My heart has made its mind up
And I'm afraid it's you.
Whatever you've got lined up,
My heart has made it's mind up
And if you can't be signed up
This year, next year will do.
My heart has made it's mind up
And I'm afraid it's you.
-Valentine, Wendy Cope
Through a crack in the curtains, sunlight crept through to warm the bare shoulder of Louis Tomlinson. As he slept peacefully in bed, golden light cast shadows across the bridge of his nose, highlighting the soft brush of his eyelashes on his cheeks. The late morning sun spread slowly down his chest, illuminating the white sheets so they glowed. At the natural call of daylight Louis stirred, legs shifting beneath the warm sheets, and he rolled over onto his back so his face was in the darkness of his bedroom once more.
Moments passed. Louis remained neither awake nor asleep; suspended in a sleepy half- consciousness. When sleep decided it would refuse to return to him, Louis lifted a hand and rubbed clumsily at his eyes before flopping it backwards to rest on the pillow behind his head. Blue eyes cracked open, meeting the familiar sight of his white painted bedroom ceiling. With his other hand he scratched at the skin of his abdomen, gradually becoming aware of the birds tweeting in the trees outside the window and the traffic on the roads below his flat.
Louis closed his eyes again, listening to the sounds of London outside his window, lying content in the sun-warmed sheets. Perhaps slightly unusually, the beep of car horns and dings of cycle bells, interspersed with a few people shouting insults to each other, were actually a source of comfort to Louis. They were grounding, familiar. For some people, home sounded like a mothers’ laugh or the smell of home-cooked dinners, or the bark of a dog happy to greet them, but to Louis home sounded like the beep of pedestrian crossings and the coo of pigeons sitting on his windowsills. He lived for the chaos and the fast-paced nature of his London.
In the distance, Big Ben chimed, alerting the whole city to the time. Louis counted along with the tolls of the bell, noting ten chimes in total. A slight frown creased between his eyes. Surely he must have counted that wrong. Shifting and rolling again so he was sitting up, Louis reached for his phone on his bedside table. Clicking the home button, he blinked twice at the screen and was promptly slammed into full alertness.
He became immediately aware of two things; first, Ben was right, it really was ten in the morning, and second, Louis was late. Horrendously, terribly late. The kind of late that sent his heart jumping straight up into his throat.
"Fucking hell," he gasped.
Dropping his phone back onto the table, Louis scrambled out of bed, narrowly avoiding landing on his arse when his legs tangled in the sheets. He kicked at them furiously, and when he'd managed to wriggle out of them he bolted for the bathroom, jamming the shower on. As he waited for the water temperature to adjust, he squeezed toothpaste onto his toothbrush and stuffed it into his mouth.
He stepped into the shower, already fumbling amongst the bottles in the silver wire rack attached to the wall for his shampoo and simultaneously trying to brush his teeth. He managed to lather up his hair and then rinsed out his mouth, letting the remnants of the toothpaste wash away down the drain, and then stuck the toothbrush next to his shampoo. Whilst he rubbed body wash over himself he positioned his head under the spray, washing the suds out of his hair.
He turned the shower off and reached out to grab a towel off the rail next to the shower, wrapping it securely around his waist. Not pausing to dry off at all, he dripped his way back through to his bedroom. He paused by his mirror, assessing his wet hair and debating if he could get away with leaving it casual and undone. When he pulled his suit from his wardrobe, however, he wrinkled his nose and decided it needed to be done. Alex would never forgive him if he looked even slightly scruffy in the official photos.
Twenty minutes later, Louis was jogging down the stairs of his flat building and onto the pavement. His tie was still loose around his neck, the top button of his shirt undone, and he had no clue how his hair really looked. He’d tried to style it into a fringe that curved up off his forehead and to the left, but with the cold February wind outside it could look a complete mess by the time he arrived at the church. He shut the door to the building behind him and then ran over to Sam, pulling his keys out of his pocket. Pressing the key to unlock her drivers’ side door he yanked at the handle and threw himself inside.
In one rapid motion he’d checked his mirrors, pulled his seatbelt over him, and turned the ignition. Foot on the clutch, he moved into gear, and then stopped and frowned when Sam continued to tick over, no sounds of a starting engine apparent. A tendril of dread curled in the pit of Louis' stomach. He leaned forward over the wheel, checking the petrol level. Still green. Louis sat back against the seat and twisted the key again.
Nothing. Louis cringed at the jolting turnover of her engine.
"Please, Sammy," he begged under his breath. "C'mon, baby, please. Not today!"
Sam spluttered, gave one last feeble clunk, and fell silent.
"Jesus Christ," Louis spat, smacking the heel of his hand against the wheel.
Louis climbed out again, locking Sam over his shoulder and breaking into a run down the street to the main road. Teetering on the edge of the pavement he looked left, peering for the familiar shape of a black cab. He stuck one arm in the air and yelled for a taxi, and to his relief one pulled up beside him. Louis dove for it, scrambling inside and slamming the door behind him. The driver eyed his disheveled appearance warily in the rear-view mirror.
"St. Martin in the Fields. As fast as you can, please," Louis panted, leaning back in the seat.
As the taxi pulled into the slow-moving traffic Louis took the opportunity to touch up his suit, buttoning the top button of his white dress shirt and tightening the powder blue tie that matched the fabric of his jacket and trousers. Using the drivers’ rear-view mirror, he adjusted his hair discreetly, prodding at his fringe until it held and looked passable. He checked his pockets, gratefully relieved when he knew he had everything; phone, keys, wallet.
He settled into his seat, taking a moment to breathe. He glanced out of the window, looking at the buildings whizzing past them, trying to determine how far into the journey they were. They were perhaps ten minutes away, he thought. Louis lifted his right wrist to look at his watch, and held back the moan of anguish in his throat. Alex was going to kill him.
The bells of the church echoed down the street as the taxi hurtled up to it. Louis all but threw his money at the driver, calling his thanks and not bothering to wait for his change. At the same moment that he jogged up the concrete path to the grand building, the vintage Rolls Royce containing the bride and her father pulled up behind him. The mother of the bride and the bridesmaids, all looking beautiful in pale pink with bouquets of daisies, swarmed towards the car, intent on straightening the bride’s dress before she made her big entrance. In their distraction, Louis was able to slip past them unnoticed.
The church was full, a hum of chatter echoing off the high ceiling where all the guests were seated in the pews. They were a sea of hats and fascinators, all the shades of the rainbow and more. The sun, higher in the sky, streamed through the stained glass windows, refracting coloured light on the stone floor of the aisle.
Louis couldn’t remember the last time, before the wedding rehearsals of course, that he’d willingly stepped into church. Even now, he was surprised that he hadn’t burst into flames upon setting foot inside. He hadn’t been bought up with a religion, and if he was honest with himself he’d never really given it much thought. It was only after Alex had told him he would be getting married in a church that he’d stopped and considered it. He’d always been of the opinion that churches were dull, cold places, somber and serious. However, with the view in front of him now though, Louis couldn’t deny that there was some quiet, dignified beauty to the place.
Louis took a second to compose himself. He tugged on the bottom of his jacket and took another deep breath, slowly releasing the air again. He wiped the back of his left hand across his forehead to subtly brush away the sheen of sweat he could feel there, and then he stepped forward. The heels of his shining black shoes clicked quietly as he made his way up the aisle, smiling confidently at a few people on his way past and acting as if he’d been there the whole time. Fortunately, no one seemed any the wiser. Alex was stood at the top of the church in a suit that matched Louis’, talking quietly with the vicar. When he spotted Louis he gave him an urgent look, silently questioning. Louis could almost hear his voice scolding his lateness in his head. Louis smiled apologetically and increased the speed of his pace towards him, striding up the aisle.
Ten paces away from him, though, a hand grabbed his sleeve and stopped him in his tracks. Louis jerked to a halt, turning on his heel.
"Glad you could join us, Lou," a voice said dryly. "Fashionably late, as always."
Louis rolled his eyes, lifting an eyebrow towards Liam. "As you can see, Li, I am not late, nor early, but perfectly on time."
Zayn snorted from Liam’s left side, looking dashing in a black and white suit that matched Liam’s. "Yes, you’re on time for a guest like us," he emphasised. "For a best man, however, you’re very late."
"I suppose Alex is used to you being late; he’s been friends with you long enough to expect it of you," Liam said seriously, but Louis could see the teasing sparkle in his eyes. "But on his wedding, Lou. Tut tut."
"None of my alarms went off," Louis explained, voice lowered to prevent anyone from hearing them. "And Sam wouldn’t start. I had to get a taxi."
"Finally broken down, has she?" Niall piped up from Liam’s left side, smart and sharp in his own grey outfit. "Took her long enough. I thought you were meant to take her to the garage weeks ago?"
Louis realised then that he had forgotten about that appointment he’d made with the mechanic. Sam, his little dark green one litre Ford Fiesta, had been his faithful friends for seven years, and over that time he’d gotten used to her temperamental locking system and dodgy clutch. Over the last few weeks she’d started making a clunking noise whenever Louis slowed down too quickly or took a corner too sharply. Louis had to admit that this time, it looked like she was in dire need of help.
Niall sighed at Louis’ expression. "You forgot, didn’t you?"
"I’ve just been so busy," Louis prodded at his fringe self-consciously. "You know, with work, and making sure everything was ready for today…"
"You’ve forgotten your boutonniere, too," Niall pointed out. Turning around, he plucked a white rose from the bouquet at the end of the wooden pew and affixed it to Louis’ lapel. "There."
"Oh, thanks," Louis looked down at the rose, touching it gently to make sure it was secure. "I didn’t have time to find mine at home. Not that I can remember where I put it."
Liam groaned under his breath, exchanging a quick glance with Zayn. "Louis," he said under his breath, sounding vaguely threatening. "When you’re best man at our wedding, if you’re late I swear I’ll…I’ll-"
"Never forgive you," Zayn finished, smiling sweetly. Louis got the hint that what Zayn had just said was the tame version of what Liam would do to him.
"Right," Louis said uncertainly. "I’ll set fifteen alarms on your day then, shall I?" He opted for smiling his most innocent smile, hoping for the best. Liam rolled his eyes, and then Louis knew he was off the hook with him. Ten years of them being best friends meant Louis knew him inside out; he knew the difference between Liam actually being pissed off with him and just pretending.
Louis looked towards Alex, aware that the service was minutes away from beginning. "I'd better get up there, see how the groom is doing."
"Check he’s not getting cold feet," Niall nodded. "Relax, Lou, you’ve done everything you can. Now you just need to make sure he’s not having second thoughts and hand over the rings when you’re asked. Everything else has been taken care of."
"Rings and feet," Louis looked back towards the half-open church doors, glimpsing white taffeta blowing in the breeze. He patted his breast pocket. "I’m sure I can take care of them-"
He broke off, patting his pocket again. He patted his other breast pocket, then both his trouser pockets.
"Oh, god," he exhaled. His heart felt like it had relocated somewhere in his stomach. "Oh, Jesus."
"Poor choice of words in a church, mate," Niall said, aiming for something close to a joke. His eyes, though, mirrored just a fraction of the all-consuming dread currently seeping through Louis' veins.
"Louis…" Zayn said, his own dark eyes fixed on Louis’ hands as they fluttered up and down his suit. "Please tell me you haven’t…"
"He has," Liam finished, looking horrified.
"I have," Louis confirmed. He looked between the three boys, ice-cold panic beginning drip steadily down his spine. "I’ve forgotten the rings.”
At that moment the congregation got to their feet, their chatter dying down as they all turned expectantly towards the back of the church. Soft organ music began drifting through the church, and the wooden doors were opened by the ushers, revealing one of the beaming bridesmaids clutching her bouquet in front of her. People around them ‘ahhh’-ed and sighed appreciatively. There was a natural pause in the music, and then she took her first steps forward, leading the bridal party into the church.
Louis looked back to the boys urgently. In the corner of his eye he could see Alex beckoning him to his side. "Help me," he squeaked.
"How?!" Niall hissed.
"Hang on. I’ve got it," Liam said. He turned to Zayn, already twisting the platinum band off his ring finger. "Zee, take your ring off."
"My…no! They can’t get married with our engagement rings!"
Louis held his palm out for Liam to drop his ring into it. "Li, you’re a lifesaver. Thank you. Er, which of you has smaller fingers?"
"Zayn," Liam answered. "So Izzy will have to wear his."
"You owe me for this," Zayn said, though Louis wasn’t sure if that was directed toward himself or Liam. Probably both, he thought. Nonetheless, Zayn worked his ring off and it clinked softly against Liam’s in Louis’ hand. "Niall, is it too late to make you our best man?"
"I’m shit at organising things, mate."
"I can hear you," Louis hissed pointedly. He closed his fist over the rings. "Thanks, I owe you all a drink."
He heard Zayn mutter, "It’s a free bar, twat," under his breath but he didn’t pause to reply, scurrying up to join Alex at the altar.
He clapped Alex on the shoulder, smiling breezily when he turned to face Louis, face lined with stress. He was dressed immaculately, suit perfectly fitted and complemented by Louis’, a soft cream rose pinned to the lapel of his blazer. His hair was sleekly styled, sandy blond strands brushed and gelled meticulously. Louis knew him well though; he saw the way Alex's hands were curled into anxious fists, the shimmer of perspiration at his temples.
"You’re late," he muttered, twisting his fingers around themselves in front of him. "Is everything ok?"
"Perfect," Louis told him smoothly. "Absolutely no problems at all. No second thoughts from you?"
The first bridesmaid reached them, taking her place on the opposite side of the church to them. Alex released a slow, shaky breath.
"None at all," he said, and though even his voice was jittery, there was conviction in his words. "Is she ok? I mean, does she look ok? Happy? Not looking she’s having doubts, or something?"
Louis turned to look over his shoulder, catching Izzy’s eye. She smiled at him, radiant and lovely in her ivory gown, blonde hair in loose curls around her shoulders. The dress suited her slim frame literally down to the ground, sleek and skimming the floor. Her bouquet was predominantly blush coloured and white roses, interspersed with daisies to match those of her bridesmaids.
Louis turned back to Alex . "She’s stunning," he said, and Alex grinned.
"I knew she would be."
The vicar gestured for Alex to step forward with a little wave of his hand and he did so, turning to face Izzy as she joined him. The music faded, and the congregation sat again in a rustle of clothing and service sheets. When there was silence, the vicar began his welcome speech.
Halfway through, the church doors creaked on their hinges. A few people, including Louis, turned around in time to see a tall, dark-haired man slip into the church and sit in an empty seat at the back.
"Urgh," Louis muttered to Alex under his breath. "I hate it when people are late, don’t you?"
Alex gave him a deadpan look, quirking an eyebrow. Louis grinned his sweetest grin.
The ceremony went without a hitch, until the vicar said the words Louis had been dreading. "May I have the rings, please?"
Louis stepped up, placing Zayn and Liam’s rings on the open bible the vicar held. He shrunk back quickly, breath held in his chest. Izzy looked at the two decidedly masculine-looking, personally engraved rings, and frowned a little. She looked over Alex’s shoulder to peer at Louis. Louis smiled tightly.
She gave him a look that clearly said ‘we’re going to talk about this later’, and then picked up Liam’s ring, positioning it over Alex’s finger. Louis let out the breath he’d been holding. He made eye contact with Liam and nodded triumphantly, grinning.
Liam just shook his head slowly, Niall silently laughing next to him.
"And so ladies and gentlemen, please raise your glasses and join me in a toast to the newlyweds. To Alex and Isabelle! The new Mr and Mrs Carmichael!" Louis lifted his glass.
‘Alex and Isabelle!’ the crowd echoed, all taking sips from their champagne flutes and then breaking into a round of applause. Next to Louis, Alex and Izzy kissed sweetly, to the cheers of their family and friends in front of them.
Louis sat down again in an empty chair next to Alex, lifting his glass to his mouth and taking a large gulp of champagne to try and calm his jittery nerves. He hated giving speeches, especially ones where he had to be funny and simultaneously try and embarrass Alex whilst avoiding offending everyone else. The guests had laughed, though, and some had even cried, so Louis supposed he must have done all right. All he’d had to do was mention soulmates and love and eternities and people had been dabbing their tears away with their immaculately pressed white linen napkins.
Across the room, he saw Niall get up and make a beeline for the bar, Liam hot on his heels. Louis set his now empty glass down on the table and stood, intent on following them. Before he could, though, Alex curled a hand around Louis’ wrist, pulling him back down again. Louis sat back in his seat with a wince, already anticipating Alex’s next words.
"Louis," Alex said in his ear. Louis smiled sheepishly at him. "Listen, not that we don’t appreciate everything you’ve done for the wedding, ‘cos we do, and your speech was amazing…but I have to ask- why did I get married with a ring that has ‘Always, Z’ engraved inside? And why does Izzy ’s say ‘Always, L’? I mean, I bought Izzy ’s ring myself, and it’s definitely not the one she’s wearing now."
Louis rubbed the back of his neck, averting his eyes to the guests chatting at the round tables in front of them. "Well, it’s a funny story, actually. I was running a bit late this morning, you see, and I kind of….forgot the rings. But!" he said quickly before Alex could interrupt. "Liam- you’re wearing his ring, by the way- drove me home during the cocktail hour and I picked up the right rings." He produced the black velvet ring box from his pocket, handing it over to Alex.
"Thanks," Alex said, relief evident. "I thought she’d done it as some sort of joke that I didn’t get."
Izzy was talking to someone on her other side, so Alex just reached for her left hand and wordlessly pulled it beneath the white tablecloth. When Alex had swapped the rings over, she glanced at her hand and then graced Louis with a forgiving smile. Alex handed Zayn and Liam’s rings back to Louis, and Louis gripped them tightly, already looking for the boys so he could hand them back before he encountered further disaster.
Alex threw an arm around Louis’ shoulder, pulling him in for a side-along hug. "Thank you, Lou. Things are never boring with you, are they?" he said.
Louis’ smile faltered before he could stop it, but he recovered smoothly, pulling away and clearing his throat. "That’s why you keep me around, isn’t it?" he shrugged. He patted Alex’s knee and then stood. "I’m just gonna go and give these rings back, ok?"
"Sure, I’ll let you know when we need to round people up for the first dance."
Louis made his escape from the top table and wandered around the vast white marquee, thanking people who complimented him on his speech and shaking hands with family members he hadn’t met yet. He was waylaid for a good five minutes by Alex's grandmother, Edie, a tiny elderly lady dressed in a frilly fuchsia dress who pinched his cheek and declared how smart he looked, marveling at his speech. She demanded that he promise her a dance later and so he did, kissing her soft, wrinkled cheek and making her blush, and then swiftly making his escape.
He eventually made it to the bar, but found himself confused when it appeared that neither Zayn, Liam, nor Niall were anywhere near it. He took a moment to order a drink, a Cosmopolitan, and while he was waiting for it to be prepared he perused the tent, assessing his next move. There were at least twelve tables under the marquee, all decorated with white tablecloths and lit candles places on mirrors as centerpieces. The boys didn’t appear to be sat at any of them. Louis vaguely wondered if Edie had managed to trap them all somewhere.
Scanning across the room, his eyes fell on a man standing alone in the corner of the marquee. Louis recognized him as the man who had been late to the ceremony earlier. He appeared to be alone, sipping from his glass of champagne, watching the rest of the guests mingle around him without joining into any conversations himself.
Louis’ dragged his eyes from his feet to his head, eyes falling first on his black shining shoes, up to black trousers that fitted his thighs like a second skin. His black blazer half covered a black and white patterned shirt that only had the few bottom buttons done, artfully arranged so the planes of his chest were revealed. Louis’ eyes lingered appreciatively on his defined collarbones and at the hint of tattoos just below them, his mouth beginning to water, and then drifted up the line of his neck to rest on the razor sharp cut of his jaw.
His hair was shoulder length, the shorter strands curling around his neck. The left side of his parting was tucked behind his ear, giving Louis a perfect view of his profile, the straight line of his nose down to his full top lip. Subconsciously, Louis rolled his own suddenly dry lips into his mouth, licking at the crease of them to wet them a little. The man turned, giving Louis a full view of his front, and before Louis could look away his eyes had shifted and they locked gazes.
Even from across the room Louis could feel the full effect of this strangers’ intense gaze, the way he held Louis in place. The man’s eyes left his, trailing down Louis’ body and up again to his face. Louis shifted his weight from one foot to the other, feeling like that stare was a physical presence on his body, touching his skin and leaving behind burning trails in its wake. He swallowed. Goosebumps broke out on the skin of his arms under his suit. The stranger smiled, half sultry and half friendly, an expression Louis didn’t even know could be done.
Louis’ drink was set down next to him on the bar, and their connection was broken. Louis thanked the bartender and turned away, looking back at the stranger. He was still smiling, and Louis offered his own small smile back before remembering his mission. Reluctantly, he ducked back into the crowds, making his way out of the marquee. He felt a little flustered, and raised the back of his hand to his cheek to chest he hadn’t turned an embarrassing shade of red.
Eventually he found the boys standing next to the welcome drinks table just outside the marquee, which in hindsight should have been the first place Louis looked, and he handed the rings back to a grateful Liam and Zayn. They were speaking to a few people Louis recognised as Alex’s closest friends from university, architect Lisa with the blonde shortcut bob, and dark-skinned tattooist Jake.
Though they’d grown up together and stayed with each other for most of their lives, Alex and Louis had gone to different universities. Alex had moved to Birmingham and Louis had stayed where he was to go to Manchester University, where he’d met dark-eyed, artistic Zayn and his music student boyfriend Liam on a night out. They’d introduced him to philosophy-studying Niall, who was a breath of fresh air with his seemingly never-ending positive disposition, and within weeks the four of them were glued at the hip.
Once they’d graduated, though,Alex and Louis reunited and both moved to London for work, Louis in his own flat where he could work from home, and Alex moving in with Izzy . Alex’s friends Jake and Lisa both followed from Birmingham, and Zayn, Liam and Niall had all got jobs working in the city. Within a few years they’d all settled down and never really left each other’s sides. Zayn and Liam had gotten engaged shortly after Alex and Izzy had, and Louis had gone from being best man to nobody to being best man to two couples getting married within months of each other. In the past year or so Louis had discovered a newfound appreciation for wedding planners; he was only the best man and it was the most stressful experience he’d even been through in his life.
"We’re just talking about work," Liam informed him as Louis took a sip of his Cosmo. "Jake’s just finished a back piece of a tiger’s face for a client."
"Ouch," Louis winced. "How many sittings?"
"Four," Jake sighed. "I really enjoyed doing it, but she just wouldn’t sit still."
"Not sure I could sit still for that long even if I wasn’t getting repeatedly stabbed with a needle," Niall drained the last of his drink. "Doesn’t sound like fun to me."
"I’ll get my needle in you someday," Jake winked at him.
"Was that a euphemism?" Zayn asked and Niall snorted.
"What about you, Louis?" Jake asked, tilting his pint glass in Louis’ direction. "Looking to get anymore ink anytime soon?"
Louis shrugged, thinking back to the stag he’d had Jake do for him on his right upper arm a few months back. "Maybe. Need to find something to have done, first."
"You know where I am when you decide. And you better watch it, Horan, I’ll take your tattoo virginity if it’s the last thing I do," Jake said seriously, and Niall guffawed in response.
"Hey, guys?" Louis asked, and they all turned to him expectantly. "Does anyone know who that guy is in there? The one in the black standing on his own."
They all peered into the marquee, bobbing their heads to try and see him like they were a bunch of meerkats. It was probably the most unsubtle thing Louis had ever seen in his life.
"Oh, him," Lisa said. "He was sat at my table for the speeches. His name’s Harry Styles. He’s a distant cousin of Alex’s, like second cousin twice removed sort of thing."
"Oh. I didn’t see him at any of the family gatherings or rehearsals before the wedding," Louis said, glancing across at Harry. He watched as the man plucked another flute of champagne from the tray of a passing waitress, smiling his thanks at her.
"No, that’s because he’s out of the country a lot. I think he was left a lot of money by a rich relative or something a few years ago, so he travels all over the place. He’s barely ever home."
"Hm," Louis said thoughtfully, and not a little jealously. "Must be nice to see the world like that."
"I know. Alex mentioned once that he’s into yoga and spiritual stuff, too, so he goes off to these month-long retreats in Bali and places like that."
Louis snorted indelicately. "Ah, right. Bit of a hippy, is he? Wasn’t expecting that. He’s what, twenty five?" Lisa nodded her confirmation. "Must be a quarter-life crisis thing, going off to ‘find himself'."
"Way to judge a book by its cover," Zayn muttered. Louis stuck his tongue out at him.
"Yeah," Liam agreed. "I have an idea, Lou; instead of assuming all these things about him, why don’t you go and talk to him? He looks a bit lonely in there by himself."
"And he’s fit," Niall said mildly, peering over the top of his sunglasses.
"Please," Louis scoffed. "He’ll probably try and read my aura. I bet he goes on juice diets as well, and lectures people on love and peace and all that crap."
"Maybe he could teach you a thing or two, then," Niall retorted.
And just like that, in one nanosecond the conversation in the group died an awkward death. Louis frowned, looking around his friends just to have them all pointedly avoid his eyes, all taking a new interest in their drinks or their surroundings. Louis swallowed. "What’s that supposed to mean?"
Niall peered into his empty glass, shaking it so ice cubes clinking gently in the bottom. "Nothing."
"It’s not nothing, Niall."
"Well, it’s just…"
"What?" Louis felt his face grow hot, heart beginning to thud in his chest. "Come on, spit it out."
Niall squirmed, clearly wishing he’d kept his mouth shut. "The thing is, Lou…and I can say this to you because I love you and I’ve known you for a long time. It's just...it's difficult to listen to a best man talking about things like soulmates and eternal love when you know he doesn’t really believe in it."
Louis bit his lip. Something close to hurt disguised in anger pulled in his chest. He took a deep breath, and then lifted his left shoulder and dropped it in one quick motion. "Dunno what you mean," he said coolly. "Course I believe in love. I love you lot, don’t I?"
"We love you, too," Liam cut in quickly. "I think what Niall means is that, well, you're on your own a lot...and you’re never with someone for long. You never really connect with anyone. And we worry that you might be a bit…lonely?" he trailed off.
"Lonely?" Louis snorted. "Come on, Liam. I’m fine by myself, always have been. I don’t need someone else to be happy, do I? You know why I'm the way I am." Unintentionally, his voice grew hard and cold. "In case you’ve forgotten, I’ve just come out of a relationship and I’m sure you remember how that ended. I’d say I’m better off on my own than with him, wouldn’t you?" He caught Zayn’s flinch out of the corner of his eye.
"Of course you are," Liam said firmly. "Ethan’s history. Just, slow down, will you, Lou? We’re only twenty eight. Some people don’t meet the one they spend their lives with until much older than us."
"Right," Niall looked upset, mouth turned down at the corners. "I didn’t mean anything by it. I’m sorry, Lou. I’m just trying to look out for you."
Louis sighed. "I know. Thanks, Niall. Really though, I’m ok."
"Course you are. Hey, do you want me to try and set you up with one of the hot waiters?" he offered, brightening.
Out of the corner of his eye, Louis saw Alex waving, trying to get his attention. "Maybe later, yeah? Come on, it’s the first dance. Help me round everyone up, will you?"
