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“Alright, if you could all please wait to pack up until the bell rings,” Harry says, doing his best to sound assertive rather than neurotic.

The students halt their movements, gently lowering backpacks back to the floor and elbows back to desks. They all watch the clock, Harry included, and the ticking of the second hand seems to be getting slower and slower. He closes his eyes for a moment; he’s got a headache building just behind his eyes, and he needs today to be over already.

The bell rings with a loud wail, and the students fly out of their seats. Harry bids them all goodbye, reminding them that he’ll see them tomorrow.

Au revoir, les etudiants! A demain!”

He does his best not to breathe an audible sigh of relief as they all walk out the door. The first day of school is definitely exciting, but he feels drained. How does something he loves so much also exhaust him?

One day down, one hundred and seventy-nine to go.

There’s a traffic jam in the hallway outside his door, and the sound of loud, excited voices causes him to peer out the door and see what’s causing the holdup. He can’t believe how happy some of the students are to be back at school. Even Harry, who adored school as a kid, was never this thrilled to be back. If memory serves, it’ll wear off for the students in a week, just as Harry starts to hit his groove.

He can’t help the smile that spreads over his face when he sees who’s causing the traffic jam outside. He watches from his classroom for a moment, before biting down on his grin and stepping into the hallway, where a group of students are talking to another teacher.

“Causing trouble, are we, Mr. Tomlinson?” he says smoothly, trying not to laugh.

“Just saying bonjour to some of your best students, Mr. Styles,” Louis says, face entirely innocent. “Making sure that they haven’t lost all of their French over the summer.”

“Mr. T says that his class is better than yours,” says Ava, grinning between them.

“He says that French is fine but English literature is really more important,” adds Martin.

Harry makes a noise of outrage. “How dare he. That is completely untrue.”

“It’s entirely true, Mr. Styles,” Louis says, and then he high fives both Ava and Martin.

“Well, technically Mr. Styles teaches English too,” pipes up Elizabeth, and Harry wants to hug her. He knew he liked her for a reason.

Louis snorts. “I hardly think teaching two sections of AP Writing counts. AP Literature is a much better class.”

“And that’s why I’m glad you’re all taking both,” Harry says, eager to cut the conversation short. The students are looking far too entertained right now. “It’s important to have a well-rounded education.”

Louis laughs. “Alright. I guess we can call a truce. It’s only the first day, after all.”

“It is. Which is why the three of you,” Harry points to the students, “should get going. Enjoy the last few days of freedom before homework takes over your life.”

“Alright. Bye, Mr. Styles. Bye, Mr. T!” They scurry off, and Harry closes his eyes for a moment. The headache is back.

He turns to walk back into his classroom and Louis follows, shutting the door behind him. Harry takes a seat at his desk. Finally, a moment of quiet.

Louis lifts the whiteboard eraser and looks at Harry for permission. Harry nods, and then Louis starts erasing the verb conjugations from the board.

“You know, I almost feel bad teasing them like that,” Louis says after a minute. “It only gives them more material.”

“You mean for their fantasies that the two of us belong together and will one day fall madly in love?”

“Yeah.” Louis nods. He stands on tiptoes and tries to reach the date in the corner with the eraser. It takes a minute, but he gets there. Harry decides not to tease him about it.

“They are pretty obsessed with the idea.”

Since Harry started at Pacific Grove Academy last year, the students have been consumed by the idea that he and Louis should start dating. They’re convinced that, if pushed, the two of them could fall madly in love. Harry has heard discussion of this in every corner of the school: in the hallways, in the teacher’s lounge, and at after-school events. He’s even already heard it mentioned this morning. It seems that the students still aren’t giving up.

“They are,” Louis says, setting the eraser down and making his way over to Harry’s desk. He takes a seat on the edge and crosses his arms. He’s got his sleeves rolled past his elbows, Harry’s weakness, and it’s easy to see why so many students are so intrigued by Mr. Tomlinson.

“Someone should tell them the big news,” Harry says.

“What’s the big news?”

“That I’ve already fallen madly in love with you,” Harry says.

“Oh yeah?” Louis asks, raising an eyebrow.

“Truly, madly, deeply, for multiple years now,” Harry quips, reaching out to grab Louis’ hand. He traces the tiny tattoo that’s on the side of Louis’ ring finger, the initial that matches the one Harry has on his own finger. “Always and forever.”

“Yeah, alright. Enough with the sap,” Louis says, but he’s smiling.

“I have though. You know that?”

“Yeah, I kinda figured that when you married me,” Louis says, and then he leans down and kisses Harry quickly. When Harry pulls away, his headache has lessened the tiniest bit.

“How was your day?”

“Oh, it was fine,” Louis says, waving a hand in the air. “Same old, same old. You’d think a bunch of kids who signed up to take AP Literature would be a bit more excited about reading, though. I mean, they could’ve just taken the regular class if they didn’t want to work so hard.”

“You know half of them only take the class because they love you,” Harry says. “Or they’re in love with you.”

“Gee, thanks, Harold. It’s really nice to feel like people only want to be in my class so they can ogle me all day. Imagine if they just wanted to take it because I’m a good teacher.” His tone is fake irritated.

“You are though.”

“I am what?” Louis says.

“Both incredibly good looking and a great teacher,” Harry placates. It’s true; he’s never met anyone who cares about their students as much as Louis does.

Louis pouts, and Harry kisses him again. “Come on, you wanna get out of here?”

“Yeah, alright. Can we go out to dinner? I don’t want to cook.”

“You never cook.”

Louis laughs. “Fine. I don’t want to wash dishes.”

“I don’t want to go out. I have a headache.”

Louis suddenly looks concerned. “Why didn’t you say something?”

“I wanted to, but I was too busy talking you down from the ledge of thinking students only take your class because you’re hot.”

Louis rolls his eyes. “What if we get takeout, then we can go home and put on comfy clothes? I’m tired anyway.”

Harry knows he’s not, can see it in the way his face can’t hide his slight disappointment, but he appreciates that Louis offers. “Yes please.”

Louis hops off the desk so abruptly that Harry thinks there’s a fire. “Race you home,” he shouts, and then he runs out the door.

--

Louis beats him home, because Harry stops at Trader Joe’s for a bottle of wine and some brownies. When he walks in the door, there’s a card and a bouquet of flowers on the kitchen table. He smiles.

He sets the wine and the brownies down on the counter, and pulls out the card for Louis that’s been hiding in the spice rack for the last two days. He leans it against the bottle of wine and heads for their room. The sound of the running shower cuts off just as he passes the bathroom door, and he goes into their bedroom, kicking off his shoes and putting them away immediately because it bothers Louis for them to be laying around the apartment.

“Hey, didn’t hear you come in,” says Louis, strolling in with a towel wrapped around his waist. His hair is plastered to his forehead.

“Yeah, got back about three minutes ago.”

“It’s too bad you weren’t ten minutes faster. You could’ve joined me.”

“Next time,” Harry says, stripping off his clothes so he can have his own shower. Louis whistles lowly when he’s in just his boxers, and Harry flips him off.

“Left something for you on the kitchen table,” Louis says, pulling out his comfy pants from the drawer.

“I saw it,” Harry says, drawing him in by the waist for a quick kiss. He rubs Louis’ hipbone with his thumb slowly. “There might be something for you there too, if you’re lucky.”

Louis grins and gently pushes Harry toward the hallway, presumably so that he can get to his gift quicker. Harry frowns mournfully for a moment; he’d been hoping to convince Louis to have sex. But then he remembers his lingering headache and a night on the couch sounds pretty good too.

Plus, there’s always later.

They’d started buying each other cards for big events a few months into their relationship, when Harry directed a collegiate play for his senior English seminar. Louis had been swamped with grad school work and Harry didn’t think he’d attend, but then he’d looked into the audience at the close of the show and seen Louis standing front and center, clapping louder than everyone. He’d presented him with a congratulations card, one that was the ugliest card Harry had ever seen.

“It’s all they had left,” Louis said sheepishly, looking about ten years younger than his actual twenty-three.

“I love it,” Harry grinned. “I love you.”

“You do?”

“Yeah,” Harry said, suddenly giddy. They’ve never said that to each other before. “I love you and this dumb card.”

“Forget the dumb card, I’m in love with you.”

Six years later, they’re still in a competition to see who can buy each other the ugliest congratulations card. Harry’s pretty sure he’s got it in the bag this year.

--

Louis’ card for Harry is better.

“Of course it is,” Louis says with a smug grin, reaching over Harry’s lap to get the pizza box from the other side of the couch. “I started this competition. I’m the master of this competition.”

“Yeah, keep telling yourself that.”

“I will. Because I’m always right.”

Harry takes another sip of white wine, appreciating the way that the day’s tension is already starting to melt away. “You know that that didn’t actually make the final cut of our wedding vows, right? After three years I hope you’d remember.”

“Just because you refused to say it in front of everyone we know doesn’t make it not true.”

Harry rolls his eyes, refusing to let this go any further. He thumbs a bit of melted cheese off Louis’ chin and sucks it into his mouth, pulling it out with a wet pop.

Louis stares for a moment, transfixed, all previous protests gone. Mission accomplished.

“So tell me about your day? How’d it go?”

“Rude,” Louis says quietly, and then his face brightens. “It was good. As good as can be expected, anyway. I feel a lot more confident this year. I think year three is gonna be a good one.”

“Yeah?” That gives Harry hope. Louis has been teaching for a year longer than Harry, who’s just starting his second year, and he’s looked to him for guidance every step of the way. And every step of the way, Louis has been there to provide it.

“Yeah. Good kids, good classes. Hot teacher across the hall,” he adds with a smirk. “Maybe this year I’ll finally ask him out.”

“You’d make a lot of teenagers very happy if you did that,” Harry says.

“I’m sure I would,” Louis says, curling up against Harry’s side. “Enough about them for tonight, though. Wanna watch Game of Thrones?”

Harry nods, and when he collapses into bed two hours later, Louis spooning him, he thinks that it’s going to be a good year.

--

Harry and Louis are always careful to keep space between them when they’re at work, even if it’s just the two of them in the room. Sometimes there’s a kiss hello or a hug goodbye, but for the most part, they keep their distance. They’re adults. They can handle it. Most of the time.

Harry’s glad for this rule when the door to Louis’ classroom flings open. Louis is sitting a foot away, but they both still and straighten up like they have something to hide. Which they do, and while Melinda Hernandez might suspect they have feelings for each other, she doesn’t know the truth. They’d both like to keep it that way.

“Oh!” She says, face caught in a cross between surprise and something that looks like joy. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt your… I’ll come back later, Mr. T.”

She’s gone before either of them can say anything, and Harry can already picture her leaving the room and texting all her friends that she caught them together. Well, the joke is on her, because Harry and Louis have a regular, school-sanctioned planning period at this time, nothing suspicious about it. In addition to French, Harry teaches two sections of Advanced Placement English Language and Composition. Louis teaches Advanced Placement English Literature. Because they have a big overlap of students, they try to structure their lessons so that they complement each other.

It’s also a great excuse for them to hang out one-on-one for an hour each week and get paid for it.

“Do you ever think maybe we should just… tell them?” Harry asks, turning back to Louis and gathering up the papers before him. The period’s almost over anyway, and he wants to get some coffee before going to deal with a bunch of juniors who'd rather be sleeping on the beach than writing an essay about what they did on their summer vacations (which for most of them, funny enough, was sleeping on a beach).

“I don't think we should,” says Louis. “At this point, it seems ridiculous.”

“Well we can't keep it a secret forever,” Harry argues. It's a conversation they've had dozens of times. “What are we supposed to do, move to a new city and get new jobs?”

“I was thinking we could join the witness protection program, actually,” Louis quips, closing his own folder.

They'd never intended to keep their relationship a secret from the students. All the teachers and the staff know, and Harry figured that they'd just stay professional and lay low, and if some students figured it out, that was fine.

“Isn’t it a big enough sign that you wear a goddamn wedding ring?” Louis asks, pointing to Harry’s finger.

The kids had asked if it was an engagement ring, and he'd said no. It wasn't a lie. He wore his engagement ring on the other hand these days. But instead of jumping to the logical conclusion and thinking that maybe it was a wedding ring, the kids had assumed it meant he was single. He'd just never bothered to correct them, and that's how they'd gotten to this point.

Louis doesn't wear a ring because he lost three of them within the first eighteen months of their marriage, and after that they decided that maybe he wasn't a ring person after all. Besides, it's not like the wearing of the ring really means anything in terms of loyalty. Harry and Louis know where they stand with their commitment to each other, so it doesn't matter what other people see.

It's funny to watch how serious the students are about it, earnestly telling Harry that Louis talked about a bad date he went on in college and how if Harry wants to have a chance with him, he should avoid repeating that incident for Louis. Harry had gone home and laughed about this with Louis for an hour; he had actually been the one responsible for the shitty date, and he'd been very sure never to repeat that since.

There's also the matter of Harry's initial tattooed on Louis' finger. The kids don't seem to know about that, and the matching one on Harry's finger is hidden by his ring. All told, the kids seem to have no idea that not only does Harry like Louis, but he's been married to him for three years.

“Are you too chicken to tell them?” Harry asks. Louis doesn’t say anything, and Harry smirks. “Think about how nice it’d be. We could drive to work together, make out in the hallway, annoy everyone with how sappy we are.”

“We don’t drive to work together because you insist at waking up before dawn to exercise,” Louis says, wrinkling his nose, his disapproval of this plan very clear. “Not because no one knows we’re together. Also, there’s no way we’re making out in the hallway. PDA is gross.”

“Fine,” Harry says cordially, picking up his papers and standing up. He really does need to get going. “Next time you get an itch to make out on a park bench or something, I’m gonna remind you of this.”

“When have we ever made out on a park bench?” Louis asks.

“I don’t know. But you might want to sometime.” Harry blows him a kiss and opens the door to leave. “Have a good class, Mr. T.”

“You too, Styles.”

Harry didn’t actually expect Louis to agree, nor does he really want to tell the students anyway. At this point, it just seems easier to go along with the charade. The two of them enjoy the challenge of hiding it from the kids; it's become like a game to them. A kind of exhausting game, but a game nonetheless.

For now, he’s got some students to deal with.

--

Harry folds up the last reusable bag and puts it by the door with the others, heaving a sigh as he does so.

“Well that’s that done then. At least ‘til next week.”

“I’m exhausted,” Louis says from the other room, and Harry walks in to find him lying on his stomach on the living room floor.

“I miss the summer already,” Harry says, collapsing onto the couch, facedown. The two of them must make a great picture, positions mirrored in exhaustion. “Being an adult sucks.”

“You’d think we’d be used to it by now,” Louis grumbles. “But no, it’s awful always.”

“I hate Saturdays.”

Harry doesn’t, in fact, hate Saturdays, because that’s when he gets home from his run to a soft, still-sleepy Louis, and walks with him hand-in-hand to the coffee shop three blocks away. They’ll get a muffin and a bagel to split, because neither of them can ever decide which they really want.

But then they have to go to the grocery store, and change their sheets, and meal prep for the week ahead, and clean the house, and that’s the part that is exhausting.

He misses the slow pace and easy days of summer already. Tutoring kids for SAT prep and spending weekends at the beach was a hundred times less tiring than this, and it’s only been two weeks.

“Lou,” Harry whines after Louis doesn’t answer. Is he already asleep? “Lou, come up here and spoon me. ‘M lonely.”

Louis mumbles something that sounds like mmmmrgh.

“Louuuuu.”

Louis lifts his head to look at Harry. A chunk of his hair is sticking up in the air, and there’s a spot of dirt on his cheek. “It’s too hot for spooning. The only way any part of my skin is touching yours is if we’re… forking.”

Harry snorts. “Nice one, babe.”

“I hate you, and your stupid puns that are rubbing off on me.”

“You could rub on something else if you hate them that much,” Harry tries, but he can tell Louis’ heart isn't in it.

“It's too hot. Besides, aren't you supposed to be cooking me dinner?”

Harry groans. It is technically his responsibility tonight, but he has absolutely no energy. If he cooks dinner, he’ll have no desire to meet Niall, Liam, and Zayn for drinks. Louis will halfheartedly try to convince Harry to buck up and go, Harry will refuse, and then they’ll end up cancelling on their friends to go to bed early.

He can’t bail on them, not when they’ve been planning this night for a month.

“It's too hot,” he repeats. “Can't we just have ice cream?”

“Sure,” Louis says immediately. “Mint chip or peanut butter brownie? Wait, which do we have?”

“Why not both?” Harry asks. Louis lifts his head to glance at Harry, a question clear on his face. “When you went to go get the burgers I went back for the mint chip,” Harry says with a grin. “Figured we deserved it.”

“You,” Louis says happily, pushing himself up onto his feet, “are the husband I do not deserve. I’m gonna go get us some ice cream. I love you!”

He skips out of the room just as Harry calls after him, “I love you too!”

--

Harry takes a long chug of his beer just as Louis drags the toe of his sneaker up Harry’s leg. Louis keeps his face steady, his expression showing that he’s listening to Niall’s story intently, and Harry doesn’t understand how he does it. How can he be such a master of distraction while remaining so focused himself?

Harry would love to get a few tips so he can turn the tables sometime.

“Oh my god, I forgot to tell you. I heard they’re making a new Batman movie,” Zayn says, elbowing Liam in the ribs.

“What the fuck, ow. Are you serious?”

“Entirely,” Zayn says with a smile. “As if I’d lie to you about that.”

“Oh my god, you’re amazing,” Liam says, kissing Zayn right there at the table.

“Um, hello?” Niall says. “Did you forget about us? Because we’re here too.”

“Yeah, right. Sorry, sorry,” Liam says, waving a hand to show that he’s not sorry at all. “I just really love Batman.”

Harry snorts. “Yeah, we know. How’d you hear about this anyway?”

“Work meeting,” Zayn says with a shrug. “It’s officially still just a rumor, but someone got assigned to put together some marketing decks, so I think it’s legit.”

Zayn works for a marketing company that specializes in television and film, and Harry’s lost count of all the insider information he’s gotten because of this connection. Harry’s lived in Los Angeles for nine years now, since he was eighteen, and it still strikes him as odd that he knows people who know things.

“That’s sick,” Louis says. “Anyway, enough industry talk. Let’s talk about something else.”

“As long as it’s not work,” Zayn says. “Your work, I mean.”

Harry often thinks that it must get old for Zayn, since he’s dating a teacher and his best friends are all teachers. All signs point to him happily listening to their stories, though, and he’s a good friend because of it.

Harry’s known Liam, Zayn, and Niall for two years now, ever since Louis started at Pacific Grove. Liam was the brand new math teacher that Louis befriended at New Employee Orientation, and then Niall took them both under his wing. He’d been the music teacher for a year already, and he invited them out for a drink on a Friday night to get to know them.

“I kind of, um, have plans with my boyfriend,” Liam had hedged. Niall had told him to bring him along, and then Harry had been invited, and that had been that. Since then, they’ve gone on couples’ vacations (Niall’s wife complained the whole time about being the only woman, but Harry’s pretty sure she secretly loved it) and spent holidays together.

Harry’s ridiculously grateful for all of them. When he met Louis all those years ago, back when he was a baby-faced twenty-one year old in an English seminar who thought his TA was cute, he could never have imagined that this would be their life.

Louis starts talking about a book he read last week, one that he’s already talked Harry’s ear off about, and Harry tunes out, watching him talk rather than listening to his actual words. His passion for literature was the first thing that endeared him to Harry. The second week of the semester, he’d stopped Louis after class to ask his true feelings on The Great Gatsby (“There’s no way you actually like it as much as you say you do,” he’d prodded) and had been taken aback by how passionately Louis defended the book. Louis had suggested he give some of Fitzgerald’s other works a shot, and two weeks later, Harry was sitting in a coffee shop reading This Side of Paradise when Louis stumbled through the door.

“What do you think?” Louis asked.

“I’m thinking I misjudged Fitzgerald,” Harry admitted, closing the book and setting it on the table. “Maybe he’s not so bad after all.”

The next week found Harry at the same coffee shop, and once again Louis came through the door. This time he took a seat, and they spent an hour talking about Fitzgerald and Hemingway and the Lost Generation.

The third time it happened, they talked about more than just books. And slowly, over the course of a semester, that’s how they fell in love.

They kept it professional; absolutely nothing happened between them, bar splitting the scone that the baristas often gave Harry for free. Louis wouldn’t even let Harry buy him a drink. For a while, Harry wondered if they were even on the same page. But then Harry turned in his final, a grueling essay on comparisons between postwar works of literature, and Louis held him back.

