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Broken Glass (Louis/Lily) -- R



New Year’s Eve, 2028

11.30pm

The Burrow was filled with the sounds of laughter and talking and singing, and it was packed with the various members of the Weasley and Potter family. It was the first real gathering they had had together in six months. They hadn’t really done anything for Christmas as a family, and it was only after much persuasion and consideration that Arthur and Molly Weasley had agreed to host a party for New Year’s Eve.

They had all tried their best this evening, avoiding the subject that was in the forefront of everyone’s minds. Instead, although they had got off to an awkward, quiet start, it wasn’t long before the alcohol loosened most of them up, and soon, it was almost like nothing had happened, that this was another ordinary celebration, and that certain people -- namely, Louis Weasley’s father, sister and niece -- were not absent.

Louis, however, did not even want to be there. He had arrived late as it was, and he mostly just stayed in the corner, conversing briefly with a handful of relatives, lounging on the sofa and nursing the same drink for what seemed like quite a while. But soon after he arrived, he felt someone tap his shoulder. Turning around, he let out a sigh of relief to see Lily.

“Hey.” She gave him a quick hug, settling on the sofa beside him.

“Hi,” he replied, hating how flat his voice sounded. He couldn’t help but feel a little empty when she let go of him.

“How’re you doing?” Lily asked.

“Fine,” he said, rather shortly, and at his sudden curtness, her smile faded a little. Louis suddenly felt bad, and he was surprised when she didn't walk away.

“I’ve barely seen you lately,” she commented. “You didn't even have Christmas dinner with us--”

“I’ve been busy, Lily. Working overtime. I did say.” Despite this, he supposed she was right; the last time Lily had been to his flat was three weeks ago. He missed her visits, which had become more and more infrequent lately.

“True,” she said. “Oh, yeah, how’s that going, by the way? The new job? Have you settled in okay?”

“Yeah. It’s been going well, I suppose,” he said, shrugging. “At first, though, no one really took me seriously -- I’m hardly the right kind of person to be a security wizard, after all.”

“Why not?”

“Well, I think they’ve warmed to me a little since I started, but to begin with, I was apparently too much of a pretty boy for their liking,” Louis said, rolling his eyes.

At this, she sniggered, and along with relief that she was not annoyed with him, he couldn’t help but feel pleased with himself that, after everything, he could at least make her laugh.

“Did the blokes say that or the goblins?”

“Both,” he said, in the same matter-of-fact tone. “Difference is that the guys said it behind my back, and the goblins told me to my face.”

“I’m sure they’re all just jealous,” she teased, and it was his turn to laugh now.

“You bet they are.” He grinned back at her, the first genuine smile he had bestowed on anyone all evening, and he took a sip of his drink, but then he pulled a face.

“Ugh, it’s warm. Give me a second,” he said. She nodded, turning to talk to Lucy, who had stopped to perch herself on the arm of the sofa. Louis muttered a hurried greeting to Lucy before making his way into the kitchen. The table was loaded with drinks, and he was soon pouring some into his glass.

“Enjoying yourself, Louis?” asked his grandfather, Arthur, appearing from nowhere. His lined face looked tired, and Louis thought his smile was slightly forced.

“Yes, thank you, Granddad,” Louis replied dutifully, not quite meeting his eyes as he set the jug down on the table again. His grandfather looked like he was about to say something, probably about Louis’s father or Dominique or Ophélie. But Louis did not want to talk about them, or any other family member, for that matter, so he quickly muttered an excuse and returned to where Lily was. Somehow, he was glad that Lucy was no longer there, and it meant he could talk to Lily freely, without interruption.

“So how’s your job, then?” he asked.

“Boring,” she replied. “I wish I could write about more exciting things than crap about the wizarding economy or whatever. I’ll be covering Quidditch matches soon, though, so that should be fun. But forget about me. How’s your love life been going?”