They all dutifully traipsed off into the tent. Louis stood for a moment and watched them go, feeling a little sick. Knowing that they’d been talking about him behind his back didn’t feel that good. He didn’t know that they’d been able to see through him that transparently, and he was torn between feeling angry and appreciative that they were looking out for him. He settled on trying to forget the whole conversation, draining the last of his drink and following the others back into the marquee.
During the first dance, Louis saw Harry Styles standing across from him on the other side of the dance floor. Harry hadn’t noticed him, so Louis took the opportunity to watch him, curiosity piqued. He was watching Alex and Izzy dance with a soft, happy smile on his face, hands in his pockets as he swayed gently from one foot to the other. He seemed perfectly content to be by himself, which at a wedding, a predominantly social affair, was quite unusual. As the first dance segued into the second song more people joined the dance floor, and Louis was pulled into a dance by Izzy, while Niall found a bridesmaid to be his partner and Liam and Zayn slid into each other’s’ arms in the corner of the floor.
"Thank you for today, Louis," she whispered, chin on his shoulder. "It’s been wonderful."
"You’re very welcome, love," Louis said fondly. "Sorry about things going a bit wrong in a couple of places."
She laughed lightly. "Yeah, I’m not sure anybody else in the history of weddings has gotten married with someone else’s engagement rings."
"You can’t deny it’s unique," Louis shrugged, and she laughed again. "I’ve got to do it all again in a couple of months, anyway. I’m pretty sure Liam will cut off my balls in my sleep if I forget the rings on his day."
"Well, they can always use our rings," Izzy joked. "At least we know Zayn and I are the same size."
"See? Some good came of it after all." Louis spun her under his arm and then nodded towards Alex. "Oh, looks like your husband wants you back. I think I’ll go and get a drink before Edie finds me. I promised her a dance earlier."
Izzy made a sympathetic sound. "Make sure she keeps her hands above your waist. And don’t go too far- karaoke’s starting soon."
Louis groaned loudly. "Christ, grope-y old ladies and karaoke. I can’t bear it."
Izzy slapped his shoulder lightly as they pulled away from each other. "I’m putting your name down for something."
Louis’ pretend look of horror turned into a real one. "Please, god, tell me you are joking."
She smiled secretively, leaning back into Alex when he slipped his arm around her waist. "Wait and see."
"I definitely need a drink," Louis said, and excused himself from the two of them to head over to the bar.
Most people were still on the dance floor, so Louis got to the bar after only a couple of minutes’ wait. He ordered another Cosmo and then watched everyone dancing, trying to be casual in his search for Harry. When his drink was set down in front of him, there was still no sign. Louis couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed by the thought that Harry might have slipped away after the first dance and gone home, wherever home was for him. He felt a little bad then for poking fun at Harry earlier; he didn’t even know the man, though he was undeniably attracted to him. He should have just spoken to him earlier when he’d seen him in the marquee, taken Liam’s advice and gotten to know him a little.
Louis stayed by the bar, drinking down his cocktail self-pityingly. When the DJ announced that it was time for karaoke Louis was feeling pleasantly happy and relaxed. He’d done his duty as best man, and now he could get completely hammered without feeling bad about it. The hangover would surely be worth it.
A cheer rose from the guests as Izzy climbed up onto the makeshift stage in her dress to start the karaoke. Louis asked for another drink, and when he had it he sat at a nearby table just out of the view of the dance floor in the shadows. Here, he had a perfect view of the karaoke and he was near enough to the bar so he could drink whilst he watched his loved ones make fools of themselves.
The table was littered with empty glasses, the candles in the centerpieces long blown out. Louis picked up a little gold confetti balloon and fiddled with it, bending the plastic between his forefinger and thumb. A little way to his left, Jake and Lisa sat together, quietly talking. Jake’s expression was soft, smile gentle where it was directed towards the DJ. Louis followed his line of sight and found Niall next to the DJ, talking in his ear and pointing at the laptop in front of him. Niall laughed, and Jake’s smile grew wider and impossibly fond. Louis shook his head a little and then averted his gaze.
On the dance floor, people were swaying to Izzy ’s rendition of ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’, all swaying their arms in the air. Had there not been strict health and safety rules enforced, Louis was willing to bet they’d all have their lighters out, holding them aloft. It was probably a good thing they couldn’t though; drunk people and fire could never had a good outcome. In the corner of the dance floor Liam and Zayn were still wrapped up in each other, kissing like they were the only ones in the room and totally oblivious to the raucous applause from the crowd as Izzy took a bow and was then lifted offstage by Alex.
"And now, ladies and gentlemen, singing Britney Spears’ ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time’…it’s Mr Niall Horan!"
Everyone laughed and jeered as Niall stumbled to centre stage. His shirt was half untucked and he had a half empty pint in one hand, which he held aloft and then bowed low. Louis grinned, clapping along with everyone else. The opening bars of the song started, and Niall lifted the mic to his mouth, almost yelling ‘Oh baby, baby!’
There was rustling to Louis’ left, and then a fresh Cosmo was set down in front of him. It was promptly followed by a tall figure settling into the chair next to Louis, placing his own drink on the table.
"Can’t go wrong with Britney at a wedding, can you?" Harry said, smiling across at Louis.
Louis almost swallowed his tongue. He stared at Harry, brain scrambling for a response. "I…I suppose not," he licked his lips. "Britney’s classic."
"She is. I’m Harry, by the way," Harry said, holding out his hand for Louis to shake.
Louis took his hand, holding back the startled noise that threatened to leave his mouth when Harry’s warm, dry palm closed over his, almost engulfing his hand entirely. "Nice to meet you, Harry. I’m Louis, official best man and runner of this show."
Harry grinned at him. Louis clenched his other hand into a fist at the appearance of dimples popping into Harry’s cheeks. ‘"ell, you’ve done a great job. It’s been a great day."
"Thank you," Louis said. "And, erm, thank you for the drink."
"I’m not sure it counts, ‘cos it’s a free bar. If it wasn’t free, I’d have bought you one anyway," Harry said, smile turning into the same half-sly-half-friendly one he’d graced Louis with when they’d locked eyes earlier. "Why are you sat back here alone, then? Surely as best man you should be up there with the groom?"
"Hm, just because I kind of wanted a bit of space to breathe," Louis explained. "Today’s been seriously hectic. And, well, it’s also kind of because of that," Louis pointed up to the stage.
On it, Niall had put down his pint on a nearby speaker, and was currently dragging the back of the hand that wasn’t holding the mic down the side of his face.
"My loneliness, is killing me," he sang passionately. "And I, I must confess, I still believe-"
"Still believe!’" the crowd supplied in varying keys of falsettos.
"I see," Harry said, sounding like he was trying not to laugh. "Do you know him?"
"Give me a siiiiiiiign!"
"Nope," Louis shook his head immediately. "No. Never met him before in my life."
"Hit me baby one more time!" Niall struck a pose, punching one arm into the air as the song finished. Everyone went mad for it, whooping and cheering as Niall bowed deeply, then suddenly lost his balance and stumbled a little to the right. He righted himself, picking up his pint again and bringing the mic back to his mouth. "I’d like to dedicate that song to my best buddy," he said a little breathlessly.
"Shit," Louis bit out, already anticipating Niall’s next words.
"To Louis," Niall said, pointing somewhere to the left of Louis’ head. "I love you, man. Sorry for making you mad earlier. That was for you- I know how much you love Britney."
Louis saw Harry turn to face him with one eyebrow raised. "Guess you do kinda know him after all," he said.
"Right," Louis wanted the floor where he sat to open and swallow him into the earth. "So, I should introduce myself again." He held out his right hand, and to his pleasure Harry took it, playing along and shaking it again. "It’s lovely to meet you, I’m Louis, official best man, runner of this show, and I have shit friends that live to embarrass me."
He took a gulp of his drink, ignoring Harry’s chuckle and shooting daggers in Niall’s direction. It was wasted though, as Niall was currently trying to convince to DJ to let him stay up there and do another song. To his right, hovering at the edge of the floor, was Edie, clearly looking for someone.
"Oh god, I forgot about Edie," he muttered.
Harry looked at him curiously, interested. "Edie? Alex's grandma? Is she your date?"
Louis snorted a laugh. "Uh huh, yeah. I make a habit of bringing old ladies as my dates to occasions like this. No, I just promised her a dance."
"Sweet," Harry cooed, and Louis rolled his eyes at him. "So, you’re not here with a date, then?"
"No," Louis shrugged. "I was meant to bring Sam, but she couldn’t make it."
He was enjoying teasing Harry greatly, but when the man’s eyes looked down to his drink, his smile fading a little, Louis took pity. He nudged Harry’s elbow with his own. "I’m joking. Sam’s my car, she broke down this morning. I’m not here with anyone. Maybe after I’m done with Edie you and I could….?"
Harry’s smile was back, eyes twinkling in the multicoloured lights from the dance floor. "I’d like that."
"Ok, then," Louis stood, finding himself to be reluctant to leave Harry so soon after they’d met. "Feel free to cut in at any time, I’ve heard Edie’s a bit of an arse-grabber."
"Then I’d be more than happy to take her place," Harry fired back. He shot Louis a wink and Louis felt his face flame.
He scurried away, tapping Edie on the shoulder and guiding her onto the floor, where one of the bridesmaids, having wrestled the mic away from Niall, was wailing her way through Bruno Mars’ 'Just The Way You Are'. He spun Edie slowly, positioning her so he could see Harry from the floor. He could just make out his shape in the shadows, watching him and drinking from his glass. He couldn’t deny it now, he really felt bad about taking the piss out of Harry earlier. It was clear he was lovely, and Niall had been right, he was very fit. Louis could feel it in him, the first new spark of attraction tugging at him, pleading for him to do something about it.
"You’ve done such a good job with today, Louis," Edie said. She was a few inches shorter than him, and her voice was muffled a little by the blaring music, so much so that Louis had to lean down a little to hear her.
"Thanks, darling," he replied. "Glad you’re having a good time."
He could feel it then, her hand moving subtly down the back of his suit. Louis rolled his eyes, plucking her hand from where it was inching towards his bum and putting it back on his waist. "Behave, you. Flattery will get you nowhere with me."
"You can’t blame an old lady for trying, can you?" She replied with a twinkle in her eye. "Looks like I’ve got no chance though, not with the way young Harry over there is staring at you. He always was a handsome boy, even when he and Alex were children."
Louis turned just enough to catch Harry’s eye, biting his lip to hold back his smile when Harry grinned lazily at him.
"Think you might be in, there," Edie said with a wink. "Just finish this dance with me and then I’ll let you at him."
"If Alex knew you spoke like that…" Louis shook his head. "He’d kill me for corrupting you."
"Oh, please," Edie scoffed. "I’ve been on this earth a lot longer than the both of you; it’s nothing I haven’t seen before." She lifted a hand from his shoulder and patted his cheek gently. "You’re a good boy, Louis. You’ve got a good heart."
Louis smiled, leaning down to kiss her cheek, and then jerked upright again, moving her hand off his bum. "Damn, you got me that time."
"Just biding my time," Edie grinned toothily. Thankfully, at that moment the song ended, so Louis left her with a final kiss to her cheek and handed her off to Izzy, heading back over to the table where Harry still sat.
"Somehow I don’t think karaoke’s appropriate for a first dance, do you?" Harry asked. "I got us more drinks instead."
Louis sank down in his chair, making a grab for his fresh drink. "You read my mind. I’m not doing that again- did you see how many times she went for my arse?"
"I counted four, only two of which you noticed," Harry replied. "Edie knows a good bum when she sees one. I must admit I don’t blame her for trying."
Louis met Harry’s eyes over the rim of his glass, blinking slowly at Harry’s smirk. A smile pulled at the corners of his own mouth. "Are you here with anyone tonight, Harry?"
"I had a change of plan," Harry shrugged, tone clear that that’s all there was to it. "I’m here alone."
Louis nodded. On the dancefloor, Edie was heading for Liam and Zayn, who were still dancing together. Louis shivered, and then moved to take another drink.
Maybe he’d had more than he thought, because on the journey to his mouth he sloshed his glass a little too hard, so some of his drink dribbled down the corner of his mouth to his chin. Louis cursed, reaching for a napkin, but Harry beat him to it. Before Louis could do little more than blink the cloth was pressed gently to his face, soaking up the drop of alcohol. He froze under Harry’s touch, staring.
"Here, let me," Harry said.
Louis met Harry’s eyes, noticing how close he’d suddenly become. Even with the low lighting Louis could see how his eyes had become darker, momentarily hidden from Louis when he blinked slowly. Louis shifted in his seat, suddenly aware of how the air had thickened around them. The blare of the music seemed to fade away slightly, the space filled immediately by Harry’s presence.
Holding Louis’ eyes, he set down the napkin and lifted his hand again to rub away the last of the dampness on his skin. Louis gulped down a mouthful of air and blinked. Harry smiled a predatory smile and lifted his thumb to his mouth, licking any taste of the drink from his finger in a manner that was almost obscene. Louis let his eyes fall to Harry’s mouth, watching the way his pink lips encased his thumb, soft and almost irresistibly inviting.
Louis leaned forward a centimetre, lightheaded, though he couldn’t be sure if the dizziness was because of the alcohol or Harry. His own lips parted on a sharp little intake of breath when Harry pulled his thumb away, leaving a glisten of moisture on his lower lip. Louis reminded himself to breathe, inhaling a deep breath of Harry’s subtle cologne and then letting it out in one long, shallow exhale.
Harry shifted a little closer, so close that Louis could make out each of his eyelashes. Louis saw his throat bob as he swallowed. "I’m staying a hotel down the road…do you want to-"
"Yeah," Louis replied before he could stop himself. He backtracked quickly, leaning away a little so the spell between them was broken. The song finished, and sudden cheer of the crowd made him jump.
Harry leaned away too, reaching for his drink and taking a long swallow. Louis saw him shift in his seat, looking a little uncomfortable. "I mean, it might be nice to have a drink somewhere quieter...and you know, I'm not sure my ears can take much more of Niall's singing."
On cue, the medley from Grease started, the intro to Summer Lovin’ beating out of the speakers. Niall climbed up onto the stage, cheering, and snatched the mic back from the DJ. He slicked one palm over the side of his hair, Zuko-style.
"We could stay for the Grease medley?" Harry suggested mildly, though his eyes never left Louis’. "That's always fun."
"It's fun until Niall starts thrusting, which will happen as soon as Grease Lightning starts," Louis told him, moving to stand. He patted his pockets, checking he had all of his belongings with him.
"Thrusting?" Harry looked towards the stage, one eyebrow raised.
"Yeah. He fancies himself a bit of a Kenickie. Edie will love it. So, erm, unless you want to watch Niall traumatizing everyone with his hips, I'd really like that drink."
Harry laughed, taking the hint, and stood. "Let’s go and say goodbye."
"Right, listen, I’ve got another one," Harry announced, and Louis groaned. "But you can’t laugh, ok? If you laugh, the forfeit is another shot of tequila."
"No," Louis whined, leaning over to knock his forehead onto the bartop. "No more tequila."
"Don’t laugh, then," Harry said mock-seriously, and then cleared his throat. "Ok, so two satellites get married. They said the wedding wasn’t much, but the reception was incredible!"
Louis rolled his lips into his mouth. He made a strangled sound, and then giggled feebly into the sticky wood under his face.
"Ha!" Harry pointed. "You laughed! More tequila!"
This silly side of Harry was one that Louis hadn’t expected to find, and he was pleasantly surprised and warmed by it. The two of them were the only ones in the bar of Harry’s hotel, bar stools positioned close together so each time one of them shifted their knees knocked together. Harry’s charming company coupled with a couple more drinks meant that they were both getting more and more giggly, and Louis had completely lost track of how long they’d been sat there together.
Easy conversation had descended into Harry’s terrible jokes, but it made Louis inexplicably more attracted to him. It thrummed under his skin every time he met Harry’s smiling eyes, jolted through his stomach each time the material on Harry’s thigh brushed his own. The simplest action of Harry handing him the slice of lime was somehow turned suggestive, their fingers lingering together for just the barest moment, just enough for Louis to feel his breath stutter a little in his throat.
Wincing, he slammed the shot glass down on the bar and wiped the back of his hand over his lips. "Fuck, I hate tequila."
Harry laughed gleefully. "I’ve always believed that the best way to get to know a person is to get drunk with them."
"Oh, so you’re trying to get me drunk?"
"I think I’m just as drunk as you," Harry’s eyes glittered a little. "You’re a bad influence."
"I do try," Louis smirked. He adjusted himself on the stool, gripping the bar so he didn’t overbalance and topple off. "There are other ways to get to know people that don’t involve alcohol, you know."
"But they’re not nearly as fun."
Louis titled his head in acknowledgment. "Very true, Harold."
"I have an idea," Louis continued, ignoring Harry’s confused question. "Let’s play twenty questions."
"Twenty questions?" Harry ran his right hand through his hair, pushing it back from his forehead. Louis stared, but it was a move that seemed to be so natural and familiar to him that Louis didn’t know if Harry was aware he’d done it. "I haven’t played that since I was about fifteen, but ok. Ten questions each?"
"Yep," Louis decided. "And they don’t have to be yes or no answers. I’m bending the rules a little."
"I don’t know why that doesn’t surprise me." Harry drained his drink. "After you."
"Ok," Louis thought for a moment. "First question. Football or rugby?"
"Football. What’s your favourite film?"
"And you didn’t want to stay for the Grease medley?" Harry hummed. He took a sip of his drink, watching Louis over the rim of his glass. "I’m surprised."
"My Danny Zuko impression is under lock and key, I’m afraid."
"Hm. Next question: favourite place in the world?"
"Has to be London," Harry said after a moment. He leaned in towards Louis a little. "These questions are a bit tame, Louis. Here I was thinking you were a bit mischievous." Louis raised his eyebrows at the teasing challenge in his voice. "My turn. Where’s the worst place you’ve had sex?"
Louis didn’t even need to consider that one. "Easy. I did it with my boyfriend in a McDonalds bathroom when I was sixteen." He reddened a little at Harry’s snort of laughter. "At the time it didn’t bother me, I’m sure I’m not the only person to have done that…but I hate even thinking about it now. And the sex was crap, too, which makes it even worse."
Harry laughed louder while Louis shook his head, cringing. "Shameless."
Louis groaned, rubbing his palm down his face to hide his embarrassment. "This is why not many people know about it," he said over Harry’s laughter. "I usually get people reacting like you. Can we please never bring this up again?"
"We all have cringy stories, Louis; some a lot worse than that. I won’t breathe a word to anyone, I swear."
In the corner of the bar, the bartender called for last orders. Louis peered down at his watch, seeing it was already gone midnight. When he looked up again Harry was watching him, and for a moment they locked eyes. Louis found his eyes flicking down to linger at Harry’s lips.
"Maybe I should get going-get back to my hotel," Louis said quietly.
"Maybe you should," Harry considered just as quietly. "Or…you could stay here with me."
Louis rolled his lips into his mouth, wetting them. "I could?"
"Yeah," Harry’s voice was barely above a whisper. "Come over here."
Louis obeyed, drawn to him like a magnet. Their faces hovered within inches of one another. No part of their bodies were touching, but Louis could feel Harry as if he really did have his hands on him. That feeling, that anticipation, hung suspended between them like a thin sheet of glass. At any moment it could shatter, and Louis couldn’t be sure which one of them was going to let go first.
Louis saw Harry’s throat bob as he swallowed. He licked his lips a little, smiling at the way Harry’s eyes zeroed in on his mouth. "Come on, then," he breathed, the command barely apparent in his voice. "Kiss me."
Harry smiled, soft and genuine. He curled a hand around the back of Louis’ neck and closed the gap between them. He nudged his nose into Louis’ cheek and then gently pressed his lips to Louis’. He folded his lips over Louis’ once, damp and hot, and then he leaned away just enough to change the angle before he kissed him again. Louis reached out to grip the collar of Harry’s shirt, pressing harder. A noise escaped him, a little whimper of pleasure, almost lost in the sounds of their lips parting and fitting back together again. Louis could taste the alcohol, sharp and bitter on Harry’s lips; could smell the lingering remnants of his cologne, something heady and intoxicating that made him feel like he would go mad if he had to pull away.
After a moment, Harry broke the kiss, edging back far enough away to be able to look Louis in the eyes. His cheeks were flushed, lips pinker. His hair, curling down and brushing over his cheekbones, looked mussed, though Louis didn’t remember putting his hands in it.
"Come to bed with me," Harry murmured, low and rasping through his throat.
It was still a question, and Louis knew he could say no, but the way Harry asked sent shivers running down Louis’ spine, his voice soft and teetering on a seductive demand. When he smiled after, all slow and making Louis’ mind go fuzzier through his tipsy haze, he knew he was in deep.
Louis nodded his assent, eyes still on Harry plump, pink lips. He swallowed down a dry throat. "Am I meant to count that as one of your questions?" he asked.
"I don’t care," Harry whispered, and then pressed his lips to Louis’ in another drawn out kiss before he stood. Louis took his outstretched hand, and allowed himself to be pulled up and guided out of the bar towards the red carpeted staircase of the hotel.
Harry’s room was impersonal, as all hotel rooms are. Cream painted walls were broken up by the thick floor length ruby red curtains that covered the windows. It was offset with dark furniture, mahogany desk and wardrobe, with a matching bedframe. And headboard, Louis noticed. The bed was high off the ground, pristinely made in white and red sheets with immaculately fluffed pillows and soft decorative throws. Harry’s black travel bag, still unpacked, sat on the floor at the end of the bed. It was one of the nicer hotel rooms Louis had stayed in, even complete with a little tray with a kettle, mugs and teabags.
When the door was shut behind them Harry shrugged off his jacket, hanging on a peg by the door, and then disappeared off into a little side room that Louis presumed was the ensuite. Louis listened to the sound of a tap being turned on, and wandered over to the window, pulling back one of the curtains to look at the view outside. The city, awake as ever no matter the hour of the night, thrived on below him in the form of taxis and people hurrying along the pavements.
The sound of a door clicking shut behind him had anticipation curling in the pit of his stomach. He turned slightly, glancing over his shoulder to find Harry stood a few feet from him.
Louis watched the lines of Harry’s arms as he shrugged off his jacket, hanging it on the corner of the standalone mirror next to him. Louis swallowed, saliva thick in his mouth at the lines of Harry’s throat that were exposed when he tugged at his shirt, adjusting it. When he looked up at Louis, his eyes were dark, a sultry ‘come hither’ that made Louis’ blood fizz in his veins.
So he obeyed. Injecting just the barest sway into his hips, he made his way over to Harry, only stopping when he was inches away. All the alcohol he’d ingested boosted his confidence, and he smiled indulgently as Harry watched him move, eyes trailing down his body.
Louis fitted his hands to the dip of Harry’s waist as they kissed again. In seconds Harry had slipped his tongue into Louis’ mouth, wet heat and the sharp tang of tequila. It was absurdly filthy, the way they kissed, but Louis loved it. He was thrilled by the thought of this stranger being his for the night; eagerness making him fiddle with the buttons of Harry’s shirt, undoing them one by one and then pushing the silky material from his shoulders.
He broke their kiss to stare at Harry’s skin in awe. It was littered with tattoos, his left arm almost fully covered with black drawings. Louis admired the swallows on his collarbones flying towards each other, quirking his eyebrow when he saw the giant butterfly in the centre of his torso. On anyone else it would have perhaps looked a little strange, but it looked perfect on Harry. Louis had always been a sucker for tattoos, and these looked incredible inked into Harry’s skin.
He pulled Harry down to kiss him again. Harry’s hand swept down Louis’ back, only stopping when each hand held a handful of Louis’ bum.
"Fuck," he said through kisses that were beginning to grow more urgent. "No wonder Edie was after your arse."
"I’ll take that compliment," Louis said breathlessly, and shamelessly arched his back, pushing back into Harry’s hands. Harry groaned, moving his mouth to Louis’ neck to press hot kisses to the skin there. He paused under his ear, sucking gently. Louis’ breath stuttered in his throat, hands curling to grip Harry’s bare shoulders, and he tilted his head further to expose his neck, needing more, more, more.
"I should probably ask," he managed to say when Harry’s hands moved to the buttons of his shirt. His own hands moved to Harry’s trousers, popping the button and dragging the zipper down. "Are you with someone? Someone…significant?"
"Bit late for asking questions like that isn’t it?" Harry asked, unbuttoning his trousers and letting them pool around his ankles. Louis didn’t really register what he’d said, too busy staring at the strong thighs and miles of leg that Harry had just revealed. "Next question," Harry rumbled into his ear, distracting and teasing, feather-light fingers undoing the buttons of Louis’ shirt one by one. "Top or bottom?"
"Hmm," Harry hummed, lips lingering at the cut of Louis’ jaw. "Correct."
"I wasn’t aware there was a right or wrong answer."
"On this occasion, there is."
The fact that Harry hadn’t answered Louis question was pushed to the back of his mind when Harry began walking them towards the bed. The back of his knees hit the mattress and then he was falling backwards, the weight of Harry’s body on top of his making his breath leave him in a huff and a chuckle. He reached up, pushing his hands into Harry’s hair and tugging down so he could kiss him again, all tongue and no pressure, filthy and wet and absolutely gorgeous.
Harry shifted back, not leaving Louis’ lips, to rub at Louis through his boxers. Louis groaned into his mouth, tightening his grip in his hair and tilting his hips up to get more of that pressure. Harry slipped a hand past the waistband of his boxers, his warm palm closing around his cock and Louis’ breath stuttered in his chest.
"Like that?" Harry asked, beginning to move his hand, lips only a hairs’ breath from Louis’, and Louis nodded, finally releasing Harry’s hair to grip at his bum, pushing all remaining clothing between them off and to the end of the bed. Harry’s cock, hard and hot, nudged at his hip and when he took hold of it Harry’s noises of pleasure only served to make him harder.
"Fuck," he cursed lowly, and then took hold of Harry’s wrist, making him let go so he could move and shift them until he was lying between Harry’s spread thighs, feeling his cock press into his stomach.
Harry smiled up at him, hair spread out over the pillows under his head. Louis leaned in for a light, close lipped kissed and then began making his way down, pressing kissed to Harry’s neck, his collarbones, his sparrows, licking a stripe over his nipple, finally stopping with his lips just centimeters from the head of his cock.
He looked up at Harry from under his fringe, quirking an eyebrow, half a smile playing around his lips.
Harry’s eyes were dark, lips parted slightly. "Please," he murmured.
Louis licked his lips and then took pity on him, pressing a teasing kiss to the head and then taking him into his mouth. Harry’s head went back, exposing his throat, and he reached down to push the fingers of his left hand into Louis’ hair. Louis closed his eyes, concentrating on the heavy thickness of Harry on his tongue, the glide of his wet lips over him. He used a hand to help him out, stroking up as his mouth went down. He paused on one slide up to tease his tongue over the head, letting out a groan himself when Harry’s hand tightened in his hair.
Louis tuned his movements to the sounds Harry made, working out his sensitive spots by the groans and sighs he let out. He was complex, a puzzle that Louis wanted to work out, to take him apart and figure out how he worked, and then put him back together and make him his. There was something about Harry that was in tune with Louis’ instincts, and when Harry’s hips tilted up and his head went back Louis knew he was close and he pulled off entirely, smiling at Harry’s moan of loss.
"Ah," Louis bent over him. "Easy, now."
