There's just enough snow on the ground to make getting home a nightmare, the tube packed and the sidewalks too slushy for Harry to safely navigate. He's not going to risk slipping and breaking his arse, so he crams himself into one of the eight o'clock trains.
He stayed late at the office for the third time this week, and Louis is going to absolutely skin him. It's only Harry's fourth month with the big-time London publishing firm, and he hasn't exactly built up the seniority to kip off early, especially with the extra workload he's getting from Niall, who fucked off to Ireland for his brother's wedding a week ago. He's overwhelmed, and he's tired, and he's sure his hair is going grey, and he hasn't had sex in weeks.
Week, singular, he thinks, wistfully recalling the rushed shower sex last Friday morning, Louis held up against the foggy glass, giggling as they tried to decide whether their organic bath soap was an acceptable form of lube. Louis had to go home to Donny for the twins birthday over the weekend, Harry too busy with work to tag along, and with his new promotion, their weekday schedules are completely opposite. Louis is serving his residency at a hospital in order to become an OBGYN, and as one of the lowest people on the totem pole, he generally gets handed the morning shifts. He's out the door by five a.m. most mornings, and almost always sleeping when Harry gets home.
So. Yes, Harry's horny, but he's also twenty-three years old, and maybe sex shouldn't be this much of a priority for him. He's been with Louis for nearly four years now, but they both still go at it like champs when they find the time.
He accidentally makes eye contact with an old lady whose sitting near the exit, and he flushes, as if she can hear his unsavory stream-of-consciousness. He shoots off a text to Lou, telling him he's on his way home, should he pick anything up, but of course he only gets a reply once he's off the train and halfway up the street to their house.
It's a small flat, just three bedrooms, but they chose it for the nice area - not many twenty-somethings can afford a place in Primrose Hill, and they were both drunk off of their respective successes, and they signed for it without a second thought. Plus, it's on the ground floor of the building, so there's a sizable garden that's all theirs.
Bring me surprises!!! Lou's texted with two emojis, a classic tempura prawn and, inexplicably, the head of a dragon.
Harry rolls his eyes, fumbles with his keys for a few seconds before he's enveloped into the warmth of their flat. Louis gets cold easily, so they always keep it warm inside, even though he still steals all of Harry's jumpers and wears them around until he's complaining about the heat.
"I'm home," Harry calls. Louis is probably watching TV in bed, and the thought brings a smile to his face - Lou likes to curl up on Harry's side, in nothing but a jumper and his glasses, while he watches shit reality programs.
He peaks into the bedroom, but Louis is, surprisingly, not there. After a cursory glance at both the living room and the bathroom, he makes his way toward the kitchen, all the way at the back of the flat. Louis is there, of course, making a pot of tea and wearing panties.
"Hey babe," Louis says, the picture of casual, while Harry has a brief stroke.
They're far from vanilla in bed, is the thing. Louis was the first boy Harry ever slept with, and Harry was only Louis' second, but in the four years they've been together, they've tried it all. Handcuffs, whips, plugs, the whole nine yards. But for some reason Harry's never seen the white, lacy panties Lou's got on, never got to admire the way they cling to his firm arse and make his waist look so, so delicate.
"You're late again," Louis points out, pouring out two cups of tea and sliding Harry's to him across the granite countertop that Harry's got a good, firm grip on. "You cheating on me with some famous author?"
The idea of Harry cheating on Louis is so ridiculous that he cracks a smile. "Yep," he says, popping the 'p' sound. "You'd really like her - she writes Harlequin romance novels."
Louis grins, his eye crinkles coming out full-force. "Well, I'm happy for you two," he says. "But you know you'll never be able to please her in bed. Those romance novelists have very high standards."
Harry does his best to look affronted. "I'm very romance novel-y. My great-great-great grandfather was an Earl or something."
"Yeah?" Louis raises an eyebrow, although of course he already knows the full details of Harry's ancestry, just as Harry knows Louis'. Their friends and families make fun of them for it, sometimes - once, Harry had casually mentioned that Louis was one-eighth Belgian in front of Zayn, and he still gets shit for it.
