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Paint The Sky With Stars

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10 April 1912

It is a cool, clear Wednesday afternoon in April when Harry Styles looks his own Fate in the eye.

That’s what it feels like, anyway, staring up at the towering behemoth of a ship in front of him. The Titanic, she’s called, and aptly so—dwarfing every other craft moored nearby. They say it’s the ship of dreams, and maybe it is, but for Harry, each step toward the looming vessel feels an awful lot like a funeral march.

Not the time, he scolds himself silently, shaking his head to chase away memories of pressed black suits and a pile of earth shoveled into a waiting grave. The movement helps the visions fade, but the melancholy lingers, clinging like cobwebs in the corners of his skull.

Harry is pulled from his thoughts by a small, white-gloved hand slipping into the crook of his arm.

“It’s not too late, you know,” a smooth, alto voice murmurs into his ear. “You don’t have to do this.”

He stops in his tracks to face his sister, barely registering the grunts of complaint from the people having to walk around them. “I’m not letting you go alone, Gemma. Mother wouldn’t have wanted me to.” His voice is soft and tender, but firm enough to let the young woman know that he’s made up his mind.

Her eyes, so much like their mother’s, search his briefly for any sign of uncertainty. Finding nothing but steely resolve cloaked in clear green, she releases his arm and offers a tight-lipped smile.

Harry returns the smile momentarily, but it falls from his face the moment his uncle’s voice cuts through the clamouring crowd. “Oi, you two! Get a move on!” Sucking in a resigned breath, the crisp, salty air settling heavy in his chest alongside his displeasure, Harry dutifully follows along.

Pausing halfway up the gangplank, Harry lets his eyes sweep over the bustling crowd on the dock below. This could be the last time he sees his mother country, and he wants to take it all in while he can. His gaze settles on the area where the Third Class passengers are waiting to board, uniformed officers examining them for lice and signs of disease.

One man in particular catches his eye among the masses, tufts of his walnut hair catching the breeze as he’s inspected for nits. Even from a distance, Harry can see the indignant twist of the stranger’s mouth as he’s checked over dispassionately. Harry can’t help but stare, something about the unknown man drawing his attention, as if the coarsely-dressed passenger is somehow lit from within, pride and dignity that far outstrip his social status shining through.

As if sensing the weight of Harry’s regard, the man lifts his chin, bright, curious eyes snapping to Harry’s own. Harry looks away quickly, cheeks aflame as if scorched by the fiery stranger, but not before learning that the other man’s eyes are so blue they seem to reflect the hazy Southampton sky, a soothing balm compared to his otherwise blazing countenance.

“H, come on,” Gemma urges, already stepping into the doorway leading inside the ship—her maid, Nellie, close behind. Looking out over the ragtag crowd one more time, Harry searches for the blue-eyed man, but he’s already moved on, blending back into the restless throng of bodies waiting to board.

When Harry catches up to Gemma, just inside the door leading into the belly of the ship, their uncle is speaking to a uniformed man. “Charles, Gemma, and Harry Styles,” his uncle says to the man, who jots it down in a book.

“Thank you, Mr Styles, and welcome aboard the Titanic,” the officer says, motioning over a group of waiting stewards. “Someone will show you to your rooms, and I hope you have a pleasant voyage.” With a tip of his cap, the man turns to the next party coming aboard.

The stewards gather up all of the Styles’ belongings, relieving the porters who had followed the trio up from the dock. Harry notices Charles slip a less than gracious tip into the hands of the retreating porters, always loathe to part with his coin. Disgusted, Harry resolves to make sure the stewards are rewarded more fairly for their services.

The interior of the gargantuan passenger liner is far more luxurious than Harry ever imagined, giving him the impression of standing in a hotel rather than on a ship. The walls are paneled in rich, dark oak—every corridor well lit and open. Bags in hand, two of the stewards make their way through an open door into the ship proper, while another leads Harry, Gemma, and their uncle to visit the Purser. There is a bank of elevators up ahead, and to Harry’s right is a vast, airy room, clusters of tables and chairs scattered between carved white columns.

Their guide, a young man with ginger hair, must have followed Harry’s gaze. “Reception Room, sir,” he explains, nodding toward the public space. “The Dining Saloon is just through there.” He points to a set of doors on the opposite wall.

Harry nods, craning his neck for a better look into the room. “And the stairs?” he asks, indicating the large, curving staircase that seems to be the focal point of the room.

The steward smiles, eyes lighting up with a knowing gleam. “Ah, that’s the Grand Staircase, Mr Styles. I’d bet my hat you’ve never seen anything like it on any other ship.” He hefts the bag in his hand. “For now, if you don’t mind, we’ll take the lift, but I strongly encourage you to have a walk later and see for yourself.”

“Yes, I certainly will,” Harry murmurs, scanning the room one more time before ducking into the lift behind his elder sister.

They step out one floor higher, on C Deck. It looks much the same as the one below, though this one has linoleum floors instead of the red carpeting found in the Reception Room, and a long, white-paneled hallway stretches out in front of them. Once Charles deposits his valuables with the Purser, another steward, this one tall and brunet, gestures down the hallway. “Right this way, if you please,” he says pleasantly.

They stop in front of a door halfway down, the tall steward unlocking it and swinging it open. “This will be your suite, ma’am,” he says, nodding to Gemma. She slips inside curiously, silently taking in the damask-patterned walls and finely carved furnishings. A pair of stewardesses already wait inside, ready to unpack Gemma’s things and get her settled in. Nellie’s large brown eyes are wide as saucers as she pulls out a chair and helps Gemma into it before helping the stewardesses see to the many articles of clothing Gemma brought aboard.

“I’ll come check on you a little later,” Harry promises, before following the stewards to the room next door.

The second room is just as lavish as the first, though where Gemma’s is draped in golds and greens, this one has oak walls outfitted with red silk panels. The bed and table are both carved from a dark wood, and the chaise lounge in the corner of the room is upholstered in the same red fabric as the walls. It’s rich and warm and makes Harry want to run screaming in the opposite direction.

“This is your room, Mr Styles,” the brunet steward says to Harry, stepping aside to let Harry enter the room. Harry’s face is a polite mask, even if his insides are churning. He feels seasick, and they’ve yet to set sail.

“Thank you,” Harry says quietly, tugging off a tan glove so he can feel the ornate details on the headboard with his bare hand.

The ginger-haired steward who had told Harry about the staircase is the one who stays behind to unpack his things, while the other steward escorts Charles to his room next door. Harry watches the man carefully put away his clothing and effects, slightly uncomfortable at being waited on. They’d had servants at home, sure; much like Nellie, however, they felt more like friends than staff, and more often than not Harry sought out their company when he felt too lonely in the Styles manor.

Harry hopes they’ll fare well, left alone in his father’s employ. He would have rather brought them all with him, but his ticket alone was more than he could manage on his own, and he doubts his father would have been willing to pay for another—or to part with any of their household staff. He can practically hear Desmond’s voice in his head: “Good help is hard to find, son, and harder to keep.”

“Sir? I’ve finished,” the steward says, cutting through Harry’s thoughts. Sure enough, his bags are emptied and the book Harry has been reading is placed neatly on the table next to the chaise.

“Oh,” Harry says, looking from the book back to where the steward is waiting near the door. “Thank you… I’m sorry, what was your name again?”

The steward smiles crookedly, puffing out his chest. “Anthony Wheeler, sir, at your service.”

Harry chuckles to himself. This lad can’t be much younger than him, yet he seems so much lighter, freer somehow. “Thank you, Mr Wheeler,” he says, slipping the steward a note, which the man pockets gratefully.

“Anytime, sir,” Wheeler says, turning to leave but stopping just before he exits the room. “Oh, that door there can be opened into Miss Styles’ room, and that one into Mr Styles’.” He points to a door on either side of the room. “Just in case you wanted a little more space.”

Making a mental note to push a chair in front of the one leading to his uncle’s room, Harry nods in acknowledgement as Wheeler takes his leave.

He’s no sooner settled into one of the chairs around the table to remove his shoes than there’s a knock at the door connecting his room to his uncle’s. “Harry, a word?” Charles calls, voice muffled by the heavy wood.

Rolling his eyes heavenward, Harry climbs to his feet and opens the door. Charles steps in without waiting to be invited, looking around the room as if he’s half expected Harry to have messed it up already. “Well? What do you think?” Charles asks, his watery blue eyes staring unblinkingly up at Harry. At twenty-two, Harry has a fair bit of height on his uncle, and he takes great pleasure in looking down his nose at the older man.

“It’s a bit much, if I’m honest,” Harry drawls, delighting in the way Charles’ face twists in outrage. He’d clearly expected Harry to be more impressed (which he is, but he’ll be damned if he lets Charles know that). “I mean, it’s just a boat.”

Charles sputters at that. “Just a boat? Harry, the Titanic is the greatest ship ever built!” He shakes his head in sheer disbelief. “I know you have little regard for our way of life, but I thought even you could find something enjoyable about this trip.” He opens the door to his own room, looking over his shoulder at Harry before he goes. “Though you’re upset with your father and me, I do hope you’ll try to enjoy yourself at least a little bit, for Gemma’s sake.” He closes the door behind him, but not before Harry hears him mutter, “Just a boat... Honestly.”

Glaring at the door, Harry kicks off his shoes and hurls himself onto the bed. It’s very soft, he must admit, even as he scowls into the pillow. Rolling over onto his back to stare up at the coffered ceiling, he finds his uncle’s words echoing in his ears, and each repetition deepens the furrow between Harry’s brows. For Gemma’s sake. As if Charles has ever done anything for anyone that didn’t serve him in some way, let alone Gemma. The sole reason Harry is even on this trip is to look out for his sister, something the elder men in their family have seemingly forgotten how to do.

Letting his eyes drift closed, Harry wonders how his life changed so much so abruptly. His mother’s been dead less than half a year, and now he’s on a boat—sorry, ship—to America, all because his father has decided Gemma is old enough to be married, preferably to one of his business partners—something their mother would never have allowed. Now that she’s gone, however, there’s no one to intervene, and Harry sure as hell isn’t about to allow his sister to be sent to live in an unfamiliar land by herself. (And no, he doesn’t consider living in close proximity to their uncle to be to her advantage).

So here he is, on the maiden voyage of a magnificent ship, and he doesn’t even have the energy to go up on deck to watch her set sail. He doesn’t want to see the people waving farewell to those on shore, all the while knowing there’s no one left to miss him. God knows his father won’t.

With heavy eyelids and a heavier heart, Harry allows himself to slip into unconsciousness, perfectly content to sleep the whole damn journey away.

✯✯✯

Louis slings his rucksack into the bunk with a grunt, still a little amazed that all his worldly possessions are so easily packed into one measly bag. The room he’s in is small—just four berths and a little sink—but it’s clean and tidy and has a door, a luxury, he’s been told, compared to Third Class passage on most other ships. Hell, sharing a room with only three other people will be enough of a luxury, given that Louis is used to bunking with his four little sisters (well, two on the nights the little ones have nightmares and creep off to their mother’s bed).

The other three bunks are still empty and pristine, their inhabitants not having arrived quite yet. Relishing actually being alone for a little while, Louis pulls his clothing out of his bag and starts stuffing things into the drawer of the bunk he’s chosen, whistling to himself as he unpacks. As far as he’s concerned, this trip is off to a famous start.

It’s nearing noon when Louis finally meets his first bunk mate, a man named Stanley Lucas who also hails from South Yorkshire, like himself, which is a lovely coincidence. He’s energetic and talkative, with a round face and dark brown hair. Louis likes him immediately and guesses they would have been close mates, had they met sooner and lived lives that allowed for socialising.

“So, Tomlinson, what’s got you climbing into this bloody great tub, then?” Lucas asks, leaning jauntily against the railing of the poop deck. They’ve both finished unpacking for the most part (though the chore took considerably longer than it might have done without all their friendly banter), and decided to make their way above to watch England fade into the horizon. Louis swallows hard, his eyes never leaving the land that is all he’s known in his twenty-four years of life.

Regarding Stan’s casually-worded question, it’s the thought of four little girls with hopeful eyes and hungry bellies, his exhausted mother working tirelessly to support them. It’s memories of feigning fullness so the younger ones could have another portion at supper, even when he was near starved himself. It’s too few blankets to go around and too many holes to patch in their clothing—these are the reasons Louis is off to a new continent, leaving life as he knows it behind him, growing smaller and smaller as the Titanic cuts through the calm sea.

“My family,” he answers simply, finally ripping his eyes away to meet Lucas’. “I want to be able to help my family.”

Stan smiles kindly, seeming to sense that that’s all Louis has to offer on the topic, before turning his gaze back to the shoreline himself. “I’m going to live with my cousins,” he explains. “They’ve a farm in Illinois and could use another set of hands come summer.”

Louis nods his head, hoping not to come off as rude but too emotionally drained to speak. He lets himself sag against the railing, watching the water foam white around the ship’s stern, the wake of the great ocean liner sending ripples out farther than either man can see. Louis blows a kiss toward home, not even caring if Stan notices, and lets the waves carry his love back to his mother and sisters.

The deck is beginning to fill with other passengers: children tugging their mothers’ hands so they can peer through the railings; men introducing themselves and shaking hands, inviting each other to reconvene in the Third Class smoking room. The chatter pulls Louis from his thoughts, bringing him back to the present. He straightens his back and claps a hand on Stan’s shoulder, replacing the sad twist of his lips with a jovial grin. “Well, Lucas, old chap, what do you say we see what trouble we can get into before tea?”

Stan grins in return, pushing himself off the rails and turning his back on England once and for all. “I’d say you’re on to something, Tomlinson. Lead the way.”

After a rather short-lived attempt at sneaking into the Third Class pantries, followed by a tea of cold meats and cheeses, Louis finds himself alone yet again, Lucas—sociable bloke that he seems to be—having joined some other passengers for a card game in the Smoking Room. The day is young, though, and there’s still mischief to be had. After all, he’s barely seen more of the ship than his part of F Deck and the stairwell, and that just won’t do at all.

So he goes exploring. He pokes his head into a few rooms and says hello to other passengers, tries to open every linen closet he comes across, and jiggles the handles of a couple interesting-looking (and, sadly, locked) doors. He finds a staircase, taking it as high as it goes, all the way up to the poop deck, only to be met with a locked gate bearing a sign—Third Class Passengers Not Permitted Forward of This. The gate isn’t very tall, only waist-high, but the stern-looking steward standing on the other side makes Louis think twice about trying to scale it. With a huff and a longing glance over the metal bars, Louis turns and plods back down the stairs. He never figured sneaking into areas he wasn’t meant to be in would be that easy, as confirmed by the failed pantry adventure, but it would have been nice, that’s all.

He makes his way up to E Deck, following the same hallway that had led him and Stan to the Dining Saloon. There’s nothing terribly thrilling along the expanse of corridor, just pristine white paneling and more doors he’s not allowed through. Childishly, Louis pulls a face at one such door, only to leap back in surprise as it swings open. A man steps through, keeping his face stoic despite what a ridiculous picture Louis must present, flattened against the opposite wall and clutching his breast.

“Afternoon, sir. Anything I can help you find?” the man asks, smiling politely under his moustache.

Composing himself, Louis returns the smile, stepping back to the middle of the hallway. “No, thanks, just taking a stroll,” he says breezily, fidgeting with the rolled-up cuff of his white shirt, the colour of the garment practically beige next to the pure white of the steward’s uniform.

The employee nods politely and bids Louis a good day, before strolling off down the corridor, letting the door swing closed behind him.

Well, almost closed. The door is heavy, and Louis’ foot throbs a bit from where he’s wedged it in the crack between the door and the frame, but it works a treat.

He’s in.

✯✯✯

Two sounds simultaneously rouse Harry from his slumber: One is a tapping at the door connecting his stateroom to Gemma’s, and the other is the raucous trumpeting of a bugle from somewhere down the corridor. He hadn’t even realised he’d fallen asleep, yet apparently his sister and “The Roast Beef of Old England” have decided he shouldn’t rest any longer.

“Coming!” he calls sleepily, rolling out of bed. He’s still in his clothes from boarding, the bed made up as if no one has slept in it at all. A glimpse in the mirror over his room’s dressing table shows a handsome but tired looking man, red lines streaking his left cheek from the pillow, bags under his eyes from many a sleepless night prior to leaving. He worries, is the thing. Ever since their mother passed, he’s taken it upon himself to make life as easy for his sister as possible, even if it means making things harder for himself. Although… Being twenty-two years old and spoken of in code as a “confirmed bachelor” by his father’s acquaintances means he’s already made things plenty difficult.

Taking a deep breath, Harry forces his negative musings down and puts on a brave face for his sister. He opens the door with a drowsy smile. “Hello, Gems. Dinner time already?”

Gemma is a vision in pale pink and cream, her hair twisted elegantly out of her face and fashioned with their mother’s favourite hair comb. There’s a wry tilt to her mouth, but like Harry’s own smile, it doesn’t quite reach her eyes.

“I cannot believe you’re going to spend the whole voyage locked in your room,” Gemma teases. “Don’t you know how many eligible young ladies are on board?” The last part is said in a terrible imitation of their uncle’s gruff voice.

Harry chuckles. “Oh, yes, my dear sister, but how will they feel when they discover I’m quite taken with their brothers instead?”

The siblings both laugh, the thickness in the air dissipating. Gemma has long been aware of where her brother’s affections lie, and has never shown him any less love for it. He’s so grateful to have someone to speak freely to. She had held his hand when he tearfully told his mother why he never showed interest in any of the women she introduced him to, and comforted him when his father expressed his disgust at Harry’s inclinations.

It’s always been the two of them together, and Harry will be damned if that’s going to change anytime soon. It’s why, the moment their father announced his intentions for Gemma to travel to America to find a husband, Harry insisted that he would go along with her. His father hardly put up a fuss; in his eyes, he was free of both an unmarried daughter and a disgrace of a son. The price of Harry’s ticket was worth escaping the rumours that his continued bachelorhood was certain to foster.

Their laughter subsiding, Harry looks down at his now-rumpled suit mournfully. “Give me a moment to make myself presentable, and I’ll escort you to dinner,” he tells Gemma, grateful that the steward had unpacked to save him the trouble of searching through his luggage.

Feigning impatience, Gemma crosses her arms in a flurry of chiffon, a pair of gloves clutched in one hand. “If you must. You’re lucky you’re the only man on this ship I care to have escort me.” She raises her chin proudly. “I could have anyone, you know.”

Harry nods solemnly. “Yes, I know.” He ducks forward to kiss her on the cheek. “And they’d be lucky to have you.”

She flushes, clearly not expecting the praise, and smacks him with the gloves she has yet to put on. “Stop flirting and get dressed, Mr Styles. Your sister is famished,” she admonishes, though he can tell she’s rather pleased with his words.

“Yes, ma’am,” he replies, pulling the door shut and turning to his wardrobe. He may never fit in as seamlessly with the other passengers as his uncle would like, but he can damn sure dress the part.

✯✯✯

Beyond the door he had propped open with his foot, Louis finds himself faced with a stairway leading downwards and little else. “Might as well,” he murmurs under his breath before setting off down the stairs.

At the bottom, he’s met with another two doors: one to his left, the other straight ahead. It’s the latter that he approaches, a plate on the wall designating it as the cabin for Third Class Stewards. He rests his hand on the handle, considering what might happen if he enters. Surely ‘accidentally’ stumbling into the crew’s quarters is a common mistake, right?

Gathering his courage, Louis pushes at the door. It’s not locked, and swings open without a sound.

The room beyond looks quite similar to his own in Third Class, albeit on a larger scale. Bunks line the walls, and he’s relieved to find them all empty. They have been used recently, however, as evidenced by the disturbed bed linens and stray belongings left on a few of the beds. One bunk even has a uniform lying on it, folded neatly and waiting to be worn.

Louis can’t help but brush his fingers over the starched white fabric, admiring the shiny brass buttons, each embossed with the White Star Line’s logo. It looks to be about his size, maybe a touch larger. He shouldn’t, he really should not.

But since when has that ever stopped him?

Peering around to ensure the room is empty, Louis hastily unbuttons his shirt and slips the uniform inside. The bulge it produces is noticeable, but hopefully anyone he encounters between here and his berth will be too polite to stare at his misshapen midsection. Heart pounding, each thud forcing more adrenaline through his veins, Louis steals back up the stairs and—checking that the coast is clear—back into the relative safety of the corridor.

By the time Louis reaches his room, he’s sweating and breathless. Luckily most of the passengers are at the first seating of supper, and the rest are in the common areas keeping busy. With the door shut against any prying eyes, Louis takes off his shirt and carefully extracts his bounty.

The jacket is nicer than anything Louis owns, fabric crisp and bright. The double row of buttons have a gold finish, and there isn’t a trace of tarnish in the ridges of the design. He thinks of the gated stairwell, of the beautiful ragtime music he could hear drifting down from the higher decks, and all the places this uniform might take him: The biggest ship in the world just got a lot bigger to Louis Tomlinson.

He wastes no time dressing, fingers seeming to fly over the brass buttons as he fastens them. One is loose, and droops a bit lower than the rest, but it’s hardly noticeable. The jacket is big on him, as he expected, but not enough to give him away. The trousers are a different story, the backside stretched taut over the swell of his bum, but the seam holds. As a final touch, Louis wets his hands at the sink between the bunks and slicks back his hair, copying the way he had seen some of the crew wear theirs. It’ll dry, of course, but hopefully not before he has a chance to take a look around.

Act like you’re meant to be here, Louis tells himself as he climbs the same staircase he was denied access to before. A different steward is at the gate, looking rather bored. His eyes light up when he sees Louis. “Are you my replacement, then?” he asks.

Louis blinks, barely able to believe the string of good luck he’s had today. “That’s me,” he says cheerfully, leaning against the gate in what he hopes is a casual pose. There are a few passengers milling about the poop deck, but no one he recognises. No one seems to recognise him either.

The other steward regards him for a moment, seemingly trying to place Louis, but doesn’t linger on him for long. “She’s all yours.” Without a backward glance, the steward disappears down the stairs.

Pausing only long enough to listen for approaching footsteps, Louis lets himself through the gate. He feels guilty for a moment, hoping whoever was actually meant to take watch doesn’t get in too much trouble, but the thrill of what he’s about to do doesn’t allow him to worry for long.

On the other side of the gate is a covered promenade, large square windows giving a panoramic view of the ocean. The sky is rosy as the sun sinks toward the water, the Cherbourg coast growing closer all the while. Louis’ never been to France before, and this is probably the closest he’ll ever come. A lighthouse guards the coast like a sentry, the combined force of the wind and the Titanic’s wake sending waves crashing against the base.

Tearing his eyes away from the approaching shoreline, Louis turns to examine the other side of the promenade. It too is lined with windows, these peering into what seems to be a beautiful library, more books than Louis’ ever seen in his life contained in but one of the shelves. Elegantly dressed men and women lounge on sofas and in armchairs, some reading, others engaged in lively discussion. He doesn’t linger long, sure it wouldn’t do to be caught staring in like some sort of Peeping Tom. He’s supposed to be a steward, after all; surely he would have seen the library at some point in time.

Up ahead, a stewardess is pushing through a door. The key in her hand seems to indicate it had been locked, and that’s all the inspiration Louis needs to make haste. He crosses to the door in a few broad strides, catching it under the guise of holding it open for the stewardess.

“Thanks,” she says in a Welsh accent, eyeing Louis as she steps through. “Haven’t seen you around before, have I?”

The question catches Louis off guard, but he quickly recovers. “Oh, I’ve been ill, you see,” he lies smoothly, gracing her with a toothy smile. “Kept to my bunk for a bit there.”

She looks unsure, but seems to accept his bluff. He looks the part, after all, and with a polite farewell she hurries off down the promenade and leaves Louis to slip through the door.

He’s in a hallway, staterooms lining either side of the passageway. The walls are white and paneled, with sconces illuminating the elegant moulding. Beneath his feet is gleaming white linoleum, reflecting the light overhead, and he knows, just knows, that he’s found his way to First Class. Once he turns a corner, he confirms it.

If the glimpse of the library had seemed exquisite, it is nothing compared to the absolute splendour surrounding him now.

In front of Louis is a sweeping staircase, two sets of steps curving together at a landing before diverging to continue to the deck above. The wood is rich and warm, oak perhaps, and accented with ornate ironwork. Hints of bronze contrast with the iron, and a grand painting hangs over the landing like a crown. Louis had never thought things like staircases could be beautiful before, and even that word fails to adequately describe the magnificence of the structure before him.

Equally magnificent are the men and women traversing the stairs, dressed handsomely in silks and tails as they make their way back to their rooms after dinner. Louis knows he has to move, that he’s drawing more than a few curious looks with his gaping, so with great reluctance he continues past the stairs and down the hallway.

Of course, approaching from the other end of the corridor is a group of stewards in blue jackets.

The First Class uniform must be different, Louis realises with a sinking feeling, knowing it’s only a matter of time before he’s caught. They haven’t spotted him yet, however, and it’s a rash decision when Louis decides to try the door of the closest stateroom. Finding it unlocked and praying its occupants are at dinner, he ducks inside and presses his back against the door, safely closed once more.

“It’s generally considered polite to knock, I believe,” a woman’s voice says to his right, giving Louis a nasty scare and producing an undignified squawk.

The woman in question is seated at a writing desk, regarding him with a curious expression. She stands, the fabric of her gown catching the light. It’s rosy in colour, with gold trim, a perfect complement to the green and gold palette of her stateroom. Her hair is dark and carefully styled, her eyes wide but not unfriendly. She seems amused, almost, at his intrusion.

Louis remembers that he just barged into this woman’s quarters unannounced, and he should probably get around to explaining himself.

“My deepest apologies, miss,” he says, giving a polite bow. “I was hoping to see to your room while you were dining, but clearly I’ve made an error. I hope you’ll forgive my blunder.”

She graces him with the barest hint of a smile, but it’s enough to allow his anxiety to ebb. “I suppose, just please do knock next time. I was about to dress for bed,” she tells him, her low voice as elegant as her surroundings.

The thought of accidentally bursting in on a woman in a state of undress has a warm blush rising in Louis’ cheeks, and it does not go unnoticed by the lady. She laughs into her hand. “Regardless, my room is fine for the evening.” She pauses as if thinking, tilting her head as she looks at Louis. “However, my brother’s room is right next door. Perhaps he needs tending to?”

It doesn’t seem to concern her that his uniform differs from that of the other First Class stewards, or that Louis didn’t come bearing any linens or supplies. However, far be it from him to question his good fortune. “Yes, miss, right away.” He turns to make a hasty exit, but she calls out to him before he can even open the door.

“You can go through here, if you’d like,” she suggests, pointing to a door next to the writing desk. It must lead directly into the brother’s room. Louis lets his shoulders sag almost imperceptibly—he’d planned on leaving her room and making a swift getaway, never actually checking in with her brother. Alas, it seems he has no choice. He can only hope the brother is as easily deceived as the sister.

“Thank you, miss. Good night.” Louis bows again and crosses to the aforementioned door. He casts one last look back at the woman, smiling almost smugly as Louis steps out of her room and into the one next door. Curious, he thinks, pulling the door shut behind him and turning to see what he’s gotten himself into.

The room is… completely empty. Where the sister’s was vibrant, this room is fitted with dark wood and colours. It feels rich, and impressive, and Louis should get out of here before the brother comes back.

But he’s come all this way, and who knows if he’ll be able to sneak back up again, so Louis allows himself a few moments to look around.

The thing that draws his attention is the bed. It’s large and looks untouched, piled high with pillows. The mattress alone looks twice as thick as his own in Third Class, and he longs to feel how soft it is. Just for a minute, that’s all, he reasons, stepping to the bed.

The mattress under his fingertips is even softer than he imagined. He must know what it’s like to lie in such a bed. Careful not to rumple the linens, Louis lays himself out, almost groaning at the way he sinks into the softness. It’s like he’s lying in a cloud, and Louis would gladly spend the rest of the voyage right here in this bed. A pleased sigh deflates his lungs as his eyelids flutter closed, allowing himself just a bit longer to pretend before he takes his leave.

“Ahem.”

The voice is loud in the otherwise quiet room, sending Louis flying out of the bed and backing up against the wall. He hadn’t even heard the door open, but sure enough, a man is now standing inside the threshold, regarding him curiously. He’s undoubtedly the woman’s brother, with similar facial features; only his eyes are lighter, green perhaps. His dark hair is long and curls around his handsome face, full lips pressed together as he waits for Louis to explain himself.

“I, erm,” Louis starts, rushing to think of something, anything he can say to excuse his actions. The last thing he needs is for his behaviour to be reported. They would very quickly learn that Louis isn’t a steward at all and has no business being in a first class stateroom. “I was just testing the softness of the bed,” he explains, trying to hide the tremor in his voice. “We’ve had some complaints of lumps, you see.”

It’s a ridiculous lie, and Louis knows he’s done for. So it comes as a complete shock when, instead of getting angry, the room’s rightful occupant opens his mouth wide—and laughs.

✯✯✯

As expected, dining with his uncle is a rather unpleasant affair. The elder Styles keeps trying desperately to convince Harry to make connections, encouraging Harry to think of his father’s reputation. Instead, Harry spends the entire meal talking to Gemma, commenting on the various dishes placed in front of them and elbowing each other to giggle at a few of the more ostentatiously dressed passengers. Their antics, while earning them disapproving glares from their uncle, have the young couple seated next to them giggling into their napkins. It’s all well and good until Harry accidentally laughs mid-drink of champagne, sending him into a fit of coughing that has several well-mannered diners nearby scoffing at him.

“Enough, both of you,” Charles hisses from Harry’s left, throwing his napkin down on the table. “I did not agree to accompany you on this trip only to have you behave like children.” He narrows his eyes at Harry. “You especially need to be concerned with what others think of you. Or do you not care what whispers accompany your name, your father’s name, because of your actions?”

Red-faced and suddenly angry, Harry pushes away his half-eaten Waldorf pudding, and refuses to look up from the tablecloth for the remainder of dinner. Maybe it’s childish, but he’s not about to have this fight in front of so many people. Gemma rests a reassuring hand on his, encouraging him to unclench his fist, but doesn’t pester him to rejoin the conversation. She knows, better than anybody, how little Harry cares about sullying his father’s name, and how much he hates attention being called to his own. It’s as if the Sin of the Greeks has left a mark on his face, and everyone who looks upon him can pass judgment without bothering to get to know him as a person.

“Styles?” A quiet American accent cuts through Harry’s brooding. It’s the young man of the couple dining with them, leaning across the table as the final dishes are cleared away. “Would you care to join me for a brandy in the Smoking Room?”

Harry smiles warmly at the man, Daniel Marvin, eighteen years old and returning from a honeymoon with his bride. “I’d like that, thank you.” He stands, helping Gemma to her feet. “Want me to stop by your room before I turn in for the night?”

“No, I’m just going to read for a bit and then go to bed.” She smiles gratefully at Daniel. “Do try to keep my dear brother out of trouble, and whatever you do, don’t play cards with him.”

Daniel chuckles, his light eyebrows raised in question. “Oh? He’s that good, is he?”

Both Styles siblings laugh at that. “No, he’s awful. He can’t bluff to save his life,” Gemma explains, grinning fondly at her brother. “I won’t allow him to suffer such embarrassment, not if I can help it.”

“That’s enough, now,” Harry interjects with a frown, though there’s no real umbrage in his tone. “She doesn’t know what she’s talking about, Marvin,” he says playfully as he takes Gemma’s arm, heading toward the door. “Let’s get that brandy, then we’ll see about the cards.”

It manages to be a rather pleasant end to the uncomfortable evening. Daniel is good company and even better at cards, though he graciously doesn’t boast when he bests Harry hand after hand. The brandy is excellent, and even knowing that his uncle is somewhere in the same room with one businessman or another can’t dampen his spirits.

By the time Harry bids Daniel a good evening and wanders back down to C Deck, any lingering irritation from dinner has faded. Instead he strolls along merrily, humming to the strains of music he can hear floating up the Grand Staircase from the Reception Room below. He promises himself that he’ll make time tomorrow to sit and properly listen to the band, always one to appreciate skilled musicians. Harry dabbled in piano himself, often sitting in on Gemma’s lessons (and frankly, taking to the instrument far better than she ever did). He’d even dreamt of playing professionally, once, though his father never would have allowed it. Who knows, maybe America will allow him to follow his dreams without his father watching over his every move. Doubtful, seeing as how his uncle is all too happy to fill that particular role.

He reaches the door to his stateroom just after 8:30. The Titanic is on her way to Queenstown by now, he reckons, the last stop before New York. It’s hard to believe that in a matter of days, he’ll be all the way across the Atlantic Ocean. It’s exhilarating and daunting all at once, and as he pushes open the door he can’t help but try to imagine what life has in store for him.

What he isn’t expecting, however, is to find a strange man in his bed.

“Ahem,” he clears his throat softly, hoping to announce his presence without startling the man too much.

The intruder springs from the bed in an instant, pressing himself against the paneling and staring at Harry with wide, frightened eyes. His chest rises and falls rapidly beneath the fabric of his uniform. He appears to be a crew member of some sort, though he’s dressed differently than Wheeler and the other stewards Harry has seen thus far.

“I, erm, I was just testing the softness of the bed,” the man says slowly, nervously. “We’ve had some complaints of lumps, you see.”

And, well, that might be the most ridiculous thing Harry’s heard in awhile. On the one hand, it’s most likely a lie, the steward embarrassed at having been caught literally lying down on the job. On the other, he wouldn’t be a bit surprised if some of his fellow passengers actually had complained that the beds weren’t up to snuff, and his uncle would be at the top of the list.

So he laughs. Loud, brash, full-bodied laughter, the brandy still warming him from tip to toe. The steward looks quite taken aback, but soon relaxes and joins in with a hesitant chuckle of his own.

“Don’t worry, I won’t turn you in,” Harry says, once he’s recovered from his laughter. “I imagine you’ve had a long day, waiting hand and foot on people.”

The man smiles gratefully, eyes crinkling at the corners. He looks familiar, but Harry hasn’t the slightest idea from where he might know him. “Thank you, sir,” he says earnestly, finally stepping away from the wall.

He’s rather attractive, Harry decides, taking a good look at the steward. His toffee-coloured hair is falling over his forehead, clearly having been slicked back earlier in the day. He’s thin, his cheekbones prominent under the tanned skin of his face, and the jacket he’s wearing seems a touch too big for him. He’s shorter than Harry, but holds himself proudly, like he’s used to standing his ground.

Truth be told, he’s the most interesting person Harry’s met on this ship.

“I’m Harry Styles,” Harry says, taking a step closer to his ‘guest’ and extending a hand.

Looking hesitant, the steward takes the proffered hand and clasps it briefly before pulling away. “Tomlinson, sir,” he says, and leaves it at that.

Sensing the man’s discomfort and satisfied at having a name to go on should he care to meet him again, Harry inclines his head and steps out of the way. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr Tomlinson,” he says sincerely.

Tomlinson blushes but doesn’t reply, merely gives an awkward bow and hurries to the door. Harry can’t help but notice the way the trousers of his uniform hug Tomlinson’s backside, Harry’s mind conjuring up images that would probably give his uncle a heart attack.

The man is nearly out the door when, emboldened by the brandy, Harry stops him. “Oh, and Tomlinson,” he says, waiting for the steward to meet his gaze before continuing, “you’re welcome to test the softness of my bed any time you please.”

Tomlinson doesn’t reply, just studies Harry’s face with bright blue eyes before slipping out into the corridor.

Harry can’t stop thinking of his visitor as he dresses for bed, and when he finally climbs beneath the covers he fancies he can still feel the warmth left there from Tomlinson’s body. He falls asleep feeling less lonely than he has in quite some time.

✯✯✯

Safely back on F Deck, Louis presses himself into an alcove, catching his breath from his flight from First Class. The uniform had made the return trip uneventful, but the prospect of being caught at any moment has Louis’ heart fluttering wildly against his ribs like a bird desperate to escape its cage.

Still, it had been worth the risk, every second of it. Even though he’s back where he belongs, Louis feels as if he carries some of the elegance with him, soaked into his skin like sun does in summertime. The resulting glow puts a bounce in Louis’ step once he’s calmed himself enough to return to his room. He wonders what Stan has been doing to keep himself entertained, and if any more of the bunks in their room have found occupants.

He pauses just outside his door, glancing down at his garb. Though Stan seems like the sort of lad up for a bit of deception in the name of fun, he isn’t entirely sure how his new friend will react to Louis’ tale of theft and trespass. Just to be safe, he removes the purloined jacket and tucks it under his arm, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible. Taking a deep breath, he pushes open the door to his cabin and steps inside.

To his surprise, Stan is seated on his bunk, but he isn’t the only person in the room. A new man, who appears to be around the same age, is taking up the remaining lower bunk, the pair chatting amiably. They pause their conversation at Louis’ arrival.

“Tomlinson!” Stan crows, ruddy-faced. It’s evident that he’s paid a visit to the bar fairly recently. “We looked for you at supper. Where did you get off to?”

Propping himself up against the bottom of his own bunk. Louis casually slides the jacket out from under his arm and onto the bed. “Oh, I did a bit more exploring. Found some chaps to play a few hands with.” He tips his chin toward the newcomer. “I see you’ve found company, as well.”

