, picking them up and fanning them out in his hand. Two romantic comedies, a disaster flick, the twelfth Avengers movie, and one disc of the fifth season of Friends. He’s really not in the mood for any of them, but at the same time, he needs to hear other human voices right now, voices that make him feel less alone.

He chooses Friends.

“They don’t know that we know that they know,” Harry says to himself, popping the disc out of its tattered case.

Harry slides the disc into the player, but is startled by the wail of an alarm before he can press play.

“Shit, shit, shit,” he mutters, scampering over to the monitors. He scans them all quickly, his heart racing. Glancing over his shoulder at the door, he says a brief prayer as he quickly kisses his cross necklace.

They’re coming.

Harry races back to the couch, flopping down and curling into the fetal position. He fumbles for the remote for the stereo, pressing the back button and turning the volume up.

There’s a loud bang and the bunker shudders.

“You will let us enter!” A chorus of piercing robotic voices bleats.

Another bang. And another. Harry turns the volume up louder.

“We will enter! We are the Daleks, you will let us enter! Enter! Enter! EXTERMINATE!”

A single tear slips down Harry’s cheek as he turns the volume up as far as it can go. Trembling with terror as the Daleks continue to shout at him, rattling the tiny bunker’s walls, Harry closes his eyes, clamping his hands over his ears as he starts to sing at the top of his lungs.

“Chaaaaain, keep us together! Chaaaaain, keep us together!”

********

“On a scale of one to ten, just how fucked are we, Doctor?”

Louis grimaces, looking over at Perrie, who’s gripping Jesy’s hand tightly. In all the years he’s traveled with the two women, Perrie’s only ever called him “Doctor” when she’s angry or scared. Given the fact that they are currently being held captive on a spaceship, flanked by two Dalek guards, Louis is pretty sure it’s not the former.

“On a scale of one to ten?” Louis ponders, scrubbing a hand over his face. “I’d say an eleven?”

“Oh, good,” Perrie says sarcastically. “Only an eleven. I was worried we were actually in trouble, being captured by the Daleks and all.”

“I’ve been in worse situations over the past 900 years,” Louis boasts. “Many of them with you two.”

“Really?” Perrie says disbelievingly. “Name one.”

“The whole battle with the Silurians,” Jesy suggests. “I did die there, you know.”

“See?” Louis says, pointing to Jesy. “Listen to your wife, she’s right. That was much worse and she’s here now and everything’s fine.”

Suddenly, the ceiling above them spirals open and the floor shudders beneath them as it starts to move up. Perrie gasps, grappling for Louis’ hand.

“Still at an eleven?”

“I promise, we’re going to be okay,” Louis assures her, squeezing her hand. “How long have we known each other, Pez?”

“Since I was eight years old and you crashed the TARDIS in my backyard,” Perrie replies instantly, sweeping her long blonde hair over her shoulder as she nervously looks up.

“Right. And how many times–”

“I gave you fish fingers and custard and then you told me you would be right back and ‘right back’ turned out to be fifteen years later–”

“Oi!” Louis cries. “That was not my fault, take that up with the TARDIS!”

“Never mind that I had to spend several years in therapy being told that I had completely made up the man who had truly terrible taste in tracksuits and a magical blue box that traveled anywhere in space and time–”

“Terrible tracksuits? Excuse me, tracksuits are cool!”

“They really aren’t, Louis.”

“For the love of Christ, would you two stop bickering and focus on the real issue here?” Jesy pipes up, rolling her eyes.

“How fucked we are?” Louis asks, looking up at the rapidly approaching portal.

“How if we had gone to have tea with Jane Austen again like I wanted to, we wouldn’t even be here!”

“That woman said she needed help!” Louis exclaims. “How was I supposed to know she was a Dalek puppet leading us into a trap?”

The lift grinds to a halt; Louis’ hearts start pounding as he takes in the cavernous auditorium that they find themselves in the middle of. Perrie whimpers quietly when she sees the thousands of Daleks in the galleries surrounding them, their eerie blue eyestalks glowing as they turn their attention to them in unison. He’s been trying to downplay the whole situation for their benefit, but Louis can’t help but think that he may not be able to work his way out of this one.

“Where are we, Doctor?” Jesy whispers from Perrie’s other side. “What is this place?”

“I mean, it’s obviously a spaceship,” Perrie trembles.   

“Not just any spaceship,” Louis mutters in reply. “The Parliament of the Daleks. Fuck.”

“What do we do?” Perrie asks fearfully.

“Be brave,” Louis whispers, squeezing her hand as he looks at both of his companions. “Remember they only want me.”

Louis looks to his left, spotting his beloved blue police box, its chameleon circuit having broken completely not long after he left Gallifrey and never looked back.

“On my signal, make a break for the TARDIS,” he instructs them quietly. “Emergency protocol one will kick in and she’ll take you home.”

“Not without you,” Perrie says urgently. “We won’t leave you, Doctor.”

Louis grins at that, spinning on his heel to face the assembly.

“Well, well, well,” he booms dramatically, stepping forward. “You’ve caught me at last! May as well be Christmas for you lot! Except, wait, you don’t even know what that is, you tossers!”

Louis throws his arms out wide, snapping his fingers at Perrie and Jesy, who stubbornly stay rooted in place.

“Well? What are you waiting for?” Louis shouts, closing his eyes. “I’m right here! Come on then, get it over with!”

“Save us,” a robotic voice croaks.

Louis cracks open one eye, peering in the direction of the voice.

“You will save us,” it repeats.

“I’ll do what now?” Louis asks incredulously, opening his eyes and dropping his arms.

“Save the Daleks! Save the Daleks! Save the Daleks!” the assembly chants in unison.

Louis bursts out laughing.

“Well this is new,” he says to Perrie and Jesy over his shoulder. “And why in the bloody hell would I do that?”

Louis’ attention is drawn by a woman stepping up to a podium that stands at the foot of a small dais. She’s a completely normal-looking human, save for the Dalek eyestalk protruding from her forehead. Louis narrows his eyes, recognizing her now as the puppet that drew them into this mess.

“You will approach the Prime Minister,” she orders him in a monotone voice.

Louis smiles at his companions reassuringly before stepping up to the podium.

“You were human once,” Louis tells the woman sadly. “Do you remember anything about your life before they made you their puppet? You had a daughter. Remember? You wanted me to save her from them.”

She blinks at him, her eyes completely void of emotion.

“My memories are only activated when the Daleks require it,” she replies flatly.

Louis shakes his head, his eyes landing on the Prime Minister, who sits in the center the dais, his outer casing open, revealing the grotesque squid-like creature within.

“Of course you send your puppets to do all the dirty work,” Louis growls at him. “Just when I thought you couldn’t disgust me any more–”

“You will approach,” the Prime Minister interrupts.

Louis glares at him, crossing his arms across his chest. He waits a few moments – just to prove a point – before heaving a sigh and striding up the ramp to meet him. Louis eyes him cautiously, the Prime Minister’s yellow eyes slightly unnerving.

“Well?” Louis says after a long moment.

“What do you know of the Dalek Asylum, Doctor?” the Prime Minister says, his voice a garbled croak.

Louis frowns, sweeping his fringe to the side.

“Legend has it that you have a planet where you lock up all the Daleks that have gone wrong, the Daleks that you can’t control anymore,” Louis says carefully. “A dumping ground for the insane and battle-scarred so to speak. Why?”

“Show him,” the Prime Minister orders his puppet.

The woman picks a tablet up from her podium and presses a button, causing a door to open in the floor with a loud mechanical groan. Louis trots back down the ramp, joining Perrie and Jesy and peering over the edge; his jaw drops as he takes in a small grey planet.

“It’s real?” he gasps.

“The asylum occupies the entire planet. Right down to the very core.”

“How many Daleks are down there?” Perrie asks softly, grasping Louis’ hand.

“We’ve never officially counted,” the woman states dismissively.

“And they’re all alive?” Louis asks, glancing at her over his shoulder.

“One would assume. The asylum is fully automated, no supervision required. We rarely check in on them because they don’t need anything from us.”

“Then...why are we here?” Jesy questions hesitantly.

“This signal is being transmitted from the very heart of the asylum,” the woman says, pressing a another button on her tablet.

Louis isn’t sure exactly what he was expecting to hear, but Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” is most definitely not it. He barely restrains himself from laughing out loud.

“Running in the shadows,” Louis sings, bopping his head along with delight. “Damn your love, damn your lies.”

“What is this noise?” The gallery of Daleks demand in unison. “Explain! Explain!”

“It’s Fleetwood Mac, you philistines,” Louis scoffs. “Don’t you have any taste?” He turns to Perrie and Jesy, winking at them as he strums an air guitar. “Stevie and Lindsey, let me tell you about those two crazy kids. We partied together in the seventies, you know. Did I ever tell you that ‘Go Your Own Way’ was inspired by me?”

“Doctor,” Perrie says patiently, her eyes darting over to the Prime Minister. “That’s amazing, but focus, please.”

“Sorry, sorry,” Louis says, shaking his head as he claps his hands. “The signal. Have you ever...I don’t know...tried to trace it back to the source and communicate with who or what is sending it?”

No answer.

“Right,” Louis grits, digging in his pocket for his trusty sonic screwdriver. “Of course you didn’t.”

Louis adjusts the setting on the screwdriver, turns it on, and then aims the green light at the tablet.

“Hello?” he calls. “Stevie? Hello? Anyone there? Come in, come in, Stevie.”

Louis winces as the music suddenly blasts louder before turning off completely.

“Oops! Sorry!” A boy’s voice rasps. “Shit. Pressed the wrong fucking button. Hello? Can you read me?”

“Hi,” Louis grins. “Reading you loud and clear. Can you identify yourself?”

“Oh my God, are you actually real?” the boy asks, his voice thick as if he’s on the verge of tears. “Like actually, properly real? I’m not making this up, am I? Please tell me I’m not making this up.”

“You’re not making this up,” Louis replies soothingly. There is something about this boy’s voice that’s familiar to him in the strangest way, but he can’t quite place it. “I’m quite real, I promise.”

“Holy shit,” the boy sobs, relief evident in his voice. “You’re real. You found me.”

“Can you identify yourself?” Louis asks again, his voice gentle.

“Shit, sorry, yeah. Ensign Styles of the S.S. Manchester. Current status: crashed somewhere...well...somewhere not very nice. I’ve been here a year, the rest of the crew is missing, I presume they’re all dead? Provisions are good, but I’m kinda ready to get out of here. You’re coming to get me, right?”

“A year?” Louis asks, his eyebrows raised. He glances at his companions, who look just as concerned. “Are you okay? Are you under attack?”

“Yeah,” Styles answers. “Every night, pretty much. It’s started happening during the day too. But I’ve been keeping them out!”

“Do you know who’s been attacking you?” Louis questions cautiously, not wanting to scare this poor boy any more than he’s been scared already.

“I mean, I know a Dalek when I hear one, yeah,” Styles replies.

“What have you been doing on your own, against the Daleks, for a year, mate?”

“Um...making souffles?”

Louis can’t help but laugh out loud this time.

“Souffles?” he barks. “Against the Daleks? Can I ask you something?”

“...Sure?”

“Where do you get the milk?”

“The milk? I–”

“This conversation is irrelevant,” the Prime Minister squawks.

“No, it isn’t!” Louis exclaims. “Don’t–”

The woman taps her tablet immediately, severing the connection.

“You can fuck right off, yeah?” Louis says lowly, glaring at her. “That boy is terrified, he–”

“That boy has broken through our defenses,” she says coldly.

“And because someone has gotten in,” Louis realizes suddenly, a chill running down his spine. “That means everything can get out. Thousands of batshit insane Daleks potentially being unleashed into the galaxy...even you don’t want that.”

“The Asylum must be cleansed,” the Prime Minister announces from his dais.

“Why is it even still here then?” Louis asks impatiently. “You have enough firepower on this ship to blast it into smithereens! So why haven’t you?”

“The force field is impenetrable,” the woman states.

“Not that impenetrable,” Louis argues, his heart sinking as he thinks of Styles all alone down there, praying to be rescued. “Someone got through. So turn it off.”

“It can only be turned off from inside.”

“So why not send a small task force down there or something?” Louis ponders, starting to pace. “A few of your best soldiers should be able to – a-ha!”

Louis whirls around, pointing at the Prime Minister. They stare at each other for a few moments before Louis chuckles bitterly.

“Oh, that’s good,” he laughs, clapping his hands as he walks back up the ramp. “Well done, I get it now. You lot are too scared to go down there, aren’t you? Not a single one of you will do it. So tell me,” Louis sneers, leaning into the Prime Minister’s space. “What do the Daleks do when they’re scared?”

“The Predator of the Daleks will be deployed,” the Prime Minister answers.

“You know, if you’re going with one of my other names, I vastly prefer ‘The Oncoming Storm,’ thanks,” Louis quips. “And besides, like I said before, why in the hell would I turn the force field off for you?”

“Because you have no choice,” the woman says simply, snapping her fingers.

Two Dalek puppet men appear from the shadows on either side of Jesy and Perrie. They each grab one of their wrists, fastening a cuff on them.  

“Hey, what the fuck are you doing?” Louis shouts as the girls struggle against the men. “Leave them alone!”

“It is known that the Doctor always requires his companions on his travels.”

“But I’m not–”

“You are though,” the woman replies. “Because it’s your one weakness, Doctor.”

“What is?”

“Your affection for the human race,” the woman states plainly. “That boy will have no other means of escape if you don’t go down there. You won’t let him die, will you, Doctor? Because sooner or later, no matter how good his defenses are, the Daleks will kill him. Are you really going to let that happen?”

As much as he may want to, Louis knows he can’t deny her taunts. A good friend taught him a long time ago that saving even a single person can make all the difference in the world.  

“You’ll need these to protect you from the nanocloud,” the woman calmly explains, clamping a cuff on his own wrist, a blue light glowing in the center of it.

“What the fuck?” Louis exclaims as a Dalek herds him down the ramp, its plunger-like arm pressing between his shoulder blades until he’s standing at the lip of the portal next to his terrified companions. The woman presses another button and a bright beam of light shoots down into the atmosphere, connecting the spaceship to the Asylum planet.

“The gravity beam will transport you as close as possible to the source of the transmission,” the woman explains. “You must find a way to deactivate the force field from there. Once the force field is dropped, you’ll have exactly four minutes before we incinerate the entire asylum.”

“So you’re just gonna fire me at a planet?” Louis cries incredulously. “That’s it? That’s your genius plan? Fire me at a planet and expect me to fix it?”

“In all fairness, Doctor, that’s pretty much your MO,” Jesy jokes weakly, peering over the edge.

“Are you really agreeing with the Daleks right now, Jes?”

“You know they’re right about one thing,” Jesy fires back. “You can’t resist a stray, you committed to going down there the moment you heard that boy’s voice.”  

“Ah, well...plenty of room in the TARDIS for four. I’m tired of being the third wheel anyway,” Louis smirks.

Jesy rolls her eyes.

“Don’t worry, we’ll get through this,” Louis promises, lacing his fingers with Perrie’s. “Don’t be scared.”

“Scared?” Perrie says with false bravado. “Who’s scared? Definitely not me. Just another adventure, right?”

“Right,” he says firmly. “We jump on three?”

The girls nod, fierce determination written on their faces.

“One,” Louis counts them off, “two...three! Oi oiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!”

They jump into the gravity beam, plummeting to the planet below.

********

Louis lands in a snowbank with a thud, the impact knocking the breath right out of him.

“Fuck,” Louis groans, patting up and down his body, checking for injuries; he sighs in relief when he finds that he’s in one piece.

He sits up gingerly, taking in his surroundings. He’s on a mountain slope, the snow a blinding white even against the overcast sky. His hearts drop in his stomach as he looks around frantically for the girls; the force of the gravity beam had wrenched them apart in their descent.

“Pez!” Louis shouts at the top of his lungs. “Jesy! Are you okay? Where are you?”

There’s no answer. He scrambles to his knees, his hearts now pounding.

“Perrie! Jes! Come on, girls, answer me, this isn’t funny!”

“Louis!” a voice finally calls. “We’re okay! Stay where you are, we’re coming!”

Louis scans the slope and finally spots them, a short distance away. Perrie waves wildly, stumbling in the snow, Jesy catching her before she faceplants. Louis collapses back with relief, scrubbing his hands over his face and exhaling heavily. He closes his eyes and concentrates on just breathing in and out. They’re safe, they’re alive.

They’re also super fucked right now.

He’s really stepped in it this time.

Louis is startled by movement right over his shoulder. He rolls to his side, yelping when he comes face to face with what looks to be a Dalek eyestalk, its round eye glowing bright blue.

“Jesus fucking Christ,” he shrieks, scrambling away from it quickly, his limbs flying everywhere.

“I can still hear you saying you would never break the chain…”

Louis freezes, turning back and looking at the eye. Except it’s not an eye, it’s clearly some sort of periscope.

“Shit,” the honeyed whiskey voice rasps. “I keep pressing the wrong fucking button, sorry.”

“Souffle Boy? Is that you?”

The familiar voice huffs in amusement, the sound inexplicably warming Louis’ belly.

“The name’s Styles, you know,” he says bashfully.

“But I’m so fond of ‘Souffle Boy,’” Louis grins. He reaches out and taps the glass of the periscope. “How are you doing this, by the way? This is Dalek technology.”

“Um, it’s pretty easy to hack?”

“No, it isn’t.”

They’re silent for a while, Louis squinting as he studies the periscope’s eye; the periscope stares right back at him, the shutter dilating every few seconds. Louis almost starts laughing at the fact that he’s having a staring contest with a machine, almost like he’s waiting for it to reveal the boy behind the voice.

“Are you okay?” Styles asks finally, his voice soft. “I was worried when we got cut off. I thought you had left me.”

“No, love,” Louis soothes. “No, I didn’t leave you. Was just...taking care of some shit. I’ll get you out of here, I promise. Where are you?”

“I’m not sure,” Styles replies. “The ship broke up when we crashed. I escaped and I found shelter in this bunker underground...somewhere. You’re coming to get me though, right?”

“Right,” Louis smiles.

“Good. It’s been–”

An electrical pop and fizz sounds and the periscope sinks back into the snow.

“Souffle Boy! Styles! Wait!” Louis cries. “Shit!”

“Doctor,” Jesy calls as they approach. “Doctor, we found someone!”

Louis looks up and sees Perrie and Jesy walking up to him, a strange man following right behind them. He leaps to his feet and jogs over to the girls, checking them for injuries.

“Are you two all right?” Louis asks worriedly, thumbing at a scratch on Perrie’s cheekbone.

“We’re fine,” Perrie assures him. “Promise, Lou. This is Jeff, he says he crashed here?”

“Are you the rescue team?” the newcomer asks eagerly. He’s doesn’t look much older than Perrie and Jesy; his eyes are a bit wild, darting between the three of them with excitement. “I’m Commander Azoff of the S.S. Manchester. We crashed here two days ago, are you here to rescue us?”

Louis cocks an eyebrow as he looks at his companions.

“Yes,” Louis says confidently. Perhaps a little too confidently, given the expressions on the girls’ faces. “We’re the rescue team. I’m the Doctor, you’ve met my associates Perrie and Jesy.”

“Oh thank God,” Azoff sighs. “We’re crashed not far from here, we’ve been hiding out in one of the last escape pods that’s still attached to the main ship. There were twelve of them originally, I don’t know what happened to the rest. Come with me?”

“Lead the way, Commander,” Louis says.

Azoff starts scampering down the mountain, his heavy snow boots easing his descent. Louis, Perrie, and Jesy follow him carefully, slipping and sliding all the way.

“The Manchester,” Perrie whispers, grabbing Louis’ arm. “Isn’t that your stray’s ship?”

“Don’t call him that,” Louis whispers back. “His name’s Styles. And he said he crashed here a year ago, remember? This guy Azoff is saying two days.”

“I have a funny feeling about this,” Jesy mutters from just behind them. “Aren’t we supposed to be finding the force field? We should just focus on that and get the fuck out of here.”

“We still need to find a way off the planet,” Louis says quietly. “Maybe some of the escape pods on the ship are still functional. We have to explore all our options, Jes.”

“Here we are,” Azoff exclaims happily, kneeling by a hole in the snow. He reaches down, brushing some of the new snow away with his gloved hand, revealing a hatch door. The letters S.S. Manchester are engraved on it. Louis looks at the girls, eyebrows raised.

“Everyone’s going to be so relieved,” Azoff says pulling the hatch door open and climbing down a ladder. He pauses, popping his head back-up through the hatch. “Are you coming?”

The three of them look at each other questioningly before Perrie appears to make up her mind.

“Age before beauty,” she smirks, gesturing to the hatch.

“I’m plenty beautiful,” Louis grumbles, as he steps down the first rung of the ladder. “Especially for a thousand years old.”

“No one said you weren’t, Lou,” Perrie giggles, following him down the ladder. “But you can’t deny you’re fucking old.”

“Not that old! Gallifreyans can live well past three thousand! So that makes me like...twenty-six?”

“Still older than us,” Jesy sniggers from above Perrie.

“Shut up,” Louis pouts, reaching the last rung and hopping to the floor. He holds out his hand for Perrie, who’s in heeled boots, but she scoffs and brushes him off. He starts to laugh, but it dies in his throat as he turns.

Everything immediately feels off as he looks around the dimly lit hatch. There are about a dozen bodies sitting upright in their seats, but they are completely still, no sign of life coming from them; the hatch smells stale and musty. Almost like a tomb.

“Want to introduce us to your crew, Commander Azoff?” Louis asks brightly as he subtly shifts his body to shield Perrie and Jesy.

“Yeah, yeah, sorry,” Azoff says, as he fiddles with some buttons on the wall. “Guys, this is the Doctor and his companions, Perrie and Jesy. They’re here to help us.”

There’s no response.

“Guys?” Azoff asks. “You’d think you be more excited? We’re gonna get out of here!”

“Stay here,” Louis mutters to the girls. He carefully walks over to the back row of seats, gingerly placing a hand on the shoulder of the person sitting on the end. The head rolls back and Louis immediately recoils at the sight of the mummified corpse. He looks back at Azoff, whose eyes are wide with shock.

“Holy shit!” Azoff gasps.

Louis whips out his sonic screwdriver, scanning the hatch for signs of life.

“They’re dead. All of them,” he pronounces.

“That’s not possible!” Azoff insists. “I just spoke to them. Two hours ago we were talking about engine repairs!”

“You sure about that?” Louis asks, pulling a hood back from another body, the skull falling backwards. “‘Cause it looks like they’ve been dead for a long time, mate.”

“But...but...this isn’t...they can’t–” Azoff stammers in distress.

“Well, they certainly didn’t get that way in two hours,” Perrie pipes up tremulously, clinging to the side of the ladder.

“Oh, of course,” Azoff says after a moment. “Stupid me.”

“Stupid you...what?” Jesy says hesitantly, sliding an arm around Perrie’s waist.

“I died outside. The cold must have preserved my body,” Azoff explains, his voice suddenly void of emotion. “I forgot about dying.”

A Dalek eyestalk sprouts from his forehead and the girls scream as he lunges towards them.

“Fuck!” Louis shouts. “Get back!”

Louis wrests a fire extinguisher from the wall and leaps between Azoff and his companions. He swings it wildly, hitting him in the jaw. Azoff shakes his head, momentarily stunned by the blow, but he charges forward again once he regains his bearings. Louis grabs the nozzle of the extinguisher and pulls the pin, blasting the chemicals in Azoff’s face, the force pushing him back.

“Jes!” Louis yells over his shoulder. “The door! Press the button. Hurry!”

Jesy scrambles towards the wall, slamming a red button. The doors behind Azoff slide open as Louis continues to blast him back. The extinguisher dies; Louis tosses it aside and then kicks out, nailing Azoff in the stomach, knocking him to the floor.

“Now!” Louis shouts to Jesy.

Jesy punches the button again and the doors slide shut, trapping Azoff inside.

“What the fuck?” Jesy breathes as Azoff angrily bangs on the door. “He seemed so normal, what the fuck? How did he get all Daleky?”

“Because he wasn’t wearing one of these,” Louis pants, hunching over to catch his breath. He holds up his wrist, his cuff still glowing bright blue. “It’s the nanocloud. Fuck, that’s clever of them.”

“What is?” Jesy asks.

“It’s the planet’s atmosphere,” Louis explains. “It’s like...swimming with all these micro-organisms that convert any organic matter, living or dead, into a Dalek puppet–”

“Living or dead?” Perrie asks fearfully.

“It’s quite genius really,” Louis begrudgingly admits. “Anything that attacks this place almost automatically becomes part of the security system–”

“Louis, living or dead?” Perrie repeats, her voice urgent.

“These bracelets are protecting us from becoming one of them. They’re the only thing that stands between us and–”

“Doctor!” Perrie exclaims forcefully. “Shut up! Living or dead?”

“Living or–” Louis says slowly, catching some movement out of the corner of his eye. “Fuck, dead!”

Louis looks on in horror as the dead bodies of the crew suddenly come to life, eyestalks bursting from their forehead. They stagger to their feet, ambling towards them with their arms outstretched.

“Shit, shit!” Louis exclaims, frantically looking for a way out. It’ll take them too long to climb back up the ladder and they just sent Azoff though the closest exit. The Dalek puppets swarm them, the three of them furiously swinging their fists and kicking their legs to fend them off. Finally, Louis spots another exit in the far corner.

“Jesy!” Louis shouts as he pulls Perrie to his side, his fist smarting as he throws another punch. “The corner!”

She nods, dropping her shoulder and shoving it into one of the crew members, pushing him aside to create a path for them. The three of them weave their way through the swarm, fists flying as they make their way to the door.

“Fuck,” Jesy yells, punching furiously on a keypad as Perrie shields her. “Fuck, Louis, it’s locked!”

Louis elbows his way to the keypad, pulling out the sonic screwdriver and aiming it at the locking mechanism. Perrie yelps as one of the Dalek puppets grabs her wrist, pulling her away from them.

“Get your hands off my wife, you filthy git,” Jesy bellows, landing an expertly executed sidekick and yanking Perrie back to her side.

“Thanks, baby,” Perrie says breathlessly, pressing a kiss to Jesy’s lips, even as she lands a punch with her free hand.

“Thank all those kickboxing classes,” Jesy smirks. “How’s that door coming, Lou? We can’t hold them back much longer.”

“I’m fuckin’ tryin’!” Louis exclaims. “It’s not budging!”

Suddenly, the doors slide open; the three of them tumble through, kicking the Dalek puppets back as they try to follow them through.

“Please stand clear of the closing doors,” Styles’ deep voice rings out on the PA system. “¡Por favor manténgase alejado de las puertas!”

Louis throws one more punch at an especially persistent puppet as the doors slide closed with a hiss.

“Jesus, Styles,” Louis gasps, leaning back against the door and shaking out his aching fist. “Do you know how to make an entrance or what?”

********

Harry grins at the monitor, balancing his wireless keyboard on his knees as props his legs up on the coffee table.  

“Sorry,” Harry apologizes. “I blew a fuse. Took me a long time to find you on the surveillance system once I got everything up and running again. But I found you!”

“You found us,” the most beautiful man that Harry’s ever seen replies, his eyes crinkling at the corners as he smiles.

“That’s him, isn’t it?” the shorter woman to his left asks. “Styles?”

“That’s him, yeah,” the man confirms, the crinkles by his eyes deepening as his smile broadens. “Where are you by the way, Styles? The camera, I mean? I hate just like...talking to the room.”

Harry beams, biting his lower lip.

“Look up,” Harry replies.

The man complies, his piercing blue eyes narrowing as he squints, searching the room for the camera. He sweeps a long piece of his messy brown fringe aside, his fingers brushing his sharp cheekbone.

“Now turn,” Harry commands, holding back a giggle. “Slowly.”

The man huffs a laugh, placing his hands on his hips, the polka dot lining of his black track jacket flashing as he does so. He obeys, turning around ever so slowly.

“Seriously, where are you?”

“Keep turning,” Harry says seriously, taking in the way the man’s ripped black skinny jeans hug his thick thighs. “Now stop.”

The man freezes and Harry can’t help but admire his rather luscious bum.

“There it is,” Harry leers after a moment, unable to hold back his giggles.

“Oi!” the man squawks, whirling back around and finally spotting the camera. He points at it, his eyes sparkling with amusement. “Cheeky bastard!”

“As cute as this bizarre mating ritual is,” the blonde girl says drily. “Can we concentrate on getting us out of here?”

“Right,” Harry says, his fingers flying over his keyboard. “Let me just scan the area. You’re in one of the escape pods for the Manchester, the same ship I was on–”

“How can you hack into everything?” the man asks. “You’re hiding out in a bunker! It should be impossible.”

“I mean, when you have a lot of time on your hands, you can learn pretty much anything, you know?”

“I suppose so,” the man ponders. “Still the technology is incredibly complex. You some sort of computer genius, Ensign Styles?”

Harry feels his cheeks heat up as he smiles bashfully.

“I don’t know. Is there a word for total screaming genius that sounds modest and a tiny bit sexy?”

“Doctor,” the man grins cockily, leaning towards the camera. “You can call me Doctor.”

Harry honks a laugh and then immediately covers his mouth. The man, the Doctor apparently, is smiling so wide that his eyes are completely shut.

“I see what you did there,” Harry giggles. “But what kind of name is Doctor? Doctor who?”

“He did it,” the Doctor laughs, airy and bright. He elbows the blonde, who rolls her eyes fondly. “He did the thing. I love when they do the thing.”

“Louis,” she says patiently. “Focus.”

“Louis?” Harry says. “Is that your name?”

“Yeah, love,” Louis replies, his face soft. “M’Louis, this here is Perrie,” he says, patting the blonde’s shoulder, “and this is her wife, Jesy.”

“Hi,” the girls wave.

“Hi,” Harry replies. “Nice to meet you. You have no idea how glad I am you’re here.”

Something catches Harry’s eye on one of his monitors. He frowns, pressing some keys to bring the monitor’s image to the main screen. His stomach plummets as he sees the swarm of Dalek puppets, his former crew mates, pounding on the door right outside the pod that Louis and the girls have escaped to. One of them holds up a bracelet, his mummified face curled into a macabre grin as he taps the glowing blue center against the camera’s lens.

“Um, guys? Are...are one of you missing something? A bracelet?”

Three sets of eyes go wide, their hands immediately flying to their wrists.

“It’s mine,” Perrie says quietly, her face going white. “They must have...when they grabbed me, they must have pulled it off my wrist. Oh, fuck. Fuck, Louis! What’s going to happen to me?”

“What are we going to do?” Jesy asks fearfully, gripping her wife’s hand. “How long before she...she becomes one of them?”

“I don’t know,” Louis replies honestly. “Fuck. Okay. Styles...we’re gonna need your help, yeah? The first step is getting us out of this pod, okay? Can you do that?”

“Yeah, of course,” Harry replies, tapping out a sequence on his keyboard. “It looks like there’s a breach on the floor that can lead you out of there. Look around for a trap door?”

Louis and Jesy immediately crouch down, smoothing their hands over the floor, looking for a latch; Perrie simply stands there, wringing her hand around her empty wrist, tears in her eyes.

“A-ha!” Jesy cries, grasping a hidden handle and pulling up. “Found it. And there’s a rope ladder too. Someone’s clearly used this already?”

Louis peers down the long tunnel, his brow furrowing.

“This pod is buried underground,” he muses, looking back up into the camera. “So this must lead straight down into the asylum? Is that right, Styles?”

“Yeah,” Harry replies, pulling up some schematics on his second screen. “There’s a transport bay down here. You can beam out that way...after you come to get me, right?”

“Right,” Louis affirms. “We still have a force field to take down, but we’ll get to that once we get in there.”

“There are no cameras in the tunnel,” Harry says tentatively. “No PA system either. But it’s the only way out of there, so...see you on the other side?”

“Yes,” Louis replies firmly. “You will see us on the other side, Styles. I promise. We’re not gonna leave you.”

“Okay,” Harry breathes, raking a hand through his wild curls. “Okay.”

********

“What’s going to happen to me, Louis?” Perrie asks as they carefully make their way down the unstable rope ladder. “Just...be honest, please. Don’t lie to me, cause I know when you’re lying, and I’ll definitely fall on you and then we’re all screwed.”

Louis grimaces as the ladder twists around under their weight; he waits until it stabilizes before answering.

“The air is full of micro-machines, robots the size of molecules,” he explains carefully. “Now that you’re unprotected...you’re being rewritten.”

“So I’m going to end up with one of those things coming out of my head?”

“Physical changes come later.”

“So what...what comes first?”

Louis finally reaches the final loop on the ladder, stepping to the ground. He squeezes his eyes shut, rubbing his temples.

“It starts with your mind,” Louis sighs heavily. “Your feelings, your memories.” He reaches out, placing a hand on the small of her back to steady her as she reaches the bottom of the ladder. “And I’m sorry, love, but it’s already happening.”

Perrie hops to the ground and turns to face him, her blue eyes wide with fear.

“How do you know?”

“Because this is the fourth time he’s told you this, Pez,” Jesy says grimly as she hits the ground, her full lips pressing into a thin line.

“What?” Perrie asks, looking between them. “Louis...Louis, I’m scared.”

“That’s good,” Louis breathes, pulling her into a fierce hug. He presses a kiss to her forehead. “Hold on to that. Stay scared. Scared isn’t Dalek.”

“So...where do we go?” Jesy says tensely, looking both ways down the hall.

They can hear echoes of Daleks shouting “Exterminate!” at the south end.

“Not that way,” Louis declares. “Hey, Styles? You there? Can you read me?”

“Loud and clear, Louis,” Styles answers. “So, erm, there’s a swarm of Daleks to your left.”

“Yeah,” Louis nods. “We can hear them.”

“They’re probably catatonic, most of them are, but they still have firepower–”

“Please tell me that’s not the direction we need to go, Styles.”

“It is,” Styles replies hesitantly. “But I think I can lead you around them if you go in the opposite direction. You’ll have to double back, but there’s another corridor I can take you through?”

“Sounds great, love,” Louis says, taking Perrie’s hand and guiding her to the other end, Jesy following behind them. “We trust you. Lead the way.”

“You should be coming up on a door soon,” Styles says. “On the left side of the hall.”

Louis trots down the hall, the Dalek cries fading as they get farther away. Spotting the door frame, he picks up his pace, jogging a little ahead of the girls.

“Yeah, yeah, we’re here.”

He presses a screen by the door, lighting it up.

“We need a code to get in, Styles.”

“I’m working on it,” Styles states. “In the meantime, I’m beaming the map to the screen, so you can get an idea of where you’re heading, okay?”

The screen flickers, the layout of the asylum coming into focus. Louis peers at it, tracing a finger between a flashing red dot and a flashing red star.

“You’re the dot,” Styles explains. “You’re heading to the star; it’s the transport room and it’s pretty heavily barricaded, you should be safe there while we figure out the force field.”

“Cool, cool,” Louis mutters, pulling out his sonic and aiming it at the screen. “I’m gonna upload it to my sonic screwdriver and then it will work as a compass in case communications get cut.”

“Oh, I’ll be able to trace you better that way too!” Styles exclaims. “Good idea, Lou!”

Louis grins at the easy way the boy transitions into the nickname.

“We make a good team, Styles.”

“The dream team,” Styles agrees. “I’ve almost got the code broken, hold tight, okay?”

“Perrie,” Jesy hisses suddenly. “Perrie, what are you doing? Louis!”

Louis looks up, his blood running cold as he observes Perrie wandering down the hall, weaving her way through an eerily silent group of Daleks, who have meandered aimlessly down the hall, catching up with them. They don’t appear to be aware of them yet, but Louis knows that can’t possibly last long.

“Pez!” Louis says, trying to keep his voice hushed. “Pezza!”

“Shhh, shhhh, it’s okay,” Perrie shushes. “They’re just people, Lou! There are other people down here! Can you believe it?”

“No, Pez,” Louis urges, pulling Jesy into the door frame. He carefully creeps towards Perrie, reaching out for her wrist. “It’s the nanocloud messing with your perception. Look again, love, look again! They aren’t people!”

Perrie shakes her head, her jaw dropping as she comes back to herself. Louis can practically see the moment Perrie realizes that she’s in the middle of a cluster of Daleks; all of the color drains from her face and she wobbles unsteadily on her feet, almost as if she’s about to pass out. Louis glances around at the catatonic yet still menacing Daleks, grimacing as he imagines how terrified Perrie must be.

“Oh, fuck,” she whispers. “Fuck, Louis, what do I do?”

“Just take my hand,” Louis says, desperately trying to remain calm as he takes another step towards her. “Walk back very slowly and take my hand. They don’t seem to be fully aware of you yet.”

“Okay,” Perrie breathes, gingerly taking a step back, hand flailing behind her, searching for Louis’ hand.

“Good, Pez,” Louis soothes. “You’re doing great. Just a few more steps and I’ll have you, love.”

“I’m scared, Lou,” Perrie murmurs, a tear slipping down her cheek as one of the Daleks whirls around, its eye stalk nearly grazing her arm.

“That’s okay,” Louis replies. “Like I said before, it’s good that you are.”

Their hands finally connect; Louis grips her hand tightly.

“Intruder!” one of the Daleks cries suddenly. “Intruder! Intruder!”

Louis yanks Perrie behind him, Jesy scrambling out to grab her wife and pulling her to the safety of the door frame.

“How’s that lock coming, Styles?” Louis shouts.

“Almost there,” Styles replies, a desperate edge to his voice. “I promise!”

“Intruder!” the Dalek cries, its plunger-like arm colliding with Louis’ chest. “Intruder! Exterminate!”

The Dalek attempts to fire, but all that happens is a weak pew-pew sound; Louis’ shoulders slump in relief.

“It’s damaged,” Louis calls to the girls. “Its guns aren’t functional!”

“But still, what do we do?” Jesy cries. “They all can’t be damaged!”

Louis takes a step back, stepping right in front of the Dalek’s glowing blue eye.

“Identify me,” Louis orders, his voice low and dangerous. “Come on, Clunky, access your files. Even as mad as you are, you know who I am.”

“You...are...the...Predator,” the Dalek croaks.

“You bet your big metal arse I am,” Louis says. “Now access your standing orders regarding the Predator.”

“The Predator...must be...destroyed!”

“Yeah, and how are you gonna do that,” Louis taunts. “You don’t have any guns! You’re like a fish on a bicycle! How are you gonna destroy me, huh?”

“Louis,” Jesy hisses. “What the fuck are you doing?”

“Trust me,” he answers, gripping the sonic in his fist. “Well, Clunky? What the fuck are you going to do?”

“Self destruct initiated in 10...9...8…”

Louis aims the sonic at the Dalek’s eye, the sound a high-pitched whine when he activates it.

“7...6...”

“Louis!” Perrie yells desperately, as the door finally slides open. “What the hell is it doing?”

“It’s going to blow itself up!” Louis exclaims with a cackle. “Only weapon it has left!”

“Self destruct cannot be stopped!” the Dalek says. “4...3…”

“Oh, I’m not trying to stop you, darling,” Louis grins, stepping back towards the door. “I’m just looking for the reverse function–”

The Dalek suddenly blasts backwards, colliding with the other Daleks.

“Forward! Forward! For–”

The Dalek explodes, taking all the others out with it. Louis ducks through the door, narrowly avoiding the fireball that whooshes down the hall.

“Run!” he shouts to Perrie and Jesy, who spring into action immediately. He holds the sonic out in front of him as he picks up his pace, using it as a compass. “Come on, there’s no way they don’t know we’re here now! I probably just woke up the whole lot.”

“That was bloody brilliant,” Styles gasps.

“We can talk about how brilliant I am when we get out of here,” Louis pants as he sprints. “Believe me, it’s one of my favorite topics.”

Styles chuckles.

“You’re almost there, Lou. I’ve already unlocked all the doors, so your path is clear.”

“Thanks, mate. You’re pretty brilliant yourself, you know.”

Finally, the sonic blinks, indicating they’ve arrived at their destination. The three of them burst through the door, Perrie collapsing on the floor almost immediately.

“Lou,” she moans. “I really don’t feel right.”

“I know, love, I know,” Louis wheezes, fiddling with the cuff on his wrist. He yanks it off, walking over to Perrie and securing it around her wrist.

“What about...what about you?” Perrie slurs.

“Don’t worry about me, Pez,” Louis assures her, brushing the hair off her forehead. “Gallifreyan biology, yeah? It’ll take longer on me.”

“Is she going to be okay?” Styles’ voice crackles over the PA. “She’s, um...she been exposed to the nanocloud for a long time.”

“She’ll be fine,” Louis says determinedly, looking around the room. He kneels down, scooping Perrie up in his arms and walking her to the center of the room, where a platform comprised of concentric circles glows with white light. “Jesy, I think this is the transport pad.”

“Do you know how you make someone into a Dalek?” Styles asks, his voice hushed. “You subtract love and just...add anger. I’ve seen it happen, Lou.”

“Well, she’s not angry yet,” Louis clips, pressing a kiss to a now sleeping Perrie’s temple. “So she’s fine.”

Jesy sits on the platform and Louis helps her arrange Perrie so that she’s sleeping comfortably with her head resting in her wife’s lap. Jesy gently cards her fingers through Perrie’s long blonde hair, looking up at Louis fearfully.

“You think sleeping will slow it down?” Jesy whispers.

“Possibly,” Louis replies, brushing himself off as he rises. “The bracelet will hopefully halt it too.” He peers at the camera. “What about you, Styles? How come you’re okay? Why hasn’t the nanocloud converted you yet?”

“I mentioned the total genius thing, yeah? I rewired the ventilation system so I’m totally shielded in this bunker.”

“Clever boy,” Louis grins, carefully picking up a decrepit piece of equipment and examining it. “This place...the Daleks said it was fully automated. But look at it...everything’s a wreck.”

“Well, I’ve had a year to mess with them and not much else to do. Like I said, it’s amazing what you can pull off when you have nothing but time on your hands.”

Louis looks around the room, spotting the camera in the corner.

“An ensign, which is the lowest possible rank someone can have, hiding out in a bunker hacking the security systems of the most technologically advanced warrior race the universe has ever seen.”

“...Yeah?” Styles asks hesitantly.

“You know what really gets me about you, Styles?” Louis asks with a small smile.

“No, what?”

“The souffles!” Louis exclaims. “Where the fuck are you getting the milk for the souffles from after a year? Seriously, am I the only one who’s stuck on that?”

“Yes,” Perrie mumbles sleepily. “You are.”

“I’ve been looking you up in the database, Doctor Louis,” Styles says suddenly. “You’re all over it, you know. Why do the Daleks call you the Predator?”

“I’m not a predator,” Louis says, blowing the dust off a battered control panel. “I’m just a man with a plan.”

“You have a plan?” Styles says hopefully.

“Thank Christ,” Jesy mutters. “We’re all ears, Louis.”

“Okay, so in no particular order, we need to neutralize all the Daleks in the asylum, rescue Styles from his bunker, get the fuck off this planet, and get Pezza some fish fingers and custard, which cures everything.”

“Sounds like a shit load of lost causes,” Perrie groans, shifting in Jesy’s lap.

“Styles, there’s a Dalek spaceship orbiting around the planet,” Louis says, fiddling with a few of the controls.

“Yeah, I’ve got it on radar,” he replies.

“I keep talking about the force field, remember? The Daleks up there are waiting for me to turn it off. As soon as I do, they’re gonna blast this planet right out of the galaxy, us along with it. So my question is, Styles, how easily can you hack into the force field?”

“Um...pretty fast. But why would I do that if they’re just gonna blow us up?”

“Because we’re in a transport bay,” Louis answers simply, adjusting some of the controls with the sonic screwdriver.

“But it’s designed for internal use only,” Styles presses, stress creeping into his voice.

“I’m boosting the power, though,” Louis says confidently. “Once the force field is down we can boost our way right out of here.”

“To where, though?” Jesy asks.

“The only place in range,” Louis answers. “Back to the Parliament of the Daleks.”

“Where they will exterminate us on the spot,” Jesy says, aghast. “This is like...the kind of escape plan where you just go ahead and die four minutes later, Louis.”

“A lot can happen in four minutes,” Louis insists. “According to Madonna and Justin Timberlake, you can save the world in four minutes. Did you know that song is about me?”

“Every song is about you,” Perrie mutters sleepily as Jesy rolls her eyes.

“So, Styles,” Louis says, slipping the sonic back into his pocket and turning to the camera. “How fast can you drop the force field?”

“I can do it from here,” Styles replies. “As soon as you come and get me.”

Louis frowns.

“Just drop the force field and come to us, love.”

“No,” Styles replies stubbornly. “There’s only enough power for one go in that transport. Why would you wait for me?”

“Why wouldn’t I wait for you? I made a promise that I would get you out of here, Styles. I intend to keep it.”

“P-p-please, Louis,” Styles begs, his voice suddenly thick with tears. “I d-don’t...I don’t have anything to protect myself, I don’t know how to fight them like you d-do, not face to face. Please just come and get me. Please? I promise I’ll drop the force field as soon as you do, I’m just...I’m really fucking scared, please don’t make me do this alone, Lou, p-please, I’m asking you. I’m begging you, just come and get me.”

“Shhhhh, okay, okay, love,” Louis soothes. “I’ll come, I’ll come. I’m sorry for upsetting you. You’ve been so brave for so long, Styles, can you be brave a little while longer for me? I’m coming to get you.”

“Yeah,” Styles sniffles, clearly trying to calm himself down. “Yeah, okay. I’m sorry, Lou, I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Louis says calmly. “It was a silly thing of me to ask. Can you beam me the map to where you are?”

“Y-yes,” Styles replies. “Yes, I can do that.”

The control panel’s screen lights up with the map; Louis captures it with the sonic, feeling more than a little relieved that Styles’ bunker isn’t too terribly far away.

“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Jesy asks quietly.

“I made a promise, Jesy,” Louis answers. “I’m not leaving him.”

“But Louis, what if something happens to you?”

“You see that big red button?” Louis asks, directing Jesy’s attention to the control panel. “As soon as the force field is dropped, the Daleks will attack. If I’m not back with Styles three minutes after it drops, you two go without us, okay?”

“I thought you said we had four minutes,” Jesy counters.

“The transport will need thirty seconds to power up,” Louis explains. “I mean it, Jesy. Don’t wait for me. You and Perrie get the fuck out of here.”

“And just leave you here to die?”

“Oh, don’t worry about me,” Louis grins crookedly, bopping Jesy on the nose. “You’re the one who’ll be beaming up to a Dalek ship just to get exterminated, remember?”

“Good point, I love this plan.”

“Brave heart, Jesy,” Louis says, kissing her forehead quickly. “I’ll see you in a bit, yeah?”

“Be careful, Louis.”

Louis winks at her as he grabs the sonic from his pocket, flipping it on and heading out the door, turning left.

“Okay, Styles,” Louis says, carefully walking down the hall, his back pressed to the wall, sonic screwdriver at the ready. “It’s just you and me now. Tell me about yourself?”

“Um, I used to be a baker? That’s a lie, I really just worked the till, but sometimes I helped in the back. But...erm...yeah...I love to bake.”

Louis barks a laugh.

“Hence all the souffles?”

“Yeah. It’s like a stress reliever, I guess. Even though I keep cocking them up, so really it just gets more stressful.”

“So how did a baker end up on a starship?”

“I...um...I’ve never been anywhere? I’ve always wanted to travel but I never had the money. There was this job listing for Cowell Industries; they basically like do all these exploratory missions for business opportunities on other planets. The pay was good. I applied, got accepted, went through all my training, you know how it is. This...this was my first mission and we fucking crashed. I haven’t seen anything, Louis.”

“Well,” Louis says, turning a corner. “I have a ship. The best ship ever. It’s big and little at the same time. It’s brand new and it’s ancient and it’s like...the bluest blue you’ll ever see. She can travel anywhere in time and space. Don’t tell anyone, but I stole it. Borrowed it? Stole it. I was totally gonna take it back, but it’s been 900 years–”

“You’re 900 years old?!”

“Nah, mate,” Louis grins. “I’m a thousand years old.”

“You look really good for a thousand years old.”

Louis scoffs, his cheeks heating.

“Oh stop it,” Styles chuckles. “You know you’re gorgeous, Doctor. Those cheekbones could cut glass.”

Louis pauses, looking up at the security camera through his eyelashes.

“So my ship, Styles,” Louis says shyly, butterflies fluttering in his stomach. “All of time and space. How about I show you the stars when we get out of here?”

“Really?”

“Really,” Louis nods, smiling softly.

“I’d love that, Louis. Can we...can we go see my mum first?”

“We can go anywhere you want, love.” The sonic whirs and beeps. “But first we gotta get you out of here, yeah? I’m almost there. You tracking me?”

“Yeah, you have about fifty feet to go,” Styles confirms. “That’s the good news.”

“And the bad? ’Cause it sounds like there’s a bad.”

“You’re about to pass through the intensive care ward. There’s a door at the end of the hall that leads to my bunker.”

Louis turns the corner with trepidation; his hearts start beating wildly as he takes in what looks like a hospital ward with individual cells instead of beds, with one aisle running down the center of the room. Some of the cells have bars, some are open, all of them are occupied by Daleks of various sizes and colors. A few of them are chained, while others are plugged into machines; one just spins wildly in its cell.

“What’s so special about this lot, then?” Louis asks, even though deep down he knows the answer.

“Dunno,” Styles replies. “The system says they are all survivors of particular wars. Spiridon. Kembel. Aridius. Vulcan. Exxilon. Torchwood. Ring any bells?”

“All of them,” Louis replies quietly, tiptoeing his way down the aisle.

“Really? How?”

“These are the Daleks that survived me.”

“...Oh.”

“Predator of the Daleks, remember?”

“Right,” Styles says softly. “Are you...how close are you?”

“I can see the door,” Louis says, carefully stepping over a thick cable. “I’m assuming it’s locked, Styles, maybe get to work on that.”

A light bulb shatters, shooting sparks through the air and Louis jumps about a foot. The spinning Dalek stops spinning, the pupil of its eyestalk dilating.

“Doc...tor,” it croaks.

“Oh shit,” Louis mutters.

“Doc...tor,” it croaks again, louder this time. The other Daleks soon join in. “Doc...tor! Doctor! Doctor! Doctor!”

“Um, these guys don’t really wake up for anything,” Styles says tremulously.

“Yeah, well,” Louis quips, picking up his pace, no longer caring if he’s being quiet or not. “Special visitor and all.”

Louis reaches the door and pulls at the handle. The door doesn’t move.

“Styles, Styles, it’s not opening!”

“I’m working on it,” Styles replies, his voice tense. “The coding for this one is really bloody complicated.”

A couple of the Daleks break their chains, slowly advancing on him.

“Doctor! Doctor! Doctor!”

Louis tugs and tugs at the sliding door’s grooved handle, bracing his foot against the frame as he pulls with all his might. Beads of sweat roll down his forehead as he looks over his shoulder, the small swarm of insane Daleks closing in on him.

“Styles! I’m really in trouble here! You gotta do something, love!”

“I am, I am,” Styles cries desperately. “I’m trying something else! You just gotta give me a little more time! Fuck, fuck, fuck!”

“I don’t have a little more time,” Louis yells, his hands shaking and slipping out of his hold on the door. “You gotta get this door open! Fuck, help me, please!”

“DOCTOR! DOCTOR!” the Daleks cry, their mechanic bleats ringing in Louis’ ears. One of the plunger arms brushes his shoulder blade.

Louis turns around and flattens himself against the door, sucking in a deep breath. If he’s gonna die, he’s at least gonna die looking these motherfuckers in their eyes. He resists the urge to close his own eyes.

“DOC–”

The glowing blue eyes suddenly go black, the machines falling completely silent. After a few seconds, they whir back to life; they study Louis for a few moments and then back up and roll away, not even going back to their cells, just leaving the ward entirely.

“Oh, that’s cool,” Styles’ honeyed voice drawls over the PA system. “Fuck, Louis, tell me I’m cool!”

“What the fuck did you just do?” Louis wheezes, slumping back against the door and clutching his hand over his chest as he slides to the floor.

“Hang on, Lou, I’ve almost got the door open.”

“Tell me what the fuck you did, Styles!”

“You know how the Daleks have like a hive mind? Well, not a hive mind, really, but a telepathic web?”

“The Path Web, yeah,” Louis gasps, trying to regulate his breathing and slow the rate of his hearts.

“I hacked into it,” Styles says proudly. “Did a master delete of all information pertaining to the Doctor.”

“You...you made them forget me?”

“Yup,” Styles pops. “Ah, here’s the door.”

Louis feels the air lock pop behind him as the door starts to slide open. He gets to his feet, brushing himself off.

“I’ve tried hacking the Path Web before,” Louis says in disbelief. “Even I couldn’t do it.”

“Yeah, well,” Styles chuckles. “Come and meet the boy who can.”

The door grinds to a halt. Louis turns and steps into a stark white room.

His hearts drop into his stomach.

“What are you just standing there for?” Styles asks. “You’re right outside, come on in!”

“Styles?” Louis says carefully as the door slides shut behind him. “Styles, we’ve got a problem.”

********

asylum of the daleks

Harry pauses in the middle of yanking the nails out of the boards over the door, his hammer in his hand.

“Don’t,” Harry whispers, resting his forehead against a battered board. Tears start to prick at his eyes. “Please don’t say that, Louis. Not now. You’re gonna rescue me and show me the stars, remember? Don’t say we have a problem.”

“Does it look real to you?”

Harry looks up, blinking his tears away as he turns to look at the monitor. Louis’ face is pale, his jaw slack and his blue eyes sad...and a bit terrified?

“Does what look real?” Harry gulps, his heart starting to pound.

“Where you are right now,” Louis says flatly, stepping forward with tentative steps, his hand outstretched. “Does it seem real?”

“It is real,” Harry insists, tears slipping down his cheek. “I’ve been here for a year, Louis. How could it not be real? Of course it’s fucking real! How could it not be real?”

“Because the truth was...is...the truth is too terrible for you to bear, so you dreamed it all up. It’s all a dream, Styles. I’m so, so, so sorry, love. It’s not real.”

Harry drops his hammer on his big toe. He barely feels it at all.

“Where...where am I? Louis, where am I?”

********

Louis’ stomach rolls, bile threatening to creep up his throat as he takes in the lone Dalek standing in front of him, draped in chains.

“Where am I?” the Dalek screeches, struggling in its chains. “I don’t know where I am!”

Tears spring to Louis’ eyes as he listens to how Styles’ lovely and melodic voice has been replaced with the mechanical monotone of the Daleks. He looks away, pinching the bridge of his nose as he tries to collect himself. Rage starts to coil in his belly at what these monsters have done to this sweet, clever boy.

“What’s happening?” the Dalek bleats. “Louis, just tell me!”

“You’re a Dalek, Styles,” Louis says quietly.

“Wh-what?”

“You’re a Dalek,” Louis repeats. “I’m so sorry.”

Silence hangs between them, its weight suffocating.

“I am not a Dalek!” the Dalek finally cries. “I am not a Dalek! I am human!”

“You were human when you crashed here,” Louis says, gently placing his hand on the smooth metal surface of the Dalek’s head. “It was you who climbed out of that escape pod we used. That was your ladder, Styles. You’ve lead us on the same path that you traveled before you were captured by the Daleks.”

“I am human!” the Dalek insists. “I am human, I am human, I am human!”

“Not anymore, love,” Louis whispers, resting his forehead against the Dalek’s.

********

Harry’s curled in a ball on the floor, rocking back and forth as tears stream down his face.

This isn’t happening. I am human, I am human, I am human.

Even as he repeats this over and over to himself, memories start flooding his brain. The ship’s wreckage being attacked by Daleks. Locking himself in a pod and escaping down a long rope ladder. Being able to fend for himself for a while, but finally being cornered and captured.

“You’re right, you know,” Louis says mournfully. “You are a total screaming genius. And the Daleks need genius. Being made a mere puppet wasn’t good enough for you, Styles. Not nearly good or special enough. So they did a full conversion.”

Harry clamps his hands over his ears and squeezes his eyes shut, trying to muffle the sounds of his sobs as he remembers the needles piercing his skull and the wires being connected to his brain. He remembers struggling valiantly as his body was shoved into a metal casing, the door closing and plunging him into darkness.

“I am human,” Harry bawls. “I am not a Dalek, I am human!”

“Styles, I’m so sorry, love,” Louis apologizes, his voice low. “But you are a Dalek.”

“No, no, nononono, I’m not,” Harry yells, hauling himself to his feet.

“Think about it, Styles,” Louis says urgently. “Just think. The milk and eggs for all those souffles. Where did they all come from if you’ve been holed up in there for a year? Where? It wasn’t real, it was never real.”

Harry furiously swipes the tears from his face as he looks around his small bunker.

“Eggs,” he croaks, taking a deep breath.

“Yes, the eggs!”

“Eggs,” Harry repeats, suddenly angry. He glares at Louis’ face on the monitor. “Eggs...stir...eggs...stir–”

********

“Ex...ter...ex...ter,” the Dalek blares, his cries echoing throughout the chamber.

“Styles?” Louis says cautiously, taking several steps back.

“Ex...ter...min…” the Dalek continues to shout, thrashing about violently, the chains rattling. “Ex...ter...min...ate!”

“Oh, fuck,” Louis cries, scrambling backwards.

“Exterminate!” the Dalek cries, finally breaking free of his chains and surging forward.

“Fuck! Styles!” Louis yelps, his back crashing into the wall. “Jesus Christ!”

“Exterminate! Exterminate!”

The Dalek raises its whisk-shaped laser gun, pointing it directly at Louis’ chest.

“Exterminate!”

“Styles, listen to me,” Louis pleads. “This isn’t you! You don’t have to do this. Styles, please! Don’t let them win!”

“Ex...ex...ex…” the Dalek trails off, its voice strangled as the words become unintelligible noises that Louis can only interpret as one thing.

The Dalek is crying.

********

Harry collapses on his couch, his body wracked with sobs.

“I’m sorry,” he whimpers, clutching a throw pillow to his chest. “Louis, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to. I couldn’t...it just like...it took over. I couldn’t...”

“But you stopped it,” Louis says softly, scrubbing his hands over his face. “Fuck, Styles, you stopped; it’s okay, love.”

“They hate you,” Harry sniffles. He fumbles for a tea towel that’s stuffed in his couch cushions, blowing his nose noisily. “They hate you so much, Louis. Why?”

“I’ve fought them many times,” Louis admits. “More times than I can count, really. I’ve destroyed hundreds of thousands of them. They’ve never beaten me. So, yeah, they hate me.”

“Will you ever stop fighting them?” Harry asks, grabbing his keyboard and typing.

“Never,” Louis replies fiercely.

“Then run,” Harry orders, punching a final key triumphantly.

“What?”

“Run, Louis! I just took down the force field. The Daleks in the spaceship are about to launch their attack. You need to get the fuck out of here. And remember me, yeah? I’m Ensign H.E. Styles, lone survivor of the S.S. Manchester. I fought the Daleks and I am human!”

********

The door behind Louis slides open with a soft hiss; the chamber shudders from the force of an explosion on the surface of the planet.

“Styles–” Louis says fervently, resting his palm on the Dalek’s head. “I...I’m sorry I couldn’t show you the stars, love.”

“Well,” Styles replies, his mechanical voice garbled. “We had...some good times...didn’t we?”

Louis frowns, shaking his head a little as Styles’ words jar something in his memory.

“What did you just say?”

“Go!” Styles commands. “You don’t have much time!”

“Thank you,” Louis murmurs, pressing a kiss to the cool metal. He goes to the door, looking back at the Dalek over his shoulder. “Thank you, Styles.”

“Run! Run!”

Louis does exactly that. He sprints through the halls of the Asylum, dodging both panicked Daleks and falling debris.

“Louis!” he hears Jesy shouting down the corridor. “Louis, you better be coming! Don’t make me fucking leave you!”

“I’m coming, I’m coming!” he calls. “Be ready to go!”

Louis bursts into the transport room, running to the control panel and fiddling with the coordinates.

“Where’s Styles?” Jesy asks.

Louis doesn’t answer, concentrating on his task.

“Louis? Where is he?”

“He...he didn’t make it,” Louis deflects, ignoring the lump forming in his throat. He presses the big red button, leaping over to the transport pad. A vworp-vworp sound swells and a column of light surrounds them. “He gave his life to get us out of here, Jes. He saved me. He saved the world.” Louis pauses, shaking his head as he puts his arms around his companions, pulling them tightly to his side. Quietly, he continues, “No, the universe. He saved the universe. He’s a goddamn hero.”  

********

The woman stands on the observation deck, an impassive expression on her face as she watches the Asylum Planet explode.

“The Asylum is destroyed, Prime Minister,” she announces. “Victory is yours.”

“Victory to the Daleks!” the Prime Minister declares.

“Victory! Victory! Victory!” the General Assembly choruses.

“I’m tracking an incoming transport from the Asylum,” one of the other puppets relays emotionlessly.

“Impossible!” the Prime Minister scoffs.  

The floor in the middle of the room opens with a mechanical groan, a beam of light shooting up, illuminating the assembly room. The light dissipates and three humans appear in its place as the portal closes with a clamor; the man shields his two female companions, stepping out in front of them, his arms spread protectively. He looks around the room, a manic grin breaking out on his face.

“You know, you lot really should have seen this coming,” the man taunts boldly. “You really thought you’d be able to kill me, didn’t you? Suckers!”

“Identify yourself,” the Prime Minister commands.

The man looks confused, stuffing his fists in the pockets of his black jacket and leaning back against the strange blue box stationed by the portal.

“What?”

“Identify yourself!”

“Oh, come on,” the man laughs, sweeping his messy brown hair off his forehead. “You fucking know who I am. I’m the Doctor!”

The gallery is silent. The man looks between his female companions, an incredulous expression on his face.

“The Oncoming Storm? The Predator? Ring any bells?”

“Titles are of no meaning here,” the woman answers coolly. “Doctor who?”

“Doctor who?” the Prime Minister echoes.

“Doctor who? Doctor who? Doctor who?” the Assembly chants.

The Doctor starts laughing, his sharp blue eyes crinkling shut as he snaps his fingers. The doors to the blue box open and he guides his companions inside.

“Oh, Styles,” he laugh, clapping his hands as he strides into the box. “You clever boy. You really did it, didn’t you?”

“Doctor who? Doctor who? Doctor who?” the Daleks continue to chant.

“Fellas,” the Doctor smirks, sticking his head back outside. “You’re never gonna stop asking.”

With a final cackle, the Doctor shuts the door to the blue box; the box wheezes and groans and then vanishes into thin air.

Chapter Text

London, England. 1892.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Cowell,” the chambermaid says tremulously. “Captain Atkin and his wife went out to dinner and I don’t know when they’ll be returnin’ this evenin.’”

“And I told you,” Simon Cowell sneers, brushing some errant snowflakes from his shoulder, “that I don’t mind waiting. I have an urgent matter to discuss with him.”

“But Mr. Cowell–”

“It’s Doctor Cowell,” Simon says coldly. “And bring me a cup of tea, will you? It’s freezing outside and you haven’t even offered. I’ll have to speak to Captain Atkin about the service in this household.”

“I-I’m sorry, sir,” the young girl squeaks. “Th-the kitchen staff has the evenin’ off, I–”

Simon rolls his eyes, exhaling heavily with displeasure.

“Show me to the drawing room then, you insolent girl,” he huffs. “Surely you have some brandy in there?”

“Y-yes, sir. R-right this way, sir.”

The girl’s heels click on the gleaming parquet floor as she leads him across the foyer. Simon follows her, taking in the simple but elegant decor of the drawing room. The girl switches on several electric lamps, bathing the room in soft light.

“Does the whole house have electricity?”

“Oh yes,” the girl says proudly, pouring some brandy into a crystal tumbler. “Just installed it last year. ’Twas very excitin,’ you know.”

“Didn’t think the captain made enough money to indulge in such a luxury,” Simon sniffs derisively, taking the glass. “Though I suppose marrying into a family with old money and no sons like the Teasdales certainly helped. The estate was quite the dowry.”

“Captain Atkin’s steel mill is doin’ quite well, sir,” the girl says defensively, her cockney accent thickening. “Quite well indeed.”

“Clearly,” Simon clips, taking a sip of the amber liquid.

“C-can I take your coat, sir?”

“That won’t be necessary. You’re dismissed.”

The girl curtseys quickly, scrambling out of the room, leaving the door ajar.

Simon takes another sip of brandy, the liquid warming him from the inside as he wanders over to the big bay window that overlooks the courtyard. He can see the pond from here, the gently falling snow piling up over the solid ice. He looks at his reflection in the window, a smug smile twisting his face as he thinks back to the day’s test results.

Things are nearly ready. It won’t be long now. After a year of preparation, careful study, and thorough research, it’s almost here. The final piece that will bring about his total domination.

“...it’s completely frozen over, Lou. Did you see it?”

Simon’s ears perk up as a strand of conversation drifts in from the foyer. He moves toward the door, impatient to complete his task.

“It hasn’t frozen since–”

“Since your daughter’s private tutor died, a year ago,” Simon interrupts, standing in the door frame.

Captain Thomas Atkin and his wife Louise look over at him, their faces a picture of confusion and surprise.

“Alice?” Atkin asks, looking back to the young chambermaid as he hands his coat and hat to a waiting footman. “Who is–”

“Mr. – Doctor Cowell, sir,” Alice explains, taking Louise’s cloak and shaking the snow from it. “I’m sorry, sir, I told him you were out to dinner but he insisted on waitin.’”

“Mr. Ben Winston drowned in that very pond last December when you were away for the holiday,” Simon continues, walking across the foyer to stand in front of the captain. “The body froze in the pond and wasn’t discovered until a month later when you returned.”  

“We recall,” Louise says, her eyes narrowing. “It’s not the sort of incident that one easily forgets, sir.”

“The ice doesn’t forget either,” Simon says enigmatically.

“Who are you?” Atkin asks, protectively sliding an arm around his wife’s waist. “What is the meaning of this visit at this late hour? What do you want here?”

Simon reaches for the small sterling silver case in the pocket of his waistcoat. He pops it open and hands Captain Atkin one of the ivory and gold embossed business cards it holds.

“The Great Intelligence Institute?” he asks, looking down and studying the card.

“The pond is yours, Captain Aktin,” Simon states, draining the brandy from his glass and holding it out in Alice’s direction, not even looking at her. “But what is growing inside it, when it is ready? That belongs to us.”

“What the devil do–”

“Good evening,” Simon clips, turning on his heel and heading for the door, the footman scrambling to open it. “I’ll call again soon.”

The door slams behind him. Simon whistles as he strolls down the walkway towards the gate, swinging it open and turning out into the lane. The snow has stopped, but there is enough of a dusting on the pavement that it crunches beneath his boots. His carriage sits a short distance ahead, under a streetlamp. Simon frowns as he notices a young man leaning against the pole, clearly waiting for him.

“Evening, Dr. Cowell,” the man greets Simon as he approaches him. He’s tall and rather solid looking, clad in a tightly fitted black leather jacket and black trousers. A blood red cravat is knotted around his throat, standing out brightly against the all black ensemble. The man crosses his arms in front of his chest, his brown eyes crinkling as he smiles. “You’re out rather late tonight.”

“Almost makes one wonder what you’ve been up to,” a quiet voice suddenly says from over Simon’s shoulder.

Simon startles, a hand coming to his chest as he attempts to regain his composure. He narrows his eyes as he turns around to find a second man, also dressed completely in black, down to the leather gloves on his hands. He’s slighter and more delicate looking than his companion; a top hat sits on his head, a black veil hanging from the brim to cover his face.

“But then again, I have often wondered about the exploits of Dr. Simon Cowell and his oh-so-mysterious institute,” the veiled man says smoothly.

“Well isn’t this an honor,” Simon simpers. “The Veiled Detective Malik and his muscular but dim assistant.”

“At your service,” the young man bows.

“You do realize that Dr. Doyle is basing his ridiculous little stories on your exploits, don’t you? With a few choice omissions, of course.”

“Oh those,” Malik replies airily. “We quite like them, don’t we, Liam?”

“Elementary!” Liam yips like an overeager puppy.

“Imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery, don’t you think, Dr. Cowell?” Malik asks, his voice velvety smooth.

“I highly doubt that the readers of the Strand would be able to accept that the ‘Great Detective’ is in fact,” Simon sneers, stepping forward and lifting Malik’s veil, revealing his green reptilian skin, “an alien invader.”

“The Silurians have been on this planet since the dawn of time,” Malik says, a bored expression on his face, even as his amber eyes flash with fury. “In reality, it is your kind that are the invaders, sir.”

“An alien invader,” Simon continues haughtily, stepping out of Malik’s space and looking between the two men in disgust, “in a suspiciously intimate relationship with his male companion–”

“I resent your implication of impropriety!” Malik exclaims, nostrils flaring. “We are married!”

Simon scoffs.

“More than can be said for you, eh mate?” Liam laughs.

“As charming as this little encounter is,” Simon scowls, “I must be on my way, gentleman.”

Simon steps towards his carriage, but Liam blocks his way.

“This snow is interesting, isn’t it,” Malik says, scooping a handful from the wheel of the carriage. He pulls what looks like a fountain pen out of his pocket, revealing it to be some sort of gadget when he clicks the end of it. A thin beam of light shines on the snowflakes and they glow a soft purple. Simon is begrudgingly impressed as Malik clicks the instrument off, studying the flakes for a moment. “The ice crystals appear to have a low-level telepathic field.”

“What of it?” Simon says through clenched teeth.

“It’s almost as if the snow can detect and respond to the thoughts and memories of the people around it,” Malik ruminates. “Memory snow. Snow that can learn.”

“Fascinating,” Simon says drily.

Malik allows the powder to fall through his fingers as he looks up at Simon.

“I hope it’s listening to the right people,” he says quietly, his amber eyes laser focused on Simon’s. “It could be a terrible weapon in the wrong person’s hands, don’t you think?”

“What I think,” Simon grits, stepping into Malik’s space, “is that winter is coming. Such a winter as this world has never known. The last winter of humanity. Do you know why I am telling you this?”

“Do enlighten me,” Malik says calmly, holding out a hand to stop his companion from lunging at Simon.

“Because there’s not a single thing you can do to stop it,” Simon states menacingly, stepping away from him and back to the carriage, swinging the door open and climbing inside.

“I may not be able to stop you,” Malik calls after him. “But I know a man who can.”

“I look forward to meeting him,” Simon chuckles, tipping his hat. “Good evening, Detective Malik. Pleasure to make your acquaintance at last.”

The driver cracks the reins on the horses and the carriage clatters away, leaving Malik and his companion behind. Simon smirks with satisfaction, biting back a hearty laugh.

As if there was anyone out there who could stop him.

********

“You did mean Louis, right?” Liam asks, his brow crinkling. “He won’t help us, Zayn, you know that. He never helps anymore. We’ve been trying to get him to help us for how long? Five years now? But he just locks himself away in the TARDIS, except when he decides to pop ’round for tea or something.”

“I know, darling,” Zayn sighs heavily, linking his arm in Liam’s as they stroll down the lane. “I know. He hasn’t been the Doctor for a long time.” Zayn eyes Cowell’s carriage as it takes a right turn, disappearing from their sight. “I just keep hoping that something or someone will come along and snap him out of it. It’s just got to happen soon because I have a feeling that we’re going to need him on this one.”

********

Harry winds his way through the tables of the Rose and Dagger pub, the crowd having thinned out due to the late hour. He grabs empty tankards and puts them on his tray, smiling and chatting with the few remaining patrons as he does so. His back aches a little; it’s been a long night, with people still in a celebratory mood after the start of the new year. He doesn’t mind too much though; he’s been happy to help Mitch out during the holiday rush, but he can’t wait to curl up with the new Sherlock Holmes novella in his cozy bed back at Mitch and Sarah’s flat.

“Harry, you should get out of here,” Mitch says as Harry slides his tray on the counter in the kitchen. “It’s quiet, Sarah and I can handle closing up.”

“You sure?” Harry asks, dunking the used tankards in a waiting tub of soapy water. “These need to be washed and–”

“Harry,” Mitch says gently, hip checking him as he takes Harry’s place at the tub. “Go home. You’ve done more than enough tonight. More than enough the past few days, actually. I don’t know what we would have done without you.”

Harry grins, drying his hands on a towel.

“It’s not a problem,” Harry says, untying his apron and hanging it on a hook. He pulls the thin strip of leather holding his hair back and shakes out his long brown curls. “My holiday is over tomorrow though, so I’ll have to be getting back to the estate and you and Sarah get your flat back to yourselves.”

“Ah yes, the estate,” Mitch teases. “I forget you’re quite posh now, aren’t you, H?”

“Oh yes, that’s me,” Harry laughs, shrugging on his coat and then winding his long green scarf around his neck. “Proper posh. Don’t even know why I associate with the Rose and Dagger anymore. Quite embarrassing to be seen with you lot, really.”

“Have a good night, you wanker,” Mitch says, shaking his head.

Harry waves good night as he pushes the door open, stepping out into the quiet side street. A chill shoots down his spine and he shivers, pulling his coat around him tightly. It may have stopped snowing but the January air still has quite a bite to it. He makes his way towards the main road, the snow crunching under his shoes. There’s a rustling sound behind him and Harry frowns, thinking of the alley cat that often lurks around the pub; he’d meant to grab some scraps to feed him. He turns around, intending to pop back into the pub, but he stops in his tracks, his brow furrowing at the sight of a snowman that was definitely not there a few seconds ago.

What the hell?

Harry cautiously takes a step forward, peering at the snowman; it stands almost as tall as him, with big black eyes and a wicked-looking smirk showcasing a row of pointy teeth. Harry shivers, not from the cold this time, and takes a big step to the side, running right into a man who’s passing by.

“Oops!” Harry exclaims.

“Hi,” the man rasps, steadying himself with a quick hand to Harry’s shoulder. “Excuse me, sorry.”

The man keeps walking, barely giving Harry a second glance.

“Did you make this snowman?” Harry calls after him.

“No,” the man clips definitively.

“Well then, who did?” Harry presses. “Someone had to have built it. ’Cause it wasn’t there a second ago. It just appeared from out of nowhere.”

The man stops.

“Out of nowhere?” he asks over his shoulder.

“Nowhere,” Harry nods.

The breath is knocked out of Harry’s chest as the man turns and approaches him. He’s shorter than Harry is, slim yet scrappy looking in his raggedy blue velvet frock coat with black fur trim. A black stove-top hat is perched on his head, shaggy brown hair curling out from under it. His face is sharp and angular, from his defined cheekbones to the perfect slope of his nose. He looks tired, as if he’s been carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders, but his blue eyes are bright and curious.

He’s the most beautiful man Harry’s ever seen.

He stands next to Harry, offering him a tiny smile that doesn’t quite reach his eyes as he pulls a round pair of glasses from his pocket, sliding them on.

“Let’s just see here,” the man murmurs, his northern accent light and airy.

The man pulls off his gloves, stuffing them in his pocket. He circles the snowman, studying it intensely and pinching some of the snow off the head of it, rubbing it in between his fingers as he watches some of it flutter to the ground. Frowning, the man brings his fingers to his lips, his pink tongue darting out to taste the snow. He immediately makes a disgusted face, sputtering and brushing the remainder of the snow away; Harry bites back a laugh.

 

 

 

the snowmen

“Maybe it’s snow that fell before,” the man says, shrugging his narrow shoulders. “Maybe it remembers how to make snowmen.”

Harry honks a laugh before he can stop himself. The man looks at him, fighting back an amused grin, judging from the way his mouth is twisting.

“Snow that can remember? What does that even mean? That’s ridiculous, mate!”

“What’s wrong with ridiculous?” the man asks, allowing the smile to break through as he tosses his hands in the air.

“I mean, nothing’s wrong with ridiculous,” Harry giggles. “I mean...I’m still talking to you, aren’t I?”

The man’s smile broadens, his eyes crinkling at the corners.

“What’s your name?” he asks, sliding off his glasses and putting them back in his pocket.

“Harry.”

“Nice name, Harry,” the man replies. “You should definitely keep it.”

They gaze at each other for a few moments before the man’s blue eyes cloud over, the walls going back up.

“I–I have to go,” he says suddenly, turning on his heel and walking away. “Goodbye, Harry.”

“Hey!” Harry calls after him, his hands on his hips. “Where are you going? I thought we were just getting acquainted!”

The man stops, his shoulders slumping. When he turns back to look at him, Harry’s stunned at the grief he sees written all over the man’s face, his bright blue eyes dulled to a stormy grey.

