Harry's twentieth birthday began the way every day during the past two weeks had begun: with an alarm. They had to be in studio by ten and Harry's alarm went off at eight. Louis set his to quarter past and refused to move until it sounded no matter how much anyone coaxed. Harry cuddled up behind him and pressed his cold nose into Louis's shoulder blade, and they dozed again until Louis's alarm sounded and they both groaned and mumbled invectives at the phone.
"It's my birthday," Harry said, yawning. "Not nice."
"Happy birthday, babe," Louis said, rolling over and trapping Harry under him. "Got a present for you in the shower, I think you'll like it."
"Yeah?" Harry's fingers slid down Louis's back and over his arse, squeezing it and spreading him. "I will if it's anything like last year's."
"Might be," Louis said, "if you're not bored of it."
"Nope, never," Harry replied happily. "Stop fishing for compliments. It's the best and you know it."
Louis did know it, but it always sort of amazed him that they really never got bored of one another. He tested himself out once in a while to see if he could imagine sex with someone else, and of course he could in a theoretical way – if Rihanna ever made an offer he and Harry had a deal – but if he thought about it in a real, nuts-and-bolts way it was just impossible. There was no one as hot as Harry. And anyway, one of the nice things about being with Harry was that they could confess crushes to one another and use it to work each other up. There was nothing quite like tying Harry to the bed with a blindfold over his eyes and telling him there was someone in the room watching him.
They were far longer in the shower than he'd intended and he didn't have time to make Harry breakfast – though it was probably better, after all, that he didn't – and when the car came round to pick them up they were just barely ready.
"Presents later," Zayn said, though he gave Harry a hug so big Louis kicked him. "What'd Louis give you?"
"His favourite," Louis said. Harry smirked down at his lap and Zayn laughed. "Big presents tonight after the party. Very big."
Harry looked out the window, fogging up the glass and drawing a little stick figure there. His other hand crept over to Louis's and held on tight.
For one reason or another, Harry's birthdays always reminded him of the first time – not the first time they'd touched each other really, or even necessarily the first time they'd said they loved one another, but the first time they said aloud that there was something strange and beautiful and important happening.
It was one of those rare relaxing days before tour and he had Harry in his bedroom, pressed down on the bed, and had been kissing him for ages. Harry was gorgeous and sweet and drowsy-eyed, and that sense Louis always had of it being just him and Harry in a room with everyone else locked out was so much stronger than usual. He loved how warm they were together, cosy and glowing hot like a forcefield around them, and how his lips were sore and he still wanted more. He liked to pin Harry down and slowly rub against him through their clothes, working him closer and closer until he was about to come, stopping just before he went over the edge, then starting over again. There was something about how he never struggled to free himself, even if he'd almost come fifteen or twenty times and needed it so badly he was trembling and sobbing – he wanted it to be Louis who decided.
"God," Louis whispered, "I'm so turned on. If you fucked me right now I'd come so fast."
He said it partly to get Harry going and partly because it was true. They hadn't got quite to that point yet but he loved to tease Harry with it, murmuring to him how good it was going to feel when he was finally allowed to do it, how Louis loved it and he couldn't wait for Harry's big cock to drive him crazy, how he was going to ride him just like this, so slow. Once in a while he'd let Harry's hands go free and they'd go straight to Louis's arse and squeeze, restless and frustrated, until Louis drew them back to the bed again and told him he just had to be patient.
"Maybe we can do it tonight," Louis said, rubbing against him a little faster, a little harder. "Or maybe you could – with your tongue, I know you want to."
Harry stiffened suddenly, writhing under him. "Louis, Lou, Lou," he panted, "I can't stop – "
Louis shivered all over as he realised that whatever he'd said had pushed Harry until he was too excited to hold back any longer. "Yeah, do it," he moaned, "come here."
