Emergency Help Wanted
I lied when I got my job.
I told them I had a kid so I could leave early 'to pick him up from day care', to take him to doctors appointments and occasionally miss a day 'when he's sick'. Long story short – I'm in too deep. I didn't think this through.
Looking to rent a kid for bring your child to work day. Must be a boy aged 4 to 6 with curly hair who plays soccer, essentially he has to look like the stock photo in the frame on my desk. Also must be artistic as the macaroni noodle drawings I made seem a little advanced for someone his age. He also needs to respond to 'my Little Picasso' as that's what my spouse and I call him. Also I will pay extra for someone willing to play the role of my spouse when dropping him off. His name is James, he's named after his grandpa and he's a defense attorney who often brings his work home.
You know what, just message me for the details, serious inquiries only. H.
"You can't be serious," Niall cackled as he read out the advert Harry had just posted on Craigslist out of pure desperation.
He should've known his little white lie - oh, who was he kidding, he'd accumulated too many to call them little or singular - would catch up with him at one point.
Apparently, 'bring your child to work' day was an actual thing and it did require an actual child. Last year, he'd gotten away with saying that his little Picasso had gotten ill all of a sudden, and had been unable to come join them. This year, though, his boss had made it quite clear that they expected Harry to show up with his little family in tow.
He'd dreaded it for months, but with the event just a mere week from now, it was long overdue for him to spring into action.
Hence the Craigslist post.
Surely there was someone out there who would be willing to help him out – he usually appreciated the rather.. niche listings he sometimes came across. There had been this one time where someone had put in a request for a practice blowjob round with someone who was uncut. It'd been one of his first browsing sessions through Craigslist and he'd almost spurted out his coffee. On the other hand, the ad had disappeared quite soon after as having been fulfilled. Sometimes Harry wondered whatever would have happened to those individuals. If they could get a happy ending, then surely Harry's ad wasn't too far out of the realm of possibility for success?
'I am serious, Niall. It's not like you have a curly-haired kid that I could just take with me for the day. Besides, it's not even just the kid – I also need a fake-spouse.'
The Irishman just rolled his eyes, and closed out off the listing on his phone's browser, though a mischievous smile was still stretched across his face.
"Or you could've just not lied to your boss about a child – like normal people do."
With a huff of frustration, Harry threw his hands up in the air. It was too late now. 'I can't confess after almost two years of pretending I do have a child! I just never thought I'd have to actually prove any of it. I wasn't even supposed to still be working for Caroline.'
He shuddered at the mere mention of her name.
It was how the whole conversation had started, really. She'd been a bit too... flirtatious with him, and Harry had been unwrapping his newest photoframe to put in his new office. He'd just gotten the job at the news agency and he'd been ecstatic. So maybe writing sports columns and ending up going on coffee runs for others wasn't exactly what he'd envisioned when he'd finished journalism school, but at least it was an actual writing job at a respectable paper that came with his own office! And apparently a very handsy boss.
In a desperate attempt to not insult his boss on the first day, Harry had panicked and had grabbed onto the photo frame with the stock photo of a curly child, and had pathetically thrusted it at her in hopes of signaling he was far from interested.
She hadn't truly gotten the memo, had started blabbing about how great of a single dad he must be, so Harry had on the spot also created a husband out of thin air.
"Okay, I'll admit. You might've lost the momentum for the truth about 19 months ago. But Haz, I really don't think Craigslist is the answer. Who in their right minds would lend their child to a stranger who was crazy enough to dream up an entire family? On the other hand, who knows? Maybe you'll meet someone equally crazy," Niall laughed to himself, before slapping Harry on the back and pushing past him to grab another beer from his fridge.
'Laugh all you want – I'm sure someone'll be able to help me out,' Harry retorted snarkily.
He'd show Niall he was right and when that moment came, he'd come by his flat again with his fake-spouse and child in tow, just to be petty.
It had been three days.
That meant he only had four days left to find his stand-in son and stand-in spouse.
Maybe Niall was right.
He'd only gotten two replies so far, and neither had actually been serious or had seemed... trustworthy or credible enough to even consider giving them a call. Maybe he was being too picky, but was it really too much to ask for at least some standards regarding his fake-husband and son?
He was blaming this all on Gemma.
If only she'd given the curly haired gene to his nephew Aiden, then things would've been fine.
He could've just borrowed him for an afternoon, she surely wouldn't have minded. Although Aiden had unfortunately also inherited Harry's abysmal coordination, and while that definitely scored points on the 'see we're definitely related' scale of things, it didn't really match his stories about his little football talent.
Also, Aiden would probably just laugh loudly at him calling him Picasso, and pull on his hair. Not smile sweetly and give Harry a hug, like he'd told his boss just yesterday.
He groaned to himself. He was fucked. Maybe it was time to reconsider Niall's plan of getting a serious case of the flu just the day before – 'to make it look more genuine', as he'd tried to convince Harry.
"Harry? Your phone's pinged. A message from Craigslist," Liam called out, shaking Harry out of his thoughts. Immediately, his head swiveled towards his friend that had come over earlier to watch some Marvel movie that Harry had to admit he was only watching for the hot actors.
Liam handed him the phone from his side of the sofa, before leaning back into the cushions, facing Harry this time around.
"What're you looking for on Craigslist? I didn't even know you used it."
Harry sighed, dreading to have to explain himself once more – especially to Liam who no doubt would give him a speech about honesty being the best policy. So instead, he focused on opening the new message, and suddenly found himself grinning as his eyes skimmed over the phrases.
First of all mate, thanks for writing that ad – it gave me a right laugh. Either you're a very original yet creepy lurker, or you're serious and must be quite desperate! Given the fact that I'm an actor trying to make a living in London, but have had to resort to a job in a bookshop for the time being to pay the bills, I understand the latter all too well. So, I'm going to go out on a limb here and hope I don't make a fool out of myself by taking your request seriously. I'd be delighted to offer my services and help you live out your little white lie to the fullest for one full day. While I do not have a child myself, I'm sure I could convince me mum to let me babysit my little brother, who is in fact a wonderful noodle artist at just 5 years old, great at football (not to be too presumptive, but can we say he got that from me?) and has long blonde curls. My name's not James, but I can be the best fake-James defense attorney you'll ever meet, so let me know! - Fellow Desperado, Louis."
Harry wanted to cry out in relief, and had apparently done so for real, when Liam suddenly appeared right next to him to read the message.
"Harry," he started with that disappointed lilt in his voice, laced with worry and sympathy, that made him roll his eyes fondly at his friend.
He'd endure the lecture.
Who cared about a little tough love from Liam, when he was not going to have to suffer or come clean to his boss?
Harry couldn't help but let the hope take over.
Louis was going to save him.
I mean... how can I write a Craigslist AU and not mention only the most well-known fic out there where Harry and Louis meet due to a Craiglist ad? ;)
Hope you liked it, please leave a comment or kudo if you did!
Chapter 2: The Test Run
In which Harry and Louis land themselves into an accidental test run.
Please don't forget to leave a comment, it's so greatly appreciated! xx
Louis was going to kill him - either on purpose or by accident.
On purpose, because once Harry had listed all the outrageous lies that would serve as facts on their relationship, he started to realize how crazy this really was and he really would understand it if Louis decided not to go through with something as bizarre as this. Surely he wouldn't be able to pretend like they met at a circus summer camp, and remember all the anecdotes Harry had dreamt up in 18 months about how he'd tried to impress Louis – well, James – with his juggling skills. And that was probably one of the more tame ideas Harry had apparently found entirely acceptable to share with his work colleagues.
Either Louis would meet with Harry to practice their sudden marital status and decide to murder him for his demands – or Louis would kill Harry entirely by accident, just by looking the way he did.
