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A Slight Stretch

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Harry heard a key rattle in the front door, followed by a loud bang – and subsequent muttered swear words. He smiled to himself, making no effort to get up and instead relaxed further into his pillow as he heard shoes being toed off, before feet pattered down the hallway and into his bedroom.

 

Louis and him had been dating officially for about 7 months now – okay, seven months, two days and approximately 4 hours.

Not that Harry was counting or anything.

 

They’d said 'I love you' to each other just three months in to the relationship, when Louis had confessed to Harry that he’d never felt this way about anyone before.

Harry had been bursting to say the words probably after just three weeks of dating already. He hadn’t actually meant to blurt out that confession to Louis, but once he had, Louis had just smiled widely, and had proceeded to kiss every single inch of Harry’s body – whispering how he’d probably never even just liked Harry, but had loved him from the start.  

 

It’d been about one month – 33 days and 8 hours, but who was keeping track – since Harry’d given Louis a key to his apartment. He’d gotten the key made as a present for their 6 th monthiversary, and it had included a green cover for the key so that Louis wouldn’t lose it. What he hadn’t known at the time was that Louis had come up with the exact same gift, only the key to his flat had a blue cover.

 

Sometimes Harry understood why Gemma said they were sickening together.

On the other hand, Harry rather preferred the word perfect. They just slotted together puzzle pieces, and Harry reveled in it.  

 

Harry had only really had one serious relationship before this one, and the moment it had ventured into ‘staying over for multiple days’ territory, he’d started to feel terribly claustrophobic. Everything about Robert had made him feel frustrated. He’d hated that he’d let himself into Harry’s flat randomly, and he’d begun to resent all the little noises that Robert would make whilst sleeping next to him. It had taken a month of that, and one explosive fight for the relationship to end.

 

But with Louis, things were so very different.

Their routines were totally opposite – Louis wasn’t a morning person, Harry was. Louis was noisy, Harry wasn’t. Louis could be pretty messy, Harry liked at least a semblance of tidiness. Louis was cold easily, wanted to sleep with a duvet and possibly a blanket, Harry hated covers. Louis was too honest and blunt at times, whereas Harry’d rather lie than make people uncomfortable.

 

And still, they hadn’t even fought once.

 

So maybe Harry grumbled a little when Louis’d left his trainers in the hallway for the first time, and he’d stumbled over them. But then he’d been so overwhelmed by the fact that those were Louis’ trainers, in his flat, next to his boots, that he’d just smiled to himself and had gently put them aside.

He was also sure that he’d heard Louis mutter profanities into his pillow – yes, Louis had his own pillow in Harry’s bed, their bed – the first couple of times Harry had gotten up early and had opened the curtains, letting sunlight filter through the room at 7AM.

But he’d also seen Louis smile softly, fondly, whenever Harry would lean over and drop back down onto the bed to cuddle close to Louis and blanket him from the harsh rays of sunshine.

 

It constantly made Harry feel like he was floating – the fact that they’d settled into a routine so quickly, that things had never felt awkward, but also the continuous realization that he was so, so lucky that it was that easy for them.

 

The sheer knowledge that they even had a routine to share, frequently made Harry’s stomach explode into little butterflies and fireworks.

 

 

However, even though this routine had prepared him for the fact that it was Louis, his boyfriend, making his way back to bed at 1AM after a theater show, he still hadn’t expected Louis to launch himself straight onto Harry’s body.

 

“Oompfh! Louuuuu,” he whined out, his back protesting at the initial impact of Louis pelting himself onto him like an octopus. It only caused Louis to plaster himself even more tightly onto Harry’s back, as he pressed a light kiss on Harry’s exposed shoulderblade as some sort of half-hearted apology, before snuggling further into him again.

“I could’ve been asleep, you numpty.”

 

‘Ssh, be quiet pillow,’ Louis murmured into Harry’s ear. ‘Also - you’re never asleep when I get back, even when I’ve told you a million times you don’t have to wait up for me when you’ve got work the next day.’

 

Harry rolled his eyes, choosing to ignore Louis’ comment, before craning his head back so he could look Louis in the eye. He was once again taken aback by the liquid pools of blue staring right back at him – full of love, happiness and contentment – but also very, very tired. He could practically feel the exhaustion seeping out of Louis’ bones as the older man let his body rest on top of Harry’s back.

 

“Hi baby, how’s the show? Sorry I couldn’t come,” Harry said instead, puckering his lips in lieu of asking for a kiss.

 

Louis quickly reached forward, giving him a quick peck, before sighing once more as he settled further into the crook of Harry’s neck, the soft hairs of his fringe tickling Harry’s cheek.