Harry’s hand grabbed at his waist, surging up to meet his lips. "Fuck, you’re incredible."
Louis preened, arching his back down so his cock brushed over Harry’s, and used a hand to Harry’s shoulder to gently push him back down into the mattress. Harry obeyed, hair spreading out wildly over the pillow, dark curls stark against the crisp linen. His green eyes were wide, pupils dark and dilated.
"Please," he begged, trying to pull Louis down. "I want you to- please-"
Louis lowered his weight onto Harry, feeling the trails of heat Harry’s fingers left across his body as he touched and tasted him, knees bent around Louis’ hips, so close to what Louis knew he wanted, what Louis wanted to give to him.
"Lube?" Louis asked, and Harry swore, scrambling out from underneath him to rummage around in his bag. He dropped the bottle and condoms on the bed and grabbed for Louis as if the separation had pained him, letting Louis manhandle him until he was back underneath him, one knee bent and the other leg splayed out to the side. His cock was hot and hard, begging for attention, but he was almost obsessed with just kissing Louis, tongue dipping past Louis’ lips, searching and stroking his own.
Louis didn’t think he could last much longer like this, so he blindly reached for the lube, flicking the cap open and warming some in his fingers. His touch to the inside of Harry’s thigh had them falling open further, Harry’s breath stuttering in anticipation. He shivered when Louis tickled him delicately, grinning into Louis’ mouth and encouraging him further.
The tip of Louis’ middle finger breached him and his hips jerked a little even as he sighed into Louis’ mouth. "Yes," he hissed. "More."
Louis kept his eyes a little way open, watching Harry’s expression, instinctively knowing when to push further, when to stop. In minutes he had two fingers in him, gently rocking them in and out. With every sigh, every little moan Harry made, Louis’ cock twitched. He was so hot and tight around Louis’ fingers; he could barely imagine what it would feel like to actually be inside him.
"You’re so gorgeous," he told Harry outright, pleased when Harry’s cheeks pinkened further.
"I could say the same back," Harry panted. "M’ready. Please, please…"
Louis didn’t need to be told twice. He withdrew his fingers, cleaning them off on the sheets and reaching for a condom. He rolled it on and slicked himself with lube, fingers unexpectedly trembling, and then he leaned over Harry, kissing him soundly.
"Ready?" he asked, and Harry nodded.
Watching Harry’s face as he pushed into him was something Louis didn’t think he would ever forget. His arms flew out to the sides, gripping fistfuls of sheets and exposing the pale column of his throat. His chest hitched up and then relaxed with a long moan, eyes closed and lips parted. Louis paused, halfway in, and dove for his neck, pressing his lips to his throat and drawing blood to the surface.
He felt Harry’s hand at his hips, urging him on, so he pushed in further, not stopping until he was all the way in and then holding himself there.
"Holy fuck," Harry choked. "Yes..."
Louis pulled a little way out, and then pressed back in. With one hand to support himself, he reached for Harry’s chin, jerking it down so he could get to his mouth. "You feel incredible," he told him, kissing him wetly. "So, so good."
"Move," Harry answered. "Please,"
Louis could do nothing but obey, settling into a rhythm, relying on the sounds Harry made and the movements of his body to tell him what to do next. All he could hear was the sound of their bodies together and they furious pounding of his heartbeat in his ears. He was aware of Harry’s hands moving from the sheets to his back and flitting up to his hair, fingers twisting into his hair.
"Give it to me," Harry encouraged, and Louis pushed harder, thrust deeper, sweat breaking out across his back. Harry’s hands flew up to scrabble at the headboard, and Louis grinned, the thought flickering across his brain that he’d known that headboard would come in handy.
Harry’s muscles tightened, knees raising up higher, and Louis knew long before Harry opened his mouth what he was going to say. "Close."
Louis shifted his weight to one arm, using his free hand to curl his fingers around Harry’s cock and stroke him in time with his thrusts. Harry’s breath came quicker, his hands absolutely everywhere, and when they settled at Louis’ hips again, squeezing so tightly Louis knew they’d leave bruises, his body stiffened and he came with a cut off cry.
Louis stroked him through it, and then let go of his cock, pressing his hand back into the mattress and riding the heat in the pit of his stomach, feeling it build and build until it took over him in a blinding flash of white heat.
Harry welcomed the collapse of Louis on top of him, stroking a hand down Louis sweaty back. Louis could feel Harry’s heart pounding in his chest, mirroring his own, and when he felt like he had enough strength he turned his head to press his lips to Harry’s, kissing him softly and sweetly.
"Amazing," Harry told him through gradually slowing breaths. Louis hummed his agreement, before pulling out and disposing of the condom and then flopping onto his back next to Harry.
"Fuck," he said succinctly, and heard Harry laugh next to him.
"We have to do that again," Harry said and Louis nodded wordlessly.
Louis could still feel the buzz of the alcohol beneath his skin. It made him feel languid and heavy, and even though he definitely wanted to go for round two, he wasn’t sure he had the energy. By the sound of Harry’s breathing, he was feeling the same.
"Nap first?" he asked, and Harry laughed again. He rolled towards Louis, shifting his body so he was on his side. Louis tilted his head to the right to meet his eyes.
"Wake me up in an hour."
"’k," Louis hummed, and then let himself drift, lulled to sleep by the sound of Harry’s breathing.
Louis awoke the next morning to complete silence. In the stillness of the hotel room he lay on the mattress for a moment, listening for footsteps or the sounds of running water coming from the en suite. His sleepy blinking and slow scan of the room only confirmed what he already suspected; he was alone in the bed, and Harry had gone. His clothes were no longer scattered haphazardly around the room, and his black bag was missing from the end of the bed.
Louis let himself sink back down into the pillows, closing his eyes again. His head was pounding, and his mouth tasted like something had crawled in there during the night and died. Finding water and relieving his bladder were the two things dominating his attention, so he slipped out from under the sheets and padded to the bathroom. Once he’d flushed the toilet and washed his hands, he filled a glass from the counter with water and gulped it down, grateful for the cool water soothing his dry throat.
Setting the glass down again, he appraised himself in the wide mirror. His hair was a mess; dishevelled and sticking up at the back, and face was a little puffy from sleep. Louis’s eyes slid down, settling on the purple bruises dotting his neck and part of his chest. He stretched his neck, tilting his head down the left, and then winced a little when the biggest bruise throbbed dully. When he looked back up to his face, Louis was surprised to see a small smile on his face. It faded quickly when Louis remembered that Harry had left without a word and was likely not coming back.
He was struggling to work out why there was an unsettled feeling in his stomach that had little to do with his hangover. He’d had one night stands before; he was used to waking up alone, or sneaking out before the other person woke up to avoid awkward morning conversations, but this felt different somehow. He didn’t regret sleeping with Harry, but he’d taken it for granted that he would be there next to him when Louis woke up. Maybe they could have showered together and then gone to get breakfast. Louis didn’t particularly like to admit it to himself, but Harry not being there stung a little. And that was definitely alien to him.
Something weird tightened in Louis chest at the thought that he probably wouldn’t see Harry again, and he turned away from the mirror before that thought could manifest itself. He turned on the shower and did his best with the crappy little bottles of shower gel and shampoo to get rid of the remnants of the night before. Towel tied loosely around his waist and hair dripping down his back, Louis left the bathroom to locate his clothes.
As he was walking through the room, there was a knock at the door. For one blind, overly-hopeful moment, Louis thought it was Harry coming back. But then an enthusiastic call of "Room service!" came, and that small flicker of hope died faster than Louis could blink.
A chipper young man who looked all of eighteen greeted Louis with a smile, dressed smartly in a crisp white shirt and black waistcoat. A polished gold nametag reading ‘Steven’ was affixed to his chest. He blatantly ignored Louis’ half-nakedness, beaming widely. "Good morning, sir!" he piped. ‘"Room service for you."
"I think you’ve got the wrong room, sorry," Louis told him apologetically. "I didn’t order any of this."
"Oh," Steven’s smile faltered, and he looked down at the card in his hand. "This was definitely ordered to your room. It was put in a few hours ago. You may as well have it, sir, it’ll just be thrown away otherwise."
"Oh, well, in that case," Louis said uncertainly, taking the tray from Steven. "Thank you."
"No problem. Have a lovely morning, sir!" Steven was gone before Louis could even blink, hurrying off down the corridor.
Louis watched him go for a moment, confused, and then closed the door behind him and set the tray down on the bed, careful not the spill the orange juice or let any tea spill from the spout of the teapot. Curiously, he lifted the silver cover off the plate and found a plate of hot food, complete with sausages, bacon, eggs, and toast. His stomach gurgled at the smell of the bacon; always an aide in curing his hangovers. Next to the plate was an artfully arranged bowl of fruit, piled high with grapes, strawberries, mango and apple, all cut into bitesize pieces.
Never one to pass up food presented to him, Louis ate what he could. After a few cups of tea along with it, he felt marginally more human. He finally felt he was able to dress himself, forgoing his jacket which was slightly crumpled from where it had spent the night on the floor, and headed down to reception to check out. On his way down the stairs, he found himself glancing around for a head of dark hair, and then scolded himself when he realized what he was doing. There was no one around apart from the receptionist, sat behind her desk and tapping away at her keyboard with her perfectly manicured nails.
Louis stopped in front of her, pulling his wallet out and giving her the room details.
"All paid already," the receptionist informed him with a sparkling smile, clicking the computer mouse a few times. Why anybody was this bloody chipper in the morning was beyond Louis. First Steven, now her. They were making Louis’ gradually fading headache begin to pound again. "I hope you’ve enjoyed your stay with us."
"Er," Louis said. "Yes, thank you. And…the bill for the room?"
"All paid for you,’ the receptionist said it slower this time. "It was settled at…" she clicked on her screen. "Seven thirty this morning."
"I see," Louis pocketed his wallet again. He tapped his fingertips on his thigh. "Well, thank you very much for your hospitality."
"You’re very welcome, sir," she smiled. "We hope you come to stay with us again."
Louis turned away, walking out through the glass entrance doors of the hotel. He took a moment to center himself and get his bearings, and then he set off in the crisp mid-morning air to find a taxi. A little way down the street he found one, and once he was on his way home he pulled his phone from his pocket to check in with Alex. While Louis waited for a reply he leaned his head on the cold glass of the taxi, watching the roads outside, pedestrians in scarves and gloves and the blur of bare trees blurring past him.
His phone beeped with a reply from Alex, telling him they were packing for the honeymoon and thanking him for his help with the wedding. He didn’t say anything about Louis leaving with Harry, for which Louis was rather grateful for. Alex had always been tactful like that. The other boys, however, had always taken a rather keen interest in the details of Louis’ romantic life. Louis had previously thought it was just because they found it entertaining, but he was rethinking that after what Niall had said yesterday at the wedding. Maybe it was more than them laughing at all Louis misadventures; perhaps they disguised their apparent anxiety over Louis’ apparent loneliness with humour.
It was still too early, and Louis was still too hungover for that much psychoanalysis. He tried to push it from his mind, paying the taxi driver and climbing the stairs to his apartment. On Sundays he usually saw a couple of the boys or called his mum, but all he could think about now was curling up in front of the television and nursing his bruised ego for a bit whilst trying not to think about Harry.
Of course, Louis was never allowed that much privacy, so it was no surprise when Niall called when he was halfway through his first film.
Louis sighed, setting down his tea and pausing the film before bringing the phone to his ear. "All right, Niall?"
"Lou! How’s your head this morning?"
"Urgh," Louis flopped sideways so he was lying on the sofa. "Horrible. Remind me not to drink that much again. Your singing is probably partly to blame for it, actually."
"You’re just jealous," Niall said confidently. "I don’t really have any sympathy for you, I’m just calling to get the details from last night."
Louis played with the hem of his tshirt. "I was with you last night."
"Don’t be deliberately obtuse," Niall sniffed. "Tell me about you and that Harry Styles." Louis’ silence must have spoken volumes, because Niall’s voice turned hesitant. "Did it…not go so well, then?"
"It’s not that," Louis said finally. "It was great, we were down in the bar for ages before we went upstairs, and he was really funny, and kind, and generous, gorgeous…great cock."
"All the things you like."
"Yeah. But when I woke up this morning he was gone."
Niall whistled lowly. "Shit. I’m sorry, Lou. What a wanker. He just left you to pay the bill for the room and everything?"
"No, he paid the bill before he left. I just…I’m reading into things again. I thought there was something there and obviously he didn’t." Louis sat up again, running his fingers through his hair roughly. "Sorry, I bet you were expecting all the gory details and now you’ve got me being pathetic."
"Not pathetic," Niall assured him. "He doesn’t know what he’s missing out on. He’ll realise walking out was a mistake soon enough. Do you want to come over tonight? We could go out again? Find someone to take your mind off him?"
"I’ve got to work in the morning," Louis reminded him. "I can’t go out drinking on a work night and still be able to function tomorrow like we did in uni."
"Stop talking like you’re old and decrepit. Last night proves you can still go out and get it. It’s ok though, we’ll go out another night."
"Yeah, definitely. Thanks for letting me whine at you, Ni."
"What are friends for? Don’t think about Harry anymore, ok? He clearly doesn’t know a good thing when he sees it."
"I’ll keep that in mind." Louis swallowed past the tightness in his throat. "Anyway, are you practising your karaoke skills for Liam and Zayn’s wedding yet?"
"Hm," Niall graciously played along with Louis’ abrupt change in conversation. "I’m thinking Madonna. Or Michael Jackson."
"'Beat It' is a classic," Louis considered. "Think you can do it justice?"
"You and I both know I can," Louis could hear the laughter in Niall’s voice. "I’d better go, gotta get back to work."
"Those coffees won’t make themselves. Bye, mate."
Louis hung up, dropping his phone by his leg and then starting the film again.
He knew Niall was right; he should stop thinking about Harry. In theory, that was easy. In practice, not so much. Louis tried to focus on what he was watching, but he often found himself thinking back to the night before and that morning, and couldn’t help but wonder where he might be now if only Harry had stayed.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, to begin I would just like to say thank you on behalf of Liam and Zayn for coming today. I know it means a lot to them that so many of you have come from far and wide to be with them.”
Louis paused after the opening of his speech, pausing to let those words sink in before he continued. He found himself less nervous making this speech than he had been at Alex's wedding, confidence boosted from only having done the same thing a couple of months ago. The day had gone perfectly so far; the ceremony had bought everyone to tears, even Louis, and the obvious happiness in the two people sat next to Louis was infectious. Confidently, he took a sip from his champagne flute and then glanced down at his notes.
“I'll keep this short, partly because I don't want to bore you with a long winded speech, and also because if I talk about these two boys for too long I'll probably start crying. I don't want to embarrass Liam too much by talking about his childhood or his awkward teenage years, so I'll skip to the good part of his life- when he met me." There was a smatter of laughter from the guests. "However, before I get to that, I would just like to add that if anyone is interested in seeing Liam's baby photos, his mum Karen bought a whole photo album today, so go and see her after I've finished. Make sure you've got tissues for her, though.” Louis turned his head to his left and winked at Karen sitting a little way down at the table. She waved her packet of tissues at him and then dabbed at her eyes, sniffling a little.
“I met Liam in a bar during the very first week of uni. If anyone here has ever experienced a freshers’ week, you’ll remember what it’s like. New people, the thrill of your student loan coming for the first time, and it all passes in a haze of alcohol and not much sleep. It can be a little bit awkward, finding your feet, but it’s the people like Liam who save the drifters like me.
"If I remember rightly, I was trying to get a free pint off the barman because I'd forgotten my wallet, and Liam took pity and bought me one there and then. I remember thinking that anyone willing to buy a complete stranger a pint was definitely someone I wanted to be around, so I stuck with him, and the rest as they say, is history. I met Zayn soon after that, and I quickly realised that the two of the came as a package deal. I wasn't complaining, though, I got two best friends for the price of one. Over the years we’ve formed a tight knit little family, and our little group has been through alot together in the last ten years. Liam and Zayn’s shared ability to give advice is something I have always treasured, as have a number of us here today, I'm sure. It’s one of the many things that defines the two of them. Thank you, boys, for letting me tag along after you like a lost puppy for the last ten years."
The guests laughed, and Louis smiled benignly. Before he looked back down at his script, he took a quick look towards the back of the room to make sure everyone could hear him and was following. Satisfied, he looked down, preparing to continue. His head snapped up again so fast, though, he was mildly surprised he didn't injure himself.
He thought he'd been mistaken, that it was a trick of the light, but no. Harry really sat at the table at the back, looking directly at Louis. A small smile played around his lips. Louis floundered for a second, dropping his eyes back down to his notes and scanning quickly to find his place. Excitement tickled at the back of his neck, and the first small curls of anticipation formed in his stomach. He cleared his throat, trying to focus.
“I may tease them a little, ladies and gentlemen- actually, I tease them a lot- but the truth is that I have never see two people more suited to each other than these two right here. Zayn is the yin to Liam's yang, the rock to his roll, and the Ben to his Jerry." He turned to address them, "Together, you are as solid as a rock, and the epitome of true love. I could throw around a lot of cliche’s about soulmates, but in your case, every one of them is true. This day has been a long time coming, and now it's here, I have to tell you both how proud I am of the two of you.”
Louis’ throat tightened. He swallowed, vainly attempting to ignore the tingling in the bridge of his nose. “From the bottom of my heart, I wish you all the happiness in the world. You truly deserve it, and I love the pair of you very much." Louis picked up his glass and held it out slightly. "Ladies and Gentlemen, to Liam and Zayn!"
"Liam and Zayn!" the guests chorused, standing and drinking before breaking into thunderous applause. Louis took a second to glance towards the back table, and found Harry on his feet, clapping and grinning widely straight back at him. Louis swallowed, sweat prickling at his back, and nodded a small greeting. Harry winked, and Louis’ stomach somersaulted. He sat down in his seat, holding his eye. Even from across the room he could feel it, that same magnetic pull of attraction towards him.
"Lou," Liam caught his attention, a hand on Louis' elbow. "That was brilliant, thank you. Are you ok? You look a bit pink."
"Harry's here," Louis said by way of explanation. "You remember, from Alex's wedding?"
Liam nodded, smiling. "Course I remember, I invited him."
Louis whipped his head around to stare, bug-eyed, at Liam. "You did?"
"Well, yeah," Liam didn't even look a little bit embarrassed. "You two seemed to get on so well at the last wedding I thought I'd invite him along for you. Like a blind date, but not. Cos you already know him."
"You could say that," Louis said thoughtfully. "I thought he'd left the country."
"Well, he's back," Liam pointed out the obvious. "He clearly came back for a good reason, too. Perhaps to see a certain person again...?"
"I doubt it, Liam," Louis dismissed, though his heart beat double time at the thought of Harry coming back into the country just to see him. "It was probably just a convenient coincidence."
"Yeah, you're right," Liam shrugged nonchalantly. "He probably just had nothing better to do today."
After a moment, Liam rolled his eyes and bumped his elbow to Louis'. "Give it a rest, Lou. Go and say hi!"
Louis rolled his lips into his mouth. He didn't want to appear clingy or desperate, but he couldn't deny that he'd wanted to see Harry again. Now he was here, possibly to see Louis, there was no way Louis could miss the chance to speak to him again. It was exciting, the thought that he might be able to sneak off with him somewhere and pick up where they left off.
Harry hadn’t been far from his thoughts since Louis had last seen him. It was strange; in the few one night stands Louis had had in his life, he'd never had the inclination to see them again after that one night, but with Harry it had been different. Numerous times since Alex's wedding he'd found his mind wandering back to that night, wishing that Harry hadn't just left the next morning without a word or a backward glance. It didn't make him feel great about himself, but it hadn't stopped him thinking about Harry or wanting to see him again. If Harry was here, if there was a chance he wanted to see Louis again, there was only one thing to do.
Louis stood, patting Liam on the shoulder in thanks, and then stepped out from behind the table into the milling guests.
They were in the ballroom of an old manor house, decorated in a stylish and simplistic black and white scheme by the wedding planners. It would have looked a little gothic, but it had been done excellently, so the black table decorations accented the white of the tablecloths and the drapes at the windows, and the flickering candles that had been placed everywhere warmed the atmosphere. Coupled with that, the pair of double doors leading onto the vast gardens of the estate had been opened, letting warm sunlight shine into the room.
The music being played by the band was light and melodic, a perfect accompaniment to the chatter of the guests all milling around talking and laughing with each other. It would only last so long, though, Louis knew that the sophisticated tone of the reception would rapidly go downhill when it was time for karaoke in the evening; Niall was already at the bar, eyeing the stage with obvious eagerness. Louis wondered which song Niall would treat them to once he got his hand on the microphone. Whoever it was, Niall would put them to shame, he was sure of that.
Holding a flute of champagne in one hand, Louis made his way around the room, talking to Liam and Zayn's friends and family. Karen was still crying and holding her photo album across the room, one comforting arm around her shoulders from Louis’ own mum. Jay caught Louis' eye, smile warm as she rubbed Karen’s arm.
After stopping to chat with a few more people, Louis paused at the door leading out to the gardens of the house, stepping out to stand at the top of the concrete steps and look out across the green grass. The sun shone down over the house, making everything seem a little bit brighter. It was the time of year when the weather hovered awkwardly between spring and summer; the trees and flowers were in full bloom, but the sun wasn't quite strong enough to feel like the familiar heat of a midsummer day. It was comfortable; hearing the chatter of the guests behind him and having this to look at. Louis would have been able to relax had he been unaware of the fact that Harry was here somewhere, strolling around looking like he'd stepped straight out of Louis' fantasies.
Louis didn't get so nervous with meeting new people now he was on the wrong side of twenty five, but Harry made him feel like he was eighteen again, jittery with nerves at the prospect of seeing him. It was more than just wanting to get him into bed again; Louis wanted his company, which unnerved him considering they'd only met once before. If Harry was here again, if he'd flown back into the country just to come to the wedding, that must mean something. That thought only exacerbated Louis' nerves even further. Butterflies beat their wings furiously against the walls of his stomach, chased quickly by a squeeze of anticipation.
Louis turned away from the gardens, taking another long look at them. He looked around and then jumped, taking a sharp step back again when he collided with another body.
"Shit, sorry," Louis said automatically, checking he hadn't upset the person's drink. "I didn't see you there." He looked up, words faltering when he found Harry smiling back at him. "Oh. Hi."
"Hi," Harry greeted, grin widening further. "How are you?"
Louis' brain scrambled for a witty response that he could impress Harry with, but all that came out was a genuine, "I'm well, thank you. You?"
"Better now," Harry said. A strange something squirmed in the pit of Louis' stomach.
He looked incredible again, which did nothing for the thin threads of self-preservation that Louis was holding onto. He had his hair down like last time, curling around the collar of his black and white geometric patterned shirt that wouldn't have suited anyone else, though he managed to pull it off. It was buttoned higher, which Louis was sorry to see, and he'd paired it with dark trousers and expensive looking Chelsea boots. Louis swallowed thickly.
Harry gestured to the room around them. "This is a lovely wedding, by the way; the ceremony was beautiful. And I really liked your speech."
"I'm glad. It took me a good few months to get that right; it's difficult actively trying to embarrass the grooms without offending their families for the rest of eternity."
"I'd say you got it pretty much perfect. I went and had a look at Liam's baby photos by the way. Very cute. I particularly liked the Woody costume."
"He still wears one every year at Halloween," Louis told him. "Only now he's got Zayn to be Buzz Lightyear.”
"And you? Does he make you dress up as Jessie?"
"Is that a riding joke?" Louis shot back, enjoying the way Harry obviously tried to control his grin by clenching his jaw. "No, he wouldn't dare try and rope me into that. You, however, would make the perfect Bo Peep, I think."
"I'm not blond!"
"No, I can definitely see it- the curly hair, the big eyes. I bet you'd look very fetching in a bonnet."
Harry only shrugged, raising his champagne glass to his mouth and taking a sip, all the while holding Louis’ eye. Louis watched, transfixed, and Harry's tongue poked out to lick the remnants of the drink from his lips. "Whatever gets you going I suppose." At Louis' heated looked, he continued in a quieter voice. "That reminds me. About last time...I'm sorry for just leaving like that, I didn't want to. Something came up and I just had to go. I hope you didn't think too badly of me for it."
Louis shrugged nonchalantly. "Don't worry about it. I was just glad you hadn't left me with the bill. Thanks for the breakfast, by the way. Is...everything ok? I don't want to interfere or anything."
"Everything's fine," Harry said simply. "Thank you for asking."
Louis reached out, resting a hand on Harry's forearm, hoping his attempt at flirting hadn't gone awry. "I'm glad. It's really good to see you."
Harry looked down, a smirk playing around his lips when he looked back up at Louis. "You, too. I realised a little too late last time I hadn't even asked for your number. Too busy making bad jokes and answering questions."
"We never did finish that game, did we?"
Harry shook his head, smile growing. "I don't think we did. If I remember rightly, we got a bit distracted."
"Just a bit," Louis’ voice was quiet and rough to his own ears. He licked his lips. "Well, if you're staying here tonight, I've got a room. Maybe we could have a drink again."
Harry opened his mouth to reply. Before he could, a hand curled at his elbow, and another body settled at his side. Louis looked up at the tall, slightly older man, and then looked down again, eyes honing in on the comfortable way he'd stopped at Harry's side. He felt his smile slip a little.
"There you are, Harry," the said, voice deep and a little throaty. "I've been looking for you everywhere!" His eyes shifted to Louis. "Hello, there."
"Hi," Louis said uncertainly, holding his hand out for him to shake. "Sorry, Harry and I were just chatting."
"It's fine," Harry assured him. He'd shrunk back from Louis, melting into this stranger's side and looking at him with warm eyes. To the man, he said, "I was just about to come and find you. Lawrence, this is Louis, Liam and Zayn's best man. Louis, this is Lawrence, my fiancé."
It felt like Louis had misheard him. His stomach plummeted into his shoes as if he'd missed a step going downstairs.
He looked between Harry and Lawrence, suddenly able to see them as the couple they were. The way they were stood together, hips touching, a secure arm around Harry's waist, told Louis of a solid, long term relationship. His eyes darted to the hand settled on Harry's waist, and he swallowed hard at the glint of a ring on Lawrence's finger.
Abject humiliation cringed in Louis’ chest. Embarrassment rose up in a red flush on his neck, and he nodded shortly at Lawrence. "It's nice to meet you." He could feel Harry's eyes on him, but he didn't dare meet them for fear of what he might find there. Remorse? Pity? Louis didn't want to stay to find out. "I'd better go and check if everything's all right," he said into his glass. "Excuse me."
As he turned on his heel and hurried away, he caught Lawrence's voice say, "He's the best man? Bit odd, isn't he?"
Louis' cheeks flamed, and he hurried for the doors, escaping back into the gardens. Without pausing, he strode straight across the lawn until he reached an old oak tree, and then leaned back against it and pulled a pack of cigarettes and a lighter from inside his jacket. He lit one with trembling fingers, knocking his head back against the trunk and focusing on making the burning behind his eyes recede.
At twenty eight years of age, it had been perhaps a little immature of him to run away like that, but Louis found he didn't give a damn. He wouldn't stand around being civil after being so humiliated. All his fantasising earlier about Harry flying in just for him, or sneaking off to be with each other again, had been distinguished with a snap of his fingers. He felt a little sick, the champagne souring in his stomach and the smoke from his cigarette turning acrid and vile. His lip curled bitterly, and he pressed the heel of his free hand to his forehead.