“Blimey, where are my manners?” Stan says, slapping his knee. “Louis Tomlinson, this is Zayn Malik. He boarded in Cherbourg.”

Louis turns his full attention to Malik, taking in his appearance for the first time. He’s got a dark complexion and black hair, his brown eyes almost amber in the light of their cabin. “Pleasure to meet you, Malik,” Louis says, holding out his hand.

Zayn smiles, and Louis gets the feeling that he’s not at all unpopular with the ladies. “The pleasure’s all mine, Tomlinson,” he says, in an accent Louis is surprised to hear is decidedly not French. Zayn must sense what Louis is thinking, because he goes on to explain: “I’m from England, originally. My parents moved to France when I was younger. My dad wanted to live along the coast to find work. He’s a lascar,” Zayn says, matter-of-factly. “A sailor from India,” he clarifies, seeing the blank expressions on the faces of the other men.

“Is that what made you want to take to the seas, then?” Louis asks jovially, climbing up onto his bed and peering over the edge at his companions.

Zayn shakes his head. “No, I never took to sailing like my father. My mother has family in Montreal, though, so I’m going to stay with them and look for work.”

“You’re in good company, then. Seems we’re all off to seek our fortunes.” He rolls over on his back, wriggling to get comfortable. This mattress is far better than the one he slept on at home, but nothing compared to the bed in First Class. “I think I’m going to turn in, lads. It’s been quite an exciting day.”

Stan and Zayn both wish him good night, neither man staying awake for long after. Despite being the first to try to sleep, it’s Louis who lies awake as soft snoring fills the cabin. He can’t seem to get that Styles fellow out of his head, a pair of green eyes burned into the back of his eyelids. He can’t put his finger on why the man should invade his mind, especially since they’ll likely never meet again, but there is just something about Harry Styles that has Louis wishing desperately that maybe, just maybe, their paths will cross once more.

He goes to sleep meditating on silk walls and carved furnishings, and, even if he can’t place why, a man whose countenance is far more exquisite than either.

Chapter Text

11 April 1912

It takes Louis a few minutes to realise where he is upon waking. The bed beneath him is soft and small, and he's alone. He can't remember the last time he woke up without a frightened child having crawled into his bed.

Then he remembers: He's at sea, and his sisters are back home, and it's going to be a very long time before he sees them again.

He rolls over with a groan, taking in his surroundings. With no windows, it’s difficult to discern how early in the day it is. Whatever the time, Zayn and Stan have already vacated their bunks, off to have breakfast or cause mischief—perhaps both.

Heaving himself out of bed, Louis opens the drawer housing his scant belongings and begins dressing for the day. His wardrobe isn’t much: a few pair of trousers and patched cotton shirts, a waistcoat for variety, braces, and one threadbare jacket. Still, he has more than some, and for that he’s grateful.

As he pulls his braces over his shoulders, he allows himself to daydream about life in America, when he’ll have the money to have new clothes made, maybe even a suit. He thinks about his sisters being able to have toys and treats, and new fabric for dresses. It’s worth it, he reminds himself, tamping down the pang of homesickness.

It’s still early morning, it turns out, the second seating of breakfast having just begun. Making his way to the Dining Saloon, Louis finds Zayn and Stan sat opposite each other at the end of one of the long tables. Stan is talking animatedly, waving his arms about above his head, and Zayn shaking his head in amusement at whatever tale the former is recounting.

It’s Stan who spots Louis first, waving him over. “Tomlinson! We saved you a seat,” he calls, pointing at the empty chair next to him. Louis sits down in the wooden chair, his stomach giving a great rumble as he catches the scent of his bunk mates’ food. He’d completely forgotten that, in all the excitement, he’d skipped supper the night before.

“Morning, lads,” Louis says with a grin, turning his chair to and fro—all the chairs lining the tables are built to swivel as a way to counteract the motion of the ship, but to Louis it’s just a means of not having to sit completely still. Speaking of motion, the Dining Saloon is full of it, stewards serving food and passengers eating with gusto. It’s no wonder, Louis thinks, as a steward sets a plate down in front of him. It’s filled with food: porridge, boiled potatoes, roasted pork. Louis can’t help but stare, his eyes no doubt as wide as the brimming plate. It’s but the first meal of the day, yet it’s more than Louis would have eaten in an entire day back home.

Louis eats in silence, just listening to Lucas and Malik converse while he savours his plum pudding. The topic at hand is how to pass the time until the next meal, a strange predicament for all involved. Like Louis, the other two men are used to spending their days hard at work to help provide for their families. While Zayn worked on the docks back home, Stan was a farmhand. Louis had the good fortune to find a job as a tailor’s assistant, allowing him to learn to sew on the side, working indoors instead of toiling under the harsh sun. Sometimes the tailor, Mr Stafford, would even allow him to take home scraps of fabric or rejected garments, which he would help his mother turn into new clothes for his sisters. It wasn’t easy work, but it certainly beat the hard labour his newfound friends were accustomed to.

Not that Louis had it easy, either. When he wasn’t at work, he was doing chores at home—chopping wood to prepare for winter, repairing furniture, cleaning the house, and tending to his sisters. He can’t remember when last he had so much leisure time. Or any at all, really.

“It’s like a holiday, innit?” he says aloud, ignoring the mouthful of currant bun he has yet to swallow. “We have nearly a week to eat, and play cards, and drink, all without doing a scrap of work.”

“Living the high life, we are!” Lucas agrees, raising his teacup in a toast. “To a glimpse of what we could have, boys!” Zayn touches his drink to Louis’ and Stan’s with a “hear, hear,” some of the men sitting close by giving a cheer as well.

Filled with good food and in high spirits, Louis can’t help but laugh, adopting his most posh accent when he asks, “Well, my good men, where shall we retire to for our sherry?”

Stan snorts, thumping the table hard enough to rattle the cutlery. Zayn, the quieter of the pair, simply shakes his head and bares his teeth in a grin. However brief, Louis thinks, this voyage is shaping up to be the best time of his life.

The afternoon wind carries a chill, but that doesn’t keep the three companions from making their way up to B Deck to watch as they approach Ireland. It’s a beautiful sight, with grey cliffs rising out of the greenest pastures Louis has ever laid eyes on.

Soon a rocky headway comes into view, topped with a lighthouse. It calls to mind the lighthouse Louis glimpsed yesterday, taking in the view from a covered promenade rather than an exposed deck. A yearning to taste such luxury once more tugs at him, but he shakes it off. It was risky, and he shouldn’t have done it. After all, even Third Class is finer than anything he’s ever known. Be grateful for what you have, he scolds himself. Don’t be greedy.

“That’s the Old Head of Kinsale,” Zayn announces, interrupting Louis’ thoughts. “Cork Harbour is just ‘round the other side. I’ve sailed here before with me dad.” Sure enough, as Titanic rounds the bend, the harbour lies in wait. Even from this distance, it’s clear that a massive crowd is gathered to see the great ship, every bit of visible shoreline filled with curious onlookers.

Once the Titanic is anchored, two smaller ships make their approach from the harbour, carrying the last load of passengers the liner will take on. “Tenders,” Zayn calls them. “They’ve got bags of mail too, see?”

Sure enough, large sacks are transferred to the ship along with the new arrivals. A few travelers who boarded in England disembark, probably not even having unpacked their luggage for such a short trip.

Zayn continues to regale them with information about ocean liners, as well as stories his father has told him of his many years spent at sea. While they talk, some of the new passengers join them on the deck to wave goodbye to their homeland. Louis feels a pang remembering his own tearful goodbye as the mournful notes of a bagpipe fill the air, making the moment even more poignant. The passenger-cum-musician stands facing Queenstown, his cheeks red from the wind and the strain of playing his instrument. The tune is haunting, yet beautiful, some other members of the crowd on deck humming along with tears in their eyes.

The melody is joined by a long blast from Titanic’s whistle and, leaving only ripples to mark where she stood, the ship steams out of the harbour and toward the open sea.

“I’m a bit tired,” Louis says, feigning a yawn and stepping away from his place at the railing. “Think I’m going to go have a lie down. Wake me for up for dinner?”

Lucas laughs as he nods. “If we don’t that blasted bugler surely will. Wake the dead for dinner, he would.”

“Get used to it, lads,” Malik chimes in. “He’ll be playing that before every meal. It’s a White Star Line tradition.” Their groans turn into laughter once more, and with a wave Louis removes himself from the deck to the quiet solitude of his cabin below.

Well. Almost quiet.

Instead of being empty, Louis finds the door standing open and his cabin occupied by a young man with dark hair. His back is turned as he paws through his suitcase, stuffing bits and bobs into the drawer underneath the previously empty bunk.

“Erm, hello?” Louis calls, tapping at the door frame to get the man’s attention.

His fourth and final bunk mate turns around, grinning broadly with crooked teeth. His eyes are blue and shining, face pale except for the ruddiness of his cheeks. The newcomer wastes no time latching onto Louis’ hand and giving it a mighty shake.

“Hello! ‘m Niall Horan,” the brunet says in a thick Irish accent, finally releasing Louis’ hand after a last, painful squeeze. “I hope you don’t mind, I had to check the drawers to see which bed wasn’t taken.”

Louis pulls his hand to his chest, waving Niall off with the other. “No, that’s fine. Just came aboard, then?” Slipping off his shoes, Louis climbs up into his bunk, hoping it’s clear to Niall that he’s planning to rest. “I’m Louis, by the way. Tomlinson.”

The Irishman doesn’t seem to take the hint. “So where are you from, Tommo?” Louis raises his eyebrows at the moniker, as Horan launches into a friendly interrogation. “Where ya headed? Is the food as great as everyone says it is?” He pushes the drawer shut and turns around, a beatific smile splitting his face. “I’m from Mullingar, meself. Me brother and his wife just had a baby. They live in America, y’see, and I’m going to stay with them to help out for a bit.”

Resigning himself to postponing his nap, Louis props himself up to listen to Niall’s endless stream of chatter. His accent is hard to understand at times, but the excitement in his voice has Louis smiling as he listens to the man talk. He tells Niall his own story, about Zayn and Stan, and his experience on the ship so far. Niall listens with fascination as Louis tells him of automatic toilets and electric lighting, clean linens and being served their meals.

“If we have it this good, what d’ya reckon First Class is like?” the brunet asks in awe when Louis finishes talking.

Louis bites his lip, mind going to the white jacket hidden behind his things in the drawer beneath his bed. All day, his secret has weighed heavy on him, like a stone in his stomach, and there’s something about the honest eyes and wide, easy smile of the Irish lad that has Louis feeling a bit bold.

“I’ve been there, you know,” Louis whispers conspiratorially, even though no one is around to overhear. “Snuck in yesterday. It’s like a floating palace.”

“You didn’t!” Niall exclaims, eyes lighting up. “Tell me every last detail. How did you even get in?”

So Louis describes the décor and beautiful people, the music and the enormous staterooms, the soft beds draped in fine linens (though he doesn’t admit to his firsthand knowledge of the latter). He even pulls out the stolen uniform, explaining how he came upon it and the route he took to get upstairs.

“You have to go back,” Niall says, even as Louis tucks the jacket away.

Louis scoffs as he slides the drawer closed. “No, I don’t. It was a big risk, and I’m probably a fool for having taken it.” He shakes his head fervently. “I could have easily been caught.”

Niall’s smile doesn’t dim in the slightest. “But you weren’t, were ya?”

“But I might’ve been.”

“But you weren’t,” he insists, practically leering at Louis.

With a guilty chuckle, Louis ducks his head, strands of light brown hair falling over his eyes. “No, I wasn’t, was I?” he says softly, realising it’s something of a white lie. As his memories turn to one Harry Styles, Louis wonders what the elegant man is doing right now.

Something is pushed into his hands, and Louis is startled to find that Niall has extracted the uniform and is now shoving it eagerly at Louis. “Come on, I’ll cause a diversion,” he pleads. “I want to hear more about your adventures, so you’d better get to having them.”

Helplessly, Louis takes the uniform. He stares at it for a moment, weighing the fabric in his hands, watching the way the buttons catch the light. He did it once with success, surely he can do it again.

The next time he meets Niall’s face, it’s with a sly grin and determination in his eyes. “All right, Horan, what did you have in mind?”

✯✯✯

The stop at Queenstown is lively, to say the very least. While passengers and mailbags are brought aboard, dozens of small bumboats swarm the ship, all carrying goods they hope to peddle. A few merchants are even allowed to come aboard, setting up shop on the Promenade Deck to showcase their laces and ceramics.

After lunch, Harry strolls through the makeshift market with Gemma on his arm, commenting on this and that, smiling kindly at the vendors. They exchange pleasantries with John Jacob Astor (rumoured to be the ship’s wealthiest passenger) at a stall selling fine lace, the man handling a gorgeous jacket that must have taken hours and hours of work to complete. Gemma finds a lovely scarf, which Harry promptly buys for her, winding it around her neck to fend off the nip in the Irish air.

“Do you think we’ll be happy in America?” She asks later, watching the merchants return to their bumboats as the ship prepares to set sail again.

Harry glances over at her. She’s quite lovely, clad today in a blue dress that could put the sky to shame. Long, white gloves cover her forearms, and she tugs at the cuff of one as she peers down at the retreating boats. Her long, auburn hair is pulled up and tucked under a wide hat, shading her fair skin from the midday sun. She looks every bit the proper lady, though Harry can’t help remembering the elder sister who would hike up her skirts and play sword fight with him if no one was around to scold them.

“I hope so, Gems,” he says earnestly, laying a reassuring hand on her arm. “At the very least, we’ll be together.”

She nods at his words, but worries her bottom lip between her teeth all the same. Her impending marriage troubles her greatly, Harry knows. She’s always been rather independent, much to their father’s disdain, never worrying about finding a husband as her friends had done. She was perfectly content to spend her days alone or with their mother, and, as Anne’s health had declined, rarely left her side.

The sound of bagpipes fills the air, carrying across the great ship in mournful strains. It’s a sad song, Harry thinks, watching the Irish coast grow further away. It reminds him too much of the music played at his mother’s grave and, begging Gemma’s forgiveness, he has to escape it as soon as possible.

It’s evident that a steward has visited since last Harry was in his stateroom; the bed is carefully made, his discarded clothing moved from where he’d left it on the floor. He wonders if it was his peculiar visitor from the night before, though something tells him that the strange man is unlikely to return and, in all probability, wasn’t meant to visit in the first place.

It’s just as well, Harry reasons, as he settles down into the chaise lounge and reaches for his book. It’s quite improbable that the handsome steward has similar leanings as Harry, and the risk if his advances aren’t returned is quite high. Back home, the punishment had been a prison sentence with hard labour; he can’t imagine America is any kinder to those who lie with their own sex.

He’s no sooner settled in and read a paragraph of his book than a knock sounds at his door, the one leading to the corridor. Dredging himself from the comfy confines of the chaise, he finds it silly that he had worried over bringing only a couple novels—at this rate, he won’t even be able to finish one.

Feeling out of sorts at having been interrupted, Harry yanks open the door rather moodily, calling out a gruff “yes?” by way of welcome. His face softens instantly when he sees who’s done the knocking.

It’s the mysterious steward from the night before, Tomlinson. He’s stood in the doorway, back ramrod straight, fists clenched at his sides. Something in his eyes softens when he sees Harry, a crack in his otherwise hard facade. Curious, Harry opens the door wide, beckoning Tomlinson to come in. “Make yourself comfortable,” Harry offers, “as my room’s already been seen to once today. Though I daresay that isn’t the reason you’ve come,” he adds wryly, a knowing tilt to his full lips.

Tomlinson lowers himself into one of the chairs around the little table, hands clasped so tightly that the knuckles have gone white. His eyes, wide with worry, study the carpeting, the walls—anything but Harry’s face, really.

“No,” Tomlinson admits finally, his voice soft and high. There’s a bit of an accent there, Northern perhaps, and Harry longs to know what brought this man here, first to the ship and then to Harry’s door.

“Then why have you come?” Harry asks gently, perching on the edge of his bed. He feels as if he’s in a room with a frightened animal, and one wrong move will send him skittering away.

Tomlinson’s shoulders slump, the man looking genuinely confused. “I don’t know,” he answers in a small voice, but judging from his inflection, he has more to say. The steward appears to be fighting some type of internal battle. After a ponderous silence, he continues in a sudden rush of words. “Somehow my mind keeps finding its way back to you. I can’t explain it.” Tomlinson lifts his chin, looking Harry in the face for the first time since he entered the room, and Harry is still amazed at how very blue his eyes are.

Harry clears his throat softly, knowing very much what he’d like the reason to be, but also just how implausible it is. “Well,” he says eventually, his mouth feeling too dry all of a sudden, “perhaps it means that we should get to know each other a bit better.” That’s harmless enough, he thinks, should his interest be one-sided.

It seems to be the right thing to say, as Tomlinson smiles back at him for the first time. It’s small, timid, but the simple curve of his lips changes the man’s face drastically. His jaw and cheekbones form angles that would send mathematicians into a tizzy, his eyes holding more light than an entire sky full of stars.

Harry knows that there’s no turning back now. His head is swirling mess of things he wants to say to the man before him, but can’t find the courage to. He can’t help but chew at his lip, trying to decide if the risk is worth taking the plunge. Alas, just as the Titanic is on a fixed course, so, it seems, is his heart. He only hopes the trip doesn’t end in despair.

“Mr Tomlinson,” he says, determined to see where this journey takes him, for better or worse, “what are the White Star Line’s policies on a fine man such as yourself showing a passenger about this lovely ship?”

Tomlinson is silent, seeming to study Harry from head to toe as he chooses his next words carefully. A blush ripens in his cheeks as he sits, eyelashes fluttering bashfully as he returns his stare to the carpeting. “I’m afraid I would be a rather poor tour guide,” he admits sadly.

“And why is that?”

“Because I’m not meant to be here,” Tomlinson admits. “I actually belong down in steerage. I wouldn’t know the first thing to show you.” He’s tense again, as if his admission will cause Harry to banish him from the room immediately.

Instead, Harry waves a hand dismissively as he slides off the bed and moves closer to the table. “Well, then, I must revise my question,” he says, delighting in the look of surprise flitting across Tomlinson’s features. “Mr Tomlinson, what are the White Star Line’s policies on a passenger showing a fine man such as yourself about this lovely ship?” He’s grinning like mad now, watching every twitch in Tomlinson’s face as he realises what Harry’s offering.

“You really want to do that?” Tomlinson asks, as if he can’t believe Harry would grace him with his time. It’s quite endearing.

“I’d love nothing more,” Harry insists earnestly, feeling bold enough to reach out and pat Tomlinson on the shoulder. “In fact,” he says, giving a squeeze before reluctantly removing his hand, “I insist on it.”

The next smile Tomlinson gives is wider, more dazzling, and makes Harry’s heart pound in his chest. The expression falters quickly, however, the steward looking sadly down at his uniform. “I’m afraid I must decline,” he says regretfully. “I’m not actually supposed to be in First Class, let alone in uniform.”

“Then I’ll lend you something of mine,” Harry says, turning on his heel to dig through the wardrobe. “It’ll be a bit big, I’m afraid,” he laments, selecting a shirt and coat that will match the uniform trousers well enough for a stroll, “but it should do for a walk at the very least.”

Tomlinson takes the garments with wide eyes, running his fingers over the rich wool of the jacket, holding the thing like it was spun from gold. “Thank you,” he whispers.

Harry can’t help but smile; he barely knows the man, but already he thinks he’s never met someone so genuine in his entire life. Most of the men he knows are boastful and proud, so caught up in giving off the right impression that they’ve lost themselves along the way. That isn’t the case with Tomlinson, who seems as if he’s never given any mind to what other people think of him. His face is so expressive and open—a nice change from the stoic masks that seem to fill every dinner party and soiree.

“No need to thank me,” he says, trading his morning jacket and waistcoat for something more suitable for their trek. “Although you could tell me your Christian name, if you were feeling generous.”

Tomlinson pauses, halfway through doing up the buttons of the jacket. Harry can’t help but notice how lovely the man’s hands are, small and dexterous. He must be a piano player, Harry thinks, watching each practiced twist of the slender fingers. Tomlinson tilts his head, and Harry knows he’s been caught staring. He has the grace to blush and turn his attention to his own jacket.

“Louis,” Tomlinson says, and Harry doesn’t have to look to hear the smile in the man’s voice. “My name is Louis.”

When Harry turns back around, Louis has finished dressing and is tugging the sleeves down over his hands. They’re a bit long, and the shoulder seams miss their mark on the man’s smaller frame, but all in all he looks quite handsome in the clothes. His hair is even properly slicked back with the pomade Harry lent him, the style accentuating the sharp cut of his cheekbones.

Popping a silk hat with a wide felt band over his mess of curls, Harry has to resist the urge to offer his arm to Louis. He can only imagine the whispers that would stir up among the other passengers. Charles would probably toss him overboard without a second thought.

“Shall we, Louis?” Harry asks, regretfully keeping his arms at his sides as he pulls open the door. With a laugh, Louis leads the way into the corridor—though once outside he glances around nervously, as if he might be found out any instant.

“Don’t worry,” Harry murmurs reassuringly, daring to rest his hand at the small of Louis’ back for the briefest of moments. “No one will question you if you act like you belong.” Squaring his shoulders and lifting his chin, Harry looks down at Louis with a smirk. “Just pretend you’re the most important man on this ship, and you’ll fit right in.”

Louis looks dubious, but draws himself up to his full height nonetheless. “That must be why the ship is so large,” he remarks, matching Harry’s stride as they set off. “To allow room for everyone’s ego.”

The bark of laughter that escapes Harry is anything but dignified, earning him a disapproving stare from a older woman draped in jewelry. He bows his head in apology, but giggles quietly to himself once they’re out of earshot. “See? I barely fit in, and I’ve been around these kinds of people my entire life.”

The other man relaxes at that, the lines in his forehead growing shallower as his worry fades. “Well then, Mr Styles, where are you taking me first?”

First, it turns out, is the forward Grand Staircase. It sits amidships like a centerpiece, connecting the decks with sweeping arms of metal and oak. Harry can’t help but repeat Wheeler’s sentiment from yesterday: “Have you ever seen anything like it?”

Louis shakes his head, mouth a round little ‘o’ as they climb the stairs. “No, never,” he whispers reverently, as if he’s in a church. There is something almost spiritual about the curving staircase, the ascent feeling like a journey to the Heavens. Harry is nearly giddy for Louis to see what waits at the top.

When they reach the landing on A Deck, Louis actually gasps out loud. Harry can’t blame him; even though he’s seen it already, the sight is really something incredible to behold.

The oak and ironwork continue their graceful dance alongside the carefully hewn steps, but here the ceiling rises in a glass and metal dome high over the stairs. Light filters in, giving the structure a warm, ethereal glow. Instead of a painting, the landing here is fitted with an ornate woodcarving, a clock set into the center. ‘Honour and Glory Crowning Time,’ his uncle had called it. The banister is capped with a bronze cherub, balancing gleefully on one foot as if it may spirit away once no one is looking.

Harry lets Louis marvel at the staircase for a while before gently grasping his elbow, leading him toward the stern of the ship. Louis follows along like a child, gaping in wonder at each new room they come upon.

They visit the Lounge first, impressive with its tall ceilings and dazzling chandelier. The green and gold upholstered sofas and chairs, in the same Louis XV style as Gemma’s stateroom, sit in clusters near bay windows topped with stained glass. A group of women sit near a marble fireplace, chatting over cups of tea and coffee, while another peruses the large mahogany bookcase that serves as the First Class library. Gemma’s already made use of that, no doubt, probably next door in the Reading and Writing Room right now with her nose in a book.

Their tour takes them from the Reception Room to the Gymnasium, from the Palm Court and Verendah Café to peer at where the lifeboats are stored on the boat deck. Louis is silent for much of the trip, listening with interest as Harry tells him about each room (and occasionally points out some of the more well-known passengers).

Now they’re sat in deck chairs along the promenade, gazing out at the open sea and resting after their circuitous journey through the ship. Harry keeps stealing glances at Louis, curious as to where the other man’s mind has gone as his eyes stare out over the seemingly endless Atlantic.

“Who are you, Louis Tomlinson?” Harry murmurs, propping an elbow on his knee and resting his chin in his hand.

His voice startles Louis, the smaller man jumping in his seat. “I beg your pardon?”

Harry smiles knowingly, drumming his fingers on his own cheek. “Who are you, really?” He asks again. “I know you aren’t a steward.”

“Why do you say that?” Louis asks with a defiant jut of his chin, narrowing his icy blue eyes. The slight tremor in his voice betrays him, leading Harry to believe he’s spot on with his assumption.

“If you were a steward,” Harry begins, casually turning his attention back to where the ocean meets the sky, “you would have seen more of the ship before. The staircase, the lifeboats… It’s plain to tell you were seeing them for the very first time today.”

Louis’ brave façade crumples, replaced with fear and shame. “No, I’m not a steward,” he says quietly, staring down at his feet resting on the deck. “I’m a Third Class passenger.” He scuffs one against the wood before giving Harry a wan smile, eyebrows raised innocently. “I did try to tell you, earlier, that I belonged down in steerage. I just didn’t correct you when you assumed I meant I worked there.”

“Well, you were dressed as one,” Harry points out, nudging Louis’ foot with his own. “How did you manage that, anyway?”

He listens as Louis recounts his tale of taking the uniform, using it to sneak into First Class. Of how he ended up in Gemma’s room to avoid being caught, and her sending him next door to Harry’s (being the devious thing that she is). “I wasn’t going to come back,” Louis tells him with a troubled sigh.

“Why did you?” Harry asks, leaving his real question unspoken: Why did you come back to me?

Louis runs a hand through his hair, smoothing a few flyaway strands back from his forehead. “I can’t say for sure. Part of it was a man I’m sharing a cabin with spurred me on.” He gnaws at his lips, hands tugging fretfully at the hem of his coat. “I suppose you’re going to turn me in now?”

Feigning deep consideration, Harry strokes his chin, pursing his lips thoughtfully. “Hmm, I could,” he says slowly, not missing the way Louis’ body tenses at the words. “But I rather think I’d prefer to ask you to dinner instead.”

The way Louis’ mouth falls open has Harry barely holding back a laugh. “You– you what?” he exclaims, eyes bugging comically as he regards Harry with disbelief.

This time Harry does allow a laugh to slip out. “I’d like you to come dine with me,” Harry says, reaching into his pocket and retrieving a watch that once belonged to his mother’s father. “We’ve just about an hour left until dinner, and I would really enjoy your company.”

Right on cue, the peals of a bugle sound from somewhere on the deck, informing the passengers it is time to dress for the evening meal. Harry and Louis both exchange a face at the fanfare, both of them grinning at each other by the song’s end.

“I’d love to,” Louis says finally, once the bugler has found his way to another deck. There’s colour in his cheeks as he smiles bashfully at Harry. “Have dinner with you, that is.”

Harry doesn’t bother to hide his pleasure as he jumps to his feet, Louis following suit (albeit with less vigour). The deck is fairly empty, most everyone having descended to their rooms to put on their tails and gowns, and it has Harry feeling a bit brave. He offers Louis his arm, the other man peering around cautiously before taking it. “Come along, Mr Tomlinson,” Harry says happily, relishing the weight of Louis’ hand even through the serge fabric of his coat. They step further apart once they reach more populated passageways, but the smile doesn’t leave Harry’s face the entire walk back to his stateroom.

✯✯✯

“Why are you doing this?” Louis asks, once they’re safely behind the closed door of Harry’s stateroom once more.

Halfway through shrugging out of his jacket to change for dinner, Harry tilts his head in confusion. “What do you mean?” He holds up the doffed jacket. “This isn’t appropriate for dinner, so we’ll have to change,” he explains patiently.

Louis shakes his head with a little growl of frustration. “No, I mean, why are you being so kind to me? You don’t even know who I am.” It doesn’t make sense at all. This complete stranger, who doesn’t know Louis from Adam, has just given him a day he’ll never forget. He’s seen things he thought were far above his station, worn clothes the likes of which he’d helped make for customers but could never have bought himself. On top of that, he’s about to have dinner with the man. In the First Class Dining Saloon. On the bloody Titanic.

Hanging the jacket over the back of a chair, Harry takes a step closer to Louis. His eyes are kind as he looks down at Louis, smiling wide enough to produce a dimple in his left cheek. Louis swallows hard, not sure why being the focus of Harry’s attentions has his heart hammering away in his chest. He isn’t afraid—if Harry were going to turn him in, he would have done it by now. But then what else could explain the fluttering sensation in the pit of his stomach?

“I’m being kind to you because I want to,” Harry says unapologetically. He lifts his arm a few centimetres, hesitates, and lets it fall back to his side. While his words are straightforward, he doesn’t seem to want to cross any boundaries. “I get the feeling you haven’t been treated to entirely enough kindness in your life, Louis Tomlinson.”

There’s a warmth that spreads through Louis’ body at hearing Harry say his Christian name, and it isn’t the first time since the other man learned it. “I’m not worth all the fuss,” Louis insists stubbornly, crossing his arms over his chest.

Still smiling, albeit a bit sadly, Harry steps closer yet. This time he does raise his arm, letting the back of his hand slide along Louis’ cheek in the barest of touches. The contact startles Louis, but he doesn’t back away from it, just follows Harry’s movements with wide, questioning eyes.

“You’re worth all this and more, I’d wager,” Harry murmurs, dropping his hand and stepping away. “I’ve really enjoyed our time together, however brief. I’d quite like to get to know you better.”

But why? Louis’ mind is screaming. What is there about him that someone who lives in what amounts to a different world would want to give him the time of day? He’s a poor, nameless nobody, an apprentice to a tailor (and not even a wildly successful one, at that). He has nothing to offer this man that Harry couldn’t buy himself a hundred times over.

“Come on, we’ll be late,” Harry says, handing Louis a stack of clothes. He’d been so deep in his thoughts he hadn’t even noticed Harry going to retrieve them. “Gemma will break down the door if I’m not ready at promptly six o’clock.”

Deciding to ignore his racing brain for the time being, Louis takes the clothing and moves to the bed, laying out each piece to examine it. The garments are all beautifully made, with fine stitching and expertly cut cloth. Louis doesn’t dare to let himself imagine how much such an outfit must have cost.

“Gemma? Is that your sister?” Louis asks, slipping out of the borrowed jacket to trade it for the new clothes. A bit self-consciously, he turns his back to Harry before undoing the buttons on his shirt.

“Yes, my elder sister,” Harry’s voice comes from across the room, where the man is presumably putting on his own evening wear. “It feels like she’s all I’ve got, since our mother passed.”

The revelation makes Louis pause for a moment, a sharp pang of sadness for Harry settling in his chest. “I’m sorry to hear that,” he says, continuing to do up the shirt and adjusting the pointed tips of the collar. It strikes him how painfully little he knows about Harry, how little he’s shared about himself. They’re perfect strangers playing as friends, and in less than a week they’ll never see each other again. “What about your father?”

“I might as well not have a father.” Harry’s voice is icy and low, and Louis doesn’t press the issue further.

“I have sisters too,” he says instead, pulling on a white pique waistcoat over his shirt. The opening is low and rounded, ending in points that echo the collar of the shirt. Even without the jacket, Louis feels fancy enough to meet the King himself. “Four younger. It’s only us and our mum; Dad died just after the twins were born.” He picks up the bowtie, the same white pique as the waistcoat, and looks at it helplessly.

“Here, let me,” Harry murmurs, close enough that his breath brushes Louis’ ear. Handing off the tie, Louis turns to face his host, finding him completely dressed already. After all, the man is used to donning elaborate outfits multiple times a day. He’s in a suit similar to the one Louis’ wearing, though his shirt is silk and pleated. A stripe of black satin runs down the outside of each trouser leg to match the tailcoat’s lapels.

Louis lifts his chin to allow Harry to fasten the bowtie. “You look very nice,” Louis says softly, his focus moving to Harry’s face. This close, Louis can see exactly how green the man’s eyes are—bright and clear, rimmed with a dark ring like a gemstone in a setting.

Said eyes flicker to his momentarily before returning to the task at hand. “Thank you. As do you.” He steps back, tie in its proper place. Harry picks up the carefully folded tailcoat and holds it open for Louis, smiling warmly all the while. Now Louis feels like royalty himself; the last time someone helped him dress was when he had been but a child. He imagines Harry has scores of servants at home, waiting to help him in and out of his finery in a similar manner.

“How do I look?” Louis asks self-consciously, once the jacket is in place.

“Perfect,” Harry beams, pushing his curls away from his face. “See for yourself.”

He leads Louis to a mirror and smirks as Louis takes in his reflection with wonder. Louis doubts his own mother would recognise him, dressed like this. He turns from side to side, admiring the cut of the suit. He looks like a proper gentleman.

Harry seems to agree. “Imagine how brilliant you’d look in a suit made for you,” he laments, brushing a piece of lint off Louis’ shoulder.

“That will have to exist only in my imagination, I’m afraid,” Louis says with a laugh that comes out more bitterly than he intends. “I have a feeling this outfit could have paid for my ticket twice over.” It took years for Louis to save enough for this journey, years of hard work and saving, and even then he’d had to borrow some. He can’t imagine having enough money to own clothing like this, let alone having a full suit to spare.

Talk of their different social classes has Harry looking quite ashamed, his eyebrows pushed together and creasing his forehead. “I’m sorry,” he says simply.

Feeling guilty for causing the change in his new friend’s mood, Louis places a tentative hand on the taller man’s shoulder. “Don’t be. We can’t help what we were born into, any more than we can help being born at all.” He fixes his face into his biggest smile, knowing it’s done the trick when Harry smiles in return. “Come on, then. Let’s see if I can fool everyone at dinner into thinking I’m as well-bred as you are.”

Harry chortles to himself as he holds the door open for his guest. “It isn’t them you’re going to have to convince,” he says, no sign of worry left on his face. “It’s my sister.”

The lady herself is waiting just inside her door, tonight dressed in a lemon-coloured gown of silk brocade. A string of pearls adorns her slender throat, more of the things wrapped through the hair piled in waves on top of her head, the tiniest pink roses tucked in here and there. She’s quite lovely, Louis thinks. He’s never found himself attracted to a lady before, and now is no exception. He feels the same looking at beautiful women as he does as artwork—he can appreciate the view, and that’s enough. He always figured he has enough women in his life to look after, and that’s what kept his heart from seeking out a lover.

“Gemma,” Harry says, the fondness for his sister clear in the way he looks at her. “I’d like you to meet Mr Louis Tomlinson.”

If Gemma recognises him from their awkward encounter the night prior, she gives no indication. Her dark eyes survey Louis from tip to toe, before she holds out a gloved hand, which Louis kisses respectfully. “A pleasure to meet you, Miss Styles,” he says, trying to imitate Harry’s accent. He succeeds well enough, he thinks, as he offers his arm to the lady.

Looking quite charmed, Gemma takes the proffered arm. “You as well, Mr Tomlinson.” She turns her attention to her brother. “And where did you find this dashing young man, dear brother?” she asks playfully.

Harry grins shyly back at her. “Oh, I just sort of stumbled upon him,” he replies, catching Louis’ eye and raising an eyebrow. Louis has to bite back a laugh before chiming in with, “It just sort of happened.”

Seemingly satisfied, Gemma tightens her grip on Louis’ arm, and the trio make their way to the Grand Staircase. The Dining Saloon is one level down, on D Deck, and the stairs are flooded with people in their finery heading to dinner. On the steps alone are enough furs and silks and diamonds to make Louis’ head spin.

Keep your head, he tells himself. They’ll catch wise in an instant if you get to gawking.

The landing at D Deck is markedly different from the ones above. Here, in lieu of a cherub, the banister is capped with a spectacular candelabrum, casting the details of the surrounding wood in sharp relief. At the foot of the stairs, instead of the linoleum of the higher decks, lies plush red carpeting, soft and yielding beneath his feet.

Louis remembers the room they step into, the Reception Room, as Harry had taken him to see it earlier in the day. The walls and ceilings are white, but potted palms add more colour to the space, and Louis can’t resist reaching out to touch the fronds of one as they pass by. Wicker tables and chairs with green cushions are positioned in clusters around the room, some now occupied by passengers waiting for their evening meal. Square columns dot the space, while crystal chandeliers and large windows fill it with light, making the fine fabrics and jewelry of the occupants shine. Louis can’t help but wonder how the effect is achieved, subtly whispering his question to Harry while Gemma is busy chatting with other passengers.

“The windows are lit from behind,” Harry explains quietly, following Louis’ line of sight. “It’s to give the impression of being on land.”

“Oh,” is all Louis can manage, feeling very much out of his element. He’s saved by the ornate oak doors of the Dining Saloon being thrust open, stewards waiting outside to greet the passengers. Louis catches the scent of food in the air and feels his mouth start to water. He thinks he’d probably be content just to savour that smell for dinner, even if he wasn’t allowed to taste.

“Coming, Mr Tomlinson?” Harry asks, a few steps ahead. In Louis’ woolgathering, Gemma has taken Harry’s arm instead, and the siblings are making their way into the saloon.

Smiling sheepishly, Louis catches up to them with a few broad strides. “My apologies. I was admiring the piano,” he lies, pointing at the instrument taking up one corner of the room.

“Oh, do you play?” Gemma asks, a smile pulling at her painted lips. “Harry and I both had piano lessons.”

