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Becoming Us

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The car stops in front of a white Victorian house, on a street in Kensington. The pathway is surrounded by precisely cut green fences and rose bushes. It leads up to the front door, with a little pillared front step and a forest green heavy wooden door. It looks… posh. The house has three floors, big windows with white window sills and on the top floor, two small balconies on both sides of the house.

Louis whistles. He tries to hide it, but Harry can hear it.

“So this is where I live,” Harry makes it sound like a question, running his hand through his hair. Louis doesn’t know it yet but it’s a nervous tick of Harry’s. He hates that he feels the need to do it now.

Even if it weren’t for running his clammy hand through his hair, the way the keys are slipping through his fingers and how they rattle as he almost drops them on the front step, are tell-tale signs of how nervous he is.

“Quite the place,” Louis says and Harry hates how his voice sounds like it’s a mix of awe and… prejudice, maybe? As if Harry just turned into a slightly different person right in front of Louis’ eyes. “Didn’t think a social worker could live like this.”

Harry finally gets the front door open. “I might live in a falling down dog house in the backyard, though.” He takes a quick glance at Louis who looks at him, weighing his words.

“You don’t though, do you?”

“I don’t,” Harry admits as he walks across the white hallway, squeaky clean with fresh flowers on a side table, reaching the carpet-covered stairs and starts to walk them up.

“Which floor?”

Harry feels himself blush. “The top one.”

He can hear Louis whistle again.

“It’s not like a penthouse or anything.”

“Still definitely beats living at my mum’s, I’m sure.”

“Maybe,” Harry shrugs and looks at Louis over his shoulder. “She seemed very lovely though.”

They reach the top floor – there are two doors opposite each other and Harry stops in front of the one on the right. He dries his still-clammy hands on his trousers before even trying to open the door. It seems to take even longer and his hands get even sweatier, but finally Harry manages to get the door open.  

“Welcome home, I guess,” he says as he steps aside and opens the door for Louis to step in.

Louis is about to step over the doorstep but suddenly stops. “Are we… should we like, carry each other over? I don’t know the protocol here.”

“Can’t really carry each other,” Harry ponders.

Louis scratches his jaw and then extends his hand. “We’ll just go together,” he says as Harry takes his hand and they jump over the doorstep, laughing. This seems to become a habit of theirs.

Harry loves his home. He knows he is very lucky and very privileged to have a home as beautiful and cosy as this, in a post code as posh as this. He has made the flat his; he sometimes felt his furniture and knickknacks from vintage stores and markets were not really fitting to the very fancy vibe of the building.

“I gather you are the kind of person who wants shoes taken off?” Louis muses as he gestures towards the shoe stand/clattered pile of sneakers and boots by the front door in the small hallway.

“Looks like it.”

Louis kicks his shoes off. “Would you like to give me a house tour?”

“Sure.”

Harry leads Louis into the flat. To the left, there’s a decent sized kitchen, leading up to a small balcony with a few chairs around a small table and some potted plants that admittedly could use a bit more water. The kitchen, with a big wooden dining table in the middle, is one of Harry’s favourite places. He spends most of his time here or on the balcony, cooking and eating and just… imagining he’s in a secluded cottage somewhere or alternatively breathing in the smoky London air and admiring the view. Directly from the hall, is a small living room with a bright red sofa (very soft, hard to get up from) and a bookshelf squeezed in, leaving barely room for a small coffee table with a pair of scented candles on top of it.

“And finally here,” Harry leads Louis to a room from the door in the corner of the living room, “is where the magic very rarely ever happened.”

His bedroom – their bedroom – isn’t too big but it’s very cosy.

“I feel like I’m on clouds or something,” Louis says not spitefully as he walks further into the room, touching the white linen on the bed and looking around at the soft blue walls. Harry has a big white faux furry rug on the floor.

“You’ll see my favourite thing when it’s a little darker,” Harry says.

Louis turns to look at him and winks. “What, you naked?”

“Shut up,” Harry chuckles and nods towards the two big windows, white long curtains surrounding them. “It’s really light now, but I’ve got these like… fairy lights? on the ceiling.”

Louis nods approvingly. “Like sleeping under the stars.”

“Exactly.” Harry opens the door leading to the en-suite bathroom. “And this is the bathroom.”

Louis takes one last look around the bedroom. “Which side do you prefer?”

Harry looks confused.

“Side of the bed.”

“Oh!” Harry lifts his eyebrows. “I, uhm… I don’t know. I’ve never really had to think about it.”

Louis hums. “Okay, alright. I’m not fussed so.”

A silence falls between them, Louis looking at the black and white photos on white frames Harry has put up on the wall unsymmetrically. “I like these.”

“I took them,” Harry can’t help but sound a little proud of himself.

“Is this like… a window with a raindrop?”

“Yeah, and this is the sky when it was very rainy and then the sun started peeking out,” Harry moves to stand next to Louis and show him the pictures. “And this last one is, uhm, my cat’s paw.”

