• 21.2 ~ Long hair don't care
It only takes a few hours for small seeds of doubt to worm their way into Harry’s mind. He thinks of Mother coming home and finding the tower empty. She’d be devastated surely, worried that someone had hurt him. It’s enough to give him pause, he finds himself slowing down until he the point where he’s nearly going backwards, retracing his steps Tommo turns, seemingly bewildered at the sight of Harry dawdling.
“Is something the matter?” he asks.
“I’m fine,” Harry assures him. He breathes in and out. “No I’m not,” he moans. “I shouldn’t have done this. It’s so dangerous! Mother will be so worried if she finds out and I’m worried because not everyone we meet will be as kind as you and I can’t believe I did this what was I thinking? What was I thinking-.” His panicked ramblings are halted when the other boy clamps his hand over his mouth. He’s close now, closer than he’s ever been before. For a moment all Harry can think about is the blue of Tommo's eyes and the stubble lining his jaw.
“Harry,” Tommo says sternly. That’s the first time he’s said Harry’s name this entire day, he thinks. He wants to hear him say it again. Always. What? He shakes his head at the thought, dislodging his mouth from Tommo's palm. “Calm down. Breathe.” Harry does as he’s asked, breathing in deeply while Tommo counts him off, telling him when to exhale. After a few moments, his thoughts start to clear from the jumbled mess they were before.
“Now,” he says. “Let’s address your concerns. This isn’t dangerous. You’re with me and I’ll keep you safe. I promise.” He pauses after that, giving Harry time to process this. When he nods, Tommo continues, “Maybe your mother will find out, but quite frankly she deserves a scare for keeping you locked away, don’t argue with me, it’s true. Furthermore, everything will be fine. The big, wide world is your oyster, Harry. There are good people and bad people, but that’s half the fun, innit? Keeps life interesting I think.” Harry quirks his lips and nods.
“So what we’re going to do now is-” Tommo looks around their surroundings, settling his gaze on a nearby boulder. “Sit. We’re going to sit and you’re going to rattle off some inane yet charming facts about that chameleon hiding in your pocket because I know you’ve read about them, and then we’re going to start up again and get you to the lanterns. Okay?” Harry read a book once, a book about two people who fell madly in love. Mother bought it by accident and he hid it from her before she could find it again. In the book, one boy falls madly in love with the other boy after he saves him from the dragon. He never thought he’d get to experience something like that, his options were rather limited, as it were. But with Tommo sitting beside him, actually looking invested in the details of Niall’s diet like he actually has something interesting to say, Harry feels a small bud of hope blossom in his chest. Maybe he has a chance.
They restart their journey an hour later, Harry buzzing with renewed energy and Louis buzzing with a yet to be determined feeling he resolutely refuses to identify. Only a little while later, he spies a building off in the distance.
“Hey,” he says, tugging at Harry’s arm. He points him in the direction of the building and raises his eyebrows. “We could ask for directions?” When they get closer, they see a sign out front that reads `SNUGGLY DUCKLING TAVERN.´ Harry giggles at the name and quickens his pace, forcing Louis to move faster to keep up. He gets a little uneasy when they get within shouting distance and all Louis can hear is the clank of glasses and the loud murmur of men singing drunkenly. This place is decidedly not giving off a very snuggly duckling vibe. Harry hurries forward anyway until he’s standing right outside the door. He straightens his trousers and his shirt and tugs a silky scarf from his pocket, tying it around his head. Louis steps forward and helps him tie it up in the back, smiling secretly at the blush that lights up Harry’s cheeks.
“Thanks,” Harry murmurs. “Just want to impress the first people I meet.”
“Did I not count? Didn’t seem too interested in impressing me when you conked me on the head with your frying pan,” Louis scoffs. Harry frowns and pets regretfully at Louis’ head.