After an initial e-mail correspondence, they'd decided to meet up once to finalise their agreement and get to know each other. In order to ensure they'd be able to recognise one another in a public space, Harry had bit the bullet and sent over a photo of himself. In return, he'd received a selfie of probably the most breathtaking man he'd ever seen in his life. He was gorgeous, and for a minute, Harry was almost proud of himself for landing such a beautiful husband – before realizing that it was all fake.
Besides, it was just one selfie.
He was fairly sure it really was Louis, since he'd asked him to take a photo with his head next to a printed version of his ad. But still – photoshop nowadays was just like magic, so really, Harry wasn't going to get all his hopes up right away. He could've used photoshop, or asked a friend to pose with it instead.
There was also still a chance it was an undercover cop who thought Harry was creeping online or exploiting child actors, or even a form of soliciting maybe – paying someone to act affectionate with him in public.
He'd never actually taken the effort to look it up, but he was quite certain that he wasn't doing anything illegal, and that Niall had only thrown that scenario out there to scare and embarrass Harry. Sure, Niall was an entertainment lawyer, but he also lived for entertaining himself by putting Harry in awkward situations. Also, he had been the one to suggest the Craigslist ad himself, so it couldn't have been that illegal, in any case. Weird, maybe. Illegal, not so much.
Louis'd said to meet him at a pub nearby, and while Harry of course knew that really he was employing Louis and it was most definitely not anything near romantic – it still felt like a date.
A date during which Harry'd tell more about himself, and Louis'd show him the photos of Ernest, but also during which Harry'd decide on whether or not he was really about to pay 2000 quid to play house for a day with Louis and his little brother.
Despite telling himself that it was just a business transaction and that he shouldn't get his hopes up about Louis – who possibly wasn't even really named Louis or looked like the photo or maybe wouldn't even show up at all – his nerves had only multiplied ever since arriving at the pub.
They were supposed to meet at 5.30 PM, right after work, which had left Harry all the more desperate to solve his dilemma. Caroline had once again sidled up to him to ask after his private life – clearly disappointed at the lack of drama or change in Harry's situation as he had stressed just how happy he was with his partner.
He sighed to himself, thoughts drifting away as he mentally went over all the things he'd need to address, when someone plopped into the seat across from him so suddenly that it made Harry jump up in surprise – knocking his pint over straight onto the lap of the stranger.
"Oops," Harry breathed out, a blush staining his cheeks as he realized who exactly the stranger was.
Louis just smiled, seemingly not all that bothered by the stain on his sheer black shirt, which had already seemed to perfectly outline his body, but was even more so accentuating his chest, now that the beer had stuck onto his skin.
Harry was so fucked.
'Hi, good to know that my husband's accident-prone. Though it does make me question that we met at a circus camp, not sure your parents should've allowed that with those reflexes.'
He groaned internally as he caught sight of the absolutely gorgeous smirk and the sparkling clear blue eyes that were amusedly staring back at him.
Yup, Harry was really, really fucked.
Apparently, Louis took pity on his current state, his features softening as he reached out over the table to straighten up Harry's pint glass, waving over a waitress in the process.
'Could you get us two new pints? And maybe something to wipe this up? I'm really sorry, this one's quite clumsy,' Louis asked her, motioning towards Harry in a way that was so familiar and intimate that he couldn't help the flutter of his heart.
He wanted to bottle up the gentle smile Louis had just given him and keep it with him forever.
He realized though that it was probably not normal to think that of someone he was defiantly not on a date with, and that maybe he should've said more than just 'oops' a while ago.
Clearing his throat, he thanked the waitress after apologizing profusely – though she'd seemed charmed enough by Louis earlier to really care all that much about the mess, and then focused back on Louis.
"I'm really sorry about that, I'm not – well I guess since we're "married" you have long ago embraced all my flaws, so I don't have to lie. You're absolutely right I am really fucking clumsy," Harry drawled out, before shooting Louis a dimpled, innocent smile.
The other man grinned, and was about to speak when he was interrupted by the waitress returning with two new pints.
'Thanks love,' he said sincerely, and proceeded to take the glasses – sliding one in Harry's direction before taking a sip of his own.
It was a good sign in Harry's book. You could tell an awful lot about someone just by the way they treated service personnel. He'd once dated a guy who'd whistled to gain a waiter's attention. Harry'd left a very big tip to apologize, and had promptly dumped his date right after.
They stared at each other for a bit, just taking in how the other one looked, and Harry had a hard time trying to fight down the blush and shy smile that were threatening to break out on his face. While it was great he felt attracted to Louis – it'd sell them much better tomorrow, if Louis accepted – he also had to keep himself in check and be reminded that it was just business. So, he tried to school his facial expressions into something more... neutral, before reaching into the bag he'd brought with him and pulling out a folder with paper inside.
"Right, erm. So. Thanks for doing this, and like, responding to the ad. It was a long shot. And, well, I'm just glad. I er- I printed out a list of things that you should probably know, and I brought a sort of contract thingy. I don't know, my friend insisted, Niall, I think I told you about him over the phone? Oh, you are also good friends by the way, you got him a jo-"
'A job at my law firm recently, I remember from our conversation over the phone, love,' Louis recited with a smirk, motioning for Harry to hand over the papers that had been hovering mid-air whilst he'd rambled on and on.
"I know it's like, a lot to take in," Harry started again as Louis flipped yet another page, making him realize he really did have a five page outline of lies he'd been telling his co-workers, "so I'm just really grateful you're even considering this."
Louis' eyes shot up to meet his gaze at that, his expression carefully blank, which made it that much harder for Harry to get a feel of what he was thinking.
He smiled then, and he couldn't help but catalogue all the little crinkles at the corner of his eyes, or the way in which he seemed to scrunch his nose a little – making him look fond. He wanted to know all Louis' expressions - especially the happy, smiley ones.
'Harry, you've got nothing to feel embarrassed about. I think this is probably the most interesting and amazing acting opportunity I've ever come across in my career. And while I admit I'm in a bit of a slump right now, I have done West End before. Now, let's see if the core player in all of this lives up to your expectations, while I try to remember when our anniversary is and why I would ever agree on carrot cake for our wedding reception,' he stated, holding out his phone to Harry, a full album of pictures on display featuring Louis and two adorable toddlers.
Harry took a sharp intake of air, could feel his heart speed up once more at the onslaught of seeing Louis playing and cuddling with his two siblings. He'd always envisioned James as having two sisters, but he'd gathered from Louis that he actually possessed a bit more than that – five sisters, and a little brother.
Two sets of twins.
For a split second, he wondered whether or not it'd be genetic and Louis would have twins too, but he immediately let that treacherous thought go again.
"I mean. He matches the photo on my desk, so that's great, really. Are you sure he won't be freaked out if I call him 'little Picasso'?" Harry frowned, feeling slightly guilty at having to involve an actual child in his farce.
Louis just let out a laugh and shook his head, as if he'd just remembered something funny. Harry supposed that the memory was probably the fact that Harry had decided their child would be nicknamed little Picasso, rather than something mainstream – like 'little bean'.
'Mate, Ernie will love you as long as he gets some Haribo candy afterwards. Also, he likes attention so it'll be fine. I'll have a stern talk to him and tell him Picasso is a very secret codename for Pikachu and he'll probably beg anyone to call him that for days after.'
It sounded reassuring enough, but then Louis frowned, and Harry could feel the panic rising as he saw the man across from him open his mouth to speak again. What if he suddenly didn't want to do it anymore?
'Though I have to say, Ernie does insist on calling me Achoo, and I don't think he's going to stop that.'
Harry's shoulders relaxed immediately.
That wasn't bad at all. In fact, it was disarmingly cute. "We'll make it work. Children have weird phases. We'll say he refuses to let it go after you had a bit of a cold last week and sneezed."
He could see surprise flicker over Louis' face, before he burst out in another beautiful, tinkling laugh, and he couldn't help but feel addicted to the sound.