Louis' head jerked up. He smiled wanly. "Hi, Niall."
Niall walked over to him, eyeing him cautiously. He leaned back against the tree next to Louis, stealing the cigarette out of Louis' fingers and lifting it to his lips before handing it back. "Y'alright? I saw you come out here."
Louis was quiet for a moment. He sighed heavily. "I feel like such a twat, Niall."
Louis flicked the ashes from the end of the cigarette. "Harry's here."
"Harry from Alex’s wedding?" Niall asked and Louis nodded. "That's a good thing isn't it? Go and find him, I'll cover for you-"
"He's here with his fiancé," Louis interrupted bitterly.
Niall fell into silence. "Shit," he said after a second, whistling lowly. "How long has he been engaged?"
Louis shrugged. "Fuck if I know. Looks like they've been together for a long time, though."
Niall went to steal the cigarette again, so Louis gave up and handed the whole thing to him, reaching into his jacket to light up a new one.
Niall murmured his appreciation, taking a drag and then blowing the smoke out slowly. "Why should you feel like a twat, though? You didn't know he was with someone, did you?"
"No," Louis admitted. "I didn't. Is that my fault for not asking properly or his fault for not telling me?"
Niall shrugged. "Depends which way you look at it. Would you still have slept with him if he had told you he was engaged?"
Louis was ashamed to admit he didn't know the answer to that. In response, he lifted one shoulder and then dropped it again. It was a testament to their friendship that Niall let it slide. "I saw him when I was doing my speech. I think Liam was trying to set us up because he said he'd invited Harry after he saw us together at Alex’s wedding. You know how much I hate being set up, but I was actually ok with it this time. I wanted to see him again, and I thought he was here to see me. And it was going well, I'd asked if he wanted to get a drink later, and I think he was going to say yes, but then fucking Lawrence turned up and-" Louis broke off, dragging furiously on his cigarette. "He’s getting married, Niall. What the hell am I supposed to do now?"
Louis exhaled. "Yeah. He looks like he might be a bit older than Harry." The age difference was enough that it was noticeable when he stood next to Harry; he was perhaps ten years older than Harry's twenty five, but Louis couldn't be sure. He was good looking though, Louis couldn't deny that.
He sighed heavily, feeling the weary exhale in his bones. "I don't know, Niall. I thought...I thought this might go somewhere. I liked him, you know? After Ethan and everything that happened with him I thought this could be a new start, but I can't even get that right. He’s fucking engaged." Niall was quiet next to him, letting him talk. Louis took another drag on his cigarette. Louis cleared his throat, speaking past the squeeze in his throat. "At Alex's wedding, after my speech when I'd swapped the right rings back, Alex said to me, ‘things are never boring with you Louis’, and, I just. Things aren't boring because I can't touch anything without fucking it up. Relationships, weddings, I can't do anything and it's embarrassing. People shouldn't come near me, cos they just end up worse off. It’s obvious Lawrence doesn’t even know that Harry and I- that we-" Louis pressed the heel of his hand to his forehead. "Do you know how shit that makes me feel?"
"Hey," Niall chided, dropping his cigarette butt and crushing it under the heel of his shining black shoe. "I don't know where this is coming from, but the moping isn't attractive." He slumped next to Louis, wrapping an arm around his waist. "You don't fuck things up. The past two weddings have been wonderful, and you never have any trouble finding people go be with. You've got people queueing up for you, Lou; Harry is engaged and he clearly still wants you, and Ethan would jump if you gave him the chance to get back together."
"Neither of those things make me feel better," Louis stated, but he nudged his hip to Niall’s to show he appreciated his attempts at consolation. "Even if that were the case, it doesn't matter because no one ever wants to stick around for too long."
“So you've had shit luck with the past couple of people you've been with, Harry included; that doesn't mean it's always going to be like that. At least you've got people that actually want to be with you."
Heavy guilt knocked into Louis, forming like a rock in the pit of his stomach. "Niall, I'm sorry. Just ignore me." He made a concerted effort to smile, focusing his attention on Niall. "Let’s talk about something else, yeah? Look, tell me about that girl you bought with you today...I’ve not seen her before."
Niall scrunched his nose up a little turning his head back towards the house. Louis followed his line of sight, seeing a woman with long blonde hair in a pretty flowery sundress standing at the top of the steps and looking back out at them.
"Her name’s Lydia," Niall told him. "She’s from work. We’ve been talking for a few weeks so I thought I’d bring her along today just to see how things go."
Niall made a noncommittal noise. "I’m not sure things are going to go much further. She’s a bit rude. She totally ignored Edie earlier when she came over to speak to us, and you should have heard what she said to the waiters! She’s a lot different now than how she is at work."
Louis hummed. "Ah well, plenty more fish and all that. Can’t say Jake looked too pleased when you turned up with her, though."
"How many times," Niall sighed. "I’m not going there. I couldn't. I mean, I'm not blind, I've seen the way he looks at me. I just don't think we'd work together, and I don't wanna ruin our friendship by going there in case it doesn't work out."
"So it’s us two singletons again, then."
“Guess so,’ Niall spoke without looking at Louis, watching the light breeze rustle through the trees instead. "Maybe the both of us are having a quarter life crisis; you can't find the right guy and I can't find anyone at all. Alex and Izzy and married, Zayn and Liam are married...soon it'll just be the two of us left."
"He or she is just just around the corner, you wait," Louis declared. "And, it's a known fact that loads of couples meet their other half at weddings, so you never know. Tell you what, I'll make a deal with you: if we haven't met anyone by the time we’re forty, I'll marry you myself."
Niall laughed, tipping his head back and looking across at Louis. "All right then, deal. At least I can rely on you."
"I'm a sure thing," Louis nodded. He dropped his cigarette next to Niall’s, stamping it out. "Right, come on, enough moping around like we're lovesick twats, let's go and get drunk to make ourselves forget that we're the only two single people in a room full of couples.”
"I'll drink to that," Niall told him as they both pushed off from the tree and began wandering back across the grass to the house. "And we're going to pretend that Harry isn't here, yeah?"
Together they climbed the stone steps and reentered the house, Lydia immediately latching onto Niall’s arm as soon as he was in reach. No one had noticed they were missing, and thankfully Harry and Lawrence were nowhere in sight, so Louis fixed a smile onto his face and turned to Niall and Lydia, opening his mouth to ask what they wanted from the bar.
But Niall’s eyes were wide and urgent, his hand coming to grab at Louis’ sleeve. "Lou, we've got to go back outside. Now."
"Don’t bloody argue, just-"
"Louis?" a different voice said.
In a millisecond, Louis’ blood felt like it had turned to ice. He stared at Niall for a second, the panic in Niall's eyes steadily beginning to leech through Louis’ own veins. Over Niall’s shoulder, Louis eyed the doors to the garden, but then his name was spoken again, and he couldn’t escape now.
Slowly, he turned on his heel, aware of the blood pounding in his ears and Niall’s hand still gripping his jacket. “Ethan.”
Ethan shuffled on the spot, smiling bashfully at Louis. "Hi."
Louis floundered for a second, unsure how to respond. Next to him, Niall made a movement to try and pull Louis away, but Louis stopped him with a hand to his shoulder. He swallowed down a dry throat. The nausea he'd managed to tamp down was back full force. "What are you doing here?"
Ethan didn't show any signs that Louis reaction to him was anything less than friendly. His wide smile didn’t falter, straight white teeth on show. Louis didn’t know how long he’d been there, camouflaged in the guests in his inconspicuous light grey suit. He could have been sat there through the speeches, watching him talk, and Louis didn’t even know it.
Ethan took a step closer. Niall’s fist tightened in Louis jacket, pulling the material taut across Louis’ arm. "I'm a guest."
"No. You were uninvited when Louis broke up with you, remember?" Niall asked from behind Louis. Ethan's smile flickered, the barest hint of frown tugging his eyebrows down.
"I don’t recall," he shrugged. "Luckily, I remembered where the venue was."
"Luckily," Niall scoffed. "Sure. Well, as nice as this has been, Louis needs to be somewhere."
"How have you been?" Ethan ignored Niall entirely, fixing his icy blue eyes on Louis. "It's been a while."
Louis managed a jerky nod. "It's been months," he said hoarsely. "I'm...m’fine. Thank you."
Ethan nodded. "I'm glad. You look well." His smile softened. "I've missed you."
"Yeah," was all Louis could say. "It's good to see you."
He heard Niall's noise of disbelief in his left ear. "But I should...go?" He took a step backwards, felt Niall move with him. "I have...Liam and Zayn. I should go and see them."
"Ok," Ethan said breezily. Reaching out, he touched a hand to Louis forearm. "I'll stick around for a while. We could have a drink when the wedding is over?"
"No. Goodbye, Ethan," Niall said icily, making no secret of physically pulling Louis away this time. "You can see yourself out."
For a second, Ethan let the facade drop. His pleasant expression faltered, and Louis saw a flash of anger cross his features. He opened his mouth to retort, but then apparently thought better of it, letting Louis’ arm drop and visibly relaxing his shoulders.
"See you later, baby," he murmured, just loud enough to Louis to hear. Louis cringed, letting Niall wrap an arm around his shoulders and pull him away in the crowd.
Niall steered them both out of the main room, into the entry hall where there were less people milling around. Louis head felt swimmy, a buzzing sound in his ears, heart still pounding furiously in his chest. Thankfully, Niall didn't let go of him, stopping them next to the front doors with a secure arm around his waist. The last thing Louis wanted to do was draw attention to himself, but no one appeared to notice that anything was wrong, assuming he and Niall were just talking together.
He heard Niall tell Lydia to go and get him some water, and was vaguely aware of her heels clicking off across the floor. He blinked a few times, grateful when the world seemed to gradually steady itself around him. "Did you know he was here?"
"Don't be stupid," Niall snapped. Louis heard him take a breath. "Sorry. I just wasn't expecting to see him. Jesus, what is he doing here?"
"I don't know," Louis said quietly. "I thought he was long gone."
"He is," Niall said firmly. "He's not going to worm his way back into your life, Lou. You've been doing so well without him."
"He doesn't look any different. I don't know what I was expecting if I ever saw him again, but he still looks the same."
"Don't let him get to you," Niall squeezed Louis comfortingly for a moment. "Stay out here, I'll make sure he leaves. Hey, we’ve still got to get those drinks. Maybe you can do a duet with me later."
Louis huffed a laugh, pushing trembling fingers through his hair. "Doubt it. I think it might be best if I'm on my own for a bit. I'll go and get some air. If Zayn or Liam ask just tell them I've gone to make a call, yeah?"
Niall didn't protest, though Louis felt his eyes burning into his back as he straightened up and walked away.
He ducked out of the front door, heading around the side of the house. He hovered just out of the view of one of the large windows, checking around himself to make sure he was completely alone. Away from the guests and the music it was peaceful, noise reduced to just a faint hum of activity behind him.
In a matter of seconds, it felt like his day had been ruined. Not one hour ago he'd been making his speech, toasting the happiness of his best friends and bursting with pride for them, flirting with Harry again. Now, it was a struggle just to hold himself together. Why Ethan had chosen now of all times to stroll back into Louis life, he had no idea. But what should have been one of the most happiest day of his and his friends’ lives was rapidly turning sour. The only saving grace was that Liam and Zayn were still blissfully unaware that anything had gone wrong.
Louis didn't have to look to know who the body that came to rest at his left side belonged to. He held his breath for a second, then blew it out of his nose noisily. "Hey Bo Peep. Lost your sheep?"
Harry's laugh was light and teasing. "Something like that. I saw you come out here, I just wanted to check you're ok."
"I'm fine," Louis turned his head away, looking out over the grounds.
"Doesn't look like it," Harry said quietly. Louis felt him turn so he was leaning against the brick wall next to Louis, shoulder touching Louis’ own. "Anything I can help with?"
You're part of the problem, was what Louis wanted to say. Instead he just shrugged. "Today just hasn't gone the way I thought it would, that's all."
"Hm," was all Harry said. "I'm sorry. Look, I don't expect you give me the time of day, but the offer of that drink still stands if you want it."
"Thanks," Louis said. "But I'm not that keen on third wheeling. Not sure your fiancé would appreciate the ‘odd best man’ hanging around either."
He felt Harry shift uncomfortably. "I'm sorry about that. Sometimes Lawrence doesn't think before he opens his mouth."
"He might want to work on that before someone takes offence to him," Louis retorted.
"He had to go," Harry said after a few seconds of silence that bordered on being uncomfortable. "Early flight in the morning, so. You wouldn't have to be the third wheel. Just the second one."
Louis smiled despite himself, glancing across at Harry. The sun was beginning to go down over the estate, casting a slight orange glow over the grass. It was setting behind Harry, creating a warm glow around his dark hair. Something irrational and barely controllable pulled at Louis, telling him to reach out and card his fingers through Harry's wavy hair, feel the strands slip between his fingers like he'd done last time. He resisted, but only just, shoving his hands behind him so they were trapped between his back and the brick wall.
"I don't think that's a good idea," Louis said thickly.
"Just one drink," Harry pressed. "I owe you one anyway to apologise for treating you so badly. Please?" he implored.
Louis held his eye for a moment, nibbling at the inside of his bottom lip. "One drink after the wedding, and then I'm leaving."
"Fair enough," Harry accepted. "I'll see you back at the hotel."
"You're not staying?"
"I think I'll leave you to your best man duties," Harry’s eyes twinkled. "I've already said goodbye to Liam and Zayn, plus Lawrence wants to call me from the airport."
"Er, right," Louis said a little awkwardly. "I guess I'll see you later, then."
"I'll be waiting. Room two hundred and twenty eight." Harry ducked in close without warning, pressing a chaste kiss to Louis’ cheek before he could stop him. "See you later, Jessie."
Louis couldn't hold back the grin that pulled at his mouth. To his mortification, blood rushed into his cheeks, burning where Harry's lips had touched his skin. "See you later, Bo"
Harry winked, a slightly smug smirk pulling at the corners of his mouth. He nodded once at Louis, and then disappeared around the corner of the house.
Louis felt like today had given him whiplash. Nerves, elation, and shock had him emotionally exhausted, weary even as he sat and watched Niall stride across the stage like a miniature blond rockstar, belting out 'Livin’ On a Prayer'. Still, even as the fatigue began to take hold, the voice in the back of his head told him over and over to get to Harry, to be with him again.
It was all he could think about. And even though his moral conscience was strong enough to know that he shouldn't go and have that drink with him, it was drowned out by that little voice. He knew that just having a drink with him was going to make him feel guilty enough, let alone if anything else happened. That should have been enough to stop him, but it wasn't.
The evening drew on. Liam and Zayn left first to go home so they could be up early enough to catch their flight off to Mexico the next morning, and after that the guests gradually began leaving. Louis did his bit, thanking people for coming, calling taxis for the inebriated people that couldn't do it themselves. He realised halfway through that he was completely sober, but it didn't bother him as much as he thought it would. It meant he could keep a sharper eye out for Ethan, although thankfully it looked like Niall had been true to his word, because Ethan was nowhere to be seen.
Before he could overthink it too much, Louis found himself in a taxi heading towards Harry's hotel. Anticipation fizzled away in his stomach, making him fidget, his left knee jiggling up and down. The back of his neck felt hot, and after he'd paid the driver and stepped out he wiped his sweaty palms on his trousers, exhaling slowly. He looked up at the grand building, wondering which of the rooms Harry was waiting for him in. Pure want and need reared their heads inside him, begging him not to make them wait any longer.
Louis strode across the lush red carpet in the lobby of the hotel in a conscious attempt at looking like he belonged there. He pressed the button for the second floor in the lift, shoving his hands deep into his pockets to hide the nervous tremor in his fingers. The lift came to a halt, emitting a high pitched ding before the doors slid open again.
Louis stepped out, following the signs and taking a left down the corridor, watching each door number pass him by. At two hundred and twenty, Louis’ heart threatened to burst out of his chest. At two hundred and twenty four, it had relocated to his throat. At the right number, he slowed to a halt, facing the normal looking pale wood door. From inside, he could hear the faint sounds of a television, the canned laughter of a comedy show.
One last thought of self preservation crossed Louis’ mind. He could turn back the other way and walk out the hotel, Harry would never have to know he was ever here. That would be the right thing to do.
But It was just a drink. One drink, and then Louis could leave. He could do this. He could walk out of here with his head held high and leave Harry and Lawrence to their happy ever after.
Louis heaved in a deep breath, steeling his nerves. Lifting a hand, he curled it into a fist and then rapped three knocks on the door in rapid succession.
From inside, the noise from the television cut out. There was a shadow from under the door, and then the lock clicked. Louis’ breath hitched in his throat.
The door swung open, revealing Harry stood on the other side of it.
He had changed out of his formal outfit, looking relaxed in a pair of skin tight white jeans and a washed out soft looking grey tee. The jeans clung to him, accentuating his absurdly long legs, the t shirt dipping low so Louis could see the clear cut of his collarbones. His hair looked freshly washed, soft and shiny where it framed his face. He stood in front of Louis, one hand on the door and the other tucked into the front pocket of his jeans.
"Hey, Jessie," he said with a grin. "I was wondering where you were."
Louis didn't reply. For a moment they watched each other, silence thick between them. The smile faded from Harry's face. Louis saw his throat bob as he swallowed.
Together, they moved. Louis reached for Harry's face as Harry went for his waist, grabbing at each other as they collided. Harry's mouth was hot against his, hands pulling Louis tight against his body as his lips parted. He dragged Louis inside the room, slamming the door shut behind them and then pushing Louis up against it.
His mouth was hot, searing Louis’ lips as they kissed feverishly, his hands jerking to the front of Louis’ suit to yank his shirt up and undo the top button of his trousers. Louis gasped against the weight of Harry’s body pressing him back against the hard wood of the door, the cold metal handle digging painfully into the side of his ribs, and tightening his fingers in Harry’s hair, tugging him down closer.
With the clack of a zipper and a rustle of material, Louis’ trousers were round his ankles. He kicked at his shoes, ungraceful and clumsy in his haste, and as soon as he was barefoot he pushed off from the door, forcing Harry to walk backwards towards the bed.
"Yeah?" Was all he could ask when Harry broke away momentarily to pull his tee over his head.
"Yeah," Harry replied simply.
His body was exactly as Louis remembered; all those tattoos, the miles of soft skin contrasting with the sharp cut of his collarbones and jaw. There was some familarity to it, touching him again. Louis remembered the sensitive spot under his ear, knew just how to flick the pad of his thumb over his nipple. Harry seemed to be on the same wavelength at him, hands going to Louis’ bum, pressing his fingers into the little dimples just above it and making Louis groan into his mouth.
The rest of their clothes were deposited at the edge of the bed, and Louis let Harry push him down onto his back, lifting a knee and swinging it over so he was sat on Louis’ thighs. He grinned down at him suddenly, past the flop of his curls over half his face, dimples popping in his cheeks and Louis just stared, lips parted. Harry leaned over, pressing their mouths together at the same time as he closed a hand around Louis’ cock.
"You kept me waiting," he murmured. "Didn’t think you were gonna turn up."
Louis closed his eyes, swallowing heavily at the feel of Harry’s hand moving slowly, languidly on him. "Course I was gonna fucking turn up," he muttered. "How the fuck was I meant to stay away?"
Harry’s tongue teased over his for a moment. "I’m glad you didn’t."
Louis finally opened his eyes when Harry drew away, reaching up to tuck Harry’s hair behind his ear in a gesture that was surprisingly tender. "Me, too."
Harry’s smile widened. He let go of Louis for a second to reach into the bedside table and pull out a bottle and a foil wrapper. Louis let his eyes fall shut again, listening to Harry’s movements. His breath caught when he felt slippery fingers take hold of him again, and he panted a little against the feeling of Harry stroking them both together in one big hand.
"Fuck," he bit out, fists curling in the sheets either side of him.
"Uh huh," Harry agreed, twisting his wrist just right and shifting his hips closer. "Good?"
After a few torturous moments, Harry let go, suddenly leaning over Louis, arms either side of his head.
"M’gonna ride you," he told Louis, breath ghosting over his lips. "That ok with you?"
Louis eyes felt like they were going to fall out of his head, Harry’s deep, sultry words like a bolt of electricity up his spine. He just nodded, and Harry smirked, bending over to steal the breath right from Louis’ lungs. Things had slowed, but there was still that frantic, desperate edge to it that made Louis fingers tremble. Harry pressed the bottle of lube into his hand and Louis didn’t need to be asked twice, coating a couple of fingers and nudging Harry up onto his knees so he could reach between his legs.
"Yes," Harry hissed in a slow, long breath when Louis had two fingers in him, separating them to gently stretch him out. He was just as tight as last time, Louis noted, and felt his cock give an eager twitch. There was nothing slow about this; there was still that desperate undercurrent between them to get as close as they could to each other, and Louis hadn’t realised how much he’d wanted this again until right now, with Harry breathing steadily above him and rocking down onto his fingers.
Harry impatiently removed Louis’ fingers from himself before Louis knew he was ready, nudging forward so he was positioned over his cock. Louis fumbled around for the condom, sweaty fingers slipping over the foil. He gave up with a frustrated huff and tore it carefully open with his teeth.
"Don’t want that," Harry murmured breathlessly. "Don’t put it on."
Louis stared. "Harry-"
"Please," Harry looked down, hovering over him with his curls ruffled around his head like a halo, lips kissed and bitten a deep red. "I’m clean, I swear. I’d never hurt you."
His hips shifted down, and Louis moaned. The thought of being inside him, nothing between them, able to feel every single inch of him, was almost too much to handle. "I’m clean, too. Are-are you sure?"
Harry nodded. "I want you like this. In me. So-so I can feel you."
Louis licked his dry lips. "Yeah," he croaked. "Want that too."
Harry hummed, reaching for the lube to slick over Louis cock and then reaching down to guide the head into his hole. He didn’t stop, letting himself sink down slowly until Louis was halfway in. Louis threw his head back as Harry leaned over slightly, a breathy moan leaving his lips. He could feel absolutely everything, the heat of him, how tightly he squeezed him, intimate and incredible, enough to leave him almost completely breathless.
"Oh god," Harry panted. ‘Fuck."
He shifted the rest of the way down until he was nestled in Louis’ lap, holding himself there and supporting himself with his hands on Louis; chest. Louis grabbed onto the flesh of his hips, fingers digging in as he tried to center himself and will himself not to come so quickly.
Harry began to move, little shifts of his hips as he worked out a rhythm, gradually settling into a steady rise and fall in Louis’ lap, pausing every now again to circle his hips. Louis could feel every single tiny centimeter of him; he was everything he knew in that moment, so captivating in the way he moved that Louis’ couldn’t look away. He saw Harry’s muscles tense, caught the sheen of sweat across his chest with every breath, heard the noises he made and had to close his eyes before it became too much.
Just when Louis was beginning to lose the edges of control, Harry’s rhythm began to stutter, becoming disjointed and uneven. Without exchanging a word, Louis reached up for him, pulling him down so he rested on Louis’ chest and bringing their mouths together.
"Let me," he said in between kisses, and felt Harry nod and settle his weight onto him.
Louis reached down, grabbing handfuls of Harry’s hips and holding him steady so he could thrust up into him. Harry whined in the back of his throat, one hand coming up to tangle in the strands of Louis’ hair.
"S’good," he gasped.
Louis shifted Harry’s hips down as he thrust up, finding a new, deeper angle. His breath came in pants, sweat beading at his temples, and he couldn’t remember it being this good with anyone. He wanted this to last forever.
It couldn’t, though, not with the way Harry was kissing him and emitting those sounds into his mouth. Not with the fact that Louis knew that when he came, he’d do it deep inside of Harry, nothing separating them and nothing to hold him back.
That thought alone was too much for him. He could feel it building rapidly, that familiar white heat, and he thrust up hard twice more before his orgasm slammed straight into him. He was aware of Harry crying out, of his own shout leaving his lips, fingers digging hard into Harry’s skin. He could feel himself trembling, feel the thumping of his heart echoing through his ears as red hot pleasure spread through him, leaving him boneless, and panting.
"Oh, my god," he heard Harry whisper above him, and murmured his agreement, wrapping his arms around Harry’s waist and holding on tight.
Louis stared up at the ceiling.
The room was quiet. The only thing he could hear was Harry, rustling a little on the sheets as he shifted around next to him. Their heartbeats had slowed, breathing even again. Sweat had dried uncomfortably, and now Louis felt a little cold. He was tempted to bring the sheets up, curl into Harry and try and get some sleep, but something inside himself stopped him.
He felt dirty in a way that had nothing to do with the rapidly drying sweat and come; it was an itch under his skin, crawling along his arms and across his shoulders. Whenever he closed his eyes, all he could see was the ring on Lawrence’s finger, a clear marker that he was taken. Taken, no less, by the man who was lying naked next to Louis, who had just had his thighs spread over Louis' lap.
Louis had always abhorred infidelity. He’d been on the other side of it before, discovered that he hadn’t been the only one his boyfriend has been sleeping with, but now he was here, he felt truly disgusted with himself. It was selfish, wanting Harry and taking him for himself, and all the while Lawrence had no idea.
Fingers stroked along his arm, making him flinch out of his thoughts, trailing down to his hand and twining together with Louis’ own. Harry squeezed gently, offering Louis a tender smile when Louis finally moved his gaze away from the ceiling. Louis’ heart ached to look at him, blinking lazily as he held Louis’ hand. It was intimate in a way it shouldn't have been, and when Harry shifted closer, nudging the tip of nose to Louis’ and parting his lips it became too much, and Louis rolled away, sitting on the edge of the mattress with his back to Harry.
He didn't say anything, and neither did Harry. He could almost feel the sting of his own rejection, but instead of turning around he stood, reaching for his trousers and pulling them on. He hesitated at his shirt, and then without knowing why he picked up Harry's grey tee, slipping it over his head and letting it hang loose and baggy around his body. He picked up his jacket, and then stepped into his shoes.
When he finally turned around, Harry was still lying in bed watching him. His eyes flicked from Louis’ eyes to his t-shirt and then back again. Louis hovered at the side of the bed and Harry got to his knees, letting the sheets fall away from his waist so he was kneeling, naked and vulnerable in front of Louis. He tried to pull Louis in again but Louis resisted, stopping Harry with a hand to his shoulder. Harry gave a small nod of acceptance, and Louis let his hand fall away.
Harry extended his right hand. "Friends, yeah?"
Louis rolled his lips into his mouth, eyes darting down to Harry's hand. "No," he said softly. He looked up, catching a glimpse of the way Harry's expression shuttered, and he reached out to grab Harry's hand before he could withdraw it. He raised their joined hands to his mouth and spoke against the skin of Harry's knuckles. "I can't pretend," he said honestly, lips brushing Harry's skin. "After this...you and I. I can't pretend that we're just friends. I think I need some space from you."
Harry nodded his understanding, eyes sad. His other hand came up to tenderly brush away the strand of hair that had fallen across Louis' forehead. "I'm sorry," he whispered.
Louis smiled, heart aching, and kissed the back of Harry's hand before letting go. "I know," he murmured. "Me, too."
Harry twisted their hands, gripping Louis’ fingers so he couldn't move away. He leaned in again, pausing just long enough for Louis to answer his silent question, and then he brought their mouths together in the lightest of kisses, lips barely brushing Louis’.