 

‘Was alright love, you know that I perform the same show 6 times a week right? ‘S no need to be there everytime,’ he teased, breathing already evening out slightly.

 

“But I’m so proud of you! It’s Grease! It’s a proper show on West End! And it’s good!” Harry insisted, reaching behind him to grab a hold of Louis’ waist to finally dislodge the man and roll over onto his side, so they were facing each other properly.

 

Louis squeaked out in protest, glaring at Harry with feigned anger – pointedly ignoring the praise Harry’d just given him. It was something he found Louis struggled with. As good as he was in dishing out compliments, he was absolutely horrible in receiving them. 

 

‘You were s’posed to be my pillow, don’t you love me?’ Louis replied petulantly, fingers lightly scratching up and down Harry's biceps.

 

“I do love you, I really do. D’you love me?” Harry asked in return, letting Louis’ blatant attempt to avoid praise slide this time. He hooked his leg over Louis’ still jeans-clad ones in an attempt to pull him just a tad closer, until they were breathing words into each other’s mouths.

 

He could never be close enough.

 

‘You know I do, love,’ Louis said softly, brushing a strand of hair off of Harry’s forehead, tucking it back behind his ear, before placing a soft kiss onto his jaw.

 

‘Now, let me get rid of these clothes so we can both go to sleep, ‘m dead tired and I gotta pick up the twins tomorrow.’

 

The mention of Louis’ siblings immediately made Harry perk up again, as he turned to sit up in bed – watching Louis putter around in his room.

 

His eyes trailed Louis’ movements, obviously not wanting to miss out on a glorious peak at his boyfriend’s beautiful round bum as Louis reached into his drawer in Harry’s closet to grab a fresh pair of briefs, before turning back to Harry.

 

God , he was so lucky.

 

Chapter Text

They should’ve gone to the zoo, instead of the aquarium.

When he’d asked Louis the day before where he was going to take the twins, Louis had shrugged initially, then started speaking, gesticulating wildly as he went on. He always did that – as if there was still too much frenetic energy inside his body, just waiting to come out and explode and make the world light up with a thousand stars. Harry loved that about him.

‘No, Ernie wants to go see the lions, cause of the hair you know, but then Dottie really wants to see clownfish after seeing Finding Nemo last week. So we’ll have to figure it out on the way here. Besides, I’m sure that their preferences will have changed by the time we ask them tomorrow,’ Louis had said.

At the time, Harry had been slightly distracted by Louis just existing, and moving around like he did, to really take note of what he’d been saying. Something had niggled his brain when he’d mentioned the aquarium, but he hadn’t really given it more than a passing thought. To be entirely honest, the only thing that had truly registered, was the implication of the word ‘we’ in Louis’ sentence. He’d just grinned and nodded, without ever thinking the two venues through.

Louis had brought the twins over to London a handful of times to spend some quality time with them. As time had gone by, Louis had started to invite Harry to join in on the playdates. Nowadays, Harry tagged along whenever work allowed him. He loved babies, could honestly not wait for the moment that him and Louis would start talking about building their own family in any shape or form.

As such, he loved that Louis had automatically included him in his plans with the twins – assumed correctly that Harry would join them straight out of work. So when he got a text that Ernie had conceded and they were headed to the aquarium, he’d sent back a thumbs up as confirmation that he’d join them as soon as he’d finished up for the day.

And sure, it had been fun. The first hour had been filled with Louis and Harry each walking with a kid hanging onto their hands, being pulled from one to the next exhibition. It had made him feel incredibly lucky and proud – happily smiling at other parents who probably thought the Deakin twins were their own kids.

He didn’t correct people who mistook him as the parent, just smiled politely and thanked them if they commented on how adorable the twins looked. It’s not like they were wrong in that particular assessment.

If anything, Harry reveled in it – the idea that Louis and him would one day actually take their own children to the aquarium or the zoo and those people would be right in their assumptions.

 

He’d just been staring at a blue Dumbo Octopus with Doris, admiring its cute little ears as it floated around in its basin, when he felt a familiar arm slip around his waist.

“Baby, ready to move? Ernie’s getting a bit restless. Might be time for a little snack,” Louis whispered into Harry’s ear as he leaned over his hunched figure.

Harry just nodded, twisting his head sideways so he could press a quick kiss to Louis’ lips. ‘Yeah, alright.’

Doris’ nose was still pressed to the glass, eyes eagerly following the movement of the little octopus, when he gently tugged on her hand. ‘Are you hungry?

She’d whined shortly at being pulled away from her newest obsession, but begrudgingly let Harry lead her towards the food court at the aquarium.