“I can’t do this, I’m sorry,” the man says softly, lips quirking in a sad half-smile. “Have a good night.”

The man walks briskly up the lane. Harry stands there flabbergasted for a few moments, looking back and forth between the strange snowman and the man’s retreating back. As the man turns left on the main road, disappearing from his sight, Harry shakes his head, tossing the end of his scarf over his shoulder and following him. He gets to the intersection just in time to see the man climbing into a carriage, followed by a grinning blond man. Harry hesitates as the driver clucks to the horses, gently tapping their flanks with the reins as the carriage pulls away.

Every ounce of Harry’s being is telling him to follow the mysterious man and he has no idea why. Yes, the snowman is terrifically creepy. And yes, the strange man is quite beautiful. And maybe, just maybe, Harry’s been a bit bored lately.

But there’s something else, something more, compelling Harry to not let that man out of his sight.  

Harry stands on the sidewalk, chewing his lip in contemplation as he watches the carriage get farther and farther away. He really should just go back to Mitch and Sarah’s flat; it’s been a long day, his back and feet are aching, and he really does want to start that novel.

Harry sets off after the carriage at a run.

********

“What was that, Louis?” Niall grins.

“That was nothing,” Louis says definitively, tossing his hat to the seat across from them.

“Uh-uh, Louis,” Niall teases. “You liked him. Wait until I tell Zayn and Liam.”

“I don’t like anyone, Niall,” Louis snaps. “I don’t do that anymore, you know that. I just talked to him, for Christ’s sake. I was only being polite.”

“And was he nice?”

“...Yeah,” Louis admits. “Yeah, he was nice. Can we drop it now?”

Harry was more than nice, not that Louis plans on admitting that to Niall any time soon. There was something about him, with his sparkling green eyes and deep voice and easy teasing that felt achingly familiar even though Louis can’t quite pinpoint why.

It’s just too bad Louis makes it his business not to get involved with humans anymore.

“I’m just saying,” Niall says gently, “that it was nice seeing you take an interest in someone. You haven’t in so long, Lou. Not since Per–”

“Don’t,” Louis cuts him off, his voice dangerously low. “Don’t you fucking dare, Niall. It hasn’t been that long–”

“It’s been five years, Lou–”

“Yeah, and you of all people should know how insignificant that is!” Louis explodes. “Or are we ignoring the whole Gallifreyan side of your DNA for this little lecture of yours? Is that it?”

“Liam’s worried, mate,” Niall says patiently, ignoring the jab. “To him, five years feels like a long time.”

“And to me, it feels like I lost Perrie and Jesy yesterday,” Louis chokes, his eyes burning as tears spill over. “One minute they were there and one minute they weren’t. And it’s not just them, you know? It’s all of them. I’ve lost so many friends one way or the other. Fucking humans with their single hearts and their fragile bones and their spirits too big for their bodies. In the end they all just break my hearts, you know?”

“Oh, Louis,” Niall says sympathetically, sliding an arm around his shoulder. Louis curls into him gratefully. “You know I just hate seeing you all alone, right?”

“I’m not alone,” Louis sniffles, swiping the tears from his cheeks. “I have you.”

“You know what I mean, you wanker,” Niall says fondly, poking him in the ribs.

“Maybe it’s better this way,” Louis says softly, cuddling farther into Niall. “I’m always going to end up alone anyway; I’m always gonna outlive them. It’s the curse of the Time Lords.”

“Sod off, ‘curse of the Time Lords,’” Niall scoffs. “What does that even mean? You’re just supposed to spend your entire life alone just because of a silly thing like a shorter lifespan? That’s shite and you know it.”

“But–”

“Be honest with me, Louis,” Niall says, pulling back and looking him in the eye. “Would you have traded those years with Pez and Jesy? Even knowing how everything was going to end, would you rather never have met them?”

Louis sweeps his fringe aside and stares out the side window of the carriage. He remembers the sound of Perrie’s laugh and Jesy’s razor-sharp wit. He thinks of dancing with the two of them at their wedding, of running from vampires in medieval Venice, and that one time he dangled Perrie out of the TARDIS, allowing her to experience weightlessness, her long blonde hair a golden halo around her head.

“The way I see it, ” Louis had said to Perrie after they met Vincent van Gogh, “every life is a pile of good and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice versa, the bad things don’t always spoil the good things or make them unimportant.”

Perrie and Jesy were definitely in his pile of good things. All of his companions were. His friends have always been the best of him, after all.

“No,” Louis says finally. “I wouldn’t change anything. But that doesn’t mean I’m ready, Niall.”

“But you also still need to be open to the possibility,” Niall points out. “Which brings me back to that boy. What was his name?”

“Harry,” Louis replies reluctantly.

“A-ha!” Niall cries, pointing at him. “You know his name!”

“I told you, Neil,” Louis sighs. “I just talked to him.”

“And made your usual impact, no doubt.”

“Nope,” Louis pops. “No impact at all.”

“Please,” Niall laughs. “It’s like you do it without even meaning to, Lou. It’s the same story every time. And it always begins with the same two words…”

“He’ll never be able to find me again,” Louis insists. “He doesn’t even know my name! I didn’t tell him. He doesn’t know anything about the Doctor!”

“Doctor?” a familiar voice suddenly pipes up. “Doctor who?”

Louis and Niall startle, both jumping about a foot in the air. Louis looks over his shoulder and finds himself face to face with Harry, who’s sticking his head through the back window flap, grinning cheekily, his dimples popping.

“What the fuck?” Louis shrieks.

Niall bursts out laughing.

“No impact at all then?” he cackles, clutching his stomach.

“What kind of doctor tells people to fuck off?” Harry pouts, clinging to the window frame. “That’s rude!”

“And it’s not rude just bursting into a total stranger’s carriage, mate?” Louis cries incredulously. “Jesus Christ! Stop the carriage!”

Still cackling, Niall leans forward, tapping the partition and telling the driver to stop.

The carriage slows, pulling to the side of the road. Louis hops out before it even comes to a complete stop.

“What the bloody hell are you doing, Harry?” Louis sputters.

“Hi,” Harry grins, jumping off the back of the carriage. He ruffles his hand through his long brown curls, scrunching the ends. “You know, I decided I didn’t like your answer about the snow. Snow that just makes itself into a snowman? There’s got to be more to it than that.”

“Louis?” Niall asks, stepping out of the carriage. “A word?”

“Louis?” Harry parrots, his eyes sparkling. “Is that your name? Nice name, Louis. You should definitely keep it.”

“You,” Louis orders, pointing at Harry as he bites back a fond grin. How is he already fond of this ridiculous boy? He attempts to school his face into a serious expression. “Stay there. Don’t move. Apparently, I need to have a word with my associate.”

Harry grins, stiffening his posture and standing like a statue. Louis rolls his eyes as he walks over to Niall.

“Yes?”

“This snow,” Niall says quietly. “Zayn and Liam have been taking samples of it from all over London, remember?”

Louis nods, crossing his arms over his chest.

“Something strange is happening, Lou,” Niall continues. “Do you have any thoughts?”

Louis hums, squatting down and scooping some of the snow into his palm.

“It’s possibly alien,” he murmurs, swirling his finger through the powder. “Definitely brand new in the world. I’ve never seen it before.”

“So shouldn’t we at least be investigating it?” Niall asks, his eyes hopeful.

“No,” Louis clips, dusting the snow from his hands. “It’s none of our business.”

“Seriously?”

“It’s not my problem,” Louis shrugs. “Over nine hundred years saving the universe, Niall. Do you know the one thing that I’ve learned? The universe doesn’t care. So why should I?”

“Goddammit, Louis,” Niall growls. “You should listen to yourself. This isn’t you! We need your help, Lou. We need the Doctor.”

“And I need to get back to the TARDIS,” Louis says quietly. “I’m not ready, Niall. Please respect that. You don’t have to agree with me, but just...please respect my wishes.”

“Fine,” Niall mutters. “Fine.”

“Now then, Harold,” Louis says brusquely, walking back towards him.

“It’s..erm...it’s just Harry actually,” Harry corrects, rocking back and forth on his heels.

“It’s been a pleasure, Harold,” Louis continues, “but you are about to forget that you and I ever met. Niall, we’ll need the worm.”

“Louis, fuck!” Niall exclaims. “Come on! Really?”

“Wh-what?” Harry stammers, voice trembling as his eyes widen. “The worm? What’s the worm?”

“Don’t worry,” Louis soothes, placing his hands on Harry’s shoulders. “It’s just a memory worm from the planet Atraxia. It won’t hurt a bit; just one quick touch on your bare skin and you’ll lose the last hour of your memory.”

“B-but why?” Harry asks. “I don’t want–”

“Trust me, it’s for the best,” Louis says softly. “I promise.”

Harry shakes his head, his big green eyes filling with tears.

“Please don’t, Louis. Please?”

Louis squeezes his eyes shut, pinching the bridge of his nose.

“Niall, come on!”

Niall leans against the carriage, his arms crossed stubbornly.

“I just...I just want to know about the snowman,” Harry insists. “That’s all! I don’t understand how it built itself. Just tell me and I’ll leave you alone, I swear.”

“The snow is emitting a low-level telepathic field–” Louis sighs.

“My...my snowman–” Harry murmurs, eyes widening at a sudden whooshing sound.

“It somehow seems to reflect people’s thoughts and memories, which is quite unusual–”

“Louis, no!” Harry exclaims, turning Louis around and pointing. “My snowman!”

Louis frowns as he observes the snowman that’s suddenly sprouted behind him.

“Interesting,” Louis says, turning to Harry. “Were you just thinking about it?”

“Yeah,” Harry replies, furrowing his eyebrows.

A second snowman sprouts next to the first, their wide pointy-toothed smiles sinister.

“Well...stop.”

A third and fourth snowman appear over Harry’s shoulder.

“Harry, stop thinking about the snowmen!” Louis exclaims.

“I–I can’t!” Harry yelps as more and more snowmen surround them, glaring menacingly and opening their mouths wide to spew more snow.

“Harry!” Louis orders, cupping his face in his hands and resting their foreheads together. “Listen to me. The snow is feeding off your thoughts.”

“I don’t understand,” Harry whimpers, gripping Louis’ wrists as several more snowmen appear.

“You’re caught in their telepathic field,” Louis explains, trying to keep his voice calm even as his hearts start to race. “They’re mirroring you. The more you think about them, the more they appear. Imagine them melting! Come on, love, picture it! Picture them melting!”

“Louis–” Niall says urgently.

Louis ignores him, staying laser focused on Harry.

“Come on, Curly,” Louis says soothingly. “You can do it. I know you can.”

Harry squeezes his eyes shut, his grip on Louis’ wrists tightening and his breath hot against Louis’ cheek. After a few seconds, there’s a loud pop and they’re hit with large splash of water.

“Louis!” Harry cries delightedly, his eyes popping open as he releases Louis’ wrists. “Louis, I did it! They’re gone!”

“Good job, love,” Louis grins, poking a finger in his dimple. “Very, very good job. I knew you could do it, Curly.”

They look at each other for a moment, both of them beaming, before bursting into laughter at the rivulets of water streaming down Harry’s face, dripping off the strong curve of his jaw. Harry reaches out, brushing water off of Louis’ cheek and sweeping his soaking wet fringe aside; Louis shivers at the warmth of his touch, a strange buzzing sensation rippling through his skin as he instantly leans into it, suddenly not laughing anymore. He looks up at Harry through his eyelashes, shuddering slightly as he meets his sparkling emerald eyes. Harry’s face softens, looking at him with an expression that can only be wonder.

“Hi,” Harry whispers, his long fingers skimming Louis’ jaw before he withdraws.

Louis misses his touch immediately.

“Hi,” Louis replies, equally soft.

“Will...um...is that going to happen again? The snowmen?”

“Well, if it does,” Louis says, catching a towel that Niall tosses over from his perch on the back of the carriage. He scrubs it over his face before passing it over to Harry. “Now you know what to do about it, yeah?”

“Not if I forget,” Harry says pointedly, wringing out his curls.

Niall bursts out laughing behind him.

“Oh, I like this one, Louis,” he snickers. “I like this one a lot.”

Harry smiles smugly, clearly pleased with himself. Louis sighs, rolling his eyes and gently placing a hand on Harry’s lower back as he guides him to the carriage, Harry’s eyes never leaving his.  

“Don’t come looking for me, yeah?” Louis says. “Forget all about me. Understand?”

“But what about the snow?” Harry asks, his brow furrowing. “Shouldn’t we be warning people about it?”

“Thank you, Harry!” Niall pipes up.

“It’s not my problem,” Louis insists, leaning into the carriage and grabbing his hat. “Niall, take Harry home. I can walk from here.”

“But Louis–” Harry starts.

“Have a nice life, Harry,” Louis says simply, smiling at him. “Stay out of trouble, yeah?”

Louis walks away quickly, before he can focus too much on the disappointed look on Harry’s beautiful face.

It really is better this way.

********

Harry stares longingly at Louis’ retreating figure as the carriage pulls away.

“Don’t give up on him, Harry,” Niall says quietly. “He likes you. And whether he wants to admit it or not, he needs you.”

“So what’s his story then?”

“It’s not really mine to tell, but,” Niall hesitates, smiling sadly, “I’ll just say Louis’ been through a lot. He’s lost a lot of people he’s loved and he’s...not handling it well this time.”

This time? How many–”

“Like I said,” Niall interrupts, tapping on the window behind the driver. “Not my story to tell. Just...please don’t give up on him.”

Harry nods.

He hadn’t planned on doing that anyway.

“You know,” Niall says mischievously as the carriage suddenly slows. “If you cut across Baker Street, you’ll probably catch up with him. If you had that in mind. I’m just saying.”

Harry grins, popping the door open. He looks back at Niall, who just winks at him as the carriage takes off again. Harry trots down Baker Street, taking a back alley as he doubles back in the direction that Louis went. He turns the corner and spots Louis about a block ahead of him, his hat askew on the top of his head and his shoulders hunched. Suddenly Louis stops, looking around him. Harry rushes to press himself against the wall of a building, hiding in the shadow. After a few minutes, Louis shakes his head and continues on his way. Harry follows him carefully, staying a safe distance behind.

Finally, Louis reaches a small park with a giant oak tree in the middle of it; the snow-covered branches twinkling in the moonlight. Harry watches from across the street as Louis nimbly hefts himself over the shoulder-high wrought-iron fence, landing solidly on his feet with a little hop. Harry ducks down to watch as Louis walks over to the tree and looks around again, his lips pursed as if he’s whistling. Satisfied that he’s alone, Louis looks up into the tree and then jumps up, catching his hands on something. Harry’s eyes widen as Louis pulls a ladder down, seemingly out of nowhere, and then climbs up it, disappearing into the branches. A few seconds later the ladder retracts and Harry’s jaw drops.

What the bloody hell?

Harry crosses the street and climbs over the fence, much less gracefully than Louis, despite his longer legs. He trots over to the tree, peering up into the branches, frowning when he doesn’t see anything. Copying what Louis did, Harry leaps up; his hands swipe at nothing and he loses his balance as he lands, falling flat on his arse. Harry leans back on his elbows, frowning up at the tree as he blows his hair out of his eyes.

“Come on,” he mutters as he scrambles back up to his feet, dusting himself off.

Biting his lip with determination, Harry jumps up again and this time his fingers catch on the bottom rung of the ladder.

“A-ha!” Harry cries triumphantly, pulling the ladder down.

He hesitates for a moment before taking a deep breath and climbing up the ladder. The branches thin out the farther up he climbs until he reaches the top of the tree where he’s shocked to find a small landing and a spiral staircase ascending up into the clouds.

“What the…” Harry trails off, looking at the street below. Even though it’s rather late, there are still a handful of people on the sidewalks, none of them paying any mind to the massive staircase sprouting out of a tree in the middle of a tiny park in London.

“Hellooooo,” Harry calls, waving to the passersby. “Can anyone hear me?”

No one bats an eyelash; Harry giggles with delight.

“Invisible,” he murmurs, looking up to where the staircase disappears into the clouds. “An invisible staircase.”

He starts making his way up the tight corkscrew of the staircase, his hand gently skimming the railing. Harry goes up and up, not even thinking about how high he is until he looks down and sees London glittering beneath him. The full moon shines bright in the night sky, the stars twinkling; it is, in a word, magical. When he reaches the wisps of a cloud, he shivers, pulling his coat around him tightly and taking a deep breath. He pauses, wondering how the hell he’s even able to breathe normally this high up. Stepping up through the mist, Harry reaches the top of the staircase, gasping when he sees a royal blue booth sitting in the middle of the cloud, the words “Police Public Call Box” glowing bright in the inky sky.

Does Louis live here?

Looking down at his feet on the edge of the landing, Harry suddenly feels nervous. Can he actually walk on a cloud and not fall through? Louis must have done it, since there’s no sign of him, but maybe he’s some sort of magic pixie or something? Harry stares at the blue box, the light on the top blinking like a beacon calling him home.

Taking another deep breath, Harry steps forward, his arms outstretched to maintain his balance.

He stumbles a little as his foot lands on solid ground, only it’s no kind of ground he’s ever felt before. He can’t even see his feet in the fog of the cloud; whatever it is he’s walking on feels sponge-like and springy yet completely solid. Harry laughs with delighted surprise as he puts one foot in front of the other.

He’s walking on a fucking cloud.

Harry reaches the blue box and rests his hand on the door, the wood strangely warm under his palm. He presses his ear up against the door, listening for any movement inside. Finally, he raps firmly on the door. It’s only when he hears someone approaching the door that Harry loses his nerve, realizing that he actually has no fucking idea what to say to Louis now that he’s here. Harry darts around the corner of the booth, pressing himself up against the wall as the door opens.

“Hello?” Louis calls grumpily, sticking his head out of the door.

Harry squeezes his eyes shut for a moment, his heart pounding furiously as he holds his breath, trying not to make a sound. He exhales slowly as he blinks his eyes open, daring to take a peek around the corner. Louis steps outside and towards the staircase, a confused expression on his face.

“Hello?” Louis calls again. “Is anyone there?”

Louis stands still for a moment before his shoulders slump and he starts massaging his temples. There’s something about how damn tired Louis looks that absolutely breaks Harry’s heart.

“Niall, if this is some sort of joke, I’m really not in the mood tonight,” Louis sighs, “so if you could just come out, that would be grand, thanks.”

Harry accidentally kicks back against the wall; Louis looks up at the sound, his sharp blue eyes narrowing.

“Who’s there?” Louis asks, stepping in Harry’s direction.

Harry suppresses a squeak as he scurries around to the other side of the booth, barely avoiding Louis. He reaches the other side and makes a break for it, running to the staircase and clambering down it as fast as he can. Harry pauses to catch his breath about halfway down, looking back up to make sure Louis isn’t following him.

He’s not.

Harry sighs, relieved and disappointed at the same time. He’s not entirely sure why he chickened out up there, other than the fact that he got the feeling Louis was done for the night and nothing good would come out of pushing him any further. Tonight, anyway.

But tomorrow is a new day. Maybe Harry will bring him a flower or something to make him smile. He likes Louis’ smile and the way his eyes crinkle up at the corners when he does.

Don’t give up on him. He needs you.

********

In his grand laboratory at the Great Intelligence Institute, Simon pours a jarful of freshly fallen snow into a giant globe. He closes the brass lid at the base and flicks a button that causes all of the snow to swirl around furiously. Electricity crackles at the top of the globe where two cables are connected to a control panel a short distance away.

A devilish grin stretches across his face.

“Tonight the thaw,” a voice sounds from the swirling snow. “Tomorrow the snow will fall again, but even stronger. The drowned man and the dreaming child will give us form at last. Tomorrow the snow will fall and so will mankind. He is coming.”

********

Harry is still thinking about Louis as he rides the underground to South Kensington the next morning, wondering when he might get a chance to steal away today so he can see him.

Resting his suitcase on his knees, he fidgets a little in his morning suit, already unaccustomed to having to be in formal dress after just over a week away from the estate. It’s what the captain requires of his staff, however, so Harry has spent the past nine months since being hired as Lux’s governor scrimping and saving his modest salary so he could invest in a proper wardrobe that he’s proud of.

He’s wearing his favorite suit today: a simple black morning coat and pinstriped trousers with a dove grey waistcoat and crisp white oxford shirt, the collar of which is itching his neck slightly, due to having recently been starched. An emerald ascot is knotted around his neck and his hair is pinned in a low bun. To quote Mitch this morning, he looks like a ‘proper gentleman.’

Harry’s mind wanders to Louis again and what he might think of proper gentlemen.

The train arrives at the station and Harry trudges up the stairs and out the doors. As he makes the short walk to the Teasdale, no the Atkin estate, Harry marvels at how quickly last night’s snow seems to have melted, especially given the fact that it feels just as cold outside. He wonders if it has anything to do with the events of the night before.

He should ask Louis that later.

Harry arrives at the estate, checking his pocket watch and hastening up the short walk to the house, not wanting to be late. He’s digging in his other pocket for his key when the door swings open.

“Harry,” Alice admonishes fondly. “You know you’re s’posed to use the back entrance unless you have Lux with you.”

“But you won’t tell, will you, Al?” Harry grins cheekily. “Just between you and me, eh?”

The chambermaid blushes as she shakes her head.

“Miss me?” Harry asks as he steps inside.

“Oh, yes,” Alice enthuses. “It’s so borin’ without you here, Harry. Lux asked about you everyday and twice on Saturday.”

“I should get up to see her then,” Harry says. “She probably wants to show me all of her Christmas presents. I’ll just drop my things off in my room first.”

“I’ll take care of it, actually,” Alice says, taking Harry’s suitcase. “Captain Atkin told me to send you to his office as soon as you arrived.”

“Is everything alright?” Harry asks with concern.

“He didn’t say,” Alice replies. “Just that it was important that he speak to you straight away. So I’ll see to your things.”

“Thank you,” Harry says, leaning in to kiss her cheek. “I missed all of you, too.”

Harry walks through the grand foyer, turning down a hall and pausing outside of a door, rapping gently on it.

“Captain?”

“Come in, come in!”

Harry enters the room, bowing his head in a quick greeting.

“Ah, Harry,” the Captain says, looking up from his desk. “Good to have you back, m’boy! How was your holiday?”

“Lovely, sir,” Harry smiles. “Just popped up to see my mum in Cheshire and then rang in the new year with friends here in London. But I’m very happy to be back. You wanted to see me, sir? Is everything alright?”

“Lux has been having nightmares,” he informs Harry regretfully. “Every night this past week.”

“Poor love,” Harry frowns. “What have they been about?”

“That’s the rub,” Atkin sighs. “She won’t tell me or her mother about them. You know how attached she is to you, Harry, if you could talk to her, try and get to the bottom of it? Mrs. Atkin and I would be so grateful.”

“Of course, sir,” Harry replies. “I’ll go see to her right now, if that’s all you needed?”

“Thank you,” Atkin says gratefully. “She’s out in the courtyard. Amazing how all of that snow melted overnight, isn’t it?”

“It’s certainly odd,” Harry remarks. “I’ll let you know what I find out.”

Atkin nods, going back to his paperwork. Harry bows quickly and excuses himself, making for the back door that leads to the courtyard. Harry smiles as he observes Lux in her little purple coat with fur trim, her long blond plaits flying behind her as she twirls in the courtyard with her doll. He nods to the maid who’s been keeping an eye on Lux, tacitly letting her know that he’s got it from here. She curtsies and slips back inside.

Lux stops twirling; her eyes land on Harry and her whole face lights up.

“Harry!” she squeals in delight. “You’re back!”

Harry squats down, opening his arms as Lux sets off towards him at a full run. She plows into him, wrapping her little arms around his neck.

“Harry, I missed you so much!”

“I missed you too, love,” Harry replies, scooping her up with ease and popping her on his hip. “What have you been up to while I was away?”

“Nothing,” Lux pouts, wrinkling her nose. “No one is as fun as you are. Alice doesn’t do any of the fun voices when she reads to me and Mummy was too busy to play princesses. I did do lots of drawings though!”

“I can’t wait to see them,” Harry says, walking them over to a bench and sitting down, keeping the little girl in his lap. “Luxie, your papa said you’ve been having nightmares?”

Lux nods, burying her face in his shoulder.

“Want to tell me about them, love?” Harry asks, kissing the top of her head. “Maybe I can make it better?”

Lux sighs, twisting the green silk of his ascot in her fingers.

“They’re about my old tutor,” she says in a tiny voice. “The one who died. Mr. Winston.”

“What about him?” Harry prods gently.

“Do you want to see where he died, Harry?” Lux asks, the innocence on her face belying the gravity of the question.

A chill runs down Harry’s spine and he shudders. He’s heard stories of how Ben Winston died, of course. He doesn’t particularly want to see where he died, thank you very much, but he did promise Captain Atkin that he’d get to the bottom of Lux’s nightmares, so he acquiesces.

“Of course, love, if you want to show me,” Harry says, trying to keep the unease out of his voice. “Lead the way.”

Lux climbs off his lap, holding her hand out to him. She practically drags him over to courtyard’s reflecting pool, climbing up and sitting on the brick ledge that surrounds it. Harry cautiously sits next to her, his eyes carefully trained on Lux, who studies the solid ice.  

“He fell in there,” Lux explains softly, looking up at him with her large blue eyes. “And then it froze and he was in the ice for days and days…Harry, I know it’s not very nice of me, and I know you taught me to always be kind, but I…” Lux drops her voice to a whisper, “hated Mr. Winston. He was so mean, not like you. He was just cross all the time and never played with me ever. And in my nightmares...he’s still down there, waiting to come back.”  

Harry shudders again. He reaches down and drums his fingers over the ice, still puzzled by the fact that it hasn’t thawed at all. Suddenly, he hears Louis in his head.

The snow is feeding off your thoughts. The more you think about them, the more they appear.

“Lux,” Harry says urgently, taking her small hand in his. “This is important. You said you dream about him? Can you tell me what exactly is happening in your dreams?”

“He’s angry with me,” Lux says tremulously. “He says I’ve been bad because I haven’t cleaned up my toys or done my lessons. He says he’s going to come out of the pond and punish me!”

“When? Does he say when?”

“Tonight,” Lux whispers, her eyes wide. “He’s coming back tonight and I’m so scared, Harry.”

Harry’s mind races as he hugs Lux tightly, kissing her head again.

“It’s okay to be scared, Lux,” Harry assures her after a moment. “But...I may know someone who can help us. I just need to go find him, okay? Is that okay? Do you trust me?”

Lux nods, sniffling a little bit.

“I trust you, Harry.”

********

After Harry puts Lux down for her afternoon nap, he tells Alice that he has some errands to attend to and asks for her to cover for him until he gets back. He quickly makes his way back to Louis’ park, cringing when he realizes that it’s a much more highly trafficked area during the daytime than he anticipated. Leaning against the tree’s trunk, he attempts to appear casual as he peers up into the branches, trying to spot the bottom rung of the ladder. He looks around, relieved to see that everyone seems to be minding their own business. Maybe they won’t notice him? Maybe the ladder is only visible to those who want to see it?

There’s only one way to find out.

Harry pushes himself off the tree trunk and moves to stand where he knows the ladder came down the night before. Taking one more glance around, Harry inhales deeply and jumps up, reaching for the branches.

Nothing.

Luckily, unlike last night, Harry lands solidly on his own two feet. He looks back up at the branches and pouts.

Dusting his hands together, he swings his arms and jumps again, higher this time. And again. And again.

Still nothing.

“Louis?” Harry calls. “Louis, are you up there?”

No response. Harry barely restrains himself from kicking the trunk of the tree in frustration.

“Loooooouuueeeeeehhhhh!”

Out of the corner of his eye, Harry sees that a small crowd is gathering to watch the crazy man in his morning suit, shouting up at a tree.

He finds that he doesn’t give a shit.

“Doctor!” Harry bellows desperately, cupping his hands together. “Doctor!”

“Quiet down, that’s enough!” a voice hisses behind him.

Harry turns and sees a man about his age in a tight leather coat approaching him, a serious expression on his face, even though his warm brown eyes are sparkling.

“Wha–”

“We don’t want to be attracting too much attention now, do we?” the man asks calmly, raising his eyebrows and looking up at the tree branches.

“Oh?” Harry questions, tucking a curl that’s come loose from his bun behind his ear.

“Oh,” the man nods.

“I’m looking for the Doctor,” Harry says quietly, stepping towards him. “Do you...do you know about him?”

“Doctor?” The man grins, leaning into Harry’s space. “Doctor who?”

“So you do know L–”

“I’m Liam,” the man interrupts. “You’re going to want to come with me.”

********

Harry tries not to fidget as Liam leads him down the hall. His gut tells him that Liam is trustworthy; he knew it from the the moment Liam escorted him out of the park and into a waiting carriage, muttering “We need to discuss this in private.” Harry had started to explain the previous night to Liam, but he had shushed him, insisting that they should only talk about it with his partner Zayn.

But now that he’s here in this strange house, Harry can’t help but quake in his boots a little bit.

Liam pauses outside a door, smiling kindly.

“It’s rather warm in the conservatory,” Liam says. “Do you want me take your coat?”

Harry nods dumbly, unbuttoning his coat and shrugging it off, handing it to Liam, who hangs it on a waiting coat rack. Harry loosens the knot of his ascot, clearing his throat nervously.

“Zayn’s right in here,” Liam says, opening the door. “He prefers the heat, you know? Cold blood and all.”

Harry nods, even though he really doesn’t understand what Liam means. He enters the conservatory and is instantly hit with a wave of unnatural heat. The room is bright, full of palm fronds and tropical-looking plants; Harry hears the unmistakable tinkle of running water and turns to see a small waterfall flowing into a pond where brightly colored fish swim happily. Liam guides him down a path and Harry’s eyes widen when he spies a man sitting in a high-backed wicker chair, drinking a glass of red wine.

“Zayn, this is Harry,” Liam says, looking over to him with a reassuring smile.

Harry’s jaw drops as he now understands what Liam meant about cold blood. Zayn has the body of a man, only it’s no kind of man Harry’s ever seen or even dreamed of before. He takes in Zayn’s scaly reptilian skin and crest of horns that sweep back like some sort of permanent hairstyle. His steps falter a bit and Zayn’s sharp amber eyes narrow as he delicately sips from his glass of wine.

“Sit,” Zayn says, pointing to a chair across from him.

Harry looks over his shoulder at Liam, who simply nods encouragingly, motioning for Harry to sit in the chair opposite Zayn. Taking a deep breath, Harry schools his face back into a neutral expression, maintaining eye contact with Zayn as he sits.

“Zayn is going to ask you some questions. You are to confine your answers to one word, okay?”

Harry nods, looking between the two men, noting how Zayn’s eyes grow fond whenever he looks at Liam.

“Why?” Harry asks, not being able to stop himself.

“Truth is singular,” Zayn replies, his voice strangely melodic. He drains the wine from his glass and looks at Harry intensely. “Lies are words, words, words. Would you like some wine?”

“No,” Harry declines, sitting straighter in his seat.

Zayn smiles enigmatically, reaching for the decanter filled with the ruby wine and refilling his glass.

“You met the Doctor, didn’t you?” Zayn asks, peering at him over the brim as he takes a sip.

“Yes,” Harry nods eagerly.

“And now you come looking for him again,” Zayn posits, putting the glass on the table. “Why?”

“Remember,” Liam interjects gently. “One word only.”

Harry chews his lip for a minute, pondering his response, feeling like it’s impossible to reduce his encounter with Louis or why he feels compelled to see him again to one word.

“Curiosity,” Harry replies finally.

“About?”

“Snow,” Harry answers.

Zayn looks over at Liam, the green scales above his eye arching as an eyebrow might. Liam simply nods, biting back a smile.

“And curiosity about him?” Zayn asks coolly, turning his gaze back to Harry.

“Yes,” Harry admits.

“What do you want from him?”

“Help.”

“Why?” Zayn presses.

“Danger,” Harry says urgently.

Zayn leans back in his chair, crossing his arms over his chest.

“Why would he help you?”

“Kindness,” Harry answers decisively.

“Oh no,” Zayn chuckles darkly. “The Doctor is not kind.”

“No?” Harry questions, furrowing his brow.

“No,” Zayn replies. “The Doctor does not help people. Ever. He stands above this world and does not interfere with its inhabitants. He’s like fire and ice. He's like the night, and the storm in the heart of the sun. He's ancient and forever. He burns at the center of time and he can see the turn of the universe. He is not your salvation, nor is he your protector. Do you understand what I am saying to you?”

Harry leans back in his chair, pondering Zayn’s words. He hears an element of truth in them, certainly. He could see the darkness in Louis from the way he ferociously kept his guard up and from the way he kept saying everything going on wasn’t his problem. But Harry also thinks of those moments of softness where Louis would let his walls down, where his eyes would sparkle and crinkle at the corners as he laughed. He remembers how calm and strong Louis was as he talked him through defeating the swarm of snowmen, resting their foreheads together as if they were the only two people in the universe. He recalls the way Louis’ shoulders slumped in exhaustion up on his cloud and the utter defeat in his voice. That is not the man Zayn is describing; if there is anything Harry is sure of right now, it’s that.

“Do you understand what I am saying to you?” Zayn repeats.

“Words,” Harry replies with a smirk.

Liam lets out an excited squeak from behind him as Zayn’s amber eyes widen.

“He used to be different,” Zayn sighs, his posture relaxing. “Especially when we first met. Kind, definitely. A true hero even, a saver of worlds that others of his kind would have let be destroyed. We are very alike, he and I. Both of us rejecting the ways of our people, choosing to live among humanity. I have proudly fought at his side many times. But he has suffered losses that have hurt him greatly. Now Louis prefers isolation rather than the possibility of opening himself up to pain. Kindly choose a word to indicate your understanding.”

“Human,” Harry says softly.

Finally, Harry earns a look of genuine approval from Zayn, who nods decisively.

“We are Louis’ friends,” he says with a smile. “We assist him in his isolation, but that doesn’t mean we approve of it.”

“At all,” Liam interjects.

“So, Harry,” Zayn smiles, pouring a second glass of wine and passing it over to Harry, who accepts it this time. “This snow–”

A door bangs outside of the conservatory.

“Lads!” A familiar Irish voice calls. Harry looks up and grins.

“In here!” Liam answers.

“There is definitely something going on with that Cowell fella over at the Great Intelligence,” Niall blusters, going straight for the wine as soon as he enters the room. “I’ve been watching him all morning and oh–” Niall gasps, eyes light up as soon as he recognizes Harry, “hullo, Harry!”

“Hi, Niall,” Harry chirps, beaming. “You...you know these two?”

“Know them,” Niall cackles. “I live with them, mate! What are you doing here?”

“I found him in the park, shouting for Louis like a crazy person,” Liam says.

“And how do you know each other?” Zayn asks in amusement, looking between Harry and Niall.

“We met last night,” Harry explains.

“With Louis,” Niall clarifies, taking a sip of his wine.

“So let’s go back to the beginning, Harry,” Zayn says seriously. “Tell me all about the snow and all the dangers you believe it presents.”

Harry takes a deep breath.

“So, I was helping out my friend Mitch for a couple of nights at his pub…”

********

Louis sits in his favorite alcove of the TARDIS console room balcony, curled up in his favorite cushy armchair and reading his favorite book. Well. Normally it’s his favorite. Tonight, however, he’s read the same passage at least five times not even comprehending the words because his thoughts keep drifting to a certain curly-haired boy with sparkling green eyes who felt like home from the first moment Louis laid eyes on him.

He’s thought about trying to go and find Harry all day, even though he knows it will ultimately end in heartbreak again. It always does. He’s also thought about just taking the TARDIS and fucking off to another century or another fucking planet entirely, though he knows that Zayn would have his head if he did that without saying goodbye.

So he’s just done what he’s done pretty much every day for the last five years: wallow in the TARDIS with only a book for company.

He pushes his glasses up the bridge of his nose and turns a page.

The phone rings.

Louis frowns, leaning over to pick it up. Only three people have this number and they all know that they are only supposed to use it in emergencies.

“Yes, what?” Louis sighs, removing his glasses and tucking them away in his jacket pocket. “I’m trying to read, you know.”

“I just had the most interesting lunch,” Zayn says breezily. “With a young lad named Harry. I think you know him?”

Louis’ hearts skip a beat.

“I...I might know a Harry,” Louis says airily, his voice immediately betraying him.

Zayn hums and Louis can picture his unimpressed expression perfectly.

“Did you–”

“Of course I gave him the test, Louis,” Zayn says with exasperation.

“Did he–”

“Do you honestly think I would be calling you if he hadn’t? He passed with flying colors.”

“Oh,” Louis says, sliding a bookmark into his novel. “That’s...that’s great.”

“Listen, Lou,” Zayn says, suddenly serious. “You need to get down here. This shit with the snow is serious, a lot of the stuff Harry told me...well...let’s just say it filled in a lot of the missing pieces. We need you this time, Louis. I need you. Harry needs you. He’s right in the center of it, Lou, and he doesn’t even realize it. Not fully.”

Louis’ hearts drop into his stomach at the thought of Harry in danger.

“We can’t do this without you,” Zayn pleads. “How often do I say that?”

“When you really mean it?” Louis jokes weakly.

“Shut the fuck up and get your arse down here.”

“Yeah,” Louis nods, putting his book back on the shelf. “Yeah, okay. Where do you need me to go?”

********

Simon sits at his desk in the laboratory, working on some last minute calculations while listening to the comforting sound of the snow swirling around in the globe.

“Danger!” the voice in the globe shouts suddenly. “Danger!”

“What is it?” Simon asks, immediately shoving his papers aside and walking over to the globe, resting his palm on the cool glass. “What’s wrong?”

“A great danger approaches,” the voice replies. “An intelligence. An intelligence beyond anything else.”

Someone raps on the door. Simon flips a button and the snow ceases swirling.

“Yes?” Simon calls out tersely.

“Someone’s here to see you, sir,” his butler says nervously, peeking through the door.

“I’m not expecting anyone,” Simon states coldly.

“He’s demanding that he see you, sir.”

“As I’ve stated multiple times, Stephen,” Simon says through clenched teeth. “No callers, not in here, not ever. Did he leave a name?”

“It’s–”

“Sherlock Holmes!” a man – well, practically a boy, really – cries, bursting in the room with a twirl, his houndstooth cape billowing around him as he spins on his cane. “At your service.”

“I enjoy the Strand as much as the next person,” Simon huffs. “So I obviously know that Sherlock Holmes is a fictional character–”

“Be quiet, I’m investigating!” the strange boy declares. “Nice office.”

“Who are you?” Simon demands. “What are you doing here?”

The boy simply smirks at him, his bright blue eyes glittering. He walks over to the globe, tapping his cane on the glass.

“Wakey-wakey!” he cries, flipping a button at the base. His eyes light up as the snow starts swirling around, electricity crackling at the top of the globe. “Oh...that is cool. Isn’t it cool, Dr. Cowell?”

“That is expensive and valuable equipment!” Simon practically screeches, lunging towards him. “Get away from it!”

“Now, now,” the boy tsks, delicately pushing Simon away. “What fun would that be?” He turns back to the globe, tapping the glass again. “You there! Identify yourself.”

“We are the Intelligence,” the voice from the globe replies.

“Talking snow!” the boy cries in delight, elbowing Simon. “Oh, I love new things!”

“You are not of this world,” the globe states.

“Yeah, well, takes one to snow one,” the boy quips, bursting out laughing, his eyes crinkling shut as he slaps his knee. He looks up at Simon, wheezing with laughter. “Get it? Takes one to snow one?”

A vein throbs in Simon’s forehead, a sudden pressure squeezing at his temples. He crosses his arms and glares down at the boy.

“Right-o, let’s see,” the boy says, brushing his hands together, suddenly serious. “Multinucleate, crystalline organism with the ability to mimic and mirror what it finds. Looks like snow. Isn't snow–”

“You must leave immediately!” Simon orders, storming over to his desk.

“Be quiet, I’m making deductions. It’s very exciting!”

Simon rings for his butler, muttering under his breath.

“Now then,” the boy continues, tapping his cheek as he walks around the globe, talking to it. He pulls out a wand-like device, aiming it over his shoulder, a piercing noise coming out of it. “What are you? A flock of space crystals? The snowmen are like...mindless foot soldiers, but you,” the boy stops, turning to Simon, a knowing grin on his face. “You’re a clever one, aren’t you? You’re Moriarty! This alien snow turns up on a planet and generates a telepathic field so it can learn everything it can...and you’re helping it. Once you have learned all you need to know, then what? You can’t conquer the world with an army of snowmen, they’ll be rubbish in July! So...your army needs to evolve.”

“Sir?” Stephen calls from outside the room, rattling the door. “Sir, I’m afraid the door’s locked?”

“What have you done?” Simon demands. “Have you locked the doors?”

“You need to translate the snow into something...well...more human,” the boy continues, ignoring him completely.

“Knock the damn doors down, you fool!” Simon shouts to Stephen, who continues to rattle the door.

“I’m searching for my master key!” the butler replies, his voice desperate.

“To do that,” the boy mutters, walking over to Simon’s desk, shuffling through the open journals and papers. “You need some sort of perfect duplicate of human DNA in ice form. And where do you find that?”

“How dare you!” Simon cries, grabbing the boy’s wrist as he reaches for a yellowing newspaper article. “These are my private findings!”

“A-ha!” the boy says victoriously, looking at the piece of paper. “‘Tutor found frozen in pond!’ Gotcha!”

He peers at Simon curiously.

“What are you up to?”

“That’s none of your business,” Simon grits, wrenching the article away.

“It is though,” the boy says, stepping into Simon’s space, his voice dangerously low. “I don't know what you and this...Intelligence are planning. Whether you’re just planning to invade, infiltrate, or outright destroy this planet. I don't suppose it really matters now because the only thing I do know is that you are monsters. That is the role it seems you are determined to play, so it seems I must play mine.”

“And what role is that?” Simon simpers. “Do enlighten me, please.”

“I am the Doctor,” the boy declares fiercely. “I am the man that stops the monsters.”

“I’d like to see you try,” Simon growls. “It’s too late. It all happens tonight. In mere hours, this world will be ours.”

The door finally bursts open, revealing a breathless and panicked Stephen.

“Challenge accepted,” the Doctor says, flourishing his cape as he spins on his heel. “Thank you, Stephen, I’ll see myself out.”

He’s gone before Simon can say another word.

********

Once the sun has set, Louis sneaks onto the grounds of the Atkin estate. He walks along the concrete border of the pond, scanning the ice with the sonic screwdriver.

“Body frozen in a pond,” Louis murmurs to himself, “the snow gets a good long look at a human being, almost like a full body scan.” He clicks off the sonic, reading the settings and then sliding it into his coat pocket. “Everything it needs to evolve. Clever boy, Harry.”

“Doing some investigating, are you?”

Louis jumps, nearly losing his balance.

“Jesus Christ, Neil,” Louis says, pressing a hand to his chest as Niall appears out of the shadows, a massive grin on his face. “What the hell are you doing here?”

“Zayn said you might need some help,” Niall shrugs, still grinning. “He said you were doing some investigating.”

“Not investigating,” Louis replies, hopping down from the border. “Who says I’m investigating? I’m just...checking things out.”

“Isn’t that what investigating is, Lou?”

“Shut up.”

“I’m just saying that if all it was gonna take was a pretty boy smiling at you, I would have–”

“Do you really think I’m getting involved just because some bloke smiled at me, Niall?” Louis asks defensively. “No matter how deep his dimples are–”

“So you did notice then,” Niall says smugly. “I knew it.”

“I’m sorry, you can see those fucking dimples from the moon, but that’s not the point,” Louis emphasizes. “The point is, who do you think I am?”

“Sherlock Holmes?”

“Don’t get clever, Niall, it doesn’t suit you.”

Niall just cackles, tugging Louis into a hug, clapping him on the back.

“Good to have you back, Doctor.”

“Don’t get used to it,” Louis mumbles. “It’s just a temporary thing.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Niall chuckles as he releases him. “So tell me what’s going on with the pond?”

“There’s definitely something growing in there,” Louis explains, looking at the pond. “I’m not sure what it is, but it’s definitely part of Cowell’s plan and it’s definitely hatching soon.”

“Zayn and Liam are stationed in front of the house keeping watch for Cowell,” Niall informs him. “They have that whole arsenal of weapons that Liam’s been working on. We’re ready.”

“Good, good,” Louis says, looking up at the house.

A light comes on in one of the rooms of the second floor. The curtains are drawn back and Harry appears at one of the windows. He looks down and his face breaks out into a blinding smile, those damn dimples popping in his cheeks as his gaze lands on Louis. Harry tucks a loose curl behind his ear and waves at Louis, causing his stomach to do a little flip.

“Hi,” Louis says softly, waving back at him.

“Yep, you’re definitely not interested,” Niall chuckles at his side. “Not at all.”

“Shut it,” Louis hisses at Niall as Harry gestures at him to come up, pointing down and then miming opening a door. “I’m just gonna tell him I’m leaving. I’m not going up. Yep. Leaving. Not going up.”

Louis finds himself nodding at Harry, even as he’s saying it, holding his hand up, splaying his fingers to indicate that he’ll be up in five minutes, and then giving Harry a thumbs up. Harry grins even wider, nodding and then pulling the curtains shut again.

“Goddammit, where did that come from?” Louis mutters, biting his betraying thumb.

“Louis likes a boy, Louis likes a boy,” Niall sing-songs.

“Go check in on Zayn and Liam, will you?” Louis orders, rolling his eyes. “I’m going inside.”

“Sounds good, boss,” Niall says, saluting him as he retreats into the shadows. “Go get your boy.”

“I’m not going to get anything,” Louis insists. “Especially not a boy.”

“Whatever you say, boss.”

Louis stands and observes the house for a few moments before heaving a sigh, heading to what he’s guessing is the servant’s entrance that Harry was gesturing to. He takes one more look back at the pond and then twists the door knob, completely unsurprised to find that Harry had left it unlocked, clearly expecting him.

As soon as Louis slips inside the house, the iced-over pond cracks.

********

“Harry, I’m scared,” Lux says as he tucks her into bed. “Am I going to have the nightmares again tonight?”

“Definitely not,” Harry replies, handing Lux her favorite battered teddy bear.

“How do you know?”

“Because someone is coming to help us, just like I promised you.”

“Who is he?” Lux asks, clutching her bear tightly.

“Ah, love,” Harry smiles, pulling her blanket up. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

“Is it like one of your stories that are definitely always true?” Lux asks with a smile, her blue eyes sparkling.

“Excuse me, young lady,” Harry says, bopping the end of her nose. “All of my stories are true!”

“Like how you were born behind the clock face of Big Ben?”

“Why do you think I am always on time?” Harry grins, sitting on the side of the bed.

“So what’s this new story, Harry? Who is coming to help us?”

“There’s this man called the Doctor,” Harry starts, lowering his voice and leaning in conspiratorially. “He lives on this cloud in the sky, and all he does, all day and every day is to stop all the children in the world from having bad dreams–”

“But I’ve been having bad dreams, Harry!” Lux interrupts.

“He’s...he’s been on holiday. But I am confident that he has now returned to work,” Harry assures her. He looks towards the door, which is creaking open. “As a matter of fact, he’s here right now,” Harry continues, nudging Lux’s shoulder and smiling, “aren’t you, Doctor?”

The door swings all the way open, revealing not Louis but a man who appears to be made of solid ice, a scowl on his face. Lux screams in terror.

“Jesus H. Christ!” Harry shouts, sweeping Lux up in his arms.

“Harry, it’s Mr. Winston!” Lux shrieks, clinging to him tightly as tears start to stream down her cheeks.

“You have been very naughty!” Winston shouts, pointing and stumbling awkwardly towards them. “Naughty, naughty child!”

“Hold on, Lux,” Harry orders, pressing her tight against his chest as his eyes dart around the room. Knocking a rocking chair in the path of the ice man, Harry darts quickly into the adjoining nursery, slamming the door shut and bolting the door.

“Harry, Harry, what do we do?” Lux sobs as he sets her on her feet. “I told you he was coming, I told you!”

The door rattles. Harry kneels in front of her, placing his hands on her narrow shoulders and looking her in the eyes.

“Luxie, love, listen to me,” Harry says urgently, sweeping her hair off her face. “I need you to picture him melting.”

“What?” she cries. “I don’t understand!”

“In your head,” Harry urges, looking at the door, which is straining against the bolts. “Like when we play princesses, remember? Remember how we imagine the castles and the dragons? Imagine melting Mr. Winston!”

“I’m getting very impatient!” Winston screeches from the other side of the door.

“I can’t, Harry, I can’t!” Lux shouts in terror.

“Yes, you can!” Harry says desperately. “We can do it together!”

The door bursts open, splinters of wood flying.

“The girl must be punished!” Winston wails, ambling towards them, his arm outstretched.

“What about the man?” Lux bawls. “The cloud man? I thought he here to help us? Where is the Doctor?”

“I don’t know!” Harry cries, dragging Lux to the corner of the room, shielding her with his body. “I don’t know where he is!”

“Did you say Doctor?” a familiar voice suddenly calls from behind Lux’s little puppet theatre.

Harry sags in relief as Louis bursts out of the curtains, jumping in front of him and extending some sort of wand with a light on the end towards the ice man. The wand lets out a piercing sound and Winston shatters into tiny pieces, landing in a heap on the floor and melting almost immediately.

“That’s the way to do it,” Louis smirks, flipping the wand in his hand and sliding it into his pocket.

“You arsehole,” Harry chokes, throwing his arms around Louis and squeezing tight, blinking back tears of relief as he buries his face in his neck. “You just had to make a dramatic entrance, didn’t you?”

********

It takes Louis a few moments to respond to Harry’s embrace simply because he hasn’t been hugged like this in so long and he forgot how fucking good it feels to be held in this way. It has absolutely nothing to do with how tightly Harry holds him or how good he smells or the way his curls brush his shoulders, just begging for Louis’ touch.

Absolutely nothing.

Eventually, he winds his arms around Harry’s waist and squeezes him back.

“Thought I told you to stay out of trouble,” Louis mutters in his ear.

“Yeah, I’m not too good at following orders,” Harry laughs wetly as he pulls back.

“I can see that,” Louis grins, thumbing a tear off of Harry’s cheek.

Louis feels a pair of tiny arms wrap around his legs, a hand tugging at the hem of his coat. He releases Harry and squats down till he reaches the little girl’s eye level.

“Hi,” Louis says kindly. “What’s your name?”

“Lux Atkin,” she says shyly. “Are you the Doctor?”

“I am,” Louis replies solemnly, extending his hand. “You can call me Louis though.”

“You’re late,” Lux says, shaking his hand.

Harry giggles above him; Louis looks up and grins and then looks back at Lux.  

“I’m very sorry,” Louis says genuinely.

“Where did Mr. Winston go?” Lux asks in a tiny voice. “Will he come back?”

Louis stands, walking over to where he melted the ice man. He pulls out his sonic, scanning the growing wet circle on the rug.

“Don’t worry,” Louis assures Lux. “He’s currently soaking through your carpet.”

“How did you do it?” Lux wonders with awe. “Is that a magic wand?”

“Sonic screwdriver,” Louis replies, flipping it as he walks back to her, squatting down again so she can have a closer look at it. “I used the antifreeze setting.” He looks up at Harry, who is scrunching his nose fondly. “You’re welcome by the way.”

“I’m very grateful,” Harry says earnestly, his green eyes shining. “I knew you’d come.”

“No, you didn’t,” Louis grimaces as he stands. “Because this isn’t the sort of thing I do anymore, Harold.”

“Harry.”

“I’m just saying, the next time you’re in danger, don’t expect me to just show up. I’m still retired.”

“Sure you are,” Harry grins.

“I am,” Louis insists, wandering over to the window. It’s snowing again and the windows have started frosting up. “That’s just the way it is, Harold, I–”

Harry shivers suddenly, his breath fogging in the air.

“Did it just get colder in here?”

“That...that’s strange,” Louis ponders, tracing a finger on the frosted glass. “It–”

“Louis!” Lux suddenly cries. “Louis, look!”

Louis whirls around and watches in horror as the rug starts to rise as if something is growing underneath it.

“He’s coming back!” Lux shrieks. “What’s he going to do? Is he going to punish me?”

“Erm–” Louis flounders, whipping out the sonic and aiming it at the carpet as he flips it on.

Nothing happens.

“Louis?” Harry asks, his voice wobbling as he grabs Lux’s hand, pulling her to his side.

“Erm, yes, it seems he hasn’t yet learned how to melt?”

“That’s the way to do it!” Winston shouts as his newly formed body seems to emerge from below the carpet.

“Run!” Louis shouts, grabbing Harry’s free hand as Harry scoops Lux up.

The three of them burst out of the nursery, running down the hall, pursued by Winston, who staggers after them slowly, his iced joints making it hard for him to walk.

“That’s just the way it is, Harold!” Winston shouts.

“What the bloody hell?” Harry exclaims, looking over his shoulder.

“He’s just randomly mirroring us!” Louis says, his hand moving down to Harry’s lower back as they clamber down the grand staircase. “Come on, let’s go!”

They reach the landing in the foyer, stopping short when they come upon Captain Atkin and his wife, dressed in all their evening finery.

“Harry?” the captain asks. “What is – what the devil is happening? We heard shouting. Who is this?”

Harry looks at Louis, his eyes wide.

“It’s okay, it’s okay,” Louis says, scrambling down the staircase, Harry following close behind. “I’m the Doctor and–”

“Doctor?” Louise gasps. “My God, is Lux sick? Is everything alright?”

“Not a doctor,” Harry says breathlessly. “The Doctor! He–”

“Captain!” Alice shouts suddenly, bursting into the foyer. “Captain, there are all these snowmen in the garden! And they’re just growin’ outta nowhere, all by themselves, they are! Come look!”

Louis rushes to the window, pulling the drape open. Sure enough, snowmen are rapidly popping up out of nothing, their menacing grins full of sharp, pointy teeth.

“Good lord!” Atkin gasps from next to him.

The doorbell rings. Alice scurries over, opening the door to reveal Liam and Zayn; Liam is clutching a big black bag in his hands while Zayn, having forgone his customary veil, rests his hand on the hilt of the sword at his hip.

“Good evening,” Zayn says calmly. “I’m a lizard man from the dawn of time, and this is my husband. We’re here to help.”

“The house is under attack,” Niall calls from behind them. “Everyone remain calm!”

Alice promptly faints.

“What the hell is going on?” Atkin demands, scooping the chambermaid up in his arms.

“Niall, find us a secure location,” Louis says, ignoring the captain’s demands for the moment. “Zayn, an update from outside?”

“The snow is highly localized,” Zayn answers. “And on this occasion, not naturally occuring.”

“It’s coming from a carriage parked by the gates,” Liam adds, crouching down and unzipping his bag, which is full of an assortment of grenades of various shapes and sizes. “We believe it’s Cowell.”

“Cowell?” Louise pipes up, taking Lux from Harry. “That man who was here yesterday asking about what happened to Mr. Winston?”

“That’s just the way it is, Harold!” Winston bellows, having finally made it to the top of the staircase. He starts staggering down the stairs. “That’s just the way it is!”

“What the–” Atkin starts.

“Yes, yes, yes, your daughter’s former tutor is now a living ice sculpture, it’s all very exciting,” Louis says quickly. “Liam, what’ve you got?”

“This should do,” Liam says cheerfully, plucking a small red grenade from his stockpile. He pulls the pin and tosses it at the staircase; a red forcefield explodes, trapping Winston on the landing.

“Brilliant, Li,” Louis cheers. “Niall? You got a secure location yet?”

“The study only has one window,” Niall reports from down the hall. “We can use it as a lookout and there’s only one way in or out.”

“Right,” Louis says, turning to Harry and the terrified Atkin family. “Everyone follow Niall into the study, chop chop!”

“What about you?” Harry calls, even as he presses his hand on Louise’s back to guide her towards the study, Atkin following close behind, hitching up an unconscious Alice in his arms.

“I’ll be right there, Haz,” Louis replies, the nickname slipping out before he even realizes it. “Promise. Just have to make sure this is secure.”

Harry nods, scurrying behind Niall. Louis, Liam, and Zayn clamber up the staircase, stopping a few steps short of the forcefield, from behind which Winston keeps shouting at them and banging on the red light. The light shudders with each blow of his frozen fists.

“How’s it looking, Li?” Louis asks as he scans the forcefield with the sonic.

“Good, good,” Liam answers, tossing another one of the grenades to fortify the shield. “It will hold. We could go through if we wanted to though. I calibrated the shield to not allow anything under 36 degrees to pass through, so he’s good and trapped there.”

“Excellent work, Payno, really,” Louis praises.

“Nice to see you off your cloud and engaging again,” Zayn says smugly from a few steps below.

“I’m not engaging,” Louis insists. “I’m under attack, there’s a difference!”

“Mmm-hmmm,” Zayn hums, a sly smile on his face. “C’mon, Lou. You can’t tell me you haven’t missed this.”

Louis pauses for a moment, feeling the adrenaline rushing through his veins. It’s something he hasn’t felt in a long time, the feeling that he gets from helping people, and yes, he’s missed it.

Not that he plans on admitting that to Zayn any time soon.

“Shut up,” he replies, a smirk pulling at the corner of mouth in spite of himself.

“My mouth is shut,” Zayn replies as Louis moves past him on the stairs.

Louis strides into the study, heading straight for the decanter of whiskey. He pours a tumbler full and passes it to a shell-shocked Captain Atkin before pouring a shot for himself.

“Right,” Louis says, knocking it back and placing the tumbler on the shelf. “How long have we got before they attack, Niall?”

“They aren’t going to,” Niall replies from the window. “They made no attempt to conceal their arrival. If they were going to attack, they never would have skipped over the whole element of surprise. Looks like they’re positioning themselves on the defensive?”

“Well done, Neil,” Louis says, walking over and ruffling his blond hair. “We’ve still got it, don’t we?”

“Really, Lou?” Niall cringes, smoothing his hair back into place. “A noogie in the middle of combat prep?”

“Can somebody explain what the bloody hell is going on?” the captain exclaims.

“Yes, I would certainly like to know!” Louise adds, cradling a softly crying Lux in her lap.

“I’m getting to it,” Louis assures them.

“So,” Zayn says, entering the room with Liam close behind him. He closes the door and leans back against it. “There’s obviously something here they want.”

“The ice man!” Harry pipes up from his perch on the arm of the sofa.

“Exactly,” Louis says, pointing at Harry with a grin. “Clever boy, Haz. The ice man!”

“Why is he so important?” Harry asks, pulling his bottom lip between his thumb and index finger.

“Because he’s a perfect duplication of human DNA in ice crystal form,” Louis replies, starting to pace back and forth. He refills Atkin’s whiskey, winking at him. “To live on this planet, the snow needs to evolve. Mr. Winston...he’s the blueprint. He’s what they need to become.” He snaps his fingers, whirling around and walking over to Harry. “When the snow melted last night, did the pond?”

“No,” Harry replies, his eyes shining with excitement.

“No,” Louis affirms, snapping his fingers. “Think about it, Haz. Living ice that will never melt. If the snow gets a hold of that creature on the stairs, it will learn to make more of them. It will build an entire army of ice...and it will be the last day of humanity as we know it.”

The doorbell rings. Everyone looks towards the door and then looks back to Louis.

“Right,” Louis says, straightening the lapels of his jacket and striding across the room. Louis rests his hand on the doorknob and looks back over his shoulder, finding Harry’s eyes. “Everyone stay here.”

Louis slips out of the door, closing it behind him. He leans against the door for a moment, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath.

He can do this.

Straightening his spine, Louis starts towards the front door. He hears a click behind him.

“Do you think it’s that Cowell fellow?” Harry asks.

“Oi!” Louis exclaims, whirling around. “I thought I told you to stay in there!”

“Oh,” Harry shrugs as he steps into Louis’ space. “I didn’t listen.”

“You do that a lot.”

“I thought we had established that already, Lou,” Harry grins cheekily, stepping even closer.

“Oh right,” Louis smirks, his hearts pounding as he closes the last bit of distance between them. “Quite annoying, I have to say.”

“Nah, it’s why you like me.”

“Who says I like you?” Louis asks, his eyes flitting down to Harry’s pretty pink lips.

Harry surges forward, sealing his lips over Louis’ and kissing him eagerly. Louis groans, his hands immediately flying to Harry’s hips, pulling him forward to hold close to his chest. Harry’s large hands cup his face, thumbs brushing over Louis’ cheekbones as his tongue traces the seam of Louis’ lips, asking for entrance. Louis opens for him with a sigh, goosebumps prickling on his skin as their tongues finally meet. Harry tastes fresh and sweet and Louis can’t get enough, already so fucking gone for this ridiculous boy who’s apparently determined to drive him mad.

Almost as quickly as it began, Harry breaks the kiss, pulling back and smiling brilliantly.

“I think you just did,” Harry says breathlessly.

“Excuse me, you kissed me!”

“Yes, and you’re blushing,” Harry says cockily.

Louis’ hands fly to his cheeks; they are indeed hot under his palms.

“Yeah...well...shut up!” Louis sputters, walking towards the front door. He stops halfway there, turning around to see Harry standing in place for once, his hands behind his back and his green eyes glittering with amusement. “Well? Are you coming or not?”

“Coming!” Harry beams, scampering over to his side.

“Let me do the talking, okay?” Louis asks once they reach the door.

Harry nods as Louis swings the door open, revealing Simon Cowell on the stoop, a sinister grin on his ghoulish face, an army of snowmen sprouting behind him.

“Oh, Dr. Cowell,” Louis says breezily, resting his arm on the door frame. “What a surprise to see you here on this fine evening! Can we help you?”

“Can we help you?” Winston echoes from the stairs.

“Release him to us,” Simon sneers. “You have five minutes.”

Louis slams the door in his face.

“We need to get him out of here,” Louis says grimly. “But also keep him away from Cowell.”

“How though?” Harry frowns.

“With this,” Louis grins, grabbing an umbrella from the stand by the door. “Do I always have to state the obvious, Haz?”

“What are those creatures out there?” Atkin demands, standing in the doorframe of the study.

“No danger to you, as long as I get that thing out of here,” Louis promises, pointing up the staircase. “Zayn, I’m on the move. Prepare to defend!”

“Roger that!” Zayn answers.

Louis jogs over to the staircase, Harry following closely behind.

“What are you doing?” Harry asks as they scramble up the stairs.

“Between you and me, I can’t wait to find out,” Louis replies, stepping through the force field. “Now if you could just stay–”

Harry steps through the forcefield.

“Harry!” Louis exclaims.

“Louis!” Harry yelps as Winston lunges for him.

“That was stupid,” Louis says, grabbing his hand and yanking him out of Winston’s grasp.

“Well, you were stupid too!” Harry counters.

“Yeah, well, I’m allowed,” Louis says, pulling Harry up the stairs with him. “I’m good at stupid! You! Why are you still here? Why won’t you–”

“Why are you still here?” Winston parrots, swiping at Harry’s ankles.

“I’m here because I’m not going to leave you when you are in danger!” Harry cries. “You can’t do this all by yourself, Louis, you don’t have to!”

They reach the top of the stairs, Winston following close behind. Louis drops Harry’s hand, looking both ways down the hall.

“We need to get to the roof,” Louis says urgently. “Which–”

“It’s this way,” Harry says, grabbing Louis by the hand and jogging with him down the west corridor.

“Hey, I do the hand grabbing!” Louis protests, matching the pace of Harry’s long legs. “That’s my job, that’s always me, got it?”

“Okay,” Harry beams, stopping at the foot of another staircase and pointing up. “Lead the way then.”

“Thank you, Harold,” Louis winks, clambering up the staircase, still firmly gripping Harry by the hand.

“Thank you, Harold!” Winston echoes, several paces behind them.

Louis runs over to a window, throwing it open and climbing through to the snowy roof.

“Harry, come on!” Louis shouts, turning back to see Harry struggling to crawl through the window.

“The tails on this damn jacket,” Harry grits, pulling at the fabric desperately. “They’re stuck on something!”

“They’re stuck on something!” Winston parrots from the base of the staircase.

“Shit, shit, shit,” Louis mutters, running back to Harry and wrapping his arms around his waist, bracing one foot on the window pane and pulling hard. “Come on, Haz, together! One, two, thr–”

The fabric rips and Harry tumbles forward, knocking them both to the ground; Harry lands squarely on top of Louis, his long curls falling down around his face.

“We’ve gotta get you out of that ridiculous suit,” Louis pants, squirming underneath Harry’s weight.

“Well, I’d prefer it if you took me to dinner first, but okay,” Harry giggles, looking down at him.

“You’re ridiculous,” Louis says, rolling his eyes and playfully shoving at his chest.

“So what’s the plan?” Harry asks as he rolls off Louis, extending a hand to help him up once he stands.

“Who says I have a plan?” Louis replies, grasping Harry’s hand and pulling himself up.

“Of course you’ve got a plan!” Harry laughs incredulously. He grabs the umbrella from where Louis dropped it in the snow. “Why else did you bring this?”

“Maybe I’m just an idiot,” Louis grins slyly.

“You’re not though,” Harry says, tossing him the umbrella. “You’re clever, really clever. The cleverest person I’ve ever met!”

“So are you,” Louis counters, throwing the umbrella back to Harry, who catches it. “If I’ve got a plan, what is it? You tell me, Haz.”

“You tell me, Haz!” Winston says from right inside the window.

“Is this some sort of test?” Harry asks.

“Yes,” Louis replies, steepling his fingers under his chin.

Harry looks over at Winston, who’s struggling to get through the window and then looks back at Louis, his green eyes wide.

“What will he do to us?”

“Kill us,” Louis shrugs, keeping his eyes locked on Harry. “Obviously.”

“You tell me, Haz!” Winston shrieks, still struggling. Suddenly, he turns into snow, blowing out the window.

“Jesus!” Harry exclaims as the snow swirls around, slowly starting to reform into a body.

“Come on then, Harry,” Louis urges. “A plan. Do I have one?”

Louis sees something click in Harry’s eyes; he nods, feeling his own smile widen as a grin blooms on Harry’s pretty face.

“I knew straight away,” Harry says smugly, tossing the umbrella back to Louis.

“No, you didn’t,” Louis bounces back, equally smug.

“Of course I did!”

“Then show me,” Louis commands, lobbing the umbrella back.

“Why should I?” Harry asks as he catches it.

“Because we’ll be dead in about 30 seconds,” Louis says simply, looking over to where Winston stands, his body reformed up to his shoulders. “Do I have a plan, Harry?”

“If we were escaping, we would have been climbing down the building,” Harry starts. “If we were hiding, we would have climbed to the other side of the roof by now. But...we’re standing right here, Louis.”

“Yes,” Louis nods, biting back a grin. “So?”

“So,” Harry says, lifting the umbrella over his head, his eyes widening when he hears the handle clang against metal as it hooks over something. “Bloody hell, I’m right,” he cries triumphantly, yanking down on the umbrella, pulling the ladder down out of the sky. “Louis!”

“After you,” Louis beams, gesturing to the ladder.

“Oh no,” Harry insists. “Not after the way you’ve been staring at my bum, Louis. Eyes forward, buddy! After you!”

“I have not been staring at your bum!” Louis protests as he starts up the ladder. “My eyes are always forward.”

“Mine aren’t,” Harry smirks, waggling his eyebrows and eyeing Louis’ arse appreciatively.

“Oi!” Louis cries. “Not the time, Haz!”

“Oh, it’s always the time,” Harry leers, climbing up behind him.

“It’s always the time!” Winston parrots, his body fully reformed. He starts stumbling towards the ladder, his joints working much better than they had previously.

“You,” Harry shouts as he climbs, the ladder slowly retracting up as he goes. “You must have been a shit tutor because Lux has been nothing but a joy for me! You’re dismissed.”

Louis bursts out laughing as he reaches the landing of the spiral staircase.

“That was savage, Haz,” he giggles as Harry joins him.

“Yeah, well,” Harry shrugs with a grin, “it’s true. Wait a minute! You can move your cloud? You can control it?”

“No, don’t be ridiculous,” Louis scoffs, starting up the staircase, Harry following. “No one can control clouds, that’s silly. The wind, now that’s another story.”

The staircase rattles. Harry and Louis look down and see Winston making his way up the ladder.

“He’s following us!” Harry yelps.

“That’s the idea!” Louis exclaims, taking the steps two at a time. “Keep him away from the snow. So...where are you from?”

Now you want to have a chat?” Harry asks incredulously, his long legs helping him keep pace as they climb.

“Well, that thing is after us and we can’t get to know each other after we’ve been horribly killed, can we?”

“True,” Harry replies breathlessly. “I’m from Cheshire originally. Been living here in London for about a year and a half?”

“And did you always want to take care of children?”

“I mean...I love kids and I love taking care of Lux, but what I really want to do is travel. Don’t have the money though. I have been trying to save but–hey, how’ve we made it to the top already? It took me ages last night!”

“Clever staircase,” Louis laughs, aiming the sonic down and blasting a signal. “Taller on the inside! There, that should stop him!”

“How?” Harry asks. “What kind of cloud is this? Is it magic?”

“Just super dense water vapor,” Louis replies. “But since he’s made of ice, it should keep him trapped. For the moment anyway.”

“Do you actually live up here,” Harry asks, stepping off the platform and onto the cloud, “on a cloud in a blue box?”

“I do, yeah,” Louis admits. “I have for a long time.”

“Blimey, you really do know how to sulk, don’t you?”

“I’m not sulking!” Louis protests. “Sod off!”

“Aren’t you though?” Harry counters. “You can do all these amazing things, Louis, and yet you live in a sodding box on a cloud completely removed from everyone else!”

“It’s not just a box, Harry!” Louis exclaims, snapping his fingers and unlocking the doors. “It’s no more a box than you are meant to spend your life caring for other people’s children instead of having your own adventures!”

“What does that even mean, Louis?” Harry presses, following Louis inside the dark room. “I told you I’m doing my bloody best, not everyone has the luxury to just disengage and not–”

Harry falls silent as Louis flips on the lights for the control room, the TARDIS flickering to life, illuminating the cavernous inside with its chrome fixtures and round blue lights on the walls. Harry’s jaw drops as he takes in the staircase that leads to the lower levels and the balcony lined with floor to ceiling bookshelves and chalkboards full of doodles and the massive control console in the center of the room with its column of green light that houses the vortex manipulator. The large concentric dials on the ceiling whir to life as Louis starts punching in commands on the keyboard.

“What is this place?” Harry asks softly, his eyes wide.

“It’s called the TARDIS,” Louis grins, turning and leaning against the lip of the control console. “It can travel anywhere in time and space. And it’s mine.”

“It’s...it’s…look at it! It’s–”

“Go on,” Louis chuckles, crossing his arms over his chest. “You can say it. Most people do, to be honest.”

Harry squeaks, running outside. Louis laughs out loud as he hears Harry laughing, running around the perimeter of the TARDIS. He bursts back inside, his curls a wild halo around his face, which is near split in two by his massive grin.

“It’s smaller on the outside!” Harry cries with delight.

Louis barks a laugh.

“Well, that’s a first!”

“Is it magic?” Harry asks, trotting over to Louis’ side. “Is it some sort of machine?”

“It’s a ship,” Louis states.

“A ship?”

“Best ship in the universe,” Louis says proudly. “All of time and space at your feet, Haz.”

“Is there a kitchen?” Harry asks eagerly.

“That’s another first,” Louis says fondly, adjusting a few dials on the console.

“I don’t even know why I asked that,” Harry says, shaking his head. “It’s just that I like making souffles.”

Louis’ hearts skip a beat.

“Souffles?” he asks cautiously, his hearts now thudding. “Did you just say you like to make souffles?”

“Why are you showing me all of this?” Harry asks curiously, walking towards the door. He leans against the doorframe for a moment, looking out at the starry night sky and then turns around and fixes his piercing gaze on Louis.

“You followed me, remember?” Louis says breezily, breaking Harry’s stare and fiddling with a drawer in the console. He pulls it open, closing his fist around a small silver object, and then sliding the drawer shut again. “What else was I supposed to do? Leave you with the ice man or those snowmen?”

“I mean, you could have,” Harry says. “But you didn’t. Also, in case you haven’t noticed, I’m taller than you.”

“Oh, give me a break! I’m big!”

“Not really, but okay,” Harry grins. “But my point is, on the roof, you said it was a test. What kind of test? If anyone really needed that umbrella it would have been you. I could have reached the ladder on my own, if you had just told me it was there–”

“Yes, and your butter fingers wouldn’t have caught it straight away and we didn’t really have time for that,” Louis laughs, walking towards Harry. “I saw footage from last night and this afternoon, Haz. Can’t believe you actually managed to catch the ladder on your own that one time.”

“You knew I was here last night?”

Louis nods, stepping into Harry’s space.

“How? Why didn’t you say–”

“Zayn told me to look at the security footage,” Louis says simply.

“So why all the theatrics then?” Harry asks.

“I’m sorry, what?” Louis questions, taken aback.

“If you knew I was here last night, then why are you having me jump through all these hoops, Louis?”

“I’m not–”

“You are though,” Harry protests, taking a step back. “It’s like there’s this push and pull with you, and I don’t get it. One minute you’re telling me to have a nice life and stay out of trouble and then the next you’re bringing me up here to a cloud and telling me that you have a bloody time machine and I just...I don’t know what you want, Lou, because you never say what you really mean and I...I just want to know why.”

Louis takes Harry’s hand, turning it so it rests in his hand palm up. He gently places a small silver key in Harry’s palm and then looks up at him through his eyelashes. Harry inhales sharply.

“I never know why,” Louis says softly, folding Harry’s fingers over the TARDIS key. “I only know who.”

“What’s this?” Harry asks, his eyes suddenly shimmering with tears.

“Me. Letting you in.”

The tears spill over and Harry laughs wetly.

“I don’t even know why I’m crying!”

Louis smiles, tucking a long curl behind Harry’s ear. He leans in and presses a quick but gentle kiss to Harry’s lips.

“Remember this moment, Hazza,” Louis says. “This right now, all of it. This is the day it all begins.”

“Yeah, don’t think I’ll be forgetting anytime soon, Lou,” Harry affirms.

Louis beams, poking Harry’s dimple, and then scampers back over to the console, leaving Harry standing in the doorway, gazing at him with an awed expression.

“All of time and space, Harry!” Louis declares, flipping some buttons and pulling a lever. “When we get out of here, I’m gonna show you the stars. What do you want to see first?”

“What do you want to see first,” Winston echoes with a shriek, bursting into the TARDIS and wrapping his icy arms around Harry’s torso, dragging him out the door.

“Louis!” Harry yelps, struggling against him. “Louis, help!”

“Shit!” Louis exclaims, scrambling after them, tripping over his feet in his haste. “Harry!”

“Harry!” Winston parrots. “Harry!”

“Get the fuck off of me!” Harry shouts, fighting desperately. “Lou!”

“Fuck, water vapor doesn’t stop ice,” Louis groans, aiming the sonic at Winston’s shoulder. “Why didn’t I realize? Hazza, you gotta stop moving, love, I don’t want to hurt you!”

“I don’t want to hurt you,” Winston repeats, dragging Harry closer and closer to the edge of the cloud.

“Let him go!” Louis shouts. “Please, you don’t want him! You can have me! I’m the one you want, take me!”

“Louis, please,” Harry cries desperately, tears rolling down his face. He tries to reach out to Louis, but Winston keeps his arms pinned to his side. “Please, help me!”

“Let him go!”

Louis finally gets a clear shot and blasts the sonic, the signal taking a chunk out of Winston’s shoulder, the creature howling in pain. Harry manages to wrest one of his arms free, reaching towards Louis, who already has his arm extended.

Their fingers brush as Winston steps off the edge of the cloud, taking Harry with him.

“Harry!” Louis yells, falling to his knees, flailing forward as he tries to catch him.

“Lou!” Harry calls, his eyes locked with Louis’ even as he plummets. “Lou, I’m sorry!”

“Harry!” Louis howls in agony. “God, Harry, no!”

********

A thud sounds outside the house. Zayn startles, rushing to the window, along with the rest of the small group crowded in the study.

“What was that?” Liam asks over his shoulder.

“I don’t know, do you see anything?” Zayn replies.

Lux screams suddenly, pointing to a heap in the courtyard among the snowmen. Zayn’s heart sinks as he realizes what – or rather, who – she is pointing to. He pulls out his scanner, turning it on and scanning the courtyard for vital signs.

There are none.

“Oh, Christ,” Niall groans, his hand flying to his hair. “Christ, Zayn, it’s Harry.”

“My God!” Atkin gasps. “Dear Lord, where did he fall from?”