"It's just," Louis goes on innocently, and now he's looking up at Harry through his long lashes, and that's his absolute weakness. Then again, he's got about five hundred weaknesses when it comes to Lou. "I've sort of got a thing for aristocracy. Being that I'm just, you know, a lowly maid and all."
Harry actually does a good job of choking on his tongue after that one, which he's sure Louis will comment on once this role-playing thing is over. Right now, though, Louis is looking at him all seductively, and it takes half a second before he's around the counter and picking Louis up by the waist. He works out just for this reason; Louis likes to be manhandled and Harry likes feeling like he can protect Louis.
Louis' legs automatically wrap around Harry's waist, and it's doubly hot because Harry's fully dressed, in his "hipster-fancy" work clothes as Lou's dubbed them, and Louis is naked except for the panties.
"Oh, Mr. Styles," Louis says in a falsely affected tone. "We shouldn't."
"You watch too much fucking Downton Abbey," Harry groans, attacking his lips, but when he tosses Louis onto their bed and crawls in between the smaller boys legs, he thinks that he'd answer to Mr. Bates if it'd make Louis happy.
Not that he's going to tell him that.
After two rounds of very athletic, very kinky sex, Harry stumbles into the bathroom for a washcloth. He fills up a glass of water - Lou's throat has got to be aching after the way he was screaming - and splashes some water on his face before returning.
Lou is curled up on his side, peaceful and small underneath just the sheets, his panties tossed carelessly on the floor next to the bed. It's a shame they got them so messy, Harry thinks forlornly. He'll have to buy Lou some new pairs.
"Thanks, Hazza," Lou croaks out. If Harry was a better man, he might not revel in how absolutely wrecked his boyfriend sounds, but. He's not.
"Sure thing, boo," Harry says gently. He lifts up Lou's right leg and hooks it over his shoulder while he goes to work cleaning the older boy out. This is routine; they stopped using a condom after their second anniversary when they realized this was a forever kind of thing. Lou hisses and makes a big fuss, but on their wilder nights, he makes it clear exactly how much he likes to be full up on Harry.
"So I was thinking," Louis begins.
"Oh god," Harry says, earning a slap to the hand. He grins and motions for Louis to continue.
"You know that fancy restaurant that just opened up on Regent's Canal? Liam took Sophia there last week, and he, like, wouldn't shut up about it, so I thought maybe we could go," Louis suggests timidly. "Have a proper date, like."
"Hm," Harry hums. "Sounds nice. Haven't properly wined and dined you in quite a while."
"Well, we've both been busy," Louis says. "But I think it'll be nice. I can make a reservation for next Friday, if you think you'll be free? And I'll be the one wining and dining you, thank you very much. You know I make more than you."
It's true; Lou makes twenty pounds more than Harry a week, and loves to give the younger boy tons of shit about it. He calls himself the breadwinner of the house and makes a big show about batting Harry's hands away when they go out for coffee and the younger boy attempts to pay. They started a joint bank account a year and a half ago, so really he's just full of shit, and if Harry didn't love him so much he might stick up for himself once in a while.
"Sure, I'll be free," Harry says. The firm can't actually force him to work weekends, he's pretty sure. "Let's do it."
Harry's not scared of many things. Well - that's not true. He's got a phobia of most bugs and doesn't really fancy heights and he gets nightmares for ages after seeing a scary film, but he's not really scared of much. His anxiety has never gotten in the way of his basic functioning, like his ability to think straight or his appetite.
He's had the ring for four months now. It's actually unbelievable that he hasn't asked Louis yet, because the question pops into his head at least three times a day. Just last night, he'd arrived home to a sleepy Louis in bed, who'd mumbled, "fuck you you fucking wanker" after he'd made too much noise in the bathroom, and Harry's first thought had been, Marry me.
He's got to do it on Friday, he knows. A fancy restaurant is a classic; he's pretty sure Louis would appreciate it more than a sleepy, impulsive request. Once, a couple of years back, they'd gone to a sushi place and watched a man propose to his girlfriend, and Louis had gotten teary-eyed and said, "That's the best kind of proposal. Simple and sweet."
So. He's got the boy, he's got the ring, and now he's just got to get the nerve.
