Harry watched the same young man crash on his skateboard every afternoon.
Without fail, he would be watering and pruning in his backroom greenhouse and staring out his shop window, when the same brunet would come swinging around the corner of the street. He’d nearly miss a lamppost, overcorrect his swerve, then promptly fall off the pavement and clatter to the ground. He stood up before Harry could even finish wincing and carried on his way. It was so consistent, Harry began to set his watch to it.
After a month, when the weather began to gently warm up in the early breaths of spring, Harry cracked his back window open. Whenever he heard the distinct skid of worn plastic wheels, Harry knew it was almost time to begin closing up the plant nursery for the night. He’d know to go and make the last sales in the main shop front for the dinner time hustle.
One Thursday, as the early evening sun was setting and the young man skated off again, there were four men standing in the shop, perusing the bouquets resting in their tall tubs of water.
Harry recognised three of them as his neighbours-- and neighbours’ neighbour-- Niall, Zayn, and Liam. Niall worked down the street but lived in the block of flats across the street on the second floor, his window facing Harry’s flat that rested above the shop; Zayn lived in the street behind Niall’s building—the two meeting each other by chance when taking the bins out; and Liam lived on the other side of town but was nearly always at Zayn’s flat anyway. The three were never more than a five minute walk from each other. It was a comforting homebase, but also meant that they weren’t meeting many other people. Although as long as their Abilities still worked, they hadn’t met anyone worth knowing.
The fourth man in the shop was a stranger, hair covered by a knitted hat and scarf pulled up under his chin. It wasn’t cold but the sun had been hiding itself behind the clouds since noon; Harry couldn’t blame him entirely. Harry pushed his cuffed sleeves up to his elbows and braced his fingers against the register counter. His three friends were admiring his hyacinths, Zayn giving Liam a semi-impressed look. Niall ran his fingers over the petals carefully, leaning forward to smell the large bouquet of flowers. All the flowers were possibly more vibrant than when Harry had cut them, thanks to his careful tending. The stranger was running his fingers over the petals of a pink rose. They were Harry’s greatest pride-- other than his constant crop of Gignesthai blossoms.
Harry was one of four botanists in the greater Manchester area trusted with growing Gignesthai. There was nothing particularly interesting about Harry to allow him this kind of clearance other than his Ability; he could heal and grow just about anything from a half split seed to a fully split palm.
He’d discovered his Ability when he was six, sitting on the playground and watching with unnamable frustration as one of his schoolmates plucked the petals off a flower. With a huff, he stormed over and picked up the disembodied blossom and cupped it tightly in his hands. When they reopened, the flower was in one piece and all but sprouting in his hand. After getting home, he kept grabbing and healing anything he could get his short, round hands on. Helping and healing became a hobby of Harry's, causing him to take up botany during the latter years of his education. Soon after finishing A-Levels he was being primed to grow Gignesthai for the area. His specialised classes helped him develop his Ability as a child. As an adult, he was honoured to be able to give back and help other children discover their hidden God-given Abilities.
“You a good Greenie, huh?” The stranger said, letting his hand drop to his side.
“Like to think so.” Harry said, tucking a piece of hair behind his ear. The humidity in the backroom had gotten his flattened curls to spring to life.
“You got anything impressive?”
“Just some nice peonies.” Harry shrugged. He wasn't supposed to advertise his high clearance; he was a grower of Gignesthai but wasn't allowed to be a distributor. That was the city's jurisdiction. “Or maybe something green?”
“I'll just take a bouquet of roses.” The man grabbed a fistful of the roses from the tub in front of him, deciding as if he was being provoked. Harry quickly grabbed some of the paper from under the counter.
“They look beautiful in any home.” Harry smiled, gently placing the roses down and wrapping the paper around their stems. He bumped one with his jittery hands, wrinkling and tearing the petal. With a gentle inhale and pulse in his fingers, he rubbed the two ends together and rejoined them. The petal seemed to exhale as it connected, lying back down in the bouquet carefully.
“They're for my wife.”
“Oh, that's sweet.”
“It's for her grave.”
“Oh.” Harry tried not to notice the sudden recoil of his friends at the other corner of the shop. “My condolences. Here, let me fix them a bit.” The man was already placing his money down-- an underestimation of the price, but Harry wasn't going to rob the man blind over it-- and reaching for the bouquet. Harry held one finger out to the man, begging him to stay, while he reached around and dunked his hand into a tub of water behind him. With his soaked palm, he grabbed the exposed stems and gave them one last drink. “Now they should stay fresher for a while.”
“You're too talented for this job.” He said, although without any gratitude. Harry couldn't place the tone.
Harry slid the money off the counter and into the register as he left, the ringing shop bell breaking the hanging silence. He didn't want to look up his friends-- two friends, now.
“I can't believe you just made a man re-grieve his wife.” A voice spoke suddenly beside Harry.
“First off, don't do that!” Harry gasped, grabbing at his chest and the seemingly empty air around him. He hit something by his right shoulder, grabbing the air and shaking Zayn back from invisibility. “I hate when you do that. And secondly, I didn't make him re-grieve. He was already upset.”
“You didn't help.”
“I'm allowed to be cheerful.” Harry said, elbowing his friend. “Are you going to buy anything or just heckle me?”
“When have we ever bought anything here?” Niall laughed. “They’d never survive in my flat.”
“I can help you with that, you know.” Harry said, holding his hands out in front of him, palms up. “I very much have the power.”
“Yeah yeah, His Royal City Botanist.” Liam laughed. He walked over to the counter and rested his hands on the warped wooden surface. “I'm actually just here to fix your kettle.”
“Oh, I completely forgot! Yeah-- here, come upstairs, will you?” Harry clapped his hands and waved his friends towards the back room to the stairs. “Wait, hold on.”
Before going upstairs, he checked his watch and scurried to the shop sign, closing it for the night. On the other side of the street, the stranger stood with his head hanging and shoulders hunched. His flowers were wilted. Harry was in too much of a rush to consider the sudden and complete loss of the roses’ vibrancy. He turned away and went back to leading his friends through the door to the backroom.
“Careful, the light over the stairs is broken right now.” Harry warned, bracing his hands against the walls framing the staircase. “Sorry, Niall.”
“Don’t worry, it’s fine.” He sounded confident but immediately grabbed Zayn’s elbow, letting him guide him in the dark.
Niall’s vision had been going since Harry had known him. It started with a pair of reading glasses that slowly became larger, thicker lenses that tried to pull his drifting world back into focus. Then recently, spots forming in his field of vision. He was otherwise compensated with incredible sonic hearing, but Harry still felt guilty about Niall’s vision. He could heal just about anything, but reattaching a retina, something Harry couldn’t see or touch, was far out of his comfort zone.
Harry held the door open as Zayn helped Niall up the last of the stairs to his better lit flat. It was technically only one room : one room with some privacy. Harry’s bed was in the far right corner, made and covered with new sheets. Directly across from the door on the far wall, in front of the windows facing the back street, were Harry’s bookshelves and solitary dining table. On the other side of the room, on the far wall opposite to Harry's bed, was the kitchenette and set of windows that faced Niall’s apartment. Harry used to be able to wave to his friend while he was scrubbing the dirt out from under his nails every night.
“This the one, right here?” Liam said, pointing toward the kitchen. He was the last one in, but was still focused on helping.
“Yeah, I think maybe the element’s broken on the bottom or something. Or maybe I popped a breaker, I have no idea.” Harry closed the door and placed a hand on Niall’s back as he passed behind him. Niall blinked, his eyes adjusting to the brighter light.
“God, please be careful.” Zayn sighed. He watched Liam immediately start troubleshooting the directed current in the kettle’s plug and looked to Harry with unsurprised annoyance.
“Can I get you all something to drink?” Harry said with a pursed smile. “I’m sure I’ve got something strong in the cabinets…”
“No, no! Don’t act like I’m going to catch anything on fire--” Liam spat.
“‘ It’s was only one time ’. Yeah, we know.” Niall joined, reaching out to find one of the chairs by the kitchen counter. “I was the one who heard your fire alarm from my flat.”
“I swear, I only know you three and all your Abilities just to fuck with-- ow! ” Liam recoiled from the bottom of the kettle with a yelp, sticking the edge of his finger in his mouth.
“I told you! Be careful!” Zayn sighed.
“You’re so lucky I am who I am.” Harry muttered, moving around the counter and grabbing Liam's blistering finger. He wrapped his hand around it and took a deep breath in, his palms heating up as the energy shifted out of Liam's skin.
“We're all lucky to know each other.” Niall said, adjusting his glasses. He shifted them with a shrug; his eyes must've been getting worse still. “And you're very lucky we all still have our powers around you too.”
“That doesn't actually depress any of you?” Harry said, wiping his hand on his pants leg. Liam bent his finger and gently brushed the tender but unharmed skin. “We all get along so well, and we're all we know but… We all still have our Abilities.”
“You sound disappointed. Your entire living is built on keeping your Ability. If you lost it any time we were around-- if we were your soulmate-- you'd be bankrupt and fired by the city.” Zayn reasoned with a laugh.
“But don't you want to be in love?”