“Were they on the roof?” Alice asks timidly, looking up. “That’s the only place–”

“We have to go get him!” Atkin exclaims, marching to the door.

“Stay where you are!” Zayn orders. “Those things will kill you if you go outside!”

“We can’t just leave him out there!” Louise cries, crushing a sobbing Lux to her chest. “He’s hurt!”

“He’s dead,” Zayn says to Liam quietly, showing him the scanner. All the color drains from Liam’s face.

A groaning sound comes from outside; Zayn and Liam look up to see the TARDIS materializing around Harry’s body.

“It’s Louis!” Liam gasps.

As quickly as it appeared, the TARDIS dematerializes, taking Harry’s body with it. The groaning sound rings out again, this time inside the study.

“Clear!” Zayn shouts. “Everyone in this corner of the room, he’s bringing him inside.”

The outline of the TARDIS starts to appear in the corner of the room. Once it’s solidified, Zayn lunges for the door, throwing it open.

“Lou!” Zayn shouts as he comes inside.

“Over here!” Louis sobs. “Zayn, help me!”

Zayn runs around to the other side of the console, Niall and Liam close behind him. He finds Louis on the floor, cradling Harry’s body in his arms. A golden light engulfs Louis’ hands as he places them on Harry’s chest.

“Oh, Lou,” Zayn breathes.

“Come on, love,” Louis murmurs, kissing Harry’s temple. “Come on, wake up! You can do it.”

“Regeneration energy?” Niall asks over Zayn’s shoulder. “Louis, you know it doesn’t work the same on humans–”

“It’ll wake him up,” Louis states, tears streaming down his face. “That’s all we need and then you can help him, right? Say you can help him! Please.”

“I’ll do my best,” Niall says grimly. “My spare kit is in the closet on the lower–”

“Already got it!” Liam calls, slamming the closet door and clambering up the small set of stairs.

“I’ll go get set up,” Niall mutters to Zayn. “I don’t know what I’ll be able to do, but I’ll sure as hell try.”

“Lou,” Zayn says urgently, gently touching his shoulder. “Louis, you’re gonna deplete yourself and we need you. Cowell and the snowmen are still here. You have to stop–”

“Shut the fuck up!” Louis hisses, jerking away. “Just a little bit more, I have to, I have to save–”

“Lou?” Harry groans weakly.

The golden light fades from Louis’ hands as he clutches him close.

“There you are, love,” Louis murmurs, brushing the hair from his forehead. “I’ve got you, you’re going to be okay, Hazza.”

Harry moans in agony.

“I know, love, I know it hurts. Niall’s gonna help you.”

Louis struggles to pick him up, looking up at Zayn helplessly. Zayn crouches by his side; he scoops Harry up in his arms with ease.

“Be careful! Don’t jostle him!”

“I won’t, I won’t,” Zayn placates, carefully hitching Harry in his grasp as he walks him out of the TARDIS. “Where should I put him?”

“Over here, Zayn,” Liam calls. “We’re almost ready.”

Zayn walks out of the TARDIS and over to the corner of the study, where Niall and Liam have pulled out the chaise lounge. He gingerly lays Harry out on top of it, trying to be mindful of his injuries. Harry whimpers softly. Niall gently places a silver band over his forehead and flips a switch; a ball of red light hovers over Harry’s torso, scanning it. Zayn watches Niall carefully as he studies the readings and then looks over his shoulder to see Louis, his face pale and tearstained, leaning against the TARDIS. Harry moans, a tear sliding down his cheek.

“I know, Harry,” Niall soothes, mixing a tonic. “Just give me a second, okay? This will make you feel better.”

“What is all of this?” Atkin asks quietly. “Is it going to help him?”

“This technology has capacities and abilities that go above and beyond anything you could possibly understand,” Zayn explains. “Try not to worry.”

He looks back to Niall, who has a grim expression on his face as he subtly shakes his head at Zayn. Zayn sighs heavily, massaging his temples.

“Drink this, Harry,” Niall says quietly, handing the glass to Liam, who gently props Harry up, bringing the cup to his lips. “Good lad,” he mutters as Harry drinks obediently.

Harry drinks the entire tonic and then slumps back, completely spent. Niall slides a cuff over his wrist, removing the band from his forehead, tenderly brushing Harry’s hair back with a sad smile. Harry smiles back, taking a shuddery breath and nodding as Niall busies himself with his instruments.

“Harry?” Lux says quietly, appearing by Zayn’s side. She kneels, taking one of Harry’s large hands in hers.

“Hi, love,” Harry rasps, weakly squeezing her hand.

“Does it hurt? Like it hurt when I fell out of my treehouse?”

Zayn can see that Harry is debating whether or not to lie to the little girl, but eventually he nods, a tear rolling down his cheek. Lux reaches out and wipes the tear away, kissing his cheek.

“Does that make it feel better?”

“It does,” Harry smiles weakly. “Thank you.”

“I’ll stay right here,” she promises, resting her cheek on his hand. “Don’t be scared.”

“How can I be when you’re here?”

Zayn steps away in the name of giving them a little privacy.

“Zayn?” Harry asks, stopping him.

“Yes?” He asks, turning back to see both Harry and Lux looking up at him.

“Where’s Louis?”

Zayn looks back over to the TARDIS, his heart breaking when he realizes that Louis is no longer there.

“He just stepped out for a minute, H,” Zayn says placatingly. “He’ll be right back.”

Harry nods, closing his eyes and sighing.

Zayn walks over to Niall, who’s bent over his equipment, his head in his hands.

“How is he really?” Zayn asks quietly.

“His injuries are catastrophic,” Niall replies, equally quiet. “There isn’t anything I can do to help him other than keep him comfortable until...well...you know.”

Zayn nods, swallowing back the rush of emotion that surges through him.

“You should get Louis,” Niall says. “He doesn’t have much time.”  

********

In the TARDIS console room, Louis sniffles, swiping at his face as he picks up the shards that used to make up the ice man. He focuses all of his energy on scanning them individually with the sonic, trying to glean as much information from them as possible as he sorts out his next move.

Because there has to be a next move. Cowell is still out there, after all, and he needs to be stopped. And because as long as he’s focusing on this, he doesn’t have to focus on what’s happening in the study. If he allows himself to think about what’s going on in the study, he’s going to fall to pieces. Every time he closes his eyes, he sees Harry’s terrified face as he fell over the edge of the cloud. His cries for help won’t stop ringing in Louis’ ears. Louis closes his eyes and takes a few deep breaths, willing the knot in his stomach to go away.

Wallowing isn’t going to save Harry. And goddammit, he’s going to save Harry.

He has to.

Louis hears the door snick open. He steadfastly ignores Zayn’s presence, continuing to scan the crystals, tossing them in an empty metal box once he’s done with them.

“Is the creature still a danger?” Zayn asks cautiously. “He could still reform, yes?”

“Not in here he can’t,” Louis clips, tossing another piece in the box.

“Then you should be with Harry, Louis. He’s asking for you.”

“He’s going to be fine, I know he is,” Louis insists. “He has to be.”

“Louis,” Zayn says delicately. “His injuries...Niall called them catastrophic. His equipment can keep him alive for a while but...Lou...there’s no coming back from that. He doesn’t have much time left, you should–”

“Don’t fucking tell me what I should do!” Louis explodes. “It was my fault, don’t you get it? Harry was my responsibility! I had a duty of care and I failed him, Zayn! I’m the reason he’s lying in there in pain! Me!”

“It was an accident, Louis,” Zayn counters. “An accident. Harry doesn’t blame you, so what’s the point in blaming yourself?”

“None,” Louis says defiantly, snapping the lid over the box. “Because he’s going to live.”

He strides out of the TARDIS, handing the box to Liam, who’s standing by the door. His steps falter a bit as he sees Harry laid out, his eyes closed and his face pale; Lux is crouched beside him, gently petting his hair. She looks up at him as he carefully sits on the side of the chaise.

“He’s just sleeping,” she says softly, scooting away. “Are you going to help him, Doctor?”

Louis nods. Lux appears to be satisfied, getting up and walking over to her mother, crawling in her lap. Louis looks down at Harry; his face is peaceful, the tonic Niall gave him having kicked in at last. He takes one of Harry’s hands in his, pressing it to his chest as he gently caresses his face with the other. Harry hums softly, his eyes blinking open as he leans into Louis’ touch.

“Lou,” he murmurs.

“Hello, love,” Louis says softly, pressing his thumb where Harry’s dimple normally appears.

“They all think I’m going to die, don’t they?”

“And I know you’re going to live,” Louis smiles, carefully tucking a curl behind his ear.

“How do you know that?”

“I never know how,” Louis says, reaching into his pocket. He pulls out the TARDIS key, kissing it and then pressing it into Harry’s palm, kissing it again as he folds Harry’s fingers over it. “I only know who.”

Harry smiles beatifically, his eyes sliding shut as he shifts a little closer to Louis. Louis studies him, gently tracing soothing patterns over their linked hands.

“Zayn said you were a saver of worlds once,” Harry says after a moment, his eyes fluttering open. He looks up at Louis, his eyes hazy yet completely focused at the same time. “Will you save this one, Louis?”

Louis sighs, blinking back tears. Harry frowns, squeezing his hand encouragingly. Louis bends down, nuzzling Harry as he rests their foreheads together.

“If I do,” he whispers. “Will you come away with me, Haz?”

“Yes,” Harry answers softly. “Of course I will.”

“Well then,” Louis replies, gently kissing Harry on the forehead. “I best get to it then, eh?”

“I’ll wait right here,” Harry jokes weakly.

“You do that,” Louis chuckles, kissing his hand again and then releasing it. He stands, straightening his spine as he smooths down the lapels of his jacket. He goes to Liam, plucking the box from his hands with a wink before he leaves the room, striding confidently to the front door and throwing it open. Cowell stands in the front yard, surrounded by snowmen.

“The ice man has been destroyed,” he announces.

The snowmen howl, their mouths twisting as snow blows from them. Simon holds a hand up, silencing them.

“However, I have pieces of him,” Louis taunts, holding the box up. “Everything you need to know about making ice people is right here in this box. Is that what you want? See you at the office then.”

He slams the door and heads back into the study, marching straight to the TARDIS.

“Zayn, you’re with me. Liam, stand guard. Niall, take care of Harry. Let’s end this, once and for all.”

“So then, Louis,” Zayn says, following him into the TARDIS and locking the door. “Saving the world again? Might I ask why?”

“You know why,” Louis replies, punching in coordinates and throttling up the vortex manipulator, the TARDIS groaning as it comes to life.

“Are you trying to make some sort of deal with the universe?” Zayn asks, gripping the edge of the console for balance as the TARDIS takes off. “Do you think if you save the world, it will let Harry live?”

“Yes!” Louis exclaims fiercely. “And don’t you think, after all this time and after everything I’ve done...everything I’ve lost...don’t you fucking think I’m owed this one?”

“I don’t think the universe makes bargains, Lou. That’s not how it works.”

“But it was my fault, Zayn,” Louis says through clenched teeth.

“Well then,” Zayn says, his amber eyes serious as he claps him on the back. “We best get to saving the world then.”

Louis nods grimly as the TARDIS lands with a shudder. Zayn picks up the metal box containing the fragments.

“Are you really going to just hand them over? Just like that?”

“Please,” Louis scoffs, sliding a drawer open and pulling out a box identical to the one containing the fragments. “Who do you think I am?”

Zayn grins, unlocking the door.

“After you then, Doctor,” he says.

Louis smirks, patting him on the shoulder as he passes by.

Simon’s office is dark and quiet. Louis walks over to the desk, plopping down in the chair and kicking his feet up as he switches on a lamp illuminating the room. He stares at the giant globe in the center, the snow dormant. Zayn stands by his side, his hand on the hilt of the sword at his hip. Louis flips a switch on the control panel next to the desk; electricity crackles and the globe illuminates, the snow swirling to life, but remaining silent.

A few minutes later, Simon bursts into the room, scowling when he sees Louis sprawled at his desk.

“I believe you promised us something,” Simon demands. “Where is it?”

“Big guy over here’s been pretty quiet while you’ve been away,” Louis says, pointing over to the globe. “Which, to be honest, is to be expected, considering who he really is.”

“What are you talking about?” Simon asks with a sneer.

Louis grabs the box and stands, walking over to the globe.

“Know what this is, buddy?” he asks, tapping the metal lid. “I know you want what’s in here!”

“We are powerful,” the deep voice from the globe answers. “But on this planet, we are limited. We need to learn how to take human form. That box–”

Louis pulls out the sonic screwdriver aiming it at the globe; the voice changes in pitch.

“It holds our most perfect replica of humanity,” the voice continues, its pitch going higher and breathier.

“What’s happening to its voice?” Zayn asks nervously.

“Oh, I’m just stripping away the disguise,” Louis replies airily.

“Stop!” the voice commands. “Stop that! Cease, I command you!”

“It...it sounds like a child,” Zayn marvels.

Simon makes a pained noise as he clutches his chest, staggering forward and grabbing the corner to steady himself.

“Of course it sounds like a child, it is a child,” Louis declares, pocketing the sonic. “Simon as a child, if we’re being specific; the snow has no voice without him.”

“Don’t listen to him,” the snow whines. “He’s ruining everything!”

“How long has the Intelligence been talking to you?” Louis asks Simon curiously.

“I was a little boy,” Simon answers weakly. “He...he was my snowman! He talked to me–”

“But the snow doesn’t talk does it?” Zayn interrupts. “It’s just a mirror. The ice man only repeated random things we said.”

“Precisely,” Louis nods. “It just reflects back everything we think and feel and fear.”

“No!” Simon exclaims, his voice pitching up until it’s almost child-like, his posture changing completely, his feet turning inward as he slumps his shoulders. “He helped me!”

“Helped you? More like manipulated you! Don’t you see that it’s a bloody parasite that played on all your darkest thoughts and deepest fears?”

“No!” Simon shrieks, stomping his foot. “The snowman was my friend! None of the other boys and girls wanted to play with me. They were never nice to me, never listened to what I wanted to do. The snowman, though! He did! He told me they were silly and that I didn’t need anyone else, not since I had him. And he was right, you know, I was better than all of them. I didn’t–”

“Spare me the monologue,” Louis interrupts with exasperation. “You monsters are all the same, you know. You always think you’re so interesting–”

“Don’t!” Simon growls angrily, his posture going back to normal. “You’re the one who thinks he’s so interesting, Doctor! You, who could have all the power in the universe, but instead you choose to live among these puny humans solving their petty little problems. What a waste. You’re pathetic!”

“And you’re really just a hateful little boy who grew up into an even more hateful old man, driven mad by his thirst for power and wicked ambition! Not anymore, Simon! This ends today!”

“We can go on!” the Intelligence protests from the globe. “We can do everything we planned to do!”

“Give it to me,” Simon snarls, lunging at Louis and wrenching the box from his hands.

“Only if you’re sure, though,” Louis shrugs.

“I’ve always been sure,” Simon replies, thrusting his hand in the box.

“Good,” Louis says coldly.

Simon screams as he pulls his hand from the box, the memory worm, the very same one that Louis had threatened to use on Harry what feels like a lifetime ago, clamped on his hand, its sharp teeth sinking deep into the flesh. Simon falls to his knees, looking up at Louis with a horrified expression, all the color draining from his face.

“I’m glad you think so,” Louis says, crouching so he can look Simon in the eyes, “Because your entire life is about to be erased. No parasite without a host! Without you, the Intelligence will have no voice. Without the ice man, it will have no form.”

With a final shudder, Simon collapses dead on the floor.

“That’s for Harry, you fucking bastard,” Louis mutters as he stands to his full height.

“What...what’s happening?” the Intelligence bellows. “What did you do?”

“You’ve got nothing left to mirror anymore,” Louis states, kicking Simon’s prone body. The globe falls silent and the snow stops swirling. “Zayn, let’s go.”

“...Did you really think it would be that easy, you arrogant fool?” the Intelligence asks, whirling back to life.

Louis falters, turning back to the globe, his eyes wide.

“It’s not possible,” he says with confusion. “I killed the host...how is this possible?”

“Look!” Zayn exclaims, running to the window. “The snow! It’s going mad out there!”

“B-but...you were just Simon!” Louis protests. “You’re not real! He dreamed you up, how can you still exist?”

“The dream outlives the dreamer and can never die,” the Intelligence cackles, lightning crackling from the top of the globe, snaking its way towards Simon’s body. “Once, I was the puppet...but now I control the strings!”

“Oh, fuck!” Louis cries as Simon rises from the floor, his face blue and frost crystalizing all over his body.

“I have tried so long to take on human form,” Simon says, cracking his neck and then flexing his fingers. “By erasing Simon Cowell, you have made space for me!”

Simon lunges towards Louis; Zayn leaps in front of him, unsheathing his sword. He takes a swing, his eyes widening in surprise when the metal clangs off his shoulder, not harming him in the slightest. Simon grabs Zayn by the throat and then tosses him like a rag doll, his body crashing into a row of bookcases.

“Zayn!” Louis shouts in terror, scrambling back, the backs of his thighs hitting the desk. He tries to get away, but Simon’s ice cold hand closes around his throat. Louis grabs his wrist with both of his hands, struggling valiantly, however Simon’s otherworldly strength overpowers him.

“More than snow,” Simon says menacingly as Louis falls to his knees. “More than Cowell...even this pathetic old body is strong when it’s in my control.”

“Fuck...you,” Louis gasps, his head spinning as Simon pushes him all the way to the floor, laying him out flat.

Simon’s mouth curls in a malevolent smirk as he strokes a finger down Louis’ cheek. Louis screams in pain, the icy touch like fire on his skin.

“Do you feel it, Doctor?”

Louis howls as Simon grabs his entire face with both hands, both burning and freezing him at the same time; steam rises from his skin, Louis watches in horror as his hands start to turn blue as all of the heat leaves his body.

“Winter is coming,” Simon cackles. “Winter is coming!”

********

“Come on, boys,” Liam murmurs from his post at the window, where he can see the snowmen rapidly multiplying, the snow flying in a whipped frenzy. “Something’s gotta give!”

“The snowmen are growing,” Captain Atkin says grimly as he joins Liam. “Do you have anything in that bag of yours that can stop them?”

“A few more of these grenades but that’s it,” Liam admits. “They won’t stop them for good though. It’s up to Louis and Zayn now.”

Harry moans from his place on the chaise, his breathing getting more and more labored, the painful rattling in his chest audible in the room.

“C’mon, Harry,” Niall urges, gripping his hand tightly, “you have to fight! Just hang on and fight, lad, you can do it! Louis will be back soon, I promise.”

“Niall, isn’t there anything else you can give him?” Liam asks gently, walking over to the chaise. “He’s in pain.”

“I just gave him a hell of a lot of morphine,” Niall says helplessly, tears sparkling in his eyes. “I can’t...I can’t help him anymore. I’m sorry.”

“S’okay, Niall,” Harry slurs. “You did your best.”

“I’m so sorry, Harry,” Niall chokes out, his tears spilling over.

“Harry?” Lux says, tears streaming down her face as she crawls over to his side, taking his hand. “It’s okay. You can let go.”

“R-remember the first th-thing I taught you, Luxie?” Harry asks weakly.

“Treat people with kindness,” Lux says solemnly.

“D-do you think you can always do that for me?”

Louise cries audibly from her chair; Atkin moves to stand behind her, tears streaming down his own face while Alice sobs into her handkerchief.

“Yes, Harry, of course,” Lux replies earnestly through her tears. “I promise.”

Niall stands and walks over to the desk where all of his supplies are laid out, clenching his fist over his mouth as he tries to hold back his sobs.

“Good girl,” Harry says softly, squeezing her hand.

They all sit in silence, sniffles and quiet sobs the only sound in the room.

“Louis,” Harry whispers, a single tear rolling his cheek.

Liam turns away, wiping the tears from his face.

Insistent tap-tap sounds start pelting the window, slowly at first, but quickly picking up in pace.

Liam looks up, his eyes widening.

It’s starting to rain.

********

Louis struggles against Simon’s grip with all his might, his strength rapidly diminishing as the ice starts to spread through his body. Behind him, suddenly all the snow in the globe turns to water, splashing against the glass in a big burst. Simon falls away from him, rolling to his side with a howl of pain.

“What’s happening?” Simon screeches. “What is happening to me?”

Suddenly, Simon goes completely still, his eyes rolling back in his head.

“Louis,” Zayn exclaims, sitting up and shaking himself off. He runs over to Louis, shoving Simon’s prone body aside. “Louis, look! The globe! All of the snow...it’s turned to rain. Look!”

Louis sits up slowly, his face burning as all the heat rushes back into his body. He looks at his hands, his jaw dropping as they pinken right back up and then he looks down at Simon’s body as Zayn takes his pulse.

“He’s dead,” Zayn reports. “Like, proper dead this time. What the bloody hell just happened?”

“The snow mirrors,” Louis rasps, grasping Zayn’s hand as he pulls him to his feet. “It’s mirroring something else now. Something so strong it’s drowning everything else.”

Rain splatters against the window. Louis’ hearts pound as he looks at Zayn, who matches his somber expression. They run over to the window, throwing it open and thrusting their hands out into the rain.

“There was a critical mass of snow at the house,” Louis says with a sense of foreboding. “Something must have happened there, Zayn.”

Louis catches some rain in his palm, bringing it to his lips and licking it; Zayn does the same.

“It’s salty,” Zayn muses, looking at Louis. “Salty rain?”

“It’s not raining,” Louis says. “It’s crying. The only force on Earth that could drown the snow...an entire family...crying...shit, Zayn, it’s Harry! We have to go!”

Louis runs into the TARDIS, Zayn following close behind. He slams on the throttle, the TARDIS wheezing as it dematerializes.

“Please don’t let me be too late,” Louis mutters to himself. “Please.”

The TARDIS groans as it materializes back in the study. Louis sprints to the door, throwing it open.

“I’m sorry, Lou,” Niall says, looking up at him from where he’s bent over the desk, his eyes red-rimmed. “I couldn’t...there was nothing I could do. I think he has moments left.”

Louis swoops over to the chaise, sitting next to Harry and taking his hand. He gently sweeps the hair back off of Harry’s face, smiling down at him. Harry’s eyes flutter open.

“We saved the world, Harry,” Louis says softly. “You and me. We really, really did. Well...you did. None of this would have happened without you, love.”

“Will you go back to your cloud?” Harry asks weakly.

“No,” Louis murmurs, pressing a kiss to his hand. “No more cloud. Not anymore.”

“That’s good, Lou,” Harry sighs, taking a labored breath. “You don’t belong up on a cloud. Too special.”

“I could never go back there,” Louis whispers, tears in his eyes. “Not when you...you made it rain, Hazza.”

Harry nods, his eyes sliding shut. Louis shuffles down, resting his head against Harry’s chest. He gently traces his fingers over Harry’s heart.

“We...we had some good times,” Harry breathes.

Louis looks up, brushing a tear away.

“What?”

Harry’s eyes flutter open, locking on Louis.’

“...Didn’t we?”

“What did you just say?” Louis asks, wiping his eyes. “Harry!”

Harry smiles serenely, his eyes sliding shut for the final time. His hand goes limp in Louis.’

He’s gone.

********

Louis clutches a bouquet of white roses in his hands, watching the funeral from a short distance; Zayn, Liam, and Niall stand at his side, all of them dressed in their finest black suits, Zayn’s face hidden behind his veil. The ceremony is winding down, the small gathering paying their last respects at Harry’s grave.

As they wait, Louis notices Zayn watching him through his veil out of the corner of his eye.

“What about the Intelligence?” Zayn asks, breaking the silence. “Melted with the snow, you think?”

“No, I shouldn’t think so,” Louis says darkly, grateful for the momentary distraction.

“How is that possible, Louis?” Liam asks. “It doesn’t even have a body anymore, thanks to you. Simon Cowell is gone. Even if the Intelligence did survive somehow, it has to be weakened, if not completely incapacitated. It’s totally alone.”

“And that’s what makes it dangerous,” Louis replies grimly. “I’m going to need you three to be on constant lookout for any signs of the Intelligence’s return, okay? I highly doubt we’ve seen the last of it.”

Louis looks over to Harry’s grave, which is covered in flowers; the last of the mourners are gone.

“Come on,” Louis says softly. “Let’s pay our respects.”

“What about you, Louis?” Niall asks, linking his arm through his as they walk forward. “What are you going to do?”

“I’ve gotta get off this planet for a while,” Louis sighs as they approach the gravestone. “Clear my head for a bit before I get back into things.”

“And you are going to get back into things?”

“It’s what Harry wants,” Louis says simply. He realizes his mistake after a moment, the weight of it settling painfully in his chest. He determinedly looks straight ahead, not making eye contact with his friends, as he corrects himself. “It’s what he wanted. And it would be disrespectful to Harry’s memory if I–”

Louis falls silent, dropping the bouquet to the ground as he takes in the shiny new headstone.

“Louis?” Niall asks with concern. “Are you okay?”

“I never knew his full name,” Louis gasps, falling to his knees in front of the grave. He reaches out, tracing the black letters with his fingers.

Harry Edward Styles.

“Styles,” Louis breathes.

“Run, Louis! I just took down the force field. The Daleks in the spaceship are about to launch their attack. You need to get the fuck out of here. And remember me, yeah? I’m Ensign H.E. Styles, lone survivor of the S.S. Manchester. I fought the Daleks and I am human!”

“Souffle Boy?” Louis whispers in awe. “It...it was you? It was you!”

“Lou? What are you saying?” Niall asks.

“It was Souffle Boy! Again!” Louis cries.

“Who is–”

“I never saw his face with the Daleks,” Louis barrels on excitedly, “but his voice...it was so familiar and I couldn’t figure out why!”

“Thank you,” Louis murmurs finally. “I’ll never forget this.”  
“Yeah well,” the boy says ruefully. “We had some good times, didn’t we?”

“Oh, fuck!” Louis exclaims, his hands flying to his hair. “I met him on Gallifrey, too!”

“Louis?” Liam asks worriedly. “What are you talking about?”

Louis rushes to his feet, grabbing Liam’s face in his hands and smacking a kiss to his cheek.

“The same man, Liam! The same man three different times! On three different planets no less! Holy shit!”

“What are you talking about, Louis?” Zayn asks curiously. “What is happening?”

“Something’s going on, Zee, something...impossible! Something...oh holy shit, I can’t believe it. This...this isn’t the end for us! It can’t be!”

Louis darts off in the direction of the TARDIS, leaving his friends staring at him in bewilderment.

“Where the fuck are you going?” Niall asks.

“You three stay there!” Louis orders as he stops, turning around and pointing at them. “Don’t move an inch!”

“Are you planning on coming back?” Zayn questions, lifting up the veil, a smile on his face.

“No, I shouldn’t think so!”

“But where are you going?” Liam asks.

“I’m going to find him!” Louis cries, giddy with excitement. “I’m going to go find Harry!”

“B-but Harry’s dead?” Liam says, scratching his temple.

“No,” Louis states, smiling so hard his cheeks hurt. “No, I don’t think he is! Not really.”

“Perhaps the universe makes bargains after all, eh, Lou?” Zayn grins.

“Perhaps it does!” Louis laughs, turning and running towards the TARDIS. “Don’t wait up for me, boys! I was kidding before, you can move!”

Louis breathlessly flings the door to the TARDIS open, slamming it shut behind him.

“Harry Edward Styles,” Louis declares, punctuating each name with a flip of a switch. He spins the monitor around, a freeze frame of Harry climbing the ladder appearing on the screen. “You impossible boy! We’ll have some good times, won’t we, love?”

Chapter Text

Holmes Chapel, England. 1999.

The thing about looking for one person across the whole of time and space is that it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack. Louis didn’t even know where to start when he left his friends in Victorian London, so he just let the TARDIS lead the way; she always takes him where he needs to go. So he flits around the galaxies, the TARDIS picking different centuries and different planets every time. Louis looks for Harry everywhere he goes, hoping that the universe will somehow place him in Harry’s path. While it never happens (yet. It’s never happened yet ), what does happen during his search is that he learns how to become the Doctor again after hiding away for so long. He gets into scrapes and close calls over and over again, but he always manages to save the day, just like he’s always felt he was destined to.

Louis has no idea how long he spends traveling around looking for Harry, but it’s almost irrelevant, really. From a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint, time actually is more of a big ball of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey...stuff.

But he’s never going to stop looking for Harry’s face in the crowd. It’s always the first thing he looks for any place he goes, and he desperately clings to the hope that somehow he’ll find the boy again.

He has to.

Louis even goes so far as going back to the exact same side street, back where he first saw Harry in 1892. He varies the years, of course, but the street stays the same, even as its surroundings change. He ponders just camping out there to wait for him, in the hope that Harry will just come walking around the corner one day. He knows that’s ridiculous, but he’s also starting to run out of ideas.

He tries not to give up. Some days are harder than others though. There are some days where he’s certain that he’s made the whole thing up. It’s an impossible concept, running into the exact same person, losing the exact same person, the exact same person being perpetually just out of his reach. Louis tries to explain it all away, tries to convince himself that maybe the Ensign Styles was just one of Harry’s descendants. But when he does some digging into Harry’s family tree, he learns that Harry was the only son in a long line of only sons, the line dying out after Harry passed in 1892. And even if Styles and Harry had been related, it still doesn’t explain Harry’s presence on Gallifrey. Humans just don’t show up on Gallifrey uninvited.

So that takes him back to the beginning: something he can’t explain, but knows in his hearts to be true.

Harry is out there somewhere waiting for Louis to find him again.

His impossible boy.

Louis snaps out of his thoughts when he feels the TARDIS shudder as she lands; he almost forgot that she’s been running in auto-pilot mode. Grabbing his navy Adidas jacket from where it hangs over the railing, he strides over to the door, wondering what the TARDIS has in store for him today. He pushes the door open, squinting when he’s met with bright sunlight. He blinks a few times, willing his eyes to adjust quickly. Once they do, he looks around, shielding his eyes with his hand, trying to figure out exactly where and when he is.

He’s in a park somewhere; he’s surrounded by trees, and the grass is a bright green under his blue trainers. Louis hears the squeals of children to his left, smiling when he turns and sees a playground. Wandering over to the fence surrounding it, he listens to the delighted voices as the children take their turn down a slide coming from a massive pirate ship in the middle and deduces that he’s somewhere in England (which he should have known straight away, really, the TARDIS has always shown a fondness for England) probably around the turn of the twenty-first century.

Louis rests his arms on the fence, watching the kids play while the mums and a handful of dads sit on the surrounding benches, absorbed in their own conversations while occasionally checking in on the children. He smiles sadly, an inexplicable sense of melancholy suddenly filling his chest.

Humans. They always look like giants to him.

After a few moments, Louis pulls the gate open, heading straight for the empty swing set, the simple piece of equipment ignored in favor of the brightly painted pirate ship. He plops down on a swing, pushing himself back and up onto his tiptoes and then kicking his legs forward. Pumping his legs a few times to gain some momentum, Louis ponders his surroundings.

He has no idea why the TARDIS brought him to this completely ordinary place on what seems to be a completely ordinary day. There doesn’t seem to be any danger about, so he simply leans back and closes his eyes, enjoying the breeze and the feeling of the sun on his face as he swings back and forth. The TARDIS must be giving him a break from all the running around he’s been doing lately.

As the swing slows, his thoughts inevitably turn to Harry, as they often do. Louis wonders where in the universe he might be, if he’s any closer to finding him. He wonders if Harry’s happy and if he’s been able to do all the things his counterparts have longed to do. He wonders if Harry misses him at all or if Harry even knows he exists. Louis wonders how many other times he may have met Harry and not even realized it, the two of them passing like ships in the night.

He wonders, not for the first time, if this is all a fool’s errand.

Louis is so lost in his thoughts that he doesn’t even see the little boy running towards him, not until a flash of red catapults onto the swing next to him. He looks over as the boy flops face first into the swing, the rubber seat catching around his tummy. Squealing, the boy swings back and forth, holding his feet up off the ground.

“Oops!” the boy giggles.

“Hi,” Louis says kindly. He smiles at his red Manchester United jersey, the name Beckham and the number seven emblazoned on the back in white.

Definitely the late nineties then.

“I went the wrong way,” the boy giggles again, light and airy, his large green eyes glittering with delight.

“Or you maybe went the right way. That looks fun.”

“It is,” the boy replies, stopping himself by dragging his scuffed green trainers in the dirt.

The boy slides out of the seat, falling to his knees. He pops up to his feet, brushing himself off and then climbs into the swing seat, the right way this time.

“Your way is fun too, though,” he says, kicking out his little legs as he grips the chains. “But why are you sitting on a swing, mister?”

“Why shouldn’t I be?” Louis challenges.

“Because you’re old!” the boy declares, pumping his legs.

“Yes, that’s true,” Louis chuckles ruefully as he slowly swings back and forth. “That is very true. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be swinging, though. People can swing no matter how old they are.”

“I s’pose that’s true,” the boy says contemplatively, his brow furrowing. “I would be very sad if I couldn’t swing anymore. I love swinging!”

They swing in silence for a few moments.

“Is he your favorite then? Beckham?” Louis asks.

“Oh, yes!” the boy cries. “He’s brilliant! He’s going to win the cup this year!”

“Do you know that I taught him everything he knows?”

The boy stops swinging his legs, looking over at Louis curiously as the swing’s momentum stutters. Louis grins and the boy bursts out laughing.

“Did not!”

“Did too,” Louis counters.

“Did not!”

“Did too!”

“You’re silly,” the boy states, rolling his eyes.

“I am that,” Louis laughs. “Nothing wrong with silly.”

“My mum says I shouldn’t talk to strange people,” the boy confides, stretching his legs so that his toes drag in the dirt, slowing him down.

“Ah, she’s very smart, your mum. You should listen to her.”

“Are you strange?” the boy asks.

“Oh dear,” Louis sighs with exaggeration. “I’m way past strange, I’m afraid.”

“Are you lonely?”

The words hits Louis like a gut punch. He looks over at the little boy, frowning as he observes him. He can’t be more than five; his straight brown hair is in a bowl cut, the thick fringe hanging down to just above his eyebrows. His face is heart-shaped, his features are almost too big for it and the hint of a dimple appears when he smiles.

The boy studies Louis right back, a little crinkle forming between his eyebrows.

“Why would I be lonely?” Louis asks curiously, shuffling his feet.

“Because you look sad,” the boy says innocently. “Have you lost something?”

Louis’ hearts clench.

“...Yeah,” Louis says softly. “I’ve lost something.”

“When I lose something, I go to a quiet place and close my eyes,” the boy says, twisting around in the swing, “and then I can remember where I put it.”

“That sounds like a good plan,” Louis says with a smile.

“I’m always losing things,” the boy sighs dramatically. “I lost my favorite pencil, my socks, and my teddy bear. One time I even lost my mojo!”

“Your mojo?” Louis gasps.

“I got it back though!” the boy giggles as he untwists the chains of the swing, spinning around.

“That’s good, mate,” Louis laughs. “Wouldn’t want to lose your mojo permanently.”

The swing stops spinning, and the boy looks over at Louis.

“What did you lose, mister?”

Louis sighs, scrubbing a hand over his face.

“My friend,” he says sadly.

“You lost a whole person?” the boy squeaks.

“I did,” Louis admits. “I met him three times before and I lost him all those times and now...now I don’t think I’ll ever find him again.”

“Have you been looking for him?”

“Yeah, I have. I’ve been looking everywhere.” Louis blows out a big breath, looking up at the bright blue sky. “I just can’t seem to find him.”

“That’s so sad,” the boy says quietly.

“Yeah, it’s shit, innit?”

“You said shit,” the boy gasps, his green eyes wide.

“Shit, I did, didn’t I? I’m sorry.”

“You said it again,” the boy giggles. “Mum makes Gemma put a quid in a jar every time she swears!”

Louis laughs, emptying out his jacket pockets.

“I’m fresh out of money, mate.”

“It’s okay,” the boy whispers conspiratorially. “I won’t tell anyone.”

“Thanks,” Louis grins, clicking his heels together.

“How are you going to find him?” the boy asks after a moment. “Your friend?”

“I don’t know,” Louis shrugs with a sad smile. “The other times we met, I just sort of...well, I just sort of bumped into him? So I thought maybe if I just wandered around for a bit, I might bump into him again. You know, like destiny or something.”

“That’s rubbish,” the boy says, crinkling his nose, looking like a little disgruntled kitten.

“Yeah, I think it probably is,” Louis sighs, pushing his feet back and then swinging forward. “Hey, maybe I could go find a quiet room and have a good think about it instead.”

“That’s what works for me!” the boy cries, his face brightening. “That’s how you’ll find him, I know it!”

Louis laughs softly. He looks out at the playground, seeing a woman with long brown hair and the same appley cheeks and heart shaped face as the boy. She’s scanning the crowd, a concerned expression on her face.

“Is that your mum?” Louis asks, pointing over to her.

“Yeah,” the boy sighs, climbing off the swing reluctantly. “I’m not supposed to go on the swings without her watching.”

“You’re not?”

“Nope,” the boy replies, popping the p as he smiles mischievously. “But I’m not very good at doing what I’m told.”

“Right terror you must be then, mate,” Louis laughs. “You should go see if she’s all right.”

“I should,” the boy agrees with a sigh and a dramatic roll of his eyes.

“Yes, you should. Go on then.”

The little boy grins and starts to run off towards his mum, but he stops right where the dirt under the swing set transitions to grass.

“Hey mister?”

“Yes, love?”

“I hope you find your friend,” the boy says earnestly.

“Me too,” Louis smiles, kicking his feet together. “Thanks for the advice.”

“You’re welcome,” the boy replies.

The boy looks at him for a moment, chewing his bottom lip as he clearly contemplates something. Finally, he barrels towards Louis, knocking into him and throwing his arms around Louis’ neck and squeezing tightly, resting his cheek on his shoulder.

“Oof!” Louis cries in surprise, hugging him back awkwardly as the swing twists a little.

“Gotcha!” the boy giggles as he disentangles himself from Louis’ embrace. “Goodbye, mister!”

“Goodbye, love,” Louis says, his throat suddenly tight.

Why the fuck does he feel like he’s about to cry?

“Be good for your mum, yeah?” Louis says, ruffling the boy’s hair. “Don’t give her too much trouble.”

“I won’t,” the boy grins, his little dimple popping. “Goodbye again!”

He waves at Louis and then sets off towards his mum, full speed ahead. Louis laughs as he watches the boy crash into his mother, wrapping his arms around her legs.

********

Laughing, Mum leans down and hauls him up into her arms, squeezing him tight.

“You gave me a scare, love,” she admonishes gently. “You know you’re not supposed to run off like that.”

“Sorry, Mum,” he replies, twirling the ends of her hair in his fingers. He looks over her shoulder, waving at the man on the swings. The man smiles, his eyes crinkling at the corners as he waves back. “But guess what? I made a friend!”

“That’s lovely, Harry,” she replies, hitching him in her grip and starting back toward the playground. “Who?”

Chapter Text

London, England. 2018.

Caroline Flack sits at her sleek black desk in her massive corner office at SycoTech, her eyes trained on the two large screens on the opposite wall that display the project’s current progress, a satisfied smirk twisting her blood-red painted lips.

The boss is going to be so pleased with how quickly things are coming together. It’s going better than she ever could have imagined. Caroline studies the confused faces on the monitor, knowing that if she unmuted it, she’d be met with a barrage of voices crying out that they don’t know where they are. She barely restrains a gleeful laugh as she takes in the multitude of panicked faces, all of them under her control; the simplest swipe on her iPad will have them follow her every whim.

She has to give her boss credit for the plan; it’s ingenious really, harvesting them through the wi-fi, given that most people are so dependent on their smartphones and computers that they don’t even notice that they are connecting to the wrong network.

Just so long as they’re connecting in the first place, right?

A timid rapping on her office door interrupts her reverie.

“Yes?” she asks with annoyance.

The door creaks open and her project manager, Richard Griffiths, pokes his head in.

“Do you have a moment to speak with me, Ms. Flack?” he asks, nervous energy practically radiating off him. “It’s of the utmost importance.”

“Yes, come in,” Caroline clips, not even looking up as she grabs her iPad, swiping up on the screen. “I was expecting a status report from you an hour ago, Richard, so you best have a good explanation for the delay.”

She finally looks up at him, arching one of her perfectly manicured brows in disdain.

“There is, ma’am, I promise,” Griffiths replies, his beady eyes darting around the room as a drop of sweat rolls down his temple. “I’ve been running the diagnostics over and over again, you see, and the fact of the matter is...I mean the data doesn’t lie…”

“Get to it,” Caroline snaps. “I don’t have all day.”

Griffiths gulps as he pulls a handkerchief from his pocket, dabbing it on his forehead.

“We’re uploading too many people too quickly,” he says finally. “We’re going to get noticed.”

“Impossible,” Caroline scoffs, flicking through screens on her iPad. “No one has noticed a thing. It’s the genius of the whole plan, Richard. What’s the one thing most people can’t go without in their daily lives? What’s the one thing that keeps people connected, that fuels their obsessive need to share every minute, insignificant detail of their pathetic little lives?”

“...A wi-fi connection?” Griffiths asks tentatively.

“Precisely,” Caroline nods, as she finally pulls up his profile page on the iPad. She frowns and taps her talon-like red fingernails on the the glass screen, noting that both his conscience and paranoia levels are far too high.

“But Ms. Flack–” Griffiths starts.

“You can’t be having second thoughts now, Richard,” Caroline says coolly, dragging her finger down the slider for conscience, bringing it to zero. “If your conscience is suddenly bothering you, think of it this way: We’re preserving living minds in permanent form in the data cloud. It’s like immortality...only fatal. We’re doing them all a favor, truly.”

“My conscience is fine,” Griffiths says flatly.

“Excellent,” Caroline practically purrs. “Because our boss has needs and it’s our duty to meet them.”

“Did you just hack me?” Griffiths warbles, wringing his hands together. “You did, didn’t you? I know what you’re doing on there!”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Caroline replies patronizingly, setting the paranoia level down to zero. “We’re colleagues, Richard, why would I do that? We’re on the same side here. I’m simply trying to help you see reason about moving forward with the project, that’s all.”

“Why would I be expressing doubt? It’s a genius plan,” Griffiths simpers. “In fact, I’m going to propose that we dispatch more of the servers straight away.”

“Good, good,” Caroline says smoothly. “That’s what I want to hear. I’ll be sure to pass the good news along to the boss. SycoTech appreciates your loyalty.”

Akhet. 1203.

Brother Calvin clutches a torch in his hand, his heart pounding as he quickly makes his way through the dark and quiet corridors of the pyramid. His mind reels as he tries to make sense of what exactly is happening and, more importantly, why it is happening. He doesn’t know if it’s some sort of witchcraft or if it’s a sign from the ancient gods. All he does know is that the strange blue box they’ve been guarding has started ringing after months of silence.

Father Paul will know what to do, of that Calvin is certain.

He raps four times in quick succession on the door to the Father’s private chambers and then presses his free hand to his chest, trying to collect himself.

“My son?” Father Paul asks with concern as he pulls the door open.

“Father,” Calvin gasps, still attempting to catch his breath. “Father, the bells of Saint John are ringing!”

“I’d anticipated as much,” the Father nods, securing a crimson cloak over his long gold tunic. “Come with me.”

Father Paul pulls his chamber door shut and takes the torch from Calvin, striding down the hall with confidence; Calvin scurries after him, doubling his normal pace to keep up with the Father’s long strides.

“This is about him, isn’t it?” Calvin asks breathlessly. “The one they call the mad monk, Father?”

“They shouldn’t call him that,” the Father says, a wry smile on his face. “He is most certainly not a monk. The mad part? That’s up for debate.”

They walk in silence for several minutes, Father Paul leading him through the unfamiliar corridors that lead towards the chambers for solitary confinement.

“Is it true what they say about him, Father?” Calvin finally asks.

“Who is the ‘they’ you keep referring to?”

“Brother Oliver and Brother Luke, mainly,” Calvin answers. “They were with you the day he arrived. They say he is not of this world. They say he was going on and on about a man who died twice. How is that possible, Father?”

“Gossip is a sin, my son,” Father Paul reprimands gently.

“Forgive me, Father,” Calvin says contritely.

“However true the gossip may be,” the Father adds with a wink.

“It’s true, then?” Calvin exclaims. “How–”

“He is an old friend of the Brotherhood of Sun Singers,” the Father says serenely. “He saved our entire solar system many years ago, when I was a novitiate like you. He vanquished an ancient god that fed on the souls of the innocent and it is because of him that we live in harmony today. Taking him in when he needed a quiet place of peace and solitude was the least I could do for him, quite frankly.”

“I have heard tales of this savior of worlds,” Calvin says, his voice awed. “I grew up with them, but I thought it was all the stuff of legends. He’s real?”

“As real as you and me, my son,” Father Paul says, arriving at a door and knocking loudly. “And he’s here.”

“Enter,” a voice rasps.

Father Paul pushes the door open and enters the candlelit chamber, Calvin following close behind. A hooded figure sits at a large easel in the center of the room, his body swimming in the large brown habit of the brotherhood. He’s intensely focused on the nearly complete portrait in front of him, his delicate hand flecking gold into the green of his subject’s eyes.

“I’m so sorry to intrude,” Father Paul apologizes, “but the bells of Saint John are ringing. You must answer.”

The man stills, his brush in the air.

“Are you certain?” he asks over his shoulder.

“Y-yes, sir,” Calvin stammers. “Heard them myself. They’re ringing quite insistently, sir.”

The man sets his palette aside, rising and turning to face them as he pulls back his hood to reveal his face.

Calvin gapes at him; he isn’t sure what he was expecting the mad monk to look like, but a man who appears to be about his own age certainly wasn’t it. At first, Calvin can’t believe that this slip of a man is supposed to be a great savior, but as soon as his eyes lock with the man’s piercing blue gaze, a shiver runs down his spine and Calvin just knows. Those eyes are eyes that have seen the whole of space and time.

“Well, that certainly shouldn’t be happening,” the man grins as he sweeps his brown fringe aside, those blue eyes twinkling mischievously. “We should go investigate. And please, call me Doctor.”

********

Holmes Chapel, England. 2018.

Harry sighs in frustration, cradling his iPhone between his ear and his shoulder, listening to it ring and ring as he finishes up the scrambled eggs, spooning them onto the four waiting pieces of toast.

What kind of helpline doesn’t pick up the phone right away?

“Guys, breakfast is ready,” Harry announces, hanging up and immediately hitting redial. “Get it while it’s hot!”

Harry hears the patter of little feet slapping against the hardwood floors over the dial tone; Jackson appears at his side, greedily grabbing his plate.

“Thanks, Uncle Harry,” he chirps as he heads back to his bedroom.

“Jack, you know we’re supposed to eat at the table!” Harry calls after him, pressing his phone to his chest.

“Mum said I have to finish packing!” Jackson protests. “We’re leaving for camp soon!”

“He was playing with his Legos last night instead of packing,” Jackson’s twin Annabel informs Harry from his other side.

“I see,” Harry says, hanging up the phone and placing it on the counter before handing Annabel her plate. “What about you, young lady? Are you all set?”

“Yes,” Annabel replies primly, climbing up into her seat at the table. “I was packed ages ago. Mum’s already taken mine to the car.”

“High five,” Harry grins, slapping her palm and then pouring her a glass of orange juice. “Are you excited for camp, love?”

“I guess,” Annabel answers, nibbling on her toast.

“You guess?” Harry asks, raising his eyebrows. He grabs his egg on toast and his cup of tea and joins her at the table, flipping his laptop closed when he sits. “It’s a whole fortnight away from your mum and boring old me.”

“You’re not boring, Uncle Harry,” Annabel giggles.

“Oh, but I am,” Harry chuckles. “And you’re going to have so much fun at camp, you won’t even miss us.”

They eat in silence for a few moments.

“What if none of the kids like me though?” Annabel asks timidly.

Harry looks over at his niece, his heart clenching as he takes in her big brown eyes and her worried expression. She’s the spitting image of Gemma, just like her twin brother.

“It’s okay to be nervous, Annabel,” Harry says earnestly. “You won’t be the only one worried about making friends though, yeah? Everyone is going to feel that way, especially the first day. Just remember to be your amazing self and to always–”

“Treat people with kindness,” Annabel finishes with a smile. “You always say that, Uncle Harry.”

“That’s ’cause it’s true!”

Annabel rolls her eyes fondly as she polishes off her breakfast.

Harry hears the front door open and shut.

“Annabel, can you go check on your brother?” Gemma asks as she strides into the kitchen. “We need to get on the road.”

“Okay, Mum,” Annabel replies, sliding off her chair and running down the hall, shouting for her twin.

“Your breakfast is over there, Gem,” Harry says, gesturing to her plate on the counter. “Though it’s definitely cold by now. The kettle should still be hot enough if you want more tea.”

“Cold eggs on toast. My favorite,” Gemma says wryly, grabbing her plate and popping it in the microwave. “Thanks for taking care of breakfast, Haz. It was a big help this morning.”

“S’why I’m here,” Harry says easily, gathering his and Annabel’s plates and taking them over to the sink.

“Speaking of that,” Gemma says cautiously, “have you given any more thought to what I said?”

“Gem, I told you,” Harry sighs, “I’m not going anywhere. I’m here as long as you need me.”

“That’s what I’m trying to tell you, Haz,” Gemma says gently, placing a hand on his shoulder. “I don’t know what we would have done without you for the past year. I can’t thank you enough for how you just put your life on hold for us when Peter left–”

“Bastard,” Harry grumbles under his breath.

“He is that,” Gemma agrees with a chuckle, taking her breakfast out of the microwave. “Anyway, Harry, what you’ve done for me and the kids...I’ll never forget it–”

“I was happy to,” Harry interjects fervently. “I’m still happy to, you know that, right? I love being here with you guys.”

“I know that,” Gemma says, equally fervent. “I know, believe me. We’re good now though, Harry. The divorce is finalized, work is going well, the kids are doing well...we’re good. I can handle myself. We have to start doing this on our own. Crazy camp days where I’m too busy to make breakfast aside.”

Harry laughs, gripping his mug of tea in his hands.

“So, what...are you kicking me out?” Harry asks, taking a sip and peering at Gemma over the brim of the mug.

“If I have to,” Gemma says pointedly, taking a bite of her toast. She studies him closely as she chews. “We can talk about it more when I get back from Birmingham, but I’m serious, Haz. I say this with so much love, but it’s time for you to go. You had so many plans for after graduation, I don’t want to hold you back anymore.”

“You’re not!”

“What about the trip you planned and never got to go on? Why not just do it now, Haz? You’re young, you’re single, you’ve always talked about wanting to see the world, ever since we were kids–”

“Jesus, Gem, my tea hasn’t even kicked in yet,” Harry says, massaging his temple. “Can you just lay off?”

“I mean, if you want to stay in Holmes Chapel and continue to waste your potential at the bakery, Robin willed you the bungalow. Mum said it’s yours whenever you want it,” Gemma continues, ignoring his protests.

“That’s another thing,” Harry cuts in. “I can’t just up and quit my job to travel the world, Gem! I have responsibilities.”

“Barbara would say the exact same thing,” Gemma counters, raising an eyebrow. “I know she would. She knows you’re just treading water here, Harry. Don’t you want to re-apply to that pastry course in Paris? She’d want you to take the chance to pursue it as a real career, which you’re not going to get in Holmes Chapel, that’s just a fact.”

Harry sighs, carding his hand through his long curls.

“Yeah,” he says finally. “Yeah, okay. We can talk about it when you get back? Just, let’s not rush it. I don’t want to just up and disappear on the kids like their dad did, okay?”

“Sounds good,” Gemma nods, placing her plate in the sink. “We should get on the road. What are your plans for the day?”

“The wi-fi is all cocked up,” Harry answers. “The guy at the repair shop in town gave me this number for a helpline, but I’ve been calling it all morning and no one’s answered. I’ll keep trying though, I’m sure they’re just busy first thing in the morning. I’ll get it all taken care of before you get back.”

“You’re the best,” Gemma says, tugging him into a hug and pressing a kiss to his cheek. “Thank you.”

“Of course,” Harry replies, squeezing back tightly. He releases her and goes to the stove, clicking the kettle back on so he can make a much-needed second cup of tea.

“Kids!” Gemma calls down the hall. “We need to get going! Come say goodbye to Uncle Harry!”

Annabel and Jackson come running down the hall, Jackson dragging his little suitcase behind him. They both plow into Harry, throwing their arms around his waist.

“Bye, Uncle Harry,” they chorus in unison.

“Aw, munchkins,” Harry says affectionately, ruffling their hair. He untangles himself from their embraces and crouches down to their level. “I’m going to miss you so much! Have fun, okay? Promise to write me letters?”

“We will!” Jackson exclaims.

“All the time,” Annabel says solemnly. “I’ll write you one tonight.”

Harry’s throat feels a little tight as he hugs his nephew and then his niece goodbye.

“Love you,” Harry murmurs, pressing a kiss to the top of Annabel’s head. “Remember what I said, yeah?”

“I remember,” Annabel says softly. “Love you too, Uncle Harry.”

“Okay, okay, let’s go before Uncle Harry turns on the water works,” Gemma says fondly.

“It’s okay for boys to cry, mum!” Jackson pipes up.

“That’s right, Jack, it is,” Harry laughs, wiping a tear away. “It’s very manly for boys to cry, don’t ever forget that.”

“Calm down, I’m only joking, love,” Gemma says to Jackson, ruffling his hair. “You know I love when Uncle Harry cries.”

“Hey,” Harry drawls, jabbing Gemma in the ribs.

Gemma squeals, twisting her body away from him as the twins giggle with delight. She takes Jackson’s suitcase in hand and opens the door; the twins scurry out, racing towards the car.

“Call me when you get there,” Harry says, hugging his sister quickly.

“’Course,” Gemma replies with a grin, tugging one of his curls before she heads outside. “I’ll be back tomorrow night, okay? Then we can hammer stuff out.”

“Sounds good,” Harry says following her out the door.

Harry watches as Gemma wedges the suitcase in the boot of the car. He stands on the stoop, waving goodbye to the twins as Gemma gets in and starts the car. With a toot of the horn, they pull out of the driveway, leaving him alone. Harry sighs as he locks the door, heading back to the kitchen, where the kettle is whistling. He clicks the stove off and grabs his mug, dumping the dregs of his first cup in the sink. He plops in a new tea bag and pours the piping hot water over it. While he lets it steep, he opens up his laptop and clicks on the wi-fi, frowning when their home network still doesn’t connect.

“What the fuck is going on,” he mutters, grabbing his cell phone from the table and immediately hitting the redial button. “It was working fine last night.”

The phone rings and rings and rings.

“Please stay on the line,” Harry mutters, dunking his teabag a few times before removing it from his mug and chucking it in the bin. “Your call is very important to us.”

The phone keeps ringing. And ringing. The sound taunts him, the helpline not even doing him the basic courtesy of placing him on hold. Is this some sort of one-man operation or something?

“You’re not going to defeat me, motherfuckers,” Harry says, squeezing the phone against his shoulder as he adds a splash of milk and a spoonful of sugar to his cuppa. He grabs a spoon, stirring it all together. “So you might as well just answer, ’cause I’m not hanging up. I’m going to keep calling and calling–”

Suddenly, there’s a click on the other end of the line and Harry is so startled by it that the phone slips out of his tenuous grip and clatters to the counter.

“Oops!” he cries.

“...Hi?” a tinny voice rings from the phone’s speaker.

“Shit!” Harry exclaims, fumbling for the phone. “Don’t hang up! I’ve been calling for ages.” He grabs the phone, pressing it to his ear. “Hi! I can’t find the internet!”

“I’m sorry, what are you talking about?” a man, northern from the sound of his accent, answers.

“My internet! It’s gone. Been gone all morning.”

“The internet?” the man says with confusion.

“Yes,” Harry says, rolling his eyes. “The internet! Or really, just my wi-fi network. I mean, there’s no way the entire bloody internet has vanished into thin air, right? So where’s my network gone?”

“It’s twelve-oh-three!”

Harry glances up at the clock over the sink.

“Hmmmm...I’ve got half-past nine? Am I phoning a different time zone?”

“Yeah, you really sorta are,” the man chuckles.

“Shit,” Harry replies, carding a hand through his hair. “I’m almost out of data for the month. Do you think this is gonna max me out?”

“I don’t even want to think about it, mate,” the man huffs. “Listen, where did you get this number?”

“The guy in the shop wrote it down,” Harry frowns, grabbing his mug of tea and taking a sip. “This is the helpline, isn’t it? He said it was the best helpline out there. He actually said it was the best one in the whole universe.”

“What man? Who was he?”

“Dunno,” Harry shrugs. “Just the guy in the repair shop? He had blond hair, I think? Seriously, what kind of helpline is this?”

“I’m not actually–”

“I just want to know what the fuck is going on with my wi-fi,” Harry says, walking over to his laptop and clicking on the wi-fi symbol repeatedly, as if that will do any good. “I’ve got the whole house to myself and the new season of Queer Eye to binge and I can’t really do that if Netflix doesn’t work, so are you going to help me or not?”

“But I’m not...it isn’t...I’m so…” the man trails off, blowing out out a big breath. “Okay, have you turned your computer on and off?”

“I’m not a bloody idiot, mate,” Harry deadpans. “Of course I have!”

“Oi! That’s enough cheek from you! I have to go through all the steps in me manual.”

Harry bites the inside of his cheek, fighting back an amused grin.

“Sorry,” he replies. “What’s the next step?”

“Well...did you click on the wi-fi network?”

“Obviously,” Harry answers, setting his tea aside. “But just for you, since you’re being so helpful, I’ll do it again.”

“I’m touched,” the man quips. “Give it a try then.”

Harry pulls out his seat, settling down as he moves the cursor to the wi-fi icon, all ready to report to the man that nothing is there. However, when he clicks the menu, a strange series of red hieroglyphics appears; the computer screen flickers for a second and the hieroglyphics vanish, the very familiar “GemmaPlusTwo” network taking its place.

“Hey, did you do something?” Harry asks. “The network’s back.”

“Oh yes,” the man replies breezily. “Definitely did...something.”

“Yeah, my computer just did something weird, though? I think it did anyway, it’s entirely possible I’ve been staring at the screen too long.”

Harry clicks on the network, frowning when the password doesn’t automatically populate.

“Shit, what is the password?” Harry mutters, pulling at his bottom lip as he racks his brain for the password.

“You don’t know your password?” the man teases.

“Shut up, I have about a million passwords,” Harry says. “Just gimme a sec to remember which one it...oh! Got it! We, Had,” Harry’s fingers seek out the keys as he says his pneumonic device aloud, “Some, Good, Times, Didn’t, We, zero, two, ze–”

“What did you just say?” the man interrupts, his voice suddenly strained and a little shrill. Harry’s fingers slip over the keys.

“Shit, now you made me mess up,” Harry says, backspacing until the password field is empty. He starts over. “It’s just a way to remember the password, mate. It’s nothing special. We Had Some Good Times Didn’t We zero–”

There’s a click and then the dial tone sounds.

Harry looks down at his phone, frowning when he sees his home screen glowing back at him instead of the call screen.

“Rude,” Harry mutters, typing in the rest of the numbers of the password.

The network connects; Harry swears he sees his screen flicker again, the strange red symbols appearing once more, but they’re gone before he can even truly see them.

Someone pounds at the front door.

“Just a second,” Harry calls, clicking around on his computer, pulling up Netflix.

********

“Ms. Flack, we have another one!” Harry Magee announces.

Caroline walks over to Magee’s desk, her stilettos clicking on the polished tile floor.

“Tell me about him,” she says, leaning over his shoulder and looking at the picture that’s popped up on his screen.

“Harry Styles,” Magee reports. “We’ve got a positive lock on his location, but he looks a little borderline to me. Very clever, but only basic computer skills.”

“Upload him anyway,” Caroline shrugs. “We can splice him with a more advanced set during the process.”

“Very well,” Magee says, his fingers flying over his keyboard. “I’ll dispatch a spoonhead straight away.”

“Magee,” Caroline says derisively. “We call them ‘servers,’ not ‘spoonheads.’ If you refer to them like that one more time, I’ll have to report you to the boss.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Magee answers, chagrined. “Server dispatched. Estimated upload time is ten minutes.”

********

The pounding at the door doesn’t stop. In fact, the pace of the knocks just increases.

“Jesus Christ, I’m coming,” Harry says finally, clutching his mug as he strides to the door. “I hear you, no need to break the damn door down.”

He pulls the door open, revealing a man about his age, dressed in a brown monk’s habit, a manic grin on his face, his chest heaving as if he sprinted here.  

Great. He’s opened the door to a religious fanatic on a mission. When is he going to start remembering to use that fancy security intercom that Gemma installed a few months ago?

“Hello?” Harry asks hesitantly.

“Harry Styles?” the monk pants, catching his breath. “Harry Edward Styles.”

“Erm, that’s me?”

“Harry. Fucking. Styles,” the monk grins, his bright blue eyes crinkling shut as he points at him. “It’s you! Oh my God, it’s really you! Holy shit.”

“Yeah, it’s really me. What do you–”

“Harry!” the monk exclaims. “Harry, it’s me!”

“Me who?”

“The Doctor!”

“Doctor who?”

“Yes, exactly!” the strange man cries, snapping his fingers. “That’s the way to do it, Haz!”

Harry stares at him blankly.

“Oi, come on,” the Doctor replies, tossing his hands in the air. “You have to remember me.”

“Never seen you before in my life, mate,” Harry says simply, moving to close the door. “Now, if you don’t mind, I’m just gonna–”

“Harry, come on, just think! The Doctor!”

“What kind of name is that anyway?” Harry asks, leaning against the door. “Doctor? Doctor who?”

“Actually, you can call me...wait. Sorry. Could you just ask me that again?”

“Could I what?” Harry sputters.

“Ask me that question again,” the Doctor says eagerly.

“Doctor who?”

“Once more with feeling,” the Doctor declares with a fist-pump and a shimmy.  

“Doctor who,” Harry sighs.

The Doctor throws his head back and cackles; Harry refuses to acknowledge how absolutely beautiful this lunatic is when he laughs.

“Sorry, sorry,” the Doctor gasps, coming back to himself. “Do you know I never truly realized how much I enjoy hearing that said out loud? Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Harry replies drily, slamming the door in his face.

“Hey, hey, hey,” the Doctor exclaims, desperately rapping on the door. “Harry, I’m sorry I got distracted! M’name’s Louis–”

“Why did you say it was the ‘Doctor’ then?”

“It’s...it’s a long story and I promise I’ll explain...I just...I really need to talk to you! Please open up, Harry!”

“Go away!” Harry shouts at the door. “I’m not interested in whatever it is you’re selling!”

“I’m not selling anything!” Louis protests.

“So why are you still here? Why are you here in the first place?”

“Because you called me, mate!”

“What?” Harry squawks, storming over to the intercom and flipping on the little screen, peering at Louis, his nose abnormally large due to the way he’s peering into the tiny camera himself. “What are you on about?”

“You were looking for the internet,” Louis explains, adjusting his messy fringe.

“That was you?”

“Of course it was me!”

“How did you get here so fast?” Harry asks skeptically.

“I just happened to be in the neighborhood,” Louis says, taking a step back and pointing at a blue police box behind him. “I was on my mobile.”

“When you say ‘mobile,’” Harry says, “why did you point at that blue box?”

“Because it’s a surprisingly accurate description,” Louis laughs.

Harry’s stomach does a little flip and he can’t explain why.

“Okay, we’re done here,” Harry pronounces, switching off the camera. “Goodbye, Louis.”

“Wait!” he hears Louis shout.

Harry shakes his head, turning and heading towards the living room. He stops dead in his tracks when he hears a creak on the stairs.

“Hello?” he asks, backtracking a little bit. “Who’s there?”

Harry looks up to see Gemma walking down the stairs, a blank expression on her face.

“Gem?” Harry asks carefully. “Did you forget something?”

“I forgot something,” Gemma says emotionlessly.

Harry’s heart starts to race; he takes a step back.

“I didn’t hear you come in,” he says nervously. “Did you use the back door?”

“I used the back door,” she answers, her eyes vacant as she stops on the second step.

“Gem? Wh-what’s going on?”

Harry’s eyes widen in horror as Gemma’s head slowly starts to spin around on her neck, revealing a concave looking dish where the back of her head should be. The same strange red hieroglyphics that Harry saw on his laptop screen are scrolling down the surface, which looks like the bowl of a silver spoon, at a rapid pace.

“What the fu–”

A red light shoots from the spoonhead and Harry collapses to the floor like a rag doll.

********

“Stupid, stupid, stupid,” Louis mutters, yanking the door to the TARDIS open and skulking through the console room. “He’s never known you before, why did you assume that he would know you now? Just because he’s impossible? Idiot.”

He clatters down the stairs, heading down the corridor towards his bedroom. He pushes the door open and goes straight to his overstuffed wardrobe, pulling the brown habit off and chucking it to the floor. He throws the doors open and starts digging through his myriad of clothes.

“Not to mention,” Louis mutters, tossing a purple tracksuit to the floor, “you still look like a bloody monk.” He adds several Adidas jackets to the pile, along with some cozy joggers and ripped skinnies. “Of course he freaked out!”

More clothes wind up on the floor as he searches for the perfect outfit.

“I mean, monks aren’t cool! You gotta look cool,” Louis says. “What looks – oh!”

He grabs a pair of black braces with white polka dots.

“Braces!” Louis cries with delight.

He grabs a fitted pair of black trousers and a simple white button down.

“Braces are cool,” he says decisively, attaching the braces to the trousers before shimmying them on. Moving to his full-length mirror, he shrugs on the shirt, tucking it in and buttoning it all the way to the top. He cuffs the sleeves halfway up his forearms and then pulls the braces up, frowning as he studies his reflection; he undos the top button, nodding with satisfaction.

Definitely cool.

Grabbing a simple pair of black brogues, he sits on the edge of the bed and slides his feet into them, cuffing the bottom of the trousers to show off his ankles. He goes back to the mirror, running his fingers through his hair until it looks artfully mussed. Giving his fringe one last sweep to the side, Louis grins as he checks out his reflection again.

Definitely, definitely cool.

Grabbing the discarded habit from the pile of clothes, he fumbles around for his sonic screwdriver, sliding it in his pocket when he finds it. He surveys the mess he’s made of his room, deciding that he can clean it up later, once he’s worked everything out with Harry. He trots out of his room, down the hall, up the stairs, and out of the TARDIS, slamming the door behind him.

“Harry?” Louis calls, knocking on the door and peering into the intercom. “Harry?”

“Hello?”

“See? Look, it’s me! De-monked!” Louis gives a little twirl, showing off his new outfit. “Sensible clothes! Erm, can we talk now?”

“I don’t understand,” Harry’s voice blares from the intercom.

“Aw, come on. It’s easy! Just open the door and we can make a cuppa tea and have a chat!”

“I don’t know...”

“Please?” Louis entreats. “It’s important!”

“...where I am.”

“What?” Louis frowns, reaching for his sonic.

“I don’t know where I am,” Harry says, panic evident in his voice. “Where am I? Please tell me where I am, I don’t know where I am.”

“Fuck this,” Louis mutters, whipping out the sonic screwdriver, using to unlock the door.

He throws the door open, his hearts leaping into his throat when he sees Harry unconscious on the floor.

“Harry!”

“I don’t know where I am!” Harry’s disembodied voice cries.

“Shit, shit, shit,” Louis exclaims, falling to his knees and pressing his ear to Harry’s chest. He sighs in relief when he hears a heartbeat, albeit a very weak one. “Not again. Not when I just found you, love.”

“I don’t know where I am! I don’t understand! Where am I? I don’t know where I am!”

Louis looks up, finding the source of Harry’s voice. His eyes widen in horror as he sees what appears to be a woman on the stairs, her head rotated around 180 degrees, a screen showing where the back of her head should be. Harry’s terrified face looks back at him.

“Please! I don’t know where I am!”

Louis stands, aiming the screwdriver at the woman. Her human appearance falls away as he blasts the signal, revealing a crude-looking silver robot in the basic shape of a human skeleton.

“A walking base station,” Louis muses, his mind racing. “Oh, shit! The wi-fi! Where’s your computer, Harry?”  

He scans the area with his sonic, running back to the living room, where he finds Harry’s open laptop. Grabbing it, he runs back to the foyer, kneeling next to Harry as he studies the screen. A series of red hieroglyphs are streaming across it, and a progress bar is at the bottom, showing an upload in progress, sixty percent complete.

“Oh no you fucking don’t,” Louis declares, his fingers flying over the keyboard. “Not this time!”

********

“We have a problem!” Magee suddenly yelps, staring at his computer screen.

“What’s the issue?” Caroline asks impatiently, striding over to him and looking over his shoulder.

“Harry Styles, ma’am,” Magee says, wiping a bead of sweat from his brow as the progress bar goes from sixty to fifty. “It looks like someone is trying to reverse the upload?”

“Is that even possible?”

“In theory, yes,” Magee answers, as the bar drops to forty. “If the upload isn’t fully integrated, then, yes, I suppose...well...it’s happening, so it’s not even a theory, really!”

“Well, stop it, you imbecile!” Caroline shouts. “That’s an order! We’ve already spliced valuable knowledge on him!”

“I’m trying, I’m trying,” Magee squeaks as he types furiously, trying to counteract the hacker, even as the progress bar starts to shrink faster. “Whoever is hacking the system clearly knows what he’s doing.”

The bar briefly moves back up, before shrinking back down at an even faster pace.

“Dammit,” Magee mutters.

“We’re losing him! Do something!”

“I don’t know how they’re doing it, ma’am!” Magee exclaims. “This has never happened before!”

The progress bar hits zero, the words “upload canceled” flashing red on the screen.

“My office in fifteen minutes, Mr. Magee,” Caroline orders. “I’m going to get the boss on a conference call and you’re going to have to explain this screw-up.”

Caroline turns to go to her office, already dialing the boss on her mobile.

“Wait!” Magee cries. “The hacker seems to have sent us a message.”

Caroline stops, hanging up the call and walking back over to Magee’s desk.

“Well?” she clips. “What is it?”

Magee angles his computer screen so she can see it fully. Caroline’s insides turn to ice.

Under my protection. Kindly fuck off. –The Doctor

“Who...who is the Doctor?” Magee asks timidly.

“That’s none of your concern,” Caroline says icily. “I want all the data on how this could have happened. Immediately. We don’t have any time to waste. And figure out how we can get Styles back.”

“Y-yes, Ms. Flack,” Magee stammers.

Caroline turns on her heel, striding furiously out of the room and down the hall towards her office. She hits number one on her speed dial.

“Yes?”

“Sir, the one you warned me about. He’s here. The Doctor is here.”

********

A whirring sound comes from the base station as it finally shuts down. Harry suddenly gasps loudly, flopping to his side as he coughs.

“Harry!” Louis cries, setting the laptop aside and rushing to his side, crouching over him. “Thank Christ.”

Harry rolls over on his back again with a groan, taking a deep breath and looking up at Louis, his green eyes hazy and unfocused. Louis brushes his hair off his forehead tenderly.

“It’s okay, it’s okay,” Louis says soothingly, thumbing over his cheekbone. “You’re fine, you’re back. I’ve got you, Harry, everything’s going to be okay.”

“Doctor Lou,” Harry slurs.

“Yeah, that’s me,” Louis chuckles. “Hi.”

“M’head hurts,” Harry mumbles. “Tired.”

“I imagine you are,” Louis says softly. “Let’s get you to bed, yeah?”

“Gotta take me t’dinner first,” Harry smiles dopily.

“You’re ridiculous,” Louis grins, pressing his thumb into Harry’s dimple.

Louis’ hearts skip a beat as he suddenly remembers almost those exact words being exchanged between the two of them on a snowy rooftop in 1892. He swallows hard, taking a deep breath.

“Where’s your room, love?”

“Firs’ one at the top o’the stairs,” Harry replies sleepily.

“You’re gonna have to help me, Haz,” Louis says. “Can you stand?”

“Dunno.”

“Let’s try,” Louis encourages. He gently pulls at Harry’s arms. “Hold on to my neck, okay?”

Harry loops his arms around Louis’ neck, holding tight as Louis wraps his arms around Harry’s narrow waist. Harry buries his face in the crook of Louis’ neck, giggling softly, his breath tickling Louis’ skin; Louis shivers as goosebumps prickle all over his body.

“One, two, three,” Louis counts off, pushing up with his thigh muscles and hauling Harry to his feet. Harry wobbles unsteadily, his body pressed tightly against Louis. “Steady there, Bambi,” Louis snickers, squeezing his hips.

“M’not Bambi,” Harry pouts.

“You are, though,” Louis teases gently, carefully shifting them so that they are side by side, Harry’s arm draped over his shoulder while Louis keeps a strong grip on Harry’s waist to steady him. “It’s those long legs of yours. Just like Bambi. Ready to try the stairs?”

“’Kay,” Harry yawns.

Slowly but surely they make their way up the stairs, Harry leaning heavily on Louis the whole time.

“S’me,” Harry says, pointing to a slightly ajar door when they reach the top.

Louis kicks the door open, guiding Harry inside.

“Here we go, love,” Louis says, leading him to the bed. “You made it.”

“Yay,” Harry cheers weakly, flopping over on his back and starfishing in the middle of the bed.

“Where’s the loo, Harry?” Louis asks, gently brushing a curl behind his cute little ear. “Do you have paracetamol?”

“‘Cross the hall ’n above the sink,” Harry sighs, adjusting the pillow under his head.

Louis grabs the empty glass on the bedside table, crosses the hall and finds the bathroom, opening the medicine cabinet above the sink. He finds the small bottle of paracetamol on the top shelf. After closing the cabinet, he fills the glass with water from the tap and then heads back across the hall to Harry’s room.

“Haz, I’ve got the–”

Louis stops, smiling softly as he leans against the doorframe. Harry is sound asleep, his mouth hanging open slightly. Tiptoeing over to the bedside table, he places the glass and the bottle so that they will be within Harry’s reach when he wakes up. Louis goes to the foot of the bed, carefully pulling off Harry’s black Chelsea boots and placing them on the floor. His eyes travel up Harry’s body, taking in his painted-on black skinnies and his loose-fitting pale blue and navy-striped silk blouse that looks a bit like a pajama top; Harry seems comfortable enough, so Louis leaves him be, not really wanting to take his clothes off without his consent anyway. He pulls the duvet up from where it’s been kicked around Harry’s ankles, tucking it around him securely.

“Sleep well, love,” Louis murmurs, pressing a soft kiss to Harry’s forehead. “I’ll be right here when you wake up. I’m not going to let anything happen to you.”

As Louis moves to turn out the light, his eyes fall on a well-loved book on the bedside table, its spine cracked and the corners of the hardcover split. He smiles as he picks it up, tracing his fingers over the rainbow spirals and the blue writing.

Oh, The Places You’ll Go,” Louis reads, smiling over at Harry’s sleeping form as he opens the book.

Louis’ grin broadens as he looks at the inside cover, the words “Property of Harry Styles, age 5” written at the top in green crayon, all his subsequent ages written under it, the handwriting changing as Harry ages, stopping at age 24, the ink bright and fresh on the page.

“Twenty-four, huh?” Louis asks quietly. Harry snuffles in response. “Yes, here’s to me, Mr. Robinson. We can talk about that later.”

Louis turns the page, finding a bright orange leaf pressed against the title page. He delicately picks it up, twirling it around and studying it in the light. He sniffs it, then darts his tongue out to taste it, his face scrunching as he does so. Shaking his head, he carefully places it back in the book, thumbing through the rest of the pages, finding other things pressed between them: a childish drawing of a stick figure with brown hair standing on top of the Earth, a yellowed postcard from Greece with the words “Wish you were here” on the back, and a frayed list of countries under the heading TO VISIT, none of them checked off. As he flips to the final page, he finds two letters from a pastry school in Paris, one congratulating Harry on his acceptance and the other expressing regret that he’s withdrawn from the program due to personal reasons. Louis frowns as he closes the cover and places it back on the table, careful not to let any of Harry’s treasures fall out.

“You still haven’t gone anywhere, have you?” Louis asks softly, studying Harry’s beautiful face, so peaceful and boyish as he sleeps. “Well, we’ll get to changing that, I promise,” he vows, flipping out the light and closing the door with a quiet snick.

********

Harry groans as he slowly blinks his eyes open, stretching his arms over his head. He feels like he’s been hit by a truck or a wicked hangover, possibly both, and he has no idea why. Rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, Harry sits up, feeling incredibly disoriented as he looks out the window and sees the inky night sky.

What the hell happened?