"I think you should open with a quote from his favorite movie," Niall suggests at lunch hour. They're at a table in the back of a hip little deli across the street from their office, because Zayn makes them go every day, so that he can flirt with the purple-haired waitress.
"Iron Man?" Harry says. "I don't know if Tony Stark really screams 'romance.'"
"Don't listen to Niall, he's full of shit," Zayn says. "You're already gonna be down on one knee, he's gonna know what's going on, so you don't need to beat around the bush. Be firm, be clear, be quick."
"Jesus, Zayn," Harry laughs. "It's a marriage proposal, not a business proposition."
"Interesting suggestion coming from someone who literally writes blank verse poetry about a waitress whose number he's too afraid to ask for," Niall comments lightly, and Zayn's glare could probably kill a lesser man.
"I have her number, idiot," Zayn says.
"Yeah, because you got it from Jade, you freakin' stalker," Niall laughs.
Normally Harry would join in the banter, but he's so god damn nervous that he can't even eat or think or breathe, and god, is he having a panic attack? It's only Tuesday.
"Haz, you know that Lou is gonna say yes," Niall says.
"Do I?" Harry asks, and his voice is actually, legitimately, slightly hysterical. "Because it took him a month to decide whether he wanted to go out with me, and remember when I asked him to move in with me? He said he'd think about it and then didn't talk to me for a week."
"So he was a bit of a commitment-phobe before," Zayn says. Out of their friend group, Zayn and Louis are probably the closest, barring Harry and Louis, having shared a bond for weed and comic books in college. They've (mostly) grown out of the stoner phase, but they still refuse to discuss Marvel conspiracy theories with anyone but each other. "He's not like that anymore. You've tamed the shrew, and all that."
"Do you think he would still say yes if I threw up on him as I was asking?" Harry asks, and he's half-joking, maybe.
"I think he'd say yes if you texted him a ring emoji and a question mark," Zayn says, and he probably means it scathingly but it just comes out sweet.
"Aww," Niall coos, pinching Zayn's cheek.
Then Perrie the waitress comes to their table, and Zayn all but slaps Niall away from him and smiles at her like he's constipated.
It gives Harry a little hope. He may be more scared than he's ever been in his life, but at least he's not as pathetic as Zayn.
On The Day, Harry calls in to work, feigning illness. He waits until after Louis' has already left for his morning shift, because he doesn't want him to think he's actually sick and cancel the dinner reservations.
"I'll meet you at the restaurant at seven?" Louis says, kissing Harry's forehead on his way out. Harry grunts and rolls over in the bed, pretending to be half-asleep even though he's only gotten about two hours of sleep the whole night.
He spends the day deciding on his outfit and making sure the ring is perfect and practicing his speech in the mirror. He looks like a spastic idiot, he knows, but the only witness is their cat, David Beckham, and he doesn't appear to be judging him too harshly.
He texts both Niall and Zayn, asking them not to tell Louis that he didn't go to work, and then asking if he can go to one of their places around two o'clock, when Louis is due back home from his shift. Niall responds that he can use the spare key under his mat and make himself at home, though he requests that he please not throw up on any of his furniture.
He ends up leaving the flat around noon, loading his change of clothes in their car and driving it to a park not too far from Niall's place. He spends the afternoon walking around, panicking in a sort of peaceful way. He knows, logically, that Louis probably won't say no. They've been together four years. They talk about the future all the time. They're going to look into adoption in a few years. It's just - they don't talk about marriage specifically that often. It's mentioned abstractly, but they've never exactly sat down and hashed out the guest list or discussed who's going to walk down the aisle or what side the boys will stand on. Harry's had it all planned out in his head since basically the first moment he laid eyes on Louis, but even he's not sappy enough to say that out loud.
He thinks about the first time he met the boy who would become the love of his fucking life, and it's unbelievable, it is, because the first time they met, Harry was pissing and Louis was talking loudly on the phone to his mother. It was the first week of university, and Harry was a bright-eyed freshman and Louis was his third-year RA. He'd only seen him once before, on move-in day, but Louis had been busy trying to help a girl down the hall navigate a refrigerator into her room without killing anyone, so they hadn't spoken.