“She had lessons,” Harry scoffs. “I watched, and occasionally like to pretend I have the skill to produce music.”

Thinking he would very much like to hear Harry play the piano, perhaps singing along in that low, rumbling voice of his, Louis shakes his head. “No, I never learned. I sing to my sisters, sometimes, but I’m dreadful at it.”

The table they stop at is square, draped in a white tablecloth and ringed with six chairs. A young couple already occupies two of them, smiling warmly when they notice Harry and Gemma.

“Mr and Mrs Marvin, lovely to see you again,” Gemma comments, settling into the chair Harry pulled out for her.

“Of course! We were hoping you’d be joining us this evening. And you’ve brought company!” Mrs Marvin says in a Scottish accent, her eyes fixed on Louis.

Harry places a hand at the small of Louis’ back, guiding him forward. “I did, indeed. Louis Tomlinson, this is Daniel and Mary Marvin. The Marvins are returning to America from their honeymoon,” Harry explains.

Daniel stands, extending a hand to Louis across the table. “Nice of you to join us, Tomlinson,” he says, returning to his seat. Harry and Louis follow suit, Harry taking the chair next to Gemma, and Louis sliding into the one closest to the wall. It backs up against a pair of windows, lit from behind like the ones in the reception room, these with a fine grille of ironwork covering the leaded glass.

The chair is sturdy and comfortable, green leather sighing the slightest bit as Louis sits down. “Thank you for letting me join you,” he replies, taking in the room in full for the first time.

It’s Jacobean in style, much like the reception room, all white with moulded walls and ceilings. The floor is linoleum, blue with an intricate red and gold design. The pattern complements the china, much finer than the dishes found in Third Class: the side plate in front of him has a detailed turquoise and brown design, the scalloped edges trimmed in gold. In the very centre of the dish sits a red flag with a white star, the banner underneath declaring it as the White Star Line’s emblem. They’re a far cry from the plain white china set out on the Third Class tables some decks below.

The noise level in the room is rising, more and more seats filled as passengers find their way into the Dining Saloon. Each time someone makes eye contact with Louis, his body tenses of its own volition, as if each one can see straight through his disguise and single out the intruder in their midst. He’s the epitome of turning a sow’s ear into a silk purse, and these well-fed passengers have a nose for pork.

Harry must sense his discomfort, because a hand finds Louis’ knee under the table and gives a little pat. The touch draws Louis’ attention away from his surroundings, turning instead to marvel at Harry. The brunet gives no sign that he’s touching Louis out of sight of the others at the table, gesturing about with his free hand and only sparing Louis the most discrete of smiles.

“Where’s your uncle this evening, Styles? Won’t he be dining with us?” Marvin asks, holding out his glass for a steward to fill with champagne.

“Only if we’re very unlucky,” Harry jokes, earning a laugh from the couple and an amused smile from his sister. As his own glass is filled, Louis adds that to the list of questions his mind is storing for later: Why are the siblings traveling to America with their uncle, when Harry said he had no one but Gemma? And what about this uncle is so objectionable?

Stewards are just bringing ‘round plates of hors d'oeuvres—small pieces of toast spread with a creamy mixture, topped with a cooked shrimp—when the final seat at their table is filled. “Nice of you to join us, Uncle,” Harry says, though the way his hand clenches on the table speaks of anything but ‘nice.’

This Styles is a broad man, with greying hair and a thick moustache. His face sags at the edges, like his skin is tired of being attached to his muscles. Even dressed in a fine suit, he doesn’t look half as elegant as Harry does, the lines of his tailcoat disfigured by the paunch of his well-rounded belly. His small eyes fix on Louis, ignoring Harry’s greeting entirely. “And who might you be?” he demands.

He might not belong in first class, but Louis at least knows his manners. He stands up, extending a hand to the elder Styles. “Louis Tomlinson, sir. Your nephew was kind enough to invite me to dine with him this evening.”

Reluctantly, the rotund man stands as well, giving Louis’ hand the briefest clasp and muttering “Charles Styles” before his backside hits his chair once more. “Tomlinson, eh?” he says, picking up a canapé from his plate. “I’ve never heard of you before.”

The distaste is clear in Charles’ voice: If he hasn’t heard of someone, they’re nobody. Louis bristles, clenching his glass of champagne harder than he ought to, before replying in a honeyed voice: “Nor I of you. I suppose we’re even.”

He catches Harry’s surprised and amused grin out of the corner of his eye, Charles grunting before popping an entire canapé into his gaping maw. It’s true, Louis may be nobody to these people, but he’s certainly not going to be insulted and keep his mouth shut.

Louis is silent for much of the meal, content to listen to the Styleses and Marvins converse. Charles speaks the loudest, boasting of the celebrities onboard he’d met during the day, throwing out names like ‘Strauss’ and ‘Guggenheim.’ Not the slightest bit impressed, Louis just nods politely as he sips at his cream of barley soup, taking great care not to let any drops touch the expensive fabric of Harry’s suit.

The soup is replaced by salmon, lightly poached and drizzled in a sauce. It’s but the third course, and Louis is already filling up, while the menu card on the table promises several courses yet to come. How do these people eat like this every day? He thinks he might be able to live off this one meal for the rest of the voyage.

“So, Mr Tomlinson, what is it that you do?” Charles asks during a lull in the conversation, pushing his empty salad plate away. It isn’t that he cares, Louis suspects—more that he’s looking for another opportunity to feel superior.

He realises Harry is watching him with interest, never having asked Louis about his occupation. “I’m a tailor,” he lies easily, enough truth to the statement to keep him from feeling too guilty.

“I see,” says the uncle, dabbing at a shine of grease on his chin. “And can one afford a First Class ticket on the Titanic on a tailor’s salary?”

Louis doesn’t falter as he locks eyes with the man, clear blue against dull. “If one is a very good tailor,” he says calmly.

Charles opens his mouth, but Harry beats him to it. “Mr Tomlinson was telling me earlier that he just inherited a large sum of money from his grandfather, and he’s hoping to expand his business in America.” He turns to Louis, eyes imploring him to agree. “He told me to visit once he’s settled and he’ll fit me for some new suits.”

Taken aback at the thought of meeting up with Harry once they leave the ship, not to mention ever constructing a garment fine enough to be worn by the man, Louis can only nod dumbly in agreement.

Content if not overly pleased with that explanation, Charles turns his attention to Harry, inquiring how his nephew ‘wasted the day’ when he could have been rubbing elbows with the rich and famous.

While the Styles men are occupied, Gemma leans around Harry and lightly touches Louis on the shoulder. “Where have I seen you before?” she asks, eyes flitting over his face. “It’s bothered me since we were introduced, but I can’t seem to place you.”

Between them, Harry stiffens at her question, though he carries on conversing with his uncle as if nothing’s the matter. Thinking quickly is something that Louis has a knack for, thankfully, so there’s only a brief pause before he replies: “You must have seen me in passing on the ship. We’ve never been formally introduced.” He’s pleased with his not-exactly-a-lie, even if Gemma continues to scrutinise him from the corner of her eye.

Food keeps coming, course after course after course. Their empty salmon plates are quickly taken away, replaced with various protein dishes. Harry chose filet mignon topped with foie gras, which Louis happily sampled a bite of when no one was looking. He decides he doesn’t care much for foie gras, returning his attention to the Chicken Lyonnaise he’d ordered.

“Oh, lovely, pudding,” Louis says with a sigh of relief as a pale, frothy glass is set in front of him. Across the table, Gemma titters into her napkin. Puzzled at her reaction, coupled with Harry’s patient smile, he asks: “What did I say?”

“It’s a palate cleanser,” Harry explains. “Punch Romaine. We’ve still a few courses to go.”

Louis’ stomach is already uneasy from the sheer volume of rich food he’s filled it with, but he bravely takes a sip of the beverage. It’s citrus-flavoured and sweet, a hint of something alcoholic in the mix. “You’re going to have to roll me back to your room, Styles,” he mutters into the drink. He doesn’t miss the sly smile that crosses Gemma’s features, nor the look of repugnance Charles gives his nephew.

After a salad of watercress and squab drizzled in some sort of vinaigrette, peaches in chartreuse jelly, and more kinds of cheese than Louis can count on one hand, dinner is finally drawing to a close and stewards are setting steaming mugs of coffee and tea in front of the diners.

Nibbling on a soft, nutty cheese (Edam, he thinks Mr Marvin called it), Louis listens to Harry and Daniel discuss where to take their after-dinner drinks.

“Have you heard the band play yet, Styles?” Daniel asks, carefully stirring his coffee. “They put on quite the concert. Or we can pay a visit to the Smoking Room, see how well Tomlinson here does at a hand of bridge.”

Harry’s hand returns to Louis’ knee under the table, the touch less startling than the first time around. “What do you think, Mr Tomlinson?”

Not having the slightest idea how to play bridge, and being reluctant to add another faux pas to his track record, Louis’ decision is relatively easy. “I think I’d like to hear the band, if you don’t mind.”

“In that case, I’d like to join you,” Gemma says, laying her folded napkin back on the table and slipping her gloves back over her hands. Mrs Marvin nods her assent, Mr Marvin helping her from her chair soon after.

“It’s the Smoking Room for me,” Charles says as he clambers to his feet, though no one had asked.

“It was a pleasure to meet you, Mr Styles,” Louis says politely, forcing himself to smile at the man. Charles regards Louis for a moment, grunting out a brief “you also” before lumbering off in search of liquor and cigars.

Gemma’s hand finds its way to Louis’ arm once more. “Don’t mind him,” she whispers, tugging him in the direction of the door behind the other passengers seeking post-dinner entertainment. “This ship is only just big enough for his vanity.”

Louis chuckles, recalling a similar quip he made to Harry earlier, charmed to know that the elder Styles sibling shares the same brand of humour. “Well, I’m grateful that there is room enough for you and your brother aboard, because it really has been a delight to make your acquaintance.”

A pleased blush colours her cheeks but she says nothing more, just pats his arm with her other hand as they make their way out of the Dining Saloon.

The first song is already underway as the little group finds seats in the Reception Room, lively and bright. The quintet plays as a unit, keeping time with no conductor and hitting every note without sheet music. It’s quite magical, Louis thinks, to be able to commit a smattering of notes to memory, then turn around and coax beautiful music from bits of wood and brass. He thinks of how Harry must look, sat at a piano, his long fingers dancing over the keys.

The image in his mind is given a soundtrack as the band transitions into a waltz, Louis’ heart acting as a metronome as it beats along in three-quarter time. He chances a peek at Harry, who’s nodding along with the music appreciatively, curls bouncing with each tilt of his head. Maybe it’s the brandy he’s been sipping, or the various wines at dinner, but Louis finds himself wishing that he could reach out and touch Harry, to see if he can feel the same tempo coursing through the other man’s veins.

All too soon it’s eleven o’clock, and the band is packing away their instruments as the applause dies down. “Still time for a drink, Styles,” Daniel offers, but Harry waves off the invitation.

“Thanks, Marvin, but I promised Mr Tomlinson I’d lend him a book, and then I think I’ll turn in.”

“Suit yourself,” he replies, taking Mary’s arm. “Tomlinson, next time you must join us in the Smoking Room. It’s quite a treat to watch Styles here lose a bit of money.” With a cheeky smile, he and Mary take to the stairs in search of their cabin on B Deck.

The men bid Gemma goodnight at her door, Harry kissing his sister’s cheek before opening the door to his own stateroom.

“Thank you for coming to dinner with me, Louis,” Harry says earnestly, using Louis’ given name now that they’re alone once more.

Pulling the borrowed jacket from his shoulders, Louis smiles proudly. “I think I did quite all right, if I say so myself.” His fingers move to the buttons of his waistcoat, then his shirt.

Harry’s eyes watch every movement, gleaming in the electric lighting as he slowly removes his own clothing. “I think you did splendidly,” he breathes, and for some queer reason the praise makes Louis shiver.

“You’re staring,” Louis says, feeling somewhat exposed stood there in just his undershirt and steward’s trousers.

“I am, yes.”

“Why?”

Harry’s eyes fall to the floor, cheeks red enough to rival the silk paneling of the walls. “Because I rather think I’d like to kiss you,” he admits, still staring down at his polished shoes.

The words hit Louis like locomotive, leaving him frozen in place as he tries to process what Harry’s just said. He’d be lying if he said the prospect doesn’t appeal to him, but a niggling voice in his head reminds him that Harry is a man, and King Edward’s law is quite clear on the matter—not to mention God’s own law.

There are dozens upon dozens of reasons why he should decline, excuse himself back to Third Class and never look back, but, yet again, Louis’ not the best at doing as he should.

“All right,” he says, his mouth dry as paper around the words.

Harry’s head jerks up in surprise, his eyes searching Louis’ face for any hint of jest. He’s at Louis’ side in two steps, his hand coming up to cup Louis’ cheek, Louis leaning into the touch despite his mind screaming at him to run.

It seems as if Harry is moving in slow motion, his eyes fluttering closed as he bends to cover Louis’ lips with his own. They’re warm and soft, offset by the roughness of the stubble just growing back along Harry’s cheeks. It’s the closest Louis’ ever felt to another person.

Louis forgets to breathe for a beat or two, and when he remembers, the fresh oxygen to his brain disperses some of the drunken fog. He leaps away from Harry, a hand flying to his lips to feel the lingering wetness and warmth.

“I’m sorry, I have to go,” he says sharply, trying to ignore the wounded look in Harry’s eyes. “Thank you for today, and good night.” Grabbing up the steward’s jacket, he flings open the door and doesn’t turn back, even when Harry calls after him as he rounds the corner of the First Class corridor.

It’s wrong, it’s a sin, it’s a crime. Each footfall sends a new thought spinning wildly through Louis’ muddled brain. Finally back on F Deck, he’s so sick to his stomach that he thinks he might vomit up every last bit of the best dinner he’s ever tasted. He clutches at the jacket, pulling it away from his neck. It’s a blessing no one saw him in his flight; having struggled into the jacket as he ran, several buttons were missed altogether.

Mercifully, his cabin is empty when he reaches it, the other men no doubt still reveling with newfound friends. With trembling fingers he undresses quickly, hurrying underneath the bedclothes to avoid looking at his traitorous body.

It hadn’t felt wrong, is the thing. His entire life he’s heard men who engage in such acts described as sinners, pederasts, and abominations. Yet how can he reconcile those awful words with Harry Styles? Harry, who is charming and kind, well-mannered and handsome. Who loves his sister and mourns his mother, and didn’t turn Louis in for impersonating a steward. Could such a man be spoken of so highly in one breath, and cast as a disgrace in the next?

His mind churning as wildly as the sea underneath the three great propellers at the stern, Louis closes his eyes, allowing the steady thrum of the engines to lull him into a troubled sleep. Perhaps he will be able to see things more clearly in the morning. Better yet, maybe he dreamt the whole thing—though the way his lips still tingle, the way his cheek misses the warmth of a certain palm, confirms what he already knows: It was real, and it was wonderful.

And it must never, ever happen again.

Chapter Text

12 April 1912

After the excitement of last night, his stomach still protesting the sheer amount of food he’d filled it with, Louis would quite enjoy a nice, relaxing day at sea. Maybe he’ll spend the whole morning in bed, just because he can, or go and entertain the children in the General Room to ease the ache in his heart from missing his sisters.

Or maybe Niall could have a massive, massive hangover, his discomfort disrupting the cabin and, by extension, Louis’ slumber.

“Horan, I highly doubt moaning once a minute will make you feel any better,” Louis snaps at around ten o’clock in the morning. Zayn and Stan have already licked their own wounds and ventured out for the day, leaving their fallen comrade behind to wallow.

If only he didn’t have to wallow quite so loudly.

Coming to terms with the fact that his day in bed simply isn’t to be, Louis climbs down from his bunk and dresses, pushing aside the steward’s jacket more roughly than the garment deserves. If nothing else, he’s certainly not going to allow himself to spend the day thinking about… Him.

After washing his face in the basin attached to the wall, Louis flicks some water at the groaning Irishman. The splashes seem to do the trick, as Niall pries open a bloodshot eye and fixes Louis with a mean glare.

“What are you playing at, Tomlinson?” he mutters darkly, his voice rough. “Thought you’d be gallivanting off to First Class by now.”

Louis bristles as he turns off the tap, whirling on Niall. “I have not been gallivanting, thank you.” He eyes Niall with suspicion, the man sitting up and scrubbing a hand over his pale face. “You haven’t told anyone, have you?”

“’Course not. I’m a man of me word.”

“You’re still half-rats, more like.”

Not bothering to argue, Niall stumbles out of his bunk and over to the washbasin. He practically dunks his entire head in the thing, resurfacing with water dripping from his dark brown hair. “Blame our dear Mr Lucas. He goaded me into it,” he says accusingly, but some life has returned to his dancing blue eyes.

Speak of the devil, Louis thinks as the door swings open. Stan pokes his head into the room and looks rather surprised at seeing Niall conscious. “Oh, I wasn’t sure you’d be up yet,” he admits sheepishly, before turning on Louis. “And you, shouldn’t you be off to wherever you disappear to during the day?”

“Reckon he’s found a girl,” Zayn says, close behind. “That’s where you get off to, isn’t it? Out on a razzle-dazzle?”

“Bite your tongue, Malik,” Louis replies crossly. “There’s no girl. The only person on this ship keeping me from my bed is Horan here, and according to him I have Lucas to thank for that.”

Stan shrugs, not looking at all remorseful for Niall’s state. “It was a right good time in the General Room last night. We were all a bit blotto by the end of it.” He narrows his eyes at Louis as he leans against the frame of the bunk. “You’d know that, if you ever turned up for one.”

“I will, I will,” Louis promises, desperate to keep the conversation as far away from his exploits as possible. It isn’t that he trusts Stan and Zayn any less than Niall, but the fewer people that know, the better.

Zayn looks incredulous, a dark brow arched on his forehead. “Tonight, then?”

Not like I’ll be anywhere else, Louis thinks glumly. “Tonight,” he promises, eliciting a cheer from the other men in the cabin and making Niall clutch at his head.

“Oi, keep it down,” the Irish lad hisses, glaring around the room. His gaze settles on Louis. “Tommo, get out of here. I’m sure your girl is wondering where you are,” he says with a wink, making Louis stammer and blush as Stan and Zayn erupt in laughter.

Louis narrows his eyes, but doesn’t miss the way Niall tips his head at the drawer concealing the uniform. The other lads don’t even notice; they’re too busy executing a charade of Stan (as Louis) trying to woo Zayn, who is doing possibly the worst imitation of an Irish lass that Louis has ever had the misfortune to hear.

He doesn’t want to see Harry. He doesn’t want to think about the fact that his lips have touched another man’s, and instead of revulsion he feels… something else. Curiosity. Interest. Maybe, somewhere deep down, even a bit of pleasure. It had been a rather nice kiss, after all, until Louis’ brain had caught up with his lips.

“All right, I’m going, I’m going,” he mutters, stalking to his bunk and pulling open the drawer. He grabs his overcoat and shoves the uniform inside, as inconspicuously as possible, before slipping past his new friends and out into the corridor. He may not wish to entangle himself further with the fellow with the soft mouth and gentle words, but he does have many regions of this ship yet to explore. There’s no sense in squandering the opportunity for fear of coming across one certain person among the two-thousand or more on board.

After stopping by the Dining Saloon for first seating of dinner, his bulky parcel stuffed in his lap, Louis finds the lavatory and shuts himself in a stall. He wasn’t able to eat much, just a bit of beef and gravy and biscuits, and even that is sitting uncomfortably heavy in his stomach. The food he considered a veritable feast yesterday morning now pales in comparison to the meal he consumed the night before.

Still, he thinks as he changes clothes, he’s lucky to have plenty to eat; he’s heard of steerage accommodations on other ships requiring passengers to bring their own food for the voyage. Louis had barely managed to scrape up enough for his ticket, let alone provisions for the week it will take to reach the New World.

Stashing his own clothes in a linen closet, Louis sets off for the now-familiar route to First Class. His foot barely touches the bottom stair when a rough hand on his arm pulls him backwards.

“What in the—” Louis cries out as he rounds on his assailant, heart in his throat at the idea that Malik or Lucas has somehow caught him dressed in a steward’s clobber.

Worse yet, the man detaining him is a steward. He’s a bit taller than Louis with neatly trimmed brown hair and dark eyes, bushy eyebrows drawn together as he frowns down at the imposter. “Where do you think you’re going, then?”

Unsure of whether to continue his charade or come clean, it’s all Louis can do to stammer out: “Oh, erm, I was…” But Louis is no coward. Swallowing hard, he squares his shoulders and looks the steward in the eye defiantly. “Why do you want to know?”

“You’re wearing my uniform,” the man replies flatly, reaching out an accusatory finger to flick the loose button. “I caught this on a door the morning we set sail, then I left it on my bed to fix it and changed into a spare, but when I came back that evening it was gone.” He crosses his arms over his broad chest, filling out the jacket he’s wearing far better than Louis does. “Now I know where it disappeared to.”

Unable to think of a plausible excuse, Louis merely hangs his head. “You’re right, I took it. I’m ready to accept the consequences.” It was fun while it lasted, anyway.

Face softening considerably, the man uncrosses his arms. Much gentler this time, the steward guides Louis by an elbow out of the main corridor and into an empty cabin, unlocking the door and gesturing for Louis to step inside. “Tell me why you took it, at least,” he says once the door is closed, looking almost sorry to have caught the man.

Taking a seat on an unused mattress, Louis explains everything—his yearning to see First Class, befriending a passenger, wanting to get to know the man better and having no other way to contact him.

“Who have you been visiting?” the steward asks, curious but circumspect. “Does he know who you are?”

Louis nods lamely. “He knows, but I’d rather not tell you his name. No sense getting the both of us in trouble.”

The steward sits for a moment, like he’s mulling over Louis’ story and deciding his fate. “You’re lucky you haven’t been caught before this, you know,” he scolds eventually.

That isn’t what Louis was expecting to hear. “I know. It was a stupid risk, and I shouldn’t have taken it,” he replies carefully, not sure where this conversation is heading.

With a laugh, the steward shakes his head. “Well, yes, but that isn’t what I meant.” He gestures to his jacket. “Third Class stewards have different uniforms. I have no business being in First Class, just as a First Class steward has no business coming down here.” He rubs his chin thoughtfully. “What we need is to get you a different uniform.”

“I beg your pardon?” Louis asks, nearly choking on his tongue.

“You need a First Class uniform. It’ll be much easier to get around in,” the man explains patiently, as if it’s the most obvious thing in the world. “I should think I can find you one.”

Louis regards the man, bewildered by the graciousness of yet another stranger, one who has every right to be furious with him. For the second time in as many days, Louis finds himself asking: “Why are you being so kind to me?”

“Because I understand,” is all he says, a faraway look in his warm, dark eyes. “Besides,” he adds, a touch of humour colouring his voice, “I had to pay for that uniform myself, and I’d rather like to have it back. I’m Liam Payne, by the way.”

“Louis Tomlinson,” Louis replies, standing to shake the man’s hand. Liam’s face splits into a boyish grin, and Louis can’t help smiling right back at him.

Promising to return shortly, Payne excuses himself. True to his word, when he comes back he has a set of clothing folded in his arms, proudly offering the bundle to Louis. “Just make sure I get it back before we reach New York, or I’ll catch hell for it,” Liam says sternly.

The ensemble consists of a white shirt with a black bowtie, black trousers and a blue coat. This jacket and trousers fit much better, Liam having managed to find a set closer to Louis’ size. The same gold buttons line the front of the uniform, looking even more splendid against dark blue wool.

“Thank you,” Louis says earnestly, once he’s fully dressed. He hands the Third Class uniform back to its rightful owner. “None of this would have been possible if you hadn’t left your uniform out.” With one last clasp of Liam’s hand, Louis pushes open the door—Like it or not, it’s time to face Harry. His thoughts haven't strayed far from the other man today, especially when he was nearly caught. Louis needs to visit him at least once more, he decides, gain a sort of closure so he can enjoy his excursions without the stain of their deeds tainting all of First Class.

“Hold on,” Liam calls, locking the empty cabin and catching up to Louis. “I’ll show you a better way to get there,” he says, pointing down the corridor with mischief in his eyes, as if he’s living vicariously through Louis’ exploits.

Grinning ear to ear now, Louis claps Liam on the shoulder. “Mr Payne, I think you and I are going to get along famously.”

✯✯✯

It’s been two days now since Harry boarded the Titanic, and he’s right back where he started: curled up in bed, staring at the ceiling, and wishing this damn voyage was over already.

He can’t believe he was so stupid. Kissing Louis was a mistake, and now he’s lost the closest thing to a friend he’s had in years. He can only hope Louis doesn’t turn him in, though Harry wouldn’t blame him in the slightest.

A knock at the door startles him out of his melancholy and out of bed, still wearing his pyjamas even though it’s past midday. His heart flutters with the hope that it could be Louis, perhaps willing to give Harry a chance to explain.

Of course, it could also be one of the officers coming to toss him overboard or keelhaul him—whatever they do with criminals at sea. He allows himself a single moment to wonder whether there is any kind of prison on board before he throws open the door.

The corridor is empty, Harry’s face pinching in confusion (and no small amount of disappointment) as he looks around the deserted hallway. He’s about to step out in search of his seemingly invisible visitor, pyjamas be damned, when the knock sounds again.

Alas, it’s coming from the door connecting his room with Gemma’s. It was only a matter of time, really; much as he’d like to mope around his cabin, his dear sister isn’t one to let him suffer in solitude. She seems to delight in forcing him into social interactions, for whatever reason.

It’s no surprise, then, when Harry opens the door to reveal a rather cross looking Gemma. Her hands perch on her hips as she scowls up at him. “May I ask where you’ve been all day? You weren’t at breakfast or lunch.”

Reluctantly stepping back to grant his sister access to his stateroom, Harry heaves an exaggerated sigh. “I was sleeping late… Didn’t much feel up to being social today.” He slumps into a chair and props his chin on his palm, waiting for the inevitable lecture.

“It’s past noon. That’s far long enough to have slept off whatever trouble you got into last night.”

It’s all Harry can do not to roll his eyes heavenward, not wanting to risk a wallop from his sister. “I didn’t drink too much, if you must know,” he grumbles, wishing that too much alcohol was the cause behind his pounding head and aching heart.

Gemma tilts her head, studying him curiously. “What’s troubling you, then? You seemed so happy at dinner. The fellow you brought, Tomlinson, he had you in higher spirits than I’ve seen in ages.”

He must flinch at the name, because Gemma’s eyes widen in understanding. “Did something happen after dinner?”

“We had a bit of a misunderstanding.” Harry’s eyes stay fixed on his hands, too humiliated to meet his sister’s gaze. “I— I kissed him, and he fled.”

Taking a seat at the table, Gemma reaches across it to grasp Harry’s hands. “I see. He rejected your advances?” Her voice is dripping with sympathy that Harry neither wants nor deserves, not after the way he treated Louis.

He pulls one of his hands away and jams it through his curls, fingers catching in a tangle. “He seemed not to, at first, and that’s what I find so frustrating. I suspect his brain and body couldn’t agree, and it upset him.” Finally working through the snarl of hair, Harry drops his hand to the table once more. “I most regret causing him any distress. I doubt I’ll ever get the chance to apologise to him.”

“I wouldn’t say that.” Gemma face is a perfect mask, completely inscrutable. There’s no doubt in Harry’s mind that she’s up to something, though what it is he can’t begin to guess. “You should have seen the way he looked at you at dinner. I’d wager that we’ll be seeing Mr Tomlinson again.”

“Perhaps only to slap me, as he should have done last night.”

“Perhaps,” Gemma allows. With one last pat of Harry’s hand, she stands to take her leave. “I’m going to lie down for a bit. You had better not be sulking in your room when I come back,” she threatens lightly.

Unable to resist smiling at Gemma’s concern for him, Harry nods. “I think I’ll go and find something to hold me over until dinner—which I will attend, you have my word,” he assures her.

Satisfied, she gives him a sly smile before disappearing back into her stateroom.

She’s right, though; he’s not doing himself—or Louis, for that matter—any favours by hiding in his cabin. Still, it’s with grudging acceptance that he dresses and sets out in search of sustenance. He only hopes he can trust himself not to scandalise another unsuspecting fellow for the rest of the passage.

He’s no sooner passed his uncle’s door than it swings open, the sound of an unpleasantly familiar voice floating toward him like a stench. “Harry, may I have a word?”

Harry has plenty of words he’d love to impart on his dear uncle, but his mother raised a gentleman, so he settles for thinking them quite pointedly instead. “What is it, Charles?” His voice carries as much warmth as does the Atlantic itself.

Unbothered by the chill in Harry’s tone, Charles squares himself and glowers up at his nephew. “That was a rather interesting chap you brought to dinner last evening. Thompson, wasn’t it?”

“Tomlinson,” Harry corrects coolly, his patience growing ever thinner. “What about him?”

Charles shifts uncomfortably, resting his mass on one foot and then the other. “I’ve told you time and again how important your reputation is, Harry. It isn’t just your name; it’s mine and your father’s as well.”

“Get to the point, Charles.”

Looking aghast, Charles wrings his hands in front of him, as if whatever he’s about to say is taking some great effort. “I just worry that man might try to lead you astray. You need to be careful.”

Bristling, Harry clenches his fists at his sides. “Well, you needn’t worry about me, as it is I hoping to lead him astray. Now, if you’ll excuse me.” Turning on his heel without another word, Harry leaves his uncle sputtering helplessly behind him. It’s a small comfort, but shocking his uncle with talk of his so-called ‘gross indecency’ is enough to put the tiniest bounce in his step, despite the weight curling heavy ‘round his heart.

✯✯✯

It’s on the third pass by Harry’s stateroom that Louis finally brings himself to knock. He hasn’t a clue what he might say—or what he hopes Harry might say to him—only that he needs to see Harry again, to put paid to their brief friendship, if nothing else.

Finally working up the nerve, he raises a fist and gives three sharp knocks. Now all he has to do is manage not to flee or revisit his dinner before Harry receives him.

Thankfully, the wait is short, and Louis is inside the door before it’s even opened all the way. “I apologise for barging in on you like this, but I really think we need to talk.” He spins to face Harry, only to find himself met with the lady Styles instead. “Oh.”

“’Oh,’ yourself, Mr Tomlinson,” she says, the ever-present amusement lighting up her face. “I suspect you’ve come seeking my dear brother?” Her eyes skim his body, taking in the uniform adorning it.

Blanching, Louis takes a step back, bumping into the table. “I can explain,” he says quickly, even though he’s not quite sure how to put his predicament into words. I’m a passenger posing as a steward. Your brother kissed me, and I have no idea what to do about it. If one didn’t guarantee a call to the ship’s officers, surely the other would.

“You don’t need to explain a thing.” Gemma joins him at the table, taking a seat and gesturing for him to do the same. “I’m merely surprised to see you in uniform. It’s one thing for my brother to fancy a fellow passenger; it’s quite another for him to be dallying with a member of the crew.”

Relief and guilt both strike Louis simultaneously, the former at his identity being safe and the latter at being deceitful. Then Gemma’s words sink in, fear taking over and running cold through his veins. “You know, then? About Harry?” His eyes are wide, hoping she understands what he’s implying—he doesn’t think he can give voice to such a thing, particularly not in the presence of a lady.

Her laugh takes Louis by surprise, as he finds no levity in the situation he’s gotten himself into. One of these days you’ll learn to stay where you belong, he tells himself. As it’s too late for that now, he can only sit and hear the lady out, feeling as tense as a compressed spring.

“I know more about Harry than anyone else does,” Gemma says, a faraway look in her eyes. “He struggled so hard with it, you know. When you hear your entire life that something is an aberration, it comes as a nasty shock when you find yourself having those kinds of thoughts.”

“How long has he known about his… preferences?” Louis asks delicately, curious to know more about the tall, handsome stranger. If he’s being honest, Harry stopped feeling like a stranger soon after they met, though when he began applying ‘handsome’ to the man without a second thought, he can’t say. “How did he find out?”

Gemma seems to think for a moment before replying. “I really think that’s Harry’s story to tell. He’s known for quite some time, though.” Her face, usually aglow with mischief or mirth, now sags with sadness. “He acquired a bit of a reputation back home. Took a shine to the wrong man and found himself the subject of a fair bit of gossip. Our father would have cut Harry off if it hadn’t been for our mother.”

“She knew, as well?” Louis asks, hanging on to Gemma’s every word, trying to imagine a younger, insecure Harry, alone and confused, his body at odds with the teachings of his family and his god.

“She did, yes. Mother may not have understood, but like I do, she could see that Harry was not acting out of sin. If it’s out of love, she told him, she couldn’t care less who he courted.” She shakes her head, lips pressed together in a sad smile. “It was one thing she and Father never agreed on—marrying for love. He only cares about making connections. With her gone, he wasted no time in sending me away to find a successful husband.” Her smile takes on its wry twist once more. “I have no intention of complying, of course. Harry came along to make sure I’m not mistreated, and to get a fresh start himself.”

Louis can’t help but think of his own sisters, tries to imagine them being sent away to loveless marriages. He’d go along in a heartbeat to protect them, even if it meant leaving everything behind. It makes him feel a sort of kinship with Harry, knowing they’d both do anything for the women in their lives. His own concern now extends to the lady across the table, certain that if it ever were necessary, he’d look after her as well (though he’s fairly certain that Gemma Styles is quite capable of taking care of herself).

“Thank you for telling me all of this,” Louis says, tracing the grain of the table with a shaky fingertip. “Harry’s lucky to have you as a sister.”

“And I him.” Gemma reaches across the table, taking Louis’ hand. “Be kind to him, won’t you? He’s had far too much heartache in his life.”

Confusion flickers across Louis’ features, but he nods anyway. “I will,” he vows, earning him a squeeze before she withdraws her hand. He wants to ask her what she meant by that, but the door opening interrupts his query before it leaves his lips.

✯✯✯

When Harry heads back to his stateroom, he’s only managed to find tea and biscuits to quiet his protesting stomach. With the Dining Saloon closed in preparation for the next meal, and the restaurants feeling rather too intimate for dining alone, he’d taken refuge in the Lounge instead. Perhaps he’ll ring for a steward, see about getting something brought to his room. Hell, maybe he should take his meals that way for the rest of the journey.

He stops short of opening his door, curious to hear voices coming from the other side. Pressing his ear closer, he can just make out Gemma’s mellow tone, though to whom she’s speaking he can’t begin to imagine. Nellie, perhaps, though why would they be in his room?

The voices are too soft to make out individual words, but when a male voice follows Gemma’s, Harry wastes no time in flinging open the door.

Gemma is indeed occupying his room, though it’s the man with her that catches Harry off guard.

It’s Louis, dressed now in a uniform similar to Wheeler’s and the other stewards Harry’s seen around. He’s seated at the table next to Gemma, hands balled into fists on the tabletop. He meets Harry’s gaze with wide, unblinking eyes, though there doesn’t seem to be any revulsion hidden in their depths.

“I’m sorry, am I interrupting something?” Harry asks from the doorway, glancing with concern between the pair of them.

“No, I was just leaving.” Gemma moves from her chair to Harry’s side, skirts rustling in her wake. She leans in close, her lips only a hairsbreadth from Harry’s ear as she whispers, “I like this one, Harry. Please be careful.” She punctuates the warning with a kiss to her brother’s cheek. Without another word, only a reassuring smile in Louis’ direction, she leaves the two men alone in the heavy silence.

Harry turns back to his unexpected guest, Louis still watching his every move. “What was that about, then?” he asks, clearing his throat.

When Louis doesn’t respond, Harry joins him at the table. “Listen, I must apologise for last night. I shouldn’t have—”

“How long have you known?” Louis cuts him off. “That you like men.” His gaze has fallen to the table, colour rising in his cheeks. "How did you come to know such a thing?"

There isn’t anger in Louis’ tone, but it isn’t overly friendly either. Still, it’s better than the outright disgust Harry feared hearing. He swallows against the lump rising in his throat. Maybe there’s still a chance that he and Louis can come out of this on good terms, if not exactly friends.

“I always thought it curious I didn’t fancy girls the way my friends did,” Harry says slowly, reminiscing on a time when life was far less complicated. “When I was old enough for boarding school, that all but confirmed it. Experimentation is to be expected during adolescence, and I don’t need to explain how that might play out at an all male school.” Harry chances a sheepish grin at Louis, the other man quickly looking away. Lips sliding back into a more sombre expression, he carries on. “It wasn’t only experimentation for me, though. I enjoyed myself far more than I’d ever dare admit to my classmates.”

“And, erm, after your schooling? What then?” Louis asks, curiosity getting the better of him.

Encouraged by the interest, Harry sits up straighter in his chair, folding his hands together on the table in front of him so that he can lean the slightest bit closer to his guest.

“After school, I met a like-minded man who was all too happy to teach me what I hadn’t yet managed to learn on my own. We saw each other secretly for quite some time, until his mother discovered us and sent him away, making sure to place the blame for her son’s actions solely with me.” He laughs, short and rueful, at the memory. “So not only did I lose the first person I cared for, I also lost a great number of friends. Of course my father found out, and it was only my mother’s pleading that kept me from being disowned.”