Louis sighed, though he knew she would ask him about this eventually. After much nagging from a few of his cousins, Louis had agreed to go out with a couple of girls, but they hadn’t ended nicely. He tried to sound nonchalant, jokey, even, as he said, “And why, pray tell, should I tell you that, Lily?”

She wasn’t fooled, cocking her head to one side and pretending to consider for a moment. “Hmm. I don't know. Because we’re supposed to be friends, maybe?”

“Maybe.” He smiled before saying resignedly, “It’s non-existent at the moment, thankfully.”

“What’s happening with… was it Alice?”

Louis visibly winced, and Lily noticed, her forehead creasing a little. “You remember her?” he asked, and she nodded.

“Prettiest girl in our year, Alice Chang.”

“She wasn’t,” he told her truthfully. “No way. But anyway… she said how, if she knew I had this much emotional baggage and family issues, she wouldn’t have even thought about going out with me.”

“What a bitch,” she muttered.

He shook his head. “Not really. But she’s right. Whenever anyone finds out about all the crap my family’s been through, they don’t want anything to do with me.”

Shaking her head, she said sharply, “Believe me, Louis: you really don't have emotional baggage. Not compared to most girls, anyway.”

“Still. Maybe I should just give up women altogether. Oh, not like that,” he added at her raised eyebrows. “No, no, no, I don’t mean…” he spluttered, trailing off. Though he could see amusement in her eyes, he also thought there was something else, something he couldn’t quite place. Then she turned away, placing her glass on a nearby table.

“If you say so,” she said, and he could hear a smirk in her voice even though he could only see the back of her head.

“No, really,” he said insistently.

She turned around again, sticking her tongue out at him. “All right. You don't have to explain yourself to me.”

“Good,” he said in relief. “But what I meant was... I seriously don't see the point of seeing anyone. There must be something really wrong with me, the way--”

The smile vanished from her face, to be replaced with one of earnestness. “Stop putting yourself down,” she told him firmly. “There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re...” A sudden flurry of movement interrupted her, making them turn in unison to see their family pulling on their cloaks and starting to make their way outside, to the garden. Louis and Lily hung back, however, neither of them making an attempt to follow their relatives out of the door.

He didn’t want to go out there. He didn’t want to be with his family -- what was left of it, that is -- and pretend that everything was okay, and that he was healing, because he wasn’t. Not completely, anyway. The absence of his family had only lessened a tiny, tiny bit over the last few months, and there was no point trying to convince everyone else that he was coping, because he couldn’t even convince himself. He was only just about holding himself together as it was.

Suddenly, Louis said quietly, “You know, I’d really love some champagne. You go on, if you want. I'll be outside in a bit...”

“I’ll come with you,” she said quickly. “If you don't mind, that is.”

“’Course not,” he replied, and without even thinking about it, he had taken her hand and led her to the kitchen.

New Year’s Eve

11.59pm

“Happy new year, Louis,” she whispered, squeezing his hand. Louis took a deep breath and took his hand away, trying to ignore the fact that his stomach had turned upside-down at her touch.

It had to be because of the champagne they had just drunk, he thought. Yes, it was just the alcohol, nothing more...

“Happy new year, Lily,” he replied, only just managing to hold her gaze and smile back. When did she get so close to him? Louis wondered.

The countdown outside continued: “THREE... TWO... ONE!” He could hear cheers and wolf-whistles as, no doubt, several relatives of his kissed their respective girlfriends and boyfriends.

As the New Year fireworks started outside, Louis closed his eyes instinctively, not quite knowing why. And then, unexpectedly, he felt soft lips on his, and burning sensation ignited in his chest. Without even realising what he was doing, he kissed Lily back.

She tentatively coaxed his lips apart, running her tongue along his bottom lip. Her tongue pushed gently against his, and she tasted so warm and sweet as she explored his mouth. His arms wound automatically around her waist. He could feel her fingers in his hair, and the warmth of her body as it pressed against his; he could smell the faint traces of her musky perfume, and he could taste the tang of champagne on her lips. And for those few, blissful moments when her lips were on his, the fact that Louis Weasley was kissing Lily Potter, his first cousin, was the last thing on his mind.