The lamp glows on his bedside table, casting a soft light around the room. There’s a glass of water and a bottle of paracetamol waiting for him, as well as a vase of daisies, clearly picked from the garden behind the house. A plate of Jammie Dodgers has been set out as well; one of the cookies has a large bite taken out of it, like he’d had a visit from Santa Claus or something.

Harry smiles as he pops open the bottle, shaking out two tablets and taking them with a swig of water. He grabs a Jammie Dodger and takes a bite, relishing the flavor of shortbread and raspberry on his tongue. Harry hears a noise coming from the driveway; he frowns, easing himself out of bed, wobbling a little from a headrush as he stands. He walks over to the window, undoing the latch and pushing it open, smiling as he looks down at the sight below him.

Louis is sitting in the driveway, right in front of his blue box, the lantern on top of it glowing, casting a pool of light around him. He’s crouched over what looks like a set of silver pipes arranged to be a skeleton, muttering to himself as he takes it apart. He’s changed out of his monk costume, looking rather smart in black trousers, a white shirt, and polka dot braces. An inexplicable feeling of warmth flutters in Harry’s chest as he watches Louis smooth his fringe aside, typing something on Harry’s laptop.

“Hello,” Harry calls finally.

Louis startles, flailing about a little before he stands, looking up at Harry.

“Hello,” Louis answers, a brilliant smile on his face, his eyes crinkling at the corners. “Are you feeling better, Harry?”

“I was in bed,” Harry states.

“Yes,” Louis nods.

“I don’t remember getting there.”

“No,” Louis replies, stuffing his hands in his pockets and scuffing his brogue against the pavement. “I wouldn’t think you would.”

Harry shakes his head. They stare at each other for a long moment.

“So, what did I miss?”

“Quite a lot, actually,” Louis says eagerly, pulling a small notepad from his pocket and flipping through the pages. “Gemma called, she got the twins settled at camp and wanted you to know that Annabel made a friend straight away.” He flips to a second page. “Your mum phoned to talk about Strictly Come Dancing. I’ve got several pages on that, she was very upset about who got booted off last night. I promised her that I would look into any voting conspiracies and get back to her as soon as possible.”

Harry shakes his head, biting back an amused grin.

“I did all the dishes in the kitchen,” Louis continues, flipping through his notepad, rocking back and forth on his heels. “I fixed that rattling noise your washing machine was making, organized all your DVDs alphabetically by genre, optimized the photosynthesis in all the flowerbeds, and assembled the quadricycle.”

“You assembled the what?”

“I found a disassembled quadricycle in the garage! I put it back together for you.”

“I really don’t think so,” Harry snickers. “That’s not a thing, mate.”

“Holy shit, did I just invent the quadricycle?”

Harry giggles, finding himself completely charmed by this ridiculously beautiful and strange man. Louis smiles up at him, running a hand through his hair. They fall silent for a moment, just drinking each other in.

“What happened to me, Louis?” Harry asks tentatively.

“You don’t remember?” Louis asks, taking a step forward and peering up at him.

Harry shakes his head.

“I was scared,” Harry admits. “Really scared. I didn’t know where I was?”

“And do you know now?”

“Yes,” Harry nods.

“That’s good,” Louis says with a soft smile.

Harry yawns.

“You should get some more sleep,” Louis comments. “You’ve had a long day. Don’t worry about a thing because you’re safe now, Harry. I promise I won’t let anything happen to you.”

Louis turns on his heel and goes back to the folding chair by the blue box, sitting down and kicking his feet up. Harry watches him in amusement.

“Are you guarding me?”

“Well...yes,” Louis states plainly. “Yes, I s’pose I am.”

Harry grins, shaking his head.

“Are you really going to stay there all night?”

“Yes,” Louis answers, his sharp blue eyes twinkling. “I won’t budge from this spot.”

Harry believes him.

“How do you take your tea?”

“Just a splash of milk, why?” Louis asks, his brow furrowing.

“’Cause if we’re going to just sit there all night, we’re going to need some tea, aren’t we? I’ll be right down.”

********

Caroline studies the footage from the security camera across the street, glaring at the blue box.

“The boy’s inside then, I take it,” she says to Magee.

“Yes,” he replies, zooming in on the man leaning back against the box. “He seems pretty determined to protect him.”

“Then I’m going to need you to get creative, Magee,” Caroline says, looking down at her iPad and dragging her finger up the IQ slider. “Activate the whole village if you have to. Just get me that boy.”

********

“Two teas coming right up,” Harry calls, clutching two mugs and walking down the driveway towards where Louis is sitting next to the TARDIS. Louis dusts off the second folding chair he grabbed from the garage, smiling when he notices that Harry has changed his clothes, exchanging the striped pajama-looking top for a purple one patterned with white stars.

“Cheers, love,” Louis says, accepting the white mug with a rainbow on it.  

“Gave you my favorite mug,” Harry winks, settling down in the chair.

“I’m honored,” Louis chuckles. “You changed.”

“So did you,” Harry grins. “I like the braces. They suit you much better than the monk’s habit.”

“Thanks,” Louis says bashfully, tugging on one of the braces. “Braces are cool.”

“Very cool,” Harry agrees, taking a sip of his tea.

Louis grabs the bag of sweets on his lap, extending them to Harry. “Would you like a Jelly Baby?”

“Sure,” Harry says easily, rifling through the bag and plucking out a red one. “Though I must say, I’m quite partial to Haribo Goldbears myself.”

“Get out,” Louis orders. “This friendship is over.”

Harry honks a laugh, his dimples carving deep craters on his cheeks. Louis’ stomach does a little flip.

“I like your house,” Louis observes, once Harry’s laughter abates.

“Oh,” Harry says, fishing another Jelly Baby from the bag. “Thanks, but it’s not mine. It’s my sister’s. She’s been dealing with a pretty nasty divorce, so I moved to help take care of the kids.”

“Right, right, silly me,” Louis says, taking a sip of perfectly made tea, “taking care of kids, just like–”

Louis stops himself, deciding that now is probably not the best time to mention the whole “we’ve met three times already” thing.

“Just like what?” Harry asks, green eyes inquisitive.

“Just...just like a good brother would,” Louis finishes lamely.

Harry sips his tea and studies his face, his brow furrowed as if he doesn’t really believe him. Louis clears his throat and smiles at him; Harry smiles back.  

“So are you going to explain what happened to me, then?” Harry asks, letting him off the hook.

“Right,” Louis says gratefully. “You called me about the wi-fi network being all dodgy, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Harry nods.

“There’s something in the wi-fi,” Louis explains. “Think about it, Harry! The whole world is swimming with wi-fi, everyone depends on it, logs on without even checking the security, you know? Suppose something got inside it. Suppose there was something living inside it, harvesting human minds, extracting them for some nefarious purpose. Imagine that! Human souls trapped like flies in the the world wide web, stuck forever, just crying out for help.”

“Aren’t you just describing Twitter?”

Louis bursts out laughing at that; Harry looks exceedingly pleased by his reaction.

“I was thinking Tumblr, but yeah, Twitter is probably a more apt comparison.”

“So what was this thing, then?” Harry asks, kicking the disassembled base station, the word “SycoTech” engraved on the arm.

“It’s like a walking base station or router,” Louis explains, grabbing Harry’s laptop and showing him the screen. “It tried to upload you. Almost succeeded, but I managed to stop it by hacking into the mainframe. Right now, I’m just trying to figure out where it was uploading you to. I’ve been researching this company SycoTech but I haven’t been able to find anything. It’s like they don’t even exist.”

“Have you tried tracing the IP addresses? Are you using a VPN? Maybe you could set up a mirror port that could be disguised as the system administrator!”

“You some sort of computer genius, Styles?” Louis grins.

Louis flinches, recalling Ensign Styles’ response to that very question.

“I don’t know. Is there a word for total screaming genius that sounds modest and a tiny bit sexy?”

Jesus, this is a mind fuck.

“What’s that face for?” Harry asks, a little crinkle forming between his eyebrows.

“N-nothing,” Louis stammers, shaking his head, telling himself to get a fucking grip.

Harry waits patiently, a curious expression on his face.

“I was just thinking,” Louis starts, “a computer can hack another computer, right? Well, what if a living, sentient computer is like...hacking people? Editing them. Rewriting them like new software?”

“Why do you say that?”

“Have you actually ever said the phrase ‘mirror port’ in your entire life, Harry?”

“No, never,” Harry admits, laughing nervously. “I...I don’t even know where all of that just came from. Why do I know a shit-ton about computers now?”

“You were uploaded for a while,” Louis muses, the hairs on the back of his neck suddenly standing on end. “Wherever you were, you must have brought something back with you. Something...something I very much doubt you’ll be allowed to keep.”

Louis suddenly feels like they’re being watched. Placing his mug on the pavement, Louis stands and scans the surrounding area; his hearts start thudding in his chest when he spots a man across the street, standing directly under the streetlight, his face cast in shadow.

“Harry,” Louis says evenly, keeping his eyes on the man. “You and me. Inside that box. Now.”

“I’m sorry?”

“Trust me, you’ll understand once we get in there.”

“Yeah, I bet I will,” Harry huffs disbelievingly.

“Harry, please!” Louis entreats, turning to look at him.

“What is that box anyway?” Harry presses. “Why have you got a police box?”

“Harry!” Louis clips impatiently, grabbing Harry’s hand and hauling him to his feet.

“Is it like a snogging booth?”

“A what?” Louis squawks.

“Is that what you do? Travel around and ask cute boys to go into your snogging booth?” Harry asks coyly, taking a sip of his tea. “You know, there is such a thing as too keen, Lou.”

“Shut up, you’re not that cute!”

“I’m adorable, actually,” Harry says cheekily. “Just admit it–”

“Harry, look around you!” Louis exclaims urgently as the lights in the surrounding houses start turning on. “Look at the lights!”

Harry’s eyes widen and he grips Louis’ hand tightly and takes a step closer to him.

“What’s going on?” Harry questions fearfully. “Is the wi-fi switching on the lights? Like some sort of automatic system?”

“No, the people are switching on the lights,” Louis answers. “The wi-fi is switching on the people.”

The man in the street stares at them, his head slowly rotating around until it’s completely backwards on his body.

“What the fuck is that thing?” Harry squeaks, pressing himself closer to Louis.

“It’s another one of those base stations, like you saw before, remember?”

“But I saw my sister before!” Harry exclaims.

“You what?”

“It was my sister! Or at least I thought it was till her head pulled an Exorcist!”

“They must pull from your subconscious,” Louis says, slapping his forehead and then grabbing the laptop, clapping it shut. “Active camouflage. Shit, why didn’t I think of it before? They could be everywhere!”

A roar sounds over them as lights approach from the distance, dipping lower and lower.

“Louis, what the fuck is that?” Harry says, looking up.

“Oh my God, planes have wi-fi!”

“Are you saying that’s a fucking plane approaching?”

“We must be one hell of a target now!” Louis cries, jiggling the door of the TARDIS. “You. Me. Box. Now!”

Louis throws the door open, pulling Harry inside behind him. The lights flicker on.

“What the fuck?” Harry exclaims, grabbing onto the railing to the balcony, the remainder of his tea spilling on the floor as his mug clatters to the ground.

“Yes, it’s a spaceship,” Louis says hurriedly, kicking the pieces of porcelain aside and dragging Harry over to the console. He pulls out a drawer and drops the laptop inside. “It’s called the TARDIS. Yes, it’s bigger on the inside. No, I don’t have time to explain just now.”

“But...but...but, it’s,” Harry sputters, looking around the console room.

“Hush now,” Louis orders, patting the top of Harry’s head as he punches in some commands and throws up the throttle. “I need to concentrate, short jumps are always the hardest.”

“Bigger. On the inside!” Harry gasps. “Actually fucking bigger on the inside! What the bloody hell?”

The TARDIS shudders, throwing them backwards. Louis grabs onto the bar on edge of the console to keep them from toppling over.

“Let’s go,” Louis grins.

“What? Are we going back out there? Where the bad guys are?”

“We’ve moved! It’s a spaceship, Harry, we flew away!”

“Away from that plane, right?”

“Not exactly!” Louis proclaims, throwing the door open and stumbling out into the narrow aisle of a plane, Harry following close behind. All of the passengers are flopped over in their seats, completely unconscious.

“How did we get here?” Harry shrieks, pressing up against the lavatory door.

“It’s a spaceship, I told you,” Louis says, clasping Harry’s hand and pulling him down the aisle.

“Is this the plane? The actual plane that was coming towards us?” Harry questions breathlessly. “Oh my God, Louis, are all the passengers dead?”

“Just asleep,” Louis calls over his shoulder, “switched off by the wi-fi, never mind them! They’re fine!”

They reach the cockpit where the flight attendants are buckled into their seats on either side, both of them unconscious; Louis jiggles the door, only to find it locked. The plane jostles in the air, the overhead compartments dumping luggage everywhere. Harry screams, grabbing onto Louis’ shoulder.  

“Louis, what the fuck are we doing on a crashing plane?”

“Saving everyone, obviously,” Louis replies, whipping out the sonic screwdriver and unlocking the cockpit door, flinging it open.

As he expected, both pilots are fast asleep in their seats. Louis scrambles over to the control panel, using the screwdriver on various instruments.

“What’s happening?” Harry demands, grasping onto the back of the co-pilot’s chair. “Is this real? I’m still dreaming, aren’t I? This can’t be happening!”

“Oh, it’s happening, baby,” Louis says, checking the altimeter as he pockets his screwdriver. “I’m the Doctor. I’m an alien from outer space, the planet Gallifrey, if you care to be specific. I’m almost 1100 years old, I’ve got two hearts, and I have absolutely no idea how to fly a plane, do you?”

“No!”

“Brilliant,” Louis cheers, grabbing the steering wheel. “Let’s do it together, then! Come on, grab on, I can’t do it alone!”

“Shit, okay,” Harry mutters, scrambling up behind him, his body pressing close as he places his hands right next to Louis’ on the steering wheel, gripping it tightly.

“Okay, pull up,” Louis commands, gritting his teeth and leaning his weight back into Harry.

Their arms shake with the strain as the plane groans underneath them, their knuckles turning white. Beads of sweat roll down Louis’ temple as the entire fuselage rumbles, fighting to pull up out of the dive. Louis keeps his eye on the horizon line on the dashboard, willing it to level out. He can see the shapes of houses now, getting closer and closer.

“Jesus,” Harry shouts, drawing the word out many, many syllables (Louis stops counting at five). “We’re not going to make it, oh my God!”

Louis scans the massive control panel, mentally comparing it to the layout in the TARDIS; his eyes land on the throttle and he whoops triumphantly.

“Hold on, Haz!” Louis shouts, grabbing the throttle and pushing it all the way up.

The plane shudders as the engine whines in protest. Louis squeezes his eyes shut, holding his breath as he leans farther back into Harry, pulling with all his might.

“We’re going up!” Harry exclaims after probably the longest ten seconds of Louis’ very long life. “Holy shit, Lou, we’re going up!”

Louis bursts out laughing, his whole body relaxing as he sags back into Harry’s embrace; Harry clings to Louis tightly, resting his forehead on his shoulder, his chest heaving as he tries to catch his breath.

“See,” Louis laughs, reaching up and tangling a hand in Harry’s curls, scratching at his scalp soothingly. “It’s a piece of cake flying a plane. Do you think it would be too show-offy to do a victory roll or summat?”

“I will actually fucking murder you,” Harry huffs into his neck.

Louis chuckles, barely restraining himself from pressing a kiss to Harry’s forehead. Instead, he digs in his pocket for the sonic screwdriver, pulling it out and aiming it at the control panel, right where the light for the wi-fi network flashes red. The light flickers off and a few seconds later, the pilots start to come around.

“What the hell is going on?” the pilot asks, his eyes wide.

“Well, I’m blocking your wi-fi, so you’re waking up, for a start,” Louis explains hastily, backing away from the controls. “But tell you what, do you want to drive now? You should drive. Don’t turn that back on, though. Haz, shall we?”

Louis takes Harry by the hand, leading him to the back of the plane, but not before stopping at the flight attendant’s cart and grabbing two mini bottles of whiskey, winking at the confused flight attendant. He walks confidently down the aisle, smiling and nodding at the bewildered passengers, even stopping and helping an old lady put her luggage back up in the bin. Once they get back inside the TARDIS, Louis tosses one of the bottles to Harry, who clumsily catches it.

“You look like you could use that,” Louis says gently, punching in some commands and flipping a lever. The TARDIS groans as it takes off; Harry watches the whole process dumbly as he opens his bottle and takes a shot.

“Cheers,” Louis says, cracking his own bottle open and taking a big gulp. He watches in amusement as Harry drains the rest of his.

“Okay,” Harry says, wiping his mouth and shuddering. “When are you going to tell me what the hell is going on?”

“Breakfast,” Louis winks, throwing the same lever back down. The TARDIS lurches ever so slightly as it lands.

“Oh, no, Louis,” Harry threatens, pointing a finger at him. “I’m not waiting until breakfast, you’re going to tell me what the fuck is going on right now!”

“It’s a time machine, Harry,” Louis smirks, walking towards the door. “You never have to wait for breakfast.”

********

“I don’t understand how a blue police box can just disappear without a trace!” Caroline shrieks, several locks of blond hair falling loose from her formerly sleek French twist. She stands in the middle of the main surveillance and upload room, looking around furiously as all of the workers avoid her gaze, focusing on their computer screens.

“I’m going to need CCTV footage from Holmes Chapel,” Caroline orders. “Hell, all the CCTV footage from the whole country. I don’t care if you have to stay up all night, nobody sleeps until they’re found!”

********

Louis throws the TARDIS door open and sunlight streams inside.

“C’mon, Haz,” Louis grins, grabbing a fez from the coat rack by the door and marching outside.

Harry follows him, squinting in the bright sunlight as he closes the door. Once his eyes adjust, his jaw drops as he realizes they are in South Bank, the Thames glittering in the morning light and the London Eye looming large in front of them. A small crowd has gathered around the TARDIS, clapping and cheering as Louis takes a bow. Harry leans against the TARDIS, tracing his fingers over the white St. John’s Ambulance badge on the door.

“Thank you, thank you,” Louis bows, much to the delight of the crowd. He whirls around, holding out the fez in front of him. “Yes, it’s a magic blue box! All donations gratefully accepted.”

Harry bites back a grin as people start dropping coins in. Louis beams back at him, his face adorably scrunched.

“Pence, pounds, anything you got! And everyone give a hand for my lovely assistant here! Come on, Harry, give us a bow!”

Harry laughs as he curtsies. Louis walks over to him, his blue eyes twinkling.

“We’re in London, Lou!” Harry whispers excitedly.

“Yes, I know,” Louis smiles, handing Harry the fez. “Keep collecting, we need enough for breakfast. Just popping back to the garage!”

“The garage?” Harry sputters. “How–”

“Bigger on the inside, remember?” Louis calls over his shoulder as he jogs back into the TARDIS.

Harry continues collecting coins and the occasional note from the small crowd, thanking everyone with a toothy grin. A few minutes later, a rumble sounds and Louis zooms out of the TARDIS on a motorbike, coming to a stop right by Harry. The crowd oohs and ahhs, someone even dropping a twenty pound note into the fez.

“Going my way, pretty?” Louis grins, flipping up his visor and handing Harry a pink helmet.

Harry honks a laugh, exchanging the fez for the helmet. Louis dumps all their collected earnings into a small pouch and slides it into a satchel next to Harry’s laptop.

“Is there any other way to go, Daddy-o?” Harry replies, fastening the chinstrap.

Louis cackles, throwing his head back.

“I can’t believe you just called me Daddy-o.”

“Hey,” Harry drawls, climbing on the back of the motorbike. “What else am I supposed to say when you come out here looking all like the leader of the pack? All you need is the leather jacket.”

Louis revs the engine twice and winks at him. Harry giggles, feeling his cheeks heat up.

“I’ll have to remember that for next time, then,” Louis smirks, snapping his fingers. The doors to the TARDIS shut as if by magic.

“How did you–”

“Now, now, Haz,” Louis tsks. “One doesn’t reveal all of their secrets on the first date.”

“This isn’t a date,” Harry corrects, his hands on Louis’s hips as he adjusts in the seat behind him. “This is just breakfast.”

“Says you,” Louis quips, tossing the fez to a little girl in the crowd. “Now hold on properly, I don’t want you falling off back there.”

Louis hits the gas and the motorbike lurches; Harry squeals as his hands scramble all the way around Louis’ middle, holding on to him tightly.

“That’s the way to do it,” Louis laughs as they pull out into the road.

“So this is tomorrow, then,” Harry says, hooking his chin over Louis’ shoulder so he doesn’t have to shout. “You made tomorrow come early.”

“No, it came at the usual time,” Louis replies with a smile. “We just took a shortcut.”

“I’m just confused about one thing,” Harry says after a moment.

“Only one thing?” Louis teases.

“Shut up, you,” Harry fires back, poking him in the ribs. “This is a lot! M’doing my best to keep up!”

“That you are, love,” Louis placates as they turn on to Waterloo bridge. “What are you confused about?”

“If you’ve got a flying time machine that can go anywhere, then why are we on a motorbike riding through London?”

“I don’t take the TARDIS into battle,” Louis answers. “Not if I don’t have to.”

“I thought you were taking me to breakfast,” Harry teases, squeezing his middle.

“I am,” Louis grins, looking at Harry out of the corner of his eye. “Can’t fight the bad guys on an empty stomach, can we?”

Harry shakes his head, a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.

“So why don’t you take the TARDIS into battle? Because it’s made of wood?”

“Because she’s the most powerful ship in the universe and I don’t want her to fall into the wrong hands.”

“So you just left her on the South Bank of London then. Makes total sense. And...she?”

“She’s locked and her security system is on,” Louis assures him. “No one will bother her. And yes...she. Definitely a she.”

“Whatever you say, Lou,” Harry grins, snuggling even closer to him. “Whatever you say.”

********

Louis takes them to a rooftop cafe that overlooks St. Paul’s Cathedral. Initially, Harry had protested, declaring the menu to be too expensive for them. Shaking the satchel full of the earnings from their “magic act,” Louis had just told him to hush up and enjoy the view.

The waitress has just delivered their breakfast (a full English for Louis, banana pancakes for Harry) when Harry clears his throat, apparently itching to say something.

“So,” Harry says as they tuck in. “If we can travel anywhere in time and space, why’d you just pick the next morning? What’s the point in that?”

“Well, whoever’s after us must have spent the whole night looking for us,” Louis says, spearing a sausage. “Are you tired?”

“Yeah,” Harry replies, his brow adorably furrowed as he obviously tries to figure out where Louis is going.

“Then imagine how they feel,” Louis grins. “They came the long way ’round.”

Louis pulls Harry’s laptop from the satchel by his chair. He pushes his plate aside and boots it up.

“I hope you can forgive me for interrupting our date–”

Breakfast.” Harry interjects.

Date,” Louis corrects with a grin. “I’m paying, aren’t I?”

“With other people’s money,” Harry points out smugly, cutting another piece off his pancake.

“Shut up,” Louis laughs. “It’s still a date.”

“If you say so.”

“Anyway,” Louis says, rolling his eyes fondly. “Before we were so rudely interrupted last night, I was working on tracing the homing signal on that base station. I had narrowed it down to London, but I wasn’t able to get any further than that, in regards to their actual location. Their security is too good. Now if only I can – what?”

Louis looks up to find Harry studying him intently. Louis flushes.

“Do I have something on my face?” Louis asks, swiping at his cheeks.

“Are you really an alien?” Harry asks.

“I am, yes,” Louis answers.

“If you’re an alien, why do you sound like you’re Northern?”

“Lots of planets have a North!”

“I s’pose that’s true,” Harry laughs, resting his chin in his hand.

“Are...are you okay with that?” Louis asks hesitantly.

Harry looks at him appraisingly; Louis tries not to squirm under his gaze.

“Yeah,” he says finally. “Yeah, I’m okay with it.”

“Oh,” Louis laughs nervously, butterflies dancing around in this stomach. “Okay. That’s good.”

They stare at each other for a few moments; Louis is dying to ask Harry what the fuck he’s smirking at, but it feels like his tongue is glued to the roof of his mouth.

“So what happens when you do?”

“Do what?”

“Find them,” Harry grins, pointing at the computer. “What happens when you find them?”

“Right!” Louis exclaims, shaking himself out of whatever moment just happened between them. “I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?”

“I don’t know the future, Harry,” Louis quips, typing on the keyboard. “I just work there.”

“That was terrible, Louis,” Harry chuckles, sliding his plate to the side. “You really don’t have a plan?”

“You know what I always say about plans?” Louis asks, looking up at him.

“What?”

“I don’t have one.”

“People always have plans,” Harry remarks, sipping his tea.

“Yes, I suppose they do,” Louis replies, snapping the laptop shut. “Tell me, Harry, how long have you been helping your sister out with her kids?”

“Erm, just over a year,” Harry says, taken aback.

“Okay,” Louis nods. “Why you, though? I mean, I understand it’s your sister and all, but why not your mum? She was lovely when I spoke to her–”

“I really don’t think this is any of your business, Louis,” Harry says, crossing his arms defensively. “You don’t know me.”

“But that’s what I’m trying to understand, Harry. I just don’t get how a brilliant lad like yourself could possibly be content with giving up your dreams to stay at home,” Louis states bluntly. “Why would you do that?”

Something flashes in Harry’s eyes and Louis immediately regrets his words.

“Harry, I–”

“Gimme,” Harry says, grabbing the laptop.

“I’m sorry, what?” Louis says, pulling the laptop back to him.

“You need to know where they physically are, right? Like their exact location,” Harry says, leaning forward.

“Yes.”

“I can do it,” Harry says, tugging the laptop out of Louis’ grip and flipping it open.

“Hey!” Louis exclaims, fumbling for the computer. Harry keeps it out of his reach. “I need that!”

“You hacked their lower level system to get the basic location. I’ll have the actual physical location in under five minutes,” Harry states. “Now, go on and get us a cappuccino.”

“If I can’t find them, there’s no way you can,” Louis insists, sliding the laptop back across the table.

“They uploaded me, remember,” Harry counters, sliding it back. “I’ve got computing stuff all in my head!”

They continue to play tug of war with the laptop as they argue.

“So do I!”

“I have insane hacking skills, Louis!”

“I have...twenty-seven brains!”

“Twenty-seven?” Harry asks witheringly as he wrests the computer from Louis’ grip. “Really, Lou?”

“Okay, slight exaggeration! Just the one brain. But it’s a really big one.”

“I can find them in under five minutes,” Harry asserts, flipping the top open, his fingers flying over the keys. “I promise. Now, go on! Cappuccino. Bone dry, please?”

“The security is absolute,” Louis warns as he gets up. “You just can’t–”

“I’m not worried about the security,” Harry says, pulling his bottom lip between his thumb and index finger. “I’m worried about the people.”

“Harry, I worked on it for hours yesterday and I couldn’t–”

“Stop saying that nobody can do this, Louis, ’cause you’re looking at the boy who can!”

“Come and meet the boy who can.”

Louis does a double take.

“Why do you keep looking at me like that?” Harry asks.

“Sorry, sorry, it’s nothing,” Louis apologizes as he turns to go order Harry his cappuccino. “Wait, it is something. Harry, I’m sorry for offending you before, I didn’t–”

“It’s okay, Lou,” Harry says, looking up from the screen, his eyes warm. “It’s nothing different than what I’ve been hearing a lot lately.”

“I’m still sorry for being pushy. It’s just...I think you’re brilliant and you’re so young. Shouldn’t you, I don’t know, shouldn’t you be out doing young and crazy things? With...with young and crazy people?”

“What, like you for instance?” Harry asks, looking him up and down, his eyebrow arched. “Down, boy!”

“That’s not...I can’t...shut up!” Louis sputters.

Harry grins, his dimples popping as he turns back to the screen.

“Where’s my cappuccino, Louis?”

Louis rolls his eyes.

“Coming right up, your highness.”

Louis walks inside, his eyes immediately drawn to the massive case of fresh pastries and desserts. He’s trying to decide if Harry would like the double chocolate cake or the lemon tart more when an elderly barista approaches.

“Can I help you, sir?”

“Hi,” Louis smiles. “Two bone-dry cappuccinos, please. And which do you think is better? The chocolate cake or the lemon tart?”

The lights flicker as Louis looks back down at the pastry case.

“You realize you haven’t the slightest chance of saving your little friend.”

Louis looks up, his eyes wide.

“What did you say?”

The lights flicker again.

“I said the lemon’s quite nice,” the barista smiles, an orange light sparking around him as his eyes go vacant. “And you haven’t the slightest chance of saving your little friend.”

“What–”

“Don’t bother the old man, Doctor, he isn’t, in fact, speaking.”

A waitress brushes by Louis; he spins around to look, just as the orange light jumps from the barista to the waitress.

“I am speaking,” she says. “Just using whatever’s around. You know how it is.”

Louis looks around the bustling cafe, his hearts starting to race.

“She’s rather pretty, isn’t she?” the waitress says, her eyes emotionless as she reaches out to stroke Louis’ arm. “I can make her like you too, if you want.”

“Um, no, thanks,” Louis says tentatively.

The electricity crackles; the waitress seemingly comes back to herself, looking surprised that she’s touching him.

“You all right, sir?”

“Y-yes,” Louis stammers. “Fine.”

Louis runs back out to the terrace; Harry sits at their table, hunched over the laptop, his fingers flying over the keys.

“You okay there, Haz?” Louis asks breathlessly.

“Fine,” Harry says, looking up at him and smiling. “Still setting everything up, but I’m still under my time limit, so there.” He pauses, making a frog face. “Where’s my cappuccino?”

“It...it’s coming,” Louis says. “Just wanted to check on you.”

“I’m fine, Lou,” Harry assures him.

Louis nods, turning to head back in the cafe. Suddenly Harry whoops in delight.

“I’m in,” he calls to Louis. “See? I am a total screaming genius! Is there a better word for that? One that’s a bit more modest but also a bit more sexy?”

“Doctor,” Louis mutters, rubbing his temples as he goes back inside. “Jesus.”

The lights flicker and Louis hears electricity crackle again.

“Have a little stroll,” the waitress says, placing a hand on Louis’ back and leading him into the center of the room, “and just see how impossible your situation is. Go on, take a look, I do love showing off.”

The strange orange light bounces from the waitress to a little girl sitting at a table with her parents. The waitress turns and gives him a funny look as she takes her tray back over to the coffee bar.

“Just let me show you what control of the wi-fi can do for starters,” the little girl says, standing on her chair. “Stop!”

All of the occupants of the cafe freeze in their spots as the orange light passes over them. A chill shoots up Louis’ spine.

“You know, I saw what you lot were capable of last night when you tried to crash a bloody plane,” Louis sasses. “No need for a refresher course.”

“Oh, that’s true,” the little girl replies. “And clear!”

Everyone starts back up again, acting as if nothing strange had happened.

“We can hack anyone with the wi-fi, as long as they’ve been exposed for long enough,” the news presenter from the television mounted on the wall behind him says.  

“So there’s one of your base stations nearby then,” Louis says, turning around to look at the television. He swears that the presenter looks him right in the eyes, which is ridiculous because they aren’t even there.

“There’s always someone close,” the presenter says. “We’ve released thousands of them into the world. They home in on the wi-fi signals like rats smelling cheese.”

“I don’t know who you are or why you’re doing this,” Louis says dangerously, stepping closer to the telly, “but this planet is under my protection. The people of this world will not be harmed. They will not be controlled, they will–”

“The people of this world are in no danger whatsoever,” the presenter says dismissively. “My boss merely requires a steady diet of living minds. Healthy, free-range, ‘organic’ living minds. He loves and cares for humanity! In fact, he can’t get enough of it!”

“That’s disgusting,” Louis spits angrily. “It’s obscene! It’s murder! It’s like leading lambs to the slaughterhouse.”

“It’s life,” the presenter purrs. “The farmer tending to his flock like a loving parent. Think of it this way, Doctor: No one loves cattle more than Burger King.”

“Not anymore,” Louis snarls. “I am going to end this today!”

“But how, Doctor?” the barista taunts behind him. “You don’t even know where we are. And even if your little friend finds us, it’s still not going to save him.”

********

Harry grins as his fingers fly over the keys. He still isn’t quite sure how he knows how to do all of this, but he doesn’t stop to question it. Louis had managed to find SycoTech’s main server address, but that did nothing to reveal where the office was actually based.

It’s about the people though, Harry reminds himself, as he hacks into the mainframe that links every single SycoTech computer together. With a single keystroke, he pulls up every single webcam on the server and then hits the execute command. He bursts out laughing as the computer screen fills with screen captures of the individual employees sitting at their computers. Aware of the fact that he probably has very little time before someone notices that an unwelcome guest is in their system, Harry quickly pulls up a facial recognition website, funneling all the pictures through it.

Harry’s eyes widen as the website starts pulling up every social media network possible, from current ones like Facebook and Instagram to outdated ones like MySpace and Friendster, matching the faces to profile pages. Harry skims the results as they pour in, victoriously pounding the table when he sees that they all have one common location. He looks over his shoulder, his eyes taking in the city’s myriad of buildings.

They’re right there.

“I did it,” Harry whispers in disbelief. “I actually fucking did it!”

He looks up to see Louis approaching the table.

“Louis!” Harry cries. “Louis, I did it! And with time to spare! I told you I could do it! I found them.”

“You found them,” Louis says.

“The Shard!” Harry says urgently, pointing in the building’s direction. “They’re in the Shard. Floor sixty-five!”

“Floor sixty-five,” Louis repeats flatly.

“Louis?” Harry puzzles. “Are you not hearing me? I found them.”

“I’m hearing you,” Louis parrots as his head starts to rotate on his neck. “You found them.”

“Oh fuck!” Harry shouts as a beam shoots out of the concave screen on the back of Louis’ head.

Everything goes black.

********

“Harry!” Louis exclaims, running back out onto the terrace. “Did you–”

Louis’ stomach drops as he’s met with his own face, backwards on his body; Harry is slumped over on the table, his shoulder-length curls fanned out around him.

“Shit, shit, shit,” Louis cries, rushing to his side. He brushes Harry’s hair back, leaning over him, listening for his breath. Relief rushes through him as he realizes Harry is still breathing, albeit shallowly.

“Louis!” Harry cries from the screen of the base station. “Louis, help me! I don’t know where I am. I don’t understand, please help me! I don’t know where I am? Louis, please help me, I don’t know where I am!”

Louis glances up at the open laptop, eyes widening when he sees that Harry actually found SycoTech’s location.

“Brilliant work, love,” Louis whispers, gently kissing his temple. “I’m going to get you back, don’t you worry about a thing, Hazza. I’ll take it from here.”

********

“We’ve got him!” Magee cries. “Styles! We’ve really got him this time.”

A satisfied smirk twists Caroline’s lips as she observes Harry Styles’ panicked face among the bank of monitors on the wall.

“Help, please! I don’t know where I am!” Styles says over and over.

“Should we delete him?” Magee asks, his finger poised over the command keys. “He’s not really worth the trouble of cataloging, is he? There could be issues with him skewing the data because of the previously interrupted upload and all. Not to mention that, um, previous message from the Doctor? Doesn’t keeping Styles put us at risk for another hack–”

“Nonsense,” Caroline dismisses. “Styles is fully integrated now, might as well leave him there. He can’t be downloaded again, surely the Doctor knows that.”

“Erm, I don’t think he does,” Griffiths says, pointing to a second wall of monitors, all featuring CCTV footage from all over London. “He’s coming.”

Caroline barely restrains a laugh as she sees the Doctor zooming across one of the screens on a motorbike. She can’t help but be mildly impressed, both at the fact that Styles seemed to have found their location (good to know that advanced skills package actually works) and that the Doctor adamantly refuses to go down without a fight.

“We could stop him, I suppose?” Griffiths asks, looking over at her.

“Why bother?” Caroline shrugs. “It might be quite funny.”

She watches as the Doctor pulls to a stop across the street from the Shard. With a quick tap of her fingers on her iPad, she hacks into a man who is standing on the corner smoking a cigarette.

“Really, Doctor?” she says derisively. “A motorbike? It hardly seems like your style.”

“I rode this in the Anti-Grav Olympics in 2074,” the Doctor replies, flipping up his goggles, a furious expression on his face. “I came in last.”

“The building is in lockdown,” Caroline says. “I’m afraid you’re not coming in.”

The Doctor rolls his eyes as he pulls his goggles back down.

“Did you not hear me say the words ‘anti-grav,’ you twit?”

He presses a big red button between the handlebars, shooting forward and going right up the side of the building.

“Seriously?” Magee yelps from his seat. “He can do that? He can actually do that?”

“Oh, good lord,” Caroline mutters under her breath.

Moments later, there’s a massive crash of glass shattering.

“I think that was your office,” Griffiths cringes.

“Excuse me, gentlemen,” Caroline says, smoothing her hair into place. “I believe there’s someone here to see me.”

Caroline grabs her iPad and takes a steadying breath before striding out of the room and down the hall to her office, her stilettos clacking all the way. Straightening her spine, she pulls the door open. Sure enough, one of her floor to ceiling windows is shattered, the motorbike lying on its side in the middle of the office, its front wheel still spinning. The Doctor sits at her desk reclining in her chair, his heels propped up on the edge. His helmet is still on, the goggles pulled up over the brim.

“Do make yourself at home,” Caroline huffs.

“Download him.”

“I apologize for the draft in here,” Caroline continues, gesturing at the shattered window. “It’s–”

“Download him back into his body this instant,” the Doctor orders, kicking his feet down and shoving the chair back as he stands.

“I can’t do that,” Caroline states simply.

“Yes, you can.”

“He’s a fully integrated part of the data cloud now,” Caroline says, crossing her arms over her chest. “He can’t be separated.”

“Then download the entire fucking cloud, then,” the Doctor growls, advancing on her. “Everyone that you’ve trapped in there.”

“You do realize what would happen if I did that, right?” Caroline asks coolly.

“Yes,” the Doctor answers. “Those still with bodies to go home to would be free. It would be like nothing ever happened.”

“It’s a tiny number though,” Caroline smirks. “The rest would simply vanish forever. The cloud is what’s keeping them alive. Are you sure you want to be responsible for thousands of deaths, Doctor?”

“It wouldn’t be the first time,” the Doctor says dangerously, his blue eyes steely. “Besides, it would be better than being trapped eternally in a living hell. It’s the kindest thing you could do for them, so give the order.”

“Why would I ever do that?”

“Because I’m about to give you some serious motivation. Any second now.”

“You ridiculous man,” Caroline sneers. “Why did you even come here?”

“I didn’t,” the Doctor answers.

“...What?”

********

Louis sits at the cafe in front of Harry’s laptop, gently carding his fingers through Harry’s curls as he sips his tea. Smirking, he sets his tea down, peering in the webcam as he types out commands with one hand, not wanting to relinquish any form of connection to Harry.

“I’m still at the cafe, just finishing up my tea. It’s a lovely spot, you know? Such a lovely day for a brunch. Mine was rudely interrupted though, right before I was about to surprise my date with some dessert.”

“What are you talking about?” the woman spits.

“You hack people,” Louis says airily, his casual voice belying his fury. “Me? I’m old fashioned. I hack technology. ”

********

Caroline watches in horror as the Doctor unclips and removes his helmet, dropping it to the floor with a clatter. Slowly, the head spins around.

“No,” Caroline whispers, backing away from him, hitting the door and fumbling for the knob. “Not me! No, no, no, not me!”

“Here’s your motivation!” the Doctor cries, as a beam shoots out of the base station’s head.

“Not me!” Caroline screeches. “Not me!”

********

“Mr. Griffiths!” Magee cries suddenly, pointing at the bank of monitors. “Mr. Griffiths, look! It’s Ms. Flack!”

Griffiths looks up, his eyes widening in shock as he sees his boss in the middle of the display, looking more furious than he’s ever seen her. He reaches for his handkerchief, wiping the sweat from his brow.

“Christ,” he mutters.

“What do we do?” Magee asks fearfully. “Mr. Griffiths, what do we do?”

“Put me back!” Caroline screeches angrily from the screen. “Put me back this instant! Download me! That’s an order! Download me at once, that’s an order.”

“She’s fully integrated,” Magee states nervously. “We’d have to download the entire cloud! We...we can’t do that, can we?”

“No,” Griffiths replies, clearing his throat. “No, we can’t.”

“Download me, you cretins!”

********

Louis hangs up Harry’s iPhone with a satisfied grin. He looks up at the laptop screen, scrolling through different SycoTech profiles until he finds Richard Griffiths. He double-clicks on the obedience tab, dragging the cursor all the way to the top.

********

“Download me this instant!” Caroline shouts.

“Do what she says, Magee,” Griffiths orders. “Do it right now!”

“A-are you sure, sir?” Magee stammers, his finger hovering over the execute button. “The cloud–”

“Do it, Magee! That’s an order.”

Magee hits the execute button. All of the monitors go black.

A piercing noise rips through the room, all of the workers grabbing their heads in agony, many of them keeling over in pain. Right as the sound fades, a group of armed soldiers bursts into the room, followed by a tall blonde woman in a sharp black pantsuit and heels.

“Everybody freeze!” the woman commands. “This building is now under UNIT’s control.”

“What’s happening?” Griffiths asks, incredibly confused as he looks around a strange office that he has zero memory of. “I’ve never heard of UNIT!”

“I suggest you calm down, sir,” the blonde woman says. “We’re here to help.”

“What am I doing here? Are you soldiers? What’s going on? How did I get here?”

“Excuse me, where are the toilets?” the man sitting at the desk next to him asks.

“What?” Griffiths questions, rubbing his temples.

“The toilets,” the man says. “The gents? I’m here to fix the toilets? W-wait. How long have I been here? I don’t know where I am.”

********

Caroline watches the soldiers storm in from the confines of her office, her face pressed against the barely ajar door. She sighs, closing the door, turning around to face her boss, whose face glares at her from the monitor.

“UNIT is here,” she sighs. “Friends of the Doctor, I presume?”

“Yes. Very old friends indeed.”

“Then it seems that I have failed you, Mr. Cowell,” Caroline says, looking down at her feet. “I’m sorry.”

“I have feasted on many minds, Ms. Flack. The Great Intelligence has grown stronger than it has ever been,” Cowell says soothingly. “But now, I’m afraid, it’s time for you to go. You are of no use to me anymore.”

“You’ve been whispering in my ear for so long,” Caroline says mournfully, a tear slipping down her cheek. “I’m not sure what I was before.”

“Goodbye, Ms. Flack,” Cowell says, his screen going dark.

Sniffling, Caroline picks up her tablet, swiping over to her profile page on the tablet. With a sob, she presses the “return to settings” button, dropping the tablet and shattering the screen.

“Stay where you are!” a blonde woman orders, opening the door. “Identify yourself!”

“Where are my mummy and daddy?” Caroline asks in a girlish voice. “They’ve been gone so long. Are they coming back?”

********

Louis snaps the laptop shut, certain that Kate and her squad of UNIT operatives are more than capable of cleaning up the mess at SycoTech. Biting his bottom lip, he looks over at Harry, who is still slumped over, completely unconscious.

“Come on, love,” Louis urges quietly, tucking a curl behind his ear. “I fixed everything. So you gotta wake up now, okay?”

Harry doesn’t stir; Louis feels his throat tightening up.

“C’mon, Haz,” Louis says thickly, shaking him gently. “You can’t leave me now. Not when I just found you, my impossible boy, so wake up. Please wake up.”

“Lou,” Harry sighs.

Relief rushes through Louis’ entire body, tears springing to his eyes.

“Louis!” Harry gasps, sitting up, his eyes wide. “Is it really you? Turn the fuck around right now.”

Louis obliges, laughing wetly as he feels Harry’s hands press to the back of his head.

“It’s really me, Haz, I promise,”

“Thank fuck,” Harry exhales, his hand brushing over Louis’ shoulder, squeezing it gently. “Did you get ’em?”

Louis turns back around, beaming as he wipes his eyes.

“We got them, Harry. You and me. I wouldn’t have been able to take them down if you hadn’t found them.”

“Why are you crying?” Harry asks, a little crinkle forming between his eyebrows.

“I’m just glad you’re okay,” Louis replies, reaching out to smooth away the crinkle. “You scared me. Weren’t you scared?”

“I mean, I was,” Harry answers with a shrug. “But you also promised you wouldn’t let anything happen to me, so. I believed you.”

“Still,” Louis says, “I’m sorry our date got ruined.”

“You mean you’re sorry our breakfast got ruined,” Harry corrects cheekily.

“Potayto, potahto,” Louis says, standing up and shoving a wad of money under Harry’s plate. He crooks out his arm. “Shall we?”

“We shall,” Harry grins, grabbing the laptop and shoving it into the satchel and then taking Louis’ arm.

“We’re going to have to take a car back to the TARDIS,” Louis says ruefully. “I...erm…the motorbike is indisposed.”

“What?” Harry chortles. “How?”

“I’ll tell you on the way,” Louis laughs. “You won’t believe it.”

********

“So where to?” Louis asks with a grin, once they are safely back inside the TARDIS. “The past? The future? What’s your fancy, Haz? Let me show you the stars!”

“Erm,” Harry says hesitantly. “I think I’d just like to go home, if that’s okay with you? I don’t need to go back to last night, today is fine, I just...I wanna go home.”

Louis’ face falls.

That’s...not how this is supposed to go.

“O-oh,” Louis stammers. “Oh, okay.”

“Thanks,” Harry says softly, biting on his bottom lip.

Louis punches in the coordinates for Holmes Chapel; they’re both quiet while the TARDIS wheezes and groans as it takes off. Louis looks at Harry from across the console, but Harry avoids his gaze, picking at a hangnail on this thumb instead.

The TARDIS shudders as it lands.

“Am I home?” Harry asks, finally meeting Louis’ eyes.

“...If you want to be,” Louis answers sadly. “It’s up to you.”

Harry nods, his green eyes troubled.

“Is it always this dangerous? Traveling with you?”

“Yeah,” Louis admits. “It is.”

“I’ve just met you, Louis, and I’ve already nearly died three times,” Harry explains, walking over to him and taking his hands. “I can’t...I just can’t. You understand, yeah?”

Louis looks down at their entwined hands.

“Yeah,” Louis says, swallowing hard. “I understand.”

“I’m sorry,” Harry says genuinely, squeezing his hands before letting them go. “I had an amazing time with you. It’s just...a lot to take in, you know?”

Louis nods miserably.

“Thanks for breakfast,” Harry murmurs, turning to go.

Louis watches him, every fiber in his being screaming that he can’t let Harry walk through that door.

“You never answered my question!” Louis says suddenly.

“What question?” Harry asks, turning back to him, his brow furrowed. “There’ve been a lot of questions, Louis.”

“Why did you give up all your plans to stay at home?”

Harry sighs heavily, running a hand through his hair.

“My stepfather died a year and a half ago,” Harry says, his eyes sad. “I had been making all these plans to travel for a year after uni, almost like some sort of reverse gap year, you know? I had saved up for so long, I had been accepted into this pastry school in Paris, I was set, yeah?”

Louis nods.

“My mum, when Robin died, she insisted that I still go. She said that it’s what he would have wanted. I felt shitty about leaving her, but I was still gonna go. But then Gemma’s husband pulled a runner on her, leaving her on her own with two five-year olds. Mum was grieving, Gem was a mess, the kids were so confused...it was like a lot of shit happened all at once, you know? They’re my family, I couldn’t leave them. I had to stay. I’m glad I stayed. I’m happy, I really am. I work in a bakery and I love my niece and nephew so fucking much. So I can’t just leave them. Can you understand that?”

“I can. I do,” Louis says. “I understand that. But at the same time, what about your dreams? What about this?”

Louis scrambles upstairs to the balcony, going to the bookcase and pulling out a book.

“You have this in your bedroom,” Louis says, holding up the copy of Oh, The Places You’ll Go.

Harry’s eyes widen.

“Is that mine?”

“No,” Louis says, sitting down on the stairs. “It’s mine. One of my favorites.”

“Mine too,” Harry smiles, his eyes shining.

“Why though?” Louis asks.

“What do you mean?” Harry asks, his brow furrowing with confusion.

“I mean that book is all about taking chances. Seizing the moment. Going on adventures,” Louis says, flipping through the pages, his finger finding one of his favorite passages. “Right here it says ‘You have brains in your head, you have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.’ So what do you choose?”

“I–”

“You’ve had that book since you were five years old, Haz. It’s full of dreams and it’s also full of all these plans that have fallen through for one reason or the other. But you still keep it, right there by your bed. So I guess I’m just asking what it is that you’re waiting for?”

“I don’t know,” Harry replies honestly, walking over to the console, his fingers dancing along the edge. “I think I’ve been waiting for the time to be right? Because–”

“You don’t walk out on the people you care about,” Louis finishes. “I wish I was more like that.”

“You aren’t? I doubt that, Louis.”

They stare at each other for a long time; Louis can see the conflicted emotions in Harry’s eyes.

“You know,” Louis says, setting the book aside and hoisting himself up. He hops on the railing and slides all the way down, jumping to the floor and skipping over to the console. “The amazing thing about having a time machine is that you can run away all you like and still be home in time for tea. Just as if you never left.”

Harry grins broadly, his dimples popping. Louis steps into his space, their chests nearly touching.

“So what do you say, Haz,” Louis asks breathily, looking up at him through his eyelashes. “We can go anywhere, you and me. All of time and all of space. Right outside those doors. Oh, the places we’ll go.”

There’s a long pause as Harry looks at Louis, his eyes roving all over his face, the moment rich with possibility. The tension is almost too much for Louis to bear; they’re so close Louis can feel his breath hot against his cheek.

“Does this work?” Harry asks lowly, his eyes flicking down to Louis’ lips ever so briefly.

“Does what work?”

“This whole...thing,” Harry teases, his eyes sparkling as he waves a hand around, taking a step back from him. “Is this what you actually do? Do you just crook your finger and give this whole ‘all of time and space’ speech and people just jump in your snog box and fly away?”

“Oi!” Louis protests. “It is not a snog box!”

“I’ll be the judge of that,” Harry says with a wink, spinning on his heel and walking towards the door.

“When?” Louis asks hopefully, leaning a hip against the console in what he hopes is a casual manner.

“Come back tomorrow,” Harry replies, resting against the door. “Ask me again.”

“Why tomorrow?”

“Because tomorrow I might say yes,” Harry grins. “Does around five work for you?”

“It’s a time machine, Haz,” Louis says fondly. “Any time works. It can be five o’clock tomorrow with just the press of a button.”

“But you won’t do that, will you?” Harry challenges. “The long way ’round, Louis. Up for it?”

“Oh, I’m up for it, Harold.”

“Just Harry,” Harry corrects.

“Whatever you say, Harold.”

Harry shakes his head, swinging the door of the TARDIS open.

“Hey, Harry!” Louis calls.

“Yes?”

“In your book, there was a leaf. Why?”

“That wasn’t a leaf,” Harry smiles softly, resting his head against the door frame. “That was page one. See you tomorrow, Lou. Don’t be late.”

“Oh, I won’t,” Louis grins. “A Time Lord is never late, Harry Styles. He arrives exactly when he is meant to.”

“Okay, Gandalf,” Harry says as he closes the door.

“I’ll have you know I told Tolkien to write that line!”

Chapter Text

Taking the long way ’round is for the birds. But Louis had promised Harry that he would do it and if there’s one thing Louis has learned over the past few centuries it’s that he is absolutely weak for every version of Harry Styles.

But still. It’s for the birds.

The first thing Louis does is tackle his bedroom, first cleaning up the mess he had made two days before when he was trying to find the perfect outfit to impress Harry after the whole monk’s robes debacle. He reorganizes his wardrobe, putting all his tracksuits in the back and bringing all his smart-looking button downs, slim-fit trousers, and braces to the front. (He’s just changing up his style, he tells himself. It’s not because Harry said the braces suited him. It’s really not.)

Louis prolongs cleaning the rest of his room, meticulously organizing all the books and journals on his desk. Once his room is spotless, probably the cleanest it has been in at least a decade, there’s nothing left for Louis to do but face the inevitable. He can’t avoid it anymore, as much as he may want to. It just makes sense to get the room across the hall ready for Harry, even though it was the room that had once belonged to Perrie and Jesy.

Louis stands in the hall, staring at the closed door, psyching himself up. He had cleaned it out a few months after he had lost them to the Weeping Angels, and then promptly closed the door, never even thinking about opening it again until now. He’s had plenty of practice losing humans over the course of his lifetime, but he’s never learned how to handle it any better than that.

Out of sight, out of mind, right?

Taking a deep breath, he opens the door, pausing and leaning against the doorframe as he surveys the empty room that was once so full of life, his hearts clenching in his chest. The room smells stale from being shut up for so many years. He knows that this is what his girls would have wanted for him, Louis making their room ready for a new companion. Perrie had always warned him about traveling on his own for too long, that he got too in his head and it wasn’t good for him.

Know that we will love you always. Sometimes, I do worry about you though. I think once we’re gone, you won’t be coming back for a while and you might be alone, which you never should be. Don’t be alone, Doctor.

Tears prick at his eyes as the words Perrie had written to him in her goodbye letter suddenly come rushing back. She was right, of course she was right. He’s been alone for far too long, too blinded by the grief of losing them to heed her advice and open his hearts to someone else.

Hopefully, he’s not going to be alone for much longer.

Clenching his bucket of cleaning supplies in his hand, Louis wills his tears away and straightens his spine, making himself cross the threshold into the bedroom. It’s time to say a proper goodbye to them. For good this time.

As he whips off the drop cloths covering the furniture, images of their years together flood his memory, from Perrie’s very first trip in the TARDIS to Jesy eventually joining them to the night that they didn’t realize would be their final one together, laughing in the console room over curry take-out and wine.

Louis gets on his hands and knees, cleaning out the dust bunnies from under the bed. He gasps when his fingers brush the soft fur of what could only be Perrie’s old teddy bear, wedged in between the bed frame and the wall. He grasps the arm, pulling the bear out, the tears threatening to return as he thumbs over the place where he is missing one of his button eyes. It had been Perrie’s bear since childhood, she had been clutching it in her arms the night he’d crashed the TARDIS in her backyard.

Louis laughs wetly, the tears finally spilling over as he remembers bewildered little Perrie in her kitchen, dressed in her nightgown, desperately trying to find something for him to eat that didn’t make him sick to his stomach.

God, he hasn’t had fish fingers and custard in ages.

Now that the tears have started in earnest, Louis has a hard time stopping them, so he allows himself to have a good cry, curling up in the cushy armchair in the corner of the room and clutching the bear to his chest. He doesn’t let himself do this very often, doesn’t let the grief take over, but as he cries for his lost friends, he actually feels some of the pain start to leave his body.

He has no idea how long he sits there crying, but once the tears slow, he goes back to his room, kissing the bear and putting him in the trunk in the corner of his room that’s filled with various keepsakes from his past companions. Swiping his cheeks, he stops in his ensuite to splash some water on his face before heading back across the hall and getting back to work, rearranging the furniture and getting fresh bedding, determined to make the room as nice as possible for Harry.

Just in case he decides to stay. God, he wants him to stay.

Once Harry’s room is done, Louis spends a few hours in the engine room, doing some much-needed maintenance on the TARDIS, the tedious and repetitive work helping him rein his emotions back in.

For nostalgia’s sake, he makes fish fingers and custard for dinner, curling up on the couch in the sitting room to watch some Netflix on his massive telly.

He wakes up in the wee hours of the morning, the telly glowing bright, asking him if he’s still watching. Louis clicks it off and drags himself to his bedroom, shedding his clothes and flopping face first on the bed.

Louis usually doesn’t manage more than three or four hours of sleep a night, but his body must be exhausted after spending so much time crying the previous day. He wakes and checks the time, surprised to find he’s had a bit of a lie-in.

After a breakfast of Coco Puffs mixed with Fruity Pebbles, Louis takes a long shower, the hot water managing to make him feel human again. Or as close to human as he gets, anyway.

He carefully picks out his outfit for the day, opting for some slim-fit light grey trousers and a slate-grey button down, done all the way up to the top button, rounding out the ensemble with some maroon braces. He cuffs the trousers at his ankles and slides his feet into some new cream-colored Converse. Frowning at his shoes, he scuffs over them several times, just enough so they don’t look weird being so pristine.

Louis pops out to Tesco to restock the kitchen. Remembering Harry’s sweets preference, he makes sure to grab several bags of Gold-Bears, in addition to his own Jelly Babies. He also grabs a bouquet of sunflowers to make Harry’s room feel extra welcoming.

By the time he gets back from the shops with his haul and puts it all away, it’s still only half-one.

Yep. Taking the long way is for the birds.

Louis checks his watch and then drums his fingers on the edge of the console. With a sigh, he finally gives in to the itch that’s been plaguing him for hours, probably ever since Harry had walked out of the door, if he’s being truly honest. He grabs one of the monitors mounted above the console and tugs it down, immediately reaching for the keyboard and typing in Harry’s name. He holds his breath as he presses the enter key. Taking a little step back, he watches with wide eyes as the screen lights up, filling with everything from Harry’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram profiles to a birth announcement in the Holmes Chapel Chronicle. Telling himself that he’s just doing his due diligence and not being a complete and total creep, he dives into the search results, looking for answers.

Harry Edward Styles (ha, it really is just Harry), Louis reads, born on the first of February in 1994, to parents Anne and Des. One sister, Gemma, six years older. Louis clicks over to Harry’s Facebook, the TARDIS’ software allowing him to view the page in reverse. He scrolls all the way from Harry’s awkward years in secondary, his curls short and fluffy and his cheeks round, his mouth just a little too big for his face.

He clicks through Harry’s photo albums as they appear in his feed, laughing when he finds a short video of teenage Harry fronting a garage band called White Eskimo, a red necktie looped around his head. He sees Harry serving as best man at his mum’s wedding, Harry walking Gemma down the aisle at her wedding, Harry cradling the infant twins in his arms, a look of awe on his face, and Harry at his graduation from the University of Manchester, his hair brushing his shoulders, his face more angular and defined, his posture confident.

Louis’ hearts sink as he scrolls past the obituary for his stepfather, Harry’s grief apparent in the photo that he’d shared on the day Robin died. He’d posted a polite but brief thanks to his friends for their thoughts and for coming to the memorial services, instead of replying individually to the countless messages of condolences. His posts became sporadic after that for a stretch of a few months at least, in stark contrast to his activity before. Louis can tell when Harry must have moved in with Gemma and the twins from the uptick in photos posted, his niece and nephew bringing out his megawatt grin again.

Finished with Facebook, Louis switches over to Harry’s Instagram feed, learning that he has a flair for photography, the black and white aesthetic of his pictures capturing all sorts of quirky moments, often captioned with silly puns. While he finds the whole quest enlightening as to the kind of person Harry is, the only thing his cyberstalking manages to prove is that Harry is completely and totally human, his utter normalcy being the most extraordinary thing about him.

So why the fuck does Louis keep meeting him then? There’s no rational way to explain it.

It’s simply impossible. Harry’s impossible.

Louis looks at his watch, shocked to see that it’s twenty minutes to five all of a sudden. Quickly closing all of his tabs, Louis pushes the monitor back up to its rightful place and runs to the loo, butterflies dancing around in his stomach. He brushes his teeth and then runs his fingers through his hair, swiping his fringe until it’s perfectly mussed. He jogs back out to the console room, punching in the coordinates for Harry’s house. Louis fusses with his fringe, psyching himself up as the TARDIS makes the quick jump over to Harry’s house, shuddering when it lands. He takes a deep breath and marches to the door, throwing it open and stepping out onto Harry’s driveway.

He paces around for a few moments, eyes trained on his watch.

4:57.

Fuck it, Harry had said around five, and you can’t get much more “around five” than this.

He strides over to the stoop and knocks on the door, rocking back and forth on his heels. Louis hears someone approach; the knob turns and the door starts to open.

“Hi, Ha–”

The door opens all the way, revealing not Harry, but Gemma, the sibling resemblance striking despite her brown eyes, straight platinum blonde hair, and freckles.

“Not Harry,” Louis states.

“Observant,” Gemma smirks. “You must be–”

“Louis,” he grins, thrusting his hand out. “And you’re–”

“Gemma,” she finishes, shaking his hand firmly. “Come on in, Louis. Or should I say Doctor?"

Louis is too gobsmacked to respond; he barely processes Gemma announcing his arrival to Harry until he hears Harry respond with “Just a mo’!” from his bedroom at the top of the stairs.

“Would you like to sit?” Gemma asks, gesturing to the family room just off the foyer.

“Erm, sure. Thanks,” Louis replies, following her.

He settles on the couch while Gemma sits in the over-stuffed armchair catty-cornered to it. They sit in awkward silence, Louis fiddling with his hands while Gemma studies him intently.

“So you’re a time-traveling alien,” Gemma says bluntly.

“Harry told you, eh?” Louis asks, relieved that he doesn’t have to hide anything from her but suddenly even more nervous than he already was.

“Harry tells me everything,” Gemma replies easily.

“Oh,” Louis says, squaring his shoulders and looking her straight in the eye. “Well, I’m sure you have lots of questions–”

“You don’t look like an alien,” Gemma interrupts, looking him up and down. “Aren’t you supposed to be green or something?”

“Oi! That’s a bit bloody offensive, innit? Not all aliens look like Martians!”

Gemma raises an eyebrow.

“Fuck, sorry,” Louis says abashedly, running a hand through his hair. “’M meant to be making a good impression.”

“It’s quite alright,” Gemma assures him, a hint of laughter in her voice. “Silly of me to assume there was only one type of alien.”

“I mean, at least you believe me, that’s a good start.”

“’Course I believe you,” Gemma scoffs. “It’d be pretty close-minded of me to not believe that there’s more out there than just us, right?”

“Yeah,” Louis grins.

“Besides,” Gemma continues, “there was that one Christmas...God, it must have been ten years ago? I remember that Haz had the flu and slept all day, so he completely missed the bloody Titanic suddenly appearing in the sky and almost crashing into Buckingham Palace.”

“The key word here being almost,” Louis says proudly. “Saved Christmas, didn’t I?”

“That was you?” Gemma asks in surprise.

“That was me,” Louis nods.

“When Harry said that you also went by the name ‘Doctor,’ it made me think of this boy I knew in uni,” Gemma says after a moment. “Clive. Right conspiracy theorist he was. Fox Mulder was his hero.”

“The truth is out there,” Louis interjects solemnly. “You’re looking at it.”

Gemma rolls her eyes.

“Anyway, the whole ‘Doctor’ thing rang a bell, I remembered him talking about the ‘Doctor,’ always the ‘Doctor.’ So after Harry and I talked last night, I googled you.”

“Don’t believe everything you read on the internet,” Louis warns. “Clive’s been obsessed with me since he was a lad. Probably ’cause he fancied his own trip in the TARDIS and never got it.”

“Clive is a nutter, but it wasn’t just him. I was up for hours reading about you. There’s this whole forum dedicated to sightings of you and your blue box. I found websites with all these pictures from historical archives,” Gemma says, her brown eyes roving over his face, “and you’re in them, going all the way back to when the photograph was first invented. And then you’re in paintings before that.”

“Got quite a few in the Portrait Gallery, I have to say,” Louis says, trying to sound breezy and ignoring the little voice in his head telling him that trying to sound breezy actually negates the breeziness. “I think there are some on loan to the Met, too.”

“The people on the forum said that you’re woven all throughout history. That when disaster comes, you’re there. And that you always have one constant companion: death.”

“Christ,” Louis cringes. “Bit dramatic, innit? Like I said. Don’t believe everything you read on the internet.”

“So I guess I just want to know one thing, Doctor,” Gemma says, leaning forward in her seat. “What the fuck do you want with my baby brother?”

Louis swallows hard. He knows he should just tell her about Harry being impossible but he can’t find the words.

“It’s a lonely life, just me and the TARDIS. I haven’t had a companion in a long time,” Louis says carefully. “And Harry...Harry’s special.”

“I know that,” Gemma says seriously. “That is, I know why he’s special to me, Louis. But what do you want with him? Why him?”

“I never know why, Gemma,” Louis says simply. “I only know who.”

Gemma looks at him appraisingly, sweeping a lock of hair behind her ear. Louis looks back at her, willing her to understand.

“It’s not that I don’t want him to have his own life,” she sighs, her lips twisting into a rueful smile. “I do. I mean, Christ, we were just talking about him moving out. He was being so stubborn about staying that I was basically gonna kick him out once the kids were back from camp. So imagine my surprise when I get home from Birmingham yesterday and Harry’s raving all about an evil corporation abducting people through the wi-fi and stopping a bloody plane from crashing and this mad man in a police box who wants to whisk him away to show him the stars. You understand why this is scary for me, right? It’s just...a lot to take in.”

“Does that mean he’s coming with me?” Louis asks hopefully.

“That’s for Harry to decide,” Gemma replies enigmatically. “I just need to know if I can trust you, Louis. Can you promise me that he’ll come back to us in one piece?”

“I can’t do that,” Louis says softly. “What I can promise is that I will do everything within my power to keep him safe. You have my word on that.”

Gemma appears satisfied by that, giving him a little nod.

“Okay,” she says genuinely. “I believe you. But one last thing: When Harry decides to do something, he’s all in. Be careful with him? Because if you hurt my baby brother, in any shape or form, I will have to murder you.”

“Please don’t,” Louis says cheekily. “I’d just regenerate and I’m quite fond of this face, thank you very much.”

Their laughter is interrupted by a clatter on the staircase. Louis leaps to his feet, immediately making his way back to the foyer; Gemma snorts at his eagerness.

“Glad to see the feeling’s mutual then,” she snickers.

“Shut up,” Louis mutters.

Louis’ mouth goes dry as he sees Harry coming down the stairs, struggling with two overstuffed suitcases, an over-the-shoulder duffle, and what appears to be a hat box. He’s dressed in a loud blue Hawaiian shirt patterned with bright green palm trees and bursts of purple; the top three buttons are undone, the shirt gaping open to expose the smooth planes of his chest. His Bambi legs are clad in skintight black jeans that are ripped at the knees, scuffed brown Chelsea boots are on his feet, and his hair falls in loose ringlets that brush his shoulders, a pair of black aviators serving as a headband.

He’s so fucking beautiful Louis can barely breathe.

Harry makes eye contact with him, a brilliant smile blooming on his face; he promptly loses control of one of his suitcases, the bag flopping over and tumbling to the bottom of the stairs.

“Oops!” Harry giggles, looking down at Louis.

“Hi,” Louis says breathlessly, bending down to right the suitcase.

“Hi,” Harry echoes as he hits the bottom step, setting down the rest of his luggage.

“Going somewhere, Haz?”

“Maybe,” Harry replies airily, his green eyes sparkling. “This fit alien promised he would show me the stars. Thought I might take him up on the offer.”

“Oh, really?” Louis preens. “Fit alien, huh?”

“Yeah, if he shows up, I’ll let you know.”

“Oi!” Louis exclaims, poking him in the ribs repeatedly. Harry squeals, wrestling away from him.

“Oh, good God,” Gemma mutters behind them.

“That’s a lot of luggage for just one trip, Harry,” Louis states once their giggles die down.

“Well I don’t know where we’re going!” Harry protests. “Hot weather, cold weather, no weather. We could go anywhere! I’ve got to be prepared, Lou.”

“A hat box is prepared?” Louis asks teasingly, dangling the box from his finger. “Seems excessive to me.”

“Planet of the hats! I’m ready!”

Louis cackles; Harry looks exceedingly proud of himself, dimples carving deep craters in his cheeks.

“Besides,” Harry says, suddenly bashful, “I thought...I thought I might travel with you for a bit. If you’re still asking, that is?”

Louis feels like his hearts are going to burst.

“Oh, I’m asking,” Louis grins, putting the hat box down. “I’m definitely asking.”

“You gotta do the whole speech again though,” Harry says, stepping into his space. “The whole time and space thing. Ask me again.”

“Seriously?”

“Seriously,” Harry smirks, nudging Louis’ shoulder.

“Okay, fine.”

Louis inhales deeply, taking a step back and shaking himself out dramatically, rolling his neck and cracking his knuckles for extra effect. Harry watches in amusement, biting his bottom lip. Louis winks at him before snapping into character, stepping back into Harry’s space and looking up at him through his eyelashes.

“We can go anywhere, you and me.” Louis murmurs, his eyes roving over Harry’s face. “All of time and space. Right outside those doors. Oh, the places we’ll go. So what do you say, Haz? You want me to show you the stars?”

“Yes,” Harry replies softly, tangling their fingers together. “Show me the stars, Lou.”

Louis gazes at him, feeling like everything is finally, finally slotting into place.

“Jesus, I’m still in the room you know,” Gemma quips.

“Sorry, Gem,” Harry blushes, squeezing Louis’ hand before releasing it, turning to face his sister. “M’just excited.”

“I reckon you’re mad, the pair of you,” Gemma smirks. “Just don’t go looking for trouble, yeah?”

“We won’t,” Harry grins.

“Trouble's just the bits in-between,” Louis says, taking Harry’s hand again. “It's all waiting out there, Gemma. All those planets, and creatures and horizons even I haven't seen yet! And it is going to be fantastic.”

“Where are we going first, Lou?”

“That’s up to you, love,” Louis replies, picking up the hat box and resting it on top of one of Harry’s suitcases. “Shall we?”

“Yeah,” Harry smiles. “Let’s go.”

They both turn to look at Gemma, who has tears sparkling in her eyes.

“Gem,” Harry exhales, dropping Louis’ hand and pulling her into a hug, Gemma’s arms wrapping around his waist immediately. “Don’t cry, you’re gonna make me cry.”

“I love you, you idiot,” Gemma sniffles into his shoulder. “Have the time of your life. You deserve this so much.”

“I love you too,” Harry replies, his voice thick.

“But please be careful and just...come back in one piece, okay?”

“I will,” Harry answers. “Louis will take good care of me, I promise.”

Gemma looks at Louis over Harry’s shoulder; Louis nods solemnly.

“Okay, then,” Gemma says, pulling back and swiping her tears away. “Promise you’ll pop back for a visit when the twins get back from camp.”

“Obviously,” Harry says with mock offense as he shoulders his duffle bag. “What kind of uncle do you think I am? I’ll bring them presents from outer space!”

Much to Louis’ surprise, Gemma tugs him into a hug. He’s so startled by it, it takes him a few seconds to respond.

“Remember what I said,” Gemma mutters. “Take care of him.”

“I will,” Louis replies. “Promise.”

Louis releases her and turns to Harry, who beams back at him.

“Ready?”

“Ready,” Harry nods.

Gemma gets the door for them, holding it open as they maneuver Harry’s suitcases outside.

“Love you,” Harry says, pressing a quick kiss to her cheek.

As they walk towards the TARDIS, Louis snaps his fingers and the doors swing open, the interior lights flickering on and illuminating the console room.  

“Bloody hell!” Gemma gasps from the stoop. “It really is bigger on the inside!”

“Told ya,” Harry grins cheekily, stepping into the TARDIS. “See you, Gem!”

Louis waves at her, following Harry into the TARDIS and pulling the door closed. He makes sure the latch is fastened securely and then turns around to face Harry, who’s already looking at him.

“Hi,” Louis breathes, leaning back against the door.

“Hi,” Harry parrots, his dimples popping.

Louis has no idea how long they stand there, gazing at each other dopily.

“Erm,” Louis says finally, clearing his throat. “Let’s get you settled, yeah?”

“Okay,” Harry replies easily. “Lead the way.”

Louis guides Harry through the console room, down the back set of stairs, and around the corner to the corridor that leads to the living quarters.

“How big is the TARDIS?” Harry wonders aloud.

“Dunno actually,” Louis laughs. “Over a thousand years with her and I’m still not certain I’ve seen everything. Always finding new rooms.”

“Wow,” Harry whispers.

“This here is the wardrobe,” Louis says, gesturing to a golden door. “It’s got any type of clothing you could need, for just about any time period.”

“Um, yeah, I’m gonna want to spend some time in there.”

“Yeah, for all the clothes you didn’t bring,” Louis teases gently.

“Shut up, I like to be prepared!”

“Of course you do, love,” Louis winks. “Kitchen’s down at the end of the hall and to the left. I went to the shops today; got a little bit of everything, wasn’t sure what you like, other than Gold-Bears.”

“There’s a kitchen?” Harry asks excitedly. “I can bake?”

“You can do whatever you want, love.”

“I’ve been working on perfecting my mum’s chocolate souffle recipe, you can be my test subject,” Harry grins, poking him in the ribs.

Louis trips over his own feet, Harry’s suitcase flopping to the floor.

“Steady there,” Harry huffs, his hands flying to Louis’ hips. “You okay?”

“Yeah,” Louis replies, his voice pinched. He turns to look at him, schooling his face into a neutral expression. “Souffles, huh?”

“Why do you keep looking at me like that?” Harry asks, thumbing at Louis’ hip.

“Like what?” Louis asks breathlessly.

“Like you’ve seen a ghost or summat,” Harry muses. “You did it all the time the other day and you did it just now.”

Louis swallows hard, studying him intently.

“You remind me of someone,” Louis says softly, tucking a curl behind Harry’s ear. “Someone I lost.”

“Oh,” Harry frowns.

They stand in silence for a few moments. Louis feels utterly conflicted as Harry studies his face thoughtfully. He knows that he needs to tell Harry about his past selves, but the fear that Harry might turn around and walk straight out of the TARDIS – and away from Louis – paralyzes him. So he keeps quiet, vowing that he will tell him eventually. Just not now.

Once he figures out how to explain the impossible. That’s when he’ll tell him.

“I’m sorry you lost someone, Louis,” Harry says finally. “Believe me, I know how it feels. But whoever they were, I’m not them. I’m not going to be them. And I want to be here, I want to travel with you, but only if you want me here, not some...bargain-basement replacement for someone else. I’m not going to compete with a ghost. I can’t.”

“Nor should you,” Louis nods, shoving away the thoughts of Victorian Harry. “I just want you. Just Harry.”

“Now that we’ve got that settled, you gonna show me my room?” Harry says, gently knocking his shoulder against Louis,’ “Or should I just make myself at home in this corridor?”

“Right, right,” Louis says, shaking his head a little as he bends down to right Harry’s suitcase on its little wheels. “It’s just down this way.”

They walk to the end of the corridor and take a right, passing the big open den. Harry hums his approval as he takes in the cushy couches and the massive telly.

“Explore as much as you like,” Louis says as they keep walking. “I want you to feel at home, Haz.”

“Thanks, Lou,” Harry replies as they come to a stop in between two doors that are directly across from each other.

“That’s me,” Louis says, waving dismissively at his bedroom door. “Nothing special to see there. This is you.”

Louis pushes the door open and flicks on the light, Harry following behind him. Harry grins as he wheels his suitcase against the wall, taking in the bedroom. Louis had kept things simple, knowing that his companions usually like to make the room their own. The walls are a pale, pearly grey; a large bed sits in the middle, made up neatly with a pale green floral duvet and fluffy white pillows. Nightstands with lamps are on either side of it and the bouquet of sunflowers that Louis bought earlier sits in a crystal vase on the dresser on the opposite side of the room, next to the door that leads to the ensuite. Louis’ favorite part of the room is the cozy little reading nook, where the overstuffed armchair and ottoman sits catty-cornered to a bookcase, a little table with a record player sitting on the other side of it.

“Hope you like it,” Louis says shyly, placing Harry’s other suitcase by the door. “We can decorate it more, but I figured I would leave it up to you.”

“It’s brilliant,” Harry assures him, squeezing his shoulder before heading to the bed, tossing the duffle on it. “You got me flowers?”

“’Course I did,” Louis scoffs. “What kind of host do you think I am?”

Harry just grins, his dimple so deep Louis’ sure he could see it from the moon. He wanders over to the nook, his long fingers flipping through the shelf of vinyls.

“I have more in the living room,” Louis offers.

“These are great,” Harry says happily. He pulls out a copy of The Script’s debut album, holding it up for Louis. “God, I love The Script.”

“Me too,” Louis replies.

“Their first big tour,” Harry starts, studying the album cover, “they played the Manchester Apollo the week after my fifteenth birthday. It’s a tiny venue, only seats a little over three thousand people, I think? It sold out in seconds. Gem and I tried to get scalper seats but we couldn’t afford ’em. Next tour, they were playing the big arenas. I would have killed to see them at a small venue like the Apollo,” Harry says, sliding the record back onto the shelf.

“You know, I actually wrote some songs with Danny and the lads back in the day.”

Harry looks at him for a long time before bursting out laughing.

“No fucking way.”

