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Wandering Free, Wish I Could Be (Part of That World)

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Louis Tomlinson is a good person. He’s a good son, a good brother, a good cat-parent. He studies hard at uni. So he is entirely unsure as to why his best friend is trying to murder him by way of frustration. He’s trying to frustrate him to death. What did Louis do to deserve this?

“Niall,” he begins calmly. “For the thousandth time, you cannot mix and match fish and tank types. They have to be the same.”

“I don’t even match my socks, Tommo. Don’t stifle my creativity.”

Louis is going insane. He clenches his fists, a harsh breath exiting his nose. “Your creativity is killing beautiful creatures.”

“Lou! It’s all right, I’m right here!” calls another voice from behind him. He whips around to see Zayn, in all his cheekbone-y glory, somehow making their uniform Chinos and lime green polo look designer. He huffs a sigh in his general direction.

“Kindly fuck off, Malik. No one asked you.”

“Nah, I’m doing just fine here,” comes Zayn’s snarky reply. Louis should’ve never taught him snark, it’s not a good look on him. (That’s a lie. Everything’s a good look on him. Bastard.)

“Niall still thinks it’s okay to put saltwater fish into a freshwater tank.”

“They had gravel in the tank in Finding Nemo! You’re telling me that movie isn’t oceanographically accurate?” Niall exclaims faux dramatically.

Is there a wall Louis can bang his head against? One not made up entirely of glass aquariums, preferably, but beggars can’t be choosers.

“Niall,” he sighs. “I know your skull is thick, but if you could just attempt to get this simple thing through it, I’d vastly appreciate it.”

“Oi! Don’t be fucking rude, Lewis.”

Louis turns back to Zayn, who’s watching the scene with his hands in his pockets and a slight, amused upturn to his mouth, and whispers, “help me,” with wide, desperate eyes. Zayn just shakes his head slightly, clearly intent on allowing Louis to suffer.

“I hate you and everything you stand for,” Louis proclaims in response before returning to the issue at hand, who is currently making fish noises at a disinterested angelfish with his nose pressed to the glass.

Louis take a second to just blink slowly at Niall and his general existence before he places his hands on Niall’s shoulders and starts pushing him toward the exit. “Okay, Horan. Out you go.”

“But—“ Niall starts, only to interrupt himself with a, “Wait, have I never noticed…—is that massive tank empty?”

Louis keeps pushing him, even as Niall’s head turns to an alarming degree. The thing is, it is. The massive, column-like tank in the centre of the water pets section of the store is entirely devoid of life. It’s wide and tall enough to house at least thirty large fish, the glass of the column made up of half a dozen flat panels, but the only notable thing in it is the large (for fish-sized eyes) castle, in the centre, stretching from the height of Louis’ hips to his eye-level. The only other things in it are some long imitation seaweed and the colourful sand, which either occasionally changes colour or Louis is genuinely going insane.

“Neil, I don’t have time for your dumb questions. But if you happen to get a why out of Zayn for that one, please feel free to share with the class,” he finishes as he pushes Niall over the threshold and into the drizzly greyness of the outside world. Typical.

“Zayn!” he shouts into the ether of the store.

“What?” Zayn’s voice echoes back to him.

“See?” Louis asks once he’s stomped over to his co-worker like a particularly stroppy three-year-old. “Niall thinks it’s weird, too. How do you not think it’s weird?”

“I never said it’s not weird, I just said it’s not my business. I don’t know why you’re so bothered by it.” Zayn’s lack of curiosity worries Louis a bit.

“Why do we have a gorgeous, massive tank—seriously, Zayn, massive, I reckon that thing is at least two metres wide—that’s just empty? Why, Zayn, why?” Louis complains loudly.

“Louis, if you could stop saying my name the same way my mum does when I’ve left my dishes in the sink, I’d much appreciate it. Also, if you could just shut up in general. Yeah, that’d be great.”

“Fuck off, Zayn.”

Humming to himself, Louis goes down the line of fish tanks, making sure to give the appropriate food for each of them. The store is mostly dark, the only light coming from the tanks. It’s Louis’ favourite time of day, regardless of his friends and co-workers thinking he’s a masochist for requesting closing shifts. He loves when the store is quiet—just him and the animals. The fish often don’t get fed before close because it’s a job that needs to be started and finished at the same time so no one is over- or underfed and there’s too much unpredictability when customers are coming and going.

So Louis stays late, helps with the basic cleaning duties and sends everyone else home, telling them he can manage the rest of it. And then he allows himself some time to enjoy the quiet almost-solitude of being surrounded by water and animals without being part of it all. He watches them all swimming and gaping and floating and finds himself wishing he could live like that. He’s always loved water—enough to be studying marine biology at uni despite the fact that he’s terrible at science—and maybe that’s why he feels such a connection with the pet store fish.

He’s halfway through the feeding process, murmuring little things to all the fish, assigning them random names as he goes, when he sees movement out of the corner of his eye. He whips around and searches the area behind him for the source of the movement. When he sees it again, from the corner of his other eye, he realises the only place it could be coming from is the big column tank.

Which. Makes no sense. There’s nothing in that tank. There never has been. It’s just an empty tank with a palace in it.

He’s going crazy, it’s official.

