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Becoming Us

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Mr Tomlinson and Mr Styles Becoming Us fic title art

No need to be nervous, Louis tries to convince himself. This isn’t like, when he was 12 years old and had to come clean to his mum that he had forced his sister to drink a beer he’d found in the kitchen cupboard, and he knew he was going to get his ass whooped. No, this isn’t anything like that. He’s only…

Fuck.

He’s not only anything.

He’s getting married.

Right now.

For real.

Maybe all that’s left to do is to hope his future husband is not a total minger. And that this turns out to be the right thing to have said yes to.

The priest is looking at Louis with what probably attempts to be a kind smile. It doesn’t quite reach his eyes, though, and Louis responses with a similar haphazard smile. The priest must think this is all a blasphemy, taking the holy matrimony and making it into entertainment for the masses.

Shit, Louis hopes his future husband isn’t overly religious. Christmas, great. Easter, yeah Louis can see the appeal. But not like, he isn’t going to go to church every Sunday and say grace before every meal.

Louis feels like he’s been standing on this altar forever. He’d voiced his keenness on going first to the producers, and apparently his future husband was fine to be the one to walk there with all eyes on him. At least he’s a brave one, Louis gives him that.

Louis’ master plan had been to have a look around the audience whilst making his way to the altar, seeing the unfamiliar faces he’d soon be related to – at least briefly – and trying to make up any reoccurring genes, trying to have an idea of what his soon-to-be husband would look like.

Yup, that had been the plan. In reality, it had taken all of Louis’ willpower to not do a runner mid-aisle and tell everyone the wedding’s off, this was ridiculous and no fucking way he’d be getting married to a stranger.

That’s what Louis wanted to do, but it had turned out his body wasn’t in on the plan. His knees were about to give in from all the shaking he tried to hide, and he was vaguely sure he’d either piss or shit himself if he had to unclench his buttcheeks long enough to turn around. 

So he had walked to the altar without looking around or looking back.

His turquoise tie is really starting to itch. He didn’t even want to wear one, but his mum has insisted. Apparently no son of hers would show up to his own wedding not dressed to the nines. So Louis is wearing a tie. A turquoise one, as apparently it made his blue eyes pop. Another pearl of wisdom from his mum.

Louis manages to just loosen the tie’s grip around his neck before he can hear a murmur from the audience behind him. He realises now he’s been staring at the priest quite resolutely. He turns around to look at the side door, but freezes as he sees it starting to open. He focuses his eyes back to the priest, maybe even says a few words to the man upstairs but would never confess to it. He can hear a slight shuffle of feet and a new smell waft in the air.

He feels his new husband before he sees him. There’s a strange kind of warmth in the air as something very physical and real comes stand next to Louis.

“Hello,” a deep voice says quietly. “Will you marry me?” the voice doesn’t even make it to the end of the silly question until it chuckles.

“Oh I wouldn’t say no to that witty pick-up line,” Louis says good-humouredly as his body finally decides to cooperate and he turns around.

Not a minger at all. A very handsome man, actually, this husband of his, Louis thinks relieved as he gives the man a once-over. They’re the same height, his eyes are big and sleepy looking, his brown hair is tied to a man-bun. He is handsome and looks pleasant, like a nice guy, he’s just not Louis’ usual type at all.

Which may or may not be a bad thing.

They stare at each other, with no idea what to say. Someone in the audience seems to sniff and someone giggles, relaxing the situation.

“Hello,” Louis says to the man and gives him a brief, light hug. The man pats his back, seeming quite stiff but relaxing as Louis speaks again. “Thanks for coming.”

The man laughs, a low chuckle that could well be a sound Louis will start to like. “I’m Harry,” he extends his hand.

“Louis,” Louis shakes his hand.

The priest coughs, and Louis and this Harry turn around to face him side by side. Somehow Louis’ mind has now gone blank of every single thought he has ever had, and he takes half a step closer to Harry, who, as the only person in the same situation, seems to both offer and require the same comfort Louis does.

The priest coughs again, looking at them over his glasses and then begins.

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today…”  

---

Harry has now been married for approximately 40 seconds and his hands are sweaty.

“My hands are really sweaty,” he whispers rushed to his new husband as they turn around at the altar, facing their nearest and dearest.

“Mine too,” Louis whispers back as the takes Harry’s hand. “At least I’m not about to shit myself anymore,” he adds, rolling his eyes and Harry laughs as he takes Louis’ equally sweaty hand and they walk down the aisle, through a cheering crowd.

Harry tries to quickly locate his mum and of course she is wiping her nose with a tissue; Harry would’ve recognised that mid-ceremony sniffling anywhere.

They make their way to the end of the aisle and through the side doors to a small garden on the side of the church. Harry lets go of Louis’ hand and wipes his hands to his suit trousers.

“God I need a cigarette,” he breathes out and immediately feels awful for misusing the name on a church yard. He cringes and looks at Louis. “Sorry, I… I mean, I don’t know what your absolute no’s were that you listed in the application, hope it wasn’t smokers, because uhm, I…” Harry hates when he starts to ramble.

Louis winks and picks up a pack of smokes and a lighter from his chest pocket. “Guess they really knew what they were doing, matching us.”

Harry lets out a relieved sigh, lighting the cigarette Louis kindly offers him and inhales, nodding as a thanks.

“That wasn’t as bad as I thought,” he then says, watching as Louis pretty much eats his own cigarette.

“Nope,” Louis shakes his head. “Didn’t hurt quite as much as I thought.” He loosens his tie more. “This tie is itchy as fuck, though.”

It’s only now that Harry notices that they are both wearing the same coloured ties.

“My tie’s alright,” Harry glances at his ring finger. “But I think this heat has definitely swollen up my fingers. This ring is so tight.” He fiddles with it, trying to somehow comprehend the look and the feel of a wedding band on his finger. “I like this one, though,” he then tells Louis. “Simple but cool. Suits me,” Harry then adds for comic relief.

“You did alright with this one, too,” Louis smiles. “A bit out there. Rebellious. But in, like, an understated way.”

Harry likes the way Louis’ eyes crinkle when he smiles. Seems like he has laughed a lot during his life. Harry immediately feels an unexplainable pressure and panic of maybe not being funny up to Louis’ standards at all and being responsible for Louis’ eye crinkles straightening beyond repair in the next five weeks.

“Hi, guys, sorry,” a female voice interrupts Harry’s whirlwind thought process. “Would you be ready for the photographer, soon? Oh, and congratulations,” she smiles with her pearly white teeth and approaches to give them both hugs. She’s followed by the cameraman Leeroy and the sound guy, Neil, who Harry had only met today backstage when arriving to the church and getting ready.

Harry quite likes this producer, Bess. She was a part of all the interviews and meetings Harry attended, and judging by how comfortably Louis hugs her, seems like she was there for Louis as well.

Each couple participating in the show is given their own cameraman, sound guy and producer who will follow their every step. Harry likes that, knowing it’ll always be the same people and not a bunch of random strangers.

Like his husband is a random stranger.

“Yeah, I think we’re ready?” Louis looks at Harry questioningly and the attentiveness feels kind of nice. As if they’re already a team, making shared decisions.

Harry nods. “Ready.”

---

The photographer is a total jerk. An absolute shithead. He has a stench of sweat, he reeks of dirt and nastiness. He probably gropes anyone who has a hole of some kind.

That’s Louis’ character analysis, anyway.

“Come on, boys! You just got married! Give it some sex!” The old beardy guy, stuffed in too tight leather pants, keeps groaning as he’s taking pictures of them.

Harry is shuffling on his feet and his cheeks are red. They’ve already done poses of looking into each other’s eyes (which turned out into neither being able to keep their poker face and just giggling), arms around each other’s waist and one where they were told to jump off a low moss-covered stone fence. It’s ridiculously hot, Louis really wants a drink, his suit is getting heavier by the minute and he will not not-be that person who wears a tie as a headband in his own wedding after a few drinks.

The photographer shakes his head. “Seriously. You must be gagging for it, give it to the camera! At least a kiss.”

Louis takes a glance at Harry, now resembling a beetroot with a manbun. Can’t the photographer see how uncomfortable he is? Well, he probably can. It probably turns him on.

“One kiss? Can you prudes do one kiss?” The photographer aims for a joking tone of voice but his venom is loud and clear.

“You wanna kiss my cheek or should I kiss yours?” Louis asks Harry quietly, squeezing his pinky finger that’s just hanging there as Harry’s body language seems slack and like he’s given up.

Harry looks at him, a relieved smile spreading to his face. “I’ll kiss you just as a thank you for that.”

Harry’s lips are soft as they brush against Louis’ cheek, and he lets them linger for a moment longer than necessary.

The photographer’s camera is making loud sounds as he takes several shots and then lowers it, throwing his hands in the air.

“Fucking finally. Can’t believe it’s the gay couple being the biggest prudes out of all the three pairs of you.”

He turns around and walks away. Louis sees Harry pick a pebble, albeit a small one, and throwing it after the photographer. It doesn’t land anywhere near him but Harry looks pleased.

“I’m not a violent man,” Harry starts as a way of explanation. “But I do have a habit of like, throwing stuff. Not towards anyone, like I wouldn’t actually hurt people, just…”

Louis nods. “No judgement here. The guy was a dick.”

Harry nods conspiratorially.

Louis has an afterthought. “Might need to start calling you Pebbles, though.”

---

Harry and Louis are let into the banquet space before the guests, who are enjoying cocktails on the roof terrace of the building where their reception takes place. A moment of alone time, a bit of a breather, is more than welcome.

“This is nice,” Harry says as he looks around the space. It’s very fitting to the area they are at in East London; probably an old factory conversion with the red brick walls and the big black frame windows. “Not quite what I envisioned, but I like it.”

“You had visions about the space?” Louis asks, tilting his head as he looks at Harry curiously.

Harry feels his cheeks burn a little. “I mean, it’s just natural, I guess? Or like, when I thought about today, obviously I thought about what you’d be like the most, but also about where it would happen.”

Louis takes the visuals in; the tables are covered with navy table cloths. Each table has a few simple glass vases, with beautiful pink peonies and bright yellow sunflowers in each. It’s simple, but very nice – and that must be why they asked about his favourite flower in one of the meetings, with the sunflowers here. Which probably means that peonies are Harry’s favourite flower, and Louis isn’t that surprised. Peonies seem like a Harry thing. He appreciates how nice the flowers look together despite being so different at a glance, and how they pop up with their colours against the otherwise dark colourings of the space. He turns to Harry, catching him smelling the flowers from one of the vases. “How is this different then? From how you pictured it?”

Harry ponders, putting the vase down. “I guess I thought it’d be more countryside. Like something green, more outsidey. More like what I’ve seen at home, weddings I’ve been to.”

“And where is that? Home, for you?”

“I live here now, in London, but originally I’m from Manchester. Or like, outside Manchester. A small village.”

“A country boy,” Louis smiles as he catches Harry’s eye. “Me too. Yorkshire, born and bred. Lived in the States a few years, actually, but now I’m back to Sheffield.”

“Oh,” Harry worries his lip. “That… might be an issue.”

“Why, Yorkshire not good enough for you?”

“No, I love the North, just meant like… My work’s in London. I can’t really leave it. My kids need me.”

Louis’ brows shoot up. “You have kids?”

“Oh, gosh, no, I meant my kids at work. I’m a youth social worker.”

“Phew. I mean,” Louis adds quickly, “nothing wrong with having kids, like, I’d assume we think about that stuff the same way, being matched and all, just that… my work is not really tied into a place.”

“What do you do?”

“I, uhm. I’m a clown. A hospital clown.”

“A hospital clown?”

“You know, like in children’s wards.”

“Ah,” realisation dawns to Harry’s face. “That’s… wow. That’s amazing, really.”

“Yeah, so… I guess I’d be moving in with you. I mean, I hope that’s okay, considering I’m at my mum’s for now, still trying to find my footing, now that I’m back in the UK.”

“When did you come back?”

“Just, ah, a few months ago,” Louis turns around, feeling weird about talking about his time in California. As if it’s too big a part of him still, like he doesn’t really want to share it with Harry yet.

“Do you miss it? Whereabouts were you?” Harry asks, questions neutral and completely reasonable but somehow they feel intrusive to Louis.

“I was in California. For quite a few years, actually. Still feels like a bit of a culture shock to be back here, if I’m honest.”

“Well,” Harry softly touches the sunflower pedals in the vase on the main table where they are to be seated, “maybe the culture shock is lessened by the shock of being married at first sight.”

Louis laughs.

Bess pops in to let them know the guests are done with their cocktails, and ready to be let in.

Harry finds nerves suddenly hit him. The whole day has been a dream-like blur, but now he’s about to meet a new family (at least a momentary family) and… he needs to make an impression. A great first impression. He can feel his palms start to get sweaty again and he shakes them a bit in an attempt to dry them. He hasn’t had that much experience about meeting families, or mothers, or especially mother-in-laws.

“Nervous?” Louis smirks.

Harry lets out a weak, noncommittal sound.

“Don’t be, my family is great, loud and mostly female, they’ll adore you.”

“Okay,” Harry blows out a long breath. “My family is great too, my mum is probably all cheerful already, she probably binged on as many free cocktails as she could get away with.”

“Ha! She probably had to fight my mum for those.”

Harry chuckles. Louis’ mum sounds familiar. “And with my dad, well, he doesn’t say much, to be honest I still don’t know what he thinks half the time, but he is always smiling, so I guess that’s a good sign at least.”

“You’re lucky enough to not meet my dad,” Louis sounds only a tad bitter.

“You don’t get along?”

“Haven’t even seen the bastard in… twenty years? But my stepdad, he’s great. More of a dad than my biological one ever was.

The heavy wooden door starts creaking open, and the sounds of chattering behind it are getting louder.

Perks of getting married in a TV show in the middle of the week definitely include not having a big wedding with annoying distant relatives.

“I think you’ll meet pretty much everyone, except Mark, that’s my stepdad, he’s drives a lorry, currently somewhere in Slovenia I think it was,” Louis explains hastily. “Oh, and my aunt, she’s my favourite one, she can’t be here but maybe you’ll meet her another time.”

“Are you ready?” Harry asks and barely has time to see Louis nod, as a flood of loud people start barging in.

“Boobear!” A gorgeous lady wearing a red floral dress comes running towards Louis, throwing herself into a tight hug and messing up Louis’ hair, shuffling it with her hand.

“Mum,” Louis mutters, trying to smooth his hair back in order.

“I can’t believe by little teddikins is married now,” the woman sobs and smiles. Their resemblance is visible especially when they smile; it’s like brightness spreads to the whole room. “Hello, Harry,” the lady then turns to Harry and hugs him as well. “I’m Jay, Louis’ mum. Such a pleasure to meet you.”

Harry tells her the pleasure is all his, and she replies by pinching Harry’s cheek softly. He adores her already. Jay then makes room for a flock of girls in their late and early teens – they must be Louis’ sisters. They all speak at the same time, two of the younger ones probably look so alike they must be twins. One of them blushes hard and gets all coy when Harry tries to greet her with a tap on the back, going into hiding behind an older girl’s back.

Louis’ family leaves and there’s a few seconds of privacy before Harry’s parents and sister come through. “Boobear?” Harry turns to Louis, stifling his snicker.

“Shut up,” Louis grits through his teeth. “I cannot wait to hear your mum embarrass you in turn.”

Harry’s mum, Anne, appears as if summoned. Of course she is sobbing. “My darling boy,” she sighs as she kisses Harry’s cheek. “Looking so handsome. And you,” she turns to Louis, kissing his cheek as well, “you must be a wonderful person if your mother is anything to go buy. What a joy, that Jay! I am looking forward to getting to know you, Louis.” Anne smiles, and winks. “Or, as your mum told me, Boobear.”

Louis groans good-humouredly. “Okay, fine, who would I be to deny my dear mother the joy of making my childhood pet name into a public joke.” He looks at Harry, side of his mouth quirking up. “I’m sure Harry has been called embarrassing things, too?”

“No, he has just always been H,” Harry’s dad says, smiling, shocking Harry a bit by making such a long sentence in the company of a stranger. “There’s a funny story to it, actually…”

“Don’t you dare,” Anne lowers her voice and gives Robin a stern look.

“Go on, dad, I’ve never heard this either,” Harry encourages him.

Robin looks around, Anne dramatically turning her head away from him, and then he leans in conspiratorially, gesturing Harry and Louis to lean in closer. “The first months after you were born, son, weren’t the… best for your mum. All those hormones, you know? Very ditzy, she was, tired, and changing between being overjoyed to the point of being manic and then again slumping down to exhaustion. So, you had your Christening, but Anne…” Robin turns to look at her and starts snickering like a little boy. It’s an amazing sound, novel to Harry. “…Anne had times when she didn’t remember if we named you Harry or Henry, so she just kept referring to you as H.” He lets out a big belly laugh, and Louis seems to be shaking with silent laughter, trying to contain himself out of courtesy to Anne who seems to twitch a little as well, the tips of her ears red.

Harry is not amused. “I… I always thought it was such a cool nickname. Like, even better than just having one name like Madonna. I had just one initial. But it was all because my own mother couldn’t remember my name.”

“Maybe you just aren’t very memorable?” Louis offers through his grin and… It’s meant to be a joke of course, but. It strikes a chord. Harry hasn’t ever really thought of himself as a remarkable being who everyone scatters around in awe, to be fair.

He laughs though, just to be polite, and greets more guests as they come through the doors to congratulate himself and Louis.

---

“So, Louis? Like the king?” Harry muses as they are sat down with  mouth-watering meal in front of them.

“What?” It takes Louis a moment until he realises. “Oh, like in Jungle Book?”

Harry looks a bit confused. “Well, I meant more like the French king, but I guess the Jungle Book is also suitable.”

“France has a president.”

Harry takes a few seconds. “I… I know. I meant the like, old king. Kings. Many Louis’s.”

“Right. Uhm. No, not a royal thing, just, my mum is part-Belgian, and I guess she wanted to like… We all have French sounding names.”

Harry nods, looking at his plate. He tries to think of something to say. “You have many siblings?” he then says. “They went by so quickly, I couldn’t count.”

Louis nods. “Four sisters. All younger than me.”

“And they all have French names?”

“They all have French names,” Louis nods. Seems like his plate is very interesting to look at, too. “How about yours?”

“No, she just has a plain English name. Gemma. Two years older than me.” Harry looks up from his plate, searching for Gemma; a safe, familiar face who doesn’t make him feel like he has not only his but everyone else’s feet on his mouth.

A heavy silence falls between them. Louis continues eating and Harry isn’t sure if he is always that slow to put pieces of food into his fork and onto his mouth, or if he’s just concentrating on it meticulously so he doesn’t have to speak.

Harry isn’t quite sure how the vibe between them went from the earlier good one to this strange, strained one. They seemed to get along well, had a bit of banter, but at some point Harry can’t quite pick out it felt that Louis started withdrawing – as if he got a bit tired of being jovial. Harry sure as hell will power through this though, have manners, be nice and polite, be on his best behaviour and not flood this man immediately with all his negative thoughts and irrational worries which he’s prone to have. He can be civil and pleasant.

His mother raised him right, after all.

Harry downs the last droplets from his champagne glass.

“Right. Think I could do with a beer, now,” he gets up from the table. “Would you like one?”

Louis swallows, slowly again and waves his hand. “Oh, no thanks, I don’t really like beer. Just wines and brown booze. My ex didn’t…” he stops mid-sentence.

An alarm sound goes off. Just in Harry’s head, but it does sound loud. “Right. Alright.” He coughs. “Want me to get you a wine or some brown booze then?”

Louis doesn’t meet his eyes as he looks up and smiles. “A glass of red wine would be great, cheers.”

Harry nods and leaves the table without saying anything more.

Waiting to get their drinks gives Harry a moment to let his eyes wander around the room, letting the absolute unrealness of the situation sink in. He sees so many unfamiliar faces, mixed with some of his closest family members, all attending his wedding. The ring still feels tight around his finger.

“Here you go,” the bartender speaks and stirs Harry alert, passing the drinks to him.

Harry looks at the pint of amber gold, and quick calculations make him realise that by drinking it now, here, allows him a few moments alone to get his head together. The pint becomes a getaway card. “Actually, could I have another beer as well?”

The bartender nods and goes to fill another pint.

Harry looks back to their table, seeing that Louis has finally finished eating and is loosening his tie. He’s really handsome, Harry thinks again, and wants to laugh. He’s now been married for about two hours and all he knows about his husband is that he’s handsome, smokes and apparently doesn’t like beer. And that he seems like a good person, at least he isn’t keen on dodgy photographers. And his family seems lovely, albeit their tendency to come up with silly names.

Louis rubs his temples and then looks up, eyes searching for Harry. As their eyes meet, Louis gives Harry a small smile, apologetic and companionable at the same time. Harry watches Louis get up from his chair as he himself takes a bigger sip of his beer. Louis is making his way toward Harry, but suddenly Bess walks up to Louis and stops him. After changing a few words, Louis mouths ‘sorry’ to Harry and follows Bess, with the sound and camera guys in tow, leaving the room.

Harry finishes his drink quickly and takes the drinks back to their table. It’s weird, the feeling of being utterly lost and out of place in a room full of people.

Then he sees a familiar face smile softly to him. Harry lets out a sigh of relief and goes to his mum. He might be all grown up and married but he still damn well needs his mum.

--

It’s still boiling outside but the fresh air is a welcome change from the stuffy air inside the party venue. The production team really should’ve invested in a place with better air con.

“Okay Louis, this is just a quick chat to get your first impressions on Harry and how everything’s been going today,” Bess explains as she checks her notes. “Neil, I know you’ve been working very hard today with all the weddings, but please can you work those muscles a bit longer, we want to see Louis’ face and not the hairy mic, please.”

Neil mumbles and lifts the mic higher.

“Okay,” Bess nods approvingly. “Ready?”

Louis nods.

“So, Louis. You’re a married man now! How do you feel? And remember, my voice won’t be audible so do give answers with complete sentences, please.”

Louis suddenly feels like he’s lost for words as much as he’s lost for feelings, or at least being able to express them sensibly.

Bess rolls her eyes. “Okay. Your husband, what is your first impression? How was it meeting him for the first time?”

“Harry is…” Louis considers for a moment. “He seems nice. I don’t really know him yet, I mean, it’s kind of like… a first date. We’re just getting to know each other. I mean, guess not many get married on the first date but. Yeah. He seems nice.”

Bess looks a little frustrated. Perhaps Louis isn’t giving the exciting television entertainment she’s after. “And did you… Seeing him at the altar, what did you think?”

“My first thought was that he’s not my type at all,” Louis blurts out and is somehow off on a tangent then. “I mean, he’s a good-looking guy, just not my type like, if I’d see him somewhere I’d probably recognise he’s a handsome fella, but I wouldn’t like… fancy him or anything.” Louis stops and cringes. “Shit. I sound like a dick, don’t I? Please don’t use that.”

Bess doesn’t react, just presses on. “What would have your type been like?”

Louis shrugs. “I guess I’m more into blondes, like… And I’ve never been with a guy with long hair, which I guess Harry has, haven’t actually seen his hair as he’s got it up in a bun. Hard to say, as he’s wearing a suit, what his style is like and all that.”

Bess scribbles something down.

Louis carries on, feeling like he’s been framed. “I mean, he is handsome and seems nice. Yeah, that was my first impression. Maybe a bit babyfaced, he seems younger. Shit,” Louis has an afterthought, “I don’t even know how old he is. How old is he?”

“Maybe you can ask him,” Bess says dryly. “So were you disappointed, seeing him?”

Louis considers. “No, I didn’t really have any expectations. Or like, I guess I prepared for the worst and he’s definitely not the worst.”

Bess nods. “And how is today going for you otherwise?”

“I mean, it is weird. I just married a stranger. I’m kind of, going through the motions and trying to remember to breathe and, I guess it’s a weird feeling, being in a situation where you think you might wake up any second but I’m not waking up. This is real.”

“This is real.”

“Yeah. I’m trying to take it all in and take one moment at a time and sort of, waiting for today to end so I can get on with real life.”

Bess frowns. “But this is your real life, no?”

Louis stutters. “I meant, like, get on with the actual marriage-aspect of this and not just…” he waves his hand around. “The cameras and stuff.”

Bess nods, letting him finish.

As Louis takes the opportunity to have a moment to himself and lights a smoke, he closes his eyes and tries to root himself into the moment. He has a habit of feeling like he’s in the outside of himself, watching his own life as if it were a movie or a dream, and today has definitely been a very long movie. He’s switching between feeling like he is an actor doing a role in front of the cameras, versus feeling like he’s on a very random blind date with a guy he’s trying to get to know, and somehow the date just happens on a wedding. He hasn’t fully comprehended yet that this is all really, really happening – that at least for the next five weeks, he is now a married man. Married to Harry who he knows nothing about, but who somehow has been tested to be a perfect match to Louis. He feels scared, excited, pressured to succeed and not fuck this up, and a rebellion toward fucking this up on purpose to stop feeling this conflicted all at the same time.

He stubs his cigarette and nods to a few people talking outside; one of them he is fairly sure is Harry’s sister, Gemma. She looks traditionally pretty, wearing a basic floral dress, freckles on her face giving some personality to her appearance.

Louis makes his way back to his table, but Bess is already there dragging Harry out to have a grilling. Louis catches a weird feeling of loneliness as he sits down on the table; there’s really only one person here who has the faintest idea of what he’s feeling right now and he’s not around.

--

“It could be worse.” Harry gives it a bit more thought. “It could be better, too, I guess.”

“What do you mean?” Bess asks, with a glint in her eye.

Harry shrugs. “I guess… We get along fine and like, seemed to have a good spirit in the photography session but now, in the reception, I’ve felt a bit like… maybe we don’t get each other. With everything.” Harry looks down and wiggles his toes inside his shoes. “Like, some moments feel a bit awkward. Like maybe he thinks I’m a bit… Just, our humour isn’t always really matching, that’s all.”

“Do you think it’ll be an issue?”

“Too early to say. I mean, I do want to share a laugh with my husband and feel like we’re on the same level so yeh, if that doesn’t happen, it would be a problem but… I wouldn’t say we have that problem, not yet, too early to say.”

Bess writes notes and then speaks up again. “And how did it feel, seeing him for the first time? Your first thoughts?”

Harry chuckles. “I thought he was really hot. I mean, he is.”

“You were happy?”

Harry nods. “I was happy, yeah. And finally seeing him, like, he’s a stranger but he’s an accomplice at the same time, you know? Like we’re in this together.”

“You weren’t nervous? After seeing him?”

“No, I think seeing him soothed my nerves, to be honest. It’s just that, now, there are moments when I feel a bit nervous, like I don’t know what he thinks of me.”

Bess lets out a laugh. “Seriously, you two. I feel like we’re on a fourth grade disco with children. Using friends as messengers when you’re too shy to talk to the bloke you fancy.” She brushes her amusement off, gaining her professional composure. “Okay, thanks Harry, think we’ve got enough for now.”

Harry thanks the crew, feeling a bit dumb for being so honest about his immediate feelings. Feeling a bit dumb for talking to the camera more than he has talked to his own husband yet.

As Harry walks back into the reception room, he sees Louis sitting on the table alone and feels relieved at seeing a face that seems more familiar to him in this moment in time than his own family members.

“Hey,” Harry says as he sits down.

“Hi,” Louis smiles at him. “How was it?”

Harry shakes his head. “It’s so weird, isn’t it?”

Louis nods. “Like this whole situation.”

“Yeh,” Harry says slowly. “Feels like I’ve spoken to Bess more than you today.”

Louis hums, amused. “I feel exactly the same.”

Harry turns on his chair, facing Louis. “Like, I don’t know anything about you. There’s a million things I want to ask, stuff I want to know right now, and it’s like… so overwhelming, I don’t even know where to start.”

Louis cautiously leans in, tapping Harry’s shoulder. “Same for me. So much hassle and people and party and like, I just kinda want to leave and talk to you. Share the weirdness with you.”

His words feel like a relief, and Harry feels incredibly companionable with Louis right now. It definitely could be a lot worse, really.

“Okay, I tell you what. We each get one question now, out of the many there are.”

“Like choose the one you want to know the most?”

“Yeh. Think quick!”

“Uhm,” Louis licks his lips. “How old are you?”

“That’s your most important question?” It amuses Harry.

“Was that your question?”

“Alright,” Harry chuckles. “I’m 25. And no, that wasn’t my question. How old are you?”

“I’m 26. Will be 27 in December. Christmas Eve, actually.”

Harry’s lips turn down. “Oh no.”

“I know.”

“Promise I’ll let you moan all about having a Christmas birthday later.”

“Thanks man,” Louis beams. “Appreciate it. No one ever really gets it.”

“My birthday is on Valentine’s Day,” Harry says solemnly.

Louis tuts sympathetically. “Now, I know I said I don’t usually like beer, but it sounds like you need one. I could do with one. It’s not everyday you get married for the first time.”

“You mean you get married, period?” Harry gives Louis a funny look.

It takes Louis a few seconds too long for Harry’s liking before he nods. “Sure.”

--

“Oh great,” Harry groans as Lottie and another girl about her age are walking up to the open space, mics in their hands. Louis doesn’t recognise her, she might as well be Lottie’s friend as she too is looking super fashionable and her hair is so blonde it’s almost white.

“That’s my cousin, Rosie,” Harry whispers. “Loud and lives for drama and attention. Loves to embarrass people.” Harry sinks in deeper in his chair.

Yup, definitely a girl after Lottie’s heart.

“What do you think they’re doing?”

“Probably something that puts us in the spotlight. I hate being in the spotlight.”

“Right,” Louis says slowly. “Hate the attention.”

“Yeah.”

“Which is why you got married on national television.”

Harry doesn’t get a chance to reply, as the girls tap on their mics and start talking.

Apparently they’ve organised a fun game for Harry and Louis to get to know each other. It sounds worryingly much like it’ll be fun mainly for everyone else.

Louis groans. “Bloody hell, my nan’s here. I hope there’s no sex questions.”

“With Rosie, I hope there’s no sex activities,” Harry mumbles and gets the attention of the waiter, asking for a bottle of wine to be brought to their table.

Rosie coughs and starts.

“What is Harry’s favourite colour?”

Ok, nice and simple to start with. Louis looks at Harry who closes his lips tight, shaking his head.

“And no hints!”

“I, uhm…” Louis looks at Harry, trying to read his mind. He is getting a calm vibe. Something natural. “I’m going to say blue.”

Harry shakes his head. “Nope, sorry. It’s actually yellow. Which also happens to be my favourite song. Not sure which was first, mind.”

“No points!”

“Feels like a Eurovision, then,” Louis rolls his eyes and the crowd laughs.

“Then Harry, what is Louis’ favourite colour?”

Harry looks at Louis, seemingly trying the same mindreading technique Louis opted for a few seconds ago. He thinks for a bit and then sounds quite resolute. “Red.”

Takes Louis a while to realise he should be answering now. The girls, and Harry, and apparently everyone in the room, are looking at him expectantly.

How the fuck does he feel about the colour red, again?

“Well, actually, I don’t have a favourite colour. I like all the colours.” Louis says, sounding lame even in his own ears and feeling even more lame when he realises it’s the truth. He doesn’t really know what his favourite colour is.

The girls look disappointed and confused. Harry pipes in.

“I guess that’s not a wrong answer then so a point for us!” He puts his hand up, waiting for Louis to high five him, which Louis does.

They go through a few more simple questions, very suitable for a family wedding, and Louis is happy to find that they actually got some right. They knew each other’s sibling amounts and the names of each other’s mums. Louis didn’t realise Harry’s favourite animal was actually a cat but guessed a monkey for that weird Jungle Book reference from before, and Harry was sort of right saying Louis doesn’t have a favourite animal but he is definitely not a snake person, which was not far off. Louis also dislikes lizards and snails. Harry had absolutely failed the question about Louis’ favourite Spice Girl, thinking it was Baby when actually it was Sporty, and Louis guessed wrong with Posh when it had actually been Ginger.