“Fine, don’t believe me,” Louis shrugs, smiling enigmatically.

“I don’t,” Harry states, sitting on the edge of the bed and surveying his luggage before looking up at Louis, hopping back to his feet. “You know what? I’ll unpack later. Can we go now?”

“Of course,” Louis replies happily, guiding Harry out of the bedroom. “Did you decide where you wanted to go first?”

“We can go anywhere?” Harry asks, pulling on his bottom lip.

“Anywhere,” Louis confirms. “Within reason, anyway. Well...sort of within reason. What does reason really mean anyway?”

Harry laughs.

“So we can go backwards in time,” he ponders.

“Or space,” Louis adds.

“Right,” Harry smiles. “Or space. And we could go forwards in space.”

“Or time,” Louis giggles, trotting up the stairs into the console room and doing a little twirl before heading over to the navigational system. “Totally. When I say anywhere, I mean anywhere, Haz. So where do you want to go, eh? What’s the one thing you want to see? Name it.”

Harry leans back against the railing that surrounds the main platform, crossing his arms and looking deep in thought.

“I actually don’t know,” Harry answers honestly after a long moment.

“You don’t know?” Louis asks incredulously.

“Well, I don’t know what’s out there, do I?” Harry chuckles. “Besides, it’s all so much, innit? All of time and space? How can you possibly pick? It’s like...you know what it’s like when someone asks you what your favorite book is–”

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” Louis answers immediately.

“Of course you like the one with the Time Travel, Louis.”

“She’s very clever, you know. A time-turner is basically a crude version of a vortex manipulator. Good ole Jo.”

“Anyway,” Harry continues. “Like I was saying, you know what it’s like when someone asks what your favorite book or your favorite film–”

Grease.”

“Would you let me finish?” Harry sputters with exasperation, even though there is no heat behind it.

Louis mimes zipping his lips.

“It’s like anytime when you get asked what your favorite thing is, you immediately draw a blank?”

“Nope, never happens.”

“Well, it’s a thing that happens to me,” Harry laughs. “How do you decide where to go? Surely you don’t know every destination in the universe, Louis.”

“Hmmm,” Louis says, rubbing his chin. “That’s true. I usually just leave it up to the TARDIS. She always knows where I need to go or what I’m in the mood to see.”

“She does?”

“She’s a very clever girl,” Louis says, stroking the console lovingly. “So I guess that’s the real question then, Haz. What are you in the mood for? What would you like to see?”

“Okay,” Harry answers, pacing back and forth, tugging on his bottom lip as he ponders his response. “So. So...so I would like to see. I would like to see–”

Harry’s eyes light up and he snaps his fingers.

“I would like to see something awesome,” he pronounces proudly.

“Something awesome, eh?” Louis muses, punching some commands on the keyboard and throwing the throttle up. “Something awesome coming right up.”

********

“Are we here?” Harry asks eagerly, gripping the edge of the console to steady himself as the TARDIS lands with a groan. “Where or whenever ‘here’ is anyway?”

“Yes, let’s see where we are, shall we?”

Harry watches Louis with amusement as he studies the monitor on the console, mouthing to himself as he reads the screen. His sharp blue eyes light up in apparent recognition, a brilliant smile breaking out on his face.

“You’re fantastic, you know that?” Louis praises quietly, caressing the side of the console, giving it a little pat. “Something awesome indeed.”

“Should I leave you two alone?” Harry snickers.

“What?” Louis asks, meeting his eyes.

“You do that a lot, y’know,” Harry smirks, gesturing to the console. “Stroke bits of the TARDIS.”

“Jealous?” Louis asks, his eyes twinkling teasingly.

“Should I be?”

“Nah, you don’t have to be,” Louis dismisses with a wink. “She picked out this place just for you. I think she likes you. I think she likes you very much.”

“Thank God,” Harry grins. “Wouldn’t want the TARDIS to hate me.”

“No,” Louis agrees. “You would not.”

“So where are we?”

“Definitely not in Holmes Chapel anymore, Toto,” Louis winks, coming around the console and slipping his hand in Harry’s and guiding him towards the door. “You ready for your something awesome?”

“Fuck yes,” Harry enthuses.

“Wait!” Louis exclaims, right as they reach the door. “Close your eyes!”

“Really, Lou?”

“C’mon, humor me!” Louis says, hopping back and forth like a little kid.

Harry giggles, obediently shutting his eyes. He feels air whooshing in his face as Louis waves his hands in front of him

“Don’t open them till I tell you to,” Louis commands. “Absolutely no peeking.”

“I won’t, I promise,” Harry grins.

Harry’s heart starts to pound as he hears Louis open both of the TARDIS doors. His breath hitches as he senses Louis coming to stand directly in front of him, taking his hands and threading their fingers together.

“Do you trust me?” Louis asks softly, his thumb tracing soothing gentle circles on Harry’s skin.

“I trust you,” Harry replies, swallowing hard.

Louis gently guides him forward.

“There’s a step down here,” Louis warns, giving his hands a squeeze.

Harry steps down, continuing to follow Louis’ lead blindly. Something that sounds like gravel crunches underneath his boots while little pops of color explode behind his eyelids as he steps into a warm light. His hands are trembling.

“Do you feel that, Haz?” Louis murmurs. Harry can hear the smile in his airy voice. “That’s the light of an alien sun. Can you believe it?”

“No,” Harry huffs with a smile.

Louis leads Harry a few more steps forward before stopping him and letting go of his hands.

“Lou?” Harry squeaks after a few seconds of silence, dutifully keeping his eyes closed.

“Right here, Haz,” Louis chuckles from behind him, resting his hands on his shoulders, gently turning them. “You ready?”

“Yes,” Harry answers immediately. “No. Yes.”

A little puff of air ghosts over the side of Harry’s neck as Louis laughs quietly; goosebumps immediately prickle all over Harry’s body and he feels a bit lightheaded.

“Go on then, love,” Louis whispers in his ear. “Open your eyes. Welcome to the Gulay galaxy and the Rings of Abidjan.”

Harry blinks his eyes open slowly; once his eyes adjust, the breath is knocked straight out of his chest and he stumbles back a little into Louis.

They’re in the middle of an asteroid field, but it’s nothing like the chaotic and dangerous depictions in films that Harry’s seen (thanks Armageddon ). Instead of being nervous or afraid, the only emotion that fills Harry’s chest as he takes it all in is an inordinate sense of peace and wonder. A large pearlescent sun and a smaller rose-gold moon glow in an inky navy sky dotted with millions of stars; glittering black rocks identical to the one the TARDIS is currently parked on float around the sun and moon, moving in a graceful circular motion. Tears spring to Harry’s eyes.

“It’s...It’s…” Harry fumbles, trying to find the words that can possibly describe how he’s feeling at the moment.

He’s pretty certain there aren’t any.

“It is,” Louis agrees knowingly, coming around to stand at his side. “It so completely is. But wait, there’s more!”

“How can there be more?” Harry asks wetly, swiping the tears from his face. “It’s the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen!”

“Oh, just you wait,” Louis says, checking his watch. “Should be happening in five...four...three...two…”

Harry looks out as the smaller asteroids shift, revealing a massive asteroid with a sparkling ivory tower in its center. He gasps as the asteroid orbits directly in front of the sun, bathing the tower's massive spires with an ethereal glow. Squinting his eyes and peering closer, Harry realizes that it’s actually a cluster of towers, the center of which gleams the brightest and rises the highest with a landing pad on the top that looks like a lotus blossom.

“Oh fuck,” Harry breathes.

“That’s Abidjan,” Louis says softly. “It means ‘Pearl of Lagoons.’ Awesome enough for you?”

“Meh,” Harry shrugs, wiping the last of his tears away. “It’ll do. I guess.”

Without even thinking, Harry pulls his iPhone out of his back pocket and opens up the camera. He snaps a picture and then immediately thumbs over to his text thread with Gemma. The photo doesn’t do the least bit of justice to the marvel before him, but it will have to suffice.

“Oh,” Harry says sheepishly, pausing mid-text.

“What is it?”

“Just realized that it’s highly unlikely that I have service in outer space,” Harry explains, holding up his phone. “Was gonna text Gem. Which is silly cause like...when even are we?”

“2603,” Louis answers.

“Christ,” Harry says. “Then yeah, she definitely wouldn’t get a text message. She’s probably been dead for what? Five hundred and fifty years?”

“That’s pretty morbid, Haz,” Louis chides gently. “Here, give me your phone.”

Harry hands the phone over and watches in fascination as Louis takes that wand thingy he always seems to be carrying around from his pocket. Louis fiddles with the wand for a few seconds and then the tip extends, the little silver claws around the green bulb of light popping open. He aims it at the phone and a high-pitched whirring sound comes from the wand. Louis smiles in satisfaction, handing the phone back to Harry.

“There you go,” Louis says proudly, flipping the wand in his hand. “Just changed the settings. You’ll have service anywhere in the universe and it will always go back to 2018. Text away.”

“What is that thing?” Harry asks.

“Sonic screwdriver,” Louis answers, twirling the screwdriver in his delicate fingers.

“It looks like a vibrator.”

“Oi!” Louis sputters. “It’s not a vibrator!”

“I mean, no judgment, obviously,” Harry teases. “It looks like a right fancy one, Lou. Never seen one where the tip spreads like that.”

“I’ll have you know that this is the most powerful tool in the entire universe,” Louis proclaims, waving the screwdriver in Harry’s face. “It works on everything except wood!”

At that, Harry bursts out laughing; Louis scrunches his face up, making him look like a very grumpy pixie, but he can’t maintain the facade for long, throwing his head back and cackling, his high and bright giggle the perfect melodic complement to Harry’s own honking laugh. They laugh until they’re both gasping for breath and tears are streaming down their faces.

“It works on everything except wood,” Harry wheezes. “Good one, Lou.”

“It’s true!” Louis insists, wiping under his eyes.

“Whatever you say,” Harry snickers. “I still say it’s a vibrator.”

A rumbling noise comes from behind them. Harry turns around, his eyes widening as he sees what looks like a sleeker version of a tube car pulling into a landing dock where a small crowd is waiting.

“Fancy a trip to the towers?” Louis asks, extending his hand.

“Hell yes,” Harry replies, clasping Louis’ hand.

“Remember we’re parked on asteroid D-4,” Louis says as they walk the short distance to the platform.

“D-4,” Harry echoes. “Got it.”

They join the line for the shuttle. Harry does his best not to gawk at his fellow passengers, but it’s so hard because they are all shapes, sizes, and colors, from a purple and green polka-dotted creature with two horns and a long snout to someone who looks human, except for the fact that they have iridescent pink scales for skin, to a pair of round droids that look just like BB-8 from Star Wars. And those are just the ones closest to them.

“You’re staring, love,” Louis murmurs as they board the shuttle, taking two empty seats by a window.

“God, I know I am,” Harry moans quietly. “I can’t help it, they’re all so beautiful.”

Louis chuckles softly, squeezing Harry’s hand.

The shuttle takes off; the entire ride, Harry alternates between pressing his face up against the window and leaning into Louis as he mutters little factoids about all the different species boarding at each stop. Finally, they swoop around the ivory tower. As they get closer, Harry can make out the buildings carved into the sides of the spires and the winding roads that snake all the way around them in an increasingly tight spiral. He’s surprised when they don’t land at the top but rather a docking station at the bottom.

“It’s a VIP resort at the top,” Louis explains as they disembark, pointing up to the lotus blossom. “Booked years in advance, incredibly exclusive. If we put our names in today, we could come back in ten years or so.”

“Or,” Harry drawls, “we could put our names in, pop back to the TARDIS, jump forward ten years, and come back and enjoy a week-long luxury vacation?”

Louis cackles, his eyes crinkling completely shut as he claps his hand over his mouth. His laughter is quickly becoming Harry’s favorite sound in the whole universe.

“Now you’re catching on to time travel, Haz,” Louis beams, swinging their joined hands back and forth.

Louis leads them towards a sprawling open-air market.

“Oh, wow,” Harry sighs happily, observing the multitude of stalls selling their wares, from food vendors to booths of brightly colored clothing (they must stop there) to flower shops and racks on racks of jewelry. “It’s like a flea market on steroids.”

“That it is,” Louis agrees easily. “Abidjan is famous for this market. It’s one of the biggest commercial hubs in the galaxy, attracting visitors from all over. S’why you saw all those different species on the shuttle.”

They stroll hand in hand through the market, stopping at all the different stalls. Harry discovers that his “ancient Earth money” is incredibly valuable, buying earrings for his mum, necklaces with amulets made from the sparkling black rock of the asteroids for Gemma and Annabel, a set of fossils for Jackson, and a fiery opal ring for himself all for two quid.

“Want to grab a pint before we head over to look at those clothes I know you’ve been eyeing?” Louis asks.

“Ooh, yes,” Harry says, rubbing his stomach, which growls right on cue. “And maybe some lunch, too? I’m starving.”

They wander over to the square that houses all the food vendors, stopping first at the cart selling a wide variety of beers and wines. Louis chooses a traditional lager while Harry chooses a fruity beer that’s hot pink.

“Cheers,” Louis says, clinking their tankards together once they’ve settled at an empty table, menus spread out between them. “To going places.”

“To new adventures,” Harry adds, meeting Louis’ electric blue eyes. “And to us.”

“To us,” Louis echoes softly, his eyes roving over Harry’s face, a small smile pulling at the corner of his mouth. “Thank you for coming with me, Harry.”

“Thank you for having me, Louis,” Harry says sincerely.

They sip their drinks, their eyes locked over their respective tankards.

“Listen to the wind blow, watch the sun rise…”

“The fuck is that?” Louis yelps, pounding his chest as he coughs a little.

“Oh!” Harry cries, feeling the buzzing in his back pocket.

“Running in the shadows, damn your love, damn your lies…”

“It works!” Harry proclaims, fishing his phone out and holding it up for Louis. “Look! My mate Adam’s calling me! In 2603! In outer fucking space!”

“And if you don’t love me now, you will never love me again…”

“Big Fleetwood Mac fan, huh?” Louis asks weakly, his face stricken.

“Yeah, of course. Who isn’t?”

“I can still hear you saying you would never break the chain…”

“You okay, Lou?” Harry questions. “You’re doing that thing with your face again.”

“I’m fine,” Louis assures him, smiling a little too brightly for it to be completely genuine. He takes a big gulp of his beer, swallowing hard and wiping his mouth afterwards. “You should get that before it goes to voicemail.”

Harry frowns skeptically at him, but accepts the call nonetheless.

“Hey, Adam, what’s up, mate?”

“Harry!” Adam answers, his voice clear as day. “You up for a pub night? They’re doing a quiz over at the Red Lion, me and some of the other lads were thinking about going.”

“Oh,” Harry replies, looking over at Louis and reaching out and tapping his thumb against his wrist. “I’m sorry, I can’t make it tonight.”

Louis smiles at him, squeezing his hand and then gesturing at the menu, indicating that he’s going to go up and order their food. Harry nods, smiling back at him.

“Why not?” Adam asks. “You know we’re worthless at trivia without you. C’mon. Lads night, it’ll be fun.”

“The thing is, mate,” Harry laughs, watching Louis as he goes, his eyes drifting down to the delectable curve of his arse in those trousers. “I’m not even in town. I’m actually doing a little traveling...”

London, England. 1601.

“Haz, we’re here,” Louis calls as the TARDIS lands. “We’ve got places to go and people to see. Chop chop!”

“I’ll be right there,” Harry calls from down the hall. “Just getting my boots on.”

Louis smiles, fiddling with controls as he shuts the TARDIS down for the time being. After their jaunt to the future, it only made sense for Louis to take Harry back in time for their next adventure. He can’t wait for Harry to see what he has in store for him today; Louis is certain he’s going to love it, but still his stomach flutters with nervous anticipation.

“Okay,” Harry says, the heels of his boots clicking on the stairs. “I’m ready. How do I look?”

Louis looks up, his mouth immediately going dry at the sight of Harry in a crisp white tunic with a plunging neckline and ruffles at the collar and cuffs, paired with (holy shit) black leather trousers that are so tight they looked painted on. Louis looks closer and sees little pearly buttons along the collar, but only one of them is buttoned, leaving him to wonder why Harry even bothered in the first place.  His silver cross necklace glints against the pale skin of his chest while the supple leather hugs his every curve, somehow making his ridiculous legs look longer than they already are. Simple heeled black boots complete the outfit and Harry’s hair is loose, the ringlets soft and fluffy, brushing over his collarbones; the whole ensemble makes him look like a sinful combination of a hero on the cover of a bodice-ripping novel, a pirate, and a goddamn Disney prince. Louis is suddenly very grateful that he’s standing on the other side of the console, his cock twitching in his pants as he gapes at Harry, who smiles back at him smugly.

“I see you’ve been hitting up the wardrobe room,” Louis says airily, sweeping his fringe to the side and trying to keep his eyes focused on Harry’s face, which really doesn’t help matters too much.

“Nope,” Harry grins, his dimples out in full force. “I had all of this already.”

“Oh,” Louis gulps, subtly adjusting himself behind the console, willing his traitorous body to calm the fuck down. “Well...you look great.”

“Yeah?” Harry asks, his smile getting impossibly wider.

“Yeah,” Louis affirms softly.

“You okay there, Lou?” Harry asks slyly, his eyebrow arched. “You look awfully flushed. We can wait if you’re not feeling well–”

“Oh, shut up,” Louis grumbles. “You know you look bloody gorgeous, Harry, I just need a moment to recover.”

Harry preens, tucking a curl behind his ear. Louis huffs a laugh, snapping his braces against his chest as he finally comes out from behind the console, walking over to Harry’s side.

“Where are we anyway?” Harry asks.

“Why don’t you open the door and find out?”

Harry beams, throwing the doors open.

“Oh, holy shit,” Harry breathes as he takes in the thatched-roofed buildings and the muddy cobblestone street. He looks to his right and his eyes widen as he takes in the bridges crossing the murky waters of a river, the sunlight glittering on the surface. “Are we in London?”

“Yes,” Louis confirms. “In 1601.”

A horse trots by them, pulling a rickety wagon behind him, pieces of straw fluttering out as it navigates the uneven surface. The air smells damp and earthy; Louis wrinkles his nose as he sees a man empty a chamber pot out a window, its contents splattering on the street below. He really should have picked a time when there was indoor plumbing.

“Are we safe?” Harry asks, turning to Louis. “Can we move around and stuff?”

“’Course we can,” Louis laughs, stepping out of the TARDIS. “Why couldn’t we? Just watch where you step, did you see that chap dumping out his chamber pot just now?”

“Haven’t you ever heard of the butterfly effect, Louis?” Harry asks, resting his head against the doorframe. “You step on one butterfly and you change the entire future of the human race?”

“Tell you what,” Louis says, extending his hand out to Harry. “Don’t step on any butterflies then. What have they ever done to you anyway?”

“I don’t know,” Harry says hesitantly. “What if I like, accidentally kill my great-great-grandfather or something? I’ve seen Back the the Future, Louis, I know what I’m talking about.”

“Are you planning to do that?”

“Well, no, obviously, but–”

“But what, Haz?” Louis asks gently.

“Remember that leaf in my book? The one you asked about?”

“Of course,” Louis replies, his brow furrowing. “What does that have to do with this?”

“It’s how my parents met,” Harry explains. “It was this blustery day in Manchester. My dad had just moved there for uni and he was lost, looking down at his campus map, trying to find where his first lecture was. He was so focused on his map, that he didn’t notice how close to the curb he was walking and then this leaf blew right into his face and he stumbled out into the street, right into the path of an oncoming car. Suddenly, someone grabbed him by the arm, pulling him back onto the sidewalk. It was my mum.”

Louis smiles as Harry’s face goes a little dreamy.

“It was like...love at first sight. At the end of their first date, my dad gave the leaf to my mum, saying it was the most important leaf in human history because it led him to her. My mum kept it pressed between the pages of a book, because even after things eventually went sour, it was still the most important leaf in human history to her, you know?” Harry pauses, raking his fingers through his hair.

“That exact leaf had to grow in that exact way in that exact place so that precise wind could tear it from that precise branch and make it fly into his face at that exact moment when my mum was walking down the street. If just one of those things had never happened, my parents would never have met and Gemma and I would have never been born. Mum gave it to me right before I went off to uni as like...a reminder that the most insignificant thing can change the entire course of your life.”

Harry looks down, his cheeks pinkening as he bites his bottom lip.

“You probably think I’m being stupid,” Harry says. “I mean, you do this all the time, I’m making a big deal out of–”

“No,” Louis says fervently, stepping into Harry’s space and hooking his finger under his chin, tilting his face back up, forcing Harry to meet his gaze. “I don’t think you’re being stupid at all. It’s a lovely story, Haz, and I love that you shared that with me. And your mum is right. The smallest thing can change the course of the future. But you know something else I’ve learned in the centuries that I’ve been traveling?”

“What?”

“There are also certain people and events that are fixed points in time, that no matter what you may do, no matter how you may change the circumstances, they will find a way to happen. Because they are meant to be, yeah? Christopher Columbus will always travel to the new world, Napoleon will always fall at Waterloo, Marie Antoinette will always tell the poor to eat cake, and George Washington will always cross the Delaware River. Michelangelo will always find a way to sculpt the David, Van Gogh will always paint Starry Night, the Spice Girls will always record ‘Wannabe.’ And your parents will always meet, because you, Harry Styles,” Louis says, bopping Harry’s nose. “You are an inevitability.”

“You really think so?” Harry smiles.

“I know so,” Louis replies, poking his dimple. “Who do you think came up with the ‘zig-a-zig-ah’ bit?”

Harry honks a laugh; Louis winks at him, his stomach doing a little flip.

“So come on, Haz,” Louis says, extending his hand and wiggling his fingers. “Fancy a day in Elizabethan England?”

Harry nods happily, winding their fingers together and finally stepping outside of the TARDIS.

“I can’t believe I’m walking around in the bloody 1600s,” Harry gushes as they stroll down the lane.

“I mean when you really think about it,” Louis says, “1601 isn’t all that different from 2018.”

He points over to a man scooping manure into the back of a wagon.

“Over there, you have your hipster focused on composting. And over there,” Louis continues, nodding at two women talking over a barrel of water, “You have your watercooler gossip session.”

They pass a man standing on the corner screaming about fire and brimstone and how London is heading straight to the devil.

“And of course, we can’t forget our political activists.”

Harry giggles as they round the corner, but then almost immediately stops in his tracks as a large, white, round building with a thatched roof comes into view.

“Louis,” Harry gasps. “Is that the motherfucking Globe Theatre?”

“Oh, that old thing,” Louis says casually, even as a grin starts to break out over his face as he watches Harry out of the corner of his eye. “Y’know, strictly speaking, it’s not a globe at all. It’s a tetradecagon. Fourteen sides. It’s practically brand new, just opened two years ago. It’s home to the Lord Chamberlain’s Men and the playwright in residence is some guy named Will Shakespeare?”

“Holy shit, do you think he’s actually there?” Harry asks excitedly, bouncing around a little bit. “Louis, I got a degree in English in uni, I’m losing my fucking mind right now. Oh my God, do you think we could see a show? Is anything playing? Oh my God! There is! Look at the crowd, Lou, we have to go.”

“Breathe, Curly,” Louis laughs. “We can do whatever you want.”

Harry practically drags him to the theatre, where a crowd is filing in for that afternoon’s performance. There’s a piece of parchment nailed into a fence post, the corners of it curling up slightly.

“Announcing the premiere of William Shakespeare’s new play,” Harry reads, gripping Louis’ hand tightly, “The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark starring Richard Burbage. Louis! Look! That’s today! Do you think these people have any idea they are about to see arguably the greatest play ever written for the very first time? Holy fuck!”

“I don’t think they do,” Louis grins, digging in his pocket for some change. “Fancy an afternoon at the theatre, Mister Styles?”

“I do indeed, Mister...Doctor?”

Louis cackles, throwing his head back and clapping his hand over his mouth.

“Do they even have surnames on Gallifrey?”

“We don’t,” Louis admits. “Not in the way you would think of it anyway. But whenever I find myself in a situation where I need to use one, I go with Tomlinson. Read it in a book once, thought it went with Louis pretty well.”

“Louis Tomlinson,” Harry says slowly, as if he testing it out. “I like it.”

“Good, so do I,” Louis laughs. “Now then, do you want to be fancy and pay for a seat with a cushion or do you want the authentic groundling experience?”

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Harry asks incredulously. “I want the full authentic groundling experience, Louis. Did you not hear me say I have an English degree?”

“Right, right,” Louis laughs, handing over two shillings to the young urchin manning the admission gate and then pressing a hand to Harry’s lower back to guide him inside. “Silly me.”

They file into the pit that surrounds the stage, finding a good vantage point in the crowd; Harry gapes in amazement the entire time as he takes in the three-story interior and the open-air stage. While the day is comfortably cool, the sun shines brightly in the clear blue sky and the stench of body odor and damp earth is overwhelming at first. Harry doesn’t seem to notice it though, and if he does, he really doesn’t seem to care, too enraptured by the whole experience.

Throughout the more than three-hour performance, Louis mostly finds himself watching Harry watch the play, rather than the play itself. He smiles as he watches Harry mouth parts of the “To be or not to be” soliloquy, he passes Harry a handkerchief when Harry cries over Ophelia’s death, and he slides an arm around Harry’s waist when Harry hides his face in his shoulder as Hamlet and Laertes duel, Harry muttering about those being “actual fucking swords” they’re using. There are audible sobs all around the theatre as Horatio bids his sweet prince good night. After Prince Fortinbras and his soldiers bear Hamlet’s body off the stage, the audience waits in a stunned silence for several long moments before bursting into thunderous applause.

“Holy shit,” Harry gulps, wiping the tears from his cheeks as the actors come out for curtain call. “That was...God...I can’t even find the words. It was amazing. Just amazing. Didn’t you think it was amazing?”

“It was,” Louis grins.

“Where’s Shakespeare?” Harry posits, looking around the theatre. “He’s gotta be here right? Surely he’s like watching from the wings, yeah? There’s no way he’s not. Author! Author! Do people shout that? Author!”

“Author!” a man shouts next to them. Others add their voices until the entire theatre is cheering for William Shakespeare.

“Well, they do now,” Louis snickers.

The roar of the crowd gets louder as a man in a doublet and breeches takes the stage, his arms raised triumphantly.

“Louis!” Harry exclaims, smacking Louis’ chest even as his eyes stay glued to the stage. “Louis, holy shit, it’s him! It’s Shakespeare! Bravo! Bravo!”

“He’s a genius, he is,” Louis extols, clapping his hands. “The genius! The most human human there’s ever been!”

Shakespeare waves his hands to shush the crowd, which slowly dies down.

“And now we’re going to hear him speak,” Louis continues. “He always chooses the best words, Haz. New, beautiful, brilliant words...”

“Shut your big fat mouths, you arseholes,” Shakespeare bellows, a manic grin on his face.

“Or he’ll just say that,” Louis says simply, grinning at the way Harry fishmouths. “Right poet laureate he is.”

Harry bursts out laughing, curling into Louis’ shoulder. Louis tugs him closer to his side, ruffling his curls.

“Guess it goes to show,” Harry giggles into Louis’ neck. “You really should never meet your heroes.”

Marrrr. 1995.

Harry sprints down a corridor, gasping for breath. He pauses for a moment, resting against the cool metal wall, his chest heaving. He can hear Louis around the corner, not too terribly far behind him, luring the overgrown mountain troll that’s been chasing them down the hall, taunting the creature with a giant hunk of meat.

“Here, puppy, puppy, puppy! Come and get the food! Good boy, Hector! Look at this lovely food, don’t you want it? Hazza!” Louis shouts. “Did you find them? Try the right-hand door!”

Harry slams his hand on a button, the airlock on the door hissing as it slides open. He stumbles into the room and finds two large buckets, a blue one and a red one, both filled with different unidentifiable substances. Harry looks between the buckets, having no idea which one he’s supposed to use.

“Louis!” Harry calls frantically. “Which one do I need to use? There’s a red one and a blue one! Does it even matter?”

“Yes,” Louis drawls, as if he’s talking to a cute little animal rather than a troll that’s definitely tried to eat them. “That’s a good boy! Wouldn’t you like a pork-choppy? It’s deli–ahhhhhh!”

Hector roars and there’s a crash.

“Louis!” Harry yells. “Louis! Answer me!”

“Haz–” Hector roars again, cutting off Louis’ shout from the hall. Straining to hear anything over the trolls indignant bellows, Harry manages to make out the words “blue” and “now!”

“Right,” Harry mutters, grabbing the blue bucket and dashing out of the room.

Harry’s eyes widen when he sees Hector pinning Louis against the wall at the end of the hall, Louis struggling valiantly against him, waving the sonic screwdriver around. Harry lets out a primal yell, sprinting towards them with all his might. Once he gets close enough to them, Harry throws the contents of the bucket at the troll, dousing him in a bright blue goo. Hector bellows, immediately releasing Louis and turning around to Harry, an indignant glare on his face.

“What are you doing?” Louis yelps, darting out from behind the troll.

“Saving your life, what does it look like?”

“You used the wrong one!” Louis moans, taking the bucket from Harry and tossing it aside. The troll wipes the goo from his eyes, flinging the excess on the walls. “You made it worse!”

“You said blue!” Harry insists.

“No, I said not blue!” Louis counters. “Don’t you listen?”

“You try listening over the roars of a mountain troll, Louis! I’m just trying to get us out of this mess you got us in. You just had to try and cheat him at poker.”

A mighty howl suddenly rips through the hall, the troll’s hot acrid breath hitting them both in the face.

“Oh, shit!” Louis exclaims, grabbing Harry’s hand and pulling him down the hall. “He’s right pissed now! Run!”

They sprint down the hall, hand in hand, the troll following closely behind. Despite the massive amount of danger they’re currently in, Harry can’t stop the laugh that bursts forth from him.

“Having fun yet?” Louis asks, looking over at him, his eyes crinkling with mirth.

“I’m having the time of my life,” Harry answers with a grin.

The Time Vortex. Unknown.

Harry is startled awake by the sound of the door across the hall opening and closing, followed by the sound of Louis shuffling down the hall. He stretches his arms over his head and then rubs the sleep out of his eyes, blinking several times as his eyes adjust to the soft light that glows from the fairy lights he strung on the ceiling. ( Literal fairy lights that Harry had picked up on Tuatha, the delicate filaments of the lights enchanted by fairy dust so that they will never burn out.) He has no idea what time it is, neither specifically, nor in the greater sense of the word; he feels like his internal clock is permanently fucked, no matter how much he strives to maintain a sense of normalcy by setting some sort of bedtime every day. He only knows that they are currently just floating around in the Time Vortex, which apparently they need to do from time to time, Louis explaining that it was just the TARDIS equivalent of plugging your phone in to charge.

Harry sits up, his fluffy duvet pooling around his waist. He waits for the sound of Louis returning to his room, frowning when it never comes. After a few minutes of silence, Harry sighs, getting out of bed and grabbing the soft grey joggers that are slung over his armchair. He tugs them on, along with his favorite threadbare Rolling Stones tee. After twisting his hair up into a bun, he goes to the door, opening it and peering down the hall.

There’s no sign of Louis, but he does see a light glowing in the kitchen at the other end of the hall. Harry pads down the hall barefoot; the smooth metal floor is warm underneath his feet and the gentle hum of the TARDIS is the only sound other than his footfalls. It should feel eerie, the spaceship being this still and silent, but to Harry, it just feels like home.

“Louis?” Harry asks as he pops his head in the kitchen.

Louis isn’t in the kitchen, but by all appearances, he was very recently. The kettle is on the stove; it’s still warm and there’s a box of Yorkshire tea on the counter beside it. Harry makes himself a cuppa and then sets off in search of Louis, checking all of their living quarters first before heading up to the console room.

Harry’s stomach does a little flip at the sight that greets him when he reaches the top of the steps in the console room. The doors of the TARDIS are flung open; Louis is sitting on the floor in striped blue and white pajama pants and a loose white tank top, his legs dangling over the edge as he sips his cup of tea. Louis’ shoulders are a little slumped, an air of melancholy radiating from him as he stares into the abyss of the Time Vortex. Harry suddenly feels like he’s intruding on a intensely private moment, but he can’t find it within him to leave Louis alone.

“Lou?” he says quietly as not to startle him.

Louis jumps a little anyway, swiping at his cheeks and sweeping his soft fringe to the side.

“Hey, Hazza,” he rasps, looking at him over his shoulder. “I didn’t wake you, did I?”

“You did,” Harry says softly, taking a cautious step forward.

“Sorry, love. Couldn’t sleep.”  

“S’okay,” Harry assures him. “Nothing like a middle of the night cuppa sometimes, right? Or middle of the day? What time is it anyway?”

“Dunno,” Louis replies. “It’s all a bit wibbly-wobbly in here.”

“Okay if I join you?”

“Of course,” Louis murmurs, scooting over a little bit and turning back to the lights.

Harry walks over to him, leaning against the door frame and looking out into the Vortex. It’s nothing like how he thought it would be; he was expecting chaos and a literal swirling vortex, considering how fast the TARDIS travels through it and how rough the ride can be at times. Instead, Harry is greeted with shimmering lights of blue and green and purple and gold and pink, like some sort of infinite and ever-changing version of the Aurora Borealis.

“Wow,” Harry breathes.

“Beautiful, innit?” Louis asks, taking a sip of tea.

Harry looks down at Louis’ profile, the sparkling lights dancing over his face, his ridiculously long eyelashes casting a shadow on his sharp cheekbones. His hair is sleep messy and incredibly soft looking and his chiseled jaw and elegant neck are sporting several days worth of scruff. The scoop of the tank highlights his prominent collarbone and the dusting of hair on his chest, while the open sides expose the smooth golden skin of his torso. Harry appreciates how Louis’ arms are toned but not overly defined, the perfect combination of soft and strong. Louis is always stunning, but sitting here, bathed in starlight, he’s simply breathtaking.

“Yeah,” Harry murmurs, just standing there and admiring him. “Beautiful.”

They watch the lights in companionable silence for a moment, sipping their tea.

“Biscuit?” Louis asks finally, picking up the sleeve of chocolate digestives that rests by his hip.

“Ooh, yes,” Harry replies, finally sitting down next to him, carefully dangling his legs out the door. He takes a couple of the biscuits from the sleeve, dipping one into his tea and then taking a bite, moaning softly at the taste. Louis chuckles, placing the package between them. Harry looks over at him, his face falling when he sees the drying tear tracks on his cheeks and his slightly reddened eyes.

“You okay?” he asks with concern. “Is something wrong? Why couldn’t you sleep?”

Louis doesn’t say anything, he just turns his attention back to the lights. Harry can tell that he’s thinking, so he just waits patiently, swirling his biscuit in his tea.

“Do you remember learning about space when you were a kid?” Louis asks quietly, a faraway look in his eyes.

“Yeah, of course,” Harry replies, puzzled.

“Do you remember them telling you that the world's turning and you just can't quite believe it because everything looks like it's standing still?”

Harry just nods, waiting to see where Louis is going with this.

“I can feel it,” Louis confides. “The turn of the earth. The turn of any planet, any star. Just imagine it, Haz. The ground beneath our feet is spinning at a thousand miles an hour, entire planets are hurtling round their suns at sixty-seven thousand miles an hour and I can feel it. We’re just falling through space, you and me, clinging to the skin of this tiny little world with all our might.”

Sometimes Harry completely forgets that Louis isn’t human, as much as he may act like one.

“That must be exhausting,” Harry says gently, nudging Louis’ thigh with his own.  

“Yeah,” Louis huffs, draining his mug and setting it behind him. “Funny then that it keeps me awake at night, huh?”  

“Is it always like this?”

Louis shakes his head.

“I just can’t shut me brain off sometimes,” he admits, plucking the last biscuit from the package and breaking it in half. “It’s like I close my eyes and all I can see are all the places I’ve been. The things I’ve done.”

“Bad things?” Harry asks tentatively, tracing patterns on Louis’ knee, the cotton of his pajama pants soft under his fingers.

Louis keeps his eyes focused down as he nibbles on his biscuit. Harry simply waits for him to answer, continuing to trace soothing patterns on his knee.

“Yeah,” Louis answers finally, delicately brushing the crumbs from his hands. “I’ve done unspeakable things in the name of saving the world. Sure, I’m called a warrior or a hero but they also call me the Oncoming Storm and the Predator for a reason, Haz.”

“Yeah, but what is the name you chose for yourself, Lou?”

Louis looks at him curiously, a small smile tugging at the corner of his lips.

“I chose Doctor.”

“And why did you choose it?”

“Because it’s a promise,” Louis says, gazing back out at the Vortex. “Never cruel, nor cowardly. Never give up, never give in.”

“That doesn’t sound so bad to me,” Harry says after a moment. “I think the world has enough warriors. Any old idiot can be a hero if they are in the right place at the right time. You’re so much more than that, Louis. You’re a Doctor. Doctors have to make horrible decisions sometimes, but it’s all in the name of saving people. You save people. You always have.”

“I do my best,” Louis sighs.

“And that’s all you can do,” Harry says simply, placing his mug on the floor.

Louis scoots closer to him, resting his head on his shoulder. Harry slides an arm around his shoulders, tugging him even closer.

“Thanks, Hazza,” Louis whispers, snaking an arm around his waist and squeezing tight.

“You’re welcome,” Harry replies, pressing a soft kiss to the top of his head.

They sit there for a long time, just holding each other.  

“Can I ask you something?” Harry murmurs into Louis’ hair, almost afraid that if he speaks any louder that he’ll burst the delicate little bubble around them.

“’Course,” Louis replies, equally soft.

“Can we go see Gallifrey next? I think I’d quite like to see where you come from.”

Louis is quiet for a long time, his fingers absently toying with the hem of Harry’s t-shirt.

“We can’t.”

“Why not?” Harry presses. “Don’t you miss it?”

“It’s gone,” Louis sighs.

Harry’s heart skips a beat.

“What do you mean ‘gone,’ Lou?” he asks carefully, even though he’s quite certain he knows the answer.

“I mean just that. One day it was there and the next it was just rocks and dust. Gone.”

“Wh-what happened?”

“There was a war,” Louis answers, snuggling closer to him. “We lost.”

“A war with who?”

“The Daleks. Most hateful creatures in all of the universe.”

Harry shudders, a sudden chill running up his spine.

“What happened to your people?” Harry asks, gently combing his fingers through Louis’ hair.

“They’re all gone,” Louis says mournfully. “I’m the only one left, the only survivor. Last of the Time Lords. Ironic cause I never wanted to be one in the first place, and now I’m the only one left. S’why I’m left traveling alone ’cause there’s no one else.”

“You’re not alone, Lou,” Harry corrects. “There’s me.”

“And how long are you gonna stay with me, huh?”

“As long as you’ll have me,” Harry answers. “Forever.”

Louis pulls back a little, peering up at him. Harry smiles softly, carefully sweeping Louis’ fringe off his forehead. His hand slides down to cup his jaw, his thumb brushing his cheekbone tenderly. Louis looks at him with awe and Harry swears that he can see galaxies in his crystalline blue eyes. Louis’ breath hitches, his tongue darting out to wet his lips as his eyes flick down to Harry’s mouth. Harry’s heart thuds in his chest; they’re so close that it would be easy for Harry to just bend down and connect their lips. He leans in, ever so slightly, his eyes locked with Louis,’ seeking permission. Louis closes his eyes, sighing heavily and biting his bottom lip. His eyes flutter open and Harry can see that whatever window that had briefly opened has now shut, Louis’ hand curling over Harry’s as he gently removes it from his face.

Oh. Okay.

“Who even are you?” Louis chuckles nervously, looking at him in wonderment.

“M’Harry,” he replies, resting their foreheads together.

“Where did you come from?”

“Well you see, Lou,” Harry grins, tapping the tip of Louis’ nose as he pulls away. “Almost twenty-five years ago, my parents got very drunk on a bottle of cheap pinot–”

Louis bursts out laughing, his melodic laughter the most beautiful sound Harry’s ever heard.

“You’re impossible, you know that? An impossible boy.”

“Yup, that’s me,” Harry grins, pulling his legs back inside the TARDIS and standing up. He extends his hand to Louis. “C’mon.”

“Where are we going?” Louis asks, allowing Harry to pull him up. He closes the TARDIS doors with a snap of his fingers.

“You’re gonna have to tell me how you do that sometime,” Harry says, leading him across the room and down the stairs.

“Magic,” Louis replies. “Where are we going, Haz?”

“We’re going to go have a cuddle,” Harry says decisively as they walk back through the living quarters, their fingers tangled together.

“Oh,” Louis says softly.

“No arguing,” Harry orders. “I mean...unless you don’t want to?”

“No, I...that would be lovely, Haz,” Louis says shyly.

“Good,” Harry says as they reach the hall between their bedrooms. “Your room or mine?”

“Um. Yours,” Louis answers, a pretty pink blush rising on his cheekbones.

“Okay,” Harry smiles, pushing his door open. “Come on then.”

Louis pauses as they enter the bedroom, looking around the room and taking in all the knick-knacks that Harry has collected during their travels.

“I like what you’ve done with the place,” he says softly. “The fairy lights are a nice touch.”

“Thanks,” Harry replies, squeezing his hand and then climbing into his bed, tossing the duvet back and fluffing up his pillows. He scoots over to make room for Louis, turning on his side. “C’mere, Doctor,” he says, patting the mattress.

Louis looks at him with the same sense of wonderment and hesitation that he had in the console room.

“I won’t bite,” Harry adds cheekily. “I promise.”

With that, Louis laughs breathily and then crawls into bed with him, turning on his side and scooting back into him until his back is pressed completely against Harry’s front. Harry pulls the duvet up over them, burrowing his head in his pillow.

“This okay?” Harry asks quietly as he tangles their legs together, his arm carefully slipping over Louis’ waist.

“Yeah,” Louis answers, grabbing his hand and tugging it up to his chest, lacing their fingers together. He snuggles impossibly closer, sighing contently.

Harry can feel his hearts pounding. He chooses not to say anything.

“Don’t get used to this,” Harry mutters in his ear.

“What? Snuggling?” Louis asks, a hint of disappointment in his voice. “Don’t worry. I won’t. Promise.”

“No. I mean don’t get used to being the little spoon,” Harry teases, pressing a kiss to his temple. “I’m always the little spoon, but I’ll make an exception for tonight.”

“Oh,” Louis murmurs, smiling as his eyes slide shut. “Duly noted.”

“Hey Lou?” Harry asks quietly.

“Yeah, love?” Louis answers sleepily.

“Thank you for sharing that with me.”

“Thank you for listening, Harry.”

It doesn’t take too terribly long for Louis’ breaths to become deep and even. His grip on Harry’s hand never loosens.

********

Something shifts between them after that night in the Time Vortex. While he and Harry have always had very little regard for personal space, Louis finds that now their touches are bolder; they linger and have more intent. The stolen glances and secret smiles have been replaced with more open admiration. Now when Louis finds his gaze drifting to Harry, Harry is usually looking right back at him, heat simmering in his emerald eyes. Now, even though Louis maintains the pretense of starting the night in his own room, most nights he ends up across the hall, curled around Harry in his bed, holding him close as they talk long into the night, finally drifting off to sleep in the wee hours of the morning.

It’s the best he’s slept in centuries and he doesn’t know what the fuck to do about it.  

As a rule, Louis doesn’t get romantically involved with his companions. Not anymore, that is. Oh, sure, he’ll flirt and tease and joke, but there’s a line that Louis has drawn in the sand, a line that he’ll dance right up to, but never cross. The line that keeps things from actually becoming real.

The thing is, he used to get involved, when he was younger and a lot more impulsive and a lot less jaded. But after a few too many broken hearts (mainly his), he told himself it simply couldn’t happen again. He had to set some boundaries with his companions in order to protect himself from getting hurt. After all, they always leave him in one way or another, be it old age, tragedy, or just wanting to get back to their normal lives. And then there’s Louis, never aging physically, always moving on to the next adventure, forever unable to spend the rest of his life with the people he loves. It’s hard enough for him when they’re just friends; he learned a long time ago how much more it hurts him when romantic entanglements come into play.

That’s just the curse of the Time Lords, he supposes.

But then there’s Harry.

Harry, who he’s drawn to like a moth to a flame.

Harry, who is gradually taking all of the carefully constructed walls around his hearts down brick by brick, Louis’ resolve to not get involved with him that way rapidly weakening, the line in the sand becoming less and less defined, Louis dancing so close to it that he’s practically on top of it.

Harry, who still doesn’t know that Louis has already met him three times. Lost him three times. Louis himself has long given up trying to figure out why they keep crossing paths, so maybe it’s not important. Maybe it’s just the universe’s way of telling him that he deserves some happiness after everything he’s seen and done.

Harry, his impossible boy, who really may just be an ordinary boy after all.

New Earth. Five Billion Twenty-Three.

“Where are we going today, Lou?” Harry asks, coming around to Louis’ side of the console and resting his chin on his shoulder.

“Farther than we’ve ever gone before,” Louis replies with a grin, punching in the final coordinates. He peeks at Harry out of the corner of his eye and then looks down at the control panel and then looks back up at Harry. “Care to do the honors, love?”

Harry’s eyes widen, a delighted grin breaking out across his face.

“Are you seriously letting me fly the TARDIS?”

“Kind of,” Louis laughs. “The TARDIS really flies herself, but you can get her started.”

“How do I even–”

“Don’t worry,” Louis says, ducking behind him, reversing their positions. He places his hands on Harry’s soft hips, gently pushing him closer to the console. “I’ll show you.”

“Okay,” Harry replies, his breath stuttering a little as Louis hooks his chin over his shoulder, closing any semblance of space between them.

Louis knows he’s being a little self-indulgent, that he could easily direct Harry without touching him, but at the same time, he doesn’t really care. And from the way Harry’s pressing back into him, it’s clear he doesn’t really care either, perfectly happy to play along with this little game.

“So first, you turn this clockwise twice,” Louis explains, running his fingers down Harry’s arm, guiding his hand to the dial in the top-right corner. “Next you flip that red switch over there and then you pump that crank three times.”

“Okay, pumping,” Harry snickers, doing as instructed, making the action a little obscene.

“Oh my God, you’re the worst,” Louis giggles, squeezing his hip and resting his forehead on his shoulder.

“You had to use the word ‘pumping,’ didn’t you? What’s next? Thrusting that throttle up?”

“That’s exactly what’s next actually.”

“If this is your form of dirty talk, Louis, it needs work,” Harry smirks, grasping the throttle in his large hand.

“Oh, shut up and fly the TARDIS, Harry,” Louis says fondly, threading his fingers through Harry’s on the handle. “Hold on tight, there’s gonna be a jolt.”

They thrust the throttle up together, fingers entwined. Harry lets out a little whoop of delight and stumbles back a little as the TARDIS cannonballs forward into the vortex; Louis grips his hips tightly, taking a little step back to keep them from tumbling over.

“That was sick,” Harry beams, turning to Louis.

“Glad you liked it,” Louis smiles back at him, fixing his fringe.

They grin goofily at each other, bracing themselves against the console as it buffets around the vortex.

“Hey, you look nice today,” Harry says after a few moments, tugging on one of his thin black braces and snapping it against his chest.

“Yeah?” Louis asks, looking down at his fitted white scoop-neck tee and TARDIS blue skinnies.

“Yeah. You’re usually all...buttoned-up, you know? Not that that doesn’t look nice!” Harry adds hastily, his cheeks turning as pink as his pink polka-dotted blouse. “You always look nice, I just...this is different. I like it.”

“Thanks,” Louis says bashfully. “You look nice too, Molly Ringwald.”

“Huh?”

“You know,” Louis says, feeling his cheeks heat up. “Pretty in pink and all. How do you not know that?”

“Oh, I do,” Harry grins cheekily. “I just wanted to hear you say it.”

“I hate you,” Louis says, shoving playfully at his chest. Harry bursts out laughing as Louis starts jabbing him in the ribs playfully.

“Lou,” he wheezes, trying to catch his hands, but Louis is too fast for him. “Oh my God, stop!”

Harry finally manages to grab his wrists, pulling Louis’ hands against his chest and holding him still. Louis’ fingers brush the smooth skin of Harry’s chest (for fuck’s sake, what does this boy have against buttons?) and suddenly it feels like all the air has been sucked out of the room, their laughter going quiet. Louis is acutely aware of how close they are, the heat radiating from Harry’s body warming his skin; Harry’s thumbs gently rub up and down his wrists and Louis shivers. He looks up at Harry through his eyelashes, seeing Harry look back at him with a determined glint in his eye.

“Lou,” Harry says lowly.

The TARDIS shudders as it lands.

“We,” Louis gulps, withdrawing his hands. “We’re here.”

A look of disappointment flashes across Harry’s face; Louis sighs, taking a hand in his and squeezing it in apology.

“Come on,” Louis says softly, pulling him towards the door.

“Where are we?”

“The year five billion and twenty-three,” Louis says, fiddling with the latch and pushing the door open. “We’re in the galaxy M87. And this?” He leads them outside. “This is New Earth.”

Harry gasps as he takes in the sight before him. They’re on a bluff, bright green grass beneath their feet and glittering blue waves lapping at the cliffs below them. Colorful wildflowers dot the landscape, gently waving in the breeze. Across the bay is a massive city, its impressive skyscrapers shimmering in the sun. There are multiple bridges connecting a series of small islands to the metropolis, monorails zooming towards the city. Flying cars dart back and forth in the brilliant blue sky, darting around buildings, a series of glowing beacons directing the flow of traffic.

“Holy shit,” Harry breathes. “It’s...it’s just–”

“Not bad,” Louis finishes with a grin. “Not bad at all.”

Harry laughs, looking over at him in awe and then looking back at the gleaming city.

“It’s amazing,” he declares, shaking his head in awe. “Y’know, I don’t think I’ll ever get used to this. Ever.” He hops up and down in the grass, giggling. “Different ground beneath my feet, different sky.”

Harry closes his eyes, basking in the warm glow of the sun, his long curls blowing in the breeze; Louis watches fondly, admiring the way the light makes him look like a goddamn angel. Harry inhales deeply, sighing on the exhale as he peeks over at Louis.

“What’s that smell?”

Louis breathes deep, wrinkling his nose as he tries to figure it out. He takes a few steps forward, bends down and plucks a few blades of grass, his tongue darting out to taste them.

“Apple grass.”

“Apple grass?”

“Yeah,” Louis nods.

“I don’t even know what apple grass is!” Harry exclaims, throwing his arms out and twirling around. “But I know I love it. God, I love this.”

“You’re absolutely insane,” Louis laughs heartily, locking the TARDIS.

“I am,” Harry confirms, his eyes sparkling as he trots over to Louis, taking his hand. “Can I say something, Louis?”

“Of course,” Louis smiles. “Anything.”

“Traveling with you? I love it.”

Louis’ stomach does a little flip.

“Me too, Harry,” Louis answers sincerely. “Me too.”

“So why’s it called New Earth?” Harry asks, plopping down on the ground, kicking his long legs out in front of him. He looks up at Louis, shielding his eyes. “What happened to Old Earth?”

“Well,” Louis says, settling down next to him, “so in the year five billion, your sun expands and Old Earth gets roasted.”

“Christ,” Harry interjects.

“Humanity knows it’s coming though,” Louis assures him, leaning back on his elbows. “The planet is evacuated long before it happens, promise.”

“Good,” Harry sighs, mirroring Louis’ posture. “Go on.”

“Right, so Old Earth is gone, but the human race lives on, scattered among the galaxies. But they never give up on finding a new planet to replace their lost one, right? So they finally find this place,” Louis explains, waving his hand around. “Same size as the Earth, same atmosphere, same type of environment, just all fresh and new. Beautiful and untouched. A brand-new start. So the call goes out, the humans move in, and twenty-three years later, here we are.”

“So what’s this city called?”

“New New York,” Louis grins, gesturing to the city.

“Oh, come on. Really?”

“It is!” Louis snickers. “It’s the city of New New York. Technically speaking though, it’s the fifteenth New York since the original, which actually makes this New New New New New New New New New New New New New New New York.”

“That was only fourteen ‘new’s, Louis.”

“Excuse me, New New New New–”

Harry claps a hand over his mouth with a giggle; Louis, still trying to get the full name out, licks his palm in retribution.

“Oh my God, what are you? Five?” Harry exclaims, wiping his palm on the ground.

“New New New New New–”

Harry lunges at him and they wrestle around in the grass, laughing until they’re both out of breath. A ringing bell peals through the air and they look up, seeing the monorail chugging towards the nearby station. Louis and Harry look at each other, wild grins on their faces.

“Can we go see the city so nice they named it fifteen times?” Harry asks breathlessly.

“Come on!” Louis cries, leaping up and pulling Harry to his feet. “Run!”

********

“Hungry?” Louis asks, once they make it into the city.

“Starved,” Harry says, rubbing his stomach. “Breakfast really didn’t do much for me this morning.”

“I keep telling you those green smoothie things you have almost every morning are rubbish, Harry,” Louis says, pulling out the sonic screwdriver and adjusting the settings to search mode, spinning around in a slow circle so it can get a reading.

“Hey,” Harry pouts, looking like a disgruntled kitten. “Those are good for you! And besides, not everyone can be blessed with a Gallifreyan metabolism and have a fry-up almost every day!”

“I think your metabolism does just fine,” Louis winks, pocketing the sonic. “Brunch? There’s a good place with a rooftop view and mimosas just around the corner.”

“Sounds great,” Harry replies, taking his hand. “It’ll be just like our first date.”

“Our what?”

“Our first date,” Harry grins. “We had breakfast. On a rooftop. Remember?”

Louis’ jaw drops and he stops in his tracks, Harry stumbling back towards him.

I said it was a date. You kept saying it was just breakfast, you little shit!” Louis sputters, smacking his arm.

Harry giggles, reaching out to sweep Louis’ fringe aside.

“Of course it was a date, you wanker,” Harry says affectionately. “You swept me away to London and took me to a fancy cafe for brunch. I mean, true, we were on the run from an evil tech corporation and I almost died, but it was still a date. A pretty damn good one, if I do say so myself.”

“Then why–”

“You do know how easy you are to rile up, right, Louis?” Harry grins.

“You do know you’re impossible, right, Harry?”

“I do know,” Harry nods. “S’why you like me so much.”

“Yes,” Louis murmurs, thumbing at one of Harry’s dimples. “I s’pose it is.”

“So you’re saying you do like me then,” Harry smirks. “Good to know.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Louis huffs, his cheeks heating up. He starts off down the street, tugging Harry behind him. “So should we–”

“I like you too,” Harry says sincerely, pulling back on Louis’ hand, forcing him to stop and turn around. Harry closes the space between them, his mouth set in a determined line, his green eyes serious, no longer teasing him. Louis feels like one of his hearts is in his throat. “I like you so much, Louis. Just so we’re clear. Are we clear?”

“Y-yeah,” Louis stammers dizzily. “Crystal.”

“Good,” Harry smiles, squeezing his hand. “Shall we? I’m dying to see what brunch is like in the year five billion and twenty-three. Do you think banana pancakes are still a thing?”

“I don’t know,” Louis replies. “Let’s find out.”

********

It turns out that, even in the year five billion and twenty-three, banana pancakes are still a thing, much to Harry’s delight. They stuff themselves silly, getting perfectly tipsy on the unlimited mimosas. Afterwards, they stroll hand in hand to New Central Park, stretching out in the soft grass as they nap off their buzzes in the warm sunshine. They make their way to New Times Square, where Harry insists that they buy the “I heart heart New New York” t-shirts from one of the street vendors. (“Two hearts, Louis! Just like you!”) Harry practically squeals in delight when they stumble upon a farmer’s market, his eyes going wide at the bounty of produce. After they get several bags full of food, Harry happily declaring that he’ll make them dinner later, they wander through the city, taking silly pictures on Harry’s phone. When the sun starts to set, they finally take the monorail back to the TARDIS, Harry cuddling into Louis’ side the whole time.

It’s a perfect day.

“I was thinking we could pop back to 2018 for a quick visit next? What do you think?” Louis asks, once they get back to the TARDIS. “We did promise Gemma we’d be back once the twins were done with camp.”

“We did,” Harry replies, dropping his bags by the door. “The twins were going to be gone for a fortnight, so set the date for then?”

“Got it,” Louis says, going to the console and fiddling with the controls, setting the destination date. “We’ll need to fuel up for a little bit in the vortex first for the return trip, but then we’ll head there straight away.”

“Sounds good,” Harry says quietly, coming up behind him and crowding him up against the console. Harry places his hands on Louis’ hips, effectively caging him in as their bodies press together.

Louis’ hearts start to race and he grips the lip of the console, taking a shuddery breath.

“You wanna fly the TARDIS again, huh?” Louis asks, his voice pitching up as Harry starts to nose along the line of his neck. “You know, I knew as soon as you got a taste–”

Louis cuts himself off, gasping as Harry presses a kiss right where his neck meets his shoulder, his lips warm and wet against the bare skin exposed by the scoop of his t-shirt. Goosebumps prickle all over his body and Louis inhales sharply, going completely still as Harry kisses him again, inching up his neck ever so slightly. Harry pauses, clearly waiting for Louis to react one way or the other, his lips still pressed to Louis’ neck, his thumb caressing his hip over the soft cotton of his shirt. Louis’ eyes flutter closed as he bites his bottom lip, savoring the tension between them.

Finally, Louis exhales on a sigh, tilting his head to allow Harry more access, tacitly giving him permission; Harry shudders, his grip on Louis’ hips tightening as he mouths up the column of Louis’ neck, gently pulling the skin between his teeth. Louis whimpers, going pliant against Harry’s body. He brings a hand up to tangle in Harry’s curls, gently tugging them.  

“Fuck,” Harry murmurs, kissing just below Louis’ ear. “You make me so crazy, Lou.”

“Harry,” Louis breathes, arching into his touch.

With that, Harry spins him around, pressing him up against the lip of the console. Louis slides his arms up around Harry’s neck, already breathing heavily as he takes in Harry’s already lust-blown eyes, just a small ring of green showing. Harry brings a hand to his face, gently thumbing over Louis’ cheekbone before resting their foreheads together, his breath warm against Louis’ lips.

Still, he waits, his long fingers brushing through the hair at the base of Louis’ neck. Louis’ eyes slide shut as he bites down on his bottom lip.

Fuck his rules.

“Haz,” Louis mutters, sliding one hand down and fisting it in the pink fabric of Harry’s shirt. “Kiss me. Please.”

“You just had to ask,” Harry whispers over his lips, finally closing the distance between them, sealing their mouths together and kissing him gently. Louis feels it all the way down to his toes.

In the moment, Louis can’t help but fleetingly think of the way Victorian Harry had kissed him, all unbridled enthusiasm, immediately taking what he wanted. This Harry, the version he now thinks of as his Harry, is more deliberate with his kisses, kissing Louis with intent, painstakingly teasing his responses out of him. Harry kisses him like he’s something to be savored, cupping his face in his large hands, alternating between hard presses and soft sucks and tantalizing sweeps of his tongue against his lips, always keeping Louis on his toes, just like he does in every other aspect of their relationship.

The kiss quickly intensifies. Louis gives as good as he gets, his fingers carding through Harry’s curls, gently scratching at his scalp. They both moan as Louis pushes his tongue past Harry’s plush lips, deepening the kiss. Sparks shoot down Louis’ spine as their tongues slide together teasingly, both of them dueling for control and he wonders why the fuck he’s denied himself the pleasure of kissing Harry for so long. Harry’s hands skim down Louis’ rib cage, coming to rest on the curve of his arse, Louis gasping and breaking the kiss as Harry squeezes. His cock is starting to throb in his jeans, well on its way to fully hard from just a bit of snogging.

“God,” Louis pants as Harry rolls his hips forward, his own hardness becoming very apparent as he trails a line of kisses down Louis’ throat. “Haz.”

Harry just hums, nipping at Louis’ collarbone as he suddenly grips his arse, hitching him up until he’s sitting on the lip of the console. Louis’ legs part automatically; Harry steps in between them, pressing their cocks together as Louis locks his ankles under his bum, groaning in pleasure at the increased friction. Louis feels like he’s going to pass out from how good it all feels. Instead, he keeps kissing Harry like his life depends on it, fucking his tongue into his mouth over and over again.

Eventually, their kisses slow down to sweet and soft pecks until Louis finally pulls back, his chest heaving, in desperate need of some air. Harry grins at him, his lips kiss-swollen and looking as dazed as Louis feels. He presses a delicate kiss to his lips and then skims over his jaw, dotting little kisses all along the way.

“I knew it,” Harry mutters into his ear, laughter in his voice.

“Knew what?” Louis asks breathlessly, twirling a curl around his finger.

“It’s a snog box,” Harry snickers, tugging Louis’ earlobe between his teeth.

Louis bursts out laughing, clinging to Harry tightly.

“Not a snog box,” Louis protests weakly, even as he pecks kisses on his shoulder.

“I thought I said I would be the judge of that,” Harry says smugly, dipping in for another kiss before sliding Louis off the console, gripping his hips as he lands on his feet a little unsteadily. “Fajitas sound good for dinner?”

“Y-yeah,” Louis stammers, still a little dazed. “Sounds great.”

With that, Harry leans in and presses one last kiss to Louis’ lips before going back to the door and grabbing all the bags from the farmer’s market. He has the nerve to wink at Louis as he passes on his way to the stairs, as if he knows just how much he’s just turned Louis’ whole world on its axis.

Holmes Chapel, England. 2018.

“Haz,” Louis pants as Harry kisses down his neck, shoving his collar aside so he can suck a love bite on his collarbone. “Haz, we gotta stop.”

Louis immediately contradicts himself by pulling Harry’s face back up to his, kissing him deeply as he tangles his fingers in Harry’s curls. Harry whines a little in the back of his throat as he cups Louis’ spectacular arse in his hands, pulling their hips flush.

“Oh God,” Louis groans. “I’m serious, Harry. I can’t have a hard-on when we go see your sister.” He sucks Harry’s bottom lip between his teeth, nibbling it delicately. “You can’t have a hard-on when we go see your sister.” He licks into Harry’s mouth teasingly. “She’ll bloody murder me.”

“So stop kissing me then,” Harry mumbles against Louis’ lips.

“You started it.”

“You’re right,” Harry confirms, pecking Louis’ lips once more. “I did.”

They grin stupidly at each other as they catch their breath. Harry can’t help but lean in and capture Louis’ lips in another sweet kiss, gently sucking his soft lips between his. Louis sighs shakily, resting their foreheads together.

“This is really a thing we’re doing now?” Louis asks softly, reaching up and caressing Harry’s cheek, tucking a curl behind his ear. “Snogging each other senseless any chance we get?”

“Yup,” Harry says, carefully redoing the handful of open buttons on Louis’ shirt, buttoning it all the way to the top, just the way he prefers it. He smooths the little navy blue lapels of Louis’ Peter Pan collar and then pulls up one of his navy and white striped braces from where it had slid down his shoulder. “You okay with that?”

In lieu of answering him, Louis kisses him gently. He thumbs at Harry’s dimple and then heads over to the console, adjusting himself in his tight maroon trousers.

“That’s what I thought,” Harry smirks, admiring the way the dark red fabric hugs his arse.

“Shut up,” Louis blushes, adjusting his fringe and flipping some buttons on the control panel. “Do I look okay?”

“You look gorgeous, Lou,” Harry says honestly. “Hey, are you nervous or something?”

Louis shrugs, biting his lip and looking down at the console.

“I mean, it’s your family. Gemma’s bloody terrifying, I can only imagine what her kids are like.”

“They’re six, Lou,” Harry says, coming up behind him and dropping a kiss on his shoulder. “They’re going to love you. Promise. I can give you some of my presents if you think you need to bribe them.”

Louis chuckles, pulling Harry’s arms around him, threading their fingers together.

“I don’t really do this,” Louis confesses quietly, looking down at their entwined fingers. “Meeting families. Getting involved. So. Yeah. M’nervous.”

Harry’s heart skips a beat.

“You’re going to be fine,” Harry assures him, kissing his temple. “Just be yourself. And maybe keep your hands to yourself in front of my sister.”

Louis squawks as the TARDIS lands. Harry laughs, kissing him again.

“C’mon,” Harry says, tugging Louis behind him. “Let’s go.”

Harry grabs his duffle full of presents and pushes the door open, stepping out onto Gemma’s driveway. Harry blinks in the afternoon sunshine, shading his eyes as he looks at the achingly familiar house, the hydrangea bushes surrounding the stoop in full bloom. He’s immediately struck by how small the house feels, almost like he’s returning home from uni for the first time. Once they get to the stoop, Harry releases Louis’ hand, digging in his pocket for his keys.

“Here goes nothing,” he winks at Louis, unlocking the door and pushing it open. “Hello? Anyone home?”

“Uncle Harry!” voices shout from the kitchen, quickly followed by the pitter-patter of little feet against the hardwood floors.

Annabel and Jackson come barrelling down the hall; Harry drops his duffle, squatting down and opening his arms, catching them as they both crash into him at once.

“Munchkins,” Harry exclaims, squeezing them tight. “Oh, I missed you! How was camp? Tell me everything!”

“I rode a pony!” Annabel cries. “And I made lots of friends, just like you said I would, Uncle Harry!”

“I was the captain of my footie team!” Jackson adds excitedly. “We won the championship game at the end of camp!”

“You did?” Harry gasps, ruffling his hair. “That’s brilliant, love! When did you lot get back?”

“’Round midday,” Gemma says, clutching a mug of tea and leaning against the bannister, a massive smile on her face. “One might say your timing is impeccable.”

Harry looks up at Louis, who just smiles bashfully, his eyes crinkling at the corners.

“Who’s that?” Annabel asks bluntly, finally noticing the stranger in the room.

Harry releases the twins, reaching up and taking Louis’ hand.

“This is my friend Louis,” Harry explains. “We’ve been doing a bit of traveling together. He’s being a little shy, can you say hi?”

“Hello,” Annabel says solemnly, extending her hand.

“Hello,” Louis echoes, crouching down to her level and shaking her hand. “It’s so nice to meet you, Annabel. Your uncle talks about you all the time.” He turns to Jackson. “You too, little lad. Fancy a bit of a kickabout, later? I’m quite good at footie.”

“Yes, please!” Jackson says enthusiastically. “Harry tries to play with me but he’s awful! Always tripping over his own feet.”

Louis cackles, looking over at Harry fondly.

“Hey,” Harry pouts, “I do my best!”

“Oh, that’s okay, Haz,” Louis giggles. “Not everyone can be great athletes like me and Jackson here, right buddy?”

Jackson grins, giving him a high five.

“Would you like to see my room, Louis?” Annabel asks. “I have a new dollhouse!”

“Sure,” Louis says, looking up at Gemma. “I’d love to, if that’s okay with your mum.”

“Go on, then,” Gemma nods.

Harry’s heart melts as Louis stands to his full height, holding on to Annabel’s hand as she pulls him down the hall, chattering all the way; Jackson follows close behind, peppering Louis with all sorts of questions about football.

“Clearly, he has the same effect on every member of this family,” Gemma smirks as Harry stands, gazing after them.

“No idea what you’re talking about,” Harry says airily.

“Uh-huh,” Gemma chuckles, placing her mug of tea on the end table. “Come here, you.”

Harry grins, crushing his sister in a bear hug.

“Hi, Gem,” Harry mutters into her hair. “S’good to see you.”

“And you,” Gemma replies, squeezing him tightly. She pulls back after a few moments, looking him up and down appraisingly. “You look good, Haz. Traveling suits you.”

“It really does,” Harry agrees earnestly. “Gem, it’s...it’s all so much. I don’t even know where to start.”

The twins’ laughter echoes from down the hall, followed by Louis’ signature high and bright giggle. Harry beams, looking down the hall.

“Should we go rescue him?” Gemma asks.

“Nah,” Harry says, shaking his head. “I think he can handle it.”

“Well, come on, then,” Gemma says, linking her arm through his and grabbing her mug. “Let’s put the kettle back on. You can start from the beginning. Well. Actually you can start by explaining that massive love bite on your neck.”

********

They stay the rest of the day, laughing and catching up. They have a kickabout in the garden, Louis and Jackson handily winning over Gemma, Harry, and Annabel. Harry, Louis, and the twins spend some time in his old room, packing up his belongings, Harry having finally agreed to permanently move over to the bungalow that his late stepfather had willed him. Harry and Louis load a few of the boxes into the TARDIS and then pack the rest of them in Gemma’s car, Harry riding with Gemma and the twins to the bungalow, while Louis pops the TARDIS over. (Louis had wanted to take the twins for a spin in the TARDIS, but Gemma had put her foot down at that, declaring they were a little too young to learn that their uncle’s new friend is actually a time-traveling alien.)

Once they unload everything at the bungalow, Gemma orders some pizza and Harry pops over to the shops to grab a couple bottles of wine. Over dinner, Harry finally distributes his myriad of presents, Gemma and the twins ooh-ing and ahh-ing with delight. Louis slots right in with their little group like a puzzle piece, Jackson being taken with him especially. They all settle in to watch some telly after dinner and Louis is positively chuffed when Jack climbs into his lap for a cuddle. Louis beams over at Harry and Harry’s insides turn to mush. Harry’s not fooling himself, he knows he’s been attracted to and intrigued by Louis since the moment he showed on on his doorstep in that ridiculous monk get-up, but just seeing the ease with which he charms his family makes him realize it all over again.

He’s completely gone for this magical, mysterious, and complicated boy from the stars, who may very well be the best man he’s ever known.

Eventually, it’s way past the twins’ bedtime. They lock up the bungalow, Louis carrying a sleeping Jackson to the car, Annabel trailing behind with Harry. Louis passes Jack to Gemma, kissing the top of his head. Gemma loads the exhausted twins in their booster seats; Annabel hugs Louis tightly, making him promise he’ll visit her again. Gemma hugs Louis, kissing his cheek as she tells them to stay safe. Finally, she makes her way over to Harry, tugging him into her arms.

“I love you, little brother,” she says fiercely. “Stay safe. Don’t get lost up in the stars, okay? There are people here on Earth who need you.”

“I won’t,” Harry promises. “I love you, too. Thanks for everything today.”

“You’re so welcome. Louis, he...he may still scare me a little, but I can see why you like him so much. He’s lovely.”

“I know,” Harry grins, looking over at Louis, who’s leaning against the TARDIS, making faces at Annabel in the car.

With one last hug and kiss, Gemma gets in the car, waving goodbye to them as she pulls out of the driveway. Harry smiles over at Louis, who’s still leaning against the TARDIS, watching him with a thoughtful expression. Harry walks over to him, looping his arms around his waist and pulling him into his chest.

“Thank you for today,” Harry murmurs, pressing a kiss to his temple.

“You’re welcome,” Louis rasps, his posture a little tense. “Do you...I mean...you can stay if you want. I can see why you would. They’re so wonderful, Haz. And you have your own place now, so–”

“Do you want me to stay here?” Harry asks curiously, pulling back and looking him in the eyes.

“No!” Louis says quickly. “No, I want you to come with me, Haz. I just want to be sure that you do.”

“I do,” Harry confirms. “You’re stuck with me, I’m afraid. No getting rid of me. Too much world out there we haven’t seen yet, Lou.”

Harry feels him relax in his arms.

“Okay, good,” Louis smiles. “Let’s go.”

********

Harry showers, washing away the grime of the day. He towels off, squeezing the water out of his curls and then spritzing them with his favorite lavender leave-in conditioner. He forgoes pants, simply pulling on his favorite pair of worn joggers and one of his old threadbare band shirts. He’s unpacking one of his boxes, pulling out some of his favorite records to add to the collection in the reading nook when there’s a soft knock at his door.

“Come in,” Harry calls, sliding the records onto the shelf.

Louis enters, dressed in a soft-looking pair of red plaid pajama pants and a black t-shirt that’s tissue thin, leaving little to the imagination. His hair is damp from his own shower, his skin still a little pink from the hot water. He looks soft and cuddly and unbearably sexy all at the same time and Harry isn’t sure if he wants to snuggle him or ravage him.

“Hey,” Louis yawns, stretching his arms above his head, his shirt creeping up and revealing a golden sliver of his stomach. The sight causes Harry’s cock to twitch in his loose joggers.

Definitely ravage him.

“Hey,” Harry answers softly. “Sleeping in here tonight?”

In all the nights that they’ve slept together, it’s always been in Harry’s room, whether they went to bed together or Louis showed up on his own like tonight. Harry realizes it’s probably a way for Louis to keep some sort of a boundary between them, so he’s never pushed it, allowing Louis to move things at his own pace.

“Yeah,” Louis says decisively. “If that’s okay?”

“Of course,” Harry smiles, butterflies suddenly swarming in his stomach, anticipation thrumming in his veins.

They had not shared a bed after their heated snogging session on the console last night; Louis had retired to his room, leaving Harry to have one of the most intense wanks of his life, fueled by the memory of Louis’ lips against his. Harry pinches his bottom lip between his thumb and forefinger, wondering how obvious it is that he’s relieved to see that Louis is here at all. He’s been so worried that Louis would simply brush whatever is happening between them under the rug, building that wall back up between them.

And then there’s the fact that he’s gotten used to sleeping next to him.

Louis crawls into his bed, fluffing up the pillows and then looking at Harry expectantly. Harry chuckles as he flicks off the lamp, leaving the room bathed in the soft glow of the fairy lights, and then climbs in next to him, turning on his side so that he’s facing Louis.

“Hi,” Harry murmurs, scooting close to Louis, his hand coming up to rest on his hip.

“Hi,” Louis replies, equally soft, tucking a damp curl behind his ear and thumbing over his cheekbone.

Louis continues to gently card his fingers through Harry’s hair, his eyes roving all over his face, drifting down to his lips. Harry sighs, leaning into his touch.

“I was thinking,” Louis says after a moment.

“Sounds dangerous,” Harry smiles, nuzzling their noses together.

Louis’ eyes flutter shut as he chuckles, his tongue darting out to wet his lips. He takes a deep breath and exhales, his breath warm against Harry’s cheek.

“I don’t have a family,” Louis says softly, gently outlining the curve of Harry’s jaw with his index finger. “Not like you do, obviously. But I...I do have some mates? They’re the closest thing I have to a family and I was wondering if you’d like to go meet them?”

Even in the dim glow of the fairy lights, Harry can see the vulnerability shining in Louis’ eyes. His stomach flips at the sight of him.

“I would love that,” Harry says sincerely, hooking a leg over Louis,’ pressing their bodies closer together. “Where do they live?”

“London,” Louis answers, his fingers now delicately skimming up and down Harry’s arm, causing goosebumps to prickle all over his skin and his cock to twitch again in interest. “Early 1890s.”

“Victorian England?” Harry asks, his fingers creeping under the hem of Louis’ shirt, stroking the warm skin of his lower back. “Sick. Let me guess. You were the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes.”

“No,” Louis giggles, his eyes crinkling at the corners. “But Zayn and his husband Liam were.”

“Right, of course they were,” Harry laughs. “Silly me.”

“Silly you,” Louis murmurs, tracing the outline of his lips.

Harry exhales shakily; Louis smirks as if he’s perfectly aware of the effect he’s having on him.

“Louis,” Harry sighs plaintively, licking his lips.

Louis finally has mercy on him, closing the small distance between them and lightly brushing their lips together. Harry smooths his hand over Louis’ hip, letting him take the lead as he presses soft kisses to Harry’s lips, the featherlight touches too much and not enough all at the same time.

Louis pulls back, smiling softly, his hands shaking a little as his fingers trail down Harry’s neck and over his chest. Harry gasps as his clever fingers brush over his nipple, the sensitive bud pebbling under his t-shirt at the delicate touch. Louis looks at him in awe as he does it again, with slightly more pressure this time, eliciting a shiver and a strangled whimper from Harry as his cock jerks between his legs.

“Lou,” he whines, his hips jutting forward, Louis’ half-hard cock brushing at his thigh. “Jesus, do something.”

Louis brushes their lips together again, his tongue darting out teasingly.

“You just had to ask,” Louis whispers wickedly.

“That’s my line,” Harry grins, sealing their lips together.  

All semblance of teasing gone, the kiss turns filthy straight away, Louis thrusting his tongue past Harry’s lips eagerly. Harry groans as their tongues collide, his hands fisting in Louis’ sheer t-shirt, tugging it up ever so slightly. Louis tastes minty and fresh from brushing his teeth but there's still a hint of that addictive sweetness that Harry now knows is exclusively him. He can’t get enough of it, chasing Louis’ tongue with his, running it along the line of his teeth. They snog until Harry feels a little dizzy from the lack of air and Louis’ fervent kisses. Louis runs his hand down Harry’s side, sliding it over to the curve of Harry’s arse, squeezing gently as he rocks his hips forward, their clothed cocks brushing.