He shakes himself and returns to the task at hand, though not before mentally promising to immediately head home and sleep when he’s done.

The next time it happens, he thinks he's officially crazy, but he hasn’t quite decided yet.

He swears he sees something move in the empty tank, something like a fish tail, whipping quietly through the water before disappearing into—into? no, surely behind—the castle.

Actually, fuck it. The technicalities don’t matter considering Louis is hallucinating. Just seeing things where there’s nothing to be seen. He needs to find his sanity. Preferably ASAP.

The problem, though, is that Louis suddenly seems to find himself spending all of his time just…staring at the tank. Watching the seaweed move, trying to see inside the castle, just staring for no reason and for long enough Zayn thought he’d gone catatonic once.

It’s not exactly what he’d call healthy. But there’s a niggling at the back of his brain that’s telling him he’s looking for something. Does he know what? Of course not, but hell if he doesn’t keep searching.

And hell if he doesn’t feel like his heart falls out of his chest every time he sees that tiny flicker of movement.

Which is how he got here: buying a saltwater tank and all its workings on a whim, setting it up, and putting absolutely nothing living in it. He doesn’t know if he’s preparing for something or simply trying to create his own tiny version of the column tank. He doesn’t know, so he doesn’t question it. He just lets himself spiral deeper into his pit of insanity.

He finishes setting up the aquarium and stands back with his hands on his hips to survey it proudly.

“Shut up, Vladimir. Don’t give me that look,” he says to his cat, like a perfectly rational person.

The only response Vlad gives is an earth-shattering meow followed by his offensively orange arse walking out of the room. Great. Even his cat thinks he’s crazy.

That night, Louis dreams of swirling colours, the calm chaos of the cold sea. He dreams of air bubbles and muted sounds, sunlight cutting through the water, only to give up metres later. He dreams of dolphins and sea stars, turtles and crabs.

He wakes up, disappointed, to find he’s still living his own reality.

Louis must have officially lost his mind. He’s been revising for end of term exams for two weeks, barely sleeping in favour of added revision time. He’s sleep-deprived and overworked and his brain is buzzing with the amount of information he’s trying to force it to hold.

Or maybe this is karma. Has he forgotten to call his mum lately? His sisters and brother? Surely karma should understand his dire circumstances, but maybe this is payback.

Because there’s no way that Louis actually just saw a tiny mermaid. Merman? Sure, merman. Why not.

There’s no way that the ever-empty column tank is actually home to a merman small enough to fit into Louis’ palm. He blinks several times at the castle before turning away and hunting down a customer to help. Idle hands are the Devil’s playthings, after all. Clearly this also applies to idle minds.

Louis doesn’t forget about the merman so much as he actively ignores the issue. Which works just fine until he’s alone in the store, feeding the fish, and he looks over to see said merman floating behind the glass panel closest to Louis.

He blinks quickly, mouth gaping open, before he decides to just let it happen and walks over to get a better look. The merman is tiny—he literally looks like he could swim comfortably in Louis’ bathroom sink. He’s floating vertically, tail pointing down and head facing Louis, seeming to be gazing at him curiously. His hands are clasped behind his back as he smiles serenely, large eyes blinking up at Louis.

Louis blinks back, taking in the dusty rose colour of his tail, the dark hair falling to the middle of his biceps, how his muscles are toned in the same way human swimmers’ are. His eyes are a piercing green, even through the water, and he’s got lips the same colour as his tail which makes Louis wonder if it’s a coincidence or just how mer-genetics work. He squints slightly at the man’s lithe frame, making out the gills over his ribcage, the strong muscles working under the scales of his tail, the extra fins at his hips.

He’s. Well, he’s beautiful.

“I’m going mental,” Louis whispers to himself. “There’s no way this is real. I’ve actually gone mental.”

The merman tilts his head at Louis, still smiling calmly at him as he continues his freak-out.

“You’re a merman. You’re a mythical creature. A tiny, tiny mythical creature in a tank, staring at me. I must be mental, there’s literally no other explanation.”

The merman tilts his head slowly in the opposite direction, his eyebrows weaving together in confusion.

“You probably can’t understand me. Great.” Louis throws his hands up, seriously considering driving himself to the psych ward just to be safe as he finishes feeding the fish.

When he’s all packed up and ready to head out of the store, hoping to sleep off whatever craziness has gotten into him, he hears a faint knocking sound. Bracing himself, he turns towards the merman’s tank to see that the merman has swum up to the top, his head and shoulders exposed and out of the water as he puts his tiny fist to the glass.

“Erm.” Louis looks around as though someone will emerge from behind the display of colourful gravel and explain the situation to him.

“You want to come home with me?” he asks when the merman points to Louis and then points to the door. He has no idea if that’s what the merman was actually trying to communicate, but it actually…might be a good idea, really.

He’ll take him home, go to sleep, and if he’s still there in the morning, Louis will just have to accept this reality. He grabs one of the tiny plastic aquariums that they send water pets home in, finds a stepladder to be able to reach the top of the tank (he’s not short, okay, the tank is just tall), opens the flap and dips the aquarium in. He fills it enough for the merman to be comfortable, but not enough that it’ll spill, before he tilts it and the merman happily swims in.

