“You can’t be serious.”
Harry’s glad Louis says it, because his own mouth has gone strangely dry all of a sudden. On the other side of the conference table, the five management reps look back at them, each with a stonier expression than the next.
Clearly, they are very serious. Harry looks down at the dossier in his hands. There are several headshots inside, each girl prettier than the next. And he’s supposed to pick one of them. To be his future wife. Because, apparently, at twenty-one, he’s getting too old for the womaniser image and needs something more “settled”. And less gay, which goes without saying, as they called Louis in as well to address the rumours about the two of them that just refuse to die down completely.
“But why?” Harry manages. “We’ve done everything you said. We haven’t even complained much. Why would I need to be married all of a sudden?” He shoots Louis a desperate look. A second later, a warm hand wraps tightly around his beneath the table; Harry squeezes back, gratefully.
“Don’t be silly,” Louis says. “You’re not getting married. No way.” The last part is aimed directly at the management reps.
“This is exactly what we’re talking about,” a woman to the left says. “You don’t even seem to notice how you gravitate towards each other at every turn, and even when you’re in separate interviews, it’s all ‘Harry this’ and ‘Louis that’. Your numbers have dipped over the past six months, and with the new album coming out and the world tour following it, we need to get a firm handle on the situation and re-establish your brand.”
“By forcing Harry to get married?” Louis asks, incredulous, and, wow, that’s probably the coldest Harry’s ever heard his voice go. “No one can expect another person to do that. Especially not for some shitty publicity.”
“He’s not actually getting married, of course,” one of the other reps says. “The financial and legal repercussions of essentially bringing a sixth person into your brand would be complicated, to say the least, and a divorce at Harry’s age, though expected when marrying someone so quickly, would not rate a positive response among your fans. We’re suggesting an engagement.”
“Oh, so he only has to pretend to make the biggest commitment of his life,” Louis states. “That makes all the difference. Why don’t I tweet the happy announcement right now?”
“We’re merely saying that—”
“You are telling Harry that he needs to lie. To everyone. Including all of our fans,” Louis says. “Do you even know what that would do to him? Do you even care?”
“There’s no need to be dramatic,” the woman to the left says. “No one is asking him to change his life around. It’s a few dates here and there, a couple of photoshoots and an extra person backstage with you now and then. It’s nothing he hasn’t handled before. It will be perfectly fine.”
“Oh really?” Louis snaps. “Perfectly fine, is it? Well, if it’s such a simple little thing to ask, then maybe you should actually ask, instead of just talking over his head when he’s sitting right here.”
“Louis,” Harry says softly, “It’s okay. Just. I’ll be fine.”
Louis simply looks at him.
“Fuck this,” he says, standing up and taking Harry’s hand, pulling him to his feet as well. “We’re leaving.”
They’ve made their way back to the studio, managed to find some lunch, and Louis is still seething. He doesn’t know why this particular request (ha!) makes him so mad, but just the thought of seeing Harry’s face on cover after cover, smiling brightly next to some girl who’s probably launching a career in acting/modelling/whatever from being associated with him makes him want to punch something.
“Listen,” Harry says. “Thanks for sticking up for me, but you know as well as I do that the only real options I have are to go along with their plan or quit the band. And I really don’t want to quit the band.”
Louis stabs at the bottom of his glass with his straw. “I’m sorry this is happening to you. I should have known they’d—just—I’m sorry.”
“What?” Harry says, clearly confused. “What are you on about? It’s not your fault our management are idiots.”
“I shouldn’t have broken things off with El,” Louis replies. “That’s when they started bothering you about seeing girls again. If we’d just kept going as we had, you wouldn’t have—”
“Hey, no,” Harry says firmly, shuffling closer to Louis on the couch and nudging him with his elbow. “It was time. You said it yourself, the two of you’d been over for a long time.”
“If we were ever really together,” Louis sighs. “Shit, Harry, I don’t even know anymore. It’s all so confused in my head.”
“Still not your fault that management wants to marry me off, though.”
“No,” Harry says. “Just no, Louis, all right?”
Harry’s hand is on his chin, tilting Louis’s face up, and Louis can’t help but smile when Harry’s looking at him like he is now—like Louis is one of his favourite things.
“Marry me.” It just tumbles out, but as soon as he realises what he’s said, he knows it’ll be completely brilliant.
Harry does a double take. Then another one. Because that can’t possibly be right. Louis is looking at him like he just thought of the coolest thing ever. So clearly, he must have misheard, just—
“Me,” Louis says, something desperately soft creeping into his voice. He tilts his face into Harry’s hand, and Harry suddenly finds it very difficult to breathe. “Marry me.”