'I can see now how you got yourself into this in the first place. But really though, Harry, this is all fine. I'm fine with it. Contract's good. Only thing I need to know is just a bit more about yourself.'
And, oh. Maybe Harry wasn't the only one who wanted to pretend this was a date, rather than just a very strange freelance job offering.
'Your five pager outlines clearly who I am, and what a mastermind our son is, but it says hardly anything about you. As a proper husband I should know at least the basics – your family, your career highs and lows, your favourite beer and colour – but let's start with your birthday and your full name please.'
Okay, maybe Harry was the only one after all. It sounded fairly logical, of course Louis would have to know his personal background. Any proper spouse would be aware of that kind of information. It wasn't anything special. He tried not to be disappointed.
He was in the middle of explaining why he'd left his previous position as travel journalist, when they were interrupted by someone letting out a high-pitch squeal, before shoving themselves into the booth next to Harry.
"Oh my god, you must be Harry's husband James. I can't believe he's never shown us a photo of you before. You're gorgeous! My name's Jesy, I'm sure you've heard about me before," she prompted – sticking out her hand to Louis over the table, while Harry wanted nothing more than to disappear in that exact moment. The file with the contract was staring at him from where it was lying next to Louis' drained pint glass, as if taunting the both of them for the absurdity of the situation.
He'd never, not once, run into a colleague of his in this pub - but of course he would when he was trying to set himself up with a fake family.
If anything, this was the moment of truth.
Were they believable?
Could Louis pull it off?
Did he even still want to?
It was his last shot to escape – he could still deny being James. It'd leave Harry with a big problem, but frankly, it was a problem he'd created himself. He'd deal with it. If he had to. He could still feign food poisoning, he thought.
'Nice to meet you, Jesy – Nelson, I think, right? Doing music reviews? And a penchant for Yorkshire tea? Girl after me own heart,' Louis teased, shooting a wink in Harry's direction as he shook her hand.
Jesy let out a cackle at that, nudging Harry in the process, who was too stunned to reply directly. "Oh, I like him Haz!"
She was smiling at him now, and Harry realized that she was still waiting for an appropriate reaction out of him. He fumbled for words, before fixing a feigned pout onto his face as he settled on his reply.
'I'm getting jealous over here,' he directed at Louis – who, really did turn out to be a great improv actor, because he chuckled and then reached out to grab a hold of Harry's hand over the table, caressing his knuckles. He made a show of paying extra attention to his ring-finger that had been adorned with a peace ring ever since he'd been 18.
But Jesy didn't know that.
He could practically feel her melt next to him, as Louis fixed him with a gaze full of affection. "No need love, you know you're the only one for me, have been for years now."
And yeah, maybe those words made Harry melt a little bit himself as well.
'Oh how lovely,' Jesy cooed, before lifting herself up out of the booth again. 'I'l let you get back to it, Harry did say you work a lot, so you should enjoy your free time together without the little one, hm?'
Louis laughed, and nodded in thanks. "It was very nice to meet you, and you're absolutely right. Harold here tells me all the time I should stop bringing my files along to third-wheel on our dates," he made a show of grabbing a hold of the folder and stuffing it into the backpack he'd brought with him.
He guessed it was his time to really lay it on thick, so he lifted the hand that Louis had been holding and pressed a soft kiss to Louis' hand.
'Babe, you know I just worry that you work too hard sometimes,' he said with a shrug, and he couldn't help but smile at the mischievous twinkle in Louis' eyes.
Maybe he'd impressed him with his own acting chops too.
Maybe, if he impressed him enough, he'd consider spending some more time with Harry after pulling off their scheme tomorrow. Maybe he'd bribe Ernest into missing him. He did still have a bag of Haribos lying around in one of his kitchen drawers.
"Oh my god, you know everyone's going to die at work tomorrow once you bring James and your little one – what's he called again?" Jesy said, lingering at their table as she kept glancing from Louis to Harry in excitement.
'Ernie. Well, Ernest in full,' Harry replied, keeping his gaze steady on Louis, rather than Jesy. All that was going through his head was a steady stream of blueblueblue, entranced by his eyes.
"Our little Picasso, hm?" Louis murmured, making it somehow sound affectionate and playful, as if he was on the verge of bursting out laughing at the nickname. It only served to make Harry grin harder, dimples on full display.
"Right! I can't wait to meet him. I've seen the artwork, very impressed. James, again, lovely meeting you. See you tomorrow!"
And with that, Jesy was finally whisked away by one of her friends to play pool on the other side of the pub.
Harry's eyes followed her movement, and could see Louis do the same out of the corner of his eye, before letting go of Louis' hand and sighing in relief once she'd turned away from them
He looked back over at Louis, only to see that he was already focused on him, a curious expression on his face that Harry had a hard time to decipher.
'So I guess we're really doing this, hm?'
"I mean. Technically we could stage a big row and I could announce we're getting a divorce tomorrow. I wouldn't really prefer that option, but you know. It's your choice," Harry rushed out.
He'd figure something out. He'd lied for so long, what would one other lie really do at this point? He'd probably even be able to squeeze out some sort of pity promotion if he'd play his cards right.
Louis leveled him with a defiant look, before delving back into his backpack to fish out the contract.
Grabbing onto a pen, he flipped through the papers to get to the right one and scribbled something on the dotted line, then pushed it towards Harry.
'There. My choice. Now, let's get back to business. Tell me more about why you decided that all the travelling wasn't for you? Did you miss a proper home? That's why I dropped out of travelling theatre companies myself.'
Harry couldn't help but let his gaze linger on the way in which Louis unconsciously reached out to rub over the compass tattoo that was situated on his bare arm.
He could faintly make out the word 'home' tattooed on it, rather than North, and it did absolutely nothing to dampen the crush that Harry was developing.
So if he spent the night dreaming about how Louis' tattoo seemed to match the ship that was on his left arm, noone really needed to know. It was just another little white lie. Only this time, there wasn't anyone but him that needed to hear it.
Chapter 3: The Pick-Up
I've decided to split the final chapter into two since it'd gotten a tad long, final instalment will be up tomorrow! xx
'Should I wear the blue button-up or this black one?' Harry questioned, holding up the two shirts in front of him for Niall to see.
Looking back, Harry wasn’t quite sure what had made him agree to Niall's request of being there to witness the start of his charade.
All he knew was that he'd suddenly found Niall waiting on his doorstep at 6 in the morning, whining about how Liam had gotten to be the first one to hear of Louis and therefore Niall deserved to be the first one to see Louis for real.
He'd also refrained from pointing out that Liam had just accidentally seen the message as it had lit up his phone, which was in no way comparable to Niall showing up unannounced and ringing his doorbell relentlessly to wake him up. Harry also knew that there was no point in bringing it up with Niall, because it wouldn't keep him from being present in his flat. And sure, Harry had admittedly considered showing up to Niall's flat to show off the fact he'd gotten his fake family together, but he hadn't really counted on Niall showing up at his place on his watch, rather than Harry's.
Instead, he'd just resigned himself to the fact that Niall was now here and could at least make himself helpful as designated wardrobe hand. Though Harry should've known really that Niall maybe wasn’t the best guy to go to for fashion advice.
He was way too sold on his own newsboy cap.
"Blue, definitely. I think you said his eyes were blue, yeah? It'll help to convince everyone subconsciously of the fact that you've totally been married for years and have a child," Niall spoke decisively.
So maybe Niall did have useful advice after all when it came to clothing. With a shrug, Harry proceeded to button up the blue shirt while Niall helped himself to the muffins he'd made earlier in an attempt to get rid off the pent-up stress he was feeling.
Giving himself a once-over in the full-length mirror, and running his hand through his hair a final time, Harry nodded slightly at his reflection. It'd have to do.