“You have a cat?” Louis quickly looks around him.

Harry shakes his head. “No, not anymore, I used to, we had a family cat when me and Gemma were kids.”

“Would you want another one?”

“Yeah, one day maybe.”

Louis nods.

“Is that… a problem?” Harry asks unsurely.

This might be a make or break thing, really.

“Nope,” Louis smiles at him. “I’m more of a dog person, but cats are cool too.”

A make thing, then.

“Excellent,” Harry nods. “I just might offer you coffee for that.”

“I just might accept your offer.”

They go to the kitchen. Harry puts the kettle on and takes out the coffee mugs, putting the coffee in.

“Could we sit outside?”

“Sure,” Harry says and watches as Louis walks outside, his body language suggesting he is taking a huge inhale.

“So,” Louis starts as they sit down by the table and watch the evening sun lay its last rays over West London. “How the hell is this your home?”

“What do you mean,” Harry teases, “you didn’t think I’d be so good at decorating?”

“Oh shut it,” Louis smiles. “I mean. This is a really fancy fucking area. You live in a penthouse-like top floor. You have a balcony. You have a brick wall. Yet you are a social worker. Doesn’t add up.”

“Maybe I’ve got drug money?”

“Ahh,” Louis nods exaggeratingly, “hence working with the kids. Clientele right there.”  He looks at Harry. “You wouldn’t though. You love your kids. My bet is on you having a secret sugar daddy.”

Harry barks out an embarrassingly loud laugh. “More like a sugar mummy.”

Louis looks horrified for a brief moment.

Harry laughs and puts his coffee cup down. “Or well, actually a biological mum.”

“This sounds like it’s going to a very interesting direction.”

Harry chuckles again as he lights up a cigarette and takes a long inhale. “My mum. As in, you know, my actual mum. She bought this place for me when I was 18.”

Louis whistles.

“She got Gemma one as well,” Harry rushes to say, as if he’s a child and he has to make sure he isn’t getting… the blame all by himself.

Not that there’s anything to be blamed about. He didn’t choose to be born to rich parents.

“Your mum bought you and Gemma flats? In West London?”

“Yeah,” Harry says quietly and somehow can’t shake off the feeling of being embarrassed. “We both got a place when we moved here to go to uni. Mum wanted us to be able to focus on uni, not move into rowdy student flats and that.”

“Right. Focus. Okay,” Louis shakes his head a little as he lights his own cigarette.

“I saw that,” Harry says, going for a light tone.

“Saw what?”

“You, shaking your head.” Harry compliments himself on how un-accusatory he managed to sound.

“I wasn’t…” Louis pauses and seems to rethink. “I mean, yeah. It’s just… something I can’t imagine ever having had.”

“I’m sure your mum would’ve given you the same, if she’d been able to?”

“Of course she would’ve, it wasn’t just ever… like, I always had to work hard and make my own life.”

Harry stubs his cigarette with a bit more force than required. “What, you think I don’t work hard?”

“I’m not saying that.”

“What are you saying then?”

Louis fidgets his hands and shakes his leg – something Harry has noticed is probably Louis’ nervous tick. “I just… I mean, I don’t come from money. I always had to think about how to make ends meet, since I was a kid.”

“And you think you’re better for that?”

“Not better, just… I’m not trying to pick a fight. Just saying we had a really different upbringing.”

“I don’t think we did, really. You seem to be raised with love and respect and responsibility, too.”

“I mean…”

“I know what you meant. Just, money isn’t like… important.”

“Easy to say when you have money.”

Harry swallows. Louis’ abruptness sometimes annoys him but he has a point. “I… Yeah. You’re right.”

“I am?” Louis looks so confused it’s almost amusing.

“Yeah. I mean, having money definitely makes it less important and less of an issue. I just meant that I’m not… like, I’m not a bad person because I happened to be born to a family with money. That’s what I meant with money not being important.”

“I didn’t say you’re a bad person.”

Harry shrugs. “Not like… bad, necessarily, I mean I hope you know me better than that by now. I did study hard, I did do a masters, I work fulltime and like, aside from mum buying us homes, she doesn’t support me or Gemma financially at all. She enabled a lovely home, yeah, but that’s like… I made my life, too.” Harry stops, feeling frustrated at how again he seems to be embarrassed of coming from a well-off family, remembering how he never wants to bring it up because people immediately think he’s an absolute twat who got it all fed to him with a golden spoon – and he works bloody hard, he is so conscious of being a good, humble person, and yet every time people hear his parents are rich, it’s like Harry’s whole personality changes in their eyes immediately.

Louis turns to look at Harry and nudges his foot with his. “Sorry.”

“What for?” Harry tries to be neutral.

“For, you know,” Louis shrugs, “being unfair. Prejudiced. You’ve never given any reason for me to think that you’re like, a twat, or that you don’t love what you do and do it well.”

Louis’ words sound earnest and they warm Harry’s heart. The warmth spreads from his heart to his face and turns his frown upside down. “I really do love what I do,” he says honestly.