Harry practically growls, rolling them and settling fully on top of Louis, grinding their hips together. Louis gasps, breaking the kiss and throwing his head back, his hands scrambling for purchase on Harry’s back.

“Feel good?” Harry asks roughly, brushing Louis’ fringe back as he grinds against him again. His cock pulses and Harry can feel the front of his joggers start to get damp.

“Yeah,” Louis pants breathlessly. “Fuck yeah.”

Harry mouths down Louis’ neck, sucking hard where it joins with his shoulder. Louis whines, raking his blunt nails down Harry’s back. Harry sweeps his tongue over the love bite, giving the skin a little nip before he props himself up on his forearms, admiring his work. He looks down at Louis, who looks completely fucked out already, the fairy lights glittering like stars in his blown pupils. Harry dips down to capture his lips again, savoring the easy way their mouths slide together as they rut against each other, the pleasure overwhelming as it builds. Louis whines prettily as Harry gently tugs his bottom lip between his teeth. Harry’s hands skirt down his ribs until they bunch at the hem of Louis’ t-shirt, his fingers brushing over his hip bones. Harry tugs up impatiently.  

“Yeah,” Louis murmurs between kisses, lifting up a little and helping him remove the offending piece of clothing.

Harry pulls the shirt off, dropping it on the floor. He sits back on his haunches, right over Louis’ cock as he admires his golden torso, running his fingers through the smattering of hair on his chest. He dips down, swirling his tongue around Louis’ tight nipple, Louis swearing loudly at the sensation.

“Gorgeous, Lou,” Harry whispers against his skin. “So gorgeous. Want you so much.”

Louis bucks his hips under him, his erection pushing up against Harry’s arse. Harry sits back up, pulling his own shirt off and tossing it aside. He strokes his hands down Louis’ softly defined stomach, trailing his fingers through the fine line of hair that disappears under the waistband of his pajama pants. Louis runs his hands up and down Harry’s thighs, massaging them gently as he thrusts up against Harry’s arse again. Harry drops his chin forward, shuddering at the feeling of Louis beneath him, their grinds against each other starting to find a deliberate rhythm.

Louis lets out another pretty sigh, his eyes fluttering closed as he arches up off the mattress. Harry trails his hands up Louis’ chest again, his fingers dancing over Louis’ nipples. A low groan escapes Louis’ lips at the touch; Harry’s blown away by how responsive he is, how desperate he seems for him. He admires him in the twinkle of the lights, a mischievous smile twisting his lips.

“Anything going on down there that I should know about?”

“Hm?” Louis hums, his eyes blinking open.

“I don’t know,” Harry says innocently, arching an eyebrow as he rocks against him. “Anything else you’ve got two of?”

Louis studies him a moment before bursting out laughing, tangling his fingers with Harry’s.

“I can’t believe you’re asking me if I’ve got two cocks when you’ve actually got four nipples,” Louis cackles, releasing one of his hands and tweaking one of the extra nubs on his torso.

“Just checking,” Harry giggles, grabbing Louis’ wandering hand and ducking down to nibble at his fingertips.

“Nope, just the one cock,” Louis grins, his gaze drifting down to where Harry’s tenting obscenely in his joggers, eyeing him hungrily. “Just like you.”

Their giggles fall away as Louis kneads at Harry’s thigh with one hand, his other sliding delicately down his stomach, his fingers brushing over the the damp spot on the front of his joggers; Harry’s cock jerks at the simple contact, Louis watching it with fascination.

“What do you want, love?” Louis murmurs, stroking his clothed cock.

Harry wants a lot of things. He wants to get his mouth on Louis, he wants Louis’ mouth on him. He wants to bury himself in the tight heat of Louis’ glorious arse and he wants to feel Louis splitting him open. He wants everything.

“I want,” Harry gasps, as Louis gives him an experimental squeeze. “God, Louis, just. Just touch me.”

“Yeah,” Louis replies breathlessly, tapping his hip. “Wanna touch you, too.”

Harry shuffles off him, laying down on his side. Louis kisses him hotly, panting in his mouth as he tugs his joggers down to mid-thigh, Harry’s cock slapping wetly against his belly, smearing precome there.

“Oh God,” Harry moans as Louis licks his palm and wraps his hand around his shaft, tugging up, his hand cool and smooth against his feverish skin. More precome beads at his slit and Louis twists over his cockhead, catching it and easing the glide even more on his downward stroke.

“Yeah,” Louis encourages, kissing down his throat, gently biting the skin there, the slight hint of pain just spiking the pleasure overtaking him as Louis wanks him. “Wanna hear you, Haz.”

“Fuck,” Harry whines, his eyes squeezing shut as Louis’ strokes find a rhythm, his grip on Harry’s cock just on the right side of rough. “Feels so good, babe.”

The endearment slips out without Harry even realizing it. Louis’ breath hitches as he finds Harry’s mouth again, his tongue teasing against his as they kiss. Harry’s hand slides down Louis’ sweat-damp back to the waistband of his pajamas, his fingers dipping under the fabric.

“Lou,” Harry pants, reaching around for the drawstring of his pants. “Lou, babe, can I?”

“Fuck,” Louis breathes, his strokes faltering ever so slightly as his hips jut forward. “Yeah, please.”

Harry clumsily pulls the drawstring loose and then plunges his hand down the back, grinning against Louis’ lips when he feels nothing but the bare skin of his arse against his palm.

“No pants, Doctor?” Harry asks teasingly, squeezing the meat of his arse cheek.

“Shut up, you weren’t wearing any either,” Louis smirks, fondling his balls.

“Fair,” Harry replies, pulling the pajamas down, Louis lifting up a little so Harry can free his cock.

Harry wishes he could record the sounds that come out of Louis’ mouth when he finally wraps his hand around his thick cock so he could play them back whenever he wanted. Harry starts to jerk him with steady strokes, overwhelmed by how hot and hard and velvety Louis is in his hand.

“This feel okay?” Harry asks as he slides over the head, smearing the precome down his shaft as he strokes down, the drag still a little dry. “I could get some lube?”

“No,” Louis pants, his breath hot against Harry’s lips. He kisses him quickly, breaking off with a whimper as Harry strokes him again. “No, s’good. So good, love. Keep going. This is going to be over embarrassingly fast, m’sorry.”

Harry smirks, sucking on Louis’ kiss-swollen lips as he speeds up his strokes, relishing the feel of his cock in his hand. They wank each other furiously, their breathy sighs and moans the only sounds in the room. Their lips brush over and over, panting in each other’s mouths more than kissing, tongues darting out for a taste of each other every once in a while. Harry feels his balls tightening up against his body, the coil of pleasure in his groin threatening to snap at any moment. His entire body shudders, his breath becoming ragged; Louis gazes at him in awe, his eyes drifting down from his face to their hands, watching them pull each other off.

“Fuck, m’close,” Harry mutters, sucking on Louis’ pulse point. Harry’s eyes flutter shut as he gasps, feeling himself hurtling closer and closer to the point of no return.

“Look at me,” Louis commands softly, his voice strained. “Wanna see your face when you come, baby.”

Harry whimpers at the endearment, Louis’ words going straight to his already sensitive cock. He captures Louis’ lips one more time and then pulls back, his eyes locking on Louis’ lust-blown ones, only a small ring of blue showing. The eye contact is so intense that Harry isn’t sure whether that’s what causes him to finally spill over Louis’ fist or the way Louis expertly twists his hand on his last stroke. All Harry knows is that he’s never come so hard in his life, his vision completely whiting out for several moments as the waves of intense pleasure pull him under. He’s vaguely aware that he’s still wanking Louis, hearing him cry out his name seconds later as he falls over the edge as well, spurting between them, coming all over Harry’s hand and his own belly.

They stroke each other through the aftershocks until the sensitivity becomes too much, their hands falling away as their breath slows back to normal. Harry presses little kisses all along Louis’ collarbone and shoulder, tasting his skin.

“Jesus Christ,” Louis sighs, going limp at Harry’s side. “That was…”

“Otherworldly,” Harry finishes with a smirk, lapping some of Louis’ come from his fingers, the taste salty-bitter on his tongue.

Louis groans, shoving at him weakly with his clean hand as he laughs.

“Oh come on,” Harry snickers, reaching over Louis for the tissues on his nightstand, plucking several from the box to clean them up. He wipes himself off and then sees to Louis, gently swiping the tissues over his belly and cock, pulling his pajama pants back up when he’s done. He balls up the tissues and tosses them towards the bin, grabbing a couple more to clean Louis’ hand, pressing a kiss to it once it’s clean. “You know that was good.”

“The sex or the pun?” Louis grins, arching an eyebrow as he gently tugs Harry’s joggers up over his hips, tucking him back inside them.

“Both,” Harry replies, pecking a kiss to his lips, their bare chests brushing together as Harry snuggles into him.

“Definitely both,” Louis agrees, kissing him back gently.

London, England. 1893.

“Does this look okay?” Harry asks, coming up the stairs. “I don’t really have anything that would be appropriate for Victorian England, so I hit up the wardrobe room.”

Louis looks up, his jaw dropping. He swears that one of his hearts stops beating the moment he sees Harry fully decked out in Victorian attire, the spitting image of the boy he had fought the Great Intelligence with, dressed in a frock coat made of a deep purple velvet, a starched white oxford (buttoned all the way up to the top for once), and plain black wool trousers. Never one to stray away from a little bit of flair, his Harry has completed his outfit with a royal blue waistcoat, along with a matching ascot that hangs untied around his neck. His hair is pulled back in a low ponytail, one rogue ringlet curling by his jaw. Louis clears his throat as his heart jolts back into rhythm, reminding himself to fucking breathe as Harry smiles back at him unsurely.

“It’s too much, isn’t it?” Harry frowns, fidgeting with the coat. “There was a simpler coat but this one was just so pretty and I–”

“You look stunning,” Louis finally croaks.

“Yeah?” Harry asks, a pleased smile blooming on his face.

“Yeah,” Louis confirms, his hearts still racing.

“Dunno how to tie this thing,” Harry says sheepishly, tugging at the end of the ascot and holding up a tie pin.

“C’mere, I’ll help you,” Louis smiles, gesturing to his own perfectly tied ascot. “M’pretty good at these things. Part of the whole time travel gig.”

Harry laughs, striding over to him, stepping right into his space. Louis slides the cobalt silk around his neck until one end hangs a little longer than the other. Hands shaking ever so slightly as Harry’s warm breath fans against his cheek, Louis deftly wraps the fabric as he ties it in a perfect four-in-hand knot. He holds his hand up for the pin; Harry passes it over to him, and Louis secures it at the base of the knot, the emerald at the top of it glittering against the bright blue fabric. Taking a slight step back, he surveys Harry’s ensemble critically. He clicks his tongue, straightening out the jacket till it lays perfectly over Harry’s broad shoulders and then he tugs at the ends of the sleeves, the rich velvet plush under his fingertips. It’s all just an excuse to touch Harry and they both know it, given the way Harry is biting back an amused grin, his green eyes sparkling like the emerald pinned on his chest. Finally, he smooths his hands down Harry’s chest, adjusting the lapels of the jacket and pressing the ends of ascot flat against his shirt.

“Perfect,” he murmurs, resting his hands on Harry’s hips and looking up at him through his eyelashes.

“Thanks,” Harry says softly.

“You’re welcome,” Louis replies, pressing up on his toes and capturing Harry’s lips, kissing him sweetly. “Ready?”

Harry nods, his dimples carving deep craters in his cheeks as they lace their fingers together.

“I should warn you,” Louis says as they head to the door, “Zayn is a Silurian.”

“Okay. What’s that?”

“Lizard race from the dawn of time. Try not to gawk, it’ll make him uncomfortable. He usually wears a veil in public just to like...not shock people.”

“So you’re saying your best friend is a lizard?”

“A lizard man, yes,” Louis grins swinging the door open. “And Niall’s my godson. He’s part Gallifreyan. Well. Kind of. It’s a long and complicated story.”

“Give me the short version,” Harry laughs.

“Well, his folks traveled with me for several years. Bit of hanky-panky in the TARDIS on their honeymoon trip and boom! Child of the TARDIS, infused with a bit of Gallifreyan magic DNA. Don’t ask, I don’t know how the fuck it happened. It’s a mystery.”

“Got it,” Harry grins. “And Liam?”

“Totally regular human, if you can believe it. You two should get along swimmingly.”

There’s a slight chill in the air, the autumn leaves on the trees bright orange and red. Harry’s eyes widen as they step out through the courtyard, taking in the impressive mansion before him as they stroll up the lane.

“Are your friends loaded?”

“They do all right,” Louis laughs. “Helps that Zayn is even older than me and is very savvy about his investments.”

They step up to the door, Louis buzzing the doorbell three times in rapid succession.

“Isn’t that a little excessive?” Harry asks bemusedly.

“It’s so he knows it’s me and not a client,” Louis winks.

Louis can hear footsteps approaching the door; Harry fidgets next to him, tucking the loose curl behind his ear.

“You’re sure I look okay?”

“You look gorgeous, love,” Louis assures him.

The door swings open, revealing Zayn in his signature all black, an unimpressed expression on his reptilian face.

“It’s been almost two years, Doctor,” Zayn states, his amber eyes narrowed.

“That’s a fair point,” Louis nods, holding his hands up.

“We thought you might have died there for awhile. We only heard you weren’t dead thanks to Niall.”

“Oh, come on,” Louis scoffs, trying to keep a straight face. “How would Niall know?”

“You know he gets around.”

“That sounds about right. He’s a good lad.”

The corner of Zayn’s mouth twitches. Harry’s gaze darts between the two of them like he’s watching a tennis match.

“Well, I’m not hugging first,” Zayn says haughtily.

“Me either,” Louis replies airily.

They stand in silence for a few moments, staring each other down, neither willing to be the first one to budge. Finally, they both burst out laughing, embracing each other at the same time.

“Good to see you, you wanker,” Zayn mutters into his neck. “It’s been too long.”

“I know, I’m sorry,” Louis replies, squeezing him tightly. “Been a bit busy.”

Zayn pulls back, recognition flashing in his eyes as his gaze lands on Harry, who’s waiting patiently by Louis’ side, doing his best not to gawk at the whole exchange just like Louis had asked. Zayn glances back at Louis in surprise; Louis fixes his stare with what he hopes is his best “be cool” expression.

“Hi,” Harry grins, thrusting his hand out. “M’Harry. I’m so happy to meet you.”

“And I, you,” Zayn says smoothly, shaking his hand, his eyes sliding over to Louis questioningly. “Can’t believe Louis has actually found someone who tolerates traveling with him. Come in, please.”

“You have a lovely home,” Harry says earnestly, looking around the foyer.

“Zayn!” An Irish voice calls from upstairs. “Was that what I think it–”

Niall appears on the landing, his face lighting up at the sight of Louis.

“Well, look what the cat dragged in!” Niall cackles, clapping his hands together. He hops up onto the bannister and slides down, launching himself at Louis.

“Oof!” Louis exclaims as he catches him. “Hey, Neil.”

“Hey yourself, you shite,” Niall replies, smacking a kiss to his cheek. “Where the fuck have you been?”

“Around,” Louis laughs, wiping his cheek. “Stop slobbering on me, arsehole.”

This is your godson?” Harry asks incredulously.

Niall turns to Harry, a massive grin on his face.

“Oh, he told you that, did he? It’s a long story, best told over Zayn’s finest wine.” He extends his hand. “Niall Horan.”

“Harry Styles,” Harry replies, shaking his hand.

“Of course you are,” Niall smirks.

Louis is going to murder him.

“Jesus, you look familiar,” Harry says, a little crinkle forming between his eyebrows. “Have we met before?”

“That’s impossible, Harry,” Louis interjects, laughing nervously. “Unless you’ve been taking the TARDIS for a spin while I’ve been sleeping.”

“I just have one of those faces,” Niall says easily, taking Harry by the arm. “Now, come on, like I said, this calls for a bottle of wine.”

Harry grins at him over his shoulder as Niall leads him towards the sitting room. Louis nods as he watches them go, smiling even as a sense of panic starts to build in his belly.

“He doesn’t know, does he?” Zayn asks quietly.

“No,” Louis answers guiltily.

“Jesus Christ, Louis,” Zayn hisses. “What were you thinking bringing him here? Are you out of your mind?”

“I wasn’t thinking,” Louis replies, scrubbing his hands down his face. “I just...fuck...we spent the day with his family and I...I just wanted him to meet the people who were the most important to me. I didn’t think it through. Fuck. I don’t even think about it anymore, Zayn. Honestly I don’t.”

“You’re playing with fire, mate,” Zayn sighs as they start to head towards the sitting room. “I don’t have a good feeling about this.”

“It’s fine,” Louis says, trying to convince himself more than Zayn. “It’s fine. We can totally handle it. It’s fine.”

“Whatever you say, Lou,” Zayn says, assuming a neutral expression as they enter the sitting room.

Louis can’t help but grin at Harry as soon as he enters the room, despite the growing knot of dread in his stomach. Harry beams back at him, handing him a glass of red wine.

“Thanks, love,” Louis says as he takes it. “You okay?”

“M’great,” Harry says easily.

“Good,” Louis says softly, poking his dimple.

Harry purses his lips, making a kissy face.

“Hey, where’s Liam?” Louis asks, sitting down on the love seat with Harry and winding their fingers together. “He’s missing the party.”

“He’s out doing some investigating, actually,” Zayn answers, helping himself to a glass of wine. “I have to hand it to you, Lou, you’ve got some amazing timing, showing up like you have. There’s been a lot of rumbling in the past few months that the Great Intelligence is stirring up shit again.”

The knot in Louis’ stomach tightens. It’s not that he’s completely forgotten about the Intelligence, not really. But he’s just been so happy; he’s traveling again, with Harry, who makes everything feel new again. Louis had let himself get wrapped up in Harry and whatever this thing brewing between them could be, and let his concern about the Intelligence slide to the back of his mind.

“Are you certain?” Louis asks softly.

“Not certain, no,” Zayn assures him. “There’s nothing concrete yet. Just rumors.”

“But enough to make you dig deeper,” Louis says with concern.

“Liam’s pursuing a few leads,” Zayn says with a nod. “It’s easier for him to go out in the daylight, you know that.”

“What’s the Great Intelligence?” Harry asks curiously.

“An alien parasite hell bent on destroying the human race,” Zayn answers. “It doesn’t have a physical form, per se, so it relies on possessing human bodies and bending them to its will.”

“Like Voldemort,” Harry says simply. “Got it. Go on.”

“We had a pretty bad run-in with the Intelligence about two years ago,” Zayn says carefully, his eyes on Louis. “A man named Simon Cowell–”

“Decrepit ole bastard,” Niall grumbles.

“Yes, thank you, Niall,” Zayn says drily. “Anyway, Cowell was the Intelligence’s puppet from childhood, when it appeared to him in the form of a snowman that he’d built. Cut to fifty years later and Cowell has this army of cannibalistic snowmen, feeding on the thoughts and fears of human beings. The next step, naturally, was harvesting people themselves, turning them into ice and controlling them with a hive mind. We managed to take him down in the end, but it was a close call and...not without loss. And Louis was never sure that we actually beat him for good...”

“Shit,” Louis mutters, running a hand through his hair. “Godammit.”

“Sounds a bit like the wi-fi people, Lou,” Harry pipes up, turning to Louis.

“What does, love?” Louis asks curiously.

“The whole harvesting and mind control business! Isn’t that what SycoTech was doing?” Harry’s eyes suddenly go wide. “Oh, holy shit, Lou! Syco!”

“Huh?”

“Oh, come on, Doctor,” Harry says with fond exasperation, rolling his eyes. “Use that beautiful brain of yours and focus. Sy. Co.”

The pieces finally click in Louis’ brain.

“Simon Cowell,” Louis murmurs, looking at Harry in awe. “You clever boy.”

Harry preens, his cheeks turning a pretty pink.

“Okay, so what does this mean?” Niall asks. “That Cowell is up to no good in Harry’s time?”

“Yeah,” Louis sighs. “It means exactly that. We took him down there too, but just the fact that he’s popping up everywhere is more than a little troubling–”

A door slams down the hall.

“Zee?” Liam calls.

“In the study, my love,” Zayn answers. “We’ve got company.”

“Oh, really? Who?”

“Thank God,” Harry quips, winking at Louis. “Another human. M’feeling a little outnumbered here.”

“Who’s here, love?” Liam repeats, coming into the study. His eyes fall on Louis, lighting up happily and crinkling at the corners. “Lou! And–” His jaw drops when he sees Harry. “Harry! Oh my God, he found you!”

“I’m sorry?” Harry questions.

“God, it’s good to see you alive, mate,” Liam blusters on. “Louis was right gutted when you died! Y’know, I had a hard time believing this whole crazy idea, but it’s hard to deny when I’m looking right at you alive and well, Harry. Fourth time’s the charm, eh Lou?”

Louis feels all the blood drain out of his face, bile rising in his throat.

“Liam,” Zayn says quietly, placing a hand on his husband’s shoulder.

“What?” Liam asks, his brow wrinkling in confusion as he looks around the room. “Did I say something wrong? That is Harry–”

“Louis,” Harry says, his voice gravely serious. “Louis, what is he talking about?”

Louis looks around at his friends, completely panicked. Zayn grimaces at him, his expression a cross between “I told you so” and pity; poor Liam looks absolutely crestfallen while Niall fixes him with an intense stare, disappointment written all over his face.

The room is deathly silent.

“Louis,” Harry says again, more insistently. “What the fuck is going on?”

Louis takes a deep breath.

“We’ve met before, Harry.”

“No,” Harry says slowly, removing his hand from Louis’ tight hold. “No, we haven’t. The first time I ever saw you was when you showed up on my doorstep dressed like a monk.”

“The first time we met was on Gallifrey,” Louis recalls, trying to keep his voice calm even though his hearts are racing. “I was trying to steal a TARDIS to run away and this boy in the maintenance department told me which one to take and he also promised to stay behind and cover for me. He was you.”

“He really wasn’t.”

“After that, I met you in the Dalek Asylum,” Louis continues. “It was the year 2828. There was a boy in a shipwreck. I never saw his face, but we talked. I promised to show him the stars. I tried to rescue him...but he had been converted to a Dalek already. He died saving my life and he was you.”

“Why are you doing this, Louis?” Harry whispers, a tear sliding down his cheek. “That wasn’t me!”

“The third time I met you was right here in Victorian London,” Louis barrels on, determined to get the rest of the story out. “There was a boy, an absolutely maddening boy who had the greenest eyes I had ever seen and dimples you could see from space and who would never take no for an answer. He was a private tutor for this really posh family on an estate and we fought the Great Intelligence together. He died and it was my fault and he was–”

“Shut up!” Harry cries, leaping to his feet. “Why are you lying to me?”  

“I’m not lying!” Louis insists, scrambling to his feet as well. “It took me meeting you three times before I figured it out, but it was always you! Same name, same voice. Same little quirks from loving Fleetwood bloody Mac’s ‘The Chain’ to never being able to make a souffle quite right–”

“Those are just things, Louis, that doesn’t fucking make those guys me!”

“I know,” Louis says desperately. “I know that, Harry, but they also can’t be fucking coincidences, can they? You’re the same person–”

Louis reaches for him, but Harry shies away from his touch.

“Don’t touch me,” Harry orders. “You do know what you’re saying is mad, right? I’m not the same person, that wasn’t me. You may think it was, but it wasn’t! I’d never even bloody left England before I met you. How the fuck would I be on Gallifrey? Much less be in those other places! Don’t you think I would have known? What you’re saying is...it’s impossible.”

“I know it is, Harry! But it’s happening. I don’t know why I keep meeting you, but I do! You have to believe me,” Louis begs. “You...you always say the same thing to me, every time we meet! It’s how I knew it was you when you called me. You said–”

“Oh my God,” Harry gasps, his eyes wide as he turns to Niall. Harry’s face is pale as he points at him. “I know how I know you! You were the guy in the shop! You were the guy who gave me the helpline number!”

“What?” Louis yelps, whirling around furiously. “What the fuck, Niall?”

“It’s a big universe, Lou,” Niall states, crossing his arms defensively. “And looking for one person in it is a bit like searching for a needle in a haystack, innit? I thought I would help you out.”

“How did you–”

“Got a vortex manipulator of my own, don’t I?” Niall says, his chin tilted up as he gestures to the cuff on his wrist. “So yeah, I went looking for Harry. And when I found him, I gave him your number.”

“And you didn’t think to tell me?” Louis asks incredulously. “How could–”

“Don’t turn this around on me, Louis,” Niall snaps. “I was doing you a favor. I didn’t think you’d be stupid enough to not tell him the truth as soon as you found him–”

“Is this some sort of sick joke?” Harry spits, angry tears streaming down his face. “Some sort of game you two are playing?”

“No!” Louis insists, his throat tightening up. “I swear it’s not a game. I would never do that to you, Haz.”

“You lied to me, Louis,” Harry sobs, curling in on himself. “I trusted you and you lied to me.”

“Harry, I’ve never lied to you–”

“You did though,” Harry accuses angrily. “You did lie to me, Louis. You’ve lied to me from the very start. What did I say to you on our very first day together?” Harry asks, furiously swiping the tears from his face. “I told you I wasn’t a bargain-basement replacement for someone else. I told you I didn’t want to compete with a ghost! And that’s what this has been, Louis. The whole time!”

“Harry, don’t say that!” Louis exclaims, tears welling in his eyes. “How can you possibly say that after...after everything we’ve–”

“How can I not? How can I not when you’ve kept something this big from me?”

“I didn’t know how to tell you,” Louis admits, his voice breaking as the tears spill down his cheeks. “I’d looked for you for ages and I finally found you and you were so wonderful, Harry–”

“But none of this has been real, has it?” Harry says viciously. “None of it.”

“That’s not true!” Louis insists through his tears.

“Isn’t it though?” Harry asks with disbelief, hurt and betrayal written all over his face. “It’s all just been a fantasy, hasn’t it? Is that what last night was, Doctor? Some sort of twisted fantasy where you finally got to nail the boy you lost all those years ago? Was it really me you were thinking of when you were getting me off? What about when I touched you? Was it really me that you wanted or just the shadow of someone else? To think that I thought–”

“Of course it was you,” Louis cries despondently. “Please don’t say that. Last night was everything to me, Harry, please believe me. It was you I was thinking of. Only you. Please believe me–”

“How am I supposed to believe a single goddamn word you say ever again?”

“Harry, please,” Louis gulps, reaching for him again, his fingers brushing down the rich velvet of Harry’s jacket. “Baby–”

Harry jumps away from him with a wounded cry.

“Don’t you dare,” Harry snarls. “You stay away from me, Louis. You stay far, far away from me. I don’t ever want to fucking see you again.”

“Harry,” Louis sobs brokenly. “Please–”

“I can’t...I can’t fucking breathe,” Harry gasps, tangling his fingers in his hair, the unruly curls spilling out from where he’d tied them back. “I...I have to get out of here.”

With that, Harry storms out of the room, brushing past a stunned Zayn and Liam. The door slams a few seconds later and Louis hits his knees, burying his face in his hands as he sobs. No one says anything, too shocked by the scene that has just transpired; Louis’ anguished cries are the only sounds in the room.

“Zayn,” Louis gasps through his sobs a few minutes later. “God, I’m so fucking...Zayn, he...he can’t just wander around out there! What if he...oh fuck, he can’t–”

“On it,” Zayn says grimly, swiftly leaving the room in pursuit of Harry.

“I’m so fucking stupid,” Louis weeps, digging the heels of his hands into his eye sockets. “What was I thinking? How could I have done this to him?”

“Lou,” Liam whispers, his voice trembling. “Louis, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know, this is all my fault.”

“No, it’s mine,” Niall says mournfully. “I should have told you I found him in the first place. Maybe all this could have been avoided.”

“Stop it, both of you. It’s neither of your faults. It’s mine,” Louis says tearfully, futilely wiping at his eyes as his tears flow freely. “I’m the one who kept this secret from him. I’m the one who told myself it didn’t really matter, that he didn’t need to know. I did this. I deserve this. I just...fuck...I just want him to be okay. I can handle him hating me, but if something happens to him out there–”

He feels Niall’s hand in between his shoulder blades, rubbing down his back comfortingly.

“Zayn will find him, Lou,” Niall assures him. “He’s the inspiration for the world’s most legendary detective, remember? He’ll bring him back, I promise.”

“And then what?” Louis questions. “How could I possibly fix what I’ve done, Niall?”

“I don’t know,” Niall says soothingly. “I’m sure you’ll think of something.”

********

Hot angry tears stream down Harry’s face as he wanders the unfamiliar streets. He has no idea where he’s going and deep down, he knows he’s going to have to find his way back to Zayn and Liam’s manor eventually, unless he wants to stay in Victorian London permanently. But for right now, he just wants to put as much space between him and Louis as possible. A multitude of emotions rush through him, cycling at such a rapid pace he can hardly keep up. Anger. Shame. Confusion. Disbelief. Betrayal. A raw hurt that cuts him to his very core. Yearning. Blind rage. Numbness. It’s all too much to absorb. He feels everything and nothing all at once and he just wants it to stop so he can find some goddamn perspective.

Mostly, he just feels foolish.

He feels foolish for believing that something real could happen between him and Louis. That something real was happening between them. Harry’s cheeks burn as he remembers looking in Louis’ eyes the night before and seeing pure adoration and wonder shining out from them as Harry had fallen apart under his touch. He feels foolish for handing Louis his entire heart without even realizing it and expecting the same in return.

He feels foolish that even now, he doesn’t want to take his heart back, that there’s still a big part of him that wants to go running back into Louis’ arms, to hear him out and to have Louis hold him as he assures him that everything’s going to be okay, that they are okay. But at the same time, he has no idea how they can be.

God, he’s an idiot.

The thing is, he desperately wants to believe that Louis is telling him the truth, but he can’t even begin to wrap his head around it. It’s just not possible. He’s just an ordinary boy from Cheshire, there is absolutely nothing remarkable about him. Sure, he does his best to be a good person, to be a good son and brother and uncle and friend, but there’s nothing special about that. He can’t possibly be what Louis thinks he is, this impossible boy who seems to be tied to Louis throughout all of time and space. He would know if he was, wouldn’t he?

Harry is sure that he would know.

The farther he gets into the city, the denser the foot traffic gets. Normally, Harry would be gawking at his surroundings, taking everything in and reveling in walking around a place he never would have seen without Louis. But now, he just concentrates on putting one foot in front of the other, lost in his thoughts as his tears finally slow. He accidentally bumps into a woman, mumbling an apology before he keeps heading down the street, walking aimlessly towards some unknown destination.

“Harry?” a little girl’s voice exclaims suddenly.

Harry stops, looking back at the woman he had just collided with. She’s holding hands with a little girl who can’t be much older than Annabel; the little girl beams in recognition, her entire face lighting up.

“Harry!” the little girl cries, dropping her mother’s hand and running towards him, her long blonde plaits flying behind her. “Harry, it’s you!”

“Lux!” the mother cries, her voice panicked as she chases after her. “Lux, wait!”

The little girl, Lux, crashes into him, throwing her little arms around his waist and knocking the breath right out of him.

“Harry,” she exclaims. “Harry, I missed you! How come you’re not dead? Did a prince come wake you up like in those stories you used to tell me?”

Maybe one fucking did.

Harry is speechless, looking up at the girl’s mother, who’s hastily trying to detach her daughter from him.

“I’m so sorry, sir,” the woman apologizes profusely, a stricken expression on her face. “I don’t know what’s gotten into her!”

“But Mummy, it’s Harry!”

“That’s simply impossible, love,” the woman says, finally freeing Harry from the girl’s grasp.

“It’s not,” Lux insists. “It’s just like in the stories!”

“Lux, hush now, this gentleman is not Harry!”

The little girl goes quiet, looking down at the sidewalk, sniffling a little bit.

“I’m sorry,” Harry croaks. “I’m not him.”

“No, I am sorry,” the woman insists. “I can see why she thinks you’re him though. You’re the spitting image of her old tutor. He...he died rather tragically almost two years ago.”

“I...I see,” Harry says, tears springing to his eyes anew, his pulse pounding.

Louis was telling the truth.

“I’m so sorry for upsetting you,” the woman apologizes again, taking her daughter’s hand and leading her away. “Good day, sir.”

They walk away from him rather quickly, Lux glancing at him once more over her shoulder, her big blue eyes incredibly sad. Harry lets out a breath he didn’t even realize he was holding, his whole body shaking as a burst of panic rushes through his veins. He closes his eyes, color exploding behind his eyelids as he breathes in and out rapidly. He loosens the ascot around his neck, the knot threatening to cut off his air supply. Wobbling on his feet, Harry’s arms flail out as he looks for somewhere to brace himself, suddenly dizzy from hyperventilating, unable to get enough air in his lungs.

Out of nowhere, he feels a steadying hand on his back.

“Harry,” Zayn says quietly over his shoulder. “It’s okay, you’re okay.”

“Zayn,” Harry wheezes, still unable to catch his breath. “How did you–”

“I need you to look at me, Harry,” Zayn says calmly.

Harry finds Zayn’s amber eyes behind his thin black veil and concentrates on meeting his steady gaze.

“That’s a good lad,” Zayn soothes. “Now take a deep breath in through your nose and hold it.”

Harry obeys, feeling his heart rate slow ever so slightly as the oxygen floods his lungs.

“And out,” Zayn says, nodding as Harry releases his breath. “Again. Do it with me.”

Zayn stands there, patiently breathing with him until Harry calms down.

“Come with me,” Zayn murmurs finally, gently leading Harry down the sidewalk.

Harry goes easily as Zayn guides them to the corner, leading him into a dimly lit tavern. There are only a few patrons at the bar, the hour still a little early for drinking. Zayn steers him to a little alcove in the corner, pulling out a chair for him.

“I’m just going to get us a drink,” Zayn informs him, patting Harry’s shoulder as he sits. “You could use one.”

Harry nods gratefully, slumping down in his chair, still not fully recovered from his bout of panic. Zayn returns quickly, sliding a tumbler full of whiskey over to him as he sits, pulling up his veil over the brim of his hat once he settles fully. Eyes focused on Harry, he raises his glass in a toast, sipping at it delicately; Harry, on the other hand, takes a big gulp, the amber liquid burning his throat as he swallows. They sit in silence drinking their whiskey, Zayn studying him intently.

“They knew me,” Harry confesses in a tiny voice. “The mother wouldn’t admit it, but I could see it in her face. They knew me.”

“I would imagine so,” Zayn says carefully. “You worked for them for nearly a year. That little girl loved you very much.”

“She hugged me so tight,” Harry says whispers, a single tear sliding down his cheek. “I don’t...I don’t know what is happening to me, but Louis is telling the truth. I was here.”

“You were,” Zayn confirms. “A right menace you were too. All bright-eyed and dimpled and challenging every little thing Louis did. He had no idea what hit him.”

Harry laughs sadly, another tear slipping down his cheek. He sniffles, taking another sip of whiskey.

“I’ve known Louis a long time,” Zayn says. “When you...that you, Harry, I know there’s a difference, by the way–”

“Thank you,” Harry says softly.

“You’re welcome,” Zayn smiles. “When that you came along, Louis was in the darkest place he’d been since I’ve known him. He’d been holed up in the TARDIS for over five years, barely coming out at all, never interacting with anyone other than me, Liam, and Niall. None of us knew how to reach him, how to pull him out of the hole he’d dug himself into. But then you did. You stumbled into his life and it was like the light turned back on. Oh, he fought it tooth and nail, but you were just...inevitable.”

You, Harry Styles. You are an inevitability.

Harry’s heart lurches in his chest.

“Can I ask you something, Harry?”

“Of course,” Harry replies.

“If Louis had told you that he’d met you before, right when he first showed up at your door, would you have believed him?”

Harry thinks back to that day. He remembers opening the door and seeing a mad man standing on his stoop, dressed as a monk, a manic grin on his face.

“Oi, come on! You have to remember me!”
“I’ve never seen you before in my life, mate.”

“I would have slammed the door in his face. In fact, I did slam the door in his face. I think he...no...I know he tried to tell me, in that very first moment. He was so sure that I knew who he was and I slammed the door in his face.”

“Ah,” Zayn says. “So you can understand why he was so afraid to tell you then.”

Harry does understand.

“Listen, I’m not trying to make excuses for what he did. At all. I’m just trying to add a little perspective to the situation.”

Harry sighs, running his fingers through his messy hair, trying to smooth it back out as he attempts to gather his thoughts.

“Perspective doesn’t change the fact that he still should have told me,” he says finally.

“Oh, yes, he should have,” Zayn agrees easily. “He should have tried telling you every day until you heard him. Louis was definitely was in the wrong here.”

“He was,” Harry echoes, taking another big sip of whiskey.

“He was selfish and thoughtless and arrogant beyond all belief.”

“Exactly,” Harry mumbles, swiping at the tears on his cheeks.

“But you still care about him,” Zayn states matter of factly.

“How do you know?” Harry asks petulantly. “I told him I was done. I told him I didn’t ever want to see him again. So why do you think I still care?”

“Because you’re sitting here crying over him and the hurt he’s caused you,” Zayn replies, his unwavering gaze fixed on Harry as he sips from his glass. “You’re never truly done with someone while they can still make you angry. While they can still make you cry. Tell me you don’t care about him without flinching and maybe I’ll believe you.”

“You can’t just stop caring about someone, Zayn,” Harry protests weakly. “It’s not something you can just turn on or off, just like that.”

“Sure you can,” Zayn counters. “Anyone can do it. People do it all the time, Harry. Except, of course, when they can’t.”

Harry doesn’t have any counter-argument for that one, so he just takes a sip of whiskey. They sit in a silence that’s more comfortable than it should be, given the circumstances.

“Life would be so much simpler if you liked the ‘right’ people,” Zayn says after a long moment. “The people society tells you that you’re supposed to like, the conventional, easy choices. But then again, if we did that, there wouldn’t be any fairy tales or great love stories, would there?”

“No, I don’t s’pose there would be,” Harry agrees.

“It’s a bit like me and Liam, if you think about it,” Zayn continues thoughtfully. “By all rights, we shouldn’t even be together, you know? It’s unconventional enough that, as a Silurian, I choose to live among the human race. Loving and marrying a human? It’s unheard of. The very opposite of simple or easy. For either of us; Liam doesn’t let it show, but I know he still feels the pain of his family, and friends for that matter, disowning him. But we still choose each other. Quite frankly, there never was any other option for me when it came to him. He’s my great love story.”

“That’s lovely, but I don’t really understand what you’re saying, Zayn,” Harry says, his head bowing as he drags his finger around the brim of his glass. “How does that apply to me?”

“I’m saying that if you wanted it to be easy, you wouldn’t have chosen Louis.”

Harry looks up at him in surprise, Zayn fixing him with an intense gaze. Zayn doesn’t have eyebrows, his glistening avocado-colored scales smooth and hairless, but Harry imagines that if he did have eyebrows that one of them would be perfectly arched right now. He feels like Zayn is staring straight into his soul. Maybe he actually is. Harry has no idea what kind of fucking powers Silurians have.

“B-but, I didn’t choose him,” Harry stammers. “He chose me, didn’t he? He’s the one who showed up on my doorstep.”

“Ah, that’s where you’ve got it all wrong, Harry,” Zayn says gently. “You could have walked away after that first encounter with him, but you didn’t. He may have shown up on your doorstep, but you’re the one who chose to run away with him. So I guess what you really have to decide now is whether or not you’re going to keep on choosing him, knowing everything you know now. Because you do. Have a choice. You always have.”

Well, damn.

His hand shaking a little, Harry tips his glass back, polishing off his whiskey. He looks up at Zayn, the glass making a dull thunk on the wood table as he puts it down.

“Another round?”

********

It’s well past nightfall when Zayn and Harry finally get back to the manor, Harry working off his slight buzz on the walk home. Liam throws the door open before he and Zayn are even halfway up the walk, as if he had been watching for them from the window.

“Oh, thank God,” Liam sighs with relief, reaching out to hug Harry, but stopping himself at the last moment, clearly thinking the better of it. Instead, he reaches for his husband, pressing a soft kiss to his scaly cheek. “You found him!”

“I did,” Zayn replies, returning Liam’s kiss with one of his own. “Sorry we took so long to get back. We went for a few drinks at the Stag’s Head.”

“Louis will be so relieved that you’re back, Harry,” Liam says earnestly, turning to him and clapping him on the shoulder. “He’s been absolutely beside himself worrying about you.”

Harry’s heart clenches painfully. He may be angry at Louis, but he still hates the thought of him being upset.

“Erm...where is he?” Harry asks apprehensively, looking over Liam’s shoulder, expecting to see Louis coming out of the house any moment.

“In the TARDIS,” Liam answers, gesturing to where it’s parked in the courtyard. “Been holed up in there pretty much since you left.”

“Alone?”

“Niall’s still in there with him,” Liam replies. “They had...they had some shit to work through.”

Harry nods, sighing heavily.

“I should...I should go check on him.”

Liam nods solemnly.

“Harry, I–” Liam starts, his brown puppy dog eyes painfully sad. “I just want to say I’m sorry for running off my big mouth and fucking everything up. I didn’t mean to. I was just...I was so happy to see you and I didn’t think–”

“S’okay, Liam,” Harry interrupts softly. “You didn’t know. I know you didn’t mean any harm.”

“Are you okay?”

“Not really,” Harry admits honestly. “But I will be. I hope. At least...I don’t know...at least this happened here and not like...stranded in the middle of nowhere without any friends.”

He looks over at Zayn, who smiles at him knowingly.

“I really should go,” Harry says after a moment. “It was nice to meet the pair of you, in spite of everything. I hope we meet again under better circumstances.”

“Me too,” Liam says genuinely, giving him a warm hug. “You’re welcome here anytime. Any friend of Louis’ is a friend of ours.”

“Thanks,” Harry mutters, squeezing him tightly.

“He...he cares about you so much, Harry. It’s so obvious. I hope you two can work everything out.”

“Me too,” Harry says as he releases him.

Harry turns to Zayn, who doesn’t seem much like the hugging type, aside from the whole display with Louis earlier, so instead he thrusts his hand forward; Zayn takes it smoothly, holding his hand in a firm grip.

“Thanks for everything today,” Harry says sincerely. “For finding me, for the drinks, for the perspective, for everything. I don’t know what I would have done without you.”

“It was my pleasure,” Zayn replies. “Well,” he amends with a sly smile, “not my pleasure, but I was happy to do it all the same. Take care of yourself, I hope to see you again soon.”

Harry nods, letting go of his hand. He holds up his hand in farewell as Zayn slides his arm around Liam’s waist, tugging him to his side. Harry takes a steadying breath, spinning on his heel and walking towards the TARDIS. He looks over his shoulder one last time, smiling as Zayn and Liam wave goodbye, turning and walking arm-in-arm towards the house.

Harry’s stomach is in knots as he approaches the familiar blue box, his pulse pounding in his throat. He takes another deep breath, resting his forehead against the strangely warm wood of the door, his hand gripping the handle.

It’s now or never.

Taking another deep breath, Harry pushes the door open, stepping inside the TARDIS.

He hears a sharp intake of breath as soon as he steps into the console room, closing the door behind him with a quiet snick. His eyes seek out the source of the sound, finally spotting Louis curled up in his favorite reading nook in the balcony, Niall at his side, his arm around his narrow shoulders. Even in the dimmed lights, Harry can see that Louis’ bright blue eyes are red-rimmed and puffy, his cheeks a little blotchy and tear-stained, the tip of his nose pink. He’s changed out of his suit, opting for cozy black joggers and an oversized black jumper knit with a brightly colored solar system pattern on the chest that is definitely Harry’s own, him having unironically bought it when they visited the rings of Saturn last month. He’d wrapped Louis in it one night when they were watching Netflix on the couch, gently teasing him about it not being so touristy now that he was cold.

Louis had never returned it.

Harry tries to ignore the way that his stomach flips at seeing Louis in his clothes, looking heartbreakingly beautiful, even in distress. He tells himself that he’s still fucking furious with him, after all.

“Harry,” Louis rasps, his voice raw from crying. “You came back.”

“Had to, didn’t I?” Harry asks bitterly. “I couldn’t bloody well stay here in Victorian England after all.”

Harry cringes as soon as the words leave his mouth, his words much harsher than he had intended. Louis visibly flinches back into Niall, his eyes shining with tears as he gnaws on his bottom lip.

“Right,” he says in a tiny voice. “Right, of course you want to get home.”

Harry squeezes his eyes shut, carding his fingers through his hair.

“I’m sorry, Louis, that was uncalled for.”

“No, no,” Louis replies with a little sniffle, completely defeated. “No, it’s exactly what I deserve. I’ll get you home straight away–”

“That’s not what I want though,” Harry interrupts. “That’s not what I want at all.”

“Wh-what?” Louis stammers, wiping away the tears that have spilled down his cheeks.

“I’m going to go,” Niall says hastily.

Niall untangles himself from Louis, bending down and muttering something in his ear that Harry can’t make out. Louis nods, hugging him tightly before standing up himself. Niall trots down the stairs, stopping in front of Harry, his blue eyes apologetic.

“Harry, I just–” Niall starts, taking a deep breath. “I just want to say that I am deeply, deeply sorry for the part I played in everything that’s happened today. Please forgive me. It...it wasn’t my intent to cause you any pain.”

Niall looks up at Louis, who takes a seat about halfway down the stairs.

“Either of you.”

“I know,” Harry acknowledges softly, his eyes flitting over to where Louis sits. “And I do. Forgive you.”

“Thank you,” Niall says, a brilliant smile blooming on his face as he claps Harry on the shoulder. “See ya ’round the universe, I hope. Bye, Lou.”

“Bye,” Harry and Louis say at the same time.

Niall goes, shutting the door behind him quietly, leaving Harry and Louis alone. Harry wanders over to the console, placing himself directly in front of the the staircase, just about eye level with where Louis sits on the stairs. He leans against the lip of the console, crossing his arms over his chest, meeting Louis’ eyes. They stare at each other for a long time, the only sounds in the room being Louis’ quiet sniffles and the gentle hum of the TARDIS. Louis looks incredibly small, hunched there on the staircase, his elbows resting on his knees, his chin cradled in his palms; it’s incredibly disconcerting for Harry to see him this way, when he’s accustomed to Louis being so big all the time, filling every single room he’s in with his infectious energy. He never wants to see Louis this small again.

“Harry–” Louis starts finally, his voice thick.

“Wait,” Harry interrupts. “I get to go first.”

Louis’ mouth snaps shut and he nods.

“I’m still angry with you,” Harry says slowly. “But also...I know you’re telling the truth. About me. I believe you.”

“You do?” Louis squeaks, his eyebrows shooting up.

“Yeah, while I...while I was out there walking around, I ran into a little girl named Lux and her mother. Lux came running at me, shouting my name, and she just...she hugged me so tight, Louis. And then she asked me why I wasn’t dead.”

Louis looks pained, curling in on himself even more.

“I’m so sorry, Harry,” he says meekly, swiping his cheeks. “I can’t imagine what that must have been like.”

“It was horrible,” Harry admits. “I had a panic attack. If Zayn hadn’t found me when he did, I don’t know what would have happened.”

“I’m sorry,” Louis repeats, grief written all over his face. “Fuck, Harry, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to apologize enough. I’m just...I’m sorry. Please forgive me.”

“You should have told me, Louis,” Harry states firmly.

“I know,” Louis replies, carding his fingers through his messy fringe and then burying his face in his hands. “I know I should have. I’m such a fucking idiot.”

Harry softens, the need to be closer to Louis suddenly overpowering his anger. He shrugs off the velvet coat, laying it neatly across the console, and then clambers up the stairs, nudging Louis’ knee with his own. Louis scoots over to make room for him, still not looking at him.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Harry asks curiously. “Did you not trust me or something?”

Louis sighs, scrubbing his hands down his face.

“I really was going to tell you,” Louis admits softly, staring straight ahead. “But then I...I was afraid to. I was afraid you wouldn’t believe me, afraid that like...Harry, you’ve died twice because of your association with me. I was afraid that if you knew that, you wouldn’t want to have anything to do with me and I couldn’t bear the thought of that. So I guess what it comes down to is that I was selfish. I wanted to keep you with me. I’ve...I’ve never gotten to travel with you before, y’know? You were always like...snatched away from me right when I was ready to whisk you away and show you the stars...”

Louis trails off, staring straight ahead, lost in thought. Harry studies his profile, his long lashes casting shadows on his cheekbones in the dim light.

“You always wanted to see them,” Louis sighs wistfully. “The stars. And I always wanted to be the one to show them to you.”

Harry’s throat tightens. He blinks furiously in attempt to fight back the tears that are threatening to well up in his eyes. He threads his arm through the crook of Louis’ elbow, resting his head on his shoulder.

“You did, Louis,” Harry says. “You did show them to me.”

“Yeah, and I’ve gone and cocked it all up now, haven’t I?” Louis huffs ruefully. “I may not have lied to your face, Harry, but I definitely kept things from you. I shouldn’t have done that and I’ll never forgive myself. You have every reason to hate me, Haz, and I wouldn’t blame you if you did.”

A lone tear slips down Harry’s cheek, despite his best efforts to stave them off.

“I don’t hate you, Louis,” Harry admits after a long moment. “I don’t think I could ever hate you.”

Louis makes a noise that’s halfway between a laugh and a sob, his shoulder shaking under Harry’s cheek. Harry takes a deep breath, feeling the pain and the anger start to melt away.

“You hurt me,” Harry utters quietly, nuzzling a little closer to him.

“Yeah,” Louis says wetly. “I know.”

“Don’t do it again.”

“No,” Louis murmurs, resting his head against Harry’s and taking his hand, winding their fingers together.

They sit in silence, their heads together and their hands entwined. Their tears eventually slow and their breathing syncs, the quiet wrapping around them like a soft, warm blanket.

“Lou?”

“Yes, love?”

“Why me?” Harry asks. “I mean, why is this happening to me? Why do you think you keep meeting me? I’m just a boy from Cheshire. M’nobody important.”

“Ah, that’s where you’re wrong, Haz,” Louis sighs. “You know that in almost a thousand years of traveling in time and space, I never met someone who wasn’t important?”

Harry smiles into his shoulder.

“But to answer your question,” Louis continues, “I know that ‘I don’t know’ is a completely shit answer, Haz, but it’s the truth. I tried figuring it out for a good while, once I realized what was happening. I spent hours trying to find any link between the Harry I met here in Victorian England and the boy I only knew as Ensign Styles from 2828. There was nothing, no family connection, just...nothing. And then when I found you, I did some digging. Nothing too invasive, I promise. Just like...anything that was a matter of public record. And all of your social media.”

“All of it?”

“Yeah,” Louis admits. “All the way back to the very first Facebook post.”

“That’s so creepy, Lou,” Harry observes, a hint of gentle teasing in his voice. “Right stalker you are.”

“Believe me, I know,” Louis huffs. “Though I will say, I was very intrigued by the whole White Eskimo thing.”

“Oh God,” Harry groans. “That’s so embarrassing. We were awful.”

Harry can sense Louis biting back a grin.

“Nah,” he says softly. “I thought it was quite cute.”

“I hope you know that I’m going to go searching for embarrassing pictures of you,” Harry grumbles. “There’s got to be some hidden away somewhere in the TARDIS.”

“That’s fair, I suppose,” Louis chuckles, squeezing his hand. “Anyway, as you can guess, I didn’t find anything to explain why I kept meeting you. So I guess...I guess I just chalked it up to the universe just...wanting us to be together and I left it at that. It didn’t feel right digging any deeper than that, especially once I got to know you. You...you aren’t some mystery to be solved, Harry. You’re so much more than that. You’re just...you. And you’re everything.”

“Do you miss them?” Harry asks tentatively. He’s not sure if he actually wants to know the answer, but he needs to ask anyway. “The other versions of me?”

“I didn’t really know them,” Louis says honestly. “Not like I know you. I barely even think about them now. Every so often you’ll do something that reminds me of them, but it’s not like a constant comparison. Like this morning, when I first saw you in all your Victorian finery, I was struck by how much you reminded me of him. But it stopped there, you know? Then all I could think about was how much I wanted to bloody kiss you while I fixed your tie.”

“You fancied him, didn’t you? That me?”

“Yeah,” Louis admits after a moment, a tiny smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. “I fancied the pants off him. Was hard not to. He was a charming little bugger.”

Harry wonders if it’s possible to be jealous of a version of himself.

“He was the one that made me figure it all out, the other versions of you,” Louis continues. “I went looking for you after he died, y’know. Even went back to the street where we met in hopes that you’d just be there or summat. In a way, he’s the one...he’s the one that sent me to you, Haz. So I’m grateful to him for that. Because, yeah, I may have fancied him, but it pales in comparison to what I feel for you.”

Harry smiles softly as the knot that’s been in his chest all afternoon starts to loosen.

“Once in a while, I get sad for like...the time I didn’t have with the other Harrys, but that’s not the same, is it?”

“Not really,” Harry agrees.

“I wouldn’t trade the Harry I have now for any other Harry in the world,” Louis assures him, reaching up and tucking a curl behind his ear. “You aren’t a bargain-basement replacement for someone else, Hazza. You are my Harry, the only Harry that matters. And I’m sorry that I made you feel otherwise. Please forgive me.”

Harry yawns, snuggling into Louis’ side.

“I forgive you,” Harry says sleepily, yawning a second time. “M’knackered.”

“Let’s get you to bed then,” Louis says softly, nudging him away from his side and standing. “It’s been a day.”

“That’s the understatement of the century, Doctor,” Harry says, taking Louis’ extended hand as he stands.

Louis snickers, leading him through the console room and down the stairs towards the living quarters, Harry following him easily down that familiar route in the underbelly of the TARDIS.

“Here we are,” Louis says, stopping outside Harry’s bedroom. He squeezes Harry’s hand, smiling up at him. “Sleep well, Hazza. I’ll see you in the morning.”

Louis turns to go into his own bedroom, but Harry stops him, reaching for his hand.

“Stay with me?”

Louis turns back to him, his eyebrows raised high, almost to his hairline.

“Not for that,” Harry prefaces. “But I don’t want to be alone tonight. Can we...can we just sleep? Together?”

“Yeah,” Louis murmurs after a moment. “Yeah, we can do that.”

Louis follows Harry into his room, heading over to what has become his side of the bed. Harry doesn’t even bother turning on the overhead lights, the dim twinkle of the fairy lights enough to guide him as he peels off his clothes, carelessly tossing them over his armchair. He grabs a ratty t-shirt and pulls it on and then lifts the duvet up, crawling into bed in just his t-shirt and pants. Louis climbs in behind him, still fully clothed, cautiously scooting closer until his chest is pressed fully against Harry’s back. Harry tangles their legs together, reaching back and pulling Louis’ arm around him, clasping his hand to his chest. He starts to drift off almost immediately.

“Don’t leave,” he murmurs, his eyes sliding shut.

Louis’ breathy “I wouldn’t dream of it, love,” is the last thing Harry hears before he goes to sleep.

Manchester, England. 2009.

Things are better the next morning. They wake up in each other’s arms, Louis valiantly ignoring the semi that’s pressing against the curve of Harry’s arse. Harry blushes as he crawls out of bed, half-hard himself, his tiny little briefs leaving very little to the imagination as he makes his way to the ensuite, mumbling about needing a shower.

Louis flops back in their bed (no, Harry’s. It’s Harry’s bed.), blowing out a big breath as his cock twitches in his joggers. He wishes he could go join Harry in the shower, but they’ve never done that before and besides, he’s not sure if the boundary Harry had set the night before extended to this morning. He thought they were okay after their talk last night, but he doesn’t want to push. Harry will have to be the one to make the first move, Louis resolves as he crawls out of bed and stumbles across the hall into his room. That’s just how it’s going to have to be.

It doesn’t stop Louis from having a wank in his own shower though, his traitorous dick refusing to be ignored. He tries to keep it quick and perfunctory, just taking care of business, but each stroke of his cock has him thinking of Harry; how he touched Louis, how he kissed Louis, how he tasted, how beautiful his face looked when he came. By the time Louis comes, he’s completely forgotten himself, crying out Harry’s name. As the shower spray rinses away the evidence, he bites his lip, hoping Harry didn’t overhear him.

Louis shaves and then picks his outfit for the day (navy blue slim-cut trousers, a white button down, and burgundy braces) and spends an inordinate amount of time on his hair, making sure it looks perfectly mussed. Grabbing a pair of navy Vans, he heads towards the kitchen, lured there by the smell of bacon cooking. Louis leans against the door, swallowing hard as he watches Harry hunched over the stove in a pair of pale yellow trackies that hug his bum and a frayed white t-shirt with the words “Hot N Hard” emblazoned on the back in faded red ink. The shirt sticks to the skin of his broad back, almost like he put it on before he was completely dry; his curls are damp as well, dripping a little on the collar. He’s humming to himself as he flips pancakes, occasionally checking in on the bacon, carefully turning the pieces over in the skillet. The kettle is plugged in as well. It’s all so achingly domestic and Louis can’t remember what his mornings used to be like before Harry came along.

He’s so fucked.

“Hey,” he manages to say in a relatively normal voice.

“Hey,” Harry smiles, looking at him over his shoulder. “Hope you’re in the mood for pancakes. I had a craving.”

“They smell amazing,” Louis observes, his stomach rumbling. “I’m starving. Do you need help with anything?”

“I’ve got it handled,” Harry says easily. “You want to do the tea?”

Louis grabs two mugs from the cabinet and places them on the counter. He grabs two bags of tea (Yorkshire for himself, green tea for Harry) and sets about making their cuppas once the kettle clicks off. Louis gingerly carries the mugs over to the table, placing them in their usual spots, and then grabs silverware from the drawer, as well as butter and syrup from the fridge. Harry’s plating their breakfasts by the time Louis finishes setting the table.

“Excellent timing,” Louis says as he sits.

“Dream team,” Harry says with a tiny smile. “Dig in.”

The bacon is crisp and the pancakes are fluffy and perfect, and Louis can’t help but groan with happiness when he discovers that Harry added chocolate chips to his.

“You spoil me, Haz,” Louis praises between bites. “These are too good.”

Harry blushes.

“I just wanted to do something nice,” he says simply. “As a like...‘I’m not mad at you anymore’ kind of thing.”

Louis sips his tea, meeting Harry’s eyes over the brim of his mug. He smiles, holding the mug out towards him.

“To fresh starts,” Louis toasts him, “and no more secrets.”

“No more secrets,” Harry echoes, clinking his mug with Louis’ and smiling broadly.

They eat in companionable silence, the only sounds being Louis’ occasional appreciative hums and Harry’s soft chuckles.  

“Hey, speaking of doing something nice,” Louis says, pushing his cleaned plate away. “Can I take you somewhere today?”

“Yes, of course,” Harry replies, placing his fork and knife on his empty plate. “Always.”

Louis smiles, his hearts doing a little flip in his chest.

“I’ve been saving this trip for a special occasion,” Louis continues. “Like Christmas, or your birthday, or summat. But that feels kinda stupid now, especially after yesterday. Every day is a special occasion with you, Haz.”

Harry blushes again, biting his lip and looking down, his dimple popping as he smiles.

“Where are we going?”

“Not telling,” Louis says mysteriously, sipping his tea.

“You just said no more secrets!” Harry teases.

“Ah, but a surprise is different than a secret, innit?” Louis grins.

“I guess,” Harry laughs, rolling his eyes.

“I’ll clean up,” Louis says, stacking Harry’s plate on top of his. “You go change, I highly doubt you’ll want to do this in your trackies and an old band shirt.”

“Excuse me, Lewis,” Harry gasps with mock offense. “I’ll have you know this is a vintage Kiss tour shirt. Are you saying my old ‘Hot N Hard’ shirt isn’t special enough for some secret surprise trip that you’ve been saving? How very dare you.”

“It’s very special, love,” Louis laughs, taking the plates to the sink. “But I know you, and I know you hate being underdressed.”

“Good point,” Harry says, brushing his hands together. “Back in a mo.’ Meet you in the console room?”

Louis nods, turning on the faucet and starting on the dishes. Harry hesitates for a moment, leaning forward ever so slightly, but then stopping himself at the last minute, smiling awkwardly and scampering out of the room. Louis smiles, biting his bottom lip as Harry goes.

Maybe Harry’s as skittish as he is when it comes to making the first move. Somehow, Louis finds that comforting.  

Louis places the last dish on the drying rack, wiping his hands on a towel. He heads to the console room, stopping at the mirror in the living room to give his hair a final onceover, fussing with his fringe until it looks perfect. Once he’s at the console, he punches in the coordinates and throttles up the TARDIS, his stomach fluttering nervously as it lurches into flight. He taps his fingers on the control panel, waiting for Harry to appear.

About fifteen minutes later, he hears Harry’s footfalls on the steps.

“This special enough for you?” Harry teases, doing a little twirl as he shows off his outfit.

Harry’s picked a black and white leopard print shirt, which he’s left half undone, as per usual, his silver cross necklace glinting against the pale skin of his chest. The sleeves are cuffed mid-bicep, showing off his toned arms, and it’s tucked in for once, showing off the definition of his narrow waist, the gold of the belt buckle drawing Louis’ eyes to the bulge in his painted-on black skinnies. The outfit is finished with his standard black heeled boots, adding a few inches to his height. Louis gapes at him while Harry just smiles back smugly.

“Yeah,” Louis says breathily. “Yeah, that’ll do.”

“Good,” Harry smirks. “So where’re we going?”

The TARDIS lands with a rumble.

“Why don’t we go find out?” Louis says, placing a gentle hand on Harry’s lower back and guiding him to the door.

They step out into a busy parking lot, the wet pavement glittering under the lights shining out from the white brick building in front of them. A crowd is packed around the entrance, and a line winds around the corner, slowly moving as the patrons file inside.

“Louis,” Harry says softly. “Louis, that’s the Manchester Apollo.”

“Well, what do you know, it is,” Louis confirms, taking Harry’s hand. “Come on. We need to go this way.”

Louis leads him the opposite direction from the crowd, around the corner and behind the theatre. Harry shivers a little in the cold February air.

“Sorry, do you want to go back and grab a coat? I didn’t think.”

“M’fine,” Harry says, his voice shaking a little as he looks around. “Louis, what year is it?”

“2009,” Louis answers. “February the eighth, to be specific. The night The Script makes their Manchester debut.”

Harry’s jaw drops and he stops in his tracks, causing Louis to stumble back a little, yanked back by their joined hands.

“Louis, oh my God,” Harry gasps in astonishment, looking up at the theatre. “Really?”

“Really,” Louis confirms, stepping into Harry’s space and tucking a curl behind his ear, his fingers skimming the curve of Harry’s jaw. “You said you would have killed to see them play the Apollo. I’d rather you not kill anybody, so here we are.”

“You remember that?” Harry says, his green eyes shining in wonderment.

“Harry Styles,” Louis murmurs, his hands shaking a little as he thumbs over Harry’s dimple, poking it softly. “I remember everything.”

Harry sways a little where he stands, looking slightly dazed. Louis grins, his hand moving to his hip to steady him.

“You okay there?”

“I just,” Harry gapes. “I just can’t believe this. How...how are we even getting in, Lou? The concert is sold out!”

“Leave that to me,” Louis winks, leading Harry towards the stage door. He knocks, taking a slight step back when the door opens, revealing a burly security guard with a clipboard in hand.

“Can I help you, gentlemen?”

“Yes,” Louis chirps. “You should have two tickets for Tomlinson on your list? Danny arranged them?”

Harry squeaks behind him, gripping Louis’ hand tightly. The guard scans the list, nodding and checking something off. He hands Louis two laminated VIP badges and lanyards.

“Friends and family section is to the left,” the guard says gruffly. “Enjoy the show, gentlemen.”

“Louis, what the fuck?” Harry says in a strangled voice as Louis leads him down the hall, his head swirling around as if he’s expecting the band to appear at any moment. “How the fuck?”

“After we wrote together, Danny promised that there would always be a pair of tickets waiting for me, no matter how big or small the show is,” Louis says airily. “Good to see he meant it, he’s a good lad.”

“So wait, you actually do know them,” Harry cries incredulously. “You weren’t just bullshitting me?”

“I never bullshit, Haz.”

Harry arches an eyebrow disbelievingly.

“Okay, I never bullshit about music,” Louis laughs, pulling a curtain aside and leading Harry into the VIP area, their seats right by the stage.

“Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God,” Harry mutters, looking back out at the audience, the house packed to the gills. “If my fifteen-year-old self could see me now. You know what’s fucking nuts? Me and Gemma are like...wandering around out there, trying to score a pair of tickets.”

Louis beams.

“So a good surprise then?”

“The best surprise,” Harry affirms, squeezing his hand. “I can’t...I can’t believe this.”

“Want a beer?” Louis says, gesturing over to the VIP bar. “They’re free.”

“God yes,” Harry sighs, plopping down in his chair. “Please.”

Louis goes to the bar, ordering them two pints. He carries the drinks back to their seats, handing Harry his beer just as the lights dim, the crowd roaring in anticipation.

“Oh my God,” Harry murmurs, leaping to his feet, his beer sloshing over the rim of the glass a little as the opening chords of “Before the Worst” ring out in the auditorium, the stage lights glowing brightly. “Louis!”

Louis just grins, sipping his beer as Danny takes the stage, his rich tenor launching into the song. The Script’s music isn’t really made for dancing, but Harry finds a way to do it, bopping around excitedly as he sings along, occasionally adding little air guitar flourishes with his free hand. The band’s energy is electric and, much like when they went to see Hamlet, Louis finds himself watching Harry watch the performance, more than the band itself. Harry knows every word, singing along at the top of his lungs. Louis finishes his beer, holding his hand out to Harry during “Breakeven,” in an invitation to dance. Harry grins, still holding his half-full beer as he takes his hand. Louis twirls him a little awkwardly, given their height difference, but they make it work, swinging their arms back and forth happily.

Louis doesn’t think he’s ever felt as alive as he does in this very moment, Harry at his side, both of them grinning like mad as they sing and dance like fools.  

It’s not a very long set, the band having only one album at this point, so before Louis knows it, Danny is announcing that they only have two songs left. Butterflies kick up a storm in his tummy as Danny launches into his thank you speech, talking a little bit about how much this next song has meant to their careers.

“This one’s my favorite,” Harry says, leaning over and whispering in Louis’ ear as the opening chords for “The Man Who Can’t Be Moved” start. “S’always been my favorite song of theirs. Thank you for bringing me here, Lou.”

“You’re very welcome, Haz,” Louis rasps, his voice a little raw.

Harry turns his attention back to the stage as Danny steps up to the mic.

“Going back to the corner, where I first saw you. Gonna camp in my sleeping bag, I’m not gonna move. Got some words on cardboard, got your picture in my hand, saying ‘If you see this girl, can you tell her where I am?’”

Louis closes his eyes, feeling the memories wash over him. He feels Harry shift next to him, so he peeks one eye open, seeing Harry staring back at him, his mouth slightly agape.

“’Cause if one day you wake up and find that you’re missing me and your heart starts to wonder where on this Earth I could be. Thinking maybe you’ll come back here, to the place that we’d meet and you’ll see me waiting for you on the corner of the street. So I’m not moving. I’m not moving.”

“You...you wrote this?” Harry asks softly, his voice barely audible over the music.

“I did,” Louis nods. “Well. Co-wrote it.”

“You wrote this about me,” Harry clarifies, taking a step closer to him, turning his back on the band. “Didn’t you? All this time, I’ve loved this song and it’s–”

“There’s someone I’m waiting for, be it a day, a month, a year.”

“Like I said last night,” Louis says, leaning in even closer, so Harry can hear him. “I would go back to the street where we met and just wait there, hoping you’d show up. I knew it was stupid but I just...I couldn’t let it go. Let you go. I knew you were out there, I just needed you to find me again. It’s a bit silly, isn’t it, though? Because all that time, I didn’t know that I was waiting for you, Harry. This you.”

“Lou,” Harry breathes, his hand gripping Louis’ hip tightly.

“And maybe you won’t mean to, but you’ll see me on the news. And you’ll come running to the corner, ’cause you’ll know it’s just for you. I’m the man who can’t be moved.”

“My impossible boy,” Louis smiles, his hand coming up to Harry’s cheek. “I would wait for you until the very end of time itself.”

Harry sucks in a breath and then crashes their lips together, kissing him fiercely. Louis gasps into it, his arms sliding around Harry’s neck as he presses in closer, kissing him back with equal fervor. Harry whimpers a little as Louis presses his tongue against the seam of his lips, opening up for him easily, his hands sliding around to Louis’ lower back. It’s far too much for a public arena, bordering on indecent, but Louis doesn’t give an actual fuck, reveling in Harry’s lips against his own, tasting of beer and his own honeyed sweetness. They kiss through almost the entirety of the final song, alternating between sweet, slow pecks and deeper, more passionate kisses. Finally, Harry pulls back, his chest heaving and his eyes dark. He licks his lips, as if he’s not done tasting him just yet.

“Do you,” Louis asks breathlessly, carding his fingers through Harry’s slightly sweaty curls. “Do you want to get out of here?”

“And miss the encore?” Harry asks incredulously, dipping in for another quick kiss. “Are you mad?”

Louis laughs, spinning him around, and pulling him back into his chest, his arms around his waist and his chin hooked over his shoulder.

“Fair enough,” Louis murmurs, kissing the side of his neck.

Harry sighs, tilting his head to the side to allow him more access. He grinds his hips back against him, his arse pressing against where Louis is well on his way to being fully hard in his trousers.

“Bloody tease,” Louis mutters, nipping where his neck joins his shoulder. “Watch your concert.”

“Watching,” Harry grins, his hands resting on top of Louis,’ threading their fingers together.

The band comes back out to raucous applause. They play an acoustic version of “I’m Yours” for the first song and then launch into a cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes” for the final song. Harry wriggles out of Louis’ hold for that one, bouncing up and down and singing along. This time, Harry is the one to hold his hand out to Louis, spinning him to his side as he sings about how they could steal time for just one day.

“We could be heroes,” Harry sings as he dips Louis dramatically, Louis laughing loud and bright as Harry hauls him back up, stumbling back just a little. “Just for one day.”

Heat simmers between them as they cling to each other, swaying back and forth as the song plays. Harry leans in and kisses him, pulling back and looking at him with blown eyes, the tension suddenly overwhelming between them. Louis just wants. He wants so much.

“Lou,” Harry says lowly, his eyes fixed on his mouth. “Let’s go.”

“You sure?” Louis asks slyly, even as his cock twitches in anticipation. “They’re still playing.”

“We can beat the crowd,” Harry mumbles, leaning in and mouthing along his jaw. “It’s just the smart thing to do.”

“Right,” Louis says firmly, taking Harry’s hand and leading him through the VIP area with determination. “Good plan.”

They’re silent as they wind their way back through the same corridors they came in from, finally bursting back into the alley. Louis is practically pulling Harry behind him as they quickly walk back to the TARDIS, both of them far too eager to even speak. Louis snaps his fingers as soon as they’re close enough, the doors of the TARDIS swinging open. Harry is on him as soon as the doors shut behind them, cupping his face in his large hands and capturing his lips with his own.

Louis moans, pressing Harry back against the closed doors, his hands tangling in Harry’s hair, tugging his curls slightly as their tongues slide against each other, warm and wet and oh, so fucking good.

After a while, Harry spins them, caging Louis against the door, sliding his hand over his arse and hitching one of Louis’ thighs up to his waist. He grinds their hips together as they kiss, the friction so fucking good against his aching cock that it makes Louis’ head spin.

“Harry,” Louis gasps, as Harry kisses down his neck, sucking a love bite at the base of his throat. “Do you – fuck – do you want to take this to the bedroom?”

Harry looks up at him, his green eyes a little wild, his plush lips swollen and spit-slick.

“Yeah,” Harry pants. “Yeah. Definitely. Yes.”

Now Harry is the one pulling Louis behind him, leading him through the console room and down the stairs back towards the bedrooms, Louis doing his best to keep up with Harry’s long and determined strides.

“Wait,” Louis says as Harry pushes open the door to his bedroom.

Harry looks back at him questioningly.

“Let’s,” Louis says slowly, his hearts pounding like mad in his chest. “Let’s go in mine.”

Harry’s eyebrows shoot up, his kiss-swollen mouth making a little “o” shape.

“You sure?”

Louis swallows hard, his eyes roving all over Harry’s beautiful face.

“Yeah,” Louis nods, pulling him close, one hand tracing the curve of Harry’s jaw and the other dipping down to palm at his arse. “Yeah, I’m sure, Haz.”

Harry grins, resting their foreheads together as he exhales shakily. Louis puffs a breath against Harry’s lips before licking into his dimple just like he’s been dying to ever since the day they met, biting over it gently. Gripping Louis’ hips tightly, Harry noses against his cheek as he connects their mouths again with a soft whimper. Louis kisses him back feverishly, thrusting his tongue against Harry’s with a groan. He loves kissing Harry, doesn’t think he’ll ever tire of kissing him, but with the way his cock is starting to throb in his trousers, Louis fears that he may explode and quite possibly regenerate if he doesn’t get him naked soon. Louis fumbles around behind him for the doorknob, refusing to stop kissing Harry for even a moment, gasping into his mouth. Finally, he manages to grip it, twisting the knob and pushing the door open, the sudden change in weight causing them to stumble into Louis’ bedroom, disconnecting their mouths.  

“Oh wow,” Harry exclaims softly, looking around the room in awe as Louis adjusts the dial on the wall, causing the galaxies he’s had the TARDIS programmed to project onto his ceiling to glow, bathing them in gentle starlight. “This is beautiful.”

Somehow through his lust-induced haze, Louis remembers that Harry has never actually been all the way inside his bedroom, his only glimpses having been the handful of times he’s stuck his head in through the crack of the door. He bites his bottom lip, taking a steadying breath and leading Harry farther into the room, watching him as he takes it all in. The room is quite bigger than Harry’s cozy bedroom, but feels even more cluttered and lived-in than Harry’s does.

Louis’ king-size four-poster bed sits back against the wall with a nightstand on one side stacked with books; its rich midnight blue and silver bedding is soft and luxurious, the bed almost overflowing with pillows. His wardrobe and trunk of keepsakes stand in the far corner, next to the door to his ensuite; the wardrobe door hangs slightly open from earlier that morning, a few shirt-sleeves dangling out of it. His massive writing desk sits just to the left of the entrance to the room, its surface almost entirely covered with more books, several leather-bound journals, a couple of sketch pads, and various scraps of paper, all of them filled with little doodles and poems that Louis finds himself writing in the wee hours of the morning when he can’t sleep. However, his favorite part of the room, much like in Harry’s bedroom, is the reading nook, where a large plush, blue velvet chaise lounge sits, surrounded by bookcases, a fluffy burgundy colored blanket draped over the back of it.

“I can’t believe you have actual stars on your ceiling,” Harry says, gazing up at them in wonder.

“I don’t sleep very well,” Louis confesses, looking up too. “Most nights, I just lay in bed, looking up at the stars. Counting them. S’comforting somehow.”

“You always sleep when you’re with me,” Harry says, his brow crinkling as he looks at Louis.

“Yeah, well,” Louis says softly, closing the little bit of space between them and peppering a line of gentle kisses on the stretch of skin exposed by Harry’s unbuttoned shirt, his tongue darting out to taste him. Harry shudders, his fingers running through the hairs at the base of Louis’ neck. Louis looks up at him, seeing the stars dance in his green eyes, as he slides his hands down his chest, popping one button open, then another. “I think you’re the exception to every single rule I’ve ever had, Harry.”

Surging up on his tiptoes and kissing him fiercely, Louis gently pushes Harry back against the edge of his desk. Harry moans as he palms at Louis’ arse, kneading it as his tongue slides into Louis’ mouth. Louis pulls Harry’s shirt free from his jeans, quickly undoing the rest of the buttons and pushing the fabric down his shoulders, sucking wet, hot kisses along his newly exposed skin. He grunts in frustration as he tries to remove Harry’s shirt, Harry snickering a little against his lips as he releases Louis’ arse so he can slide the shirt all the way off, tossing it aside.

“Oh, fuck,” Harry gasps as Louis finds his nipple, his fingers brushing over the bud with a teasing, featherlight touch. “More.”