Just as he was about to join Niall in the kitchen area, the buzzer of his apartment went off. Louis was supposed to pick Harry up and then drive the both of them to work, with Ernest in tow of course – just to emphasize the image of their happy family.
What he hadn't thought of, was what Louis would think of Niall being in his apartment at 8 in the morning, happily munching away on muffins and quite probably already at the door – just waiting to get the first glimpse of Louis himself.
“Oh! I’m gonna open u- hello!”
Harry was right.
He could already feel his cheeks flush as soon as he caught sight of how startled and surprised Louis looked when faced with Niall, rather than Harry.
'Er.. I'm Louis, here to pick up Harry?'
He quickly strode over to where Niall was still partly blocking the entrance into his apartment, finally coming into view for Louis as well. Perhaps it was Harry's imagination, but he was quite sure that he saw his lips quirk up into a smile the moment their eyes met.
"Hey," he said as he raised his hand in an awkward wave, coming to stand right behind Niall. "Erm,Niall this is Louis. Louis, meet Niall, you know -"
'The one that I helped get a job, I remember, darling husband of mine,' Louis finished for him, a teasing lilt in his voice that made Harry's heart skip a beat.
Surprised at the sudden noise, it was only then that Harry's gaze was drawn downwards and for the first time noticed the most adorable child tugging on Louis' hand, motioning that he wanted to be hoisted up into Louis' arms.
At that, Niall seemed to realize that he was in the way, finally moving aside to let Harry get a good look at his husband and son for the day.
They looked stunning.
Louis was wearing simple skinny jeans and an oversized red shirt that looked sinful on his body. He spotted cursive tattooed letters poking out from underneath it, and suddenly felt the need to trace all of Louis' body art with his tongue, preferably as soon as possible.
He couldn't help but lick his lips, throat feeling inexplicably dry all of a sudden as he tried to keep himself from blurting out something wholly inappropriate.
The spell was broken, though, when Louis just bent down to lift up his little brother, settling the child on his hips as he spoke to him.
There was a time and place for his fantasies – this wasn't it.
'Ernie, baby, this is Harry. Harry's a really good friend of mine, and we're going to help him out today, okay?'
The little boy nodded his head, blonde curls bobbing up and down due to his movement, before looking over at Harry and waving.
"Hello, I'm Ernest," he spoke decisively, and Harry was half in love with the kid already.
His blue eyes reminded him of Louis', and his mind drifted to images of his own kids as he wondered briefly on their eye colour. Somehow, all he could conjure up, was that exact same of cerulean blue as Louis'.
'Hi Ernest, nice to meet you,' Harry said, leaning in to shake the hand that Ernie was holding out for him.
'Ernie, remember what I said in the car?'
"We'll go play football and get candy when I listen to you today, and we're playing house so I should call Harry Papa," he recited after Louis' question, smiling toothily as Louis nodded in approval – a fond smile gracing his facial features.
Niall cackled, still observing them from his spot in the hallway, before reaching out to grab Harry's bag for him.
'You should go, be early so you can get everyone to meet your beloved husband,' he said, before turning to Louis. 'Mate, I can't believe you're going along with this, but I love you already.'
Ernest wasn't all that interested in what Niall had to say, instead focusing on Harry's tattoos.
Or at least, that's what Harry gathered from the way the chubby little hands were reaching out for the cross tattoo still visible on his hand.
"You have drawings just like Achoo! I want a drawing too!"
With a smile, he found himself rolling up his shirtsleeves, eliciting a gasp from Ernie and a grin from Louis as his other tattoos came into view.
‘Ernie can sit with you in the car and he can study them from up close. He likes them. Mum hates me for corrupting her children at such a young age.’
Harry didn’t understand why the fact they were heading to his work kept slipping his mind, when it was the main reason – only reason – Louis and Ernest were even there.
"If Louis' okay with it, I have a sharpie at my office. We could give you a drawing, right here," Harry said, poking Ernie's arm softly – earning himself a delighted giggle from the toddler.
'Yes! Yes! Achoo!'
His whines really shouldn't have been so endearing to Harry, but he realized that he wasn't the only one as he caught sight of Louis' face melting into a gooey blinding smile at his little brother's antics.
He was about to speak when a white flash distracted him, making him whirl around to find Niall grinning at them with his phone angled towards the threesome. "What? Can't leave for such a special day without taking a photo to remember it by," he said with a shrug, before making a move to push Harry – and effectively Louis and Ernie out the door.
"Now go. I'll clean up here," he shooed, to which Harry snorted.
'You mean that you're going to raid my fridge and eat the muffins I baked, and then not clean up at after yourself.'
Louis lit up at the mention of muffins, and suddenly Harry felt glad he'd been stress-baking and had also put three carefully prepared muffins in his shoulder bag.
He could faintly hear Niall say "got that right, now bye-bye Styles family," before the door slammed close in his face – leaving him with just Louis and Ernie.
His hands felt clammy as it started to sink in that this was going to be his reality for the next 8 hours at least, and he didn't really know what to say to Louis – aside from something that'd probably vaguely resemble please make this last longer than 8 hours, you are so damn attractive.
Which was of course not right to say to someone you'd only ever met once before and had gone on a semi-date with, only to agree to a mutually beneficial heist that involved one's little brother and a lot of not-so feigned affection - at least from Harry's side.
'You should've told me you baked before, you know, that's wonderful. We really were made for each other. I'm not that much of a cook myself,' Louis conversed gleefully as Ernie trotted along, holding onto Louis' hand while they made their way out of the building.
"Achoo burns pancakes," Ernie added, nodding his head with a mix of anguish and sage on his face that almost caused Harry to laugh.
In his attempt to hold it in though, an ungodly guffaw still managed to escape – resulting in Louis stopping in his tracks to look over at him with a feigned shock expression.
'Did you just laugh at my brother's lies? I do no such thing.'
The giggle that followed from Ernest told Harry all he needed to know, and he shrugged innocently to which Louis sighed dramatically as Ernie started protesting.
"Mummy says you not s'posed to lie."
And. Well. Harry was impressed by Louis' mother. How on earth had she managed to create the most wonderful man and the best little man Harry'd ever seen?
Louis fondly rolled his eyes and called his brother a little tattle-tale, before praising him for being honest and turning to Harry with a 'what can you do' expression. 'I guess I did burn the pancakes last week. But that’s okay, I married up, didn't I?'
Harry laughed openly at that, enjoying the way in which Louis seemed to squint his eyes together in a genuine smile that lit up his entire face.
For a minute, he got lost in the idea of having that little beacon of light for the rest of his life, and only realized he'd drifted off when he heard Ernie bang on the car window from he was already strapped into his carseat – signaling for Harry to climb into the sturdy Range Rover.
Which. Not exactly the car Harry had expected. As if Louis could read his mind, he made a move with his hand as if to wave away the fancy interior the moment looked over at him in the driver's seat.
"The car's me sister's. She's a make-up artist. Quite successful."
Lottie was her name and it was pretty clear from what Louis had told him yesterday as part of the basic run down that he loved her very much and was so proud of her work ethic and ambition, and that they were quite close, despite the age difference.
Then again, Louis was a lot older than all of his siblings, but he seemed to have a very special connection to all of them. Harry wondered what that would mean for him as a Dad.
Louis' children would probably be spoilt to death by their Uncle and Aunts.
"So, I studied Google Maps religiously last night and I think I should be okay, but maybe if you could give me directions once we reach your company's block, for where to park?"
Louis sounded nervous.
Funnily enough, Harry didn't feel nervous at all. Just surprised that Louis had poured that much effort into everything.
He couldn't help but let his gaze catch onto the ring that was adorning Louis' hand. It was one of Harry's older rings – they'd had no other choice. His hands were quite dainty, and while that was also slowly becoming a thing for Harry, they'd had to make do with an older one if they didn't want it to slip off from his ring finger.
Slightly distracted, he just nodded. 'Yeah, 's no problem. You alright? Sure about it?'