They drink their coffees in silence but now it’s more companionable.

“So I married money?” Louis finally interrupts the silence.

“You’re not on my will yet, so save your spouse murdering plans.”

“For now,” Louis hums.

“For now,” Harry agrees.

Louis seems to think about something and then turns hastily on his chair again to look at Harry. “I mean, we’ve established being rich doesn’t make you a twat, but like… I’ve met your mom! She was lovely! She was so… normal.”

Harry rolls his eyes. “Normal?”

“Like, she didn’t make me call her ‘your ladyship’ or anything. She didn’t give me that… tory vibe.”

Harry almost chokes on his coffee. “Jesus, fuck, what? My mum’s not a tory, god!” He coughs and catches his breath. “Not all wealthy people vote conservatives, you know. Some are good people and have brains, after all. My mum and dad being some of them.”

Louis looks like this might actually be brand new information to him. “Oh.”

It’s sort of ridiculous, with Louis being so aware and keen to jump on any stereotypical thoughts and actions he sees, and yet here he is, seeing all fortunate people as conservative dickheads.

“Can you believe? My mum was born poor, working class in Manchester. Then she just worked really fucking hard, with my dad, and build a company through the years. With work. We’re not like, old money or blue blood or anything.”

“So Anne has a company? That she built from scratch?” Louis looks like Harry might be still pulling his leg somehow. “But she seems like such a… hippie.”

“Yeah,” Harry can’t help but yet again be so incredibly proud of his amazing mum, his kickass business woman mum who has the warmest heart, wittiest mind and worst sense of humour. “Guess she made her moolah in a hippie way. Gush Cosmetics?”

Louis whistles again and his eyebrows fly up. “Gush?”

“Yeah.”

“Wow,” Louis says, impression dripping from his voice. “My sisters love it. I love it, they are so good with ethical stuff.”

“I’m so proud of it all. And my mum.”

“You really should be,” Louis reaches out to squeeze Harry’s hand. “Sorry I was… a bit of a dick, really. Your mum is great. You are great. And this place is great.”

“I just… I don’t like talking about it, like, I love my mum and I’m really proud of her, I just don’t like how people look at me. After they find out. Like I’m just a posh kid who knows nothing about life.”

Louis visibly blushes. “Like I looked at you?”

“It’s alright,” Harry says and realises he means it. “Guess it’s time you get educated for once.”

--

Hours later, when Louis is brushing his teeth, he still can’t get over the fact that Harry comes from a rich family.

Or, more accurately, he is not over the fact that he himself kept looking at Harry after their discussion on the balcony all evening, trying to see if he could spot rich people behaviour in Harry. Louis had caught himself looking at the way Harry ate his dinner – they just ordered pizza as a safe choice, considering how well their filling preferences matched – and finding himself surprised that Harry did indeed munch on his pizza slices by hand, foregoing using cutlery made out of porcelain like he might’ve been taught in a boarding school.

They’d then moved onto watch telly and Harry had indeed slobbed on the couch, wearing sweater pants with a small hole starting to appear on the knee, no brand name visible, and as they were watching GoggleBox like the boring old married couple they were, Harry had not once made a comment about the poor regular people or how he was so above them.

Indeed; nothing about Harry’s behaviour suggested in any way that money had never been a concern to him. Nothing about his behaviour in the five days Louis had known him had ever indicated that Harry was a pompous cock who looked down at other people.

“You’re an embarrassment,” Louis tells his mirror image as he spits and rinses his mouth. For a moment he’s convinced his own face in the mirror nods and rolls his eyes.

Louis finishes his bathroom activities and makes his way to the bedroom.

“Wow,” he gasps as he walks in. “It really does look like a starry sky.”

The room is dark, except for the little lights in the ceiling. Harry is snuggled up under covers, sitting with his back to a pile of pillows leaning against the headboard. A small lamp is on to help him see as he’s reading a book with his reading glasses on.

Upon hearing Louis speak, he glances up and smiles. “I, uhm. Didn’t think I had a preference but I just automatically got onto this side, I guess because of the lamp… Are you ok with the right side? We can get you a lamp and a stand, too.”

Louis dresses down to his briefs and goes to bed. “This side is fine, I told you I don’t mind.” Harry’s bed is divine, hard enough to support his back but soft enough to be oh so comfortable.

Harry puts his glasses and book away, turning the reading light off. He turns to Louis, based on the shuffling sound, Louis can’t really see anything with his eyes closed and focusing on how every single limb on his body seems to relax under the soft duvet. He lets out an involuntarily blissful sigh.  

“I know, such a good bed,” Harry chuckles lowly. “I think it should be good for your back.”

“I hope being in your own bed and own home means you can get sleep okay, despite having someone in your bed.”

Harry makes a noncommittal sound.

Louis can feel himself drift to sleep already, feeling like he’s somehow laying down on clouds on the sky but also under the sky as he can feel, if not that much see, the starry ceiling. He’s just about to doze off when Harry speaks again.