However, in the short span of time it’d taken to get Doris to comply, Harry had lost sight of Louis and Ernie entirely in the throngs of people milling about, all seemingly making their way towards the same food court. It was a Friday after all, so most children were let off school early. If their parents had a job with flexible hours like Harry did, or worked nights like Louis did, of course they’d be taking their kids on an adventure as well.

Harry craned his neck, trying to spot Louis somewhere close – he couldn’t be all that far away, he’d been walking just in front of them.

“If only your brother was just a little bit taller, hmm?” Harry mused out loud, sending a cheeky smile towards Doris who giggled at the statement. They both knew it was a good thing Louis wasn’t around to hear it, because he’d definitely take offense at the words. Or at least he’d pretend to be offended by it at first for comedic value, and then would proceed to demand Harry carry him everywhere or let him stand on Harry’s feet as he moved around their apartment.

‘Maybe Achoo isn’t as tall as you, Hazzy, but Ernie isn’t even as tall as me and I’m only very small still,’ Doris nattered decisively – pulling on Harry’s hand to ensure he was focusing on her which earned her another grin from him.

It’s when he turned back to try and scour the crowd again for Louis that he suddenly realized why he’d had that niggling feeling in the back of his mind, when Louis had mentioned the aquarium. Because instead of locking eyes with Louis somewhere, he unwillingly and inadvertently found himself locking eyes with his ex-colleague Aiden. And really, he should’ve known that would happen. Hadn’t he been the one to suggest running a piece about the aquarium all those months ago? When he’d still been angling for promotion? They should’ve avoided it like the plague. He should’ve warned Louis. Should’ve never agreed to coming.

A little voice inside told him that none of this would’ve been an issue if he’d just never lied about having a child in the first place. But then again, that little white lie had given him Louis.

Still, in that very moment Harry wasn’t proud of himself, and he panicked. He’d always known he had terrible fight, flight or freeze instincts – which was once again proven when he stared back like a deer caught in headlights, rather than moving out of Aiden’s line of sight so they could both pretend they’d imagined the eye contact. Now, because of his own stupidity and inaction, Aiden was waving excitedly and making his way over.

He looked back down at Doris, who was still talking to herself about both her brothers’ height, and then back up again. How was he going to explain that he was at the aquarium without Louis and Ernie, but with a redheaded kid instead? And he didn’t even remember what name he’d made up for Louis in the past. Had it been Jake? George? He was desperately wracking his brain, but the nerves weren’t helping him get up to speed at all.

Louis was so much better at improvising than Harry was. Not that it was surprising, Louis was the one with the professional career in acting and stage theater. At times, Harry still wondered how it was possible that he’d gotten away with all the nonsense he’d blurted out at the office. God, he just really needed Louis to come find him and rescue the four of them from the impending awkwardness.

 

Where was his boyfriend when he needed him?

 

Harry squeezed his eyes closed as he heard Aiden call out his name. He stiffened, could feel his back muscles twinge as he braced for the imminent conversation.

‘Harry! Mate, long time no see! How are you doing, what are you up to these days?’

He turned so he was fully facing Aiden now, plastering on a smile as he quickly shook his hand, trying to keep Doris out of sight.

“Hi, Aiden,” he started slowly, not quite sure how to effectively curb the conversation as soon as possible. “I’ve been fine, thank you. Working for the Independent, actually. How about you? How’s everyone at the office?”

He deemed it’d be pretty safe to steer the conversation away from himself as his eyes wandered back towards the food hall. Surely Louis would’ve started to wonder about their whereabouts at this point.

Aiden smiled, ‘really great! Caroline got fired, actually. Apparently, there were some complaints made against her so HR stepped in. Jesy took over and honestly, the team’s doing so much better now. You know it’s funny I run into you today out of all days, we’re running the piece that you suggested all those months ago – remember that?’

Harry rolled his eyes internally. Of course, he remembered that. It had been one of the stories he’d pitched in an attempt to escape sports columns. It has also been a story he had personally really believed in, but had resulted in yet another disappointment when Caroline had decided against letting him cover it. He’d wanted to write about the educational value of aquariums versus the ability of aquariums to accommodate the fish and wildlife they kept; taking inspiration from the anti – Sea World sentiment in the US.

He supposed it was a good thing that it was happening regardless, but he couldn’t help but feel a bit slighted at the fact his old employer was using his creative idea.

“Yeah, I do. Hm, I’ll make sure to keep an eye on when you run the story,” he managed to get out, just as Doris tugged on his skinny jeans – apparently wholly dissatisfied at having had to stay behind Harry throughout the exchange with Aiden so far.