He pulled away, releasing Louis’ hand and sitting back on his haunches, and Louis stepped back from him. At the door he paused, looking over his shoulder at Harry. What he saw in his eyes, a painful mix of longing, sadness and regret, was nearly enough to make Louis turn back.
With a final long look, Louis shut the door softly behind him.
"Hello, love," his mother replied through the phone, warmth immediately filling Louis’ ear. "How're things?"
"Yeah, good." Louis held the phone between his shoulder and ear as he sat on the bar stool at his his kitchen countertop. Using both hands, he sifted through the pile of mail in front of him, separating bills and junk mail into two different piles. "Just wanted to hear your voice."
"Oh, Lou," Louis could almost hear his mothers' fond smile. "I miss you, too. Come home and see your mother soon, won't you? This house is far too quiet without you."
"I will, mum," Louis promised. "I've got a couple of days off soon, I was thinking of coming up then."
"You know I always want you here. You work so hard, Lou, you need some time off. And now you don't have Ethan I worry that you're lonely."
"Mum," Louis’ hands faltered. "I'm fine."
"I know you are, love, but I'm your mother; it's my job to worry about you," Jay chided. "How is work going?"
"Eh, same old, same old," Louis tossed aside a leaflet advertising new boilers. "How are things up there?"
"Oh fine. I went out for tea with Grandad the other day, he asked after you. Give him a call when you have a chance, ok?"
Louis frowned down at the last letter in the pile. He picked it up, weighing it in his hand. It was thick, the handwriting on the front unfamiliar. He flipped it over, digging his thumb underneath the seal and working it open. Peering inside gave him no indication of the contents, so he tipped it over and shook out another envelope and piece of folded paper. Turning first to the envelope, Louis ripped it open, frown deepening when a single piece of card fell out. He skimmed the words and then dropped the card as if it had burned him, staring down at it on the counter.
"Oh, fuck," he swore.
Louis jumped, momentarily forgetting Jay on the other end of the line. "Sorry, mum."
"Everything okay, love?"
"Yeah, fine," Louis said slowly. He swallowed. "I've just had another wedding invitation through the post."
"That's nice, love. Oh, ALex and Liam's weddings were so lovely, weren't they? Well, at least you don't have to be best man this time! Who’s getting married?"
Louis looked down.
You are invited to celebrate the wedding of
Lawrence Alwin & Harry Styles
Friday 21st of July 2015
one o’clock in the afternoon
The Garden Pavilion at Thursford,
Dinner, drinks and dancing to follow the ceremony
RSVP to email@example.com
"It's, uh...it’s a guy I met at Alex’s wedding," Louis said faintly. "I don't even know him that well."
"Oh, well that's nice of him to invite you. I expect the other boys have been invited as well, then, seeing as you never go anywhere without each other. When is it?"
Louis swallowed past the lump in his throat, skimming over the invitation again. "July," he said hoarsely. "I...I don't think I'm going to go."
"Well," Louis paused. "Like I say, I don't know him that well. He's probably just asked me out of politeness; he's not actually expecting me to go."
"Louis, he's been good enough to invite you, so you should go. Do you not like him or something?"
"That's not it," Louis mumbled, turning to the other piece of folded up paper and spreading it out on the counter. "I like him well enough, it’s just-Oh, God," he groaned. "There's a gift list."
"Isn't that a good thing? You don't have to worry about what to get them."
"You know I hate gift lists. Why the hell would you dictate to people what they should spend their own money on?"
Jay laughed. "It's practical. Otherwise you get five different people buying you the same toasters or sets of knives."
"It's stupid," Louis grumbled. "I'm not buying anything from it."
"Stubborn as ever," Jay sighed. "Well, when you’re finished sulking, let me know what you buy from the list, won't you?"
Louis pouted. "Hm. I'd better go Mum; I'll see if I can get a couple of days off from work, yeah? I’ll give you a call and let you know."
"Can't wait, love. See you soon."
"Love you, too. Bye."
Louis set his phone down next to the list of gifts attached to the invitation, skimming over it. The concept of sending a gift list had never sat well with him; it seemed arrogant, telling people what they should spend their money on, assuming they were even planning on spending money in the first place.
Not that it mattered anyway, because Louis wasn't even going to the wedding. Why Harry thought Louis would want to sit there and watch him get married when he'd slept with him not once, but twice during the course of his engagement, Louis had no idea. Harry might be able to forget it had happened, but Louis couldn't. Looking Lawrence in the eye, knowing what he’d done, and congratulating them both was a level of masochism Louis wasn't ready for.
He threw the list and the invitation in the bin, and headed for the shower.
The day was warm; bright sunshine and clear blue skies and just the barest hint of a breeze touching the skin of Louis’ arms and rustling his grey tee as he walked down the high street. He’d decided to take the day off from work; the concept of being stuck behind his laptop almost unbearable on a day like this. After half an hour of wandering aimlessly in and out of shops, Louis stepped through the glass doors of a Starbucks, pushing his sunglasses on top of his head and grateful for the air conditioning that hit him as soon as he was inside the shop. He queued up, ordering a chocolate frappuccino, and then pulled out his phone as he waited for it to be made.
When his drink was called, he collected it and went to sit at a corner table fairly near the front window. The shop was fairly quiet, just a few school kids filing in in their uniforms, skirts and sleeves rolled up and top buttons undone against the weather, so Louis had the table to himself. He took a sip of his drink and then opened his emails on his phone, waiting for the latest messages to download. Skipping past anything to do with work, he deleted a couple of spam emails and then opened a new message.
Louis paused, fingers hovering over the blank screen. He worried the corner of his bottom lip between his teeth, considering which words to use. He hadn't given the wording of his rejection much thought until now; he wanted to sound like he was sorry (even though he wasn't, not really), and simultaneously not sound like a twat.
Louis shook his head, deleting those two words. Too enthusiastic.
Good morning Harry and Lawrence,
Louis backspaced again. Too formal. He squinted up at the email address, lip curling in distaste.
Thank you for your invitation. Unfortunately I won't be able to attend because I
Louis frowned as he realised he didn't actually have an excuse as to why he couldn't go.
because I am going on holiday
because I have a previous family engagement
He backspaced again.
because I have a dentist appointment
Louis sighed. He deleted the entire message.
Thanks for the invite. Unfortunately I won't be able to attend your wedding because it turns out I think I might be falling in love with you. In fact, I don't think, I know. This, of course, is completely inconvenient and ridiculous because we have only met a few times and we know virtually nothing about each other. Consequently, watching you marry someone else might actually break my heart.
Sorry about that,
Louis snorted, finger hovering over the backspace button. At least if he sent that email, he'd know he was being brutally honest with himself. He grimaced, jabbing his finger down to delete the words.
Before he could get rid of more than his name, someone sat down in the chair opposite him. Louis jerked his head up, surprised, only to find Harry smiling back at him, placing a mug of what looked and smelled like Chai tea down onto the table. "Hi," he said. "Didn't expect to see you here."
Louis had locked his phone and jammed it between his thighs in under a second. He fixed a smile on his face, ignoring the steady pound of his heart rate increasing. "Hello, stranger."
Harry beamed. "How are you?"
"Yeah, good. You? What brings you to this part of town?"
"I'm well, thanks. I’m wedding shopping. Lawrence and my mum are both busy, so I'm on my own. Did you get your invite?"
"I did," Louis confirmed, and then shut his mouth.
Harry waited, smiling expectantly. "So? Can you make it?"
"I'm not sure yet," Louis said carefully. "I'll let you know. Thanks for the list, by the way; that makes it a lot easier to know what to get the both of you," he tried to keep sarcasm out of his voice, but some of it leeched through.
To his surprise, Harry frowned a little. "That was Lawrence’s idea. I'm not sure I like dictating to people what they should spend their money on. It takes something personal away from it, don't you think?"
Louis rolled his lips into his mouth, making a noncommittal noise. "So should I get you something that's not on the list? Something to do with yoga? A juicer? A crook to herd sheep?"
Harry laughed, tipping his head back and showing his teeth. "You don't have to get anything! I would just really like you to be there, that's all."
"Right. I'll see what I can do." Louis lifted his drink to his mouth.
He watched Harry pick up his own drink, cradling his hands around the warmth as he took a sip. He couldn't stop himself from taking a long look at him, noting the skin of his chest peeking out from the top of his half unbuttoned powder blue shirt. Louis knew what it was to kiss the skin there. He knew what the fingers currently curled around Harry's mug felt like on him, knew the shape and softness of Harry's lips against his own.
Tightness twisted in his chest, and he pushed his drink a little way away from him, swallowing heavily against the sweetness cloying on his tongue.
"You can bring a plus one, of course," Harry was saying. "Maybe...the guy you were talking to at Liam and Zayn’s wedding?" Louis heard the casual interest in his voice.
"Niall?" Louis snorted. "You really want him to do his Madonna impression at your wedding?"
"No," Harry chuckled. "I know Niall, don't I? I meant the other guy. About your height, dark hair. He was wearing a grey suit, I think?"
"Oh," Louis nodded. "Ethan."
"Maybe not," Harry said quickly when Louis offered up no more information than that. "Sorry, I'm just being nosy. I didn't realise you two had...history."
Louis blew air out of his nose. "You could say that. Ethan is my ex; he just turned up at the wedding unannounced. Took me by surprise, that's all."
"Oh. What happened?"
Louis watched Harry, nibbling at his bottom lip.
"Sorry," Harry said again quickly when Louis didn't speak for a moment. "That's none of my business."
"No, no, it's ok," Louis assured him. "I just don’t like to talk about it much. It ended really badly, and it’s just something I want to leave behind me. But," he shrugged. "Someone has to know what really happened...it might as well be you."
"No one knows?"
Louis shook his head. "We’ve been separated for eight months now...but not even my mum knows what happened. I didn’t tell Alex, or Liam, or any of the others. They just know that something bad happened, and we broke up."
"You don’t have to tell me-"
"I want to," Louis told him. "It might help me."
Harry nodded, waiting.
"We first met in uni," Louis said slowly, eyes fixed on a drop of condensation rolling down the side of his cup. "We were friends, but I was with someone else. I always knew he was interested in me, like, whenever we went out and I was single he was always trying to convince me how good we would be together and trying to get me to go home with him. The others never liked him; Liam was always telling me he was no good." Louis paused. Harry took a quiet mouthful of his drink.
"We didn't see each other for ages after we graduated, and then about three years ago we bumped into each other on a night out. Ethan hadn't changed, not one bit, and Liam said the same thing, that he was no good, but as usual I didn't listen," Louis laugh was dry and humourless. "So I let him take me home, and after that night we got together."
"For a while it was great, and I thought to myself that he'd had been right after all, we were good together. I was happy." Louis began tracing idle patterns on the table with his fingers, just to give his hands something to do. "I suppose it kind of went wrong when I started the job I'm in now."
Harry reached out. He silently slid his hand across the table, palm up and fingers spread. Despite himself, Louis locked their fingers together.
"I write for a magazine, which means I can pretty much work from home, but as soon as I started that, Ethan suddenly got really jealous, almost aggressively so. He started drinking a lot every night, and when he’s drunk, he’s nasty. He started accusing me of having other men over while he was out everyday; he’d come home and ask who I’d had over that day, and go round sniffing the air, convinced he could smell another man’s cologne. If we ever went out, he'd be so busy watching me to make sure I wasn't looking at any other guy that it would just kill the night completely. It got bad; and because I spent most days at home I felt like I was some sort of prisoner, you know?"
Harry squeezed their fingers gently.
"It all came to a head one night we were out. He was unbearable, pawing at me, telling me we should just go home, that he wanted me, all that shit. I had no idea what was wrong with him, but I wanted to stay, so I made him get more drinks in while I went to the bathroom." Louis’ voice had dropped, so Harry leaned in to hear him better, fingers beginning to stroke a gentle pattern on Louis’ hand. "I came back to the bar, we drank more, and then we went home. It would have been a normal night out, but he just wouldn't stop touching me. I told him I wasn't in the mood, but he acted like I hadn't said anything. He just wouldn't stop. I was so pissed off with him, just sick of his shit. We got in, and I went to go to the bathroom, but he stopped me, tried to take my top off. I said no, told him to stop. There was...a bit of a fight. He managed to get my top off, got me on the bed,"’ Louis swallowed. "He was a bit rough. I remember him, on top me of like that. I-I couldn’t get away. I’ve never been so scared."
Harry had gone deathly still. His eyes were wide, grip of Louis’ hand becoming tighter and tighter.
"I don’t know how I did it, it must have been the adrenaline. But I managed to get him off me. But then he hit me. Right across here," Louis pointed to his left cheekbone. "As soon as he’d done it he snapped out of whatever mood he was in, and immediately started apologising. But I went mad," Louis pressed on. "Yelled at him so loudly half of London probably heard me. Then I kicked him out, and that was that."
Louis sucked in a breath, then released it slowly. Oddly, it felt like a weight somewhere had been lifted off of him. Now he was one of three people that knew, instead of just two. The relief he felt in telling someone was clearly not observed by Harry, who looked horrified.
"He did that to you?" he virtually growled, words sharp and controlled. "And you just let him get away with it?"
"I didn't let him get away with it, I broke up with him there and then."
"He punched you in the face! He held you down! What if you couldn't have stopped him? What if he'd-"
"Don’t. Do not say that," Louis gasped, heart dropping suddenly. He could almost feel it again, like he was back there. The pressure of Ethan on his hips, hands wrapped tightly about his wrists. "It wasn’t like that. I honestly believe he would have stopped, I promise you. He was drunk, and angry, but my Ethan was still in there."
"You should have gone to the police!"
"And risk everyone finding out? Have everyone know that I couldn't protect myself against my own boyfriend? I'm not scared of him!"
"It's not about being scared! That's assault, Louis. How were you to know he would do that to you? Of all the people in the world, he should be one of the people you trust most, and he broke that. That's his fault. Not yours."
"I know that now. And I'm fine, before you ask. Really, I am. I dealt with it, and I moved on from him. All the boys know is that we had a huge fight so we broke up, and that's all I want them to know. I don't even think Ethan knew what he was doing. That doesn't excuse it, I know," he held up a placating hand when Harry opened his mouth. "But I really don't think he did. He doesn't have it in him to do...that. Before, he was lovely; something just got a bit twisted towards the end. That's probably why I go through so many boyfriends, actually. I don't mind a bit of protectiveness, but as soon as they get possessive, I panic."
Harry shook his head. "No wonder you looked like you'd seen a ghost when he turned up at the wedding. I'm so, so sorry you had to go through that, Lou. No one deserves that, least of all you."
Louis shrugged. "He was sorry for it; he called me for weeks and weeks, apologising over and over again. I forgive him for it, but I don't trust him. Not at all."
Harry raised Louis’ hand, pressing a small kiss to the back of it, much like Louis had done to him the last time they'd been together. He released their hands. "I'm sorry."
"It's fine. I'm sorry for unloading all that on you. At least you know why I don't want to be anywhere near him now."
"Thank you for feeling like you could tell me."
Louis smiled gently. "You've got a look about you. Trustworthy. Must be the eyes." Harry fluttered his eyelashes, exaggerating a doe-eyed expression. "Cute."
"Cute? I'm not cute! Cute is for five year olds!"
"You are definitely cute!" Louis laughed. The heavy, oppressive air between them lifted, giving way to something lighter, happier. "All you need is a bow tie and you'd be adorable."
Harry spluttered, but his eyes were full of mirth. "A bow tie," he faux-grumbled. "Please."
He squeezed Louis’ hand once more before letting their fingers separate. Harry drained the rest of his tea and then pulled out his phone to check the time.
"Hey, look. Are you busy today?" he asked.
Louis shook his head truthfully, "No. Why?"
"I'm actually out suit shopping for the wedding today, and I could really do with a second opinion. Do you mind tagging along?"
Louis hesitated. The object of today was to tell Harry he wasn't going to be attending the wedding, not ending up helping him choose the suit he would be getting married in. He didn't feel like he could walk away now, though, not having just told Harry one of the most important things about himself. Perhaps that was needy and clingy of him, to want to stay close to Harry for the moment, but the vulnerable side of him didn't care too much.
"Please?" Harry implored at Louis’ hesitation. "I need someone that will be honest and not tell me I look good in everything. I'll buy you dinner afterwards?"
Louis considered it, swirling the remnants of his drink around the bottom of the cup.
"Ok," he shrugged nonchalantly. "Let's go."
In hindsight, Louis should have held onto every last strand of the willpower he'd once possessed and left Harry to go shopping alone.
The last two weddings Louis had attended, his suits had been chosen for him. All he'd had to do was go for a fitting and then take it home to hang in his wardrobe. He’d only had to worry about finding a pair of black dress shoes, and that had been the only thought he'd given to his outfit. Consequently, he didn't know a great deal and designers and cuts and what to look for to know if a jacket hung perfectly on a body.
Harry, though, knew exactly what he was talking about. They'd taken the tube to Oxford Circus, getting off and walking the short distance to Savile Row, where there were rows and rows of tailors to choose from, many of which Harry had appointments at. The first was a sleek looking black and white designed shop that had been designed in a circular shape for the ease of the customer to see everything at once. At the far end, there was a single dressing room with a black velvet curtain hanging across it. The rest of the floor was taken up by rows and rows of jackets and trousers, all hanging there is pristine condition, waiting to be picked up and critiqued. Which Harry did. He picked up fabrics, holding them against each other, matching colours together and nodding thoughtfully at the mock-ups the assistant handed him.
Louis sat in a plush armchair directly in the centre of the store, at a perfect angle to watch Harry work. He was directly opposite the fitting room, and behind him was an entire section of the curved wall dedicated to ties all colours of the rainbow, all made from the finest silks. The place screamed wealth; Louis had been offered a glass of champagne three times already.
The shop assistant was a young girl, possibly a little younger than Harry but not by much, with neatly tied back auburn hair. She seemed delighted that she'd found someone who spoke her language, and was eagerly pulling out folders and catalogues and chattering about colour schemes and groomsmen. She and Harry flitted around the room, pulling out swatches of material and admiring ties. Louis was content to just melt into the background, allowing himself a moment to just watch Harry, indulging himself in just that moment and feeling lighter than he had in a long time.
After a moment, Harry turned to Louis, pure excitement shining in his eyes. He was unfairly gorgeous like this, completely in his element and wonderfully happy.
"Lou," he called over. Louis and tilted his chin up towards Harry expectantly. "I'm going to try a few on, you've got to give me your honest opinion, ok?" Louis nodded, shifting his shoulders comfortably on the cushion behind him.
Next to Harry, the sales assistant smiled warmly. "A lot of couples, like yourselves, don't mind seeing each other in their attire before the wedding day nowadays. Sometimes it's nice to break tradition. Isn’t it?" She directed her attention to Louis. "Would you like to try something on too, sir? Something that compliments this outfit?" She gestured to the suit Harry held in his hands.
"Oh, er-" Louis heard Harry mumble. "He's not actually...I mean…"
"Oh my goodness!" The sales assistant slapped a hand over her mouth, eyes a round as saucers. "I'm so sorry! I just presumed-"
"It's fine, it happens a lot," Harry told her gently, lying through his teeth. "He's an old friend. We're very close."
"I can see that, that's why I thought...I'm so sorry. Please," she held out a hand, guiding Harry towards the fitting room. "Right this way, sir."
Louis’ cheeks flamed, not at all helped by Harry winking over his shoulder as he turned away to follow. He sank lower in his chair, glowering at the curtain that had rippled in Harry's wake.
Five minutes later, the curtain rustled, and Harry strode out holding his arms out to Louis. "Well?"
Louis eyed him from head to toe, admiring the way the material draped over his body perfectly. It was a plain dark grey suit with a white shirt that was open at the neck and had thin black ribbon lining the collar. Harry stood with his back to Louis, turning this way and that in the mirror. Louis could still see his expression in the mirror, and he noticed the way Harry undid the button of the jacket and then redid it again, a slightly crease in between his eyes.
"Too boring," Louis guessed aloud.
Harry met his eyes in the mirror. A knowing smirk crept across his face. "Absolutely," he murmured, just loud enough for both Louis and the sales assistant to catch.
"Not to worry!" she chirped. "There are plenty more to try!"
Harry disappeared behind the curtain. When he came back out again, Louis’ eyes bugged out of his head. Harry strutted forward in a suit that was entirely bold black and white flowers, compete with flared trousers. At first glance, Louis’ first reaction was to giggle, but when Harry stopped in front of the mirror, he looked again, and found that actually...it worked. On anyone else, including Louis, it would have looked idiotic, but on Harry it somehow looked amazing.
‘What do you think?’ Harry asked him in the mirror.
"It looks great," Louis said honestly. "But...it's very bold…"
Harry heard his hesitation. "Too bold for a wedding," he finished.
Louis nodded. "Red carpet? Yes. Wedding? Perhaps not."
"I agree. You're good at this," Harry told him, already heading back to the fitting room.
"You clearly know each other very well," the sales assistant said. Louis just smiled.
Moments later, Harry strode out again. Louis watched him cross to the mirror. He wore black from head to toe, and although they'd both just dismissed the grey suit as boring, the suit he wore now seemed different. Perhaps it was because of the way it was cut, absolutely clinging to each edge and curve of Harry's body. It fitted across his shoulders, tapering down to his narrow waist, the trousers continuing seamlessly over his thighs and down his calves. He was stunning in it, and he absolutely took Louis' breath away.
"I like this one," Harry wondered aloud, and Louis nodded quickly.
"You look amazing," he croaked through a throat that had mysteriously gone dry. Harry lifted up the back of his jacket, turning around so he could look at his bum. Louis tried to disguise the strangled noise he made as a cough, but Harry flicked his eyes up to meet Louis’, one eyebrow raised smugly. "I mean, that's definitely an option."
"It's not a bit...funeral-y?"
"I don't think so. It's classic, simple." Louis took a breath. "If I was Lawrence, I’d marry you in a heartbeat."
Harry stopped fidgeting. "You would?"
Louis nodded. "If I saw you walking up towards me, dressed like that, there would be nothing on this earth that would stop me marrying you. I'd be so proud to call you my husband." Louis swallowed thickly. "If I was Lawrence, I mean."
"Well then," Harry blinked at himself in the mirror, and then nodded to the sales assistant. "It's definitely an option. Would you mind putting this on reserve for me until the end of tomorrow? I'd like to be able to show my mum before I buy anything."
"Of course, sir. Would you like to make another appointment?"
"I think she's free tomorrow, is it ok to come back in with her then?"
"Absolutely, if you'd like to come this way…"
Louis tuned out the rest of their polite chatter, sinking back in his chair. He’d already made a fool of himself once today in telling Harry about Ethan, and now he’d done it again. He may as well just walk up to Harry and announce his feelings to his face for how unsubtle he was being.
It was too much to take in; he should never have agreed to come shopping with Harry, should have known that doing this would make it ten times harder to put any distance between them. The right thing to do was to pull away, hide in his flat and leave Harry to get on with his life without having to deal with Louis’ ridiculous pining and trust issues.?
That was the right thing to do.
But then, after countless more tailors and suits, he found himself at dinner with Harry at a little chinese restaurant Harry knew. He was a pro with chopsticks, and he took great delight in teaching Louis the proper way to use them. Louis barely listened to his instructions, too focused on the way Harry's fingers manipulated his own, gently bending his fingers into the right position.
"There," Harry sounded pleased when Louis managed to pick up a spring roll by himself. "You've got it!"
"It's actually trickier than it looks," Louis informed him, going back for another. "I'm not coordinated enough for this."
"Practise makes perfect," Harry grinned. "I had to teach Lawrence when we first met, too."
Louis set down his chopsticks, reaching for his drink. "Oh? How long have you been together?"
"A year and a half," Harry told him, and Louis' eyebrows lifted.
"Is that all? You act like you've been together longer."
Harry shrugged. "We got together quite quickly after we met, it was a bit of a whirlwind thing. I moved in after a month."
Louis' eyebrows rose further. He aimed for noodles, gritting his teeth in frustration when he failed to pick any up. After a moment he dropped the chopsticks with a clatter and went with the fork.
Harry laughed at him. "He hasn't always been out, though; he was married before to a woman. They met in school, got married straight after and had a son, Adam."
Louis choked on his mouthful. "He's got a kid?"
"Hm," Harry confirmed, watching Louis take a drink and making sure he didn’t choke again. His cheeks were slightly pink when he spoke again. "Adam's sixteen now. So that was a little weird, cos he's only nine years younger than me."
Louis raised an eyebrow the way Harry looked down, using his chopsticks to push his food around his plate aimlessly. "Is he not ok with you and Lawrence?" he guessed.
Harry set his chopsticks down gently. "I think he struggled at the start, just because I was a lot younger than he'd thought I would be. He resented me a bit, I think, especially because his mum had a real problem with us, and they're really close. She still doesn’t like coming over to ours when I’m there. But Adam and I get on well now, though, and that's all that matters. I still don't see him all that much, though." Harry took a sip of his drink. When he looked up at Louis, there was vulnerability behind his eyes. "It scares me, actually," he confided. "Having to be stepdad to someone who's not that much younger than me."
"Yeah, but that's just an official title, isn't it," Louis argued. "You're not going to do anything more than what you're doing now. A legal name shouldn't change your relationship."
"I know, you're right. I'm just a bit worried about it. Adam’s mum isn’t even coming to the wedding. I’m not sure she’s ever going to want anything to do with me."
"Well, that’s her loss," Louis said firmly. "If she can’t see that, then she’s not worthy of your time."
Harry nodded. "I try to to think that. Sometimes," he confided, looking away to his right and dropping his voice. "I think maybe I'm...rushing into this. The wedding. I mean, I'm happy with Lawrence, but sometimes it just feels like there's something missing. Does that sound stupid?"
Louis shook his head. "Not at all." A flicker of something wild and blindly hopeful curled in the pit of his stomach. "Does it make you want to slow things down? Maybe postpone it?"
Harry paused for a fraction too long before he said, "No. I can't anyway, too much is planned and paid for."
"Yeah, but," Louis nibbled at his bottom lip. "That means nothing when your heart's not in it."
Harry smiled softly. "Has anyone ever told you you’re a good a listener?"
"They have now."
"That surprises me, you know. You could set up a new business; offer your services as a best man and a counsellor."
"I’ve thought about it," Louis grinned. "I could offer a free best man speech for every five therapy sessions."
Harry laughed, dimples popping in his cheeks. His smile softened when he looked at Louis, and he stretched his hand out across the table, much like he’d done in the coffee shop. Louis didn’t even hesitate that time, linking their fingers together and squeezing.
"Thank you for coming shopping with me today, you were great," Harry said. "And thank you for letting me unload my problems on you."
"Glad I could help," Louis smiled. "Thanks for listening to me talk about Ethan. It feels a lot better now somebody else knows."
"You’ll always be able to talk to me," Harry assured him. "Promise. Although I think it would be good if you told your mum."
Louis nodded his agreement. "I will, I think. I’ll find a time."
"Good. And you're definitely coming to the wedding, yeah?"
"Louis had to make an effort to keep the smile on his face. 'Sure."
Harry settled the bill, on his insistence, and then they walked a little way down the street to the tube station where they had to part ways. Harry thanked him again, and then hugged him warmly and pressed a kiss to his cheek.
Louis could do nothing but stand there, the bustle of people around him just a vague noise, and watch Harry’s back disappear down the stairs of the station.