“Don't you want to enjoy exploring your Ability?” Zayn said with a non-combative shrug. “None of your skill is knowledge based, Harry. If you don't have your Ability, you can’t heal anything, right?”
“Nothing… no.” Harry sighed. “I could learn though!”
“But without your soulmate, why would you need to?” Niall added, lifting his hand to wave toward Zayn. He missed by an inch or two. “I mean, I'm in no rush. I need my hearing for goddamn echolocation.”
“But what about invisibility? Are you saying you'd never give that up to find your soulmate?” Harry asked. He couldn't wait to find his own. The powerlessness would be strange, but he'd still dreamed of it frequently.
It was a morbid curiosity for Harry. The looming knowledge that meeting one person could render him completely but joyously helpless was dizzying. It was a humbling experience to find a soulmate. Harry would be returned to his average, mortal state every time he was in their presence. There would be no fear of manipulation or duping; the two of them would be vulnerable, with only their bond and love as their defence.
How could his friends not want such an other worldly experience? Nothing could frighten Harry if he could know-- or at least meet-- his own weakness and inherent strength.
“I'm not giving anything up. I wouldn't need to use my powers if I'm with them, now would I?”
“That's horrendously romantic.” Liam muttered, still looking at his hand.
“You're just sour I can still turn when I'm around you, hotshot.” Crushes didn’t have the same effect as meeting an actual soulmate.
Zayn winked at Liam before snapping his fingers and immediately disappearing before their eyes. Part of Zayn's Ability was also controlling the frequency of his clothing, allowing it to go missing along with his physical form. He was the oldest of the four and therefore had been granted the opportunity to learn the most about his powers; his family was granted more than enough Gignesthai to go around, making the possibly of developing the full capacity of his Abilities far easier. Sometimes it took studying, sometimes it took patience, other times it was simply experimentation.
“I can still hear you breathing.” Niall said, head turning slowly, as if watching Zayn walk by him. “You can't hide from a man that can't see.”
“Must you ruin everything?” Zayn said with feigned exhaustion. He appeared again, directly behind Niall. He rested his arms around his shoulders, chin on top of Niall's head. “That always freaks them out.”
“I wonder if I convince myself you're sick, do you think I could heal the invisibility right out of you?” Harry teased.
“Don't think it works that way.” Zayn said, shaking his head. “But if you want to waste your energy, please. Knock yourself out. It looks like you could use some sleep.”
“How long have you been working?” Liam asked, finally flipping the bottom of the kettle over and placing it back on the counter. “You do kind of look rough, not going to lie to you.”
“You could lie if you wanted.” Harry huffed, running a hand through his hair. “None of you are biologically incapable.”
“I think you look nice, Harry.”
In truth, Harry’s eyes burned when he blinked and they were starting to feel sunken in his head. It wasn’t until someone got him to stop that he saw just how much he was working, how much of himself he was using up in order to keep things around him growing and thriving.
Maybe when he finally found his soulmate, he’d get a regular sleep schedule and higher energy levels. It was unlike any fantasy Harry could think to have, but lying in bed after a day of work, his skin tingling hot and trying to settle onto the cold sheets, beside the one person who could really force him to take a break sounded delightful. His soulmate could, literally, knock some sense into him-- and knock him out.
“Actually, would any of you mind if I showered really quick. I’ll make dinner when I come out, I just want this dirt out from under my fingernails.”
“Don’t rush for us. We’ll take care of everything else.” Niall waved Harry away and started standing from the chair, nearly knocking Zayn’s teeth out with the back of his head.
“Niall.” Harry said with a sigh. “Please don’t cook while I’m in the shower. I don’t know if I can heal another near-bone slice to the finger today.”
“He won’t.” Liam assured Harry. “Take your shower.”
Harry nodded with brief appreciation before hurrying away. He started to tug his shirt up and over his head before he reached the alcove with the bathroom door. He tossed it into the basket with the rest of his well-worked clothes, the washing suddenly joining the growing list of household work Harry had been neglecting. He studied his face in the mirror as he waited for the hot water, the pipes very quietly whining beside him. Harry pulled at his cheeks and the circles forming under his eyes, sighing but stopping himself from muttering anything; Niall would hear him easily.
Just another thing Harry had to keep to himself. He wondered if love would ever find him from where he was. Maybe taking his city job was a poor plan in encouraging his soulmate to cross his path. It was a blessing to be able to heal and help, but as Harry scrubbed the long work day from his skin, he wondered what it would be like to just be human. He’d love to be powerless if it meant being at ease.
Maybe one day.
After his shower-- and methodical avoidance of his reflection-- Harry walked out to find his friends quickly milling around his kitchen. Keeping his promise, Niall hadn’t picked up any sharp utensils and was instead standing at the stove, stirring in a pan that Liam was placing cut vegetables in.
“It’s always nice cooking at yours, Harry. Everything is so fresh.”
“See? I’m a great catch.” Harry said, unsticking his shirt from his wet torso. “Who needs Abilities when you can have an unlimited supply of well-grown vegetables?”
“You need your Abilities to get said vegetables, Harry.” Zayn said, placing plates on the counter for each person. “You can’t win this argument; being alone isn’t half bad.”
“In case you haven’t noticed.” Harry lifted his hands up to his friends slowly taking over his kitchen. “I hate being alone.” It wasn’t an unexpected or even unknown statement. Harry grew up with his career decided and his own life waiting for him before he even finished school. He grew up in his latter years on his own; having friends meant he was able to have a family again. And maybe having a soulmate would mean having a home.
“Well, it’s a good thing we love you.” Liam said, almost obnoxiously nudging Harry’s side as he passed him. “Even if you’re on some strange self-sabotaging mission to ruin your business.”
“And your life.”
“Let the kid want a boyfriend.” Niall said, still stirring. “One of us has got to have one before we turn grey.”
“How would you know you aren’t grey, Niall?” Harry teased, placing his hand roughly on his head. He ruffled his hair somewhat carefully. Harry wasn’t sure if that was something he could fix, had Niall actually started to have grey roots rather than brunet.
“I’m not completely blind, that’s how.” Niall said shortly. “But once that happens, I’m going to be relying on your ability to lie to me.”
“Lying is the one thing I don’t think we could ever lose.” Zayn said.
“And yet, you’re brutally honest with me.”
“Look,” Zayn said, placing his arm jarringly around his shoulders. He placed his other hand on Harry’s chest. “Search high and low if you want, just… enjoy being unattached.”
“But, we’re literally made to be with another--”
“And you will be. Probably sooner than later-- so enjoy being a single man who’s making tons of money without breaking a sweat.” Zayn clapped Harry on the chest and grinned.
It was a fair order, a more adult view of Harry’s day-in and day-out routine of healing everyone around him. It was for a greater good-- that just didn’t mean Harry had to be involved. He could have an aching, unbroken heart but it still meant he was able to boost blooms of the flowers around him. A plant could go from seed to sprout to centerpiece in three days with Harry’s focus and love. That should have been enough. Harry was a miracle worker, in his own limited way. He couldn’t keep asking for the universe to perform one for him. Now that was just selfish.
Finding a soulmate wasn’t supposed to be a personal gain-- that’s why Abilities were taken in the first place.
That night, Harry felt as though he ought to have stayed awake restlessly, but his body was far too exhausted to keep up with his racing mind. The moment he tried to string a conscious, anxious thought together, his head swung back and hit the backboard of his bed and his eyes glazed over. Even with his eyes closed, the room kept tilting at a repeating and resetting ninety degrees.
He wanted peace, but not the kind delivered by sleep. That felt too passive to Harry. Dreams were wonderful, and often kept Harry going in most droughts of hope, but they dissipated far too quickly. The quick rush of feeling every pulse of possibility in the world was never as sharp with every passing minute of being awake. The moment Harry felt the most free and hopeful was a memory even as it was happening; it faded before he even knew it had hit him.
He just wanted the peace of being still. Of not searching the same few streets in town or holding his breath every time the shop bell rang.
Maybe one day. Maybe one day.
The next afternoon, Harry hadn’t let his attention drift from the view from his window. Instead of leaning into his usual routine, Harry didn’t want to wait and hear the mystery man’s approach; he wanted to see it for himself. But of course, since the universe really wanted to keep the cruel jokes coming. His skateboarder never came.
There was a sense of unexpected embarrassment that emerged in his stomach at the realisation he relied on someone without ever asking. The fact of the matter was that without the stranger, Harry had completely lost track of time. The shop was just about half an hour from closing-- while he was puttering around in the back, humming and clueless.
Nursery work was always from noon onward, and at nearly five o’clock Harry didn’t want to think about how many customers had wandered into his shop only to stand around unhelped and unimpressed. Without a face in the front of the shop, flowers could have been walked out without Harry even noticing. He could have been emptied out all because he wanted to catch a glimpse of a clumsy stranger Harry had an unexplainable affection toward.
Harry hurried-- and stumbled-- out from the nursery, untying his apron and nearly tripping on the strings. He threw it under the register as he stood behind it, assessing the shop and its single customer. There wasn’t a line of impatient husbands and wives, tapping their feet and ringing the desk bell to a set of distracted ears.
“Excuse me, what are these?”
Oh . Harry recognised that unstyled head of hair, and the skateboard he had tucked under his arm.