“You could’ve mentioned this was about the original Spice Girls though,” Louis huffs mock-offended. “Little misleading, I’d say,” Louis complains with Harry hiding his giggle behind his napkin.

It’s Rosie’s turn to ask. She looks devious. “Now, gents, what was each other’s most embarrassing crush ever?”

Harry looks at Louis, as if trying to look into his soul. “I’m going to say… a power ranger.”

“Ooh,” Rosie coos. “Which one, which colour?”

Harry rubs his jaw as if deep in thought. “The black one.”

“That’s… correct,” Rosie sounds shocked.

Louis obviously has no idea about Harry’s childhood crush for Brian May. As if the hair wasn’t a good omen.

“And now, the final question,” Lottie says as she shuffles her cards and then clears her voice theatrically. “Where are you going for honeymoon?”

“Huh?” Harry says, looking at Louis dumbfounded.

“That’s not a question, we don’t know,” Louis frowns.

“Jesus, lads. Play along,” Rosie whines.

Lottie tuts loudly before rolling her eyes. “You’re such a good match, honestly. Slow and no fun.”

“Alright, alright,” Harry offers peacefully. “I’m going to say… Ibiza?”

“Really hope it’s not Ibiza,” Louis is already imagining strobe lights, drugs, all kinds of body fluids flying around. “I’ll go with Cotswolds.”

The girls look at each other and then shriek simultaneously. “WRONG!”

“You’re going to… dun dun dun,” Lottie says as Rosie does jazz hands. “Amsterdam!”

The crowd cheers and Louis feels relieved, while Harry pumps his fist to the air. “Yesss!”

“You’ve always wanted to go?”

Harry nods. “I have. And I’ve been, too. One of my favourite places in the world, actually.”

“Cool,” Louis smiles and feels a twinkle of excitement. “I’ve never been, don’t think I’ve really ever considered it as a place to visit.”

“It’s amazing,” Harry says and his eyes sparkle. It’s increasing Louis’ excitement. “I think you’ll love it. I hope you’ll love it.”

“I trust you, Pebbles,” Louis winks.

Rosie brings them the big envelope from the production team most likely, including a city guide and their tickets and reservation documents.

“We’re flying over tomorrow, already,” Louis notices as he and Harry look at the papers.

“In the afternoon,” Harry observesnods. “Good. Flying when hungover is a pain.” He shuffles through some papers. “Ah sweet! Our hotel is in a great area.”

“You can say just by the name?” Louis couldn’t read directions even if a compass took his hand and showed him.

“The address,” Harry points out to a reservation paper. “Near Vondelpark. Such a cool vibe. So many canals, it’s stunning. Excellent bars. Best brunch I’ve ever had.”

“Great,” Louis says, suddenly feeling a bit overwhelmed with everything. He’s looking at the details of his honeymoon. In his wedding. With this Harry guy, who is now his husband and who he doesn’t know. Louis would assume the production team had eye to weed out all serial killers and sex offenders in the application process.

He could do with a holiday though, and Harry seems to not be the worst person to hang out with.

Harry puts the papers away and slaps his knees as a way to grab Louis’ attention. “Right. I have a plan.”

“A good plan?”

“An excellent plan. You’ll come to see I only have excellent plans.”

“Like getting married on national television?”

Harry nods. “Like getting married on national television.”

“Let’s hear it then,” Louis leans back on his chair and finishes his wine. It’s starting to get nice and buzzy in his head.

“Would you like to get drunk and get these ties off and wear them on our heads?”

“Does this plan include kicking our shoes off and dancing on the tables?”

“Of course.”

“Excellent plan, Pebbles. Let’s get to it.”

--

“My mum always told me and my sisters to never marry a man until you get drunk with him,” Louis muses as he’s desperately trying to get the hotel room open, the key card unwilling to function.

Harry lets out a loud snort. “Guess you weren’t listening properly.” He takes the key off Louis’ hand and manages to get the door open. “A very good advice though. People show their true colours when drunk, I reckon.”

Louis nods. “You’ve been alright so far.”

“So have you,” Harry smiles. He takes a step towards the room but then pauses. “Are we… I mean, there’s a threshold. Should we do some carrying? Like, I don’t know what’s the etiquette here.”

Louis looks down at the threshold too, as if it’s offending him. “Isn’t it like the threshold of your home, though?”

“Dunno, never been married before.”

“Pretty sure it’s the home threshold.”

“If you say so.” Harry somehow feels like he’s not quite trusting this piece of information. He stays put, feeling as if just stepping over it would threaten their marital karma. Just walking into the room feels like a risk. “Should we maybe jump over it? Just to do something?” he then suggests.

Louis nods eagerly. “Excellent idea, Pebbles. Here, take my hand, and we’ll jump on three,” he extends his hand and Harry takes it.

They count to three and jump over the threshold to their hotel room together. It feels strangely ceremonious.

“Oh!” Louis lets out an excited shriek as he rushes towards a table by the wall. “Our phones are here!”

Bess had taken their phones in the morning, and apparently brought them to the hotel room together with their overnight bags they’d packed earlier. Louis throws Harry his phone and Harry is not just a bit proud of how smoothly he catches his phone. He kicks off his shoes and drops his suit jacket, briefly considering taking off his wedding ring that has by now cut off half of his circulation, but decides against it. It’s his wedding night, after all. Harry watches Louis toss his tie to the furthest corner and slob on the bed on his back, checking his phone.

Harry slobs down next to him.

“Got a message from Gemma,” Harry tells Louis. “Must be right when you came to the altar.”

“What does it say?” Louis asks as he’s paying attention to his phone.

Gemma's text

Harry giggles. “He’s FINE, caps lock,” he reads out.

 “She’s got excellent taste, then, that sister of yours.”

“Hmm,” Harry hums. “She’s not wrong,” he says as he tosses his phone aside and gets up from the bed. He rummages through his bag and picks up his toiletry bag. “I’m going to have a wash, do you need the loo?”

“Nah, I’m good,” Louis says, eyes still on his phone but then he puts his phone away, too. He turns to look at Harry and looks uncertain. “Do you like… Should I come with you?”

Harry’s heart stops beating for a moment. “Why would you come with me?”

“You know,” Louis shrugs. “It’s our wedding night. I don’t know how you want to, like, spend it.”

“Uhm,” Harry feels a panic rising in his throat and he fiddles with the zipper on his toiletry bag. “You mean like… sex?”

“I guess.” Louis’ cheeks are turning red, visible even in the dimly lit hotel suite.

Harry inhales and forgets to exhale. “Is that… Do you want it? Tonight?”

Louis sits up straighter, turning to look at Harry. Harry feels like he is a deer caught in headlights and takes a step towards the wall just to have something to lean onto, as his knees might soon give in.

“Harry.” Louis taps the bed spread next to him, gesturing Harry to come sit. Harry doesn’t move. Louis smiles kindly. “I won’t bite. Come here.”

Harry does as he’s told, taking a seat next to Louis on the bed. He does however hold his toiletry bag a little closer to his chest, as if it’s a protective wall he’s built up.

“I’m not…” Louis is clearly weighing his words carefully. “It’s our wedding night. Certain stuff comes with it. But also people getting married are like, they’ve admittedly known each other way longer than we have. So this isn’t really your standard situation.”

“You don’t say,” Harry mumbles.

“I’m quite… Casual, about sex. Like we can or we can not. I don’t mind.”

“Do you want to, though?” Harry takes a quick glance at Louis.

Louis looks at him seriously. “Not when you look like that, no.”

Harry finally exhales. “And it’s okay? If we don’t? Tonight, I mean?”

“It’s okay. I promise.” Louis lifts his hand and is likely about to touch Harry, but then thinks it over and withdraws his hand. “It’s not like we’re in a rush, you know. I know sex isn’t a huge thing for me but like, I’ve never been married either so…”

Harry snickers, the panic inside him diminishing. “Guess that stuff about waiting until you’re married isn’t true here.”

Louis laughs lowly. “Guess not. Waiting until you’re sure about it is better, anyway.”

Harry breathes in, out, feels his fingers loosen their grip of the toiletry bag eventually. “Thanks,” he says and briefly squeezes Louis’ fingers. “This means a lot to me.”

Louis squeezes back. “Then it should mean a lot to me, too.”

--

It takes Louis a few moments of rapid blinking to remember where he is. Waking up in a bed that doesn’t feel like his, seeing surroundings that definitely are not his old room in his mum’s house, and the awareness of a warm body in his proximity. Oh, right. That’d be his husband, that’s all.

Harry shuffles on his side and opens his eyes slowly. “Morning,” his voice is croaky.

“Good morning. Sleep well?”

Harry rubs his eyes. “Like shit. Forgot how hard it is for me to sleep with another person in the room.”

Louis hums. “I always feel better with someone else. Feels warmer. I hate to feel cold.”

“I don’t… Like I can’t fall asleep if someone’s around. Took me ages. And you’re a bit… loud when you sleep.”

Louis huffs and puts a hand over his heart. “I beg your pardon? Hope you’re not insinuating I snore.

Harry chuckles. “By all means no, of course not. Wouldn’t dream of it. You just… snuffle. Like a hedgehog.”

“A hedgehog?”

“Yeh. Have you ever heard them when they’re pissed off? So bloody loud. All snuffles and snouts.”

Louis subconsciously touches his own nose with his fingertip.

Harry laughs and takes his finger off his nose. “Your nose is fine. Cute. As a button. Not snout-like at all.” He doesn’t let go of Louis’ finger right away.

“Did you see any dreams?” Harry then asks quietly, and his eyes are looking sleepy and very green.

“I can’t really remember my dreams ever.”

“Apparently that’s a sign of having slept really well. If you don’t remember your dreams.”

“Oh? I thought dreaming is like, the deepest form of sleep.”

Harry shakes his head. “I dreamt that I was getting married.”

Louis chuckles. “Don’t think it was a dream.”

“No, I meant I also got married in this dream. But I got to the altar and it wasn’t you, but that monkey from Jungle Book. And then he shat himself and my mum came to me and told me I need to clean my room.”

“How lovely.”

“It wasn’t, really. It stank. And I think there’s like, a metaphor somewhere in there.”

“What, like being thrown into a shit show?” Louis laughs but stops as he sees how puzzled Harry is looking.

“No, I don’t… I don’t know yet. Maybe it’ll make sense in hindsight.”

An awkward silence falls into the room.

“Did you clean the mess? Or like, my monkey-self’s mess?” Louis then breaks the silence.

“Nah, woke up before I got to it. I also often dream about hoovering but the hoover never really sucks properly and it’s really aggravating,” Harry looks annoyed with the thought of half-assed hoovering.

They lay on their sides, facing each other, for a moment, with Harry holding onto Louis’ finger. It feels intimate, and even if they’re not even touching each other’s skin, Louis feels a tell-tale prickle start to form somewhere around his middle.

“Right,” Louis then coughs and pulls his finger away from Harry’s hold, turning to his back and sitting up. He adjusts himself hoping Harry won’t notice. “I need a shower. Should we, I dunno, order something from the room service?”

“Okay. Yeh, I’d rather eat in than go downstairs to have breakfast.” Harry reaches out to the nightstand, hand hovering around until he finds the room service menu. “We’re not paying ourselves, are we?”

“Don’t think so.”

“Great. We’ll get everything then,” Harry smiles mischievously. “Another fun fact about me: I fucking love breakfast food.”

“It is the best meal of the day,” Louis nods as he gets up from the bed and looks around for a towel. “Did the crew say when they’d come over today?”

“No.”

“Hmm. Probably soon. Gotta get that wedding night gossip, after all.”

Louis sees Harry shiver; it doesn’t last long and he’s trying to hide it, but Louis still sees it.

“Uhm…” Harry starts talking and it’s clear he’s forcing the words out of his mouth. “About that. Before the crew gets here.” He sits up and pulls his knees to his chest.

Louis sits back on the bed, figuring a shower can wait a bit, as the moment has one of those ‘important moments’ feels to it.

Harry worries his lower lip for a bit, twiddling with his fingers and then quickly glancing at Louis. “I’m not… Like, I’m not a virgin or anything if that’s what you think. Or a prude. Or, maybe I am a bit of a prude in your standards, given what you said last night, but…”

“What did I say last night?” Louis wills himself to sound questioning and not a tad irritated. Not at all.

“Just, about how sex is casual for you, and like of course, that’s your business completely…”

Louis struggles to bite his lip and not start educating Harry about how it indeed is his business and having a rational, casual relationship to sex doesn’t make him a slut, or a total opposite of a prude, but he manages to control himself. Just. He’s got manners and it’s their first day of marriage.

Harry looks like he’s brain-to-mouth filter is lost somewhere in his ramble and his voice is getting amusingly high and his pace of speech is getting quicker. “I mean, I have had sex of course, it’s just been a while, like a long while, and I don’t want to, go around wasting it I guess, I want it to mean something and, uhm, I’m not saying we never will because we probably will, but just…” Harry sighs as he gets to the end of his muffled sentence. “Not yet. If that’s okay.”

Louis bites his lip. “It’s okay. I told you last night. Just because our sexual histories aren’t similar, doesn’t mean that I don’t… That it doesn’t mean anything to me,” he adds and can’t help but sound a bit pissed.

Harry looks alarmed. “No, no of course not, I didn’t mean that, it may have sounded like that but I didn’t… Sorry. Didn’t mean to offend you. I’m not saying you’re a…” Harry doesn’t seem to know how to end the sentence and it’s probably better that way.

Louis gets up from the bed and grabs his towel. “Okay, great. Glad we sorted that out.” He heads towards the bathroom but Harry’s voice stops him before he gets there.

“Louis.”

“Yes?”

“I’m going to order, what would you like?” Harry’s tone sounds light and conversational.

And like it didn’t come easy.

“Anything, I’ll eat everything.”

Harry nods and Louis grabs the bathroom door handle.

“Louis?”

“Yes?” Louis turns to look at Harry again.

“I’m sorry. I don’t… It’s just, it’s so private to me. I’d appreciate if we like, don’t talk about it in front of the cameras?”

Louis musters a smile. “Sure.”

He finally gets into the bathroom without further interruptions.

He doesn’t use water as cold as he thought he might’ve had to; the prickling on his crotch has waded down considerably. Maybe his balls can be the ‘something blue’ of this wedding.

Chapter Text

Amsterdam is sunny and smells as strongly of weed as Harry remembered. The recognisable smell hits his face like a wall as he opens the doors of the central railway station. They’ve just arrived to Amsterdam, having taken the train to the centre from Schiphol Airport.  

“Oh wow,” Louis’ voice sounds amazed. “No wonder Dutch people are always so laidback, walking around smelling this all the time.”

Harry chuckles, eyeing around for the tourist information. “Think we can get tram tickets from there,” he points out to Louis and the crew when he sees the small house.

“Are you sure you don’t want a taxi?” Leeroy complains, looking exhausted as if the big bag of his camera equipment is cutting a scar on his shoulder.

Harry feels very sorry for him. “Nah, no point in us taking a car with how good the tram network is here.”

“Yeah, Leeroy, be a trooper and think of the environment,” Louis adds.

Harry can see driplets of sweat forming on Leeroy’s forehead. “You guys can take a taxi, of course, with all that stuff you have to carry.”

Leeroy’s face lights up in relief.

“No way,” Bess pipes up. “Missing out on you guys taking a tram? Probably getting lost in a new city? Absolutely not. It’ll be great for dramatic footage.”

“Excuse me, Bess. I happen to have excellent sense of direction,” Harry huffs.

“It’s true,” Louis nods. “And he’s been here several times. I promise we’ll have the most boring tram trip in the world.”

Bess bites her lip, looking from the confident smiles Harry and Louis put on to Leeroy, sweaty and struggling, to Neil who just shrugs.

“Okay, fine, you’re right. I don’t want to get sued for inhumane treatment of my crew,” she finally gives in. “But you better have zero excitement on your way to the hotel.”

Bess and the lads leave to find a taxi, while Harry takes Louis to buy tram tickets for the duration of their stay.

Their tram journey to the hotel happens easily and quickly, because Harry hadn’t actually lied about having a great sense of direction.

He sees Louis turn his head around here and there, soaking in the beautiful houses, canals, drinking in the uniquely free and chill vibe Harry loves so much about Amsterdam.

“We should rent bikes,” Louis suggests as he spots yet another colourful bike with flowers tied to the horns leaning next to a canal railing.

“Oh yeah, definitely, stroll around like locals.”

“Stop to a coffee house like the locals,” Louis winks.

Harry guffaws. He has no objections to that. When in Amsterdam, after all. “I’m really pleased with the hotel they put us in, the area is so nice, right next to this big park, Vondelpark, and there’s a lot of bars nearby.”

Louis nods. “Sounds good. You’ve done well at hyping me up about Amsterdam.”

“Once I took an impromptu weekend trip to here, by myself, just to get away. Stayed in this old submarine they’d made into a hostel. Had to take the ferry from the central station, and on one crossing I dropped my camera. Down it went, people staring at me stare in horror as all my memories sank to the bottom of the sea. Or lake. Or canal, I’m not actually sure,” Harry feels like an awful tourist guide. “Water, anyway.”

Louis laughs sympathetically, patting Harry’s shoulder as they’re walking the short distance from the tram stop to their hotel. Vondelpark opens to the right from them, leafy and colourful and beautiful.

They’ve just crossed the road, hotel already in sight, when Louis suddenly stops. “Oh shit.”

“What?” Harry turns to look at him, alarmed.

Louis coughs, nodding to a car parked nearby and Harry looks. On the front seat, very visibly in the bright daylight and with no shame or attempt to hide, is a woman. Half naked. Riding a man.

“Oh jesus gross,” Harry groans as he quickly turns his head away.

Louis laughs. “Nah come on, don’t be like that,” he bumps Harry’s hip with his. “Just two lovers getting caught up with the hormones in the air.”

“Pretty sure it’s not lovers but like, a business transaction,” Harry scoffs.

Louis looks at Harry, frowning.

“What?” Harry questions.

“You said it as if there’s something wrong with that.”

“Having sex in public? On a street? In daylight? Yeah, I don’t think it’s like, the greatest thing.”

“No, I meant… How you said it’s a business transaction.”

“It probably is, though. There’s quite a lot of that here, in case you didn’t know.”

Louis’ frown deepens, forming a little wrinkle between his eyebrows. “And so what? Sex work is actual honest work. Nothing wrong with that. You gotta do what you gotta do to pay the bills.”

“Are you…” Harry would love to think Louis is pulling his leg right now but the utter lack of nothing but seriousness and – is that contempt? – on his face is not supporting that thought. “You’re serious, aren’t you?”

Louis shakes his head a little, tutting. “I certainly am. I don’t get the huge stigma about sex work, not in 2019.”

“Okayyy,” Harry drags the end of his sigh.

“Are you serious?” Louis is starting to sound short tempered. “You really think people who do sex work are like, lower than you?”

No, I don’t think they’re lower than me.”

“Could’ve fooled me, with how bloody judgemental you sounded.”

“I don’t judge people for however they make their money, you know. I just… I don’t know, maybe California is different but like, most of sex work done in the world is still rooted in abuse. It’s hardly a choice for most people.”

Louis’ frown smoothens a little. “Maybe so.” He’s quiet for a few moments but starts walking towards the hotel entrance, Harry in tow. “But you can’t like, make assumptions that’s the deal for everyone.”

“And you can’t assume it’s not the case for most,” Harry retorts.

They walk to the hotel door without saying another word, the silence heavy between then.

Bess, Leeroy and Neil are waiting by the entrance.

“Hi chaps,” Bess sounds unamused as she greets them. “Funny how we agreed you’d be on your most boring behaviour while we weren’t there and yet it seems like you’ve just had a spat.”

“Was nothing,” Harry mumbles.

“Agreed to disagree,” Louis says shortly.

“Did you see that hooker banging the guy in the car?” Neil says nonchalantly. “Welcome to Amsterdam.”

“Don’t call her that,” Harry snaps and immediately apologises for being short with their sound guy he doesn’t really know well enough to snap at him. “I’m sure she has an actual name.”

“Yeah, Roxanne, probably,” Leeroy chuckles and earns a laugh from Neil.

Bess rolls her eyes. “I know we’re in Amsterdam but can we please keep this national telly level, guys? No x-rated words or actions, alright?”

“And no derogatory remarks about other people either, while we’re at it,” Louis says tightly, looking at them all one by one. “And not just for while we’re here but while we’re like, alive.”

Harry nods, seeing Leeroy and Neil also give out ashamed mumbles of apologies.

“Good, glad that’s sorted then,” Louis says sternly and then claps his hands together. “Now let’s go have some fun.”

They check in to the hotel, the reception lady seemingly getting an extra spark of cheeriness as she realises these are the British TV people.

Upon getting up to their rooms, Bess chats away about plans for the evening and for the three nights they’ll be in Amsterdam, but Harry feels heavy. Uncomfortable, like this isn’t real life, like he isn’t in a foreign city with people he doesn’t know and especially with a husband who still seems to be seething towards him.

Harry wishes he could wake up right about now, in his own bed, unmarried.

Instead, he stays awake, and follows Louis to their hotel room. He panics a little seeing how small the bed is – probably designed like that on purpose, as the room is specifically a honeymoon junior suite.

Harry watches as Louis puts down his small weekend bag on the bed, opening the zipper and starting to unpack.

“What do you want to do today?” Louis asks voice tight, making conversation.

“I don’t know,” Harry says quietly, starting to unpack his own bag. The atmosphere is so heavy, it’s making Harry’s breathing hitch and his heart beat faster and not in a good way. Soon he’ll feel like he is looking at himself from the outside, as if he isn’t really present.

“I think I need a shower first,” Louis says. “Feel gross from the flight.”

Harry nods, happy to have a moment to himself so he can maybe call his mum.

“Do you need to use the loo before I get into the shower?”

“No, that’s fine, you go ahead,” Harry speaks as if in automatic mode, words just coming out of his mouth in their own accord. He looks outside of the window, the view showing the beautiful park. He sees a couple walking hand in hand, and the girl seems to be laughing heartily at something the guy said. “Louis?” Harry turns around.

“Yeah?” Louis is halfway to the bathroom already.

“Can we… Can you sit down with me for a second? Before you take a shower?” Harry offers kindly, sitting down on the bed.

Louis looks hesitant, but lets go of the bathroom door handle and takes a seat next to Harry.

--

It’s like groundhog day with the way Harry seems to always hold him up when he just wants to take a shower.

Louis also fucking hates confrontation. All he wanted was to take a long shower, maybe have an angry wank as he’s still feeling a little undone form the morning; he also wanted to curse brutally out loud with the water sounds drowning his annoyance from Harry.

Louis just wanted to take a shower, have some time to wonder why the hell he ever signed up for this and how did they ever choose Harry, narrow-minded Harry as a perfect match for him when it seems like their way of thinking and seeing the world is further apart than the mere Atlantic Ocean.

But he was raised right, and he’s stuck with this for five weeks, so Louis sits down on the bed. He barely stops himself from spitting out a what?. Instead, he just waits for Harry to start talking.

“I’m sorry if I came across as, uhm, judgemental or whatever,” Harry starts with his voice cracking in the beginning. “I’m not like that.”

Could’ve fooled me.

“I don’t go around thinking I’m better, or that like, people are below me. I’m not… I don’t look down on sex workers. As long as it’s their choice, and there’s no forcing involved.” Harry coughs. “I don’t want you to think I’m that kind of a person. Because I’m not.”

“Okay,” Louis says slowly. For as different as he feels from Harry, he can give admiration to a sincere apology and explanation, which seems what Harry is making himself do.

“I just, uhm, I think it was more that it was so… out there. The sex bit. It made me feel… uncomfortable, I guess, and it came out wrong.”

It’s a little bit comedic, how furiously Harry is blushing right now.

“I mean,” Harry looks down at his hands, wringing his fingers. “It felt weird, embarrassing to see it with you. Like, we haven’t had… sex, and like I get that is going to happen probably at some point, so having it right there made me feel like… a reminder of that. About the not having sex with you yet and feeling like, I don’t know, like it’s standing between us.” Harry cracks the knuckles of his fingers as if to mark that he has had his say now. He straightens his pose. “So yeah. That’s what I wanted to say.”  

“You do like talking, don’t you?” Louis blurts out, not unkindly.

Harry licks his lips and nods. “I guess. I just didn’t want to… Like, I hate confrontation, but I hate feeling uncomfortable more. The way I figure it is that having a discussion is going to be weird, and it’s not easy to start it, but then it’ll hopefully… clear the air, or whatever.”

“That’s… good,” Louis says slowly after some consideration. “Something I could be better at, I think. I’d rather just… brush things off.”

“And seethe silently?” Harry smirks knowingly.

Louis chuckles. “Something like that.” He gets up from the bed but turns to look at Harry, still sitting down. “Hey Harry?” Harry looks up, eyes wide. “Thanks for that. Explaining yourself, and like… Clearing the air. I honestly appreciate that.”

Harry’s face lights up as his whole face seems to break into a relieved smile. “Let’s have a good honeymoon, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Louis agrees, lifting his hand up expecting a high five, which he gets and they shake on it as if an official agreement.

Louis goes to take a shower.

He doesn’t curse brutally or even at all, and the quick wank he has isn’t angry.

--

Harry fidgets with the package he’s wrapped up, weighing it on his hands, putting it back away to his bag and digging it out again.

“What have you got there?”

Louis’ voice startles him.

“Uhm, nothing,” Harry lies and shoves the gift-wrapped box back to his bag again.

“Hmm, funny that,” Louis hums lightly as he dries his hair with his towel, scuffing the towel all over his head. “It looked like a gift to me?”

“Uhm.” Harry feels like he is a deer caught in headlights as he picks the box out, for the last time, and hands it towards Louis. “Happy anniversary.”

Louis makes a comically shocked face and looks around. “How long was I in that shower for?”

Harry laughs. “Happy one day anniversary.”

“Phew,” Louis sighs dramatically as he wipes invisible shock off his forehead, sits on the bed and takes the package from Harry’s hand. “Thank you, this is very… sweet. Thoughtful. I’m afraid I have nothing for you.” 

Harry waves him off. “Oh, it’s nothing, really, just a thing I thought might be… fun. Useful.”

Quipping up an eyebrow, Louis carefully starts unwrapping the little square box. Harry bites his lip nervously. He’d thought it was a good idea at the time he got the present, thought it might come in handy, but now he’s just feeling a bit daft. Maybe Louis will think it’s dumb. At least Harry was wise enough to go with a plain black wrapping paper instead of choosing one of the very over the top romantic ones, which he had actually considered first.

“Ah cool,” Louis cheers when he’s got the gift unwrapped. He turns around the black box, white print saying Icebreaker on top of it. “What is it?”

“It’s, uhm, a game,” Harry says unsurely, lifting the top of the box up to show the different cards inside, picking up one. “Like for getting to know each other.”

“Ahh,” Louis nods, “to break the ice. Clever.”

Harry shrugs, unsure whether Louis is taking the piss or actually likes it. “I thought it might be fun, you know, getting to know like quirky stuff about each other, and even the crew if we hang out.”

Louis looks through a few cards. “This actually is really cool. Okay, tell me,” he holds up one card closer to his face, reading out. “If you could be one famous person for a day, who would you be and why?”

“Dead or alive?”

“Doesn’t say. Either?”

Harry thinks. It’s really hard because apparently he would quite like to be a bunch of celebrities, from Beyoncé all the way to…

“Donald Trump,” Harry finally answers.

“Trump?” Louis splutters. “Why on earth? Wanna feel what a toupee feels like? Want to get it on with Melania?”

“Eugh, no. I’d be him for a day so I could undo as much shit as he has done, re-sign for all the treaties he cancelled, unbuild that bloody wall…”

“You’d have a busy day.”

“Yeah. And then, just before the day’s over, I’d just. Out myself. As in,” Harry makes a gesture of cutting his throat open with his finger, “Bye Donald, hello better world.”

Louis chuckles. “What an excellent plan. I fully support you in that quest.”

“Thanks. Marital support and all that.” Harry spots the minibar in the corner of the room, feeling like a nice cold drink could be great right now. He goes to the minibar and opens it, picking out a bottle of Heineken. “How about you?” He turns to Louis.

“Don’t like beer, remember?”

“I meant for the celebrity you’d be. There’s wine too, red or white?”

“White please. I need a think,” Louis says as he accepts the small bottle of white wine, uncorking it and pouring it to the glass Harry picks up from a table and hands to Louis. He lets out a blissful sound as the takes a sip. “Is it very boring if I copy your excellent reasoning and say Teresa May?”

“A little,” Harry giggles, “but it was excellent reasoning. I’d fully support your quest in getting rid of her, too.”

“To killing shitty rulers,” Louis says solemnly as he raises his mini wine bottle and clinks it with Harry’s beer.

“To killing shitty rulers,” Harry replies ceremoniously. “Now who would you have said if I’d denied your rights to May?”

Louis starts tapping the tips of his right index and middle finger to his lips. “Miley Cyrus, probably.”

“Really?” Harry’s surprised, it’s a bit out of the blue.

“Yeh. She seems like she has a fun life. Lots of animals. Great voice. I’d love to open my mouth and just have something that sounds great come out instead of sounding like a crow dying.”

“Fair enough,” Harry snickers.

“Also she gets to fuck a Hemsworth.”

Harry tips the neck of his Heineken to Louis. “That’s an excellent point right there.” He thinks about Liam Hemsworth for a moment as he takes another gulp of his beer. “I’m changing my mind,” he then says with fake sadness, “Trump can remain himself. Who cares about the world. I too want to be done by a Hemsworth.”

Louis’ face turns into a weird grin, as if he’s trying to smell something and isn’t quite sure what the smell is. “Be done by?”

“Uh,” Harry blushes. “You know. Have sex with.”

“But you specifically said be done by? Is that an indication of, ahm, your preferred…” Louis, usually so brisk about sex suddenly seems shy and unable to form words.

Harry’s feeling a little devious. He himself struggles with talking openly about sex, especially with someone he only met yesterday, and whilst Louis has been very understanding about Harry’s reluctance to talk about it bluntly, he has been a little bit… teasing to Harry.

“My preferred what?” Harry asks innocently, looking Louis straight into the eyes as he slowly lifts the beer bottle to his lips and rather suggestively and unnecessarily opens his mouth to fit the mouthpiece in to take a drink.

Louis blushes, turning his eyes away from Harry’s, and Harry feels a little awful and a bit great. “You know,” Louis makes a vague hand gesture, “sex position.”

“Oh,” Harry says with feigned realisation. “I guess so, yeah. I mean, my preferred sex position of all times would definitely be with a Hemsworth.”

“Fuck off,” Louis laughs and throws a cushion he picks up from the bed at Harry, and Harry laughs as he breaks his poker face when the cushion hits him.

“Sorry, that was shitty of me,” Harry catches his breath, lifting his hands up as if surrendering, the Heineken still in his hand. “I know what you meant.”

Louis rolls his eyes. “No shit.”

“But to answer your question, yeah. I guess I do prefer bottoming.” Harry’s surprised at how easy it is to say it, not that he feels like there’s anything weird about having a preference, but how easy it was to have a discussion about a topic he isn’t a fan of talking about with Louis.

“Okay,” Louis nods. “I’m both, or like I don’t have a preference, I enjoy both. So we can like… do whatever,” he’s making a strange hand gesture again. “If you want to try out stuff. I mean, not now of course,” Louis rushes on, “just… eventually. Like you don’t need to just bottom if you don’t want to. I don’t want you to feel like we need to have set roles of being this or that.”