“I’m really sorry. Of course you count. You count the most.” Louis contorts his lips rather painfully to keep a grin off of his face. Harry takes a deep breath and puts on his most charming smile as he turns and pushes the door to the tavern open. Louis walks in right behind him, keeping a protective hand poised over his hip. Nearly everyone in the tavern turns as the sunlight from behind them lights up the bar and oh, what a sunny crowd it is. The man to Louis’ left is missing an eye, a deep fleshy scar running right through the middle of his socket. A man to his left is approximately seven feet tall and probably the weight of Zayn. Possibly larger. Another man has a knotted beard that reaches his feet which is only half as disgusting as the bulbous wart on his nose. Yet another man is covered in tattoos that Louis recognizes from a very, very brief stint he did in a local prison a few villages over. They are amongst the very criminals Harry is terrified of. Harry, however, doesn’t seem to notice. His smile doesn’t falter as he turns in a circle and greets everyone with a cheerful,
“Hiiiiiiiiiii.” The entire bar is so silent you could hear a pin drop. Harry walks straight up to the bar and sits on one of the stools, aiming a grin at the bartender. “Do you serve milk?” he asks. Louis drags his palm down the side of his face and tries to figure out the best way to pull Harry out of here with only minimal bloodshed. He sees glints of metal around the thighs of everyone in there that he thinks might be daggers. He tiptoes toward Harry and keeps watch for any sudden movements in his direction.
“Hey, I like your beard,” he offers to a man a foot away from him who’s directing a particularly bloodthirsty glare in his direction. “Do you use some kind of oil to keep it shiny, or?” The man grunts at him and bares a mouth full of jagged black teeth. “Right, thanks. Great talk.” Louis gives him a mocking salute and turns back to the bar to get Harry. He’s a foot away from Harry when a deep, throaty laugh that sounds like it bubbled up from the pits of hell catches his attention. He snaps his head up in alarm and sees the bartender whip his head back, hand on his rotund belly while he laughs. Joyfully. Harry turns and gives Louis a pleased grin.
“Told ‘em a knock knock joke,” he whispers. That seems to break the ice. The rest of the drinkers in the tavern go back to what they were doing, drinking themselves into oblivion and wagering money they don’t have in card games. Louis seats himself on the stool next to Harry and asks for two pints. The bartender seems a little colder towards him than he is to Harry, but as long as he’s getting served he doesn’t care.
“You can’t drink milk in a fine establishment like this, Princess,” Louis says. He pushes one of the pints toward Harry and smirks. “You need to take your first drink.” Harry eyes the slightly dirty glass speculatively, swirling the amber liquid around in the glass and splashing a little onto the countertop. He raises it to his lips and takes a small sip, he scrunches up his nose and gags, sticking his tongue out in distaste.
“This is disgusting,” he spits. “No offense, Gerard,” he assures the bartender who gives him a beefy shrug in return. “Why do people drink this?”
“Forget their woes, escape their burdens, ignore their families,” Louis says breezily. “Mostly because it’s fun to be drunk. Chug it up, buttercup.” Harry takes a deep breath and raises the glass to his lips once more. He locks eyes with Louis as he pours it into his mouth and chugs the entire pint down. He slams the glass back onto the counter when he’s done, wiping foam from his lip and letting out a delicate burp.
“That was-” he gasps “-awful.” Louis grins and downs his glass.
“Would you like another?” An hour later, Harry is properly sloshed. Louis is buzzed himself, but he has enough sense to keep watch over Harry. Especially with the way some of the men have been eyeing him up. Louis scowls and reaches over to thread his fingers through Harry’s curls, massaging at his scalp. Mine, he thinks and - no. Harry is very much not his. He’s pliant and warm at his side though, nuzzling his nose into Louis’ collarbones, and Louis wants him to be his. Just for a night. Or two. Or his entire life. Maybe when all of this lantern business is over, Louis can sell the crown and convince Harry to run away with him. He’s heard Wortenfield has beautiful weather this time of year. God, he’s emotional when he’s drunk. Harry starts nosing a little closer to Louis’ neck, snatching his attention back from his sappy reverie.
“You smell good,” Harry murmurs. Louis shivers under the touch and laughs nervously.