“Hazzy! Hazzy, I want up. And lunch. You promised snacks,” she whined, motioning for him to pick her up. He feigned a sigh before complying – knowing that Jay hated how much they were still toted around despite their age.

‘Don’t be greedy Dottie. We just gotta go find your b- Ernie.’

Harry wanted to slap himself. He’d almost misspoken right in front of Aiden. Aiden who only knew a James, no Louis. Who had no idea Doris existed, and definitely didn’t know that Ernie and Doris were twins that were also Louis’ siblings and definitely not their children. Moreover – Doris had zero knowledge either, and was totally unpredictable in what she would say and if she’d give him away as a pathological liar or not.

He immediately whipped his head back to look over at Aiden, who was smiling politely at the toddler – though there was a clear hint of curiosity to be read from his expression.

“And who’s this lovely lady?”

‘I’m Doris, I’m almost 7. Who are you?’

Harry couldn’t help but smile at the sassy tone in her voice, it reminded him of Louis.

“I’m Aiden, I used to work with Harry, it’s nice to meet you,” his old co-worker responded, thankfully not asking any questions as to what exactly was the nature of the relationship between Harry and Doris.

He was about to cut the conversation to an end when Doris piped up again, effectively ruining his plans and also increasing Harry’s stress levels by 200%.

‘Oh. Are you going to help us find my brother?’

 

In just 9 words, the damage was done.

Harry sighed, not even wanting to chance a glance at Aiden’s expression. What could he say?

Ha, forgot to mention, but actually I have another child, surprise?

Or, didn’t you know, James has a very young little sister that looks suspiciously like Ernie. Or Funny girl, she has an imaginary brother. It’s an age thing.

Or maybe, yeah I just found her looking so lost and now I’m helping Doris find her brother – I don’t know her.

Harry was utterly screwed. Doris had no idea what she’d said, and was just shooting Aiden an expectant look.

“Brother?” Aiden trailed off, and Harry took that as his cue to look back at the other man, finding a confused, almost comically quizzical expression on his face with his eyebrows furrowed together.

He just wanted to disappear, wanted the ground to open up beneath his feet and swallow him whole. He let out a distressed chuckle, as if to say, ‘kids these days’ and playfully rolled his eyes.

‘It’s a nickname, pretty long story, but I ehh, I gotta go. Find Doris’ brother. And Ernie.’

Harry supposed that was vague enough to pass for an answer, and it wasn’t even a full out lie. Just – he was maybe slightly stretching the truth, but it’s not like Aiden would ever have to know.

Still, Aiden’s frown only deepened, even though he seemed to gloss over the fact that Harry’d yet to explain who exactly Doris was to him.

“Oh. You’re not here with James?”

Louis and him had gone months without ever running into anyone from his old office. He wondered what he’d done wrong during those months that had made karma decide to punish him like this.

Harry closed his eyes again out of sheer desperation, hoping that if he couldn’t see Aiden, maybe he’d disappear and with him the extremely awkward situation that they’d landed themselves in.

 

Suddenly, he felt a familiar hand settle on his waist, as Doris let out an elated scream at being reunited with her twin.

“Hey babe, what took you so lo- oh. Hi, er, Aiden, was it? Sorry, I’m awful at names.” Harry opened his eyes in sweet relief at hearing his boyfriend’s voice, turning slightly to see Louis paste on a perfectly nice smile as he shook James’ hand again.

His eyes flitted to Ernie, who had obviously not forgotten about the incident at Harry’s old office and was giving Aiden a rude glare from where he was standing next to Louis’ legs, firmly holding onto Louis’ pants.

He quickly put Doris back down on the ground, letting her walk over to Ernest as he instructed them both to stay close. He’d hoped it would take the focus off of the redhead, and would also provide Ernie with a much welcomed distraction from the glaring.

Nevertheless, Aiden’s eyes followed his movement and stayed glued to the two kids, before he moved his gaze back up at Harry and Louis. ‘Yeah, it’s Aiden,’ he answered belatedly. ‘Funny, to see you here. Family day with Ernest? Inspiration for one of those beautiful noodle artworks? I think you showed me one once, Harry, that was an octopus, right?’

Louis smirked at that, which easily transformed into a fond smile in Harry’s direction. “Did you really, love?”

Harry could feel blood rush to his cheeks at the mention of whatever noodle drawing he’d made as part of his elaborate set-up. Luckily, Louis quickly turned back to address Aiden instead, letting Harry suffer in peace as he fidgeted with his hands. “I’m just glad I had the day off. Casework’s been killing me lately, ‘s good to be able to spend some time with my favourite men.”