“Peonies.” Harry said, quickly trying to wipe the dirt off his hands.
“They smell kind of weird.” He said, shrugging and moving to the next row of buckets. “Have any other suggestions?” His voice was gentle and smooth, like a generous helping of honey. A helping that seemed to stick in Harry’s throat, jamming up his words.
“W-Who are they for?”
“My dining table.” The man said. From the window, Harry had never gotten a clear view of his eyes. They were an unbelievable blue, like he’d stolen two drops of the ocean. “Decided I needed something natural. Not sure why. Had the urge, I guess.”
“Then you should get something green.” Harry suggested cheerfully. The man nodded without resistance. “Here, I have some in the back if you want. I don’t typically put them out here.”
“Nothing too special, please. I’ll just kill it, I’m sure.”
“Nothing special, no. It just doesn’t flower-- here, let me show you.” Harry waved the man back. “I’m Harry, by the way.”
“As in the Harry of Harolding Spring .” He laughed, pretending to be startled. “Great shop name, I have to say.”
“Thanks. Had the idea since I was eight.” Harry said. “And you are?”
“Louis.” He held his hand out to Harry. Despite spilling on the asphalt every day, his hand was unscathed and soft to the touch. Shaking it was merely an excuse to inspect it and its flawless skin.
“Something wrong with it?” Louis wiggled his fingers to break their handshake. He turned his palm up and offered it to Harry, like reading an oracle.
“Not to be strange but…” Harry paused and all but groaned at his own idiocracy. “I see you pass by all the time. Just there.” He lifted his hand to point out the window. Louis lifted onto his toes to peek outside.
“God,” He laughed, shaking his head. “I never make that turn.”
“You really don’t.” Harry chuckled, ducking his head. A curl fell down into his eyes, his fingers quickly tucking it back in his bun. It took longer than usual; Harry’s fingers fumbling and getting stuck in the bobble. The rest of his sentence faded into quiet muttering.
“Need some help?” Louis was teasing but still reached up to grab Harry’s wrist and guide it. Before they could even touch, the tension became too much and the bobble snapped. Harry’s bun unfurled and flopped down around his face, his hair falling back over his eyes. “A bit of a mess, huh?”
“I’m not typically this… disorganised.” Harry apologised. He fumbled in his pocket for another bobble, only bobby pins poking back. “Although, you’re one to criticise.”
“Pardon?” Louis cocked an eyebrow and a hip. Harry’s elbow gestured to the dents that stretched along the bottom of his deck. “Haven’t broken anything.”
“Well, not yet you haven’t.”
“Can’t.” Louis laughed, shrugging. He lifted his arms before letting them fall and smack against his legs.
“ Can’t .” Harry echoed. “That confident?”
“Nothing to break.” Louis held his arms out, looking at them. “Not sure if I don’t have bones or they’re completely made of steel but, I’m kind of invincible.”
“You’re kidding.” Harry blinked quickly. “That’s… ridiculous. And explains a lot.”
“It comes in handy.” Louis placed his board down and leaned it against the table. He reached forward and picked up one of Harry’s philodendrons. His fingers cradled the pot as if, unlike himself, it could fracture at any moment.
“In what? Being full of piss and vinegar?”
“Actually, yeah.” Louis smirked. He turned the plant in his hands. “Can I take this one? It’s nice.”
“Of course. She was the last to sprout for some reason. Gave me a hard time this spring.”
“She?” Louis cupped the plant in his palms, still twisting it around. “You think?”
“They all have names. Stupidly enough, actually.” Harry hadn’t met anyone else that understood the environment like he did. Healing made him quite the awkward conversationalist apparently.
“Wait… Growing is probably your Ability, isn’t it?”
“I’m a sprouter and healer, proudly so… and usually covered in dirt.” Harry slowly began to take notice of the smudges of dirt that were on his pants and bottom hem of his shirt.
“It’s humbling.” Louis said with a laugh. “Keep you just as average looking as the rest of us.”
Harry ducked his head and tried to keep his careful chuckle from becoming a giggle. Louis placed the plant back down and leaned against the counter, bracing a hand on the edge while one leg crossed over the other. There were many ways Harry could think to flirt back, but almost all of them involved growing or healing something. And that either was an immediate crowd-pleaser, or sparked the fear of Frankenstein into them. He stuck to giggling.
A knock on the storefront caught both of them off guard. Or at least Harry thought it was a knock. It also could have been the double click of the door’s front lock.
Harry straightened his back and took a step toward the door but someone beat him to the introduction: the same man from the afternoon before. He was still in his dark hat and scarf, although it was bunched more strategically around his face; one duck and his entire face could disappear in the fraying fabric. He stepped into the nursery quickly, storming the room and the secret moment Harry and Louis had been having.
The back of his arranging table was blunt and cold against his lower back as Harry stumbled away from the door. Harry held his hands up in the air, mimicking the fearful, yet innocent acts he saw in films. Louis placed his own in his pockets.
“Make one move, and I’ll kill the whole garden. Even you.” The man threatened, holding his one hand out. Harry suddenly processed the memory haste had forgotten.
“You... You wilted my flowers.” Harry said, remembering the petals practically melting moments after he’d boosted them. “How did you do that?”
“Don’t ask me that!” He screamed, hand beginning to tremble. “I- I can kill just about anything.”
“Try me.” Louis scoffed, crossing his arms.
“Louis, I really don’t think you should try the tough guy act right now.” Harry said through clenched teeth. Harry had never been held up at a florist shop-- he didn’t think anyone had-- but he wasn’t going to blow it off.
“Just tell me where you keep blossoms and I won’t have to do anything we all don’t want me to do.” Harry forced his eyes to stay focused on the man in front of him and not dart to the special tray he kept well disguised behind a flat of out of control flowers.
“You know I can’t give you that.” Harry said. The amount given to each family and person was formulated to keep people from all but blowing their bodies up with potential energy. Even Harry had to be careful preening the blossoms. Abilities were a blessing, but try to encourage too many and the body began to shut down.
“Harry, I really don’t think you should try the law-abiding citizen act right now.” Louis muttered, turning to him with pursed lips. “I mean, maybe don’t let him kill you.”
“I told you. I’m fine .” Louis spoke with a surprising level of cheerfulness, like he was assuring Harry he was going to look both ways before crossing a street. “I’m always fine.”
“Would you two shut up! ” The man didn’t seem to speak, only shout. “Get me the fucking blossoms! Gignesthai, cough it up.”
“I--I can’t.” Robbery or not, Harry would lose his license and his shop. His mother was so proud when he broke even that first pay period, he’d hate to make her worry twice: once at the news of him coming so close to death and then again after losing the career path he gave everything to.
“Listen, mate, the kid’s obviously a softie. You’re not going to twist his arm verbally.” Louis said stepping forward. “I suggest using some strong arming.”
“Come on, then! Let’s have at it.” Louis clapped his hands together before waving the man forward.
Harry hadn’t been one to participate in any fights in grammar school, but being who he was, he was always on the sidelines ready to fix any cuts and scrapes. Louis didn’t approach the man like they were about to engage in a brawl. He stood with his hands by his side and knees locked as he rocked on the tips of his toes. He looked like he was asking for directions-- and had a man in front of him threatening death. Harry couldn’t imagine hubris that big.
“Don’t make me hurt you.”
“Oh please, I dare you.” Louis laughed, slapping a hand against his side, banging his ribs. Harry was sure they had to be in there-- how else would he be standing? “I mean, so you wilted some of Harry’s flowers? That’s not exactly terrifying.”
“Louis, please don’t antagonise him.”
“I’m calling his bluff, Harry. There’s a difference.”
“Not where I’m standing.”
“Oh, would you like to trade?”
“Would. you. two. shut. up !” The man surged forward, his palm thudding against Louis’ side forcefully.
It wasn’t a crack. It wasn’t a snap. It was a strange moaning that Harry had never heard come from a body before. It was like the wind had been knocked out of the marrow of Louis’ bones, not just the man himself.
He staggered back, his back crashing into the arrangement table. Louis’ face was contorted and his face was practically the colour of Harry’s white flowers on the wall behind him. His hand clutched his side with a shallow, winded gasp. Harry watched in unexpected horror.
“Don’t you not have any bones!” Harry cried, hands still raised above his head. He was afraid what touching Louis would do. “What the hell was that?”
“My rib.” Louis winced, hunching over and breathing through clenched teeth. “ Fuck me.”
“H-How did you suddenly grow bones?” Harry ignored the man that now had his hand extended toward him; Harry was stupid but at least he was an empath.
“I-I don’t know. It doesn’t make any--” Louis looked up at Harry with his pale and crumpled expression. “Oh. Fuck .”
“What? Is your power no good?” Harry fretted his lip between his teeth. Maybe the man had already taken more Gignesthai than allowed; who knew what he could manage.
“No. I don’t have any.” Louis said, looking at Harry with a strange sense of pity. He looked apologetic, like he was suddenly embarrassed to be seen in such a state.
Soulmates only get one first impression.
“Oh. Shit.” Harry looked at his hands. They were trembling and already useless.
“Hand them over.”
“No!” Harry said. “You’ll hurt yourself-- and who knows who else!”