“Listen, they want to put a stop to the rumours, yeah?” Louis says. “And generate publicity while they’re at it. Let’s give them what they want, but we do it our way.”
“By getting married?”
“Just think about it,” Louis says. “Once it’s done, they wouldn’t be able to say or do a thing about it. We could move back in together. Neither of us would have to date anyone we don’t want to date or field any more stupid questions about what we’re looking for in a girl for a long time. And we’re both already in the band and have signed all the same contracts, so when we divorce, there won’t be any financial hassle. Because we already own half of each other’s everything. Or a fifth of it, if you want to get technical.”
Harry tries to picture it. He can’t. He really, really can’t.
Except he can once the shock wears off a bit and he starts thinking about it. There’d be hell to pay from their management, and the media would go absolutely mental over it, but at the same time... Harry swallows and looks up at Louis, trying not to feel the small hope of something close to freedom too acutely. “We could move back in together.”
“Tea in bed,” Louis says, smiling now. “Tea and toast, Hazza. I’d even make an effort to buy milk.”
“You really think we should do this? You and me?”
“Haz,” Louis says. They’re holding hands again, Harry realises. He really loves Louis’s hands. “You’re the only one I’d want to do this with.”
And just like that, it’s all so easy. Harry feels a smile spread on his face, sees Louis answer it before he’s pulled into a hug so tight it makes Harry a little breathless. The laughter starts somewhere at the small of his back, bubbling up the length of his spine and down his legs all at once, making him feel lighter than he has in forever. They sit together, foreheads touching, and laughing until they’re shaking with it, because how is this their life, honestly? How is this madness anyone’s life?
“Let’s go find the lads,” Louis says. “Big news to tell and all that.”
The next few days pass in a whirl. Harry tells the management people that he needs the weekend to think, and with them temporarily off his back, he and Louis go to work setting up their scheme. Liam, Zayn and Niall are right there with them, just as furious at the announcement of Harry’s pending fake engagement as Louis had been and determined to help out in any way they can. Even if that means a fake wedding, which none of them seem too thrilled about, if Harry is completely honest. Liam, in particular, looks permanently worried, and Harry is starting to lose count of how many times the three of them have asked if he and Louis are really sure about what they’re doing.
They are, though. Very sure. The more Harry thinks about it, the better it feels. Especially when he wakes up on Saturday morning and there’s tea and toast next to his bed with a small note saying Mr Harry Tomlinson.
“I’m not taking your name,” Harry says, once he’s managed to find his mobile. “You can be Louis Styles if you want.”
“I think I’m good,” Louis replies. “You still want to do this?”
“Why? You having second thoughts?”
“Not on your life,” Louis says, and Harry can hear the smile in his voice. “Niall’s picking me up in half an hour. We’re going shopping to give the paps some good shots for the day. El’s promised to join us. Hopefully, that’ll keep everyone too busy writing are-they-back-together stories to keep an eye out this afternoon.”
When the two of them will be sneaking into the Registrar’s Office. Harry grins. “Did you tell her?”
“Last night, “ Louis replies. “She asked me to tell you that she’s very happy for us. And that if you ever break my heart, she’ll hunt you down etc etc.”
“Oh, and I spoke to your mum,” Louis continues. “She, Robin and Gemma will get into Euston at two. Nick’s picking them up.”
“This is really happening, isn’t it?” Harry says. The air around him feels thinner all of a sudden, causing his head to spin a little as he breathes.
“It is,” Louis confirms. “Isn’t it mad?”
“Our families certainly seem to think so,” Harry says. “My mum keeps asking me what we want for a gift. I keep telling her that it’s not a real wedding, but she doesn’t seem to be listening.”
“Well, in a way it is rather real,” Louis says. “Legally binding and everything.”
“That’s exactly what my mum said.”
“Yeah,” Louis says, and Harry suddenly wishes they were in the same room, so Harry could reach out and touch him, just to remind himself that he’s not having some kind of absurd dream. “Just, don’t worry about it,” Louis continues. “Our real fake wedding will go off without a hitch. And it’ll be fantastic.”
“If you say so,” Harry says, just as the doorbell rings. “I have to go. Liam’s here with my suit. I’ll see you in a bit, yeah?”
“Five hours, forty-five minutes,” Louis replies. “Prepare to be swept off your feet and carried down the aisle.”
Harry cracks up at that. Louis starts to hum the wedding march in his ear, and Harry’s still laughing when he opens the front door to let Liam in.