It was unfair really, how even a slightly confused frown made its way onto Louis' features. He wasn't sure, but he thought he'd seen a flash of... anxiety or nerves in his eyes, but he had to ruefully conclude that he didn't know him well enough to draw any conclusions.
He just – he needed the reassurance that Louis was fine with all of this.
That he didn't mind pretending to be Harry's spouse.
And maybe, if all went well at the office, he'd ask Louis again. But then hopefully he'd be referring to an actual, real date – not a fake marriage.
"Hazza. I wouldn't – there isn't anyone else I'd rather spend a day being fake married to. You proposed to me in fucking Paris, and gave me a really meaningful ring with bears on them – which are super special to us and noone knows exactly why, but they are. We have a child together, Ernest! Tell your daddy for the day that he's being... stupid!"
Ernie immediately, enthusiastically responded to Louis' urge and started telling Harry that he was being 'ridac-ulies'.
'We could've also just said your ring was at the cleaner's. People do that sometimes,' he couldn't help but offer, though - despite the warm, fuzzy feeling that had settled in his chest ever since Louis had referred to as Hazza. He wasn't a nickname person himself, but Harry could tell from the way in which his little brother refused to pronounce his name right, that it was a genetic Tomlinson trait.
Louis kept his eyes firmly on the road as he got them inching ever closer to Harry's company.
"No. I've committed to this now, Harold. Or should I say, buttercup? I'm like a pitbull with stories like these. Won't let me go."
And, yeah. Harry was suddenly seeing that maybe, he himself was getting a little too committed to the farce already.
Hopefully the office wouldn't be too hard on them.
And then, perhaps, they'd get a real chance.
It wasn't until Louis pulled into the parking space that was normally reserved for Harry – which had sounded like a nice bonus when he took the mediocre job, but was quite redundant given the fact that Harry didn't own a car – that he started to feel his nerves increase again.
'I am quite sure that I can hear you thinking.'
Louis' concerned voice snapped him out of his trance, as he realized he'd been gripping onto his own thighs so tightly that his knuckles had turned white.
"Can we go now? I want a juicebox, Achoo" Ernie whined from the backseat, as he started reaching to undo his own seatbelt.
Louis frowned at that, eyes temporarily breaking away from Harry to look at Ernest, apparently satisfied by the lack of success, before looking back at Harry.
'Listen, Harry. I'd obviously love to go through with this, because, well, I could really use the money. But I need you to be okay with this first. If you don't want to do it anymore, that's fine, just – just tell me, yeah? And you walk in there alone, and I turn this car back around, no harm done.'
The words made Harry shake his head almost immediately.
How could Louis even think that he wasn't okay with that? If he had been, he'd have come to that conclusion ages ago, maybe just a week after first lying about it all. Not almost two years.
"No, absolutely not. We spent so much time on getting our facts straight. I'm not backing out. I hired you. I'm not going to fire you now. How could I, when Jesy already saw us together? Don't be ridiculous," he huffed, before launching himself out of the car.
He was pretty sure he could see Louis suppress a smile, his mouth forming a strange sort of triangle that only somehow ended up making him look fonder than he probably was.
Then again, he was an actor, so he really couldn't tell.
'Alright, Hazza, I can see how serious you are. Sorry for questioning it,' Louis mumbled just loud enough for him to hear the teasing lilt in his voice as he passed him to help Ernie climb out of the SUV.
It hadn't really occurred to Harry before, but seeing Louis next to the car with his 6 year old sibling in his arms, it was pretty obvious how small Louis actually was.
He kinda liked it.
'Gimme a break, I'm big! Ernie, tell him,' Louis scoffed.
Apparently Harry had spoken out loud, and truly, he would've apologized, if it wasn't for the fact that Ernie started giggling and shaking his head adorably – refusing to tell Louis differently.
Louis' gaze flickered to Harry shortly, before his eyes seemed to focus on something behind him instead, and he started speaking again – slightly louder this time. 'Great, always siding with your Dad hm, I see how it is.'
For a second, Harry was a bit thrown off by the sudden use of the term 'Dad' in reference to him and was about to make a comment about it, when he realized exactly why Louis'd said it.
Ernest shrugged at Louis, taking a hold of his hand again as he angled his body into his brother's legs when one of Harry's colleagues approached.
'Harry! I see you've finally brought the family to your office, how nice to meet everyone. Name's Martin, I'm in Legal.'
"Hi, Martin – this is my spouse, James. Babe, this is Martin," Harry introduced the two as Louis reached out to shake the older man's hand, not even realizing what nickname he'd called Louis until the moment had long passed and gone.
'Nice to meet you Martin. I gotta say it's not Harold's fault. I'm always busy with work, being a defense attorney and all. If not that, we've got this one to take care of, and that's a lot of work,' Louis said good-naturedly, his hand swiping through Ernest's hair who immediately turned around to pout at him.
'Are you gonna say hello to this nice man, Picasso?' Harry almost snorted, Louis sure was good – dropping all the right facts left and right in casual conversation, and Martin was only their first encounter of the day.
Ernie looked conflicted, and to his own surprise, decided to instead let go of Louis' leg and reach out for Harry. Martin didn't seem too offended, but rather endeared by Ernest who was now being hoisted up by Harry.
"Ernie, Martin's very nice. Can you please say hi?" Harry tried gently, to which Ernie at least shot a quiet wave his direction, before hooking his chin on Harry's shoulder and letting one hand pull on Harry's curls.
He was fascinated by them – probably because Louis didn't have any, yet Ernie did.
He'd found a curly kindred spirit, and he was taking full advantage of it.
'You've got kids yourself?' Louis asked, hand slipping in the front pocket of his jeans as he cocked his hip out. It only caused Harry's brain to short-circuit with thoughts like God, he's kind of all sorts of wonderful echoing inside his head.
"I call you Papa, you call me Picasso yeah? Like the Pokemon?" The excited and equally loud whispers of Ernie in his ear made him snap out of it, no longer paying attention to the conversation Louis was having with Martin, thinking about how well he fit into his world.
Instead, he just smiled and nodded at the boy.
'Yeah, exactly like that. Wanna head inside? Leave Lou here with that man?'
"Are you two seriously trying to get rid of me? And here I was thinking I was the much-appreciated bonus husband," Louis suddenly wailed from behind Harry.
Apparently his conversation with Martin was done, though Harry was sure that Martin was still watching the three of them interact from where he was entering the building with his own wife in tow.
According to Louis, their children were already in their pre-teens and therefore had felt way too cool about joining the day, though their parents assumed they were still using it as an excuse to skip class - or so Martin had informed him during their short exchange.
'You're a bit of a gossip, aren't you?' Harry mused out loud, nudging Louis as he put Ernest back on the ground again, to which Louis feigned offense.
"Who me? How dare you make such allegations after suggesting to leave me? When I finally get to see your office," he retorted dramatically, eliciting a giggle from Harry.
He shook his head, 'no, I'm terribly sorry. You are a wonderful bonus-husband.'
Louis made sure to bat his eyelashes at Harry – he hadn't noticed before how long and beautiful they were.
They were standing dangerously close, and God, Harry was getting distracted by those incredible eyelashes fanning over his cheeks so he just nodded and mumbled something unintelligible.
Louis apparently really wanted an answer, and just raised his eyebrow – succeeding once more in brightening Harry's smile even further.
'The best, most appreciated bonus-husband there is,' he articulated softly, before leaning in and planting a kiss on Louis' cheek.
Obviously he'd only done it because he'd seen another colleague of his approach the entrance of the building and they were in plain sight.
Showing some affection was expected of them, wasn't it? It had nothing to do with Harry himself – not at all.
He didn't dare look at Louis' expression after the impromptu moment, afraid of what he'd see – afraid of rejection or disappointment. Rather, he focused on Ernie and led him into the building, trusting Louis to follow behind.