‘And Doris, darling,’ Harry added playfully, seeing Louis’ gaze flicker back to where the twins were holding a deep conversation – not paying attention to the adults at all. Ernie still had his fist curled into the fabric of Louis’ pants, rooting him to the spot at least.

As soon as the words escaped his lips though, he wanted to push them right back in. He’d put the focus right back on the one, well, anomaly of their outing together. Louis’ done great at circumventing it, but Harry had just gone and emphasized it more. It was one of the differences between them, he supposed. They were both loud, and good at charming people, but Louis was also always in control – Harry, not so much.

“Is she...” Aiden trailed off awkwardly, leaving Louis and Harry with a couple of added seconds to deliberate their reply. Not that it helped them coordinate answers. Apparently their brains were significantly less synced up than Harry’d anticipated.

“She’s my niece,” Louis explained, while Harry nervously blurted out a weak ‘Ernie’s class friend’ at the same time.

The incongruence between the two answers obviously resulted in Aiden shooting them another confused look, glancing at Doris and then back up at them. Louis shot him a charming smile, as he tangled his fingers with Harry’s, giving his hand a slight squeeze – indicating that he would try and salvage the situation they’d landed themselves in. Harry wanted nothing more than the ground to just swallow him whole.

“Well, she’s my sister’s – it’s actually a blessing they get to be in the same playgroup. Her and Ernie act like twins more often than not, we didn’t have the heart to separate them. Adorable, isn’t it?”

As soon as the words left Louis’ lips, Harry felt the immediate urge to let out a huge sigh of relief. In fact, he wanted to get down on his knees right then and there to thank Louis profusely. In a very innocent-please-let-me-just-say-how-much-I-appreciate-you-I-don’t-deserve-you type of way, as well as a maybe-not-so-innocent-please-I-wanna-worship-you-let-me-suck-your-cock-and-give-you-a-mindblowing-orgasm type of way.

Obviously, the time and place they were in didn’t really provide Harry with the opportunity for either of those – so he just settled for giving Louis’ hand a tight squeeze in return, letting him know how grateful he was for putting up with his scheme and just running with it – never asking questions.

‘Oh, alright. I see. I guess your family’s genes are very strong, funny that. They look so similar,’ Aiden seemed to shake himself out of his stupor, still mystified at the appearance of the twins, before he refocused on Harry. ‘Well, it was nice to see you, Harry, you too James. If you’re ever around you should stop by your old office sometimes. You’re always welcome and it’d be nice to catch up. Let’s keep in touch!’

Harry just shot him a polite smile and nodded, fully aware that Aiden was just saying what was the socially desirable thing. After all, Harry was doing the exact same thing by nodding at the statement – as if it really was going to happen, even though they both knew that it wouldn’t. Besides, it wasn’t like he had any moral high ground to be bothered about a silly little lie as promising someone to keep in touch, when he’d done much worse.

“It was nice to see you too, we’ve really gotta get a move on now, though. Get these little munchkins fed, before they rebel against us – his sister’d never forgive me,” Harry tacked on for good measure, shooting a quick glance at Louis. He just nodded in agreement, then proceeded to pull Harry away as he waved half-heartedly after Aiden’s retreating figure.

 

Louis had taken to holding Ernie’s hand in the one that wasn’t clasping Harry’s. Ernie in turn was holding onto Doris – hands swinging together as they skipped into step, having some trouble trying to keep up with Louis’ brisk tempo.

He wondered if it had anything to do with the previous exchange. Sure, they were still holding hands, but Louis had his face tilted towards his siblings, making it hard for Harry to read his expression.

Even though Louis had saved Harry from further embarrassment and had perpetuated the lie in front of Aiden, that didn’t necessarily mean he wasn’t irritated by having to do so in the first place. Louis hadn’t signed up for any of the farce to continue beyond that one particular day they’d agreed to when they met. The whole thing, and Louis’ participation it – it had always had an expiration date. Hell, Harry’s own participation in it should’ve ended that day.

In hindsight, it was kind of naïve that he’d thought London was big enough for them to co-exist with the world he’d dreamed up, without ever being confronted by it again. Any concerns he’d had about that initially, he’d quickly waved away himself after the bliss of quitting his job and getting the opportunity he’d been waiting for at the Independent.

Yet here they were, trying to enjoy a nice day out – and it’d been interrupted by Harry’s stupid imagination on steroids smacking them rudely in the face.

He wanted to ask Louis how he felt, but he didn’t want to interrupt his boyfriend as he was talking animatedly to his siblings. For a split second, he wondered if Louis was doing that on purpose, so Harry couldn’t talk to him.

He sighed, then let his hand slip out of Louis’ as he moved to take a hold of Doris who’d been about to sprint off on her own with a screech.