Well. Guess that’s sorted, then.

When they get home, he transfers the merman from the carrying tank into the aquarium sitting in his room, watching him swim around and explore everything. It’s obviously smaller than the one at the store, but he lights up when he sees the small castle taking up one side, immediately swimming towards it.

Louis observes him for a short moment before turning around and heading toward the bathroom. Once he’s showered and brushed his teeth, he heads back into his room, toweling his hair as he walks down the hall, another towel slung around his hips. He shuts the main light off as he enters the room and rummages around his drawers for his pyjamas in the pale light coming from his bedside.

It’s not until he’s dressed again that he remembers his new guest, his head whipping up to look at the tank where the merman seems to be floating pleasantly through the water, glowing faintly in the light from the lamp above him. Louis smiles slightly at the sight before climbing into bed and turning off his own lamp.

Tomorrow, he decides. If he’s still here tomorrow, I’ll believe he’s real. I’ll even give him a name.

Louis wakes up gloriously, the way he only wakes up days off: the sunlight streams down through his window, his entire body heavy and warm with rest, his head still foggy with the remnants of pleasant dreams. He stretches his entire body, rolling from one side of the bed to the other, his head planting itself on a second pillow as his eyes squint at the light that is now assaulting them despite the blinds.

His eyes are just slipping closed again when he remembers the previous night’s events. They shoot back open as he bolts straight up in bed. A quick glance at the tank shows nothing, but the merman has an affinity for the castle, so that doesn’t guarantee anything. He sighs heavily as he heaves himself out of bed, retying the waistband of his trackies as he ambles across the room.

He crouches until the tank is at eye-level, squinting to see into the castle. He doesn’t see anything, and in a last-ditch (and quite frankly, ridiculous and embarrassing) effort, he knocks gently on the glass, rolling his eyes at himself as he does so.

He’s about to go back to bed and sleep away the rest of this weird hallucination when the merman emerges from the door of the plastic palace, fluttering his webbed fingers at him. Louis is surprised at the grin that breaks across his face at the sight of him.

“All right,” he says, though he’s not sure if it’s to the merman or himself. “Let’s give you a name, little lad.”

The merman looks at him excitedly and Louis can’t help mirroring his expression.

“I get the impression you won’t be into Ariel,” Louis muses. “Or maybe you will. Maybe you don’t get that reference. Maybe you don’t even understand what I’m saying.” He sighs heavily, shaking his head at himself. The merman blinks up at him, running his hand through his long hair, which somehow looks luxurious even underwater.

“Your hair…” Louis whispers to himself. “Is that a mermaid trait? The great hair?”

The merman blinks at him, wide eyes greener than the sea itself, and grins so wide he creates air bubbles around his face.

“Ariel, more like Hair-iel, am I right?” Louis jokes and immediately wants to punch himself in the face. He makes a mental note to hang out with Niall less.

“Wait,” he straightens up and clicks his fingers, the merman’s eyes following him. “Harry! How’s that? That work for you?”

The merman—Harry—simply gazes at him, a smile still lightly playing on his lips. Louis nods decisively, his hands settling on the bare skin of his hips above his trackies.

“Well, then. That’s sorted. Harry the merman. That’s…normal.” He claps his hands together once. “Right. I’m gonna go feed Vladimir. You do…whatever merpeople do. I will be back shortly,” Louis promises before turning around and heading into the main part of his flat. Vladimir immediately trots to his food bowl at the sight of Louis.

“Spoiled brat,” Louis mutters to him as he fills his bowl and scratches behind Vladimir’s ear.

He makes himself some tea and toast before grabbing a hoodie and his wallet and heading to the shop on the corner of the block. He grabs several types of fruit and veg, pays, and immediately returns home.

After he cuts the strawberries, mango, grapes, broccoli, carrots, and banana into Harry-sized pieces, he grabs the fish food for good measure and goes into his room again.

“Alright, Harry. Bear with me because I’m not sure what you eat, so I brought some stuff that maybe you’ll like.”

Harry looks at him expectantly, before glancing at the plate of food Louis has then back up at him pointedly.

“Okay, okay. You’re hungry. I get it. First, fish food.” Louis waves it in front of the tank. “Is that…?” he trails off at Harry’s look, which indubitably states not a chance and also fuck you.

Well then.

“Okay, okay. I was just checking. Jeez,” he adds under his breath.

“Fruit?” He points to the minuscule pieces on the plate in his hand. Harry looks up at him hungrily, so Louis takes that as a yes, dropping a few pieces of each fruit into the tank. Harry catches a few of them, immediately digging in, as the rest float to the bottom.

He eventually works his way through it and lights up when Louis shows him the veg, eating some of that, too. When Harry is visibly full, Louis nods, satisfied, and puts the leftovers away, making a mental note to keep them stocked.

He finds himself talking to Harry throughout the day—telling him about the courses he’s just finished at uni, his seven siblings and mum, complaining about Niall’s persistent incompetence regarding pets that aren’t dogs.