Louis’ expression has softened into one of almost pity, the story seeming to have melted his frozen tongue. “I’m sorry things have been so difficult for you,” he says, looking troubled, “but you have to know what you’re doing is a crime, Harry. You’re lucky that boy’s mother didn’t do worse than sully your name.”

“And what is posing as a steward to sneak around, then?” Harry replies, a bite in his voice. “You don’t seem the sort to worry overmuch about following rules when you’re the one breaking them.” Wincing at how harsh he sounds, Harry calms himself with a sigh. “Listen, Louis, it was never my intention to cause you any grief. I’m very sorry that I seem to have done just that.”

Smiling for the first time since Harry’s seen him again, Louis replies: “How does the saying go? ‘The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.’” He looks down to his hands, still clenched on the table, though not so tightly as before. “You do tempt me, terribly so, and I’m afraid I’m not sure what to do about it.”

Harry’s heart soars at the admission, hope fluttering its wings with each erratic beat. “And I believe it was Oscar Wilde who wrote, ‘The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.’”

Louis is momentarily stunned, just long enough for Harry to curse himself for being so bold. “Well, look how that turned out for Mr Wilde,” Louis replies at last, smiling bright enough to illuminate the windowless cabin.

The lighthearted nature of Louis’ remark takes Harry by surprise, startling a laugh out of him in a mixture of amusement and relief. “You have a point,” he concedes, daring to let his smile spread wider. “Now where does that leave us?”

The smile on Louis’ face vanishes as quickly as it had appeared. “I can’t say I know. I’ve never been more confused by a person in my entire life as I am by you.”

The winged creature within Harry’s breast takes flight once more. “Then you know it didn’t feel criminal when we kissed. You felt something, didn’t you?”

“I feel loads of things that I can’t make sense of.”

“I can help, if you’ll let me.” Harry knows he must be a sorry sight, all but begging Louis to stay. What is it about this man, a complete stranger mere days ago, that has Harry’s heartstrings pulled so tightly they might snap if he should turn Harry away?

Uncertainty has woven itself into each of Louis’ features, from the crease in his brow to the thin line of his mouth. “I think I should like some time to myself, if you don’t mind.” His voice reminds Harry of being licked by a cat—soothing and coarse, all at the same time.

Without a second thought, Harry boldly reaches out to cover one of Louis’ fists with his hand. He marvels at how much smaller Louis’ hand is for a beat before giving the gentlest caress, pulling away before it proves too much for the other man. “Take all the time you need,” he says sincerely. “Please, just promise I’ll see you again before we reach New York. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life wondering what might have been.”

“And if I’m too gutless to face you again?”

Reaching into his jacket, Harry produces the watch he always wears, its constant weight reassuring in his pocket. Sometimes, when he misses his mother particularly badly, his hand finds the thing of its own volition, the metal growing warm in his palm as if she is thinking of him as well. The logical part of him knows that it’s his own body causing the sensation, but the same blood flows through his veins as did hers, and that’s close enough.

“Hold on to this for me,” Harry says, unhooking the chain and handing the timepiece to a bewildered Louis. “My grandfather left it to my mother when he died, and she gave it to me on my eighteenth birthday. I know you’ll take good care of it.”

Louis stares at the watch in his open palm, the chain dangling out of his hand and swaying in time with his pulse. “Harry, I couldn’t possibly take this.”

“You can,” Harry says confidently, in spite of the emotion threatening to cause his voice to waver. He reaches out once more and closes Louis’ fingers around the watch, his own digits tingling from the combined touch of familiar metal and unfamiliar skin. “Just make sure it finds its way back to me. I know you will.”

There’s a moment of silence as Louis continues to gape at the watch wrapped in his fingers. Then, with a short nod, Louis tucks the watch into his pocket. “I should go. People are getting suspicious about where I’ve been running off to.”

Harry stands as Louis does, gripping the man’s hand in farewell, though he longs for an embrace instead. “I’ll be waiting,” Harry promises as he opens the door for Louis.

“I’ll try not to make you wait too long,” Louis vows in return.

“I meant it when I said to take all the time you need,” Harry says solemnly. Then, in a lighter tone: “I won’t know how long it’s been anyway, as I’ve given you my watch.”

That brings a small but genuine smile to Louis’ lips. Without another word, he sets off down the corridor, looking over his shoulder once before disappearing around the corner.

When he’s sure Louis won’t come running back to him, mind made up and arms open wide, Harry returns to his stateroom only to head straight for Gemma’s.

She answers on the first knock, having guessed her brother would seek her out the moment Louis took his leave. “Well? How did it go?” She asks, scrutinizing his face for clues as to what kind of comfort he might be after.

Harry slumps against the door frame, exhaustion from the emotional ups and downs of the day hitting him all at once. “He’s gone back to steerage.”

“And what business does Mr Tomlinson have in steerage?” Gemma asks, eyebrows lifting in interest. “I was under the impression he worked in First Class.”

She doesn’t know, Harry realises, pursing his lips tightly. Of course he can tell Gemma; he’s told her everything for as long as he can remember, and she’s never once betrayed that trust. Told him he was being a bit daft at times, sure, but he deserved it. He only hopes this isn’t one of those times she finds it necessary to upbraid him.

“He belongs in Third Class,” Harry admits, watching her dark eyes widen in surprise. “And he isn’t a steward. He’s a passenger.”

She listens intently as he tells her about how Louis snuck into First Class in the guise of a steward, happening upon the Styleses completely by chance. “I knew he looked familiar,” Gemma murmurs, once the tale is told. “He’s the steward who barged in on me our first night on board.”

“Barged in?” Harry asks in alarm. “Why is this the first I’m hearing of this?”

“He didn’t do anything inappropriate, Harry. Please calm down.” Gemma strokes his arm soothingly as she continues. “It is I who should be ashamed; I sent him to your cabin in hopes you would appreciate the view.” Her cheeks are crimson now that the admission has been heard.

“You sent him?” Harry repeats in wonder as Gemma nods. “We probably only met because of you.”

Gemma’s full lips part in a smile. “You’ll have to thank me should he come back to you.” Then, more gently: “Do you think he will?”

“I know he will. I gave him Grandfather’s pocket watch.”

The smile morphs into a perfect ‘o’ of surprise. “Harry, you’ve never gone anywhere without that thing since the day Mother gave it to you. What on Earth possessed you to give it to a man you barely know?”

She’s right, of course; Harry doesn’t know Louis from Adam. He’s just a man with an infatuation for a total stranger, someone from what might as well be an entirely different world. Their paths would likely never have crossed if they weren’t both confined to the same ship—and that they met on the ship at all is nothing short of a miracle. Harry’s certain he was meant to meet Louis, and something bigger than either of them made it so.

So, yes, he might hardly know Louis now, but it seems they’re destined to be in one another’s life. Who is Harry to argue with Destiny?

“Destiny,” Harry replies simply. With that he turns on his heel and dreamily strolls back to his own room, shutting the door between him and a rather perplexed Gemma.

✯✯✯

The bundle of clothing is right where Louis left it, stashed at the back of a linen closet. He changes mechanically, focusing on his movements so as to avoid thinking about his latest encounter with Harry. It’s too much all at once, both his brain and his heart seemingly trying to flee his body to save themselves. What’s worse, the watch rests heavy in his pocket like an anchor, keeping him from floating away altogether.

He pulls the watch out of the uniform trousers, taking a moment to study it before plunging it into the pocket of his own. It’s quite lovely, gold and glinting in Louis’ palm. The level of care it has received is obvious in the lack of scratches and dings in the hunter’s case. The front of the case sports a sweeping floral design, vines wrapping around the edges and ending in a circle around the monogram at the bottom: EJC. Louis brushes his thumb over the letters, wondering if EJC was Harry’s grandfather. Whoever he was, how would he feel about his watch falling into the hands of someone like, well, Louis—poor and impure, with nothing to offer someone like Harry in return.

With a groan of frustration at his sorry state of affairs, Louis tucks the watch away and pushes angrily out of the lavatory, drawing curious stares from the group of men passing by in the corridor. He brushes past them without a word, too preoccupied to worry about being polite. All he wants is to curl up in his bunk and sleep until the world makes sense again.

Of course, that isn’t to be, because no sooner than he turns a corner, he runs straight into Liam Payne.

“Tomlinson!” Liam cries jovially, steadying the smaller man from their collision. “You’re back awfully soon. Have a nice stroll?” His left eye closes in the barest of winks, just enough to clue Louis in to the true question he’s asking.

“I’m afraid I didn’t feel much up to exploring after all,” Louis replies, clutching the bundle of clothes tightly to his side. “If you’ll excuse me, I was just headed back to my cabin to lie down.”

Louis doesn’t make it more than two steps before Payne catches his arm. It’s getting to be a habit, it seems. “Here, allow me to escort you. You’re looking awfully pale.”

Not possessing the mental or physical energy to argue, Louis mumbles out his cabin number and lets himself be lead through the maze-like hallways of the ship. When Liam turns down a different hallway than the one leading straight to Louis’ cabin, he looks at the man in wonder.

“Thought we could take the long way,” Liam says cryptically. They reach a dead end, no one in sight and all the nearby cabin doors closed. “We’re safe here,” the steward says once they stop. “Now, what happened up there that has you so shaken?”

Frowning, Louis leans against the wall opposite Liam, arms crossed over his chest defensively. “I appreciate your help, Mr Payne, but what makes you think my activities are any of your concern?”

Nonplussed by Louis’ sharp tongue, Liam shrugs in response. “They aren't. But then again, who else do you have to speak to about them?”

Damn if the man didn’t have an excellent point. There’s Niall, of course, but getting him alone doesn’t always prove easy. Besides, Liam has already shown that he’s trustworthy, though what his motives are Louis can’t begin to guess.

“Do you know why I signed on for this voyage, Tomlinson?” Liam says once the silence has dragged on long enough, Louis’ internal struggle keeping his brain too busy to work his mouth. The steward doesn’t wait for an answer. “There’s a girl back home, back in Wolverhampton. Her name is Sophia, and I’m going to marry her.”

Curiosity piqued, Louis lets his guard down, arms falling to wrap around his middle instead. “I’m afraid I don’t follow. How can you marry her if she’s there and you’re here?”

Liam laughs, his entire face crinkling with amusement. “I can’t, but then again I can’t marry her there either. Her father won’t allow it.” He sobers quickly, the pain in his brown eyes clear as day. “My family doesn’t come from much, unlike hers; they own a thriving bicycle factory. Her father is afraid I won’t be able to care for her as well as a more successful man could.” He tugs at the jacket of his uniform. “This is my way of proving him wrong.”

“But you’ll be at sea all the time. Surely that doesn’t help your case.”

“Once I save up a bit, I’m going to buy some shares of her father’s company. He doesn’t have any sons to leave it to.” Liam’s smile is both hopeful and sad, reminding Louis terribly of Harry’s smile not so long ago. “I love her, Mr Tomlinson. I’ll do anything it takes to be her husband.”

He’s so determined, his love for this girl written all over his face, that the sheer force of it has hope blossoming in Louis’ chest. “Why are you telling me this?” Louis wonders aloud. “What does any of this have to do with me?”

The soft smile is gone, an impish one in its place. “Perhaps nothing at all,” Liam replies, taking a few steps back toward the main corridor. “Just know that I truly believe love will always find a way, and where there’s love, it’s never foolish to hope.” He winks once more and turns his back, leaving Louis in the empty corridor alone and more uncertain than ever before.

There’s just enough time for a kip before the dinner call, though whether it’s the now-familiar bugling or Niall all but pulling him out of his bunk that wakes him Louis isn’t sure.

“What… do you think… you’re doing?” Louis grumbles irritably, slapping the Irishman away with sleep-heavy limbs. It feels as if he barely closed his eyes at all.

Laughing, Niall ducks out of the way of Louis’ flailing. “You’re coming to supper with us, Tommo,” Niall informs him, making it quite clear by his tone that Louis has no say in the matter.

Behind Niall, Stan is nodding enthusiastically. “Spending the whole evening with us, if you keep your word.”

Louis rolls over with a groan. He did promise to give his bunk mates some of his time, and it isn’t as if he doesn’t want to. It’s the railroad spike that feels like it’s being driven into his skull that’s the problem.

“Up with ya,” Niall urges, yanking the blanket off Louis’ bed, much to the approval of Zayn and Stan.

Admitting defeat, Louis eases himself down from his bunk, ignoring the triumphant look on Niall’s face as he searches for wherever his left shoe got off to. “Horan, I have a feeling Ireland’s a quieter place with you on this ship.”

Zayn chuckles, watching in amusement as Louis struggles into his footwear. “You haven’t heard anything yet. Last night he and this bloke Daly were teaching everyone drinking songs. Sounded like a bagful of angry cats.”

Niall squawks in protest, but Stan claps a hand over his mouth. “Then Horan had a go on Daly’s bagpipes. That was even worse.”

Finally besting his shoes, Louis straightens up with a laugh. “Sounds like someone was a bit deep in his cups, eh?”

Red-cheeked and grinning, Niall just shakes his head. “Absolutely not. That was before we started drinking.”

The dining room fills quickly, with only seats enough for half of the steerage passengers at a sitting. The quartet manages to find four chairs together, the other lads greeting fellow passengers with enthusiasm. Louis doesn’t recognise a soul, he realises; it has him missing the cozy table in the First Class saloon with the Marvins and the Styleses. Then again, he’d have to face Harry, and he’s nowhere near ready to do that just yet.

Instead, Louis turns his attention to present company, determined to have a pleasant evening in Third Class—the sort of evenings he should have been having all along.

The fare here is simpler, the conversation louder, and the after dinner concert consists of whichever passengers brought instruments along for the trip. Still, Louis thinks, with one arm around Niall’s shoulders and another around Stan’s as they sing along with the crowd, this life isn’t so bad after all. He’d be perfectly content to remember his place in life, where he’s meant to be, if it weren’t for one thing:

There’s a very good chance that he’s falling in love with Harry Styles.

Chapter Text

13 April 1912

Everything reminds him of Harry.

The give of his bunk, nowhere near as soft as Harry’s bed in First Class.

The watch resting heavy in his hand, dutifully ticking away the minutes when all Louis wants is for time to slow down so he can think for a minute.

The white-enameled pine walls of the Third Class General Room, a paltry imitation of the gleaming Reception Room on the next deck down.

That’s where he is now—resigned to stay in Third Class where he belongs—the slats of a pine bench digging into his backside uncomfortably, not a scrap of upholstery in sight. The entire room is quite sparse, with only photos of other White Star Line ships on the walls as decoration.

“What, you haven’t run off yet?”

A familiar voice behind him startles Louis. Niall grins sleepily as he slides onto the same bench, eyes bloodshot and hair hanging limply over his forehead. The Irishman was still snoring away when Louis, unable to quiet his mind once the alcohol wore off, rolled out of bed not more than an hour ago.

“Good morning to you too, Mr Horan. Afternoon, actually,” Louis corrects, smiling at the brunet and gesturing to the watch lying open in his palm.

Niall’s blue eyes widen as they land on the item. “That’s a fine timepiece you’ve got there, Tomlinson,” he says in awe. Then, with suspicion written in each crease of his forehead: “You didn’t nick it off someone in First Class, did you?”

Louis snaps the watch shut in surprise, tucking it back into his trousers lest anyone else get the same idea. “Of course I didn’t!” he hisses, the pulse in his temples renewing the headache from the morning’s hangover. He glances around nervously, but anyone close by is paying no attention to the pair.

“Sorry, mate, sorry,” Niall says placatingly, holding up his hands. “I shouldn’t have said that.” He nods his head toward the pocket now concealing the watch. “It really is a beauty, though. Family heirloom?”

Once again, though he can’t say why, Louis feels like he can confide in the man sitting next to him. Niall hasn’t breathed a word about Louis’ escapades to forbidden areas of the ship, after all. In fact, he’d encouraged them, prompting Louis’ visit yesterday when all he wanted to do was hide in his bunk.

“No, you were right the first time,” Louis explains quietly, leaning closer to Niall. “It belongs to the man I’ve been visiting. But I didn’t steal it.”

A puzzled look creeps onto Niall’s face. “You have been seeing someone, then? Not just having a look around?”

Blast, Louis thinks, cursing himself for mentioning Harry. If Niall puts two and two together… Well. Surely there’s a limit to how many secrets a practical stranger will keep.

“He’s become something of a friend,” Louis explains. “He and his sister both. They’ve been so kind to me.”

Niall looks incredulous, eyebrows raised as he listens. “Kind enough to give you a gold watch?” he muses. “Do they know who you really are?”

“The brother does,” Louis replies, cheeks flaming. “Last I knew, the sister still believed I was a steward.”

The Irishman seems to mull that over. Eventually, the worry lines fade from his face and he’s smiling devilishly, the light in his eyes bright enough to cut through any haze last night’s drinking left behind. “I think you have a lot to catch me up on, Mr Tomlinson, before you go running off again.”

With a laugh, Louis happily obliges, thrilling Niall with descriptions of the food and finery, the music and the wine. As Niall listens, completely enraptured by the vivid word pictures, Louis realises that he’s already made up his mind.

If he can’t go a day—an hour—without thinking about Harry, then a lifetime would surely be agony.

He is going to go back. Today. He’s going to tell Harry that he wants to try to figure this out, no matter how undefined this currently is, because Harry’s worth the risk.

Louis can only hope that he’s worth the risk for Harry, too.

✯✯✯

Saturday seems to drag on, even more slowly and uncomfortably than one of his father’s tedious dinner parties. Harry keeps reaching for his watch to see how much time has elapsed, his heart thumping with anxiety when he finds it missing. He can’t focus enough to read. He doesn’t fancy a trip to the swimming bath or squash court. Daniel Marvin would no doubt be up for a hand of bridge, but the only man Harry wants to see right now is down in steerage.

It’s damn inconvenient.

Give him time, Harry. You have to give him time.

It’s a lot to think about, after all. The idea of loving a man as one would love a woman is foreign and frightening. Harry had the same fears long ago, back when he first noticed just how attractive other men could be. He had cried and prayed, begging God to cast out whatever demon it was that had turned his own body against him.

But God did not act, and Harry couldn’t change such an intrinsic part of himself. Instead, he eventually found comfort and peace, knowing deep in his heart that God would never condemn love simply because it was shared by two men or two women. He’s a sinner, like all men, but not because of whom he loves.

Hopefully Louis is able to find that same peace, even if it isn’t with Harry.

How he wishes he could be with Louis now, to ease his mind and promise him things will play out as they’re meant to. This isn’t the sort of thing one can talk about with just anyone, and the thought of Louis bearing the weight alone has Harry’s chest aching.

It feels as if he’s known Louis forever. Or, perhaps, that he will know Louis forever now. There’s something about him that has revived a part of Harry’s heart that hasn’t been used since James. Louis may not fill the void left by Harry’s lost love, but he lessens it, mending a hole that once seemed as if it would swallow him up. Losing Louis as well would reopen the wound, and that, quite frankly, is terrifying.

Oh, how he hopes Louis comes back soon—if only so Harry can accept his fate and try to piece himself back together.

There’s only so much pacing a man can do, crossing his cabin in lengthy strides enough times he’s surprised he hasn’t worn down the carpeting. He needs a distraction, and fast, and it won’t be found within these walls. With a growl of frustration, he stalks to the door and yanks it open, thinking a visit to the Gymnasium might relieve him of the pent-up energy thrumming in his veins.

He doesn’t even make it out the door.

“Louis?”

The man in question is standing just outside Harry’s stateroom, fist raised as if he was about to knock when the door opened. A mixture of uncertainty and relief crosses his face, though Harry doesn’t allow himself to read too much into it.

“I promised I wouldn’t make you wait long.” Louis’ voice is soft and warm, wrapping around Harry’s brain and making his toes curl in his shoes. The shy smile quirking thin, pale lips is enough to reawaken the hope Harry has tucked away in his chest.

“Maybe you should come inside,” he suggests, mouth dry around the words. He feels as if he’s swallowed the sea itself, simultaneously filling him up but only increasing his thirst.

Louis agrees without fanfare, stepping past Harry and into the cabin. The warmth from the light seems to reflect off of the smooth, tanned skin of Louis’ face, emphasising the redness blooming in his cheeks. He’s nothing short of beautiful and he has no idea, Harry thinks, shutting the door between them and the rest of the world.

The silence hangs thick and heavy in the air, like the calm before a storm. The beating of Harry’s heart is practically audible, pounding with each revolution of the propellers that hums through the ship. He wants to scream, to beg Louis to get it over with so that he can try to put himself back together again, when—

“I want to give this a chance.”

The world stops turning, narrowing down to only the sound of blood pumping in Harry’s ears and the slouched, nervous figure in front of him. He can’t believe what he’s just heard, sure that he must be dreaming, but Louis keeps talking before he can pinch himself and check.

Louis’ eyes are on the floor, long eyelashes brushing his cheekbones with each blink. “I don’t know what this is, exactly, or how to make sense of the things I’m feeling. But I trust you to show me, Harry. I haven’t stopped thinking of you for an instant.” He looks up with wide, anxious eyes, almost grey in the electric light. “I may not understand what you do to me, why you pervade my thoughts and tug at my heart so, but I know it doesn’t feel wrong.”

“It isn’t wrong,” Harry breathes, stepping closer to Louis and cupping his cheek. The shorter man startles at the touch, breath hitching as if he may change his mind and flee, but the moment passes and he relaxes into Harry’s hand, pressing his face closer to the palm curved along his jaw.

The sensation of the contact has tingles radiating through Harry’s body, as if Louis is an energy source all his own. He dips his head closer, stopping just shy of brushing Louis’ lips with his. “I don’t want to do anything you don’t want me to,” Harry murmurs, close enough to count the green flecks littering the other man’s irises.

“I want you to kiss me again,” Louis answers, his breath warm and inviting as it ghosts over Harry’s lips like a promise.

He moves slowly, carefully, giving Louis a chance to change his mind. But Louis’ eyes flutter closed, and he tilts his chin, and Harry can’t hold back any longer, closing the distance between them. He feels Louis tense up for a fraction of a second, soon relaxing into the kiss and placing tentative hands at Harry’s waist.

It’s slow and patient, innocent and sweet. This time there’s no alcohol to blame, only their hearts and minds, the way their bodies align as they pull each other closer. Louis’ mouth stays closed, and Harry doesn’t press for more. This chaste, simple kiss is more than enough, igniting Harry’s nerves and fostering a warmth low in his gut. He pulls away before things get too heated, knowing, hoping there will be other kisses for that.

Louis’ cheeks are flushed, his lips wet and breath coming out in little puffs. Harry’s too polite to check if Louis is as affected by the kiss as he is, but the way Louis’ hands fall in front of his groin gives Harry a fairly good indication.

“Thank you,” Harry says once his composure has returned, raking a hand through his curls.

A pleased smile flickers across Louis’ lips, still pink from the pressure of Harry’s against them. He looks up at Harry through dark lashes, the mere sight nearly enough to have Harry claiming his mouth once more. “Was that all right?” he asks timidly.

The fact that Louis doesn’t know how incredible he is, can’t see how much he affects Harry, has the taller man balking. “Louis, that was the most wonderful kiss I have ever had the pleasure of sharing,” he says earnestly, reaching out to tangle his fingers with Louis’. His large, slender hand envelopes the other man’s, Harry’s smooth skin sliding against callouses. He’s worked so hard for so long, Harry knows, rubbing at a particularly rough spot with his thumb. To have lived the life he has and still be this warm and kind, not at all bitter at the hand he was dealt… Louis is nothing short of a wonder, and Harry wants nothing more than to make up for every ounce of pain he’s endured.

“Have dinner with me,” Harry blurts out, giving Louis’ hand a squeeze. “I want to court you properly. Well, as much as I can manage in the middle of the Atlantic,” he amends, smiling lazily.

Louis looks surprised by the request, but his eyes are shining and he clasps Harry’s hand just as tightly. “I would love to,” he answers with enthusiasm, though his face falls soon after. “But what of your uncle? Won’t he be suspicious that I’m joining you again?”

“He’s already suspicious,” Harry scoffs, waving his free hand dismissively. “I wasn’t planning on dining in the saloon tonight, though. I should like to do something special for you.”

He can see the disbelief on Louis’ face, unable to imagine something better than the First Class Dining Saloon. It must be so strange for Louis, suddenly surrounded by luxury—and people who take it completely for granted. Harry wonders what Louis’ own accommodations must be like, tries to picture him eating and socialising with the other Third Class passengers.

In the end, he can’t; Louis shines too brightly for Harry to imagine him surrounded by anything less than splendour.

✯✯✯

“Where are you taking me?” Louis asks, once they’ve dressed for dinner. Louis is wearing the same suit Harry lent him before, this time over a shirt with a standing collar. He waits patiently for Harry to finish adjusting his bow tie, trying to get use to the feeling of starched fabric so high on his throat.

Harry’s in a different suit entirely, a swallow-tail coat with wide silk lapels. The shirt underneath is soft and pleated, large French cuffs boldly peeking out from beneath the coat. Two silk stripes run down the sides of the pants, emphasising how long and lean Harry’s legs are. The pants fit close to his ankle, ending just above his meticulously shined black patent leather pumps.

He’s the most exquisite thing Louis has ever seen, including all the other wonders First Class has to offer. Harry Styles was born to be beautiful.

Harry just smiles at him, and it feels like all the air rushes from the room. It seems so surreal, standing across from an exquisite man wearing exquisite clothes, and only moments after he’d been kissing said man. The memory of the kiss has Louis’ heart fumbling its cadence, a faint tingle warming his lips and, ah, other parts of his anatomy as well. The thought is enough to make Louis blush—he’d heard of men sharing their bodies, of course, but never in a way that made it sound at all desirable. Now, looking at Harry, he thinks he might be willing to take a closer look.

“A restaurant,” Harry answers finally, trying to coax a few unruly strands of hair back into place. Satisfied, he turns from the mirror and fixes Louis with a radiant smile. “The A La Carte. Finest dining on the ship.”

Louis’ excitement flickers, leaving him feeling small and unsure under Harry’s expectant gaze. “You don’t have to do that, you know,” he says, fiddling with cufflinks he can only imagine the price of. “I didn’t come to see you because of… all of this.” Louis gestures vaguely at the room around them. “I’d be just as content if we were sitting on the deck, or back down in Third Class, or just staying here in this room.” His face colours at the implication of the last part, but Harry gives no indication he interpreted it any differently than Louis intended.

Instead, he steps closer, stilling Louis’ nervous hands by trapping them in his own. “I know I don’t have to. I want to.” His eyes search Louis’, wide and sincere. “I meant it when I said you haven’t received your fair share of kindness, Louis. I have the means to amend that, and I plan to. If you’ll allow me, of course,” Harry adds, ducking his head as if he’s embarrassed by how much of himself he’s revealed, voice thick with emotion around his impassioned vows.

“I’ve had a good life,” Louis argues. “I had a home and my family and a job that kept food on the table.” Never enough, his brain chimes in, but that isn’t the point right now. “So please don’t pity me. I’ve worked very hard for everything I have. Nothing was given to me, and I don’t want anything handed to me now.” Harry looks startled at this side of Louis, fiercely protective and outspoken, but Louis holds up a hand before the other man can interject. “That being said, I’ve greatly enjoyed the glimpses of your life that you’ve shared with me, and I would love to have dinner with you tonight.” He squeezes the hand still holding Harry’s. “Just don’t look at it as charity, please? I don’t want that, from you or anyone else.”

There’s a stunned silence, but soon Harry is smiling broadly and taking Louis by the shoulders. “I have never once thought of you as anything less than my equal, and I won’t start now.” He lets his hands fall away, fingertips brushing Louis’ arms as they go.

Louis’ smile softens around the edges. “Well, now that we’ve settled that, I would quite like that dinner you’ve promised.”

Grinning like a madman, Harry takes his hand and leads him to the door. They have to release their hold the moment they step over the threshold into the corridor beyond, but just for a moment, it was nice to pretend they could step out like any other couple.

When Harry had promised that the A La Carte restaurant was the finest dining on board, Louis had a hard time picturing anything more elegant than the First Class Dining Saloon.

Now, staring around wide-eyed at the walnut brown paneling, he realises how wrong he was. Golden candle-like sconces cast a warm glow along the walls, joining the light from large crystal chandeliers hanging from above. Even the ceiling is lovely, supported by evenly spaced columns, each one wrapped in a ribbon of gold. The tables are filled with fascinating people eating fascinating food, sharply dressed waiters flitting from table to table like bees to flowers. The low chatter of the guests mingles with the tinkling of silver against fine china, acting as percussion for the orchestra playing a lively sonata from a raised platform.

Louis could be coated in diamonds, and he would still feel out of place.

A server with a thick accent greets them cordially, Harry responding in flawless French. Louis can only marvel in silence—it seems that each passing moment exposes a previously unseen side of Harry, each more endearing than the one before it. His heart brims with affection for the man next to him, from the way his smoky voice sounds wrapped around French vowels to the way he smirks over his shoulder, making certain Louis is following him to their table. If he weren’t already falling in love with Harry, he would be a goner after this.

The idea is far, far less frightening than it seemed only a day ago.

Their table is tucked away in a private corner, set for two. There are fresh flowers on every table, pink roses and white daisies that look as if they were cut from someone’s garden that very morning. Louis sinks into a padded walnut chair, the light pink of the floral upholstery pattern matching the roses perfectly. The colour carries over to silk curtains draped around large bay windows, somehow making the restaurant feel both open and intimate at the same time.

Their crystal glasses are filled with champagne as Louis pores over the menu, full of French words he could never hope to pronounce. He asks Harry to translate a few before pushing the thing away, letting Harry do the ordering—something the other man does with delight.

Glasses full and food ordered, Harry and Louis are left to themselves. Louis’ eyes have finally stopped wandering the room, settling on the brunet across the table. Harry’s hair cascades around his face, far too long to be considered fashionable, but Louis adores it. He wonders if it feels as soft as it looks, irrationally jealous of Harry’s fingers as they tuck a curl behind his ear.

The envy abates when a warm hand finds his knee beneath the table, fingers rubbing soothing circles through the wool of Louis’ trousers. Harry has known him for a few days, yet he already seems so in tune with how Louis is feeling, when he needs comfort. Glancing around to check that no one is paying them any mind, Louis lets his hand cover Harry’s, tucking his fingers beneath the wide French cuff and rubbing the soft skin of Harry’s wrist.

“This is beautiful, Harry,” Louis says, taking a sip of Moet and relishing the way the bubbles burst on his lips.

“Doesn’t hold a candle to you, I’m afraid,” Harry replies breezily, fingertips toying with one of the roses on the table.

It’s a silly comment, and Louis would like to say it’s the alcohol causing his cheeks to flush, but he would be wrong. Harry, clearly pleased at the effect of his words, plucks the rose from the vase and holds it over the table, smiling so widely that his dimples show.

Shyly accepting the bloom, Louis tucks it into a buttonhole of his jacket just as the waiter returns with their first course. The aroma of rich French cuisine has Louis’ mouth watering before he even takes a bite, and for good reason: the scent has nothing on the taste, his palette overwhelmed with flavours and textures he doesn’t even have words for.

The dinner continues in a similar fashion, each course more magnificent than the last and assorted wines to match. It’s quiet conversation and shy smiles, Harry’s foot hooking around Louis’ ankle somewhere between the tortue claire and the jambon d’York.

Eventually their dessert plates are cleared away, and steaming cups of coffee are set in their place. Harry’s smile is lazy and sated, eyes reflecting the light as well as any of the crystals in the chandelier overhead.

“Was everything all right?” Harry asks, as if Louis hadn’t praised every dish as it had been consumed.

Louis wraps his hand around the warm cup in front of him. “I never thought anything would beat the first dinner you treated me to, but this was the best meal I’ve ever had.” He holds up a hand, still sticky with juice from a perfectly ripe peach. “And I certainly never thought the most luscious peach I’d ever eat would be found at sea.”

“Amazing what you can find at sea, isn’t it?” Harry drawls, eyeing Louis like he’s still hungry, and the last course isn’t something that can be served on a plate.

Oh. Oh. The concept has heat licking up Louis’ spine. He isn’t accustomed to being physical with others, not in a carnal sense anyway. Even by his own hand Louis remains quite green, rarely finding the time or the privacy to explore his body.

Now, though. Now all he can think about is Harry’s long, slender fingers, the perfect bow of his lips. Of baring himself completely to someone—no, not just someone, but Harry.

Louis shivers despite himself, the images in his mind proving too much for him to bear.

“Are you cold?” Harry asks, lips drawn in a concerned frown. “We can go, if you’d like.”

“Yes, please,” Louis replies, surprised at the roughness of his own voice.

The way Harry’s pupils dilate in the soft lighting says that Louis’ tone did not go unnoticed. After that it’s only a matter of moments before Harry is slipping their server a generous wad of notes and leading the way out of the restaurant.

The walk back to Harry’s stateroom is silent but for the hammering of Louis’ heart against his rib cage. His hand keeps accidentally brushing Harry’s as they go, little jolts of electricity bursting from each touch. His head swirls from the wine and his thoughts and Harry, so close to him yet forbidden to touch until they’re safely locked away. Harry’s lips are stained red from the wine, and Louis would rather like to kiss him, to see if they still taste of Chateau Larose.

It seems to take ages to reach their destination on C Deck, despite the A La Carte being only one level above. When they finally reach the cabin, Louis’ palms are sweaty and his lip is bitten nearly raw; Harry isn’t in much better shape, judging by the way his hand slips off the doorknob on the first try.

“Please kiss me again,” Louis asks the second they’re safely ensconced. Harry complies without a word, their mouths falling together effortlessly. To Louis it feels like the first exhale after holding a breath for too long, releasing everything stale and toxic inside of him to replace it with fresh and new. With Harry.

A wet pressure on Louis’ lips takes him by surprise, even more so when Harry’s tongue slips inside his mouth. It should feel wrong—disgusting, even—but instead Louis melts into the kiss. He feels as if Harry is learning his body inside and out, more intimately than anyone else in the world knows him. He tentatively probes back with his own tongue, earning a groan from low in Harry’s throat.

“I’ve never kissed like that,” Louis gasps when they part, saliva cooling on his tingling lips.

Harry’s eyes are surprised but patient. He brushes stray wisps of hair from Louis’ damp forehead, a smile quirking at his swollen lips. “I’m sorry, I should have asked your permission. I find it hard to control myself around you,” he admits, looking embarrassed.

To be desired, particularly by a man who can have anything, is a heady feeling. Louis steps closer to Harry in a courageous move, placing his palms flat over the fine cloth of Harry’s jacket, the other man’s heart pounding just as wildly beneath the layers of wool and silk. “You said you’ve been with men,” he murmurs, stroking the cool fabric of the lapels.

“I have,” Harry replies, cocking his head to one side curiously. “What about it?” His hands find Louis’ hips, resting there lightly.

Louis’ eyes fall to the buttons holding the tailcoat closed, unable to meet Harry’s eyes as he says what’s on his mind. “I want you to show me.”

The fingers around Louis’ waist tense, digging into the meat of his backside. “Are you certain?” Harry’s words are clipped and throaty, as if he’s biting back a moan with each utterance.

Daring to look up, Louis finds Harry staring at him intensely, pupils nearly swallowing the green of his eyes. He looks wild, with his hair mussed and colour flooding his heated cheeks.

He looks like temptation personified, and Louis is finding himself quite ready to yield.

“Show me,” he insists in a whisper, moving to undo Harry’s coat, fingers unfastening each button with the practiced ease of a tailor’s assistant.

Harry doesn’t say anything, but yields to Louis’ demand as he shrugs off his jacket, taking it upon himself to remove his waistcoat and shirt while Louis turns his attention to his own clothing. He shivers as his skin is exposed, despite the comfortable temperature in Harry’s cabin.

It should be uncomfortable, standing so close to someone naked as the day he was born, but Louis just feels… exhilarated. Anxious. Ready. He scans Harry’s body with curious eyes, taking in every line, every curve, wanting to reach out and touch but not able to do anything other than stare.

His reverie is broken when Harry wraps a warm hand around Louis’ wrist, the pad of his thumb stroking over the knot of veins just under the surface. He leads Louis over to the bed, coaxing him to lay down on the impeccably made bedding, and suddenly it’s Wednesday again, and Harry is finding Louis in his bed, eyes bright and curious.

This time, though, Harry is lowering his body on top of Louis’, bare flesh pressing together. “We don’t have to do anything else. I’m happy just lying here with you,” Harry murmurs once he’s settled, worried lines visible under the hair falling into his face.

“I want to,” Louis replies, feigning confidence even though he knows Harry can feel his heart hammering madly. Still, it’s enough for Harry to join their mouths together once more, a mesh of teeth and tongue that has Louis gasping against the other man’s lips.

Eyes closed and mouth open in a pant, Louis feels Harry’s mouth move to his neck, kissing and biting in turns. His fingers roam every part of Louis they can reach, studiously learning every facet of his body, trailing over his arms as if reading Louis’ life story in the gooseflesh that peppers them.

The sensations are nothing Louis’ ever felt before. He’s completely enveloped by Harry, every sense overwhelmed by the man. Harry’s scent fills his nostrils, musky and sweet; the taste of his lips lingers on Louis’ panting tongue; every nerve ending in his body is in tune with Harry’s touches.

It isn’t remotely sinful. It’s Heavenly.

“Do you trust me?” Harry whispers, breath cool over his own saliva streaking Louis’ throat.