“Can I have your phone number?” He said it so quietly that Harry wasn’t sure he’d heard him right, but he didn’t dare ask for clarification. He bit back a smile and wrote it on a paper, slipping it into Louis’ hand before leaving the auditorium with a beaming grin on his face.

They went out to dinner, a real date, the very next night.

“That’s Harry’s fault, not mine,” Louis says suddenly, and Harry snaps back to attention. Louis’ cheeks are pink, from the alcohol but also embarrassment.

“What did I do?”

“Named your sex playlist ‘Banana,’ apparently,” says Niall with a snort. He takes a long swig of his beer. “Could you be more obvious?”

“I wanted to name it Kiwi,” Louis says, holding up his hands in surrender.

“Right, because naming it after hairy balls is way better,” Liam says.

Louis coughs in surprise, and Zayn chokes on a nacho as he says, “Excuse me, I’m trying to eat.”

Niall claps him on the back.

“Kiwis are not hairy balls!” Louis protests.

Niall levels him with a look. “They kind of are, dude.”

“No, they aren’t!” Louis says this with such vehemence that Harry’s beginning to wonder if he’s ever seen a kiwi. Come to think of it, he may not have. Louis isn’t crazy about fruit, and Harry doesn’t ever buy kiwis at the grocery store. All the same, Harry fully intends to make fun of him for this when they get home.

“Louis is right. They’re not hairy balls. They’re more like slightly fuzzy spheres,” Harry says, patting Louis on the hand.

“You’re fucking whipped,” Zayn mutters as he grabs a handful of nachos.

“How did we start talking about this anyway?” Harry asks, reaching for a nacho himself.

“I said that we needed to talk about this Banana playlist. I see it on my Spotify every night. Do you know what it’s like to know that two of your best friends are getting it on a few streets away?” Liam frowns.

Harry shrugs and takes another nacho. “So stop looking.”

“Yeah,” Louis pipes up. “Stop looking.”

“I can’t! It’s always just… right there. Staring me in the face, telling me ‘Harry and Louis are having sex right now.’ It’s awkward.”

This time it’s Louis who shrugs. “Sorry we have a sex life. Besides, last I heard the two of you were very happy,” he says, pointing between Liam and Zayn.

“We are!” Zayn protests. “Liam’s just weirdly obsessed with the two of you.”

“It’s uncomfortable!”

Harry shakes his head. “Fine. I’ll put it on private or something.”

He has no intentions of putting it on private, and Liam will just have to deal.

“You should probably lock that shit down anyway,” Niall says. “Those kids are obsessed with scoping out your life.”

“It’s because they think we’re in love,” Harry says, eyebrows furrowed. It’s been a year, and the idea of kids ‘shipping’ him with Louis still baffles him.

Louis kicks him under the table, hard. “Last I checked, we are in love.”

“Of course we are, dear,” Harry says sweetly before turning back to Niall. “I’ve never seen anything like it. Why can’t they let it go?”

“It’s cause you’re hot,” Niall says. “I mean, I’d probably do you. Both of you.”

“At the same time?” Zayn asks, puzzled.

“No!” Niall sputters. “I mean, unless you wanted to.”

“We’re good, thanks,” Harry says, laughing at Louis’ alarmed face.

“What’s weirder to me is that you have people who think you aren’t together,” Liam says. “Like people who are anti-Louis-and-Harry.”

He’s right about that too. There are staunch defenders of the idea that Louis and Harry are not together, and for that matter, shouldn’t be. Harry doesn’t know how anyone could look at him interacting with Louis and not see how gentle they are with one another. Even when he tries to be discreet, he knows that his love is written all over his face.

“The whole thing is fucking weird,” Niall mumbles through a mouth full of chips. “I wish you’d just tell everyone already.”

“Maybe later,” Harry says. He doesn’t feel like discussing it tonight. It is is what it is, to quote Louis’ most recent tattoo.

“People will blow their shit if you tell them,” Niall says matter of factly, ignoring Harry.

“Exactly. It’ll be an uproar,” says Louis. “It’ll disrupt the learning environment and be a huge distraction. That’s not our fault, but it is the reality.”

“Precisely,” says Harry, shooting Louis a grateful smile. He’s put it into words better than Harry can right now. That might be because Harry’s had three beers and Louis has only had one. Or it might be because Louis is the smartest person he knows. “That’s why we’re keeping it quiet.”

Harry usually takes the opposite argument, thinking that they should be upfront with the student, but it’s also important that he doesn’t allow his friends to make the decision for him.

Niall’s silent for a minute, thinking it over. “Isn’t it frustrating having to hide it?”

Harry glances at Louis, who’s smiling at him, eyes shining. He looks back at Niall and shrugs. “Not really. It’s worth it.”

--

Harry’s mostly sobered up by the time they get home. He’s flopped onto the covers of their bed, dressed in only his boxers, waiting for Louis to finish his nightly routine so they can go to sleep.

“Lou,” he calls. “Louuuu.”

Louis pokes his head out from the ensuite bathroom, his toothbrush in his mouth. He mumbles something that Harry thinks might be “What’s up?” but could just as easily be “Shut up.”

“Do you really not know what kiwis look like?”

Louis blushes and heads back into the bathroom. Harry hears him spit and rinse, and when he comes back to their bedroom he flicks off the overhead light and strips down to his underwear. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he says as he shoves at Harry to get up so they can get under the covers and sleep properly.

“Oh my god, I knew it,” Harry crows. “You really don’t know what kiwis look like.”

“I do! They’re not hairy balls.”

“What do they look like, then?” Harry challenges.

“They’re those… orange things. Kind of look like butts. They’re cute.” Louis sounds less than confident.

“Orange things that look like butts,” Harry repeats slowly. “Do you mean… apricots?”

“No, aren’t those kiwis?”

Harry shakes his head and rolls over to pull his phone out of the charger. He quickly googles kiwis, showing the screen to Louis. Louis squints at the phone, and then his eyes focus and he shakes his head rapidly.

“No. Those are… something else. Not kiwis. Those are hairy balls.” Harry watches as understanding dawns on his face. It takes a minute due to the late hour, but when he figures it out, he flings an arm to whack Harry in the chest. “What the fuck, those are kiwis? You let me embarrass myself in front of everyone! Why?”

Harry giggles. “Actually, I defended you, even though you were totally wrong.”

“I don’t like you,” Louis grumbles, but the way that he tosses Harry’s phone to the side and rolls over to curl up next to him betrays his feelings.

“I’m the best husband you’ve ever had. Admit it.” He shifts closer so that his nose is pressed against the top of Louis’ head.

“You’re the only husband I’ve ever had. ‘S not much of a competition,” he mumbles.

Harry swats his shoulder. “You’re the worst.”

Louis laughs and then gestures for Harry to turn around so that he can spoon him properly. “G’night, Styles.”

“Night, Lou.”

“I love you,” Louis says, pressing the words into his hair and squeezing him lightly around the waist for emphasis.

“Love you too.”

--

Harry’s cooking breakfast for himself and Louis when he hears a screech from the shower. He wouldn’t like to admit it, but his first instinct is to check the clock to see how much time he can spare for whatever problem is sure to arise.

He has ten minutes. Maybe it’s just a spider. Maybe Louis is fine.

Then Harry hears the water shut off and a lot of swearing coming from the bathroom, and he figures there’s probably something else.

“Louis, what’s wrong?” he asks, knocking on the bathroom door. “You okay?”

“Fucking...fuck,” Louis curses, opening the door. He’s naked, holding a towel loosely around his waist, and his hair has shampoo suds. “The fucking hot water heater’s broken.”

Harry’s heart sinks. He would rather it was a spider. “Fuck.”

“In the middle of my fucking shower. Now what am I supposed to do?” Louis asks, looking at his hair in the mirror.

“Are you sure it’s broken?”

“Yes!” Louis screeches. “It turned freezing cold in the middle of my shower, what else could it be? Can you call the landlord and get him to send someone to come over and fix it?”

Harry sighs. Louis is incredibly tense, close to a meltdown, and Harry needs to leave for work in seven minutes. He still hasn’t had breakfast. He has to give his students a test today, plus have a meeting with the assistant headmaster about a student who’s been acting out.

“I don’t have time for this right now, Lou. I have an exam first thing. We’ll deal with it when we get home.”

“That’s easy for you to say!” Louis says, tone explosive. Harry knew he would start yelling, but he didn’t expect it to be so soon. “You showered this morning, at your stupid fancy gym. Maybe if we didn’t have to pay for that, we could live in an apartment that doesn’t have a shitty hot water heater. Or spiders.”

“Stupid fancy gym?” Harry repeats, outraged. “I work my ass off to pay for that gym. And you’re a member too, you know. It’s not my fault you rarely use it.”

“So what, now you’re blaming that on me? Just because I don’t like to work out like you?”

“No!” Harry tries, but he can’t manage to find the words for what he’s trying to say.

“I can’t go to work like this, Harry!”

Harry runs a hand down his face and looks at his watch. He has exactly one minute now. “Listen, I need to go. Either wash your hair in cold water in the sink or stop by the ‘stupid fancy gym’ and rinse your hair there. Or don’t. But I need to go. Your breakfast’s on the counter and your lunch is in the fridge.”

He turns away before he can hear whatever Louis has to say in response. He packs up his breakfast in a hurry, grabs his lunch and work bag, and heads out the door.

--

Harry takes a sip of his shitty cafeteria coffee as he watches his third-period students fill out their French exam. Every sip reminds him that he fought with Louis this morning, something that happens so rarely that it fills him with dread even to think about.

He wishes he could just stroll across the hall, interrupt Louis’ class, and apologize for yelling. Sure, it was Louis’ fault, but he doesn’t care much anymore. He hasn’t caught sight of him all morning and he just hopes that he’s alright.

But Harry is stubborn and so is Louis, so he knows that the effects of their argument will linger for the rest of the day.

He eats lunch with Dua, one of the other French teachers. She immediately asks him what’s wrong with Louis, and he’s forced to make up a story about Louis having a doctor’s appointment on his lunch hour. He’s proud of himself; even when they’re furious with one another, the one thing they don’t do is go around blabbing about their relationship problems to anyone who will listen. It’s not worth it.

When he finishes lunch, he hesitates. He knows that Louis has a free period next, and he’ll probably drop by Harry’s classroom to talk to him before Harry’s French class starts. It’d be a good opportunity to resolve their disagreement, to clear the air and start the afternoon fresh.

Harry goes to the library to look for a book instead.

His mind is elsewhere during class. By the end of the day, he’s called three kids by the wrong names and assigned French homework to his writing students. He’s flustered and annoyed with himself, and he can tell that his students have noticed.

He needs to fix things with Louis. When the final bell rings, his bag is already packed, ready to go, and he grits his teeth as he waits for the stragglers to leave the room so he can get to Louis.

He plasters a grin on his face when Aaron leaves the room, finally the last one to go. He has to bite back a groan when he comes back a moment later.

“Wait, Mr. Styles, I forgot to ask. When’s the next exam?”

Check the fucking syllabus, Harry thinks, his mind focused only on apologizing to Louis, but he takes a deep breath and smiles at Aaron. “It’s three or four weeks away. You’ve got time.”

“Thanks. See you tomorrow.”

“See you then,” he says, forcing another smile. He counts to thirty and then locks his classroom door, striding across the hallway with purpose.

“Hey,” he says as he opens the door, but he stops short. Louis isn’t in there.

Instead, it’s James who’s putting the chairs into order. “Hi,” he says. “Looking for Louis?”

Harry nods. James is the assistant headmaster. Why is he in Louis’ classroom?

“He went home early. I just subbed his last two periods. His kids are a piece of work, but I’m sure you know all about that.”

“Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard. What time did he leave? Where did he go?” Louis never leaves work early, except in the most extreme of circumstances.

James shrugs. “Just said he needed to go home. Seemed important, so I told him to go.”

Harry sighs heavily. “Alright, thanks. I’ll give him a call.”

He runs a hand down his face as he leaves the building and heads to the parking lot. He debates calling Louis once he gets to his car, but he doesn’t know how his mood will be. Surely he would’ve called if there was a real problem. They had a stupid fight, that’s all.

He keeps the radio off on his drive home, cursing the LA traffic as usual. It’s one of the worst parts about living here, a blemish on his otherwise nearly-perfect life, and he can’t stand it. At the same time, he can’t imagine living anywhere else.

He’s slightly nervous of what he’ll find when he gets home, but he breathes in deeply and reminds himself that it’ll be okay. This is Louis, his best friend, his person. They’ve fought about all manner of things, both big and small, and made it through to the other side. They can handle a stupid fight about a broken water heater.

Key in hand, he pauses at the door and takes another deep breath, trying to calm the lingering nausea. It’ll be fine,  it’ll be fine. For better or worse, remember?

Louis is bent over the kitchen island when Harry opens the door, and he’s talking to someone. Himself? No, there’s a man standing there, watching him. They both look up when Harry enters, not bothering to take off his shoes in the hallway like he usually does.

“Hi,” Harry says, dragging the word out to emphasize his confusion.

“Hey, babe. Harry, this is Walker. He just fixed the water heater.”

Walker introduces himself, and Harry blinks, not understanding entirely, before shaking his hand. “Nice to meet you.”

“It’s all fixed, you guys should be good now. But if something happens again, give me a call and I’ll come back over.”

“Will do,” Louis says, using his teacher voice. Harry leans against the island and watches as Louis finishes writing out a check and hands it to Walker, who bids them farewell with a wave.

“Baby,” Harry says when Louis closes the door behind Walker. “Did you fix the water heater?”

“Well, I didn’t fix it. But I called that guy, and he did,” Louis says as he approaches Harry, an apologetic grin on his face. “I’m sorry that I—”

“Holy fuck,” Harry says, reaching out for Louis and pulling him by the waist. “That’s so sexy.”

“What? Me walking across the kitchen?”

“No,” Harry says, kissing Louis roughly. “You being authoritative and getting shit done.”

Louis laughs and rises on his tiptoes so that he can lean his forehead against Harry’s. “You don’t want me to grovel?”

Harry shakes his head. “Absolutely not. God, you’re so…”

“So what?” Louis asks, dropping back on his heels and pressing Harry’s lower back against the counter with his hips. He’s half hard, Harry can feel it, and he debates the merits of where they are and what he wants to do. Well, it wouldn’t be the first time.

“So fucking sexy,” Harry mumbles, kissing his way down Louis’ neck. He’s wearing shorts and a t-shirt, not his usual teaching outfit, and Harry’s never been more thankful for how easy it is to slip the shirt up and over his head. He returns to Louis’ neck, dragging his teeth lightly across the skin there.

“I didn’t know repairmen did it for you,” Louis laughs, but his snarky comment is interrupted by a hitch of breath when Harry bites down on his neck lightly, just testing the mood.

“Shut up,” Harry mutters, and he uses his legs to reverse their positions so that Louis is the one backed up against the counter.

“What, are you gonna tell me that I’m the only one who does it for you and you’ve never looked at another guy since we started dating?” Louis teases.

“No,” Harry answers honestly, winding his hands around Louis’ waist and looking into his eyes. “But you’re the only one I’ve ever wanted to take home.”

“What a line, Styles,” Louis says, shaking his head, and then he starts to work on the buttons of Harry’s dress shirt. It’s a bit difficult considering that Harry insists on continuing to press kisses to his face and his lips and his collarbones, but they make do.

Harry slips his hands inside the waistband of Louis’ shorts, fingers resting above the cleft of his ass, and they stand there kissing for a few minutes. Harry knows Louis is getting antsy but trying not to beg for anything, and he almost wants to see how far he can push him before he breaks. He also really wants to suck Louis off, and that desire wins out.

“Come on,” Louis mutters against his lips.

“What?” Harry says, slipping one hand into Louis’ boxers and trailing his hand lower, letting his fingers sit just above the base of Louis’ cock. He watches Louis’ breath hitch and he’s certain he’s never seen anything better.

“Whatever you’re gonna do, just do it,” Louis says suddenly. “Please.”

There’s a number of things Harry could do. He could walk away and pretend he just wanted to do laundry, he can make Louis tell him what he wants, he can make Louis do something for him . But what he really wants is what he knows Louis is craving, just wants to make him feel good.

He yanks Louis’ shorts and boxers down in one swift move. Louis lifts his legs one by one and kicks his shorts out of the way, and then he’s entirely naked in front of Harry, who trails his fingers on Louis’ upper thighs and over his stomach, touching everywhere except where Louis wants him to be.

“Not nice,” Louis mutters, pulling Harry in for a kiss. His hands settle on Harry’s shoulders, tugging him closer, and Harry grinds up against him so that Louis’ cock brushes his. He’s still in his work pants, and he should probably take them off before they make a mess, but he needs Louis now . He’ll just get them dry cleaned.

“Be quiet and stay still,” Harry orders, and then he drops to his knees.

Louis lets out a whimper and nods.

Harry grips Louis’ cock loosely, using the other hand to fondle his balls. He swipes his thumb over the head and bends down to press a kiss to the top of it. He takes his cock into his mouth, hollowing his cheeks around it. Louis lets out a groan and when Harry looks up at him, he’s biting his lip.

Harry pulls off and smirks at him. “Be good, remember?”

“Yes, okay,” Louis says, the words a jagged moan, and then he reaches out to gather Harry’s hair into a loose ponytail, keeping it out of his face. It has the added effect of pushing Harry’s face back to his cock, and Harry could chastise him for it, but he takes Louis back into his mouth instead.

He keeps going until his nose brushes Louis’ stomach, and as Louis’ hips involuntarily jerk forward, he has to use his free hand to push Louis back against the counter to keep him still.

“Sorry, sorry,” Louis mumbles, his voice shaky, and Harry smiles around his cock. He loves how much Louis loves this, loves how difficult Louis finds it not to react. Normally, Louis doesn’t hold back on praising Harry during a blow job, constantly telling him how good he is and how much he likes it and how if I hadn’t already proposed I’d do it right now. And Harry loves that, gets off on it, actually, but he also loves watching Louis try to restrain himself. His own cock feels tight in his pants, and he wishes that he’d had the foresight to take them off, to wrap his hand around himself and get them both off, but all his focus is on Louis right now.

It only takes a few minutes before Louis’ grip tightens in his hair and he starts jerking his hips forward again. “Gonna come,” he mutters, the most obvious statement of the century, and Harry nods and keeps working his tongue against Louis’ cock.

He taps Louis’ hip, telling him it’s okay to let go, and then Louis comes with a loud shout, spilling into Harry’s mouth.

“Holy shit,” Louis says, releasing his hands from Harry’s hair and bringing them to his face. He’s still pulsing in Harry’s mouth, and he trails his fingers along Harry’s cheek until he’s tracing the outline of his own cock in Harry’s mouth. Fuck.

“Fuck,” Harry mutters, pulling off Louis and wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. His cock is pressing against his zipper and it hurts. He needs to get his pants - and himself - off before he makes a mess. “Fuck, Lou, I—”

“C’mere,” Louis says, tugging him up by his shoulders and fitting his mouth to Harry’s immediately. “You’re so good,” he mutters against his lips, hands going to Harry’s belt. “Best husband ever.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know,” Harry says, flippant and desperate. “Come on, Lou, my pants, I—”

“Alright, alright,” Louis says, huffing a little laugh, taking mercy on him and undoing the button on his pants and getting them down. “Why do you insist on wearing such tight pants, Jesus.”

There’s a bit of pain, and then a white hot rush of relief when Louis pushes his pants down past his cock and it springs free. Louis grips his cock and doesn’t even bother to take his pants off. He must know that Harry won’t last.

He spills into Louis’ fist just minutes later. Louis captures his moans with his mouth, and when Harry slumps against him, forehead resting against his shoulder, Louis brings his arms around his back to hold him close.

“Thanks for calling the repair guy,” Harry mumbles, knees shaky and brain spacey, and Louis laughs.

--

“Harry, did you see this?” Liam holds out his phone to Harry, who sets his fork next to his lunch and takes a look.

It’s an Instagram page, and one of the pictures is of his face. There’s another of the heart tattoo on his arm. A third picture shows Louis in class, clearly taken behind cover of a backpack.

“What am I looking at here?” he asks, handing the phone back to Liam. Louis reaches across the table to intercept it, and his face mirrors the same confusion a moment later.

“This, my friends, is a ‘proof’ account, dedicated to the two of you,” Liam announces.

“A proof Instagram?” Louis asks, confused.

“A… proofstagram,” Harry says, giggling into his salad. In unison, Liam, Niall, and Louis groan.

“It’s got all this stuff about how the two of you are together,” Niall says.

“I heard about that,” says Kristen, one of the math teachers who’s sitting at the next table. “Confiscated a kid’s phone today when they were looking at it. I have to say, the evidence is pretty damning.”