Harry'd never really considered himself that big of a social butterfly, but apparently the news that he'd brought his son and husband had made everyone who worked for the news agency very interested in meeting them. It was strange to look on while people greeted Louis as James, and made sure to tell Ernest what a lovely boy he was and how lucky they all were to have each other.
He'd even had some of his colleagues come up to him to tell him they could just see him glow, and that it was lovely to see that sparkle in his eyes whenever he looked over at his spouse – as if he couldn't believe he'd been able to marry that.
And, well, they weren't wrong. Harry indeed could not believe he'd ever be able to marry someone like him. So he'd have to make do with the trial run. At least the day was full of activities for the children, as well as the parents, and Harry was fully intending on impressing Louis whenever he could.
So far, though, all they'd done was listen to some guy from HR explain the schedule for the day and get pulled into endless chit-chat with colleagues of Harry, that essentially only wanted to monopolize Louis' attention. It was actually making him a bit grumpy and, well, jealous – even when he rationally knew he had no reason to feel that way.
It had all been going rather well, they'd made it through most of the introductions, and Ernest had gone off to play with some other kids - Harry was beginning to think that they were going to pull this off flawlessly.
They were talking to Jesy who'd teased Harry about his slightly grumpy expression earlier when Aiden'd introduced himself to Louis, when things went...awry.
"Harry, there you a- oh," Caroline interrupted herself as soon as she caught sight of the company he was in, her lips pursing together in distaste it seemed.
When Harry gave her a lackluster greeting, she immediately motioned for him to introduce her properly.
'Right, er. James, this is Caroline, my boss. Caroline, this is my husband, James. Ernie, our son, 's over there, playing with Frankie,' he motioned, angling his body slightly away from her and inching closer to Louis in the process.
She looked slightly perturbed at the confirmation of Ernie existing and was about to open her mouth, when Harry felt Louis slide his arm possessively around his waist, giving the chub right above his hip a little pinch that felt way too intimate and still not enough at the same time.
"Ah, Caroline. It's nice to finally put a face to the name," he said – not even bothering to hide the slightly snide tone in his voice.
It made Harry want to snicker and kiss him in delight, especially after seeing the resulting expression on Caroline's face.
She huffed, then sidled up closer to Harry. 'Funny, but Harry's never even shown us a photo of you before,' she paused before letting out a laugh, 'you know, for a while, I almost thought you didn't exist.'
It made Louis let out an almost shrill chuckle in return. "Hmm. No, as you can see, I'm quite real. Did you really think that Harold here would lie about having a spouse? That's ridiculous."
The people that had been listening in on their conversation previously all laughing happily along, while Harry was just starting to feel increasingly uneasy.
Because it was ridiculous. And while he was very happy to have met Louis this way, he truly wondered what could ever come from it now that they'd started off on these terms – a foundation built firmly out of lies.
'I just think Harry's afraid someone will try to snatch up his husband, he's quite the jealous type,' Jesy piped up as she shot the two of them a wink. Harry couldn't help but grin at that, shrugging non-committedly as if he was agreeing with her. His gaze then fell on Louis, who was actively trying to stare Caroline down, and he could feel the grip Louis had on him tighten infinitesimally.
"Oh, we share that, really," he muttered – just loud enough for bystanders to hear, but quiet enough to still make it look like a mere slip of the tongue.
Jesy laughed at Louis' statement, pointing out how lucky they were to still be in the 'honeymoon phase' after all that time.
Harry was relieved at the diffusion of tension, and he'd just started to fully relax, when things started to go wrong once again.
"How long've you been together again, Harry?" Caroline asked with a sour face, though she couldn't let the opportunity slide to flutter her eyelashes at him.
They weren't as beautiful or as long as Louis' - not even close.
She always made him uncomfortable, but her disregard for Harry's marital status – whether real or not – and the presence of his, admittedly fake husband were still made him raise his heckles.
Which was why he forgot to keep up with his carefully spun web of lies.
'Since we were 18,' he blurted out, causing some eyebrows to raise – including his own.
Because he'd been telling them for almost two years now that his husband was three years older than he was himself. He'd even invented a story about how they'd celebrated his 30th birthday and how Harry had teased James about passing that milestone while he was still young and in his twenties.
It was stupid, and wrong and an obvious rookie mistake that he shouldn't have made.
"Yeah, I was pretty much sold when I first met Haz at circus summer camp. But, he was only 16 and had a girlfriend at the time. Had to proper woo him once that ended, then we made it official just days after his 18th birthday."
And oh, Louis was good.
Harry'd been panicking, mind spinning with how he was going to explain that one away, but Louis'd just woven an equally great story that fit perfectly with what Harry'd already told his co-workers about their anniversary date being Feburary 13th - because they hadn't wanted to be cheesy, but still wanted to celebrate Valentine's Day as a couple.
Fueled by both admiration at Louis' improv skills and affection for the man, Harry impulsively leaned forward to press a kiss to the shorter man's prominent cheekbone.
'Never looked back, baby,' he added, as he could feel heat rise to his own cheeks by his forwardness. This time, he didn't afford himself the luxury of looking away, instead keeping his own green eyes focused on the iridescent blue of Louis' own orbs.
He was distracted from trying to decipher the look in them, by feeling Louis' hand slid down to link their fingers together instead, thumb brushing over the cross tattoo softly.
"God, I'm jealous – let's start the kid activities before I throw up from that teeth-rotting display," Jesy teased, turning towards Aiden.
They were one of the few at the office without a partner and/or children, and therefore had taken up the task of organizing and overseeing all activities throughout the day.
With a grin, Harry pulled Louis with him as they followed Jesy to the set-up. They'd been incredibly creative in coming up with child-friendly games that they could play with their parents – competing for the day's trophy.
Ernest was, like Louis himself, incredibly competitive and Harry found himself totally endeared by the little boy's antics and his perseverance. They'd been winning activities left and right, with Louis cheering them on from the side. Louis had taken over when it'd come to doing a shared keepie-uppie challenge with a ball made up out of elastics.
Before they knew it, lunch had come around, and Louis was carefully cutting up chunks of fruit to give to his little brother. Harry was staring at them, not realizing how creepy and inappropriate that was, until Aiden flicked his ear and told him to 'stop making eyes at your own husband when there are innocent children here'.
He truly hoped Louis hadn't heard, but the way in which he seemed to stifle a laugh in his fist didn't give Harry much hope.
A laugh was better than discomfort though, so he shrugged and let it go.
Surely it was allowed for a spouse to appreciate their significant other in public.
It was after lunch that Jesy announced something that Harry nor Louis had been aware of was part of the day's schedule - a game for partners.
"While it is technically 'Bring Your Child to Work' and not your partner, for years now, most have brought their partners along as well. We thought it fitting to see who's most in-sync with their partners. And what better way to do that then to challenge couples to kiss for 10 seconds. Whoever's closed to 10 seconds on the dot, will win a nice voucher to spend on a luxurious dinner date."
Immediately, nerves started creeping in.
He hadn't discussed PDA at all with Louis. He'd gotten away with giving him kisses on the cheek so far, but that was an entirely different ballgame than kissing on the lips.
Or maybe it wasn't to Louis, and Harry was over-reacting – he was 28 after all, and really, shouldn't he be over those kind of nerves by now? Still, they hadn't talked about it, and Harry couldn't stop cursing himself for forgetting about it at all.
Because, really, he should've seen this coming.
One way or another, it was pretty normal for couples to be affectionate and to kiss, even just a peck on the lips, in public.
How had it slipped his mind? How had it slipped Louis'?
His thoughts were running a mile a minute, trying to come up with convincing lies to get them out of their predicament, when he felt Louis wrap his arms around him, burying his face into Harry's neck – close enough to his ear so he could whisper to him without others overhearing.