So Harry was pissing, and so completely taken aback by the boy's brash tone and sharp, somehow delicate features (at a time when he was only vaguely aware that he even liked boys) that he fucking splashed pee out of the urinal. He blushed furiously, locking eyes with Louis, who raised a single brow.
"Oops," Harry muttered, wishing the urinal would swallow him up whole, wishing that he could spend his life in the sewers to escape this hellscape.
"Mum, I've got to go, got to teach a freshie proper bathroom etiquette," Louis said into his phone, smirking.
Harry was literally about to attempt to speak Parseltongue, to see if he could Harry Potter his way into some hidden basement underneath the loo, when Louis turned his full-forced, crinkly, bright smile on him, and all he thought was, Oh.
"Hi," Louis said.
And Harry was a goner. From day one, he'd been borderline obsessed with Louis, wanting to know everything about the cool, beautiful, older boy, who was a pre-med major from Doncaster with four little sisters, who played on the footie team, and who was openly gay. Harry had long considered himself to be bisexual, but he hadn't ever been able to picture himself with a specific guy until Louis.
From then on his life was a blur of Louis, Louis, Louis. He made friends, of course - lifelong friends, Niall and Liam and Zayn and Nick and Taylor and a whole bunch of others. Louis and Harry managed to live in each other's pockets without become the quintessential annoying couple who couldn't have other friends. It had just always been so good.
Of course, they fought. Sometimes so bitterly that they wouldn't speak for days, until one of them showed at the others doorstep and tearfully apologized. Louis had trust issues and Harry had jealousy issues and it wasn't always easy. But every time it got bad, Harry would imagine his life without Louis in it, and that prospect scared him so much he could barely concentrate on what had made him angry in the first place.
Their families love each other, too - their mum's are best friends and Gemma loves the girls, who hero-worship her in return, and Robin and Louis text about football all the time, and Harry goes golfing with Mark whenever he's in town.
Everyone expects them to get married and Harry doesn't feel pressured at all; he feels happy. He wants to put a ring on Louis' finger and wake up next to him every morning for the rest of his life, and have a hundred babies with him and sit on the porch while Louis teaches their kids football. He wants to cook Louis healthy organic food and catch him sneaking junk food in the middle of the night. He wants to go on long road trips to the countryside where they argue about music the whole drive. He wants to have tickle fights at three a.m. when neither of them can sleep, because they're so in tune with each other that even their sleep patterns mirror each other.
And now he's fucking tearing up in a park in the middle of the afternoon.
He goes back to Niall's to change, and then he attempts to watch telly to distract himself. There's nothing more to do; he's as prepared as he can be.
When Niall comes home, he gives him a big, smothering hug and lets Harry have a little sob on his shoulder.
"There, there," Niall says. "You've got nothing to worry about. Worse case scenario, he says no, and you and I elope to Dublin."
Harry laughs wetly. "Please don't say that," he says. "Oh my god."
"Now, now," Niall says, patting his head gently. "I know you've always held a torch for me, Hazza. Don't think I've forgotten that time you drunkenly proposed a threesome during our third year."
"Oh god," Harry mumbles. "Shut up."
"But really, Hazza," Niall says, going uncharacteristically serious. "I'm proud of you. And I think you're going to be very happy."
"Don't make me cry more," Harry says, but it's hopeless. He's a crier. If he makes it through the proposal without snot dripping from his nose, it'll be a miracle.
Harry arrives at six-fifty, because he'd overestimated the distance from Niall's place to the restaurant. He takes their seat at a table toward the back, near huge bay windows overlooking the canal. It's a beautiful restaurant, all natural light and neutral colors. Harry orders a bottle of Louis' favourite wine, and when Louis finally rushes in, five minutes late, he's already poured out two glasses and bitten off most of his right thumb nail.
"Sorry, sorry, sorry," Louis gets out in a rush, leaning down to kiss Harry on the cheek before taking the seat across from him. "I assisted in a delivery for twins today, and those fuckers did not want to come out of that vagina, let me tell you."
The date is already terribly romantic.
"Did you get my favourite red?" Louis asks with a smile. "Aw, Hazza."