Louis has no idea if Harry has any clue what he’s saying, or if he cares if he can, but Harry seems content to swim and float as Louis flitters around the house, doing the laundry and dishes and all the chores he swore he’d do during his day off. (Is this adulthood? Louis doesn’t like it.) He talks the whole time, which feels strange considering Louis isn’t normally a big talker. Sure, he can talk. Hell, he can talk his way into or out of anything and he’s practically known for making a nuisance of himself by saying ridiculous things and asking ridiculous questions. But he doesn’t really make a habit of talking about himself or his life. It almost feels therapeutic, really, even if it is more than a bit weird for him. He figures he’ll get used to it eventually. If he can adjust to a merman, he can adjust to anything. Right?

And so it goes. Louis works more hours now that exams are finished, feels like he’s barely home, but when he is, he talks to (at?) Harry whilst Vladimir watches on, silently judging. Louis is always telling Harry anecdotes about work or his friends, complaining about how much housework there is to do (though he feels like he never does any and his flat seems tidy enough, so he doesn’t have much to complain about there—not that it stops him), just spewing random thoughts, or verbally working out issues. Occasionally, he has bad days—when he's stressed or homesick or exhausted—but he tries not to let them affect him. He doesn't want Harry to worry, even if the notion of it seems ridiculous.

He makes sure Harry’s tiny tum stays well-fed and Vladimir’s marginally larger one stays satisfied. His days off are usually spent in their presence whilst he plays FIFA or binges on How To Get Away With Murder. He’s even gotten into the habit of moving Harry’s tank to the living room because Harry’s fascination with the telly’s colourful, moving pictures is never not endearing.

He seems to find everything about Harry endearing, but who can blame him? He’s a pocket-sized merman, okay? Pocket. Sized. And if he sometimes wishes there were a human-sized version of Harry, with his cherry red lips and bright eyes and beautiful hair, well. That’s his own little secret.

Louis is fine. He doesn’t need to go home.

“I’m fine, Zayn. I don’t need to go home,” he insists yet again.

Zayn fixes him with a hard look. “You’re going home, Louis. Even if you hadn’t worked too many hours this week—which you have—you look exhausted. Go home. Rest up. Come back Monday.”

“Monday?!” Louis sputters. “Zee, it’s Thursday. What am I meant to do for four days?”

Zayn glares at him again. “I don’t care.” His glare softens into genuine concern. “Just…take care of yourself, yeah? You’ve been working yourself to the bone, bebs, you deserve some rest.”

Louis sighs before pulling Zayn into a quick hug and huffs a “fine” into his hair.

“I better not see your arse before Monday, Tomlinson!” he hears Zayn call after him.

“Don’t even front, you love my arse! You’ll be lost without it!” he shouts back, not noticing the tiny elderly woman standing by the door until after he’s successfully scandalised her. Oops.

Well. Four days and nothing much to do. He supposes it makes sense, considering he clocked more than fifty hours last week, but he just doesn’t really have much else to do besides work, so he’d figured he might as well make money.

But now, he’s going to go home and take a shower and a nap. Maybe not in that order. Or maybe he’ll take a bath, so he can sleep and bathe simultaneously. So many possibilities now that his day’s freed up.

He’s humming quietly to himself when he lets himself into his flat, glancing around for Vladimir quickly but being greeted with quiet. Not that he’s surprised, mind; Vladimir, much like most cats Louis has encountered, is self-centred and wants nothing to do with a person unless he can use them to his own end.

Louis quickly gets rid of the polo shirt and shoes, leaving him standing in a white v-neck made of thin cotton and his Chinos. He stumbles to the kitchen and rummages around for a beer, taking a long pull of it before making his way back toward his bedroom. It isn’t until he has made it over the threshold that he realises there's something off.

Not in his room, but coming from down the hall. There’s…singing? Louis’s more than a little confused, so he heads in the direction of the bathroom, the singing getting louder as he goes.

“Niall?” he says aloud, mostly to himself, trying to work out who he’ll find when he opens the door. But nothing could prepare him for when he opens the door and finds—

Harry?”

Harry’s head whips up at Louis’ gasp, the rest of his body still emerged in the bathtub and concealed by the same bubble bath that’s creating a halo around Harry’s head.

Two pairs of shocked eyes meet as silence settles over the room.

“I—“ Harry begins, only to stop when Louis shakes his head minutely, albeit frantically.

“No,” he says, his voice embarrassingly high-pitched. “Just give me a second to process one thing before we move onto the next.”

Harry nods once, slowly, his lips pressed firmly together in a line, eyes never leaving Louis’ face.

“You’re…” Louis stops himself to take a breath before trying again. “You’re…human-sized. Me-sized.”

“I think I’m rather taller than you, actually,” Harry replies with a small, cheeky grin and Louis’s pretty sure he blacks out. Because Harry talks. Harry understands Louis’ words and replies with his own. In possibly the most beautiful voice Louis’s ever heard—deep and rich and slow in a way that seems deliberate rather than annoying.

“I don’t even have the brain capacity to fight you on that right now,” Louis mumbles, still staring at Harry’s face. He’s not entirely sure when the last time he blinked was. Harry looks back at him patiently as Louis tries to formulate words.

“Is this new?” he finally asks. “The…human-sized thing?”

“Not just human-sized,” Harry counters with a small smile. “Human.” He sticks one leg out of the bubbles and—yep, that’s a very human leg. A nice leg, even, Louis notices before shaking himself out of it.