He keeps himself from being nervous until they’re sitting in a private waiting room in the Registrar’s Office, waiting for their turn to go in. Despite it being Saturday afternoon, there aren’t a lot of people about, and Harry’s thankful for it. The whole point of them being there is for the press to find out, but Harry prefers if it doesn’t happen just yet.
“Hey, don’t worry so much,” Louis murmurs, leaning in to rest his head on Harry’s shoulder. His hand comes to rest on Harry’s leg, palm up in invitation. Harry takes it, lets the contact ground him.
“Sorry, I’m being silly.”
“Not silly,” Louis says, squeezing Harry’s hand a little more. “Lovely and wonderful. Never silly.”
“What about the time in Australia when I lay down on the stage and pretended to be a finishing line so you all could have a piggy back race?”
“That wasn’t silly, that was genius,” Louis says. “Also, I won.”
“You are the champion of everything,” Harry confirms, and gets a satisfied smile in return. “What time is it now?”
“2:53,” Gemma says, cutting into their conversation. “Exactly two minutes later than when you asked the last time.”
“Be nice or I’m revoking your maid of honour privileges,” Harry says, giving her a stern look. Gemma just rolls her eyes and smirks at him.
An assistant calls their names a few minutes later, and Harry and Louis hang back as their families and friends file into the main room and take their seats. Louis is fiddling with the buttons of his jacket, opening and closing them in indecision. Harry stops him and moves the hands away, undoes the buttons again so that the jacket hangs loosely, then reaches up and adjusts his tie.
Louis smiles. “Making me presentable?”
“No,” Harry says, keeping his hold on the tie as he leans in, brushing a kiss across Louis’s cheek. “I just always wanted to do that.”
“Are you, Louis William Tomlinson, free, lawfully, to marry Harry Edward Styles?”
Louis is starting to feel an ache in his face from smiling so much. “I am.”
The Registrar turns to Harry, whose voice is slightly unsteady as he makes his own declaration. He’s smiling just as widely as Louis, though, so everything’s fine.
So much better than fine; Louis is feeling positively giddy.
“Then, Louis, repeat after me, please,” the Registrar says. “I, Louis Tomlinson, take you, Harry Styles, to be my wedded husband.”
Louis repeats the words and watches Harry’s eyes widen slightly. A moment later, he understands why—something about the way the word “husband” sounds directed right at him makes his heart skip a couple of beats.
Jesus Christ, he’s getting married. They’re actually doing this.
“Do you have additional promises prepared that you want to share with one another?” the Registrar asks. Harry starts fiddling with something in the back pocket of his trousers and pulls out a crumpled-looking piece of paper.
“You wrote me something?”
“Shut up,” Harry says, and, is that a blush? How interesting. “Of course I did. Are you saying you didn’t?”
“Not at all,” Louis replies. “I know mine by heart is all.”
“You’re such a show off,” Harry says, trying to sound exasperated, Louis can tell. It goes about as well as Louis trying to look solemn. “In that case, why don’t you go first?”
“Not a problem,” Louis says. “Niall, ring, please.”
Niall steps up to them and puts the ring he and Louis got on their very secret shopping mission a couple of nights ago into Louis’s palm. He also winks at Harry, which prompts Louis to frown at him. Niall just winks at him too. Cheeky bugger.
Louis reaches for Harry’s left hand, then thinks better of it and reaches for both, nudging the ring in his hand onto the tip of his thumb to keep it out of the way as he weaves their fingers together. There. Nice and snug. He pulls Harry half a step closer while he’s at it so that he has to tilt his head back slightly to look Harry in the eye.
“I, Louis,” he starts, “take you, Harry, to be my husband and partner in crime. To always make you tea and toast when you want to stay in bed, make sure you remember to put a hat on when it’s cold and do my best not to whistle in the shower. I promise to be your best friend, to support you when you need it and bugger off when you want to be alone. I want to share my life and living space with you, get fat from your gorgeous cooking and have you nag me for being such a slob. You are the best person I know, and there’s nothing about you that I would ever want to change. And I’ll keep thinking you’re brilliant and lovely, and be by your side until the sun explodes, the cows come home and the fat lady sings. The end.” He takes the ring off the tip of his thumb and pushes it gently down Harry’s fourth finger, then raising Harry’s hand to his mouth and gives it a quick kiss. “Your turn, babe.”
Harry stands frozen, just looking at Louis like he has no idea what to do. Then his eyes flicker downwards, and there’s a split second of suspended time when Louis thinks Harry is going to kiss him. A moment later, Harry is laughing delightedly, turning around to beckon Liam to come forward (while Zayn remains in his seat next to Perrie, both of them playing happily with the petals in the small flowergirl basket Zayn insisted he should be responsible for). Then he turns back to Louis and takes his left hand.