Late that night, Louis sat at his kitchen table. An empty pizza box sat at his left elbow, six equally empty beer cans at his right, and his phone in between the two. He'd retrieved the wedding invitation from the bin, as well as the gift list, and had smoothed them out on the cool marble countertop.
As he'd eaten his pizza he'd read over them again and again, torturing himself and wondering what could have been. Where would he be, he wondered, if it was his name on the invitation instead of Lawrence's? What would he be doing?
He unlocked his phone, taking a couple of tries to stab the right button that would open his contacts list. Everything was a swimmy in front of his eyes now. His hands didn't quite go where they wanted them to, and he ended up knocking the empty cans to the floor when he tried to reach for the fresh one. They crashed to the floor, making a horrendous noise that echoed around the flat. He ignored it, scrolling through his list until he found the mobile number that Harry had put in there when they'd parted ways that afternoon.
Hindsight really was a wonderful thing, because Louis could see it now. He was here, so far in over his head, because he hadn't seen himself falling for Harry in the first place. Falling in love with him was so easy and painless Louis hadn't even noticed it was happening until it was too late. But he'd fallen hard and fast, and he saw no possible way out. They way he and Harry just seemed to fit together, just picking up where they left off every time they met, even when they hadn't seen each other in months, was a difficult thing to ignore.
Before he knew what he was doing, Louis had stabbed Harry's name and the screen had changed to the dialling screen. He lifted the phone to his ear, slumping sideways a little so he had to grab the counter to keep himself on the stool.
The phone rang for what felt like ages, before it suddenly stopped, and Harry's voice filled Louis’ ear. "Oop, hi! It's Harry, sorry I'm not here at the moment, but leave a message and I'll get back to you."
The answer phone beeped. Louis took a breath, and then stopped himself, releasing it again in a breathy giggle when it occurred to him that he had no idea what to say.
He told Harry as much. "Haz, s’me. It's Lou," he murmured into the phone. "I dunno why I called, I just wanna say thanks again for today I think? For not freaking out too much about Ethan, ‘bout what I told you and everything. It's nice to know that someone cares, so thanks...And I had a nice day today as well. But I should tell you that I can't come to the wedding, even though I said I could."
"I can't come to the wedding," he repeated, the words out of his mouth before he could stop them. "Because I'm in love with you, Haz. An’ I can't watch you marry him, cos it's not fair on me or you. And I love you...just...just in case you didn't get that when I said it just then." Louis hiccuped, the words still spilling from his lips, "Like, a lot. And I...I hate the way you slept with me and then left, that first time. I know now that you were leaving to go back to him, and I’m not gonna lie, that fucking sucked. But I can't stay mad at you because you're wonderful and perfect and you have lovely hair, and fuck, you and Lawrence are perfect for each other and I honestly don't want to get in the way. D’you understand that, H? An’ I hope Lawrence knows how lucky he is to be marrying you, because if it was me I'd be the happiest man alive. I really hope you're happy, baby," Louis’ throat tightened, that tell tale tingling was back in his nose. "But I wish that was my ring on your finger," he choked, and then pulled the phone away. He went to hang up, but then pressed the phone back to his ear.
"You looked beautiful today," he whispered, and then shook his head fiercely. "Fuck."
He hung up, heart thumping. The room was beginning to spin, everything blurring into indecipherable shapes before his eyes.
He passed out there, cheek pressed to the countertop, snoring gently.
It rained on the day of Harry's wedding.
It was unexpected; the days before had been filled with scorching sunshine and thick, muggy air. It was stifling in the city, and Louis was almost glad to get away from it, packing up Sam (who was finally fixed, some four hundred and sixty three pounds later) and hitting the road early the day before the wedding. He'd spent the drive down to Norfolk with the windows down and his music up, relishing in the feeling of the wind rushing through his hair. He'd felt almost lighter, like he was leaving his problems behind, which was ironic considered he was heading straight towards the person who was at the root of said problems.
The Norfolk countryside was beautiful; miles and miles of lush green fields that stretched as far as the eye could see. Peaceful and still, it was a stark contrast to the chaos of London. The hotel Louis was staying at was a ten minute drive from the venue itself, which was out in the middle of approximately nowhere. Louis got lost twice on the journey there, nearly ending up in a field full of sheep on more than one occasion and getting angry looks from farmers. He could almost hear their grumblings about Londoners and city boys even as he hastily turned the car around. When he finally found where he was supposed to be, he was pleasantly surprised. The large, commercial hotel he'd expected was actually more of a small B&B; it was a quaint and pretty old red brick building with ivy climbing up the side and dropping down over the front door. It wouldn't be out of place in a fairytale.
It would have been idyllic, however, the weather turned overnight. Louis had eaten dinner watching the sun go down from a comfortable armchair by his window, but had gone to bed late, feeling restless and jittery. It had taken him until the early hours to finally fall asleep, and when he woke again, it was to lashing rain. It woke him with a start, clattering against his window, the howling wind rattling the panes of glass in their frames.
Louis rolled onto his left side, blinking sleepily at the suit hanging up on the front of the oak wardrobe a little way from the bed. The day had arrived, and Louis still couldn't fathom why he had agreed to be here in the first place. Especially not after that drunk phone call. He'd had his mind made up still not to attend, but all it had taken was one text from Harry, simply saying please come to the wedding, and here Louis was. He didn't know if that meant that Harry had heard the message or not, but he tried not to dwell on it too much for fear of the humiliation eating him alive.
There was a steady sinking feeling in his gut, a heavy reminder that after today, there was no possibility of a 'them' ever again. It would be Harry and Lawrence, and Louis and-
Louis huffed, rolling over in the sheets to his other side to grab at his phone. He supposed he had an hour or two to dress, grab some breakfast and generally prepare himself before the ceremony started at one.
Louis blinked at his screen.
A strangled noise left his throat. He kicked back the covers, running naked for the shower. It was like deja vu from Alex's wedding; brushing his teeth in the shower, buttoning his shirt with only his boxers and one sock on, snatching his phone and keys up and bolting from the room. He received a slightly alarmed look from the receptionist as he ran down the stairs, and he took the hurried offer of an umbrella to borrow for the day before ducking out to Sam.
Things went only marginally better on this occasion; Sam started without protest and he had no rings to remember. He was still the last one into the venue though, huffing and sweating a little and looking a bit unkempt even though he'd spent all of half an hour in his suit. He seated himself a far at the back of the room as he could, trying to get his breath back.
In all his stress, he only noticed how lavish the venue was until after a full ten minutes of being sat down. It was an old converted barn, tall wooden beams stretching high above them, with burgundy drapes hanging partway across the tall narrow windows. There were candles lit at the front on either side of the registrar, who stood at the top of a long length of cream carpet. High above them, a chandelier hung from one of the beams, offering a warm, cosy light for the guests. It was contemporary with a twist of something vintage, and quintessentially quirky, which was Harry all over. The place suited him down to the ground.
There was movement from behind Louis, indicating that something was beginning to happen. Craning his neck, he could just about see up the front of the rows of seats, and he caught sight of Liam and Zayn sat together, with Niall closely flanked by Edie, with Alex on her other side.
As if he'd felt Louis staring, Liam turned in his seat, meeting his eyes. A disapproving frown creased his forehead, and he shook his watch on his wrist at Louis. Louis lifted his shoulders and then dropped them, aiming for an 'oops?' expression. Liam just rolled his eyes and turned to whisper something, most probably about Louis, into Zayn's ear.
Light, melodic music began to play, and the guests all moved as one to stand. Louis took a breath, and then angled his body round to the right so he could see who was coming up the aisle. A little flower girl, no more than seven years old, made her way up in a puffy cream and burgundy dress, sprinkling red rose petals as she went. Everyone 'aah'-ed appropriately, and then turned back to the doors expectantly.
Louis' breath hitched in his throat. Hand in hand, Harry and Lawrence made their way up the aisle. They had chosen not to match their suits; Lawrence was in dark grey, Harry in black, and it worked. Admittedly, Louis was paying little attention to Lawrence, but he found it easy to ignore him. Harry looked gorgeous. He was glowing, grinning madly when he stopped to kiss the cheek of a woman who must have been his mum at the top of the aisle. His suit was similar to the ones he’d tried on with Louis in London, but this wasn't one Louis recognised. It was comprised black trousers and a black jacket, but with black satin lapels on the blazer and a matching waistband and satin stripe down the outside of each leg. His shirt looked soft and expensive, buttoned all the way to the top. His shoes were shining, hair fresh and bouncy and looking unaffected by the rain, and overall he looked the spitting image of one of Louis' childhood dreams about Prince Charmings.
At the gesture of the officiant, the crowd sat in one movement of rustling clothes and quiet murmurs.
"Ladies and Gentlemen," she began with a warm smile. "Good afternoon, and welcome to The Garden Pavilion. We are here this afternoon to witness the joining in matrimony of Lawrence Charles Alwin, and Harry Edward Styles. If anyone here knows of any lawful impediment to this marriage, they should declare it now."
Louis bit his lip.
After a few silent moments, the registrar beamed. "And relax," she said in a stage whisper to the men in front of her. "That's the hard bit over with."
There was a smatter of laughter through the guests. The tender skin on the inside of Louis upper lip tore away under his teeth. He winced, touching a finger to his mouth and grimacing when it came away red.
"Before you are joined in matrimony, I have to remind you both of the solemn and binding character of the vows you are about to make. Marriage, in this country means the union of two people, voluntarily entered into for life, to the exclusion of all others. I shall now ask both of you, in turn, to declare that you do not know of any lawful reason as to why you should not be married to each other." She turned to Lawrence. Lawrence, please repeat after me. I do solemnly declare,"
"I do solemnly declare," Lawrence intoned, looking deep into Harry's eyes while he repeated her words. "That I know not of any lawful impediment why I, Lawrence Charles Alwin, may not be joined in matrimony to Harry Edward Styles."
Then it was Harry's turn. Louis forced his eyes away, looking at the ceiling instead, swallowing hard against the lump in his throat. He'd never been more thankful to be at the back of the room in his life, hidden away from people's prying eyes. His heart was pounding furiously in his chest, his shirt sticking to his back. Surely anything would be less painful than this.
He allowed himself to tune back in a few minutes later, and when he began following what Harry was saying, he immediately wished he hadn't.
"Lawrence, I give you this ring on the occasion of our marriage as a sign of our love and affection. I call upon the persons here present to witness that I, Harry Edward Styles, do take thee, Lawrence Charles Alwin, to be my lawful wedded husband, to be loving, faithful and loyal, in living our married life together."
Faithful and loyal….Louis dug his fingers into his thigh, mind immediately flashing to Harry's legs around his waist, his own mouth around Harry's cock. How Harry had tried to kiss him that last time in the hotel room, looking as much in love with Louis as Louis had been with him.
A few minutes later, the inevitable came, the words ringing through Louis’ ears and cutting him to the quick.
"Ladies and Gentlemen," the registrar proclaimed. "Please put your hands together for the new Mr and Mr Alwin-Styles!"
That was it, then. It was over.
Louis swallowed heavily, forcing himself to relax the fists he'd subconsciously clenched and straighten his spine. With a heavy, aching heart, he began to clap, dragging the corners of his mouth into a smile.
Harry and Lawrence walked back down the aisle to raucous applause and cheers, their hands loosely tethered together as they stopped to receive hugs and kisses from their overjoyed friends and family members. Fortunately for him, Louis was swallowed up by the crowd and Harry didn't see him, which let him evade any sort of painful encounters there.
As people began spilling from the barn across the field to the reception venue, Louis hung back a little way to be able to join the others as they began filing out.
"I'm not even going to comment on your lateness, Lou," Liam said dryly, swinging his and Zayn's joined hands between them gently. "At least you didn't have to remember the rings this time."
"Oh, come off it, Liam. You're not my bloody timekeeper. You really think I wanted to be here today anyway?"
Liam's eyes turned sympathetic, and Louis regretted even opening his mouth. "Lou-"
"No, no," Louis interrupted, waving it off with one hand. "I don't need any sympathy or any of that bullshit. What I need, is a drink."
"Agreed," Niall said. They both put up their umbrellas and then stepped out into the unrelenting rain, crunching along a gravel path that would lead them to the reception. Niall slung his free arm around Louis' shoulders as they left the barn, waiting until they were out of earshot of the others before he spoke again. "Y'alright, Lou?"
Louis nodded, perhaps a little too quickly. "Mhm, yeah. Fine."
"Ya sure? I mean, you have just watched the man you're in love with get married to someone who isn't you."
Louis looked down at his feet, scuffing his shoes along in the stones. "Wow," he said, releasing a slow breath. "Thanks, Niall."
"Hey," Niall pulled him closer into his side. "You know I don't mean it like that. I'm just saying, it's ok to admit that you're not ok. What you've just sat through would be tough for anyone."
"Hm," Louis shrugged. "Not a lot I can do now is there. Christ, we've still got to sit through the speeches, haven't we? I've got to smile and look like I'm pleased for them when they have their first dance. Maybe I could cause a scene during the meal; storm up to the top table like a scorned ex-lover and ask why Harry isn't at our child's sports day today."
"You always did have a taste for the dramatics," Niall chuckled. "Really though, could you do that? I don’t think you've got it in you to ruin his happiness."
Louis blew a puff of air upwards so it ruffled his already mussed hair. "No," he said eventually. "I couldn't do that to him."
"I know," Niall said with conviction. "So, maybe you could use today to say goodbye. Talk to him, dance with him if you like, congratulate him, and then leave. I'll come back to you hotel with you if you don't want to be on your own. Just...don't torture yourself, Lou. You don't deserve it."
"Sometimes I feel like I do. It's my own stupid fault for getting into this fucking mess in the first place."
"I agree that this is a mess, but you can't help who you fall in love with," Niall told him gently. "It would be a lot easier if we could. If we could, I'd probably be married to Jake, and you and Harry would already be on your honeymoon."
Louis took a long step over a puddle. He grimaced, not even allowing the first thoughts about a honeymoon with Harry cross his mind. "You're right."
"I know," Niall said again, releasing his hold on Louis so they could put down their umbrellas and step through the doors of the reception venue.
It was a static marquee, much like Alex and Izzy's venue, but it was huge, with a towering curved roof with a net of fairy lights stretching all the way across the ceiling, and glass panels acting as floor length windows. The tables were square, set out in a staggered way and covered in the same burgundy fabric that had been hanging in the windows of the barn. The centerpieces were a complicated construction of candles, wine glasses and mirrors, intricate and meticulously placed. The dancefloor was prepped and ready for the evening, and on the floor there was an elegant-looking woman softly playing the harp. It was romantic and beautiful, all the candles and dark colours creating an intimate atmosphere.
Louis was glad to see that he'd been placed on a table with the others; he wasn't in the mood to be meeting new people on this particular occasion. He let Liam grab him a drink and then sat heavily in his chair next to Edie.
"Hello, darling," she said, putting her wrinkled hand on top of Louis'.
"Hello," Louis replied, leaning over to kiss her soft cheek, taking in a breath of her flowery perfume. "Looking ravishing, as always."
Edie swiped at his arm. "You flatter. Well, I thought since I'm Alex’s plus one, I ought to make an effort."
"Oh, where is Izzy?"
"Not well, my dear. Some sort of bug, Alex says she been sick a lot," Edie beamed.
Louis gave her a confused look. "I hope she gets better soon."
"Oh she'll be fine, dear." If anything, Edie's smile grew. "I know the signs when I see them."
"Mm," Edie tapped the side of her nose knowingly. "Morning sickness."
Louis' eyes widened. "You think she's...?"
"I do, love. You mark my words, soon there'll be a new addition to our little makeshift family. But don't you say anything to Alex, mind you," she wagged a finger at him. "It's just between you and me."
Louis mock saluted. "Yes, sir."
"There's a good boy."
When everyone was in place, Harry and Lawrence were announced. They came through the doors, hand in hand with matching smiles, to thundering applause and cheers. Louis clapped along, ignoring Liam's glances his way, and fixed a smile on his face.
He took full advantage of the wine on the table through the meal, making sure his glass was always full. He stole glances at Harry every now and then, and during the speeches, when Harry got a little teary, Louis found himself getting emotional. He shoved it aside as hard as he could, distracting himself by pouring another glass.
"You might want to slow down," Liam finally opened his mouth after the speeches were over and the guests were mingling together. "I don't want to have to carry you back to your hotel at half five in the afternoon."
Louis opened his mouth to tell Liam what he could do with his disapproval, but Edie patted the back of his hand, leaning in to say, "He's right, dear."
Louis huffed, making a point of filling his glass to the very top, but then pushed the bottle away from him. He reached for his fork, shoving another profiterole in his mouth and then leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms over his chest and chewing huffily.
Liam rolled his eyes. "Pouting isn't going to change anything," he told Louis. "I know this is hard for you, but just try and look like you're enjoying yourself. You're happy for him, aren't you?"
"No," Louis said, and then immediately regretted it. "Yes. I hate it when you're always right, Liam. It's irritating."
"I know," Liam smiled. "It’s one reason why you've kept me around."
"Why is today difficult for you?" Edie asked.
"No reason, really," Louis said quickly. "I'm just getting a bit tired of weddings that's all."
"Louis, I know when you're lying," Edie scolded. "You know you're not allowed to lie to me."
"Sorry," Louis said sheepishly. Liam smiled, shaking his head, and turned away to give them some privacy. "I'm just finding today a bit difficult," he confided. "You know, couples everywhere, people getting married...I'm still as single as ever."
"I suppose you're sick of people telling you 'you'll find someone' over and over again."
Louis pulled a face. "It does get a little bit tiring, yeah." Edie said nothing. "Thing is, I have already found him."
"Oh, that's wonderful, Louis!" Edie, put her hand on his bicep. "Why didn't you say anything? Did you bring him today? Where is he?" She sat up in her seat, peering around at people.
"He's definitely here," Louis said, with a heavy sigh. He pointed over at Harry, who had left his seat at the top table and was dancing slowly with his mum in the middle of the dancefloor, even though there was no music playing. "That's him."
Edie turned to look at him, forehead creased. "Harry?" Louis nodded. Realization crossed her features, and she squeezed his arm sympathetically. "Oh, Louis. You poor thing. Today must be horrible for you."
"It's not the most fun I've ever had, I'll admit," Louis said sagely, pushing a hand through his hair. He grabbed his glass of wine, draining half of it in one go. "I didn't know it would be this hard, Edie," he said quietly. "I still don't know why I came."
"Do you love him?"
Louis watched Harry twirl his mum under his arm. "I do."
"You want him?"
He nodded. The words caught in his throat. "I-" he swallowed, reaching for his wine glass.
"Go on," Edie encouraged gently. "Tell me."
Maybe it was the amount of alcohol already in his system, but Louis found the words spilling from his lips before he could stop them. "I...yes, I want him. More than anything. I can barely breathe when I'm around him, but when I'm not, it's worse. I don't even remember what happened, one minute we were having a drink in a hotel bar, and the next minute, I’m love with him. I didn't even notice it happening- how does that work? What sort of idiot does that make me? Getting that involved with someone who's already bloody engaged?" He tugged at the tablecloth with his fingertips. "But here I am. I don't even regret coming today, not really, because look at him. He's never looked so beautiful."
Edie’s smile was sympathetic. "Then that's exactly why you're here. Because you love him, and people will do anything for love."
"Even watch them marry someone else?"
"Yes," Edie's face softened. "Even that. And even though you knew it would be hard, you're still here because he asked you to be."
"Because I'm a masochist."
"Because you knew how much it would mean to him to have you here," Edie corrected, smiling gently. "So, I think you should go and ask him to dance. Just let yourself hold him one more time, and then let go."
Louis pursed his lips. "I'm not sure if I can just walk away like that."
Edie put her hand on Louis' cheek, moving his face around so he was looking at her. He blinked away the burning in his eyes, focusing on her kind eyes. "Louis, I've known you for years now. You're like another grandson to me. I've seen you go through countless relationships, up and down, from person to person, and I've always seen you come out other side alive. Stop beating yourself up all the time. You're so brave, Louis. Your relationship with Ethan proves that. And letting go will be one of the hardest things you'll ever have to do, but you'll be fine in the end. You always are."
Unbidden, a tear escaped from the corner of Louis' eye. Edie wiped it away with her thumb, before leaning in to kiss his cheek. Abruptly she stood, gathering up her bag and scarf.
Louis rubbed a hand over his face and took a deep, steadying breath. "Wait, where are you going?"
"Oh, just out for some air, love. I'm not feeling too clever; I think it's the heat in here."
"Are you okay?" Louis stood, too. "Do you want me to come with you?"
"I'll be fine, I just need a minute," Louis saw she did look a little pale. "You go and find Harry and ask him for that dance. When I come back I want you in one piece, and then I want a dance too, ok?"
"Make sure you take an umbrella, yeah? It's still raining."
"Stop fussing, Louis. You sound just like Alex," Edie pulled her scarf around her shoulders, tucking the strap of her handbag into the crook of her elbow.
"Fine. Wish me luck, then."
Edie cupped his cheek again, just for a moment, and looked straight into his eyes. "Be brave, darling."
Then she turned and bustled off, tactfully avoiding a waiter who went to offer her a drink from the tray he was carrying. Louis watched her go. Once she was out of sight he turned, looking towards the dance floor. He almost lost his nerve and went to sit down again, but before he could change his mind anymore, he made himself walk up to Harry and tap him on the shoulder.
Harry turned, letting go of his mum. His face lit up, cheeks slightly pink from what Louis supposed was a few too many glasses of champagne. "Louis!"
"Hi," Louis said to both Harry and his mum. "I just wanted to say congratulations, and ask for a dance? If you're free, of course."
"He's free," his mum said, smiling at her son. "Hi, Louis, I'm Anne," she greeted, holding out her hand for Louis to shake.
"Nice to meet you. Sorry for stealing Harry from you."
"Steal away," she gestured for Louis to take her place with a grin identical to Harry's. "I’d better go and mingle, anyway." Anne squeezed Harry's elbow before sweeping away through the milling guests.
Louis hesitated a moment, before reaching out, wrapping one arm around Harry’s waist and taking Harry’s hand with his other. "So, uh, congratulations, Mr Alwin-Styles," he murmured.
Harry laughed, placing his free hand on Louis' shoulder. "I'm still not used to hearing that. It's weird. Did you like the ceremony?"
"The venue was beautiful," Louis said carefully. "It was lovely."
"I saw you run in," Harry confided, leaning in a little closer. "Running a little late, were you?"
"Story of my life. I seem to be a little late to everything," Louis replied with a shake of his head. He looked into Harry's green eyes. "I never quite get there in time."
"I'll buy you a watch for Christmas," Harry joked, and Louis saw the tenderness behind it.
He looked away, clearing his throat. "That reminds me; if you don't like your gift, just give it back to me. I really won't mind."
Harry gasped, smacking Louis' shoulder lightly. "I told you not to get anything!" he scolded. "You know how I feel about those bloody gift lists."
"It's not anything from the list, I avoided that entirely," Louis reassured him. "I just used a bit of imagination."
Harry's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "It's not anything dirty, is it? I have to open everything in front of my parents and my new in-laws, you know."
"Not anything dirty," Louis said, thinking back to the Jessie doll he'd wrapped in blue paper and stashed on the pile of gifts earlier in the day. "It's just something to you, from me."
He'd thought carefully about buying the doll, looking rather out of place standing in the Toy Story section of Hamleys amongst screaming children demanding mountains of toys from their stressed parents, but eventually he'd decided to do it. It was personal to both him and Harry, after all, and a not-so-tiny part of him hoped that Harry would keep the doll and be reminded of Louis every time he looked at it.
"That's really sweet, thank you," Harry said. "I'll save yours for last, then."
"It's really stupid," Louis said, confidence dwindling suddenly. "Don't open it in front of everyone, will you? I shouldn't even have bought it, it's silly."
"Not silly," Harry said, even though he had no idea what it was. "If it's from you, I'll love it."
"I love your confidence in me," Louis chuckled. "Makes me even more nervous."
Harry smiled, leaning closer to duck down and rest his head on Louis' shoulder. It looked too intimate, even to Louis, and he shifted uncomfortably and looked around to check Lawrence wasn't in the vicinity. Harry moved his head a little, nose nudging the skin of Louis' neck, and then sighed a contented sigh. The air skimmed gently across Louis' skin, creating goosebumps in its wake. They stayed like, swaying slowly together, the chatter of the guests their only music.
"I'm happy for you, Harry," the words were out of Louis' mouth before he could stop them. "You and Lawrence are going to be brilliant together."
Harry hummed. "I think so. I managed to pull myself together after the chat we had. Got rid of all those doubts."
"Worrying that I was rushing into something, feeling like something was missing. Plus, you know, everything that's happened between you and I."
Louis closed his eyes, thankful that Harry couldn't see his face. "I know. But...if you're happy, I'm happy."
"I am. Thank you for being here today."
"You're welcome, love," Louis' voice came out tender and low.
He nudged Harry up, all too aware of people watching them and took a step back. "Right, I'd better go and find Edie, I promised her a dance after you."
"Tell her to come and say hi, I've not spoken to her much today."
"I will." Against his better judgement, Louis released Harry's waist but kept hold of his hand, lifting it to his mouth so he could press a kiss to Harry's knuckles. He held Harry’s eyes, saw his throat bob as he swallowed.
Then he let go, offering Harry once last small smile, which he returned. At that moment, the little girl in the puffy bridesmaids dress barrelled into Harry's legs, demanding to be danced with, and Harry's attention was stolen away. Louis took advantage, slipping away into the growing crowd.
Louis headed for the bar, picking up a glass of champagne and downing it with unsteady fingers. He could feel it; aching devastation and loss beginning to pluck at his already frayed nerves, leaving him shaky and sore inside. He didn't dare look back over at Harry for fear that he might lose what was left of his sanity, and just picked up a second glass and a third for Edie, and then made a beeline for the doors.
"Hey," Niall appeared out of nowhere. "I watched you with Harry, how did it go?"
Louis made an unhappy sound. "Horrible. I just had to let go of everything I've ever wanted."
Niall put a comforting hand on his back. "Oh, mate. It was always going to be shit, but you did the right thing. You can't pine forever."
"I could," Louis said bitterly. "It would probably be less painful than walking away. God, Niall, did you see us up there?"
Niall nodded. "It looked like you and him were the newlyweds."
Louis moaned low in his throat, guttural and born entirely of envy. "I know. And I've got to pretend I see him as just a friend. God, I can't do this anymore; I've got to get out of here."
"I'll come with you," Niall said immediately. "Karaoke can wait."
"No, no, you stay," Louis said, forcing himself to concentrate on keeping his hands steady. "I'm going to find Edie, have a drink with her."
"Ok, take your time. Where is she, by the way? I haven't seen her in a while."
"She went out for some air," Louis explained. "But that was a while ago. I'm just going to check she's ok."
"Bring her inside, yeah? She shouldn't be out in the wet weather."
Outside, the rain had finally stopped, clouds parting to reveal bright sunshine. It shone down over the field, offering some warmth and beginning to dry the sodden green grass. Louis crunched along the gravel pathway, peering around for any sign of Edie. She definitely hadn't returned inside the marquee, but she wasn't in Louis' immediate line of sight.