“Okay, then is the human thing new?” he asks through a slow, heavy breath. He feels a bit light-headed.

“Not exactly,” Harry responds sheepishly.

Louis arches an eyebrow at him. “Not exactly?” he repeats incredulously.

“It’s…there’s magic,” Harry whispers, his eyes dropping down to where his hands are resting atop the bubbles.

“Okay,” Louis says slowly. “So what we’re gonna do is I’m gonna leave and go drink my beer and maybe grab something to eat. You’re gonna finish up in here and get dressed. Use my clothes if you need to. And then we’re gonna sit down and talk. Deal?”

Harry meets his eyes again, already nodding.

“Deal,” he agrees, his voice soft and raspy.

With a final nod, Louis turns around and leaves the room.

Louis hasn't panicked yet. He figures he will—it seems sort of inevitable—but he hasn’t yet. He has made a sandwich, he has drunk his beer, he has sat in the living room waiting for a merman-turned-human to join him, but he has not panicked.

He’s just finishing his sandwich when the aforementioned merman-turned-human treks into the room, a pair of trackies that are too big on Louis but somehow still tight on Harry slung low on his hips, his torso covered by an old, ratty jumper that’s also too small, but slightly less so than the trackies.

There are long moments, after Harry perches himself on the edge of the furthest cushion from Louis, when both of them are silent. Louis is staring hard at the low table in front of them and Harry seems to be, according to Louis’ peripherals, staring just as hard at his hands.

And the thing is, Louis is totally out of his depth—mind the pun—here. So he braces himself with a breath before:

“So. Harry?” he questions, figuring the name issue is a good place to start, but Harry simply nods.

“Louis,” he responds decisively.

“What, seriously? I guessed your name correctly?” Louis says, entirely disbelievingly.

“Well, not exactly,” Harry starts and Louis crosses his arms over his chest. “But like…obviously our names are different than yours. So I like Harry for the human world.”

Louis nods, accepting the explanation.

“What’s your real name, then?” he inquires.

“I’m not sure I can even say it above water, if I’m honest,” Harry replies, ducking his head.

“Okay," Louis nods again.

A few more minutes pass with the only noise coming from Vladimir’s insistent scratching at the wood of Louis’ closed bedroom door. Louis’ eyes slide over to the cat and back to Harry, tamping down on the urge to get up and open the door for Vlad, just for something to do. Or maybe lock himself in his room with the cat, so he can avoid this conversation forever.

“I was going to tell you,” Harry blurts out suddenly, startling Louis into a flinch.

“Right,” Louis agrees, half defeated, half irritated.

“I was,” Harry insists. “You’re just intimidating.” He says the last word on a shy mumble and Louis almost laughs.

“Me? Intimidating? You’ve got mermagic, there’s no way—” he cuts himself off at the look on Harry’s face. Harry looks small and almost on the verge of tears, wide eyes beseeching.

“Okay, fine. That’s not important.” He figures they can deal with technicalities later and takes a steadying breath before continuing. “Why did you stay in that tank if you can be…this size? Why not be free?” He hopes Harry doesn’t feel judged—Louis genuinely just wants to know. He can’t imagine being cooped up all the time when freedom was an option.

“I am free,” Harry explains mildly, cocking his head and furrowing his brow like he can’t figure out how Louis doesn’t see that.

“I can get out of the tank whenever I want. And the tank is pretty big, really. Thanks for that,” he adds quickly. “But if I’m this size all the time then I don’t get to be…” he trails off, piercing Louis through with his stare.

“You don’t get to be yourself,” Louis finishes for him, lips barely moving. Harry nods, their eyes still locked.

“Okay,” Louis nods, running a hand through his already thoroughly-mussed hair. “Okay.”

Harry’s looking at him still, but Louis can barely glance in his direction. He’s exhausted and overwhelmed and Harry was beautiful tiny, but now he’s life-sized and so, so beautiful and Louis just needs a moment.

“Louis?” Harry’s voice is quiet but clear, and Louis can’t avoid looking at him any longer.

“Yeah, Haz?” he says, equally quiet.

“Thank you.”

It isn’t until hours later that Louis blinks out of the (metaphorical) bubble he and Harry are sharing to realise his legs are stiff and his stomach is empty. Even becoming aware of the issues doesn’t stir him to fix them, head still spinning with all the information Harry has given him. Harry’s been very patient through Louis’ thousands of questions and Louis thinks they both feel better now that everything is out in the open.

He likes knowing things about Harry. He likes knowing that Harry can be human or merman for as long as he wants and is always able to switch back. He likes knowing that Harry could understand him for all that time he spent talking to him, and he even enjoyed listening to Louis’ babbling. He likes the visual that comes along with Harry’s explanation of learning to speak English, well after he learned to understand it, wherein he wandered around Louis’ flat (presumably naked, but Louis really doesn’t need that specific visual, so he didn’t ask) doing small, almost-unnoticeable chores with the telly on, saying random phrases back to the empty space until they started to sound like words. He likes Harry’s vague explanation of being rescued by Zayn and given a home in the column tank where Louis found him until he found someone he was happy to settle with. He definitely likes being the person Harry wanted to settle with.