“What was your favourite part of today?”

“Learning that I married money,” Louis blurts out but Harry just laughs.

“So you can live in this place?”

“So I can sleep in this bed.”

“Well,” Harry drawls out as he shuffles around under covers, “I’m glad you’re getting something out of this marriage at least.” It sounds good-humoured.

It takes Louis a few moments to remember that he is due a counter-question. He might’ve married the wrong thing here. He should be married to this bed. “And what was your favourite thing?”

Harry doesn’t say anything but Louis feels a warm hand squeeze his own.

The touch lingers.

“You, I think.” Harry then says softly.

“Me?” Louis opens his right eye, peeking at Harry. He looks a little embarrassed, a little shy, and out of courtesy to not put him on the spot, Louis closes his eye again.

The warm hand on his draws away.

“Or like, your reaction?”

“My awe at your gorgeous home?”

“No,” Harry tuts, “your reaction to like… Me being rich, I guess.”

Louis reckons it’s best to not spill the thoughts he had in the bathroom.

Harry coughs. “I’ve always… Like, I hate how people change the way they look at me when they find out. As if I’m suddenly a completely different person.”

Louis doesn’t know what to say. He sees an image of his own disappointed self staring back at him in the mirror.

“I mean, you sort of did too, at first, but… I guess the way you listened to me, it meant a lot to me. That you didn’t just hold onto your own ideas. You showed me respect.”

“You’re almost making it sound like I tend to disrespect you?” Louis isn’t hostile about it, it’s more a serious concern with the way Harry’s voice sounds.

“No no, not at all, I just…” Harry coughs again. “You have very set principles, I think. Which is a great thing,” he hurries to continue. “Sometimes I’ve maybe just felt that, uhm, you think that my principles aren’t that high. That you need to explain a lot of things to me and you feel like I’m not, I don’t know, as good a person as you? So it was just a nice change, to be able to see that maybe you had some bad stereotypes and I could make you think differently.”

“So what you’re saying is that your favourite part about today was being right and me being wrong?” Louis says because sometimes he truly is an idiot.

“I… Yes. I guess. Or more like, how I dealt with it. How it felt like I can explain it to you and you will maybe get new perspective about something you seemed to have such negative stereotypes about.”

Louis gets that. He really truly gets that. After all, he himself loves the feeling of having done something good in the world after making someone see sense on their wrong opinions, on their prejudiced thoughts, when he feels like he has helped someone see the light.

He isn’t a fan of being fed humble pie with the roles reversed, he is learning. He is very much a fan of Harry being so open, so honest, so brave to tell this to Louis.

“I do like you, you know,” Louis says instead. “I don’t… Look down on you, or think that you’re a project for me to educate.”

“Sometimes I’ve felt that way.”

Louis turns to his side, looking at Harry and in turn, reaching his hand to Harry’s, entwining their fingers. “I’m sorry if I’ve ever made you feel that way. I think you’re a good person. A really good person. You’re right in that I do have a tendency to like, act like a moral police sometimes, but it’s not out of spite, or because I think I’m better, I just feel like… Like I do know a lot of things, and I think talking about them is never a bad thing. But I’ll be more aware of how I talk about them.”

Harry’s eyes seem to be locked onto their fingers pressed together. He says nothing for a while, but then lifts their hands to his lips and kisses the knuckles of Louis’ hands briefly.

“I think we can learn a lot from each other. And I think it’s exciting.”

Harry then gently unentwines their fingers, gently putting Louis’ hand back to Louis’ chest. “Good night, Louis.”

“Good night, Harry,” Louis replies, feeling a little stunned, a little confused, and a lot thoughtful.

It takes Louis longer to fall asleep that night than Harry. The silence of the room, only occasionally broken by Harry’s shuffling around, makes Louis feel so aware suddenly that this is real life. Like really real life; this is what is happening right now. Not too long ago the person sleeping next to him was nothing but a stranger, someone he was told was absolutely made for Louis – Louis still has moments of disbelief as it feels there’s so many things they are not seeing eye to eye on. But maybe Louis, now that he looks back at his not-that-long life thus far and the decisions he has been making, is better off trusting someone else’s judgement for once.

--

They are due to meet the three experts for the show once a week – and in emergencies, whatever those may be. Harry can’t really imagine any emergency happening where he’d rather speak to the three experts and assume they’d solve out issues in his marriage, rather than actually sorting them out with his husband. He doesn’t know Louis that well yet, but their conversations yesterday give him faith in being able to communicate through even more difficult things.

All experts are familiar to them from the application process – they’d met them several times throughout the many weeks of interviews, tests, discussions on what they would hope to have in their future partner. And of course the crew is there to film everything, they always seem to be there – then again, that probably comes with the territory of making a TV show and all.

Today, they see Trevor first. Trevor is Harry’s favourite; he’s a priest in his 50s, eyes always sparkling and a big smile on his face. When he speaks (and he speaks a lot), his hands are always moving, making air circles, adding even more charm to his demeanour. If Harry were able to get into the same idea of God as Trevor seemingly does, one full of acceptance and love and nothing else, maybe Harry would get along with religion a lot better.