Still gingerly holding the champagne flutes, Louis diverted off the pathway and squished through the grass around the outside of the entire marquee, still coming up with no sign of her by the time he'd done one full circuit. He stopped once he was back on the path, confused. It was unlikely that she would have just gone home without telling anyone, not without Alex, anyway.
Louis was just about to go back inside the reception and find Alex to help him look, when he saw a flutter of powder blue material coming from behind a large oak tree not far away. Relieved, Louis made his way over, being careful not to slip on the wet grass. As he got closer he saw that there was a wooden bench behind the tree, perfectly situated in a patch of sunlight. Louis picked his way over the roots of the tree and then stopped when he saw the bench.
Edie's scarf was on her lap, her bag next to her. She was fast asleep in the warmth of the late afternoon sun, head tilted back and mouth slightly open.
Louis rolled his eyes, smiling, and went to sit next to her.
He slumped down heavily onto the bench, announcing his presence. "Well," he said loudly, waiting for her to jump awake and scold him for startling her. "You told me to be brave, and I was, and it was the worst thing I've ever done. I virtually told him I’m in love with him there and then."
Edie didn't stir. Louis snorted, setting the flutes down on the ground next to the bench. "Not feeling well, huh? More like one too many glasses of wine."
Still nothing. Louis' smile faltered. "Edie. I brought you champagne!"
There was no movement. Louis shifted closer, reaching for one of Edie's hands. Her skin was clammy, and when he lifted his other hand to her forehead, he felt the same.
"Edie," he said a little louder. "Time to wake up, now."
Nothing. Louis frowned.
"Edie," he said urgently. "Come on, wake up now." He shook her arm, making her whole body move. "This isn’t funny anymore. I’m not laughing!"
Suddenly, the feeling that something was dreadfully, horribly wrong settled into the pit of his stomach.
Grabbing for her hand, he pressed two fingers to her pulse point, and then dropped it again, horrified when it fell heavily in her lap. "Oh god, no."
Panic, quick and fast as lightning, shot down his spine. "Edie. Come on, wake up, love. You've got to come inside. I owe you a dance, don't I? You can't be out here in the wet weather, come on, we've got to go. Edie!"
His teeth began to chatter, the gentle breeze suddenly feeling sharp and freezing against his skin. "No," he moaned. "Oh, god no. Not now, Edie, please. Not now. Just-just wake up and dance with me," his voice cracked even as his eyes began to fill with tears. "One more dance, Edie. I’ll let you pinch my bum and everything, please."
Louis forced himself up, standing on unsteady legs and staggering back from the bench, knocking over the champagne flutes in the process and smashing the glass. He backed away from her, before tearing his eyes away and breaking into a sprint back across the field towards the marquee. He slipped a little over the grass, his breath leaving him in unsteady, broken pants. He slowed to a jog when he reached the marquee, shoving past a few people that were smoking outside and bursting back into the reception.
The music was booming, accompanied by noisy laughter from the guests. It burned Louis' panicked senses, making him jump whenever someone clapped or clinked glasses. He pushed in and out of people, craning his neck for Alex, and finally found him next to Liam and Zayn at one of the tables.
Louis skidded up to them, gripping the back of a free chair for support as he came to a halt.
"Louis?" Liam asked, concern immediately creasing his brow. "Are you ok?"
People were beginning to notice. Across the room, Louis could see Harry had stopped to look over at them. He briefly caught his eye, seeing worry in Harry's own features.
"Alex," he panted, and the confused smile on Alex's face fell away. "It's Edie."
For once in Louis' life, he wasn't running late. If anything, he was too early, dressed in his black suit and sat at his kitchen table with a cup of tea a full hour before he had to go anywhere. The tea grew cold on the table before Louis remembered it was there, steam dissipating into the air while Louis sat and stared at nothing in particular. By the time it was time to leave, it was stone cold, and Louis just dumped the whole thing in the sink and then left the flat, lock clicking behind him.
He splashed through a puddle almost as soon as he got out the front door. Louis grimaced as he felt the freezing water leak into the side of his shoe, hurrying faster over to Sam. Even for England, with its temperamental summers, this sort of weather was unexpected for mid-August. Louis had woken up to a dreary grey morning, large puddles all over the road, indicating heavy rain the night before. All the colour seemed to have been leeched from the world, leaving behind a bleak and cold canvas. It was as if the universe knew what was happening that day, and had come out in mourning too.
Outside the church, Louis walked up to the group of people standing outside, joining the mass of black clothes and umbrellas. He found Alex and Izzy, pulling Alex into a tight hug offering Izzy a comforting smile. Her returning smile was wobbly, half hidden by the tissue she had held to her face.
Louis felt Alex release a laboured breath between them, and he tightened his grip momentarily before letting go, peering into Alex’s watery eyes. "Ok?" he asked quietly, and Alex nodded.
It struck Louis how remarkably similar funerals were to weddings. It was the same process, but instead of tears of joy, there were tears of sadness. The brightly coloured hats and pale grey suits were replaced with a sea of black clothes, and smiles and laughter turned to pale faces and dignified tears. Louis had been to a handful of funerals in his life, and he'd always thought it better to think of a funeral as a celebration of life rather than a mourning of loss. He was sure that's what Edie would have said, too.
When it was time to go in, Louis followed Alex to the top of the church, sitting one row behind him next to Liam and Zayn, with Niall and Michael sat along from them. Louis sat, immediately reaching forward to place a hand on Alex's shoulder.
A few minutes later, a bell began to toll, and the congregation stood, turning back towards the doors. The pallbearers began their slow walk up the aisle, stepping in time with one another. Louis looked past them, doing a double take when he caught sight of Harry stood at the back of the church, all in black with Lawrence stood next to him. Louis met his eyes, nodding a greeting, and Harry returned a sad smile.
The ceremony was somber and still; barely anybody moved. Louis heard nothing apart from the voice of the vicar and the occasional sniff. He was vaguely aware of the words that were spoken, but it didn’t feel like they were touching him, just drifting over his head and upwards towards the heavens.
When Alex went up to the front to deliver the eulogy, Louis had to dip his head so no one would see the tear rolling down his nose when Alex spoke of Edie's good nature and invaluable advice, the way she would take anybody and everybody under her wing and look after them. Next to him, Liam reached across and took Louis' hand, and Louis clung on gratefully. He reached up with his free hand and swiped away a couple more tears that escaped the corner of his eyes.
"Until we meet again, Grandma," Alex voice wobbled and Louis felt his face crumple. "I love you."
When it was over, the coffin was taken out again, and Louis followed Alex back down the aisle. As they passed Harry and Lawrence, Louis and Harry made eye contact. Though it was for only a second, Louis saw the puffiness of his eyes, the way his eyelashes were spiky and clumped together. It made his heart ache with a different sadness.
Outside, it had begun to rain. Louis opened his umbrella and then stood a little way from Alex, waiting to offer any support he might need. People began to talk, a quiet murmur of conversation.
A gentle hand to his elbow caught Louis' attention, and he turned to see Harry stood in front of him. Up close, Harry looked worse that he had before. His face was lined with stress. He'd pulled his hair up into a bun, a style that Louis usually loved on him, but now it just made him look gaunt and tired. Louis frowned a little, the first tendrils of unease tugging at his instincts.
"Hi," he said gently. He'd had all sorts of things planned to say to him when they finally found a moment alone, but now they were here, none of them seemed appropriate. He settled on, "How are you?"
Harry's little smile was watery. He lifted one shoulder and dropped it again in one jerky movement. "I'm ok. Thank you. How are you?"
Louis lifted one shoulder and then dropped it again in one jerky movement. "Oh, you know. Thank you for coming today, I know Alex appreciates it."
Harry reached out, resting a hand on Louis' forearm. "I know Edie wasn’t my grandmother, but I saw a lot of her while I was growing up. I loved her a lot; I wanted to pay my respects. And I wanted to be here for you," Harry admitted quietly. "I'm sorry if that seems too forward-"
"No," Louis interrupted him. His hand came up to close over Harry's for a fleeting moment before they let go of each other again. He saw Harry's eyes dart to his left. "I'm glad you're here. I know the circumstances aren't too pleasant, but I've missed seeing you."
"I miss you, too," Harry murmured. Louis thought he saw a spark of light in Harry's sad eyes for the briefest of seconds, but it was distinguished as quickly as it had appeared. "I hoped we could catch up..."
"How have you been?" Louis asked, the faintest tendrils of worry tugging at his instincts.
"Oh, um, not too bad. But-"
At that moment, Lawrence appeared at Harry's side. "Hello," he said, holding out his hand for Louis to shake. "I'm very sorry for your loss. Edie was a wonderful lady."
"Thank you," Louis answered. "We appreciate you coming all this way to be here."
"It's the least we could do. It was a lovely service for a lovely lady. We should be going, actually. Harry?"
Harry looked like he wanted nothing more than to stay where he was. "Yeah," he agreed. Lawrence took hold of Harry's hand, and Louis saw Harry's expression shutter.
"It was good to see you both again, despite the situation." Louis focused his gaze on Harry. "Take care of yourself," he said meaningfully.
Harry nodded. Louis saw his bottom lip tremble, and he turned to walk away before he saw Harry cry. If anything would finally break him, it would be that. He didn't let himself look back as he walked away, knowing that whatever he saw behind him, be it Lawrence comforting Harry or Harry in tears, he wouldn't like it. He hurried away, hunched under his umbrella and turning his collar up against the pouring rain.
At home that night, Louis sat in bed by himself. He was leaning against the headboard, duvet pulled up to his waist. A half empty bottle of tequila sat on his bedside table next to his phone. The flat was quiet; not even the sounds of traffic could be heard outside. It was as if the whole world had stopped today, pausing with them to grieve.
Louis looked down into his glass, swirling around what was left of the clear liquid in the bottom of it. He couldn't see much; the curtains were drawn and the only light came from the lamp sitting next to the bottle of alcohol. Louis hadn't even bothered to turn the main lights on when he got home, simply stripping down and leaving his damp clothes to wrinkle on the floor before reaching for the bottle and drawing the curtains. The rain had finally stopped, but the wind had taken over. Louis wondered if they might announce a storm warning by the morning; it certainly didn't seem to be letting up any time soon.
He hated funerals; it was only now that he was remembering how sombre they made him feel. It was a cliche that funerals put things into perspective, but it was also true. Life really was short, too short. At any moment, life could be snatched away, and then it would be too late to say what you wanted to say, or do the things you'd always wanted to do. Or tell someone how you really felt.
His friends were right, they'd always be right; they were the people who, aside from his own mother, knew Louis best in this world. They'd known Louis was lonely long before Louis plucked up the balls to admit it to himself. Admitting a weakness was always hard no matter what it was, but now, in the stillness of his room, Louis was doing just that. The moment he accepted the fact that his friends were right and he was lonely, he could suddenly see what they saw.
Throughout his adult life Louis had jumped from boyfriend to boyfriend, one short relationship after another. He knew he was fussy, and he'd always justified himself by claiming that he was just looking for the right person, but after Ethan it had only seemed to have gotten worse. Now, he was alone in his room, his only company the glass in his hand. All his friends were settling down around him, leaving him behind. Alex and Izzy were having children, for goodness sake, and Louis was just sat here, moping after a man he couldn't have.
The only man Louis could ever see himself marrying and settling down with was married already. For all Louis' fussiness and being picky with men, he'd only had to meet Harry twice to fall fast and hard for him. Maybe in another world, a parallel universe somewhere, they could have done things right. Louis didn't know if he believed in that sort of thing, but through his slightly fuzzy mind, he entertained it for a moment.
He poured himself another drink, swallowing a large mouthful. He could see it in his mind's' eye. He and Harry would have met at a wedding, introduced themselves and perhaps danced together, before exchanging numbers and arranging to meet up again for a proper date. Louis would be terrified before the first date, and so would Harry, and they would have a terrible first date because they were both so nervous. But they’d give it another go, and it would work and they’d fall in love on the spot. Along the line Louis would have proposed, and the first time he would have seen Harry in a wedding suit would be when he turned around to watch him walk up the aisle towards him.
There would be none of this mess, none of this heartache. No cheating, no hurting countless people around them without them even knowing. Just pure, simple, bone-deep love. A lifetime spent with Harry, strong and beautiful by his side.
Louis inhaled sharply, forcing himself to break off his little daydream. He bit his lip fiercely, almost hard enough to break the skin, heart aching. His palms had become sweaty around his glass, and he set it down on the side table before kicking the covers off and pressing the heels of his hands to his eyes. The burning behind them didn't subside for a long minute, and when Louis pulled his hands away he found them wet. He hastily wiped them on the dark sheets, ashamed.
He didn't want to be alone anymore. As the funeral today proved, life was too short.
Before he could change his mind, he reached for his phone. Louis thumbed through his contacts until he found the right one, and then pressed the phone to his ear while it rang. He nibbled his lip nervously between his teeth, tapping his fingers on his knee.
There was a click on the other end of the line as it connected, and then a low voice said, "Hello?"
Louis took a breath.
Ethan Thomas Clark
Louis William Tomlinson
request the pleasure of your company at their wedding
on Saturday 5th of December 2015
with dinner and dancing to follow
RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org
Saturday, December 5th 2015
At exactly ten o’clock in the morning, Louis' alarm clock began it's ear piercing shriek throughout the flat.
All at once the peaceful silence was shattered into a thousand tiny pieces. After a moment, there was a loud groan emanating from the spare room next door, and then the sound of shuffling feet across the floor heading towards the kitchen. The click of the boiler announced the heating coming on, humming into the radiators.
Louis remained where he was, lying in bed staring at the ceiling like he'd been doing for the past six hours. He'd perhaps gotten a maximum of two hours sleep, drifting off for twenty minutes here and there, but his mind had demanded too much of his attention, presenting countless 'what if's that had caused Louis to resign himself to spending the rest of the night wide awake.
Next to Louis in bed, there was movement, and then a grumpy voice mumbled, "Turn that fucking thing off, Lou."
"Sorry," Louis said quickly, half sitting up to reach over and click a button on his phone before flopping back down onto the pillows. Mercifully, the noise cut out, making room for the sounds of the city outside the window, and the soft clinking of cutlery in the kitchen.
Turning his head to the left, Louis opened his mouth to say something, only to shut it again when he found Niall watching him, an expression of vague apprehension on his face.
"You ok?" Niall asked sleepily, rubbing his cheek on the pillow.
Louis nodded. "Yeah, fine. Did you sleep ok?"
"Yeah," Niall rolled onto his back, throwing one arm across his face. "You woke me up a couple of times, moving around. Did you sleep at all?"
"Not much," Louis admitted.
"Hmm. Nerves, I guess."
A gentle knock at the door made Louis sit up fully, resting against the headboard. Zayn came through the door first with two mugs, followed closely by Liam who carried a tray with more mugs and a plate piled high with toast.
"Morning," Liam smiled sleepily. He set down the tray at the foot of the bed and then sat next to it gingerly. Zayn handed one of the mugs off to Niall and then sat halfway up the bed, pressed up against Niall with his legs folded underneath him. Louis took the mug Liam offered him gratefully, cradling the heat in his hands.
"This is weird," Zayn observed after a moment of quiet, looking around at the four of them crowded onto the bed. "Living in the same flat again. It's like being back in uni."
"But with less studying and more money," Liam added, handing the plate of toast over to Louis. Niall swiped a slice from the top, crunching into it immediately. "I'm a bit disappointed it was only for one night."
"We hardly fit in here as it is," Louis replied, taking a slice of toast for himself. "I've only got two rooms, and I can't share a bed with Niall for the rest of my life."
"Nice," Niall nudged Louis with his elbow. "How are you feeling?"
Louis inhaled deeply, trying to tamp down the early squeeze of nerves in the pit of his stomach. He held his mug in one hand and twisted a loose thread of the duvet around his fingers. "I'm not going to lie, I'm bricking it."
"That's natural," Liam assured him. "I was a mess before our wedding."
"I remember," Louis murmured. "You kept pacing up and down asking everyone if we were sure Zayn was going to turn up."
Zayn's eyebrows rose and he turned to Liam. "Really? You thought I wasn't going to turn up?"
"Well, no, I didn't actually think you wouldn't be there, I was just a bit...worried."
Zayn grinned, placing a hand on Liam's pyjama clad knee. "I didn't know that."
"Now you do," Liam huffed, cheeks looking a little pink. "You don't need to worry about that though, do you, Louis?"
Louis shook his head. "He'll be there."
"Course he will. Honestly, you organised an entire wedding in under two months because he couldn't wait to marry you," Niall said. He gulped down a mouthful of tea and then licked his lips. "He's probably already there, knowing him."
"How long have we got?" Louis asked.
Niall reached for his phone. "A couple of hours before the car gets here. Plenty of time, don't worry."
"And you're sure you want to do this?" Zayn asked, thumb now rubbing circles into Liam's knee. "It's not too late to back out..."
Louis sighed. "Guys, I know you're still not keen on Ethan, and I know you were a bit surprised when I told you I'd said yes when he proposed-"
Niall snorted. "I believe Zayn's words were 'no fucking way; you're not marrying that tool'.''
"-But this is what I want," Louis said, ignoring the slap Zayn aimed at Niall's crotch. "It's a fresh start for the both of us. He’s changed. He loves me, and we're good together. Better than last time. Just...I'd like you to give him a chance to prove himself, yeah?"
"For you, we will," Niall said. "If this is what you want."
"Then that's all that matters," Liam said. "You deserve happiness, Lou. We're glad you've found it."
"Even if it is with him," Zayn muttered, but he smiled and reached over to squeeze Louis' leg.
Louis looked around at them, feeling a rush of love for his boys. He set down his mug and pushed the covers away. "Right, I'm going for a shower first. Oh," he paused. "Please tell me one of you has got the rings? I couldn't find them last night."
"Got them," Liam said. "See, this is why you've got all four of us as your best men. Between us three and Alex, we can't forget anything."
"I knew there was a reason I kept you around," Louis said midly, ruffling Liam's short hair on his way to the door and paying no attention at all to his protests.
In the shower, Louis stood with his head down, letting the water beat down onto his shoulders and flow down his back. He knew he didn't have long; soon one of the boys would be hammering on the door demanding Louis didn't use all the hot water, but he couldn't seem to be able to will himself to move. He was unsure if it was because he was lethargic from his total lack of sleep, or whether he was slightly paralysed with fear. It was probably the latter, he concluded, because whenever his mind drifted towards what was happening today he felt his heart rate spike. Coffee would perk him up, but the caffeine would do nothing for his nerves, so all he could do was try some deep breathing in an attempt to calm himself down.
Predictably, only seconds later one of the others pounded on the bathroom door, voice muffled over the running water. Louis rolled his eyes and called out that he wouldn’t be long, and then finally set about washing his hair.
He was excited, that much he could admit, even through the fear. After today he would have everything he'd wanted and hoped for in the past few years; he'd be married, settled down. He'd finally be able to prove to everyone else that he could go the distance with someone, and be happy with them. He could be just like everyone else, and the loneliness in him would be healed.
The only thought he couldn't shake, which sat at the back of his mind like a little voice he couldn't ignore, was Harry. He hadn't seen him for months, not since the funeral, but there wasnt a day that went by that Louis didn't think of him. Countless times over the past few weeks Louis had found himself wondering where he was in the world. At work, his eyes would gloss over and he'd stare, unseeing at his keyboard as he wondered what Harry was doing at that exact moment. If he was sat with Lawrence at home, doing yoga or cooking or watching tv or doing something else equally domestic.
The worst time by far had been a week after Ethan had proposed. Louis had woken abruptly at three in the morning, sweating and burning all over, with a raging hard on and Harry's name on his lips. He'd left a sleeping Ethan in bed and rushed to the bathroom, coming almost as soon as he got a hand around his cock, fingers of his other hand clamped to his lips. Then, the his utter humiliation, he'd cried, both with the shame of dreaming of someone other than Ethan and the desperation he felt to just be able to touch Harry one more time, to run his fingers through his hair and kiss his lips. He'd felt it so strongly he'd imagined he could feel the strands of Harry's hair through his fingers, a phantom feeling of the warmth of his body next to his.
But he'd opened his eyes to just himself, pale in the bathroom mirror with damp cheeks and sticky boxers. He'd had to sleep in the spare room that night, feigning illness but really feeling so guilty he could barely look Ethan in the eye. He'd felt like the worst person in the world, but no matter how he tried, he still couldn't shake Harry from his mind.
Even now, as Louis buttoned up his white shirt, and pulled on his navy blue jacket he thought of him. He'd been invited to the wedding at Louis' insistence, but he hadn't replied to the invite. Whether he would turn up or not remained to be seen, and Louis wasn't too sure if he wanted him to or not.
An hour and twenty minutes later, Liam called through the flat that the car had arrived. They all filed out, Zayn shutting the door behind them, and filed out together in line of perfectly complementing suits, and climbed into the black Bentley that was parked outside the building.
The closer they got to the venue, the higher the tension in the car rose. Louis could tell in the way Niall tapped an uneven pattern on his knee that he was nervous, and even though Zayn and Liam were casually holding hands, the way Liam's eyes darted around told Louis he was on edge.
When the venue finally came into view, a grand old Georgian mansion in Richmond Park, Louis felt weak with nerves. His palms were sweating, the collar of his shirt itching, and he felt like there was good chance he could pass out at any moment. He climbed out of the car on shaky legs, following the rest of the boys up the path to the main entrance of the house.
It was a cold day, every exhale leaving their mouths in a cloud of mist. Louis looked around at the bare trees and brittle, crunchy grass, wondering why anyone thought winter weddings were romantic. They were supposed to be snowy and crisp and beautiful, but this was England, of course. Winter here was dark and bleak with a constant drizzle of rain. Not as picturesque as Ethan had probably idealised when he was planning the wedding in a place like this, perhaps.
"People will start arriving any minute," Liam said. "Do you want to stand inside?"
"No," Louis shook his head. "I'll say hello out here, I think. I need some air anyway."
"Well if you get cold, come inside, ok?" Zayn rubbing his hands together for warmth. "It's bloody freezing out here."
"I'll be fine."
"Ok, we're going to check everything's ready," Liam said. "Niall will stay with you."
Louis nodded. "All right, then."
Liam and Zayn headed inside. Louis shivered when he felt the blast of warm air from inside the house touch his back when they opened the door and he shuffled closer to Niall for warmth.
"Coats," Niall groaned. "Why didn't we think of coats?"
"Fuck knows," Louis replied, shoving his hands into his trouser pockets. "Of all the things to forget. It's bloody winter!"
The click of a pair of high heels on pavement alerted them to someone's presence. They both looked down the path a little way, watching a group of Ethan's friends approach them. Louis shook their hands and kissed their cheeks, wondering who the hell half of them were.
Next were Alex and Isabelle, sensibly wearing their coats. Alex had understandably wanted to be at home with Izzy, but once he had joined the rest of the wedding party he would stand up at the front with Louis like he’d asked him to. He hugged Louis tightly and then released him so Louis could pull Izzy into a gentle hug, feeling the swell of her belly press against his. He kissed her cheek and she grinned, glowing, before settling into Alex’s side.
"Good luck, Lou," Alex said, arm around Izzy's waist.
"Don't be nervous," Izzy added. "Enjoy it."
"I will," Louis smiled. "Go on, get inside out of the cold."
They were closely followed by Jake and Lisa. As Louis hugged Lisa, he caught a loaded look being exchanged between Niall and Jake.
"What was that about?" Louis demanded when they'd gone inside.
"What?" Niall asked innocently.
"That look! Between you and him!"
"Oh," Niall's cheeks, already pink with cold, flushed even more. "I wanted to keep it hush hush really, but. We kind of...spent the night together last week."
Louis' eyes widened. "Seriously?!"
Niall nodded. "It just happened. We were having a drink at his, and then one thing led to another and...you know."
"Jesus, Niall! You didn't think to say anything?"
"We agreed not to tell anyone. We just want to see how things go, without any pressure. Please don't tell anyone else?"
Louis put a hand over his chest. "Cross my heart."
Niall looked relieved. "I really like him, Lou. I don't know how I didn't see it before."
More people were approaching them. Louis fixed a smile on his face, patting Niall's shoulder. "We'll talk about this more afterwards, ok?"
A constant stream of people trickled up the path, over the next half an hour. There were far more people than Louis remembered inviting, and some of them Louis had no clue who they were or what connection they had to Ethan. He just let them go past, leaving Niall to usher them inside. With every minute that passed and Harry still didn't show, Louis grew more and more despondent.
Ten minutes before the start of the ceremony, the guests stopped arriving. Niall came outside from where he'd gone in to speak to Liam and waved Louis over to him.
"Everyone's here," he said. "You'd better come inside before Ethan arrives."
Louis took a deep breath, steeling his nerves. "Oh god, ok."
He tried to move past Niall, but he was stopped by a hand in the centre of his chest. He looked down at the hand and then up and Niall, confused when Niall nodded his head towards something behind Louis.
He turned on his heel, heart stopping in his chest when he saw a figure jogging up to them.
"Oh, shit," Louis said, swallowing hard. "He came."
"You go," Louis said, eyes not leaving Harry's. "I'll just be a minute."
Louis heard Niall's hesitation. "Ethan will be here any second."
"I know," Louis assured him, a little impatiently now Harry was getting closer. "I won't be long, I promise."
Louis knew Niall wanted to protest, but nonetheless he turned away and Louis heard the door shut a few moments later.
With every step closer Harry got, Louis' heart beat a little faster. Even now, after months of months of no contact, Harry sparked off some reaction in Louis that was completely beyond the realms of his control. The sheer shock of just seeing Harry there made him a little dizzy.
His suit was familiar to Louis, and it took him a moment, but when he got there it made his jaw drop. It the suit he'd tried on when they'd gone suit shopping together, the one that Louis had fallen in love with. He could recall his words from all those months ago even now. It was no coincidence, Louis knew that much. Harry had worn it deliberately, and Louis didn't know how he felt about that.
Harry stopped a couple of feet away from Louis, familiar black boots scuffing on the ground as he stopped. Then tenderness in his smile almost took Louis' breath away. "Hello."
"Hi," Louis replied faintly. "I didn't think you were coming."
"Running late," Harry said sheepishly. "Sorry."
"I guess one of us has to be late," Louis said. "How are you?"
"Oh, not too bad." Harry cleared his throat a little. "And you? Nervous?"
"Yeah," Louis admitted in a huff. He watched the vapour of his breath mist in the cold air and shifted his weight from one foot to the other, unsure whether he was imagining the slight awkwardness between them or not. "Never thought I'd see the day I got married."
"There's a first time for everything," Harry teased. "Thanks for the invite, by the way. I know it's a little late, but congratulations on the engagement."
"Thank you," Louis blinked. He gestured behind him. "I suppose you'd better go inside, the ceremony is about to start."
Harry nodded quickly. "Right, yes, of course. I just wanted to say good luck and that I'm happy for you." His smile didn't reach his eyes. "I hope your marriage has better luck than mine did."
By the time those words had processed in Louis' head, Harry had already moved away. At the last second he reached out, grabbing for Harry's sleeve. "Wait, what? Better luck than yours did? What do you mean?"
Harry grimaced. "Sorry, ignore that. You don't need to hear about it two minutes before you get married."
"Harry," Louis searched his eyes, finding regret and embarrassment there. "Tell me. Please."
The smile Harry gave him was a rueful one. "Well, it turns out Lawrence and I weren't meant to be. We didn't last long after the funeral."