Harry leans forward and rests his head on the table. Eating lunch in the teachers’ lounge is always an experience.

“I bet the two of you will be discovered by the end of the year,” Niall says.

“I’ll take that bet,” Kristen says, turning to face Niall fully.

“Me too,” says Bebe, one of the science teachers. “The two of you are horribly obvious. How much are we betting?”

“Nothing,” says Louis. “You’re not betting anything.”

“Fifty bucks,” Niall says, ignoring him. “We’ll put it in a pool. Whoever gets closest to the date when these two fuck it up and get caught — without going past the date — gets the whole pot.”

“Works for me,” Kristen says, and then she pulls out her wallet. “Wait. Do you take checks?” Niall nods. “Alright, I’ll get you one. Just don’t cash it until after pay day.”

“I cannot believe this,” Harry says. “I don’t know who’s more ridiculous, the students or the teachers.”

Louis meets his eyes over the table and blows him a kiss. One again, he’s reminded of how life with Louis is the greatest adventure of all, and suddenly he can ignore all the rest.

--

Harry winces at the pain in his calf as he walks over to the table where Liam and Zayn are sitting.

“One iced mocha latte, one hot chocolate, even though it’s 75 degrees, one perfectly ordinary iced coffee with milk, taken like a normal person, and one tea for the pain in the ass that likes to call himself my husband,” he says, sliding them to their respective owners and then taking the seat next to Liam. An empty chair sits across from him. “Where is he, anyway?”

“Bathroom,” Liam says. “He drinks a shit ton of water during those games. He does know it’s just pick-up basketball, right?”

“Proper hydration is important, Lima.”

Liam sips his latte in lieu of answering.

The four of them are part of a weekly basketball league, and while Harry would admit that he prefers the post-game Starbucks visits over the games themselves, it’s something he’s very glad they do. Even if he sucks.

“Oh fuck, Liam,” he says, tugging at the sleeve of Liam’s sweatshirt.

“Excuse me, I’m right here,” Zayn says. “Besides, you’re married.”

“No, look. That's Campbell Cahill.”

“From school?”

“Yes!” Harry says, slightly frantic. “What other Campbells do you know? She’s right there in the line. Did she see us?”

“She’s sure going to if you keep yelling about her like that,” Zayn says dryly, taking a sip of his hot chocolate.

Campbell chooses that moment to turn around and of course she catches sight of Liam and Harry. She waves excitedly, says something to the woman with her, and starts to head in the direction of their table.

“Fuck,” Harry says. This is precisely why they rarely frequent establishments in their school district; even the best laid plans go awry.

“Hi, Mr. Styles! Hi Mr. Payne.” Campbell’s face is glowing — why on earth a seventeen year old is so happy to see her teachers on the weekend is beyond Harry — as she approaches their table. “I can’t believe you two are here together. And you must be Zayn. I’ve heard so much about you!”

Liam talks about Zayn sometimes in class, Harry knows, but that doesn’t give Campbell a reason to act like she’s known Zayn for five years. It doesn’t seem to stop her from reaching out and shaking his hand. Zayn startles, glances at Liam in confusion, and then shakes it back.

“Um, nice to meet you too,” he says, blinking rapidly.

“What are you all doing here?” Campbell asks, and it’s then that she notices the fourth drink. Harry closes his eyes and prays to every God in the universe that Louis stays in the bathroom.

“Well, look who it is,” Louis says from behind them, his voice loud, and Harry can’t believe his luck.

He tries not to knock his head against the wall.

“Mr. T!” she says, voice an octave higher in her shock to see him there. “I didn’t think you’d… I’m surprised to see you here!”

“Hey, Campbell. How’s it going? Having a nice weekend?” Louis is wiping his palms against his shorts and smiling at her.

“Yeah, it was great. I was just meeting Zayn, you know Liam talks about him all the time.”

Louis laughs and looks at Liam in amusement. “Oh, he does, does he?”

“All the time,” Campbell says, glancing over at Zayn, adoration plain on her face. “So do you guys all hang out a lot? You know, Mr. Payne and Zayn—” she giggles at the rhyme “—and Mr T and Mr. Styles? Like...the four of you?”

It’s clear what she’s getting at. Louis is still hovering between Campbell and the table, suddenly looking awkward, and Harry cannot believe they’re in this situation.

“We do,” Liam says, saving the day as always. “And sometimes Mr. Horan too. But not today, because he has a bad knee. But we’re just friends hanging out.”

Campbell doesn’t look like she quite believes him, but they’re saved by her mom telling her that they need to get going.

“Bye! Have a great weekend!”

She runs after her mom, and Harry watches her pull her phone out as she leaves the building, already texting furiously.

“Well that’s gonna be a shitshow on Monday,” Louis says with a groan as he falls into the chair across from Harry.

“Monday?” Zayn says with a chuckle. “I give it ten minutes.”

“Shut up, you,” Harry says. “I’m mad she likes you best.”

“Me too!” Liam adds with a pout. “S’not fair.”

Zayn preens, and Louis smacks him on the shoulder. “Don’t get cocky.”

“Too late.”

--

Three times a week, Harry is responsible for lunch duty.

It’s not a task he particularly enjoys, but it’s not miserable. There are less than a thousand students in their small private school, so there’s only one lunch service. Normally the students keep to themselves, scarfing down food like they’ll never see it again, and they’re relatively well-behaved. Most days, it’s manageable.

Some days it’s not.

“Mr. Styles, is it true that you and Mr. T were hanging out this weekend?” one of the ninth graders asks, standing in front of him with her hands clasped behind her back. Jesus, it’s Tuesday. They were spotted on Saturday. Don’t these kids have their own dramas to analyze?

“Mr. T?” he asks, faking confusion.

“Mr. Tomlinson!” says the student. Harry’s pretty sure her name is Genevieve. “Come on. You guys are friends, right?”

“His classroom is across from mine, so I know him, yes,” he says with a wry smile. “What’s up?”

“Sophie told me that Annie told her that Mark said that Andrew told him Campbell said she saw you guys together!”

“Teachers are allowed to have friends,” he says. “Mr. Tomlinson and I are friends.”

“Right, but—”

“What’s going on here?” Louis asks. Harry turns to see him being dragged by the wrist by the aforementioned Sophie, who stops when he and Louis are three feet away from each other.

“Just trying to get you guys to talk to each other,” Genevieve says with a big grin. Harry wouldn’t be shocked if she pushed them together and told them to kiss.

Louis glances at Harry, and Harry glances right back.

Should we do it? Louis says with his eyes, and Harry gives the briefest of nods.

Let’s indulge them, he says without words.

“Alright. What do you want us to talk about?” Louis asks.

“Anything,” Sophie says quickly. “What you did this weekend. What you did over summer vacation. Anything you want.”

“Well,” Harry says with a flourish. “I went to visit my parents this summer. Went to a few movies. Went swimming at the beach. My friend got a terrible sunburn. Super glad I wasn’t him.”

Louis winces. “Sounds painful. Had something like that myself, actually. Well, I did a bit of traveling. Watched a lot of Netflix. Did some gardening.”

Sophie frowns. “That’s it? Sounds boring.”

“Yeah, gross. I don’t want to be a grown up,” adds Genevieve.

“Yeah, it sucks ,” Harry says, and then the bell rings and the kids scatter away.

“Your friend got a bad sunburn?” Louis asks quietly, one eyebrow raised.

“What?” Harry sputters. “You’re my friend, aren’t you?”

Louis rolls his eyes. Harry can tell he’s fighting a smile. “You’re such an idiot. But yes.”

--

Louis pokes Harry with his foot for the fourth time in as many minutes. “Harry, come on. I’m booooored.”

Harry rubs at the spot on his thigh, which actually hurts a bit from Louis’ repeated prodding.

“Please,” Louis continues. “You can do budget stuff later. I wanna have sex.”

Harry hesitates before looking up from the laptop. He really does need to finish this spreadsheet before they pay their bills tomorrow. But Louis is wearing the comfy pants that make his ass look good and his hair is soft and unstyled and he’s wearing his glasses because it’s been a long day at work and his eyes hurt. He looks really good in glasses.

“Yeah, alright,” Harry says, saving the document and setting the laptop on the coffee table.

Twenty minutes later, he’s hovering over Louis, enjoying the slight burn as he raises himself up on Louis’ cock and brings himself down. He’s got his hands on Louis’ bare chest, using the angle for leverage as he rides him, and he wonders if there’s any feeling in the world better than riding his husband.

“Yeah, baby, that’s so good,” Harry chimes in.

“Fuck,” Louis mutters. He doesn’t use the tone Harry would expect in response.

“What?”

“No, I just forgot—never mind,” Louis says, rearranging his face into a look that better resembles his bliss from five minutes ago. “Feels really good, you always do.”

Harry sinks down on Louis’ cock, his ass resting on the tops of Louis’ thighs, and looks at him. “You too. But what is it? Just say it before you forget.”

“We have to defrost the chicken for tomorrow’s dinner,” Louis says, looking guilty. “Anyway, that’s it.”

“Alright,” Harry says, making a mental note and then adjusting the angle of his thrusts.

Ten minutes later, he just needs a few thrusts and a bit of extra friction on his cock to come, when he remembers something else that they need to do. Louis’ forehead is matted with sweat and Harry’s sure that his own doesn’t look better, and he tries to swallow the thought back down. He’ll still remember in fifteen minutes.

“What?” Louis says, moaning through the word, and Harry hates how well he knows him.

“Nothing, nothing. S’fine.”

Louis gives him a look, and not a particularly sexy one. “What is it?”

“I just remembered we need to—fuck, Lou, I’m close—buy a bottle of wine for that party tomorrow night.”

“Okay,” Louis says, voice airy, and then a few minutes later Harry shakes apart with his orgasm. Louis isn't far after, and as Harry curls himself next to him, Louis starts laughing.

“What?” Harry says, frowning as he runs his hand down Louis’s bare arm. “What is it.”

“Nothing,” Louis says. “Just remembered we need to clean the bathroom.”

“Oh my god shut up,” Harry insists, and then they're both giggling.

--

Louis taps Harry’s waist, and Harry looks up from the pasta sauces on the shelf. “Will you go pick out some wine for the party? And then maybe one or two for us, I think we’re nearly out. I’m just gonna go run and grab a pizza.”

“Kay,” Harry says, nodding as he selects a jar and deposits it in the shopping cart. It’s nearly full, like they’re feeding a family of six rather than just the two of them. He has no idea how their grocery bill is so high every week.

He makes his way to the liquor aisle and when Louis catches up with him, he’s still staring at the wine bottles. The red they usually buy is out, and he pinches the bridge of his nose, trying to focus on the labels long enough to pick one.

“You haven’t picked one yet? What’s wrong?” Louis asks, a soft hand on his shoulder.

“Nothing, just tired. These all sound the same.”

“Bring the one with the best name to the party,” Louis says with a shrug. “It’ll be a conversation starter, and if it sucks, we don’t have to drink it.”

Harry looks over at him as a smile spreads across his face. “I like the way you think.”

“‘S why you married me, isn’t it?” Louis says, crouching down to peer at the bottles on the bottom shelf. “Stop staring at my ass.”

Harry’s eyes flick to the ceiling and he bites back a grin. “I’m not sure what you’re talking about.”

“Mhm,” Louis mumbles. “How’s this one? Ocean Breeze, made in South Africa.”

“It’s a bottle of wine we’re after, not a candle,” Harry says, standing up on tiptoes to get a better look at the wines on the top shelf. “What about this one? Frog’s Piss? Is that a real thing that they actually sell in stores?”

Louis laughs so loudly that a woman looking at vodka further down the aisle snaps her head over to see what they’re laughing about. “That cannot be real. We need to get it.”

“Yes please,” Harry says, settling it in the portion of the cart where toddlers are supposed to sit. Toddlers makes him think of babies which makes him think of how he wants four, immediately. But then he wonders where he’d put the wine if there was a toddler in that seat instead, and he’s fine again.

Louis grabs two bottles of the white wine they drink sometimes and asks if he can think of anything else they need.

“Just a nap,” Harry says quietly, and Louis shoots him a sympathetic glance. He takes the cart away from Harry and bumps him lightly with his hip. Harry isn’t expecting it, even though he should be, because Louis think it’s fun to try to knock him into stuff at the grocery store, bumping his hip and tripping him whenever he gets the chance. It is fun, most of the time, even if Harry fake pouts every time he does it. Louis says it’s not his fault Harry has “unsteady Bambi legs.”

He’d tried to explain their game to Liam, but he was met with a blank stare and a “you two are some of the weirdest people I’ve ever met.” He’d given up trying to explain it after that.

Harry falls to the side and grapples for purchase on the nearest shelf, knocking three bags of plastic cups to the ground.

“Louis…” He’s really not in the mood. There’s too much happening today for him to think about games, no matter how amusing they usually are.

“Sorry, sorry,” Louis says immediately, bending down to pick the cups up and put them back in their rightful place. “Just trying to be funny, not really working, is it?”

Harry shakes his head once. “Not really. It’s fine. Let’s go home.”

Harry sits in the passenger seat while Louis packs the groceries in the trunk of the car, alone at his own insistence. It’s probably an apology for knocking him over.

Louis doesn’t say anything when he gets back in the car, just starts the engine and maneuvers out of the parking lot. He turns the radio on low, singing quietly as he heads for their building, and Harry can’t help but smile. Louis has a great voice, but the only time Harry ever gets to hear him sing properly is when he’s in the shower or very drunk.

“Y’alright?” Louis asks, looking over at him, concern plain on his face.

“Fine,” Harry says immediately, and Louis glances at the road and then back at his face, seeing right through him. “Just tired. Long week.”

It’s starting to wear on him, the pressures of the school year. The first few weeks are fun for everyone, and then the exhaustion sets in. He’s trying to keep that tiredness at school and not let it bleed into their home life. It’s clearly not working.

“Yeah,” Louis says, reaching for his hand and rubbing his thumb slowly over Harry’s knuckles. “Well, we’ve got a couple hours before the party. Do you want to take a nap?”

“Nah, it’s okay. But maybe we can just hang for a bit? Not do any crazy projects?”

“You mean you don’t want to start taking down the ugly wallpaper in the bathroom right this minute?” Louis asks as he turns the car onto their street, his lips quirked in a smile.

“I do not,” Harry says, closing his eyes as if he’ll fall asleep, even though they’re nearly home. “I really do not.”

He helps Louis carry the groceries into the house, slipping the bottle of wine for the party onto the counter so they don’t forget it later. He likes Louis’ friend Ryan and he’s thrilled that he’s getting married, can’t wait for the wedding, but he really has no desire to go to his engagement party tonight.

But Louis wants him to, so he’ll put on a happy face and suffer through it.

He starts the laundry while Louis finishes putting the groceries away, and by the time he’s stripped their bed and changed the sheets, Louis is depositing two sandwiches onto two plates.

“Want a grilled cheese?” he asks, holding up the plate and flashing Harry a winning smile. “I’m gonna watch the Manchester United game, if you want to?”

“I love you,” Harry says immediately, crossing the kitchen in his bare feet to give Louis a peck as he takes the plate from him. “Thank you.”

“Go, scoot,” Louis says, using the spatula to lightly tap his ass. “I’ll be in in a minute.”

“Yes sir,” Harry says with a laugh, heading for the living room.

Louis follows a few minutes later, handing Harry a glass of water and taking a seat on the couch. As the game starts, he’s talking about how he hopes that key player on the opposing team gets injured.

“Louis!” Harry scolds. “You can’t just say something like that.”

Louis shrugs. “He’s an ass, I don’t know what to tell you.”

Harry doesn’t care much about English soccer — everything he knows, he’s learned from Louis’ obsession with watching the games — but he does enjoy the way Louis gets so intense about it all. He kicks the air and throws pillows at the television and screams at the players, and watching it is one of the funniest things Harry’s ever seen.

“You know they can’t hear you, right, babe?” Harry asks early in the second half.

The look Louis gives him could melt ice caps.

To Harry’s great relief, Louis’ team wins, and the world keeps turning for another week.

--

The bathroom door opens and Louis comes out, a towel wrapped around his waist. “Sorry that took so long. All yours.”

Harry closes the book he’s reading and sets it down on the bedside table, stretching out on the bed and rolling over. “Do we have to go?” he mumbles into the pillow.

“I didn’t hear a word you said,” Louis says, and a dresser drawer slams shut.

Harry turns his head so that Louis can hear him properly. “Do we have to go to the party? Let’s make up an excuse.”

“What’s wrong?”

Louis takes a seat on the edge of the bed, a pair of boxers in his hand. His towel slips a bit, exposing his upper thigh, and it takes Harry a few seconds to focus his eyes back on Louis’ face, trying to remember the question.

“I just don’t want to go anymore,” he says, petulant. “I’m tired.”

Louis looks down at the floor and folds the boxers into a neat square, setting them down on the duvet next to him. “Are you alright? Should I be worried?”

Harry shakes his head. “I’m honestly fine, I’m just exhausted. I don’t want to go anywhere or talk to anyone or do anything that doesn’t involve sitting on the couch with pizza and maybe some ice cream.”

Louis frowns. “Want me to leave you alone for a bit?”

Harry shakes his head. Louis being gone wouldn’t solve anything, would actually probably serve to make Harry feel more restless. “Not really.”

Louis takes a deep breath. “I’ll call Ryan and tell him we can’t make it. I’ll tell him one of us has the stomach flu or something.”

“You can go without me, if you want,” Harry says weakly, not really meaning it, and Louis reaches out to rub his thumb over his bare ankle, his touch soft.

“I’m not gonna go without you, don’t be dumb. We can stay in and watch a movie. I’ll even let you pick, and if you want to be on your phone the whole time, that’s cool too.”

“Really?” Harry asks, eyes wide. Louis usually hates when he so much as looks at his phone during a movie, claiming he’s going to miss essential plot points and ruin the entire experience. He has no concept of the idea of multitasking, and Harry’s still working on learning to live with it.

“Really,” Louis says, patting his ankle and getting up from the bed. “Whatever you want.”

They end up spending the evening on the couch, watching Legally Blonde followed by Ant Man — “Paul Rudd, Lou, enough said!” — and eating pizza that Louis cooks in the oven. There’s a pint of ice cream for dessert and when he goes to sleep that night, Harry thinks for the one millionth time that he’s grateful he married the right person.

--

Harry’s sitting in his empty classroom scrolling through his emails when he gets the idea to make a change.

His tenth and eleventh graders are off on a history field trip until after lunch, freeing up his entire morning. He had blocked off the time for grading exams, but it didn’t take as long as he thought. He could work on future lesson plans, or he could go find Louis and see if he’s free too, or he could go for a walk.

An email catches his eye, and with a flash of inspiration, his plans are solidified. He closes his laptop, grabs his car keys, and heads for the parking lot.

Two hours later, he walks back into the school building, a coffee in his hand and lunch from his favorite cafe settling in his stomach. There’s a hair tie on his wrist and for the first time in years, he has no need for it, because he's chopped off all his hair.

It had been a spur of the moment decision inspired by an email headline about hair products, and he’d known it was the solution to his boredom. Something different, something dramatic. He’s been growing out his hair for years now, and the way it skims his shoulders has become a source of comfort. He needs to see if he can still be confident without that safety blanket.

It's not until he passes Bebe in the hallway, her mouth open in shock, that he realizes this is something other people will have opinions on.

A moment later, he realizes it doesn’t matter what they think. He likes it, and his opinion is the only one that matters.

“Hi, everyone, sorry I’m late,” he announces, strolling into the classroom, where ninth graders are sitting in their seats, growing antsy and no doubt wondering why five minutes have passed since class was supposed to start.

There’s a collective gasp as he heads for his desk. One girl shrieks.

“What… what happened to your hair?” Bobby Garcia asks from the front row.

“Chopped it all off,” Harry says, matter of fact.

“But… why?”

“I just wanted a change. Try new things, you know?”

“It looks good,” Sara Archibald says from the back row as she twirls a pen in the air, looking unaffected as always.

“Well, thank you. Alright, who’s ready to start? Open to page thirty four. We’re going to learn about French verbs today.”

No one moves for a minute, and he can feel their eyes still on his head. He really should have expected this, but how could he have? It’s not like they get a say in what he does.

“Come on, guys, really. Page thirty four.”

They’re quick to move after that, pulling textbooks out of backpacks and flipping to the correct page. “Okay, so the key to remember with conjugating French verbs is that there are two major verbs used to conjugate irregular verbs. Who knows what they are?”