“Yes,” Louis says breathily, words morphing into a moan when Harry’s teeth find his collarbone. “Yes.”

Harry’s hands continue to map Louis’ body, rolling slightly to the side so he can reach between them. The first drag of fingertips over Louis’ abdomen has his whole body twitching, and when they journey lower—

“Oh!” Louis gasps as Harry takes hold of him. He’s never been touched by another person, not like this, and it’s hard to believe how impossibly wonderful it feels. Harry’s hand is warm, and Louis’ hips chase the touch of their own accord.

“Does this feel good?” Harry asks as he strokes, watching Louis’ face carefully for any flicker of doubt. He won’t be finding any.

Louis’ thoughts are a jumble, hazy and incomplete. All he can focus on is the hand gripping his arousal, Harry’s hand, and the spike of heat from somewhere deep inside him. He can feel Harry’s body reacting as well, his length pressing insistently against Louis’ hip, and he can’t help but reach for it in wonder: This is because of me.

The timid brush of Louis’ fingers has Harry moaning, nearly collapsing on top of him. Emboldened, he takes Harry in his hand, replicating Harry’s touches on his own body.

“Louis,” Harry keens, rocking his hips into Louis’ touch, his own ministrations picking up speed.

“Harry,” Louis whines in reply, amazed at the noises spilling from Harry’s mouth in response to his touch. Muscles ripple and flex beneath Harry’s pale skin, his curls hanging limp and sweaty over Louis like a curtain, and Louis knows his name has never sounded as good as it does slotted between the moans falling from Harry’s plush lips.

It’s all too much for Louis’ body to handle, and with a shout he’s spilling between their bodies, trembling from tip to toe as he rides out his release. The wet, sticky warmth coating his stomach snaps his brain back into focus, panic seizing him as he comes down from his high: What if I wasn’t meant to do that? What if he’s disgusted by me?

His worry is cut off by a loud wail from Harry, thrusting into Louis’ hand a final time before adding to the mess they’ve made of the blanket. He collapses on top of Louis, boneless and breathing hard, tucking his face into the sweaty crook of Louis’ neck.

“You’re shaking,” Harry comments breathlessly, still recovering from his own climax as he splays his clean hand over Louis’ tremulous chest. “Are you all right?”

“Better than,” Louis manages, his voice so choked he barely recognises it as his. “I could never have imagined.” His tongue is beginning to feel as heavy as his eyelids, the warmth of the body wrapped around him and the exhaustion creeping into his muscles coaxing him to sleep.

Harry curls into his side, wrapping long, bare arms around Louis and holding him close. “Stay with me tonight. Please.” He sounds so small, so innocent, like he’s a child afraid of the dark and Louis is the sun.

“I’ll stay as long as you’ll have me,” Louis mumbles in reply. The last thing he remembers before drifting off to sleep is a pair of warm lips pressed against his temple, words that sound a lot like ‘thank God’ breathed into his skin.

✯✯✯

Harry lies awake for a while, savouring the feeling of the warm, strong body nestled in his arms, of having someone to hold and be close to, to kiss and to care for. It’s been a void in his life that he’s never managed to fill since James, though being able to dote on his sister helps somewhat.

Still, he thinks as he watches Louis sleep, looking so much younger with his hair tousled and face relaxed, he isn’t yours to keep. Louis may well decide that he doesn’t want this, doesn’t want Harry, parting ways in America never to see each other again.

As much as he tells himself that he’ll be fine if he has to say goodbye, something in his chest wrenches terribly. James took such a large portion of his heart when he was sent away, he wasn’t sure if he’d ever be able to love again.

Now, with Louis sleeping at his side, Harry feels as if maybe the missing piece of his heart didn’t leave with James, but rather was always gone, only returning to him the first time he saw Louis in the crowd from the Titanic’s gangplank.

Because the man with the fire in his eyes had been Louis, he’s sure of it. Harry was meant to find him, in one way or another, and now all he can do is hope that Louis feels the same. He isn’t sure he can handle his heart being torn asunder once more, not after finally remembering what it feels like to be whole.

Eventually he succumbs to sleep, lulled by the whispers of the ship and the gentle puffs of air from the man sleeping beside him. He doesn’t dream, exactly, but his subconscious conjures the image of clear blue eyes and windswept brown hair, the only face in focus in a sea of thousands, and Harry sleeps better than he has in years.

Chapter Text

14 April 1912

Louis wakes up alone in a bed that’s too large, too soft, and he’s wearing far too little clothing.

He stretches, luxuriating in the feel of fine linens dragging over his bare skin. The room slowly comes into focus. Instead of a set of bunk beds mounted to white walls, he’s met with oak furnishings and red panels.

That’s right. I stayed with Harry. The memory of last night has something warm curling in his belly. There’s no regret, no guilt at all. It’s a pleasant surprise, and Louis finds himself wishing that Harry was still lying next to him.

“Oh, you’re awake.” Harry’s voice, gruff with sleep, draws Louis’ eyes toward the wardrobe.

Harry is dressed in his Sunday best, adjusting his cuff links as Louis’ gaze finds him. He smiles, wide and lazy, before holding his arms wide. “How do I look?”

Exquisite, in a word. A grey morning coat hugs Harry’s lithe body, tucking at the waist to flare over the striped trousers beneath. A perfectly knotted cravat peeks through his lapels, the striped material a little daring but somehow seeming perfect on Harry.

“Like you’re about to go somewhere without me,” Louis rasps, rolling himself up in the bedding. “Is it time for breakfast?”

“We’ve missed breakfast, I’m afraid,” Harry chuckles, moving to sit on the edge of the bed. “I’m going to the church service.” He bends down, pressing his lips against Louis’. It’s sweet and chaste, yet it still fuels the fire growing in Louis’ gut.

When they part, Harry is smiling dreamily, a dimple gracing his cheek like another accessory to his outfit. Louis can’t resist reaching out, taking Harry’s large hand in his own, feeling the hills and valleys and barely there scars, committing to memory the way he can feel Harry’s pulse speed up when he drags his fingers over the soft skin of Harry’s wrist.

“You’d kiss me and then go stand before God?” Louis murmurs, pointedly avoiding Harry’s eyes. He’s afraid of what he’ll find there, perhaps the dawning realisation of the sin they committed in this very bed.

Gentle fingers grasp Louis’ chin, lifting his face so that he’s looking straight at Harry. “Kissing you has brought me closer to God than any sermon ever could,” Harry replies quietly, stroking along the sharp line of Louis’ jaw, dusted with hair and in need of a shave.

Louis can’t help the way his breath hitches at Harry’s words. “You really believe that, don’t you?” he asks in awe.

The hand holding Louis’ is brought to smiling lips. “I meant it when I told you that this isn’t wrong, Lou.” Harry kisses Louis’ hand, oblivious to the shudder that courses through Louis’ body at the nickname. “I’ve made my peace with God. Were it not for the laws of man, I’d kiss you in the middle of the street, where everyone could see.”

A few more kisses to the back of his hand has Louis desperately wishing he could just pull Harry into bed and stay there for the rest of the trip. Instead, he interlocks their fingers, giving an affectionate squeeze before pulling away. “You might’ve made your peace, but you still don’t want to be late.”

Heaving a sigh, Harry brushes his lips against Louis’ forehead before climbing off the bed. “I’m afraid you’re right.” He runs his hands down his body, smoothing any wrinkles in his suit left from sitting down. “You’re welcome to stay here, of course. You can use the bath and my shaving things, and I’ll be back soon.”

“I could probably do with a bath,” Louis admits, wrinkling his nose. “We’ve only got the one in Third Class, and I don’t fancy sharing it with that many blokes.”

Harry frowns, looking at Louis incredulously. “You have one bathtub? For all of Third Class?”

Shifting under the intensity of Harry’s gaze, Louis nods. “Well, two—one for men and one for the ladies,” he explains. “Most of us just scrub up in our cabins.”

“Then I insist you use mine,” Harry says, shaking his head in disbelief. “The only people who have access to it are Gemma, my uncle, and myself, and we’ll all be at the service.” He pushes his mouth out in a pout. “Which I really must get to.” Ducking down one last time, he catches Louis’ lips in a kiss. “I hope you’ll be here when I get back.”

“I will, I swear it,” Louis vows, flapping his hand toward the door. “Now go, before your sister comes to collect you and finds a strange man in your bed.”

Harry mutters something under his breath that sounds suspiciously like ‘wouldn’t be the first time,’ but with one more dazzling smile he’s out the door, and Louis is left alone in the spacious stateroom.

He collapses back in the bed, savouring the warmth and the way he sinks into the mattress. Growing up poor wasn’t easy, but he never found himself wishing for things he couldn’t have. Now, though, having tasted luxury, the thought of crawling back into his own bunk with its thin blanket, no sheets save for the threadbare ones he brought from home, has Louis’ heart sinking down into his stomach.

That’s a worry for later, he scolds himself. For now, he has a First Class stateroom at his disposal, and the reminder of last night dried on his stomach makes a bath sound like an excellent idea.

A soak and a shave have Louis feeling like a new person, reborn into a life of fine silk and plush carpeting. It feels a bit inappropriate to lounge about Harry’s cabin in a state of undress, so Louis pulls back on the steward’s uniform. He can’t help smiling as he fastens the buttons, thinking that he owes Liam Payne a very heartfelt thank you for all his help. After all, it’s Liam who encouraged Louis to believe there was a chance that this could work, however small, and Louis had taken it.

By God if it didn’t seem like it was going to work out after all.

A sharp knock on the door pulls Louis from his thoughts. Surely Harry wouldn’t knock on his own door. Icy lines of fear spread over Louis’ chest, heart pounding loudly in his ears. It could be the steward, coming to change the linens, but certainly he’d know that Louis wasn’t where he belonged.

He only realises that the knock was coming from an interior door when it swings open.

At first he thinks it might be the door connecting to Gemma’s room—but then Charles Styles steps over the threshold, eyes narrowing as they land on someone other than Harry in his nephew’s room.

“Mr Tomlinson,” Charles speaks, slow like Harry, though the pace seems designed to intimidate, rather than indicating thoughtfulness behind his words. “I wasn’t expecting to find you here. And in uniform, no less.” He smiles, cold and calculating, and Louis feels like he could use another bath.

“Harry isn’t back yet,” Louis replies evenly, trying valiantly to keep the tremble from his voice. “I just came for a visit.”

Charles steps closer, reaching out to touch the sleeve of Louis’ jacket as if to test its authenticity, frowning when Louis flinches away. “I have to wonder what the officers on board would have to say about one of their stewards having an illicit relationship with a passenger,” Charles sneers, circling Louis like a wolf eyeing its prey. “Let alone a male passenger.”

“I would think that someone of your intellect would realise that such a scandal would reflect poorly on Harry as well,” Louis says coolly.

With a snarl, Charles pushes Louis up against the wall, fists tight in the fabric of his jacket. “You’d do well to hold your tongue, Tomlinson,” he says, spittle flying from his lips. “You’re going to leave, now, and forget all about my nephew. Do that, and it might just slip my mind that I found you in his room. Understood?”

Louis wants to scream, to fight, to promise he won’t forget Harry as long as he lives, but in reality he doesn’t have much of a choice. Slumping forward, he nods weakly, tears pricking at the corners of his eyes as the fight goes out of him. If he doesn’t do exactly as Charles says, he’ll be arrested—and not only for impersonating a steward. Worse, Harry would be in danger as well. Surely this isn’t worth that.

Louis isn’t worth that.

The hands gripping his jacket ease up, Charles smoothing out the material from where it was bunched in his fists. “I thought you might see things my way,” he says, finally taking a step back.

“Harry deserves better family than you,” Louis spits, one last moment of bravery before his retreat. All it serves to do is make Charles laugh, his beady eyes rolling skyward.

The man plods to the door leading outside, holding it open for Louis. “That may be true, boy, but at least I’m blood. You’re nobody. Harry would have tossed you away the second we got to shore, just like he tossed away that James fellow.”

Louis freezes on the spot, ice trickling through his veins. “No, he loved James. James was sent away,” he argues, fear clenching his heart like a vice.

“And I’m sure he’ll tell the next one he loved you,” Charles gloats, gesturing impatiently at the door. “Goodbye, Mr Tomlinson.”

It takes every bit of strength Louis possesses not to react, brushing past Charles and all but running toward the stairway Liam showed him what feels like ages ago. He holds it together as best he can, taking each step with ragged breaths and a racing mind, heart aching both because he’ll never see Harry again—and because maybe he doesn’t want to, if Charles’ words hold any truth.

Finally the emergency door leading to the Third Class corridor comes into view, and that’s where Louis’ legs give out. He crumples into a heap at the bottom of the stairs, sobbing quietly and feeling lonelier than he has since he watched England fade into the distance.

It could be minutes or hours later when a pair of strong hands pulls Louis to his feet. His first thought is that Harry’s come to find him, to tell him that Charles was lying, and to kiss away the tears streaking his cheeks.

Instead of green, though, he’s met with the fearful brown eyes of Liam Payne.

“M– Mr Payne? What are you doing here?” Louis winces at how pathetic he sounds, but Liam merely offers him a handkerchief, pushing it into his hand when Louis hesitates.

“I could ask the same of you,” Liam says, clasping a hand on Louis’ shoulder and moving his fingers in soothing circles as the other man noisily blows his nose. “What’s happened? Were you caught?”

The entire conversation replays itself in Louis’ head for what must be the hundredth time. With a wounded sound, Louis drops the sodden handkerchief and begins tearing at the uniform, undoing the buttons as fast as his trembling fingers will allow. “Here, take this,” he says in a low voice, shoving the jacket roughly at Liam. “I won’t be needing it anymore.” He ignores Liam’s confused gaze to work on the trousers, not caring that he has nothing else to wear, when he feels the weight of Harry’s watch in the pocket. “Damn it!” he howls, dropping hard on the steps and sobbing into his hands like a child.

“Shh, it’s all right,” Liam’s voice says close to Louis’ ear, the steward lowering himself on the step next to Louis. “Is there something I can do? Shall I go get your clothes for you?”

Louis nods, but clutches at Liam’s arm before he can leave. “Could– could you do something else for me?”

“Anything you need, Mr Tomlinson,” Liam says gently, smiling patiently at the broken wreck of a man on the steps below him. “Anything in my power.”

He shouldn’t ask, but he has to know the truth, has to make sure Harry knows the truth. “Could you please get a message to the man I’ve been visiting in First Class?”

“I can certainly try,” Liam replies. “What’s the gentleman called?”

“Harry Styles,” Louis says in a rush, both scared and relieved at finally sharing the name with another person.

If Liam recognises the name, he doesn’t let on, nodding earnestly as he asks, “And what would you like me to tell Mr Styles?”

✯✯✯

Harry Styles is no saint, but usually he’s capable of sitting through a church service.

Today, however, he finds himself nearly groaning with each new hymn. He’s hungry, and tired, and—most importantly—he has a very lovely man back in his stateroom. His sister catches on to his disquiet, elbowing him as discretely as possible, but Harry barely notices. At least Charles is nowhere to be seen, and for that he offers a silent prayer of thanksgiving, before returning to his quarters in his imagination.

Just thinking of Louis makes the time pass faster, and before he knows it the service has ended and stewards are rushing to set the Dining Saloon back up for the next meal.

“Lovely service, wasn’t it?” a smooth voice asks in his ear, making Harry jump. He turns to find Gemma eyeing him curiously, a knowing smile on her face. “Not that you heard a word of it.”

Chuckling, Harry holds out his arm, waiting for Gemma to take it before leading the way back to their rooms. “Am I that obvious?”

She titters, squeezing his arm fondly. “Only to me, I think.” She stops at the foot of the Grand Staircase, looking him up and down. “It’s wonderful to see you like this. It’s been far too long.”

“Like what?”

“Happy,” she replies simply, taking his arm again as they ascend the magnificent stairs.

His lips turn upward of their own accord. “I am happy,” he tells her, lowering his voice in case any prying ears are nearby. “I think I’m in love with him, Gems.”

Gemma doesn’t break her stride, but her eyes crinkle with how widely she’s smiling, and she looks so, so much like their mother. It feels as if Harry’s getting both of their approval.

“Don’t let him get away, then,” Gemma replies, just as quietly. “Anyone who pleases you this much is worth keeping around.”

“I don’t intend to,” Harry assures her. “He’s waiting in my cabin, actually.” His heart swoops at the thought of coming back to Louis, coming home to him. It’s enough to give him the courage to tell Louis how he feels. He swallows hard, mouth suddenly dry around the words. “I’m going to tell him when I get there. That I love him.”

By the time Harry is standing in front of his door, Gemma bundled into her stateroom with a kiss on the cheek and promises to see her later, Harry’s grinning like a man possessed.

The person he loves is on the other side of this door, and he’s going to tell him. He’s always been a bit of a romantic, a notion he thought had died when he realised he would never take a wife. Now, with Louis in his life, suddenly everything he ever dreamt of seems possible. There’s a happy ending just within reach and, by God, Harry’s going to grasp for it.

It doesn’t strike him as peculiar when the door opens to an empty room. The door to the bathroom is closed, light creeping underneath, and the thought of Louis emerging from the room, his tan skin wet and glistening, has Harry’s trousers feeling far too tight already.

Not wishing to startle his guest, Harry settles down on the end of the chaise, angling his body toward the closed door. “I’ve come back, Louis!” he calls, the smile evident in his voice. “I thought we could go and have an early lunch. Or perhaps I can see if the steward would bring something here, if you’d rather stay in.” The thought of curling around Louis, feeding one another bits of food with sticky fingertips, kissing the taste from each other’s lips like a new kind of delicacy, has Harry almost shaking with need.

But the minutes creep by, and cold worry floods Harry’s stomach. It’s too quiet, no footsteps or splashes, no noise at all, and all Harry gets in reply to his knocking is more of the same. Finally he can take no further suspense, reaching for the knob on a shaky inhale.

When the bathroom door swings open, every shining fantasy comes crashing down.

It’s empty. Louis’ gone.

It feels as if a hand is wrapped around Harry’s throat, slowly squeezing until his breaths are coming short and fast, not nearly enough oxygen to feed his anxious body.

Frightened eyes scan the room, and it’s then he notices the steward’s uniform missing from where it had been flung over the back of a chair. Louis’ shoes are gone as well, along with any trace that the man was here at all.

It’s all far, far too familiar, and Harry’s crying before he can make sense of why.

It was precisely like this the day James was sent away. He’d gone to his lover’s flat in high spirits, though now whatever he’d been so excited about has faded into a vague recollection. A younger, less jaded version of Harry had let himself inside, slipping off his shoes and bounding up the stairs to where he knew James was waiting, lost in a book or tuning his violin or just waiting in bed for Harry to join him.

He’d known the minute he opened the door that something was wrong. The room he almost dared to think of as theirs was packed up in bags and boxes, violin put away in its case, shelves empty. He discerned what happened long before James’ mother delivered the news with cold finality, all but pushing him out into a world that seemed that much darker for his broken heart.

Not again. Please, God, not again.

It’s almost worse, this time, knowing that Louis is somewhere on the same ship, still so close. Harry wouldn’t know how to find him if he tried, and what would he even say to the man? He’d been too intense, far too quickly, and now Louis is gone because of it.

A gentle tapping at the door revives the hopeful creature lying dormant in Harry’s chest. Perhaps Louis had stepped out and gotten lost, or was bored and went exploring. He’s ready to laugh at himself, to pull Louis into the room and kiss every bit of his skin once for each tear he’s shed, but when he answers the knock it isn’t Louis who has come to call.

“I’m sorry to bother you, Mr Styles.” Anthony Wheeler is stood in the corridor, wringing his hands together nervously. “D’you think I might come in and have a word with you?”

Harry steps numbly aside, allowing the steward entrance. The sight of his uniform has new tears pricking at the edges of Harry’s eyes, but he blinks them away. “What is it you’d like to discuss, Mr Wheeler?” His face is calm but his voice betrays the emotion coursing fast and unrelenting beneath the surface.

Wheeler frowns, focusing hard as if he’s trying hard to remember something. “I have a message for you,” he says slowly, “from a passenger. A Third Class passenger.”

Harry’s eyebrows shoot up at that. It’s Louis, it has to be, though how he found Wheeler is impossible to guess. “And what might that be?”

Wheeler’s eyebrows, just as red as his hair, creep together on his forehead. “A Mr Tomlinson says that he spoke to your uncle, and he won’t be bothering you anymore.” The steward toes the carpet, ill at ease with whatever he’s found himself in the middle of. “Sir, if someone is disturbing you, just say the word and I’ll have them seen to,” he offers, clearly pained at the thought that one of the passengers in his charge might have been harassed.

It takes Harry a moment to process Wheeler’s words, too caught up on ‘spoke to your uncle.’ “No, no, it’s fine.” He shoves a hand into his pocket, thrusting whatever money he finds there into Wheeler’s palm without bothering to look at the amount. “Thank you, Mr Wheeler. I’m hoping this can be kept between us.”

Eyes wide, Wheeler nods quickly, pocketing the tip and standing up as straight as he’s able. “Yes, sir, of course,” he says in a rush, looking as though he’s seconds away from saluting. “Is there anything else I can do you for?”

“I don’t suppose there’s any way you could return a message to Mr Tomlinson for me?”

Wheeler smiles, cheeks just the slightest bit pink, as if the idea of playing secret messenger is more excitement than he’d been expecting for a Sunday at sea. “I’ll do my best, sir. What would you like me to say?”

Once Wheeler has been sent away, having recited the message twice to make sure he memorised every word, Harry steels himself to face his uncle. He should have known Charles was behind this, should have known better than to leave Louis alone, especially when he didn’t see his uncle at the church service.

Raising a clenched fist, knuckles white and tendons flexing beneath the skin, Harry raps sharply on the door separating his room from Charles’. There’s no answer, and Harry doesn’t hesitate before shoving the door open, stepping into his uncle’s room ready to get to the bottom of things.

The room is quiet and empty, barely looking lived in at all. There’s a stench of cigar smoke and cologne, soaking into the carpeting and walls as if Charles leaves a stain on everything he touches.

Cursing to himself, Harry stalks back to his room and out into the hallway in search of his uncle. The ship is massive, true, but Harry has a very good idea about where this particular vermin goes to hide during daylight hours.

It’s almost laughable how easily he finds Charles, tucked away in a corner of the Smoking Room with three other men whose names Harry should probably know but hasn’t bothered to learn. The green table between them is littered with cards and glasses filled with various spirits, cigar smoke curling thick and heavy between them like miniature versions of the funnels overhead.

Something dawns in Charles eyes when he spots Harry manoeuvering through the tables with precise determination. The bastard has the gall to smile, voice cutting through the haze and chatter to greet his nephew. “Harry! To what do I owe the pleasure?”

Keeping up pretenses, as always. Harry isn’t about to play along, not this time. “I need to speak with you,” he grinds out, barely unclenching his jaw enough to speak.

Charles shifts in his chair, the red leather protesting under his bulk. His eyes flit to the faces of his tablemates, all gone silent at the tone in Harry’s voice. “I think anything you and I have to discuss can wait until later,” he replies, eyes snapping back to Harry’s, raising an eyebrow as if to challenge him to bring up such matters in public, knowing full well what Harry’s come for.

Unbothered, Harry seizes his uncle’s arm and hauls him out of the chair, grip firm as he steers him to an empty section of the room. The walls, a dark mahogany, seem the perfect backdrop for Harry’s rage, hard and unyielding. Inset stained glass panels featuring various ships and ports make the room feel almost like a cathedral, and isn’t that a fine place for confession.

“What did you say to Louis?” Harry snarls, aware of the scene he’s causing. Countless pairs of prying eyes dart their way, too polite to stare but too curious to help themselves. It’ll be the talk of the ship this evening, he’s sure, yet another black mark on Harry’s reputation that Charles can bemoan to anyone willing to bend an ear.

It’s clear Charles wasn’t expecting Harry to call his bluff, air puffing past his lips and eyes wide. “I don’t know what you mean, Harry, I—”

Harry cuts him off by pushing him back just enough for his shoulder blades to press against the wall. “You’re lying. Tell me what you’ve done.” It’s a demand; he’s finished with asking nicely.

There’s a beat of silence until Charles chuckles, a wet sound that has bile rising in Harry’s throat. “So quick to blame your dear uncle.” He claps a palm on Harry’s shoulder, raising an eyebrow when Harry swats the hand away. “I haven’t done anything that wasn’t necessary,” he says scathingly, surveying his nephew with disgust. “Honestly, Harry, I thought you could control yourself for the length of a bloody voyage.”

Every muscle in Harry’s body is tense, his spine ramrod straight as he stares down his uncle with clenched fists. “Tell me what you said, Charles,” he spits the name like a swear word, “or I’ll make sure everyone in this room has something to whisper about at dinner.”

Protecting his precious reputation wins out, Charles glaring Harry down even as his shoulders sag in defeat. “Since you insist, I told your dear Mr Tomlinson that I wouldn’t hesitate to turn him in. Shameful, isn’t it, for a steward to be dallying with a passenger?”

Harry tries not to react, to let his uncle see just how much he’s frightened at the possibility of Louis being handed over to the authorities. He swallows hard, turning his back so he can go try to find Louis and warn him, when his uncle’s voice stops him in his tracks.

“Funny, though,” Charles says, a sadistic joy tingeing each word, “I did ask around, and there aren’t any stewards on this ship called Tomlinson.”

The very blood seems to freeze in Harry’s veins, but he doesn’t look back, won’t allow his uncle the satisfaction. All he knows is that he’s got to get to Louis and explain himself, before it’s too late.

But how? He wouldn’t know how to navigate to Third Class if he tried. He realises belatedly that he’s never exactly asked Louis how he snuck upstairs time and time again. Even if he had, Harry’s clothes would give him away in an instant—he’s not allowed there any more than Louis is here. And while Wheeler might be willing to deliver the occasional message, he highly doubts the man will be keen on sneaking a passenger into areas of the ship he’s forbidden to enter.

Maybe Gemma will have an idea, he thinks, heading back in the direction of his cabin. His mind churns so rapidly that he barely pays attention to where he’s going, nearly running straight into a man in his haste. “Sorry,” he mumbles, glancing up just long enough to see that the man is another steward with close-cropped hair and kind brown eyes. He isn’t Louis, though, and at the moment that’s all Harry cares about.

He’s in such a state when he reaches his cabin that he doesn’t notice the echo of a second set of footsteps on the linoleum. It’s a surprise, then, when he goes to let himself into his room and finds that he’s not alone.

It’s the same man he bumped into. He’s worrying his thick lower lip, eyes darting around like someone might be trailing him. It reminds Harry so much of how Louis looked those first couple days, out of place and frightened, and Harry’s heart gives an unpleasant twist at the memory.

“Are you following me?” Harry asks calmly, leaning against the door to his stateroom.

The man shifts from foot to foot, clutching a bundle Harry had failed to notice before now close to his chest. “I am, actually,” he admits, a charming lilt to his nervous voice.

“May I ask why?”

“I think that would be best discussed inside, if you don’t mind,” the man replies, tilting his head in the direction of Harry’s room.

Harry hesitates just a moment before opening the door, allowing the now relieved looking stranger to step inside. It crosses his mind that this will be the third man he’s had in his room this morning alone. No wonder I’ve gotten a reputation.

The steward wastes no time once the door closes, tucking his parcel under one arm and extending the other to Harry. “Liam Payne, sir. I take it you must be Harry Styles?”

“I am,” Harry responds, shaking Liam’s hand briefly before taking a seat, inviting his guest to do the same. “What happened to Mr Wheeler? I was under the impression that he was my steward. Is he off duty today, then?”

Liam glances down at his uniform, laughing brusquely. “Right, the uniform.” He offers Harry a sly smile. “This isn’t mine, I’m afraid, though you have seen it before. It’s the one Mr Tomlinson’s been wearing to visit you.”

Harry grips the edge of the table so hard he imagines he hears it crack under his fingertips. This is it, we’ve been found out, he thinks. His uncle’s gone and told someone, or Louis got caught trying to come back upstairs. Whatever the case, people know, and now he might never see Louis again. “I can explain,” he chokes out, his dry tongue not properly releasing the words. “Please, it was all my idea. Leave Tomlinson out of it.”

Liam’s face contorts in confusion before breaking into a wide smile, shaking his head as he laughs at Harry’s begging. “No, sir, I’m afraid you’ve got it all wrong,” he says, still grinning. “Mr Tomlinson sent me here. I’m the one who got him this uniform in the first place.” He tilts his head thoughtfully. “Though I suppose he got the first one from me too, even if I wasn’t aware of it at the time.”

“You’ve been helping him?” Harry asks incredulously. “You’ve known he was sneaking into First Class and didn’t stop him?”

“Worse than that, I showed him a better way to go about it!” Liam crows, rapping his knuckles against the table. “He’s the reason I’m here, Mr Styles,” he says, softer. “He wants to see you again, but it’s too much of a risk for him to come back with that uncle of yours sniffing around.”

Harry slumps miserably back in his seat. “I know,” he says sadly. “He’s risked so much for me. It wouldn’t be fair to ask any more of him.”

“Then may I offer an alternative suggestion?” Liam asks, reaching for the bundle he’s been carrying and shaking it out. Harry’s eyes go wide as they land on familiar white fabric and brass buttons. “What do you say, Mr Styles? Fancy a bit of adventure?”

✯✯✯

“Sure you’re not coming, Tommo?” Zayn calls over his shoulder as his three bunk mates head to the first dinner service in the Dining Saloon. Niall’s nickname for him had caught like wildfire, the other two lads (and more that Louis isn’t even sure he’s met properly) quickly adopting it.

Louis smiles weakly from his bunk, doing his best not to worry them. “I’ll catch the second sitting. Still proper hungover, aren’t I?” That’s the story he’d fed them—that he got so pissed last night that he couldn’t remember which cabin was theirs and slept on a bench in the General Room instead. Of course they’d teased him, asked who the lucky lady was and made some rather rude comments about his relationship with the bench, but they believed him. He’d laughed right along with them until the unease in his gut grew too overwhelming, making him clutch his stomach piteously, his ruse of a hangover seeming all the more authentic.

“Get some sleep, we’ll check on you when we get back,” Stan promises, and just like that they’re gone and Louis is on his feet. He paces the length of the small cabin, only a handful of steps from side to side, but he can’t sit still. Not when he’s waiting, has been waiting. Not when Harry is somewhere on this ship and Louis can’t get to him, when Harry’s uncle could rat him out at any moment.

It’s been at least an hour since Liam returned to Louis with a message from Harry...

“I sent his bedroom steward to speak to him,” Liam had explained, breathless from hurrying down the stairs. “He’s a good lad, nothing to worry about,” Liam assured Louis at the panicked look on the other man’s face, peering up anxiously from where he was still curled up on the bottom step.

“What did he say?” Louis had asked, his backside numb from the hard stairs and cheeks sticky from drying tears.

“He said that whatever Charles told you was a lie, and that he meant every word he ever told you.”

Something had broken inside Louis and he crumpled forward, a fresh wave of tears spilling forth, this time in relief. “I knew he wasn’t like that, I knew it,” Louis sobbed, Liam’s hand falling to his back and rubbing small circles. “But now I’ve gone and cocked it all up.”

“Why do you say that?” Liam asked gently, fingers probing at the tense knot of muscle at the base of Louis’ neck.

Louis chuckled wetly, swiping an arm over his face to wipe away some of the mess. “Can’t very well go to him now, can I?” he asked bitterly. “Not with his uncle waiting to catch me at it.”

There’d been no response from Liam other than thoughtful humming. Louis lifted his head, seeking out the steward’s face. “What?”

“What if you don’t go to him?” Liam asked, as if it were the most obvious suggestion in the world. “What if he comes to you?”

Louis’ eyes bulged out of his head at the suggestion, at the thought of Harry in Third Class—so much beauty and grace surrounded by plain white walls and simple furnishings, dirty men in worn clothing and rats scurrying down the corridor to and from the ship’s pantry—like some sort of fallen angel come to preach the gospel to the damned.

“He would never,” he answered eventually, not that Louis would blame him. After all, it had been a treat to sneak into First Class for Harry. Harry, on the other hand, would have nothing to gain by seeking out Louis.

“Only one way to find out, Mr Tomlinson,” Liam said, so optimistic that Louis even dared to let himself believe it...

Now there’s nothing to do but wait, feeling every bit a caged animal in his windowless cell. What seemed so luxurious at first now feels dark and small, the walls drawing in tighter with every agitated breath filling Louis’ lungs. His mind runs through each possible scenario, from Liam getting caught on his way to get Harry to Harry deciding Louis isn’t worth the trouble.

No. He can’t allow himself to think that way. Everything is fine, and Harry wants to see him, and that knock on the door is most certainly not someone coming to arrest him for his growing list of crimes.

“Who’s there?” Louis calls, surprising himself with the amount of bravado he manages to inject into his tone.

“It’s me, Tomlinson, no need to bite,” Liam’s voice grumbles from the other side of the door.

It should make him feel better, knowing that at the very least Liam made the trip unscathed. But what if he couldn’t find Harry? Or worse, Harry refused to come? The idea has the very marrow of his bones aching with each thump of his wildly beating heart.

Still, he has to open the door to find out. Steeling himself for disappointment, Louis pulls open the door in a smooth motion, doing his best to act calm and composed as he awaits the news of his fate.

His façade crumples the instant he sees Harry.

He’s standing there next to Liam, feet together and head bowed, hands clasped nervously behind his back. A familiar white steward’s jacket stretches across his frame, accentuating the width of his shoulders and the smooth, strong lines of Harry’s chest. “Hello,” he says sheepishly, even his deep voice sounding too rich for the unornamented walls.

Louis smiles wetly, ignoring the tears threatening to fall at the corners of his eyes. “You came,” he croaks out, no hint of his earlier bravado.

“I did,” Harry replies, lips spreading in a slow smile. “I think I’d follow you anywhere.”

The words make Louis’ toes curl in his shoes, but he does his best not to let it show, at least not until they’ve talked. Instead, he reaches out and flicks a button, one hanging just slightly lower than the others. “We owe a lot to this uniform, don’t we?” he says fondly. He wonders what the chances are of Liam letting him take it home. If not the whole thing, perhaps at least that damned button.

“And to the owner of said uniform, I should say,” Liam cuts in, looking between the two men with a pleased grin filling the lower half of his face.

Before Louis can help himself, he’s pulling Liam in for a hug. The steward is once again in his spare white jacket, the First Class uniform tucked under his arm as he hugs Louis back with his free one. “Thank you, Mr Payne. I don’t think I can ever thank you enough.”

“It’s been my pleasure, Mr Tomlinson,” Liam replies, clapping Louis on the shoulder as they part. “Just promise me you’ll take care of each other, and remember what I told you.”

“’Where there’s love, it’s never foolish to hope,’” he recites, cheeks going pink as he glances at Harry, quite a lovely shade of scarlet himself.

Liam chuckles, retracting his hand and taking a step backward. “On that note, I think I need to start making my rounds.” He holds out a hand to Harry, giving him a hearty shake. “Just let me know when you’re ready to go back, Mr Styles, and I’ll see you get there safely.”

“Thank you,” Harry replies sincerely, pulling Liam in for his own hug.

A commotion down the hallway has three heads swiveling toward the sound, one of the rowdy voices sounding an awful lot like Niall Horan’s. Louis pales, realising dinner must be over and any second he’ll have to explain to the lads why there’s a strange man in a steward’s uniform in their cabin. He knows it will be nearly impossible to have a serious conversation with Harry in their presence.

Wheeling on Liam with wide, desperate eyes, Louis plasters on a hopeful and slightly desperate smile. “Actually, Payne, there is one more thing.”

✯✯✯

The cabin Liam covertly leads them to is another deck lower, empty save for the bedclothes immaculately tucked around the mattresses. It seems to have never been used, and as far as Harry can tell, probably had never been.

“Whose room is this?” Harry asks as he sinks down onto a bunk, fingers going to work unfastening the buttons on the uniform jacket as soon as Payne excuses himself.

Louis takes a seat on the bed across from him, smoothing out a wrinkle in the blanket from his weight. “No one’s,” he explains, lifting his eyes to watch Harry’s hands caress the buttons in a way that has Louis biting at his lip. “The maiden voyage wasn’t sold out, see, so there are empty cabins in every class.”

The way Louis is worrying his bottom lip, the points of his teeth digging in just enough to leave the flesh beneath momentarily white before colour floods back in, has Harry feeling far too warm in the little cabin. He slides the jacket from his shoulders, taking time to fold it neatly before returning his attention to the man across from him.

“I can explain—” he starts to say, the same time as Louis blurts out, “I know your uncle was—”

Both men stop mid-sentence, laughter making the heavy air between them grow lighter. “Let me,” Harry insists, resting his hands on his thighs and digging his fingers in just enough to keep him grounded. Louis sits across from him, still and silent, curious eyes managing to catch the light even in the dim cabin. “I don’t know what Charles told you, but I would never, ever send you away.” He runs a hand through his curls, drawing in a steady breath before he continues. “Quite the opposite, actually,” he says, huffing out a stilted laugh. “I was going to tell you that I’m in love with you.”