The rush of heat he had felt in his chest had travelled to his belly now, and he felt himself almost shaking in exhilaration as he continued to kiss her, a groan emanating from his throat, until they were both breathless. They parted reluctantly, and he gazed at her for a few seconds, conscious of how loud and ragged his breathing sounded, wanting to say something, but having no idea what. And then she leaned against him, watching a Catherine wheel whizz past the window. He, meanwhile, still had his arms wrapped around her, attempting to understand what had just happened.

Louis had just kissed his cousin.

And he had liked it.

Well, no, he amended. “Like” wasn’t exactly the right word to describe the sensations coursing through him at her touch. As much as he didn't want to admit it, it was more than just that -- far more. In fact, as they watched the fireworks together, in silence, he fought the urge to take hold of her face and press her against the wall and kiss her again.

He supposed it was not entirely unheard of. After all, he and Lily had always had a… a closeness, he decided, that he didn't have with any of his other cousins, especially after his mother’s death a few years back. At the time, Louis had thought that this was because of their ages -- she was only a few months older than him, after all, and they had always got along as children. More importantly, though, Lily had helped Louis stay on his feet after his father, his sister and his niece were murdered six months earlier. She had adamantly refused to allow him to drown into a sea of Firewhisky, visiting him at least three times a week to begin with, making sure he was okay.

Lily was different from his other cousins. He could talk to her, and she understood him like no one else did. It was only because of her, after all, that he was coping now, that he had a job, that he was at least trying to put his life back in order.

But he did not have much more time to dwell on the matter, because, mere moments later, he realised that the firework display was over, and their family were beginning to head back inside. He quickly released Lily, taking a few steps away from her just as the door of the Burrow opened. Their granddad, Arthur, and their Nana, Molly, came in, other Weasleys -- and Potters -- filing in behind them. In an attempt to look nonchalant, he crossed his arms, grateful for the safe distance between him and Lily.

“Where were you two, kids?” their grandmother asked, looking from Louis to Lily. “You missed the fireworks.”

“Sorry, Nana,” Lily said swiftly. “Me and Louis--”

“You mean ‘Louis and I’, dear,” Nana Molly corrected.

“Yes, Louis and I were just talking,” Lily continued smoothly, twirling a lock of hair around her finger and not looking at him. “I wanted another drink, and, well, we must have lost track of time. Sorry, Nana,” she repeated, and Molly appeared gratified, because she then turned towards the door. Victoire came in, holding her swollen belly, with Teddy helping her over the threshold.

“Are you sure you’re all right, Victoire, my love?” Molly asked, concerned.

“Yeah, you do look a bit pale,” Louis added, frowning. His thoughts had been so preoccupied with Lily all this time that he only just realised how ashen Victoire’s face was.

“I’m okay, Nana, Louis,” Victoire answered, breathing heavily. “I just really need to pee-- OH!”

“Victoire!” several voices cried in unison as Victoire clutched at Teddy’s shoulders, panting. Ginny ran forwards, as did Nana Molly. Lily looked like she wanted to join them, but Louis watched as she seemed to think better of it, instead, taking a small step towards Victoire, craning her neck to see over the many heads suddenly surrounding her cousin.

“Wuzz goin’ on?” asked James, who had just staggered in, his eyes only half-open. He had his arm around his girlfriend, Julianne, who looked even drunker than he did. “I ‘eard someone--”

“It’s Victoire. She... she’s in labour,” Louis replied, trying to stay calm, just as she let out a shriek of pain.

New Year’s Day

1.30am

Even though they were in different rooms, Louis could still hear Victoire as clearly as if she had screamed in his own ear. He winced and scrunched up his eyes, as if that would somehow block it out, but if anything, the resounding screams from the birthing room just got louder.