Harry feels his nose scrunch up. “What do you mean by that?”

“You know,” Louis seems to find something very interesting to stare at intensely on the wall, “we don’t need to be like, in certain roles, I don’t want either to feel like the this or that of this relationship.”

“I don’t get what… Oh,” Harry mouths as it dawns to him. “You think that I feel like I, uhm, need to be the woman here?”

Louis looks shocked. “No, god! That’s exactly what I’m saying, roles like that are so forced, there’s no room for them in reality, they’re so toxic and harmful and gay relationships don’t need that.”

“Why did it seem like you were so concerned about me thinking I’d need to fit into one role, though?” Harry crosses his knees and puts his arm up, resting his chin on it as if he were a professor listening to a particularly circular and irrational argument.

“I didn’t, I specifically said we shouldn’t have those.”

“But you assumed I would think of myself as the woman? At least it sounded an awful lot like that.” Harry reaches up to his bun, pulling the hair tie out and letting his hair drop down to his shoulders. “Is it because I have long hair?”

“No,” Louis mumbles. “You misunderstood me. I just meant I don’t want either of us to feel like we have a pre-set role or position or whatever we need to live by. That’s all.”

Harry is feeling too gleeful at seeing Louis, always sounding so sure of how he is right about everything and having these very high horse theories and ways of looking at life, mumble and mutter and get lost in his own brilliance. “You thought that because I have a long hair, I somehow see myself as the woman in this relationship. That I just naturally fit into the role of lying down and taking it, be it given by yourself or a Hemsworth.”

No.” Louis looks like he might break his teeth from how much he’s grinding them.

Harry has to bite his lip as to not laugh. “It’s true, I like bottoming. Not because of any hidden meanings or roles but you know why?”

“Why?”

“Because I love the feeling of having a dick up my ass,” Harry says cheerfully. “I also like how it feels to put my dick up someone’s ass, but having one inside me? Love it.” He smacks his lips and makes a sound as if to show physically how much he loves it.

Louis can’t hold his embarrassed face anymore, but also bursts out laughing, Harry’s over the top raunchy words bringing the conversation back to feeling light and fun. “You’re ridiculous, you really are. I need to start counting how many times a day I say that.”

“I’m feeling empowered,” Harry confesses, “talking about sex this briskly isn’t natural to me so when it didn’t feel like it was mortifying, I just kind of. Went with it.”

“Fair enough.”

“I meant what I said, though. I don’t… I just like bottoming, because the way it feels, nothing more to it. But I don’t think there’s like, uhm, any actual requirements I have in regards to sex.”

“I don’t think so either. It should just be between the partners,” Louis nods slowly. “Sorry, it’s a bit of a touchy subject for me, I can’t even count the times I’ve had to educate people about how it’s bloody 2019 and gay relationships aren’t like, heterosexual relationships where two men just have to pick a role to apply.” Louis shakes his head, clearly passionate about the subject.

“I know,” Harry offers softly. “And it’s good that you, uhm, make people aware. But I am gay, and I actually live this, so you don’t need to like… explain this to me, Louis. I know.”

“Okay,” Louis sighs. “Okay. I’m sorry if I made you feel like, I don’t know. Like I don’t think you know this stuff. I just… feel triggered and jump on it, without really thinking. I’m sorry.”

“That’s alright,” Harry says kindly and pats Louis’ thigh. “I’m sorry too, for egging you on. It’s not my favourite part of me, sometimes becoming so provoking.”

“See?” Louis starts smiling. “This game is working amazingly, we’re already learning lots of new things about each other.”

--

Louis is in love.

With Amsterdam.

“I don’t want to ever leave this place,” he tells Harry as they’re heading back to the hotel after their dinner on their first evening. They’d found a very cosy little place as they’d been wandering around, no maps and no plans, just getting lost in an adventure.

“It’s so good, isn’t it?” Harry says dreamily, knuckles brushing Louis’ as they walk side by side, slowly dragging their feet after a plentiful dinner. Harry sounds like Louis feels; drowsy, sated, tired but happy.

“It is,” Louis agrees. He takes a deep inhale. “It smells like summer. You know those early summer late evenings?”

Harry also breathes in, musing the scent. “You’re right,” he then says excitedly. “Like when you were a kid and you’d be on holiday. Different from home, but still similar. Familiar.”

“Scent apparently is the strongest sense, in relation to your memories at least.”

“Think I’ve heard that, too. And I totally buy it, so many memories coming to me right now.”

Louis hums happily. “And now this is going to be one of those. Like, ‘remember when we were on our honeymoon in Amsterdam and this is exactly what it smelled like’?”

Harry lets out a small meep, fingers again brushing the back of Louis’ hand.

“You can hold my hand, if you want,” Louis offers half-jokingly.

It’s a surprise, but a pleasant one, when Harry takes up on the offer, linking his fingers to Louis’. It feels like the most simple thing, strolling around holding hands in the late evening in the streets of Amsterdam, weather getting chilly with how late it is but it’s still warm enough to enjoy. Being in the moment feels simple, and it’s simply very nice a moment.

“That’s a nice thought, actually,” Louis thinks and only realises he spoke out loud when Harry questions what he means. “That like, no matter what happens in the future, we’re making memories now. Everything we do will be a memory.”

Harry hums. “That’s a nice way of putting it.”

“Nicer than the grippling anxiety of the unknown ahead of us,” Louis says and tries to laugh but doesn’t quite manage to make it sound light.

He almost expects Harry to stop, look at him all frowning again and become upset. Instead, Harry squeezes his fingers.

“It is scary, isn’t it? Having no idea what’ll happen, just… going with it. Trying to make the most of it,” Harry says quietly. “I mean, I hope that’s what we’re trying to do, at least. Make the most of it.”

Louis lets Harry’s words sink in. He is right; neither of them has ever been in this situation before and maybe Louis should try to let go of the overwhelming feeling of pressure at having to make this work by doing his best, but embrace the fact that yeah, this is new to him and he has no fucking clue what to do. But neither does Harry, and instead of feeling like it’s a trainwreck about to happen with neither of them having driven a train before, try to think of it more as them two learning the skills together.

It’s a heavy thought, one that is scary and exciting and somehow hopeful all at the same time.

They walk back to the hotel in companionable silence, making the way to their room and starting to get ready for bed. Louis isn’t keen yet on sharing the messiness of brushing their teeth together so he does his evening routine alone.

He snuggles in under covers when Harry makes use of the bathroom.

“What was your favourite part of today?” Harry asks when he comes back, also laying down.

“The walk back, just now,” Louis says without thinking. “Or more like, the idea that we really are in this together, and it’s not like… It doesn’t need to be this huge thing where you need to make it work, or I need to make it work, or one of us is going to fuck it all up. More like, it’s a we thing. I hadn’t really thought about it like that, before.”

Harry turns to his side, looking at Louis curiously. “You hadn’t thought about marriage being a team effort kind of thing?”

“Hmm. I guess not.”

“Glad you caught up this early, then,” Harry chuckles sleepily. “I liked today, too. There were several moments where it felt like, we can actually talk about stuff. Like we don’t have to agree on everything but we can be respectful of each other’s thoughts. I think that’s encouraging.”

“I think so, too,” Louis yawns. “God I’m knackered. Really need to get some sleep now before whatever adventures tomorrow brings.”

“Memories,” Harry smiles, yawning as well.

“Memories,” Louis agrees. “Good night, Pebbles.”

“Good night, Louis.”

It’s not a very good night, though.

Louis has just let himself lull into sweet, deep sleep, when an earthquake happens. Or at least that’s how he feels, as the bed starts to shake, bringing him away from dreamland.

“The fuck?” He croaks out.

“Sorry, just me turning around, go back to sleep,” Harry’s voice comes from further away.

Louis does as he’s told, always having been quick to fall asleep.

He doesn’t get to sleep for long when the shuffling from next to him wakes him up again.

“Hry?” He mumbles, still half asleep.

The movement next to him stills, as if caught in the act. “Sorry,” Harry then mumbles apologetically. “I can’t sleep.”

“Can you then at least try staying still?”

“I don’t know if I can, like, nothing feels good. Can’t find a good spot.”

Louis sighs and puts the nightlight on. He turns to look at Harry, who’s looking ashamed.

“I’m sorry,” Harry says with a small voice. “I told you I haven’t… I haven’t shared a bed in ages. I find it hard to fall asleep when I do.”

“But you fell asleep fine yesterday?”

“I was drunk, Louis. Of course I fell asleep easily.”

Louis rubs his eyes. He’s so tired his eyes hurt, feeling heavy with sleep. “Could you maybe get drunk now, then? I’m really tired.”

“I can’t get drunk every night just to be able to sleep,” Harry says as a matter of fact. “Maybe… If I sleep on the floor? Or check with the reception if they have an extra room?”

“Don’t be daft, you can’t sleep on the floor or on the sofa or whatever every night. You need to get used to sleeping in bed with me.”

“But I don’t know how?” Harry whines and sounds like a confused child.

Louis reaches his hand to put the nightlight off. Darkness falls back into the room. “Close your eyes for starters,” he quietly tells Harry. “Try to relax. Close your eyes and you’re not allowed to open them before tomorrow morning. How do you usually sleep?”

“On my side, I guess.”

“Turn to your side then, shuffle around all you want so you can find a comfortable position.”

Harry shuffles around, turning to his side with his back to Louis. He fluffs his pillows and wraps a full arm around the one on top, as if it’s a soft sleeping toy.

“Okay,” Louis nods when Harry seems to settle down at least a little. “Now do you like being petted? Or are you ticklish?”

“Little ticklish,” Harry mumbles to his pillow. “But not everywhere.”

Louis exhales, trying to remind himself that apparently he is dealing with a stubborn uncapable puppy here. “Where are you ticklish?”

“Don’t tickle me,” Harry shuffles further away.

Louis bites his lip to stop himself from either groaning or laughing. “I won’t tickle you, I promise. I’m trying very hard to not tickle you, hence I want to know where not to touch you.”

Harry’s form under the duvet seems to stiffen. “You’re going to touch me?”

Oh shit. Right, he can’t really just decide that himself. “If that’s okay with you? Just, like, just to pet your back or stroke your hair or whatever to get you to fall asleep.”

Harry considers before he speaks with a hushed voice. “My feet are ticklish. And sometimes around my hip bone. But you can touch my back, or my hair, that would be nice.”

Louis slowly reaches his hand towards Harry, putting it on his duvet-covered shoulder. Harry doesn’t flinch, so Louis feels courageous enough to get a little closer. He settles in with some space between them, but still close enough that he can start running his hand gently between Harry’s shoulder blades through the duvet.

“Good night, Harry,” he whispers softly.

He hears nothing but a mumbling snort as a way of reply. Louis falls asleep with his hand still drawing lazy patterns on Harry’s back, and Harry doesn’t wake him up again that night.

--

“Why can’t you just have a picnic in a park?” Neil asks, confused and already looking stressed as he’s buttering up a roll.

It’s a beautiful morning and they’re having breakfast with the crew. Harry had been trying to figure out what are the exact ingredients of the divine pot of yoghurt, when Louis had told the crew about their plans to rent bikes and go for a trip to a national park not too far away from Amsterdam.

“Because we want to take a bike trip to the national park? There’s dunes?” Louis tells Neil dryly.

“We can’t bike around with a camera and a mic that weigh tonnes!” Leeroy says with his mouth full of cereal.

“You could rent a tandem bike?” Harry offers helpfully, earning eye rolls from across the table.

Bess looks at Harry and Louis, face apologetic. “It’s really not ideal, guys, for the logistics. It won’t be good for filming.”

“It’ll be good for our honeymoon?” Louis carries on with his dry tone.

Harry is turning into a fan of his husband. He’s excellent at sounding dry. “Yeah, we really want to do it. We can make it boring so you don’t need to tag along.”

“I don’t trust you one bit,” Bess huffs. “You seem to not understand the concept of boring. And I can’t go back with like, honeymoon footage of you two at the airport and then a shot of you by a canal and say that’s all we have. Plus it’s going to rain today. Heavily.”

Harry looks outside, the weather bright with sunshine. “Clearly.”

“That’s what the weather forecast said. Heavy rain after noon.”

Harry rolls his eyes. “Oh well then. No point in looking out of the window if the weather forecast said.”

“I do not get paid enough for this,” Bess mutters as she starts tapping on her phone.

“Is that your resignation you’re typing away there, Bess?” Louis asks nonchalantly as he picks up a grape from Harry’s plate and pops it to his mouth. Harry honks and puts his hand on his mouth to stop from making embarrassing sounds.

Bess doesn’t look up but flips the finger to Louis. She taps away some more and then seems to pull herself together, looking around the four faces around the table. “Okay, listen up. There’s a forest on the outskirts of Amsterdam, it’s supposed to be really nice, and it’s not too far to bike to, and you can also get there by car. How’s that for a compromise?”

Harry isn’t sure when they had ever even agreed on needing a compromise, compromising didn’t sound like a thing you’d need to do on your own bloody honeymoon, but he does have an inkling that it might be good for the future to be amicable with making the crew’s life easier. So he nods.

Louis agrees. “Fine with me.” He turns to look at Harry. “How do you feel about renting a tandem bike?”

It sounds like a risky challenge that could go wrong in so many ways. Of course Harry agrees.

A few hours later, the sun has disappeared behind worryingly grey clouds, and the wind is getting chilly as it’s blowing straight onto Harry’s face. He’s on the first seat of their tandem bike, more familiar with the local right-sided traffic.

“Even if it starts raining,” Louis yells from behind Harry, his voice carrying over the wind, “we’re not admitting to anything. I refuse to let Bess gloat!”

“It’s the sunniest bloody day I have ever lived!” Harry yells back over his shoulder.

It really is not, not with the brutal wind that is chilling Harry’s bones and freezing his fingers. They are pretty much the only two idiot tourists in the must-be-gorgeous-when-not-gloomy forest. On a positive note, they seem to be naturals on biking a tandem bike, pedals moving in sync.

“Can you imagine what the public will say, about us idiots spending our honeymoon biking around in this weather?”

“We’ll be on social media lockdown when this shit airs.”

Harry barely manages to catch the end of Louis’ sentence as then there is a loud roar of thunder and the sky splits open. The rain doesn’t start with little drips, it absolutely pours on them, and Harry can’t stop himself from laughing hysterically as he feels himself get soaked immediately. 

“On your left!” Louis yells.

Harry spots a few trees with branches entwined, forming a little nook of a shelter. “Ready to brake in five!” He yells back to Louis, steering the bike towards the side of the pathway.

They manage to not crash into anything, abandoning the tandem bike on the muddy ground and running to take shelter under the branches. It’s not fully dry there, but the small drips of water coming down through the thick branches is a huge improvement from the storm.

“Bloody hell,” Louis curses as he wipes his hands down his face, as if that’d help him dry off. He looks at Harry, who can feel water dripping down his face and his hair glue to his head, and cracks up to a big belly laugh, Harry joining him in the tragicomedy of the situation.

“Are you okay?” Louis asks in a while as he gains composure of himself.

“I’m okay,” Harry says and sneezes at the same time. He wipes his nose to the back of his palm. “You okay?”

“Yeah. Memories, eh?” Louis takes the small rucksack he’d been carrying off his back, kneeling to the ground and pulling out the blanket they’d bought to sit down on at their picnic. Louis opens it and throws it around his shoulders, keeping his arms wide. “Come warm up?”

Harry can’t remember having seen a more inviting sight than a soaked Louis wrapped in a bright yellow and red blanket, and he’s happy to close in. Louis closes his arms around them, brushing his hands up and down Harry’s arms a few times to warm him up.

“This is the best purchase we’ve ever made. Ever will make.”

Louis hums. “Keeps us warm. Might save our lives.”

“And keeps us decent,” Harry blurts out. “Good call, wearing that white tee.” He can’t stop himself from looking down at Louis’ soaked chest, nipples visible through the wet white fabric.

Louis groans, turning his head down and dropping it on Harry’s shoulder as if he’s given up.

“What?” Harry chortles.

“Please don’t make this sexy,” Louis mumbles. “I’m freezing, I don’t have the energy to feel sexy right now.”

Harry laughs, wiggling his toes inside his sneakers to warm them up. “I’m not making this sexy. I was just observing a visible physical reaction.”

“You’re being a little sexy,” Louis groans. “Wet hair and swollen lips and being all close like.”

Harry stops wiggling his toes. Louis isn’t wrong; the warmth their bodies are creating inside the blanket snuggle isn’t all just increasing temperature. The air around them feels humid.

“You’re being a bit sexy, too,” Harry then tells Louis quietly.

Harry can feel Louis’ chest heave a little quicker, or maybe it’s his own; the pace of his heart speeds up as Louis takes a cautious step closer to Harry, arms tightening around him.

“Do you…” Louis clears his throat. “Do you want to do something about it?”

His wet cheek is so close to Harry’s, he can feel the soft brushes of Louis’ skin. He puts his hand on Louis’ chest, feeling the hammering through the soaked white t-shirt, feeling a hard nipple under his finger.

“Yes please,” he whispers softly to Louis, before pressing his lips to his cheek. Louis’ cheek is wet but somehow the skin radiates heat, and Harry can’t stop wanting to feel it. He moves his lips closer to Louis’ warm mouth, and kisses him.

Louis’ lips feel wet, cool against his own, and god it feels good to kiss him. The kiss starts out slow, curious, their mouths getting to know each other, before it gathers heat and tongue. Harry can’t even hear the rain anymore, can’t feel how his toes are freezing, instead he feels hot and like his senses are over sensitive with how Louis seems to occupy his space and fit right into it.

They both name the moment as their favourite part of the day later that evening.

--

“What the hell is this?” Louis looks around the restaurant they found on their first night in Amsterdam and have been going back to. It’s full of… people. Rowdy people. The reason they kept coming back here, as well as the mouthwatering food, was how cosy and quiet and definitely not crowded it was.

Harry looks around too, eyes big. “Looks like a stag do.”

The noise is hurting Louis’ ears, and it’s hard to even see ahead with how busy the floor is. Their local quaint little eatery seems to have turned into a right old boozer.

“Want to try somewhere else?”

“Yeah,” Harry says, flinching at a sound of glass shattering somewhere.

“I feel personally offended,” Louis huffs as they leave the place, the fresh air feeling like a good change from the stuffy air inside, even if they only stayed in a little while. “How dare they come take over our place?”

“I know,” Harry grunts, “no manners, these people.”

“I’ll let Bess know we’re going somewhere else,” Louis picks out his phone. They’d all agreed to have a dinner together, maybe throw in a few drinks, forget about the cameras and mics and especially the rain that never happened and just hang out together.

“Pub grub?” Harry points at an Irish bar after they’ve walked around for a bit. “I could do with some hearty homey food.”

The idea of a pint and something greasy and salty and familiar, eaten in surroundings of brown dark wood and with some classic tunes sounds just about perfect to Louis.

They go inside, happy to find the place half empty – and matching Louis’ ideals, with a menu full of pub food goodness and cheap pints. Harry picks up a beer for himself and a cider for Louis, whilst Louis messages Bess on their whereabouts, getting a reply that the crew will be over shortly.

Obviously it takes the crew ages to show up, long enough for Louis and Harry to go and get a new round of drinks.

“Tommo?” A loud shout comes from somewhere behind them.

Louis turns around, not having heard that name in a while.

Harry looks at him. “Tommo? Is that you? You’re a Tommo?”

“Yeah,” Louis says before he gets wrapped in a hug that comes at him so quick he can’t even see who it is.

“Tommo! Holy shit! Haven’t seen you in years!” The hugger cheers.

Euan. Of course, why wouldn’t there be an Irish friend in an Irish pub in Amsterdam?

“Euan, mate, it’s been ages!” Louis says happily. He’s always liked Euan, he’s great fun. “Harry,” he turns around, “this is Euan. Old mate from uni. Best export Ireland’s ever had.”

“Don’t do Guinness like that,” Euan winks as he shakes Harry’s hand. “Pleasure, Harry was it?”

Harry nods, not managing to get a word in as Euan carries on chatting.

“Fancy meeting you here! What are you doing here?”

“I, uhm, we’re…” Louis looks at Harry as if to ask for permission. Harry shrugs. “Actually me and Harry here are on a getaway. Of the romantic kind.” He refuses to look at Harry, doesn’t want to really see his reaction.  

Euan swallows, almost spluttering the beer he’d just drank. “That was quick, wasn’t it like less than…”

Louis coughs loudly to interrupt Euan. “What are you doing here?”

Euan replaces the beer he just spat out, laughing. “Oh you know, taking some me time. Here with a bunch of mates—” he looks around “—but I get to see those geezers all the time, mind if I sit down with you guys for a bit?”

“Sure,” Harry says, smiling. “I cannot wait to hear each and every embarrassing story you have of Louis.”

Euan snorts. “Alright, okay, think we need a few more rounds then. It’ll take a while.”

It does indeed take a while. Louis makes a mental note to not let this much time pass before he sees Euan again; he’s still the crazy loud Irish hoot with a heart of gold that during uni made Louis’ life so much better. He flirts outrageously with Bess and cracks Harry up with his (more or less truthful) stories about the shenanigans they got up to during their yeas in university. Euan even somehow manages to include Leeroy and Neil into everything, so it feels less like a last dinner with their film crew and more like a usual good night out with friends. A very boozy night.

Harry’s brought the Icebreaker cards along and Louis makes another mental note to compliment Harry on what an excellent idea getting the game truly was.

“So,” Euan pulls his chair closer to Louis as Harry excuses himself to go to the loo. “Can we now talk about the elephant in the room?”

Louis frowns, snorting. “What elephant?”

“Harry.”

“I wouldn’t call him an elephant. Maybe a bit clumsy, yeh, but an elephant? That’s a bit rude, mate,” Louis says good-humouredly.

Euan smirks. “Knock knock.”

“Oh goddd please do not,” Louis groans. “You know I hate those.”

“I sure do know that. You complained about them all through uni.”

“Yeah, because they’re awful. The worst.”

Euan doesn’t say anything, but takes an exaggeratedly long gulp of his pint. “Funny you should say that.”

“Knock knock jokes and funny don’t go together.”

“Right, of course,” Euan nods. “Unless it’s Harry who tells them.”

“What?” Louis asks incredulously. Euan must be bonkers.

“Come on, Tommo. He’s told at least two really bad knock knock jokes tonight and you haven’t scolded him not once.”

Louis frowns. “That… doesn’t sound like me. Are you sure he’s told them and you didn’t just, I don’t know, imagine them?”

“Positive,” Euan says firmly and burps. “You’ve met a person you allow knock knock jokes from. Maybe he’s a keeper. Maybe you should marry him.”

“Who’s getting married?” Harry, obviously, chooses this moment to come back and sit down.

“No one,” Louis waves off and gives Euan a look. He takes another card from the pack, clearing his throat and reading it out loud. “Name a word you hate.”

Their people around the table look like they sink deep into thought.

“Alright, I’ll go first. Because this is easy, and I also need to go-go,” he stands up. “Influencer. Because they do nothing, and it sounds like a disease, and the word is always thought about as a positive one but influencing can be bad influencing as well.” Louis is happy to see agreeing nods around the table before he makes his way to the loo.

When Louis comes back to the table, he catches Harry’s words as he approaches the table from behind him. 

“I hate the word educate. It sounds so… demeaning. Like it immediately means that the other is above the other.”

Louis bites his lip to not start explaining why educating is actually a very good word to use for the purpose of making people aware of things they perhaps haven’t considered or understood extensively. Something stops him.

“How are you still on this question?” Louis asks instead.

“Because Bessie here,” Euan says smoothly as he puts his arm around the giggling Bess, “wanted to go on a rant about why she hates the word—” he puts his hands over Bess’ ears to cover them and mouths “—vagina.”

“Oh!” Harry shouts. “I have an amazing joke about that.”

Louis hears people groan around the table, Harry pouting endearingly. “Heyy!” Louis objects. “Not all his jokes suck.”

“Yeah,” Harry lifts his chin up defiantly. Then he looks at Louis. “Thanks for that.”

“You’re welcome. Now go on, tell us the funny.”

It takes Harry a while to even start the joke, as he keeps cracking up and snickering throughout. Eventually, he manages. “So what did the vagina say to the penis? Do you cum here often!”

It’s an awful joke but Louis catches himself laughing anyway. He also catches Euan looking at him knowingly.

He also catches Harry looking at him, eyes sparkling, and maybe it’s not what dumb jokes Harry says that makes Louis laugh, but what captivates him is seeing how happy Harry is telling them.

--

Harry checks the airline magazine for what must be the fourth time now. Nope, the distance between Amsterdam and London is still incredibly short, like Harry remembered, so how the hell has this flight been going on for several weeks now?

“Is it just me or are they flying via China?” Louis whispers to him in a moany tone.

Harry snorts. “We have been here for a week, at the very least.”

Louis groans, sinking lower in his seat. “I’m so bored.”

“Relatable,” Harry nods. “I’m also somehow still hungover? Please never let me go to the pub with Euan again if I need to be in a moving vehicle the next day.”

Louis furrows his brows. “I’m not sure a plane can actually be classified as a vehicle.”

Harry isn’t sure either. He also doesn’t much care. “Okay, if I need to travel on the following day.”

“Promise I won’t let you if you swear you also won’t let me?” Louis holds up his pinky.

Harry laughs, linking it to his own and shaking it a little. “Pinky promise.”

“Good,” Louis nods resolutely and unhooks their pinkies. “Wish I could have a drink. Could dull the boredom at least for a moment.”

“Go ahead, I don’t mind. I haven’t suddenly turned into a nagging spouse who doesn’t let you have a drink.”

“Nah,” Louis pouts. “Then I’ll want a smoke and the pilot probably wants do another tour of China and I can’t cope with not having a smoke like, right after I have a drink.”

Harry grimaces. “Eugh, I know. Same for me. Never drink in planes. Tried a nicotine batch once, was awful, never doing that again. Going to only take flights short enough to cope without.”

Louis makes a face, but then barks out a miserable-sounding laugh. “God, listen to us. So young and so bored. Unable to have a drink and unable to fly far because we’re slaves to that bitch nicotine.”

“Pathetic,” Harry agrees. “Should we make another pinky promise?”

“For what?”

“To quit smoking by like, I don’t know, our six month anniversary? And then celebrate by flying to like, Australia or something, and getting hammered on the flight, and toasting every time for not being smokers anymore.”

“For being free!” Louis nods excitedly. “The dream!”

They look at each other, eyes sparkling for a fleeting moment before Louis’ smile fades away. “Nah, gotta be straight with you.”

Please no,” Harry pretends to puke.

Louis raises his index finger and points at Harry with it. “Funny. But uhm, I honestly don’t think I’ll be able to go through with quitting.”

“Yeh,” Harry hums, deflated. “Me neither. At least like, not for the foreseeable future. So I guess we’ll just need to have a very short flight for that anniversary.”

Louis makes a weird non-committal sound as he turns his face away from Harry.

“What?” The sudden change in Louis’ body language worries Harry.

“Nothing, just…” Louis pretends to be busy tying his shoelaces but Harry isn’t an idiot; he saw Louis undo them first. “Don’t you think that’s a bit… premature? Jinxing it a bit?” Louis aims to sound neutral as he pulls his upper body back up, still not looking at Harry.

Harry frowns. “What, thinking we might still be married in six months’ time?”

“Yeah.”

Harry’s taken aback, leaning a little straighter up and willing himself not to look at out the window and be all huffing and offended. Instead, he settles for crossing his arms. “Pretty sure the idea of a marriage here is to be like, for life. Six months doesn’t seem that daunting.” At least to me, he adds silently.

Louis scratches the bridge of his nose. As if Harry doesn’t know his tricks to play time by now. “Sure, absolutely,” Louis then says unconvincingly, “of course marriage is, or at least should be for forever. But you can’t deny that we’re a bit of an exception here?”

“Uhm, I did sign up for this thinking it would be like, a very long thing. A real marriage. Despite how it starts.”

Louis rushes to agree. “Sure, but anything could happen, it is an actual possibility that we wouldn’t like… That we’d decide after the five weeks are up that this isn’t going to work.”

Harry stares at Louis and blinks as his eyes start to feel like they might dry out. “Well, yeah, but I do think the experts had solid reasons for putting us together and like, they wouldn’t have done that if they weren’t sure we’d be a good pair?”

“No, of course they wouldn’t, I just… Look,” Louis finally has the guts to look at Harry. “I’m willing to give this a go, try my best, and from what I know about you now, I’m sure we’ll have fun and this will be a good thing. I’m just saying that if, if, it starts to feel like it won’t work out, then there’s no point in like, feeling pressured and forcing ourselves to stick together just out of spite.”

It’s… Louis is right, of course, Harry knows it. He isn’t going to stick to this either if it makes him unhappy or if it feels like the experts got it totally wrong and he and Louis aren’t a suitable match. It’s just, the way Louis sounds so light about it, it irks something deep inside Harry.

“Hey now,” Louis soft voice interrupts Harry’s inner turmoil. The soft voice followed by a gentle brush of a thumb to smoothen the crinkle between Harry’s brows. “Don’t look so concerned. Adventures, yeah? Making memories.”

Harry wets his dry lips, mustering a small smile.

“Now want to make a bucket list of stuff to do before our six month anniversary?” Louis nudges Harry’s knee with his. “Because I definitely want to list another hike with you, one where no whiny television people come along and one where it doesn’t rain.”

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

It suddenly hits Harry when he’s visiting the lambs on the farm he’s at. He’s been on a work team training trip for one night now, with two more days to go.

He is looking at the lambs, glad no one is around to hear his utterly ridiculous cooing at the white little fluff balls, thinking he actually really would one day want to move to a farm, have a lamb or two, cats, maybe a goat. Definitely a goat. He’d be happy wearing wellies only, smelling the morning mist, listening to the birds twitter along. He thinks he would enjoy that, decides he is going to do that.

And then, suddenly, he realises he can’t actually decide that all by himself. He has to ask for Louis’ opinion, too. Because he now has a Louis, a husband, and he isn’t a single being anymore. It makes him feel weird for a multiple of reasons.

    Harry's list of reasoning
  1. He really cannot make solo decisions anymore.
  2. But that is not annoying somehow.
  3. Instead, it feels heartwarming. He has a life partner.
  4. A life partner he hadn’t much thought about in the past few days.
  5. Probably because he isn’t used to having a life partner he should think about.
  6. And not because he is selfish and this trip has felt like a nice bit of a breather from the current stress – well not stress, but strain of trying to make a marriage work off to a good start.
  7. Shit he hasn’t even called Louis since he’s been here.
  8. Louis has however also not called him.
  9. Maybe he should call Louis.
  10. No he definitely is not selfish. He is just… new to this stuff.

 

“I am not selfish,” Harry tells what he assumes is the mommy lamb as he scratches its nose. “I’m just… new to this.”

The mommy lamb looks at Harry in what he assumes is agreement.

Harry takes out his phone from the pocket of his parka (another thing he’d be happy to wear days in on out). He finds Louis’ number and chews his lip as he stares at the name. And stares, not pressing the phone icon to actually call the number.

“Stop staring at me,” Harry tells the lamb as it looks at him, laughing silently. “I’m going to call him. I’m not like… nervous or anything.”

Harry continues to stare at Louis’ name on the screen of his phone and the lamb keeps laughing at him. It’s just… Somehow it feels like a nerving thing. Maybe Louis is busy? Maybe he doesn’t want to talk to Harry? Maybe Harry’s voice comes out all wavering and he messes up his words and what is he going to say, anyway? He can’t really right away ask if Louis also likes wearing wellies and parkas and wants to build a farm and have animal babies with him.