It’s out there now, the words seeming to hang in the air between them like the airship Harry’s dad took him to see when he was a boy; seemingly far too large to take flight, but capable nonetheless. That trip to London is one of the last fond memories Harry has of his father—it had been just the two of them, and there were so many people, but Desmond kept a hand on Harry’s shoulder as they faced the crowds together. “That’s the future, son,” he’d said, eyes fixed ahead on the large craft. “That’s the future.”

For the second time in his short life, the future is right in front of Harry. Only now, it looks a lot like Louis Tomlinson, and isn’t that something to look forward to.

“Say something,” Harry pleads, gripping at the fabric of his trousers. “Please, Louis. Tell me to get out and I will, but please—”

His words are swallowed in a kiss, Louis crossing the distance between them and crashing their mouths together. His hands twine through Harry’s curls, his torso coming to rest against Harry’s as they fall back together on the small bed.

“I love you too,” Louis gasps, pressing a kiss to the spit slick corner of Harry’s mouth. “It frightens me how much I love you.” He groans as Harry claims his mouth once more, Harry carefully rolling their bodies so that he’s hovering over the smaller man.

His hands slide over Louis’ shirt, far thinner than the steward’s jacket and patched in places. It’s strange—Harry has seen Louis in some of the finest suits money can buy, yet here he is looking just as dashing in threadbare linen.

The need to express himself is overwhelming, love pouring out of Harry in the form of a line of kisses trailing down Louis’ neck. In return, Louis is incredibly responsive, sighing with pleasure at each brush of Harry’s lips. Taking great care not to dislodge any buttons, each one seeming to have been sewn on again and again, Harry carefully opens Louis’ shirt, planting a kiss as each new bit of quivering flesh is exposed.

Finally the shirt is open and Harry is nipping at the soft skin just above the waistband of Louis’ trousers. The corduroy is tented with Louis’ erection, and Harry can’t resist placing a kiss directly over the top of it.

“What are you doing?” Louis gasps, though his hips buck into the touch of their own accord.

Harry pulls himself up to sitting, finding one of Louis’ hands and covering it with his own. “I want to do something for you,” he says, drawing figure eights on the back of Louis’ hand with the tip of a finger. “May I?”

There’s a moment of hesitation, a lip tucked between teeth, before Louis dips his head in a nod. “Yes,” he replies, in contradiction of the uncertainty flickering behind his eyes.

Squeezing once more, Harry pulls his hand away and lowers himself to his knees on the floor, Louis’ legs hanging off the mattress on either side of him. Louis watches every movement with intense curiosity, following Harry’s fingers as they undo the fastening of his trousers.

The garment is soon shed, Louis lifting his rump to allow Harry to pull the trousers completely free. It’s breathtaking, seeing Louis like this, spread out and vulnerable just for him. Ribs and collarbones are a bit too visible for Harry’s liking, each jut of bone speaking of missed meals and poor nutrition, but Louis still manages to look like a work of art.

Fortunately for Harry, that isn’t the case, as he has no intention of just looking at this particular masterpiece.

“Is this all right?” Harry murmurs, running his palms up Louis’ bare, muscular thighs, stopping just shy of where he most wants to touch. To taste.

“Yes,” Louis gasps, wriggling as if to get Harry to move his hands. “Yes, Harry, please.”

That’s all the incentive Harry needs to take Louis into his mouth, using his lips and tongue to give pleasure in a way that fingers simply cannot. If the strained string of curses is anything to go by, the action catches Louis off guard, his hands tangling themselves in Harry’s curls and holding on for dear life.

The end comes quickly, Louis pushing his hips into the velvet warmth of Harry’s mouth, his own pleasure escalating with every moan and swear drawn from Louis’ bitten lips. He doesn’t pull his mouth away until Louis is spent and boneless, whimpering and pawing at Harry until he joins him on the bed.

“How are you?” Harry asks, cuddling Louis close to him and stroking at his hair, the strands damp with perspiration.

Louis smiles dazedly up at Harry, his face flushed and pupils seeming to swallow up the colour of his eyes. “I– I didn’t know people did that,” he admits, a hint of what might be shame peeking through the exhaustion in his tone.

“I can show you a great number of things people do with each other, if you’ll let me,” Harry promises, moving to kiss Louis’ lips and laughing when the other man turns away with a wrinkled nose. “It doesn’t taste bad, you silly man,” he chides, relenting and kissing Louis’ cheek instead.

“’M not silly,” Louis replies, fighting a yawn. “Though I could do with a nap, after all that.”

“Then nap we shall.” Harry manouevers them so they’re lying correctly on the bed, Louis’ head pillowed on Harry’s chest. It’s far more cramped than the bed in Harry’s stateroom, though neither man minds having to be in such close proximity.

It certainly isn’t how he pictured himself a few days ago, curled up in a strange bed with a man he’s come to love held tight in his arms. A journey that once seemed like an ending has somehow managed to turn itself into a new beginning. In a few short days they will be on a new continent, together, and to Harry the possibilities seem astoundingly limitless.

They fall asleep like the sun sets—sinking down gracefully and leaving behind splendour in their wake.

✯✯✯

When Louis wakes up to the supper call, his arm is asleep and there’s a clump of thick, dark hair caught in his mouth. He chuckles to himself as he removes it, taking in the sleeping form twined around his body.

Harry is still fully clothed, one leg hanging off the edge of the bed and the arm not holding Louis flung over his head. His hair is in disarray, what appears to be dried spittle flecking the corners of his gaping mouth. At least, Louis thinks that’s what it is, feeling his face go hot as he recalls their pre-nap activities. He can’t believe that Harry put his mouth, well—down there—and seemed to enjoy it.

Not that Louis’ complaining; it had been the most exquisite sensation he’s ever felt in his life. The slick, wet heat, the suction, the clever motions of Harry’s tongue… it was paradise. If what they did last night gave Louis a glimpse of Heaven, then today he could have sworn he caught sight of God Himself.

A protesting growl from Louis’ stomach reminds him that he’s skipped not only breakfast but dinner and tea as well—something he was used to this time last week. It’s amazing how much he’s grown accustomed to steady meals and a warm place to sleep—a warm body to sleep next to.

Said warm body stirs in his sleep, stretching like a large, spoiled house cat, a small hum slipping out of his mouth. It’s a sight Louis could get quite used to, if he’s honest.

“Harry.” Louis runs the back of his hand down Harry’s cheek before settling it on his shoulder. “Harry, it’s time for supper.”

Dark lashes slowly part to reveal sleepy green eyes. They roam the strange room for a moment before finding Louis, the resulting smile enough to have Louis considering skipping his third meal of the day to keep it in place.

“Are you hungry?” Louis asks, running his fingers through sleep-tangled curls. “It’s time for supper, if you’d like to eat.”

“I’m famished,” Harry admits, turning his head to kiss Louis’ hand before rolling himself out of bed. “My stomach is not pleased with me for missing two meals in one day.”

Louis shrugs as he stands, looking around for wherever his clothing ended up. “You get used to it,” he says nonchalantly, finding his trousers and stuffing his legs into them before moving on to his shoes.

It’s been silent for just a little too long when Louis straightens back up, shoes in place. Harry is staring at him with a clouded expression, a sad tilt to his mouth and eyes shining with the threat of tears.

Louis’ heart twists at the spectacle. Beautiful people should never look so downtrodden. “What’s the matter?”

Scrubbing his hand over his face, Harry takes a deep breath before he speaks. “It’s just– I can’t bear to think of you going hungry,” he admits softly, voice cracking in the middle. “Were it up to me, you’d never miss a meal again.”

There’s a part of Louis that wants to be annoyed, wants to remind Harry that the world is filled with starving people who will never be spared a second thought, wants to scream that he isn’t Harry’s to save.

But then he thinks of life after this ship, potentially a life with Harry, and it dawns on him suddenly that there’s a very real possibility he will never go hungry again. Not that it has any effect on his feelings for Harry—he’s never used someone for a handout, and isn’t about to start now—and of course he plans on doing his share of work. Louis Tomlinson will be a kept man for no one.

Still, Harry has the means to make sure Louis will be taken care of for as long as Harry wants him. Maybe, just maybe, that means he in turn can better care for his mother and sisters. It’s such a beautiful thought, he can’t stop the tears slipping down his own cheeks.

It’s been an emotional day.

He is back in Harry’s arms in the blink of an eye, clutching tightly to the warm, solid man he’s grown so terribly fond of in such a short period of time. Growing up poor, imagining a better future was something akin to the bedtime stories he told his sisters—full of dragons and faeries and other equally far fetched things. Now, that life is within reach, and Louis can barely allow himself to believe he got so lucky.

“I love you,” is all he can think to say, letting the tears fall.

“And I love you, Louis,” Harry replies softly, holding Louis as close as he’s able, like even a hairsbreadth of distance between their bodies is too great. “Come on, we’ve a meal to get to,” he coaxes, tipping Louis’ head so he can kiss away the tears on his cheeks.

When Louis steps away, his eyes fall on the white of Harry’s jacket, a dark spot over Harry’s heart from the tears Louis’ spilled onto the fabric.

And oh, my, Harry is still in a Third Class steward’s uniform. He shouldn’t be seen with a passenger dressed like this, let alone sitting down to a meal with him.

Harry takes in Louis’ widened eyes before looking down at himself, pieces clicking into place. “Oh. I’m not dressed for supper, am I?” he asks sheepishly.

It’s hopelessly endearing, and Louis can’t help but laugh as he takes Harry’s hand and tugs him toward the door. “Come on, let’s go find you something to wear.”

The other lads have already gone to the Dining Saloon by the time Louis leads Harry to his cabin, which is a blessing: Clothing Harry turns out to be a bit of a challenge, as everything Louis owns seems to be either too tight or too short. After completely emptying the drawer beneath his bunk of his meagre possessions, he finally manages to come up with a shirt that’s only a little too snug on Harry and trousers that almost, almost cover his ankles.

“It’s not much, but it’ll have to do,” Louis laments, watching Harry adjust the clothing. It’s peculiar to see him in Louis’ clothes instead of the other way ‘round, but it does prove that the man looks incredible in any clothing, regardless of quality.

“It’s perfect, Lou,” Harry says, beaming. He takes Louis’ hands, gently untangling anxious fingers and slotting his own between them. “You don’t have to be ashamed of the things you have. I’d rather be here with you than anywhere else in the world, understood?”

The sentiment is almost enough to have Louis weeping again, but now is not the time. They have a meal to get to, and even if there isn’t much to see, Louis is still looking forward to giving Harry a glimpse into life in Third Class. While something dark and frightened inside of him is sure Harry is going to bolt at any moment, back to his fine clothes and soft bed and private room, he’s here with him for now, and Louis intends to enjoy every last second of it.

They make it to the Dining Saloon just in time for the second seating. The tables are filling fast, but Louis can just make out a familiar trio dropping into seats at a table near the opposite wall.

“Come on,” Louis says, bumping Harry’s hand with his own, the closest to holding it he can get while they’re in public. He cuts a path through all the hungry people, Harry sticking close behind, stopping at the end of the table and waiting for someone to notice him.

It’s Malik who spots them first, a grin sliding into place almost instantly. “Well, lads, look who’s decided to join us.”

Horan and Lucas pause mid-conversation to look in the direction Zayn indicates, Stan cheering and Niall nearly dropping his glass. “I don’t believe it!” Niall shouts, enthusiastically slapping the empty seat next to him. “C’mon, Tommo, sit your backside down and tell us again why your bed was still made when we woke up this morning.”

Louis coughs nervously as he slides into the chair, carefully avoiding Harry’s eyes as the other man is sat across from him. Still, Harry’s knee bumps his under the table and he knows his face goes redder still.

“Who’s your friend?” Stan asks, taking notice of Harry since Louis is currently incapable of speech.

Four sets of eyes fix on Harry, who is slouching in his chair and glancing around curiously. He notices the attention and smiles, raising a large hand and wiggling his fingers. “Hello,” he chirps, looking from face to face. “I’m Harry Styles.”

A chorus of greetings sounds, each man introducing himself warmly to the newcomer. Harry’s smile is genuine as he turns to each of them, repeating their names afterward to make sure he’s got them all correct.

“So, Styles, how do you know our Tommo here?” Niall asks, slapping Louis on the back.

Harry quirks an eyebrow at the nickname but refrains from comment, instead taking a sip from his glass and licking his lips before speaking. “We sort of just ran into each other, didn’t we?” Harry asks, looking to Louis for confirmation. “He stumbled into my cabin one night thinking it was his.” He smiles, seemingly pleased with himself for staying as close to the truth as possible.

“Full up to the knocker, wasn’t I?” Louis replies with a grin of his own. “Couldn’t tell me arse from me elbow. Styles here was kind enough to make sure I didn’t get into too much trouble.”

Stan howls with laughter, elbowing Harry in his amusement. “What I wouldn’t give to have seen that!”

“I’ll never forget it,” Harry agrees, knocking his glass against Stan’s, with a brief yet significant glance at Louis. “And you all share a cabin?” he asks the other lads.

“We do when Tommo here actually comes home,” Zayn teases. “Haven’t seen much of him lately.”

“Tommo’s got himself a girl,” Stan whispers conspiratorially, though it’s plenty loud enough to be heard by everyone around him.

Harry’s eyebrows creep toward his hairline, his mouth a perfect ‘o’ of surprise as he turns to Louis. “A girl, you say? He hasn’t mentioned.”

The look on Harry’s face says that he’ll be ribbing Louis about this later, when they’re alone once more. Grumbling to himself, Louis sinks down in his seat, feeling the tips of his ears go red with embarrassment.

Thankfully the stewards start bringing around food, setting plates in front of each passenger and filling glasses. Soon the buzz of conversation lessens and blends with the clattering of silver on china, everyone tucking into the last meal of the day.

Louis can’t help but watch as Harry eyes his food, taking in the simple offering. In Third Class, supper is the fourth meal of the day and a small one at that, the largest meal instead eaten at midday.

But if Harry is disappointed, he doesn’t let it show. Instead he looks over each food in front of him like it’s a rare treat, something to be sampled and savoured instead of wolfed down before bed (or, more likely, drinking). He takes a bite of his gruel and a nibble of a cabin biscuit, sniffing at the various cheeses on the plate. It’s paltry compared to their dinner last evening, but Harry seems to enjoy it every bit as much.

Watching Harry fit himself seamlessly into his surroundings—leading the conversation, laughing and teasing, complementing a passing steward on the service and the food—Louis knows he’s utterly gone for Harry. It gives him reassurance that if he and Harry met under different circumstances, if Harry had to surrender his lifestyle to be with Louis, Harry could still be happy, would still smile just as wide and shine just as bright.

“You boys are coming with us, right?” Stan asks once their plates have been cleared and the Dining Saloon begins to empty, passengers seeking their beds or after-supper entertainment.

The look on Harry’s face says he’s up for anything, meeting Louis’ eyes across the table and flashing his teeth in a grin. “’Course we are,” Louis replies, returning the smile. “Styles here doesn’t get out much, and I reckon we need to fix that.”

✯✯✯

The General Room is filled with noise, laughter and clapping and a variety of instruments. It’s exhilarating, seeing people so loud and unrestrained, a far cry from the social gatherings Harry’s grown accustomed to.

This whole day has been rather eye opening.

Just seeing the difference in the Third Class section of the ship, still well crafted and comfortable but missing the extra touches given to other classes, was a huge surprise for Harry. Simple food and simple beds for simple people.

Except these people aren’t simple. They’re clever and talented and fun, carousing together despite language barriers and conflicting backgrounds. They’re so happy, so full of hope that a better life is waiting for them. Harry ardently hopes that it is.

In the midst of it all is Louis, laughing and smiling, clapping his hands along to the music and making up questionable lyrics to the songs. His hair hangs over his forehead, damp with sweat, and he’s rolled up the arms of his thin linen shirt to bare strong, tan forearms. He’s so different here, slinging an arm around Stan and Zayn’s necks, encouraging them to sing along. He’s unbridled, somehow, free to let his spirit shine as brightly as it’s able.

And shine it does. It’s almost as if the lustre of First Class dimmed him somehow, took away some of his radiance, and Harry’s seeing him now for the first time in full colour. It’s breathtaking.

It’s also sobering. They haven’t spoken much about what life after the Titanic will look like for them, but if Louis chooses to stay with Harry, to live a life in the upper echelons of society—well. Harry wouldn’t be able to live with himself if he were responsible for Louis permanently losing some of his shine.

In another life, he’d be right up there next to Louis, belting out ridiculous lyrics and dancing without abandon. For now, though, he’s content to sit and watch the boy— his boy, he dares to think—laughing and smiling as if camaraderie is currency and he’s the wealthiest man in the world.

“He’s somethin’ else, isn’t he?”

Harry didn’t even noticed another body join his on the bench, too enraptured by the sight of Louis to pay any mind to his surroundings. He wonders how long Niall’s been sitting there, smiling at Harry with his crooked teeth.

When Harry gives no answer, Niall flicks his head toward the centre of the room, at the man Harry was not-so-subtly gawking at only moments before. “Tommo, I mean. He’s really somethin’.”

“Yes, he is,” Harry agrees, allowing himself to return his eyes to Louis.

He can feel Niall watching him, clever blue eyes sliding over his body in thoughtful silence. Harry tries to keep his face impassive even as he feels the muscles in his back tensing up. He can tell I don’t belong here. I’ve been found out. He knows—

“It’s you he’s been sneaking off to visit, isn’t it,” Niall theorises softly, only loud enough for Harry to hear.

The world seems to narrow down to the two of them, to Niall’s furrowed brow and clouded eyes and the sound of Harry’s runaway heart, pounding loud enough to be heard over the clapping and stomping and carrying on around them. The words catch in his throat, no explanation good enough to keep Niall from turning them in. It’s too late to deny it now; his stunned silence has given him away, and the look on Niall’s face says that the Irishman knows it too.

“Listen, Horan, I can explain,” Harry says quickly, turning to face Niall, carefully making sure their knees don’t touch. He can’t handle the thought of the man flinching away from him, not right now. “It was entirely me, all right? Please, don’t punish Louis for this. I coerced him. I—”

“I’m not going to be turning anyone in, am I?” Niall says, ending Harry’s rambling with a wave of his hand. “I can’t say I understand it, but Tommo’s a grown man, he can make his own decisions.” He runs a hand through his dark brown hair, the strands falling back over his right temple. “I’d also have to be blind not to see how happy you make him. This man,” he says, pointing to Louis, who’s currently trying to coax Stan into waltzing with him, “is not the same one I met a few days ago.”

Harry is speechless, glancing away from Louis to meet Niall’s eyes. They’re blue as well, but not like Louis’. Then again, in Harry’s opinion, no man has eyes like Louis’, and any other shade of blue is merely playing at perfection.

He swallows hard, still reeling from the fact that their carefully guarded secret is no longer theirs alone. “I don’t know what to say,” Harry admits, digging his teeth into the meat of his lower lip. “Thank you, I suppose, for not having the both of us carted off.”

A loud, joyous cackle splits Niall’s face, his hand coming up to playfully thump Harry on the shoulder. “You’re somethin’ else yourself, Styles,” he says, ruffling Harry’s hair in a way that would seem far too forward from anyone else, but from Horan seems almost brotherly. “You don’t have to say anything, eh? Just promise to make that fellow’s dreams come true, and maybe go get us a coupla pints, and we’ll call it square.”

Harry smiles, Niall’s crooked-toothed grin impossible to deny. “I’ll only be a moment,” he promises, hurrying away to find them drinks before Niall catches sight of the tears in his eyes.

It might be childish, but Harry hopes that somehow all of Niall’s dreams come true as well.

The music eventually winds down, segueing from recognisable melodies to a drunken cacophony. One by one passengers say their goodnights and stumble toward their beds, promising to pick up where they left off the following night.

It’s just after ten o’clock when Louis finds Harry losing yet another hand of cards against Zayn. They’re just playing for fun, most of the Third Class passengers not having enough spare money to gamble away, although Malik would have made a pretty penny off Harry’s losses.

“Reckon it’s time to turn in, eh, fellows?” Louis asks, falling heavily into an extra chair. He glances at Harry’s cards and winces, sucking in air through his teeth. “There’s no saving that hand, anyway. Malik here would do you a favour to let you leave with your pride intact.”

Laughing, Harry throws his cards down on the table, Zayn doing the same before stacking the deck. “What pride? He’s beat me at every hand, at every game. My sister’s right; I’m rubbish at bluffing.”

“You’re not so terrible,” Zayn says, arching a dark eyebrow as he shuffles the cards with practised ease. “I’ve just played a lot of cards with a lot of sailors.”

Harry laughs again, standing and tipping an imaginary hat to Zayn. “In that case, it’s my privilege to lose to such an expert.” He turns to Louis, taking in his flushed cheeks and shining eyes, the way his sweaty hair clings to his forehead and the tails of his shirt hang over his trousers, long since coming untucked. “Well, Mr Tomlinson, would you care to walk with me back to my cabin?” He winks at Zayn, quite lasciviously. “As I understand it, it’s on the way to your lady friend’s anyway.”

Zayn guffaws as Louis turns a brilliant tomato red, glaring at Harry in a way that suggests he’d quite like to give the man a good bollocksing. “No need to be jealous, Styles,” Louis shoots back, rapidly composing himself. “I’m sure we can find someone to kiss you goodnight, if only out of pity.” He nudges Zayn with his elbow before scrambling out of his chair and Harry’s reach. Standing, he’s just far enough behind Zayn to avoid being seen pursing his lips at Harry, as if to say, ‘I’ll be the only one kissing you goodnight.’

Harry just smiles back at him before shaking Zayn’s hand, wishing the other man a good evening and assuring him they’ll see each other again soon. “Come along then, Tommo,” Harry teases, jokingly holding out an arm only to have Louis bat it away. “We’d best be finding me that kiss.” He scrunches his nose at Louis, the corners of his eyes crinkling with mirth, and hopes that his meaning is clear:

You’re the only one I want to be kissing me.

The borrowed cabin on G Deck is just as they left it, only one bed unmade to give any indication that someone has been there at all. There’s a note on the bed, black ink scrawled on White Star Line stationery, which Harry scoops up before Louis has a chance.

“‘Misters Tomlinson and Styles,’” Harry reads, holding the paper just out of Louis’ grasp. The shorter man jumps for the note, but Harry lifts it higher still. “’Please feel free to make use of this cabin for another night. I’ll come check in with you in the morning, and we’ll decide how best to proceed from there. Until then, sleep well and don’t hesitate to call if I can be of any further service. Your humble servant, Liam Payne.’” Harry finishes reading just as Louis finally grabs hold of his arm, dragging it down far enough to snatch the letter and read over the messy penmanship for himself.

“What a remarkable fellow,” Louis quips, carefully creasing the paper and tucking it into the pocket of his trousers. “Honestly, I don’t know what I would have done without his help. Been caught by now, probably.” He starts to unbutton his shirt, smiling up at Harry through his lashes. “Or I would have stopped coming to visit you altogether when I got too frightened. He’s the one who encouraged me to go back. Horan too, actually.”

Harry watches Louis undress, removing his own clothing as well. “That reminds me,” he says, taking Louis’ hands in his, pulling him close until their bare chests are flush. “I had a little chat with Mr Horan earlier.”

“Oh? About what?” Louis’ eyes are wide, one brow arched as he lifts his chin to look at Harry.

Unable to resist, Harry plants a kiss on the tip of Louis’ nose before continuing. “Us, actually. He knows,” he says, not missing the way the smaller man tenses in his arms. “Says he’s happy for us.”

“He did?” Louis asks, wonder in his voice. “He’s not bothered that I... that we—

“Not in the slightest, love,” Harry assures him, rubbing a soothing hand between the peaks of Louis’ shoulder blades. “You’ve made some wonderful friends on this trip, I think.”

Louis tucks his head beneath Harry’s chin, and Harry can feel the smile Louis presses against the skin of his throat. “We both have,” Louis murmurs, punctuating the thought with a gentle kiss. “Stepping aboard this ship is the best thing that’s ever happened to me.” He pulls back just enough that Harry can see his wide, earnest eyes, the faintest hint of moisture pooling at their corners. “It brought me to you.”

The lump in Harry’s chest seems to swell and then burst, releasing the emotions he’s been trying to hide all evening. A great hiccough escapes his throat as he tries to bite back a sob. Unable to speak, he leads Louis over to the bed, taking a seat and pulling Louis close to him. Louis slots himself against Harry’s side like he belongs there, holding Harry tightly and whispering sweet words into his chest.

“What happens when we reach America?” Harry dares to ask, once his sobs have gentled and allow him to speak properly.

“Hmm?”

He turns Louis so they’re face to face, the drowsy tilt to Louis’ features evidence that the other man was nearly asleep.

“What happens with us?” Harry asks, looking down at his lap. “I know what I want, but I also don’t want to interfere with your plans, with the life you planned before I came along.” He can still hear Niall’s voice in his head: Make his dreams come true. He intends to, regardless of his part in them.

Louis twists his mouth, taking one of Harry’s hands in his own and staring at the smooth, creamy skin. “And what is it that you want, my love?” he asks cautiously, even though Harry can feel the quickening pulse from his hands.

There’s a beat of silence as Harry thinks, carefully deciding how best to word his wishes. Most simply, he wants to be with Louis. But it isn’t simple, is it? Nor can it be, for them. There’s no place for carelessness in their situation, not with the stakes so very high.

“I want you to come with me to Massachusetts,” Harry says finally, decisively. “That’s where we’re headed. My uncle owns property there, and I’m going to look for a place of my own so I can be close to Gemma.” He takes a deep breath, preparing for rejection, but he has to try. “You could move in with me, as a friend. I’m certain you can find a tailor looking for help, and if you ever decide that’s not what you want, I’ll help you find somewhere else to live, no questions asked.”

There’s hesitation in Louis’ voice when he answers, looking at Harry with guarded eyes. “I told you before that I don’t need anything handed to me,” he repeats warily.

“And I don’t intend to do that. Live your life, go to work, earn your own money. Just, please consider doing that with me at your side.” Harry knows full well how desperate he sounds. He can’t bring himself to care, though. Not where Louis is concerned.

Louis deliberates for a moment, fingers idly tracing the veins just beneath Harry’s skin. “And if it were the other way ‘round?” he asks, voice small. “What if I wanted you to come live with me in poverty? Renting a rundown flat and saving every penny and working our fingers to the bone?” He meets Harry’s eyes, the man appearing so young in the dim light of the cabin. “Would you follow me?”

Disentangling their hands, Harry raises his to cup Louis’ face, thumbs brushing over the delicate skin beneath his eyes. “I would follow you to the ends of the earth,” he vows, leaning their foreheads together. “I’d give up everything for you, Louis. All you have to do is ask.”

There’s a choked sound, and then Louis is pressing their mouths together in a desperate kiss, clutching at Harry like he might disappear at any moment. Harry kisses back, licking at Louis’ lips and nearly sighing when they part to allow his tongue entrance. Louis is hesitant at first, meeting Harry’s licks with timid ones of his own, but soon he takes control of the kiss, discovering Harry’s mouth with his tongue and moaning greedily against his lips.

They break apart with a gasp, each man panting through swollen lips. Harry offers Louis a shy smile, like they haven’t just been kissing for the last several minutes, and Louis grins right back at him.

“Yes, I’ll come with you.”

The words are so hushed that Harry doesn’t dare believe he’s actually heard them at first. “What did you say?” he asks, his voice coming out in almost a croak.

Louis looks away, his hair hiding his eyes but not quite covering the flush rising in his cheeks. “I said I’ll come with you, Harry. I’ll come to Massachusetts.”

There’s a small squeak of surprise as Harry scoops the man up in a hug, burying his face in Louis’ chest and just breathing him in. Louis is coming with me. “I promise I will make you happier than you’ve ever been,” Harry swears between countless kisses, worshipping every patch of skin he can reach.

“You already have, Harry,” Louis replies, pressing his own kisses into Harry’s hair.

They wrap tightly around each other, lips finding lips and fingers roaming skin, and they press so close together that even the small bunk feels spacious. They move together like moon pulls at the tide, in great waves and gentle crests, swirling eddies that pull them both so far under that the sky is a distant memory.

And when they surface, both gasping for air and coming down from their highs, it’s a lot like being reborn.

Later, once they’ve cleaned themselves off and are twined around each other beneath the covers, Harry can’t believe how lucky he is, how he’s found everything he didn’t even know he wanted, and how he would do anything to ensure that Louis feels the same way.

“Louis,” he whispers in the dark, nuzzling his nose into the side of Louis’ head. “Are you still awake?”

“Barely,” comes the sleepy reply, cold toes tucking under Harry’s leg and making him squirm. “Why?”

Harry plants a kiss to the tousled brown hair, breathing in the faint scent of his own soap, now masked with sweat and something decidedly Louis. “When we get to America, if you want, we can send for your mother and sisters.” Before Louis can protest, he carries on: “I have the money, and I know how much you worry about them. This isn’t charity; you can pay me back if you’d like, but there’s no reason to wait if you don’t need to.”

There’s a sniffling sound in the darkness, and Harry can tell that Louis is crying. “Louis? What’s the matter?” he asks, petting the other man’s hair and cuddling into him. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you upset.”

“I just love you so much,” Louis replies in a shaky whisper. “Yes, God yes, can we please send for my family?”

“The minute we get there,” Harry promises. “The finest accommodations available, I swear to it.”

Louis snuffles against Harry’s chest, wrapping his arms tighter around the younger man’s middle. “I won’t ever be able to repay you properly. All the money in the world can’t repay such a kindness.”

“You came back to me,” Harry replies simply, wrapping an arm over Louis’. “I’m the one in your debt.”

He stays awake long after Louis has fallen asleep, happy tears still drying on his skin. This is what constitutes his life now, he realises. Going to bed and waking up with this man next to him, sharing kisses and tears, hopes and dreams. It’s someone to come home to and someone to miss, someone to laugh and quarrel with, to make up with. He wants all of that, the good and the bad, and he can have it with Louis. Even if Louis wakes up in a month or so and changes his mind, for while it lasts Harry Styles is the luckiest man alive.

It might be foolish thinking, but he gets the feeling that it’s going to last for a long, long time.

✯✯✯

Louis wakes with a start, heart hammering loudly in the stillness of the cabin. The only other sound is Harry’s quiet snoring, his breath reassuringly hot against Louis’ scalp.

Just a dream, he tells himself, letting his eyes drift closed, even though he doesn’t remember dreaming. He’s in an unfamiliar place, he reasons, so it isn’t that surprising he’s having a bit of trouble staying asleep.

Something feels wrong, though—a difference he doesn’t immediately identify. He knows he felt something, something strong enough to rouse him from a deep sleep, and he can’t shake the terrible feeling that there is something truly amiss.

It isn’t until Harry rolls over, the change in position alleviating his snoring, that it hits Louis:

It’s deathly silent.

There’s no constant hum from the engines, no pulse of the propellers pushing them steadily through the water.

“Harry,” he says in a thin voice, reaching over to shake the other man awake. “Harry, wake up. I think something’s wrong with the ship.”

There’s a quiet groan as Harry comes to, rolling toward Louis even though it’s too dark to see his face. “What’s the matter?” he asks sleepily, rubbing at his eyes.

Louis’ heartbeat seems twice as loud in the absence of the ship’s noise. Taking a breath, trying to steady himself, he reaches for Harry’s hand. “The engines have stopped.”

It’s quiet as they both listen, the eerie silence settling over them like a weighted blanket. “I’ll go and find out what’s happened,” Harry says, sitting up and kissing Louis before reaching for his clothes. “I’m sure it’s nothing. You go on back to sleep.”

“No,” Louis insists, tossing his head back and forth. “I don’t want to be alone. I’ll come with you.” He can’t seem to shake the terrible premonition he has, dread chilling him to the core. He shivers involuntarily as he climbs out of bed, tugging on his own clothes.

The hallway is empty, the majority of passengers in their beds for the night. Louis steals a glance at Harry’s pocket watch, still nestled safely in his trousers, to find it’s nearly midnight.

A steward appears at the other end of the hallway, striding purposefully down the corridor. Harry reaches out for him, stopping the man in his tracks.

“Is everything all right?” Harry asks, voice still thick from sleep. “It seems as though the engines have stopped.”

The steward smiles at both of them, but his cheer is obviously counterfeit. “Probably just threw a propeller blade, gents. Nothing to fuss over.” He gives a brief bow before turning on his heel and setting off on his original course.

“See?” Harry asks, stifling a yawn. “Propeller blade. I’m sure they’ll see to it once it’s daylight. Let’s go back to bed.” He turns to head back to the cabin, but Louis doesn’t move, frozen in fear in the centre of the hallway.

“Louis?” Harry asks, lines of worry creasing his forehead. “What’s wrong?”

Without a word, Louis slowly raises his arm, pointing a trembling finger down the corridor toward the bow.

It’s barely there, but Louis knows the moment Harry sees it, can hear the breath catch in his throat as icy realisation settles over him.

There’s water slowly spreading over the linoleum, just enough to reflect the lights lining the corridor.

That’s when the commotion starts, doors flying open and more stewards rushing down the hallway. Someone is yelling, and it isn’t until Harry grabs his arm and hauls him back to their cabin that Louis realises he’s the one producing the noise.

Chapter Text

15 April 1912

“Louis. Louis, darling, I need you to keep breathing for me.”

Harry’s voice cuts through the sound of blood rushing in Louis’ ears, of the frantic staccato rhythm of his heart. Slowly the fog filling his head seems to clear, and he becomes aware he’s on his knees in their cabin, clutching at Harry’s clothes while the other man gently rocks him back and forth. He hauls in a deep breath, shuddery and slow, and tries to comprehend what’s happening to him.

He can’t get the memory of water in the corridor out of his mind. It could have been a spill, maybe, or a freshly mopped floor. Something in Louis’ gut disagrees, though, the feeling of dread pressing down on him like a weight. When he closes his eyes, he pictures water spilling down the walls and beneath the door, slowly filling the room until his lips are pressed to the ceiling for one last bit of air, and then—

Louis stops closing his eyes.

All the while, Harry is watching him with a wide, worried expression, bottom lip chewed almost bloody. Louis looks up at him and manages a weak smile, reaching up to pull Harry down for a kiss, when he’s interrupted by a knock at the door.

Both men freeze. As far as anyone knows, this is a vacant cabin. Surely they haven’t been found, not now, Louis thinks as he stares in terror at the door.

The knock sounds again before either of them can react. “Mr Tomlinson! Mr Styles! It’s Liam Payne,” Liam’s familiar voice calls from outside. “Please open the door!”

They manage to clamber to their feet, Louis never releasing his grip on Harry, and cross to the door. Louis whines pitifully when Harry removes one arm from him to pull at the doorknob, but the look on Liam’s face when the door opens is enough to mollify Louis.

“Mr Payne, is everything all right?” Harry asks, both arms back around Louis now that the door is closed once more. “You look as if you’ve seen a ghost.”

Indeed, Liam is rather pale, his usually cheerful brown eyes wide and fearful. His hair is mussed as though he’s just come from his own bed, and perhaps he has.

“I had to come and find you because no one else knows where you are,” Liam says, his voice strong despite the slight waver to his words. “You need to take your lifebelts and get to the boat deck as soon as possible.”

Wintry fear trickles down Louis’ spine. His tongue feels heavy in his mouth like it’s made of clay, too thick and simple to form any coherent thought. “Wha,” he tries, but luckily Harry is present enough to say what Louis can’t.

“Not a propeller blade, then?” Harry asks, his throat working as he swallows. When Liam sadly shakes his head, Louis can feel the arms around him tighten.

“We’ve struck something. An iceberg.” Not seeming to care that two men are embracing directly in front of him, Liam quickly locates the cabin’s life vests and hands one to each man. “Please, put these on and get upstairs,” he begs. His eyes meet Louis’, a grim set to his jaw as he speaks. “You remember the way I showed you, yeah?” Louis nods. “Excellent. Then go, and don’t let anyone stop you. Good luck, lads.”

With that he’s back out the door and trotting down the hallway, leaving Harry and Louis staring down at the bulky, cork-filled vests in their hands. Louis can’t help but worry that Liam wasn’t wearing his.

“Best do as he says.” Harry breaks the silence, and it’s painfully apparent that he’s working to keep his tone light. The veins in his throat are standing out, though, the rabbiting of his pulse visible beneath the skin. He pulls a life vest over his head, tightening the straps and motioning for Louis to do the same.

It feels too final, too real. Donning the vest means that something really is the matter, that the shouts and hurried footsteps in the corridor are real. That the dread seizing his heart is founded in reality as well.

His hands are shaking, but he ultimately manages to fasten his vest. He glances around the cabin, but nothing here is theirs to take besides Harry’s grandfather’s watch, which Harry grabs and holds out to Louis.

“Harry, I can’t,” Louis pleads, pushing Harry’s hand away.

With a scoff, Harry reaches around and stuffs the timepiece into Louis’ pocket. “You can. Keep it safe for me,” he commands, though his eyes convey his true meaning: Keep yourself safe.

“I will,” Louis whispers, reaching out to squeeze Harry’s hand. Harry nods, blinking rapidly, before dropping Louis’ hand and pulling open the door.

The floor is more than a little wet now, their shoes making slapping sounds against the damp tile as they hurry toward the stairs. They still don’t know exactly what’s wrong, not yet, but Louis has only to recall the haunted look in Liam’s eyes to know it cannot be good. He thinks of his own cabin, not far from the borrowed one, of the three boys he’s come to think of as friends over the last few days. Surely someone knocked on their door as well?