Trevor also has a charming bit of grey on his beard and his dreadlocks, and he has probably never in his life worn any colour that is not bright or neon.

“Louis, Harry,” Trevor starts and looks at them both as if they are his favourite people in the world. “How are we today? How have we been for the first week of being united in great love?”

Harry can feel Louis flinch on the seat next to him.

“Uhm, I think it’s a little early for the word love,” Harry starts unsurely.

Trevor looks shocked at the thought of not everyone being full of love all day every day, but quickly composes himself. “I see. I understand. How has your first week of marriage been, then?”

Harry exchanges a look with Louis.

“It’s been… good, I’d say?” Louis starts speaking, seeking agreement from Harry who nods. “Obviously it’s a lot to take in, suddenly being married to a person you don’t know but…”

“…But it’s been nice, interesting, learning to know each other. I mean, of course it’s a long process but I think we’re doing quite well?” Harry finishes Louis’ thought, or at least what he thinks was Louis’ thought.

Louis nods. “We seem to mesh quite well.”

Trevor lets out a big belly laugh and lift his arms as if in a praise. “Of course you do, we did put you together on purpose!” He seems rather pleased with this decision.

Trevor asks them about what kind of things they’ve talked about, how their honeymoon went and if they’ve settled in their new home well. He seems especially pleased to hear Louis say he felt very at home in Harry’s flat right away, and that Harry has been very considerate in Louis making it his own as well.

“And how do you feel about each other? Is there attraction, caring?”

Harry blushes whilst Louis shuffles around on his side of the small two-seater sofa.

“I’d say there is, definitely, some kind of… Idea of being a unit, now. Wanting to make each other feel good in that unit,” Louis starts hesitantly.

“I think before we met, I had this… Like, of course I didn’t know who my husband would be, but I knew I had a future husband somewhere, chosen for me specifically as a good match, so I… thought about him, not really imagining what he’d be like because you just can’t know, but kind of… Thinking of his being, and thinking of this person fondly, and then when I saw Louis, it sort of… felt like I already kind of knew him? As in he seemed familiar?” Harry rambles on.

“It makes sense, completely,” Trevor nods. “We start living toward what we know will happen, adjusting ourselves in advance. Makes it easier. Did you have that as well, Louis?” Trevor asks hopefully.

“I… No, I didn’t really. Tried to not think about it all, have no expectations so I wouldn’t be disappointed.” Louis words sound strained, as if voicing them is laborious.

Harry tries to unhear it. “It’s weird, really, how quickly it sort of happened. Caring for Louis and feeling a togetherness. I mean, we were put together but it feels like, even if neither really imagined the other to be like we are, you sort of feel this intimacy as you think that okay, alright, this is the person chosen for me.” Harry looks at Louis and feels something warm inside him. They’re sitting on this couch, as a unit, mere strangers a week ago but now they’re married and talking about their marriage.

Louis carries on. “Kind of creates trust immediately, like you don’t have to build it, but it’s there? Until when, or of course if, it gets broken.”

Trevor nods frantically, his short dreadlocks swinging everywhere. “Wonderful. Very good. You must remember though, you are like shells,” he makes a gesture with opening his hands in what presumably resembles a shell. “You can admire it from the outside, but only when you open up truly---”, he opens his palms, “will you find the real treasure. The pearl.” He looks at Harry and Louis expectantly, and they comply and nod. Trevor continues. “I’m glad that you already have that basic trust, but you cannot rely on just that. You need to build it, feed it, find the real pearl inside each other.”

It makes Harry feel like a 5-year old, wanting to giggle at the thought of finding pearls inside each other, but he is almost a fully formed adult and manages to get a hold of himself.

It also makes him need to adjust his seating posture as the idea of pearls and insides makes him think about Kegel balls and he is not against the idea at all.

“Now,” Trevor claps his hands together and then to his knees, and sways back and forth a little, “before I let you go, can you both tell me two things about each other that you like and one thing that you feel, after this first week, might need more work or discussion? Not in each other, we’re not here to grade our humanity, but in your union?”

Harry and Louis start at the same time, speaking on top of each other, and it creates laughter.

“Well, I’m glad it didn’t require minutes to think of a one good thing!” Trevor laughs and then gestures Louis to speak first. “Let’s start with the good things.”

Harry finds himself squeezing his toes inside his sneakers. He hopes Louis isn’t going to just make a joke of this.

“I think Harry has the best bed in the world.”

The groan Harry makes is silent.

“But aside from that, he also has a very good heart and a great sense of humour.”

Phew.

“And would you say these are important to you, in a partner?” Trevor asks curiously.

Louis looks at Harry, his face deep in thought. “Very.”

Harry can feel the corners of his mouth rise uncontrollably.

“He also has very charming dimples.”