“Harry. Just give it to him.” Louis muttered, gripping the table for support. “Please.”
“It’ll be so easy.” The man continued, reaching forward. He reached for Louis only. “Then I can just find it for myself.”
“Leave him alone, please. He has nothing to do with the shop. I’m the only one who owns it.” Harry bargained. “Please. You’ve already hurt him.”
“What about you? You supposed to have metal bones too?” The man turned and curled his fingers in slowly, making a fist.
“No! B-But remember I can heal. If you hurt someone o-or yourself, I can help!”
The man snapped upright, his face changing to a far more distant and cold glare. “Shut up. Don’t try to placate me.”
“Harry, just give him what he wants--”
A loud, disorienting thud covered the latter half of Louis’ plea. For a moment, Harry thought Louis had fallen to the floor or spilled over onto the table, but a gentle grip on his arm told Harry he was still upright and conscious.
“H-Hello?” Harry called. If there was more than one intruder, he figured he’d announce himself. Sorry, don’t rob me. I’m already being held up . “Who’s there?”
There seemed to be more than one set of footsteps. They found their way to the greenhouse door, as if they were sure of the place but not the route.
“Who’d you call?” The man reached out for Harry.
“Don’t bullshit me, kid. I can end everything right now if I wanted to. Tell me! Who-- or when -- did you call anyone--”
“He didn’t call anyone; I heard something going on in here.” Niall appeared in the doorway. He was nonchalant, as if the large ruckus hadn’t been his own introduction. “So I brought some friends over.”
Harry couldn’t recall the next five minutes-- or five seconds-- everything moved in a lightning blur. First Harry was pushed back, falling further into the table, while Louis stumbled forward, hands splayed out to catch himself on the ground. His palms splatted against the cement ground, earning Harry’s attention visually-- but mentally he was still far more distracted by hoarse screaming and arguing.
The man standing before Louis and Harry was already being held by three police officers. Harry blinked at the scene and was sure his eyes were going to stay closed; he never remembered anything ever moving so slow. The universe wanted to make it very clear the lengths it went to to put Louis and Harry together-- and Harry’s brain wanted to make it very clear it couldn’t process it as quickly as the chaos needed him to.
Zayn had been right: losing his Ability was going to ruin him, but mostly from guilt. Harry had aligned himself with a business that was far less cheerful than Harry’s cheery salutations and bright flowers. Behind the growth of his blossoms was a stranger's waiting Ability, struggling to show itself. Harry controlled more than he ever wanted to admit in the lives of others. But had nearly no control in his own.
The police pulled the man out of the nursery, trying to coax him into no longer screaming after Harry. Not that he was paying attention to him.
Time resumed and Harry fell to his knees.
“Are you okay?” Harry gently pressed his hands against Louis’ side, trying to find the bruising just by feeling; his fingertips would all but light up with pain. It was still unknown to Harry but he wanted to try. God, more than ever he wanted to try and he wanted it to work . He’d wish everything away if he could help Louis. But, then again, would he have been wishing so hard if his Abilities weren’t absent in the first place?
“Harry, stop.” Louis grunted, trying to swat his hand away.
“I can do something, let me help please. It's my fault.”
“You can't. Your Ability won't work.”
“Let me try! Let me try!” Harry cried, his trembling hands hovering over the growing bruises on Louis’ chest. “This feels terrible.” Harry had never been so helpless in the act of helping others.
“Imagine how I feel, Love.” Louis grunted. He squinted one eye in a pained smile as he pushed himself to sit up.
Watching someone in physical and visceral pain was like Harry had been the one pushing down on Louis’ chest. Tears welled in his eyes before he could even apologise, his stomach dropping down to his feet while his heart leaped into his throat.
“I… I typically… I can help. Usually. This is terrible. I feel so,” Harry looked at his hands, expecting them to be covered in blood. “Broken.”
“Well, for the first time in my life, me too.”
“Why are you being funny?” Harry sniffled, wiping his eyes with a coughed out laugh.
“Because you’re crying .” Louis said, touching his arm. “I’ll be fine. The minute you leave the room, my bones will harden back up-- or whatever it is they do-- and I’ll be fine. Good as steel.”
“I can’t in good conscience leave you.”
“You’re actually hurting me if you stay.” Louis was thinking unnervingly clear. “Just… run upstairs and get yourself a sweater. You’re shaking.”
“I’m not cold.”
“And I’m not hurt.” Louis placed his hand in Harry’s, squeezing it tightly. “Pain is new, but I know I’m fine. Don’t worry.”
“Oh my god.” Harry gasped, placing his other hand on top of Louis’. “H-Have you ever felt pain before? I-I’m so sorry. I did all of this. I should’ve locked the shop up o-or been listening better-- God, Louis, I’m so stupid.”
“You have no control over this.” Louis winced and lost eye contact with Harry as he pressed his eyes closed tightly. “Just-- fuck -- go answer their questions for a minute.”
“No, I’m not going to leave you here--”
“Harry, walk me home, would you?” Niall said suddenly, reminding them both he was still standing at the corner of the room. He rested his hand against the stair railing, grounding himself in the shuffled room.
“S-Sure, yeah.” He stood and reached for Niall’s arm, hand gripping just under his elbow. “I’ll be right back . Do... Do what you have to.” He was afraid to turn away, but knew leaving would sever their contact connection and allow his Abilities to return. Louis needed his privacy to heal, to be better.
It was a heart-sickening thought: staying with his own soulmate was not only humbling, but it was debilitating to them both.
Harry led Niall back through the shop, police officers standing around the tipped over buckets and spilled flower petals. Harry stopped Niall to crouch and right them, trying to fuse the flowers back together. He was still too close to Louis. Harry’s fingers only rolled and tore the delicate petals, desperate for their connected home again. Harry felt the same.
“Everything’s a mess.” Niall noted, turning around. “Is anything broken?”
“No. Just knocked over. It’s an easy fix. I’ll do it later.”
Before he could redirect them out the door, an officer seemed to suddenly notice Harry-- and his mortified look at his wilting shop.
“Styles, you own the place. Did he get his hands on any Gignesthai blossoms?” They asked, catching Harry’s arm. Harry tried to pull his way out. There wasn’t a touch yet he trusted.
“No. No he didn’t. Nothing was taken.” He said, gripping Niall’s elbow tightly. “Nothing.”
“Was there a complete search?”
“No, but I watched him the entire time. He didn’t go anywhere near them.” Harry said, still walking.
“Are you positive?”
“I think we should figure out how someone knows Harry grows it.” Niall chimed in, looking toward the commotion. “I thought growers were supposed to be anonymous for this reason.” Harry tugged Niall carefully, trying to defuse the argument growing.
“It’s okay, Niall.” Harry said.
“If I hadn’t heard you three, you could be seriously hurt.” Niall countered. He meant that Harry or Louis could be dead. No healing, no protection. Mortally and averagely dead. “They should protect you if they’re going to ask you to grow Blossoms.” The police officer was left standing by the shop counter, disarmed by Niall’s flippant responses; he had called them to help after all.
“Really, Niall. It’s okay.” Harry said, pushing the front door open. He lifted a hand to the officer, as if pausing the interrogation. They didn’t seem to need Harry much anyway; more things were overturned than Harry imagined would be if he had continued to resist being robbed. “You don’t have to defend me. I knew the risks when I took the job. It’s okay.”
“Niall!” Harry said louder, gripping his arm tighter. “Please. I’m okay.”
Harry was more than okay. Technically, he was doing better than he was when he woke up. He’d found someone-- his someone-- after they’d been falling under his nose for weeks. He’d gotten his wish; he was rendered helpless and mortal. It was beautiful, but also sobering.
Harry had never truly believed that the reunion with the other half of his soul would be inconvenient. He’d always figured Zayn had been blindly focused on keeping his Ability. There was a fear that if Zayn was right, Harry had to be wrong-- about soulmates, about everything beautiful he ever wanted to feel.
“Call me if you need anything, alright?” Niall said, following Harry’s lead up the stairs. “I’ll hear the trouble either way.”
Harry’s laugh came out onto as a short sigh. “How does hearing all this stuff not drive you crazy?”
“Being seen is one the most vulnerable experiences. But being heard? A little more intimate.” Niall said. He reached out and grabbed his apartment door firmly, finding it on the first try. “If I can catch a glimpse of the people around me as they truly are? I consider myself lucky and don’t mind it at all.”
Harry blinked. “What do you hear?”
“Depends on the day. I’m still not too good at it all sometimes. My channels get all wonky.” Niall pretended to tilt his ear like a satellite. “But it’s mostly nothing. Sometimes when Zayn and I walk over I hear you singing the radio, stuff like that.”
“Oh ouch. Sorry.”
“It’s nice.” Niall reached out and touched Harry’s shoulder. The tension and jitters and subsided, if only for the prolonged moment, and Harry smiled at his friend. “Just maybe your Ability has nothing to do with correcting Tone Deafness.”
“Shove it.” Harry sighed and pushed Niall’s door open, urging him in. “I’m going to go back, alright? Thank you for saving us.” Louis had to be included; Niall saved him more than anyone.
“I’m glad you’re okay, Harry.” Niall singled Harry back out, Louis being left back in the realm of the unsafe. Exactly where Harry left him.