The kids are thrown off their game by his haircut, he can tell, and they miss answers that they really should know. He’s in the middle of explaining for the third time when one uses the verb ‘to be’ versus the verb ‘to have’ when the door opens and Louis walks in.

“Hi, Mr. Styles,” he says, eyes focused on the paper he’s holding in his hands. “Principal Martin asked me to drop this by for you—holy shit.”

“Excuse me?” Harry says, biting his lip to hide his smile.

“Sorry, everyone. I just mean… where’s your hair?”

“I cut it off,” Harry repeats.

“It looks… wow, okay,” Louis says, blinking. His expression is a mixed of confused and turned on, and Harry likes it more than he should. “Alright, bold moves. I like it.”

“Thanks,” Harry says softly, and he wants nothing more than to reach out and rub Louis’ hip in reassurance. He’s very aware that the students are watching them from their desks, and that makes this moment ten times more difficult. He honestly hadn’t been thinking of what Louis would think when he chopped all his hair off, but it stands to reason that he’d be taken aback. It’s a big change, one that dramatically alters the way he looks. It’s nice to know that Louis at least doesn’t hate it. “What can I do for you, Mr. Tomlinson?”

“Oh, just needed you to sign this form, please. Sorry for interrupting class.”

“It’s okay,” Harry says with a smile, signing the form against the whiteboard and handing it back to his husband. “All set. Have a nice afternoon.”

“You too,” Louis says slowly, eyes lingering on the side of his bare neck. Harry can’t help the grin that spreads over his face at Louis’ stare, and then he turns back to the students.

“Alright, so like I was saying before. The verb conjugations you’ll want to remember…”

--

Harry assumed that his haircut would be school news for an hour, maybe two at the most, but the side effect of not thinking of the chop ahead of time was that he didn’t have time to fully process how the gossip mill at Pacific Grove works.

The rest of the day is spent dealing with stares and questions and weird comments, ranging from how hot he looks now (which, rude, but also silently appreciated) to insisting that Mr. Tomlinson will never go for him with this cut (also rude, and very false).

He’s tired of answering students’ questions and just wants to go home and sleep for ten hours. Instead, it’s his night to cook dinner and he probably won’t get to bed until late.

Pushing open the door to their apartment, Harry exhales in relief. He’s home. There will be no more irritating questions from students for the rest of the day. If a haircut causes this much drama, he’s grateful that he and Louis have decided against announcing that they’re together. They’d probably have to close the school for a week.

“Hi, babe,” Louis says, coming to the back door and giving Harry a peck on the lips as Harry kicks off his shoes. “Except...wait. You’re not my husband. The guy I’m married to has hair that goes to his shoulders. You’re an imposter!”

Harry laughs and then leans in for another kiss. “Very funny. Baby, why are you wearing an apron?” he asks as the two of them head for the kitchen, where there’s a pan sizzling on the stove.

“Take a seat,” Louis insists, all but pushing his ass down on the chair. He pours Harry a glass of white wine and hands it to him with a flourish.

“What are you doing?” Harry asks, smelling the wine as Louis maneuvers around the kitchen.

“Cooking dinner for you,” Louis says, like it’s obvious.

“But it’s my night to cook.”

“I’m doing something nice for you,” Louis says. “It’s romantic.”

Harry giggles and takes a long sip of wine. “In that case, don’t let me stop you.”

He watches Louis work for a few minutes, humming quietly under his breath, and beyond that they’re quiet. Sometimes Harry has a hard time coming home from work, because he craves his alone time and it’s so hard to get that when he and Louis spend all day together too. Louis doesn’t need it as much, but they do both need time to decompress and turn their teacher selves off and their personal selves on. That’s part of why they drive to work separately. Louis maintains that it’s because Harry is a shitty driver, but Harry vehemently denies that. He is a great driver. They drive separately because he works out early, that’s all.

“You don’t have to stay in here if you don’t want to,” Louis says suddenly. “If you want to go into our room or the living room or something that’s cool too. Dinner should be ready in 20 minutes.”

Harry shakes his head. “I’m good here.”

They don’t talk until Louis deposits the food he’s cooked onto their plates. It’s pasta and chicken and veggies, nothing extravagant, but it’s what the gesture represents that has Harry holding back tears. He might be a bit emotional after this whirlwind of a day.

He takes a seat next to Louis, instead of his usual spot across the table, and he gives him a soft smile. There’s a candle in the middle of the table, because Louis knows Harry likes them.

“Thank you. Seriously, this is great.”

Louis shakes his head. “It’s no big deal. Seemed like you had a hard day, and you deserve something nice.”

“I did have a hard day,” Harry admits. “Still. Thank you.”

“Welcome,” Louis says quietly, and then they start eating.

They eat in silence for the most part, and when Harry finishes his food, he leans his head down against Louis’ shoulder while he waits for him to finish. It’s not particularly comfortable, but it’s comforting, and that makes all the difference.

“Go lay down on the couch and put on whatever you want,” Louis says a few minutes later, dislodging his shoulder from Harry’s head as he stands. “I’ll get the dishes, and if you’re lucky there might even be dessert.”

“Am I gonna be lucky?” Harry can’t help himself from asking, looking up at Louis with a grin on his face.

“Shut up and get to the living room,” Louis says, swatting Harry’s shoulder, and Harry snorts.

He’s laying on the couch a few minutes later, watching a rerun of CSI New York, when Louis comes in pushes his feet.

“C’mon, budge up.”

“Where’s my ice cream?” Harry asks, refusing to move an inch. He’s comfy here, could probably fall asleep if he was given a few minutes of quiet.

“Who says there’s ice cream?” Louis is standing over Harry with a glint in his eye.

“You did! Earlier.”

“I believe I said there was maybe dessert. But only if you move and make room for me.”

“Ugh, fine,” Harry says with a pout, pushing up on his elbows and moving so that his legs are curled underneath him, leaving the other side of the couch free for Louis.

“Thanks, babe,” Louis says, and then he leaves the room.

“You made me move and now you’re abandoning me?”

“I’m coming right back, hold your horses,” Louis yells from the living room. Harry grabs a blanket from the back of the couch and wraps it around his legs and waits for Louis to return.

A minute later, there’s a crash in the kitchen. “I’m alright!” Louis yells. “Stay where you are.”

Harry knows Louis is a big boy, but he’s still worried about what kind of a mess Louis is making in there.

“I mean it,” Louis continues, sounding a bit desperate. “I’ll be there in a minute.”

“Alright,” Harry calls, settling back on the couch. If more than five minutes pass without another word from Louis, he’s going in there.

Luckily, it’s only four minutes before Louis returns, carrying two bowls. He hands one to Harry with a flourish and then sits on the couch.

“Brownies and ice cream. Bought at the grocery store and prepared with love. Because I love you.”

“You do love me,” Harry says softly, winding his hand into Louis’ hair and pulling him down for a kiss. “Thank you.”

“Welcome,” Louis says, pulling away so that he can sit down on the couch. Harry pouts for a minute and then remembers there’s ice cream and chocolate, and all is forgiven. “Also, I know I said you could watch whatever you wanted, but CSI? Really?”

“Was just waiting for you to get settled so we can watch Friday Night Lights.”

“Yesss,” Louis says, reaching for the remote. Harry lunges for it at the same time, and there’s a tug of war where they’re both laughing as they try to balance their ice cream bowls and get the remote.

Louis freezes at the same time Harry does, and for a long moment they stare at each other. Louis takes a deep breath, and Harry knows what he’s going to ask before he says it.

“So, uhh… are we gonna talk about this?” he asks quietly. “The haircut?”

“I was wondering when you were gonna ask,” Harry says sheepishly.

“Wanted to give you a chance to say something first.”

Harry turns so that his back is to the arm of the couch and his legs are stretched out. It takes a moment until they’re properly arranged, with Louis mirroring his position. Their feet meet in the middle. Harry traps Louis’ freezing feet with his warmer ones, and he takes a deep breath.

It’s such a simple thing, no big deal at all, but he still can’t find the words. He relaxes a bit when Louis gives him a reassuring smile.

“I know it seems like a big deal,” he starts. “And in one way it kinda is, but also… it just felt like time.”

“Yeah?”

Harry shrugs, suddenly unable to meet Louis’ eyes. “I just wanted a change. Decided to do something spur of the moment.”

“Do you like it?” Louis’ face doesn’t reveal his emotions.

Harry flips the question back on Louis, who shakes his head with a smile.

“Not how it works, pal. You gotta go first.”

“Yeah, I do like it,” Harry admits, running a hand over his hair, meeting the end of it far sooner than he expects. It’s going to take some getting used to. “I do.”

“Me too,” Louis says quietly.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah, makes you look handsome.”

“So I wasn’t before?”

Louis rolls his eyes. “You know you always look good. Don’t be an idiot.”

Harry smirks. “Just making sure you’re still as in love with me as ever. It’s a big change. I think this is the shortest it’s ever been since we’ve been together.”

There’s a beat of silence. Louis bites his lip, and Harry’s suddenly worried about what he’s going to say.

“You look gorgeous,” he finally says, like he’s settling on the sentence, and Harry knows him well enough to know that there’s more he wants to say.

He sets down his ice cream bowl on the coffee table and twists himself so that he’s curled up against Louis, his back against Louis’ chest. Once he’s in a comfortable position, Louis grabs the blanket and deposits it over both of them.

“It makes you look like you did when I fell in love with you,” Louis says quietly, pressing the words against Harry’s temple.

Harry feels his heart give a little swoop in his chest. He hadn’t thought about it that way, but… yeah. The last time he had hair this short was when he was in undergrad and Louis was the TA he was trying not to fall for.

“I walked into your classroom today and when I looked at you, all I saw was that twenty-one year old who once stood in a different classroom, handing me his final exam paper with a note that had his phone number on it,” Louis says softly, and Harry leans back, needing to be closer to him. “We've come so far, done so many things, and you're still that guy with the scraggly curls and the brash enthusiasm about everything. And I'm still in love with you.”

Someone must be cutting invisible onions, because Harry's eyes are filled with tears.

“And it just reminded me,” Louis continues, “that I made the right choice all those years ago. And then again when we got married. And every day since. I know you're probably rolling your eyes at how sappy I’m being right now, but you always said I was the more romantic one of the two of us and I just wanted to make sure you knew that I love you even more than I did the day I first saw you.”

Harry sniffles and wipes his eyes. “I love you. I love you so much.”

“I love you too,” Louis says, twisting around so he can kiss Harry properly.

There are more declarations of love, sappy sentiments that have them both in tears, and Harry comments that you'd think they were celebrating their fiftieth anniversary with the way they're both going on, rather than Harry chopping off some hair.

“I can't wait to celebrate fifty years with you,” Louis says.

“Same.”

“Still gonna be as gorgeous as you are now,” Louis says, and he kisses Harry’s shoulder. He runs his hand through Harry’s hair softly, almost like he’s memorizing the way it feels.

The moment passes, the world comes back into focus, and they turn on Friday Night Lights. Eventually, Louis needs to pee, so they end up resuming their original mirrored positions. Harry flexes his feet, commenting that they're sore from a long day of standing, and Louis hums for a minute.

“Gimme,” he says. “I'll give you a foot rub.”

Harry doesn't need to be told twice. “I don't know what good deed I did to deserve you, but I sure as hell lucked out,” he says, and Louis just blows him a kiss.

--

Eventually, the uproar over Harry’s haircut passes. One of the long-term senior couples breaks up, a cheating scandal occurs over the tenth grade science exam, and life moves on. For his part, Harry is still getting used to it, carrying multiple hair ties wherever he goes and pouring out way too much shampoo in the shower. But the world continues to spin, and for Harry and Louis, that means continuing to pretend they aren’t a couple while at work.

One day Harry realizes that he forgot to bring his lunch, and he wants to ask Louis to grab him something during his free period. The problem is that he can’t.

They have a rule about not texting each other at work. It stems from the one time they very nearly got discovered, when Louis’ text popped up on Harry’s laptop, asking what they needed to get Harry’s mom for her birthday. It probably doesn’t help that their contact names for each other are stupid, both of them embarrassing nicknames they’d picked when they first got together.

“I don’t want to have you as Louis T English 311 anymore,” Harry said one night, lying in bed talking to Louis on the phone. It was summer break just before he started his senior year of college, and he couldn’t wait to get California, back to his boyfriend. He could count all the weeks they’d been dating on both hands with a few fingers left over, and they’d spent nearly all of that apart. He just wanted Louis back in his arms, in his life, in his bed. “You’re gonna be... Boo Bear.”

“Fine,” Louis retorted, and Harry swore he could hear him pouting all the way down the line from Los Angeles to Chicago. “Then you’re gonna be… Idiot Frog. Because sometimes you send me selfies and I swear you look like a frog. Also sometimes you’re an idiot.”

“‘S not very nice,” Harry mumbled half-heartedly, but that was it. In the six years since, they’ve had new homes and new jobs and new lives, but their contact names have remained the same.

But because of those contact names as well as their propensity to send each other ridiculously flirty texts, they’re not allowed to text at work. Which means that Harry’s going to have to figure out another way to get Louis to buy him a lunch.

“I’ll be right back,” he tells the students. “Go through the questions on the first page of chapter two and see if you can answer any of them. It’s okay if you work in groups.” He grabs his phone from the top drawer of his desk, where he keeps it locked during the school day. If he’s going to ask them to keep their phones away during the school day, he thinks it’s reasonable that he should fall under the same expectation. It’s important to model good behavior.

He stands in the empty hallway and sends Niall a text asking if he can ask Louis to get him something for lunch. He says Louis will know what he wants.

Niall always has his phone out during class, so Harry hangs out in the hall and waits for his response. He doesn’t think it’s really the kind of example to set, but Niall tells the kids that when they go out and get a masters degree, they too can text during lessons.

The answer comes a few minutes later, and Niall comments on how the two of them are a gross married couple. Harry shoots back that Niall and Ashley are the exact same, and Niall replies with a winky face.

Assuming the matter is settled and that Louis will grab him something, Harry pockets his phone and heads back into the classroom. When he opens the door, the kids snap to attention, slipping their own cell phones back into backpacks and acting like they haven’t spent the last seven minutes goofing around.

“I still think it’s Mr. Styles,” he hears Jared say, his head bent close to Lucy’s while they stare at a cell phone. They’ve apparently missed the memo that he’s back and the room has gone silent. “Look at the back of his head in the photo.”

“I don’t know about the head but the tiny ears are definitely him,” Lucy adds.

“Jared,” he says, turning on his stern teacher voice. “Lucy. Give me the phone.”

Jared turns slowly to hand the phone to Harry, his eyes focused on the floor in embarrassment. Lucy is bright pink.

Harry looks at the phone, and Louis’ instagram profile is staring back at him. It’s private, because Louis isn’t a complete idiot, but his profile picture is one of the two of them, their backs to the camera, arms wrapped around each others’ shoulders. Zayn took it a few weeks ago when they all went for a hike, and Louis insisted on posing for a cheesy photo — or five.

“You shouldn’t be trying to find your teachers online,” Harry says after a minute, unsure of what else to say  — it’s not like they’re wrong — and he takes the phone and puts it on his desk. “Come back at the end of the day to get your phone back, okay?”

Jared nods, looking like he might cry. Lucy glares at him.

“Alright, chapter two. Who got the answer to the first one?”

--

A few hours later, sitting in the teachers’ lounge eating the lunch that Louis was kind enough to grab for him from his favorite deli, Harry explains the situation to his friends.

“Easy,” Louis says with a shrug. “I’ll just change my picture.”

“To what?” asks Niall.

“Middle finger,” Louis says through a mouthful of food.

“Lou, I don’t know if that’s very professional,” Liam tries, but Louis just shakes his head.

“Not really, but it’ll get them all to shut up, won’t it?”

“Have they found your instagram yet?” Liam asks, scrolling through Harry’s profile on his phone. “Look at this, it’s so fucking aesthetic. You can tell you made Louis take all these pictures of you posing in weird places. You think you’re a fucking hipster or something, don’t you?”

Harry rolls his eyes while Louis and Niall laugh.

--

Most mornings, Harry forces himself up and out of the house to exercise before he can even think about it. He lays out his clothes the night before, and he’s usually dressed and on the way to the gym within minutes, a granola bar and coffee in his hand. He doesn’t allow himself to glance back at Louis, soft and warm and sleepy in bed, because if he does, he’ll get back in for another half hour of cuddles and then there will be no workout.

Most mornings, Louis stays asleep throughout this whole routine. Today is not one of those days.

“God, can you shut off the alarm?” he grumbles, throwing a pillow over his face. “It’s so fucking loud, I feel like my eardrums are bleeding.”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Harry says, darting across the room to his phone as he tries to put on his sock. “Forgot to turn off the second one.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Louis says, flippant. “Does it have to be so fucking loud every single morning?”

“I said I’m sorry,” Harry says, feeling suddenly like he’s been punched in the gut. “What else do you want me to say?”

“Nothing, forget it,” Louis says, and then he rolls over and buries his face in the pillow.

Harry tries to finish getting ready as quietly as he can, but it’s difficult to concentrate when Louis is huffing grumpily. He sits on the edge of the bed to tie his sneaker, and Louis rolls out of bed and into the bathroom. He mumbles something as he goes, but Harry can’t make it out beneath his anger.

Louis comes back just as Harry ties his other shoe.

“I definitely won’t be able to get back to sleep now,” he says, not looking at Harry as he climbs into bed.

“I said I was sorry.” Harry feels a little helpless, and then he wonders why he’s the one who feels bad. Louis is the one being a grump. Well, Harry can be grumpy right back. “Actually, you know what? I’m just never going to set an alarm ever again, and we’ll see how you feel about that.”

Louis snorts, but doesn’t say anything.

Harry stands there for a moment, staring at Louis’ back while he waits for him to say something, and then he turns on his heel and walks out the door.

His workout turns out to be shit that day, his brain too stuck on his fight with Louis to really devote attention to anything else. He abandons it halfway through, showers at the gym, and spends an inordinate amount of time fixing his hair. He drives to school with irritated thoughts buzzing around in his head like flies.

If the alarm has been bothering Louis so much, why didn’t he say anything? And if he’s keeping that from Harry, what else is he keeping from him? Why doesn’t Louis feel like he can talk to him?

It’s not a good start to the day, but he doesn’t need to take it out on his kids. They deserve more than a teacher who’s mad at his husband and stressed about his personal life.

Difficult as it is, he does manage to make it to the end of third period without lashing out at anyone or thinking too much about the morning’s drama. There are enough theatrics with his students as it is; he doesn’t need to concentrate on his personal issues when he has theirs instead. He stays at the front of the room, remains attentive to his students, and doesn’t dare look out the door to where Louis’ classroom sits, just across the hall.

There are four minutes in the passing period, which gives Harry approximately ninety seconds to decompress as the third period kids leave and the fourth ones show up. He's so close to lunch that he can feel it, and he's always done better with a bit of food in his stomach.

He takes a seat at his desk, relaxing for a moment, and he thinks about pulling out his phone to see if Louis has texted him. But he wouldn't — he can't, after all, not with their rule — and he slams the drawer shut. Besides, Louis can't just make up for his outburst with a text. He's gonna have to do something a bit more to get Harry to forgive him.

“Hi, Mr. Styles,” says Sara as she files into the classroom. She's grinning wildly at him, almost like she's got a secret, like she's in love, and he wonders what she knows. But then again, the main thing he's learned about teaching high schoolers is that they've always got their own drama. She's probably in love with that cute senior he's seen her taking to in the hallway. Well, good for her.

At least some people will be happy in their relationships, even if he and Louis can't be.

He's self-aware enough to know he's being a bit of a drama queen.

He's just about to start class when there's a knock on the door and Louis pokes his head in. Great: just about the last person he wants to see right now.

“Mr. Tomlinson,” he says sternly. “We were just about to start class.”

“Right, I know,” Louis says, swallowing. “I just... can I talk to you for a minute? ‘S important.”

Harry sighs. Louis looks worried, worried for real, biting his lip and clutching the door frame with knuckles that are turning white.

He glances out at the students, who are glued to the scene with all the attention of people watching a Shakespeare play at the Globe Theatre, and then he looks back at Louis.

“Please, H—Mr. Styles. It'll just be a minute. I promise.”

Harry doesn't know why he nods, except for that Louis is his husband and he's going to have to talk to him at some point. Might as well figure it out now. “Alright. Guys I'll be back in a minute. No funny business while I'm gone.”

There's a moment where he feels bad about the fact that he's been abandoning his class a lot lately. It's not like him. But then neither is fighting with Louis.

He steps out into the hall, where Louis is standing, one shoulder propped against the wall, a small white box in his hand. Harry doesn't know whether to smile or yell at him. He also doesn't want to air their relationship drama to the whole school, not when it's very possible the kids in both of their classrooms are listening through the doors.