Suddenly, he heard the chair beside him creak a little, and he felt a warm hand, only a little smaller than his, clasp his own tightly.

Lily.

He knew it was her. Even if she hadn’t touched him, he could smell a hint of her perfume. Why was she still here? Louis thought, his eyes remaining shut. Everyone had been forced to leave the waiting room almost as soon as they arrived in St. Mungo’s, since it was well past visiting hours, everyone except for Nana Molly, who had insisted on staying with Victoire along with Teddy while she gave birth. Louis was allowed to stay only because he was Victoire’s brother, and that took a lot of arguing on his part as it was.

She must have sneaked back. He wondered how she had got past the Healer on duty.

Almost unconsciously, he returned the pressure, squeezing Lily’s hand just as firmly. He tried to push any thoughts of their kiss earlier to the back of his mind. This really was not the time, he told himself, and he still was unsure what he was supposed to do. He needed to straighten out his feelings, undo the knots that had formed after what had happened. Now was neither the time nor the place to do so.

Nearly jumping out of his seat, he heard another screech from the birthing room. He opened his eyes, and he couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed when Lily let go of his hand.

“It’ll be okay,” she told him softly. “Victoire will be fine.”

“I hope so,” he replied nervously.

“I, er, brought you tea.” Lily held a cardboard cup out to him. Their fingers brushed against each other as he accepted the beverage with a quiet murmur of thanks.

They didn’t say anything further to each other, but they didn’t have to. Louis finished his tea far too quickly, and at some point, his hand found Lily’s again, and they continued to wait, flames of worry licking at their hearts and threatening to consume them whole. The silence seemed to stretch on forever, only punctuated occasionally with another scream, coupled with various swearwords.

He couldn’t help but remember when Dominique had Ophélie. She had been so young -- eighteen years old, a year younger than Louis was now. Her labour had lasted for so long, and then she had had to take blood replenishing potions, and Ophélie had needed so many breathing spells for weeks, and all sorts had happened. Louis prayed that none of that would happen to Victoire. They couldn’t. It wasn’t fair on her. He exhaled heavily, restlessly staring at his own lap and almost biting a chunk out of his own lip.

Waiting.

New Year’s Day

8.45am

“It’s a girl!” exclaimed a familiar voice, and Louis was roused from his sleep almost instantly.

Lily had long since drifted off, her head lulling on his shoulder, her hand still clasping his tightly. Louis himself was floating between various states of slumber, but at the sound of the sudden announcement, he rose immediately, his heart pounding, all need for sleep forgotten. He gently nudged Lily to wake her. Minutes later, Molly emerged from the room, looking exhausted but smiling faintly.

“She had a girl,” Molly announced proudly. “Tiny little thing, she is, only weighed three pounds--”

“How’s Victoire?” he asked, apprehension in his voice. He had tried, as had Lily, numerous times to see how far Victoire was, if there were any problems. However, each time, they had been batted away immediately by the Healer who was on duty outside the birthing room. The witch had told them repeatedly that they were not allowed to be there, and Louis and Lily had insisted and insisted until the Healer grew tired of arguing and had just let them be.

“She had a normal birth,” his grandmother assured him. He let out a breath he didn’t even know he was holding, relief washing over his sleep-deprived mind.

“Thank God,” he said, more to himself than to anyone else.

“Can we see her, Nana?” Lily asked sleepily, already starting towards the door. She was still holding Louis’s hand.

“Victoire wanted to see you first, Louis. Alone,” she added, looking pointedly at Lily. Lily didn’t argue, instead releasing his hand and nodding wearily.

He didn't move at first. “Go on, then!” she said.

He took a deep breath and knocked twice. Teddy opened the door, grinning at him, before stepping back to let him in. Victoire was sitting up in her bed, holding her baby in her arms, and she smiled wanly when he came in.

“You all right?” she asked once he reached her. “One of the Healers was telling me that you’ve refused to budge all this time, you and Lily--”

“I’m fine,” he mumbled, and then he kicked himself for being so inconsiderate. “Forget about us, though, Victoire. How -- how are you feeling?”