“I’ll see you tomorrow.” Harry squeezed Niall’s hand, pulling away and letting his urgency give itself away. Niall let his hand drop and waved as Harry started away. “I don’t want to leave him-- them in my shop alone for too long.”
Despite only worrying at the moment about shrinking it, Harry hoped his and Louis’ distance had been helpful. He hoped the pieces he all but broke Louis into weren’t unable to be put back together.
Harry burst back through his front door and beelined to the backroom, side-stepped all police officers still working the scene.
“Louis, I’m sorry I had to walk Niall but I’m--” Harry stopped at the empty greenhouse. Well, empty of everyone Harry wanted to see. The police were still checking in and around his many growing plants, but Louis had vanished.
In timid honesty, after having lost his Abilities so unknowingly (yet oh so willingly) Harry felt betrayed being given them back without a word. Maybe he didn’t want to keep them. But maybe they were useless anyway if the one he could ever dream about helping hurried away.
Then again, how could Harry ask someone to hurt-- to feel the most pain he’d ever felt in his life -- for him, to suffer as one sick celestial joke ? How could he ask for love at such a high price-- he barely charged enough for his bouquets.
Maybe one day, but not today.
“Move whatever you want,” Harry said, starting up the stairs. His bed, and all chances to lie down, were calling to him. He didn’t need any special powers to hear it. “Just, please, don’t break anything.”
Saturday morning, Harry had an unknown restlessness stirring in his fingers. His feet couldn’t seem to stand still even as he was lying in bed. There were bouquets to be set in the shop window and soil moisture to be adjusted, but very little convinced Harry that he wanted to be downstairs. He didn’t want to fix-- didn’t want to be standing around his shop helpless to another monstrous threat. He wanted to create.
Baking had gotten somewhat dangerous for Niall recently, at least until he recalibrated how he would act around a nearly molten hot oven. With a rationale swimming in denial, Harry told himself he had to “play baker” for the day; Niall needed a baked good and Harry needed an excuse to avoid the memories lurking in his shop.
Without any intention of actually going outside, Harry dressed himself in a large shirt that was practically a smock and a pair of ripped, worn and weary jeans. Harry had never checked if his Ability to heal things, mostly living things, had extended to clothes that had been lived in to an extent they themselves were dying. He’d really need to check. Maybe change his business model.
Harry shuffled from his dresser over to the kitchen, reaching under the breakfast counter for his box of recipe cards. He thumbed through the water-warped and splitting cards to find his soda bread recipe. It was simple and all the ingredients were sitting in his cabinets; it was almost as if he had been preparing for that morning. It really looked like Harry had to call out sick to his own shop.
Maybe this was the day he had been looking for.
After the bread was cooling in a towel, Harry retired to sitting at the corner of his flat. He was trying to push up his window without sliding around on his socks-- or falling and splitting his skull open. The weather was unnecessarily warm and kind outside; Harry couldn’t imagine how much his plants were trying to coil and stretch up to the beams of sun streaming into the slightly ransacked greenhouse. He hoped no one had pulled the blinds down.
A moment’s pause aligned with the give of the swollen window pane caused Harry’s arms to soar upward. He nearly fell out of his now-opened window. For a moment, his view of the street was so drastically different. Harry had never thought to view the entire world over-head, like the extended view gave him any chance to control anything. He wasn’t God-- the universe had made that very clear. He was still very mortal, and sometimes inconveniently so.
The sudden view-change now gave Harry a full look at the backstreet behind the shop. It was quiet, as it usually was, with only one person crossing to the other side of the pavement. The sun was behind the building across the street and blocked most of the glare. There was only a warm glow over the pavement that Harry could feel almost blowing through his hair as he hung out the window. It was kind and distant; no one was demanding him downstairs, no one forced him to go back to his shop. It’d stay messy one more day, but the warmth on his face reminded him of all the good things to come out of it.
Harry was about to pull away when the sound of plastic wheels brought him back. A familiar figure came rocketing from down the street toward Harry’s shop. Louis’ leg swung back and sent him gliding forcefully up the slightly inclined pavement. Harry gripped the edge of the window, growing nervous by his view of the frequent accident.
Louis stuck his arm out, preparing to grab the lamppost. Instead of the grip swinging Louis around the corner-- and then onto the ground-- Louis dug the wheels into the pavement and pulled himself back as his board tried to go past the lamp. He came to a sudden stop facing the shop. He kicked up the board and tucked it into his arm as he stared ahead, right at Harry’s back door.
But just as soon as Louis started looking at the shop-- and maybe, for a moment, hoping for Harry-- he turned away, crouching and tying his shoe. Harry hadn’t even noticed it was untied. He also hadn’t noticed he’d started backing away from the window and toward his apartment door. He was still only in socks and just in his smock outfit, but Harry took the stairs quickly. The railing made a quiet hush against the calluses on Harry’s palm as he slid over it. The last three steps were skipped in favour of a stupidly enthusiastic jump to the landing. Harry was able to land and make a running start through the echo of the night previous, and to the backdoor.
Harry stepped out the back door of the shop, careful to avoid any space beyond the nook of the staircase. Louis was standing at the lamppost, reading an advert that had been taped to it. He seemed to be stalling, but Harry didn’t dare give his own presence that much credit.
“Hey.” Harry stepped off the pavement and onto the street, stopping before crossing halfway to Louis. Louis hitched up his skateboard and turned, attention already seemingly focused on Harry before their eyes even met.
“H-How’s your…” Harry’s fidgeting hands gestured over his sides, tracing where they had been on Louis’ body less than a day before.
“Good as new. I’m actually just sore for the first time in my life.” Louis patted his ribs almost affectionately. He stepped down from the pavement to the street. There weren’t any cars. “Sorry I ran off yesterday. I-I felt cornered in that back room and needed to--”
“Don’t worry about it.” Harry waved it away. The farther Louis was from Harry, the stronger his Abilities could regenerate; same with his bones.
“Are you okay?” Louis lifted his hand to Harry. It was a fair question, unbelievably kind actually. Harry just refused to answer it.
“Do you want to come up for tea? I, uh, I just made soda bread.” Harry thumbed over his shoulder, his other hand grasping at the slack of his shirt.
“Need some company?” Louis sounded concerned. “Did anyone come in today?”
“I’ve been home all day.” Harry confessed. “Please, let me make you some tea. Liam just fixed my kettle.”
“Is that a friend of yours?” Louis asked, stepping up and following Harry as he moved back toward his shop. “One I saw yesterday?”
“No, that was Niall. You should meet Liam though. He’s a delight. They all are, when they aren’t trying to save either of us from being killed.” Harry gulped. The truth was heavier to admit when he wasn’t facing down death. It felt worse when it was just a loitering ghost, reminding Harry that luck could run out.
“I’d like to meet them. Someday.” Louis spat the last word out as if trying to lean back from the natural magnetism pulling them together. They were supposed to fall together once they found each other, but their introduction was less than romantic and monumental. It was an act of defense. They still felt like strangers-- or at least they should have.
“I’m going to walk some bread over to Niall’s later. If you want to come.”
“Sounds wonderful. I owe him a big thanks.”
“The bread will suffice.” Harry led Louis up the stairs to his flat, keeping the door open behind him as he started directly for the kitchen. The room was still stuffy from the hot oven but it was a comforting closeness.
“Can I ask what Niall does?”
“His career?” Harry laughed, grabbing the kettle and holding it under the faucet. He filled it enough for at least four cups of tea. “He works at the music shop down the street. He’s got perfect pitch and helps tune pianos. He’s gotten admittedly better since I’ve known him-- sight hasn’t though.”
“It’s his ears, right? His Ability. He heard our, uh, argument from his flat.”
“He did, yeah.” Harry flipped the kettle switch and met Louis at the counter. Harry leaned against the edge while Louis took the seat across from him. “Pretty lucky, huh?” Niall had been discussing luck the day before: luck was what put the four of them together with all their Abilities still intact. But how could Harry, completely powerless, not consider his current situation luck?
Louis was a complete stranger; nothing about his face seemed familiar or like an ancient calling. Every second Harry spent looking at Louis’ face-- connecting freckles and tracing cheekbones-- was a moment he learned something new. He wondered how the soft edge of Louis’ face changed with every emotion. Although, Harry had already seen it smug and fearless as well as crumpled in debilitating pain. Those were the two extremes, weren’t they? The only two.
“You’re staring.” Louis said, tapping his fingers on the counter. “Is there something you want to say?”
“Uh,” Harry scrambled, hand nearly slipping off the counter edge and sending him flopping forward and breaking his nose. “H-How long have you known you could… well, can’t … uh, are unbreakable?”
“I was five.” Louis said, sliding his hands over the counter. He rested his elbows just past the edge and clasped his hands together. “Should’ve broken just about every bone in my body, actually.”
“Got hit by a car.”
“Oh my god!” Harry didn’t like the visual, no matter how cheerful the boy currently was, at least two decades later. “That’s terrible.”
“Eh, it happens.”
“It doesn’t, but please , go on.” Harry countered. The kettle paddle clicked back down, the rolling boil heard over Louis’ laughter.