“Hi,” Louis says softly. “I... I'm sorry.”

Harry doesn't say anything. Louis bites his lip again.

“I got really mad and there's no excuse, really. I just slept poorly and I felt like shit and  I... lashed out at you, basically.”

“You did.”

“I did,” Louis agrees immediately. “I was a huge asshole. And I... well, there's a lot I could say but I feel like this isn't the place.”

“No, it's not,” Harry says, and his stomach still feels tied up in knots, like this hasn’t been quite resolved yet. Louis is trying, but a pretty smile and a bunch of tender words don’t fix anything.

“I brought this for you,” Louis says, thrusting the white box at Harry's chest. “It's, well... just look.”

“Is this from Dean's?” Harry asks, running a finger over the stamped D on the box. “Louis, is this-?”

“It's a lemon meringue tart, yeah. You're always going on about how much you want one every Sunday when we go there, and I saw it this morning and I figured that no one was more deserving of a lemon tart than you are right in this moment. Also, I’m sorry.”

“Thank you,” Harry says quietly, and he hopes Louis can hear the weight of his words.

With the way Louis flashes him an apologetic smile, he’s pretty sure he can.

--

Nothing is really resolved by lunchtime, but they’re patched up enough to sit next to each other at the table, Harry reaching over to steal fries from Louis whenever he thinks he’s not looking. He offers half the lemon tart to Louis, but he just shakes his head and tells him it’s all for him.

Niall texts them and asks if they want to get drinks at their usual bar not too far from where Louis and Harry live. They haven’t had a double date with Niall and Ash in a long time, so Harry says yes without a second thought.

Hopefully he and Louis can talk about it all when they get home from the bar.

Niall is sitting in a booth alone when Harry arrives a few hours later. He’s spinning a coaster around and around, and his face is glum.

“Hey, sunshine,” Harry says. “How’s it going?”

Niall drops the coaster and gets to his feet. He throws his arms around Harry and clings, not letting go even when Harry thinks the hug is over.

“Y’alright? Where’s Ash?”

Niall pulls away and doesn’t answer. “Where’s Lou?”

“Coming from the gym. I went home and then took a Lyft over. Should be here any minute, I think.”

There’s a weird, nervous edge to Niall’s behavior that Harry can’t quite read as they both sit down on opposite sides of the booth. He doesn’t like the unsettled feeling it’s giving him.

He checks his phone to see if Louis has said anything, but there’s no word.

“Hopefully Louis will be here in a minute. You want me to get the first round? A Guinness for you and a Stella for Ash?”

Niall shakes his head and doesn’t turn his eyes away from the soccer game that’s showing on the television next to their booth. It’s the one they usually sit in, and five times out of ten Niall pays more attention to the game than the company. Louis loves mocking him for it. “Let’s wait til Lou’s here.”

“Alright.” Harry’s gaze switches between the television and the door. Louis really should be here by now. Where is he?

As if summoned, Louis walks in the door. He’s wearing jeans and an old band t-shirt that Harry really thinks belongs in the garbage, but Louis adores it. It'd be a cliche to say that Harry’s heart stops, but he does feel it do a little swoop. After six years of seeing Louis walk through the door, he should be used to it by now. He hopes he never is.

Niall stands when Louis gets to their table and repeats the same routine, hugging him close and letting him go a minute later with some reluctance. It’s odd, and watching it happen again doesn’t settle any of Harry’s worries about Niall. He hadn’t come to work today, and Harry’s suddenly nervous he’s about to tell them he has three months to live.

Louis slides into the booth next to Harry, their shoulders bumping with the movement, and he presses a kiss to his temple. “Hey.”

“Hi,” Harry says, frustration from this morning momentarily forgotten. He grabs Louis’ hand and squeezes tightly. Louis squeezes back and then lets it go, concentrating his attention on Niall.

“Sorry I’m late. Where’s Ash?”

Niall just shakes his head and looks back at the television. “She’s, uh… not coming.”

“Oh, did she have another work event?”

Niall shakes his head again.

Louis frowns, and when he speaks again his voice is softer. “Are you okay?”

Niall says nothing, and Harry watches as the frown on Louis’ face deepens.

Louis turns to Harry. “H, you wanna go get us some drinks?”

Harry nods, and then Louis slips out of the booth to let Harry go to the bar. It’s relatively empty for a weeknight, so it takes only a matter of minutes for the bartender to pour the three drinks. Harry can’t help but keep shooting glances back to Louis and Niall.

It feels like an eternity has passed by the time he gets back to the table, drinks precariously balanced on a tray. Louis takes his and he hands one to Niall and then slides in next to Louis, who takes Harry’s original seat. Harry bumps his shoulder playfully, wanting things to get back to normal between them. For now, they can fake it, and they’ll figure it out later.

“Ash asked me for a divorce last night,” Niall blurts out, and he takes a sip of his beer. One sip turns into a bigger gulp, and then suddenly half the drink is gone.

“What?” Harry says, nearly frantic. Niall keeps drinking.

Harry is still looking at him blankly a moment later when he sets the glass on the table, centering it perfectly on the coaster. He glances at Louis, who looks as lost as Harry feels.

“I, uh… what?” Louis asks, all sense of eloquence lost. Harry would mock him for it in any other situation. Now doesn’t seem like the time.

Niall blinks as he shakes his head and then picks the glass up again, finishing it with a second long gulp. He sets in back in the middle of the coaster, a ring of condensation marking the spot.

“D’you want another?” Harry asks, feeling like he’s not equipped to deal with this.

“Please,” Niall says, wiping the foam off his upper lip and nodding glumly at the table.

Louis reaches for Harry’s wrist under the table and holds it tightly, silently telling him to stay put.

“What happened?” Louis asks, voice as sympathetic as Harry’s ever heard it.

“Came home last night and said she didn’t want to be with me. That she didn’t feel it anymore. Fucking hell.” He picks up a spare coaster from the table and starts ripping it into little pieces.

Harry’s eyes fly to Louis; he doesn’t think he’s emotionally equipped to deal with this. Niall and Ashley are… getting a divorce? That doesn’t seem possible. They’ve been together since they were fifteen! Couples like that don’t just fall apart.

“Did you… did you have any idea?” Louis asks delicately, and it seems like he’s trying to refrain from asking if there’s anything else. Harry can tell because he’s wondering the same thing.

“No! Absolutely none. We were trying to go on dates more, but everyone does that when they’re married, you know?” His voice is weak.

Harry nods. He and Louis are pretty good at still dating each other, getting dressed up and paying attention only to the other person, but there are a lot of times when they’re tempted to scrap the plan and hang out in their pajamas. Oh god, should they not do that anymore?

“I probably should’ve known,” Niall says, flinging a napkin against the wall. Harry doesn’t ever think he’s seen him quite this… broken. “I figured because we were still having sex, it was fine. But—”

He breaks off, and Harry pushes his beer toward Niall, offering it to him. He’s hasn’t even had a taste of it yet, still trying to process what’s going on. Niall shakes his head and right, he doesn’t like what Harry drinks. Harry pulls it back and takes long sips.

“But what?” Louis asks softly. Louis is good at that, soft voices and paying attention to people and caring about them. He’s so good.

“But it wasn’t like before. It was...” A beat of silence. No one moves. “Just like, doing it for the sake of it, you know? More because of the habit than because we really care about each other.”

Is the question rhetorical? Because he and Louis aren’t like that, not really. They go through their dry spells and their ups and downs and the times they have to fight to make sex fun again, but Harry’s loved him through all of it.

He keeps reminding himself that this isn’t about him and Louis, but he can’t stop thinking about their fight that morning. What does it mean? Are they headed down the same path? And then he feels bad for thinking about himself in Niall’s time of need, and the cycle starts again.

“I’m sorry,” Louis says, reaching out to grab Niall’s hand. Niall grabs back, clinging to both of his hands. He looks torn between anger and tears. Right now, he’s choosing anger.

Harry goes to get another round of drinks, and when he returns, Louis has switched seats to be on the same side as Niall, holding him close and saying comforting things in a soft voice. Niall’s mumbling about how he spent the whole day in bed, in sheets that smelled like Ash, wondering why she’s leaving him.

Harry sets down the drinks and quietly takes a seat, wishing not for the first time that he was a more perceptive person, that he knew what to say in times like these like Louis does. For his part, he’s still shocked by what Niall’s told them — he never could have imagined that they would ever break up. They seemed perfect.

Niall had said that Ash didn’t feel it anymore. What if that happens to him and Louis? What if this is how it starts, little fights that turn into big ones, both of them too consumed with their own desires to care about the other? What if they just become roommates? What if Louis stops loving him? What if they get distant? What is he supposed to do then?

The thoughts in his head build with increasing speed, like a bike with no brakes going down a hill. His shirt feels too tight and God, this is the shirt he wore to impress Louis tonight, because even though he was mad he still wanted to look good for him. Because he thought this would be a normal date, one that would end with ‘I love you so much’ sex, preferably in the shower.

Tonight has taken a turn he didn’t expect, and on top of everything he thinks he’s having a panic attack. His breath feels heavy and this is the worst possible time for this, right when Niall’s life is quite literally falling apart around him. He’s such a shitty friend sometimes.

“Harry, man, you alright?” Niall asks, pulling himself away from Louis to look at him worriedly. Louis frowns and brushes his bare ankle against Harry’s. Harry bumps it back, trying to convey that he’s not really okay but he might be soon.

“Fine, fine, I’m sorry,” Harry says quickly. “I’m so sorry, Niall. I… I don’t even know what to say.”

“Me too,” Niall says. “I guess, tough shit, yeah? Her loss. Let’s have a drink,” he says, and then he downs his pint.

Niall starts crying by the third drink, and tears are something Harry can handle. He switches places with Louis, feeling a bit like they’re taking care of their child. It hits Harry then that Niall’s heart is breaking. Has already been broken, really, by the only person he’s ever loved.

He spends the next twenty minutes holding Niall close, both of them hugging until they’re exhausted and out of tears.

Oh, fuck. Niall’s getting a divorce.

--

“Louis, honestly, this car is a pain in the ass,” Harry complains, clutching at the lever as it gets stuck once again. “I hate driving it.”

He just wants to push the seat back so he can actually drive them home, for God’s sake. It seems like the universe is not in his favor tonight.

“Well, I can’t help that I’m shorter than you,” Louis shoots back, fiddling with the zip of the hoodie he threw on back at the bar. “These are the legs I was born with.”

“I know that, not everything I say is meant to criticize you,” Harry says, feeling like he’s got it this time. And…  nope, the seat shoots way too far back and he can’t reach the pedals at all.

“Feels like it sometimes,” Louis retorts, and Harry just looks at him, willing himself not to cry. Louis is curled up in the seat, looking sleepy and soft and warm.

“Well, I’m sorry that I’ve had a very emotional evening and an emotional morning and I didn’t think any of this would fucking happen today!” Harry says, his voice growing louder, and then he pulls the lever and it slides right into place.

He mutters a few choice curse words in relief and then starts the engine without a word.

It’s silent when they pull onto the freeway, both of them lost deep in thought. Niall and Ash, always the perfect couple in Harry’s eyes, are getting a divorce, and here is his husband yelling at him. What if they’re next?

And then:

“I’m sorry,” Louis says quietly when they’re nearly home. “I didn’t mean to yell at you. It’s just been a long day.”

“Which time?” Harry asks, keeping his eyes on the road. His grip loosens a bit on the steering wheel and he feels his shoulders relax slightly.

“Which time what?”

“Which time did you not mean to yell at me? This morning or tonight?”

“Both,” Louis says immediately. “Both times were not cool.”

Harry purses his lips. “No, neither time was cool. Made me feel like shit, actually.”

“I really am sorry. I know I have a terrible habit of taking things out on you when I’m mad and I hate making you feel like I ever take you for granted,” Louis says, and Harry has so many things he wants to say in response to that but they’re nearly home.

“Can we just… can I have a shower and we can talk about this after?” Harry asks. “I think we need to talk about it tonight, but I really just need 15 minutes to myself first.”

“‘Kay,” Louis says quietly, and then he reaches out to grab Harry’s hand, squeezing it tight for the remainder of their drive.

--

It’s late by the time they move to the couch, both of them showered, tempers cooled a bit.

“I don’t like it when we fight,” Harry says, the most obvious statement in the world but one he feels needs to be said anyway.

“Me neither. Doesn’t mean it’s not gonna happen, babe.”

“I hate it.”

Louis sighs. “Alright, so how do we not?”

Harry thinks about it, curls into the throw pillow that’s resting on his stomach. “I’m scared that’s gonna be us,” he mumbles, which is not an answer to anything Louis asked.

“What, fighting all the time?”

“Getting a divorce!”

He directs the words to the side of the couch, voice shaky in the middle, and in the silence that follows he finds that he can’t meet Louis’ eyes. He might as well have clawed into his chest and ripped his heart out in the middle of a busy street, that’s how vulnerable he feels right now.

Louis sucks in a breath and then lets it out slowly, and Harry hates how quickly his heart is racing while he waits for him to answer. The quiet feels deafening.

“Louis?” he says, finally raising his head to look at him. He’s sitting at the other end of the couch, legs curled up to his chest, face thoughtful.

“I know what I want to say but I can’t find a way to say it that doesn’t sound awful,” Louis says, the silence broken at long last.

“Okay, just say it.”

“You can’t get mad,” Louis says, a warning.

“I won’t,” Harry insists. Louis raises an eyebrow, and Harry amends his statement. “I’ll let you explain before I get mad, promise.”

“Alright. So… I mean, I can’t promise we’re never gonna get a divorce,” Louis says, and Harry sucks in a sharp breath. Suddenly the promise feels harder to keep. “Shit happens. People break up, and things fall apart, and people get divorced. But I can promise you that you are the only person I ever see myself being married to, and I’m going to fight to be by your side always.”

Harry releases his breath as his shoulders relax.

“For as long as you want me,” Louis adds quietly.

That’s… yeah, that’s how Harry feels too. “Me too. But I think we need to fight for it a little more.”

Louis runs a hand through his hair. “H, are you saying that’s happening to us or you’re just scared it will?”

“Isn’t it the same thing?” Harry asks.

“I don’t think so. We just have to work at it so that it doesn’t happen.”

“I’m scared you’re going to wake up in five years and decide that you don’t want me anymore,” Harry admits, picking at a loose piece of thread on the throw pillow.

“I really, really don’t think that’s gonna happen.”

“That’s what Niall thought too!” Harry says, a panicked feeling rising in his chest. “Did you ever think that Niall and Ash would be getting a divorce?”

Louis’ face softens. “No, but we’re not them. And I think you’re making their thing into our thing, and I don’t think they’re the same.”

Harry bites his lip and then nods. Louis is probably right.

“So we fight sometimes, and we fuck up. I get mad at you for stupid shit and you get mad at me for stupid shit. Like this morning,” he points out. “And maybe we fix it by fixing that stuff first. So I’m sorry for yelling at you today, and I think we can find a compromise for that stuff that doesn’t end with both of us in tears, yeah?”

Harry nods again. “I just don’t want us to fall apart.”

“I don’t think we will,” Louis says softly. “We’re not in crisis mode. But there’s a couple things we can do to make sure we never get there.”

“Like what?”

“Go on more dates,” Louis says immediately. “Just the two of us, no phones, wining and dining each other.”

“Boozing and choosing,” Harry offers, and Louis sticks out his tongue before continuing.

“Doesn’t have to be a big, fancy thing. Just more of you and me.”

“Sounds like a huge hardship,” Harry snorts, and Louis giggles. The sound of it makes Harry feel just a little bit lighter, enough to sink back into the cushions instead of curling in on himself.

“Really, really hard,” Louis agrees. “And I think we just need to be nicer to ourselves, and to each other. Not snap so easily when we’re grumpy. I hate fighting with you.”

“Me too,” Harry admits. “Sometimes when we’re fighting I’ll be thinking about how much I hate it and I’ll still keep fighting.”

“Same. We should do that less.”

“Okay,” Harry agrees easily. “There’s also…”

“What is it?” Louis says softly.

“I think part of why I’m worried about us is because sometimes I want to hold your hand at work and I can’t, and it feels like there’s a Harry and Louis here, and a whole other set at school. And it makes you feel really, really far away from me.”

“I’m right here,” Louis says. “I’m right here. Always.”

“I know. Just doesn’t always feel like it at work.”

“I think it’s wearing on us, trying to keep it a secret,” Louis says after a minute, thoughtful. “Maybe we should… not do that… one day.“

“Yeah, you’re right,” Harry admits. “Maybe next school year? Hey, in the meantime, we could use it to our advantage. Flirt with each other and bug the kids a little bit.”

“I love it. Kill two birds with one stone.”

“I love you,” Harry says, suddenly wanting to be closer. “You’re my favorite person in the world. I want you to be that person always.”

“Planning on it,” Louis says. “For as long as you’ll let me.”

“Gonna be a long time, I hope.”

“Counting on it,” Louis says, fighting back a yawn. He gets to feet and holds out his hand for Harry to grab. “C’mon, I’m tired.”

“I thought of something else we can do,” Harry says as he stands up.

“What’s that?”

“More kissing. Like, kissing all the time.”

Louis snorts. “You’re such an idiot.”

“Yeah, but I’m your idiot,” Harry says, and Louis winds his arms around Harry’s shoulder and kisses his temple. Harry sinks into it and lets Louis lead him to bed.

--

Louis pokes his head into Harry’s classroom during his free period two days later. “Seven o’clock, be ready. We’re going out.”

“Where?” Harry asks, lips turned up in a smile.

“Can’t tell you. Make sure you look pretty though,” Louis says, and then he’s gone.

Harry sinks back into his chair. Look pretty. Alright. He can do that.

--

“C’mon, just try it on,” Louis begs, holding up a flannel shirt to show Harry.

“Ew, no.”

“It’ll bring out your eyes,” he tries, pointing to a single green stripe in the plaid. Harry looks doubtful.

“You always pick the worst outfits.”

“That’s the point of the game!” Louis says, brushing past Harry and hanging the shirt on the dressing room hook.

“I hate this game. You always win,” Harry pouts, but he knows he’s going to do what Louis asks anyway. They’ve had this routine since college, when they were poor college students trying to find fun date ideas. They have to pick the most ridiculous outfits they can find and convince the other to style them in a way that looks good.

“Pleaaase, come on. Just for me.”

“Alright, fine,” Harry relents. “Only because you’re cute when you beg.”

“That’s not what you said last night,” Louis says, voice low, and Harry swats him on the shoulder and pulls the curtain for the dressing room shut.

“It looks… fine,” Harry says, opening the curtain once he’s got the shirt on. “Not as bad as I expected, actually.”

“Great! Put this one on over it.” Louis smiles brightly, handing him a pastel pink flannel. It’s the same color as the booths at the restaurant where they had dinner tonight, a new place in their neighborhood where the food was delicious but the service so bad they’ll probably never go back. Afterwards they went to the mall, because Louis wanted to buy a new book at the local bookstore, and now they’re in a clothing store, forcing each other to try on terrible clothes for the fun of it.

Harry shakes his head, refusing to take it. “Nuh uh. It’s your turn first. That’s the rules.”

“Ah, but if you don’t ever take off the first item, does the second one really count? I don’t think so,” Louis says with a smirk.

“Lou, c’mon, I want to see you in those pants I picked out,” Harry whines.

Louis shakes his head. “You first.”

“Why?” Harry whines.

“Um, because you love me? Because when you married me you promised to do everything I ask for as long as we both shall live?”

Harry lips quirk into a smile. “I’m pretty sure I’d remember agreeing to that,” he says, but he reaches for the shirt anyway. He doesn’t bother to close the curtain this time, since he’s literally putting a shirt on over another shirt .

“You’re the best husband I’ve ever had,” Louis says, and the happy grin on his face reminds Harry why he agrees to all of Louis’ requests. There’s nothing like Louis’ smile when he gets what he wants, no matter how silly it is.

“I’m the only husband you’ve ever had,” Harry replies, turning in a full circle so that Louis can see the look from all angles. “Okay, you happy with me now? Can I take these off?”

“Hang on, not yet,” Louis says thoughtfully, tugging at the sleeve of his shirt. “I mostly had you put this on because I wanted to laugh at you—” He holds up a hand in response to Harry’s pout. “—stop, you know I’m only kidding, but it actually kind of… works?”

“You can’t be serious.” Harry looks in the mirror and tugs at his collar. The colors don’t go at all.

“Not with this combination, but the double plaid looks unfairly good on you. Wow.”