He feels a little light-headed after watching and listening to Harry speak for hours, his beautiful face lighting up and his pink lips wrapping around words that suddenly seem a lot more special than when anyone else has said them. He feels kind of like they finally found even ground; the difference being that Harry learned Louis over the course of several weeks, while Louis did all of his catching up in a day.

But, no matter. That’s the past and right now Louis is thinking of the future. Most immediately, he orders pizza to be delivered because he’s starving and Harry must be, too. And then he relays, to a rather ecstatic Harry, his plans to take Harry shopping and maybe go to the park in the next day or two. Louis figures he should actually see the outside world, rather than just shots of it on the telly. Harry only figured out how to be human while he was living in the column tank, so he’s spent his entire human life in either Louis’ house or the pet store. His outdoor experience is entirely lacking.

They eat their dinner in relative silence, the only noise filling the room coming from the match they’re watching, complemented by Harry’s occasional questions and one notably shrill meow from Vlad.

When Louis gets out of the shower and heads back to his room, with only a towel covering him from his waist down, he nearly goes into cardiac arrest to find Harry lying on his bed.

“Er…Haz?” he calls tentatively from the doorway. Harry lifts his head to what looks like an uncomfortable degree to smile at Louis, unfazed by Louis’ state of dress. Which—Louis supposes makes sense, considering merpeople are always nude. Technically.

“Mm?” Harry responds, his eyes closed and limbs sprawled.

“What’re you doing?” Louis asks, slowly moving towards his dresser and pulling out his soft plaid pyjama bottoms and a threadbare t-shirt.

“Oh,” Harry responds, sitting up and blinking at Louis, who’s trying to put his pyjamas on under his towel without flashing him. “Well, I thought. Uhm. I wondered if.” He pauses, his brow scrunching adorably as he brings his thumb and forefinger to the corners of his mouth.

Louis tilts his head to the side, watching Harry as he unknots the towel from his freshly-clothed hips, throwing it in a laundry basket and shoving the t-shirt over his head.

“Yeah, love?” he presses.

“I know I could sleep in the tank,” Harry starts, eyes still wide as he holds Louis’ gaze. “But in all those movies…the humans—what’s it called? Cuddle?” At Louis’ nod, he breaks into a grin before continuing. “Right. Would you? With me?”

“Oh.” Louis’s a bit taken aback. He’s not sure if Harry doesn’t realise that cuddling tends to be romantic, or if he doesn’t care, but he’s not going to pass up the opportunity to share a bed with possibly the prettiest person he’s ever met. He’ll just have to pray for no awkward morning wood.

“Sure, H. We can cuddle. Do you have anything you need before we go to bed?”

Harry shakes his head, smiling shyly as his long curls bounce where they hit his shoulders. Louis nods, returning Harry’s smile with one that he hopes is reassuring.

It takes them awhile to settle in, even after fussing with the pillows and covers—especially for Harry, having never slept in a bed before—but eventually they find comfortable positions. Spooning seems safest, with its minimal face-to-face interaction, and Harry seems perfectly content to let Louis wrap himself around his back and sling his arm over Harry’s waist. They don’t exchange many words, presumably due to the mutual exhaustion after the events of the day, and Louis is surprised to find there’s no awkwardness, both of them falling asleep rather quickly.

The next morning brings the smell of fresh rain along with its surprisingly bright sunlight and Louis decides it’s as good a day as any to visit the park, especially after checking the weather report to find predicted downpour through the weekend.

He and Harry have a simple breakfast, Harry munching happily on his fruit (though in much bigger pieces now) and Louis downing his tea alongside some hastily scrambled eggs.

Once their dishes have been dealt with, per Harry’s insistence, Louis changes out of his pyjamas and grabs his wallet and keys.

“So we’re gonna do some shopping because I think you’re wearing the only clothes of mine that fit you, yeah?” he says on their way to the car.

Harry’s only response is an excited nod and they share a quick smile before Louis continues, “And then we’ll head to the park so you can see the flowers. Sound good?”

Harry nods even more enthusiastically, his face taken up by a grin as his eyes sparkle and his hair bounces around it.

The shopping is rather uneventful with the exception of Harry’s pure awe at seeing the inside of the store. Louis manages to get him to focus, though, choosing a few pairs of jeans and pants, leaving shirts and shoes to Harry’s creativity. He also grabs a few pairs of socks and encourages Harry to choose something comfortable enough to sleep in (he has to assure Harry he can still wear the set he’s currently donning before he acquiesces).

An hour and a couple hundred pounds later, Harry has enough of a wardrobe to be functional. Harry is glowing, having changed into a pair of black skinnies and a sheer floral top back at the store. The buttons are only closed about a third of the way up and his feet are encased in brown Chelsea boots, hair wild and smile wide. He’s breath-taking.

They get to the park and abandon the car as Louis leads them down a less-populated path to one of his favourite areas. It tends to be almost empty, but it’s full of flowers, with a small grassy area in the centre where they can sit. Louis spreads the small blanket he brought on the ground and lays back on it, only half-trying to disguise the way he’s staring at Harry. Harry’s smile hasn’t faltered once since they arrived and it seems to grow impossibly bigger as he walks around, looking at all the flowers. Louis thinks he might even hear him singing to them. He refuses to be endeared.