He let go Harry's wrists and bent to kiss him instead, cupping his face, thumb passing over the soft skin of his cheek. Harry kissed back as best he could but his breath shuddered in and out too fast to do it properly. He clung to Louis and looked up at him, eyes wide and sort of...awed somehow, as if he'd never done it before. And Louis supposed he hadn't really, or at least not in Louis's arms. Louis tightened his hips down against Harry's long and slow and drew him over the edge, stretching it out so he could see the wash of pleasure spread over Harry, who flushed all the way down his neck and was suddenly all red bitten lips and blurry green eyes and fluttering lashes, staring up at Louis wonderingly even as he came.
There was that wonderful warm connection between them that pushed out the rest of the world, even when Harry had calmed down a little. Louis had felt that before with a couple of girls, but it always went away almost the second he came, as if he'd been trying to bridge the distance between himself and the other person and it fell apart as soon as the sex was done. But it didn't go away with Harry; he was as wrapped up in what Harry was thinking and feeling as he had been before, if not even more so. He still wanted to crawl inside Harry's clothes with him and stay there.
Harry stayed gasping when he'd finished, and suddenly his chin crumpled and he put a hand over his eyes.
"Sorry," he said thickly, "I'm stupid."
Louis tugged his hand away. "No, it's all right," he whispered. "You're just overwhelmed, aren't you?"
Harry nodded, and Louis relaxed onto his side on the bed and rearranged Harry so they were facing each other. He couldn't help but kiss the line of Harry's nose, six kisses all the way down because Harry had a rather big nose, and when he was done Harry was smiling instead of crying. Not that Louis minded the crying – one of the things he liked best about Harry was that everything was just out there for him to see. No games, no second-guessing his motives. It made Louis want to show him everything in return, and although he'd found it practically impossible before, it was easy to open up to Harry.
"Sorry," Harry said again, wiping his face. "I'm okay. It's just..."
"It's just that you love me," Louis finished.
"Yeah," Harry said. "Don't laugh."
Louis laughed, and Harry gave him a pained look. "Don't be stupid," he said, rubbing his thumb over Harry's cheek. "I'm gonna marry you."
Harry's glare deepened. He clearly thought Louis was making fun of him, and Louis laughed again, delighted at the sudden little well of knowledge he'd just discovered in himself.
"Yeah," he said firmly. "Yeah, give it a few years and I'm marrying you."
"You gonna propose?" Harry asked. He'd gone a little hoarse, but settled back onto the pillow with an indulgent look in his eye.
"I'll propose to you when you're old and grey," Louis said, and grabbed his hand to kiss his palm. "An old, old man. Elderly and frail and bald."
"So – twenty then?" he said. "When all the life has gone out of me?"
Louis kissed his palm again, and his wrist, and up his arm, pushing up his sleeve so he could get at the sensitive bit underneath and make him squirm. "I'm serious," he said, letting Harry's arm drop. "I'm gonna marry you, so you be ready for it, cos it's happening."
Harry stared at him. "I want lots of kids," he said, and his voice had gone all uneven.
"Me too," Louis whispered, and gathered Harry in close. "We'll adopt hundreds of babies."
Harry buried his face in Louis's shirt and Louis stroked his hair and told him what would happen, that they'd be famous and rich, and travel all over the world and see amazing things and have fun and when they were older they'd get married and host Christmas dinner for everyone. And maybe he cried a bit too because it was big, and Harry was so sudden and so important, a flash flood where there had been nothing before.
"I'm not that drunk!" Harry said for the third time, bright and happy. "I only had four of the, of the, of the things. I can't remember what they were called."
"Apple fritters," Jack, one of the newer bodyguards, said, and he and Louis shared an amused look over Harry's back. Harry had stumbled into the house and across Louis's lap and stayed there, face in the pillow. "Lots of vodka."
"You smell like you've rolled around in apple perfume," Louis said. Jack nodded to Louis and, having done his duty carrying Harry from the car to the door, left.
"Thank you for carrying me and not letting me be sick on the roses!" Harry called out after him. Harry was very, very proud of his roses, and he'd have been devastated if he'd harmed them. Louis knew he'd probably send a thank you card the next day.
"Got you right where I like you," Louis said, patting his bum. "I don't think I've ever given you a proper birthday spanking."
"I ask for one every year," Harry said petulantly.
"I'd have to give you way more than twenty." Louis patted him again, and on impulse, swatted him hard. Harry jumped and then laughed.