“You really don’t like when I make light of this sort of thing, do you?” He leaned forward on his elbows as Harry dug through his cabinets for mugs. “Get under your skin much?”
“It doesn’t annoy me.” Harry shook his head. “I just hate tempting fate like that. Being too confident has not ended well for me.”
“You can heal anything.” Louis held his hands out as Harry slid forward a hand-painted mug with pansies. It was Harry’s favourite. “Thank you.”
“Not myself.” He said, turning to grab the kettle. “I can’t fix anything I break on my own body. Just others.”
“You’re fucking joking.”
Harry held his free hand up. It felt strange to do so without a hovering threat. “Knocked over a watering can, didn’t see the water everywhere , walked a little too fast in traction-less shoes, and crashed into a table. Broken pot cut up my arm and top part of my leg. I looked like I was stitched together for months.”
“So you have scars and everything?” Louis leaned forward further, as if they were exposed for his viewing. “I mean-- sorry, that sounded shit. It’s just.. I just don’t get those. I don’t really understand them. And most people have healers get rid of them. That’s… That’s so interesting.”
“Well, stay with me and you might get one.” Harry muttered, holding Louis’ mug with the tips of his fingers as he poured. “I turn your bones into glass.”
“It’s not like that.” Louis moved his hand and Harry thought at first it was to move out of Harry’s way. Instead, Louis carefully grabbed Harry’s wrist as he slid the mug over to him. “You aren’t hurting me. We’re just regular people now.”
“You have an amazing Ability-- the gift of not feeling pain. And I’m giving it to you by the handful.” Harry said sharply. “I would understand if--”
“If this is about me leaving yesterday, I promise you it wasn’t an escape.” Louis stopped and released Harry’s wrist. “I’m happy to be back.”
“You don’t have to lie.” Harry placed the kettle down with a clang, sliding his basket of teas toward Louis. “I’m still a stranger to you. I get it. It’s weird.”
Harry had expected to pick up the proper domestic life easily when he met his soulmate-- but there was something false in that approach. They were still two separate people that had never met before the previous day. They had whole lives the other didn’t know about, no matter how well they might’ve initially fit together. Harry wanted to know everything about Louis, and wanted Louis to know everything about him, before he considered their souls put back together.
“I like this mug.” Louis said after a moment, tearing the paper off his teabag. “Did you do this-- the flowers?”
“No, Zayn painted that for me.” Harry pulled on his teabag string slowly. The water turned yellow as coils of dark brown swirled around the bag. “It was a gift after he found out I owned the shop.”
“You guys must be best mates.”
“Only known each other about a year. Well, less than that actually. Niall met Zayn and Liam when he moved across the way last spring. No one stopped by until that summer. First time they ever bought anything from me.” Harry could still remember the bouquet: sweet peas and guelder roses. The roses were white but the sweet peas were blush. Later, after being friends for a bit, Harry confessed to his friends that the bouquet had always been a strange favorite of his. Zayn said it died sitting on his kitchen counter because he forgot to put water in it. For four weeks.
“So good people?” Louis asked, turning the mug in his hands.
“Very good people.”
“And you said it was painted because of your shop? You just open? I feel like if you’ve seen me, I should’ve seen you.”
“I opened in August, but I’ve been hired out for Blossoms since… God, I finished A -Levels and bought my place right after. Just like that.”
“What’s it like working for the government like that?” Louis blew carefully on his tea before lifting it closer to his lips. “Lots of benefits?”
“Not really, actually.” Harry laughed. “I just get paid for every bit I give over. Well, I guess the benefit is no flower of mine has ever died. So, constant cash flow.”
“You’ve got it all, don’t you?” Louis traced the edge of his mug. His middle and pointer finger pressed against the ceramic, his pinky finger lifted carefully, suggesting a coyness Harry couldn’t place. “Well, almost everything, I suppose.”
“I’ve got enough to be happy, I like to think.” Harry attempted, choking slightly on his tea. The hot water dribbled down his chin and onto his shirt. He clambered to wipe it, Louis chuckling and still moving his hand carefully around the rim of his mug.
There was the hovering instinct to suddenly try and fit Louis into the happiness-- he was technically part of it.
“Is this all you imagined for yourself. Gardening… Growing?”
“I mean, I don’t exactly imagine myself being quite so…” Harry paused to blow on his tea.
“Alone?” Louis offered, taking a swift sip from his own cup.
“That’s… strangely the exact word I was thinking of.”
“I got mind reader going for me too, huh?” Louis smiled and let his head fall to the side against his shoulder. He still took Harry in with careful glances over his face. They knew it wasn’t mind reading if they were both thinking the same thing; Louis was lonely too. They’d both been searching-- Louis just probably slightly less stationary than Harry.
“Where do you go everyday?”
“ Pardon ?”
“You always go through the same bit of pavement-- where are you going that you choose to go the same way every. single-- ” Harry winced at his own forwardness. He stopped himself from rambling with another sip.
“Oh. That.” Louis finally broke from Harry’s face. “My house is really busy… lot of people… so I go for a really long skate every day. Same time so my mum thinks I’m working two jobs or at least responsible or summat like that.”
“Lot of family?” Harry asked against the lip of his mug. “Sounds like a good problem to have.”
“Where’s your family?” Louis asked. He was clocking the apartment and had been since they’d entered. “I mean, it looks to be only you here.”
“Told you. Moved out right after school. Couldn’t ask my family to move with me for a job. They had their whole lives. Mine was just getting started.”
“So you started it alone?”
“What else could I do?” Harry shrugged and laughed. “I can’t fix everything.”
Louis twisted the tea tag between his fingers and made a small roll of paper. “My mum’s Ability is taking pain.”
“Oh, that sounds… exhausting.”
“It is. She’s in and out of hospital a lot. But she can’t stop helping people.” Louis paused and Harry leaned forward on the counter. He counted the number of times Louis bobbed his teabag. “I can’t imagine feeling like you have to fix everything-- fix anything . Especially when you can’t fix your own problems.”
“I can’t fix everyone.” Harry corrected, thinking of Niall briefly. “It’s mostly just anything that performs photosynthesis.”
“Still. Your Ability is performing miracles-- well, just about, yeah?” Louis reached over and grabbed Harry’s hand. “My mother never had to help me growing up-- and I know that you technically can’t really ever help me either-- but how much you were willing to help me, an absolute stranger, says so much, Harry. I don’t know if thank you is enough.”
The touch of Louis’ fingers was shaking and hesitant but firm ; admitting for the first time how clueless they truly were at fitting together perfectly. Harry leaned into the touch and smiled, pushing a piece of his hair back. “Thank you is just fine. No one ever says it.”
“Thank you for saving my life, Harry.”
“You did. You’ve saved the rest of it that I have left.”
Louis bit the inside of his cheek and stopped the rest of his sentence. There was nothing left to say that wasn’t clearly stated in the brush of Louis’ fingertips: the future-- the one day s-- were impending and they didn’t look as terrible as Harry had recently imagined them to be. A light had turned on, somewhere down the stretch of Harry’s future. It beckoned him, just like the soft blushing laughter of Harry’s skateboarder as Harry looked back at him, unabashedly endeared; Harry was still trying to learn, trying to study the new notes of Louis’ face. He learned the fluttering kiss of pink that warned Harry that the label strangers no longer applied to them.
Harry didn’t know what to call it, but he had a whole teatime to figure it out.
“Didn’t you say you were going to walk something over to your friend?” Louis said from the sink, rinsing out their mugs. Harry hadn’t even asked.
“I did.” Harry pushed in his chair by the counter and crossed around back into the kitchen. “Would you mind?”
“Sure, let me grab my board and I can be out of your hair. Although, by the length of it, maybe it isn’t so simple--”
“No, Louis, come with me.” Harry said.
“I’m sure Niall would like to meet you in good health.” Harry nodded and grabbed the bread from the counter. It tucked into the crook of his elbow as he searched around the open room for a pair of shoes.
Louis walked slowly across the room to the door, timing it almost perfectly to stop as Harry stepped into his shoes. They were Harry’s favorite pair of laceless shoes, once covered in a strange geometric optical illusion pattern but now sun-streaked, ruddy, and stained with dirt. Louis’ shoes seemed to be in the same state of over-loved and over-worn. The front of his right shoe was worn down past the rubber, his skating having begun to fray the fabric behind it.
“Do you travel everywhere by skating?” Harry asked, pointing.
“I like to.” Louis shrugged. “It’s the only way to get around where if I crash, I’m the only one who gets hurt.”
“Huh. You’ve really thought of everything, haven’t you?” Harry started the stairs, feeling his way down and speaking over his shoulder. “You know you’re going to have to rethink that now that we’re friends.” He chose the word carefully and with all intentions of taking it back if necessary.
“I somehow don’t think learning how to drive is in the cards for me.” Louis laughed. “I think it’s going to be walking from now on. Or not letting you anywhere near me while I’m trying to skate uphill with uneven pavement.”
“You know what? Deal. I don’t think I want to see that anyway.” Harry shook his head at the idea of watching Louis try and make that corner again, knowing full well the damage he could be doing if he caught one glimpse of Harry through the window. “I’ll pass on the hospital trip.”