‘Not so fast, little love,’ he managed to paint a half-grin on his face, trying to keep his gaze focused on her instead of letting his eyes drift to Louis like he so badly wanted to. He wasn’t quite ready to see disappointment or irritation painted onto his features.

Doris let out a cry of joy as Harry quickly swooped her up in the air, before putting her back on the ground. ‘Once we get to the food hall you can go explore a bit, okay? Hold my hand until we’re there.’

The silence from Louis’ side did nothing to quell his nerves, and Harry couldn’t help but feel both relief and anxiety flood over him as soon as the twins had settled in for some snacks.

He tried to catch the other man’s attention, but Louis’ blue eyes remained firmly glued to his little siblings. Defeated at the evasion, so unlike Louis’ normal confrontational personality, he stood up from his seat next to Ernie and moved to sit in the unoccupied chair next to Louis.

“Are you upset with me?” He whispered, as he carefully tried to not let his body betray him. He wanted so badly to reach out and just touch. They’d always been tactile, so it was hard to reign in the need to lean into Louis, but he didn’t want to upset him even further - especially not in front of his siblings.

Louis sighed, and Harry almost didn’t want to look up – afraid of what expression he might find on his face, even though he craved nothing more than to be able to finally have Louis looking at him again.

‘I’m not upset with you, babe. Promise. Just – can we talk after?’

 

The question made Harry glance up shortly, only to find a tired expression on Louis’ face. It made Harry want to go home and curl up in a ball, wallow in nerves and self-pity. But then he realized that he wouldn’t be able to do that either, now that they shared a home. So he settled for the next best option, which was apologizing right now.

“I’m sorry. I should’ve thought of this when you mentioned the aquarium yesterday – I just didn’t think, and I forgot completely. I only realized when I spotted him, I promise.”

Louis just frowned at Harry’s pleading, leaning slightly into Harry’s space as he observed him. ‘What do you even mean by that?’ Louis asked, exasperation clear in his voice. It confused Harry even further, but just as he was about to ask more, talk more, apologize more, Louis waved him off.

‘You know what, never mind. Let’s stick to what I said and talk once I’ve dropped these two off at Lottie's.’

It immediately made Harry pause, and then he narrowed his eyes. “Why? Are you planning on swearing? Because that means you are upset with me. But if you’re not upset, why does it have to wait?”

Louis’ shoulders slumped, and regret seeped into Harry’s own body as he realized he was really playing with fire here – picking a fight where maybe there wasn’t even one to begin with.

‘I said I wasn’t upset and I meant it. But, we have to talk about it and it’ll be a long talk, probably. And if it does end up in an argument – I don’t want to do that in front of them,’ Louis supplied faintly, leaning forward to swipe a bit of sauce from Doris’ chin.

Harry sighed, then nodded, feeling a bit like a scolded child as he watched Louis take care of his little siblings. He’d caught some people staring at them with kind eyes, probably endeared by the picture they made. Normally that would have made him smile, but at the moment not even that could make him feel better. He’d just have to wait it out.  

Ernie poked his cheek, shaking him out of his reverie with a request to see Harry’s dimples appear. It was sweet, and Harry obliged eagerly in an effort to distract himself.

He wasn’t a teenager anymore. He was in the upper segment of his twenties, and he could definitely handle an honest relationship talk. Not a break-up talk. Just a relationship talk.

Still, it just made him realize all the more how much he could potentially lose – how much he was unconsciously banking on Louis being his forever.

 

Their time in the aquarium was cut short when Ernie decided that he was tired and wanted to take a nap in the middle of the under-water tunnel, screaming bloody murder when Louis hauled him up and away. Doris in turn was annoyed at her sibling, but it was clear she was tired too by the way she gripped onto Harry’s hand just a tad tighter, silently asking if he would carry her the rest of the way back to the carpark.  

Harry had taken the tube to the aquarium, but was now tucked in between Doris and Ernie after them insisting he join them on the backseat. While the twins were a very welcome and lovely buffer, it did nothing to dissipate the slow building of tension between Louis and himself. He  wasn’t looking forward to their way back home from Lottie’s apartment. 

Apparently his discomfort was radiating off of him, because the moment Lottie opened up to let Doris and Ernie in, she narrowed her eyes at Harry.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you this nervous. What’d you do?” She asked straight off the bat, trusting the twins to find their way inside by themselves.

Louis gasped, lifting his hands in offense as she’d directed the question at him. ‘Why do you immediately think it’s my fault?’

She shrugged, then looked back at Harry. “I can’t very well go around throwing insults at my brother-in-law, hm? You’ll love me regardless, Lou. Can’t say the same about Harry. He has no blood obligation to me.”