'Stop freaking out, I can see it written all over your face. It's fine. I'm okay with it, as long as you're okay with it.'
He pulled away slightly, eyes curious yet calm as he appraised Harry's expression. Harry tried to suppress the shiver creeping up his spine at the attraction he felt for the man, before letting his body relax into his hold as he nodded at Louis.
"Yeah, 'm good. Sorry," he murmured back, eyes stuck on the way that Louis was licking his lips.
It didn't go unnoticed, and Louis chuckled in return, before turning back towards where Jesy was handing out stopwatches to all participating couples.
'Jesy, be a dear and give us some time to practice?' He announced loudly, making Harry – and others giggle.
She rolled her eyes good-naturedly at him, and pushed a stopwatch into Louis' hands instead. "I'm sure you've had more than enough practice over the years, James."
'Can never be too sure,' Louis teased, then suddenly moved back into Harry's space, hovering right in front of his face – only to end up pressing his soft lips to Harry for a nanosecond, before pulling away again, just out of reach.
Even that split second felt like heaven to Harry, and he was determined to make the 10 seconds both the best and most long-lasting ever.
If they did well, he could win them a voucher, and surely – as Louis would've contributed equally to the cause, they'd have to make use of that voucher together.
Like an actual date.
'Just a little test-run,' Louis whispered softly, slowly caressing Harry's jawline with his fingers, before pulling away completely.
And that – that wasn't for the act, Harry was sure.
He didn't have time to dwell too much on the short and tender moment, as Jesy had taken to the makeshift stage again.
"Okay, are you all ready? As soon as you kiss, press the stopwatch, and press it again once you've counted to ten in your head. Ready, set, go!"
Just like that, Harry had his eyes closed again, his hand sneaking around Louis' neck to pull him in that much closer as their lips met once more.
It probably should've been incredibly awkward, having a first kiss as part of a farce, in the middle of his office space filled with colleagues and strangers. Yet, all it really felt like to Harry was like a little slice of heaven, of comfort, of coming home.
Ten seconds had sounded pretty long prior to the start, but they were over way too soon in Harry's mind. He could feel Louis' fingers press down on the stopwatch they'd been holding together, as he slowly separated their lips again. Harry whined softly at the loss of contact, feeling out of breath, wanting nothing more to crowd into Louis' space further, to feel just that much closer and connected.
The intensity of the feelings should've scared him - especially give the fact he'd really only known Louis for about two days. Instead, they filled him with joy. He was 28 after all, and aside from the fact that his career wasn't where he wanted to be either, Harry hadn't just conjured up his little fantasy family out of nowhere. He'd always dreamed about being proper domestic, about having his own person, his other half, and hopefully lots of babies to love and care for.
Louis smiled up at him softly, a sparkle in his eyes that hadn't been there before, before hiding an escalating grin into his own shoulder. He seemed giddy, and happy, and Harry promised himself to try and elicit that same expression from the slightly older man at least a thousand times more in the future, or for as long as Louis'd let him.
They handed the stopwatch back to Jesy without looking, though Louis seemed rather confident in their win.
"That was a winning kiss, I'm sure," he said proudly, hand settling back in the nape of Harry's neck, twisting one of the curls with his fingers. Harry couldn't help but lean back into the intimate gesture, blissfully smiling – happy to indulge himself in the playing pretend for the time being.
Louis was right.
Jesy eyed them with suspicion, as if she couldn't believe what the stopwatch was telling her. While most couples had been close to the ten second mark, noone had actually achieved to do it within a tenth of a second margin. Harry and Louis, or well – James he guessed, had gotten 10.03.
A laugh escaped him, and before he knew it Louis had jumped up into Harry's arms, clinging to him like a koala.
It was all pretty euphoric, and Harry was certain he was going to be able to coax another kiss out of the situation, when they heard a woeful 'Achoo!' echo through the room.
Immediately, Louis untangled himself from Harry and sprinted to the source of the call – disappearing around a corner. Concerned, Harry followed him right away, crouching down next to where he found Louis sitting with Ernie cuddled right into him, letting out sniffles once in a while.
"What happened love? My little lad, hm?" He could hear Louis murmur, and Ernie just gripped on tighter to his older brother, then pointed towards a hallway that led to a number of offices – including Harry's.
'I... I wanted to see Pikachu, but I got lo-lost, and – and it was dark, and I was scared!' He exclaimed, before popping his thumb into his mouth, in an obvious attempt to find some comfort.
Louis glanced up at Harry and gave him an apologetic shrug, but if he was being honest – Harry was mostly angry.
Angry at Aiden who'd left Ernest unattended for long enough to let him slip out from under his supervision, and angry at himself for occupying Louis all that time when they should've been watching Ernest from afar.
"Oh, Ernie love. I'm sorry you were scared, but you know you shouldn't have snuck off on your own. It makes me very worried and upset when you do that," Louis said gently, trying to coax Ernie's thumb out of his mouth again.
'I know, 'm sorry. Just wanted to see Hazzy's pikachu,' he mumbled against Louis' chest petulantly.
While the thought of Ernie having a nickname for him made Harry's heart warm, he felt incredibly guilty that the noodle artwork he'd made in name of a non-existing child had brought Ernest so much distress.
With a sigh, Louis stood up and hoisted Ernie up in his arms, then turned to Harry.
"I think it's time to go, I'm so sorry – I didn't think – yeah, didn't think anything like this would happen," he said apprehensively, using one arm to keep Ernest secure and the other to fix his fringe – something that seemed to be a nervous habit of his.
Harry frowned at that.
'Stop that, you don't have to apologize for something like that! It's fine! Ernie is the priority here, not some stupid work-day. Let's just go and tell everyone we're heading out.'
The urge to put his hand on Louis' back was too large to be ignored, and Harry tentatively gripped his shoulder, steering them back towards the open office space.
As soon as they rounded the corner, Aiden came over wide-eyed. 'I am SO sorry! We were playing hide and seek, and – well, he wandered off by himself. I only realized once I heard the crash that he'd gone into the hallway and-'
"Crash? What crash?" Harry asked, immediately alarmed at the mention of it, as he looked back to quickly scan Ernest for any injuries.
Aiden's eyes kept darting between Harry and Louis who was holding Ernest in his arms, equally relieved at seeing the boy was fine, as scared by the way they probably looked like protective mama bears ready to pounce on whoever had hurt their baby.
'N-nothing! I checked, and he just knocked into your desk and it made the pasta puppets he made fall off, which caused the crash,' Aiden hastily explained, which immediately made Harry let out a sigh of relief.
He was about to speak up again, let Aiden know that he hadn't forgiven him just yet, and that they were leaving, when Caroline sauntered over with Ernest's backpack in tow.
For a second, he was surprised by her thoughtfulness and anticipating the need to take care of Ernie at home.
But really he should've known by her predatory grin that something else was clearly up - should've known that something had gone wrong.
"I just wanted to grab Ernie's backpack for you, but I couldn't help but notice the nametag on the inside. Ernest...Deakin? Contact person Jay? Harry, please do tell why your child has a different last name and a stranger as a contact person," she almost purred, reveling in the feeling of having caught the canary.
He desperately wanted to look over at Louis, as he was quite certain he'd felt the man stiffen next to him – but then he heard Louis clear his throat, still trying to be mindful of the sleeping child in his arms.
'I really don't know what you're trying to imply here, but for your information, Deakin's my last name. Jay is my nickname, as you can surely imagine. Harry just decided to continue using his own name for work purposes, which is absolutely fine. But really, I don't see how any of this is your business. I'm absolutely appalled at the way you've treated our family, ' Louis spoke almost stoically, the disgust clearly dripping from every word.
And, yeah, Harry was proud of his husband - real or not.
Caroline at least had the decency to look slightly scandalized, and suddenly Harry knew exactly what he had to do.