Harry starts to tap a text message instead of calling. His thumbs stop mid-air after he’s written Hi. It’s ridiculous. This is his husband. They may’ve been married for a very short while and not know each other that well but jesus.

The lamb makes a sound, a scolding sound, and its baby lamb joins in with a whimpering try of copying his mum.

Fuck it. Harry really wants baby animals, too.

It takes a few ringtones before Louis picks up, but it feels like an eternity during which Harry worries his lower lip.

“Hello,” Louis finally answers. His voice sounds a little hoarse, it’s rather early in the morning still, and he sounds like he’s surprised but happy to pick up.

Success. Harry has this marriage thing nailed down. His husband sounds not annoyed or disgusted at the prospect of taking to him.

“Hi,” Harry says and it comes out annoyingly breathy and shrill. “Greetings from Wales.”

Louis hums and it sounds really nice, the tremor in his ear. “Why thank you! Are you surrounded by sheep?”

“I am indeed,” Harry says a little smugly. He is certain the mommy sheep winks at him. “Might want some myself.”

Louis laughs, it’s low and it makes Harry shuffle a little on his feet. “Are you calling me to say you’re leaving me to have a farm?”

“Nooo,” Harry drags out. “I, uhm. I don’t know. Just thought I’d see how you’re doing.”

“Okay. I guess that’s a thing to do.”

“I guess,” Harry says and feels a little lost then. An awkward silence falls on the line and Harry kicks a piece of dirt on the ground. “So, uhm. How are you doing?”

Louis chuckles again. “I’m doing well, thank you. Nice of you to ask. Very polite.”

Harry closes his eyes and cusses silently. It’s clear by now that Louis knows, somehow, maybe these sheeps are actually his spies, how hard making this call was for Harry, and is taking the piss.

“Uhm. Yeah. I’m also doing fine. In case you’d like to know. I mean I know you didn’t ask but… yeah.” For fuck’s sake. If making this call was hard for Harry, whatever, because he is never making any phone calls again, especially to Louis.

“Oh it would’ve been my next question,” Louis says and Harry can hear the smirk in his voice.

Another awkward silence falls between them. The sheep are pointing their hooves at Harry and pissing themselves laughing.

Oh no, wait, actually it’s Louis who is laughing.

“Sorry, Harry, I’m being a dick, I’m just messing with you.”

“Huh?”

“You told me once you hate calling people so, I don’t know, wanted to tease you a little.”

“Oh fuck off,” Harry huffs loudly but feels a little better. Thinking that Louis remembers something he had told him, something he himself doesn’t even remember saying, feels… nice. “I’m hanging up.”

“No, no, don’t!” Louis rushes. “Sorry. It’s actually really nice you called, I… was going to call you, actually, yesterday, but just… didn’t come round to it. So it’s nice to hear your voice.”

“Nice to hear your voice too,” Harry says without realising and then blushes. “It just occurred to me, like, it’s probably something we should do. Stay in touch to like, check what we’re doing and that.”

“Does sound like a thing to do.”

“Sorry, I’m… Not really good at this,” Harry then confesses. “It’s all really new.”

“No worries, it’s my first marriage too,” Louis says comfortingly. “But I agree. I think it’s a thing we should actively pay attention to. Make sure we kind of, include each other.”

It feels like it’s a little easier, head straight in this fresh Welsh air, to be a little open on the phone with only hearing Louis’ voice. “Did you forget too? About me?” Harry asks and it’s not accusatory.

Louis seems to be trying to find the right words. “Didn’t really forget about you, no, it was maybe more like… Didn’t want to, I don’t know, disturb you? Like, we’ve been together the whole time and it just felt like…”

“A bit of a breather,” Harry finishes the sentence and lets out a relieved breath.

“Yeah,” Louis seems to have let a breath out too. “Not as in, you’re a huge burden or anything, but it’s been… intense. And I think, with us having been together the whole time face to face and now it’s like, I think it takes active consideration at first.” He’s quiet on the line. “Hope it doesn’t make me sound like a twat,” he then adds hesitantly.

“No, no, not at all. Same, for me. It’s nice to be around you but it is so new, like such a new constant, like a habit I don’t always remember having. I guess we just… if we like, make sure we talk at least once a day? If we’re not in the same place, I mean. I’d prefer to talk more than once a day if we’re in the same place.”

“I’d like that too,” Louis smiles. “Save the silent treatment to 50 years from now.”

It warms Harry and it takes him by surprise, that Louis would even jokingly hint at them still being together in 50 years’ time. Harry has to shake his head to not wander off to envisioning what their lives might be like in 50 years; of all the things that might happen. “Okay,” he says instead, in what he hopes is a neutral voice.

“So what have you been up to, except cuddling sheep?”

“Just, you know. Team building stuff. Silly games. A few drinks. Awkward games. A few more drinks. A lot of unnecessary jargon. But the place is really nice, really pretty. Peaceful.”

“I’ve never been to Wales.”

“Really? A shame!” Harry is horrified at the loss Louis must feel at never having seen the hills and valleys and all the lovely things.

“Maybe we can do a roadtrip at some point? You can be my tour guide.”

“Yeah? How do you feel about parkas? And wellies?”

“Positive. I look amazing in them.”

Harry laughs and doesn’t have a comment. He believes it, too.

“What are you up to today?” Harry asks instead.

“Not much. Probably going to trash the house and have an orgy.”

“Reasonable,” Harry nods and silences the nagging voice in the back of his head. “Please just make sure to change the sheets.”

“Will do. Nah, I think I’m going to have lunch or brunch or whatever you call the meal with booze on Saturday afternoon with Lottie.”

“Ah nice. Sounds ace. Say, uhm, hi to her from me.” The country house bell rings as a sign that their first session is due to start. “I gotta go, we’re about to start.”

“Okay, have fun with your thing.” Louis is quiet for a bit. “And Harry?”

“Hmm?”

“It was nice talking to you. Really. You’re fine on the phone, don’t stress about it.”

Harry can’t help but smile. “Was nice talking to you too. Speak to you later.”

“Bye!”

Harry ends the call and looks smugly at the sheep. They seem to be approving of how brave Harry is.

--

There’s a crumpled, stripy green sock on the bathroom floor. Louis scoffs at it as he picks it up and tosses it to the laundry basket in the bedroom. He is momentarily irked at his first thought being that he now needs to go through the whole flat in order to find the pair, surely also tossed somewhere. He knows he lives with a Harry but no bloody way he is going to become a house elf just because.

But for heaven’s sake if Harry’s habit of tossing dirty clothes – well no, not clothes as such, he is surprisingly meticulous about putting his dirty clothes away properly and enjoys doing laundry with his weird fabric conditioner enthusiasm (Louis is vaguely aware that Harry’s thing about spending eons at the fabric conditioner aisle in Sainsbury’s probably wasn’t just a one-off but something he has to learn to embrace as he is likely to do lots of it), but apparently socks to Harry are not clothes. Disposable goods. Disposable goods that the good little recycling lorry Louis can pick up.

Fuelled by annoyance and a cup of very strong coffee, Louis sends Harry a lorry emoji on WhatsApp, gloating at his husband’s confused emoji and for some reason, a hedgehog emoji, and takes malicious glee in not replying to him at all but leaving him all confused. Confused somewhere in Wales, wherever his 3-day vocational course was again. Louis chuckles at the thought of how Welsh sheep must be a bad social work training course audience, as surely they are a lot more easy the herd than the sheep that is Londoner youth. It takes him a moment to even realise maybe that wasn’t a nice thought and to feel quilty about it. 

Louis finds the other green sock stuck between the sofa cushions later that afternoon. Before he gets a chance to roll his eyes, his phone beeps.

It’s a dumb selfie of Harry and admittedly a very cute little baby lamb. Don’t forget about moo! it says.

Louis rolls his eyes anyway, but a tad more fondly than initially planned.

Alpaca my bags and come over, Louis replies. As an afterthought, he sends another text. Because one of you is cute.

Harry replies with the heart eyes cat and the blushing emojis.

Hint: it’s the blond one, Louis types smiling, and sends.

His phone doesn’t make another sound until about ten minutes later. It’s a picture of a lamb’s arse. Charming.

It gets relentless after that.

--

Louis’s nervous. The clock ticking on the wall seems to suddenly move forward in lightning speed, bringing the moment when Harry comes back home (probably smelling like sheep) nearer much quicker than Louis is ready for.

It feels like… almost like a first date. Not a blind date, because of course Louis has seen Harry before. The nerves remind him of the excitement mixed with the constant need to go to the loo when waiting to see someone you want to impress. Who you want to wow. Who you have quite a crush on already, and you just know you’ll make a mess of yourself, pasta sauce on your chin, lighting your sleeve on fire when it knocks out the candle when you’re trying to touch your date’s fingers, or when you almost choke on something and cough on their face or when you want to tell them every single thought you ever had but your voice is all squeaky and you suddenly can’t talk.

It’s the strangest feeling, Louis muses as he takes a piss again; feeling excited to have Harry home and fearing he’s had an epiphany in Wales and suddenly thinks Louis is awful and he wants a divorce even before their set five weeks are up. Harry being away first gave some much needed space to breathe for Louis, but after making the decision to put in effort to stay in touch, it had become… flirty. Weirdly, the physical distance made it feel like they were getting closer together. Texting dumb thoughts, random pictures, making a conscious effort to call each other once a day built up this intimacy they maybe were too nervous to give into whilst breathing the same air.

Louis is excited and nervous and he is going to see his husband and he cannot wait because he really actually might fancy his husband.

(He is also nervous because he reckons it might also be that suddenly he doesn’t actually fancy his husband, he was just fancying the husband he had on his phone.)

Then he hears a rattling of keys on the door and then Harry’s home.

“Hi,” Harry laughs breathlessly as he takes a few urgent steps to meet Louis’ half-running steps.

Louis doesn’t even realise he literally ran to Harry with open arms, suddenly he’s just there, for Louis to hold, body feeling solid and real and there and like it just fits so fucking well. Harry doesn’t smell like sheep, he smells like fresh air and his hair is a little wet as it’s been raining outside.

“Missed you,” Louis leans into the nook of Harry’s neck and brushes his lips to Harry’s skin.

He feels Harry’s arms wrap around him tighter. It feels safe, warm, their chests meeting each other with inhales and exhales.

“I really missed you too,” Harry whispers, putting his chilly hands on Louis’ cheeks and looking him into the eyes. “So happy to come home to you,” he whispers as if it’s a secret before he kisses Louis.

--

This Welsh small brewery cider Harry brought back a few bottles of is excellent.

It tastes excellent, like a nan-made apple juice, all natural and crisp and a little bit yeasty, but not too much. Also, and on this very moment more importantly, it’s rather strong and it’s making Harry feel all kinds of tipsy and relaxed.

And frisky, apparently.

They’re on the sofa, Harry showing pictures on his phone from the farm, the scenery and especially the animals. Louis is leaning in close, his head brushing Harry’s shoulder all the time, his thigh pressing into Harry’s. It’s as if Louis’ body, on every little part where it’s touching Harry’s, is sending electrical waves onto Harry, making his breathing quicker and the skin at the back of his neck prickle. Every word Louis speaks hits the fine hair on Harry’s neck, near his ear, and Harry is tipsy and Louis is so close and Harry missed him and Louis’ body feels so fucking good.

Harry’s body feels like it’s tuned into high frequency, where every little thing feels multiplied. Louis laughs at a particularly ridiculous picture of Harry and one of the donkeys on the farm (which Harry forgot to delete as it shouldn’t have ever seen the light of day), pointing at Harry’s screen and briefly touching Harry’s hand with his.

It feels less like a warm, soft hand and more like an electric shock, and the phone drops off Harry’s hands to between his thighs.

“Oops,” Louis says as he quickly picks up the phone, hand alarmingly close to Harry’s crotch.

That does it.

“Louis,” Harry sighs, shaken. “I really need you to either keep your hand there or move away from me.”

Louis looks up at him, face confused as he looks Harry, first trying to offer the phone back but on examining Harry’s flustered face, puts the phone on the table.

“Oh.”

Harry acknowledges he probably should feel a tad embarrassed but he is so on edge, his heart hammering in his ears, he can’t be bothered. He licks his lips, feeling as if they’re a bit fuller than normal. “Yeah.”

“What… Which one do you want me to do?” Louis asks, voice low. His eyes seem to be locked to Harry’s crotch, and does he have some bloody magical powers, it seems to grow under Louis’ stare?

“Don’t move away,” Harry whispers. The hammering of his heart in his ears gets louder. He licks his lips again.

Louis gets the hint, looking up from Harry’s crotch and into his eyes. Their eyes lock, and after a few moments, Louis seems to find an answer to whatever he was looking for in Harry’s eyes. He brings his face closer, nudging Harry’s nose with his own, and as Harry parts his lips, Louis brings his lips to his.

The kiss is deeper, hungrier, longer than any kiss they’ve shared so far, and it makes Harry squeeze his toes and subconsciously lift his pelvis a little to meet Louis’ hand, now back on his thigh, squeezing the flesh. Harry’s feeling confident and a little sexy with Louis’ hand rubbing his thigh and his lips eating Harry’s, so Harry wiggles his hand under Louis’ hoodie to touch the warm, almost hot skin on his back. He moves his hands to Louis’ sides, thumbs brushing on the hip bones, and Louis shivers.

The warmth is suddenly gone from Harry’s lips, the hand on his thigh stills and Louis presses his forehead onto the nook of Harry’s collar bone.

“We should stop,” Louis manages to form words, out of breath.

“We really shouldn’t,” Harry disagrees, whispering near Louis’ ear and seeing how goosebumps form on the skin of his neck. It looks hypnotising, and Harry wants to see goosebumps all over Louis’ body. He takes Louis’ earlobe between his lips and suckles on it, before letting go with a little nip. “Why do you want to stop?”

“I really don’t want to,” Louis says, sounding convincing, pulling himself up and leaning a little further away from Harry, palming his own crotch quickly. “But we should. I won’t be… able to control myself, if we don’t.”

“Do I look like I want you to control yourself?” Harry asks deviously, sinking a little lower on the sofa and spreading his legs in what he hopes might be a seductive gesture.

Louis looks at him, as if he’s mesmerised, and it’s making Harry feel empowered, as if he is a magical being somehow who can’t do no wrong in Louis’ eyes. Can’t do no wrong to Louis.

Louis groans, nudging Harry’s knee with his hand as a plea for Harry to close his legs. He does, but he isn’t particularly happy about it.

“Our first time won’t be drunk,” Louis finally manages to say.

“I’m not drunk,” Harry frowns. “Maybe a bit tipsy.”

“Fine,” Louis smiles, “our first time won’t be tipsy.”

Harry’s frown gets grumpier. “But I wanna.”

“Want to have sex tipsy?”

“Want to have sex now.”

Louis leans in closer to kiss Harry again. “You have no idea how fucking adorable your face is,” he says, again pressing his lips to Harry’s and giving a little lick inside with his tongue. “I’d want nothing more than to absolutely devour you right now, on this sofa, but I… that’s not how I want our first time to be.”

Harry changes his frown to a pout. “But whyyy?” He whines. “Is there something wrong with me?”

“No, god, you’re amazing, I just… Drunk sex is never good. It can be funny and you can laugh about it, but it’s not… I don’t want our first time to be that. We have time for the rest of our lives to have sex. Hell, we’ll have sex tomorrow morning, if you’re still feeling it, if you’re okay to talk about it when you’re sober.”

Harry sees Louis’ mouth move, hears words coming out, understands the words make sense, but he is really fucking horny right now. “Can you then at least show me your dick?”

Louis bursts out laughing. “What?”

Harry goes back to using his whiny voice. He also makes a mental note to have another cider because this might be something he’d rather not want to remember tomorrow. “Your dick. I’d like to see it.” He adds an afterthought. “Pleaase.”

“You…” Louis looks incredulous as he points to his annoyingly still-covered crotch. “Want me to like, what? Pull my trousers off?”

Harry nods vigorously. “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.”

Louis doesn’t say anything, he’s too busy laughing.

It started as cute but Harry’s starting to get a bit offended. “I’ve told you before, Louis. I really like cock. I think I’d really like yours. But I’ve never seen it? I was away for days, days Louis, and I didn’t even know what I was wanking off to. I had to imagine your dick.”

Louis laughter stops immediately. “You… wanked off to thoughts of me?”

Harry blushes but still nods. He’s a man on a mission here. “Yeah. Was a little hard though, no pun intended, considering I’ve never seen, you know,” Harry emphasises the ending with a clumsy gesture to somewhere in Louis’ middle. “You didn’t even send me dick pics.”

“You didn’t ask for dick pics.”

“Well, for a future reference then. You can always send me dick pics. I would really like me some dick pics.”

“Pics of like, my actual dick, and not just my face? Considering I am a dick, after all.”

Harry bites his lip but this time it isn’t for seduction, it’s so he wouldn’t laugh. “Lou,” he starts as sternly as he can, “I’m not here for jokes. I was promised a view of your penis.”

“You weren’t actually promised anything, you know.”

“Listen,” Harry then says, getting serious, having felt a brief pang of quilt. “I understand sex isn’t happening here today. Which is fine, and you’re probably right, and tomorrow I’m probably going to say it was the right choice and you acted very admirably. And like, you don’t need to show me any bits of yourself, unless you want to, and when you want to.”

“Okaay,” Louis looks doubtful at Harry’s sudden change of tone, changing the flirty banter into something more serious.

“I’m just like, wanting to let you know I guess, that if you want to like…” Suddenly Harry can’t think of a phrase to use that wouldn’t sound juvenile or a little needy. Finally he settles on something. “Be a little naked with me, no pressure for anything else, you can. I’d like that, myself.”

“Be a little naked with you?”

Harry shrugs. He at least thought it was a nice way of putting it.

Louis looks at him, eyes piercing again as if Harry’s under some examination here. Finally he gets up from the sofa, and pulls his hoodie off, baring his chest. He tosses the hoodie onto the sofa, and offers Harry his hands.

“I would actually like to be a little naked with you,” Louis says softly as the pulls Harry up. He doesn’t let go of his hands, but puts them on his chest carefully. “I’d like a little naked and a bit of touching.”

Harry nods, opening his hands flat and letting them still on Louis’ chest for a moment, before he slowly moves them down his sides, to his back, circling one finger around his belly button, fluttering the dark hair below it with his fingers. Then, he looks back up at Louis’ face, and takes his hands to his in turn. Harry brings them to hem of his shirt, leaving them there, not wanting to lead Louis into anything he might not want.

Luckily Louis does seem to want the same thing as Harry. His hands don’t go under his shirt immediately, he first wraps them around Harry’s waist, pulling him closer to a tight hug. Only then, when Harry is leaning to Louis’ chest, Louis moves his hands under Harry’s shirt.

Harry closes his eyes and sighs involuntarily. Louis’ touch feels like as if it belongs on his skin, his fingers so curious but so confident, learning the way Harry’s skin feels. Louis pulls up the shirt over Harry’s head, and Harry feels a little emotional with how natural it feels to be half naked in front of Louis.

“You’re beautiful,” he whispers to Louis, earning a little shy smile. “You’re making me feel beautiful, too,” Harry adds, and Louis presses a kiss to his shoulder. Harry wraps his arms tighter around Louis’ shoulder, needing to feel his body closer, wanting to melt into it.

They undress each other carefully, one garment at a time, taking turns, keeping it slow to allow time to touch and feel and familiarise new parts of each other’s bodies. Harry doesn’t even try to hide the fact that he’s hard as fuck, that his chest is heaving frantically, that his breathing hitches when Louis touches several parts of his body. He isn’t even ashamed to put his own hand on his lower stomach, caressing his skin a little, when Louis pulls down his pants and kisses his knee, then making his way up the inner side of Harry’s thigh.

Harry’s eyes shoot open as the wetness of Louis’ mouth gets too close to his cock. “Stop,” he gasps out, gently pressing on Louis’ head. Louis stops immediately, pulling his face further away. He looks worried. “I… You. I want you to, first,” Harry looks down at Louis, who seems to get it and clumsily stands up, his own hardness leaking precome through his briefs.

Harry keeps the eye contact as he kneels down, then stopping to think. He turns around to take a cushion from the sofa and places it under his knees, shifting around a little to get comfortable. He looks up to see Louis look at him, pupils dilated and mouth a little open. Harry winks at him, before he looks straight ahead to Louis’ crotch. He places his hands just above Louis’ knees and squeezes gently, pushing them up so he can wiggle his thumbs under the outline of the bottom of the briefs. Louis makes a delicious gasp sound, and Harry presses on the flesh of his upper thigh. Then, Harry moves his hands up so he can pull on the waistband. He pulls Louis’ briefs down, eyes locked on the beautiful cock that is revealed, wet on the tip, hard as a rock, mouth-wateringly… royal, to think of a better word.

Harry doesn’t leave his eyes from Louis’ cock as he pulls his briefs all the way down to Louis’ ankles, and Louis lifts his feet up to kick the briefs on the side.

“Can I?” Harry seems to ask the cock itself, not minding when Louis grunts an affirmative.

Harry feels like a kid in an amusement park, not even sure where to start his exploration. Eventually he presses his palm softly to the tip, feeling the tip tickle the middle of his palm. His hand then makes way down the right side, curving under to lightly touch Louis’ balls, moving up the left side of the cock with the back of his hand.

“Beautiful,” Harry sighs as his hand does another similar round. He runs his index finger up and down Louis’ cock a few times, on the top, on the underside. “Gorgeous,” he breathes.

Harry can feel Louis’ hands on the top of his head, gently stroking a few strands, gathering up Harry’s hair into a bun, tickling his neck. Harry closes his eyes and leans his face forward, smelling the intimate scent of precome, skin, sex and Louis.

“You’re gorgeous,” Louis whispers.

Harry nuzzles the hair with his nose, feeling like this is his new pet to caress, silently snickering at the thought. “Can I… taste?”

“Please,” Louis’ voice cracks even on such a short word.

Harry opens his eyes, feeling a little slow and drowsy as if on some sexual lazy high. He licks his lips, pressing a few butterfly kisses to a few places on Louis’ penis before he licks the tip and starts sucking.

Harry fucking loves sucking cock. He loves the way a hard dick fills his mouth, how primitive it feels, how being on his knees and pleasing Louis with his mouth makes him feel so powerful, so needed, he loves the way how it feels a little uncomfortable to have the cock pushed deeper into his mouth.

Most of all, he loves how dirty and pure at the same time it feels when Louis comes into his mouth and not having tasted come in a while, it’s a little unfamiliar a taste at first but Harry swallows it, and having a bit of Louis inside him makes him feel almost dizzy from the intimacy.

--

Louis is stirred awake by something tickling his nose.

“Go away,” he waves his hand, assuming it’s a flying insect of some sort.

It’s not, it appears as the tickling continues and the sound of tired giggling accompanies it.

Lazily, Louis peaks one eye open, to see Harry using a piece of his bed-messy flop of curls to tickle under Louis’ nose. He looks incredibly ridiculous. And sexy.

“Morning,” Harry smiles brightly, voice croaky.

Louis grunts. He’s feeling certain it might still be night time with how early it feels.

Harry giggles, shuffling closer to Louis and lifting his arm around himself. Louis doesn’t object to sleep-warm skin under his hand, so he starts drawing lazy circles between Harry’s shoulder blades. They stay like that, quiet, nothing but the sound of their breathing filling the bedroom.

“Good morning,” Louis finally feels awake enough to say. “How… How are you feeling?”

Harry pops his chin up on Louis’ chest, looking at him. “About last night?”

Louis nods.

“Good. Really good,” Harry smiles so big his dimples are showing. “Thank you for showing me your beautiful penis.”

Louis laughs. “Thank you for showing me yours. Very nice. And also, like, thank you for sucking my beautiful penis.”

“My pleasure.”

“Please feel free to do it whenever you want to.”

“Okay, thanks,” Harry snickers. “And you too, of course.”

“I can also suck your dick whenever?”

“Yeah, and like. Other things, too,” Harry says hesitantly. “I, uhm, feel like… The limit is crossed now. Like, we can be physical now. Or at least like, you don’t need to… You don’t need a permission to touch me.”

“Okay,” Louis says slowly. “I don’t… Can you explain? Like, I know what you mean but like, I want to make sure I don’t… Take advantage of that. I want to be clear.”

Harry looks a little taken aback, but manages to hide the expression quickly. “I guess like… If you want to touch me, or kiss me, you can. If you want to squeeze my bum, or kiss me on the street, or I don’t know, hold my hand, you can. I’d be happy with all of that.”

“Okay, Pebbles,” Louis says softly as he beeps Harry’s nose. “You’re allowed, to me, too.”

They stare at each other’s eyes and smile brightly like a pair of embarrassing saps. It feels so strange, feeling like this person who was a mere stranger just a few weeks ago, is suddenly someone very important to Louis. Someone whose thoughts he likes hearing, someone whose face makes him feel happy, someone whose voice feels comforting.

“It was so funny yesterday,” Louis starts as he brushes Harry’s eyebrow with his thumb, “how you always said sex is such a big deal for you and suddenly you were like… a harlot.”

“A harlot?” Harry snorts. “I don’t remember any money being paid.”

“I meant like… You were so, I don’t know, horny. Coming right at it.”

“I was horny. And like also I did mean what I said about dick pics. Please feel free to send them to me whenever we’re apart.”

“God, beware the internet never catches up with someone actually requesting to be sent dick pics.”

“I don’t want any dick pics,” Harry rolls his eyes. “I want pics of your dick.”

“You’re an idiot,” Louis laughs lightly as he pulls Harry closer to be able to press a kiss to his head. “I’m so glad I’m married to you.”

They eventually drag themselves out of bed, have a shower together that doesn’t turn too sexy and make breakfast with copious amounts of stopping for kisses, sneaky bum pats and Harry demonstrating the naughtiest way anyone has ever eaten a banana.

“What did we have today?” Louis asks as he’s finishing his breakfast. “Columbia Road flower market?”

Harry nods, mouth full of croissant.

“And we’re meeting the crew there?”

Harry nods again.

“What time?”

Harry shows up his five fingers twice and then his middle and index finger, other hand holding a coffee cup to his lips. Louis looks at the screen of his mobile phone; it’s just about to be eleven so they’ve got plenty of time.   

Thirty minutes later, they’re walking towards the tube station. It’s boiling.

“I think I’d really just want white flowers to the balcony. Nothing fancy, more like… natural? If that makes sense,” Harry babbles on, Louis making sounds of agreement.

“A bit of colour might be cool though, yellow could match the rug,” Louis says as he’s getting the last cigarette off his packet. “I need to pop into the shop,” he adds, showing Harry his empty cigarette pack..

They go into the nearby Tesco, the cool air of the well air-conditioned store hitting them like a breath of fresh air.

“Ah,” Harry sighs happily as he stops still. “Might just stand here and enjoy life.”

“Alright,” Louis chortles as he makes his way to the customer services desk. It’s quite the queue, everyone buying ice lollies, and Louis starts to tap his foot, getting antsy at the thought of not only being late but being late in the stuffy tube.

His wandering mind is interrupted by feeling a slightly cold hand lace its fingers to his. Next thing he feels is Harry’s also slightly cool lips pressing a slow kiss to his cheek.

“What happened to enjoying life?” Louis turns to look at Harry.

Harry smiles. “Thought I’d rather enjoy you.” He coughs, looking down at the floor. “Also I remembered we need to buy something, too.”

“What do we need?”

Harry points to the wall behind the cashiers, next to the booze. “Those things.”

“Ah,” realisation hits Louis. “Those condom things?”

Harry nods, blushing. “Those condom things.”

After they finish their shopping, the salesperson winking to them in a wholly unprofessional manner, Louis spends most of the stuffy tube ride from hell fighting the WiFi in order to book them the earliest available time at a sexual health clinic for getting tested.  

--

It’s not entirely pleasant. In the beginning.

Harry thanks whatever genes he has that made him so comfortable in his own body, and also the genes that make him a horny drunk which caused them to see each other naked with peace and time last night. He doesn’t feel embarrassed or shy lying on their bed, legs spread with Louis on his knees between them, trying to open the new bottle of lube they bought and clearly getting frustrated with how the plastic seal refuses to come off the cap.

“Hey,” Harry says softly, sitting up a little and touching Louis’ thigh. His skin is almost burning hot to the touch. “Let me try. Team effort, right?” He winks, trying to bring some relaxation to the situation.

Louis groans, giving the bottle of lube to Harry. “Sorry,” he mumbles, “I’m not… I guess I’m just nervous.”

Harry easily rips off the plastic seal and takes the cap off, giving it back to Louis. “Nothing to be nervous about. If anything, I should be nervous here. Nothings been, uhm, in there, for like. Four years.”

Louis rolls his eyes but seems to untense a little. “Geez, thanks. No pressure.”

“No pressure,” Harry repeats sternly as he fumbles around, looking for the pack of condoms. He takes one out, turning it around in his fingers. “It’s just you and me, yeah?”

Louis nods, looking Harry in the eyes. “Yeah,” he says hoarsely. “Just… Please promise you’ll say if it like, hurts, or if I’m doing something you don’t like.”

Harry nods, biting his lip. “I will. And you tell me, too.”

“I will.” Louis leans in to kiss him, a quick brush of his lips, then coming back for another as soon as their lips part. “Now lie on your back.”

Harry leans back, the pile of pillows softly embracing him; they’ve opened the window and the linen feels cool to his hot skin. He keeps a steady eye on Louis at first, seeing him bend down to kiss Harry’s thighs, moving them further apart to get access to the tender skin inside them. He then leans back up, putting his hands under Harry’s knees and lifting his lower body to pull Harry’s crotch onto his lap. Louis’ warm hands squeeze Harry’s buttocks, as Louis does a few circle movements with his hips, brushing their cocks together.

“This okay?” Louis whispers.

Harry nods, closing his eyes. He wants to feel the cool linen in his back, the hot skin of his hot husband between his legs, and just… feel.

He hears a squirty sound, and then a wetness being spread between his legs.

“I’m gonna… with my finger, first,” Louis says lowly as Harry feels a finger tip circle around his hole. It spreads more moistness, and after another squirty sound, he can feel the finger slowly, carefully, enter him. He takes a deep breath, and then another, trying to relax to welcome the familiar but long gone feeling.

“This okay?”

“Mm-hmm,” Harry hums, lifting his pelvis a little to try and make Louis realise he can go a little deeper.

Louis seems to read Harry’s mind, finger pushing in deeper, all the way to Louis’ knuckle. He circles it around in a small movement, pulling a gasp from Harry. Harry can’t stop his own hand from palming his cock, thumbing the tip and feeling how he is already leaking.

He feels amazing. Maybe like some kind of a divine sexual spirit.

“Fuck me now, Lou,” the words leave Harry’s lips without him realising it. He shots his eyes open, looking at Louis’ eyes sparkling with amusement.

“Alright, bossy,” Louis snickers and crawls up to Harry’s face to kiss him. Unlike Harry thought, he doesn’t go back down, but fumbles around to find the lube, about to spread it on his cock.

“Let me,” Harry whispers. He takes the lube from Louis’ hand, pushing him a little further so he can have access to Louis’ beautiful dick. He takes a handful of lube, rubbing it in his arms a little as it feels cold, and spreads it on Louis’ cock, seeing how Louis’ lower abdomen shivers from his touch. Deciding it’s enough, Harry lets his hands go, and lies back. Louis comes down with him, fingers brushing some sweaty hair strands off Harry’s forehead.

“I’ve never wanted anyone this much,” Louis whispers, and Harry feels like he’s that divine sexual spirit again, maybe he is accompanied by some little birds like in Disney movies, because he swears he can hear birds sing.