Louis watches in awe as Harry arches his back, pushing into him as he rolls his nipple between his thumb and index finger, the sensitive skin hardening. He feels Harry go pliant, so he hauls him up on the corner of the desk, sitting him there. Harry’s thighs part immediately and Louis steps in between them, dipping in and kissing under Harry’s jaw as his fingers move to his other nipple, giving it the same treatment.

“Why are you still wearing so many clothes?” Harry whines, snapping one of Louis’ braces against his chest as he mouths at the base of Harry’s throat.

Louis straightens up, looking at him with a wicked grin as he presses himself closer in between Harry’s legs, their erections brushing together.

“I don’t know,” Louis murmurs into Harry’s ear, catching the lobe between his teeth as he runs his hands up and down Harry’s thighs. “Why am I, Haz?”

With a little growl, Harry slides his hands under Louis’ braces, pulling one down, then the other, leaving them hanging down by his hips. Once Harry yanks his shirt free from his trousers, Louis shivers as he moves to the buttons, deftly undoing them as he sucks along Louis’ collarbone, his tongue dipping into the little hollow created by it. Louis lets his arms hang loose, resting his forehead against Harry’s as he pulls the shirt free, dropping it to the floor. Harry inches forward until he’s half standing, half sitting on the desk, pressing their bare torsos together as he wraps his arms around Louis’ waist.

Louis grinds his hips against Harry’s as they kiss heatedly, feeling the hard line of his cock pressing against him. His mouth waters.

“Haz,” Louis mutters against his lips, squeezing the soft little love handles on his hips. “Can I suck you?”

Harry’s breath stutters as he nods frantically, pressing little kisses along his cheekbone.

With that, Louis drops to his knees, running his hands down Harry’s strong thighs as he settles in front of him, looking up at him through his eyelashes.

“Jesus,” Harry swears, gripping the edge of the desk, shaking a little even though Louis hasn’t so much as touched his cock yet.

“It’s Louis,” he smirks. “Doctor, if you’re nasty.”

Louis noses at the hard line of Harry’s cock through his jeans as he fumbles with the belt buckle. Harry’s hands move to help him, but Louis simply bats them away, giving them a little slap. He finally gets it undone, sliding the belt through the loops till he can yank it free, the leather cracking a little against Harry’s hip as he tosses it aside. Harry gasps, his hands flying into Louis’ hair.

“Sorry,” Louis mutters, kissing his cock through the denim as he reaches for the button.

“No, no, fuck,” Harry pants. “I liked it.”

Louis pauses, arching an eyebrow as he looks up at Harry, his cheeks flushed red.

“Filing that away for later,” Louis says, popping the button open and sliding the zipper down, tugging Harry’s jeans and briefs to mid-thigh at the same time, finally, finally, freeing his cock.

“Fuck, you have a gorgeous cock,” Louis breathes, taking Harry in his hand, testing out the weight of him as he gives the head a little kitten lick, tasting the precome that’s gathered there. “Prettiest cock I’ve ever seen.”

“Lou,” Harry whines as Louis flutters his tongue just under the crown, teasing the little bundle of nerves there. “Fuck, stop teasing.”

Louis huffs a breath, sliding his lips over Harry’s head, taking him fully in his mouth and sucking him hard. Harry is hot and heavy on his tongue as he sinks down further, taking him in as far as he can go, one hand coming up to cover his base. He pulls back slowly, dragging his tongue along the underside, pressing into the thick vein there.

“God, you taste good,” Louis sighs appreciatively, popping off and wiping his mouth. “Jesus Christ, Haz.”

As Harry moans, Louis dives right back in, one hand pressed to Harry’s hip as he takes him in even deeper, his head nudging against the back of Louis’ throat.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” Harry chants as Louis bobs up and down, setting a rhythm. “So good, babe. God, just fucking look at you.”

Louis groans as Harry runs his fingers along his cheek, pressing in and feeling himself move in Louis’ mouth. His neglected cock aches so Louis presses a palm down on himself for a little bit of relief before he pauses, hollowing his cheeks, allowing Harry to feel himself there even more. Inhaling sharply through his nose, Louis looks up at Harry, tapping his hip as they make eye contact.

“Oh my God,” Harry groans, canting his hips forward ever so slightly. “Yeah?”

Louis nods, his hands coming up to grip the edges of the desk around Harry’s hips to brace himself, suctioning his lips around him. Harry thrusts his hips gently, fucking himself into Louis’ wet, waiting mouth.

“Shit,” Harry grunts, thrusting a little deeper. “Louis, your mouth, fuck.”

Harry’s hands scramble for purchase on the desk, sending a stack of books tumbling to the floor. Louis smirks up at him, the best he can smirk with a mouth stuffed full of cock anyway.

“Sorry,” Harry rasps, his hips stuttering as he looks down at Louis. “I’ll clean it up.”

This ridiculous, beautiful, impossible boy. Louis wants to keep him always.

Louis hums around Harry’s cock, tears gathering in the corners of his eyes as Harry thrusts back and forth, his hands petting Louis’ hair, words of praise slipping from his lips. Louis curls his tongue around him and Harry swears, pulling out of him suddenly. Louis gasps for air, rubbing the hinge of his jaw where it’s started to ache.

“You okay, love?” Louis asks, his thumbs rubbing soothing circles on his hip bones.

“Yeah, yeah,” Harry pants, pushing his hair back as he catches his breath. He holds his hand out to Louis, helping him to his feet. Harry kisses him, dipping his tongue into Louis’ mouth, tasting himself there. “Fuck, I’m amazing, I just...if I keep doing that, I’m gonna come and I don’t want to come that way.”

“How do you want to come, Harry?” Louis asks, kissing over his pulse point.

“Want you to fuck me,” Harry moans, popping the button of Louis’ trousers open and sliding the zipper down, gripping Louis’ cock through the soft cotton of his briefs. “Please fuck me.”

“Christ,” Louis exclaims as Harry starts to stroke him, Louis’ neglected cock suddenly screaming for attention. “Yeah, yeah, yeah, wanna fuck you, baby.”

Harry kisses him quickly, before pushing Louis back a little, tugging his own boots and socks off and tossing them aside, peeling his jeans and briefs the rest of the way off as well. Louis’ eyes feel like they’re going to bulge right out of his head as he gazes at Harry in all his naked glory.

“Take your clothes off,” Harry orders, desperately shoving Louis’ trousers down his hips. “Come on, Lou.”

Louis complies, quickly divesting himself of the rest of his clothes, nearly tripping on one of the loose braces.

“God,” Harry sighs, sliding his hand over Louis’ arse once he’s fully naked as well. “You’re so fucking fit, Lou, want you so much.”

“You can have me,” Louis murmurs against his shoulder, biting and sucking along the line of it. “You can have whatever you want from me.”

Louis starts to guide them towards the bed, but Harry stops him, leading him towards the chaise.

“No,” Harry says lowly, pushing Louis down on the couch, the plush velvet soft against his bare arse. “Wanna ride you here.”

Louis squeezes his eyes shut, a strangled moan escaping his lips as his cock jerks between his legs, precome dipping out of the slit. He’s very concerned he might just come on the spot at the very thought of it all.

“Jesus Christ, Harry,” Louis groans, blinking up at him. “You’re going to kill me.”

“What a way to go though, eh?” Harry grins cheekily. “Where’s your lube?”

“Top drawer of the nightstand,” Louis answers, stroking himself as he watches Harry scamper over to the nightstand, his cock bobbing obscenely between his legs. He pulls the drawer open and rummages through it, searching for the bottle.

“What about condoms?” Harry questions, holding up the bottle triumphantly.

“Don’t need them,” Louis pants as he continues to stroke himself lazily.

“What?” Harry asks, looking back at him, his eyes suddenly wide.

Louis takes a deep breath, forcing himself to focus, taking his hand off his dick.

“I mean, I’ll go get some right fucking now, if you’d be more comfortable–”

“I have some in my room,” Harry interrupts softly. “But...but I’m clean. You?”

“Different biology, remember? Even if we – I mean I don’t, but even if I did, we wouldn’t need – fuck, Harry, I’m sorry, we should have had this conversation earlier, I’m sorry, like I said, I’ll go get th–”

“But I don’t want you to get them,” Harry says definitively, heat simmering in his eyes as he walks back towards the chaise. “Do you want you to go get them?”

Louis swallows hard, his eyes trailing up Harry’s lithe body as he drops the bottle of lube by his hip.

“No, I don’t,” he answers, his eyes locked on Harry’s heated gaze.

“Okay then,” Harry says, crawling onto Louis’ lap, settling down on his knees, his arms around Louis’ neck.

Louis looks up at him, wiggling a little bit as he gets more comfortable, his hands gripping his endearingly soft hips.

“Okay then,” he whispers, brushing their lips together.

Harry whines a little in the back of his throat as he deepens the kiss, his tongue pushing into Louis’ mouth as he rocks against him, his cock brushing against his abs. They kiss slowly and sensually at first, Harry reaching between them and stroking their cocks together in his large hand, bringing them both back to full hardness in no time.

“Fuck,” Louis breathes against his lips, his eyes flitting down and watching Harry wank them. “Fuck, that feels good.”

“Yeah?” Harry asks, looking deep into his eyes as he twists his hand, canting his hips forward at the same time.

“God, yeah,” Louis affirms, kissing him again.

It’s not long before they’re both breathing heavily again, their kisses filthy and filled with intent as Harry starts to grind harder in his lap. Louis pats around for the bottle of lube, grasping it and holding it up when he finds it where Harry had dropped it on the chaise.

“Can I?” Louis asks breathlessly, flipping the top open.

“Please,” Harry pants into his mouth, sitting up a little on his knees to give Louis better access. “Fuck, please, babe.”

Louis dribbles the slick gel on his fingers, tossing the tube down again and reaches behind Harry. He slips his finger between Harry’s cheeks, finding the tight puckered skin of his hole. He spreads the lube around, teasing him, pressing down a little, not quite dipping inside, feeling the muscle flutter under his touch.

“Goddammit, Louis,” Harry grunts, sitting down a little, forcing Louis’ finger to breach him up to the first knuckle. “Such a fucking tease, Christ.”

Louis grins, sucking Harry’s bottom lip between his teeth as he starts to push his finger in and out.

“So bossy,” he says, clicking his tongue as Harry rocks back against him.

“Another,” Harry orders after a few moments, his fingers playing with Louis’ nipples, squeezing and rolling them until they’re hard and tight.

“Oh God,” Louis moans, sliding in a second finger, scissoring them a bit to stretch him. “Keep doing that, baby, fuck.”

“Yeah,” Harry breathes as Louis starts to fuck him harder with his fingers, his hips moving in tandem with Louis’ hand. He dips down, sucking a love bite on his neck as he pinches both of Louis’ nipples hard, the pain sending a sizzling jolt through his spine, a blurt of precome smearing on Harry’s thigh.

Louis crooks his fingers inside Harry’s hole, searching for his spot. He knows he’s found it when Harry clenches around his fingers, swearing loudly.

“There?” Louis asks cheekily, pressing down on the spot again.

“Oh my God,” Harry moans, rolling his hips. “Yeah, right there, fuck, Lou.”

Harry throws his head back as he rides Louis’ fingers, sweat beading down his throat, the drops glistening in the starlight.

“M’ready,” Harry declares with a groan, fumbling around for the bottle of lube.

“You sure?” Louis asks, licking one of the beads of sweat from his throat as he scissors his fingers again. “Don’t wanna hurt you.”

“No, God, yes, I’m ready,” Harry replies, pouring lube into his palm and slicking up Louis’ cock liberally, Louis hissing at the sudden contact. “Want you in me.”

Harry raises himself up on his knees, pushing Louis back against the chaise a little as he gets into position. Louis watches in awe as Harry grasps his cock, lining it up with his waiting hole. He wiggles a little bit, rubbing the head back and forth against him before slowly sinking down, Louis’ cockhead popping inside.

“Oh shit,” Louis cries, throwing his head back against the cushions, seeing literal and figurative stars as his cock is engulfed by Harry’s tight, wet heat.

“So thick,” Harry sighs, holding still as his body adjusts. He slowly starts to sink down, Louis gripping his hips to guide him. “Holy fuck.”

Louis forces himself to stay still as Harry fucks himself down into his lap.

“You okay?” Louis asks, sitting up, his brow a little furrowed as he thumbs over where Harry’s perfect teeth are clamped down on his bottom lip.

“Yeah,” Harry exhales, dropping his forehead to Louis’ shoulder once he’s finally seated in Louis’ lap. He licks along his collarbone, shifting his hips experimentally. “M’perfect.”

Louis cups Harry’s face in his hand, pulling him up so he can look at him. His pupils are so blown that Louis can hardly see any green there.

“You’re perfect,” Louis whispers, brushing their lips together.

Harry whimpers, lifting himself up on Louis’ cock and slowly sinking down on him again. The drag on Louis’ cock is incredible as Harry’s body sucks him back in.

“Can feel you everywhere,” Harry mutters, swiveling his hips in a figure eight motion. “Jesus.”

“I know,” Louis gasps as Harry starts to move in earnest, slowly building a rhythm as he starts to bounce on Louis’ cock.

Louis wraps his arms around Harry’s waist, pressing them together tightly as Harry moves, his own cock trapped between their bodies. He drags his nails up and down Harry’s back, kissing his neck and shoulders.

“Fuck!” Harry cries when Louis pushes him back a little so he can dip down and capture his puffy nipple between his teeth. The new angle has Louis going deeper, the head of his cock brushing against Harry’s prostate every time he sinks down on him. “Lou, babe, oh my God! Right there!”

“Yeah, Haz,” Louis encourages, planting his feet solidly on the chaise for more leverage to meet Harry’s vigorous bounces with hard thrusts of his own. He licks the sweat that is starting to gather in the hollow of his throat. “Let me hear, you, baby. Sound so pretty.”

Harry wails at that as he picks up the pace, just taking what he wants from him; the only thing Louis can do is just hold on to his hips and let him do it. Louis can feel himself getting close, the pleasure mounting in his groin as Harry rides him like a champion, as if they’d fucked like this hundreds of times before. He reaches for the bottle of lube, still clinging tightly to Harry with one hand, bracing his movements. Clumsily, he dribbles a little bit in his palm, and tosses the bottle aside, hearing it hit the floor. Kissing whatever part of Harry he can reach, Louis reaches between them for his cock, pulling him off at a rapid pace, bringing him that much closer to the edge.

“C’mon, love,” Louis murmurs, looking into Harry’s hazy eyes. “You’re so beautiful when you come. Wanna see you.”

“You...first,” Harry says through clenched teeth, redoubling his efforts, clenching around Louis’ throbbing cock, his powerful thighs quivering from exertion. “I didn’t get to see you last time. C’mon, Lou.”

Louis moans, his balls drawing tight. Harry kisses him, sweeping his fringe to the side as he mouths over to his ear.

“Come for me, Doctor.”

Something inside Louis snaps and with one final thrust into Harry’s tight heat, he comes so hard he thinks he loses consciousness a little, his vision completely whiting out as he cries out Harry’s name. A faint golden glow shimmers over his skin as he pulses inside of Harry, the waves of pleasure cresting over him again and again.

“Holy shit,” Harry breathes, his eyes wide as he watches him.

Louis somehow finds it within him to keep wanking Harry, expertly twisting his hand as Harry flies over edge as well, spurting all over Louis’ belly and chest. They cling to each other, Harry wrapping his arms all the way around Louis as they try to catch their breath, Harry pressing soothing little kisses all along Louis’ hairline.

“You okay, babe?” Harry murmurs after a few moments, his hands smoothing down Louis’ back. “You’re trembling.”

“M’fuckin brilliant,” Louis slurs against his neck with a smile. “You’re brilliant. We’re brilliant.”

Harry snickers, carefully scooting back and lifting himself off of Louis, both of them groaning at the loss. Louis dips his fingers between Harry’s cheeks, pressing against his puffy hole and smiling as he feels a bit of come trickling out of him. Harry parts his lips, his tongue darting out, looking at Louis expectantly.

“Christ,” Louis mutters, bringing his finger to Harry’s mouth, groaning as he sucks his finger clean. “Hazza.”

Harry smirks at him, climbing off his lap and ambling over to the ensuite. Hearts still pounding in his chest, Louis falls back bonelessly against the cushions, turning his body so he can recline on the chaise fully. Harry returns quickly, carrying a damp flannel. He swipes it across Louis’ belly and softening cock, cleaning him. Louis sighs, his eyes fluttering shut under Harry’s gentle touch, his hearts clenching as the feeling of being cared for and maybe even loved overwhelms him. Harry’s motions slow, and Louis blinks his eyes open, smiling when he sees Harry frowning a little, looking around for a place to put the soiled cloth.

“Just throw it on the floor,” Louis murmurs. “We’ll get it later, just c’mere and cuddle me.”

Harry obliges, tossing the flannel away as Louis scoots over, making room for Harry to cuddle in next to him. Harry grabs the soft burgundy blanket from where it’s slung over the back of the couch, throwing it over them as he snuggles into Louis’ side, resting his head on his chest. Louis hums happily, carding his fingers through Harry’s sweaty curls, pressing a kiss to the top of his head.

“What...what happened there?” Harry asks after a few moments, looking up at him as he drags his fingers through the sparse patch of hair on Louis’ chest. “That gold glow when you came? That was like...the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”

“Bit of regeneration energy,” Louis replies, gently smoothing out a tangled ringlet.

“Seriously?”

“Yeah,” Louis smiles. “You know how an orgasm can be referred to as ‘la petite mort’?”

“A little death,” Harry translates, his eyes wide. “Holy shit.”

“I’ve heard of it happening to Gallifreyans,” Louis muses, trailing his fingers down Harry’s shoulder delicately. “It’s just never happened to me before. Wasn’t expecting it.”

“Jesus, are you okay?”

“M’grand, love,” Louis sighs contently, cuddling Harry closer. “Just need a bit of a kip and then I’ll be right as rain.”

“You wanna move over to the bed?” Harry asks, nuzzling his chest.

“Holy shit, I can’t believe we didn’t even make it to the bed,” Louis says, looking over to the four-poster.

“Next time,” Harry murmurs, patting his chest as his eyes start to droop.

“Oh, yes,” Louis laughs. “Definitely next time. And m’good here. This is like...my favorite place in the room. Even more so now.”

“Knew I wanted you to fuck me on it as soon as I saw it,” Harry smirks against his chest.

Louis laughs, dropping a kiss to the top of his head.

“I know this planet that’s like...the whole place is a spa,” Louis says after a moment. “Hot springs, mud baths, massages, the whole lot. Wanna head there after our nap? Make a spa day of it?”

“God yes,” Harry groans. “Sounds amazing.”

“Good,” Louis says, pressing another kiss to Harry’s hair. “It’s a date.”

Harry actually nods off before he does, his breaths becoming deep and even, snuffling against his bare chest. Louis gazes up at his enchanted ceiling, looking up at the stars and sighing as he gently runs his fingers over Harry’s creamy skin. He knows this can’t possibly last, everything he’s ever experienced with human beings in the past thousand years is telling him that. However, for the first time in his very long life, Louis decides that he’s not going to focus on the inevitable end. Not when he has Harry here in his arms right now, sleeping peacefully, ready for their next adventure together as soon as he wakes up.

Yeah, it might not last. But his last thoughts before he drifts into peaceful oblivion is that goddammit, it took him this long to finally find Harry. He’s spent enough time keeping him at arm’s length. This time, he’s going to enjoy him for as long as he’s lucky to have him.

 

 

Chapter Text

London, England. 1893.

A chill shoots up Zayn’s spine as he follows Inspector Grimshaw through the dark, dank prison corridor. He never much enjoys coming down to the prison, even though he’s responsible for landing most of the occupants there in the first place and he should feel a sense of pride at seeing the fruits of his work. Ironic, really. It’s why, he supposes, he and Grimmy have such an excellent working relationship: He and Liam get the thrill of the chase, while Grimshaw maintains the public face of the investigation, handling all the trial testimonies and bookings once the cases are solved and the suspects caught. It allows Zayn to stay in the shadows, where he quite prefers it anyway, despite his alter-ego’s flair for the dramatic.

Zayn feels the eyes of the prisoners on him as they make their way down the hall; some of them hiss and spew obscenities as they pass, earning a firm rap against the bars from Grimshaw’s nightstick, the clang of the metal reverberating throughout the corridor.

“Quite intimidating, aren’t you, Inspector Lestrade,” Zayn quips with a sly smile, baiting Grimmy as a distraction from his growing sense of dread.

“Bloody Doyle,” Grimshaw grumbles, whacking the nightstick against the bars again. “I’ll never get over A Study in Scarlet. Do I look, and I quote, like ‘ a little sallow rat-faced, dark-eyed fellow’ to you? What did I ever do to him? I do not look, nor have I ever looked, like a fucking rat. You’re an actual bloody lizard and yet somehow I am the one with animal features? Christ.”

“Yes, I would have gone with gazelle-like myself,” Zayn muses. “But somehow, that doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as easily now, does it, Grim?”

“That’s enough cheek out of you, Malik,” Grimshaw orders, but there’s no bite in it. “Back to the matter at hand. As you know, Xander Ritz is due to be executed at week’s end.”

Zayn grimaces as they walk down the cellblock, this section of the prison much quieter due to its designation for solitary confinement.

“I do,” he replies.

“Well, he seems to think that he has some information that will grant him a stay of execution,” Grimshaw continues. “And he’s only willing to share it with you.”

As they get closer to the cell, Zayn’s ears perk up, his keen sense of hearing detecting the sound of whispers at the end of the hall.

“Do you hear the Whisper Men? The Whisper Men are near. If you hear the Whisper Men, then turn away your ear.”

Zayn looks at Grimshaw questioningly.

“No idea what that means,” Grimshaw says. “But it’s all he’s been saying for the past several days.”

“Do not hear the Whisper Men, whatever else you do. For once you've heard the Whisper Men, they'll stop and look at you.”

They reach the end of the hall, standing in front of Ritz’s cell. The prisoner is hunched in the corner, cradling his knees and rocking back and forth as he mutters to himself. Sensing their presence, he looks up, his dark eyes going wide as he sees Zayn.

“One word from you could save me from the rope, Malik,” Ritz rasps, running his hands through his greasy hair.

“Then you may rely on my silence,” Zayn says icily, narrowing his eyes as they sweep over his filthy prison uniform and unkempt appearance.

“I have information for you,” Ritz implores. “Valuable information.”

Ritz’s beady eyes shift over to Grimshaw and then back to Zayn.

“Information I will only share with you,” Ritz finishes. “Alone.”

Zayn looks at him appraisingly and then nods at Grimshaw.

“I’ll be waiting just around the corner,” Grimmy says, patting him on the shoulder. “If he pulls any shit, just...shout.”

“You forget that, at your request, I ate Jack the Ripper,” Zayn says coolly, his eyes fixed on the prisoner, who cowers back against the wall. “Perhaps it is Ritz who needs to shout if I pull any shit.”

“Right,” Grimshaw chuckles as he walks away, dragging his nightstick along the bars of the empty cells. “You heard him, Ritz.”

They stand in silence until Grimmy turns the corner; Zayn crosses his arms in front of his chest as he appraises the criminal in front of him.

“Well?” Zayn asks once they are alone. “I haven’t got all day, Ritz. I’m taking my husband to high tea at the Savoy, and I make it a point to never keep him waiting.”

“I have some information for you,” Ritz repeats, wringing his hands.

“So you said,” Zayn replies disdainfully. “Are you seriously trying to bargain for your life, you piece of shit? You have the blood of fourteen women on your hands. There are no words you can say that will possibly save you from the gallows.”

“The Doctor.”

Zayn tries not to let his surprise show, but he is unsuccessful, judging by the way Ritz cackles, grabbing the bars of the cell and wedging his face between them.

“Oh, yes,” Ritz laughs maniacally. “I have your attention now, don’t I? The Doctor. I know all about your dangerous little friend, Detective Malik.”

“How?” Zayn asks, not bothering this time to try to mask his curiosity.

“In the babble of the world, there are whispers if you know how to listen. The Whisper Men. They told me. The Doctor has a secret, you know.”

“He has many,” Zayn says evenly.

“He has one that he guards with his life,” Ritz taunts. “One that he will take to the grave. It is discovered.”

Zayn’s mind is racing as he tries to figure out what the fuck Louis could have gotten himself into this time. Whatever it is, he knows it can’t be good and if he has to wrangle the information out of a serial killer in order to help his friend, then so be it.

“You do indeed have my attention, Mr. Ritz,” Zayn states. “Please, go on.”

********

Liam sighs, leaning back against the cab of the carriage and checking his pocket watch. They still have plenty of time to make their reservation at the Savoy, but this unexpected stop-off at the prison has certainly taken longer than anticipated. Grimshaw’s really going to owe them for this one, especially if it causes them to miss a reservation that Liam’s been looking forward to for ages.

Finally, he sees Zayn emerge from the prison doors, pausing at the top of the stairs to adjust the veil that covers his face. That blasted veil that Liam hates, always covering the most beautiful face he’s ever seen due to the delicate sensibilities of a prejudiced populace. Despite his hatred of the veil and the need for it, Liam smiles at the sight of his husband approaching, his stomach giving a little flip like it always does, even after all the time they’ve been together. However, his smile quickly gives way to a frown as he notices Zayn’s tense posture, his hands clenched into fists at his side.

Somehow, Liam thinks, they won’t be making their reservation at the Savoy today after all.

“Darling?” Liam asks once Zayn reaches where the carriage is parked at the bottom of the stairs. “Is everything alright?”

“I’m so sorry, my love,” Zayn says regretfully, his hand sliding to Liam’s lower back as he guides him back into the carriage. “We’re going to have to reschedule the Savoy.”

“Yeah, I’d figured,” Liam answers, opening the door and climbing in, Zayn following close behind. “What happened in there? Who did Grimmy want you to meet with?”

“Xander Ritz. He claimed to have information that could stay his execution,” Zayn answers, signaling to their driver and settling back next to Liam as the carriage jars into motion. He pulls up his black veil, settling it on the brim of his hat.

“Xander Ritz? Really?” Liam asks incredulously. “After everything we went through to catch him? There couldn’t possibly be anything–”

“Well–” Zayn starts.

“You can’t be serious, Zee,” Liam emphasizes. “We can’t let that horrible man live!”

“He lives until I understand what he told me,” Zayn states firmly.

“What in the bloody hell could–”

“It’s Louis, Liam,” Zayn interrupts, his voice gravely serious.

Liam’s mouth snaps shut, his eyes going wide as he looks at his husband; he can see the trepidation in Zayn’s eyes.

“Wh-what about Louis?” Liam asks fearfully. “Is he in trouble?”

“I’d rather explain to everyone at once,” Zayn replies, linking their hands together. “We’re going to need a conference call. Do we know where the hell Niall is?”

“I know he’s in Ireland,” Liam replies immediately. He pauses, running his free hand through his hair. “I can’t remember exactly when he is, but I have a full itinerary for his holiday in my diary at home. I also have details for how to reach Harry; I assume we’ll want him in on this? Louis gave them to me when they were here last. I just thought it would be good information to have, you know? Just in case.”

Zayn smiles, pressing a kiss to his cheek.

“Have I ever told you how brilliant you are?”

“Not today,” Liam replies, blushing at the simple compliment.

“You’re brilliant, darling,” Zayn affirms, squeezing his hand. “When we get home, I’ll get started on the invitations, while you fetch our candles and the contact information. Sound good? Time is of the essence.”

Holmes Chapel, England. 2018.

“Babe, can you start whisking this for me while I get the chocolate ready to go?” Harry asks, nodding over to the waiting bowl of egg whites and sugar as he mixes the egg yolks into the cooled chocolate.

“Sure,” Louis replies, hopping down from where he’s been perched on the kitchen counter, happily chatting to Harry as he works. “Erm...how do you whisk?”

Harry looks over at him, completely endeared by Louis as he looks down at the bowl in bewilderment. He huffs a laugh, setting the chocolate mixture for the souffle aside once the yolks are fully incorporated and grabbing the metal whisk from the countertop.

“First of all, you use this,” Harry grins, holding it out to Louis.

“That looks like a Dalek’s arm, Hazza,” Louis says, his nose crinkling. “So you must understand my confusion.”

“It’s a whisk, trust me,” Harry grins, coming up behind Louis and sliding his arms around his narrow waist, pulling him in close. He pecks a soft kiss to the skin exposed by his beige and red-striped boatneck tee, and then another, nosing along the line of his shoulder.

“So then what?” Louis asks breathily, tilting his head to the side to allow Harry more access, pressing back into him.

“Then we whisk,” Harry smiles against his skin as he twines his fingers with Louis’ around the base of the whisk. “Just like this.”

Harry guides Louis’ hand through the circular motions of whipping the whisk through the egg whites and sugar, starting slowly at first, but picking up speed as Louis gets more comfortable with the action.

“Look at me!” Louis grins. “I’m whisking, Haz!”

“You are,” Harry replies, pecking a kiss on Louis’ jaw as he releases his hand, confident that Louis has the hang of it.

“How long do I need to do this for?” Louis asks.

“Three to five minutes. You whip it until it gets to like...the consistency of shaving cream.”

“You know,” Louis says, narrowing his eyes and scrunching his face, making him look like an angry hedgehog. “I think you tricked me into doing the dirty work, Haz. Me arm’s already getting tired!”

Harry honks a laugh.

“A lot of recipes say you should use an electric beater, but my mum’s souffle recipe says it’s better by hand.”

“You always say that,” Louis says, switching arms. “‘Your mum’s souffle.’ Shouldn’t it really be your souffle by now? You’re the one who’s making it.”

“Ah, but you see,” Harry counters, bopping the tip of Louis’ nose, leaving a slight smudge of sugar there. He goes back to the pot of chocolate, giving it a couple more stirs. “It’s like Mum always says: The souffle isn’t the souffle. The souffle is the recipe. The ingredients that make up the souffle, you know? Sure it may come out a little different every time, but the recipe is what keeps the souffle the same.”

“Is ‘coming out different’ just code for ‘you’ve never been able to make one correctly,’ Harry?” Louis asks innocently, a sly smile on his face.

“Oi!” Harry exclaims, flicking a bit of the cooled chocolate at Louis’ face. The chocolate splatters across Louis’ sharp cheekbone and he lets out an affronted squawk, holding up a whisk full of stiff egg whites, preparing to strike back.

“No, no, no!” Harry begs, his hands in the air. “If we waste those, it’ll throw everything off and ruin the souffle!”

“Wouldn’t be any different than normal, would it, love?” Louis fires back teasingly.

“But what if today is the day I finally get it right? What if today is the day I can finally call myself Souffle Boy?”

Louis lowers the whisk back into the bowl, doing that thing with his face that Harry now recognizes as the tell that he just said something that one of his past (future? Harry still can’t quite wrap his brain around it.) selves has said before.

“Lou?” Harry asks carefully.

Louis takes a deep breath, his slightly startled expression giving way to a gentle smile as his eyes rove over Harry’s face. Harry sets the chocolate aside, closing the distance between them.

“I called him that,” Louis says softly, tucking a curl behind Harry’s ear. “Ensign Styles, before I knew his name. I called him Souffle Boy. He liked making souffles too. He even had your penchant for ruining them.”

“Hey,” Harry drawls, his hands gripping Louis’ hips as he dips in to kiss across his cheekbone, the rich dark chocolate bittersweet on his tongue as he kisses it off. “You like my souffles.”

“I love your souffles,” Louis murmurs.

Harry’s breath hitches. They haven’t said that yet and Harry knows that Louis didn’t say it, not really, but at the same time, he can’t help but think that it’s Louis’ way of saying it without saying it just yet and his heart feels like it’s going to burst. Harry is in love with Louis, he knows he is, he’s probably been in love with him from the moment he stood watch over him in Gemma’s driveway, blathering on about assembling a quadricycle. He desperately wants to tell him, he feels like this could be the right moment; the words are on the tip of his tongue when Louis’ mouth finds his, capturing his lips in a sweet, chocolatey kiss.

Louis hums, darting his tongue out teasingly (always a tease) to taste the chocolate on Harry’s lips; Harry sighs, his lips parting, allowing Louis’ tongue to sweep inside as he snaps one of the beige braces against Louis’ chest. Louis whines softly, surging up on his tiptoes to kiss him deeper, tangling his fingers in Harry’s curls and tugging them. Harry groans at that, his hands sliding down to squeeze Louis’ perfect, peachy bum. Harry is just about to haul him up onto the counter when the bungalow’s back door slams.

“Oi!” Gemma cries. “I did not call in sick to work to play third wheel to you two groping each other all day! I was gone for twenty minutes, have you no sense of self control?”

Harry and Louis break apart reluctantly, but not before Louis presses one more kiss to Harry’s lips, pulling back and winking at him.

“Actually, Gem,” Louis says with a mischievous smile, “you don’t want to know what you would have walked on if we had no control. So, you should be grateful.”

“Louis, oh my God,” Harry mutters, his cheeks heating up as he grabs the bowl of egg whites, carefully folding them into the chocolate souffle base.

“Listen, alien boy,” Gemma threatens teasingly, placing the bags of Indian takeaway on the counter. “I know you’re some sort of ancient, all-powerful being, but I can still end you. Don’t test me.”

“Duly noted, Earth girl,” Louis grins, helping her unpack their lunch. “You’re scarier than any Dalek or Cyberman that I’ve ever faced, that’s for certain.”

“And don’t you forget it,” Gemma nods, sliding a small stack of envelopes towards the end of the counter. “Haz, I grabbed your mail for you.”

“Thanks,” Harry replies, pouring the batter into a ceramic baking dish and taking it over to the oven. He pulls the door open and slides the dish inside, setting the timer. “God knows what’s all in there.”

Harry picks up the small pile, sorting through the bills and junk mail that have piled up during his travels, mentally congratulating himself for already having all his bills on automatic payments.

“So where are we going today, boys?” Gemma asks, tearing off a piece of naan.

“What?” Harry asks in surprise, looking up at her.

“Well, the kids are in school for another couple hours,” Gemma replies with a sly grin. “So I figured why not? Don’t I deserve a quick trip in the TARDIS?”

“It can be more than a quick trip,” Louis states, popping open a container of chicken tikka masala, the steam rising up immediately. “Like I told Haz when we first met, the whole point of having a time machine is that we can go anywhere and I can bring you back to the exact moment you left. So the question is, where do you want to go?”

“I know it probably sounds lame to you, I mean, you’re a thousand years old–” Gemma starts, chewing on the inside of her cheek.

“Actually,” Harry interrupts, setting the pile of mail down. “He’s a thousand and ninety-nine. Big birthday coming up, eh, Lou?”

“Hush you,” Louis says, poking him in the ribs. “I don’t look a day over five hundred.”

“I don’t know,” Harry teases, tickling at his temples, “I see all these little grey hairs coming in, Louis, you can’t hide them.”

“I do not!” Louis protests, his hand flying to the side of his head self-consciously. “You take that back!”

“Oh my God,” Gemma moans, burying her head in her hands. “Never mind, I don’t think I could handle traveling with the pair of you, it’s too gross.”

“Sorry, sorry,” Louis grins. “We’ll behave. Promise. Continue. Where do you want to go, Gem?”

Gemma wrinkles her nose, clearly pondering her answer.

“I really just want to walk on the moon. Is that lame to say when we can literally go anywhere?”

“That’s not lame at all,” Louis assures her. “Your moon is wicked. About a thousand years from now, it’s completely occupied, you know. There’s this smashing cocktail bar…”

Harry tunes out of the conversation, picking up the mail again and frowning down at a thick envelope with his name and address on it in fancy calligraphy. He flips the envelope over, seeing the red wax seal over the flap of the envelope and the words “Open when alone” written across the bottom in the same script. He bites his lip, wandering towards the door.

“Haz?” Louis asks. “Where you going?”

“Oh,” Harry replies awkwardly. “I’m...uh...just gonna run to the loo and wash up. Back in a mo,’ yeah?”

“Hurry up,” Gemma says, spooning some chicken onto her plate. “The food will get cold.”

“Of course,” Harry answers. “Keep an eye on the souffle, will you?”

Gemma and Louis both nod, immediately going back to their conversation about cocktails on the moon. Any other time, he would be beside himself at how Louis and his sister are getting on, but he’s too focused on the mysterious letter in his hand, a sudden sense of foreboding causing his stomach to drop. Harry heads not to the loo, but to his bedroom, closing the door behind him quietly. Hands shaking ever so slightly, Harry breaks the seal of the envelope, frowning as he pulls out the thick ivory cardstock letter.

My dearest Harry,

After your last visit, Louis entrusted Liam with your contact details, should we need to reach you in the event of an emergency. I fear that one has now arisen and it is urgent that I speak with you. Assuming this letter has reached you as planned, on September the twenty-eighth, 2018, we request your presence on conference call.

“Conference call?” Harry wonders aloud. “How the fuck?”

Ordinarily, we would send you a candle that releases a soporific that induces a trance-like state which enables direct communication across the years. However, due to the urgency of the matter, I have taken the liberty of embedding the soporific in the very fabric of the paper that you are now holding. I do apologize for the rudeness, but you will understand when you get here. Speak soon.

Warmest regards,

Zayn

Harry hits the floor, everything going dark before he has any idea what’s hit him.

********

Harry comes to with a start, gasping as he sits up in an ornate high-backed chair seated at a square table with an intricate parquet pattern inlaid in the middle. Zayn and Liam sit across from him, Liam’s puppy eyes all lit up while an amused smirk twists Zayn’s lips.

“So good of you to join us, Harry,” Zayn says mildly, reaching for a pot of tea. “Tea?”

“What the bloody hell, Zayn,” Harry exclaims, looking around the room. It looks like some sort of Japanese tea house, paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling; it smells of incense, a slight fog lingering in the air, making the whole atmosphere hazy and dream-like. “Where the fuck am I?”

“Do you like it?” Zayn asks, looking around the room. “The conference room used to look like the Taj Mahal, but I got bored of it. This place is drawn from one of my favorite memories of my travels to Asia. I spent an extensive amount of time at a meditation retreat in Japan. The tea is excellent, would you like some? It will calm your nerves.”

“S-sure,” Harry stammers, accepting a round, handleless cup from Zayn and taking a tentative sip. Zayn is right, the tea is superb, but it doesn’t make him feel any more centered or zen or however the fuck he’s supposed to feel. “But seriously, Zayn, tell me what’s going on. Where am I?”

“Exactly where you were,” Liam beams, his eyes crinkling. “Just sleeping. Brilliant, innit?”

“Time travel has always been possible in dreams,” Zayn says simply.

“But why–”

“We’re just waiting on one more,” Zayn interrupts, holding his hand up. “I’d rather explain once–”

A loud crack resounds in the room and Niall suddenly appears in the empty chair to Harry’s left, a puff of smoke dissipating around him.

“Oh, this better be good lads,” Niall grumbles, rubbing his cheek. “I was on a pub crawl with a young Bono.”

“I don’t know who that is, but I do apologize for interrupting your holiday, Niall,” Zayn states. “I promise it’s important. Tea?”

“Oh, wow, tea,” Niall says drily, accepting an empty glass from Zayn as Liam passes the pot over to him. “Yes, please, thank you, tea would be perfection.”

Niall snaps his fingers, and the teapot turns into a bottle of Jameson whiskey, the teacup turning into a crystal tumbler.

“How did you do that?” Harry gasps.

“Disgracefully,” Niall replies with a wink as he fills his glass. “Nice to see ya again, Harry. Nice shirt. Love her.”

“Um, thanks, me too. Obviously,” Harry replies, looking down at his faded Britney Spears t-shirt, smoothing it down over his chest. “Good to see you as well, even if this is really fucking weird.”

“Let’s get down to the business at hand, shall we?” Zayn says calmly. “I have some urgent news concerning Louis.”

Harry’s stomach drops.

“I met–” Zayn starts.

“Wait a minute,” Harry interrupts, holding up his hand. “If this is about Louis, why isn’t he here? We were together, he’s in my kitchen with my sister as we speak.”

“It’s complicated,” Zayn patiently explains. “If you’ll allow me to–”

“I would just like to say that I’m not really comfortable being here without Louis,” Harry interrupts again. “And I do plan on telling him every single thing that we say here, so–”

“That’s what I’m counting on, Harry,” Zayn interjects kindly. “Just...let me explain. I need you to trust me, okay?”

Harry sits back in his chair, crossing his arms over his chest as he meets Zayn’s intense amber gaze. Even if he feels funny talking about Louis behind his back, he does trust Zayn. (How can he not after how Zayn was there for him on that awful day in Victorian England?) Zayn looks at him imploringly and finally, Harry nods, giving his assent.

“Thank you, Harry,” Zayn says.

“Can we get on with it?” Niall asks impatiently. “What’s wrong with Louis?”

“Today I was summoned down to the prison to meet with a man who is being sent to the gallows at the end of the week,” Zayn explains. “This man, Xander Ritz, offered me this in exchange for his life.”

Zayn waves his hand and a hologram appears in the middle of the table like they’re on the fucking Enterprise or something.

“Space time coordinates?” Niall asks, his brow furrowed.

“This, according to Ritz, is the location of the Doctor’s greatest secret,” Zayn states.

“Which is?” Harry asks.

“We don’t know,” Liam pipes up. “That’s why it’s a secret.”

“We said no more secrets,” Harry frowns. “I mean, I know there’s no way I can know everything about him but I can still ask Louis. He’ll tell me, I know he will–”

“What else did this Ritz fella tell ya?” Niall interrupts. “You can’t tell me you just let him buy his life with some random coordinates that could mean nothing, Zayn. How did he prove that they actually have any value?”

“One word only,” Zayn answers.

“You and your fucking one-word tests, honestly,” Niall scoffs. “What was the word?”

“A word I’ve heard in connection with the Doctor before,” Zayn says gravely. “Trenzalore.”

The blood drains from Niall’s face. Harry looks at him, looks over at Zayn, and then looks back at Niall.

“Trenzalore?” Harry asks. “What’s Trenzalore?”

“How exactly did Ritz describe what he was giving to you?” Niall asks, his voice strained.

Suddenly Harry feels a chill shoot down his spine as he hears a whisper over his shoulder.

“The trap is set for the Doctor’s friends.”

“Did anyone hear that?” Harry squeaks.

“Zayn, I need you to tell me exactly what he said,” Niall presses urgently, ignoring Harry.

Zayn waves his hand again, the coordinates disappearing, replaced with the image of a bedraggled looking man, his beady eyes shifty.

“The Doctor has a secret, you know,” the man says. “He has one he will take to the grave. And it is discovered.”

“You misunderstood him,” Niall shakes his head fearfully.

“What is there to misunderstand?” Zayn counters.

“They will travel where the Doctor ends,” the whispers come again.

“Seriously, is anyone else hearing that?” Harry questions, more forcefully.

Harry sees Liam shiver across from him, looking around the room as he bites his lip, his face going waxen.

“Zayn,” Liam says weakly. “Zayn, I’m sorry, I just realized I forgot to lock the doors.”

“It’s fine, love,” Zayn says, patting his knee, but not looking at him. “Seriously, Niall, how could I have misunderstood? You clearly know what it means, don’t you? Tell me!”

“I don’t even know if I can,” Niall fires back. “But if he really means Trenzalore, Louis is in a great deal of danger!”

“No, you don’t understand,” Liam protests, fumbling for Zayn’s hand. “I should have locked up before we went into the trance!”

“Zayn! Look at him!” Harry exclaims, his voice trembling.

Liam is shivering violently now, his face completely white.

“Li?” Zayn asks, his amber eyes going wide. “Li, my love, talk to me.”

“S-someone’s b-broken in,” Liam stammers, twitching in his chair, his eyes sliding shut. “Someone’s with us, I can hear them!”

“Liam!” Zayn cries in alarm, shaking him a little. “Liam, are you all right?”

Suddenly, Liam sits ramrod straight in his chair, his eyes flying open. He looks over at his husband, a tear streaming down his cheek.

“Sorry, darling,” Liam whispers. “So sorry, so sorry. I think I’ve just been murdered.”

Liam slumps back in his chair as he starts to fade away.

“Liam!” Zayn shouts, reaching for his husband. His hands go straight through him as Liam fades away to nothingness.

“W-what’s happening?” Harry asks, terrified tears springing to his eyes at the sound of Zayn’s anguished cries. “Is Liam–”

“You’re under attack!” Niall shouts, leaping to his feet. “You gotta wake up, Zayn. Just wake up. Do it now! Maybe you can still save him.”

Niall reaches across the table and slaps Zayn hard across the face. Zayn smiles at him gratefully before he fades away.

“There are people here, Niall,” Harry cries in terror, clinging to his arm as he pulls himself to his feet. “Can’t you hear them? They’ve been whispering!”

There’s a loud clatter and a puff of smoke and then out of nowhere, Niall and Harry are surrounded by no less than a dozen tall, imposing men in top hats and suits. Harry blinks furiously and shrieks in horror as he realizes that even though they look like men, they can’t possibly be men, considering they are completely faceless, with no discernible eye sockets or noses on their blank white heads; the only humanoid thing about their faces are their abnormally large black mouths, all of which are twisted into grotesque grins, showing off their pointy teeth.

“Tell the Doctor, tell the Doctor, tell the Doctor,” the men chant as they close in on them.

“Jesus fucking Christ,” Niall exclaims, tugging Harry into his side, shielding him from their attackers. “It’s just like when–”

Suddenly a hologram of an old man with a puffy face and sagging jowls appears over their table, smirking sinisterly.

“You!” Niall shouts. “You’re supposed to be dead, you decrepit ole bastard!”

Something clicks in Harry’s brain.

“Is that who I–”

“Yeah, Harry, it’s bloody Simon Cowell!”

“Tell the Doctor, tell the Doctor, tell the Doctor,” the men continue to chant, tightening the circle.

“Tell him what?” Harry shouts.

“Tell him,” Cowell croaks. “Tell him his friends are lost forevermore unless he goes to Trenzalore.”

“He can’t,” Niall gasps, keeling over and hitting his knees. “Don’t say that! You know he can’t go there!”

“Niall!” Harry yelps, scrambling down to help him. “Niall, why can’t he–”

“Harry, you gotta hit me,” Niall wheezes, clutching his stomach. “You gotta wake me up, they’re getting me too, back in Ireland. I can feel it. I have to fight back, I have to wake up.”

“No!” Harry cries hysterically, his heart pounding. “Jesus, Niall, don’t leave me here! I don’t know what to do! How do I wake up? I don’t know what I’m doing!”

“We’ll do it together,” Niall says, struggling to right himself. “Cowell won’t hurt you, Harry, you’re his only link to the Doctor.”

“His friends are lost forevermore unless he goes to Trenzalore,” Cowell cackles again.

“Tell the Doctor, tell the Doctor. He has lost,” the men whisper, descending on them.

“Tell him,” Niall grits out, gripping Harry’s shoulder. “That he is under no circumstances to come after us. We can handle ourselves, promise.”

“No,” Harry sobs. “You can’t! We have to help you!”

“Now, come on,” Niall gasps, raising his hand. “Just smack me, and I’ll smack you. One...two...three.”

Harry closes his eyes as he takes a swing at Niall. Everything goes black as Niall’s palm cracks across his cheek.

********

Harry wakes with a start. He’s on his bedroom floor and he can hear Gemma and Louis laughing just down the hall. If it weren’t for the way the side of his face was stinging from Niall’s slap and the drying tears on his cheeks, Harry would believe it was all some sort of fucked up hallucination.

But he knows it’s not. He knows that they are all in very real and immediate danger.

Harry pushes himself to his feet, swiping his hands over his cheeks and then tugging his t-shirt down from where it has ridden up around his hips. He quickly runs his hands through his hair, taking a steadying breath as he exits the bedroom and heads back to the kitchen, Louis and Gemma’s laughter getting louder. His heart sinks and his words get caught in his throat as he crosses the threshold and sees the two of them crowded around a perfectly risen souffle, snapping pictures on Gemma’s phone. He clears his throat.

“Did you fall in or something, little brother?” Gemma asks, grabbing three spoons. “What took you so long? You almost missed this masterpiece, ’cause we’re about to dig in.”

“Harry, look,” Louis exclaims with delight. “You did it! Well, we did it, you know, you couldn’t have done it without…” Louis trails off, the grin falling off his face as he takes him in. “Haz? Hazza, what’s wrong, love?”

Harry swallows hard, his hands shaking.

“Gem,” Harry finally croaks. “Gem, I want you to go get the kids out of school and go stay at Mum’s for a while.”

His sister looks up at him, alarmed.

“What the fuck is going on, Harry?” Gemma asks, already reaching for her keys. “Are my kids in danger?”

“I don’t...I don’t really know,” Harry stammers. “Can you just...trust me? Just go stay at Mum’s. It’ll make me feel better.”

“Harry?” Louis asks.

“It’s Zayn and Liam,” Harry says, meeting Louis’ piercing blue eyes. “And Niall. Simon Cowell has them.”

“What?” Louis asks softly.

“Harry, what about you?” Gemma asks urgently. “While we’re all at Mum’s, maybe or maybe not in danger, where will you be?”

“Where I should be,” Harry answers calmly. “With Louis.”

“Harry,” Gemma protests. “You can’t just run into–”

“I can,” Harry says resolutely. “And I will. I’ve had this wonderful but completely ordinary life for twenty-four years, Gem. And then I met Louis and everything changed. The things I’ve seen him do...for me, for you, for all of us. For this entire fucking planet and for every other planet out there. And he’s done it alone, Gem.”

Harry looks over at Louis, whose eyes are shining.

“But he’s not alone anymore,” Harry says, his eyes locked on Louis. “Because he’s got me now.”

“Haz,” Louis says softly.

“Don’t you even try and argue with me, you wanker,” Harry insists, striding over to Louis and taking his hand. “I’ve made my choice. I made it a long time ago. I’m never going to leave you.”

The three of them fall silent, Harry jutting his chin stubbornly as he looks at his sister, daring her to say anything else against him. Finally, Gemma sighs heavily, shaking her head.

“Then you sure as hell better come back home. Both of you,” Gemma says, wrapping her arms around the two of them. She looks specifically at Louis. “You remember what I said to you when Harry first started traveling with you? I still mean it.”

Louis nods, squeezing them tightly. Gemma presses a kiss to Harry’s cheek.

“You’re insane,” she mutters. “I love you. Come home.”

“I will,” Harry promises. “I love you too. Go get the kids.”

“I’m going, I’m going,” Gemma says, squeezing them one last time before heading out, the door slamming behind her.

“Okay, what’s going on, Harry?” Louis asks once they are alone. “I need you to tell me everything.”

“I got this letter from Zayn,” Harry starts. “It said I needed to open it alone, which is why I left the room. It was like...some sort of magic drug or summat ’cause the next thing I knew I was in this like meditation tea house with Zayn, Liam, and Niall.”

“Zayn and his bloody conference calls,” Louis scoffs, his thumb tracing soothing circles over Harry’s wrist. “Go on.”

“There was this prisoner, he said he had information about you that he thought would get him off death row. They were space coordinates? And then I started hearing voices and Liam was freaking out, talking about how he’s been fucking murdered, Lou, and he disappears and all hell broke loose. Niall slapped Zayn and he vanished too and then all of a sudden these faceless men appeared and a hologram of Simon Cowell saying that he had your friends and that they would be lost unless you went to this place called Trenzalore, which made Niall freak out and then–”

“Trenzalore?” Louis asks sharply. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah, I’m sure,” Harry affirms. “I mean, it’s a funny name, innit? And it’s what that prisoner was trying to use to bargain with Zayn–”

“Haz, I need you to tell me exactly what was said,” Louis urges, his face stricken. “Word for word if you can.”

“The prisoner said, ‘The Doctor has a secret that he will take to the grave. It is discovered.’”

Louis’ face crumples, tears filling his eyes almost instantly.

“Lou?”

“Sorry, sorry,” Louis says, his voice breaking as he pulls away from him, scrubbing his hands down his face. “It’s just...he said Trenzalore? Definitely Trenzalore?”

The tears spill down Louis’ cheeks as he looks utterly devastated, his shoulders slumping.

“Yeah,” Harry says quietly. “Louis, what’s–”

A anguished cry bursts forth from Louis’ lips and he buries his face in his hands.

“Babe?” Harry asks in alarm.

“I’m...I’m sorry,” Louis whimpers. “Excuse me.”

He runs out the back door, towards where the TARDIS is parked in the garden, the door slamming behind him.

********

Louis hunches over the console of the TARDIS, his tears dripping down and splashing on the edge. He closes his eyes and takes several slow, deep breaths, in and out, in and out, focusing on getting his emotions back under control. Louis hated losing his shit like that in front of Harry, especially because he’d clearly just gone through something traumatic, not to mention it was in the face of his bold declaration that he will never leave him. (That’s a whole thing that Louis doesn’t even have the mental capacity to unpack right now, because holy shit.) But the thing is, he couldn’t help but lose his cool, when the one place he knows he’s never supposed to go to is the only place he possibly can go right now. And, quite frankly, he’s fucking terrified of it.

Trenzalore.

Louis hears the door quietly snick open and shut, followed by Harry’s soft footfalls coming up behind him. He sighs as Harry silently wraps his arms around his waist and pulls him into his chest, peppering gentle kisses along his shoulder and neck. Louis leans back into Harry’s warm, comforting embrace, savoring the feeling of just being held. Their breathing quickly syncs; Louis has no idea how long they stand there with Harry occasionally pressing kisses to his temple as they breathe together until Louis’ tears finally stop.

“Talk to me,” Harry murmurs into his hair.

Louis takes one last calming breath, craning his neck so he can peck a quick kiss to Harry’s lips.

“I’ve heard the name, of course,” Louis sighs, scrubbing his hands over his face. “Trenzalore. Always suspected what it was, I just never really wanted to find out for certain, y’know? But Niall would know. He always knows these things. I really should confiscate that vortex manipulator of his one of these days.”

Louis takes a deep breath and moves to the other side of the console. He clenches his jaw in determination as he flips up a panel; he can feel Harry’s eyes tracking his movements.

“Give me your hand,” Louis commands gently, reaching out for Harry.

“What is that?” Harry asks, even as he extends his hand to Louis, allowing him to pull him over to his side.

“Those coordinates you saw are still in your memory, yeah?” Louis explains, moving behind Harry and guiding him closer, hooking his chin over his shoulder. “This will link you directly into the TARDIS telepathic circuit, so we can get them. Don’t worry, it won’t hurt.”

Louis places his hands over Harry’s and carefully pushes his fingers into the glowing gel. The monitor above them whirs to life as it scans Harry’s memory.

“Feels like jelly,” Harry comments. “She’s like...not gonna be mad that I’m basically invading her brain, is she?”

“Nah,” Louis chuckles, pecking Harry’s shoulder. “She knows I need it.”

“So you didn’t explain Trenzalore,” Harry points out, peeking at him over his shoulder. “What is it? Why does it upset you so much?”

Louis sighs, peeking up at the monitor, which now displays the space time coordinates. He pulls Harry’s hands out of the gel, flipping the panel shut and pulling some tissues out of a box, handing them over to Harry so he can wipe his hands off.

“When you are a time traveler, there is one place you must never go,” Louis says, fiddling with the controls. “One place in all of time and space that you must never, ever find yourself.”

“Where is that?” Harry asks tentatively.

“‘The Doctor has a secret he will take to the grave,’” Louis repeats, looking Harry right in the eye. “‘It is discovered.’ Come on, love, use that clever brain of yours.”

Louis watches Harry as he tries to figure out what he is getting at, seeing the exact moment it clicks as Harry’s eyes widen.

“But you–”

“He was talking about my grave,” Louis says flatly. “Trenzalore is where I’m buried.”

“But...but...how can you have a grave?” Harry asks. “You don’t die, you regenerate. You become a whole new person. That doesn’t make any sense, Louis, you can’t die!”

“I can, though,” Louis states simply. “Whether I get wounded so badly I can’t regenerate or I run out of regenerations–”

“You can run out of regenerations?” Harry squeaks, his eyes widening. “It’s not an infinite thing? How–”

“I promise I’ll explain it all some other time,” Louis assures him, punching in the coordinates from the map. “The point is, I can die. We all have a grave waiting for us, somewhere out there in the future. And the problem with time travel is that you can actually end up unintentionally visiting it.”

“Except we’re going there intentionally,” Harry points out. “Even though you just said it’s the one place you should never go, we’re going anyway.”

“I have to save Zayn and Niall,” Louis states with determination. “Liam too, if it’s still possible. Which I have to believe it is. They...they cared for me during the darkest times of my life, no questions asked. They are my brothers, the closest thing I have to a family, Haz. I have a duty of care.” He looks over at Harry, who stares back at him resolutely, a little crinkle forming between his eyebrows. “I don’t suppose there’s any point in telling you this is too dangerous?”

“Shut the fuck up, Louis, they’re my friends too,” Harry asserts. “So how are going to save them?”

“Apparently by breaking into my own tomb,” Louis answers grimly, throwing the throttle and jolting the TARDIS into action.

The TARDIS starts fighting him almost immediately, groaning and rumbling as Louis keeps a tight grip on the throttle, forcing her to go where he needs her to go. The trip is rough, rougher than it’s ever been before, tossing them about like rag dolls as they hurtle through the vortex.

“What’s happening?” Harry asks fearfully, clinging to the bannister that leads up to the balcony, valiantly trying to stay upright.

“Oh, she’s figured out where I’m trying to go,” Louis howls over the roar of the engine as he punches more buttons. “She’s not happy about it either. She knows I’m about to cross my timeline in the biggest way possible and she doesn’t like it at all. Well, too bad, ole girl! I’m the boss here! Hold on, Hazza!”

The console starts to spark and smoke as Louis smacks the big red button by the throttle. The TARDIS shudders violently as they pick up speed, books falling from the bookcases in the balcony. The floor vibrates underneath them as light bulbs start to pop and shatter from the stress of the journey. Finally, there’s a loud crack and a section of the console explodes, knocking Louis to the floor as they’re plunged into momentary darkness, the emergency lights flickering on a few seconds later.

Everything goes quiet and still.

“Lou!” Harry cries, scrambling over to him and pulling him to his feet. He runs his hands all over his chest and shoulders and face, checking him for injuries. “Lou, are you all right?”

“Yeah,” Louis breathes, his hearts pounding as he sweeps his fringe to the side. “Yeah, I’m okay, love. Just knocked the wind out of me, is all.”

Harry looks around the wrecked console room, sparks still shooting from the damaged panel.

“Now what?” he asks tentatively.

“She doesn’t want to land,” Louis sighs, frowning at the battered console. “S’why she’s just shut down.”

“We...we’re not there?”

“We must be close,” Louis answers, smacking the lip of the console in frustration. He strides over to the doors, Harry trailing after him. “We have to be close, she wouldn’t have reacted this way if we weren’t. Let’s have a look, shall we?”

Louis throws open the door, looking down. His stomach twists at the sight of a volcanic, angry-looking planet, the bright orange lava branching out over the black rock like a circulatory system; he can see several points where eruptions must be happening, big black sulphurous clouds rising up through the atmosphere.

“Oh,” Harry murmurs over his shoulder. “Fuck me.”

“So that’s where I end up,” Louis says breezily. “You know, I always thought I’d retire somewhere nice. Take up beekeeping or knitting or summat. Maybe coach a footie team in my spare time.”

The planet rumbles, another explosion going off, sparks of fire glittering in the inky sky.

“Apparently not,” Louis grimaces.

“So how do we get down there if the TARDIS is refusing to land?” Harry asks. “Do we have to jump?”

“Don’t be silly, Haz,” Louis replies, snapping the doors closed. “That would kill us for sure. We have to fall.”

“’Cause that won’t kill us,” Harry says skeptically.

“If the TARDIS refuses to land, I’ll just make her,” Louis says as he makes his way back to the console, Harry following close behind. “She’s turned off practically everything, save for the anti-gravity mechanism. Well. Guess what I’m about to turn off? Hold on to something, love. We’re in for a bumpy ride.”

Louis flips a switch and they plummet to the planet below.

Trenzalore. Unknown.

The TARDIS lands with a thud, crashing to the ground so hard that one of the windowpanes in the front door shatters.

“Whoops.”

“Jesus fucking Christ, Louis,” Harry exclaims, rolling off of Louis and dusting himself off as he sits up. “A little more warning next time would be nice, babe.”

“Hey, I dove to protect you from tumbling down the stairs, didn’t I?” Louis fires back with a groan. “You should be thanking me, baby.”

“Thank you, baby,” Harry parrots as he gets up, extending a hand to Louis to help him up as well.

“That’s more like it,” Louis grins, his eyes crinkling at the corners. He takes Harry’s hand, leading him to the doorway. “Shall we go see where I’m buried? I bet it’s a top tourist destination. Lots of monsters and villains will be real happy to see the back of me, let me tell you. In fact, I hope there’s a big gathering there, just so I can be all ‘Gotcha!’ or summat. It’ll be fun.”

“You don’t have to joke about it, you know,” Harry says softly, tugging on his hand to stop him. “It’s okay to be scared, Lou. You’re visiting your own grave. Anyone would be scared. You don’t...you don’t need to play the hero right now. Not with me.”

Louis takes a deep breath, bringing Harry’s hand to his lips and kissing along his knuckles. Harry reaches out with his other hand and sweeps Louis’ fringe to the side, ducking in to kiss his temple.

“Thanks, love,” Louis says quietly. “It’s not just being scared though. It’s more than that.”

“Tell me,” Harry urges.

“I’m a time traveler,” Louis sighs. “I’ve probably time traveled more than anyone else ever has.”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning that my grave is potentially the most dangerous place in the entire universe,” Louis answers. “And that scares me. Not for me. Not really. It scares me for you, for our friends. I don’t know what we’re going to find out there, Harry, and I’m scared. I’m...I’m not used to being afraid and I don’t like it.”

“Like I just said, being afraid is all right, Lou,” Harry says softly, tipping Louis’ chin up so he can look him in the eye. “Honestly, I would be more worried if you weren’t afraid. Didn’t anybody ever tell you? Fear is a superpower. Fear can make you faster, and cleverer, and stronger. Fear can make you kind. It doesn’t matter what’s out there, so long as you know it’s okay to be afraid of it. Because that fear can bring us together. That fear can bring our friends home. I know it.”

Louis looks at him in amazement, his blue eyes full of emotion.

“You are something else, you know that, Harry Styles?”

Harry just smiles as Louis thumbs over his dimple, pressing in until it appears fully.

“Let’s go save our friends, shall we?” Louis asks.

“We shall,” Harry affirms. “Lead the way, Doctor.”

Louis pushes open the TARDIS doors and they step outside. Looking around, Harry quickly realizes they are in a graveyard, some of the stones ancient and crumbling, while others are bright white and polished, clearly brand new. A low hanging mist covers the ground, weaving its way through the headstones while a large moon illuminates the dark navy blue sky, its bright light casting eerie shadows all around them. Lightning crackles through the sky, thunder rumbling close behind it. In the distance, Harry can see mountains spewing fire; he grips Louis’ hand in his as a shiver shoots up his spine.

“Okay, so it’s a creepy graveyard,” Harry says lightly. “Nothing we haven’t seen before, yeah? Just like a horror movie.”

“It’s a battle graveyard,” Louis grimaces as they start to make their way down a path, weaving in and out of mausoleums of varying sizes. “My final battle.”

Harry looks around the graveyard, his eyes sweeping over the impressive memorials as his stomach flutters in anticipation.

“Why are some of them more extravagant, you think?” he asks Louis.

“They’re soldiers,” Louis replies, running his free hand over a gleaming white marble headstone. “The bigger the gravestone, the higher the rank.”

They reach a clearing, both of them faltering in their steps as they take in the sight before them. Louis’ breath hitches, his grip on Harry’s hand so tight that his hand is starting to tingle just a little bit.

“Jesus Christ,” Louis breathes as lighting cracks in the night sky once more, lighting up the absolutely massive TARDIS perched on the hill in the center of the graveyard, towering over all the other graves like some sort of ghost monument or eternal watchman.

“Well,” Harry says, nudging their shoulders together. “Look at the bright side. It’s a hell of a memorial to you.”

“It’s the TARDIS,” Louis says in shock.

“I can see that.”

“No,” Louis says emphatically, his voice wavering as he brushes a tear aside. “When...when a TARDIS is dying, sometimes the dimension dams start like...breaking down. They used to call it a size leak, when all the bigger on the inside stuff starts leaking to the outside. It...it grows. Look, Hazza,” Louis says, pointing to the the set of windows on the left door. “Look at how one of the windows is different than the others. Specifically the top left one.”

Harry’s eyes widen as he looks at the giant TARDIS and then looks back towards their TARDIS, where the top left window on the left door is shattered.

“But that’s not poss–” Harry starts

“I must not have ever been able to find the right glass to replace the window,” Louis interrupts grimly. “When I say that’s the TARDIS I don’t mean it looks like the TARDIS. I mean that it is the TARDIS. My TARDIS. From the future. I mean, Jesus Christ. What else would they fucking bury me in?”

Louis sniffles, dropping Harry’s hand so he can roughly wipe his tears away.

“Lou?” Harry says softly, looking at him with concern.

“I’m fine, I’m fine,” Louis assures him, swiping at his cheeks. “I just...I just need a moment.”

Louis takes several deep breaths before he straightens his spine, his beautiful face hardening in determination.

“Let’s go,” he says, taking Harry’s hand.

They take a few more steps and then Harry startles, the hairs on the back of his neck standing on end as he hears whispers.  

“This man must fall as all men must. The fate of all is always dust.”

“Louis!” Harry cries as a pop sounds behind them, the same faceless men in top hats appearing behind them in a puff of smoke.

“Behind me, Haz!” Louis orders, sweeping in front of him protectively as he fumbles for the sonic screwdriver.

“Those are the creatures that took the lads!” Harry exclaims. “I saw them!”

Louis flips the sonic screwdriver on, aiming it towards the Whisper Men. A high-pitched whirring sound comes from the screwdriver, the green tip glowing, but it does nothing to stop their approach.

“Damn,” Louis mumbles, shaking the screwdriver and slapping it against his palm. “Come on!”

He points it at them again, a different sound coming out this time. Still the Whisper Men close in around them.

“I don’t know why it’s not working!” Louis grunts, blowing on the sonic and fiddling with the settings.

He pulls Harry down the path, always staying in front of him. Harry cries out in alarm when another cluster of the strange men appears on the other side of them, completely blocking any path of escape as they slowly fan out and close in on them.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” Louis mutters, still fiddling with the sonic, all sorts of different sounds coming from it as he tries different settings.

Harry looks around frantically, looking for a way out. His eyes widen when he spots one small gravestone that has the same strange circular symbols he’s seen in the TARDIS, writing that he can only assume must be Gallifreyan. Something in Harry’s gut tells him that this is their way out, he’s certain of it, if he can only figure out how. He scrambles over to the grave, his fingers running over the concentric circles as his eyes desperately sweep over the places where the stone has started to crumble with age.

“Harry, what the fuck are you doing?” Louis yells, still blasting signals from the sonic screwdriver, to no avail.

“The man who lies will lie no more when this man lies at Trenzalore.”

Finally, Harry sees it. A distinct carved circle, standing out in stark relief from the rest of the engraving, the stone slightly raised from the rest.

“A-ha!” Harry cries triumphantly, squeezing his eyes shut as he presses down on what he is absolutely certain is a button. There is a groaning sound and Harry peers over the stone, whooping in delight when he sees that the ground has given way to a set of stairs.

“Louis!” Harry yells. “Over here! I think I found some sort of secret passageway!”

Louis sprints over to him, gasping in relief when he sees the steps. He grabs Harry by the shoulders, smacking a rough kiss to his lips.

“You’re fucking brilliant, you are!” Louis grins, grabbing his hand and pulling him to the entrance of the stairs. “Let’s go!”

“How do we even know where we’re going?” Harry asks breathlessly as they clamber down the steps.

“How did you even think to look for a secret passageway?” Louis fires back.

“Haven’t you ever seen Indiana Jones, Lou?” Harry wheezes as they reach the bottom of the stairs. “There’s always a secret passageway or summat in these kind of situations.”

“Lovely man, Steven,” Louis grins, grabbing a lit torch from where it’s nestled in a iron basket on the damp stone walls. “Did you know it was actually the Daleks who were after the Ark of the Covenant though? He thought the story worked better with the Nazis; he and George didn’t want to bring aliens in again so soon after Star Wars.”

Harry gapes at him. Louis shoots him a wink before turning around, holding the torch out in front of him, illuminating the long hallway. Harry can see several more fiery beacons lighting the way down the hall.

“Someone’s been here recently,” Louis muses. “I think someone is expecting us to follow them. My guess is that this pathway will lead us straight under the graveyard and up the mountain to the tomb. Still with me, love?”

“Yeah,” Harry nods as he catches his breath. “Yeah, I’m with you. Let’s go.”

********

Zayn groans as he sits up, looking around as he tries to determine where the fuck he is. He’s not quite sure what happened; the last thing he truly remembers is Niall slapping him across the face and waking up back in their dining room, scrambling towards Liam’s body as a swarm of faceless men descended on them.

Liam.

Zayn jolts into full awareness as he looks around for his husband, his heart pumping with adrenaline. Liam lays completely still on the ground not far from him, his complexion deathly pale, save for the massive purple bruise on his jaw; a small trickle of blood dribbles from the corner of his mouth.

“Liam!” Zayn exclaims, crawling over to him and pulling his limp torso into his lap. He futilely slaps his face several times, his hands shaking as he does so. “Liam, come on, don’t do this, darling.”

Zayn hears another groan from his other side, looking over to see Niall groggily sitting up, clutching the side of his head as he looks around in confusion.

“Where the fuck are we?”

“Niall,” Zayn cries desperately. “Niall, you have to help him! He...he can’t be dead, he can’t be.”

Niall scrambles over to them, digging in his cross-body satchel. He kneels by Liam’s side as he pulls out a small black kit, hurriedly unzipping it and pulling out a small silver band, placing it over Liam’s forehead.

“Thank Christ I had this with me when they came,” Niall mutters, flipping a tiny switch, the center of the band glowing red as the diagnostics run.

Zayn can’t remember the last time he cried; it’s not in the Silurian nature to express emotions in such a way. But all of a sudden he feels tears stinging at his eyes as he gently strokes Liam’s hair.

“What’s it saying, Niall?”

“Fuck,” Niall says, his head bowed. “No heartbeat. Complete cardio-collapse, probably shock-induced from being attacked while in a trance.”

“Get him back for me,” Zayn orders as his tears spill down his cheeks. “Get him back for me this instant or I’ll cut you into a million pieces with my bare hands, I swear I will.”

“No need to threaten me, you ridiculous reptile,” Niall snaps, placing the silver band in the middle of Liam’s chest. “I’m fucking working on it, give me a second. I need you to move clear of him, okay?”

Zayn reluctantly shuffles back, gently laying Liam out on the ground as Niall bends over him.

“Come on, Payno,” Niall mutters, pressing the small buttons on either side of the band and immediately scooting clear of him. A few seconds later, the band pulses an electric shock, Liam’s chest raising up several inches as it courses through him. His eyes fly open as he hits the ground, immediately rolling to his side as he coughs.

“Liam!” Zayn cries as he scrambles back to his husband’s side, pulling him into his arms as Liam continues to cough and gasp for air. “Thank God.”

“Zayn,” Liam croaks, fumbling for his hands, squeezing them tightly once he finds them.

“There we go,” Niall breathes, his shoulders slumping with relief. “Just a standard electro-cardio restart. He’ll be fine.”

“Thank you, Niall,” Zayn says, looking over at him as he clutches a wheezing Liam to his chest. “I’ll never be able to thank you enough. I’m forever in your debt.”

“S’no big deal,” Niall replies, his cheeks reddening. “The heart’s a relatively simple thing, really.”

“I have not found it to be so,” Zayn replies, peppering little kisses to Liam’s temple. “Breathe, my love, you’re okay, you’re okay. I’m here, don’t worry about a thing.”

“What...what happened?” Liam asks, sinking into Zayn’s embrace as his breathing finally returns to normal. “Where are we?”

“Trenzalore, if I have to hazard a guess,” Zayn answers grimly. “Though I don’t know why, other than–”

“Now, now, Detective Malik,” Simon Cowell clucks, emerging from the shadows, a horde of the faceless men who attacked them behind him. “Don’t tell me all this time living among the humans has dulled your senses.”

“Zayn!” Liam gasps, sitting up and turning back to look at him, his brown eyes fearful. “He died! You told me he died!”

“Ah, I see you have managed to repair your pet,” Cowell sneers.

“He’s not a pet,” Zayn hisses, leaping to his feet, one hand on the hilt of the sword at his side. “He’s the love of my life and you’re fucking lucky he’s alive, arsehole.”

“No matter,” Cowell says derisively, waving his hand. “I was merely trying to attract your attention. I presume I have it.”

“This is impossible,” Zayn says through clenched teeth. “You shouldn’t even be here.”

“And yet, here we are,” Cowell shrugs, a nasty smirk twisting his hideous face, “meeting again oh so very far from home.”

“I d-don’t,” Liam stammers. “I don’t understand.”

“Simon Cowell died, but the creature that possessed him lives on,” Zayn says as he scowls at Cowell. “I take it I am now speaking directly to the Great Intelligence?”

“You take it correctly,” Cowell cackles wickedly. “Good to see you haven’t entirely lost your edge, Malik.”

“What do you want with us?” Zayn demands. “Where the hell are we?”

“Isn’t it obvious, Detective?” Cowell sniggers. “Look around you. Doesn’t it look familiar?”

Zayn looks up, his eyes widening as he recognizes the royal blue of the oversize structure behind him, the familiar “Police Public Call Box” letters glowing eerily in the night sky. He looks back at Cowell in shock, shaking his head in disbelief.

“Welcome,” Cowell says grandly, his eyes gleaming with malicious glee, “to the tomb of the Doctor.”

********

“Do you think we’re almost there?” Harry pants as they pause to catch their breath outside a large metal door.

Louis frowns as he pushes on it, the door not budging. He scans the door with the sonic screwdriver which, blessedly, has started working again.

“We must be,” he mutters as he scans the corridor. “The TARDIS signal is getting stronger; the entrance has to be close. I just...I just have to get this door unlocked. Give me a mo,’ yeah?”

Footsteps echo down the hall.

“Hurry, Lou,” Harry says urgently, grabbing his shoulder. “They’re getting closer. Can’t you hear them?”

“Yeah, yeah, I hear them,” Louis replies, looking over his shoulder and seeing the Whisper Men approaching. “Just a few more seconds.”

“The boy who died, he tried to save. He’ll die again inside his grave.”

“What the fuck?” Harry exclaims. “Are they talking about me?”

“Don’t listen to them, Harry,” Louis orders. “No one’s fucking dying here today, you hear me?”

Louis hears a click, pocketing the screwdriver as he throws all his body weight against the door; the door finally opens, the metal grinding against the stone floor, shooting up sparks.

“We’re in,” Louis cheers, stumbling through the doorway. “Haz, come on!”

“Louis!” Harry shouts as a Whisper Man wraps an arm across his chest, pinning his arms down and wrenching him back down the hall. “Louis, help!”

Suddenly it’s as if Louis is right back in 1892, watching the Ice Man drag Victorian Harry to the edge of his cloud. The familiar feeling of utter hopelessness consumes him, knowing he won’t be able to get a good shot at the Ice Man until it’s too late. He can’t stand it, he can’t bear what’s coming next, the moment he barely brushes his fingertips against Harry’s as he tumbles over the edge, his green eyes terrified as he plummets to Earth.

Something in his chest screams at Louis to wake up, to snap the fuck out of it, and he squeezes his eyes shut for a moment, shaking his head to rattle the painful images out of his brain. His eyes fly open as he straightens his spine in determination.

Not this fucking time.

Not his Harry.

“Harry!” Louis yells, lunging forward, his fists flying at the side of the faceless man’s head, making direct contact.

The Whisper Man stumbles backwards, his grip on Harry loosening enough that Harry can wrest his arms free. He reaches out for Louis, their hands locking in an iron grip.

“Louis!” Harry cries again, struggling to get out of the Whisper Man’s deadly embrace, one arm now wrapped around his waist.

“Budge over a little if you can, love,” Louis commands, his eyes never straying from Harry’s.

Harry instantly obeys, wriggling in the Whisper Man’s grip, exposing just enough of the man’s abdomen to give Louis a clear shot. His hand still firmly in Harry’s, Louis kicks out his left leg with all his might. He connects, the Whisper Man letting out a howl as he releases Harry from his grip.

“That’s right, you bastard,” Louis hollers, yanking Harry towards him and shoving him through the open door. “You let him the fuck go!”