It seemed pretty obvious to Harry that she was only entertaining the conversation in an attempt to calm his nerves. He had to admit it was working, because he let out a short huff at her words. Apparently all Tomlinsons were very aware that commitment was Harry’s weakness. Lottie had succeeded in distracting him the moment she’d uttered the words ‘brother-in-law’ as if Louis and him were married – or at least, as if it was a given they would one day be married.

He chanced a glance at his boyfriend, who was good-naturedly ribbing Lottie over the fact she loved her in-laws more than her actual brother. He couldn’t help but smile ruefully at the sight, garnering their attention by shaking his head at them.

‘Have to be honest and say that it’s me. I just – you know. Lied. And like, stretched the truth. A bit. Just – slightly.’ He shuffled his feet together and brought up his fingers in a pinch as if to demonstrate what he meant by ‘slightly’, avoiding eye-contact with her.

She frowned, then untangled herself from Louis’ grip with a careful smile. “Hm. That’s nothing new, is it? In fact, I’d say that my brother proper likes your shenanigans. So shoo - get out of my flat, go home, talk it out. See you soon.”

 

Harry could feel Louis stiffen next to him, and had to bite on the inside of his cheek to keep himself from reaching out and letting his hand drift towards him in an attempt to calm him. It’s what he’d normally have done. Only now he wasn’t so sure how the gesture would be received, when he was the reason he needed it in the first place.

So he just waited for Louis to nod and say goodbye to Lottie, before following him out of the building back to the car. The tension was palpable as they sat side by side, Louis’ hands firmly clasping the wheel as he drove them back to Harry’s place.

“You know I love you, right?” Louis’ sudden comment startled Harry out of his own bubble of anxiety, and he realized just then how hard he’d been clenching his own fists. He looked up, only to see Louis staring straight ahead – carefully maneuvering the car into a parking space, before turning off the engine.

Harry hummed noncommittedly, unclasping his seatbelt and immediately stepping out of the car. He just wanted to talk and get it over with, whatever ‘it’ would be. Like a Band-Aid.

Suddenly anxious, he looked back over his shoulder to check if Louis had even gotten out from behind the wheel and was indeed going to follow him up to his apartment. He should’ve known that of course Louis would be right behind him, hauling both his own and Harry’s bag on his shoulder. Because Harry was making a mountain out of a molehill. Somehow though, it wouldn’t register in his brain that they weren’t actually going through a relationship crisis. Get a grip, he thought to himself as he opened up the door to his apartment.

Louis shot him a strange smile as he passed him by, dumping both their bags on the floor next to Harry’s sofa before plopping down on it.

Harry didn’t much feel like sitting down.

‘Tea? Should I make tea? I’m gonna make us some tea,’ he babbled, hoping that Louis wouldn’t stop him as he all but hurtled towards the kitchen.

Louis let him get away, and he silently thanked the higher powers for allowing him a moment of peace to gather his wits. He really needed to put an end to whatever it was that was causing him to be so jittery. He needed to trust Louis, when he said they were just going to talk.

It’s just that they’d never had to have a serious talk like this. They’d never fought, never had an argument aside from some banter over the tv remote. They’d just kind of fallen into things – had always been in sync, like how they’d both unknowingly prepared spare keys for each other at the same time.

And every other relationship he’d been in, the talks had led to break-ups – usually Harry instigated it. So this time, with Louis suggesting they needed to have ‘a talk’, he felt out of his depth, and out of control.

 

He tried to take the few minutes it took to boil the water and let the tea bags soak, adding a splash of milk for Louis and some honey to his own mug, to slow down his breaths. ‘It’ll be fine,’ he muttered to himself as he grabbed a hold of the mugs – the blue one for Louis and the green one for himself – and returned to where he’d left Louis sitting on the sofa.

Louis thanked him for the tea, but immediately set his mug down on the coffee table as his eyes focused on Harry’s demeanour. Normally, Harry would have scoffed at the fact that once again, Louis had failed to use a coaster for his mug, but the clear concern on Louis’ face made him relent.

“Are you okay, love?” He immediately questioned, as soon as Harry had sat down again.

Harry miserably shook his head. ‘I’m sorry for being so weird, I don’t know why I’m so nervous. I know you said it’s just a conversation, but I feel like ‘m at fault and like, I’ve totally dumped boyfriends for less than this and ‘ve never been so serious about someone, so ‘m just – I feel.. unhinged.’

“Babe, you know that’s not necessary. I just wanted to have a conversation about what happened,” Louis replied. It was clear by his expression of incredulity that he hadn’t expected Harry to be so wound up about it, but he was also slightly disappointed at the implication of Harry’s words – that Louis had made him doubt their relationship.

