The jet ink black of the night washed their faces out as they walked near the Thames. Louis spoke first.
"I hope you didn't mind me showing up like that," he said quietly. They could hear the lapping of water against stone.
"It's fine," said Lena shortly. "I needed to get out."
"I could see," he said simply. "You're a great parent to her, you know?"
At that, Lena promptly burst into tears. Louis lead her to a bench and somewhat befuddled, asked, "What is it? What's wrong?" He thought he had given her a compliment, but now she was crying. Great.
"S-she always tells me I'm horrible," she cried. "I w-wanted to go out today, to see the Eye, but she threw a t-tantrum and I don't know how to handle her properly, I don't! I'm so scared of m-messing up. I'm n-not a p-parent and she knows it!"
Louis was shocked. She acted so well with Sarah, teaching her and guiding her, yet deep down she felt like this? He took a deep breath.
"Lena, there's no real guide to parenting. Your sister loves you, I'm sure. She's just still mixed up about a lot of things, I think, and she's still quite young."
"I m-meet her other classmates and they're so m-much more mature than her, and I'm worried I'm d-doing something wrong!"
She sobbed harder, and he put his arms around her, out of instinct.
"You're worn out," he said, trying to soothe her as she blubbered all over him. "It's ok."
Sniffling, she dried her eyes on the edges of her jackets. Noticing that, he apologized.
"I usually carry tissues on me, but today of all days I didn't."
"It's fine," she said, smiling through her tears. "I'm sorry, I'm not usually a wreck. I don't know how to explain it, but I feel safe around you. Like you understand."
Louis could feel his heart beating faster, pounding like a drum in his chest.
"I do. I've got a lot of younger siblings. Seven, to be exact."
"Seven?" asked Lena incredulously.
"Yeah, my mum's not too good with them. She's never really had a stable relationship. She divorced my real dad and got remarried to a new guy when I was just a kid, which was good because my real dad wasn't exactly a good person. I took my new dad's last name, I wasn't born a Tomlinson. But they got divorced maybe, three years ago. Actually, the other month she just got remarried after having the guy's twins out of wedlock. My little sister lost it. She's...sixteen now, I think, I honestly can't keep track of their ages since there's so many of them. I came home from work, and there she was, stealing my oreos."
"I honestly don't talk about this with a lot of people, not even the guys to be honest. There's something about you that I find comforting though, and I do feel safe with you too. Seeing you deal with Sarah and everything just sort of drew me to you. Something I've learned is that even the calmest and most stable-looking of people can come from rocky situations. Sometimes people are hurting inside, but they're really good at hiding it."
Lena leaned on his shoulder. He could feel her warmth. He wondered if her heart was beating as fast as his, frail, like a child in her birdlike chest.
"I am," she said, thoughtfully. "Usually I bottle it all up and I'm just too busy to contemplate on how I feel. Sarah idolizes our parents. I think she just selectively remembers the good memories, and I remember the good times too, but they were seriously messed up. My mom was cheating on my dad. I saw her one time when I came home from school early, and I was going to tell my dad but she begged me not to. She wanted to divorce him. They fought every day like dogs."
She paused to clear her throat.
"I'm not looking for a relationship, Louis."
His heart sunk.
"I don't think I'd be able to contribute everything I could to it, not while I'm taking care of Sarah, and it wouldn't be fair to you. You need someone who can stay by your side at concerts, move in the blink of an eye, go where you go. But I'm Sarah's rock. I owe it to her to find a good job, get a good place, and help her go to a good school."
He thought about her words for a moment.
"You know, you don't have to martyr yourself for her. And I don't need someone who will move around for me either."
"I know, but my parents made a very unstable environment for me, and I don't want Sarah to have to go through that. She doesn't even remember them fighting."
"Are you sure?" asked Louis. "She could remember, it might just be her way of dealing with it."
Lena sighed in response.
"In any case," he said, proceeding timidly, "you could just consider it our fling. For these twelve days." He paused but he couldn't tell her reaction to his words in the dark.
"I'll take you out on dates at night and Jones will watch Sarah. If, at the end of these twelve days you still feel like this isn't worth it, it's fine. But I enjoy your company, and I think you enjoy mine. Why not let yourself enjoy it for a change? What's stopping you from having fun, Lena? Sarah's all taken care of for the night, and it's ours. What do you want to do? Where do you want to go?"
Lena exhaled slowly.
"You're right. Well, for starters, I've never had a drink in my life even though I'm twenty-one."
"What?" laughed Louis. "Alright, then, I'll take you back to my place for a drink. Let's head back to the car."
"Why can't we go to a bar?" asked Lena, confused.
"I'm sorry, but I'll give you the paparazzi experience another night. Tonight I want you to myself, with no paparazzi."
"I'm not sleeping with you tonight," she blurted out, and he stopped.
"I know, Lena. I'm not that kind of guy. Everything that happens is because you want it to happen. If you're not comfortable going back to my place, just let me know. It does take about an hour to get there, let me warn you."
"It's fine," she said, confidently. "I might just fall asleep on the ride back though."
"It's ok," he laughed. "Limousines are quite plush on the interior, and I promise you that you can stretch out."
As she climbed in, she mumbled,
"My mother always did tell me not to get into cars with strangers."
He chuckled at that.
"We're not strangers anymore. Charles, can you take us back to Hertfordshire?"
For once, he wasn't dreading going back to his empty house.