Harry doesn’t look away from Louis’ eyes as he slowly pushes inside Harry. Instead, Harry smiles when Louis stops midway, eyes asking a silent question of if he’s okay. As Louis pushes in deeper, and then a little more deeper still, Harry finally closes his eyes and bites his lower lip.

He forgot how weird this feel, how there’s this little twang of pain, relaxing your body around an intruding hardness. He forgot how incredibly dirty it feels, and how good that makes him feel, having another person move inside him, feeling no space between them.

Harry stops thinking of anything aside focusing on Louis’ above him, inside him, shifting between hard pushes and slower grinding, he relishes the wet sounds that fill the bedroom, of the smell of their sweat and sex getting stronger.

But his favourite part is hearing Louis come, how he stills completely and lets out a low little groan, then apparently being knackered immediately and falling on top of Harry. Harry caresses his back, sweaty, until Louis pulls away from him, leaving Harry feel empty. Louis takes a bit more lube and it doesn’t take too many strokes for Harry to come on Louis’ stomach.

Harry sighs deliciously, more sated than he remembers having been… whenever, who knows, he can’t remember. He peaks his eyes open, watching Louis carefully pull the condom off himself, quickly checking it hasn’t broken, before taking a few shaky steps off the bed and tossing it to the bin near the door.

He comes back to the bed, Harry pulling the duvet over both of them, snuggling close to Louis, feeling their breathing even out to the same rhythm.

“I cannot wait to tell Nigel,” Harry suddenly laughs. “He is going to be so proud of prudish little old me.”

--

“You’re staring at me.”

Louis’ words stir Harry from his thoughts.

“Sorry,” Harry mumbles and straightens his pose from where he’s leaning to the bathroom doorway. “I didn’t mean to.”

Louis meets his eyes through the mirror. The corners of his ridiculously large, red-painted big lips turn up to a smile. “Please don’t tell me you’re afraid of clowns.”

“I’m not,” Harry chuckles.

“Good,” Louis nods as he turns his eyes back to his own reflection, adding a bit of red to the curve of his upper lip to make it even bigger. “I mean, obviously opinions on clowns isn’t necessary something they’d reckon is important to ask when matching up spouses, but it would’ve been a bummer.”

Harry hums and focuses back on Louis’ hands that he’d been almost hypnotised by before Louis caught him. He had been watching in silence when Louis had put on a headband to stop his hair from being all over his face; Harry had been mesmerised by how Louis had spread white face paint all over his face, his hands moving in circles first on his cheeks, then up to his forehead and finally down to his chin, then adding more white in the same patterns.

Maybe what made it so surprisingly hypnotising for Harry was how he now knew what Louis’ fingers felt like. He knows how soft his cheeks were, how firm and gentle the touch of his hands. Maybe it was the fact how focused Louis was, maybe it was that the reason Louis was putting on ridiculous clown make-up was so good and kind and very Louis.

“Maybe you have a clown fetish?”

Louis startles Harry again.

“I, uhm, don’t think I do,” Harry clears his throat.

Louis catches his eyes through the mirror again and winks. “Maybe you just haven’t actually met enough clowns yet to find out?”

“Maybe,” Harry chuckles and finally steps into the bathroom, sitting on the edge of the bath tub. “Perhaps you need to wear that nose to bed one time and we can investigate.”

He barely catches the red clown nose Louis throws at him. Harry weighs it in his hand, relieved to feel nothing of the sexual kind. He throws it to the air a few times, happy to find that his old juggling skills are still in place as he easily catches the nose. He leans back to pick up a green loofah hanging from a hook by the tub, trying to juggle it with the nose, but the size difference and different weights make it impossible. He tosses the loofah to the tub and holds the nose up to show Louis. “You got another one?”

“Yeah,” Louis rummages through his clown bag. “Catch,” he gives the warning whilst throwing another nose to Harry.

Harry catches it and smoothly starts juggling the two balls. He forgot how much he loved juggling.

“Nice ball handling there,” Louis says suggestively. “Might get jealous over here.”

“I can teach you,” Harry says with his eyes still firm on the balls in the air.

Louis huffs dramatically. “What, you don’t think my ball handling skills are good enough? Didn’t sound like you were disappointed in the morning.”

Harry laughs, losing focus and dropping the noses to the floor, bending to pick them up as he gets up and gives them back to Louis.

“I meant actual juggling. I could teach you, if you’d want? If you’d like to be that kind of a clown.”

Louis nods as the takes the noses from Harry, putting them back to his bag. “I’d like that. The kids would probably love it. Especially as I’d be awful and make a mess of it.”

Harry lets his hand wander to Louis’ lower back, smoothing the hand there as he kisses the side of Louis’ head. “Not awful. Wonderful. It’s so… I am so in awe that you do this.”

Louis blushes, casting his eyes down to avoid Harry’s eyes through the mirror. He busies himself with sorting out his curly orange wig. “It’s nothing.”

“It’s definitely not nothing. You’re bringing so much joy to the kids, cheering them up. Don’t know how you do it, honestly.” Harry pats Louis’ bum and goes back to sit by the bath tub, giving Louis space to sort out his wig.

“It isn’t really that hard,” Louis says nonchalantly as he shuffles around the wig. “Just put on make up and a wig and be ridiculous. Anyone could do it.”

“No they couldn’t,” Harry frowns. “And even if they could, they’re not doing it. But you are.”

“Pfft,” Louis waves him off, adjusting the wig in his head.

Harry bites his lip. Louis is such a conundrum, sometimes. He seems to be quite pleased with himself in many occasions, even to the point of coming across as a bit full of himself when it comes to how aware he is of things, but… Somehow he also seems to have a very difficult time accepting any sincere praise given by anyone else. It sucks, to be blunt, as Harry thinks Louis is quite a bit amazing in and with many things, but he doesn’t seem to know it. Doesn’t seem to want to know about it, as if he… doesn’t deserve it.

Harry watches as Louis takes a few steps back, looking at himself in the mirror, adding a few freckles to his cheekbones with an eyeliner, and then nodding to himself.

“Can you take a picture so I remember how to do this again tomorrow?” Louis asks, nodding towards his phone on top of the toilet seat.

Harry picks up the phone, taking a few pictures of Louis’ face from different sides. His mind is still stirring, feeling like he wants to say something to Louis but also unsure if it’s really his place to make comments about Louis’ person as they are still on the early days.

But they’ve known each other long enough for Harry to want to tell his husband he deserves some praise.

“Why can’t you accept compliments?” Harry blurts out.

“Huh?” Louis turns to look at him, in the middle of wiping his face clean.

Harry feels himself get smaller, withdrawing from his sudden bout of bravery.

Fuck it. They’ve had sex and they’re married. Maybe he can actually talk about what’s on his mind.

“I just… You’re doing a great thing. There’s no shame in being a bit proud of yourself.”

Louis shrugs his shoulders. “I guess so.”

He’s so frustrating sometimes. “I know so. It doesn’t like, make you stuck up or anything for admitting it’s great and like, being happy that others acknowledge it, too.”

Louis doesn’t say anything in a while, just keeps wiping his face clean with the wipes. “I guess it’s just,” he eventually speaks, “that I feel like it’s not really something I worked hard for. Like, I started because I had nothing else to do and my mum suggested it, not like I worked hard to get into a dream job of mine. This is just something I do for the time being.”

“But you’re doing so much good while you’re doing it, no? Like, you’re bringing so much joy for sick kids, making their day.”

“I…” Louis looks confused, as if he hasn’t really thought about it before. “Yeah. I guess I am.” He looks stunned at his own words, and then breaks into a smile he’s trying to contain.

“Don’t do that, Lou,” Harry says softly as he gets up again, walking up to Louis. He pokes the corners of Louis’ lips up with his fingers. “It’s okay to smile. You make so many people smile. It’s okay to be one of them.”

Louis breaks into a grin and Harry deems it genuine enough to withdraw his fingers. Louis keeps smiling. “Thank you,” he then says quietly after a quiet moment. “I… needed that.”

“You’re welcome,” Harry nods, a bit pleased at his excellent skills at husbanding. “I’m happy to be of help whenever you want.”

Louis’ eyes lit up in a mischievous way as he turns around to grope Harry’s bum. “My clown act could use a bunny, you know. A stuffed toy is a bit boring to pull out of a bag.”

Harry boops Louis’ nose, making a mental note to get a headband with bunny ears for the next special occasion. He puts his arms around Louis, hugging him close and tight, not rushing to let go.

The simple act of standing in their bathroom, clown make up and a bright orange wig scattered around the sink area, feeling the warmth from their embrace fills Harry with a sense of tranquillity. The feeling is new, not unpleasant but thoroughly welcome in how close he feels to Louis. They’ve had these moments more and more; feelings of closeness and intimacy even in a non-intimate way, and having talked about something a little difficult and personal with Louis, sharing thoughts and not being shut down or reacted to with defence or rejection makes Harry feel… so accepted. As if maybe it’s okay to be himself, say what he thinks, share a piece of his heart and mind and Louis will just… embrace it. Accept him as he is.

Maybe they really are making this work, and making it work well.

Harry is brought back to the present by a soft press of cool lips on his neck, then feeling Louis’ hands linger on his back as he puts space between them, starting to clear up his gear.

“I’ll pass on being a part of the act. I meant what I said,” he tells Louis then. “Not everyone could do what you do. I don’t… I don’t think I could.”

Louis raises his brows. “Really? Why?”

“I don’t think I could deal with the sadness.”

“Sadness? I’m actually a funny clown, you know.”

Harry swats Louis’ arm. “I meant the sadness with the kids, you twat. They’re… really sick. Like 50/50 chance of dying.”

“Sometimes more,” Louis offers unhelpfully. “However I’ve got a newsflash for you. We all have a 100 percent of a chance at dying one day.”

Harry groans. “Not helpful, Lou. But that’s what I mean. Don’t think I could deal with seeing them, spending time and bonding, and then hearing they’re… not here anymore.”

Louis looks at Harry, face serious and sad. “I get that. It was really hard for me, too, at first. Told mum I don’t want to hear any updates about any of the kids. But then it’s like… the feeling of seeing how happy they are? Kids are smart, and so bloody brave. They aren’t idiots, they know they probably don’t have much time, so they just… enjoy every moment. And I can help them in that. So it pays off, big time.”

Harry leans in to press a soft kiss to Louis’ shoulder. “You’re lovely. So lovely.”

He can hear the silent way Louis swallows his objections.

“I try,” Louis finally says.  

--

“I’m a bit confused,” Louis tells Harry later as he’s sitting on the kitchen counter, claiming to be helping Harry make a stir fry but in reality he’s just popping pieces of chopped vegetables into his mouth.

“It’s natural,” Harry sounds condescending and a bit like a parent. “Though I wish you’d figured out whether you’re gay before you married a man.”

“Fuck off,” Louis throws a piece of courgette at Harry. “We’re getting divorced.”

Harry is an idiot and fakes a heart attack, at least Louis thinks that’s what his gesture of clasping hands over his heart and bending over shaking are trying to portray.

Magically recovered, Harry stands up straight again and continues with attending to the frying pan. “What are you confused about?”

“You said you couldn’t face the kids in the hospital, that it’s too much.”

“Mmhmm.”

“But your work isn’t the easiest, either? Like you deal with kids with serious issues, too.”

“Teenagers, not kids,” Harry corrects as he hands Louis the jar of sweet’n’sour sauce, then pouring it to the pan after Louis hands it back, opened.

“They’re still kids, technically. Young people. Going through really hard stuff.”

Harry frowns like he does when he gets deep in thought. “I guess what makes it easier for me,” he eventually starts, “is that it’s not… permanent. Like with your kids, they’ve only got that much chance at recovery. With mine, I know I can help them, they can overcome and keep on living, and living better. Like they’re not…” Harry stops himself.

“Beyond help,” Louis finishes the sentence and Harry nods, embarrassed. “That’s fine to put it like that. It’s true, after all.”

“I mean, it is really hard, seeing the shit they go through, but I can… actively help them. Make it better and see them, flourish I guess.”

Louis hums in understanding, shocked to see the chopping board now empty as all vegetables have been thrown to the pan. “Is it what you always wanted to do?”

“It is. I mean, I didn’t think much about the future when I was a kid, but then it just… hit me as something I wanted to do, to help others, and I really do love what I do. Can’t see ever not wanting to do it.”

“I don’t think I could do what you do. Can’t stand teenagers. They’re so loud and obnoxious.”

Harry gives him a look that looks awfully lot as if he’s trying to say touché without using words. Twat.

A twat that cooks up a mean stir-fry, luckily.

“I mean, take Lottie for example,” Louis carries on as they sit down to eat. “Saw her when you were in Wales and god she is so annoying these days.”

“These days?” Harry asks, mouth full. Maybe Louis should explain the concept of table manners to him one day.

Not today, though. He’s too keen to moan about Lottie now.

“Used to be best friends, like, she’s my first sister.”

“What is it, seven years between you?”

“Six. She’s just turned 20 but it’s like suddenly she’s gone back in age into a mopey teenager.”

“How come?” Harry asks as he takes a sip from his glass of milk. Maybe Louis should one day also break the news to Harry that only baby cows should drink milk and Harry is not, in fact, a baby cow.

“I don’t know,” Louis puts his cutlery down. “She’s got this new boyfriend, a right dickhead if you ask me, and I don’t think he’s a good influence on her at all. Suddenly all she cares about is like, her looks and partying.”

“Sounds pretty normal to me,” Harry says fairly. “Normal to party when you’re 20, normal to want to look good for a new fella.”

“Yeah but…” Louis isn’t sure how to put it. Or well, he knows how he wants to put it, he knows what’s really bothering him but somehow saying it out loud makes it more… real. Saying it out loud makes him into a person who thinks that about another person, and that’s not who he is.

“Go on,” Harry nudges his feet with Louis’ under the table. “What’s bothering you?”

Louis sighs, trying to find words. “She seems… like not herself.”

“Come on, she’s probably full of hormones. In loooove.

Louis groans. “Don’t say that.”

“What?” Harry chuckles. “Surely you understand that she is having sex despite being your little sister.”

“No, and thanks, I meant don’t say she’s in love. She isn’t. She can’t be, not with this dickhead.”

Harry frowns. “You don’t think he’s good for her?”

“No,” Louis spats out. “He’s a dickhead. He’s making her into… I don’t know, something she isn’t.”

Harry shrugs. “Maybe she’s just growing up. And like, she seems like a smart girl, I’m sure she’ll figure out he’s no good before long.”

“I feel like I’ve lost her already,” Louis mumbles under his breath without thinking. So that is what he really thinks, and it comes as a shock to hear them voiced out loud.

Harry looks shocked, too. “What do you mean?” He sits up on his chair, looking alarmed. “Louis?”

Louis rubs his eyes. He honestly didn’t want to talk about this or even think about it, maybe Lottie was just having an off day when they met, maybe he’s making assumptions and it’s not really his business anyway.

“Louis?” Harry repeats.

“I don’t know,” Louis grits through his teeth. “She seemed… like she wasn’t really there. Looked gaunt, too.”

“What do you mean, gaunt?”

“Just… pale. Hollow, I guess. She didn’t look healthy like she usually does.”

“Have you tried asking her if she’s alright?”

Louis laughs dryly, expecting Harry to confess he was being sarcastic. He doesn’t. “She would ask for my help if she needed it.”

Harry looks taken aback. “Do you know how hard that is? You have no idea.”

Louis shrugs, really wishing he had never brought this up.

Harry eggs on. “Has she lost weight?”

Harry’s concerned frown is a little annoying. As if he’s suddenly gone into full social worker-mode, but this is Louis’ sister they’re talking about. They probably shouldn’t be taking about her at all.

“We probably shouldn’t be taking about this, actually.”

Harry shakes his head. “She’s your sister and you’re clearly worried. Gaunt and partying and not quite present, it doesn’t sound too good if I’m honest.”

“Why, what do you think it might be then?” Louis says, his voice sounding challenging and he’s not even too sorry about it.

“Drugs would be my first guess,” Harry says evenly. “If she’s losing weight and visibly unhealthy, probably quite a bit of drugs. Or issues with eating, could be either, or both.”

Louis breathes in deep through his nostrils, then biting his lip. “That’s a bit out of line, mate.”

“You asked me?” Harry’s frown changes from concerned to confused. “That’s what it sounds like to me, I’ve seen it at work so many times, it’s…”

“But this is my sister!” Louis interrupts him. “You can’t make assumptions like that about her, you don’t even know her.”

Harry looks taken aback. “I… No, I don’t know her, so I’m just going by what you’re telling me.”

“I shouldn’t have said anything,” Louis huffs as he gets up, taking his and Harry’s plates and shoving them to the sink. “Forget I said anything. She’s an adult, it’s her life, it’s not mine and certainly not your business.”

“You’re pissed off at me now?”  

“No, I’m pissed off at myself for saying anything. It’s not cool, talking about her behind her back, not about her personal and private issues.”

“You’re her brother,” Harry says and his voice sounds different now, as if he’s getting annoyed with Louis, and what the damn reason would he have to be annoyed.

“Yeah, and a good brother doesn’t go around gossiping about his sister.”

“A good brother looks after their sister.”

Louis turns to look at Harry, who is standing and leaning to the dining table, arms crossed. How the hell does he even have the nerve to deem Louis a shit brother? Louis counts to ten, maybe twenty, or a hundred, so he won’t blow off on Harry completely. Finally, he feels calm enough to reply. “She’s an adult, Harry. An adult with the right to her own life. She’d have a fit if she knew I was gossiping about her.”

“Fair enough. Maybe you should talk to her then?”

The way Harry says it, as if it’s a reasonable, rational suggestion surprises Louis.

“Talk to her?”

“Yeah. Ask her if she’s okay, tell her you’re worried.”

Louis laughs dryly, shaking his head. Harry is so dumb sometimes. “Oh, right, great idea. I’ll just go to her and tell her that I’ve been judging her appearance and think is boyfriend is a dick, and give her a lecture about how she’s partying too much and how drugs are dangerous. Great, Harry, such a brilliant suggestion.”

Louis is about to go check if Harry’s still breathing as the silence his words are met with is so unlike him, but Harry speaks just as Louis is about to take a step.

“I’m going for a cigarette,” Harry says flatly.

A smoke. Louis could really do with one now, too. He reaches out to his pack on the counter, but Harry’s words stop him.

Don’t follow me. I… need a moment alone.”

Louis looks at Harry, mouth open and at a loss for words, not that they are needed, and watches as Harry goes to the balcony. He sees the flame of the lighter lit up through the kitchen window in the dark evening.

It doesn’t take Harry too long, luckily, as Louis really needs a cigarette too.

“Your turn,” Harry says quietly as he comes back inside and goes to the living room. “I’d like to talk to you after you’re done.”

Louis takes way longer in the balcony than Harry did. He feels sick to his stomach, and it’s unlikely to be the delicious dinner he just had. He isn’t looking forward to carrying on arguing about this with Harry when he goes back inside. He is pissed off at himself for having said anything; he’s kicking himself for even thinking that about Lottie and probably exaggerating the whole thing. He knows better than to jump into conclusions about people without knowing shit.

(He tries very hard not to think about how his worry over Lottie is even more grippling now because Harry is a professional who knows his stuff and Lottie is her baby sister.)

Louis runs out of reasons to prolong his stay outside in the fresh air and eventually goes to the living room, seeing Harry sitting on the sofa, looking like he’s miles away.

“Hi,” Louis says as he sits down next to Harry, leaving some space between them.

Harry turns to look at Louis. His eyes look sad as he seems to be searching quietly Louis’ face for something.

“I don’t want to tell you what to do,” Harry finally says quietly. “It’s not my business, you were right about that.”

Louis nods. Damn right he was right about that.

“However,” Harry clears his throat, “expressing concern and caring is rarely the wrong thing to do.”

Louis disagrees. “Jumping into conclusions and letting her know I disapprove of her personal choices is the wrong thing to do, though.”

Harry has the guts to shake his head. “You’re twisting my words around.”

“That’s initially what you mean.”

“It’s not. You are not seeing the forest from the trees, here.”

Louis sighs. “I honestly don’t think there’s any fucking point in this conversation. Clearly we disagree on personal limits and basic human courtesy, there isn’t…”

“No,” Harry interrupts Louis sternly – his voice so unlike Louis has ever heard him that it shuts him up immediately. “You’re focusing on doing what’s easy and what’s right in your weird idea of how being concerned is somehow, I don’t know, a breach of privacy. She might get really mad, of course, but… You could be saving her life, to put it really fucking bluntly.”

Louis tuts. Harry doesn’t get it at all, too busy being in his work mode, thinking concern excuses all behaviour.

“There really isn’t many things or principles or whatever you want to call it, more important than making sure the people we love and care about are doing okay.”

A silence falls between them. Louis doesn’t know what to say, how to make stubborn Harry see his point when he seems so unwilling to budge.

“I was really unwell when I was a teenager,” Harry starts talking in a subdued voice but it gains strength as he goes on. “I think I was 13 when it started, when my depression started.”

Something freezing cold spills in Louis’ chest. “Are you okay?” He says, not even thinking before he extends his hand to touch the nearest part of Harry he can reach.

“I am, now,” Harry manages a small smile. “But I wasn’t in many years. Until I was, uhm, 17 maybe?”

“Have you… Has it happened, again?”

Harry shakes his head. “No, thank god. I’ve been lucky.”

“I’m glad you’re okay now,” Louis says sincerely. Harry looks different than he looked a minute ago, as if him being here with Louis on this sofa suddenly became even more important and precious than it was before.

Harry squeezes Louis’ hand. “Me too. But it was so hard, and I felt so alone. I did it all by myself, and even though I’m really proud of myself, it shouldn’t have been like that.”

“You didn’t get any help?” Louis wants to travel back in time and make sure Harry doesn’t feel alone, ever.

Harry shakes his head. “I didn’t. I didn’t know how to ask for it, it was too embarrassing, like I was a failure for being so weak. But my point is, Louis,” Harry’s voice softens at the sound of Louis’ name, “that no one, not one person, in the four or so years, asked me if I was okay. Surely they could see, absolutely people knew or at least guessed, but not one single person talked to me. Maybe I would’ve been upset or annoyed, but… It would’ve made it so much easier, so much better, if just one person would’ve told me they were worried, that they cared, that they wanted to help.”

Louis hears his words, letting them sink in, storing them into a place in his brain that he needs to revisit when it’s quiet, when he has the energy to think.

“I don’t want to tell you what to do, and I don’t want to criticise whatever you decide, I just…” Harry scratches his nose. “Just wanted to tell you how it felt when I could’ve used a little bit of nosey concern.”

“Thanks for telling me,” Louis shuffles in to close the space between them. “I’m sorry you’ve been through that.”

“It’s not your fault,” Harry snuggles in, taking Louis’ arm and putting it around his shoulders. “I don’t… Are you okay with me, now that you know? I mean, I’ve been good for years, I don’t want you to think that I’m…”

“I’m not scared of emotions. Emotions don’t scare me,” Louis squeezes his arm around Harry tighter. “I’m sad it happened to you but it doesn’t make you like, less in my eyes in any way. You’ve been strong and brave,” Louis kisses Harry’s temple softly.

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you right away,” Harry hesitates. “I think I should’ve, so you could’ve decided if you wanted to tie yourself to someone like me.”

Louis shushes him. “I’d absolutely want to tie myself into someone wonderful like you. You feeling bad and especially about yourself isn’t… like that is not a fault. And you’re so brave for telling me now, for talking about it.”

Harry smiles, looking flattered. “I… feel brave, when I talk about it. Talking about it and being open about it makes me feel like the more I do, the smaller it gets every time, that I’m really winning it, getting over it. And like…” Harry turns to look at Louis, eyes locking. “Thank you for making me feel like it’s okay. Making me feel like maybe I can be imperfect, and you still won’t go away.”

They don’t really talk much more for the rest of the evening, but the silence feels comfortable. They also remain as if glues to each other with parts of their bodies touching in some way the whole evening.

When they go to bed, the way Harry spoons him despite it usually being Louis spooning Harry, makes Louis feel so cared for he feels like he might get teary from the intensity of how much he feels in the moment.

He writes a text to Lottie telling her he loves her and suggesting they’d get coffee soon before he feels his eyes close and he dozes to deep, peaceful sleep with Harry’s sleepy breathing being the last sound he hears.   

Chapter Text

“I’m so close to banning you from this kitchen,” Louis grunts as Harry drops an egg on the kitchen floor.

Harry gives him a bored look as he kneels down, a few sheets of kitchen roll on his hand, wiping up the raw egg. “What, banning me from my own kitchen?”

“Wasn’t this our kitchen now?” Louis retorts as offers Harry more kitchen roll.

“Can’t believe you believe everything I say when I’m just trying to be polite,” Harry rolls his eyes as he gets up and tosses the used kitchen sheets to the bin. “Watch out, the floor’s slippery.”

Louis looks at the box of eggs, worries as he realises there’s only two eggs left. “We’re out of eggs,” he tells Harry.

Harry squeezes in to Louis’ side, his body feeling warm, as he’s peeking over Louis’ shoulder to read the recipe. “We’re not out of eggs, Lou. One, two,” he points his finger to count the egg. “That’s two eggs more than being out of eggs.”

“But the recipe says three eggs?” Louis doesn’t understand when Harry became illiterate.

“Pfft,” Harry waves his hand. “Doesn’t matter. Two will do fine.”

“But… The recipe!”

“Recipe shmecipe. Two eggs will be just as well as three eggs, trust me.”

“It’s literally one egg less than we are supposed to use, Harry.”

“Louis,” Harry says in an annoyingly condescending voice as he turns Louis around and puts his palms to his cheeks. “Cooking is a creative art. There are no limits.”

“There are recipes, though,” Louis tries and his voice comes out all mushed due to Harry pressing on his cheeks.

“Recipes are like rules. Meant to be broken,” Harry talks slowly as if he’s talking to a toddler. “It’ll be great, you’ll see,” Harry then smiles and pecks Louis’ forehead, as he lets go of Louis’ cheeks and moves back to stirring the flour on the bowl, taking the two eggs they have and breaking them into the bowl.

“I can’t watch this,” Louis groans dramatically.

“Go away then? And take the recycling bin with you?” Harry suggests, not really paying attention to more than what’s happening in the bowl.

“Fine,” Louis sighs, picking up the small recycling container, taking his cigarette pack from the table. “Don’t break anything. Anything more,” he says as he leaves, feeling more than seeing Harry flip him the middle finger.

After disposing the recycling, Louis stays outside for a smoke. It’s a beautiful day, not too hot, pleasantly warm and sunny. Perfect day to treat their mums to an afternoon coffee on the balcony. It’s strange, how the thought of their mums meeting with more time and less nerves than on the wedding day, seems like such a coupley thing to do – and how nice and natural it feels to Louis.

He’d probably be shitting himself with nerves a lot more if his mind wasn’t so occupied with how annoying Harry’s habits are.

They both like cooking. Great. That’s the only thing they seem to have in common in the kitchen – their ways of going about making food are worlds apart, and it’s driving Louis nuts. Harry seems to think recipes exist just to be disregarded, as if they personally offend Harry’s creative craft, or whatever the hell he called it. Harry is messy, measures things without care, deviates from the recipes wherever he can.

Whereas Louis, hell, he actually follows the instructions. Like, they exist for a reason? Tried, tested, deemed delicious. He can’t deal with the kitchen looking like an explosion happened, he needs counters tidy before he can enjoy the food. Harry, on the other hand, seems to think eating in the middle of all that mess and dirt just adds to the experience.

He is infuriating.

Luckily he also has a dish washer, Louis meanders as he goes back upstairs, getting up the stairs slow as if to postpone of what is surely to be a sight of kitchen horrendous enough to drive any man mad.

First thing he notices when he opens the door is the smell. It smells divine; Harry must’ve already put the pie into the oven, with the heavenly smell now taking over their home.

Louis is properly shocked as he walks into the kitchen. All the surfaces he sees are polished, sparkling almost.

There’s nothing on the counters. No flours on the walls and no piles of dishes to be seen anywhere. Instead, he sees Harry, leaning to the counter, looking at Louis expectantly, a little smugly and a little coyly.

“It’s… clean,” Louis voices the obvious. “You tidied up.”

Harry looks around. “Looks like I did.”

“That’s…” Louis doesn’t know how to finish his sentence. He walks up to Harry, who upon Louis approaching opens his arms for Louis to lean into a hug.

“Unlike me?” Harry offers as he tightens his arms around Louis and brushes his lips to Louis’ temple.

Louis hums, content to feel Harry’s firm body against his own.

“I know you… really hate how messy I am,” Harry says quietly. “I’m trying to be less annoying.”

“Thank you. I appreciate that.”

“Hey!” Harry pokes Louis’ rib. “You were supposed to say I’m not annoying at all.”

“Sorry, didn’t know what the script was here,” Louis snickers and looks at Harry. “You’re not annoying at all. Still a bit messy, though,” he says softly as he sees a bit of dough remains on Harry’s cheek. He wipes it off with his thumb, Harry’s eyes locked on his, and licks his thumb.

“Thanks,” Harry says, voice barely audible.

It feels like Harry’s breathing has gotten quicker. Or maybe it’s Louis’ own breathing sounding like a pounding noise in his ears.

“You’re welcome,” Louis says, leaning his head even closer to Harry’s face. His cheeks are warm, his lips are right there, and Louis can’t help but kiss him.

Harry kisses him back, lips hungry and wet as if Louis’ mouth is the biggest treat he has come across after being hungry for ages.

--

“So,” Harry turns to Louis as the door closes after their mums – apparently heading to have a glass or two or a jug of Pimm’s – “that went well.”

“So well,” Louis offers his hand up for a high five, to which Harry complies.

“I feel like we may have created a monster with those two,” Harry says conversationally as they go back to the kitchen, and Louis starts clearing the table and loading up the dishwasher.

“I pity the people in the pub those two are heading to,” Louis admits, meticulously loading up the dishwasher in what Harry has learned is his preferred order that shall not be disobeyed.

Harry is mesmerised, watching Louis do it. He seems to have this clear order to optimise cleansing and group dishes on certain parts of the washer. Harry only now realises something. “Why don’t you rinse them?”

“Hmm?” Louis looks up.

“Rinse the plates. Just, you seem so concerned at getting them as clean as possible, I’d think you’d be a rinser.”

Louis frowns. “And waste water?”

“Waste water?”

“Yeah. There’s no need to half-clean something before it gets proper cleaned, no? Me thinks it’s just a waste of water. We don’t exactly swim in having disposable water, you know.”

“Not sure of that language image there, but you’re right.” Harry feels a pang in his chest. He is very strict on always binning cigarette stubs, never throwing any trashes on the ground, recycling as far as he possibly can, not spending too long in the shower, but he has never really thought of how he could reduce his water usage in the kitchen.  

“I often am,” Louis says smugly and flips his non-existing hair.

Harry looks at Louis. He often is, that’s the truth. Harry admittedly wasn’t a fan of how Louis was right, especially in the beginning when Louis seemed to voice his opinions from on top of a highest horse and making Harry feel a little dumb, as if he wasn’t a good enough person. But it seems Louis is trying to meet him halfway.

“You are,” Harry admits softly. “And… Thank you for being a bit more, ahm, softer about it?”

“Softer?” Louis sounds curious, as he puts the dishwasher on and turn to look at Harry, head tilted and arms crossed on his chest, look curious but not defensive.

Harry looks down at his toes, wiggling them. “Yeah, like you’re not… condescending about it.”

“Anymore?” Louis kindly offers what Harry left unsaid.

Harry doesn’t really want to affirm it, so he just shrugs. “I know you are a lot more aware of things, and I like it when you share what you know and think. Just… because I don’t know all of that, doesn’t mean I don’t know something as well. That I don’t at least try.”