Harry laughs. “Always trying to outdo me, coming up with four things…”

“I am expecting you to say five about me now,” Louis has the guts to actually wink at Harry.

Trevor is leaning his jaw onto his hands on his knees, clearly enjoying this… flirting? Is that what this is?

“Louis also has an awful sense of humour, which suits mine, and I think laughing together is really important,” Harry starts. “He’s really smart, and cares so much about his family and everyone, and…” Suddenly he’s unsure if he can actually say this, but then thinks it’s something Louis should know and he kind of wants to tell him right now. “And he gives really good hugs.”

Louis scrunches his nose, looking incredibly adorable. “Aww, thanks Pebbles.”

“Beautiful! Beds and dimples!” Trevor is beaming. “And what to you feel might be a challenge for you?”

Silence falls. It’s not that Harry thinks they don’t have any challenges, but voicing them out makes them seem… more real, somehow. Almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure.

“Maybe that… We sometimes look at the world from different perspectives?” Louis starts carefully. “Like, bigger picture versus smaller scale reality.”

Harry nods. “Yeah. That’s a good way of putting it.”

Trevor looks at them, intrigued but with a frown. “Do you think that will become an issue?”

“I don’t… We’ve been good at talking about the differences.”

“Yeah,” Louis nods in agreement and Trevor’s frown disappears.

He turns to Harry. “And what do you see as a challenge?”

Harry worries his lip for a bit, refusing to look at Louis though he can feel his waiting eyes turned to him. Finally he lets go of his lip but still doesn’t really want to look at Louis. “I guess maybe that our, uhm, relationship histories are quite… different?”

Trevor frowns again. Harry wants to live his life in a way that Trevor never needs to frown. “But you’re in the same moment and relationship now, are you not?”

They are. They’re here with different histories and probably different baggage, and suddenly Harry doesn’t feel like really going deeper into it. He doesn’t have the energy to talk about this, doesn’t really want to even think about it – maybe it’s a pearl he’ll open up a lot later, a pearl he doesn’t really feel like giving away yet and if/when he does, he’d rather give it to only Louis.

So instead, he just nods.

“And whilst adjusting and preparing is always a good option, you must remember that you can’t plan life,” Trevor then says. He does a twinkling gesture with his hands. “Starfishes. They only really move forward when they let the sea take care of them. Go with the flow, literally. Otherwise they stick to the bottom of the sea and never get to see the sand.”

Trevor then gets up, shaking both of their hands with two hands, wishing them God’s love and protection until next week, and leaves the room.

“Whoa,” Louis says as he leans back on the sofa, body relaxing. “He sure does love his sea metaphors.”

“Maybe he thinks those will sink into you better, thinking of the Californian sea and everything,” Harry jokes as he sits next to Louis and nudges his knee with his.

“Excuse me. It’s an ocean,” Louis feigns offense as he nudges Harry’s knee back, and they sway back and forth a while. Louis then clears his throat. “Can we, uhm. Talk about what you said, about our relationship histories?”

Harry considers. “We can,” he finally says slowly. “Later.”

“Later.”

Harry is grateful Louis doesn’t push it or ask when a later might be. He doesn’t know.

--

When Louis was in primary school, he had a teacher called Mr. Mulligan. Mr. Mulligan had ginger hair, ginger beard, no passion to teaching and no understanding of children, and he positively hated Louis.

It had taken years and some very good luck with getting better teachers to make Louis not leave education immediately as soon as he could.

In university, Louis had a girl called Tina on his course. She was loud, a bit dim, thought she ruled their class, and she was also a ginger.

When Louis had first met Nigel, their ‘sexpert’ as Nigel himself had wittily said, he had to do some serious self reflection.

See, his gut instinct was that Nigel was a twat. But Nigel just so happened to also be a ginger. Louis considers himself better than one to fall back on unfortunate experiences and using those to label all gingers as twats, so he hushed his gut instinct and decided that Nigel, always so sharply and completely unoffensively dressed in straight trousers and a pullover sweater with neutral colour, Nigel in his ginger hair and ginger stubble, was probably a really nice person and Louis would definitely work on liking him.

And Nigel had been fine, truly. He didn’t beat around the bush or look at Louis’ sexual history judgingly; he was very no-frills about the world of sex and sexuality and Louis thought he was a decent lad. Surely no one with freckles could ever really be a dickhead.

So it comes as a bit of a shock, how Harry tenses and presses himself close to Louis on the sofa so their thighs and sides are touching, when Nigel sits down opposite them.

“So, time to discuss sex!” He smiles neutrally and looks at the both of them.

Unlike Trevor’s smile that matches the radiant brightness of several suns, Nigel’s smile is always very neutral. Beige. He is a beige person. Which isn’t a con in a person, just Louis has never been interested in surrounding himself with beige, not items nor people.

“How has it been for you?” Nigel asks nonchalantly as he scribbles down some notes onto his notepad.