Louis heart felt like it had stopped in his chest. Harry winced after a moment, and Louis glanced down to see his hand tightly wrapped around Harry's wrist. He dropped Harry's arm immediately. "Sorry, sorry. What happened?"
Harry shrugged, though the glint of something uncomfortable in his eyes belied his nonchalance. "It's all a bit embarrassing, really. Marriage changes people, I guess. The Lawrence I met wasn't the one I married. It was a simple annulment; we hadn't been married long enough to be legally separated. I stayed at home, Lawrence left the country." Harry inhaled deeply and then released it in one breath. "I thought I was happy with him...I wasn't. It's ok, though. It's better off this way."
Harry lifted his left hand to run his fingers through his hair. Louis tracked the movement, distracted by the now obvious lack of ring on Harry's finger. "I don't know what to say."
"There's nothing to say," Harry shrugged again, but he smiled reassuringly. "I'm fine, I promise. Anyway, God, sorry, I shouldn't be telling you about my failed marriage just as you're about to begin yours. I'll go in. Good luck."
Harry turned as if he was going to walk away again, but then he hesitated. Before Louis could blink he'd swivelled back around and swooped forward to gather Louis up into a tight hug. Louis clung back immediately, filling his lungs with the smell of sweet peppermint and a hint of a cologne that was so familiar it made him ache a little. Although it shouldn't have done, considering their circumstances, it hurt knowing that he was only allowed a few seconds of Harry's body against him before they would have to pull away.
"I'm glad you're here," Louis murmured.
"Me too," Harry replied quietly. "It's really lovely to see you. You look gorgeous." His hair tickled Louis' cheek. "I really hope you're happy, baby," he breathed.
Louis heard the weight behind his words. He let go of Harry, stepping back and watching him warily. "The voicemail? You heard it?"
Harry's smile was sheepish and a little sad. "I heard it. I didn't want to say anything to make you uncomfortable, though. I didn't know if you even remembered leaving it."
Louis felt his face flame, and he pinched the skin on the bridge of his nose with his forefinger and his thumb, shaking his head in mortification. "God, I'm such a twat."
"I thought it was lovely. A little incoherent in places, but lovely."
Louis held his breath for a second. Anxiety tightened in his chest. "I meant it, you know," he croaked. "Every word."
Harry's smile wobbled, and he looked down at the ground. Louis took a moment to look upwards, willing himself to pull it together and not cry a minute before he had to walk up the aisle.
Harry stepped into Louis' space again, reaching for his hand. Louis knew what he was going to do long before he'd wrapped their fingers together and brought their joined hands to his mouth to kiss Louis' knuckles with the barest brush of his lips. "I hoped so," he murmured. "Even back then, I wished it was true."
Louis bit the inside of his lip. "It was," he said thickly. "It still is."
Harry lowered their hands, but kept their fingers intertwined. "What a mess; talk about bad timing," he mumbled. "Maybe in another lifetime we'll get it right."
Louis' heart began pounding against his ribcage. "You think we would have worked? The two of us?"
Harry looked at him for a moment with such a painfully sweet expression it made Louis want to crumble where he stood. Harry reached for Louis' left hand, making no secret of stroking over Louis' temporarily bare ring finger. "I do," he whispered. Louis' breath caught. "I think we would have been amazing together."
Louis took a couple of attempts to speak past the lump wedged in his throat. "Me, too. I didn't know before..." he said faintly. "I didn't realise you thought that, too."
"Neither did I," Harry smiled a little sadly. "When I realised, it was too late. Then I got your invite..."
"It has been a bit of a rushed thing," Louis admitted. He fidgeted with the hem of his jacket. A finger touched the bottom of his chin, tilting his head up so Harry could meet his eyes.
"Please, Lou, don't make the same mistake I did," he said with a brutal honesty in his voice. "A couple of months ago my head was a mess; I fell in love with one man, and married another. Given the chance again, I wouldn't make the same mistake twice. So if you love Ethan, then fine. But if you don't...it's not worth it, believe me."
Louis blinked against the burning behind his eyes.
"I'm so sorry," Harry apologised, eyes shining a little. "This is awful timing, and I really shouldn't be saying all of this to you now, but I feel like I had to tell you. You had to know. Now you do."
Louis was about to respond when he caught sight of a car approaching them from the end of the road. Harry followed his line of sight, quickly dropping his hand from Louis' face and stepping away. He seemed to shake himself a little, and when he looked up at Louis there was a strained smile on his face.
"I'll guess I'll see you afterwards," he murmured, and then he was gone, slipping through the doors to join the rest of the guests.
Louis felt like his feet had frozen to the cold ground. He felt sick, nausea churning in his stomach and creeping up his throat. His fingers had begun to shake, and his teeth were chattering together with more than just the cold air.
The car had almost reached him. From behind Louis, he heard the door creak open, and Niall's voice hiss at him.
"What are you doing? Get in here!" He grabbed Louis' shoulder and all but yanked him inside, shutting the door behind them again. "One minute, you said, and now Ethan's probably seen you!"
"Harry's here," Louis hissed under his breath, conscious of a few people looking at him expectantly. "He's here, Niall."
"I know," Niall sounded confused. "I was outside when he arrived, remember?"
"He's not with Lawrence anymore," Louis rushed. "He just told me they spit up. Then he all but told me he loves me and he reckons me and him would have had a chance together."
"He what ?"
"I don't know what to do, Niall," Louis said desperately. "Help me."
"Well, his timing is fucking awful, for one thing," Niall said indignantly. "Doesn't he know how to use a phone?"
"Niall," Louis groaned. More and more people were beginning to notice them stood there, all aware Ethan was moments away from arriving and Louis wasn't in position. In the front couple of rows, his mum was watching him with clear concern on her face. Behind her, Liam had one eyebrow quirked, eyes darting between Louis and Niall.
On the other side of the doors, a car door slammed shut, and voice could be heard. Louis' heart leaped, and a panicked sound left the back of his throat. "Shit. Shit . I'm making a huge mistake, aren't I?"
"Louis," Niall said, turning Louis by the shoulders and looking him directly in the eye. "You know how I feel about Ethan, but you're getting married this second."
"I know that, for fuck's sake, but don't you see? Harry is here, and he's not married, and he just told me he married the wrong person and that he feels the same and I- I can't do this," Louis shook his head. "It's been him for ages, Niall. Even after his wedding, I- I've never stopped wanting him. And now he's here. In a suit that I helped him pick, telling me we could have been together!"
"Do you love him?"
Louis didn't even have to consider it. "Yes," he whispered.
"Fucking hell, Louis," Niall shoved a hand through his hair, making it stick up.
Louis' eyes found Alex, sat next to Izzy just behind Liam. "You know," Louis said, hushed. "The last thing Edie said to me was 'be brave'. I can't run away from everything anymore-I have to do the right thing."
Niall was silent for a moment. "And nobody lets Edie down, do they," he said resignedly. "Right then, you've only really got one option."
Louis searched his eyes. "Yeah?"
"Yeah," Niall patted him on the shoulder. "You always did know how to make a scene. Do Edie proud."
There was shuffling from just beyond the doors, and then they swung open to reveal Ethan on the arm of his mother. Beaming, they stepped over the threshold and walked in sync over to where Louis and Niall stood. Ethan wore a suit identical to Louis' and he paraded it with pride, strutting forward like he was a peacock displaying its' feathers. He made a big show of kissing his mother's cheek and then taking hold of Louis' arm, grinning widely.
"Hey," he said. "You look great. Are you ready for this?"
"Ethan," Louis said in a low voice. "Wait a minute, I need to talk to you. Can we just go back outside for a second?"
Ethan's smile dimmed. "Can't it wait? We've kind of got somewhere to be."
"Not really, no," Louis' mouth had gone completely dry. He gestured towards the door. "Can we...?"
"Not really, no," Ethan parroted.
Louis took a breath. "Ok. Listen, there's something I need to tell you. Please, please try to understand, I never meant for it to happen-"
"Wait," Ethan cut him off. Behind his head, Louis saw Harry sat on a seat at the end of a row, watching the two of them carefully. Louis saw him tug his lip into his mouth, eyes darting between Louis and the back of Ethan's head. "What are you talking about?"
"I..." Louis faltered. "Shit, I'm so sorry, Ethan. We can't do this."
Ethan quirked an eyebrow and then laughed, looping his arm through Louis' and taking a step forwards, trying to pull Louis with him. "Don't say stupid things, Louis. Come on, we're running late."
"I'm serious," Louis pulled away sharply. More and more people were watching them. A hush had fallen over the entire room. Liam looked like he was seconds away from standing up and intervening. "I can't do it."
"What the fuck are you talking about?" Ethan said incredulously. "Is this a joke of some sort?"
"No," Louis whispered. "I'm sorry."
Ethan looked between Louis' ashen face and Niall's wary expression. The bemused smile dropped from his face completely. "Please tell me this is a joke. This is just one of your jokes, isn't it?"
Louis shook his head.
Ethan's hands balled into fists at his side. Louis' eyed them carefully, taking a step back and feeling Niall brush up against his right side. "Then you better have a damn good reason for this, because I swear..." he threatened.
Louis swallowed heavily. He looked past Ethan, seeing Harry's wide eyes, the way he was poised to jump out of his seat any second, and then took a moment to say a prayer for himself. "I'm so sorry, Ethan, I can't marry you. There's...there's someone else."
A few people gasped. Ethan's mother clapped a hand over her mouth. Harry's eyes looked like they were about to fall out of his head.
"I'm sorry," Louis rushed, all but wishing the earth would just swallow him up. "I'm so sorry. I never meant for it to happen. I love you, I do, but-"
Ethan held a hand up to stop him, and Louis fell silent. Everything was quiet for about three more seconds. Then, all hell broke loose.
Ethan's mother began demanding answers to hysterical questions. Liam had scrambled out of his seat and was half jogging down the aisle towards them and Harry had bolted to his feet but hadn't yet moved, staring at Louis with his mouth open. Ethan's face had darkened, mouth twisting in rage.
Like deja vu, Louis didn't see the fist flying towards his face until it was too late. One second he was looking at Harry, and the next he was flat on his back facing the ceiling. He blinked, vaguely wondering why the roof of the building was spinning, and why there was a searing pain in his jaw.
The commotion around him became muffled, as if he was hearing it from underwater. He could see the shape of Niall holding Ethan back as he clawed the air trying to get to Louis, eyes blazing and teeth bared. Liam had appeared at Louis' waist, peering into his eyes and speaking urgently to Louis in a voice that sounded like it was coming from miles away.
Then there was a warm palm settling on Louis' cheek. Louis looked up, squinting to focus into Harry's green eyes, and managed a dazed smile that Harry returned.
Through the commotion, Harry's voice was as clear as day. "Jesus, Lou. What have you done?" he asked.
Louis blinked slowly. "Edie."
Louis closed his eyes. "Wherever she is, I can bet you she's having a right laugh at this."
Harry said something else, but Louis couldn't hear him properly. He let himself drift, soothed by Harry's voice and his thumb stroking gently along Louis' cheekbone.
"Here," Harry said, handing Louis some ice wrapped tightly in a cloth. "That'll help with the swelling."
"Thanks," Louis said, taking it from him and pressing it to his mouth. He winced. "Ow."
Harry pulled out a chair on the opposite side of the table Louis sat at, crossing his arms in front of him and leaning forward on them. "That was a pretty nasty punch."
"Can't say I didn't deserve it though," Louis sighed guiltily. "I did humiliate him in front of practically everyone we know, didn't I? He didn't deserve any of that. He loves me, and I went and did that to him. I feel bloody awful."
"Well yeah, you kind of did deserve it," Harry conceded with a pitying smile.
They were sat at Louis' kitchen table, three hours after the scheduled start of the wedding. It had taken that long for all the explanations and apologies to be given, and for the phonecalls to the reception and the caterers to be made. He'd had to watch a sobbing Ethan being taken away by his mother, all while his friends and family demanded to know what he'd been thinking. The guilt had threatened kill him, but all he'd had to do was look at Harry to know he had done the right thing.
He'd told them the simple truth, the shortened version. It had taken a while, but gradually the guests had dissipated, leaving behind a small group of them to do the rest of the damage control. Louis had seen the expressions on his friends’ faces, the obvious relief there, and had realised just what kind of bullet he’d just dodged. They still didn’t even know what had happened between he and Ethan, perhaps they never would, but it made Louis wonder just how much they’d been faking their acceptance of his decision to go through with the wedding. Even Jay had seemed relieved, and Louis knew she’d always wanted to see him get married.
Louis had thought Harry had slipped away, but he appeared again when it was just Louis and the boys left, offering to take Louis home. The ride back to Louis' flat had been quiet, but not uncomfortable. Harry had stuck close to his side, depositing Louis into a chair in the kitchen and then going in search of a strong drink and a cold compress. He'd managed to find the ice, but Louis' alcohol stash was running seriously low, so Harry came back with two cups of tea instead. He set them on the table and pushed one over to Louis.
Harry tapped his fingers on the side of his mug, and then blurted, "What were you thinking , Louis?"
Louis just shrugged, quiet and honest. He was tired of playing games, tip-toeing around each other without addressing this thing between them. He hadn't just called off his own wedding to be shy and retiring now. "Of you, mainly."
"Me? Because of the chat we had outside? I didn't mean for you to, you know, do something so drastic!"
Louis looked up from the tabletop. For one horrible, heart-stopping moment, the thought occurred to him that he'd got it all wrong. "So, what, you didn't mean any of that? You'd rather I'd have married him?"
Harry closed his eyes for a moment, shaking his head minutely. "Of course not. And yes, I meant it. I wouldn't have said it otherwise."
"I'm glad you did. Things could be very different now if you hadn't said anything."
"You wouldn't have a split lip."
"I wouldn't have this," Louis said, gesturing between the two of them, sat in his kitchen. "This alone is worth it."
Harry was silent, staring across at Louis. His throat bobbed as he swallowed, and he looked down at the table, moving his mug in small circles so the tea inside swirled around. It was oddly quiet inside the flat; even the sounds of the streets outside seemed to have disappeared. For once there were no car horns or people shouting; it was just the two of them, sat together with what felt like too much and yet not enough to say. Louis' entire world had been reduced down to the two of them sat there at Louis' kitchen table.
It was a strange feeling; Louis was the most comfortable he'd been all day sat here, and yet the weight of their conversation buzzed under his skin; there were countless questions in his head that would take Harry all night to answer if he asked.
"Did you mean what you said?" he asked, so quietly he wasn't sure he'd actually said it. "About us...being good together?"
Harry nodded slowly, tiny smile gracing his lips. "I did. I said it because I believe it, and because I thought you needed to know. I needed you to know that before you went in there."
Louis rubbed his fingers over his forehead, trying to ease some of the tension there. How close he'd come to losing Harry was rapidly becoming apparent to him, and Louis now didn't want to consider what would have happened had Harry decided to not turn up just in time.
"I'm glad you said it," Louis said truthfully. "How did you think I could have ever gone through with it after that, though?"
"I was just focused on getting myself through it," Harry admitted. "It was harder than I'd expected it to be, knowing I was about to watch you marry someone else. While I was driving down, it occurred to me how awful it must have been for you to sit through my wedding- I didn't even think. It was selfish of me, and I'm sorry."
"It's fine," Louis assured him. "It was good to see you happy, even if it didn't last."
Harry's lips parted, and his expression morphed into something so vulnerable it could have made Louis cry. "You're so lovely," Harry said, big eyes seeming greener than before. "How did I get so lucky to have you want me?"
"I have done," Louis whispered. He could tell nothing but the truth now. "Since I saw you at Alex’s wedding. It was always you."
"That long?" Harry’s eyes were wide. "But that’s...ten months! You’ve- you’ve loved me for ten months?"
Louis nodded. He felt his bottom lip tremble.
Harry shoved a hand through his hair. "Fuck. Come here."
He stood as Harry bolted to his feet, chair making an awful noise as it scraped back across the tiles. In two strides they were together, Harry's large hands cradling Louis' cheeks, careful of his bruised and tender jaw, as he dipped his head to press their mouths together fiercely. Louis grabbed for Harry's body, hands fitting perfectly into the dip of Harry's waist and pulling in an attempt to drag him closer. Harry made a desperate, choked off sound in the back of his throat, breaking away just long enough to suck in a lungful of air before coming straight back again, soft lips pushed hard against Louis' own.
"I thought I was too late," Harry's voice was thick, breaking towards the end of his words. "I thought, after everything-"
"No, no," Louis gripped the back of shirt fiercely. "I'm here. I'm here, and I want you. No one else, not ever."
They stood like that for minutes on end, touching, relearning. If Louis had been able to think further than Harry's skin, lips, eyes, hair, it would have occurred to him how stupid he'd been thinking he could ever replace something like this. He could go through the rest of his life and never find anyone who made him feel the way Harry did.
Louis broke away first, breath coming in shallow pants. Harry followed his mouth, eyes on his lips. He let Harry reclaim his mouth for a moment, the kiss turning deep and searching.
"I’m so sorry it took me so long," Harry murmured. "I’m sorry it took me so long to realise."
"It doesn’t matter anymore," Louis said around Harry’s lips, and he meant it. As long as Harry was here, and he really did mean what he said, they Louis could forget the rest. They could go right back to the beginning, sitting at a bar and telling stupid jokes and playing childish games. This could be brilliant, this new chance for them. Lou's smiled, huffing a little laugh. "Hey. Last question."
"What?" Harry buried his face in Louis' neck, pressing damp kisses just underneath Louis' jawline.
He heard Harry chuckle against his skin, and he closed his eyes, leaning into the sound with a smile curving his mouth. "I'd forgotten about that. Ok, make it a good one," Harry told him in a whisper, kissing Louis' mouth again quickly.
Louis knocked his forehead to Harry's gently, going slightly cross-eyed trying to meet his eyes. "If I were to, hypothetically, tell you I love you right now, would you say it back?"
Harry's hand found his, fingers locking together. "Find out," he suggested quietly.
Louis wet his bottom lip with his tongue. Their fingers tightened. "I love you," he breathed.
"I love you," Harry said, an edge of fierceness to his voice. "So much."
Louis wasn't sure if the little whimper of relief came from him or Harry, but he pushed their mouths together again, parting his lips for Harry's tongue to sweep into his mouth.
"A year," Harry said when they parted. "One year. Then it's our turn."
For a moment, Louis thought he'd misheard him. "Our turn?"
"Yeah," Harry said, licking his lips.
Louis watched him do it, momentarily distracted. He narrowed his eyes. "Are you going to do what I think you're going to do?"
"Probably," Harry laughed. "You seem to know me better than anyone. Should I...not do it?"
"Didn’t say that, did I?" Louis shook his head. "Go ahead."
"Ok, then. My go; last question."
"Last question," Louis repeated hoarsely. His began to pound in his ears. "I'm ready."
"In a year, if I were to, hypothetically, ask you to marry me, would you say yes?"
"Yes," Louis replied instantly. "I would. Hypothetically, of course."
"Of course," Harry said, smiling so widely it looked like it would split his face in half. He leaned in, pressing his lips to Louis', still grinning. Louis wound his fingers into Harry's hair, cradling his jaw with his other hand.
"Tell me again," Louis begged between soft little kisses, scratching his nails gently across Harry's scalp and feeling Harry virtually melt under his fingers.
"I love you," Harry breathed. "God, I love you."
"Love you, too," Louis' voice came strangled and a bit desperate. "I do. Do I have to wait a year?"
"I hate being sensible."
"I know, but we'll do it properly, I promise." Harry's hands ran down the dips of Louis' waist. "It'll be amazing."
Louis let out a noise of protest, but leaned closer into Harry, resting his cheek on the shoulder of his jacket. "I guess I’ll have to wait, then. Just a little longer,’ he said begrudgingly, fingers digging deep into Harry’s shoulder blades. ‘Just because I love you,’ he smiled even as he said the words again, a tiny part of him still blinking in disbelief that he was actually allowed to say that to Harry now. That Harry actually said it back was nearly too much for him.
Harry pressed a kiss to his hair. "I know we should be taking this more seriously now, and know you should probably call your mum, or Alex or someone, but right now, all I want to do is get you out of that suit."
Louis chuckled, feeling like his heart could burst out of his chest. "What happened to being sensible?"
Harry just shrugged dismissively. "Sometimes sensible's no fun." He trailed his hands down the front of Louis' shirt, undoing a single button halfway down, and then looked up at Louis through his eyelashes. "So? You wanna take me on a guided tour of your bedroom?"
A burst of laughter left Louis' lips, loud and delighted. "Am I going to have put up with this from now on? Your terrible jokes and cheesy one-liners?"
Harry nodded, grinning widely. "For forever and ever. That ok with you?"
Louis pretended to consider it for a moment. "I guess I can live with it."
Then he took hold of Harry's hand and dragged him towards his room, Harry's chuckles ringing in his ears.
Chapter 6: Epilogue
You are formally invited
to celebrate the wedding of
Harry Edward Styles & Louis William Tomlinson
On the twenty-third of December
two thousand and sixteen
six o’clock in the evening
RSVP to email@example.com
23rd December 2016
Louis’ shining black shoes crunched across the gravel as he paced backwards and forwards in front of the Manor.
The air was crisp and cold, swirling around his mouth in a cloud of mist with every shaky exhale that left his lips. The only sounds he was aware of was the grit underfoot and the furious pounding of his heart that seemed to have relocated to somewhere near his voicebox. He was all too aware of the rows and rows of friends and family all seated not ten feet away in the warmth of the building. Every so often he heard a burst of laughter or a loud greeting, jarring at his already shot nerves and making him pace faster, wring his fingers harder together.
It wasn’t as if he didn’t want this, of course he did; the last six months of his life had been leading up to this very moment, and he couldn’t wait for the very second it was official and he was able to call Harry his husband. But fuck, he was terrified. He now had a full appreciation of what his friends had felt when they’d done this. This wasn’t like this the last time he’d attempted to walk up the aisle; last time it had been slight nerves and just a quiet acceptance, but this time it felt so much different. This was the absolute love of his life, this was the thing he’d wanted since the moment he’d met Harry but never actually thought he would actually have. This mattered.
His stomach was twisting, palms sweating, and his heart felt as if it might actually beat out of his chest if it pounded any harder. All the times he’d been nervous throughout his life; his first day at school, first kiss, his graduation day, and his first time making a best man speech, didn’t even come close to touching the level of anxiety he was feeling now. He just wanted everything to go well, just wanted to be able to summon up the courage to get in there and take his position, waiting for Harry to arrive.
"Lou?" Liam crunched across the gravel behind him, coming to rest at Louis’ side and wrapping a comforting arm around his shoulders. "You feeling ok?"
"I feel a bit sick," Louis gulped, and Liam laughed good-naturedly at him.
"Just nerves," he soothed. "Try to relax and focus, or it’ll go past in a flash and you won’t be able to remember any of it, believe me." Gently but firmly, he turned Louis around, steering him through the doors and out of the bitter cold. "Come on, we’ve only got a couple of minutes."
Louis took a few deep breaths, using the weight of Liam’s arm draped over him to ground himself, to try and concentrate on his surroundings. Beneath the intricately decorated ceiling of the room sat their family and friends, chatting amongst themselves, and between the two sides of the room ran a red velvet carpet, leading up to where Zayn and Niall were already in place. Niall winked encouragingly, giving Louis a sly thumbs up. Louis’ returning smile was shaky, and he sought the eyes of his mum who was sat a little way from his best men. She smiled softly and mouthed ‘good luck’ from where she sat.
Just to her left, Alex stood, cradling his and Izzy’s baby daughter. The last time they’d all been together like this, the whole family, it had been for the little girl's’ christening. Louis was taking his new duty as godfather to baby Jennifer Edie very seriously, and whether it was wishful thinking or not, Louis swore that whenever the little girl smiled at him he saw Edie’s eyes looking out at him, same mischievous twinkle that told Louis she was going to be a handful when she grew up. Just behind them stood Jake and Lisa, with a spare seat next to Jake reserved for Niall for when he was done with his best man duties.
Louis smiled towards his family, feeling marginally calmed by their presence around him. He knew he was fortunate to have such good people around him, people he knew would always look after him and see him through. People like them were gold dust, and, looking around at them now, he knew he would always try his best to do the same back.
Speaking of gold dust.
Liam tugged at his sleeve. "Harry’s here," he murmured.
All the moisture evaporated from Louis’ mouth. He licked his lips, hoping they weren't chapped, and swallowed a couple of times down his now bone dry throat. Against his will, a strangled noise left his lips.
"Stop panicking," Liam commanded. "It’s only Harry."
He was right, Louis knew. It was only his fiance; the man he knew inside out, who knew him just as well in return. Just the same man who brought Louis tea in the morning and danced to Shania Twain in his pants in the kitchen when he thought Louis wasn’t watching. It was only Harry, who had a habit of losing all his socks and then stealing all of Louis’, who left his hairbands scattered absolutely everywhere and then complained when he lost them all, who after over a year was still trying to get Louis to do yoga with him, pretending not to notice when Louis joined in only to spend the entire time ogling his arse. His Harry, whom he loved with his entire being.
Louis glanced at Liam. "Where is he? Is he ok?"
Liam scoffed. "He’s more than fine. We need to get this show on the road; we can’t hold him back much longer."
Despite his nerves, Louis grinned. "Ok, ok, I’m in position. Are we ready? Let him in, I want to see him." He looked eagerly towards the double doors that he could almost feel Harry stood outside of.
Louis was vaguely aware of Liam leaving his side to join Zayn, but only just, for at that moment the doors opened and in walked Harry, the heels of his black shoes clicking across the floor.
Louis felt like the breath had been stolen from his lungs, punched out of him at the mere sight of Harry. He wore a dark blue, nearly black suit, neatly tailored trousers with a matching long jacket, the hem of it falling down past his bum. A red rose, one matching Louis’ own, was pinned to his lapel. The collar of his white shirt was open, and around his neck hung a chain with his engagement ring hanging on the end of it. It swung gently as he walked, glinting under the lights. His hair was tamed, neatly wavy, half of it pinned back behind his ears. He was so beautiful Louis’ heart actually ached in his chest.
He saw Harry glance up and down his own matching attire appreciatively, and then came to stop at Louis’ side. At the top of the room, the officiant was exchanging a brief word with Liam, giving the two of them a moment to talk.
Louis opened his mouth to greet him, but before he could, Harry twined their hands together, smiling across at him.
"Hey, Jessie," he muttered out of the corner of his mouth.
Louis rolled his lips into his mouth to try and hide his smile. "Hey, Bo. Fancy seeing you here."
"Oh, thought I’d just stop by. Heard there was a wedding on."
"You heard right," Louis squeezed Harry’s hand fiercely. "Hi, darling."
Gentle, melodic music began, announcing their arrival. Even from where he stood all the way at the back of the room, Louis could see both his mum and Anne already dabbing at their eyes, saw their best men grinning at them. Liam shook his head with a smile, subtly beckoning them forward.
"Love you, H," Louis whispered.
"Love you, too. You ready for this?"
Louis nodded up at him. "So ready. No second thoughts?"
Harry grinned down at him. He lifted their hands, pressing a kiss to Louis’ knuckles. Green met blue, the intensity in Harry's eyes virtually heart-stopping. "Not one."
He lowered their hands, swinging them a little between their bodies. Louis released a slow breath, and felt his boy do the same next to him.
Together, they stepped forward.