“I know,” Louis uncrosses his arms and motions Harry to come closer. Harry complies, and Louis loosely wraps his arms on his shoulders. “I think… You were right. About me. Living in California, everyone I knew was like that, very ‘woke’-“ he says with making air quotation marks with his fingers “-about things and it sort of… I guess it sometimes turned into this, I don’t know, competition of who could educate others the most.” Louis shakes his head a little. “Maybe it isn’t the best trait to carry along with me.”

“It’s good to be aware. So many issues need talking about. I guess it’s just, the way we talk about them. But I just wanted to thank you for being more considerate of the way you talk about stuff now. Means a lot to me.”

It suddenly feels almost embarrassing, voicing his thoughts so openly in bright daylight. Harry doesn’t know how to really go on so he puts his hands on Louis’ bum and squeezes.

Louis doesn’t seem to mind.

“You were right about something else, too,” Harry then says as he pulls away his hands and himself from Louis, feeling a little flustered. “We did need a third egg.”

“HA!” Louis shouts as he pokes Harry’s chest with a finger, because Louis is, in fact a child. “I told you so.”

Harry lifts his arms up in the air as if surrendering. “You did, you did.”

Louis facial expression suddenly changes from glee to a dubious frown. “But… The pie was great. We didn’t have three eggs.”

“Nope. Luckily I’m a creative cook, so I just tried avocado, found one in the fridge, and it seemed to do the trick,” Harry says not un-smugly.

Louis’ whole body freezes. “Avocado?”

“Yeah,” Harry rambles, “I mushed it and it seemed to be a good enough replacement to glue all the fillings together.”

“But…” Louis looks confused. “I fucking hate avocados.”

Harry looks at Louis, squinting his eyes. “You don’t seem to hate avocados. You had two helpings, Lou.”

“I… Because you tricked me! You tricked me into eating avocados!”

Harry laughs despite himself. “You didn’t seem to mind at all. You munched on that pie like it was someone’s ass.”

Louis turns around dramatically, taking a glass of water and downing it in one go, gurgling the last drops in his throats before he spits to the sink. “I can’t believe you would do this to me.”

“I can’t believe you, full stop. You had no problems with the pie before you heard there were avocados in it. How did you not taste the foulness that you seem to hate so much!” Harry is trying to stifle his laughter.

“But I fucking hate avocados,” Louis mumbles quietly.

Louis definitely is a child. A very silly child at that.

Luckily Harry went to uni to learn about how to deal with petulant kids and youths.

“So let me get this straight,” he starts in his professional-voice, as he starts counting the facts he is currently aware of with his fingers. “You hate avocados. Passionately. Yet you enjoyed a pie with avocados very much. You had no issues with the deceitful pie, no idea it had avocados, but now you’re offended it had avocados? Which you hate? But didn’t taste?”

“It’s not like I’ve ever actually tasted avocados before?” Louis says as it’s a good enough argument to make it all make sense.

Harry bites the knuckle of his index finger to stop himself of laughing at Louis’ face and possibly pointing at him whilst doing it. “You’ve… never had avocados? But you hate them aggressively?”

Louis crosses his arms and looks at Harry, challenging. “I don’t have to know what they taste like to hate them, Harry.”

“Especially if the taste is nice,” Harry snickers.

“They’re trendy, Harry! Everyone keeps going on about avocados, they’re in every fucking food, it’s like suddenly avocado is the best food there is and like it’s impossible to eat them without telling the world of every avocado you ate!” Louis preaches, voice getting snappier as he goes on. “We used to talk about it all the time, how people who eat avocados are twats and we’d never be like that, me and…” Louis stops suddenly and tightens his lips.

Right.

“You can say your ex’s name, you know,” Harry says flatly.

“I don’t want to,” Louis grits through his teeth. “He isn’t a part of my life anymore. No need to talk about him.”

“Louis,” Harry sighs, “You just had a totally irrational reaction about avocados because it seems it was a thing you guys hated together. I’d say he still is in the back of your head somehow.”

The silent wall Louis seems to build up on lightning speed tells Harry enough.

“Right,” he sighs. “Maybe it’s time for a talk.”

--

Trapped. That’s very much how Louis feels in this moment in time, as he’s watching Harry rummage through the fridge to pull out two cans of beer, until he side glances at Louis, seemingly remember that Louis doesn’t like beer, and putting the other can back to replace it with a bottle of red wine, looking at Louis in a silent question, to which Louis nods to as a form of an answer.

He does not want to talk right now. He especially doesn’t want to talk about Zad, which is what Harry probably meant. He watches Harry pour him a glass of red wine, his posture a little more slouched than usual, his body language tense. Louis watches as Harry spills a bit of the wine, cursing under his breath, cleaning it from the counter and from around the glass.

Our relationship histories are different.

Harry’s words from their meeting with Trevor suddenly appear in Louis’ head. That’s what Harry had said he saw as a challenge, telling Louis they’d talk about it later. Louis now remembers why the sudden tenseness in Harry’s body language seemed so familiar.

He takes the glass Harry offers him and takes a sip. It doesn’t really taste that nice, a bit too full and a bit too bitter, but at least it gives Louis something to do with his hands, holding the glass.

Fuck.

Louis takes another sip, to busy himself and give him a disguise as he keeps observing Harry, who seems… nervous. Scared, almost.

Louis recognises the vibe. It’s the vibe of someone about to have a difficult conversation, one they acknowledge they need to have in order to breathe more freely, despite how much they don’t want to really live through the moment. It’s what Harry hard told Louis he does when facing a confrontational situation; he’d told Louis that all those weeks ago, back on their honeymoon.

“Okay,” Louis hears his own voice before he realises he has opened his mouth. “Let’s talk.”

They sit down on the balcony, the early evening sun still lighting up the tree tops with its rays.

Harry clears his throat. “I don’t really know how to start, so I’m just going to… Are you sure you’re over your ex?”

That’s not a question Louis was expecting for, it feels ridiculous Harry would even think to ask that. That he’d even feel the need to ask that.

“We broke up over a year ago. Of course I’m over him.”

Harry fidgets, fingers tapping on the can of beer. “I just… You have this habit, you start saying something that is obviously in relation to him, but then you stop, like… As if you can’t bear to say his name? I don’t even know his name.”

“I just don’t think it’s very polite, mentioning him when I’m talking to you,” Louis grunts.

“But don’t you see? He was a part of your life, he obviously is present in your memories, but it’s like… You refusing to say his name makes me feel like, maybe it’s too painful to you. Like you can’t even speak of him because it’s still too raw.”

“I… I don’t know what to say, Harry. He is not an issue and I’m definitely over him, jesus. I’m married to you now.”

Harry’s tapping gets a bit more frantic. “I… I need you to be sure. I don’t want to be a rebound.”

“You’re not a fucking rebound,” Louis tries to not sound as snappy as he feels. And he’s speaking the truth, too. He didn’t actively plan to get married so soon, wasn’t on the lookout for a rebound, definitely didn’t feel like Harry was one but a fully new important relationship in his life. Louis had just been… convinced that this was a good idea, in the beginning. Sometimes he really fucking wonders why and how.

“I just…” Harry stops to consider. “I know people are different. Relationships are different, and it’s not a sign of being a bad person if it… takes you a while, to get over it.”

“I am over it!” Louis raises his voice without realising.

Harry’s eyes look alarmed. “I know you say that but like… Sometimes it doesn’t feel that way. And I’m trying to tell you it’s fine, really, like I don’t know what it was like or how intense it was, and if you have stuff left you need to go through, that’s fine. I’m not mad, or angry, I just… Want to know. Want you to tell me. Because I don’t want to be married to someone who isn’t in on this one hundred percent.”

And for fuck’s sake, Harry’s actually biting his lower lip now, and his eyes look a little wet.

“I’m not… You’re not,” Louis wills to sound soft as he pulls his chair closer to Harry, taking the can off his hands and taking them into his own hands. “I am in on this, completely. You have nothing to worry about. I just… It did take me time, it did hurt me when we broke up. It was good when it was good but it’s not… Like, thinking about him now isn’t necessarily an all too pleasant of a memory. So I’d rather not.”

Harry sniffles and nods.

“But I… If it bothers you, and clearly it does, we can talk about it. I don’t want you to make it into a huge deal in your head, when it absolutely isn’t one.”

Harry sniffles again, wiping his nose with the back of his hand. He looks withdrawn, as if he’d suddenly gotten several inches shorter, fragile almost. Louis isn’t excited about going into his relationship with Zad, or any of the other relationships if Harry wants to revisit the past that far, but… He’d rather do that than see Harry look so utterly miserable.

“What’s his name?” Harry asks, quietly, still looking down at their hands.

“Zad.”

“That’s… a strange name.”

“Well, his real name is Chad, but I think he just wanted to seem… cooler. So he started writing it with a z when he was a teenager.” It sounds pompous and silly. It was.

“And he is… American? You met there?”

“Yeah,” Louis says as he lights a cigarette. “Or well, we met in York, he was there to see some distant relatives, met in a club and… You know,” Louis says as he exhales, not really keen on going to details about how the first night they’d met had really gone down. Literally.     

“And you moved to the States for him?” Harry looks up a little, taking the cigarette from Louis’ hand and taking a drag. He takes another one before putting it back to Louis’ hand.

Louis nods. “It was… very intense, from the start. I didn’t have much going for me here back then, just graduated, unsure of what I wanted to do, and… an adventure seemed like exactly what I needed. So I moved there with him.”

“Did you like it?”

“Of course,” Louis says automatically but then stops to think. “I did, at first. The people were so much more chill than up north, weather was always great, Zad was… He is the life of a party, we had a really good time, meeting new people. It was fun. Exciting.”

“But? It sounds like there’s a but.”

“We just…” Louis shrugs. “Ended up wanting different things.”

“How long were you together for?”

Louis has to think. “Three years. I stayed there, after the break up, for a few months, but it wasn’t… It wasn’t the same. Didn’t feel like I belonged there anymore.”

Harry nods. “And are you… still in contact with him? Or was the break-up really bad?”

“No,” Louis shakes his head as the stubs the cigarette on the ashtray. “It was a good break-up. Amicable. I mean, it still… hurt, of course, but we didn’t… We stayed, uhm, friendly, until I moved back here.”

Harry squints his eyes. “Friendly? As in, had sex?”

No point denying it. “Had sex,” Louis admits. “We were, uh, very open about sex, always.”

Harry flinches; it’s a very small flinch but Louis sees it regardless. “Are you guys still in touch?”

“Nah. I wanted to start fresh, moving back here. I mean, we follow each other on social media but we don’t like, really talk or anything. Just know that we’re both doing good.”

“And… do you miss him?”

Louis licks his lips, trying to save time. Eventually he speaks. “No. No, I don’t,” he says, and it feels honest. “We had good times and I learned a lot from him, but it’s… A thing in the past. I don’t think he’s really good for me, in any way. He really… hurt me.” As the words leave his lips, he realises it’s the first time he’s ever said that. Ever dared to actually think that. “I don’t think it was really a good relationship, in the end. Plus I’m happy where I am now. Who I’m with,” he adds and brushes Harry’s hair. “I hope you know that. You have no reason to be jealous or insecure.”

Harry gives him a small smile. It doesn’t quite reach his eyes, but it doesn’t look forced either. “How did you break up?”

“You mean why?”

Harry shrugs. “That too.”

Louis scratches the bridge of his nose. “We… wanted different things from life. I wanted us to be more exclusive, committed, and he… wasn’t ready for that, yet.” He scratches his nose again. “So he… we decided that it wasn’t really compatible.”

“He broke up with you,” Harry translates Louis’ sugarcoating into bluntness.

“I… He did,” Louis then agrees. “But it was really a mutual decision. Guess I just hoped he would’ve, I don’t know, felt the same way I did.” Louis shrugs. “But he didn’t. And it was me who changed my mind about the way we were, so.”

“I don’t quite follow?” Harry’s face is confused.

“We, uh,” Louis finds himself suddenly almost feeling embarrassed. Not the way he and Zad were, but for telling about it to Harry who probably isn’t going to understand in his naïve mind with thoughts about everlasting pink cotton candy love. “We had an open relationship.”

“Oh.” Harry pulls back a little, mouth left hanging open slightly.

“Don’t get me wrong, I was happy to go along with it, I enjoyed it, too, but eventually I just… didn’t really want that anymore, but he still did. So, obviously, not a great match in the end,” Louis aims to make it sound lighthearted, as if it was all a little silly, not really feeling like talking or even thinking about how inadequate it had made him feel back then.

“Is that… Something you’ve always done? In relationships? Do you like… wish we were like that?”

“What, have an open relationship?”

“Yeah.”

Louis shakes his head forcefully. “God, no. One time was enough. It wasn’t really… my thing, in the end. And I definitely don’t want that with you. Unless,” he has an afterthought, “you would want to?”

Harry chuckles, taking Louis by surprise, and he finally lifts his head fully to look Louis in the eyes. “Excuse me, have you met me?

Louis laughs too. “Fair enough.”

Harry’s eyes seem to lock onto Louis’, as he puckers his lips and leans into a quick kiss. “Thank you,” his lips move against Louis’, “for telling me about him.”

“Feeling better?” Louis asks, his hand moving to Harry’s back, caressing up and down his spine in small movements.

“Better,” Harry nods. His fingers curl around Louis’ hair, and he swirls a few strands around quietly. “Do you… Can I see a picture? Of him?”

It’s a strange request, but Harry is a bit strange sometimes after all.

“Sure,” Louis gets up from the chair, sad to feel the loss of Harry’s touch as he goes inside to get his phone. He goes to Zad’s Instagram, surprised to find a selfie as Zad was always so against selfies, but guesses it might be understandable as apparently he’s been working out a bit, judging by the shirtless mirror pose. “Here,” Louis gives the phone to Harry.

Harry examines the picture in silence, facial expression unreadable. “He’s very unlike me,” Harry finally says, tone neutral.

Louis looks at the picture again. Zad still has his short blonde hair, seems more buff than he was when they were together, still has a dark stubble and smouldering brown eyes. He hums in agreement. “He is.”

“Is he… is he more your type?” Harry hesitates as he gives the phone back to Louis. “Like, blonde and buff and exotic.”

“Exotic?” Louis raises his brows. “You mean poc. Person of colour.”

“I guess,” Harry shrugs. “Is he like, representative of the type you usually go for?”

“Not really,” Louis ponders. “I mean, I guess guys who look like that do catch my eye. But I’ve dated a goth, a sporty guy, dabbled in artsy guys, I’ve had my different phases,” Louis snorts, putting his phone away.

Harry doesn’t seem very amused. “You’ve had quite a repertoire.”

“I’ve had my moments,” Louis smiles but then gets serious. “Is that… criticism?” 

“No, not at all,” Harry rushes to convince him. “I know you have history. Just meant that it’s a lot of different kind of types, that’s all.”

“Riiight,” Louis drawls out. “What, do you have only one specific type then?”

“No,” Harry huffs. “You know I don’t have a huge history of types to start with. And I don’t believe in types, anyway. Like, what – you’ve decided you can only fall in love with guys with blonde hair and who are above a certain height?” Harry rolls his eyes. “Life doesn’t work like that. You fall in love with people and not with their like, qualifications or whatever.”

“Of course, that’s not… But surely you said something about what you wanted in your husband, when applying? We all have some in-built ideas of what we’d like to have in a partner.”

“I said I wanted someone who is kind, and smart, and funny.”

“And that’s it?” Louis quips up his eyebrow.

“That’s everything, don’t you think?” Harry is giving him this incredulous, slightly unbelieving, partly amused look. “What could be more important?”

“You really didn’t say anything about appearance?”

“Why, did you?”

Louis doesn’t answer right away. He’d rather not tell Harry that yes, he did actually mention blonde hair, said he doesn’t mind their cultural background – after all, he had also said that eventually it won’t matter. “I… said it didn’t matter.”

“See!” Harry gleams. “Well, to be honest, I did say I’d like someone with tattoos or at least someone who wouldn’t like, compare having tattoos to being a criminal.”

Louis bursts out laughing as he remembers something. “God, I was so against tattoos when I was younger. My first boyfriend was like, this really prim and proper guy, went to church and helped the elderly but then had a huge double-life with like sex and drugs and rock and roll, except it was jazz, and it wasn’t drugs but alcohol, but anyway, he absolutely hated tattoos and so did I.”

Harry shakes his head, rolling up Louis’ t-shirt sleeve, dramatically counting all the tattoos he can in just one arm. “What changed your mind?”

Louis chuckles. “We broke up, eventually. After six months of lots of self-discovery together. He moved to date a girl, who he ended up marrying. Their daughters are very cute. I moved onto a proper bad boy, few years older than me, and I discovered tattoos on guys are really fucking hot.” He pulls down the loose neck of his shirt a bit, showing his chest tattoo. “So hot I let him do my first ink.”

Harry leans in closer, tracing the big black numbers forming 78. “Wow. You got lucky, don’t think I’ve seen a home tattoo done this well.”

“Hah, you still haven’t,” Louis snickers as he lets go of the shirt. “It was awful. The numbers are a cover up. There’s a very rank J-letter somewhere under there.”

“His initial?” Harry shakes his head.

“No, my mum’s, luckily. As smitten as I was, at least I had sense to realise mum’s last forever when hot bad boys don’t.” Louis lets his mind linger back to the guy, and how indeed hot his tattoos were. Finding out Harry has quite a bit of ink on his skin wasn’t exactly a bad revelation. “What was your first?” He then asks Harry.

Harry bends his arm, lighting the hem of the sleeve enough to point at the black star on his upper arm. “This one.”

Louis brushes the tattoo lightly with his thumb. “Sorry, I actually meant your first relationship?”

“Oh!” Harry makes an embarrassed face. “It’s… I don’t know if it was really a relationship that much, just kind of the same as yours. Being a teenager, figuring stuff out. Strong emotions and even stronger heartbreak after that summer was over,” Harry rolls his eyes. “I was seventeen, I think.”

“Was he your first, too?”

Harry nods. “He was. Took me quite a while to get over him and be involved with someone again. I didn’t really… I’ve never really felt a relationship is something I must have, I had so much other things I enjoyed in life, but then I met Alex, second year of uni, and I guess that was really my…” Harry stops abruptly, looking at Louis as if in shock.

“It’s okay, honestly,” Louis calms him. “You’ve told me you’ve only had one proper relationship before, it’s fine. Nothing to be weird about.”

Harry’s facial expression relaxes. “So me and Alex, we were together for… two years? Broke up when I was 21.”

“So that’s…” Louis quickly calculates in his head. “FOur years ago?”

“Pretty much.”

“You’ve been… single for four years? Why?” Louis can’t hide the amazement in his voice. “But you’re like, great! How did you manage to remain single?”

“Because I wanted to?” Harry sounds incredulous.

Oh. That’s probably… a good enough reason. “Makes sense, with you not having had sex in four years,” Louis meanders. “Which is fine, and not something we need to talk about at all,” he hastily continues.

Instead of freezing, Harry leans in to kiss him. “I don’t mind talking about it with you now, not now when we are having it. I’m happy to talk about sex with the person I actually have sex with.”

“I’m glad,” Louis says as he leans into kiss Harry again. “Of you being happy to both talk about it and have it with me.”

Harry gives him another kiss, now adding in a little lick of his lips.

“I guess I now get why you’d say we’re really different,” Harry comments. “I didn’t really get it at all at first, when you first said it, I thought we were quite alike, but I do see now why you’d say that. Our approaches to, uhm, relationships and love are probably quite the opposite.”

Louis has to rewind quite far back to first even remember when he’s said that, and secondly why he would’ve thought that. Because right now, he feels like he and Harry are surprisingly similar. Despite little everyday things like being messy or being pedantically clean, or their different sexual histories, he and Harry seem to be very similar in personalities.

“Louis?” Harry’s questioning voice interrupts Louis’ thought process that he apparently sank into for longer than he realised.

He almost catches up with a brief thought at the back of his mind, suggesting Louis and Harry aren’t different, but what Louis had meant was that Harry is different from Zad.

Louis lets go of the thought quickly though, opting to nod and kiss Harry instead.

--

Breathing feels easier, somehow.

The monster Harry had made of Louis’ ex into his head, imagining him looming with them almost as a constant third feel, has gotten a lot smaller after their heart to heart. Harry… trusts Louis, believes him when he said this Zad guy isn’t a threat, isn’t something he misses or would switch Harry to in a heartbeat.

Harry also feels less like an inexperienced fool that Louis is secretly pointing and laughing at for his lack of billions of relationships and freaky sex adventures.

He feels good – safe, almost. Closer to Louis than before, and the knowledge that they had a(nother) difficult discussion but were honest and open about it, makes it feel like… this might work. This isn’t necessarily doomed to go tits up. They are doing good with the early stages of their marriage, and Harry finds himself wishing, hard, that there’s going to be years worth of stages of this marriage.

There’s just this one thing still niggling at the back of his mind.

“Do you get like, a staff discount on every Gush Cosmetics?” Louis asks absentmindedly as he’s holding two sparkly bath bombs in his hands, smelling them in turn.

“What, like a special discount for being the owner’s kid?” Harry snorts as he takes a blob of a tester hand cream and tries it on the back of his hand. Too sweet. “No, I don’t think they have like a picture of me in every shop, behind the counter, telling to give this man a discount.”

“Hmm,” Louis puts down both of the bombs and picks up another two. “Still can’t believe your mum made all this.”

“She didn’t actually make all this,” Harry snickers.

Louis waves him off. “Oh bugger off. You know what I mean.” Louis makes an elaborate gesture of inhaling all the heavenly scents in the shop. “This is amazing. At least for like, the first few minutes. Might get a headache in a bit.”

Harry agrees. As natural as all the scents and products are, it is a lot to take in. “You’ve decided on what you’re getting them?”

Louis shakes his head. “Might just get like, a gift card. They’re so picky about their stuff, I’ll probably get like… the wrong kind of tangerine when they only accept mandarin, or something.”

“Was it thirteen they’re turning?” There’s an idea forming in Harry’s head, which is quite admirable, as the fuses in the air are starting to clutter his head.

“Fourteen.”

“We could like,” Harry takes another sniff of a pink glittery bath bomb that is just over the top enough and neutral in its grapefruit scent that he wants it, “get them a tour? Of the factory?”

“They do that?” Louis turns to look at Harry.

Harry shrugs. “I’m sure mum would be happy to. If it’s like, not boring to them, seeing how things are made, I’m sure they could like, do something themselves.”

“Really?”

It’s fucking endearing how the thought of getting his little sisters something they’d love seems to spark up Louis’ eyes to be an even deeper shade of blue.

“Yeah. My mum adores your mum, and I’m sure she’d be happy to bring joy to anything that came out of her.”

Louis smiles bright and comes over to peck Harry’s lips. “That’s a brilliant idea. Thank you.”

Harry smiles, closing his eyes briefly as he nuzzles his cheek against Louis’. “Just going to pay for his and then we can get out of here.”

Louis looks around, spotting Bess getting glammed up by one of the staff members. “Bess! We’re going.”

Harry muses how surprisingly easy it’s been, forgetting when the crew is accompanying them. Neil and Leeroy use smaller equipment when they’re out somewhere, no huge mics hanging in front of their faces, and Bess… Well, bless her heart, she just seems to enjoy hanging out when it’s not time for interviews when she puts on her menacing producer-face and asks easy questions that Harry always seems to be taken aback by, mumbling pointless answers and probably painting himself as a bumbling buffoon in front of the nation.

He needs to convince Louis that they won’t watch a single second of the programme when it airs.

Harry turns to talk to Bess as she catches up with them. “Could you… not use the bit where we talk about my mum and the tour? I don’t want them to get bombarded with requests for tours.”

“Sure,” Bess says absentmindedly as she smells her hands, a little glittery with whatever she had been pampered with. “Or, you know, maybe you can bribe me with a gift card.”

“Could do with a coffee,” Louis interrupts them. “Costa?”

Harry looks at him, surprised. “Costa? Costa Coffee? That chain?”

“Yes,” Louis rolls his eyes. “They do it well.”

“You’ve finally figured out this isn’t LA and you can’t get a, how did you say it, an independent ethical café that isn’t taking your money and putting them into destroying humanity and nature and what coffee is supposed to be?” Harry quotes Louis’ own words from before back to him.

Louis flips him off. “Well, Harry, I have figured that out. Finally. And I also read up on Costa and they’re fine. It’s not like a Starbucks, at least. Plus you like them.”

Harry stops walking, Louis stopping as well as if copying him. “What?” Louis looks confused.

Harry tilts his head, looking at Louis deep in thought. “Have you ever… thought of getting a perm?”

Louis bursts out laughing. “A perm?”

“You know,” Harry runs his fingers through his hair, “curls.”

“Think my hair is a bit too short for that,” Louis says, still snickering. “But I have actually been thinking about maybe letting it grow a bit.”

Harry’s eyebrows rise up. “You have? Since when? And like, why?”

Louis shrugs. “Just a thought I’ve had. I don’t know, I’ve never had my hair very long, might be a nice change.”

“Jesus,” Harry sighs loudly and rubs his eyes. He makes eye contact to Bess, making a gesture with his head that hopefully Bess will understand is a plea to give them some privacy.

Bess catches on, tapping Neil and Leeroy on their arms and nodding them to already go inside the café nearby.

“What?” Louis spreads his arms to empathise the question.

“Who even are you?” Harry blurts out, mentally kicking himself as soon as the words are out. This was not how he was hoping to go there.

Louis stares at him, wordless, face expressing complete puzzlement.

“I’ve known you for, what. Almost four weeks now? And I think you’re great, I really do,” Harry starts, voice softer. “I just… Sometimes it feels like I don’t really know who you are, though. Like maybe you don’t know who you are.”

“I know myself, thank you very much,” Louis snaps and crosses his arms on his chest defensively.

“Do you?” Harry offers not unkindly. “I know you’re funny, and smart, and… lovely, but it’s like.” Harry stops, trying to find words to soften the blow until he comes to the conclusion that what he really needs to say isn’t going to stop being a little offensive no matter what words he uses to say it. “Sometimes I’m not sure if it’s really you or just things you’ve picked up from your exes, or things you’re picking up from me.”

Louis face scrunches, as if dark clouds gathering before thunder strikes. “The fuck’s that supposed to mean?”

“Don’t you think you maybe, uhm, have a habit of… morphing into your partners?”

“No,” Louis huffs, clearly offended. “That’s a bit rich. Really unnecessary.”

“Is it? I mean, you went all black and heavy metal with that goth guy. Died your head blonde and turned into this woke Californian with Zad. And now, with me, you’re thinking of growing out your hair?”

Louis shakes his head, muttering under his breath something Harry can’t make out.

“And the avocados?” Harry pushes on.

“Can you let the fucking avocados go!” Louis drags his palms down his face, frustrated.

“Can you let the avocados go?”

“I’m not holding onto any avocados.”

“You are.”

Louis pushes his arms forward, turning them around. “How many avocados do you see me holding?”

“I didn’t mean actual avocados.”

“What kind of avocados did you mean then?”

The ridiculousness of the situation – standing on the street, in front of Costa Coffee, fighting about avocados – suddenly hits Harry and he tries to stifle his laughter at how ridiculous this all is.

But it is, aside from the seemingly fruit-related row, something Harry thinks it’s very important.

“You don’t… You don’t need to be such a people pleaser. You can just be you. It’s not… Like, I get the thing with Zad hurt you, and you said yourself he changed you, but like. You don’t need to live up to anyone’s standards or morph into them. I swear I’ll like you even if we don’t always agree on stuff.”

“I don’t try to morph into anyone, or live up to anyone’s standards,” Louis grits through his teeth, putting his hands on his pockets.

“Remember our wedding day?”

“Yes.”

“And the quiz Lottie and Rosie did?”

Louis nods.

“You didn’t… You couldn’t even say what your favourite colour is.”

“How is that in any way meaningful?”

Harry shrugs. “Just, feels like you don’t really know yourself. Like you don’t know what you think unless you have someone to agree with?”

“You’re saying I’m a doormat? A pushover?”

Harry snorts. “You’re very clearly not. I just… wish you’d have more faith in yourself. Being who you are and not what others expect you to be. Including me.”

--

Louis is seething. Harry’s being so unnecessary right now, and Louis just wants to run away to the opposite direction and maybe call his mum and whine about what a stupid boy he is married to.

Instead, he grinds his teeth and sits down to one of the chairs by the outside tables, crossing his arms on his chest. Harry’s left standing, looking like the tit he is, looking confused. Louis doesn’t even care if the two tourists in a nearby table are babbling loudly in Italian, looking at them.

Coffee moodboard

“I…” Harry clears his throat. “Did you want that coffee?”

“Yes. Please,” Louis adds as an afterthought because he is polite all by himself, not as a trait he picked up from someone.

“Small chai latte?” Harry confirms as he is opening the door, about to go in.

Louis looks at him, challengingly. “No. A big cappuccino. With lots of sugar.” He sees Harry look surprised. “You weren’t expecting that, were you?”

Harry doesn’t say anything, just goes inside. Louis looks through the window, happy to see the place quite crowded. It should take Harry a few good minutes to come back, so Louis can seethe here in peace.

He’s nothing if not dramatic (and he knows that is definitely a him trait, as his mother has been calling him that ever since he was a toddler), so he pulls out his phone and goes to check his own Instagram, wanting to see proof that he has been quite himself through his own life. He snickers in advance at the thought of showing Harry how he is very much not someone who morphs into his partners or adjusts his personality according to whoever he is with at the time.

The pictures he sees, scrolling down to the very bottom of his profile to the earliest pictures, aren’t actually delivering what he wished for.

Instead, they very annoyingly seem to support Harry’s case.

It doesn’t look like one person’s profile, more like a mash-up of several people. Louis’ appearance, his captions, the whole vibe changes several times throughout the pictures and looking at the years, it does seem to match the people he had been dating at the time. Maybe it really was why – why he had such weirdness adjusting to Harry at first because he is so unlike Zad, so unlike the way Louis himself had been for a while.

Fuck. Harry probably had a point. Maybe Louis should spend a bit time getting to know himself. Or try to learn to be himself, whoever that may be.

He feels like kicking his current self, and maybe each one of these past versions of himself too.

“Here you go,” Harry’s cautious voice interrupts him, and he quickly pockets his phone, not wanting Harry to catch up what he was doing.

“Thanks,” Louis offers in a tone he thinks suggests a truce, taking the coffee from Harry’s hand as he sits down next to Louis.

“I’m sorry,” Harry starts. “That was… Uncalled for, of me.”

Louis takes the lid off from his take away cup, blowing into the coffee to cool it down. “It’s… You weren’t incorrect, I think.”

“No?” Harry’s voice sounds surprised, maybe a little relived.

“I think… You may have had a point.”

“Yeah?”

Louis nods, taking a sip of the coffee. The froth is so light, so fluffy, and Harry clearly had been generous with the sugar. “I’ll think about it. Think about me, and the way I… am. I guess, what I’m trying to say, figure myself out. Become more me, maybe. If I feel like it’s needed.”

And it feels like it’s enough. That with Harry, who made a point of giving him the nudge of acceptance (after making him angry), it might be okay to be whatever he is.

It feels scary. It feels exciting.

--

They’ve fucked enough of times now for Louis to know Harry really likes talking dirty in bed. He reminds Louis of maybe a broken pipe, that you’ve batched but then the pressure gets too much and then the pipe bursts, letting out everything it’s been holding inside.

Louis’ forehead is so sweaty he’s concerned it’s going to drip into his eyes, exhausted by the primitive pounding he’s giving Harry, who’s babbling, words muffled by the pillow as he’s laying on his stomach, arse in the air, but Louis can make out a few words.