“What’s that?” Harry’s voice startles Louis out of his thoughts. He glances down to his hands where Harry’s pointing and notices that he’d been subconsciously playing with the flowers closest to him. He blinks at his lap before directing a smile at the man above him.

“It’s a flower chain. I used to make them for my sisters all the time.”

Harry tilts his head, eyes locked on the flowers in Louis’ hand, still looking vaguely confused. (Louis still refuses to be endeared.)

“C’mere,” he says instead, cocking his head in indication for Harry to sit next to him. Harry does, criss-crossing his long legs so his knees bump Louis’ thigh. Louis closes the flower chain into a loop before leaning over and placing it gently in Harry’s curls.

“There,” he nods as he observes his work. “Now it’s a flower crown.”

Harry tentatively raises a hand to his hair, petting softly at the flowers with a look of adoration on his face. Before Louis can even notice, Harry’s swooping in and leaving a lingering kiss to his cheek, heat blossoming outward from the point of contact.

“Thank you.”

Louis smiles and nods at him, bringing a hand to where Harry’s lips were on his cheek as soon as Harry’s distracted by a butterfly flitting through the flowers.

Well, shit.

Harry hasn’t taken the flower crown off yet. The flowers are already drooping in the way wildflowers always do after a couple hours without soil or water, but Harry’s smile brightens again every time he catches a glimpse of himself in a reflective surface and Louis is almost offended by his ability to always be gorgeous.

So falling for a merman wasn’t exactly in the plans, but Louis’s learning to roll with the punches. Harry is lovely and kind and beautiful and Louis is weak for each of those qualities, but especially all three combined.

After eating dinner, he and Harry are sat in front of the telly, watching some cheesy rom com that caught Harry’s interest when they were flipping through the channels. Louis isn’t paying too much attention to the film—rom coms are all pretty much the same, if you ask him, and he’s probably already seen this one with the girls—instead watching the way Harry’s face lights up when one of the characters says something amusing, the pink tinge the dances its way across his cheeks when the couple confess their feelings, the small gasp that escapes his mouth when they finally kiss. He can feel himself smiling fondly at Harry, but he figures he doesn’t have to hide it until Harry looks over. It’s only embarrassing if he gets caught.

Which, of course, is when Harry glances over and their eyes lock. Louis is too surprised to even blink, his mouth falling open slightly when Harry doesn’t look away. He looks shy, though, as he maintains the eye contact, which is unfairly adorable, if Louis's honest.

And then Harry is swooping in—Louis has a strong sense of déjà vu—and his mouth meets Louis’. Louis is almost positive a galaxy explodes between their lips, the sparks bursting where they meet and behind Louis’ eyelids as they fall closed, tingling their way down to his gut. Before he even consciously thinks about it, his hand is fisted in Harry’s curls, the other one flat on the side of Harry’s neck. He feels Harry’s own grabbing the fabric over Louis’ waist, pulling him as close as they can manage to be.

The kiss is perfect, sweet and hot in equal measure, Harry is sure when Louis’s not, Louis confident when Harry is shy. It lasts long moments, lingering presses of their mouths, quick nips at each other’s lips, soothing the stings with kitten licks. When they break apart, foreheads leaning together to maintain contact, Louis can’t stop smiling. He strokes his thumb over Harry’s neck as a tiny giggle escapes him. He feels Harry’s brow furrow in response before Harry’s giggling, too.

“Okay,” Louis giggles breathily. “That was…wow.”

Harry grins in response, bright as ever, nuzzling his nose into Louis’.

“I’ve wanted to do that since the first time I saw you in that ridiculous green shirt,” Harry whispers, cheeky as ever.

“You have not!” Louis immediately protests.

“I have,” Harry hums in response, smiling sedately. His eyes are the brightest green Louis’s ever seen, but for once they feel less like a hurricane and more like a plush forrest. Calm and beautiful and content.

“Babe,” Louis starts, even as his pulse picks up minutely at the accidental term of endearment. 
“No one looks kissable in those shirts. Except Zayn, but I haven’t ruled out demigod for him yet.”

Harry giggles again, which is just not good for Louis’ heart. “Well, maybe I already knew I would love you, then.”

Louis stops breathing.

He pulls away from Harry slightly to look at his face, his own eyes wide and searching.

“Y—You love me?” he blinks. Surely, this is a cultural difference. Or Harry means, like, familial love. Platonic love. May-someday-lead-to-romantic-love love.

“I do,” Harry nods. “I’m in love with you, Louis Tomlinson.” Okay, so maybe not.

“Bu—but you’ve known me for, what? Two days? Really. I know you’ve been here longer, but. That wasn’t the same.”

Harry hums, like he’s humouring Louis before shaking his head on a chuckle. “No, it wasn’t the same for you. But I got to know you. The way you talk about your siblings and your mum and your friends. How much you care about your job and your studies. You light up when you care about something. It’s fascinating to watch. It’s beautiful.”

Louis opens his mouth to argue but Harry kisses him instead, just a quick peck.

“Let me finish,” he insists. “I was here when you weren’t lit up, too. I saw your frustration and your exhaustion and the night you cried yourself to sleep. You care, so much. How could I not love you for that?”

Louis feels a bit like crying right now, if he’s honest.