“Yeah, we nearly did it once already.” Louis muttered. “Maybe that’s where we’ll have our first date.”
Harry stopped suddenly at the landing of the stairs, blocking Louis on the third step as his laughter faded into quiet confusion. Harry stared forward. The backdoor was still closed, the rest of the shop hidden from view: the torn petals he still couldn’t fix, broken vases now sharp additions to the bin, and scattered tubs left in the search for stolen goods-- that were still under Harry’s workbench, untouched.
“Why don’t we go out this way, Harry.” Louis reached over Harry’s shoulder, elbow resting on him, and thumbed toward the backdoor he originally come in. “Walk around the block and go from there.”
“He lives across the street. It’d be easier to go through--”
“Let’s go out the back.” Louis said again, stepping past Harry. “Come on.”
Louis took Harry’s hand again and tugged him back through the greenhouse. Once Harry’s eye contact with the door was broken, the rest of Louis’ conversation rushed back to him.
“Yeah. We’ve got to have one of those, don’t we?” Louis was unfazed by his own implications. He’d already accepted Harry into his life, starting on placing him in his future.
“I-I guess so. Doesn’t being robbed count?” Harry could only speak it once they were both standing outside. Louis shut the door behind Harry.
“No.” Louis said, shaking his head. The tufts of his hair shook with him, as if adding a second level of disagreement. “We’ll go out somewhere nice. You won’t be covered in a spec of dirt and I’ll come pick you up with flowers far less impressive than anything you could produce.”
“God, I’m going to be surrounded by subpar arrangements my whole life.” Harry allowed himself a laugh, the joy of picturing his own future with the only man he could trust to contribute.
“Oh, you’ll survive. Unlike me.” Louis teased, leading Harry around the corner of the building.
As he walked, Harry noticed Louis lazily swung his right leg up higher than his left. It wasn’t entirely mindless, although with Louis’ eyes looking up at the sky, Harry was sure it was a secret, innocent habit Harry was the first to see: skating while on his feet.
They approached the edge of the pavement and Harry slowed, the distance between him and Louis suddenly growing. He wasn’t stopping.
“Hey!” Harry reached out and grabbed Louis frantically, his fingers digging into the crook of his elbow. “You aren’t immune to blunt force trauma anymore.” Louis blinked at him. “Look both ways before you cross the street. Please .”
“There aren’t any cars.” Louis waved his arm out to the empty street. He was right, and Harry just had to grit and step off the pavement with him.
“Wow, you survive one car accident and you think you know traffic patterns, huh?” Harry said, trading the bread between his arms.
“You better believe it.” Louis said, spinning around once as he continued to walk. “What are they going to do-- hit me ?”
“Yes!” Harry cried. He shook his head with a laugh, unsure how he was going to endure the anxiety of watching Louis be careless. Especially since it was only ever a problem if Harry was around to witness-- and hopefully stop-- it.
“Oh you really get fired up.” Louis chuckled. “This is going to be so fun.”
“What is? This first date you won’t be getting.” Harry said, trying to level himself conversationally with Louis. Harry did so literally as he stepped up onto the pavement after him. He reached for Niall’s building door and held it open for Louis, motioning him in with a duck of his head.
Louis tapped his finger against his lips repeatedly before dropping it to point at Harry. “You’re far quicker on your feet than you let on. Healer with a sharp tongue. I like it.”
“I’d hope so.” Harry said, waving Louis in. He wanted to appear nonchalant, but the validation made his chest both swell and collapse at once; it was delightful to be accepted, even if it was by someone meant to love him. It was also jarring to Harry to have a weight lifted he had no idea he had even been carrying to begin with. He lead Louis toward the stairs, still trying to adjust to his new balance. He stumbled twice on his way up.
“Hey, I brought some soda bread-- and Louis!” Harry called once they reached the landing just outside Niall’s door. “Anyone home?”
“Why are you just walking in?” Louis whispered, standing back. “Isn’t this breaking in?”
“No, you aren’t breaking in.” Niall called out from beyond the door, as if he’d been right next to them. “Door’s unlocked. I have Zayn and Liam here.”
“Oh! The whole group.” Louis said with slight hesitation. It was a lot to ask for, Harry was sure.
He guided Louis through Niall’s entrance hall and around to the living area where he could hear someone moving toward them. Zayn met them in the archway, hands out all ready for the bread.
“You know, I was actually waiting for some of your--” Zayn stopped, hand resting over Harry’s on the loaf. “Oh. Hi.”
“Hi.” Louis said, lifting his hand quickly in a swat more than a wave.
“This is Louis.” Harry let Zayn take the bread. His empty hands were better used motioning toward Louis and trying to coax him to step closer.
“Zayn. Hey.” He waved back and smiled. “Everyone’s in here if you want to meet them-- unless you have somewhere to be.”
“No. No, I don’t. I’m here-- I want to be here.” Harry might have taken Louis’ Ability to remain unbroken, but it seemed Zayn took his ability to remain coherent. “I would love to meet everyone. What’s the names again, Harry? Neil-- Niall. It’s definitely Niall, right?”
Zayn looked at Harry before blinking and turning back to Louis. “Is his Ability smooth conversation? Because I’m worried.”
“Shut up and let’s sit down.” Harry said, turning away from them. “Hey, Niall! I brought a friend over, if that’s alright.”
“A friend?” Liam echoed.
“I heard.” Niall said. His chair was facing away from the entryway, but he didn’t turn around. “Come in, Louis.”
“Damn, he really does hear everything.” Louis muttered, stepping into the living room from the entrance.
Niall was seated in one of three armchairs angled around the main couch. He was in the one closest to an armrest of the couch, while Liam was sitting on the side of the couch farthest from him. Zayn stepped around Niall’s feet to take the other side of the couch, placing the bread on the coffee table in front of them. Harry took the first move by walking to sit down beside Niall’s armchair.
“I do.” Niall said, finally turning to look at him. “Come on then, sit with us! You know me and Zayn-- all that’s left is Liam, over here. Take a seat.”
“I-- okay. Thank you.” Louis ducked his head-- not that it deterred Niall’s look at all-- and followed Harry’s path around the table to the only empty seat.
“So where did we find Louis?” Liam asked, pulling his knees up onto the couch. His arm rested around the back , behind Zayn.
“He was at the shop yesterday.” Niall said. The air wasn’t as still as Harry expected it to be. Only Louis froze, sucking his cheeks in. He looked down at his hands. “Don’t worry, I didn’t tell them.”
“Tell us what?” Liam said.
“Well, now I have to.” Harry muttered, knowing Niall would hear it. “Thanks.”
“They’ll read about it in the paper.”
“We’ll what ?” Zayn said, turning on the couch. His back rested against Liam’s side and his knees touched Niall’s. He kept his shoulders purposefully angled outward, including Louis and Harry from their armchairs.
“Someone robbed the shop.” Harry said with a huff. “ Nothing happened.”
“Nothing happened?” Louis echoed. Harry expected there to be betrayal, like his pain was minimised, but instead he stared at Harry with a look of worry. “I’m sorry, did I imagine the part when a man broke in and threatened your life?”
“Someone what ?” Liam said, echoing Zayn.
“I wasn’t hurt.” Harry said, more to Louis than Liam.
“Neither was I, technically.” Louis answered. Harry tried to create a fast retort, but Louis was, unsurprisingly, quick to match Harry’s logic.
Harry was able to cave to Louis’ response easily-- not that he was trying to. It felt like a reflex Harry had discovered-- after just one lovably smug grin. He closed his mouth and nodded slowly to Zayn, agreeing to admit that the robbery wasn’t entirely a passive experience.
“Were you there?” Zayn pointed at Louis. “Was anyone else hurt?”
“We weren’t--” Harry started but knew that he really didn’t have the right to say as such. Just because things healed, no matter how quickly, didn’t mean they didn’t hurt; Harry himself had more scars than he could count. “It was just us.”
“What did they want?”
“Gignesthai. I-I don’t really know what-- or why-- but Niall was able to hear it all from his flat and got the police.” Harry swallowed his urge to wave it all off.
“See? And you want to think losing your powers for love is a good thing.” Zayn sighed, placing his hand on his heart. “Thank you, Niall.”
Without much subtlety, Harry turned to Louis with a tense and nervous expression. He was sure his smile looked like he was strangely trying to keep all his teeth in his mouth, as well as every hiccup of nervous laughter. But Louis wasn’t looking at Harry for even a glimpse of clarity to Zayn’s comment. He was looking at Liam-- who was looking right back at him.
“What?” Harry whispered, leaning in toward Louis.
“W-Why is your friend staring?” Louis nodded past Harry. Niall’s head turned to look as well.
“Liam? What’s with the attempted x-ray vision.” Harry said shortly, snapping his fingers.
“Why do I feel like I know you?” Liam asked Louis, pointing at him. “Have we met before?”
“I-I don’t know.” Louis shrugged. “Have we? I think I’d remember a face like that.”
“Right? Isn’t he handsome?”
“God, I can’t see you, Zayn, but I imagine you’re being disgusting.” Niall groaned with a laugh. “Harry, is he pinching his cheek?”
“Holding his chin, actually.” Harry said, placing a hand on Niall’s knee. “Close though.”