“Like hell,” she replied, but she was still smiling a little, so he hoped she didn’t feel as bad as she looked or said. Her forehead was covered in sweat, and her usually tidy blonde hair was damp and tangled. “I look a bloody mess, kid.”

He did not berate her for calling him a kid like he usually did. Instead, he agreed, “Yeah, you do. Mum would’ve had a fit if she saw you like this.” The last words spilled out of his mouth before he could stop them, and then he closed his eyes, cursing himself. “Damn it, Victoire, I--” He cast around for something else to say, but he couldn’t think of anything, so he just stood there awkwardly, avoiding her eyes and waiting for her to speak.

“No, you’re right,” she said finally. “She... they -- Mum, Dad, Dominique, Ophélie -- they all would have loved to see Cara.”

“Cara? Is that what you’re calling her?” Louis asked, glad that they were talking about something else. “She’s lovely, by the way.”

“Yeah, we are,” Teddy answered for his wife, smiling. “Cara Dominique Lupin.”

Louis managed a smile back, nodding, and he turned to his brother-in-law, only just remembering he was in the room. He held out his hand for Teddy to shake. “Congratulations, mate,” Louis said a little woodenly. To Louis’s surprise, Teddy winced, and Victoire chuckled.

“I think you need to get that checked out, love,” she said.

“Good idea,” Teddy agreed. “See you in a bit, love.” He kissed Victoire’s cheek, bent down and kissed his new daughter, patted Louis’s shoulder and then left.

“I may or may not have broken Teddy’s fingers by accident,” Victoire told her brother by way of explanation, a slightly guilty look on her face.

He smiled fleetingly. “He’ll be fine; don't worry about him. It’s only a few bones. And, Victoire, I meant it, you know. Congratulations.”

“I know you meant it. Thank you,” she replied sincerely. “Would you like to hold her?”

He nodded, and Victoire handed Cara over to him. As he adjusted his arms to accommodate his new niece, the door opened, and Lily entered, Nana Molly, Harry and Ginny at her heels.

“We Apparated straight over as soon as Mum let us know,” Ginny said to Victoire, and she and Harry settled near her bed, conversing quietly with her while Lily hurried to Louis’s side.

“Aw, she’s so cute!” Lily cooed. She kissed Cara’s forehead as Louis cradled his niece in his arms.

Nana Molly had been right, he thought, looking closely at Cara’s sleeping form. She looked so small, her tiny features very delicate, and she felt almost weightless, so fragile to Louis that he was scared he would drop her. Especially because the last baby he had held was Ophélie, and that was a few years back, when she was first born.

He felt his eyelids grow heavy with fatigue, and he fought to keep them open. Clearly, this did not go unnoticed, because a moment later, Harry called, “Louis, you look like you're about to drop.” At that second, Cara opened her eyes and began to wail. “So do you, Lily, for that matter. You must have been up for hours -- why don’t you go home, get some sleep?”

“Yeah, you can come back tomorrow,” Ginny added. “Victoire needs to rest, too, and she’s got to feed Cara. We shouldn’t even be here--”

“No, you shouldn’t,” the Healer on duty interjected, who was watching the exchange disapprovingly. She held the door open pointedly. “I’m afraid you’ll have to leave. Only three visitors are allowed at a time, and right now, only Mrs Lupin’s partner can be here. Visiting hours are between ten o’clock this morning until seven o’clock tonight.”

Harry nodded at her, before asking his niece, “Oh, where did Teddy get to, by the way?” Cara’s bawling was becoming louder, and Louis tried rocking her, but it didn’t make a difference, so he gave her back to Victoire.

“He’s getting... something fixed,” she replied, smiling slightly at Louis as she took her daughter back. Cara immediately quietened a little. “Anyway, thanks, Louis, and you, Lily. You guys didn’t have to wait out there all this time--”

“We wanted to,” Lily said immediately, and Louis nodded, just about managing to stop himself yawning.