“Love it when you fuck me hard, so hard Lou, like I’m just, ah!, made for you to fuck, use me how you want, right there babe,” Harry whines in a guttural voice, tone hitching up and down in the same rhythm with Louis’ deep pushes.

“You can do anything to me, everything, whenever you want, I’m yours to use, just yours,” Harry almost sobs as Louis stops his hips to grab Harry’s leg, hoisting it slowly and carefully so that Harry is forced to move to lie on his side, leg held in the air by Louis who starts quick jabs, losing control in the chase after his orgasm that he just knows is going to make him blackout.

“Yeah, giving it to me so good, so deep, want you to fuck me till I can’t take it anymore, and then keep going, fuck me so hard it hurts, fuck me so I can’t walk, make me likeyour toy,” Harry babbles on, seemingly lost in his mind now, chanting a dirty word after another. “Fuck me till I cry.”

Louis stops still as if being hit by a lightning. Harry seems to shake off his trance, opening his hazy eyes, looking up at Louis, difficulties sharpening his look. “Lou?”

Louis can feel himself get a little softer as he starts pulling out of Harry, carefully and slowly, his cock still too tender. “I don’t… I don’t actually want to make you cry.”

“What?” Harry still looks out of it.

Louis looks down at his dick, all soft now, and pulls the condom off, not wanting to see Harry’s disappointed face.

“Lou? What, what happened?”

Louis sighs, rubbing his eyes. “You said you wanted me to fuck you until you cry.”

“Oh,” Harry blushes a little.

“And I don’t… Like, look. I love it when you talk dirty, I do, it’s so fucking sexy, you have no idea, I just… The idea of fucking you if you’re crying is just. Breaks my heart. Kills my boner.”

“Oh. Okay,” Harry says slowly. “I, uhm. I don’t obviously want you to make me cry. And I don’t think I’d actually want sex to hurt, like, ow. I just… Like thinking it would.” Harry clears his throat, sitting up and opening his arms as an invitation for Louis to come cuddle.

It’s an invitation Louis accepts.

Harry starts petting Louis’ hair softly. “Is it… I mean, I know I say stuff when we’re fucking, it just kind of… happens, but if it’s like something that bothers…”

“It doesn’t bother me,” Louis rushes. “I love it. It’s so hot. You’re so sexy, you have no idea.”  

Harry smiles, clearly feeling a little smug. “I just, sometimes…” he sighs, fingers swirling around Louis’ hair. “You’ve done so many things. In bed. I’m just worried you might think that I’m… boring, or whatever.” He goes quiet for a few moments and then starts again, words coming out slower, as if it’s hard to say them. “I’m afraid I don’t satisfy you.”

“What?” Louis looks up from where he’s leaning against Harry’s chest.

“Like, I want to explore stuff with you, and want to be good to you and like, make sure you’re happy, I just can’t… promise it’ll be super kinky.”

“Okay, whoa, wait,” Louis sits up straighter, running his finger down Harry’s cheek down to his chin and lifting it up. “You’re the best sex I’ve ever had.”

“Shut up,” Harry mumbles, blushing.

“I mean it,” Louis wiggles his hand onto Harry’s, lacing their fingers. “Like sure, I’ve done a lot of things, but it’s not… This is different. This is married sex, with you of all people, and it’s so… intense, every time. Because we can be totally vanilla and do it hungover and be lazy but it’s still… emotions. And that overrules any kind of kinky ever.”

“Promise?” Harry asks quietly.

“I promise.”

“I just don’t want you to feel like… you can’t be yourself, sexually, with me.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever been this much myself, love. You make me feel so… exposed. But in a good way.” He kisses Harry, not leaving his lips as he carries on. “I feel so accepted, with you.”  

It doesn’t take them long to get to the mood again, and it’s the most intimate sex Louis has ever had.

Chapter Text

It’s weird, Louis thinks after he’s read the text message, how sometimes you know from a single text message beep that it won’t be a good message.

He tosses his phone to the end of the bed and it lands with a soft thud, making Harry shift next to him as it hits his feet.

“Morning,” Harry says voice still sleepy.

Louis feels a soft brush of lips on his bare shoulder. “Morning,” he replies before rubbing his eyes.

There’s another soft brush of lips on his shoulder, and a loud silence of a few seconds. “What’s wrong?” Harry then asks, cautiously.

“Nothing,” Louis says and turns to look at Harry, faking a smile as he beeps his nose.

Harry gives him a bored look.

“I’m fine,” Louis doesn’t know if he or Harry is less impressed with his unconvincing tone.

“Louis.” Harry sounds even more bored as he sits up, shifts some more so that any skin contact they had is now gone.

It leaves Louis feeling cold.

Louis contemplates on doing a small lecture of how fine he really is (and making it convincing this time). Something about Harry’s withdrawn body language, or maybe about this new different person – this real Louis who is so bloody invested into this relationship and making it work – stops him.

“I, uhm… got a text message,” he starts.

“I gathered,” Harry says dryly but something in his body language relaxes. He looks like he wants to ask but doesn’t, and it in itself brings Louis into more ease. He can tell in his own way, and Harry trusts he will tell him.

He isn’t ever going to break that trust again.

“It’s from Zad.”

Harry’s eyebrows rise up and he scrunches his nose in annoyance. “The fuck does he want?”

“He’s in London. Said he’d liked to meet up.”

Harry stills. “Oh.” He gets up from the bed, as if in slow motion, looking around for his pants, finally finding them and pulling them up slowly.

“And what did you say?” Harry finally asks, voice going for light but the tension loud for Louis to hear. He is fidgeting with the pull string of his pants, opening it and then tightening it and making a bow. So unnecessary as the knot was fine to keep them up to start with.

He does something so simple in such a hypnotising way that Louis could look at forever.

“Haven’t replied yet.”

Harry nods, finally letting the strings go. “What are you going to say, then?”

“I don’t know. No, probably.”

Harry hums. “I’m going to make coffee,” he then says as he leaves the bedroom. He turns around at the door and looks at Louis. “Come join me when you’re ready.”

It’s not a simple invitation to have morning coffee, Louis knows now. Somehow it has become A Thing; having coffee over big talks. Or having big talks over coffee, whichever. Louis likes it, how it’s an easy sort of step to letting Harry know he wants to talk about something.

They still have regular coffee too.

--

Harry’s really trying to remain calm.

Which is why it annoys him beyond belief how his body, specifically his hands, seem to not be on board with this calmness by the way they are shaking a little, making the coffee cups clink and clank, the cafetière bump into the cupboard creating a loud noise, and how he spills the coffee grounds all over the counter.

He swears he isn’t trying to make noise and be all passive aggressive, but he isn’t sure he believes himself.

“What do you think I should do?” Louis’ voice startles him.

Harry doesn’t look at him. He can’t deal with Louis’ post-sleep fluffy messy hair right now, because seeing it would make him want to touch it, and he doesn’t trust his shaky hands right now. He might end up actually pulling it or poking Louis in the eye.

“What do you think you should do?” He asks instead. He leaves it at that, hoping Louis hears the things left unsaid.

“I… I don’t know.”

“Okay, well, what do you want to do then?” Harry congratulates himself for finally having made two cups of coffee, no more mess, no spilling as he sits down to the table, and also for not telling Louis this really is one of those things he can’t rely on others deciding for him but has to be a big boy and figure it all out himself.

As if even the thought of meeting Zad had dragged Louis backwards immediately into morphing into whatever others thought he should be.

“I don’t know,” Louis groans as he sits down to the table next to Harry, closes his eyes and wraps his hands around the steaming mug and inhales the sweet scent of fresh coffee.

Harry only now notices he had used the Mr and Mr mugs they got for a wedding gift.

Okay, maybe he was being a little passive aggressive.

Louis takes a small sip of his coffee after blowing into it. “I guess I… Sort of want to see him. Just to tell him to sit on a cactus or something. And I also really don’t want to see him. I don’t… like the effect he has on me. Has had on me.” He takes another sip and then looks at Harry. “What do you reckon?”

Harry can’t see his own expression but he knows it’s the we have talked about this ­-glare. He knows his facial expression movements well enough by now.

Apparently so does Louis.

“And I’m not saying this because I want you to decide for me. I’m asking because I don’t want to do something that would hurt you or make you upset.”

Harry stirs his coffee, circling the spoon in the mug. Once again he wonders why on earth he keeps leaving the spoon in, as it’s inconvenient and unnecessary and occasionally pokes his face.

“I think you should go,” he finally says unsurely.

Louis’ face shows no emotion.

Harry continues. “I think it would be… good. For you. To get a sort of closure. And to, I guess, show him how much better you are without him. And…” Harry hesitates for a moment. “Kind of, get him out of your system for good.”

“What do you mean?” Louis looks confused.

“Just that… That you maybe see him as a person and not like, a demon? Or some godlike being? That you can just, I don’t know, acknowledge he exists and you loved him but he doesn’t have power over you anymore. That you can move on.” That we can move on, Harry leaves unsaid.

Louis seems to weigh his words for a long while, until he finally nods. “Yeh, you’re right. I think that too. I think I need… to see him. I don’t want him to hover over me, just like, I want to be over and done with it.” Louis taps the table with his hand as a sign of resolution and gets up. “Right. Gonna reply now.”

“Can you bring my phone too?”

Louis nods. It doesn’t take him long to come back with both of their phones. He sits back down, giving Harry his phone. “I’ll tell him I meet him.”

“When?”

“Tonight.”

Harry starts tapping away at once.

“What are you doing?”

“Asking Gemma out for drinks. I don’t want to sit here alone all evening and work myself into frenzy,” Harry mumbles honestly.

Louis gives him a gentle look. Harry can’t really see it with his eyes focused on his screen, but he can feel it.

“You do know that… There’s nothing to be worked over about. Like I’m… You have nothing to worry about.”

Harry nods overly perkily. “I know I’ve got nothing to worry about from you. I just don’t trust that bag of shit one bit. And I’m not… Like, I don’t mean I fear you would just have a romp in the loo with him, but like. I don’t want him to make you feel like shit.” 

Louis puts his phone away as it makes the send-tone, and pulls Harry closer by his chair. “He might. Make me feel like shit, that is, romps definitely are out of the picture. But it won’t… like, it won’t get to me so badly anymore. I’m more myself now. Proud of who I’m becoming.”

Suddenly Harry feels overwhelmed with emotion, of such utter tenderness for his husband. He doesn’t have words to express it so he just leans over to take Louis’ hand, the one with his wedding band on, and kisses his wedding band.

“So proud of you,” Harry says quietly and gets up from his chair. He doesn’t let go of Louis’ hand but pulls him up with him.

“Where we going?” Louis chuckles.

“Bedroom,” Harry says nonchalantly as he leads Louis towards their bedroom. “If you’re going to see that dickhead, I want you to look fucking blissed out.”

Louis laughs loudly and pinches Harry’s bum, hands already pulling his hands down.

What Harry leaves unsaid and almost unthought, is that if Louis seeing his ex goes all wrong for Harry, he wants to at least have sex with Louis for the one last time.

He might be a good husband but he isn’t perfect.

--

Of course the fight then breaks when the camera crew is around. Harry spares a moment to think of how as a TV viewer he’d be so against himself and Louis ever being able to make this married life work, as most of the material that the camera catches of them seems to be the worst bits of their marriage.

Neither of them had spared a thought to the camera crew coming in the afternoon; first with starting their day with the text message, then being occupied with having sex, and finally being occupied in coming down of that post-sex haze.

“Finally,” Bess huffs as Harry finally opens the door, after they’ve both gotten dressed and somewhat decent. “My hand might be broken from all that knocking.”

“Smells like sex here,” Neil says dryly as a way of greeting them as the crew barges in.

Bess giggles as Harry sees Louis turn as red in the cheeks as he feels his own are. “And looks like it, too,” she winks. “Alright, lads, what are we doing today?”

Harry leaves it to Louis; it’s really his business to talk about. Louis looks lost for a bit, seeking something in Harry’s eyes, but relaxes after Harry gives him an encouraging smile, and listens as Louis explains to camera that he is actually going to see his ex today.

“And that’s… ok with you?” Bess asks Harry, sounding vary.

Harry nods. “I think it’ll be good for Louis. To get closure.”

“So you can move forward,” Bess agrees as she scribbles something down to her ever-present notepad.

“That too.”

“When are you meeting him?” Neil asks. “And where? We need to go ahead and set up the equipment before.”

Louis frowns and looks at Harry quickly. “I… don’t think you guys should come, really.”

“Why?” Bess turns her head to the side, and has this strange wannabe-therapeutical look on her face that she occasionally has.

“I don’t…” Louis looks at Harry again and he looks a little scared.

Which is exactly the thing Harry needs to start actually feeling concerned.

“I don’t want this filmed. I don’t… I’d rather he didn’t know.”

And there. Concern turned to fear. And annoyance.

“You’d rather he didn’t know you’re in this programme?” Harry does his best to not let his voice sound irked.

Louis rubs his nose. “Yeah.”

“Or that you’re married?” Harry crosses his arms.

“I, uhm. That too.” Louis says, looking down.

“Pretty sure he’d figure it out, considering there’s a ring on your finger and all.”

Louis looks like a deer in headlights. “I, eh, I wasn’t thinking of wearing it.”

Oh. I see. You were thinking of going to see your ex and taking your wedding ring off. Right.”

Louis squints his eyes. “Not like that, come on.”

“Like how then? Because to me it seems a little, you know, obvious.”

“You agreed yourself I should go!”

“Didn’t realise you’d go for like, reasons we absolutely did not discuss.”

“What, you think I’d… Go and cheat on you? You don’t trust me?”

“I do trust you, I just don’t get why you wouldn’t tell him about me.”

“Because I don’t want him to like, think this is cheap. That it’s for show. I know him, Harry, he would absolutely not get this at all.”

“So you’re protecting me?” Harry lets out a totally unamused laugh. He can see the crew’s eyes being glued on them but he doesn’t even care.

“Yeah,” Louis lifts his jaw up in defiance. “He doesn’t deserve to know about you. My marriage is none of his business and especially not his business to ridicule.”

There are moments when Harry really hates Louis. This moment is one of those. He can see the reasoning, even be a little bit touched by it, but he’s still pissy. Especially pissy about how Louis seems to see his inner thoughts and looks like he knows he is right and Harry is about to admit to just that.

“You told me this would be a good thing to do for me. For us,” Louis is a dickhead who pulls at all the right strings.

But Harry is a childish person sometimes and he doesn’t even bother denying it.

“I am capable of having several mixed feelings at once,” he huffs and then turns to Bess. “You can tag along with me but just so you know, I’m going to get really fucking drunk and I will not wear a mic.”

--

It’s not really butterflies that turn Louis’ stomach when he walks into the bar and sees the familiar blonde head on a corner table. What he feels isn’t that overwhelming desire anymore; it’s more chills at seeing his ex for the first time in many months. Seeing the face and body that he used to have his world turn around, and later something Louis has realised turned himself into a mess of a person.

He stops on his feet as their eyes meet, that familiar glint lighting up in Zad’s brown eyes and his mouth melting into that familiar sexy smirk. Louis has to fight against the panic mode to turn around and leave, instead he psychs himself to carry on walking. This is good, he reminds himself. This is good for him. This isn’t his life anymore.

It’s so typically Zad, Louis realises as he gets closer and sees Zad is holding court with a few other vaguely familiar faces from LA. He didn’t tell Louis it’d be any one but them. Somehow, even still, he seems to blindside Louis into situations Louis didn’t know were coming.

“Hi babe,” Zad says as he gets up and gives Louis an admiring look from head to toe. “Looking good.”

“Hi Zad,” Louis says, feeling a little claustrophobic in the situation as he leans in for Zad to give him a kiss on the cheek, out of old habit maybe. It feels scratchy and unfamiliar, and Louis pulls away quickly, leaving Zad to linger with raising his eyebrows in surprise. “Welcome to London,” Louis then says.

Zad laughs, waving around the other men at the table. “You remember the guys?”

They nod and wave to Louis’ lazily.

“Yeah,” Louis nods and exchanges hello’s.

“Have a seat,” Zad then gestures the others to move so Louis can squeeze in next to him. “Good to see you,” he says earnestly as he squeezes Louis’ shoulder. “You look good,” he continues, licking his lips and his stare at Louis lasts a little too long.

“You look good too,” Louis isn’t even lying. Zad is a fine species. “This is so weird,” he then breathes out.

“No need to be weird,” Zad taps his shoulder and pecks the waiter to them. “Just old friends meeting up,” he smiles to Louis as he orders another bottle of red wine and another glass to the table.

Louis clears his voice. “Uhm, actually, can I just get a pint of Carlsberg?” He directs his words to the waiter who nods and hurries away.

Zad lets out a whistle. “A beer?”

“Yeah,” Louis nods defiantly. “I’ve noticed I’m actually quite fond of beer.”

“Alright, alright,” Zad lifts his hands up in the air as if in defense. “I guess it’s a British thing, after all.”

“Or a me-thing,” Louis mumbles as he takes a gulp of his beer which has come to the table.

“Didn’t used to be, that’s all. Just surprised.”

“I’ve found there’s a lot of me-things there didn’t used to be,” Louis says evenly. “So weird, hearing your voice,” he says then, mostly to himself.

Zad lets out a deep chuckle that used to get Louis half naked. It leaves him with no desire to stay anything but fully dressed, anymore. “Yours, too. You have a thicker accent than I remembered.”

The sense of approval from Zad surprises Louis, or perhaps it’s how important it still feels to have approval from Zad. To feel liked and not like he’s an unlikable person. That somehow he still is within good books of Zad.

But the more he listens to Zad – not really bothering to even ask how Louis is or what he’s up to these days – go on about funny stories about Los Angeles, how fucking sick the latest Burning Man was, how old-fashioned London feels and especially how stiff and not free spirited the people are (using an example of a guy he met last night in the club who had been all pissy about not fucking in the toilet), the more Louis realises he just… Doesn’t care. He literally doesn’t care about Zad’s life or feelings or opinions.

Life is short and this situation and this person is not something he wants to give more time to.

Suddenly Louis is stirred back into reality from his meanderings, as he feels a squeeze on his thigh, a squeeze bit too hard and a lot too close to his dick. At the same time, there’s moistness and a warm breath near his ear.

“I’ve met someone,” Louis says factually as he takes Zad’s hand off his thigh and puts it back to Zad’s own lap, turning his head further from Zad’s mouth.

Zad drowns his wine and shuffles back in closer to Louis. “I don’t mind.”

Louis moves further away from him. “He would. I do.”

Zad looks puzzles. “What, he’s not… You don’t have an open relationship with him?”

“Nope,” Louis pops the p.

“Isn’t that… weird for you? You’re polyamorous, after all.”

Louis bites his lip and puts his pint down on the table deliberately slow to avoid himself from pouring it all over Zad’s over bleached head. “I’m not, actually.”

“You used to be. You can’t let someone decide your sex life for you, you know,” Zad sounds condescending.

“I know. And I’m not, not anymore.” Louis says with heavy meaning between the lines.

It takes a while to sink into Zad and then he huffs. “I never forced you into anything. You were fine with us sleeping with other people, quite a fan of it, remember?”

Louis nods. “I remember. I remember being so fucking into you, such a fan of you that I just wanted to do whatever you wanted. Now I’m doing what I want, and I want to be with just one person. This one person.”

“I don’t know you at all anymore,” Zad says and he looks a little sad.

“You probably don’t. Considering I never knew myself with you. I’m just getting to know myself. And I like what I’m learning to know,” Louis says and he feels so fucking strong and proud for hearing himself say that – and even more for feeling he means what he says.

Louis downs the bottom of his beer and wipes his mouth to the back of his hands, and then turns to look at Zad. “Hey, Zad?”

“Yeah?”

“Knock, knock.”

“Oh come on,” Zad rolls his eyes.

“You know how this goes, come on.”

Fine. Who’s there?”

“Me.”

“Me who?”

“Me who wishes you all the best, truly,” Louis squeezes Zad’s shoulder lightly. “I wish you all the best. A happy life. We won’t see each other again, probably, but I hope you get what you want out of life.”

He leaves Zad looking puzzled, doesn’t bother to bid farewell to the other LA lads but thanks the waiter as he leaves the bar, leaves the remains of his old self or whatever he even was, behind as he digs out his phone and tells Harry he’s going home now, and to say hi to Gemma. He then puts his ring back onto his finger and it doesn’t feel tight or strange, it feels like it’s exactly where it belongs.

Harry isn’t nearly as drunk when he gets home as his words to Bess threatened him to be. He seems to be trying to sneak in with as little sound as possible, closing the front door softly behind him. He looks surprised to see Louis home already, sitting on the sofa.

“Hi,” Harry says quietly, testingly.

“Hi,” Louis answers with an equally soft voice, patting the sofa next to him to gesture Harry to come sit next to him.

Louis watches quietly as Harry takes off his coat, his shoes, tosses his keys to the side table and they fall down, and Louis already knows Harry is going to be searching for them frantically tomorrow. He makes a mental note to pick them up before they go to bed.

“Good night?” Louis asks conversationally as Harry sits down next to him, leaning back to the cushions.

“Was alright,” Harry yawns. “And… how was yours?” He looks at Louis, looking very young and timid with hanging onto whatever Louis might say next.

Louis wiggles his toes against Harry’s thigh, trying to ease some of the tension.

“Boring. Eyeopening. Good.”

“Yeh?” Harry looks at Louis with a cautious small smile.

“Yeah,” Louis nods. “It didn’t… It didn’t feel like anything. Seeing him. It was… cathartic, I guess, realising I don’t care anymore. He has no meaning to me anymore.”

Harry nods. “So good?”

“Very good,” Louis smiles and leans into Harry, putting his arms around him. He kisses his temple. “Thank you.”

Harry turns to look at Louis, snuggling close and kissing his jaw. “You’re welcome. Not sure what for, though.”

“Being you. Being my husband. Marrying me, I suppose.”

Harry chuckles. “Not like I had a choice, really. I mean, you know I’m into rom coms but not really keen to make a scene and pretend to be Julia Roberts in my own life and ditch you at the altar.”

“Plus I doubt you can even ride that well.”

“HEY!”

Louis laughs. “Ride horses, I mean. I know your other riding skills.”

“I hate you,” Harry says as he flicks his fingers on Louis’ forehead and kisses him.

“You loooove me,” Louis insists in a mocking voice, tickling Harry’s sides which he knows he hates.

Harry stills and it hits Louis what he just said.

“I think I do,” Harry breathes out as if he’s out of breath. He traces his finger down Louis cheek and Louis feels like he might burst. Or cry. Or climb to the slippery rotten rooftop and do some yelling.

Instead, he brushes the loose curls off Harry’s forehead. He’s so beautiful.

“I think I love you too.”

He nuzzles in, kissing both of Harry’s dimples brightly on show as Harry beams, kissing his nose, his forehead and finally his lips. “I never thought this would happen,” he breathes as he pulls Harry on top of him and between his legs, hands finding their way under Harry’s hoodie, touching the soft skin on his warm back, putting his fingerprints everywhere.

“That what would happen?” Harry mumbles against his neck, lips sucking on his skin.

“That I’d find love. Be married. Be married to someone as good as you,” Louis stops as Harry sucks a little bit harder and Louis curls his toes.

Harry has a very small shade of beard and it doesn’t hurt or feel uncomfortable when it scratches his skin.

“Funny that, having applied to a telly show to get married to find love,” Harry hums as he pulls the collar of Louis’ t-shirt down to gain access to his collar bone and place kisses there.

Harry’s lips feel too good for Louis to think straight.

“I didn’t though, never wanted to do this, so good I got you, she really knew all along, knew you’d be so right for me,” he mumbles as suddenly the lips leave his skin and the weight on top of him switches.

“What?”

Louis opens his eyes, seeing Harry is now sitting on top of him, arms crossed and he has the blankest look on his face. “What?” Louis asks a counter question, he is still in a daze and can’t really follow what is happening here.

“She who?”

“She who what?”

Harry shakes his head and gets off of Louis, and something about his demeanour is making Louis sit up straight too.

“You said you never wanted this? But she knew all along? About me?” Harry’s voice is getting slower the further he talks and Louis realises then that he is, in fact, in deep shite.

So deep in fact that apparently he is unable to open his mouth so he doesn’t sink into it.

“Louis?” Harry sounds shrill now. “What the fuck are you saying?”

Stopping himself before he says he’s actually not saying anything right now, Louis quickly thinks of a good white lie to get out of this mess. Then he does the mistake of looking at Harry, who looks like he’s on the verge of tears, sad or angry who knows, tears anyway.

This is his husband. Who loves him. Who he loves. As evidential from just a few moments ago. Who he has promised to be honest to, and talk about even the very hardest things.

Louis takes a deep breath. “I, uhm. I didn’t ever actually apply to the show.”

“What.”

“Look,” Louis tries but Harry shakes his head. “It’s not what you think. Not that I know what you think, but, uhm.”

“You didn’t apply to the show,” Harry repeats slowly.

“No.”

“And that you didn’t want to do this.”

“Uhm. Yes.”

“This as in…” Harry does a vague gesture with his hand at nothing. “The show? Get married?”

“The show, I think.”

“You didn’t… want to find love and get married?”

Louis closes his eyes. “No.”

Harry lets out a breath. “Oh. Okay. Right.” He is quiet for a bit, gets up from the sofa and then turn to look at Louis. “How the fuck am I married to you then?”

He resembles a dragon surprisingly a lot, considering he has no gills and can’t fly, but it does look alarmingly like he might breathe fire.

Louis gets up from the sofa as well, taking a step towards Harry who takes a step further backwards.

“I… I think we should have coffee,” Louis eventually offers.

Harry doesn’t say anything but takes his dragonlike self and stomps to the kitchen, making sure he bangs every single drawer and cupboard he comes in touch with.

 

Chapter Text

Louis didn’t want to marry.

Louis didn’t want to marry.

Louis didn’t want to marry.

Louis didn’t want to marry.

And yet, he is married to Louis in this moment in time.

It makes Harry nauseous. The world is spinning and he is married to someone who didn’t want to marry but did so for some unfathomable reason.

He married someone who was doing the show just for… shits and giggles? Whilst Harry really was so ready to find The One, to settle down, to work his ass off to make a marriage work, putting his whole heart and full trust into experts seeing his real self and matching himself up with someone that would be his best possible husband.

And Louis didn’t want to marry.

How the fuck had he been so stupid! Harry should’ve seen it, fuck, he had felt something was off, all the way back in Amsterdam, why hadn’t he trusted his gut instinct and just have it out with Louis, before he fell into being married to him so easily, fell in love with Louis like it was the most right thing he’d ever done.

Harry bites his lip so he wouldn’t cry. Then he stops the biting. He can cry if he wants, he’s so fucking hurt right now, and Louis should know it. See it.

“Please don’t cry,” Louis pleads. “I don’t want to see you sad.”

“Well you made me sad,” Harry spits with venom.

“I don’t… I’m sorry. Can I just, I just told you I love you. And I do. I absolutely honestly do.”

“Well, Louis, you say that, but you also said ‘I do’ and apparently that was a lie so.”

“This isn’t…” Louis rubs his eyes with his hands. “It’s not a lie. Our relationship is not a lie.”

“Just started based on a lie,” Harry quips.

“Yes.”

The truth is so bland and clear.

“But, no matter how it started, it got so real so soon.”     

“How exactly did it start, then? Like I wanted to find ‘the one’,” Harry emphasises with air quotation marks, “so I applied to the show and hoped for the best.”

“I, uhm,” Louis doesn’t look at Harry, his fingers nervously fidgeting with his own fringe. “Jane is my aunt.”

What. What.

“What?” Harry whispers so menacingly that he is almost scared himself. “Jane? As in our expert? The one we meet weekly and talk about our marriage to?” It feels like he might be taken over by a very angry demon the more he talks. “Jane is your aunt?”

Louis nods. “Jane is my aunt. Actually, uhm, she’s that favourite aunt you didn’t meet in our wedding.”

Harry laughs out, voice so dry it’s almost crackling. Nothing is funny, nothing will probably ever be funny again, but he doesn’t know how else to react. “Please explain. I’m having difficulties understanding how the fuck these pieces fit together.”

Louis coughs to clear his voice. “So, Jane called me one day, not too long after I’d come back. Told me about this show she’s doing for telly. I didn’t… It sounded ridiculous to me, if I’m honest…”

“Oh, please be honest,” Harry flies his hands up in the air. “Must be a nice change for you.”

Louis gives him a look, but carries on. “So she explained about the show, and like, she hasn’t been… a fan, I guess, of my life choices. Thinks I have an awful taste in men and I’d deserve the best person, and I guess she thought she… Told me about this one person who’d applied to the show, and who she absolutely adored, and thought…”

“That I’d be the perfect match for you,” Harry ends Louis’ sentence.

Louis nods, biting his lip. “And… I didn’t think, really, I mean I know she always has my best interests in mind so when she told me about you and how absolutely certain she was that we’d be amazing together, I just. Said fine.”                                                                                                                                            

A long silence falls to the room.

Finally Harry speaks again. “Would you ever have even told me?” His voice is getting more shrill the more he talks – the more the awful thoughts of having been conned, the heartbreaking feelings of being a fool, invade his mind. Not only deceived by Louis, but Jane as well, who he has trusted and who they have met so many times together. Probably they’ve been texting behind Harry’s back, laughing at how gullible he is being.

“Probably not. I honestly haven’t even thought about it in ages, like, I can so clearly see why she thought we’d be… I didn’t think it’d matter with how good we are.”

“It matters to me.”

“But does it like… Now, anymore. Does it really change anything?” Louis looks like he is trying to appeal to Harry.

“Louis. This changes everything.” Harry feels as sad as he sounds.

He gets up from the table, puts his mug into the sink, leaves the kitchen without a word and goes to the bathroom. He takes a piss and washes his hands, stares into the mirror and washes his eyes with cold water.

Louis hasn’t followed him and is not waiting behind the door as Harry opens it, and he isn’t sure how he feels about it. Harry walks to the front door, and starts to put his shoes on. From the side of his eye, he can see Louis is still sat still by the kitchen table.

He looks very tiny and hunched into a small pile. Their eyes meet as he looks up.

“I… I’m going to leave, now,,” Harry says not unkindly, because he is not an unkind person, even when he is so angry as he is now. “I need some time alone.”

“Okay,” Louis nods and gets up from his seat.

Harry watches Louis walk to him, half expecting for a hug, but instead Louis bends down by the sidetable and picks his keys from the floor.

“You dropped these earlier,” Louis says, keeping his eyes firmly the keys.

“Thank you.” Harry looks at Louis quickly, but he still has his eyes on the floor. “I… I just need to think, okay?”

“Okay.” Louis’ voice is very quiet and a little broken.

“We’ll talk about this later, okay?” Harry fights the urge to reach his hand to Louis.

Louis doesn’t say anything, just nods.

Harry opens the door and leaves.

Maybe sometimes there are days when nothing is good.

--

The silence in the morning is deafening. Louis can’t hear any humming, no clinking of dishes and cupboards and coffeemaking, no Harry.

He couldn’t sleep at all last night, with no sleepy snuffling to be heard next to him; his body constantly feeling cold from the lack of warm skin pressed to it. Louis had been tossing, turning, staring at his phone and starting messages at least ten times, deleting them equally as many, hours of the night spent with his nose in Harry’s pillow and arms around it. Wondering how the fuck he’d gotten himself into this.

The weirdest thing of his life turning into the very best thing and then into something he fucked up and possibly, probably, hopefully not lost forever in a blink of an eye. In an unthoughtful moment of babbling.

Sighing, Louis gets up from his bed – their bed – and once spotting a crumpled yellow sock on the floor, automatically picking it up and tossing it to the laundry basket, feels a dull ache in his chest. He’d be happy picking up dirty socks from the floor, to be Harry’s house elf until the end of his life, if it meant he’d be allowed to still share a home with Harry.