"Can't feel anything through my trousers," he said, and started to wriggle, not coordinated enough to get his hands down to unbutton his jeans. Louis tugged the back down along with his underwear until his arse was out, and slapped him on the roundest part a few times. Harry dissolved into giggles and Louis followed.
"Not so hot when you're drunk," he said, rolling Harry off his lap and onto the floor so he could undress him. He'd stayed up on the couch watching telly until Harry was inevitably dragged home by some helpful person. The previous year they'd dumped him at the wrong house and it had taken a while for Louis to figure out where he was and go to him. He really, really hated not being able to go out and get stupid drunk with Harry whenever he felt like it, but when Louis went out on the piss they always ended up doing something ridiculous and now everyone made a concerted effort to keep Louis from buying plane tickets to Morocco or tattooing their cocks.
Harry sat up and patiently lifted his arms like a little boy so Louis could take off his shirt, and put up one foot and then the other to get his shoes off.
"Trousers next, babe," Louis said, and Harry stood unsteadily and tried to help roll his jeans down until Louis finally slapped his hands away. Then he played with Louis's hair.
"You. Are. So. Pretty," he said, patting Louis's head with every word. When he was finally naked and Louis stood up straight Harry grabbed him around the middle and pulled him into one of those big Harry hugs, tight tight tight, kissing him on the side of the head. They dance-staggered that way into the bedroom and flopped on the bed, laughing until Harry spread his arms wide and said, "Hey!" as if he'd discovered something brilliant.
"What is it?" Louis asked, poking Harry in the lower right nipple.
"I'm twenty now. You can marry me," he said, eyes wide and solemn.
"Ha," Louis said. "I can marry you any time I want, you numpty."
"I'm old now," Harry said mournfully, breathing out a great sigh full of vodka and curling up into Louis's body. "Old man, old bald man."
"Yep," Louis replied, carding his fingers through Harry's thick curls and smiling as Harry dropped fast into sleep, relaxing by stages before he began to snore almost immediately. He'd wake himself up four or five times snoring before he finally evened out and kept up a steady grating noise, which could go on all night unless Louis shoved him or positioned him just so. He slept with his mouth open and Louis traced a finger over the bow of his lips. He preferred to keep his adoration private if possible, although sometimes Harry caught him at it and he didn't mind – much. It was still easy to be open with Harry, although he wondered if he'd ever be able to let go of himself totally. He'd thought about it quite a bit and even talked it over with Harry, who said it was all right because he knew it wasn't due to a lack of love, but a surplus of it. Everyone leaves in the end, Louis told him desperately, even if they don't intend to. And Harry didn't deny it, because he knew where it came from. He only said: we're different. And after a moment or two, in his slow, drawly way: this isn't just love, I mean – you're my family, you're my home.
The ring was in a brown box, which had spent almost a month hidden under clean laundry he'd never folded and had instead just bunched up and shoved in a drawer. Currently, the box sat atop the cake he'd made Harry himself, a glorious and hideous concoction with hearts and roses and edible glitter all over it. In the morning when Harry had recovered a little and was ready to have some tea, Louis would remind him that there was cake in the refrigerator that he hadn't seen yet, and wait for him to figure it out. And he knew Harry – knew he'd say yes, knew he'd jump on Louis and cry and laugh and be silly and wonderful and call his mum first thing – but he was still scared. Because everyone did leave in the end, and yet here he was leaping off the edge trusting Harry was going to always be there. And what if he wasn't, in the end? What if he couldn't be?
In his sleep, Harry smacked his lips together at the ticklish sensation of Louis's finger, made a kissing noise, and smiled. He snuffled and settled back into snoring again immediately, and Louis laughed and remembered for the thousandth time all the ways the universe had shifted to make sure he and Harry met and loved each other. Surely there was a design in that; surely they were meant to make a home for themselves in each other, even if nothing else worked out.
Content, he rolled Harry over onto his non-snoring side. Harry flailed a little and Louis caught his hand and curled up behind him, and fell asleep the way he liked it best, with their heads on the same pillow.