Breathless and scared, they finally reach the Grand Staircase. It’s strange for Louis, continuing up the stairs where he would normally turn to go to Harry’s stateroom. Even stranger is being here amongst the gilded walls and sparkling fixtures dressed in his own clothing. He and Harry stick out like a stain on a white rug, catching curious and distasteful glances from passengers who seem more bothered by their presence than the fact that something is amiss with the ship.

The air on the boat deck is brisk and cold, stars hanging like shards of ice in the moonless sky above. It’s remarkably calm, Louis thinks, gazing at the scene around him. The lights in the First Class Lounge are burning brightly, cheerful music filling the air as the band plays. It’s hard to reconcile the upbeat tune with the sight of lifeboats being uncovered and swung out on their davits, yet people are milling conversationally around the deck as if nothing is out of the ordinary at all. Even the great roar of steam rushing from the funnels doesn’t seem to bother those passengers brave enough to face the frigid air of the open deck.

“What’s the matter with them? Why isn’t anyone doing anything?” Louis asks in an undertone, his breath suspended in the air in a white puff.

Harry’s eyes are sweeping the crowd, presumably searching for his sister. The company gathered on deck is a mix of passengers still in their evening wear, having come from the Lounge or the Smoking Room, and a few wearing a mismatched ensemble of pyjamas underneath heavy coats.

There doesn’t seem to be any at all dressed in the simple garb of Third Class passengers, which has a heavy lump settling in the pit of Louis’ stomach.

Very few seem fussed by the uncovering of the lifeboats, fewer still wearing their lifebelts. Louis wants to scream at them, to raise his voice over the billowing steam to ask, ‘what is the matter with you people? Can’t you see there’s something wrong?’ But he doesn’t. Instead, he walks over to the railing, turning his back on everyone to stare out over the bars at the dark sea below.

“Louis, you’re frightening me.” Harry’s voice comes from his left, loud to be heard over the great noise of the funnels. A warm hand settles onto the shoulder on that side, sending a shiver through Louis’ frame. Funny, Louis hadn’t even realised he was cold before now.

“I’m very frightened meself,” Louis admits, leaning into the warmth but not so much as to be inappropriate. “I’m frightened because no one else seems to be.”

The pads of Harry’s fingers dig in slightly, massaging the flesh beneath the thin linen of Louis’ shirt. “The officers are preparing the boats. I’m sure they don’t want to cause a panic, right? We just have to wait for them to tell us what to do.”

Forcing a smile onto his face, Louis lifts his head to meet Harry’s eyes. He looks tired, the green paler out here as if covered by a thin layer of frost. He’s smiling back, though, and that’s enough to make Louis’ a bit more genuine. “You’re right. Of course you’re right,” Louis concedes, pushing away from the railing.

Slowly the deck becomes more crowded as people make their way up to see what all the fuss is about. Louis tries to check each new arrival for a familiar face, but without any success. Where are Niall, Stan, and Zayn? Where’s Mr Payne?

“Harry!” A shout comes from the newest group of passengers emerging from the Grand Staircase. Gemma is rushing toward them, her coat whipping open to reveal a black and white satin gown underneath. She looks as if she’s come straight from dinner, her hair still impeccably styled and jewelry in place. Nellie trails behind, wrapped in what is clearly one of Gemma’s spare coats.

“Gemma!” Harry yells back, catching his sister in his arms and holding her close. He presses his face to her hair, breathing for a few moments before releasing his hold. “I’m so happy to see you,” he says on an exhale, sounding far more worried than he’d let Louis believe.

She looks between the pair of them curiously, taking in Harry’s borrowed clothes. “Where were you? You didn’t come to dinner. Uncle was throwing a right fit.”

Harry bites his lip sheepishly, ducking his head like a child confessing to his parents. “I was with Louis, actually. In Third Class.” He glances back up, eyes searching her face to catch her reaction.

It’s a laugh, a higher pitched version of Harry’s, and an arched eyebrow as she turns to address Louis. “Spirited my brother away, have you, Mr Tomlinson?” she asks, clucking her tongue. “Can’t say I didn’t see that coming.” She ignores Harry’s sputters to look Louis over, it being her first time seeing him in his proper attire. “Where are your coats?”

“Where’s your life vest?” Harry’s brow furrows when he notices both women are missing the garment. “Hasn’t anyone told you to put one on?”

Gemma scoffs, gloved hands going to her hips. “They did, but surely that’s an unnecessary precaution. Honestly, I thought this was a replacement safety drill for the one that was canceled earlier.” Twin glum expressions stare back at her, smoothing out the curl in her painted lips. “What? What is it?” she demands, eyes darting between the pair.

“This isn’t a drill,” Harry replies, the colour draining from Gemma’s face as he speaks. “Gem, we saw water coming in below. We’re— we’re sinking.”

We’re sinking.

It’s the first time they’ve said it aloud, the words making the air thick and heavy as if uttering them somehow made it real. Louis’ throat is tight as he breathes in the chilly air, the cold settling in his lungs and sending a pervading ache through his entire body.

This is the Titanic, the grandest ship ever built. She can’t be sinking. Louis has to get to America, make a home with Harry, take care of his mother and sisters. He has plans, and dreams. For the first time in a long while, it feels as if he has a future. That can’t end here tonight, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. He can’t let it.

Gemma’s crying now, clutching onto her brother and weeping into his shoulder much the way Louis wishes he could. He settles instead for trying to comfort Nellie, rubbing soothing circles against her back, all the while watching the people on deck stroll about as if they haven’t a care in the world.

Still, he can see the fear in more than a few pairs of eyes: a dawning realisation that maybe, just maybe, there’s critical information they’re not being given.

It might have something to do with way the ship is listing, or perhaps it’s the sight of their fellow passengers being coaxed into the waiting lifeboats by the ship’s officers. Cries of ‘women and children, please! Women and children!’ join the noises in the air.

“Why isn’t anyone going?” Nellie asks, her voice thick with fear, though she speaks loudly to be heard over the funnels. She watches an officer pleading with a woman to get into a boat, the lady turning up her nose. “Don’t they understand what’s happening?”

Louis shakes his head. “I genuinely believe they don’t. You didn’t, until we told you what we’ve seen.” He closes his eyes for a moment, but the image of water filling the lower decks, washing through corridors and staterooms, swallowing up anyone in its path, has him tearing them open again with a gasp.

“Louis?” Harry’s eyes are concerned as he takes one hand off of Gemma to squeeze Louis’ shoulder. “Lou, what’s the matter?”

“They’re still down there,” Louis cries, tears springing to his eyes. “Horan and Lucas, and Malik, and Mr Payne. They’re all still below.” He shakes his head, trying to chase away the image of their cabin underwater, his bunk mates still tucked into their beds. “I have to go find them, Harry.”

“No,” Harry asserts with a firm shake of his head. “Louis, you saw the water. Who knows how high it’s gotten?” A shiver runs through Harry’s body, and Louis gets the feeling it isn’t due to the cold. “The crew will get everyone out. We just have to wait.”

He can see that Harry truly believes what he’s saying, that the stewards will bring everyone upstairs and see them safely bundled into the boats. Perhaps if Louis had lived a life like Harry’s, one that allowed such optimism, he’d believe it too.

But he hasn’t. He’s seen people lose everything, seen them die in the streets. He’s lost friends to accidents in factories and mills, seen the poor punished so the rich could flourish.

There’s a reason that the deck is nearly absent of Third Class passengers. Hell, if Louis hadn’t known the way upstairs, he might still be with them, trapped and scared and waiting for a rescue that may never come.

“I won’t let them die,” Louis replies, swiping at his eyes. “I wouldn’t be able to live with myself.”

“I don’t want to live without you,” Harry says, letting his hand fall to brush against Louis’, however briefly. “Please, give it a little longer, all right? If they aren’t here soon, we’ll go and find them. I promise.”

Shoulders sagging, Louis reluctantly nods.

Their group is silent after that, clinging to each other as they watch the scene playing out before them. The lively strains of “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” fill the air as the band plays, the lifebelts fastened atop their tuxedo jackets not hindering their performance. It’s meant to be reassuring, Louis is sure, but instead it reaffirms the fact that something is dreadfully wrong.

It’s nearing one in the morning by the time the first boat is lowered, dropping the twenty-some metres to the sea below in fits and starts. There can’t be more than a couple dozen people on board. Louis’ breath catches in his lungs, his eyes sweeping the side of the ship to count the lifeboats. No, it can’t be.

“Harry,” he croaks, his voice hoarse from the combination of cold and terror. “How many lifeboats are there?”

Harry tilts his head, thinking. “I think there are twenty or so. Why?”

Twenty. Twenty lifeboats. Not nearly enough. He turns to face Harry and the girls, all looking at him with the same large eyes. “The boat that just left had fewer than thirty people in it,” he says, his voice trembling. “I’m not much for maths, but even I know that isn’t enough.”

It’s clear the instant Harry catches on, his face blanching as he figures the numbers in his head. “Good God Almighty,” he breathes.

Just then a rocket explodes overhead, trails of white light streaking across the sky and illuminating the upturned faces below. A child claps at the sight, delighted by the burst of light, but the sombre looks on his parents’ faces shows the display for what it truly is: a distress signal.

“Someone will come and save us, won’t they?” Gemma almost whispers. She’s been so quiet, so unlike the vibrant woman Louis met days ago.

Harry doesn’t answer. Perhaps he can’t. His mouth, usually so wide and lovely, is pressed into a tight line as he watches the last wisps of smoke dissipate in the sky.

“Come on,” Louis says gently, placing a hand on the man’s back. “We’d better see about getting Gemma and Nellie to a boat.”

Two of the boats on the starboard side have already launched, the second only slightly fuller than the first. A third is being loaded, only a few women in the seats when they approach. The officer in charge of loading, a man with a wide nose and thick moustache, is calling in vain for more women and children.

A man helps his wife into the boat, tucking a fur coat around her and kissing her before stepping back. Goodbye, Louis thinks, watching the man join a group of other husbands staying behind. People are saying goodbye.

“Come now, Miss! Into the boat!” The officer beckons at Gemma, looking to Harry for help convincing her to board.

Harry tries to guide her forward, but she pulls out of his grasp. “Harry, I can’t,” she says, whirling on him with frightened eyes. “I can’t leave you, I’ll be all alone.”

Harry smiles down at her, tucking an escaped lock of hair behind her ear. “Louis and I are going to wait our turn. We’ll be fine, you’ll see.” His smile is soft and easy, but his eyes hold the same fear that hers do. Louis has to look away, too overcome at the sight of the siblings saying their farewells.

Warm arms suddenly encase him, Gemma pulling him into a hug. “Take care of him, I beg you,” Gemma whispers, a tear sliding down her cheek to land on Louis’ shoulder.

“I’ll do my best,” Louis whispers back, barely able to form words around the lump in his throat.

With a nod, Gemma releases him, embracing Harry one last time before she allows the officer to help her into the boat. Nellie follows, taking Gemma’s hand once she’s seated next to another equally fearful young woman waiting to be lowered to the sea.

Harry and Louis step back with the other men, watching more women take their seats. There are only ten or so in the boat, along with a few children. The few women standing nearby cling to their husbands, refusing to leave them despite the officer’s encouragement.

With no more women stepping forward, a few couples are allowed to board together, along with some male members of the crew. One man even has a small dog clutched in his arms as if it were an infant. Louis wants so badly to push Harry forward now that other men are boarding, to demand he get into the boat with his sister. He glances sideways at the curly haired man, his jaw set in determination, eyes blank as he stares straight ahead of him. No, Harry’s already accepted that he’s staying behind.

With me, Louis’ brain whispers to him. Because of me. Fresh guilt churns unpleasantly in his gut at the thought.

“Room for a few more, gents,” the officer says quietly to the men standing closest to the boat.

Gemma must hear because her eyes go round, fixing on Harry with desperation. “Please,” she mouths, hands clenched at her chest. “Please, Harry.” He sees Harry tense beside him, shaking his head sadly in a silent refusal as Gemma begins weeping all over again, curling to cry into Nellie’s shoulder.

“Harry, go,” Louis urges, nudging Harry with his shoulder. “Your sister needs you.”

“I need you,” Harry argues, turning to face Louis. “I’m not leaving you, Louis.”

Frustrated, Louis scrubs a hand over his face, fingertips trailing through tears he hadn’t realised he’d shed. “I’ll get in another boat, I promise,” he insists. “I’m going to go find the boys, and then we’ll all get in one together.” He nods at Gemma’s boat, not even half full. “They’re letting men go, see? I’ll get in one, you’ll see.” He reaches for Harry’s hand, giving it a gentle squeeze. “Keep Gemma safe. I’ll find you once we’re rescued.”

Doubt fills Harry’s eyes, but he finally nods, throat working as he swallows. “Promise you’ll be safe,” he rasps, staring at Louis with such intensity it makes the shorter man shiver.

“I promise,” Louis whispers back. “I’ve got to get your grandfather’s watch back to you, haven’t I?”

They both share a chuckle at that, though it’s forced and short-lived. It’s all they have time for, though, as the officers are making final preparations to the lifeboat before launching it.

Louis keeps his hand on Harry’s back, guiding him to the rail and holding his arm as he climbs clumsily into the boat. Once on board, he looks back at Louis with sorrowful green eyes, the mere sight of them enough to fracture Louis’ heart.

“I will see you again,” Louis vows, bringing a hand up to wave farewell.

Before he can so much as take a step back, Harry surges forward, holding Louis close and pressing their lips together, right there in front of everyone. It’s a promise and a prayer, words passing silently between their mouths until a rough hand fists in Louis’ shirt, jerking them apart. “I love you, Harry!” he shouts, not caring who hears, not when it may be the last time he ever gets to say it.

“I love you too, Louis,” Harry sobs, clinging to his sister, ignoring the disgusted and curious stares of everyone in the boat.

And then the boat is lowering, slowly and unevenly, the fresh paint of the pulley catching on the lines as it goes, and Louis doesn’t look away until the falls go slack.

It’s only then he notices that someone still has a tight grip on him. It could be the captain himself here to lock Louis away for indecency for all he cares. He got to say goodbye to Harry, and that’s what matters. He turns to face the person holding onto him, the resignation on his face quickly shifting into anger. “You.”

Charles Styles is stood there, a lifebelt fastened over his dinner jacket. Even out here in the open air, he still reeks of cigar smoke. “That was quite a display, Mr Tomlinson,” he spits, releasing Louis’ shirt to grab his arm instead, fingers digging into the meat of Louis’ bicep. “I’m sure the officers would love to hear what you’ve been getting up to.”

With a snarl, Louis rips his arm from Charles’ grasp, sending the man stumbling back a step in surprise. “If you hadn’t noticed,” Louis seethes, “this ship is bloody well sinking. I just made sure that your niece and nephew will live, no thanks to you.”

Charles’ face is puce with anger, furious at being spoken to by someone he deems so far beneath him. He takes a step closer to Louis, lips curled into a snarl. “I don’t care what is happening. I will not be spoken to this way by a disgrace such as yourself. It’s good you didn’t follow my nephew into that boat; I would have had you arrested the minute we reached New York.”

“This isn’t the time, Charles!” Louis shouts back, clenching his fists tightly as he yells at the infuriating man before him, the volume of his voice drawing more than a few curious stares. “Can’t you see? It doesn’t matter who your nephew kisses. The fact of the matter is there aren’t enough lifeboats to save everyone, so if you don’t get a move on then you’ll never reach New York!” There are a few cries of shock from the people nearby at that information, but Louis doesn’t care, instead focusing solely on Charles. He may be terrible, but at the end of the day he’s Harry’s family. He doesn’t deserve to die like this.

Then again, none of them do.

Charles face has paled, beady little eyes flicking along the deck as if he’s checking for himself. There are only six boats left on the starboard side, and one is preparing to launch any minute. He turns back to Louis, nodding stiffly before turning and disappearing into the thickening crowd.

Another rocket exploding in the sky sends Louis into action, fighting against the throng coming up the stairs to get back down below. He takes the route Liam taught him, relieved to find the stairs still dry beneath his feet. He hits the landing running, grasping the handle of the door and pushing hard.

Only it doesn’t budge. The handle stays still, apparently locked. With a strangled cry, Louis pounds his fists against the door, kicking at it once his fists hurt too badly to continue, but the door doesn’t even shudder in its frame. With one final kick, Louis dashes back up the stairs, veering away from his usual path to the one he took that first trip into First Class.

Luckily, the door between First and Second Class is open. Louis breathes a sigh of relief as he hurries through past the Second Class library, finding himself once more on the Third Class Promenade just beyond.

There are so many people, seemingly oblivious to what’s happening. Some are clutching their luggage, too afraid to leave what few possessions they have in the world, while others chatter loudly in languages Louis can’t begin to decipher. He has to wonder if they have any idea what’s happening at all.

His friends are nowhere to be seen, however. “Get to the boat deck!” he yells, shouldering through the crowd on his way to the stairs. “All of you, now!” He doesn’t stay to see if they listen. He can’t—he has to find the others.

His feet seem to have trouble staying put on the stairs, and several times Louis has to grab at the wall to keep from pitching forward. The angle is slight, not enough to notice on level ground, but now seems rather dire indeed.

By the time he reaches E Deck, his legs are aching, lungs burning from how quickly they are are working. The corridor is filled with people now, some dragging luggage away from the listing bow, others standing helplessly by as if they’re waiting for someone to tell them what to do.

Just as he’s about to head down the long companionway toward his cabin, a familiar voice reaches his ears, the sound flooding his veins with relief: “Tommo!”

Sure enough, Niall Horan is standing there in the midst of the excitement like the eye of a storm. He’s still wearing his pyjamas, a lifebelt haphazardly slung over the top, his hand wrapped tightly around the arm of a young boy wearing a straw hat.

“Horan!” Louis cries, elated at finding the Irishman and hurrying to his side. He leans in close, not wanting to alarm the child already gazing up at him with wide, frightened eyes. “The ship is sinking, Horan, you have to get to the lifeboats.”

Niall rakes a free hand through his messy brown hair, looking so tired all of a sudden. “I know,” he says softly, shoulders sagging. The weakness only lasts for a moment before he straightens back up, mouth curving into a crooked smile. “I’ve got to see to my friend William here first, haven’t I?” He directs the question to the child, the boy looking up shyly at the mention of his name. He can’t be older than nine or ten, just a bit younger than Louis’ youngest sisters. Louis’ heart gives a painful clench as he looks down at William, his round face and big blue eyes reminiscent of two little girls back home who might never see their brother again.

How many children are on the ship? How many are clinging to their parents, hiding in their mothers’ skirts, waiting for a fate they can’t begin to understand?

Louis knows he can’t save them all. But by God, he can save this one.

Squaring his shoulders, Louis looks back at Niall with newfound determination. “Tell me what I can do to help, and I’ll show you the way upstairs.”

It’s slow and frantic work, convincing passengers to leave their warm cabins and venture into unknown territory. They come across a steward, desperately trying to convince a passenger in broken French that the ship is in peril, but the man storms off toward the sinking bow.

When they have a group of twenty or so, including William’s mother with another small boy balanced on her hip, Louis leads them to the aft stairwell leading up to First Class. Niall listens carefully to the instructions, parroting them back, and with a final embrace he leads his charges up the ever-tilting stairs.

“You’d better go too, sir,” a steward says, just before taking to the stairs with his own group of frightened passengers following behind like chicks after a mother hen.

Louis offers a wan smile, nodding back down the long hallway he’s heard the crew call Scotland Road. “Just one more sweep and I’ll be right along,” he lies.

The steward stares at him for a moment before nodding and wishing him luck, disappearing into the stairwell without a backward glance.

Taking a deep breath, Louis turns and dashes down the corridor to his former cabin. He still hasn’t found Zayn or Stan, or Liam for that matter. Hopefully they’ve already made their way to the Boat Deck, waiting their turn for a seat. His thoughts turn to Harry, then, out on the vast and open sea. What must it look like from out there? Can they see how much the lower the great ship is sitting in the water? Or does she seem as steadfast as ever, lights still brightly burning even as the distress signals paint white streaks across the sky?

A sob swells in Louis’ chest when he finds their cabin empty, bedclothes tossed carelessly aside as if the inhabitants left in a rush. Louis grabs his overcoat, tugging it on as best as he can over the bulky lifebelt. With one last glance at the room, Louis pulls the door shut behind him and sets off once more.

It might be minutes or hours that Louis searches. Time is a blur of scared faces and rising water, of crying children and tearful prayers. In the Third Class Dining Saloon, he finds dozens of people clutching each other, crying out for God to help them even as the room slowly floods. They don’t seem to hear him as he pleads for them to follow him to safety. Openly weeping, he turns his back on them, leaving them to make their peace with their God.

The floors are obviously slanting now, more wet than dry, and it’s with a heavy heart that Louis takes to the stairs for a final time. He’s done his best to look for Zayn and Stan below decks, but he promised Harry they would see each other again, and he’s going to do his best to keep that vow. His lips tingle at the memory of their kiss goodbye, and it’s enough to stop the tears as he emerges back into the icy Atlantic air.

It’s a very different Boat Deck than the one he last saw. Panic has set in as the number of lifeboats dwindle, men rushing the boats, some leaping over the railings to land in ones being lowered. The deck is slanting sharply, yet still the band plays on outside of the Gymnasium. One of the collapsible lifeboats has been attached to the davits, its canvas sides tugged into position to prepare it for boarding, the only boat left on this side of the ship. As Louis wanders along the deck, checking every face for one he might recognise, it hits him just how many people are still on board. How many boats are left on the port side? One? Two? Perhaps none at all. There are men struggling to free two more collapsibles from where they’re tethered above the officers’ quarters, but the boats seem too heavy to move. Just beyond them, near the stern, a priest is hearing confession from the passengers gathered nearby.

To Louis, it feels like a dream. The sky is clear and laden with stars, the sea so still it could be made of glass. The joyful tune the band is playing mixes with the prayers and the cries, the creaking of lowering lifeboats and the muted conversations of men putting on a brave face. He feels as though he’s floating along the deck, barely aware of his feet touching the ground as he moves, no longer paying any mind to the chill of the water that had soaked into his shoes during his fruitless search below decks.

Maybe it is a dream. Maybe he’ll wake up back home in his bed, his only worry how to soothe a frightened sister back to sleep, Harry but a lovely and unattainable figment of his imagination. It’s better that way, he thinks. He would give up ever meeting Harry at all if it meant the other man was somewhere warm and safe, far away from the unfathomable sight of hundreds of people sinking into the sea, the grandest ship in the world slipping out from under them as if she never existed at all.

The sharp sound of a gun being fired pulls Louis back to reality. This isn’t a dream—he’s still on that sinking ship, and desperation has lit among the remaining passengers like wildfire.

With a quick sweep of the deck, Louis finds the source of the commotion. The collapsible lifeboat, finally ready for boarding, is being swamped by a large group of passengers, pulling at one another and striking out for a chance to claim a spot in the boat. Two men who managed to leap aboard are dragged roughly back on deck and, warily eyeing the officer with the revolver, the mob eases back enough to allow the boat to be loaded with some semblance of order.

A glance at Harry’s watch, still nestled safely in Louis’ pocket, shows a time of two in the morning when the collapsible is lowered to the water below. It scrapes and bumps along the ship as it goes, the Titanic listing heavily to port. With it gone, there’s only one boat left—a collapsible on the port side—and as he looks around at how many people are still stood on the tilting deck, Louis knows he won’t be getting in it.

Crew members surround the last remaining boat, arms linked to form a barrier. Only women and children are allowed to pass through, and it seems the men know better than to even try. One man comes forward with two small boys, one clasping either hand, and passes them through the ring before hurrying away.

One after another, couples are parted. Men kiss their wives and children before sending them to the boat, women clutching babies to their breasts duck underneath the barricade of arms. Then an officer calls out, “lower away,” and the lifeboat is gone.

The night itself seems to choke after the boat departs, a blend of desperation and quiet acceptance rising over the foundering ship like a macabre cloud. Louis feels numb as he looks at the people around him, knowing these could well be their last moments on Earth. Still, he hasn’t given up, and plenty of the others haven’t either.

The men on top of the officers’ quarters let out a cheer as they finally slide one of the collapsible boats stored there down a makeshift ramp, a glimmer of hope that that many more people can be saved. There’s a rush to get it hooked to the falls of the closest davit, but the sound of the other collapsible boat crashing to the deck momentarily draws everyone’s attention.

Louis’ heart sinks when he realises the boat landed upside down.

The men jump down and put all their weight into trying to right it, and Louis rushes forward to help without a second thought. He uses all the strength he can muster trying to push the boat, one of the officers counting down to each new attempt.

It’s no use; despite their best efforts, the men are no match for the several ton lifeboat. Tears of frustration fill Louis’ eyes when he thinks of all the boats already out on the open sea, boats with empty seats that could have been filled with at least some of the men and women fighting their way to the stern against the ever-sharper angle of the deck. There’s a small girl clinging to her mother’s skirts, eyes wide and fearful in the face of a terror she can’t begin to understand, and Louis thinks he might be physically sick at the thought of her dying so young, so cruelly.

He doesn’t have long to think, because the great ship bucks beneath his feet, groans and crashes coming from her skeleton like a thousand breaking bones. The bridge is underwater now, and everyone left on deck is scrambling to the safety of the stern, rising high out of the water as if it’s determined to get them halfway to their maker before they meet their bitter end, like God Himself might reach down and scoop them from the decks before they have to face the icy water threatening to swallow them up.

More and more of the bow dips beneath the sea, black and threatening. An eerie red glow shines from beneath the surface as the lights begin to fail. Exhausted from trying to right the overturned boat, Louis stumbles to his feet, an ache in his shoulder from the unrelenting hull of the collapsible. Time seems to slow to a syrupy crawl as he staggers to the railing, blood pounding in his ears nearly drowning out the sound of the tirelessly playing band.

Without warning, a great wave rushes over the deck, sweeping everyone in its path into the icy Atlantic. The upside down boat washes over the side, along with the men still struggling with it. The other boat, never properly attached to the falls, is gone as well. With a final burst of energy, Louis uses the railing to pull himself toward the stern, but he’s not quick enough to avoid the bone-chilling current of water that knocks his feet out from beneath him.

He goes down hard, knees hitting the deck with enough force to make his jaw snap shut as he clings to the rail. Everywhere the water soaks through his clothes feels like a thousand needles stabbing into his flesh, the cold penetrating to his very core. It’s a horrifying glimpse of the inevitable, he realises. Even those who managed to avoid the wave by clinging to the stern are only postponing their fate.

It’s so tempting to give up, to let go of the railing and slide quietly into the sea. What does it feel like to freeze to death? he wonders to himself, shivering uncontrollably. Or will I drown first?

Harry’s face floods his thoughts, clear green eyes and a dimpled smile washing over him like a little burst of warmth. It’s just enough to snap Louis out of his gruesome thoughts. He promised Harry he’d stay safe, and he is damn well going to try until the bitter end. With newfound determination he staggers to his feet, standing as best he can on legs trembling from the cold.

All around him people are praying and crying, a fair few leaping into the sea before the ship drags them down with it. He’s a decent enough swimmer, and maybe he can stay afloat long enough to be rescued. It’s worth trying for, in any case. Harry is worth trying for.

Louis pushes himself away from the railing, trying to keep his footing on the uneven deck. One last glance up at the starry night sky. One last whispered farewell to his mother, to Harry. There isn’t time for anything else. He’s made his peace, but now it’s time to fight for his life.

He takes a deep breath, and then he jumps.

✯✯✯

It doesn’t seem real, is the thing.

It’s almost as if Harry’s watching a film, only this one has sound and is in full colour. Surely this is too terrible a moment to exist in anything other than fiction, isn’t it?

Except it’s all happening. He’s actually in a lifeboat, the seat cold and hard underneath him, his fellow passengers shivering intermittently all around. The Titanic is truly sinking right before his eyes, her stern tilting higher into the air even as the bow disappears beneath the waterline. Louis is almost certainly still on board.

From here, it’s evident to see that the ship is in peril. The details they’d been able to ignore from the safety of the deck are quite startling when seen from afar. No one had taken the collision seriously, but now—now it’s quite clear how truly wrong they’d all been.

Not Louis, though. Louis was worried from the first sign of trouble. Somehow he knew that things were going to get bad. That must be why he fought so hard to get Harry into a lifeboat, even knowing he’d be left behind.

Gemma must feel the sobs wracking his body, wrapping an arm around her younger brother and drawing him close. He allows himself to burrow into the warmth of her body, burying his face in her heavy fur coat. His own great coat still hangs in his stateroom, never to be worn again.

Not just his coat, either. No one will ever ascend the Great Staircase, marveling at the dome overhead like some sort of glimpse into Heaven. The places he and Louis touched will be forever theirs, never to be disturbed by another human, doomed to become a curiosity for whatever creatures dwell at the bottom of the sea.

And Louis… Well. There were other boats left, weren’t there? Surely Louis found his friends and they’re all huddled together in a lifeboat of their own, rowing ever closer to Harry. He has to believe that, in any case, because the alternative is far too terrible to think about.

He’s roused from the safety of Gemma’s arms by a collective gasp from the others in the lifeboat. Pulling his face away from the warmth of her coat, now damp with his tears, he turns his face back to the ship only to have the very blood freeze in his veins.

The Titanic is tilting dangerously out of the water. People hang on to the railing of the stern in clumps, while others fall singly or in pairs into the sea. The lights have gone a sickening red colour, as if blood from the victims themselves is staining every window and lantern. How many people managed to escape? How many more are still clinging to hope, waiting for a rescue that will never come in time?

There’s a loud cracking sound as the forward funnel collapses, breaking free of its stays and plunging into the water atop a mass of swimmers. The women sitting around Harry are openly weeping now, calling for their husbands and sons. The Pekinese whimpers in his master’s arms, agitated by the distress of everyone around him as the little boat is tossed about by the wave created when the funnel fell.

It’s without warning when the lights go out, spilling darkness across the ocean. The great ship blots out the stars like a stain on the sky as she rises higher and higher, the black shadows of one passenger after another tumbling down her sides and into the freezing ocean. There’s a new sound now, a low, steady groan emanating from deep within the ship as she seems to rotate her deck away from them. Then, with one final roar, she slips quietly beneath the sea as if she was never there at all, leaving behind only terror in her wake.

The sound. Harry will never forget the sound for as long as he lives, the synchronised agony of a thousand souls crying out for help. From this distance words aren’t distinguishable, blending together instead into a heart wrenching moan, calling for help and for God.

The passengers in the lifeboat weep for their loved ones, mothers clutching their children, lone women holding each other, trying to come to terms with the possibility of becoming widows in the blink of an eye. Watching them, Harry is overcome with guilt and grief: the former for taking a spot in a lifeboat that could have belonged to someone else, and the latter because he can feel it in his gut that Louis didn’t keep his word.

“I should have stayed with him,” he whispers, unable to tear his eyes away from the field of debris and swimmers, some oddly still yet kept floating by their lifebelts.

“Don’t be silly, Harry,” Gemma manages to choke out, her voice thick with tears.

He shakes his head fervently, tossing his messy curls. “No, I should have. Why should I be here when so many men stayed behind? What makes my life worth more than theirs?” He doesn’t have to glance up to know that some of the women around agree—why was this man spared when their husbands weren’t?

“You’re here because someone was willing to do anything to make sure you were safe,” Gemma soothes, hugging him tightly. “No one else was getting in the boat, Harry. We left so early; no one could have fathomed it would end like this.”

Deep down, he knows she’s right. He was the last to board, and the boat would have gone with or without him in it. Even now, there’s still room for a few dozen more passengers. Still, his heart feels so heavy it might as well have gone done with the Titanic herself.

Eventually the cries fade away, people in the water succumbing to the cold until there’s a lone voice left, and then he, too, falls silent. The quiet in the air presses down on those in the lifeboats, filling their lungs like a syrup as the unforgiving reality settles in.

They’re all alone on the open sea, and no one knows for certain when a rescue might come. There’s no food in the boat, no water other than the cold ocean water pooling in the bottom. They haven’t even got a lantern, and it’s a long while until morning.

The ladies aboard bicker with each other over trivial things, their minds trying desperately to avoid thinking of the fates of their loved ones. Each still holds in her heart a beacon of hope that her husband was somehow spared.

Harry leans into his sister, staring up at the stars littering the sky, bright and cheery despite the adversity below. There are so many, stretching from horizon to horizon, even more reflected in the glittering surface of the black sea.

“Gems,” Harry murmurs, eyes tracing the firmament, alighting on star after star after star.

“Hmm?”

“D’you remember what Mother told us? Just after Grandfather died?”

“Of course I do.” Gemma shifts beside him, careful not to dislodge Nellie from her shoulder as she turns to regard her sibling with a sad smile. “She told us that when you die, your soul becomes a star in the sky, and that, should we ever miss him, all we’d need to do is look up.”

Remembering the day Anne told them that, hearing her voice even in his memory, has Harry’s lips curving into a hint of a smile for the first time in hours. “Yes, that’s it.”

She reaches for his hand, squeezing it tightly in her own. “What brought that on?” she asks curiously, stroking over the back of his hand, the flimsy fabric of her gloves doing little to combat the cold.

He sags against her, still straining to look at every single star above them. “I was just thinking. The sky gained a lot of new stars tonight, is all.” His breath catches in his throat. “I wonder which one is Louis’.”

Gemma doesn’t respond, just holds him closer as he cries, letting the tears come until they freeze on his cheeks and it hurts too much to let any more fall.

It’s the longest night of Harry’s life.

Hours pass slowly, as if even time is affected by the frigid temperature. The ladies stop bickering; the dog stops barking; the children sleep as best as they’re able against their mothers’ bodies. A resigned calm befalls them as each tries to process the events of those early morning hours. This time last night they were all safe and warm in bed, busy worrying about appointments at the squash court and what to wear to breakfast—and now they’re adrift on the open sea, cold and anxious, not knowing if their loved ones are alive or dead.

Now and again someone in the boat spots a light and the oars are snatched up, the men aboard rowing desperately toward rescue. Instead it’s a lifeboat fortunate enough to have a lantern, or, more than once, someone’s desperately wishful eyes playing tricks on them.

“What time is it?” one woman asks quietly, her face pale and drawn behind the collar of her coat. “How much longer until morning?”

One of the firemen who had boarded the boat pulls out a pocket watch, and Harry’s heart clenches painfully at the sight. “Almost half three,” the man replies, tucking the watch away.

That means it’s only been a few hours since he last saw Louis, since they last spoke, since they kissed there on the deck in front of God and all the passengers. It seems like so much longer, yet if Harry closes his eyes he can still feel the gentle drag of Louis’ lips on his, taste a trace of him on his tongue, describe the exact blue of Louis’ eyes the first time he told Harry he loved him.

He catalogues each taste and touch, every curve and line, the smiles and the tears. If Louis is gone, doomed to live on only in Harry’s memory, then Harry will make sure he never truly dies.

“Look there!” one of the other firemen calls, pointing off in the distance. “That’s a light, innit?”

Glimpses of Louis slip away like smoke as he strains to look where the man is pointing. Sure enough, a light is visible in the distance, far away but real nonetheless.

“I see it!” a young boy announces, bouncing in his seat. Several other voices chime in, all saying the same thing.

“What are we waiting for, gents?” The seaman in charge of the boat says, gesturing to the oars as he takes hold of the rudder. “Let’s row!”

Renewed determination sweeps the boat, and slowly but surely they glide through the water toward the distant light. No man among them is proficient on the oars, but they manage to work together well enough to push the boat along. They move toward the light as it approaches them like some sort of beacon, as if they’re rowing toward their Salvation after too long in the dark.

Harry supposes that’s exactly what they’re doing.

With no light on board, the other passengers set fire to anything they can get their hands on, menus and stationery tucked into coat pockets, handkerchiefs and even one woman’s glove. They wave their makeshift torches, calling out until their voices are all but gone, never stopping rowing.

It’s worth it when there, in the first pink blush of dawn, they see it. It’s a ship, and it’s coming straight for them, a floating symbol of hope as it cuts through the icy water. There’s still enough distance between them that rescue is a few hours off, but it’s coming. The end of this whole ghastly ordeal is in sight, and that, for now, is enough to let Harry finally drift off into an exhausted sleep against Gemma’s shoulder.

Rescue finally comes at 7:30 AM. Their little boat bobs dangerously alongside the new ship, the Carpathia, her single funnel trailing a great cloud of smoke, masts reaching high into the sky like hands of praise. Several other boats have already been emptied and hauled aboard, a rope ladder dangling precariously down the ship’s massive hull. As the boat before theirs is emptied, Harry checks every face for the one he most desires, but each head of hair is the wrong shade of brown, and the eyes are only playing at being blue.

When it comes their turn, the children are sent up first in a mail sack attached to a length of rope. Those able to climb take to the rope ladder, and the rest are helped into a sling and hauled up that way. The ladder twists and sways under Harry’s weight, his limbs trembling with each step, but Gemma urges him on from above, and he finally reaches the railing, several pairs of hands grasping at him to pull him aboard.

It’s strange, at first, to have something solid under his feet again, and Harry nearly falls when he tries to take a step. He’s caught before he hits the deck, graciously thanking the stewards and stewardesses waiting to see to each new arrival as they wrap him in a thick blanket.