His voice is shaking when he says, “I—I’m—“

“You’re not there,” Harry ducks his head, a small, sheepish smile curving his mouth. “I know.”

Louis wants to be there. He knows he could be, knows he probably will be. And soon, if the way he feels around Harry already is any indication. But for all intents and purposes, he’s only known Harry for a day and a half.

“No,” he agrees. “I’m not there. Yet.”

Then he leans in and recaptures Harry’s lips with his own.

Louis kind of wants to laugh at the wide-eyed look on his boyfriend’s face. He can’t, because his heart is in his throat, blocking any and all other traffic, but Harry looks so much like the human equivalent of Bambi that the only reaction Louis can think of is laughter. They’re four months into their relationship and Louis's pretty sure he's already peaked with his gift-giving.

“Y—I—What?!” Harry gets out, sounding slightly hysterical, his voice as high-pitched as his smile is wide.

“I wanted to make this feel like home,” Louis says softly, the words getting caught where his heart is still taking up residence. Harry is looking at him, his entire face lit up with love and something remarkably close to awe. Louis can’t look away as he says, “Because I love you.”

He sees Harry’s breath catch, as tears spring to his eyes just as Louis’ own vision gets watery. Harry throws his arms around Louis and buries his face in his neck. Louis just holds on for dear life, squeezing Harry as close as he can, even as he feels the dampness on his collarbone.

“I love you so much, Harry,” he whispers into his ear. “So, so much.”

“I love you, too,” Harry says after a moment, pulling back just far enough to kiss Louis on the mouth, their lips lingering together.

“You really got me that tank?” Harry says, once they’ve regained their metaphorical footing. He looks at the tank again, spanning the length of Louis’—their, really—bed. It’s probably a meter wide and a meter deep, the kind of tank Louis always sees at Chinese restaurants.

“I really got you that tank,” Louis nods. “A—and I get if…you want to return to the—the sea or whatever. I do. But if you want to stay, which I hope you do, I wanted you to have more space. More…”

“Freedom,” Harry finishes, lips barely moving. Louis can see the tears in his eyes again. “I—I don’t wanna go home. Or, back to the sea. I am home. Here, with you. I miss the ocean, but my clan…I told you, they don't stay in the same place for long. I'd never be able to find them. But I found you. That’s what matters now.” He hesitates before adding, “Right?”

And all Louis can do is nod and crush Harry to his chest while he whispers comforts into his hair.

“Yeah, it doesn’t get less weird as time goes on,” Niall announces, his eyes tracking Harry’s movements in the tank.

“No,” Louis giggles. “Not really.”

Niall leans into Louis’ side where they’re standing, a smile on his face. “You’re happy?”

“So happy,” Louis agrees. He glances over to the tank to see Harry floating outside to door to the castle, cheekily flitting his fingers at Louis in a wave. Louis rolls his eyes and blows a kiss, then proceeds to flip Niall off when he starts making dramatic gagging noises next to him.

“Kindly fuck off if you can’t be happy for us. We’re supposed to be gross. We’re in love.”

“Yeah, okay, see—that smile is creeping me out.”

Dropping the aforementioned smile, Louis acquiesces, “Yeah, I can’t really blame you for that.”

Niall drops his head back and barks out a laugh, his bright blue eyes crinkling in the corners. Louis looks over to Harry, who’s grinning just as wide. He rolls his eyes again at both of them, just for good measure.

He and Niall leave Harry to enjoy his tank and head to the kitchen to grab beers. It isn't long before Zayn joins them, and the three of them bunker down in front of the telly to play some FIFA.

Louis feels oddly sentimental, looking around at his life and realising how lucky he is. He loves Harry, he loves Zayn for inadvertently bringing him into Louis' life, he loves Niall for accepting it all with his usual Irish charm.

(He did manage to get the story of how Zayn saved Harry out of the two of them eventually—it only took him a month and a half to get them to stop being twats about it, but he got it.

Apparently, Zayn stumbled upon Harry in a tidal pool at the beach once—Louis still isn't sure why he was at the beach considering he can't swim—and in typical Zayn fashion, didn't even question it. He simply emptied his water bottle and scooped Harry up before proceeding to bring him to the deeper waters.

He only brought him in to the store when Harry kept adamantly shaking his head and swimming in figure-of-eights around Zayn's ankles. Louis still isn't sure why Harry didn't want to go back into the ocean, beyond his belief that he'll never find his nomadic clan (which is probably reason enough, really). Regardless, he's got no complaints with how life worked out for the two of them.)

He's just sitting back to let Zayn and Niall battle it out when Harry joins them, the tips of his hair releasing droplets of water onto the planes of his body, only caught when they meet the towel knotted at his hips. He smiles brilliantly at Louis when their eyes meet and he feels his own face light up in response.

“Good swim?" he murmurs in Harry's ear when he plops down beside him and sticks his feet on the table next to Louis'.

"Good swim," Harry confirms with another smile and a nod. He looks so beautiful and radiant that Louis can't help but lean over and kiss him. Harry hums happily into Louis' mouth, bringing his hand up to smooth over Louis' neck and run his fingers through Louis' hair.

They don't stop until Niall chucks his controller at them and hits Louis right between the shoulder blades.

It's worth it.