“You weren’t one of those kids they put in magazines were you?” Liam asked, pulling his face from Zayn’s grasp.
Louis tensed and tilted his head in a reluctant nod.
“No shit. Really?”
“Yeah… I was in hospital for something else-- visiting my mum and my baby sisters-- and someone from the town’s paper for the birth announcement recognised my name from a few years ago, when I first came in for my assessment, and… they snapped a picture and asked a few questions-- and I was on the cover of the Powers Periodical for the next month. I barely remember it though.”
“I didn’t know you from that.” Harry said quietly. “I honestly didn’t.”
“I know. It was kind of nice.” Louis nodded. “To be honest too, I don’t really associate with much people beside my family. Hate being recognised--”
“Well, now you’ve got us!” Harry cheered, holding his arms out.
“Yeah. I’ve got you.” Louis was repeating Harry’ sentiment, but seemed to be cutting everyone else out.
“You really were the Steel Skeleton Kid. That’s crazy.” Liam said, shaking his head. Louis winced at the name, but still shrugged and smiled at Harry. “So you can’t break anything?”
“That’s… That’s gotta be the best.”
“Between you and Harry we’ve practically got a full hospital in here.”
“Please don’t make me heal anything.” Harry said suddenly, as if bracing the room. “I mean… Don’t ask him to break anything.”
“But, nothing would happen.” Liam said with a laugh. “Are you forgetting the part where he’s made of iron?”
“Still… it’s rude to ask.” Harry tried to bail out of the conversation as quickly as he could. “No one’s asked you to… to fix Niall’s lights.”
“I can’t see.” Niall replied quickly. Knowingly.
“Y-You know what I mean! No one’s asking you to turn invisible. It’s a gift, not a party trick!” Harry was digging a deeper and deeper hole for himself, and although he was a gardener, it was the opposite of a good thing at the moment.
“You literally regenerate fallen leaves in autumn if you’re too drunk.” Zayn said with a quirked eyebrow. “What are you on about?”
“Harry, they get the point.” Louis said with a quiet laugh. “I’m not going to break anything. I mean, I can’t. Remember?”
“Right… Sorry. I just don’t know the etiquette anymore.”
Before anyone could counter Harry’s point, he grabbed his armrests and pushed himself to his feet. He excused himself and walked through them to the kitchen. He was leaving Louis on his own, but maybe, just maybe, he’d be giving him his Abilities back. Let him have his armour back in the most vulnerable situation Harry could think of.
Niall’s kitchen was slightly in more of a mess than he expected. There were plates on the counter-- clean, but not put away in the tall cabinets. Harry supposed it made sense and didn’t want to shuffle Niall’s new organisation as he opened one for a glass. He needed something to drink; his throat felt dry despite the fact he thought he was choking. The tap sputtered a bit as Harry moved the clean glass under it, not even checking the temperature of the water. He filled the glass halfway before turning the water off with a sharp push to the handle. In his parched desperation, he clinked the edge of the glass against the edge of the sink on its way up, and promptly shattered it. Harry didn’t notice until he felt the water on his feet and a sharp pain in his hand as he tried to catch the shards from falling on the floor.
Harry wasn’t sure how loudly he swore, but it was enough to be heard by at least one person in the house.
“Everything alright in there?” Niall called. Harry quickly reached for a towel to cover the cut reaching over his four fingers.
“Fine! I’m fine! Just dropped a glass!” The cut went diagonally across his fingers, but only piercing skin beyond a scrape on his pointer finger. The blood was slow and deep crimson. Harry dabbed it with the towel, but quickly regretted leaving a trace of his own jittering stupidity.
“Did you hurt anything?” Liam asked.
“No… Not really. I’m fine!” Harry answered, his tone exposing his lie before his words did.
“I swear to-- I’ll get the first aid kit!”
“No.” A new voice cut in: Louis. “I mean, you’re sitting, Niall. Tell me where it is. I’ll get it.”
“Hall closet. Middle shelf.”
Niall’s directions were followed by shuffling and opening of many doors-- as well as the correction of no the other hall closet . Harry tried his best to stop the small beads of blood from reemerging every time he pulled the towel away or pulled his fingers from his lips. Even if he could heal himself, Harry would’ve immediately been made useless as Louis stepped into the kitchen. A small clear, plastic box rested in his hands. He placed it on the counter, spinning it around to face him smoothly.
“I thought we agreed it would be me that would be getting unreasonably hurt.” Louis said, lifting the lid and digging out a box of plasters. He took one, turning it over in his fingers with growing familiarity, before walking around to Harry. Louis reached his hand out for him, wiggling his fingers as a shy invite.
“I’m fine.” Harry said. “Really.”
“You can say that all you want, you’re getting a plaster.”
“I’m f--” Harry stopped and lifted the towel again, placing it in the sink. “I’m not going to win this argument, am I?”
“No. So maybe you should just give me your hand, huh?” He said with a cocky grin. Harry was in no place to refuse.
The gentle cradle of Louis’ fingers around Harry’s felt forbidden. It was preemptive, but to what? The rest of their lives? The future they were destined to have? It would have to start somewhere, but was this the time? Was it appropriate to dive headfirst? They were rendered helpless by their own reunion; their own uncovered love left them like frightened children, defenceless and naive.
Harry remembered being a child, before his Ability started to appear, thinking the entire world was open to him. Opportunities swelled around him, he thought, there for him to take if he just held his arms out and spun around, face to the sun. Being a child wasn’t terrifying-- being hopeful wasn’t terrifying. But why did it feel that way when he was with Louis? He was the same way he was back then; he hadn’t lost anything further. The opportunity was still there— just now it had a name and an incredibly handsome face. Louis was what he looked forward to as a child. It was the familiarity and return of hope he’d be thinking about for years. He didn’t have to be afraid of it. He could introduce himself.
“Thank you.” Harry said, his voice shaking.
“No, thank God someone can take care of you.” Louis said with a quick look up to Harry’s eyes. “I’ve never used a plaster in my entire life, but I’m going to have to learn, I suppose.”
“I’ll get a first aid kit for you.” Harry turned his hand over in Louis’, their palms pressing together. “Personalised and everything.”
“You’ll have to do more than that.” Louis laughed. “You’ll have to teach me how fragile the human body is. I see a lot of sharp coffee table corners in my future.”
“I’ll round everything out. Only plastic dishes and extra rubber grips on the bathroom floor. And we’ll go somewhere it’s warm every winter, so there’s no chance of slipping on ice.”
“You don’t have to do any of that. I could never ask you to. You barely know me.” They were thinking the same thing. Funny how soulmates worked like that.
“But, that doesn’t mean I won’t.” Harry curled his fingers around Louis’. “You’re more than welcome to come to my shop at any time… You don’t even have to buy anything.”
“A free pass to loiter?” Louis said, looking at their hands. “To be made into a paper doll with just one look from you?”
“Can’t think of anything better.” Harry tried to look confident, like he knew how to flirt. He didn’t, and it was obvious. But Louis laughed, his hand squeezing Harry’s as he pulled it down by their sides.
“You know, I don’t care if I break every bone,”
“Eh, at least I know one thing that will never break.” Louis muttered. He tugged at their hands, Harry nearly being forced to stumble forward into Louis. The counter braced Louis’ back and allowed him to stand firm at their shrunken distance.
Their fear-- or maybe some kind of anxious relief-- brought them to a near standstill just before their lips touched. It was the admission that they were willing to agree with their own predestined futures. There was hope at the end of their kiss because there was plenty of hope for it.
“I don’t know how to be anyone’s anything.” Harry muttered, Louis’ breath just ghosting over his upper lip.
“All I’m asking,” Louis said, hands moving to gently pull on Harry’s face, bringing him in completely before the end of his sentence.
Harry was startled but in no way surprised. Kissing was almost against everything he had ever learned and practiced in life: it was a complete invasion of privacy and constant thought of how much he didn’t care . He thought he should be more conscious of how he was touching Louis, how close he was to him, but every move just seemed to be a response to Louis. Even Harry’s sudden, deep inhale was a chance to have his body swell and press into him.
It was a thrilling minute. A recognition that being made average really didn’t feel all that terrible. There was so much more joy in being human-- in feeling pain-- than Harry ever thought. It felt like being weightless. And tasted like a familiar stale sweetness Harry could never stop chasing. Not even for one day.
Finally, Louis lowered down onto his flat feet again. Harry sighed and let his eyes flutter back open. He didn’t even remember closing them.
“Wait,” He said. Louis looked up at him and cocked his head. “What were you asking?”
“To keep making me weak whenever you’re around.” He said, softly resting his hands on Harry’s shoulders. “My knees, my bones-- sound of your voice and it’s jelly.”
There was a third extreme to Louis’ expressions that Harry had never thought of seeing on his face: a gentle relief that lifted his eyebrows and pressed Louis’ lips into a careful line as he lowered his eyes back over Harry’s face. His eyes stopped over his lips-- and Harry swore he could feel Louis’ against his own all over again. The look was unimposing but felt close and intimate, like Louis was admitting his own confusion over the affection he felt. The third extreme was love .
And after three days, Harry’s was finally here. No more waiting, no more uncertainty, no more Abilities-- but nothing seemed, or tasted, sweeter.