“Now who’s pouting?” Harry says, pressing two fingers against Louis’ cheek.

“Shut up. Anyway, you’re getting that green one. We’ll find another one for you to wear on top later. Actually, you have a thousand plaid shirts at home, you’ll make it work.”

“Exactly. Besides, we live in LA. It’s October, and it’s still really fucking hot out. I really don’t need another plaid shirt.”

“But I want you to get it,” Louis says, pouting just a little bit. “I’ll even pay for it, my treat.”

“We have the same bank account, Lou.”

“That’s never stopped you from buying me presents before,” Louis tries.

“Try those pants on and we’ll think about it,” Harry says, redirecting Louis’ attention.

The pants are alright, but the real kicker comes when Harry insists Louis try on the double-plaid shirt combination.

“Awful,” Louis says, shaking his head in disbelief, and Harry’s inclined to agree. “I don’t understand how you can pull anything off.”

“Aw, baby, don’t frown,” Harry says, taking a step forward and pressing Louis’ back against the wall of the dressing room. He runs a finger over Louis’ bottom lip. “I bet this shirt won’t look good on me.”

He runs his fingers over the hem of Louis’ fitted black t-shirt, which says 1-800-HOT-ROCK in fancy script, tugging at it lightly, just a suggestion. Then he slides his hands over Louis’ shoulders, the satin of his blazer soft under Harry’s palms, and he kisses him.

“Why don’t you take me home and find out?”

The shirt looks awful on Harry, it turns out, and Louis’ smug grin when he sees this is the best thing Harry’s seen all day.

“Looks best on the floor, I think,” Louis says, and then he pushes Harry onto the bed.

--

Harry takes a sip of his drink, teeth scraping uncomfortably against the plastic of the red Solo cup as he does so. He looks around the living room, but there’s no sign of Niall. He’d left with Bebe ten minutes ago, claiming that he’d developed a certain interest in horticulture and wanted to see her garden outside.

Harry’s not entirely convinced he’s not out there crying into her shoulder.

“D’you think he’s okay?” Zayn asks at the same moment. “I mean, obviously he’s not, but. You guys know him better than I do.”

“There’s no way he’s okay,” Louis says. “Would you be, if it were you?”

“No,” Harry says, muttering the words around the rim of his cup, and Louis slides a warm arm around his waist and tucks himself close.

They’ve been doing better in the ten days since Niall announced his divorce, making more of an effort to communicate. Harry’s alarm still goes off at an hour Louis deems far too early, but it’s with an alarm tone Louis chose as the least offensive one, and he’s only allowed to hit snooze twice before getting up.

“Have you talked to Ash?” Louis asks Liam. He plucks the cup from Harry’s hand and takes a long swig of beer, elbowing Harry lightly to quiet his protests before giving it back to him.

Liam scratches his cheek. “Yeah, I, uh… she called me the day after it happened. And then I talked to her a couple days ago.”

“How’s she doing?” Harry asks. Ashley and Liam have been friends for almost as long as Liam’s known Niall, due to a mutual interest in something that Harry can’t even remember anymore. They’ve both moved on from it, but their friendship has remained.

“Kinda like shit, I think. She’s been living with her mom while Niall packs his stuff, but she’s coming back next week after he moves out. It’s… I don’t know. It’s awkward.” Liam frowns. “I’m friends with her, yeah. But I’m friends with him too. I don’t want to lose her friendship over this. I also don’t want Niall to feel like I’m not choosing him, or make things awkward at work, so…”

“Yeah,” Harry says, smiling sadly.

“So I haven’t really reached out much,” Liam concludes. “It all feels shitty.”

“It does,” Zayn agrees. “But you’re doing a good job, babe. Anyone want a drink?”

Harry and Louis shake their heads, but Liam nods and Zayn heads off in search of more alcohol.

Harry looks around again, watching as Zayn makes his way through the crowd to get to the keg. Bebe’s turning 30 tomorrow, and to celebrate she’d insisted on throwing a “college party,” which meant dressing in themed clothing, listening to music that’s a decade old, and drinking a lot of really shitty booze out of plastic cups.

“What the fuck does ‘themed clothing’ mean?” Louis had muttered earlier, standing in their bedroom in only his boxers.

“Just wear what you’re wearing now,” Harry had said, sticking out his tongue. “No, just wear what you wore in college. It’s not hard.”

“Easy for you to say, because you didn’t dress like a slob in college. You actually looked good.”

Harry had laughed at that. “None of us looked good, Lou. C’mon. Just put something on, we’re gonna be late.”

That’s how Louis had ended up in a white tank top and black skinny jeans, and Harry in ripped jeans and a v-neck t-shirt. Also a beanie.

“You did wear a lot of beanies in college,” Louis had said, and Harry had to kiss the grin off his face.

Harry tugs at that same beanie now, standing in Bebe’s living room. “Where is he moving to again?”

“I’m moving to my brother’s house,” Niall says from behind them, and Harry unwinds Louis’ arm around him and turns to face Niall, who he had not known was standing behind them, a Solo cup in his hand. “And I’m gonna be fine. Stop talking about me.”

“We’re just worried about you,” Liam says, and Niall shrugs and takes a sip of his drink. He winces when it goes down, and Harry wonders if he’s drinking that awful, too-strong cocktail Bebe had convinced them to try when they first arrived.

“Well, stop it,” Niall says, throwing an arm around Louis and Liam’s shoulders. They lean into the contact. “You’re all as bad as my mother. Stop smothering me.”

Harry exchanges a worried look with Louis. Louis mouths the word denial and frowns. He and Niall have gotten together a few times, gone out for a drink and played FIFA and graded papers together, and Niall won’t budge. He keeps saying that he’s fine, and more than anything, that’s what worries Harry. There’s no way he’s fine.

“C’mon, let’s go talk to Steve,” Louis says, pulling Niall away. He blows Harry a kiss over his shoulder. Harry sends one back and then goes in search of another drink.

--

One drink turns into two, as it always does, and next thing Harry knows he’s leaning against the edge of a table, talking to someone named Jack. They’ve never met before, but that doesn’t stop them from getting on like a house on fire, talking about everything from books to travel to world events to last night’s baseball game.

“So you think Paris is really best in the springtime?” Jack asks, leaning in close to speak into Harry’s ear. There’s really no need for him to be so close — it’s not that loud here, despite the loud music — but Harry leans forward anyway. Across the room, he can see Louis watching him, as he’s been doing intermittently in the last half hour.

“It’s the only time I’ve been there, actually, but we had a great time,” Harry says. He catches Louis’ eye, watches as his jaw tightens slightly, and then turns back to Jack, smiling broadly. “If you go, make sure you have a picnic on the Seine. It’s beautiful.”

“Yeah, I read all about that in this book… I can’t remember the name right now, actually. But I’m sure you’ve read it, it was popular a while back.” Jack leans in close again, so obviously flirting that Harry would be tempted to laugh if he wasn’t focused on the way Louis’ grip tightens on the cup he’s holding. Harry looks at Louis and smirks.

“It’s lovely, especially at sunset. Whoever you end up taking will be so lucky.”

Jack blushes, and Harry turns up the charm a few notches, flashing Jack a dimpled smile. He’s a nice guy, really, one that Harry can see himself grabbing a few beers with after work. It doesn’t hurt that he’s handsome, as well as funny and kind to boot. He almost feels a little bad he’s mostly using him to make Louis jealous.

“Wait, hang on,” Harry says, touching Jack’s forearm gently. “I’ve got a hotel recommendation for you if you want it.”

Jack smiles. “Yes, absolutely.”

Jack pulls out his phone, just as Harry expected he would, and as he reads off the name of the hotel for him to write down, Louis excuses himself from the conversation with Steve and makes his way through the crowd, just like Harry knew he would.

“Thanks so much,” Jack says, pocketing his phone. “I’ve really been looking forward to going there for years.”

“It’s gorgeous,” Harry says. “I think you’ll really enjoy your stay there.”

Jack is just starting to reply when a warm hand winds its way around Harry’s waist.

“Hello, dear, I was just beginning to wonder where you’d gone off to,” Louis says sweetly, and he turns to Jack. “Hi, I’m Louis. Harry’s husband. Who are you?”

To his credit, Jack doesn’t falter. “Hi, I’m Jack. Nice to meet you.”

“You too,” Louis says. His tone is agreeable, but Harry’s spent the last six years with Louis; he can detect the possessiveness that undercuts his words, feels it in the way that he digs his fingers into Harry’s waist the tiniest bit. “Harry, can I talk to you about something for a minute?”

“I can go,” Jack says, clearly sensing the tension. “Was just getting ready for a refill anyway.”

Louis shakes his head and turns back to Harry, eyes dark. “That’s okay. We’ll find a place. Nice meeting you, hope you enjoy the rest of the party.”

Something builds in the pit of Harry’s stomach as he bids goodbye to Jack and follows Louis out of the living room. It might be nerves, it might be arousal; all he knows is he kind of likes it. When they get to the kitchen, Louis turns on his heel suddenly, crowding Harry back against the counter.

“What are you doing?” he hisses, jaw set tight.

Harry shrugs. “Socializing? Making new friends?”

Louis frowns. “Is that what we’re calling it these days?”

Harry swallows and looks at the floor, then back at Louis’ face. They’re pressed close together in the quiet kitchen, the only noise that of the thumping music coming a few rooms over. “It’s just chatting.”

“Mhm. Flirting with this random guy you just met? Is this your idea of keeping it fresh?” His tone is pure jealousy now, and Harry loves watching him get heated.

“You’re not the only good looking guy here, you know.”

“Stop fucking with me until we get home,” Louis says, voice commanding, mouth close to Harry’s ear. The sound of it sends goosebumps scattering across Harry’s skin.

“You’re not the boss of me,” Harry says, leaning back against the counter and crossing his arms. “You don’t get to tell me what to do.”

“I think I do,” Louis hisses. “I know what you’re trying to do, and you need to stop.”

Harry raises an eyebrow. “Why, is it working?”

“No.”

Harry leans in to whisper in Louis’ ear, just as he brings his hand down to trail his fingers lightly across the crotch of Louis’ jeans. “Sure seems like it is. Seems like you’re pissed off and turned on and jealous.”

The next moment passes in a blur: Louis lets out a strangled whine, mutters a curse, and then grasps Harry’s wrist firmly and drags him down the hall. Harry follows without thinking; neither of them have been here before and they have no idea where they’re going, but thankfully the first door that Louis tries is the bathroom. He shoves Harry inside, locking the door behind them.

“You think you can just flirt with other people right in front of me?” Louis says, pushing Harry back against the wall with his own body. Harry’s cock is quickly growing hard in his jeans, starting to press against the zipper. “Do you like that? Do you like imagining that you’re with them instead of me?”

Harry doesn’t, actually, but what Louis doesn’t know won’t hurt him. “Maybe,” he mutters. “So what if I do?”

“You’re mine,” Louis says, grabbing Harry’s hands and pinning them up against the wall. “Not that guy’s, not anyone else’s. Mine. You hear me?”

Harry shakes his head, being purposefully obstinate even as Louis presses himself closer, their bodies lined up from chest to thigh. “You’re not the boss of me.”

“Sometimes I am,” Louis says, slipping a hand between their bodies and getting two fingers under the waistband of Harry’s jeans. He releases Harry’s hands, nodding at him once, an order to leave them up against the wall.

Harry’s whole body goes hot, face flushed from the alcohol and the heady feeling building in his chest and Louis, who’s looking at him with a stern expression even as he undoes Harry’s jeans with one hand.

“You don’t get to flirt with other people,” he says harshly, pushing Harry’s jeans and his underwear down to his knees in one swift motion. Harry feels suddenly exposed, the bright lights of the bathroom jarring against his pale skin, but he doesn’t have time to think about that as Louis wraps his hand around his cock, grip just a little too tight as he rubs his thumb over the head. He brushes his lips over Harry’s in an abrasive kiss, capturing the moan that escapes Harry’s mouth.

Louis pulls his hand away from Harry’s cock, rubbing precum over head again as he goes, and Harry groans at the loss of contact.

“Here,” Louis says, bringing his hand up to Harry’s face, his voice commanding. “Lick it.”

Harry groans and does exactly what he’s told, shivering from the thrill that shoots down his back at the way Louis’ eyes turn dark with his motions, slow as he extends his tongue and licks all the way down. Harry’s hands are still above his head, and he likes the way it feels, likes that he can’t do anything but do what Louis has asked.

Louis holds his gaze for a moment, a long moment when Harry’s pulse is thundering in his ears and his chest is heaving, and then Louis breaks eye contact and grips Harry’s cock again.

The slide is filthy in Louis’ palm, and Harry’s got Louis in his ear, whispering dirty things that just spur Harry closer to the edge. There’s nothing romantic about this, just pure jealousy, animal instinct and something about that makes Harry’s blood feel even hotter. It’s him who has the power to affect Louis like this.

“You like this?” Louis asks, grabbing Harry’s jaw and turning it away from him, cheek facing the wall. “You like that everyone out there can hear you? They’re going to hear you come, going to know that you’re the filthy one who couldn’t keep it in his pants until he got home. Do you think your new boyfriend can hear you?”

Harry shakes his head, muttering something nonsensical as Louis tightens his grip on his jaw. He’s still jerking Harry furiously, no grace or technique to it but it’s still working. There’s pressure building in Harry’s veins, a hot spark shuddering through him, and he tries to warn Louis that he’s close but he can’t, he can’t say anything when Louis is muttering in his ear that everyone outside is going to hear him. The room feels so hot, walls closing in on him, and he’s about to come.

Louis must know, of course he does, because at that moment he drops to his knees and wraps his lips around Harry’s cock. Harry comes immediately, spilling into Louis’ mouth with a hand clapped over his own mouth, trying to muffle the moans that are no doubt echoing down the hallway.

“Holy fuck,” Harry says a moment later, slumping against the wall, feeling spent. He looks down at Louis, who’s rocked back onto his heels and is currently wiping his mouth, a satisfied grin on his face. Harry is just reaching for him when he shakes his head and gets to his feet. He turns to look in the mirror, adjusts his hair and turns back to Harry, face suddenly stern.

“You look like a mess. Clean yourself up and be back out there in five minutes,” he orders, and then he’s gone, door slamming shut behind him.

Harry looks at himself in the mirror. He is a mess, twin spots of red high on his cheeks, a bead of sweat running down his forehead, lips red from where he’d been biting them in an effort to stay silent, and finally, his beanie nearly slipping off his head.

“Holy fuck,” he repeats, the only phrase he seems to remember, and then he falls back against the wall once again.

--

When he goes out to the party, he’s certain that everyone knows what he’s just done. His cheeks are too pink and his pupils too blown to blame the alcohol.

He finds Louis chatting to Bebe, and he walks right up to them and tugs the Solo cup out of Louis’ hand, taking a sip before passing it back to him. “Hey, babe. Where’ve you been?” Louis asks.

Harry coughs. “Just, uh, exploring the house. Nice place you’ve got, Bebe.”

She smiles at him. “Thanks!”

Louis wraps a hand around Harry’s waist and pulls him close. “You should check out the bathroom,” he says, low and mischievous. “Bebe says it’s lovely.”

--

Harry sets the container of French fries on the table and then slides onto the bench, accidentally bumping Louis’ shoulder with his own. Or maybe not so accidentally. No one has to know.

Louis glances at him for a moment and then turns back to Jenna. She’s one of the students they have in common, but thankfully, not of one of the ones obsessed with figuring out the details of his relationship with Louis. Or so he thought. Maybe that’s changing. “Anyway, if you’re gonna do it, just be careful.”

“Who’s doing what?” Harry asks, dipping a fry in ketchup and popping it into his mouth. He coughs immediately. “Ouch, ouch, too hot.”

Louis’ hand is on Harry’s thigh in an instant. “You okay?”

Harry shakes his head, wriggling his leg to get his hand off before anyone notices. “Fine,” he chokes out. “Again, who’s doing what?”

“Jenna’s thinking of getting a tattoo,” explains Louis. “Was telling her you need to be careful.”

Harry raises an eyebrow. “Oh yeah?”

“Mr. T has his ex-boyfriend’s initial on his finger. Like sorry, Mr. T, but I’m not gonna be that stupid. I’m gonna get something really good,” Jenna says confidently. Around them, the cafeteria is starting to fill with students attending this evening’s graduation fair, and they’re gonna have to send Jenna on her way soon enough. For a moment, he can afford to indulge Louis.

“Ex-boyfriend, huh?” Harry asks, fighting to keep the smirk off his face as he turns to Louis. “Let’s see this tattoo then.”

Louis extends his hand and separates his fingers, showing the small H tattooed on the inside of his ring finger. He bites his lip to stop himself from running his fingers over it delicately, remembering the day that they got them together.

“Ex-boyfriend,” Louis confirms.

Harry shoots Louis a look that says you’re such an idiot, and then he turns to Jenna.

“Just be smart. Don’t do anything you might regret.”

--

They go on a day date to the pumpkin patch that weekend. It’s too hot for it to really feel like fall, but they make the best of it anyway.

They don’t go with the intention of being spotted, but that night when Niall sends them a screenshot of a blurry photo on the ‘proofstagram’ that shows the two of them sipping hot apple cider and buying donuts, neither of them are too bothered.

“It’s good to fuck with them a little bit,” Louis says. “Mess with their heads.”

Monday morning, when Jessica asks if the two of them were on a date this weekend, if it means they’re in love, Harry tells her to get back to work.

--

Harry gives the chicken on the stove a once over, confirms it’s okay, and then twirls over to the fridge, shimmying as he goes.

He sings along to the loud music that fills the kitchen, and he gets so engrossed in his dancing that a few songs pass before he notices Louis leaning against the door jamb, a smile on his face.

“How long have you been there?”

“Long enough,” Louis says. “Nice moves. Nice pants, too. Thought I put those in the trash.”

Harry looks down at the pants he threw on after his shower. Louis hates them. They’re threadbare and old, but they’re his comfiest pair, a relic from college. He’s never getting rid of them.

“Are you gonna stand there and worry about my pants or are you gonna dance with me?” Harry challenges.

Louis shakes his head slowly, eyes crinkling as a smile spreads over his face. “You’re ridiculous.”

“I know. Are you gonna dance?” He drapes himself up against the wall, arms outstretched, giving Louis his best seductive face.

Louis bursts into laughter, so he’s not sure it’s particularly sexy, but it does get Louis to peel himself away from the doorframe and start dancing.

The two of them might be the worst dancers Harry has ever seen. When he says as much, Louis turns and starts dancing back toward Harry, popping his ass toward him as he goes.

“You call this bad?” Louis asks, smacking his own ass. Harry is actually going to die of laughter. Is that a thing? If not, he’s going to be the first. “You want some of this?”

“Oh my god,” Harry cries, covering his face in his hands. “I take it back!”

“C’mon, pop your booty with me,” Louis says, pulling Harry’s hands away and forcing him to copy his moves, squatting until he’s nearly on the ground. “That’s it, get that ass low, come on.”

For half a second Harry wants to comment on how ridiculous this is, how bad he is at it, and then he throws caution to the wind and does exactly what Louis says.

It’s a good decision.

Thirty minutes later, sweaty hair stuck to his forehead, Harry leans against the kitchen counter and takes a bite of his chicken. It’s a little burnt, but otherwise tasty.

“Not bad tonight, Styles,” Louis says, bumping his shoulder.

“The food or my dancing?”

Louis laughs. “Both.”

“Yeah, you’re alright too.”

There’s a lightness to the whole evening, one that Harry hasn’t felt in quite some time. So of course he has to go and break it. “I’m worried about Niall.”

He regrets it as soon as he says it, but there, it’s out.  

Louis looks at him quizzically. “We’re all worried about Niall.”

“At least you’re talking to him!”

Louis sets his nearly-empty plate on the counter and takes a seat on the floor, motioning for Harry to do the same. “What’s this about?”

Harry criss-crosses his legs, and then sticks them out in front of himself, and then recrosses them. He sighs. “I know I could be a better friend to him but I don’t know where to start.”

“Just ask him how he’s doing. Take him out for a drink. Go running on the beach. Just spend time with him, make sure he knows you’re there.”

Harry sighs. “Okay.”

“Basically, you just have to think about what you’d want him to do if it were you. You’re good at that, H. You’re more empathetic than you think.”

Harry hugs his legs to his chest and rests his chin between his knees. “Alright. If you say so.”

Louis tilts his head. “Go give him a call, I’ll get the dishes. Scoot.”

Harry spends the next half hour on the phone with Niall. They talk about absolutely anything but the separation, and when he hangs up he feels like a bit of a better friend.

All he has to do is be there.