Fuck, Louis thinks. He and Harry should’ve probably talked about this. How to approach Nigel. Louis suddenly realises he and Harry probably have completely different ways they want to approach this, differences in how much they want to share. Louis doesn’t mind talking about sex and he doesn’t think not having had any yet isn’t an issue, but… Harry might not feel that way.

Louis looks at Harry who is looking at his fingers, clasped tight on his lap.

“Would you like to start?” Louis asks under his breath, nudging Harry’s knee with his own. He tries to let Harry know that he has the lead here; that Louis is happy to go along with whatever lies or amended truths Harry wants to say. It does cross his worried mind however that maybe he’s also putting Harry in an uncomfortable situation with the spotlight on him.

He doesn’t think of doing it even but soon feels his hand on Harry’s, squeezing Harry’s fingers gently, and Harry doesn’t pull away. He finally looks up, at Louis, and gives him an earnest smile.

“We, uhm, haven’t had sex yet,” Harry says, voice starting low but then gaining confidence.

Louis feels a strange kind of pride, looking at how Harry lifts his head and juts his chin up as he looks at Nigel head on.

“You haven’t?” Nigel raises his eyebrow and writes something furiously. “Not even on the honeymoon?”

“No, I think it was quite clear what Harry said,” Louis says with a smile. It takes quite a bit of forcing.

“Is there…” Nigel makes a gesture between them. “Why haven’t you?”

Louis sees Harry’s sudden spurt of confidence fade, deflate as he opens his mouth to say something but no sound comes out, then he closes it.

“Why should we have?” Louis asks flatly. “You’re making it sound like it was in the rules somehow.”

Nigel scratches his stupid ginger stubble. “No, of course not, I mean, sexuality is a very personal and individual thing that couples approach differently, no way is the wrong way if it’s consensual…”

What a load of pre-learned meaningless contradictory bullshit.

“…I just would’ve thought that in your situation, intimacy would’ve been a good way to create, ahm, a bond, between you two, to start building a marriage on,” Nigel finishes.

“Well, Nigel, we haven’t had sex yet because we haven’t wanted to,” Louis offers. “We’ve been building a bond on other things to start with.”

He feels Harry’s fingers squeeze his again.

Nigel shrugs. “But would you say there is… physical intimacy? Of any kind? Or a desire to be?”

Harry finally pipes up. “We’re holding hands right now, aren’t we?”

Nigel says nothing, just scribbles some more.

“I think we… There is intimacy, and it’s not like we haven’t talked about sex, it just hasn’t been… something we’ve wanted to do yet.”

Nigel looks up from his notes, and starts chewing on the end of his pencil. “You keep saying we. Is it really the both of you? Neither of you has wanted it yet? I’m just concerned there isn’t a bigger drift starting to appear here. Physical intimacy and the loss of it is often one of the first signs of a non-functioning relationship, after all.”

Louis isn’t a violent person but this moment in time right here now might change that sentiment.

I don’t want to have sex yet,” Harry snaps. “Okay? I am not ready to have sex with Louis yet, it’s all my fault, that’s what you mean isn’t it?”

Nigel opens and closes his mouth as a fish on dry land.

“And I obviously won’t have sex with Harry or push him into something that he has confided in me he doesn’t want,” Louis says sharply. “So yes, it really is we who have decided this together.”

Nigel lifts his hands up as in defence. “Fair enough. This isn’t a blaming game, no need to get so defensive. As long as you are both on the same page.”

Harry is biting his lip and Louis realises he’s been starting to tap his foot on the ground.

Nigel writes something again and then looks at them. “Right. I had some more detailed questions and conversation topics, but I gather they would not be fruitful right now.”

“Probably not,” Harry grits through his teeth.

Louis feels like he is such a fan of Harry right now.

“I think it is however a good sign that with feeling offended, you had a united stand and acted as a team,” Nigel then offers with a bland smile. “You clearly have discussed this and I don’t see it being an issue on the long run.”

“Good,” Louis nods. “This is supposed to be a long run so I don’t really see why make it a sprint and rush to banging when marriage is a marathon.”

Harry looks at him almost as if in awe. “Exactly,” he then says and points his finger in the air as if to drive down the point.

It looks ridiculous. It’s endearing.

“Absolutely,” Nigel nods and offers in what seems to be a tone offering truce as he gets up from his chair, shakes hands with them both and leaves the room with goodbyes.

Louis decides he will trust his gut instinct always from now on, even if it means he has a permanent hate for gingers.

--

Harry is thankful that they get to have a break before seeing their last expert, a relationship counsellor called Jane. She is alright, rather lovely really, so Harry’s hopeful of ending the day of filming on a good note.

They get coffees from the cafeteria on the ground floor of the studio. It’s a nice day out, so they decide to have lunch outside.

“This is really shitty coffee,” Louis cringes as they sit down on one of the round wooden tables on the inner courtyard of the huge studio complex.

Harry takes a sip of his. It is really shitty, too strong and stale.

“Think it’s been left there untouched for as long as Nigel?” Harry asks.