“What’s your name and designation, sir?” a uniformed man asks, notebook at the ready. Several lines of the page are already filled with his cramped writing, a list of all the survivors. Harry wants so badly to ask to look for Louis’ name.

“Harry Styles, First Class,” Harry manages, his voice a strained rasp from a night of cold and calling for help.

The man raises an eyebrow at Harry’s clothing but doesn’t argue, just jots his name down before turning to the man with the Pekinese.

“C’mon, dears, let’s get you warmed up,” a stewardess with a round face suggests, gently taking Harry’s arm, her other hand on Gemma’s back. Too tired and cold to protest, Harry lets himself be lead into the Carpathia ’s First Class Dining Saloon.

The room is already filled with other survivors, wrapped in blankets and borrowed cloaks, sipping from steaming mugs to ease their shivering. A doctor checks over those worse for the wear, bundled onto makeshift cots around the room. They’re all First Class, Harry realises, catching sight of a few familiar faces. Even in rescue they’ve been segregated. How long will it be before he learns of Louis’ fate?

“Over here, dear,” the stewardess urges, guiding Harry to a cot. He feels numb as sits down on the little bed, gratefully accepting the hot mug she eases into his shaking hands. The warmth seeps into his skin through the china, though it barely touches the cold settled deep inside his bones.

“Thank you,” he rasps, taking a cautious sip. The coffee is bitter and strong, but the heat that floods his mouth and throat makes the taste of little consequence. He sighs, releasing some of the tension he’s been holding so tightly, and glances up to meet the stewardess’ kind eyes.

She’s older, old enough to be Harry’s mother, with wispy greying hair and fine lines ringing the fragile smile on her face. “Do you know if there’s been a Tomlinson brought on board? Louis Tomlinson?” Harry asks hopefully, searching her face for any reaction to the name. “He’d be in Third Class.”

The stewardess shakes her head. “I’m afraid I haven’t heard that one yet. I’ll keep my ears open for you, though.” She gives him a gentle pat on the shoulder, regarding him with sympathetic eyes before moving on to other survivors.

The rest of Harry’s coffee grows cold in his cup while he waits—for what, he doesn’t know.

In the meantime, the passengers of the Carpathia are nothing if not hospitable.

Space is made in their staterooms to accommodate as many survivors as they’re able. Men and women hand over clothing and toiletries to complete strangers, anything to make them as comfortable as possible. It’s incredibly kind, and selfless, and frankly Harry finds it all a bit cloying.

Because it’s a reminder, isn’t it? They’re damaged, broken somehow, and now they must be treated with the utmost care lest they shatter.

Warm and dry, the piece of toast he consented to eat sitting uneasily in his gut, Harry decides he needs some fresh air. The sun is fully up now, beaming down on them as if it’s blissfully unaware of the horror that occurred while its back was turned. The sky is clear; the ocean is calm. In any other circumstance, it would be a perfect day at sea.

Harry’s found a spot against the railing to lean, watching the water shy away from the ship in ripples. He knows that the captain of the Carpathia held a prayer service when they passed over the spot where the Titanic sank, but he didn’t attend. It felt too final, somehow, as if bowing his head in Louis’ memory would seal his fate once and for all.

Now, though, it seems foolish to keep hoping. No one could have survived for this long in the frigid water, and surely if Louis is on board then he would have found his way to Harry by now.

With the exception of Gemma and Nellie, he hasn’t happened upon too many familiar faces. His uncle is nowhere to be seen, and despite Harry’s distaste for the man, he still would never wish him dead. He wonders about the Marvins, if they found their way into a boat together, if they made it to a boat at all. Harry pictures their table in the Dining Saloon, deep under the crushing weight of the ocean. How many places would be set in their watery grave?

Try as he might to remain optimistic, he can’t help but picture the Marvins and Louis chatting over plates piled high with food, even Charles joining in, his jowls shaking as he laughs at one of Louis’ jokes. Except, no sound comes out of their mouths, only bubbles, and Harry and Gemma’s seats are glaringly vacant.

“Mr Styles?” A voice interrupts his thoughts, saving him from his morbid imagination. He turns toward the sound, expecting to perhaps see one of his uncle’s acquaintances, but instead he’s met with the countenance of Liam Payne.

“Mr Payne!” Harry cries, pulling Liam in and thumping him on the back. “I can’t tell you how happy I am you’re here.” That you’re alive, he adds silently.

Liam is dressed in a jumper and his uniform trousers, his usually carefully combed hair messy and falling over his forehead. He looks pale and tired, but he’s one less person that died, and that’s enough.

“You as well!” Liam replies, face contorting into the first genuine smile Harry’s seen all day. It’s almost, almost enough to have Harry smiling too.

Liam joins Harry at the railing and recounts his escape from the ship, of making sure every stateroom in his charge was empty before heading up to the deck. There he had found Niall and Zayn, stood with a group of Third Class passengers waiting to board a boat. When the officer loading the boat ordered him in as well, he took a seat and grabbed hold of an oar, their boat nearly landing on another as it was lowered to the water.

The news of Niall and Zayn’s survival has Harry’s heart leaping in his chest. Louis’ name hovers at his lips, the sound caught in his throat as he tries to work up the nerve to ask Liam if he has any news of the other man’s fate. Simultaneously too nervous and too hopeful, the query dies in his mouth, Liam breaking the silence to ask instead:

“And what of Mr Tomlinson?”

The question is so simple and innocent, Liam looking around with bright eyes as if he expects Louis to come bounding toward them at any moment. Harry’s heart is caught in limbo, sinking once he learns Liam has no knowledge of Louis’ whereabouts, yet buoyed by the fact that at least Liam can’t confirm his death.

Harry doesn’t reply, but the way his neck curves, head hanging forward as if it’s simply too great a weight to bear, must tell Liam all he needs to know.

“Oh,” the steward replies, letting out a soft sigh. “I rather hoped he was with you.”

“You haven’t heard anything, then?” Harry asks, lifting his gaze to meet Liam’s.

Liam shifts his weight from one foot to the other, looking anywhere other than Harry’s face. “I only know what Mr Horan has told me,” he replies carefully, refusing to say anything more even when Harry begins to plead. “It isn’t my story to tell,” Liam says firmly.

“Then take me to Horan,” Harry implores, grabbing hold of Liam’s arm.

Something in Liam’s eyes softens at Harry’s tone, and he dips his head in a small nod. “All right,” he agrees, his voice gentle. “You look the part enough that no one should give us any trouble, and it isn’t as if you’re against breaking a rule or two.” He’s smiling by the time he’s finished speaking, turning to gesture for Harry to follow him to where the Third Class passengers are being kept.

Niall and Zayn are seated side-by-side in the Third Class Smoking Room, darker shadows beneath their eyes than when Harry had last seen them. They sit quietly, Niall shuffling a deck of cards while Zayn smokes. The pair looks so tired, so downtrodden, but just the memory of that night spent in Third Class—all laughter and fun, Niall’s knowing glances and Zayn’s easy smile—is enough to lift Harry’s beaten spirit.

“Horan,” Harry chokes out, taking a wobbly step past Liam. “Malik.”

Two sets of eyes are on him in an instant, amber and azure, and smiles overwhelm their features as recognition strikes.

“Styles!” they chorus, leaping from their chairs to embrace him. There isn’t a dry eye amongst them when they part, even Liam mopping his cheeks as he looks on.

He’s pulled over to their table and pushed into a seat, Niall and Zayn doing the same on either side of him and Liam taking the chair across. “I’m so glad you made it,” Niall breathes, his words coming out on an exhale. “When I didn’t see ya on deck, I hoped you’d already found a spot in the boats.”

The cards lay forgotten on the table, and Harry pushes them around distractedly. “Lou– Tommo made sure I did,” he replies sadly. “He stayed behind. Said he had to come and find you.”

“And he did,” Niall says, causing Harry to shoot up in his seat. “It’s because of his help that dozens of people were saved. People who would have been trapped below deck without knowing where to go.” Niall’s eyes are shining, a proud grin stretching his cheeks. “Louis Tomlinson is a bloomin’ hero.”

Harry listens to Niall talk in rapt attention as he describes how Louis gathered as many passengers as he could, taking charge and giving them careful instruction on how to get upstairs. He’s so proud, above all, but it also means that Louis lived on past their tearful goodbye. Whether it was minutes or hours, he existed for that much longer, and it gives Harry a sense of peace.

“Horan found me when he brought the last group up to the Boat Deck,” Zayn explains. “Mr Payne here joined us shortly after, recognising us from seeing us with Tomlinson. I suppose you know the rest.”

Of course he does. Their stories all started in vastly different places, but ended the same way: an open sea, a small boat, and a deep set cold that feels as though it may linger for years to come.

But they’re alive, the four of them. Which… Harry sucks in a breath. “But where’s Lucas?”

No one meets his eyes as Harry glances from face to stony face. A shiver runs through Harry, something cold and bitter twisting in his gut.

Zayn speaks first, running a hand through his raven tresses. “We never found him,” he says sadly. “We got separated shortly after we learned what happened, and that’s the last any of us saw of him.”

None of them really know what to say after that. Harry retreats into his head, closing his eyes to better picture their last night on the ship.

It’s all too easy to remember the music, bright and joyful, lending its mood to everyone in the room. He hears Stan’s laughter, loud and raucous, joined with Louis’ slurred serenade and Zayn’s own quiet chuckles.

He sees Niall, looking at him with knowing eyes, making Harry promise to fulfill all of Louis’ dreams.

The tears roll down his face and Harry doesn’t try to stop them. Instead he allows himself to feel, to hurt, to mourn, with Niall’s hand on one shoulder and Zayn’s on the other, Liam leaning across the table to clutch Harry’s sleeve. They weep together, for Louis and for Stan and for everyone else who went into the water and never made it out.

Eventually a stewardess comes around with a tray of hot drinks, passing one to each man silently before slipping away. She doesn’t know what to say to them, and how could she? How do you even begin to understand what they’ve been through?

It’s not a proper toast, but it’s what they have to work with, so when Harry raises his mug high into the air, the others follow without hesitation. “To Stanley Lucas,” he murmurs, bringing the mug to his lips and taking a sip.

Niall holds his cup in the air for a moment longer, meeting Harry’s eyes as he finally lowers it. The Irishman doesn’t have to speak for Harry to know exactly what he’s thinking.

And to Louis Tomlinson.

It’s too painful to sit with the men for long, a constant reminder of those missing amongst them. So Harry finishes his coffee and makes his goodbyes, promising each in turn that he’ll stay in touch with them even when he isn’t sure he can.

Gemma is nowhere to be found when he returns to his own area of the liner, so he decides to go for a walk on the deck. There are children out playing, the children of the Carpathia gladly sharing their toys with their new playmates, laughing together as if nothing at all had happened. Harry wonders if he’ll ever get to that point. Right now it feels as if he will never muster a smile again.

“Mr Styles?”

A small, familiar voice, tinged with a Scottish accent, causes his footsteps to falter. Steadying himself, Harry turns to see who called out to him, only to see Mary Marvin standing there, a shawl around her shoulders, blonde curls framing her pale face.

“Mrs Marvin,” Harry remarks, genuinely glad to see the young woman who was always so kind to him at meals. “I’m very pleased to see you.”

She smiles, her cherubic cheeks flushing at the sentiment. “And I you, Mr Styles.” Her face grows more serious, eyes round and wide as she looks up at him. “Do tell me, is your sister safe? Your uncle?”

Harry sighs, offering his arm to Mary so they can walk as they catch up. She takes it, her eyes never leaving Harry’s face as they stroll.

“Gemma is around here someplace,” Harry says quietly, once they’ve fallen into step. “Though I fear my uncle didn’t survive.” It’s the first time he’s said as much out loud, and his stomach turns at the thought. Does his father know yet? Will he have a change of heart and want Harry and Gemma to return home? Would Harry want to go, if he did?

“I’m so sorry,” Mary whispers, pulling her shawl closer with her free hand. “And your young man? What of him?”

The question has Harry nearly tripping over his feet, sputtering and looking at the lady with wide eyes. “What do you mean?” he asks, somehow managing to get the words past the lump in his throat.

She titters. “Neither of you was terribly subtle at dinner, dear.” She pats his arm fondly. “Don’t worry, your secret is safe with me.”

Harry smiles at her gratefully before taking a deep breath. “I haven’t found him yet, if he did make it,” he admits, a frown pulling at his lips.

“Oh,” he hears Mary gasp beside him, turning to find tears flooding her cheeks. “It’s just, I rather hoped someone got a happy ending out of all this.”

The young woman brings her hands to her face as she cries, going easily when Harry guides her to a pair of deck chairs nearby.

“Did… Mr Marvin, then…” He can’t bring himself to put his question into words, but Mary understands regardless.

She smiles through her tears, weak and wobbly though it may be. “Put me in a lifeboat and kissed me goodbye. He said, ‘it's all right, little girl. You go. I will stay.’ And then he was gone.” She dabs at her eyes daintily.

Harry can feel his own cheeks grow damp as he watches her. She’s eighteen years old and already a widow. They had been on their honeymoon, for God’s sake. Wasn’t it bad enough that the tragedy took so many lives? Did it have to shatter the ones of those who managed to escape, as well?

They make small talk after that, both too weary and hurt to talk about anything of substance, until Mary excuses herself, promising to look for Gemma before they make landfall. She leaves Harry in his deck chair, staring out across the deck with unseeing eyes. Eventually, it all becomes too much, and he allows his mind to go blank, the rocking of the ship lulling him to sleep.

He doesn’t dream.

“Harry!”

The voice filters through his mind, garbled and faint, as if coming from underwater.

“Harry!” He tries to match the voice to a face. It’s Stanley Lucas. It’s Daniel Marvin. It’s Charles.

The voice sounds again, closer now, an amalgamation of every person he met on the Titanic, except for the one he yearns to hear the most. Because Louis is dead and gone, never to call for Harry ever again.

“Harry Styles!” His eyes snap open. Gemma is there, shaking him awake, her dark eyes glossy with tears.

At first comes panic, the fear that something else has gone wrong sending cold dread creeping through his veins.

But Gemma is smiling, tugging him up from his seat insistently. “Harry, please, you’ll want to see this.”

He blinks the last dregs of confusion away, standing without a word. Gemma immediately tugs him forward, nearly yanking his arm out of its socket in her vigour. She leads him through companionways and down staircases, never once stopping for a breath until they reach a door marked by a simple placard: ‘Hospital.’

“Go,” Gemma urges, shoving her brother closer to the door.

Eyebrow raised, Harry tries the handle and it turns easily. Just over the threshold is the same stewardess who met Harry when he first came aboard, this time no trace of melancholy in her eyes as she smiles at him. “Come on in, dear,” she coaxes, gesturing to a curtained area with her arm. “We don’t normally allow visitors, but he’s been asking for you.”

Every fibre of Harry’s being is alight as he takes slow, careful footsteps in the direction he was pointed. His heart is pounding as the hope in his chest awakens anew, even as his brain screams in the attempt to keep him in check.

With a deep breath, Harry tugs the curtain aside, and it’s all he can do to keep his knees from hitting the floor.

There, tucked into a hospital bed, is Louis.

He’s so pale, the warmth seemingly sucked out of his very skin, but his eyes are just as blue as Harry remembered, and they glow from within once they settle on his visitor.

“Harry,” Louis rasps, his voice sounding so terribly weak but familiar even still, and that’s what does Harry in.

He lurches forward with a gasp, sobbing as he reaches the side of the bed and clutches Louis’ hand in his own. Louis squeezes back despite how weak his grip seems, and Harry prays as hard as he can that this isn’t a dream, that he won’t wake up still on a deck chair in a world without Louis in it.

“But how?” Harry asks, once his sobs subside enough for him to speak. “How did you escape? And why did it take you so long to find me?”

He feels a hand on his shoulder as Gemma steps closer. “Harry, Louis needs his rest,” she says gently. “Why don’t we let him sleep while we go get something to eat?”

Harry’s eyes are wide and his expression manic as he turns to his sister. He’s about to protest, to swear he’s never leaving Louis’ side again, but the sound of Louis speaking makes him swallow his words.

“I’d really rather he stay,” Louis says quietly, running a thumb over the back of Harry’s trembling hand. “We’ve both spent far too much time having to leave the other.”

Gemma looks unsure, but the stewardess clears her throat from the gap in the curtain. “I’ve already spoken to the doctor, and Mr Tomlinson here is cleared to leave as soon as he gets something in his stomach and keeps it down,” she says. “If you’d like, I can go and fetch your meals for you.”

“That would be splendid, thank you,” Harry says, smiling gratefully at the woman, making a mental note to find out her name and write the Cunard line a glowing letter of praise for all she’s done for them.

“I’ll come along, if you don’t mind,” Gemma announces, patting Harry’s shoulder lightly before pulling away. “Give these two a bit of time to themselves."

The stewardess nods, a knowing smile on her lips, and then they’re gone and Harry and Louis are alone in their little curtained room, only the quiet sounds of the other patients to remind them anyone else is around.

✯✯✯

Seeing Harry again is like the first ray of spring sunlight after a long winter.

Even with bedraggled curls and rumpled clothes, dark smudges under each eye, Harry is still the most beautiful thing Louis has ever seen.

Just having him here, at his side, is enough to ease the pain, the terror, of the night before. Those large, clear green eyes, the same ones Louis fell for what seem like a lifetime ago, stare up at him in wonder, as if Harry can’t believe that Louis is right in front of him, tangible and every so dear.

“I’m so glad you’re alive,” Harry whispers, a tear tracking down his face. “I was certain I’d lost you.”

“I had a promise to keep, didn’t I?” Louis replies, thin lips curving into a smirk. Inside, though, his heart hurts at the thought of Harry feeling sad on his account. “I asked for you as soon as I could, love. I swear it.”

Harry nods, swiping at his cheeks with the sleeve of his shirt. He’s still wearing the clothes Louis dressed him in their last night on the Titanic. “Why couldn’t you find me any sooner? Everyone—Horan and Malik, Mr Payne—we all thought—”

“I know, love, I know, and I’m so sorry I put you through all that,” Louis whispers. “Let me tell you how I ended up here, all right? And then I want to hear all about the others.”

At Harry’s nod, Louis launches into the story of his survival. He describes his frantic search for his friends, at getting back to the Boat Deck to find nearly all the lifeboats gone and far too many passengers still on board. Harry winces when Louis talks of jumping into the sea from the deck of the sinking ship, the cold water feeling like thousands of needles pressing into his skin all at once.

“There was a collapsible lifeboat,” Louis continues, still stroking Harry’s hand as the younger man listens in rapt attention. “It was swept off the ship by a wave and was upside down in the water. We swam for it, any man who was able, though most were too weak to pull themselves on board.” He shivers at the memory of men clinging to the sides of the boat, holding tight until hypothermia set in and they froze to death. “We huddled together as the boat sunk lower and lower, until we were stood with water up to our ankles.” Louis takes a shuddery breath, the memory of the terrifying event nearly too much to bear.

“You can stop,” Harry insists, running a hand down Louis’ arm. “If it’s too much for you, I don’t need to hear any more.”

But Louis shakes his head. “Some men don’t have the luxury of telling their stories, Harry,” he says, smiling sadly. “How dare I mock their memory by hiding from mine?”

Harry regards him in awe before motioning him to continue, never releasing Louis’ hand as he listens. Louis tells him about how they stood in lines on the hull, trying to lean against the waves rocking their precarious vehicle of salvation. He tells of the men who, too tired and weak to continue, collapsed, sliding into the water without a sound.

“I was so tired, Harry,” Louis admits, his voice sounding too small for his body. “I was tired and I wanted to give up so badly, but knowing you were waiting for me kept me going.” He smiles at Harry, at the man who went from a stranger to his reason for living in only a matter of days, and the smile Harry gives in return leaves him breathless.

“Finally we were rescued by a group of lifeboats lashed together. They took us aboard, and I must have blacked out because that’s the last thing I remember. Next thing I knew, I was waking up here and asking for you.”

Realisation flashes across Harry’s face. “That’s why no one could find you,” he breathes, chest heaving from the deep breaths he’s taking. “You weren’t awake to give anyone your name.”

Louis nods. “When I did, the stewardess must have recognised it, because not long after Gemma was here to make sure it really was me before she gave you false hope.”

Harry’s silent for a moment, letting everything sink in. Then he’s on his feet, carefully wrapping his arms around Louis’ body, and pressing his ear to Louis’ chest.

“What are you doing?” Louis asks, reaching down to comb his fingers through Harry’s curls, easing out a tangle when he comes across it.

“Just listening to you breathe,” Harry murmurs drowsily, as if the sound of Louis’ heart is singing him to sleep. “’m going to listen to it for the rest of my life.”

Louis finds he doesn’t mind that idea in the slightest.

He’s released from the hospital in time for dinner, with strict instructions to keep warm and rest. His feet escaped the terrible frostbite suffered by some of the other survivors, and for everything else having Harry around is like a healing potion. He feels like a new man when he steps into the First Class area of the ship like he belongs, Harry at his side.

(Gemma might have told the doctor that Louis belonged in First Class. Louis might care for her a great amount.)

Later, when the sun has gone down and many of the passengers have retired for the evening, Louis sits next to Harry in the Lounge, heads close together as to not be overheard. They’re left alone, by those from the Carpathia who can’t begin to understand their grief, and by the Titanic survivors who are trying to process it themselves. It seems wrong, in a way, to feel so happy amidst so much suffering, but Louis can’t damper the light that Harry ignites within him, so instead they try to keep their joy to themselves.

It isn’t all happiness: The news of Stan’s death hits Louis particularly hard. Stan had been so young, so full of life, and it was snatched away from him in the blink of an eye. Louis thinks of that farm in Illinois, the one where Stan’s cousins are waiting, and decides he might like to visit it someday. Stan’s family deserve to know about the last week of his life, and Louis will do his best to give that to them.

“Harry?” Louis says softly, drawing the attention of the curly haired man sat next to him.

“Yes, Lou?” Harry’s eyelids are heavy with sleep, though he refuses to go to bed, claiming he’s too afraid that Louis is somehow a dream and will slip away in the middle of the night.

Louis understands the feeling.

Smiling at the man next to him, Louis’ fingers practically itch to pull his lover closer. Soon, he tells himself. Soon they’ll be alone together for as long as they please.

Instead of reaching for Harry, Louis shoves his restless fingers in his pocket. “I promised you I’d look after this, but I think it’s time I returned it to you.”

Confusion fades to surprise when Harry sees the object in Louis’ hand. “My grandfather’s watch,” Harry whispers, reaching for the object. “You kept it safe.”

Chills run down Louis’ back even from the brief contact of Harry’s palm on his, leaving him craving more. Instead he flattens his now empty palm over his thigh, watching Harry examine the watch. “I promised,” he replies, though the words feel thick and heavy in his mouth as Harry pries open the hunter’s case.

Harry’s face falls once the watch is open. “It’s stopped,” he says, a crease between his brows. His face grows pale once he sees the time: 2:20. “Louis, this is when—”

“When I went into the water, yes,” Louis says sombrely, daring to lean his knee against Harry’s. “I’m so sorry, I know it meant a lot to you.”

“It still does,” Harry insists, snapping the watch closed and cradling it close to his chest. “It doesn’t have to keep the time to mean something. Now, whenever I look at this watch, I’m going to remember my grandfather, but I’m also going to remember that you fought for your life to come back to me.”

By the time Harry finishes speaking, Louis can feel the tears pricking at the corners of his eyes. Propriety be damned, he throws an arm around Harry, pulling their bodies as close as their chairs allow. “I’ll always come back to you,” Louis promises, pressing the words into Harry’s shoulder. “I would have swam all the way to America to see you again.”

Harry giggles at that, leaning into Louis’ warmth for just a second longer before they separate themselves. “I should think that would take you a while. I’m glad you decided to meet me here instead.” He punctuates the sentence with a yawn, arching his back as he stretches, looking every bit like a spoiled (if somewhat bedraggled) cat.

Louis chuckles at the sight, barely resisting the urge to reach out and rub Harry’s stomach. “Go on to sleep, Harry. I promise I’ll be waiting for you when you wake up.”

With a reluctant nod, Harry climbs to his feet, holding out a hand to help Louis up as well. “I miss sleeping next to you,” he admits sadly, shoving his hands in his pockets once Louis is upright.

“I do as well, my love,” Louis says softly. “Only a few more days, and we’ll be home.”

The smile that one word paints across Harry’s face would bring a lesser man to tears. It’s addicting, the feeling of making Harry smile, and Louis rather thinks it’s a feeling he’d like to get used to.

As he lays down for the night, wrapped in borrowed bedding, Louis can’t help but wonder when home started to refer to the opposite side of the Atlantic. Though, deep down, he has a feeling that his home is more likely a person than a place.

✯✯✯

On 18 April 1912, Harry steps off the Carpathia in New York, head held high as he disembarks. The docks are filled with families desperate for a glimpse of their loved ones, rain and tears mingling on their hopeful faces. Reporters swarm the gangplank, hungry for a story, their flashbulbs bursting like lightning, their ceaseless chatter the accompanying thunder.

No one is waiting for him on the dock. The only people he needs in the world are right by his side, Gemma clutching his left arm and Louis resting a guiding hand at Harry’s right hip, Nellie close behind. Together they move through the throng, trying to ignore the disappointment flashing across each face looking for someone else.

Because beyond these crowds, beyond the rain and the sadness and the clamour, there’s a future waiting for them. There are hard days and sleepless nights, laughter and tears, worry and joy, grief and elation. And they will take it all in stride, basking in each glorious, beautiful moment, because they were given a future when so many others had it stolen away from them.

It’s a cold, rainy Thursday night when Harry Styles chances a look at his Fate one last time.

Except, this time, she’s smiling.

Chapter Text

Six Months Later

Time passes steadily, the green of the orchard catching fire as the leaves of every tree turn brilliant shades of orange and red. It’s sunny days and thunderstorms and the first chill of winter in the air, little lines of frost crawling up the panes of glass peering out of the front of a Colonial Revival style farmhouse inherited by Harry from his late uncle.

It might not have seemed like it would, that cold night in April, but for Louis and Harry life goes on.

The sun peeks cautiously through the gauzy curtains of their bedroom window, as if she’s intruding on something by daring to rise. Louis squints his eyes against the light, nuzzling his face into the neck of the man sleeping next to him, clinging to sleep for just a moment longer.

“Lou,” Harry’s voice tumbles out slow and raspy, the mattress shifting as he turns over in Louis’ embrace. “We need to get out of bed soon.”

Louis hums in agreement, though he doesn’t have any intention of moving quite yet. Why would he, warm and safe, his arms wrapped tightly around his lover? If he’s learned nothing else in his life, it’s that every second is precious, and he intends to savour as many of them as possible.

The months since their fateful voyage on the Titanic slipped by without a fuss, making the disaster seem lifetimes away. Though some mornings, when Louis wakes up calling out for Harry, it might as well have happened the day before. No matter how much time passes, he can’t seem to forget the sounds of the dying; the pale, frozen bodies held up by lifebelts; the faces of everyone he failed to save.

Harry always comforts him, holding him close and promising that they’re safe now. He’s battling his own demons, Louis knows—still not quite able to forgive himself for surviving when so many others did not. It’s why he devotes so much time to reading newspapers, carefully clipping out each and every article he finds related to a victim or a survivor of the Titanic. Even in this short period of time, a few obituaries have found their way into the pile, and surely more will come as the years go by. Harry reads each and every one, dedicated to remembering their stories as if he can prolong their lives by doing so.

October in New England is crisp and cool, and Louis tucks his cold toes between Harry’s legs to warm them. It’s become so routine, waking up next to the curly haired man, kissing his cheeks and eyelids until they shake their slumber from their bones and venture forth into a new day together. Their house sits at the edge of their small apple orchard, just large enough to have been a hobby for his uncle once his business no longer needed constant attention. Having never married or produced offspring, Charles had graciously willed the estate to Harry—though he might’ve reconsidered had he known with whom Harry would be sharing it.

True to his word, Louis insists on paying for his share. His tailoring business is thriving, and not just due to Harry’s frequent patronage. More often than not, he comes home with sore fingers and an aching back, but Harry is always waiting with a cup of tea and a kiss hello, and somehow that makes even the longest days worthwhile.

Then there are mornings like this, their bodies wrapped so tightly together they’re like strands of the same rope. Louis blushes at the thought of how well they fit one another—something he’s slowly become accustomed to in their months together. Harry was so patient with him, waiting for Louis to be ready, and then talking him through each exquisite step with praises spilling from swollen lips.

Now, the thought of sharing himself with Harry is more titillating than frightening, and at the moment his body seems to agree. He rolls until he’s hovering over Harry, the younger man’s eyes curiously tracking his movements under lids still heavy with sleep.

“You’re in good spirits,” Harry rasps, pulling Louis more fully on top of him, aligning their pelvises so lights burst behind Louis’ eyes.

Louis presses their chests together, lips dragging over the new growth of stubble dusting Harry’s jaw. “It’s going to be a good day,” he replies simply, pressing a kiss to where he can feel Harry’s pulse rabbiting beneath his ear.

“It is, indeed,” Harry sighs, turning his head to offer his neck to Louis. This is the best part, Louis thinks, being able to take his time, exploring Harry’s body without the fear of someone bursting in on them. The entire world may frown upon their deeds, but in here, they’re safe, and no one could ever convince Louis that this love isn’t just as glorious and valid as any other.

Fingers that used to tremble now remove pyjamas with confidence, first his lover’s and then his own, luxuriating in the way Harry’s skin looks by the light of day. Morning is his favourite time for lying together, the promise of a new day and the intimate golden rays of sunlight setting the scene like some sort of play. But their coupling is more poetry than prose, the score rather than the libretto.

Louis has learned both of their bodies inside and out, and revels in that expertise. Harry is finer than any fabric Louis has ever touched, the way their bodies slide together more exquisite than silk. His tailor’s fingers find Harry’s most secret places, coaxing sounds from Harry’s mouth lovelier than those from any instrument.

And when Louis slides inside of Harry, joining their bodies together in the most intimate way possible, it’s as if all the ghosts of their pasts are banished to somewhere darker, somewhere far away from this bed that has known only pleasure and love. Harry feels like he was made to fit around Louis, warm and welcoming, the most incredible sensation Louis ever hopes to experience. Harry’s body has become a harbour, calling out for Louis’ like all the ships out to sea. And Louis will always, always return to him, seeking no other port than the one he calls his home.

“Louis,” Harry pleads, nearing his peak, and there is nothing that compares to the way Louis’ name sounds in those last moments before the end. Short nails dig into Louis’ shoulder blades, legs wrapping even tighter around his waist, and that’s all it takes for him to find release. Harry reaches his own shortly after, spilling praises into Louis’ mouth like it’s he who is the lucky one.

It’s early, still, the world slowly waking up around them. Harry, spent and sated, permits his eyes to drift closed once more, and Louis doesn’t begrudge him a few more moments of sleep before the day ahead of them.

Leaving his slumbering paramour, Louis eases himself from beneath the quilt and dresses quietly, still relishing the blissful afterglow of their lovemaking. They have a long way to travel today, and a hearty breakfast is in order before things get underway.

Their housekeeper, Mrs McWalters, is bustling about the kitchen when Louis makes his entrance. There’s already a pot of tea on the stove along with two cups waiting to be filled, and something on the stove smells positively divine, the sound of sizzling fitting alongside Mrs McWalters’ cheerful hums. If she overheard their morning activities, she’s polite enough to pretend that she didn’t.

There’s a basket of fresh apples from their orchard on the dining table, begging to be made into cider or pie, and Louis can’t resist toying with the stem of one as he waits for his tea to cool. Harry’s newspaper waits at his place setting, and the other lad will make his appearance any time now—lured by the smell of bacon and missing the warmth of his lover’s arms. In the sitting room beyond, a grand piano waits to be played, Harry’s pocket watch displayed in a little box on the case. It’s a reminder that, for them, life goes on, even in the moments time itself stands still.

Sure enough, Harry makes it to his chair just as Mrs McWalters arrives with their plates, the man freshly shaven and smelling clean. She fusses over them like a grandmother, pinching their cheeks as she greets them, before disappearing back to the kitchen to no doubt whip up some delicious pastry or another. The wife of an Irish steward, children all grown, she had been more than happy to accept a position at the Styles’ residence, glad for both the work and the company. Harry had explained their situation as delicately as he could, but the old girl had simply patted his cheek, saying, “Oh, my dear, that just means one less bed I have to make up in the mornings.”

Sometimes, on holidays, Gemma comes to stay awhile, though her letters come more frequently than her visits. She made use of her newfound freedom by enrolling in university, marriage the furthest thing from her mind as she immerses herself in her studies. Their mother would have been terribly proud of her.

Nellie declined Gemma’s invitation to stay on as her maid, instead choosing to stay in New York to find work—though last they’d heard, she’d met someone, and is looking forward to having her own family to look after.

The pair tries to keep up with the others they met on the Titanic, though sometimes several months pass between letters. Niall Horan still lives with his brother and sister-in-law, helping his brother at work to give him more time with his family. He never mentions the Titanic in any of his letters, and signs each of them the same way: ‘Your brother, Niall Horan.’

Liam returned to England as quickly as possible, a hero’s welcome waiting for him in his hometown of Wolverhampton. He married the girl of his dreams, and now works alongside her father in his bicycle factory. Their first child is due next summer. He won’t ever step foot on another ship as long as he lives.

Zayn lives in Montreal, and in his last letter mentioned that he might write a book about their ordeal, asking if Harry and Louis would be willing to send him their own stories to be included. Putting the words to paper is painful, reliving each memory as it’s written, but once it’s finished and sent off, it feels like letting go of a shadow that has followed behind them for too long now.

Just over three hundred bodies were plucked from the sea in the aftermath of the Titanic disaster, and Stanley Lucas’ was among them. He’s buried in Fairview Cemetery in Halifax, Nova Scotia, as are many other victims of that wretched night. His grave is one of a multitude in row after row of headstones, all sharing the same date: 15 April 1912. Louis thinks he might like to visit, once winter has passed, to pay his respects to those less fortunate than he—especially to the firemen who kept the ship’s lights burning for so long; to the crew members who gave their lives to save as many people as possible; and to Stan, his friend for such a short time, but a friend nonetheless.

Charles’ body was never found, resigned to a watery grave along with the great liner herself. Instead of a plot in a cemetery, there’s a newly planted cypress tree at the edge of the property—the tree of mourning. It’s there one evening when Louis comes home from the shop, but he doesn’t mention it. Instead, he takes Harry’s hand, dirt still caked underneath his nails, and leads him to upstairs to their bed.

“Nearly finished?” Harry’s voice has brightened along with the sun, far more alert with food in his belly and tea to fuel his blood. His bright green eyes catch the light as it spills through the windows, putting the verdant land outside to shame.

Taking a final swallow of his cooling tea, Louis nods. His heart hammers in his chest as they both prepare themselves for this important day, donning coats and hats before bidding Mrs McWalters goodbye and stepping out into the brisk morning air.

It’s a long day of travel, and Louis is weary to the core by the time they finally reach their destination. It’s so strange, he thinks as he stares out over the sea, that six months ago he was waiting to board a ship that would take him far away, and now he’s waiting to greet one.

Harry stands at his side, cheeks and nose red from the chilly Boston wind. They can’t hold hands, not here, but Harry bumps their shoulders together often enough that it comforts Louis all the same.

Eventually a cloud of steam is visible in the distance, and soon a ship is moored at the dock and spilling its passengers forth like bees from a hive. It’s so different from his own arrival: here there are no camera flashes, no pelting rain, and the only tears are joyful as loved ones greet each other with kisses and hugs.

Louis steals one more glance at Harry, standing tall and proud next to him, scanning the crowd for faces he’s only heard descriptions of. They’ve come so far, the two of them, from the strangers who happened upon each other all those months ago, yet they’re still just as in love as they were then. It isn’t always easy, and there are days when the unfairness of not being able to walk arm-in-arm down the street with Harry has Louis in tears, but they’ve built a life together. They managed to survive, against the odds, and now they’re living each and every day to the fullest. It’s everything Louis could have ever hoped for.

Well, nearly everything, Louis thinks to himself, face splitting wide into a grin when he spots a familiar head of hair among the crowd. She looks exhausted, a child clinging to each hand, two others close behind, but she’s here at last. He can tell the exact moment she sees him, tugging the girls forward until there are five sets of arms around him, five sets of watery eyes as they cling to each other. Six, actually, because Louis’ mother pulls Harry into the hug as well, his face just as tear-streaked as the rest of them.

Louis Tomlinson boarded the Titanic to give his mother and little sisters a better life. Now, half a year later, he’s done just that. Never again will his mother need to worry about caring for her children. His sisters will never face the horrors of working in a textile mill. None of them will go to bed hungry ever again.

He meets Harry’s eyes over the top of his sister Charlotte’s head, hoping Harry knows exactly how grateful he is. Harry smiles right back at him, lips curving around silent words: ‘I love you.’

Harry told him once, one night when it was less painful to talk of their happier experiences on the ship, that Niall had him promise to make all of Louis’ dreams come true. Standing here on a crowded dock in the Boston Harbour, surrounded by the people he loves most in the world, Louis reckons that he’s succeeded.