 

Art by Harreleh

--

“We should probably get up and get something to eat,” Harry mumbles, resting his chin on Louis’ bare collarbone and peering up at him.

Louis shifts slightly, dislodging Harry’s position. Harry settles himself on the pillow next to him and tangles their feet together. “It’s our anniversary. We don’t have to do anything we don’t want to do.”

“Technically, it’s our half anniversary. And I want breakfast.”

Louis laughs. “Alright, alright. C’mon, let’s go cook.”

Harry watches as Louis slides out of bed, crosses the room to his dresser, and pulls on a pair of boxer briefs. A small noise of protest escapes Harry’s mouth.

“What, once wasn’t enough for you?” Louis says, a teasing lilt to his voice.

“No,” Harry says honestly. He’d like keep Louis in bed with him all day, bring them both over the edge again and again and again. “But even so, do you have to wear clothes to cook?”

“I do. And so do you.”

Harry reluctantly pulls himself out of their warm, comfortable bed, pulls on his boxers and a shirt, and follows Louis to the kitchen.

They eat their pancakes and bacon on the kitchen floor, Louis’ legs thrown over Harry’s. More than once, Louis comments that they have a perfectly good table right there, but neither of them make any move to get up.

“Happy half anniversary,” Louis says, cutting Harry off in the middle of a story about protection efforts for killer whales. Harry’s about to protest — does Louis not care about the killer whales? — but Louis kisses him with syrup-sticky lips and the words die in his throat.

--

“Little more to the left. Stick your hip out a little bit. Okay, tilt your head a little closer to the pole.”

Harry holds it for the space of three seconds, and then abandons the pose and sticks his tongue out at Louis.

As expected, Louis continues to take photos and then drops the camera, frowning. “You are ridiculous.”

“You’re the one who’s been telling me how to pose for the last thirty minutes!” Harry argues, releasing his grip on the lamp post and taking a few steps closer to Louis.

“It has not been thirty minutes!” Louis protests. “It’s been five. Maybe ten.”

They’re standing outside the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which was Louis’ choice for how to spend the morning their half anniversary celebration. Outside the museum, there’s an installation of dozens of street lamps. Louis had immediately assumed the role of Instagram husband, directing Harry to pose in various positions. He’s happy to comply.

“Let’s get one of the two of us,” Harry says, reaching out with one finger to tug Louis closer by the belt loop of his jeans. “I don’t want them to be just of me.”

“But you’re the better looking of the two of us,” Louis says with a smile.

“Completely untrue.”

“Excuse me, have you seen yourself?” Louis asks, throwing an arm over Harry’s shoulder and flashing him a winning smile. Flattery, Harry thinks, will get that man everywhere.

“I think we’re gonna have to agree to disagree on this one, babe,” Harry says with a smile. “Gimme your camera, I’m gonna ask that lady over there to get a picture of us.”

“That woman with the baby? No, don’t ask her,” Louis says, handing over the camera to Harry. “Ask the young one over there. She looks like someone who knows her angles.”

Harry’s about to ask what exactly that means when Louis stops him with a commanding look. “Alright, alright, I’m going.”

He’s forced to concede that she does indeed “know her angles” when they look at the photos a couple minutes later. There’s one of them grinning at the camera, broad smiles taking over their faces. There’s one of Harry cackling ridiculously at a stupid joke Louis made, and another where they’re pulling back from a kiss, laughing into each other’s mouths. But by far, his favorite is the one where he’s gazing at Louis, adoration plain on his face.

He’s more in love than he was on this day three and a half years ago, and he’s never felt better.

When he says as much to Louis on the walk into the museum, Louis rolls his eyes and calls him a sap. When Harry looks over at him, he’s biting his lip like he’s trying not to let all his feelings spill out. Harry knows what that’s like. Better to save it all for later, maybe.

“Take the tickets out of my back pocket, will you?” Louis asks when they approach the door. He pops his hip, sticking out his ass, where two pieces of paper sit in his back pocket.

“What am I getting out of this?” Harry teases.

“A chance to feel my ass, duh.”

Harry laughs, and then reaches into both of Louis’ back pockets and gives his ass a squeeze.

--

After a stroll through the museum, they get Mexican food for lunch. They eat it on an outdoor patio, ankles brushing under the table as they sip margaritas and eat way too many tortilla chips. They people watch as crowds stroll by. Louis points out every single dog he sees, excited every time, and it makes Harry smile to see him so happy. Sometimes it hits him that he married the perfect person, one who gets excited about dogs on the street and chats to babies in museums and take pictures of silly stickers on poles on the sidewalk.

He’s still not sure what he did to deserve Louis Tomlinson, but he sure as hell is grateful for it every single day.

After lunch, Harry insists that they go to the bakery that made their wedding cake. It doesn’t take much convincing; Louis loves cake as much as he does.

“Ooh, we should get this one,” Louis says, pointing to a circular vanilla cake with pink sprinkles on top.

“I thought we were getting chocolate.” Vanilla is what they had at their wedding, along with red velvet cupcakes, and they’d initially planned on getting two slices of chocolate to eat with dinner.

“Let’s get both.” Louis flashes him a winning grin, and Harry has to stop himself from kissing him right there in the middle of the store.

“No more sugar, you’re sweet enough,” Harry says, patting his hip lightly.

They end up getting two slices of chocolate cake to go, and while they wait for their order to be boxed up, Louis turns his attention to the cupcakes.

“Babe, look at this.” He settles his hand on the small of Harry’s back, pulling him closer to point out the rainbow cupcakes in the glass case. “Let’s have another big party just so we can have those.”

“Sold,” Harry says, and then the woman at the counter holds up a plastic bag and calls his name. Louis doesn’t release his hold on Harry, just follows him to the counter and waits as Harry takes the bag. They’re just turning around when they hear a gasp.

Amanda Lefevre is standing in front of them, her hand covering her mouth in shock. She’s a sophomore, and Harry’s never had her in class but he remembers her from Louis’ class last year. Her hair is a bright shock of pink, different from the blue it was last time he saw her. Her phone hangs loosely in her free hand, looking like it’s about to fall to the ground.

Louis immediately drops his hold on Harry’s back, but it’s too late. She’s seen them.

“Might want to watch so you don’t drop that,” Harry says, nodding to her phone. It’s the only thing he can think to say.

“It’s dead anyway,” she says, stuttering through the sentence. “Oh my god, I can’t believe—I mean, I always thought—fuck.”

“Language,” Harry says, an automatic reaction, and Louis laughs.

Six months ago — hell, six weeks ago — Harry would have cared that a student spotted them out together, so obviously intimate. He finds that he cares a lot less now. If Amanda’s phone is dead, there’s no photos of them looking cozy. The rumor will spread like wildfire, but that’ll be it.

He’s starting to wonder why they’re even keeping it a secret at all anymore.

“Have a nice day, Amanda,” Louis says, laughing at her shock, and then he leads them out of the bakery.

--

They toyed with the idea of getting dressed up and going out for a fancy dinner, but after weeks of social events and looking their best at every occasion, they really just want a break. Pizza in their sweatpants on the couch was an easy decision.

“This was a good idea,” Louis says, reaching out to poke Harry’s thigh with a socked foot. He holds up a half-eaten slice of pizza and grins.

“I have good ideas once in a while.”

“I know you do, baby.”

Louis gets up to grab them each another slice, and Harry can’t help but watch him go, eyes glued to his ass.

“I know you’re watching me,” Louis says. “Can feel it.”

“Hate to see you go, love to watch you leave,” Harry quips. Louis laughs and disappears into the kitchen.

Harry listens to him putter around in there for a minute or two before growing bored and heading for the kitchen himself.

Louis is filling a water glass at the sink, and he turns to look at Harry in surprise. “You didn’t have to come in, I can bring the pizza in myself.”

“I know,” Harry says, lips quirked in a smile. “I have full faith in your skills.”

“So what are you doing?”

“Missed you, that’s all,” Harry says, and he comes right up to Louis and wraps his arms around his waist from behind.

Louis laughs. “It’s been like, thirty seconds.”

“More like ninety,” Harry mumbles, nipping at Louis’ ear and tracing a path down his neck with his tongue. The glass Louis had been filling up has been cast to the side, and Harry reaches over to shut off the tap.  “You’re really sexy, you know that?”

Louis lets out a low laugh, and Harry slips three fingers into the waistband at the front of his sweatpants, resting them just below his stomach. Louis tilts his neck and arches his back slightly, leaning into Harry, who dips his fingers just a little bit lower.

“You always do this,” Louis manages.

“What, try to make you feel good?” Harry says, giving Louis’ cock a quick squeeze through his sweatpants with his other hand. Louis jerks forward a little, then resettles.

“Attack me when I’m being domestic.”

“Well, I can’t help that you’re sexy.” Harry settles both his hands low on Louis’ hips and spins him so that he’s facing him, back pressed against the kitchen counter.

“What about the pizza?”

“Forget about the pizza. We can have pizza later.”

Louis holds up a hand. “Wait, I know what you’re gonna say.”

“What’s that?”

“You were going to say ‘Fuck the pizza. Fuck me instead,’” Louis says, making his voice high and flirty, and Harry bursts into embarrassed giggles.

“I was not going to say that!” he protests, but his attempt sounds weak. He really wasn’t going to say that, but Louis will never let him hear the end of this.

“You were definitely thinking about it.”

Harry takes a step back, shaking his head. “Was not.”

Louis smiles. “You’re cute. I gotta pee, and then I’ll be back.”

“What am I supposed to do while I wait?” Harry asks, clasping his hands behind his back and flashing Louis an innocent grin.

“I’m sure you’ll find some way to entertain yourself,” Louis says, kissing him quickly and leaving the room.

Harry does, wiping down the kitchen counters quickly and putting the leftover pizza in the fridge. They won’t need it for what he has in mind. Then he strips his clothes and leaves them in a pile on the floor.

Louis comes back as he’s bending over to pick up the clothes, having changed his mind about leaving them there. Their floor hasn’t been cleaned in a few days, and they’ll just gather dust. Louis whistles, long and loud, and Harry blushes.

“Anyone ever tell you you’ve got a cute butt?”

“Only you, darling,” Harry says, folding the clothes and putting them on the counter. He turns back to give his full attention to Louis, who’s blatantly licking his lower lip.

“Well, everyone else is an idiot, because you do,” he says, face earnest. Harry blushes further. “Okay, try again, baby.”

Harry doesn’t waste any time with words, just crosses the kitchen and guides Louis by the waist back to the counter, replicating their position from not five minutes ago. “Can we have sex now?”

Louis grins. “Yeah, alright. Guess I don’t have anything better to do.”

Harry pouts and swats at his shoulder. “Stop, I’m trying to be romantic on our anniversary, and you’re rewarding me by mocking me.”

“Alright, alright, I’ll be serious. Sex is no time for funny business. No fun at all.”

“Stop lying, sex with you is always fun.”

“It is, isn’t it?” Louis asks, running his hands over Harry’s chest. His hands are cold, and Harry shivers as Louis tweaks a nipple.

“I mean it, Lou. Best ever.”

“Yeah?” Louis’ hands continue to explore Harry’s body as he sucks at a spot on his neck, hands traveling down his back to grip his ass. He gives him a smack, just once, not too hard, and then pulls him closer.

Louis is still clothed, and Harry wants to say something about how that’s entirely unfair, but then Louis keeps talking instead.

“Me too. Been thinking about this all day.” He trails a hand between their bodies, slowly making his way down Harry’s chest. He sucks at his collarbone, dropping kisses across his chest. “Since we got out of bed this morning.”

Harry squirms, needy, feeling exposed and naked and aroused. He wants Louis’ mouth on his cock, his fingers inside of him, his body surrounding him. “Yeah?”

Louis nods and brings a knee to slightly separate Harry’s thighs. The motion brushes Harry’s cock, and Louis swallows the moan that escapes from his mouth. The action is familiar, anticipated, like he knew Harry was going to react that way. The thought sends the butterflies in Harry’s stomach scattering again: there’s something about sex with someone who knows you inside and out, who you’ve done this with a thousand times. Louis knows how to touch him in the way that will make him yell, how to make colors explode behind his eyelids, how to wring an orgasm out of him when he thinks he can’t go again.

This also means that Louis knows just how to torture Harry, to withhold exactly what he wants until he’s begging for it. It seems that he’s putting that intimate knowledge to work tonight.

“Please, Lou, c’mon, that’s enough,” Harry says, the words escaping in a throaty whine. Louis has been touching him everywhere but his cock, palming at his chest and his ass and even his balls, but never moving just where he needs him. “I’m ready.”

His cock feels hard and heavy between them, and he grinds up against Louis just once, showing him just how much he wants him.

“Always like it when you beg,” Louis says, scraping his teeth across Harry’s nipple. Harry doesn’t need to see his face to know that he’s smirking.

“If you’re gonna torture me, you could at least take off your clothes,” Harry mutters, an offhand comment that he doesn’t expect Louis to actually respond to.

“Alright, fair deal,” Louis says, stripping his pants off and leaning away from Harry to take his shirt off. Harry helps him get it over his head, and then he’s back to whining in Louis’ ear, but this time with the added bonus of being able to touch Louis’ cock.

For a minute, at least, and then Louis pulls his hand away.

“Hands off,” he says, voice commanding. Harry nods, swallows, feels the pressure in his stomach growing. “Up you get.”

“Up where?” he looks around, confused.

“On the countertop.”

Harry’s eyes go wide — his kink for kitchen sex is no secret, has been shared with Louis for years, but they haven’t done it in so long that he’d almost forgotten about how much he likes it — and he scrambles onto the counter, legs hanging down as he looks up at Louis. His head feels light, airy, filled only with thoughts of what comes next.

Louis gives him a satisfied smile and then sets his delicate hands on one of Harry’s knees. He curls his fingers around one and lifts Harry’s leg in the air, setting his foot on the countertop. Harry bites his lip to stop a little moan — in this position, he’s one hundred times more exposed. He feels filthy, and it sends a chill down his spine.

“Please,” he says, and Louis nods once and gets to his knees.

He wastes no time getting his mouth on Harry’s cock, licking and sucking gently. Heat builds in Harry’s spine, and he loses himself in the feeling.

Outside, their neighbor’s cat launches into her usual routine of crying to be let back inside. Louis pauses and makes eye contact, but Harry tugs on his hair, silently telling him to get back to the task at hand. He does, and the crying stops after a minute. Harry bites his lip as Louis presses a kiss to the top of his cock before taking his back into his mouth, sucking his cheeks in and creating a bit of suction. They carry on like this for another minute, the fire inside of Harry growing, and then the cat starts up again, louder this time.

“Goddamnit,” Louis says, pulling off his cock and laughing.

“Louis!” Harry chastises. He was just beginning to feel like his orgasm was close, and now it’s disappearing.

“I’m sorry, I just—” The cat interrupts him once more, and he bursts into giggles.

“You literally just had my dick in your mouth, and now you’re—” The cat starts wailing, and when Harry meets Louis’ eyes the two of them erupt into loud laughter. “This is ridiculous.”

“It is,” Louis agrees. He stands and brings his mouth to Harry’s shoulder.

“I was gonna come soon!” Harry protests, no heat behind it. They’re both still laughing.

“I know, baby, I’m sorry.”

Louis licks his own palm and brings it to Harry’s cock, jerking him off even as the cat cries in the courtyard. He’s still giggling.

“You’re laughing while your hand is on my dick. You’re lucky we’re already married, otherwise I’d get the wrong idea about you,” Harry says, bringing a hand to Louis’ shoulder and pinching it.

“I’m sorry,” Louis says again, kissing Harry slow and deep. When Harry comes a few minutes later, biting Louis’ shoulder for good measure, the cat lets out the biggest howl he’s ever heard.

“Well, congrats,” Harry says through his laughter, head feeling spinny and light. It doesn’t help that Louis sucks on a messy finger and then brings his hand to Harry’s mouth for him to clean up the rest. “The cat thinks you did a good job.”

“What about the husband?”

“The husband also thinks pretty highly of you,” Harry says with a kiss to Louis’ temple, both of them still a little giggly. “He also wants to fuck you.”

“Let’s do it,” Louis says. “Kitchen, still? Where anyone might be able to hear the noises you make when you give it to me?”

“Provided the cat doesn’t appear again, yeah,” Harry teases, a shiver running through him at the thought of anyone being able to hear him. Why hadn’t he thought of that fifteen minutes ago? It’s so hot, so sexy, to think that their neighbors might be able to hear how good he can make Louis feel.

“Okay, I’m gonna go get the lube,” Louis says, standing up straight and running his hands through his hair. “Stay there and behave.”

Harry nods, watching Louis’ cute little scuttle as he runs out of the kitchen. He tugs at his own cock, getting it ready for Louis. He thinks about the feeling of fucking into him, the noises that Louis makes, needy and desperate beneath him. His eyes are just fluttering closed when he hears Louis give a little shout in the bedroom, followed by a small crash.

“Louis?” he asks, dropping his hands to the counter. “You okay?”

There’s no answer.

Boner forgotten, he hops off the counter and runs to the bedroom. He stops short when he gets to the doorway.

Louis is lying on the rug on his back, limbs askew, the bottle of lube and a condom at his side. The cap of the bottle is off, but Harry doesn’t see it anywhere.

“What happened?” he asks, stepping into the room to help Louis up. Louis just shakes his head, using Harry’s hand to tug him down to join him on the floor instead. After a second of making sure that Louis isn’t injured, Harry does, sitting cross-legged on the ground.

“I fell,” Louis says, clutching at his side. “Slipped on the rug. Fell on the lube…” He points behind him, and Harry follows his line of sight to the wall, where—

“Is that lube?” Harry asks, standing up to take a closer look at the wall, which is streaked with a liquidy substance, dripping down the off-white paint. Louis makes a noise of assent. “Oh my god, Louis, what did you do? You literally squirted half a bottle of lube on the wall with your ass?”

They burst into laughter at the exact same time. Harry laughs so hard that he needs to sit down again. “What was the loud noise?” he asks through a shaky laugh.

“Pulled a picture down with me as I fell. Luckily just a plastic frame, but we’re gonna need to get that engagement picture reframed,” he says, nodding to the corner of the room, where the frame is in pieces.

“I love you,” Harry says, shaking his head in disbelief. “You are ridiculous.”

“I know,” Louis says with a proud grin as he sits up and Harry straddles his lap. “Let’s have sex, I’m dying over here.”

“You’re gonna be dying for real if you’re not careful,” Harry says with a little frown, brushing a lock of hair away from Louis’ face.

“Alright, sweetheart, I promise to be more careful in the future,” Louis says, overly saccharine. “Now can you please suck me off or something?”

“You don’t want me to fuck you?”

Louis winces. “Think I might have bruised my ass. Not worth it.”

Harry laughs again. “Sorry, sorry. Not funny. But honestly, only you would slip and land on a bottle of lube.”

“You know, this isn’t really the romantic half anniversary sex I was expecting tonight,” Louis says as Harry sucks at the pulse point on his neck. He uses his weight to push against Louis, tipping them both backwards, and scoots his way down until his mouth is level with his cock.

He presses a kiss to the top of it, and uses one hand to fondle Louis’ balls. A wispy thread of a memory comes floating into his head. “Hey,” he says, and Louis lifts his head to look at him, mock irritation plain on his face. “Remember when you didn’t know what kiwis were? You were so adamant they didn’t look like hairy balls.”

Oh my god,” Louis groans, head falling backwards again as he throws an arm over his face, laughing so hard that his stomach is shaking in this mesmerizing way. “I absolutely hate you.”

Harry answers by licking a long stripe up Louis’ cock and giving the base a squeeze.

“Okay, maybe I don’t hate you,” Louis acquiesces. “But you need to stop making me laugh when you’re sucking my dick.”

“You made me laugh during my orgasm, it’s your turn now,” Harry retorts, which sets him off on a fit of giggles, which in turn causes Louis to do the same.

When he comes a few minutes later, it is indeed through a fit of laughter so strong that it makes Harry’s stomach hurt.

--

“I’m glad we did this,” Harry says, spearing another piece of cake and feeding it to Louis.

“What, eat cake naked in bed?” Louis says, opening his mouth for the food. The brightness in his eyes suggests he knows exactly what Harry meant.

“That, but also this whole day. Love you a lot, you know.”

“Love you too.” Louis swipes a piece of chocolate frosting off the edge of the plate and offers it to Harry. He sucks it into his mouth, swirls his tongue around his finger, and releases it with a wet pop. “Even if you’re going to kill me one day.”

“But what a way to go,” Harry says with a laugh, pressing a kiss to his temple.

“But what a way to go indeed, Styles.”