He looks beautiful. He always does, but when he actually makes an effort and puts on a well-fitted suit, it's hard for Harry to look at him without his mouth watering. His fringe is down in the way that Harry likes best and his eyes are so, so blue.
The conversation doesn't flow as easily as it usually does, but Harry knows it's only because he's so nervous. Louis seems slightly off, too, his legs bouncing under the table, all jittery, but it's probably because he's just come off an eight-hour shift, bringing new life into the world and all that.
They order. Louis gets a steak and Harry gets a grilled seafood platter. Their waitress seems to be smirking at them, or maybe Harry's actually gone and developed paranoia. Maybe she can see the bulge of the ring box in his pants. Maybe she's a witch.
Harry had given a tremendous amount of thought as to when to pop the question, obviously, and he'd decided after dinner but before dessert; he wanted to be able to sit back and admire the ring on Lou's fingers while they shared a cake, sappier than ever before.
With that in mind, Harry eats slower than he ever has in his life, and Louis actually asks if something's wrong.
"No, no," Harry says. "Just got a bit of a stomach ache, I guess."
Louis' eyes widen. "Do you want to go? Do you need any medicine?"
"No!" Harry practically blurts. Knowing his luck, Louis would drag him out of the restaurant and he'd never, ever propose and he'd be alone forever, the ring burning a hole in his back pocket until he dies. He's not entirely sure how that would all result from leaving the restaurant early, but he's absolutely positive it would.
"You still want dessert, though, right?" Louis asks carefully. Harry knows how passionate Louis is about dessert, and he probably wants to make sure he's not going to be cheated out of a red velvet cake.
"No, of course, yeah," Harry says. "I'm really fine, I just - "
His sentence is cut off when their waitress comes back and begins clearing the table. Harry looks helplessly at his now-finished seafood plate, wishing he'd ordered something more substantial. Perhaps three steaks.
"Would you like anything for dessert?" the waitress asks, and Harry's ears start ringing. Louis' definitely ordering something, but Harry's gone and lost his motor functioning and he's maybe going to shit his pants.
When the waitress leaves, Harry locks eyes with Louis, and the older boy smiles so brightly his eyes dimple. And it's the eye dimple that does it for Harry.
He slips on to one knee more gracefully than he usually would; maybe he's just running on pure instinct, now. Louis' eyes widen and the dimples disappear, but Harry's not about to lose his nerve.
"Louis," Harry begins.
"Harry," Louis breathes.
"Louis," Harry says. They both look at each other and let out a small, identical laugh. "Louis, I've known you for four years and maybe that's not a lot in, like, the scheme of the universe, but it's enough to know that you're my favourite person in the world. Every day that I'm not with you is lame, and every day that I'm with you is great, and that's what it all comes down to, for me. I like you a lot and I love you more than I've ever loved anyone. More than anyone's ever loved anyone, maybe, I don't know. Will you - um, shit, let me get the ring, I meant to have that out already, fuck - " Harry fumbles around for the ring in his pocket, and Louis is already teary eyed but when he produces the ring, they both start really crying. "Will you, like, marry me, Louis Tomlinson?"
Louis puts both hands over his mouth and then seems to jolt, nodding furiously. "Yes," he breathes. "Yes, I'll, like, marry you, Harry Styles," he adds, and he's mocking Harry in the best way Harry's ever been mocked.
Harry slips the ring onto his fourth finger, and it fits like a charm. There's applause in the background, and Harry is pretty sure he could take over the whole fucking world in that moment.
"Is that why you were acting so strange?" Louis asks, after they've thoroughly snogged. He's pulled his chair around the table so he's sitting practically on Harry's lap, but it's okay, because they're engaged now.
"Yeah," Harry admits.
"Jeez, Styles, someone needs to teach you how to keep your cool," Louis says with a smirk.
When their dessert arrives - double chocolate cake, Harry's favorite - he takes a huge bite right away. He hasn't had an appetite in days, too strung out from nerves, and now he's ready to post-stress-eat his feelings.
Except then there's a firm, cold, metal object his mouth, and he spits out a ring.
Louis is watching him closely, and when they lock eyes, Louis smiles like the sun, says, "Ditto?"