 

Harry let out a whine. ‘Can't I just suck you off and then pretend it happened altogether? I mean, the encounter, not the blowjob of course,’ he hastily explained, fluttering his eyelashes at Louis.

“Harry...” Louis trailed off, and he was now pursing his lips in a way that made it clear to Harry that he was very serious. It kind of reminded him of Louis’ determined sex-face, but given that his offer of a blowie had just been rejected, he decided to not mention that either.

With a sigh, he sat up straight again and angled his body towards Louis. ‘Okay, fine. The thing is. Well, you see, when I was still working for Caroline, I pitched this idea in the group of writing about Sea World – or to be more specific, the anti-Sea World movement. Because you know, I’m quite passionate about it. Caroline put the idea on the backburner, and then obviously I left, so it never even crossed my mind. And then I see Aiden and instead of looking away, I stared at him and then I kind of had to say hello, hadn’t I? And you didn’t know, and then you had to lie, and then we had to pretend in front of your siblings again, and I’m just so, so, so sorry Lou. God, you never signed up for this. I’m such a loser. I should just suck it up, go to the office like he suggested, if only to clarify that we’re actually not married, I don’t have a son, and your name isn’t even James.’

He slung his arm over his head in embarrassment, trying to hide his face that had now probably started to flush bright red out of embarrassment. but within seconds he felt Louis’ deft fingers curl around his wrist to tear it away.

Confused, Harry looked up – only to find his boyfriend smile back at him.

Which, Louis was smiling.

Why was he smiling?

 

Why are you smiling? Aren’t you upset or disappointed?’

“Because I love you and your brain and your heart, even when it lands us in situations like this,” Louis replied unabashedly, pulling Harry’s hand towards him before pressing a kiss to his knuckles. It was clear he could read the confusion on Harry’s face, because he immediately sat up straighter and started talking again.

“Like I said. I’m not angry. Just – we need to figure out a way to deal with it. I think we both kind of forgot, about the whole thing. I honestly didn’t expect for the whole saga to ever become an issue anyways – ‘s not like you keep in touch with your ex-colleagues, and London’s a big city.”

Harry protested at that, ‘I still chat with Jes at times! She was the only decent one.’

Louis rolled his eyes, but kept going.

“As I was saying, we didn’t think it through. I’m not expecting you to confess anything. Just, it’ll be difficult. And the more serious we become, the harder it’ll be. What if we get married, and you want to invite Jesy? Either you explain it, or you can’t invite her. What if we have our own children, and we run into someone? How do we explain that Ernie has disappeared? What if I’m alone with my Mum, or my sisters and someone comes up to me and calls me James?”

Harry had to admit, that the scenario they were in was so unlikely - he didn’t have a solution for it either.

He hadn’t expected, obviously, to ever even have to prove the fact he’d said he had a husband and a son. And he hadn’t expected either that the man saving him from his little white lie, would also turn out to be his knight in shining armour – the one. Because Harry was sure of that.

So he was quiet.

There simply was no simple solution to their issue. And he wondered what that meant for Louis and him.

‘So what are you saying then?’ He dared to ask, diverting his eyes from where they’d been staring into Louis’ orbs, flickering to their entwined hands, before looking back up again.

Louis just lifted his shoulders. “That I don’t have an answer either. But for me, a lot of those ‘ifs’ I just mentioned, they are just a matter of time to me – they’re whens, not ifs. So yeah, I’m pretty sure we will probably live through some awkward moments, but I wouldn’t be a good actor if I couldn’t improvise a bit, well would I? But please, if you can, let me know beforehand. Especially when we’re with others, particularly my family. I’d rather keep the number of people involved contained to an absolute minimum. I don’t want my baby sisters involved.”

Harry’s head and heart were stuck on Louis’ words. They’re whens, not ifs. So he did the logical thing, which was nod, before plummeting himself onto Louis and pressing a kiss onto his lips.

‘I love you. And I promise I won’t ever lie again. Not even little white lies. Or stretching the truth slightly. Just you, me and honesty,’ he murmured, eliciting a smile from Louis.

A smile that was too cheeky, too mischievous to Harry's liking - it was a smile that spelled trouble.

So Harry leaned back and regarded him slowly. ‘What?’

Louis grinned and shrugged innocently, before playing with Harry’s ring-adorned fingers, eyes tracking the movement.

 

“Nothing. Just, I might’ve referred to you as my partner to our stage director, and he might’ve assumed that we’re married. And I might’ve never corrected him. And we might be invited to a dinner party with loads of other important stage actors where we probably should just wing it.”

 

 ‘LOUIS!’