Louis laughs. “He does seem like the kind of guy who drinks in every detail of other people’s sex lives to keep himself going, isn’t he?”

“Eww,” Harry grimaces as he takes out the two butter croissants they bought from the paperbag, cutting both open and uncapping the little strawberry jam they got to go with the croissants. He uses a knife to spread jam inside his croissant and then offers the knife to Louis.

Harry looks quietly at Louis as he makes his croissant, getting some jam on his finger and licking it off. Harry’s glad it’s sunny so he can stare freely from behind his sunglasses without getting caught.

“Thank you,” Harry says as Louis has a bite of his croissant.

Louis lifts his finger up, as if asking for Harry to wait until he can finish his mouthful. Eventually he swallows but seems to have done it too quickly. He coughs up a bit and takes a sip of his coffee, then finally speaking.

“You’re welcome. What for, though?”

Harry shrugs. “Just, for being… I don’t know. Supportive. With Nigel.”

Louis shakes his head as if it wasn’t a big deal. It was a very big deal to Harry, however. “He was being a dick. What we do isn’t really any of his business.

“It kind of is his business though,” Harry weighs in. “He gets paid to do that in the show.”

“You know what I mean. Not his place to be like, making us feel we’re doing anything wrong by not being at it like rabbits.”

“He did make it sound like we’re failing,” Harry ponders quietly, licking his finger tip and picking up the last croissant crumbs from his napkin.

“We’re not failing, okay?” Louis says sternly as he reaches his hand to the other side of the table to rest it on Harry’s forearm. “We’re doing things the way that feels good to us. Nigel’s opinion can go fuck itself.”

Thank goodness for these sunglasses. Harry’s eyes would be screaming do you know how validated and accepted you are making me feel right now if they weren’t covered.

“Bet he’d love that,” he says instead. “That’d be more action than he’s gotten in a while.”

Louis snorts. “More action than we’ve had in a while, too.” He looks at Harry, shocked. “I didn’t… Sorry, that just slipped.”

“It’s true though,” Harry says evenly. “Is it… is it okay with you? Like really okay?”

“That we haven’t had sex?”

“Yeah.”

“It is, honestly. I meant what I said up there. I mean, I, uhm, it’s not something I don’t think about but like, I’m in no rush. It’ll happen.” He rushes to add. “If you want it to happen, of course.”

With the acceptance Louis is showering at Harry, he might want it to happen right about now.

“I do. Especially with, uhm,” Harry clears his throat to win some time, “how good you’ve been about it. It makes me feel very cared for, I guess.”

Louis smiles. “I’m glad. You should.” He picks out his pack of cigarettes and lights up, offering one to Harry who takes it, Louis lighting it up. “I just… Like, obviously we’re different with our approach to sex, and it’s great how neither of us is judgemental about it, but like. I just want to make sure you don’t have like, that nothing has happened to you?” Louis asks cautiously.

“What do you mean?” Harry takes a drag of his cigarette.

“That like…” Louis draws invisible patterns with his lighter to the table. “That you haven’t been hurt? I mean, I get if you don’t want to talk about it if you have, but I think it’d be really important for me to know.”

Harry squints his eyes, unsure why, it’s not like the sun is blinding him. “What, like abused or something? You think I’ve had something like that happen to me?”

Louis shrugs. “You seem to… I don’t know, freeze, when… Like with the photographer on our wedding day, and now Nigel. Just made me wonder if you’ve like been…”  

“No, thankfully, nothing like that. I don’t have like, a trauma or anything. I appreciate your concern but it’s not like…” It’s so hard to put it into words, but Louis is looking at him, not like he’s expecting Harry to make a case for himself, but genuinely interested in what Harry thinks and feels. It’s strange, feeling like you have someone’s undivided attention. Harry knows he’s taking ages, trying to find the right words, but Louis looks like he’s happy to wait.

Marathon, not a sprint, right?

“I feel like the world today is so over-sexualised,” Harry starts. “That if you’re not always talking about it or doing it, you’re wrong somehow. Like people assume it’s immediately a sign of being abused or being broken, somehow. Or that it’s one of these sexualities, and it’s… I’m just not that fussed about having sex all the time. I like it, I do it, hell, I wank like several times a week, but I’d rather do it with someone who means something to me, for more than one night. It’s just that simple. There’s not like, a big dramatic reason behind it, it’s just… me,” Harry finishes, feeling like maybe he got into a bit more rant-y mode than initially thought. More rant-yy than he even knew he was.

“Okay,” Louis says softly. “I’m sorry if I offended you.”

“No, it’s not… I mean, it’s nice that you asked, and like, I’m sure traumatic experiences often are a reason for why people are the way they are, I see it at work after all, I just. That’s not what happened to me. Nothing happened to me.”

Harry watches as Louis gets up from his chair, walks to him, and puts an arm around his shoulder. Louis is still standing, it’s not a proper hug, he’s just being there.

It’s nice. Harry leans his head closer to Louis’ stomach and feels the warmth radiating from him.