“The moment I met you, I knew you were utterly mad,” Harry says, with a quick look down at his sheet of paper. “I’ve never met anyone like you, and I don’t think I ever will, because you, Louis, are one of a kind. You make me feel like I can do anything, that I’m always free, no matter how trapped I might feel sometimes. I love being with you more than anything. You’re funny and kind, and so loyal to the people you love. I promise to always respect you, and to always support you. I promise to be the best friend I can be, and the best partner. Because you deserve everything.”
Harry clears his throat, and Louis blinks, and, wow, he mustn’t have done that in a while, because his eyes feel rather strained all of a sudden. Then Harry bites his lip, and there are crinkles at the corner of his eyes as he adds, “Also, I promise never to own more than two cats at a time. And to always buy you extra socks for Christmas.”
Louis cracks up at that, and Harry follows him, both of them laughing as Harry gets the ring onto Louis’s finger and they straighten up again, doing their best to put on a serious face in front of the Registrar (it’s a wasted effort).
The Registrar smiles indulgently and goes into a short speech about the joy of shared laughter making love grow stronger or some such, and before Louis knows it, she’s asking their friends and family to stand up, declaring Louis and Harry legally married.
Someone (Nick; of course it’s Nick) starts applauding, and everyone else joins in. There’s even whooping. Harry’s mum looks like she has tears in her eyes.
“Do we kiss?” Harry murmurs, just loud enough for Louis to catch the words. “We should, right?”
“Yeah,” Louis agrees, watching his little sisters hugging each other in sheer glee out of the corner of his eye. “Tradition and all. Come here.”
“You come here,” Harry says, but he starts leaning in even as he says it, eyes flickering back down to Louis’s mouth. Louis tilts his head up, decides that since they’ve decided they’re doing this, there’s no reason not to make it the best fucking kiss of the most brilliant wedding ever. He puts his hands on Harry’s chest and takes a second just to feel the way Harry’s heart beats under his palm before closing the last distance between them.
The cheers and applause get louder—a lot louder; honestly, their friends are all a bunch of dirty perverts—but Louis couldn’t care less. Because he’s kissing Harry, and while it’s not exactly the first time that has happened, it is the first time in a long while, not to mention the first time when both of them are sure to remember it the next day.
It’s a lovely, lovely kiss. Louis would happily keep it going for the rest of the night. Except other couples are waiting, and they’re supposed to go to dinner with their families, and—most important fact for Louis’s brain to remember—they’re not doing this for themselves. There are pictures to be taken and tweets to be made, about a million things they need to do before their PR team descends on them in righteous fury for daring to fuck with their plans.
So Louis pulls away. Reluctantly. Harry chases his mouth, and Louis figures, what the heck, and leans back in for one more kiss.
Harry’s keycard is not working. It’s too big for the slot in the door, for one thing, or the wrong shape maybe. Possibly it just doesn’t want to let them into the room; Harry’s heard doors can be evil like that.
Also, the fact that he’s currently seeing double isn’t helping matters. Or that he’s got Louis draped all along his back, mouthing at the back of Harry’s neck and putting his hands in some very distracting places.
God, they are so beyond drunk. Proper sloshed, the two of them. Harry feels something in his belly do a little flip in anticipation.
“Come on, Hazza,” Louis mumbles. “Get us in, already. We’re wasting valuable wedding night time here.”
“Card’s not working,” Harry says, pushing it at the door once more. The little light blinks red.
“Here,” Louis says, taking the card out of Harry’s hand and turning it over. It slips in like it was meant to go into the door, and the lock blinks green and makes a happy whirring noise. The traitor.
Harry doesn’t have time to be annoyed, however, because the door is open, and Louis is walking him backwards through it, hands clumsily tugging at Harry’s clothes to get them open, get them off.
Harry is so very on board with that plan. His hands find their way to Louis’s tie, working open the knot and pulling him closer. Louis comes easily, tilting his head up for a kiss that Harry’s more than happy to give him.
It’s really been far too long. Not since some random birthday party they both went to that got a little out of hand. Before El. Before everybody, really.
Louis drops to his knees, pulling Harry’s trousers and pants down and helping him out of them, one foot at the time. Socks go next, and before Harry knows it, he’s been pushed down on the bed in the middle of the room, and Louis is between his legs, playfully biting his way up Harry’s thighs, and—whoa, yes, that’s—oh fuck.
Harry closes his eyes and lets his body melt into the mattress.