“Lou, come on!” Harry cries desperately as the Whisper Man regains his balance and lurches towards Louis, his large mouth opened wide, exposing all of his pointy teeth.

“Shit,” Louis shrieks.

Louis scurries back through the open door, throwing his body against the iron door as he tries to close it. However, the Whisper Man has been joined by several of his buddies, the faceless men pushing back against the door, trying to force their way inside. Harry races over to the door to help him. Together, they push with all their might, finally managing to slam the door with a sickening crunch as it crushes one of their attacker’s fingers.

“Bloody hell,” Louis pants, looking over at Harry. “Y’alright, love?”

Harry doesn’t reply; he simply wraps his massive hand around the back of Louis’ neck, pulling him close and crashing their lips together in a fierce kiss. Louis responds immediately, his lips parting as he kisses Harry back with equal fervor. Harry’s tongue is hot and insistent against his as they kiss passionately; Louis winds his hand into Harry’s loose curls, tugging them slightly, eliciting a moan from him. A whimper escapes Louis’ lips as Harry presses him against the door, deepening the kiss even further.

Pounding on the other side of the door startles them back into reality.

“We should,” Louis says breathlessly, pressing a few more soft kisses to Harry’s lips. “We should get moving.”

“Sorry, sorry,” Harry replies, stealing another kiss. “It was just...that was really sexy you going all action hero just now.”

“If I’d known it would merit that kind of response, baby, I’d do it more often,” Louis grins.

“I’d rather you not have to,” Harry laughs, pulling Louis away from the door.

“Me either,” Louis agrees, squeezing his hand. “But still, it’s good to know.”

Harry blushes, biting his bottom lip. Louis winks at him as he leads him down the hall, coming to the base of a winding metal staircase. Louis cranes his neck as he peers up the tight spiral. He can see where the light changes, indicating some sort of exit; he’s also pretty certain he can make out faint voices over the bang of the Whisper Men pounding on the door behind them.

“Nearly there, Haz,” Louis says, straightening his shoulders as he guides Harry ahead of him, his hand on the small of his back as Harry starts his ascent. “I can hear them.”

********

“I don’t understand,” Liam says quietly, turning to Zayn. “How can Louis be buried here?”

“This is where he makes his final stand,” Cowell states, standing near the edge of the cliff and surveying the massive graveyard below. “It was a minor skirmish really, especially by the Doctor’s blood-soaked standards. Not exactly the Time War, you know, but enough to finish him off. In the end, it was too much for the old man.”

Zayn feels sick to his stomach as Cowell cackles at Louis’ apparent fate. He has half a mind to make a break for it and attempt to push the sick bastard off the cliff; the only thing that’s truly stopping him from doing so is the cluster of Whisper Men surrounding Cowell, mirroring his every move.

“Blood soaked?” Liam says skeptically. “That doesn’t sound like–”

“The Doctor has been many things,” Niall interrupts, his voice angry. “He would be the first one to say that. But there’s one thing he’s never been and that’s a cold-blooded killer.”

“Tell that to the leader of the Sycorax,” Cowell taunts, “or Solomon the Trader or the Family of Blood or the Cybermen or the Daleks. The Doctor has always lived his life in darker hues, day after day after day and he continued to do so right up until the very end. He always was the Oncoming Storm, leaving a wake of destruction in his path. He earns many more names, you know. The Beast. The Valeyard–”

“Shut up!” Liam shouts suddenly, his face red. “You’re lying! He would never–”

Zayn presses a gentle hand to Liam’s shoulder, squeezing it reassuringly; Liam falls silent, his chin trembling ever so slightly as he looks over at him.

“Even if any of this were true,” Zayn says calmly, “which I highly doubt it is. Not in the way you describe it anyway. What I really want to know is how you came by all of this information.”

“I am information,” Cowell says simply.

“You were a mind without a body last time we met,” Zayn observes.

“Yeah, and you were supposed to stay that way,” Niall adds.

“Alas,” Cowell sighs. “I did.”

With that, Cowell reaches up to the hinge of his jaw, ripping away the bottom of his face, revealing nothing but air underneath it. Liam screams in horror, grabbing Zayn’s shoulder as Cowell removes his top hat, the rest of his body vanishing into thin air, the clothes landing on the ground in a heap before disappearing as well.

“What the fuck?” Niall exclaims.

One of the Whisper Men steps forward, its blank white face stretching and contorting until Cowell’s visage appears again, a wicked smirk twisting his mouth.

“As you can see, I never managed to find a permanent body,” Cowell shrugs. “This face always did serve me well, though, thought I would keep it around.”

Zayn shudders as Cowell turns to the sealed doors of the tomb, stroking his hands down and resting them on the handles, rattling them.

“This tomb,” Cowell says darkly. “The tomb of the Doctor. How do you open it? I’ve tried over and over again with no luck. It doesn’t seem like there’s any sort of key. I assume it has to be some sort of password, something known only to Gallifreyans. But there aren’t any of those left, as I am sure you know.”

Zayn peeks at Niall out of the corner of his eye; Niall keeps his expression carefully blank as he peeks back at Zayn quickly and then darts his eyes back to Cowell.

“There’s just the Doctor,” Cowell muses. “Your version of him, the version that I know would never abandon his friends.”

“You’re goddamn right, old man,” Louis says, suddenly emerging from the shadows, Harry following close behind. “Here I am. Late to my own fucking funeral.”

********

The knot in Louis’ chest loosens ever so slightly when he sees Liam standing next to Zayn, alive and well and very much not murdered.

“Payno,” Louis nods, “so glad to see that you could make it.”

Liam smiles, his eyes crinkling up at the sides as Zayn presses a kiss to his cheek.

“Yes, yes, everyone is alive. For now,” Cowell says impatiently. “Enough pleasantries. Now then...the Doctor will open the tomb.”

“The Doctor will not,” Louis scoffs.

“Why not?” Cowell glowers. “Because you know what’s in there?”

“Because I’d have to be a bleedin’ idiot to open me own tomb, you git,” Louis snaps.

“The tomb can only be opened by a Gallifreyan; you’re the only one who knows the secret.”

“Oh, well, guess you’re shit out of luck then, ’cause I’m not opening it,” Louis shrugs, striding forward and getting in Cowell’s space. “There’s nothing in there that’s any interest to you anyway, believe me.”

“Ah, but that’s where our opinions differ, Doctor,” Cowell sneers, grabbing Louis by the jaw tightly. “I’d say it’s crucial to all of my interests. Now open the tomb.”

“Fuck off,” Louis spits, grabbing Cowell’s wrists.

“You know, I tried being nice,” Cowell threatens, his breath hot and rancid in Louis’ face. “I tried to be a gentleman. But if you won’t listen to reason, I guess I’ll have resort to more unseemly methods.” Cowell looks to the circle of Whisper Men surrounding them. “The Doctor’s friends. Stop their hearts.”

Louis’ eyes widen in horror as the Whisper Men hiss, closing in around Harry, Zayn, Liam, and Niall.

“No, please,” Louis protests, struggling in Cowell’s strong grip. “This is between you and me. Leave them alone, they don’t have anything to do with this.”

“Then open the doors,” Cowell orders.

“Don’t even think about it, Louis,” Zayn shouts, unsheathing the sword that hangs at his side. He sweeps in front of Liam and Harry protectively, Niall scrambling to his side, his fists in the air. “I’ve got this.”

Zayn takes a mighty swing with his sword, slashing across the abdomens of three Whisper Men. The gash exposes nothing but empty air, the wounds knitting themselves back together almost instantly.

“Jesus Christ,” Zayn gasps, his amber eyes widening in horror even as he takes another swing, and then another, shielding Harry and Liam as Niall kicks at other attackers swarming from the side. “Stay behind me lads!”

“Get the one with the long hair,” Cowell commands his minions. “That one’s his favorite.”

One of the Whisper Men manages to grab the hilt of the sword, wrenching it from Zayn’s grasp and tossing it aside. A second one shoves past Zayn, knocking him to the ground as he lunges towards Harry; Harry swings his fists wildly, trying to fight him back. Niall and Liam try to come to his aid, but more of the Whisper Men hold them back.

“Please!” Louis pleads, his eyes darting between Harry and Cowell. “You don’t have to do this!”

“Open the tomb,” Cowell demands, pushing him against the exterior of the tomb. “All you have to do is open the doors and this will all be over.”

“Louis!” Harry cries weakly, sinking to his knees as a Whisper Man literally plunges his hand into his chest, squeezing at his heart.

“Haz!” Louis shouts.

“Just open the tomb, Doctor,” Simon says soothingly. “Just open the tomb and your little friend will be just fine.”

“I can’t,” Louis insists. “I won’t. You don’t know what you’re asking!”

“You’re really going to let this happen to your precious companion, Doctor?” Simon taunts. “Look at him. He’s in pain, Doctor.”

“Don’t do it, Louis,” Harry croaks, his face pale. “Don’t you dare.”

“Harry,” Louis whimpers, a tear spilling down his cheek.

“And here I thought he was important to you,” Simon laughs. “Well, as much as I’m enjoying seeing him suffer, you have to hurry up and make up your mind, Doctor. He’s going to die soon.”

“Fuck you,” Louis seethes, a tear spilling down his cheek. He feels paralyzed, looking between Harry and Cowell. “Fuck you for making me do this.”

“I’m not making you do anything, Doctor,” Cowell shrugs. “You know how to end this. You just have to decide what’s more important: your secret or your friend’s life.”

Suddenly, the doors to the tomb open with a crack, an eerie blue light spilling from between them. Simon releases Louis, holding up his hand to halt the Whisper Men as he smiles wickedly. Louis scrambles over to Harry, falling to his knees and catching him in his embrace, peppering kisses to the top of his head as Harry gasps for air.

“I’m sorry, love,” Louis murmurs, clutching him tightly. “I’m so sorry. Are you okay?”

“That was not nice,” Harry wheezes as his color starts to come back.

“I know,” Louis affirms, carding his fingers through his hair. “I’m sorry.”

“You didn’t...you didn’t have to–”

“I didn’t,” Louis says, looking over to the open doors, his hearts pounding. “I didn’t do it.”

“Louis,” Niall pipes up guiltily. “I did it. Snap of the fingers, yeah? Just like you taught me.”

“Didn’t know you had it in you to betray your friend, Mr. Horan,” Cowell smirks. “Well done.”

“Fuck off,” Niall bristles.

Cowell simply laughs.

“I’m sorry, Lou,” Niall continues, his blue eyes full of regret as Louis stands, helping Harry to his feet. “I didn’t see any other way. I don’t know what the fuck is in there, but what I do know is that the only way we have any shot at winning is if we’re all together. All five of us. There wasn’t any other choice–”

Louis throws his arms around him, cutting him off with a tight hug.

“Thank you for Harry,” Louis says into his neck. “You did the right thing. We’re fucked, but at least we’re all fucked together.”

Niall looks visibly relieved as Louis pulls back. Harry squeezes Niall’s shoulder, giving him a grateful smile. Louis takes a deep breath, trying not to let the building sense of dread overwhelm him, resigning himself to whatever happens next.

No turning back now.

“Now then, Doctor Cowell,” Louis says, turning back to him and clapping his hands together, “Or Mr. G. Intelligence, or whatever the fuck I should call you...you really think you know what’s in there?”

“For me, peace at last,” Cowell replies, stroking his hands up and down the open doors. “For you, pain everlasting.”

A rock settles in the pit of Louis’ stomach as he grips Harry’s hand tightly. Cowell turns to look at him, his face contorted with a wicked, knowing grin. He gestures towards the doors, bowing ever so slightly.

“Now then, Doctor,” Cowell simpers, stepping aside. “Won’t you invite us all in?”

********

Harry isn’t sure what he was expecting to see when Louis opens the doors to the TARDIS tomb, but a double staircase that winds around a raised platform certainly isn’t it. It’s not their TARDIS, the sight he’s grown so accustomed to over the past few months traveling with Louis. Their TARDIS leads directly into the console room when the doors are opened; there isn’t a stairway like this in their TARDIS. Hope flickers in Harry’s chest as he methodically categorizes all the subtle differences.

“Lou,” Harry says lowly, looking around as he steps over the threshold. “You sure this is the TARDIS? Our TARDIS? Ours never had a staircase like this. Maybe this is a different one? Maybe this isn’t your tomb after all? Maybe Cowell’s got it all wrong.”

“No, it’s our TARDIS. I’d know her anywhere, Haz. I must have redecorated,” Louis muses as they start to ascend, the five of them taking one side, while Cowell and the Whisper Men take the other. “I do that every once in a while when I get bored. Completely redesign the entire interior. This look? I don’t like it. Bad job, future me.”

Harry feels sick to his stomach as he takes in the deteriorating TARDIS; the interior is rotting away, the metal rusted and weeds growing in all corners, vines twisting up the bannisters and dangling from the ceilings as nature starts to take over. When they reach the top of the stairs, Harry gasps in shock; in the center of the room, where the massive console once stood, is a column of shimmering blue light. As he looks closer, he realizes that it’s not simply one beam of light but what must be thousands of individual strands, all weaving around each other, occasionally sparking with electricity as they overlap, like they are alive or something. The light fills Harry with both awe and an overwhelming sense of dread.

“Wh-what is that?” Harry stammers.

“I mean what exactly were you expecting?” Louis asks grimly, his jaw clenched. “A body? Bodies are boring, I’ve had loads of ’em. That’s not what my tomb is for.”

“But what is that light?” Zayn asks quietly as everyone circles around the column.

“It’s beautiful,” Liam says with awe, staring at the light.

“It’s terrifying,” Niall mutters.

Louis says nothing; he just stares at the light, his blue eyes even brighter reflected in its glow. Harry can see the muscle flexing in Louis’ jaw as he tries to rein in his emotions.

“Louis,” Harry implores, “please tell me what that is.”

“The tracks of my tears,” Louis replies softly.

“Less poetry, Doctor,” Cowell snaps. “Just tell them.”

Louis takes a deep breath, squeezing Harry’s hand tightly before letting go, stepping towards the light.

“Time travel is...damage. It’s like a tear in the fabric of reality. That,” Louis says, gesturing to the light, “that is the scar tissue of my journey through the universe. My path through all of time and space, from Gallifrey to Trenzalore.”

Louis pulls his sonic from his pocket, aiming it at the column of light. Harry notices that his hand is shaking as he presses the button to activate the screwdriver. As Louis lowers his hand, voices start echoing from the lights, the column sparking and crackling as the voices overlap.

“...don’t you want to see what’s out there, rather than just theorize about it?”

“...the crack in your wall. Does it scare you?”

“...where do you get the milk?”

“...I’m 903 years old and I’m the man who’s going to save your lives…”

“...that’s the way to do it!”

“...don’t even blink. Blink and you’re dead…”

“...all of time and space. Where do you want to start?”

Louis activates the screwdriver again and the voices fall silent. A tear rolls down his cheek.

“My own personal time stream,” Louis says weakly, wavering a little where he stands as his face starts to go pale. “All of my days in one place, even the ones that I–” Louis pauses, swallowing hard as one of his hands goes to his chest, “the ones that I haven’t lived yet.”

Louis collapses in a heap, as if he were a puppet whose strings were suddenly cut.

“Louis!” Harry exclaims, running over to him and dropping to his knees, rolling Louis to his back. “Louis, what’s wrong?” Harry asks, his hands flying to Louis’ face, tapping it urgently but gently until Louis’ eyes flutter open. “Babe, come on, talk to me.”

“S’why I shouldn’t be here,” Louis slurs, squeezing his eyes shut tightly as he takes a deep breath. He groans as he exhales, fumbling for Harry’s hand. “The paradox, it’s...it’s very bad, I can’t be here.”

“Okay,” Harry says, trying to help Louis sit up, but it’s practically impossible, his body completely limp. “We’ll go then, Lou, let’s go, let’s get out of here, I’ll get you out of here. Lads, we’re leaving, you gotta help me.”

Harry looks up, his heart pounding as he sees the other boys being restrained by Whisper Men, fighting desperately against their grasps.

“Don’t you see what you’re doing to him?” Harry shouts at Cowell. “You got what you wanted, now leave him be! Don’t you see you’re hurting him?”

Cowell ignores him, stepping dangerously close to the time stream, his eyes greedy.

“No,” Louis wheezes, trying and failing to get up. “What are you doing?”

“The Doctor’s life is an open wound,” Cowell says, his voice hushed with awe as he reaches towards the time stream. “And an open wound can be entered.”

“It will destroy you,” Louis warns, his breathing labored.

“Not at all,” Cowell counters with a sinister laugh. “It will kill me, that’s true. But that’s nothing compared to what it will do to you, Doctor. It will destroy you. I can rewrite your every living moment. I can turn every one of your victories into defeats. Poison every single friendship you’ve ever had. Deliver pain to every breath.”

“It will burn you up!” Louis cries, shakily pushing himself to a sitting position by bracing his hands in Harry’s. “Once you go through, you can’t come back! You’ll be scattered across my timeline like confetti!”

“Exactly, Doctor,” Cowell nods, stepping ever so closer to the time stream. “You’ve thwarted me at every turn, you know. So it’s only fitting that you will finally give me peace as I take my revenge on every second of your life. Goodbye, Doctor. Or should I say...see you soon?”

With that, Cowell steps into the time stream.

The blue light explodes into red, sparks flying everywhere. The Whisper Men vanish with a loud pop and Louis lets out a howl of pain that Harry knows will haunt him for the rest of his life. He collapses into Harry’s lap, thrashing about violently, tears streaming down his face.

“What’s happening?” Harry yelps, looking at Niall as he desperately tries to still Louis in his arms. “What’s wrong with him?”

“He’s being rewritten,” Niall answers with horror, tossing his bag aside and kneeling at Harry’s side, grasping Louis’ legs as he kicks them out, writhing in agony. “Jesus Christ. I don’t...I don’t know what to do!”

Liam kneels across from them, his brown eyes wide as he tries to help Harry comfort Louis. Zayn digs in Niall’s satchel, pulling out a scanning tablet, flipping it on and aiming it at the time stream. His amber eyes go wide as the data starts coming up on the screen.

“Zayn,” Harry says desperately, stroking Louis’ hair as he continues to thrash about. “What’s it saying? You can help him, right?”

“Cowell is attacking his entire timeline,” Zayn reports. “He’s dying everywhere all at once. Torchwood. Androzani. The Dalek Asylum. The Satan Pit.”

“What did you say?” Harry asks sharply, looking up at him, the name clicking in his memory. “The Dalek Asylum? You said the Dalek Asylum, right?”

“Fuck,” Zayn continues, ignoring Harry’s question. “Now he’s dying with me! In Cowell’s office back in London, with the snowmen!”

“But how is that possible,” Harry murmurs. “The snowmen?”

“It is done,” Cowell’s voice echoes from the time stream.

Louis goes completely limp in Harry’s arms, twitching and moaning only occasionally, the fight draining out of him.

“Louis, don’t you fucking dare!” Niall shouts, shaking him.

Louis groans, his eyes fluttering open. His pupils are blown and he blinks repeatedly, trying to focus on Harry’s face.

“He can...he can regenerate, right?” Harry asks Niall, tears streaming down his face. “It’s not too late, right? He’s going to be fine!”

“I don’t...I don’t think so, Harry,” Niall says, his face completely white.

“The Dalek Asylum, Lou,” Harry says urgently, kissing his temple as he sweeps his sweaty fringe to the side. “You said it was me that saved you, yeah? How? How was it me? How could I have been in Victorian London?”

Louis just groans, his body spasming.

“Good God,” Zayn gasps suddenly, looking down at his tablet.

“What?” Liam asks. “It can’t get any worse, can it?”

“A universe without the Doctor, Liam! Think of the consequences! Look!”

Zayn presses a few buttons on his tablet and the entire ceiling turns into the night sky, galaxies projected all around them, just like how it is in Louis’ bedroom. Harry gasps as he sees stars flicker away, vanishing into the sky as if they’d never existed.

“Louis’ timeline has been corrupted,” Zayn explains, his voice tremulous. “His every victory reversed. Think how many lives Louis has saved, how many worlds. I mean...fuck, he even saved your life when we first met, Li–”

There’s a pop and Liam vanishes before their very eyes.

“Liam!” Zayn screams, his tablet falling to the ground and shattering. “Oh my God, no! Liam!”

Zayn falls to his knees, sobbing.

“My whole life is burning,” Louis moans.

Harry looks down at him, stroking his pale cheek. He looks back up at the time stream and suddenly everything clicks in his brain. The Dalek Asylum. Victorian London. Gallifrey. Who knows where the hell else. Louis had told Cowell that he would be scattered along his timeline like confetti.

Well. So has Harry.

“I have to go in there,” Harry says softly.

“What?” Niall exclaims, whipping around to look at him.

“No, Haz,” Louis says weakly. “No.”

“But don’t you see, Lou,” Harry says, smiling down at him and brushing his fingers through his hair. “This is what I’ve already done. You’ve already seen the results of me doing it. I’m the Impossible Boy. And this is why.”

“No, Harry,” Louis sobs. “No.”

“Whatever you think you’re going to do, Harry,” Niall warns. “Don’t.”

Harry stares at the time stream, feeling even more certain in his gut that this is the only thing that will save Louis. The only thing that will save all of them.

“If I go in there, what will happen to me, Niall?”

“The time winds will tear you into a million pieces,” Niall replies gravely. “A million versions of you, living and dying all over time and space. Like...echoes.”

“But the echoes could save Louis, right?”

“They can, but they won’t be you, Harry,” Niall informs him. “The real you will die. They’ll all just be copies.”

“But they’ll be real enough to save him,” Harry insists. “It’s like my mum has always said: The souffle isn’t the souffle. The souffle is the recipe. I’m the recipe.”

“Harry–” Louis croaks.

“It’s the only way to save him, isn’t it, Niall?” Harry presses. “If you can think of another option, by all means, let me know. But I know you know I’m right.”

Niall nods miserably.

“Well then,” Harry says, taking a steadying breath. “I guess I am Souffle Boy after all.”

Louis fumbles for his hand, fat tears rolling down his cheeks. He opens his mouth, but no sound comes out; his eyes are wide and filled with panic.

“Hey, hey,” Harry soothes. “It’s okay, love. You’re going to be okay. I’m going to make everything okay, I promise.”

“Haz,” Louis finally manages to choke out. “Don’t.”

Harry dips down, pressing a gentle kiss to his lips, thumbing over his wet cheekbone.

“It’s not the end, Lou,” Harry whispers against his lips, unable to stop himself from kissing them again. “I’ll see your face again. You’ll find me, I know you will. You’ll find me in all the places we’ve never been. I’ll be waiting.”

“Won’t...be...you...though,” Louis weeps. “Ha-Harry, won’t be you.”

“Ah, but it will be me in one way,” Harry promises. “I don’t think there will ever be a version of me that won’t love you, Lou. Because I do. I love you, Louis. I love you so much and I’m always gonna remember that. So all of my echoes will know that too. I promise.”

A pained whimper escapes Louis’ lips.

“Harry, I don’t think he has much more time,” Niall says cautiously. “If you’re gonna do this–”

“Yeah, yeah,” Harry replies, kissing Louis one more time and then wiping his eyes. “I’m doing it.”

He carefully unwinds himself from Louis, gently laying him out on the floor. Louis flails around for his hand; Harry steadfastly ignores it, because he’s never going to do this if he takes Louis’ hand again.

“If this works,” Harry says to Niall, his eyes focused on the red light of the time stream as he walks toward it. “Get Louis and Zayn and get the hell out of here as fast as you can, ’cause I don’t know what’s gonna happen. The TARDIS got pretty banged up when we landed, but I’m sure you can figure something out to get everyone home.”

“Yeah, of course,” Niall nods. “Harry–”

“Spare a thought for me every now and then, will you? And don’t let Louis be alone, Niall. Promise me.”

“Harry,” Louis sobs. “Harry, no!”

“You know what, Lou?” Harry says, turning around and looking at Louis, taking him in for the last time as this version of himself. He smiles serenely. “We had some good times, didn’t we?”

Harry leaps into the time stream.

********

“Harry!” Louis screams with all of his might as Harry disappears into the time stream. “Harry, stop!”

The column of red light explodes in flashes of blue and green. Louis feels all his strength return in an instant; he leaps to his feet, swiping the tears from his cheeks. On the ceiling, all of the stars start coming back as Harry’s sacrifice undoes all the damage that Simon Cowell left in his wake. There’s a loud pop and suddenly Liam appears on the floor, looking dazed and more than a little confused.

“Zayn?” Liam asks, scratching his head. “Zayn, why are you crying, love?”

Zayn looks up, his eyes going wide at the sight of his husband before him.

“Li, you’re here,” Zayn sobs, crawling over to him and throwing his arms around him. “I love you so much.”

“I love you too, Zee,” Liam replies, pressing a kiss to his cheek, looking up at Louis in confusion, clearly startled by Zayn’s uncharacteristically emotional display. “It’s okay, my love, I’m here.”

Louis stares at the time stream, the blue and green having fully overtaken all of the red. His heart aches for Harry. His whole body and soul aches for him.

“He actually fucking did it,” Niall says, coming to stand next to him. “Harry fixed it all. Everything is restored, just like this whole shit show never happened.”

“Not everything or every one is restored,” Louis states, crossing his arms in front of his chest.

“Louis,” Niall says seriously. “You can’t possibly be thinking of going in there. Look, I know you loved him. I loved Harry too but–”

“Love Harry, Neil,” Louis snaps. “Present tense. I just...I refuse to think that it’s too late. I feel like I would know if he were gone.”

“For fuck’s sake, Lou, you can’t go into your own bloody time stream!” Niall exclaims.

“I have to get him back!” Louis shouts.

“By going on a fucking suicide mission?” Niall challenges. “Have some sense!”

“How could you even do that?” Liam asks, cradling Zayn in his embrace.

“How could he even be alive in there?” Zayn adds. “It killed Cowell, how could it not–”

“Harry’s got one advantage over Simon fucking Cowell,” Louis says fiercely.

“Yeah?” Niall asks. “And what is that?”

“Me.”

********

Harry’s falling.

It’s the strangest sensation, really. He’s on his back and he can see that he’s hurtling through the air by the way that the blue and green lights around him are nothing but a blur, but at the same time he feels like he’s floating, like a leaf bandied about by a gentle autumn breeze.

His heart is pounding so hard, like it’s about to crack his chest wide open. Blue lightning crackles around him and every hair on his body stands on end. Harry’s mouth falls open in a silent scream as a pain so terrible he can’t even comprehend it rips through him; it’s as if he’s being shattered into a million tiny pieces and being scattered all across the universe.

Maybe he is.

Sheer terror and panic overcome him. He has no idea what’s happening to him; he doesn’t know where he is, nor does he have any idea where the pieces of him could possibly be going. He just knows they are going somewhere.

He’s everywhere and nowhere all at once.

Tears prick at Harry’s eyes and he chokes out a sob as the strange blue lightning flashes again. He gasps for air and a single tear rolls down his cheek as he squeezes his eyes shut. As soon as they close, he’s assaulted by a myriad of images flickering in his mind’s eye, memories he’s never had before suddenly crystallizing in his brain, clear as day, as if they’ve always been there.

It’s like he’s lived a thousand lives, in a thousand different places and, in this moment, he remembers all of them.

He’s born. He lives. He dies.

And always, there’s Louis.

Always Louis.

Every lifetime ends the same way.

He saves Louis. Over and over and over again. In any way he could possibly be saved. Sometimes it’s as simple as Harry locking (or unlocking) a particular door; other times it’s more drastic, with Harry shouting out his name or throwing himself directly in the line of fire. Harry’s always there. He’s always been there, from the very first day Louis started running.

Most of the time Louis doesn’t even know him.

Often, they pass each other like ships in the night, Louis running right past him, dragging one of his numerous other human companions behind him as he’s chasing after whatever monster has put the universe in danger on that particular day. Sometimes they simply lock eyes across a room and Louis does a double take before darting off on another adventure. But every once in a while, in the best lifetimes, the hand that Louis grabs is his. There are the times Louis gives him that crinkle-eyed smile that Harry loves with every fiber of his being as he says one word to him, his favorite word in the whole universe.

“Run!”

And of course, that’s what Harry does. He’s always running after Louis. He’ll never stop chasing after him.

Harry blinks his eyes open and looks around, tears streaming down his cheeks. He’s still free-falling through the abyss, picking up speed as he plummets. He takes a deep and cleansing breath and suddenly he feels completely at peace.

What was it that Louis always called him?

His impossible boy.

Harry smiles contently. He doesn’t know where he’s going and, in this moment, he doesn’t really know where he’s been. But he does know one thing: Louis is safe now. He’s always going to be safe, thanks to him.

Harry cranes his neck to the side, wind whipping his long curls around his face. He can see the ground (at least he thinks it’s the ground) rapidly approaching. He closes his eyes, spreading his arms wide, accepting his fate.

He’s the Impossible Boy.

And his story is done.

********

“Louis, come on,” Niall pleads. “You gotta listen to me. At least hear me out!”

“If I don’t come back,” Louis says to Zayn, ignoring Niall. “And I might not, who the fuck knows what’s going to happen–”

“Lou!”

“The three of you need to get to the TARDIS. She’s back in the main graveyard; she’s pretty beat up, but the fast return protocols should still be functioning. She’ll take you home and then she’ll shut herself down, it’ll be fine.”

Zayn nods.

“Goddammit, Louis!” Niall spits.

“Niall, I’m doing this,” Louis says calmly, turning to face him. “Get on board with it or shut the fuck up.”

“There has to be some other way though! Use the TARDIS, use something else, I don’t know! For the love of Christ, be sensible!”

“I am being sensible,” Louis insists. “I almost destroyed the TARDIS just trying to land on this bloody planet, because she refused to do so. I think she’d fucking explode if I tried to take her in to my time stream, Niall. Me jumping in after Harry is the only way. And stop trying to talk me out of it. If there is even the slightest chance that Harry’s alive in there, I’d never be able to live with myself if I didn’t try to save him, don’t you get it?”

“Why aren’t you backing me up here, guys?” Niall asks, turning to Zayn and Liam. “Am I the only sane person here?”

“He’s right, Louis,” Zayn says reluctantly. “You don’t know what will happen in there. It could kill you. You could get stuck and not be able to come back; it seems like a fool’s errand. It’s too dangerous–”

“Thank you, Zayn!” Niall says triumphantly.

“But he loves him,” Liam says simply.

Everyone snaps their heads towards him. Liam shrugs, a tiny smile pulling at the corner of his mouth.

“I’d do it for you, Zayn,” Liam states plainly. “Even if it was a one percent chance of success, I would take it.”  

Zayn’s face goes soft as he embraces his husband, pressing a kiss to his temple. Niall sighs in resignation, running his fingers through his hair.

“How do you plan on getting back?” he asks finally.

“Dunno,” Louis admits. “Haven’t thought that far.”

“Here,” Niall says, fiddling with the leather cuff on his wrist. “Take my vortex manipulator.”

He fastens it on Louis’ wrist, twisting the dials and flipping a little switch, causing the center to glow green.

“I don’t know if this is gonna work or not but I’ve set the coordinates to bring you back right here,” Niall explains. “I’m giving you fifteen minutes, I think that’s a fair compromise, yeah? If you don’t press this button by the end of fifteen minutes, it’s going to send you back to us automatically, got it?”

“Got it,” Louis nods. “Niall–”

“The center will glow blue on your three-minute warning, Louis,” Niall continues. “Don’t fuck around in there, okay? I know you’re feeling fine now, but–”

“I got it, Neil,” Louis says gently. “Fifteen minutes. Don’t fuck around. Find Harry. Press the button. Thank you.”

Niall smiles at him, placing his hands on Louis’ shoulders and looking him directly in the eye.

“Now go get our boy.”

Louis grins, tugging Niall to his chest, hugging him tightly. He smacks a kiss to his temple and then ruffles his hair. He looks over at Zayn and Liam, who both nod encouragingly.

“Here goes nothing, lads,” Louis says, taking a deep breath. “I’ll be right back.”

With a hollered “Oi Oi,” Louis jumps in the time stream after Harry.

********

Harry groans as he sits up, one hand on the side of his head.

He’s not dead. He thought he was supposed to be dead.

Maybe he is dead? Maybe this is the afterlife?

He slides his hand to his neck, pressing down and feeling his pulse pound under his fingers.

Okay, so alive then. Unless this is some sort of crazy afterlife hallucination.

Harry looks around, his chin trembling as his eyes fill with tears.

He doesn’t know where he is.

A heavy mist hovers just above the ground and a powerful wind gusts through the air. He’s surrounded by bright orangey-red rocks, like he’s on the side of a mountain; it looks exactly like how all the pictures of the surface of Mars looked when they studied the planet in school. He wouldn’t know for sure though, he and Louis never went to Mars, because Louis said he once had a very, very bad experience there and he never wanted to go back again.

He feels someone run right by him, the mist swirling around the person’s feet. He looks up and sees the back of a man’s head, a long striped scarf flying out behind him, a fedora on his head.

“Louis?” Harry asks cautiously, the tears spilling over. “Louis, is that you?”

Harry startles when another person runs right by him, Harry catching his eyes as Louis sprints by him, wearing a purple and gold tracksuit, his hair all done up in a quiff. Several more versions of Louis run right past him, never looking at him. One of them is even a woman, which Harry had no idea was actually possible, but at the same time he recognizes her instantly as Louis, the braces underneath her periwinkle coat a dead giveaway.

“Louis!” Harry shouts. “Louis, please, I don’t know where I am.”

None of them answer him.

Harry clutches his head in his hands as the panic washes over him, the tears flowing freely. The ground rumbles beneath him, lightning flashing in the sky. Harry focuses on breathing in and out, just like Zayn had shown him, trying desperately to not let the panic sweep him away.

“Please, please,” Harry sobs. “I don’t know where I am, I don’t know where I am! Someone help me!”

“Harry,” Louis’ voice says softly.

Harry looks up, his head swiveling as he searches for Louis. He’s not there.

“Harry, you can hear me, I know you can.”

“I can’t see you,” Harry cries, swiping at the snot that’s dribbling from his nose. “Louis, I don’t know where I am. Where are you?”

“I’m everywhere,” Louis says soothingly, the comforting rasp of his voice a balm on Harry’s frayed nerves. “You’re in my time stream, love. Everything around you is me.”

A version of Louis in a blue pinstriped suit, brown trench coat, and red converse runs past him, followed quickly by another Louis in a black leather jacket.

“I can see you,” Harry gulps, struggling to get to his feet.

A Louis in a ridiculous rainbow patchwork jacket that Harry would absolutely adore under normal circumstances dashes by him.

“I mean, it’s you but it’s not really you,” Harry clarifies. “It’s not my you. It’s all your different regenerations, they’re all here.”

“They are my ghosts,” Louis explains. “My past. My future. Every good day, every bad day. As much as I love this face, I don’t always get to keep it.”

A loud boom of thunder sounds, followed by a piercing crack as the ground shifts beneath him, knocking him down on his arse. The wind kicks up a notch, whipping his hair around his face. A shower of rocks rain down from above; Harry ducks, covering his head.

“What’s happening?” Harry yelps.

“I’m in my own time stream,” Louis answers. “I’m not supposed to be here, so it’s collapsing in on itself.”

“Well, get out then,” Harry shouts. “What the fuck are you doing in here, Louis? Get out now!”

“Not without you,” Louis says stubbornly.

“I don’t even know who I am,” Harry sobs, curling into a ball. “I don’t know where I am, I don’t know who I am, I’m so confused.”

“You’re my impossible boy, Harry,” Louis answers. “You always have been and you always will be. I’m going to send you something, something that will help you remember. It’s not from my past, it’s from yours. Look up now, love. Look!”

A bright orange leaf floats down towards him. Harry gasps, scrambling to his feet as he keeps his eyes focused on it.

“This is you, Harry,” Louis says. “You told me the story, remember? This leaf is everything you are and everything you ever will be. Go on, Haz. Catch it.”

Harry reaches up, catching the delicate leaf between his fingers. He feels like it grounds him almost instantly, everything that had been foggy and scrambled in his brain suddenly solidifying.

“You blew into the world on this leaf. Hold on tight, love. It will take you home.”

“How?” Harry asks, spinning on his heel, looking around for Louis. “How will this take me home? Louis, where are you?”

Harry sees a figure emerging from the mist about twenty feet away from him, coming right towards him, a green light glowing on his wrist.

“Harry!” Louis shouts.

“Louis? Is that really you?”

“Yes, it’s me, love, I promise.”

Harry hesitates, feeling a little dizzy.

“Harry, come on,” Louis says, gesturing for Harry to come to him.

“I can’t,” Harry says, trembling. He’s rooted in his spot, his legs wobbling too much for him to move. “I can’t do it. Can’t you come to me?”

“I can’t go in any farther, I tried. I can’t cross that line,” Louis says, pointing to a crack in the ground. “Everything will collapse if I do. You’re gonna have to come to me, Hazza.”

“I’m scared,” Harry yells.

“I know you are, love. But do you remember what you told me on our way here? Fear is a superpower! You gotta use that fear, Haz, come on. Come to me now, we don’t have much time. I know you can do it!”

“How? How can I do it?” Harry asks, taking a few steps forward, the ground unsteady under his feet as it shifts again.

“Because it’s impossible!” Louis hollers into the wind, his eyes crinkling at the sides as he laughs. “And you’re my impossible boy, capable of so many impossible things!”

Harry takes several more steps towards Louis, who stands there with his arms outstretched, ready to catch him as soon as he can.

“That’s the way to do it,” Louis encourages.

“I still don’t know if this is real,” Harry says, quickening his steps. “How is this real?”

“I don’t even fucking know,” Louis replies with a grin. “You just have to trust me, Harry. I’m real. Do you trust me?”

“I trust you,” Harry answers, now close enough that he can clearly see the bright blue of Louis’ eyes.

“Good!” Louis beams. “I mean, how many times have you saved me, Harry? Like, really, truly saved me? I reckon it’s been hundreds of times by now. Just this once, just for the hell of it, how about I save you? Come on, baby, just a little bit more.”

The green light on Louis’ wrist turns blue.

Harry staggers forward, the toe of his trainer catching on one of the cracks in the ground. Louis reaches to catch him before he can fall over, wrapping his arms around him and tugging him into his chest, clinging to him tightly.

“Oops,” Harry whispers before burying his face into the crook of Louis’ neck.

“Hi,” Louis murmurs, moving his hands into Harry’s curls, scratching at his scalp comfortingly. He peppers little kisses to his temple, the crown of his head, basically anywhere he can reach as Harry bursts into a whole new set of tears, sobbing into his neck, pressing his own kisses into Louis’ skin.

“Harry,” Louis says reverently, his voice thick. “My Harry.”

“Louis,” Harry cries. “You came for me.”

“Of course, I fucking did, you idiot. I’ve got you. You’re okay, love. I’m not going to let anything happen to you.”

Harry lifts his head, meeting Louis’ eyes, which are sparkling with tears. He presses their lips together as his brain starts to feel fuzzy, that final burst of adrenaline having taken just about everything out of him. He slumps in Louis’ embrace, his ears ringing and his limbs starting to tingle as he feels himself starting to lose consciousness.

“Lou,” Harry slurs. “M’sleepy. Can’t–”

“It’s okay, Haz,” Louis murmurs, kissing his cheek as he gently guides them to their knees, pressing a familiar-looking button on the cuff that’s wrapped around his wrist. The wind starts to whirl around them like a cyclone. “You’ve done more than enough today. I’ll get us home, don’t worry.”

The last thing Harry hears before slipping into peaceful oblivion is a wheezing, groaning sound, that sounds so similar, but also not quite like the TARDIS.

Whatever the sound is, it fills him with hope. He smiles into Louis’ neck as everything fades to black.

 

Chapter Text

“Harry!” Louis shouts breathlessly, coming to with a start. “Harry!”

Adrenaline courses through Louis’ veins as he pushes himself up to a sitting position. His brow wrinkles in confusion as he looks around, realizing he is not, as he expected, back in the tomb on Trenzalore, but rather in the console room of the TARDIS. The console has been repaired, everything all shiny and new, just as it should be. He looks down, patting his chest as he realizes he’s even in different clothes, his striped tee, braces, and khaki trousers exchanged for a soft grey jumper and black skinnies.

“Hazza?” Louis calls again, his voice tentative.

Everything is quiet, save for the gentle hum of the TARDIS engines.

It must be the middle of the night, Louis decides as he grabs the lip of the console, hoisting himself to his feet. It’s the middle of the night and Harry is sleeping, probably starfished in the middle of Louis’ big four-poster bed.

That doesn’t explain why he was passed out on the floor in the console room though.

Louis shrugs as he studies the new control panel.

He’s woken up in stranger places.

“Hey girl,” Louis says softly, stroking his fingers over the shiny new instruments. “Sorry about fighting with you before. I had to do what I had to do, understand? We’re still best mates, yeah?”

The TARDIS wheezes in response.

“That’s my girl,” Louis smiles, patting the console fondly.

Louis hears footsteps on the stairs and smiles, musing to himself about how a sleep-soft Harry is one of his favorite Harrys, with his curls all wild, his skin rosy. Hopefully Harry’s awake enough to have put the kettle on; Louis is desperate for his morning cuppa, even if it is the middle of the night.

“Here’s Haz,” Louis murmurs to the console. “How’s this? You get to pick where we go today. Will that make things up to you? Just as long as it’s somewhere relaxing. Remember how much Harry liked spa day? Let’s find a place like that.”

The TARDIS rumbles; Louis grins, giving the TARDIS one last little pat before turning around to greet Harry.

“Har–” Louis frowns as he sees Niall standing in front of him, clutching a mug of tea in his hands. “You’re not Harry.”

“Not the last time I checked,” Niall huffs, taking a sip of his tea.

“Where’s Harry?” Louis asks, looking around Niall, expecting to see Harry following close behind.

“Don’t you remember?” Niall asks, his brow wrinkling.

“Neil, the last thing I remember is finding Harry in the time stream,” Louis snaps. “I remember getting him just in time and I remember–”

“Louis, I’ve been saying you’ve been pushing yourself too hard ever since that–” Niall starts, raking his free hand through his messy brown hair.

Wait.

Since when does Niall have brown hair?

“What the fuck is going on?” Louis sputters, his hearts starting to race. “Why do you have brown hair?”

“I grew out the blond,” Niall replies, his face confused. “You’re the one who told me to do it? Louis, are you okay?”

“Where the fuck is Harry?” Louis demands.

Niall sighs, shaking his head.

“You took him home, Louis,” Niall says reluctantly. “Remember?”

Louis’ stomach drops.

“What?” he whispers. “Why...why would I do that?”

“I mean, you two were pretty fucked up when you came back,” Niall explains. “Nothing I couldn’t handle,” he quickly assures Louis when his jaw drops, “but yeah, Harry definitely needed several days of bedrest. You did too. All you kept saying was how we needed to get Harry back home because you were worried about his sister, since you two left so abruptly. So we went there straight away. Boy, you should have seen Gemma’s face when Zayn answered the door at Harry’s place–”

“That sounds about right,” Louis clips, sweeping his fringe aside. “But none of that explains why Harry isn’t here now, Niall.”

“When you recovered,” Niall continues patiently, “you decided that your first priority should be making sure that the last vestiges of Simon Cowell were wiped from the universe. That’s what you and I have been doing, Louis. You told Harry it was too dangerous for him to come, especially in the condition he was in at the time. So you left him at home, promising to come back when we were done. Don’t you remember?”

“And he just let me leave him?” Louis squawks, marching over to the console and punching the coordinates for Holmes Chapel. “That doesn’t sound like Harry at all.”

“Oh no,” Niall chuckles, shaking his head at the apparent memory. “You two had a pretty big row about it, actually. Harry was furious.”

“As right he should be,” Louis agrees, throwing the throttle and jolting the TARDIS into action. “I just left him after everything he did for me? I still can’t believe he just stayed, Niall. Knowing Harry, he would have just clung to the outside of the TARDIS, rather than let me leave.”

“He only relented once Gemma got involved,” Niall says. “The two of you essentially ganged up on him, trying to make him listen to reason.”

“Listen to reason,” Louis grumbles. “Since when have I ever listened to fucking reason, Niall?”

“There is a first time for everything.”

“How long have we been gone?” Louis asks. “Exactly how much groveling am I gonna have to do here?”

“No idea,” Niall shrugs. “You know how things get all wibbly-wobbly when we travel.”

The TARDIS lands with a shudder.

“Be right back,” Louis says, leaving the engine idling. “Don’t touch anything.”

“Yes, boss,” Niall salutes as Louis runs to the door, throwing it open.

Fresh snow blankets the ground, flakes still falling delicately from the sky. Rainbow fairy lights outline the bungalow, twinkling in the night sky; a big green wreath with a red bow and candy canes hangs on the front door.

“Okay, so it’s Christmas,” Louis mutters to himself as he quickly strides across the lawn, the snow kicking up in powdery clouds under his trainers. “That makes it...three months since I left? That’s some pretty serious groveling.”

Louis hops up onto the snowy stoop, reaching for the doorknob.

It’s locked.

“Harry!” Louis calls, repeatedly pressing the buzzer and urgently rapping on the door at the same time. “Harry, love, open up, it’s me! I’m sorry I left you! I’m sorry I was so stupid, please open up!”

A light in the sitting room turns on, its reflection glowing bright against the white powder. Louis hears the bolt turn.

“Harry!” Louis cries as the door swings open. “Ha–”

Louis falls silent as an old man is revealed in the doorway, wrapped in a fluffy pink dressing gown. His thinning, snow-white hair falls in wispy ringlets around his hunched shoulders; wire-rimmed glasses sit on his nose, magnifying his slightly cloudy green eyes, which somehow still sparkle with mischief. The man’s jaw drops, his eyes widening as he takes Louis in; a smile slowly breaks out across his face, a dimple carving a deep crater in his cheek, even amongst his myriad of wrinkles.

“H-Harry,” Louis breathes, his hearts pounding.

“It’s about bloody time, you wanker,” Harry grins, his honeyed-whiskey voice raspy from sleep.

But this can’t be? He was only gone for three months, this simply can’t be possible.

“Harry, I can’t believe it,” Louis says softly, his throat tightening. “It’s really you?”

Harry nods, his eyes shining with unshed tears.

“How long have I been gone?” Louis squeaks.

“Oh you know,” Harry shrugs as his tears spill over. “Just over sixty-six years.”

Louis gapes at him.

This...this can’t be right. How could he have left Harry for that long? He just saw him. He just saved him. None of this makes sense.

“Well, you don’t look any different from the last time I saw you, Haz,” Louis quips weakly. “How was I supposed to know that much time had passed?”

“Oh, Louis,” Harry laughs through his tears as he reaches for him, wrapping his arms around him and burying his face into his favorite spot in the crook of Louis’ neck. “Louis, how I have missed you, you fucking arsehole.”

“I...I have missed you too, Hazza,” Louis stammers, returning Harry’s hug after a few moments, carefully wrapping his arms around his frail body. “I’ve missed you so much, love.”

“And you’re here on Christmas too. It’s a Christmas miracle!” Harry exclaims, pulling back and brushing his tears away with a gnarled finger. “Come in, come in, it’s fucking freezing.”

“Yeah,” Louis murmurs, swallowing hard and blinking back the tears that are burning in his eyes. “Yeah, okay.”

Louis slides his arm around Harry’s slim waist, guiding him back inside, just as it was always his second nature to do. The bungalow is fully bedecked for Christmas, just as Harry had always promised he was going to do for the TARDIS; silver garland is wound around the bannister, a large arrangement of poinsettias sits on the table by the door, and a twig of mistletoe hangs from the ceiling.

Louis never got to kiss him under the mistletoe. He thought he had plenty of time for that.

“My grandniece went a bit over the top with the decorations this year,” Harry explains as they shuffle towards the sitting room, where a massive Christmas tree sits twinkling in the corner. “Though, I have to say, I don’t mind. I always loved decorating for the holidays. Everyone is due to come over to celebrate in the morning, you will stay to meet them, won’t you? Please say you’ll stay, Lou, it would mean so much to me.”

“Of course I’ll stay, Haz,” Louis replies softly. “Anything for you.”

Harry beams up at Louis, gripping Louis’ hand to brace himself as he lowers down into a chair.

“That’s not as easy as it used to be,” Harry huffs once he’s settled. “Oh, shit! I was going to make us some tea, forgive me, Lou, I’m being so rude. Just give me a moment to get moving again.”

Harry moves to stand, his knobby hands gripping the arm rests as he tries to push himself up quickly.

“Harry,” Louis says quietly, his hand pressing on his shoulder to stop him. “I’ll get it, love. Everything still in the same place?”

“Pretty much,” Harry replies, settling back into his chair. “We remodeled the kitchen some time ago, but I kept basically the same layout–”

“I’m sure I’ll be able to find everything,” Louis assures him, ducking down to press a quick kiss to his forehead. “I’ll be right back.”

“That’s what you said sixty-six years ago, Lou,” Harry teases. “Don’t keep me waiting too much longer.”

“Cheeky, Harold,” Louis manages to choke out as he leaves the room. “Always so cheeky.”

He clamps his teeth down on his bottom lip, barely managing to stop the sob that’s threatening to burst forth.

Harry’s laughter follows Louis as he walks down the hall to the kitchen; he flicks the lights on once he gets there, his hearts clenching in his chest. He looks around, taking in the familiar layout, the gleaming new appliances mixed in with a hodgepodge of vintage knick-knacks, the combination making the kitchen feel homey and oh, so very Harry. Louis spots the electric kettle sitting by the stove; he fills it with water and plugs it in. Sniffling and wiping away the few tears that have managed to escape, he opens several cabinets, looking for mugs and then tea bags. Louis smiles when he finds a box of his favorite Yorkshire tea, setting it on the counter next to the mugs.

He walks over to the fridge, pausing to take in the abundance of wedding and baby announcements stuck to it with an assortment of novelty magnets from all over the world. He runs his fingers over an old photo of Harry and who can only be an adult Annabel, her arms wrapped around the waist of another woman close to her age as the pair of them beam down at the baby clutched in Harry’s arms. There’s a yellowing newspaper article proudly displayed in the middle, showing Jackson holding up a jersey for Manchester United, the head coach next to him with his hand on his shoulder and a proud smile on his face. Louis swallows hard as he opens the fridge and grabs the milk, placing it on the counter.

He’s missed so much.

As he waits for the water to boil, Louis walks around the kitchen, taking in all the differences. There’s a small bookcase in the corner by the table; Louis drags his fingers along the spines of Harry’s collection of cookbooks, his eyes widening when he sees that Harry’s name is on most of them. He pulls one off the shelf, a small gasp escaping his lips as he looks down at Harry’s smiling face as he displays a perfectly risen souffle. Harry had cut his long hair off at some point in his life, his short haircut making his jaw look even more square and his neck longer and more elegant. He chuckles as he traces under Harry’s name, the words “Winner of The Great British Bake-Off” written under it in elegant pink script.

Louis’ hearts swell with pride.

Harry always did want to be a baker.

The kettle clicks off and Louis shakes himself as he comes back to reality. Not wanting Harry to know that he’s been crying, Louis quickly splashes some water on his face, patting it dry with a dish towel. He prepares their two cups of tea, praying that Harry takes it the same as he always did, and carefully makes his way back to the sitting room. He pauses in the doorway, smiling as he sees Harry dozing in his chair, his glasses sliding down to the tip of his nose; his mouth hangs open and he snores softly.

“Hazza,” Louis says softly, not wanting to startle him.

“M’awake,” Harry replies, jolting ever so slightly in his chair. “Sorry, Lou.”

“Nah, love,” Louis says, placing Harry’s cup on the end table next to him and then sitting on the couch. “S’okay, it is the middle of the night, after all. I hope you take your tea the same.”

Harry smiles, gingerly reaching for his cup and blowing on it before taking a tiny sip.

“It’s perfect.”

Louis takes a sip of his own tea, the warm liquid soothing his nerves somehow. He looks around the room, smiling at the Christmas tree and the bounty of presents underneath it, all of them wrapped in brightly colored paper. His eyes drift over to the stockings hanging from the mantle; he lets out a small cry of delight when he sees the Christmas crackers and tissue paper crowns sticking out of them.

“Christmas crowns!” Louis exclaims, setting his tea aside as he gets up. “I’ve seen people use them before. You put them on and absolutely everything seems funny.”

“Oh, they probably won’t work on you,” Harry giggles, sipping his tea. “You’ll probably be the one person who actually manages to look regal in them, I’d wager.”

“Let’s find out,” Louis says, plucking a green crown from one of the stockings.

“Those are for the kids–” Harry starts, falling silent when Louis arches an eyebrow at him. “Oh, go on then.”

Louis carefully fits the delicate crown around his head, sweeping his fringe to the side as he twirls around to face Harry.

“Ta-da!” Louis says, doing jazz hands. “What do you think? Christmas king?”

“Christmas king,” Harry nods, his dimple popping as he grins at Louis.

“Now you, Haz,” Louis says, picking up a blue crown and walking over to him. “You have to be a king too.”

Harry giggles again, bowing his head as Louis fits the paper crown over his white curls.

“There we go,” Louis says as he carefully adjusts the crown on Harry’s head. “What a feeling to be a king beside you, eh?”

Harry looks up at him and the breath is knocked entirely out of Louis’ chest as he sees the boy he loved beaming up at him, his chocolate curls spilling around his shoulders, his skin smooth and unwrinkled, bright green eyes sparkling.

“Do I really not look any different to you?” Harry asks with an amused smile.

“Harry Styles,” Louis murmurs, delicately tracing the shape of Harry’s jaw, his skin papery thin under his fingertips. “You’ll never look any different to me.”

Harry gazes at him in awe, his smile widening as he scrunches his nose. Deep smile lines form at the corners of his mouth and eyes.

“You’re full of shit,” Harry says after a long moment.

“Maybe,” Louis shrugs, gently poking his dimple. “So how was it then?”

“How was what?” Harry asks.

“The sixty-six years that I missed,” Louis remarks, keeping his tone light, breezy even, despite the way his hearts pang with regret. He wanders over to the mantle, looking at the collection of picture frames on it.

“Oh, how was my life, you mean?” Harry asks easily, watching Louis as he picks up different pictures.

“Yeah,” Louis breathes, studying each picture intently, knowing deep down what he’s looking for in them, but afraid to voice it just yet. “How was your life, Haz?”

“It was good, Lou,” Harry replies. “I mean, I’m not going to lie, I was pretty furious at you for a good while. I kept...waiting for you to come back and you never did.”

Louis cringes, replacing a picture of Harry and Gemma at the twins’ graduation on the mantle, grabbing a picture of Harry in front of the Eiffel Tower.

“I’m sorry,” Louis whispers. “I’m so sorry, Harry. Can you ever forgive me?”

“I did a long time ago,” Harry says solemnly. “Water under the bridge, Louis.”

Louis nods, picking up another picture, this one a family photo where Harry is clutching the trophy for Bake-Off, tears of joy streaming down all of their faces.

“Can you believe that?” Harry asks softly, nodding at the picture. “Our final technical challenge was souffles. Nailed it.”

Louis barks a laugh as he replaces the picture. He works his way through the rest of the frames on the mantle, his sense of regret building with each one until it almost overwhelms him. He can feel Harry watching him carefully; Louis takes a few deep breaths, both to rein in his emotions and to summon up the courage to ask the one question that he’s been dying to know the answer to.

“Is there a Mister Harry?” Louis asks as casually as he can when he reaches the end of the frames.

Harry is quiet for a long moment; Louis can’t bear to turn around and look at him.

“No,” Harry says finally. “There were a couple of proposals though.”

“They all turned you down, eh?” Louis jokes weakly, finally turning around to look at him.

“Hey,” Harry pouts, managing to look like a disgruntled kitten, even at ninety. “I turned them down! Please.”

Louis chuckles as he meets Harry’s eyes. They look at each other for a long moment.

“After Bake-Off,” Harry starts, “things just kind of took off for me, you know? I finally went to Paris to go to proper culinary school. I stayed there and interned at a patisserie with my mentor after that and just...worked my way up.”

“Yeah?”

“You’re looking at a three Michelin Star pastry chef, Lou,” Harry says proudly. “I traveled the whole world, building this whole patisserie empire–”

Louis chortles, picturing Harry on a throne, surrounded by various pastries.

“Don’t laugh,” Harry says with a grin, pointing a shaky finger at him. “It is an empire. I was a mogul! I opened up shops, nurtured new talent, training my staff to take over so I could move on to the next one. Did you see all those cookbooks in the kitchen with my name on them? That was hard work. My life’s work. And I taught pastry courses in so many countries, Lou, you wouldn’t believe it. I even learned how to fly a plane. Just in case, you know?”

They laugh, both of them clearly remembering their very first adventure together.

“And you never gave up this place,” Louis observes after a moment.

“Oh, I could never,” Harry says fondly, looking around the cozy sitting room. “Of all the places I lived, and there were many, this bungalow always felt the most like home to me. There was no question that I would come back here when I retired. One of Annabel’s daughters runs the business now. Gotta keep it all in the family, you know. Cool Uncle Harry passing along the family legacy and all.”

Louis nods.

“Any regrets?” Louis asks curiously.

“No,” Harry says, shaking his head. “It...I’ve had a good life, Louis.”

“I’m glad, Hazza,” Louis says softly. “If there’s anyone who deserved a good life, it’s you.”

“There may be just one regret,” Harry says thoughtfully after a moment.

“Yeah?”

“I never stopped listening for the TARDIS,” Harry says, a wistful smile on his face. “It’s funny, isn’t it? I’ve been all over this world, I went to Antarctica even. But it still didn’t feel like enough, you know? Not after everything we saw together.”

Louis swallows hard, that lump that’s been sitting in the back of his throat ever since Harry opened the door swelling again.

“I haven’t been able to travel in years,” Harry says. “My health isn’t the best anymore. I’ve got terrible arthritis in my hands and my back hurts like, all the time. Probably too many years spent hunched over a table squeezing a piping bag. I just...I wish there was time for more, if that makes any sense. It never feels like we have enough time. I’ve lived to ninety, Louis, and who knows how much longer I have, right? It just...it still feels like there hasn’t been enough time. Even with everything I’ve seen and done, I still want more. Makes me pretty selfish, right?”

“I think it makes you human,” Louis croaks.

“Yeah,” Harry sighs. “What I wouldn’t give for one last trip in the TARDIS. It’s probably for the best though. I’d hardly be able to keep up with you. No running for me anymore.”

Harry smiles up at him, his eyes full of longing. Louis feels like he’s going to explode, he’s aching that much.

How could he have missed Harry’s entire life?

“Christmas cracker!” Louis exclaims suddenly, whirling around and looking at the full stockings. “We should do a Christmas cracker. How ’bout it, Haz? Surely the kids won’t miss one cracker shared between old friends.”

Harry looks at him in that way that tells Louis he knows exactly what he’s doing; thankfully, his smile widens and he nods, letting Louis off the hook.

Louis plucks a red and gold cracker from a stocking, kneeling down by Harry’s side and placing it in his lap. Harry fumbles to grip his end; Louis gently places his hand over his, maneuvering his fingers around his end of the cracker.

“I told you my hands were a mess,” Harry huffs, biting his bottom lip in frustration. “Dammit.”

“You’ve got it now, love,” Louis says kindly, carefully squeezing Harry’s hand, tightening his grip.

“Yeah, I’ve got it.”

They sit in silence for a moment, Louis thumbing over the delicate skin of Harry’s hand, tracing patterns over the age spots.

“There really wasn’t anyone who ever caught your eye, Haz?” Louis asks softly, looking up at him through his eyelashes. “I find that hard to believe.”

“There was one man,” Harry says, a soft smile on his face. “But that never would have worked out.”

“Why not?” Louis questions, his voice hushed.

“He was impossible,” Harry replies simply, looking him right in his eyes.

Louis’ breath hitches, his insides a jumbled mess.

“Harry–” he chokes out, his eyes filling with tears.

“Lou,” Harry murmurs. “Let’s pull the cracker, yeah?”

“Yeah, okay,” Louis says shakily, gripping his end. “On three?”

Harry nods, smiling beatifically.

“One...two...three.”

Louis pulls his end of the cracker; Harry’s end slips out of his fingers, and the cracker falls to the floor, unopened.

“Oops,” Harry says softly, his cheeks pinkening.

Louis’ tears finally spill over, a pained cry escaping from his lips.

“Harry, I’m so sorry,” Louis sobs, resting his cheek against Harry’s thighs, hugging around his bony knees. “I should have never left you. Why did I leave you? That was so stupid, fuck, I’m so stupid.”

“Louis,” Harry murmurs, his hand gently stroking Louis’ hair. “Oh, Lou. Don’t cry, my love.”

“I’ll go back,” Louis cries. “I can take the TARDIS back right now, it’ll be just like I never left.”

“I don’t know if you can, Lou,” Harry says softly. “It would...it could change everything. It would change my entire life’s path.”

“But I love you,” Louis weeps, looking up at him. “I’ve always loved you, and I never told you, Haz. How could I have never told you?”

“I knew,” Harry smiles. “Louis, I knew.”

“It’s not the same,” Louis insists. “I should have told you every day, Harry, and I didn’t. And now it’s too late. You’re the great love of my life, you know that? I’ve missed everything! Your whole fucking life, Haz, and I’ve missed it–”

“Have you really though?” a voice pipes up suddenly.

Louis and Harry look up, their heads swiveling towards the source of the voice. Niall leans against the wall, sipping a cup of tea, watching them with an enigmatic expression on his face.

“Niall?” Harry asks, looking down at Louis and then back up at Niall, his green eyes wide. “What’s going on? How are you here?”

Niall simply smiles, walking over to them and placing his teacup on his end table. He presses the back of his hand against Louis’ forehead.

“Fever’s finally broken,” Niall murmurs, smiling down at Louis. “You’re out of the woods. Just time for you to wake up now, Lou. C’mon, you can do it.”

“Louis?” Harry asks as the room starts to spin, everything going dark.

*********

“Harry!” Louis shouts breathlessly, coming to with a start. “Harry!”

Louis sits up, a cool, damp flannel falling in his lap. He looks around, his hearts racing and his skin damp with sweat. He realizes he’s in his bedroom, his midnight blue velvet duvet pooling at his waist, the stars twinkling on the enchanted ceiling. The desk chair has been pulled over to the side of the bed and a half-drunk cup of tea sits on the end table, next to a novel that has been turned face down, marking the place where the reader has left off.

Someone’s obviously been keeping watch over him as he’s slept.

Louis scrambles out of bed, shucking his sweaty pajamas and tossing them aside, grabbing the first thing he can find, a soft pair of grey joggers and a maroon t-shirt with a deep scoop neck. He pulls the new clothes on, and practically sprints out of the room, pausing only to shove his feet into his favorite battered pair of Vans.

“Harry?” Louis shouts as he runs down the hall through the living quarters, on his way to the console room. “Harry!”

He clambers up the steps to the console room, where he finds Niall hunched over the shiny new section of the console, whistling to himself as he polishes it. Louis halts in his tracks, staring at him completely dumbfounded, an eerie sense of deja vu washing over him.

“Louis,” Niall says brightly as he straightens up, tossing the rag he was working with over his shoulder. “Glad to see you up and about, mate. It’s about time, really. We almost lost you there, you know.”

“How long have I been out?” Louis asks nervously.

“’Bout a week or so,” Niall answers. “It was touch and go there for a while there. I’m not joking when I said we almost lost you. Could you like...not pull a stupid stunt like that ever again? Your own bloody time stream, Louis. Jesus H. Christ.”

“Where the fuck is Harry?” Louis demands, his stomach in knots.

He’s had this conversation before after all.

“He’s in the house resting,” Niall answers.

“And you promise I’ve only been gone a week, right?” Louis asks, striding over to the console in determination. He starts punching in coordinates on the control panel.

Louis grabs the throttle, preparing to launch the TARDIS.

“Lou, Lou, what are you doing?” Niall asks, stopping him with a touch to the wrist.

“Going to Harry’s, what the fuck do you think I’m doing?”

Niall grins.

“But we’re parked in the garden behind his bungalow, Lou,” Niall says gently. “Harry’s just outside those doors.”

“I didn’t leave him behind?”

“No,” Niall answers. “After you two got out of the time stream, Zayn, Liam, and I took you both to the TARDIS. I took them home and then we came straight here, ’cause even in your delirious state, you kept insisting that you get Harry home to his sister.”

“Right, right,” Louis says impatiently. “And then I left Harry to go make sure Simon Cowell was really destroyed. I’ve heard this before.”

“No, Lou,” Niall corrects him. “The TARDIS has been sitting out here in Harry’s garden the whole time. We’ve all been waiting for you to wake up. Harry’s been worried sick, you know. The only reason he’s not here right now is because his sister was demanding that he sleep in his own bed so he could get some fucking rest.”

“And he’s okay?”

“Yeah,” Niall grins. “He’s okay. I mean, the time stream did a number on his DNA and he’s going to live an unnaturally long life, but other than that, Harry’s perfectly fine. You saved him, Louis.”

“Gotta go,” Louis says quickly, jogging to the doors. “Wait a minute,” he says, pausing at the doors. “Unnaturally long life?”

“You heard me,” Niall replies with a wink, grabbing his little bucket of cleaning supplies. “I’ll be down at the pool if you need me. Jesus Christ, Louis, when was the last time you cleaned that thing? It’s literally green.”

“No idea,” Louis calls as he throws open the doors. “I always forget I have a pool!”

“You’re welcome!” Niall shouts after him as Louis starts running onto Harry’s lawn.

“Thanks, Neil!” Louis calls over his shoulder in reply. “By the way, you should go brunette, it suits you!”

Louis grins, shaking his head, the sounds of Niall cackling loudly following him as he runs towards Harry’s back door.

The night air is just brisk enough that Louis shivers in his t-shirt as crickets chirp all around him. He can see a light on in the kitchen, like a beacon calling him home and he races toward it. His hearts pound as he reaches the door and he lets out a little whoop of joy when it opens for him easily.

“Harry?” Louis calls as he bursts into the kitchen. “Harry, love, I’m up!”

“Louis?” Gemma answers from where she’s washing a small pile of dishes in the sink. She grins as she places a cup on the drying rack. “You’re awake! Finally. We’ve been so worried.”

“I know, I’m sorry,” Louis says breathlessly. “Harry?”

“In his room,” Gemma replies. “He passed out like an hour ago. It’s been a rough week.”

“Thanks, Gem!” Louis says hurriedly, racing off to Harry’s bedroom, ignoring her pleas to just let Harry sleep for awhile.

Louis pauses outside Harry’s bedroom door, gripping the handle. It was all a dream, he knows that now, but he still can’t shake the sight of ninety-year-old Harry and the overwhelming sense of regret he felt at having missed out on his entire life. It seemed so real, after all, the entire night such a visceral experience, from the smell of Harry’s Christmas tree to the warmth of the mug of tea in his hands.

It wasn’t real though, Louis reminds himself, taking a deep breath as he pushes the door open, the light spilling into the dark bedroom.

“Harry?” Louis asks quietly.

Louis tiptoes over to the side of the bed, the mattress squeaking ever so slightly as he carefully sits at Harry’s side. He leans over and switches the lamp on, turning back and smiling down at the sight of Harry starfished in the middle of his bed, his mouth hanging open as he snores softly.

God, he loves him.

“Hazza,” Louis murmurs, brushing a curl behind his ear. “Wake up, baby.”

Harry’s eyes flutter open; they widen as they focus on Louis’ smiling face and he sucks a sharp breath in through his teeth.

“Louis,” Harry says breathlessly as he sits up, scrubbing his hands down his face and blinking several times. “You’re alright! Are you alright? I’ve been so worried, how do you feel?”

“You’re not old,” Louis marvels, his stomach doing a little flip as he tenderly caresses Harry’s cheek. “You’re still my Harry.”

“Why on earth would I be old?” Harry chuckles as he smiles in confusion. “You weren’t asleep for that long, babe.”

“Feels like I was,” Louis murmurs, playing with Harry’s fingers and looking up at him through his lashes. “Feels like I was asleep for years.”

A little crinkle forms between Harry’s eyebrows as he looks at him questioningly.

“Really, Lou, are you sure you’re alright?”

“I’m grand,” Louis replies, moving his hand to smooth the crinkle out, smiling as Harry’s face softens. “Never been better really.”

They stare at each other for a long time, drinking each other in. As Louis studies Harry’s youthful, open face, taking his fill, he realizes he can’t waste any more time. His hearts start to pound in his chest.

“I love you,” Louis blurts out.

Harry’s entire face lights up, his dimples popping out in full force.

“I’m sorry I didn’t say it before now. I should have said it ages ago, Haz, but I’m so gone for you. I think I always have been. In over a thousand years in this universe, I’ve never loved anyone like I love you. I mean, hell, I bent all the rules of time and space just to save you and I...yeah...I love you,” Louis rambles as Harry just looks at him like he hung the fucking moon and stars in the sky. “I just needed you to know that.”

“I love you too, Louis,” Harry replies, his eyes shining.

Louis gazes at him, overwhelmed with love for this absolutely wonderful human being who has been seared on his hearts from the moment they met. His impossible boy, the one he wants to share all of time and space with.

For however long he’s lucky enough to have him.

“The TARDIS is outside,” Louis states.

“I know,” Harry says simply.

“Niall’s gotten her fixed up,” Louis casually as he stands, stuffing his hands in the pockets of his joggers. “She’s all shiny and new and just...ready for the next adventure.”

“Oh yeah?” Harry shrugs, crossing his arms in front of his chest, his eyes glittering with amusement. “So?”

“So, we could go anywhere, you and me,” Louis says, his eyes locked on Harry’s. “All of time and space, right outside those doors, waiting for you in a big blue box. Oh, the places we’ll go, Haz.”

Harry’s smile is blinding.

Louis extends his hand out to Harry, raising his eyebrows as he wiggles his fingers.

Harry purses his lips, tapping his finger against them as he hums contemplatively, his eyes gleaming.

“Oi, piss off, you cheeky bugger,” Louis grins, rolling his eyes. “You coming or not?”

“Say please, Doctor,” Harry teases, his cute little bunny teeth biting his bottom lip.

“Please,” Louis entreats, the moment shifting into something completely earnest. “Please come with me. Don’t even argue.”

Harry nods, looking up at Louis as tosses his duvet aside, climbing out of bed and stepping into his space. He slides his hand into Louis,’ lacing their fingers together and squeezing tight.  

“Show me the stars,” Harry murmurs, bringing their joined hands to his lips, pecking a kiss to Louis’ knuckles before pressing the back of his hand to his chest. Louis can feel Harry’s heart pounding through the soft cotton of his t-shirt, strong, steady, and gloriously alive.

“Yes, of course,” Louis replies, smiling as he looks into Harry’s eyes. “Always.”

“You know what I would really like right now?” Harry says after a moment, his other hand sliding around to the small of Louis’ back.

“What’s that?” Louis questions. “Whatever it is, you can have it.”

Harry chuckles, ducking down and pressing a kiss to Louis’ forehead.

“Gemma’ll murder me if I leave again so soon,” Harry says, nosing over to Louis’ temple and pecking a kiss there. “So how about we just go curl up in our bed in the TARDIS? We can figure out where we’re gonna go next from there. Right now, I just want you to hold me. Can the stars wait a few days?”

“Yeah,” Louis smiles. “We’ve got time, love.”

Louis cups Harry’s jaw, thumbing over his cheekbone as he gazes at him lovingly. He closes the tiny bit of distance between them, capturing Harry’s mouth with his, kissing him softly and slowly. Harry sighs prettily, his lips parting just enough for Louis to gently dip his tongue inside, tasting him, teasing him. Louis will never tire of the sweetness that is Harry; he could kiss him for hours on end and he thinks it still wouldn’t be enough.

It’s a theory he plans on putting to the test in the very near future. They do have time, after all. All the time in the world and Louis doesn’t plan on wasting a single second of it.

Louis pulls back, resting their foreheads together as they catch their breath. Louis can’t resist dipping in for one more kiss, and then another, and then one more after that. He presses little kisses all over Harry’s face, Harry giggling in delight the entire time.

“Bed?” Louis asks, dropping a kiss on the end of Harry’s nose and waggling his eyebrows, tilting his head towards the door.

“Bed,” Harry nods, grabbing a hoodie hanging from a hook on the back of his door. He shrugs it on and zips it up, the vivid pink clashing spectacularly with his red plaid pajama pants. He shoves his pink-socked feet into a pair of ivory loafers, smiling over at Louis.

“You know what, I was wrong,” Louis laughs, looking at the loafers. “You really are an old man, aren’t you?”

“They’re comfortable!” Harry protests with a laugh. “What’s with the obsession about me being old anyway?”

“I’ll tell you later,” Louis grins, taking Harry’s hand and pushing the door open.

They walk down the hall side by side; Harry picks up his pace and Louis lengthens his strides, trying to match him. Harry giggles, speeding up ever so slightly, just enough so that he’s ahead of Louis again.

“Oh, I see how it is, Harold,” Louis laughs, breaking out into a run.

Harry’s honking laugh echoes through the bungalow as he chases after Louis.

“You think you’re so cute with those long legs,” Louis laughs, grabbing Harry around the waist as they burst into the kitchen. “You think you can outrun me, baby–”

“Are you seriously leaving already?”

Their laughter falls away as they turn to Gemma, who leans against the refrigerator door, her eyes narrowed at them over the brim of her mug of tea.

“Not just yet,” Harry replies, raking his hand through his hair. “We need a couple more days to rest before we head off.”

“But you are going,” Gemma states, squaring her shoulders, a formidable expression on her face.

“Um, yeah,” Harry says bashfully, looking over at Louis. “Still so much world to see, y’know? Is that alright with you?”

“I mean, I highly doubt I really have a say in that anymore, do I?” Gemma questions, arching an eyebrow. “Don’t know why you’re even asking.”

“I’ll be back for the twins’ birthday next month,” Harry assures her. “We can start planning their party over breakfast tomorrow?”

“I can take them to the moon!” Louis offers excitedly. “All of you. You still need to go to the moon, Gem, I haven’t forgotten, I promise.”

“Seven is old enough for them to learn the truth about their uncle’s super cool alien boyfriend, right?” Harry says hopefully.

“I’ll think about it,” Gemma laughs, setting her tea down. “Just promise me something, you two. Don’t go looking for any more trouble, okay?”

“We never look for trouble, Gemma,” Louis insists. “We can’t help it if it finds us.”

“Considering the last bit of trouble almost got the pair of you killed, I’d say this isn’t a joking matter, Doctor,” Gemma says pointedly. “I’m serious.”

Louis sobers instantly, taking Harry’s hand in his.

“I remember my promise, Gemma,” Louis vows, his eyes fixed on her. “I’ll always do everything in my power to keep Harry safe. You have my word on that.”

“We’ll keep each other safe,” Harry adds, squeezing Louis’ hand.

“In a thousand years of traveling, I’ve learned that there’s a lot of things you need to get across the universe,” Louis says, looking between the siblings. “Warp drives, wormhole refractors, a reliable sonic screwdriver. You know the thing you need most of all?”

“What’s that?” Gemma asks, one eyebrow raised.

Louis looks down at his and Harry’s joined hands; he thumbs over Harry’s knuckle soothingly and then looks back up at Gemma.

“You need a hand to hold,” Louis finishes simply.

A small smile cracks across Gemma’s face.

“Quite right too,” she nods, tugging them both into a fierce hug.

Louis and Harry squeeze her back tightly, their eyes meeting over the top of her head. Louis shoots him a wink as he pecks a kiss to Gemma’s hair.

“Night, Gem,” Harry says, kissing her cheek. “See you in the morning.”

With that, they leave the bungalow, striding towards the TARDIS hand in hand. Louis lets out a bright giggle, looking over at Harry, who smiles back at him bemusedly.

“What’s so funny?”

“I don’t even know,” Louis replies honestly, sweeping his fringe aside. “I’m just happy. Hopeful. It’s not something I’m overly used to feeling on a regular basis, you know?”

“Well get used to it, Doctor.”

“I plan on it,” Louis says, leaning back against the TARDIS and gazing at his boy. “I love you, Harry.”

“I love you too, Louis,” Harry replies with a soft smile, leaning in and pressing a gentle kiss to his lips. “Now come on and cuddle me.”

“Yes, boss,” Louis salutes, pushing the doors to the TARDIS open and pulling Harry inside. “Right this way. Cuddles coming right up.”

As they walk through the console room and down the stairs towards his – no, their – bedroom, Louis sighs happily. Tonight is just for them. The stars can wait until tomorrow.

They’ve got time.

All of time and space awaits them, after all.

 

all of time and space