He goes through the motions of making a cup of coffee, staring without seeing out of the kitchen window, feeling like the bright sun making its way up is mocking him. Nothing bright, no sunshine, about this day. He looks at his phone again, only to see no messages or calls from Harry. He fights the urge to check his social media – Harry isn’t keen on updating his channels anyway, and as much as Louis wants to look at pictures of Harry like a creepy creep, he knows it’s not a good idea. Doesn’t stop him from having a longer than needed look at his background picture, of Harry kissing his cheek with a smile on his lips, with Louis squinting his eyes closed and a happy smile on his face. It’s grey in the background, water drops all over Harry’s hair, but it’s the best picture he has ever taken. Louis then opens his messages again, starting to write something to Harry but then deletes it. This isn’t his message to write, it’s not his first step to take.

He goes back to his contacts and chooses another number though, dialling it without even sparing it a second thought.

“This better be important, Louis. Do you know what time it is?” A sleepy female voice groans after picking up almost instantly.

“Morning, Aunt Jane. Harry’s left.”

--

Gemma is not only Harry’s only sister but also his favourite sister. She knows Harry so well that with only one look at Harry’s miserable self pounding on her door late last night, she had immediately pulled out the gin and the tonic without saying a word. She’d been sitting in a companionable silence, letting Harry have a cigarette out of the window with minimal scoffing, until only after downing the first drink Harry had started first raging and then moved quickly to weeping. She’d let Harry sleep next to her instead of in the guest room, and rubbed Harry’s hands like she used to when they were younger and Harry was ill or sad.

Harry is not only Gemma’s only brother but also her best brother.

“Is this an apology for smoking inside?” Gemma asks first when she comes into the kitchen, hugging Harry lightly as he’s making omelettes by the stove.

“Maybe,” Harry leans in on her hug and adds in the cut cherry tomatoes on the omelette. “And also a thank you, for like, you know.”

“Everything?” Gemma says briskly as she picks out a piece of cut avocado from a cutting board on the kitchen counter and pops it to her mouth.

“Everything.”

Gemma nods. “Apology accepted. You also owe me a bottle of gin, mind.”

“I’ve also made pancakes?”

“With whipped cream?”

Harry looks offended. “What, as if they’re even worth having without?”

“Alright then. I can restock my own gin.”

Harry quickly finishes the omelettes and dishes up two plates with avocado salad and omelettes, putting them on the table already boasting a plate with an impressive pile of crispy golden pancakes scattered with blackberries and strawberries (and a bowl of whipped cream).

“Didn’t know I even had all this stuff,” Gemma wonders as they sit down to eat.

“You obviously didn’t. Went to the shops.”

“Couldn’t sleep?” Gemma’s voice reeks of pity.

Harry doesn’t mind. He is feeling pitiful, after all. He shakes his head. “Think I did a little, mostly because of all that gin, but I woke up at like dawn and then just… Couldn’t fall asleep again. So thought I might as well do something nice.”

“Something very nice,” Gemma sighs blissfully as she’s chewing the first mouthful of her omelette. “This is divine. Thank you.”

“Glad you like it,” Harry says as he digs his fork in.

They eat in silence, plates soon empty. Harry gets up to pour more coffee to their mugs.

“You have your wedding ring on.” Gemma says, trying to sound nonchalant.

Harry glances at his ring and subconsciously rubs the palm-side of it a little with his thumb. “I, uhm. I am still married.” For now, he adds to himself silently as he puts the coffee pot away and sits back down to the table.

Gemma shrugs. “Oh I know. Just, last night you were so adamant on taking it off and either feeding it to Louis or eating it yourself to be done with, how did you put it, agonising pain from heartbreak.”

Harry groans as he lets his forehead hit the wooden table a little too hard. “I think… You need to do a recap of what was said last night,” he says ashamed as he rubs his forehead. “I assume you gave excellent advice but I remember none of it.”

“Didn’t really give any advice. Just let you rant. Was being a good sister and agreeing with you on everything,” Gemma says as she sips her orange juice. “I thought it’d be better to have a proper talk this morning. After you’ve, you know, slept on it. You didn’t really make sense last night, mate. Kept saying Louis is a dickhead who broke your heart and then telling yourself off for overreacting and being the real dickhead here and then went back to cursing Louis in rather creative ways, I must admit.”

Sounds about right, Harry thinks. Sounds about what he’d still say now, so many confusing emotions running around in his head and heart.

“What exactly happened? You said Louis has lied to you? Deceived you?”

“Yeah.”

“You need to give me details, Haz. I need to know if I need to scalp him or set fire to him or just have stern words and throw a drink.”

Gemma really really is Harry’s very best sister.

“He didn’t… He told me he never actually wanted to marry me.”

“He didn’t want to marry you?” Gemma’s eyes lit up in dangerous fire.

“No, he said he was happy he was married to me now, but he didn’t like… He didn’t actually apply to the programme. He didn’t sign up for it.”

Gemma looks confused. “Okay, now I’m confused. He didn’t apply but… he is in the programme? You two got married and all.”

“He was headhunted, Gemma. He didn’t actually sign up to marry his perfect partner, like I did. He didn’t throw away everything just on the possibility of finding his perfect person. Not like I did.”

Gemma’s now rubbing her temples with her index fingers. “I’m still confused. Let me get this right. He didn’t sign up for the programme?”

“He didn’t.”

“He didn’t actually sign up to be married to a stranger?”

“He sure didn’t.”

“But he did marry you? A stranger. On telly.”

“He did.”

“The fuck, Harry?” Gemma looks utterly confused; her face scrunches up and her nose tweaks with the face, like Harry knows his own does when he gets confused.

Harry takes a big inhale. “Someone he knows works in the production and… I guess when I applied, this someone thought I would be perfect match for Louis who they knew, and convinced Louis to like… Be on board. He was not an applicant, but he was picked out involuntarily to be married to me.”

“That’s not… Involuntarily, really, like I saw no gun points around him in the altar when you got married?”

Gemma is so fucking dramatically rational sometimes, it’s very annoying. “No, not a gunpoint like, he did do it out of free will but like. He wasn’t serious about this marriage. He was just doing it because he had nothing else to do. And whoever got him into it, like mated me to him as if… I thought I was getting a husband who also wanted to find the love of his life. Who was serious about committing and giving this a chance, a proper chance.”

Gemma bites her lip and stays quiet for a little too long for Harry’s liking. “Alright. That’s so shitty, honestly.”

“Right?” Finally she’s seeing Harry’s completely allowed side. “He basically made me fall in love and work for a marriage that he was never that serious about. And he didn’t tell me, and wasn’t going to tell me ever. And like, I don’t know who this person is, who Louis is or like who the person who convinced him into this is, so now I’m like. Not trusting anyone involved, like, I feel so fucking played like this wasn’t about two people becoming married, it was about me being a fucking pawn to I don’t know, save Louis or something.”

Gemma bends her head and gives Harry a comforting look, she drags her chair closer to Harry’s and puts her hand around his shoulders, gently patting Harry’s head to her shoulder.

“I’m sorry, babe. I really am. I can’t imagine how it must feel.”

“Feels like shit. Like my life is a joke.”

Gemma starts stroking Harry’s hair gently. “But… It is a super shitty way to start this, absolutely it. But he… He said he loves you? Like really loves you now?”

Harry shrugs. “Yeah, he said that. I just… Don’t know if I can trust that he means it. If he loves me or if he like, just enjoys that I’m not completely awful, or if this is just a part of his and his cronies’ plot for making good TV. On my expense.”

“He doesn’t seem like a person who… pretends to be emotionally available if he isn’t,” Gemma says quietly and squeezes Harry a little tighter. “I’m not making excuses for him, I will cause him bodily harm if needed, but… I think he loves you. Really.”

Harry doesn’t know if Gemma is right, doesn’t know if there’s any truth in her words, but God he would love to be right. Harry would really, really want Louis to love him for him.

Gemma carries on. “I honestly think you guys can fix this. It probably won’t be easy or nice but I think you can two can do it. Like… I have seen you together.”

“You’ve probably seen what he wants you to see,” Harry says bitterly.

The look Gemma gives him is all too familiar to Harry; it’s a mix of pity and boredom. “You can’t fake that sparkle in his eyes whenever he looks at you.”

“Maybe he uses eyedrops,” Harry mopes and bites his lip then to stop himself from laughing. He sounds ridiculously ridiculous even to himself.

Gemma rolls her eyes and shuffles Harry’s hair, as if to mark her job as a big sister to try and cheer Harry up or at least see some sense is now done.

“Have you heard from him?” She asks as she starts clearing the table.

“Nope,” Harry pops the p. “Nothing.”

“Is he… I mean, you were at a right state when you came here. You probably left at a state, too.”

“What are you saying?” Harry’s annoyed at how Gemma is somehow trying to reason Louis’ silence into something reasonable.

“I’m just saying,” Gemma is clearly weighing her words carefully, “that you were probably well pissed off and angry when you left. So he’s probably giving you time to, cool off I guess, thinking you’ll be in touch with him when you’re ready?”

That does sound reasonable. Harry isn’t feeling reasonable right now.

“He doesn’t even know where I am! I could be in a gutter or like, trying lethal drugs under a bridge in Brixton. He doesn’t give a shit.”

“Right, of course, sure,” Gemma has the audacity to roll her eyes. “Louis wouldn’t even think you’d come over to your sister who lives five minutes away from you and who is your best friend and confidant and has ample amounts of gin.”

“Shut up,” Harry says after coming up with nothing else to say. “So do you think I should talk to him now?” He says, slowly, after a little while.

“Do you want to talk to him now?” Gemma asks levelly.

--

Aunt Jane sounds exasperated on the other end of the line and it’s so fucking unfair, Louis thinks, because it is really all her fault to start with. She got Louis into this mess.

“This isn’t my mess, Louis,” she snaps. “Harry was never supposed to know!”

“Well he does!”

“And whose fault is that, hmm? Do you realise I could lose my job, my entire career, for this!”

Louis really wants to hang up on her. “Do you realise I am about to lose my husband?”

Aunt Jane scoffs. “Oh please. You aren’t losing anything.”

“My marriage is on the line here!”

“A marriage you never would’ve even had without me, may I remind you. A marriage you never even knew you actually wanted.”

Louis can vividly see his aunt squint her eyes, they are piercing blue like his mums and rather scary when she wants them to be, despite giving out an image of such a warm motherly figure. “It’s a marriage I want to keep, now.”

Aunt Jane says nothing but Louis can virtually see her face soften. “I… Louis, darling, I’m sorry. I guess we… Best intentions don’t always result in the best choices of action.”

Louis bites his lip and refuses the tears away. “But what can I do? How can I fix this?”

“I’ve given you enough of tools to make this marriage work. Time to put your big boy pants up and get to work. You’re a big boy and this is your thing now, you have to fight for it. Fight for him.”

“I haven’t heard of him since he left, no text even, nothing.”

“And you haven’t thought of getting in touch with him?” Aunt Jane sounds incredulous.

It takes Louis by surprise. “No, I mean… I wanted to give him space. So he can come to me when he’s ready.”

The ‘tut’ sound is very loud on the line. “Right. So let me get this straight; your husband left, upset, last night, you are both sad, he’s angry, and you haven’t even let him know that you are heartbroken and hope he is okay and you two manage to sort this out?”

“I… Yes.” Louis mentally kicks himself. “I thought I was doing the right thing.”

“Did you? Did you really? Or were you just being a baby about it? Haven’t you learnt anything about how to deal with your husband during the weeks?”

Louis is getting actually angry now. “You have no need to mean to me, Jane. I called you for help and not to be scolded at. This is not all my fault.”

“I was doing you a favour, Louis! Was I not correct in Harry being perfect for you?”

“Yeah, you were, he is perfect for me, but now he’s gone. I don’t need to stay on this call listening to you being mean about it.”

“Very true, you don’t. This is your marriage and your husband. You know what to do. You know him and you know yourself, Louis,” Aunt Jane says and finally she sounds like the favourite aunt Louis knows and loves and wanted to get support from.

He fucking hates psychiatrists and their mind games.

“Big boy pants, Louis. You got them. Pull them up. You know what to do if you want to fight for it.”

Aunt Jane stays silent to give Louis time to mull over her words.

“Promise me you’re not just saying that so I can keep him silent and he won’t go public about what we did and ruin your career,” Louis then says quietly, pleadingly.

“Oh Louis,” Aunt Jane says softly. “If my career is the price to pay for your happiness, and Harry’s, I’d consider it a bargain.”

Louis smiles, stopping himself quickly from telling Jane that she’s getting close to retirement anyways.

“If… If he even wants to hear me out, would you… Like, could you come over? After we’ve had a chance to talk. If he wants.”

“Of course, absolutely. Just… You need to talk to him first. And everything you’ve said, it’s so clear to me your heart really is in this for him, so just – be honest with him.”

“I will be,” Louis says earnestly. He has nothing to lose anymore, no barriers to keep up for any kind of appearances.

He bids Jane his farewell, promising to keep her posted, and hangs up. He opens his conversation history with Harry and doesn’t even think twice before tapping his heart out. He doesn’t even reread it, he just pours his feelings out.

I know I hurt you and it feels worse than anything I’ve ever felt. I know you’re so mad and upset with me, and you have every right to be. I want to give you space and time to think, but I want you to know that whenever you feel ready, I’m here for anything you want to say. I guess you’re at Gem’s and I hope you’re ok, and you owe me nothing but if you want, I’d love to know you’re ok. I want to work this out and I want to make this right. I want us to work out so much. x

He has barely had a chance to press ‘send’ when Harry’s name starts blinking on the screen.

“Harry,” Louis says softly as if he’s been holding his breath for a long time and saying Harry’s name is the oxygen he needed.

“Hi,” Harry sounds cautious and a little lovely.

“That was quick. Barely had a chance to send it.”

“Send what?” Harry sounds confused. He’s probably got his nose all scrunched up.

“My, uhm, text message? That I just sent you?”

“I… Didn’t see anything yet.”

“Oh. I thought that’s why you called.” Louis feels disappointed at first, thinking Harry didn’t see any of the heartfelt things he had said in the message.

But.

Harry called him without seeing it.

Harry called him out of his own volition.

Disappointment makes a little room for hopefulness. Just a little, as Louis remembers breakups can also be called about.

“No, I just. Felt like calling.”

“Okay. Good. I’m glad you did. Are you at Gemma’s?”

“Yeah.”

“Are you… okay?”

Nothing is said by Harry for a while. “Not really,” he then says and Louis immediately panics. “I mean, I’m ok, but I’m not… okay.”

“I’m sorry,” Louis says and cringes at how his voice breaks.

“How are you?” Harry then asks, sounding like he means it, and Louis cannot get over how fucking good Harry is.

“Sad. Scared,” Louis says honestly. He hears Harry’s breath hitch.

“Scared of what?” Harry asks quietly. Then he seems to suddenly get a bout of anger, Louis can imagine Gemma waving her fist and egging Harry on. “What, that I’d go public about the fraud? Drag you and your aunt down in the tabloids?” He snaps.

“God, no, jesus Harry, like I’d give a shit about that.”

Harry seems to seethe silently for a few more nanoseconds and then he sighs. “I… I’m sorry. I wouldn’t do that, like, I hope you know that.”

“I know,” Louis says quietly. “I know you wouldn’t. I hope you know that’s not like, at all something I think about or care about.”

“What are you scared of then?” Harry says and his voice is back to being quiet, hesitant, like he’s scared himself of what Louis will say.

“Scared of losing you.” Louis looks down at his wedding ring. “So scared of losing you.”

“You’re not…” Harry starts but then stops. “I don’t know what to think, Lou. Don’t know what to feel.”

A heavy silence falls on the line. It’s not awkward, it’s almost companionable in their shared emotions, in its sorrow.

It’s Harry who finally breaks the silence. “I don’t want to feel like we’re hanging on a loose noose, though. Like, I’d rather come home—"

Louis heart skips a beat at Harry still calling the place where Louis is home.

“—And fight about this and figure out where to go from there, than just. Wasting time hanging about.”

“You’re coming home? Now?”

“Yeah, I mean, if that’s okay?” Harry sounds puzzled.

“Yeah, gosh, yes, please.” Louis finds himself a little shocked that Harry has apparently taken all the time and space needed so quickly. From what he knows Harry, he seems like a person who can seethe for ages.

Maybe he didn’t need that much time to realise Louis is not good for him.

--

Harry’s palms are sweaty as he tries to dangle his keys as little as possible, feeling like every cling and clang echoes loudly in the hallway. It reminds him of when he first tried to open the door, after their honeymoon, when he and Louis came home for the first time.

He wipes his hands to his trousers, just like he did then, and finally gets the door open. The flat is dark, and for a moment Harry is scared he might’ve had it all wrong; that Louis left, that he isn’t here for them to fight it out and hopefully eventually make up.

“Hello?” Harry cautiously raises his voice as he closes the door behind him, dropping the keys onto the side table and hearing the tell-tale sound of the keys dropping onto the floor. They always do that.  

The silence he is met with is almost eerie, and suddenly Harry feels the hairs on his neck stir up as if a premonition that something bad is about to happen.

“Louis?” Harry yells, a little louder, a little more frantic, as he looks around the dark living room, making his way to the kitchen and finally seeing a dark shape on the balcony.

(At least he really fucking hopes it’s Louis.”

It is, Harry’s relieved to see when he steps into the outside. “Hello,” he says carefully.

Louis seems to have been deep in thought, based on how he almost jumps a little at the sound of Harry’s voice and lets out a yelp. “Ah shit, Harry, didn’t think you’d be so quick,” he says, words coming out quickly, as if he’s nervous, but the speed can’t hide that his voice is hoarse.

He’s been crying, Harry realises, and the thought makes him want to weep.

“Why are you sitting here?” Harry asks conversationally, the gusto Gemma and gin had planted on him as a team effort last night feeling like fading very quickly, replaced by thoughts about how it breaks his heart to know that Louis has been crying, how Harry isn’t sure he’s wearing enough clothes for this late at night and is probably going to get a man flu that Harry needs to tend to, and realising he would not mind one bit to make Louis soup and take care of him when he’s ill. Harry sits down on the other chair.

Louis pulls his knees up to his chest, leaning his head sideways onto the knees, looking at Harry’s direction but not meeting his eyes. “Wanted to clear my head. Breathe a little, before you’d come.”

Harry nods. He would’ve probably appreciated the fresh evening air, summer turning into autumn little by little, if he hadn’t been so bloody out of breath and in haste to pretty much run here from Gemma’s.

“I don’t…” Louis stops, hesitating.

He doesn’t seem to know how to continue at all.

“Go on,” Harry says kindly. He feels like he is almost looking at himself from the outside, being surprised at his own behaviour but in a pleasant way. He isn’t as angry as he was yesterday, he is still upset and sad, but… That’s just it. As if they are both sitting here, being sad for different reasons, having hurt and having been hurt.

“I don’t know what the etiquette is, here, like… You want to sit outside? You want a coffee? Should we go inside? For a walk? Are we going to talk or will there be yelling?” Louis rambles. “I don’t know what is going to happen or how it’s going to happen. And it scares me.”

Harry doesn’t know either.

“I guess… Let’s go inside, first. Surely you’re cold?”

“Okay,” Louis says, lifting his head up from his knees, lowering his legs and getting up from the chair. He stretches a little – he must’ve been sitting here for a while.

They go back inside, Harry realising he still has his shoes on. “Would you mind putting the kettle on?” He asks Louis as he goes to the hall and kicks off his shoes.

The flat doesn’t sound so eerily quiet anymore, he notices; at least not with how loud he can hear his own heart beat drumming in his ears as he goes back to the kitchen.

“Did you want coffee or tea?” Louis asks, voice sounding like he is desperately trying to keep it even, keep it light, and like he’s utterly failing.

“Tea, please,” Harry says as he sits down by the kitchen table. He rubs his eyes, as if to wake his mind and brain to whatever it is that’s about to come.

He watches Louis make them both a cup of tea. Harry has seen it numerous times, but this is the first time Louis doesn’t roll his eyes or make vomiting gestures when he puts one, two spoonfuls of sugar into Harry’s tea.

“Thank you,” Harry says politely as Louis sits down, offering him the cup. He waits for Louis to be done stirring his tea, accepts the tea spoon with a nod (as Louis always uses it first so he doesn’t get yucky sugar contaminating his proper cuppa) and takes care to not stir his own tea with the spoon making loud noises clinging to the sides of the cups.

“Are we done for?”

It’s so sudden, so blunt, it shocks Harry and he spills a bit of tea onto the table. Getting up and getting a cloth seems like it’d be rude, break a spell somehow, so Harry pulls down the sleeve of his hoodie and wipes the spilled tea to his leave. “What?” He then says, forgetting all manners his mother ever taught him.

“Are we done for?” Louis asks again, eyes briefly meeting Harry’s before he turns them downwards and stares at his tea instead. “Like, I just need to know, so I can… breathe,” Louis finishes and exhales deeply at the last word. “I want to talk about it either way and I want to do everything I can, but I… I don’t think I can take the suspense. Before knowing if… If you’re going to leave me.” He looks back up at Harry again, eyes glistening, pleading.

Harry tries to speak but his lower lip is wobbling too much, his mouth isn’t working and no words aren’t coming out. He can feel his eyes get tickly, then wet, and his stupid mouth still isn’t cooperating.

“Please say something,” Louis whispers.

Harry makes an ugly sob noise and it seems to do the trick in getting whatever cork he had in his mouth to pop so he can finally use his words. “Do you love me?”

“Harry,” Louis sighs and it sounds like that one simple word holds all his emotions. “I do. So much.”

It’s not enough.

“Do you want to be married to me?” Harry forces himself to ask, the question so scary, his heart so hopeful.

“More than anything,” Louis says earnestly. “It… doesn’t matter how it started, not to me at least, maybe I didn’t want it or seek it in the beginning but now… This is everything to me, you are everything to me.”

The tickling on his eyes and the wetness pours over, and Harry can feel something wet on his own cheeks, as he gets up from his chair and walks to Louis. Louis gets up from his chair, meeting Harry halfway. He looks unsure of what Harry is planning to do, so he stands still and just waits.

“Then we’re not done for,” Harry says, voice cracking as he wraps his arms around Louis and clings to him, feeling his body start shaking as Louis hugs him back, arms so tight it feels like he might break.

But it doesn’t matter, it feels like he has all oxygen squeezed out of him but somehow it doesn’t matter; as if Louis is breathing for the both of them.

Harry kisses Louis’ cheek, then the other one, nudges his nose, kissing his forehead, then lips, then lips again, whilst feeling Louis plant kisses all over his face, and it must be more than one person’s tears making it all wet and salty and urgent and desperate and relieved.

“I’m still mad you lied to me,” Harry says as he wipes the wetness off from under Louis’ eyes. “But I trust you when you tell me you want this now. That none of it was a lie, nothing that matters. I have to trust you.”

“You can,” Louis swears. “Nothing about the way I feel about you is a lie, never was a lie.” He hugs Harry tighter, then – without letting go – sitting back on the chair, pulling Harry to his lap.

“Oh Lou,” Harry sighs, sitting sideways on Louis’ lap, raising his hands on Louis’ cheeks and making him look at him. “I don’t know if I’m being dumb, or naïve, or gullible, I just… Know that my life is so much better with you. You’re so good. Like, all the best things, all my best days, they always come back to you. I don’t want to let that go.”

“Please don’t ever let me go,” Louis whispers as he presses his forehead to Harry’s. “I want to be married to you forever.”

They sit like that, their breaths evening out slowly from the turmoil of emotions, finding a rhythm together. Harry’s known he loves Louis for a while now, but the intensity with which he feels it in this very moment is still… overwhelming in how big it is, as if his body can’t contain it. Feeling Louis so close, listening to his breaths, feeling him so solid and real, makes Harry feel… complete, somehow.

“This is so easy,” Harry says out loud.

Louis looks up, his face looking tired, as if he’d almost dozed off. “What is?”

“Us,” Harry smiles. “Or like, I know we’ve had arguments and we surely will in the future but it’s like… It’s so easy, with you. Feels like yeah, this is what it’s supposed to be.”

Louis squeezes Harry’s hips. “So happy you’d say that. Because I can’t imagine like, not being with you. Not hearing your thoughts every day or seeing your face or like… Feeling the way you make me feel. Like I’m finally figuring out who I am and you support me on that.”

--

Louis has never won the lottery but he for sure won at the lottery of love.

They’re snuggled up on the sofa, backs leaning to opposite arm rests and their feet a tangled mess in the middle. Louis has had to add more boiling water to his tea twice already, with how much they’re talking and how it gets cold.

Harry, that freak, is still holding the same cup of sugary sweet disgusting cold tea because he’s weird like that.

It’s so different from the way Louis likes his tea. And it’s ok – they don’t need to be similar, they don’t need to agree on everything. They’ve just had an awfully serious fight where Louis thought he was going to lose the absolutely best person who he had ever had in his life.

One of the best things about Harry is how he is giving Louis space; how he is encouraging Louis to be himself. He listens to what Louis has to say, sometimes to the point of annoying with how he wants Louis to express an opinion first, and somehow at the same time with his annoyance makes Louis feel like he doesn’t need to please Harry to keep him around – that just being who he is is enough.

His train of thought is interrupted by a jab of toes near his crotch.

“You know Gemma will light you on fire if you ever break my heart,” Harry mumbles.

“If I’d ever hurt you, I’d give her the lighter,” Louis says seriously, earning a chuckle out of Harry. He feels like he might start crying again, but for very much happier reasons now.

--

“What was your favourite part about today?” Louis asks later, when they’re settling for bed.

Harry feels exhausted, mentally, physically even, and the bed’s soft embrace feels like heaven he just wants to sink in.

“Going to bed,” Harry says after a bit of consideration.

Louis looks at him, unsure.

Harry turns to his side, moving closer to Louis, their eyes locking. “Going to bed. With you. At home. Feels like… This is it, now. This is where we are and we got here together. We are here together.”

Louis smiles, and it’s not his huge smile that lights up any room, but it’s one of those smiles of his that Harry likes best. The one where his eyes go all squinty as if Louis is experiencing so much happiness, so much joy, he almost can’t bear it. As if he’s shutting his eyes to keep it all to himself, too precious to let go or share with the world.

But he’s sharing it with Harry now.

“What was your favourite part of today, my Lou?” Harry asks softly, thumb stroking Louis’ cheek.

“Being your Lou,” Louis whispers and leans to kiss Harry.

--

“What’s the hold up,” Bess sighs as they’re sitting in one of the lounges in the studio.

“Meeting his sister,” Harry says absentmindedly whilst tapping his phone. He doesn’t really want to go into the details of Louis meeting up with Lottie – who had finally found time, or energy, to have a coffee. “And he’s only like, fifteen minutes late. Not the end of the world.”

“Do you know how long he’ll still be?” Neil asks, sounding bored as he’s chewing his gum. “Because if he isn’t here like, in two seconds, I’m absolutely going to get a snack. I’m hungry. I don’t want that to turn into hangry.”

“Hangry?” Leeroy looks puzzled.

“Hungry. And angry. You know me mate, you know it’s not an empty threat.”

Harry chuckles, Leeroy’s fearful cringe looking he truly has been on the receiving end of Neil’s hangry stage. “He said about ten more minutes. Go do what you gotta do,” Harry tells Neil who rushes out of the lounge space.

Harry turns his attention back to his phone – the crew has become such a given, always around, that he barely remembers their presence anymore. He just wants to get the last meeting with the experts done so he and Louis can go home and… continue with what they had left off at this morning.

Or they hadn’t really left off at anything; more like Harry wants to take a rerun of that.

I’m sitting here with the guys and all I can think of is how good your precoma tastes.’

Harry sends the message, feeling the tips of his ears blush a little at how blunt he is being in public. He’d never thought he could be this… into sex. Louis just brings it out of him – not only is his husband so bloody gorgeous and sexy, but the way he treats Harry, makes Harry feel truly wanted, and accepted and loved, is doing wonders for Harry’s inner minx.

His phone beeps. It’s a message with sad face emoji and a skull one.

“What the…” Harry says out loud, sending the same as a message to Louis. He taps the tip of his foot to the floor, luckily not having to wait for a reply for too long.

‘You want me dead. It makes me sad.’

Harry scrunches his face at the screen, hoping it will somehow reach Louis’ awareness telepathically. He sends a row of question marks as a reply.

His phone beeps almost immediately, as if Louis was waiting to be demanded for explanations.

You said you love the way my precoma tastes like. That’s just one stage away from being dead. Precoma. Pre-coma.’

Harry groans, loud enough for Bess and Leeroy to look at him curiously.

“I can smell your sexting from here,” Bess says dryly.

Harry would love to give a witty retort, if he could only think of one. Luckily his husband has excellent timing.

“Hello, hello, sorry I’m late,” Louis says out of breath, smirking to Harry very annoyingly before he kisses his cheek. “Saw Neil. I think he said he’ll be up in a few. Not sure I could make out the words right, mind, his mouth full and all.”

“I didn’t mean precoma,” Harry tells Louis under his breath. “I don’t want you dead, actually.”

“I know,” Louis ruffles Harry’s hair. “It’s just your autocorrect that does,” he says cheerfully as he takes a seat next to Harry.

“How was Lottie?” Harry lowers his voice.

Louis scratches his nose, not answering immediately. “Not great,” he eventually says. “But I think she will be. Had a really good talk. She got really pissy with me at first, but then there was like, tears and hugs and I hope you’re okay making dinner and spreading the sofa out for her to crash on for a few days?”

“Of course,” Harry says earnestly.

“Thanks, Pebbles,” Louis smiles, looking oddly relieved – as if Harry would’ve objected to having Lottie over and being able to help her even if for a little bit. “No precoma business while she’s there, though. Don’t want her to worry about losing her only brother.”

--

Of course it’s Trevor, the one who bursts to tears when they are in to meet all of the experts on the last day of filming, telling about their decision of very much wanting to stay married. Nigel just looks pleased in his usual beige way of looking pleased. Jane looks like the Oxford Dictionary definition of what ‘smug’ looks like, and seems too happy with herself to even have anything to say.

Nigel glances at Trevor, who is holding his hand up as if excusing himself whilst he wipes his eyes.

“So, gentlemen. We are all clearly very pleased and happy to hear that you’ve found each other and are staying married. Would the two of you have anything you’d like to say to your spouse in this moment?” Nigel asks.

“The two of us,” Louis repeats as if tasting the sound. “I like that. Separate but still a unit.”

“A team but still individuals.”

“I like that,” Louis nods and then considers. “I love that, actually. It’s very us.”

“Ahem,” Jane coughs.

Harry startles, seeing Louis does too – he’d forgotten there even were other people in the room.

“Sorry,” Harry smiles, a wee bit embarrassed.

“Don’t let us disturb you,” Trevor says happily and of course he’s leaning forward again as if to watch them closer, eyes sparkling.

“Oh!” Harry quickly rewinds to Nigel’s question. He looks back at Louis, his eyes so warm, a little devious smile playing on the corner of his lips.

It’s a face Harry absolutely adores and will never get tired of watching.

“Thank you for making me a better person,” he says, wanting to say so much more but really – it says everything.

Louis puts his hand on Harry’s cheek, like so many times before, the touch so warm and so familiar now. Louis’ thumb strokes Harry’s temple gently, brushing a whisp of hair. “Thank you for helping me become me.”

There is an ugly sound made in the room; Harry isn’t sure if it was him or Trevor.

(Turns out it was Jane.)

“Now let’s go home,” Harry then tells Louis softly, standing up and watching Louis take his extended hand.

And fuck.

He isn’t just going home.

He’s going home with his husband.