“I haven’t bathed in two days, love, but thank you.” Harry peeks up at him owlishly through his lashes.
“I like you,” he breathes. He straightens his torso and places himself even further in Louis’ personal space, nearly pressing their noses together. “You’re very handsome. Quite manly. Rugged.” They’re in a room full of brutes with enough facial hair to weave a blanket and Harry is calling Louis manly. He blusters a bit, crossing his eyes as he watches Harry’s mouth.
“You’re quite lovely yourself,” he replies, trying to move back and create some space. Harry isn’t having any of it. In fact, he responds to Louis’ attempt at separation by standing up and placing himself in Louis’ lap. He ducks down and before he knows what’s happening, Harry seals their mouths in a kiss. It’s probably one of the sweetest kisses he’s ever experienced, no doubt due to Harry’s complete and utter innocence. His innocence. Right. He can’t do this. He pulls back, regretfully and pushes at Harry’s shoulders, ignoring his frown.
“We can’t - we shouldn’t - I’m a thief, Harry,” he whispers.
“Mmm, you stole my heart, alright,” Harry giggles.
“That’s awful,” Louis replies. “No, Harry. I’m a criminal. A thug. A ruffian.” Harry finally gives up and pulls back.
“I know,” he says. “You’ve told me. Also I saw the wanted poster on the inside of the tavern door. King and Queen are offering one thousand gold pieces for your capture.” He said that last bit a tiny bit too loud, apparently, because everyone in the bar turns to stare at him.
“Fuck,” he curses. “Harry, we’re going to have to make a run for it in two seconds, because these men are going to get violent.” Harry looks frightened but also very indignant.
“Because they want that money?” He stands abruptly and throws himself over Louis’ body, glaring at everyone in the bar. “I thought we were all pals here!” he yells. “If you turn Tommo in, you’re not my kind of pal.”
“Harry,” Louis cuts in, but Harry keeps rambling on.
“Tommo is going to take me to see the lanterns and I need to see the lanterns because I’ve never left my tower and all I’ve ever wanted is to see the lanterns so why can’t you respect that,” he blubbers. He’s getting weepy as well, voice choked as he continues his tirade. “He’s helping me. He’s a good person which none of you will be if you turn him in.” He sniffles wetly as his entire face crumples. “And I really, really like him,” he sobs. There’s an approaching clatter of hooves from the outside that draws Louis’ attention away from his imminent arrest and Harry’s breakdown. Through the window he sees a furious Zayn, this time with a rider, approaching the tavern. Louis groans, realizing he’s screwed on both ends now.
“Snuggly Duckling,” a posh voice calls from the outside. “We’re looking for a fugitive known as `The Tommo.´ Please lay down all of your weapons while we come inside.” Louis feels a strong hand grip the back of his shirt and jerk him backwards behind the bar along with Harry. He looks up and sees the bartender, this time with mysteriously misty eyes, kneel to the ground and open a trapdoor.
“Go,” he orders. “We’ll cover for you. Head to the forest and hide. Good luck son.” He pats Harry’s head with more force than intended, but Harry doesn’t care, he throws his arms around his wide body and gives him a quick hug. The trapdoor leads down to their storage cellar which thankfully leads them back outside into the forest. It’s getting dark, a fact they use to their advantage as they run through the trees and into a clearing. They hide behind a large rock a half mile away and catch their breath. Harry takes Niall out of his pocket and lets him find a spot to curl up and sleep. The little chameleon is shaking in fear, Louis reaches out his hand and strokes a finger down his back to soothe him. Within minutes, he’s asleep.
“That was close,” Harry whispers.
“Yes, it was,” Louis says. He watches as Harry lays out the thin blanket he’d stuffed into Louis’ bag onto the ground. “We should be safe to sleep here for the night.” Harry nods and settles onto the blanket, pulling Louis forward to lie by his side. Just before they fall asleep, Louis speaks up.
“My name isn’t Tommo,” he says lowly. “I’m Louis. Louis Tomlinson.” Harry opens his eyes and watches him carefully. Then he smiles.
“A name fit for a prince.”