“Seriously, though, thanks. I really--” She paused, stifling a yawn of her own with her hand, before continuing, “--really appreciate it. I’ll see you later, okay?”

Ginny and Harry murmured their goodbyes to Victoire too, but Nana Molly started forwards in concern. “Do you need help feeding--“

“She’ll be fine, thank you,” the Healer snapped. “Now, Mrs Weasley, I would very much appreciate it if you and your family could leave.”

“We’re going,” Harry told her hastily. Once they had all left the room, they walked in silence through the hospital door and out onto the deserted street.

“Well... I’ll be off,” Louis said quickly, his eyes fixed on his shoes.

“You’ll be all right getting back, dear?” Molly asked. “You can always stay at ours if you’d like--”

“No, I’ll be fine, Nana,” he replied patiently. “Bye, everyone.”

He looked up and waved at them; despite himself, his gaze lingered on Lily’s. Her whole face lit up as their eyes locked, but then he turned on the spot, Apparating directly into his bedroom in his flat. He didn't even bother undressing. Instead, he collapsed, instantly, on his bed, falling asleep as soon as his head touched the pillow.

New Year’s Day

7.30pm

There was a knock on Louis’s door, and as he went to answer it, his hand self-consciously touched his hair, which was still damp from his shower. He felt pleasantly awake after a wonderful, long sleep.

He blinked when he saw who was there.

It was Lily. She looked different, somehow. The last time he had seen her, her eyeliner had been smudged from where she had pressed her face into his shoulder while sleeping, and he remembered that her hair had been messy and her clothes creased. Now, she was fresh-faced, with no makeup, her hair neat, and he didn't know how long they stood there, just looking at each other, but it felt like forever.

“What are you doing here?” he blurted out at last.

“Hello to you too,” Lily replied sarcastically. She brushed away imaginary dust from her jeans, unconsciously tugging down the hem of her jumper. “I was going to send over Freya, but she was out hunting. Anyway, I came to visit. You’ve never minded before.”

“Yeah, well, before, things were diff...” He didn't complete his sentence, but he didn’t have to. She knew exactly what he was going to say, anyway.

“Can I come in? I want to... talk.”

Louis was sure he wanted to do more than just talking with her, and he bit his lip nervously, saying, “I don’t know, Lily. I’m not sure that’s a good idea, given-- given everything that’s happened between us.”

She rolled her eyes. “‘Everything that’s happened between us?’ Don't be like that, Louis. I kissed you. You kissed me back. And you weren’t exactly complaining, were--”

“Hey, can you be a bit more discreet, please?” he hissed.

Fixing him with a death glare, she did the complete opposite, saying rather loudly, “We can always have this conversation on your doorstep if you really want.” He glanced up and down the corridor, wincing as a neighbour of his began to stare at the two of them. Lily continued, “It’s not like we’re--”

“Stop it!” he said in an even louder voice, and he quickly grabbed her arm, pulling her inside and shutting the door. He let go of her instantly. All the while, he avoided her gaze, looking at his shoes, at the wall, at the floor, anywhere but at her face, something that was difficult when the hall was so narrow.

“I’m sorry,” she said immediately, and she took a step towards him, lifting his chin up and forcing him to meet her eyes. “Look, I didn't mean to -- I just wanted to talk to you, Louis.” But that simple gesture, along with her close proximity to him, rendered him unable to speak.

Despite the soft lighting of the hallway, her features were thrown into sharp focus, and he noticed things he hadn’t ever noticed about her before. He could see, clearly, the dark, smoky shadows under her eyes, the tiny scattering of freckles on her nose, the contours of her cheeks, her full, red lips. And for one mad moment, as they stared at each other, he felt the strong urge to close the small distance between them and kiss her.