He made a quick swipe at the bag that was dangling from her fingertips, and slung it across his own shoulder prior to leveling Caroline with a challenging look.
"Jay's right. I've felt uncomfortable and unhappy working with you and your behaviour towards me in the past, but I draw the line at you insulting my family and trying to seduce me when I am in fact married and very gay. So, I'm done. I quit. You can expect my official resignation letter tomorrow."
Harry half-expected to feel regret as soon as the words left his lips, but instead, all he felt was elation, and relief.
The job he'd felt unhappy with, that his friends had told him wasn't the right fit for months now, was finally in the past.
However, while it made sense in Harry's head, the office clearly hadn't seen it coming – as was clear by the shocked faces.
Nobody seemed to know what to do or how to act - only Jesy seemed able to shake herself out of her stupor, as she came over to give Harry a tight hug, pressing the voucher they'd won earlier into his hands.
"Go – get away from here, and go celebrate. You'll find something else soon," she whispered into his ear, giving Louis' arm a squeeze, before stepping back.
With a final nod to his now former colleagues, Harry gave Louis a gentle push in the right direction, escorting him out of the building.
They were quiet as they made their way back to Louis' car, and Louis had yet to utter a word while he strapped a sleeping Ernest into his seat. As soon as he'd closed the door to the backseat, he leaned against the exterior of the car, looking up at Harry from below his long, long eyelashes.
'I can't believe you just did that,' he exhaled shakily, though there was still that same mischievous sparkle in his eyes.
It was enough to tell Harry that Louis wasn't disappointed in him.
He shrugged shyly, mirroring Louis' position before speaking up.
"I've been unhappy there for a while. It wasn't ever my dreamjob, and to be honest, there weren't really any opportunities for me to grow either. It's fine."
Louis gave him a short nod, then looked down at his fingers and fidgeted with Harry's ring for a bit, before sliding it off of his fingers and presenting it to Harry without comment.
'Here. I'm sorry things didn't go as planned. I... I'd understand if you didn't want to go through with the payment either.'
Harry took the ring back and shoved it back onto his own finger wordlessly, while he tried to gather his thoughts.
He was going to pay Louis, no question about it. What he did wonder about, was whether or not it was appropriate to ask him out right after? He didn't want Louis to think Harry had... any expectations based off of that.
He wanted it to be real.
He wanted to be someone that Louis wanted to be with too.
"The money's yours. Of course it is, don't even question that," he scoffed, swallowing back down everything else he wanted to tell him. 'I feel bad. You just quit your job over a fake story, Harry! You're going to need that money just as much as I do,' Louis sounded exasperated.
"I'll be fine. You don't have to worry about me," Harry retorted with a faint smile, as he reached out to give Louis' arm a small squeeze.
'Yes I do, you're my -' he started, but cut himself off – and suddenly Harry felt tired.
With a sigh, he heaved himself off of the car. "My what?"
It stayed quiet, so Harry just huffed. "Just – just drive me home, please."
He slid into the passenger seat, waiting for Louis to catch up.
The tension was palpable as the older man slid into the driver's seat, and Harry could count the number of times in which he could see Louis' fingers twitch, or his mouth open just a fraction as if he was about to say something.
But every single time, he didn't follow through.
The drive over to Harry's place was both excruciatingly long and achingly fast.
He wanted to spend time with Louis, but not like this – not time filled with awkward tension, unspoken words and lies.
The moment Louis pulled over and shut the ignition, they both stayed glued to their respective seats. Harry nodded to himself after another beat of silence had passed – moving to get out of the car, when he felt a hand cover his seatbelt.
'Don't get out. I need to say something. I know – I know today wasn't real. But yesterday – yesterday was. And today, maybe it wasn't real to you, but it felt real to me. I like you, Harry. That kiss – I'm an actor, I know what a good stage kiss feels like, or looks like, but that - that wasn't it. It was a damn good kiss,' Louis rambled on, though he paused for a second after that last statement before looking straight at Harry.
'It was a real kiss. And God, I hope it was real for you too and that I didn't just make a fool out of myself with my little brother asleep in the backseat,' Louis stated with a self-deprecating smile.
Harry's heart was beating a mile a minute, and he couldn't contain the large smile that was threatening to overtake his features, could practically feel his dimples grow with every word Louis spoke. He left the silence for a beat, wanting to be sure that Louis was done talking, before launching himself over the console and pressing an insistent kiss onto Louis' pink, beautiful lips.
"I know things ended a bit differently than initially planned, but we did get a voucher for dinner out of it. Fancy joining me for a candlelit evening?"
A sly smile made its way onto Louis' face, thumb softly pressing into Harry's dimple, before nodding.
'You already slacking off? Treating me to a voucher dinner,' he scoffed playfully.
Harry raised an eyebrow at that, reaching up to entangle their fingers for the umpteenth time that day – though this time, the gesture was only meant for their own eyes. "If I recall correctly, you did say you were the one that wooed me in this relationship, not the other way around."
Louis gasped, though Harry could definitely tell he was amused.
The crinkles by his eyes and the smile pulling at the corners of his mouth were telling enough.
'Are you quite finished? We'll see about that. I'll need more than one good snog,' and really, he'd set himself up for Harry capturing his mouth in a somewhat filthy kiss, as he tried to chase the taste of Louis back into his own mouth.
"What about two good snogs, or maybe even three?" He questioned, once they'd had to come up for air – breathing heavily.
Louis grinned, wiggled his eyebrows, before looking back at his little brother and sighing almost mournfully, if it hadn't been overshadowed by the pure fond.
'I wish, baby. I need to get that one home, before he wakes up and is scarred for life by seeing his older brother in a right state. Mum's fine with a little acting project. Exposing her kids to indecent stuff – not so much.'
The term of endearment made Harry's toes curl, and he couldn't help the wolfish grin on his face as Louis referred to whatever that would've escalated into as 'indecent stuff'.
He looked over at Ernest, his grin transforming into a sweeter, softer smile as he caught sight of the serene little scrunched up face, quietly snoring away.
"Yeah. Alright," Harry murmured, pulling his eyes away from the little boy to look at Louis again. His mind was conjuring up too many images of what Louis' own kids would look like, mixed with green eyes, or caramel curls.
He blinked once and felt the nerves seep into his blood once more.
He knew Louis liked him, but there was something about the other man that made Harry feel weak at the knees – somehow, he just knew on an innate level that he needed to do this right.
"You've, erm, you've got my number. Just – call me? Please?" Harry spoke feebly, once he was out of the car, but rather leaning into the window on Louis' side of the car – still not quite ready to let go.
Louis rolled his eyes, leaned in for another sweet kiss that Harry wanted to savour forever, before nodding.
'I promise. You see, I , unlike you, don't really do little white lies.'
Harry gasped, but before he could retort, Louis had winked and sped off.
All he could do, was hope that he had been telling the truth.
Louis texted him that same night, and they had dinner the night after - making good use of the expensive voucher.
Then they had lunch two days after that.
And then they continued their dates by having dinner once more, followed by a sleepover, followed by breakfast, followed by coffee, followed by... everything, really.
Before Harry realized, he was officially meeting Ernie and the entire Tomlinson-Deakin family, and were Louis and him moving into a new place in a wonderful little area in London.
A place with a little yard, and some empty rooms that functioned as guestrooms for the time being, though they definitely had a different, more long-term purpose.
And if 'Craig List & James Picasso' got an honorary mention during their wedding two years later - which led to widespread confusion amongst their wedding guests apart from Niall, Liam, Ernie, and Louis' younger sister Lottie who'd acted as Louis' confidante throughout their adventures – well.
They had a wonderful little white lie at the ready to explain just how those two fine gentlemen had made them meet.
So, that's it for this story!
I hope you enjoyed it, I sure did enjoy writing it - please let me know your thoughts in the comments or leave a kudo :)
You can also come find me on tumblr: goodmorningtoyouuniverse