“Please,” Lily said, almost desperately. “Say something. Anything.” He shook his head imperceptibly, tearing his face away, finding it impossible to be close to her and not stutter. “Fine, then. Tell me, right now, to leave. Look me in the eye and tell me that you don't care about me, that you wish I didn't kiss you, that you don't want to see me again, and I’ll gladly walk out of that door.”

He had found his voice and was quick to correct her. “Of course I care for you, Lily. I always have. And I-- I wish I could tell you that I don't have feelings for you. I really, really wish I could. If I said that, though, I’d be...” He trailed off mid-sentence, wondering what on earth he was trying to say.

“Yes?” Lily pressed, and he could hear a glimmer of hope in her voice.

He shook his head, trying his utmost to think straight, and he decided to tell her the truth. Or, at least, part of it. “If I told you I don't-- fancy you,” he said finally, and even then, the words he uttered sounded trite and wrong, “I would be lying. But... but we’re cousins. Doesn’t that--”

“All it means is that we share a few genes. So what? And -- look, it used to happen all the time. It still does, in some places--”

“The fact still remains that we’re related,” Louis tried to say, but he could tell that his words were only half-hearted.

Obviously, she could tell, too, because she frowned. “I know you, Louis. It’s got nothing to do with that. But there’s something you’re not telling me... another reason. What is it? Is there... have you got someone else?”

“No!” he snapped far more forcefully than he intended. “No,” Louis repeated, more calmly this time. “There’s no one else. It’s you, Lily, damn it. But, look, you -- you said you like me--”

“It’s more than that,” she told him, and unconsciously, it seemed, she lifted her hand and traced his cheek with her finger. He did not stop her. “You’re not just a nice boy to me, you know. You might think that about me, but...”

“I don’t. You’re far more than just a nice girl, Lily. You know that. But I’m worried. I’m scared -- about what would happen if we do... if we are together. You’ll leave one day, and when that happens, I-- I don’t know what I would do. Because Alice was right. I’m a damaged person, and you’ll walk as soon as you realise that. I know you will. And I don't want to inflict that on you. It’s not fair.”

“You’re not a damaged person,” she said slowly, her hand falling to her side again. “You’re someone who’s been put through hell, yes, but you’re not damaged, and you certainly don't have emotional baggage. Don’t ever take that from anyone, because no matter how badly the world treats you, you matter*, Louis. A lot.”

And before he could say anything, she had stood on her toes again and placed the most tortuously soft kiss on his lips. No hands, no tangling of limbs, nothing but her mouth on his, and she still made him feel weak at the knees. When, almost immediately, she broke away, he felt the same strong desire to kiss her properly.

“I promise I won't leave you,” she told him earnestly. “Ever. You’ve known me my whole life, Louis. I never break my promises.”

“You’re saying that now,” he said, very conscious of her warm breath on his face, “but you’ll get sick of me, eventually. I know you will. Everyone does in the end.”

“Not me.”

“Lily, I just think you deserve so much better,” he said helplessly. “You’re worth a thousand of me, you know.**”

“No,” she said firmly. “Just the one will do.**” She tilted her head up so that her mouth was less than an inch away from his, and her eyes were so rich, so full of longing that reflected his own, that he made up his mind in a heartbeat. She was so close to him that he could feel her chest rise and fall against his, and at last, he gave in and kissed her.

After a few moments, she pulled away a little, their foreheads still touching, and she asked unnecessarily, “Is that a yes?”

He smiled and answered her with another kiss. Her arms wound around his neck, while his fingers tangled into her hair. Her tongue danced with his, and she tasted so familiar, so... so Lily. Her body seemed to fit perfectly with his, and Louis found himself with his back against the wall as her fingers crept under his shirt, tracing circles on his back. His hands strayed from her neck to her front, tentatively brushing against her breast.

But then he stopped, uncertain. He had to be sure. “Is this okay, Lily?”

“’Course it is,” she replied with an amused smile. She slowly ran her thumb over his lips. “Why? You... you have done this before, right?”

“Only a couple of times,” he admitted.

She looked relieved. “You and me both, then.”

“And... you don’t think this is going too fast?” Louis murmured, kissing her brow.

“Maybe. But -- I want this. I want--” For the first time, she hesitated. Then she took a deep breath, her hands on his shoulders, and she said, “I want you.

He kissed her, then, heatedly, his body melding into hers. “The feeling’s mutual,” he said softly, and they both smiled. Her hands slipped under his shirt again, splaying over his stomach, while his caressed her breasts, and she sighed against his lips, wrapping her leg around his. Seconds later, they nearly lost their balance, and Louis only just managed to catch her in time.

She steadied herself, laughing, before taking his hand and leading the way to his room. The walk from the hall to the bedroom felt like the longest walk in his life, and as she opened the door, he couldn’t stand the absence of her lips a second longer, and he kissed her again, grabbing her wrist and taking it off the doorknob. She let out a tiny sound of surprise, but then she responded, nudging the door open with her foot. His lips did not leave hers as they moved unsteadily backwards, finally tumbling onto his bed together.

Immediately, she tugged off his t-shirt, managing to kick off her shoes and use her toes to pull off her socks as she did so. She lowered her lips to the base of his neck, her mouth lingering there, her tongue flicking against his skin, eliciting a deep groan from him as her lips moved further across his bare chest. She continued to undress him, giggling when he had to bend down and remove his socks. He straightened and grinned back rather mischievously before gently lifting her arms to undress her, his hands and lips grazing her newly exposed skin, kissing her all the way up her belly. He paused only to unhook her bra, and then he kissed up her chest and her neck and on her soft, flushed cheek, and to her swollen lips.

As his lips brushed against hers, he told her, hoarsely, how beautiful she was. He watched her eyes grow darker, the blush that was tingeing her cheeks now reaching her ears. But then she looked as if she wanted to deny it, like she always did when he paid her a compliment, so he added sternly, “Don't even think about saying anything otherwise, Lily.”

She smiled, then, replying lightly, “As long as you don't ever say anything about how you’re not good enough for me again.” Without warning, her fingers slipped just inside the waistband of his boxers.

His breathing began to quicken as she ran her fingertips across his hipbones and pulled them down, and he just about managed to say, “I won't.”

“Good.” His underwear was around his ankles now, and he shook them off. Then, he slid his hands down her waist, stopping just above her hips.

“Are you--” he started to say, but she stopped him, kissing his lips gently.

She told him firmly, “Yes, I’m sure. I’ve never been so sure of anything in my life.” Taking hold of both his hands, she moved them further down her hips. Carefully, his eyes fixed on hers, he eased off her knickers. She arched her back, pressing against him, curling her legs around his waist, and at long, long last, they made love.

Afterwards, a few moments passed, and they just looked at each other, until Louis reached forwards, cupping her cheek. He leaned in, intending to kiss her lips, but he still felt giddy with pleasure, and he ended up kissing her nose by mistake. She smiled before hugging him tightly, her face buried in his chest.

“I love you so much, Lily.” The words had left his mouth before he realised what he was saying, and his voice was barely a whisper. He wasn’t sure she could hear him; he had spoken so quietly, and a small part of him hoped she didn’t, because he wasn’t sure she would reciprocate, not just after they had --

She raised her head a little so she could see his face. “Do you really mean that?” Lily asked, an unreadable expression in her eyes.

“I wouldn’t say it if I didn't mean it,” he replied, before adding, quickly, “I completely understand if you think it’s too--”

She interrupted him with a long, lingering kiss. “I love you too, Louis,” she said, breathing heavily when they finally parted, but smiling so widely that her face looked like it was about to split in two. “I always will.” His eyes lit up, and he lifted her hand to his lips, kissing her knuckles, realising that he needn’t have worried. Lily loved him. No one had ever said that to him before... well, not like that, anyway. Damn propriety and tradition and normality and everything else, he thought; she loved him, and he loved her. They could deal with everything else (he was kissing her fingers now) in the morning.