--

When Harry gets to work the next morning, the Pacific Grove Academy rumor mill is abuzz. At first he thinks it’s just the usual Monday morning chatter, but then he notices the furtive glances that students throw him as he walks down the hall. It’s then that he remembers running into Amanda yesterday.

When he gets to his classroom, some of the kids are already lingering outside, waiting for him to unlock the door. They give him overenthusiastic hellos, making it clear they’ve all heard what happened.

He won’t acknowledge it. It’s not like there’s any proof. It’s Amanda’s word against his and Louis’, and something tells him he’s going to win.

--

Amanda doesn’t come to school the next day.

The school rumor mill goes nuts.

“Did they kill her?”

“What if they paid her to keep it quiet?”

“This definitely proves that they were together then.”

“Right? They’re totally in love.”

“I actually think this just proves Amanda is a liar who’s too embarrassed to show her face again.”

“No, it means that they’re totally in love! I don’t see why you’re being willfully ignorant.”

Amanda’s mom emails her teachers to say that she has the flu, but Harry knows the students won’t believe him anyway.

--

Overwhelmed with preparations for his upcoming fall concert, Niall pulls Harry aside one day and asks if he can run to his brother’s house and let his dog out during the lunch hour.

Harry’s really trying to make more of an effort to be there for Niall, so he agrees readily, even though it means he only has time to eat half his sandwich before his class starts.

Maybe he and Louis should talk about getting a dog. That could be fun. Like a baby, but a bit less effort.

Something to think about.

--

The kitchen table is spread with papers: the exams Harry gave last year, sample ones he found on the internet for his grade levels, even a few of his practice lesson plans from college.

It’s time to start preparing his fall semester exams. Last year, he left it all to the last week, a rookie mistake. Now, it’s the end of November, his fridge has enough Thanksgiving leftovers to feed a small army, and he’s going to make his future life less stressful.

“I’m so stressed,” he whines an hour later, tossing his pen across the table and laying his head down.

Louis comes in from the other room and gives Harry’s shoulders a comforting squeeze before running them down his back. He drops a kiss to his bare neck, just above the collar of his t-shirt.

“You wanna have sex?”

Harry lifts his head and glares at Louis, who rapidly backtracks.

“I mean, not now. Obviously. I just mean… some other time.”

“Yes, Louis, there is probably a time in the future when I will want to have sex with you. That time is not now.”

Louis holds up his hands in surrender. “Right, right, I get it. Just trying to be helpful.”

Harry sighs and rearranges the papers on the table into a neat pile. Louis has taken a few steps away from him by now, presumably back to the relative safety of the living room where he doesn’t have a stressed, grumpy husband.

Harry looks at the paper on the table and heaves another sigh before setting them all off to the side. He’s done with this for tonight. “I just want one evening where I don’t have to talk to anyone and I can do whatever I want. I love you and I do want to spend time with you, but not right now. I need tonight to be just me.”

Louis regards him for a moment, the space of three heartbeats. Then he nods, his smile small but understanding, and heads back to the living room.

He takes a long shower, lets the water soothe his aching muscles, and stays in there until he’s pruney. He puts on his fluffiest robe, pours himself a glass of wine, and reads in bed for over an hour. When he gets bored, he wanders out to the living room and tucks himself under Louis’ arm, where he promptly falls asleep on his husband.

There’s a stack of papers on his desk when he gets to work the next morning, and his heart does a flip when he sees what they are: Louis’ old English lit tests from last year. The post-it on top reads:

For our own overlapping subject! Hope using this as a guide helps a bit.

Harry really lucked out in the husband department.

--

“To an epic vacation, and the most relaxing Christmas break in the world,” Harry says, lifting his wine glass to clink against Louis’.

“I’ll cheers to that.”

“Oh, and also the 30th birthday of the very best husband.”

Louis claps his hand over Harry’s mouth. “We’re not talking about that.”

Harry wastes no time licking Louis’ palm. Even though he surely expected him to do it, Louis makes a face and removes his hand, wiping it on Harry’s bare shoulder.

“We don’t talk about me getting older.”

“You deserve to be celebrated,” Harry points out. They have this conversation every year, though it does feel a little bit weightier now that Louis is entering a new decade.

“You did celebrate me! In bed this morning, with sex.”

Harry grins, remembering. “Yeah, that was really good. But you deserve the rest of the day too.”

Louis fights a smile. “I’ve already got it. We’re on the beach in Mexico, what more could I want?”

The rest of the week proceeds in the same fashion: lots of relaxing, lots of alcohol, lots of sex. There’s a night when Harry charms older women into dancing with him, a morning when they don’t leave their bed at all, and a whole day spent at the spa getting massage treatments.

It’s the perfect vacation.

--

Niall sets down his beer in the center of the coaster and leans back in the chair, tucking his legs up under him.

“So how was Mexico? Get up to any wild adventures?”

Harry shares a look with Louis, and by the look on his face it’s hard to tell if he’s remembering the morning they made the terrifying decision to go ziplining or the one when they had sex on their balcony outside.

“It was great. Just what we needed,” says Louis. “Glad to be back in our own bed though, I think. What do you think, Harold?”

“If you’re offering to take me back to an all-inclusive resort, I wouldn’t say no. But for now, I think we’re good.”

Louis reaches out a foot to poke Harry’s leg with his toes. Harry captures his foot and tugs, dragging Louis across the couch to be closer to him. Louis puts up a few seconds of a fight, and then settles himself against Harry’s body, head resting on his shoulder.

“Think I’m too old for this shit now,” Louis mumbles, pointing to the clock, which reads 10:30 pm. They’re all in their pajamas already, and a movie none of them are paying attention to plays on the television. “Long gone are the days when I could throw a New Year’s Eve party and stay up to watch the sunrise.”

“Threw some good ones in your day, though,” Harry comments, taking a sip of his drink.

“Had a great one that year we started teaching,” adds Niall. “Remember how me and you fell asleep in your bed, and Harry came in to find us spooning?”

“Remember how Harry joined us?” Louis adds, laughing at the memory.

“Ash was pissed that she spent so long looking for me,” Niall says with a laugh. Silence hovers in the air for a moment, and then he seems to realize what he’s just said and sobers up.

“Yeah,” Louis says solemnly. “I remember.”

Harry gently pushes Louis off him and scoots to the side. “Come have a cuddle.”

Niall looks uncertain. “I don’t—”

“No excuses,” says Louis. “C’mere, you need it.”

Niall nods and scrambles up from his chair to join them on the couch. He settles in between them, and they reach out to surround him.

“It’s gonna be okay,” Harry tells him. “Next year is gonna be better.”

“I sure hope so.”

At midnight, when they clink champagne glasses and toast to that same promise, Harry and Louis give Niall cheek kisses at the same time.

“Gross, get off me!”

“You love it,” Louis says confidently, and then he leans over Niall and kisses Harry deep and slow.

It’s gonna be their year too.

--

The room is abuzz with conversation when Harry walks into his senior French class on the first day back. It halts for a moment when he arrives, and then continues when he sits down at his desk to pull up his lesson on the computer.

“‘I told you he would be tan,” Katie Bennett hisses. “Mr. T is tan, and so is he. This confirms it.” Does she think she’s being quiet? She’s not.

“Katie, we live in Southern California. Everyone here is tan,” shoots back Hunter Nguyen.

“Speak for yourself,” Katie says, and Harry looks up to see her displaying her (admittedly, very pale) arm to Hunter.

“Alright, everyone quiet,” Harry says. “We have French to learn, and no time for gossip.”

Sara raises her hand. “Mr. Styles?”

He nods at her to continue, bracing himself for what’s to come.

“Is it true that you and Mr. Tomlinson went on vacation together?”

Harry cocks a brow. “Where’d you hear that?”

“Oh, just one of the juniors,” she says, nonchalant.

“You shouldn’t believe everything you hear,” he tells her, and she flushes bright red.

--

“I thought we were gonna have sex,” Louis says, flopping over onto his stomach and resting his head against Harry’s shoulder.

“We were, but you said you were too tired.”

“I was. I mean, I am. Why are we still awake? Why does the name ‘Denise’ sound so funny? Have you ever thought about that?”

Harry brings the back of his hand to Louis’ forehead. “Are you feeling okay? Seem a bit delirious.”

“I just can’t fall asleep!”

“I know,” Harry says, letting a laugh escape in the dark. “Probably because you keep wiggling and talking about someone named Denise.”

“Not a specific Denise, just. Denise is funny. Denise. Denise! Denise. Oh fun, now it's starting to lose meaning. Deniiiiise! You try!”

"I am diagnosing you with midnight fever, Lou," Harry says, unable to keep a straight face, because Louis is still on his Denise diatribe, eventually laughing himself to the point of tears.

"Come on, Styles! Denissseeeeeee," he whispers, hissing the end of the name into Harry’s ear.

Harry takes a deep breath and yells at the top of his lungs, "DUHHH-NEEEEESEEEE!"

"DAAAANEEEEEESSSSEEEEEEEE," Louis screams, voice breaking at the end from how loud he was.

"Okay, okay, we need to calm down, it's so late, Lou," Harry pleads, through his tears.

Louis sighs dramatically and flops back to his side of the bed. "You're no fun. Maybe if you talk or tell me a story or something I'll fall asleep."

“What, my stories are so boring that they put you to sleep?” Harry asks, mock affronted. “I’m going to remember that.”Louis smacks him on the stomach. “You know that’s not what I meant.”

“I feel like we’re never getting to sleep tonight,” Harry says.

“Not with that attitude, Denise,” declares Louis. They’re quiet for a moment, and then burst into laughter.

He’s right, in the end: it’s after midnight by the time they both finally fall asleep, stomachs sore from laughing so hard.

--

Harry closes the window on his laptop and reopens it, logging into his email once again. Surely he’s just seeing things.

Nope, the email asking him to apply for a job as head of the French Department at Westlake School is still there.

The trouble is, it’s at a school in San Francisco.

--

He agonizes over it all morning, trying to find the best way to bring it up to Louis. Do they want to move? Probably not. They’re finally settling into a groove in their adult life in LA. It’d be hard to give all that up. At the same time, they could live closer to Louis’ family, and it’s a department head position. It seems like it’s worth at least exploring. If he doesn’t try, he’ll never know.

In the end, he can’t keep in the secret for long. He’s never been good at that.

“I got an email today,” he tells Louis at lunchtime, arms crossed over his chest as he surveys the scene in the cafeteria. Louis makes a noise telling him to go on. “About a new job.”

Louis turns to him in surprise. “What?”

“It’s to be head of the French Department. I wouldn’t just be teaching, I could have more control over the curriculum, and more responsibility, and—”

“And they want you to apply for it? They reached out to you? That’s amazing!”

“It is,” Harry says, and then his smile turns tight lipped.

“Why aren’t you more excited? This is the best!”

“It’s in San Francisco.”

Louis smile falters a bit, but doesn’t fall. “Oh. Well, apply anyway! What do you have to lose?”

Harry thinks it over for a minute. Maybe they could do it. “Alright.”

--

The auditorium is nearly full by the time Harry walks to the doorway to take his place next to Liam.

“Oh, so now you decide to show up?” Liam asks, taking a ticket from a passing student and tearing it in half.

“I was helping Lou—Mr. Tomlinson,” Harry says quietly, leaning against the doorframe.

“Helping him find his pants, you mean?”

Harry rolls his eyes. “We don’t do that at work. You know that.”

“Mhm,” Liam says, tearing another set of tickets in half.

“The kids seem to love Zayn a lot,” Harry says, switching topics. He and Louis would never dare to have sex at work, but there won’t be any convincing Liam of that. Zayn, who’s currently at the front of the auditorium taking pictures of the crowd, seems like a safe topic.

“They do,” Liam says, a happy lilt to his voice. “Possibly more than they love you.”

“I know,” Harry says with a pout.

“Tough not being the prettiest one in the school, isn’t it?”

“Oh my god, shut up,” Harry says, no heat behind it. “Besides, you’re biased.”

“Mhm,” Liam says. “So that doesn’t bother you?” He points to the front, where some of the seniors are giving Zayn a big hug. Is that Carter Rodriguez? He’s one of Harry’s best students. What a traitor.

“Not at all,” he says, puffing up his chest. “Good for them. It’s important for them to have other role models.”

Liam just shakes his head and laughs. Harry’s about to say something when the lights in the auditorium flick on and off, signaling that the show is about to start.

He watches as Zayn hugs the last two students and darts off to the side of the stage, taking his place for the event. He really is good at what he does, and Harry would never begrudge him that. He’s realizing that he’s used to being the favored one, and being dropped down a peg doesn’t feel good.

It’s maybe not his best personality trait.

The talent show goes off without a hitch, save for the girl who falls in the middle of her ‘Winter Wonderland’ ballet routine. Harry knows that as one of the organizers, Louis is relieved; he’d spent a few hours over the past week fretting about the transitions between performances and the reactions of the crowd.

“You did good, baby,” Harry whispers in his ear in passing at the reception in the cafeteria.

Louis gives him a grin and touches two fingers to the inside of his wrist in thanks. “Better get going, parents to entertain and all that.”

Harry watches as he works the room, talking to students and parents and generally charming every single person he encounters. There’s something magnetic about it, and it never fails to get Harry turned on.

“Mr. Styles!”

He turns to see Jeremy Leon and Katherine Chin looking at him with mischievous grins. Katherine’s holding a cupcake. He suddenly feels guilty for what he’s just been thinking about Louis, like they can read his thoughts plain on his face.

“What’s up? Jeremy, you were great in that performance, and Katherine, I never knew you could play the piano so well! I’m really impressed.”

“Thanks. We brought you a cupcake,” she says, placing it in his open palm.

“Wow, thanks, guys. Really nice of you.”

Jeremy cocks his head toward the dessert table. “We just got it from over there.”

“Right, I figured.”

“Is it true that you and Mr. T are dating? I heard that you guys were dating.”

Harry fights the urge to roll his eyes. “I was with Mr. Payne this weekend, actually. Maybe I’m dating him.”

Jeremy actually does roll his eyes. “Mr. Styles, everyone knows Mr. Payne is dating Zayn the photographer.”

“Maybe that’s just our cover. Maybe Liam and I are secretly dating instead.”

“Yeah right,” Katherine says, and she leans over and plucks the cupcake out of his hand and walks in the other direction. “Nice try.”

--

Harry’s birthday sneaks up on him, and he turns 28 on a day that’s outlandishly warm for Los Angeles in February.

The bed is empty when he wakes up, and he heads out to the kitchen in search of his husband, or at least some breakfast.

He grins when he sees said husband standing at the stove, cooking in his boxers. He doesn’t waste any time closing the distance between them. “You sure know how to make a guy feel loved.”

“You weren’t supposed to wake up yet!”

“Thought you might be getting into some trouble out here so I came to investigate it myself.”

Louis makes a little affronted sound, and then he squeezes Harry’s bare shoulder and leans up for a kiss. “Happy birthday, baby.”

“Thanks. I’m officially old now.” he pauses. “Except, wait, you’re still older.”

Louis rolls his eyes, his face fond. “Har har, so funny.”

Harry loops his arms around Louis’ waist and hugs him close. He presses his lips against Louis’ temple. “Thanks for the card.”

He’s referring to the card that Louis had left on the pillow this morning, the one that was covered in Louis’ messy handwriting. There are words scrawled on both pages of the inside and on the back, an essay of memories and promises for the future and pledges of love and loyalty. A whole section about how Harry’s impacted his life. Another detailing all of Harry’s best qualities. It’s his sixth birthday card like this from Louis, and it punches him in the gut in the best way every time.

He doesn’t know how he got so lucky. When he tells Louis as much, Louis gives him a big hug.

“I’m the lucky one, Styles.”

Harry’s inclined to disagree, as throughout the day he’s treated to eggs and bacon for breakfast, a shower blow job, and a cake in the teachers’ lounge at work. Louis takes him to dinner in Santa Monica, where they watch the sun set over the ocean. When the dessert arrives, Louis serenades him with five servers singing backup. Harry laughs so hard his stomach hurts as he blows out his candles.

Louis gives him concert tickets to see his favorite band at the Greek Theatre in June, and Harry is ecstatic. The best thing about the whole day, though, is falling asleep in the arms of his best friend.

And also the gift card said best friend gave him for a pedicure. That doesn’t hurt either.

--

Louis strides into the teachers’ lounge, letting the door bounce on its squeaky hinges as he makes a beeline for Harry.

“Hey,” Harry says, nonchalant as he pours coffee into his travel mug.

“What’s this?” Louis asks, holding a small, rectangle card in front of Harry’s face. “You said you weren’t going to.”

Harry takes the card from Louis’ hand, pretending like he’s looking at it for the first time in his life.

Boo Bear,

Happy Valentine’s. Nobody loves you the way I do.

All my love,

H

“Weird. Where’d this come from?”

Louis smacks him on the shoulder, spilling a bit of coffee out of his mug, and yeah, he probably deserved that one. “You know where! I told you not to buy me any flowers, and especially not to send them to school.”

“Why, are people asking you about them?” Harry asks, grin wide at the possibility.

“Yes! They’re so big. Everyone wants to know who sent me the giant bouquet of red tulips.”

“What are you telling them?”

“That my ex-boyfriend sent them to me,” Louis says with a pout. Harry wants to kiss it away, but he refrains.

“I’m sorry. I was trying to do something nice for you, and I thought it’d be funny to watch people freak out. I didn’t mean to bug you.”

“I get it,” Louis says. “That’s why I sent you a singing card in the Valentine’s school mail. It should arrive after lunch. Good luck explaining that one.”

Harry groans, and at the next table, Liam and Niall start giggling. He shoots them a withering glare.

--

Airport delays leave them stranded at LAX for hours, and by the time they land in San Francisco, it’s nearly midnight.

“We could’ve driven here faster,” Louis grumbles.

“Would’ve been a far less painful experience,” Harry confirms, staring out the window of the Lyft as the city rushes past. “Will your mom be awake by the time we get there?”

Louis shrugs. “I hope not. But knowing her, she’ll be up making decaf coffee and cookies for us.”

Jay is indeed awake when they get there, and it’s not cookies baking in the oven, but blueberry pie.

“Mom, you work too hard,” Louis says when she gives them each a plate and a mug of coffee. “You don’t have to do this, you can go up to bed.”

“Nonsense,” she says, waving a hand in the air. She wraps her cardigan around herself and leans against the counter, arms crossed. “Not every day my two favorite boys come home.”

There’s a thunder of footsteps on the stairs, and Harry turns to the doorway just in time to see Doris poking her head in the doorway.

“Jay,” he says, voice loud. “I think there’s an intruder in your house. Bright red curly hair, way too tall to be your daughter.”

“No, it’s me!” she cries, running to his side. “It’s Doris!”

“You’re way too big to be Doris,” he says, tickling her sides. She squirms and insists that she is, laughing through her protests. “But I guess you’re eight now, so you had to grow up sometime.”

“Basically eighty,” Louis says. “Can I get a hug?”

“Harry first,” she says, squeezing his neck tight. He hugs her for a long time, and when she finally lets go, he opens his eyes to see Jay grinning at the two of them. She leaves Harry’s side with a pat to the head and makes a beeline for Louis, telling him how much she missed him.

“You really should go to bed, Dotty. Harry and Louis will still be here in the morning,” Jay says, but she’s cut off by the arrival of Dan and Ernie in the kitchen. Ernie yells Harry’s name and barrels into his chair, hitting Harry’s legs with a thump and hugging him so hard Harry has to cough a little to breathe.

“Someone else wanted to say hi to you, wouldn’t go back to sleep until he got his chance,” Dan says, flashing Jay a frustrated look before he claps Harry on the back kindly. “Welcome home, it’s nice to see you.”

“You too,” Harry says. He never feels like he gets to see Louis’ family enough. If they move here, though, he might get to see them a lot.

Ernie releases Harry from his hug and immediately climbs into his lap, hugging him sleepy. Harry looks over at Louis and realizes that Ernie is mirroring Doris’ position on Louis.

“Wow, they never cuddle with us any more,” Dan says, voice light. “You two must be really special.”

“Well, it’s not every day their big brothers come home,” Louis says.

“I heard you’re moving here,” Doris says, suddenly more alert. “When are you coming?”

Jay laughs. “I said they were thinking about it, Dotty, not that they definitely are.”

Doris looks over at Harry, eyes big, like she knows he’s the one they need to convince. That’s not really true; Harry’s the one who needs to get the job, but Louis is the one he’ll defer to in the final decision. “You should move here,” she says eagerly. “Then we can hang out all the time. And you can teach Ernie to ride a bike! He still doesn’t know how. I learned a whole week ago.”

Ernie pouts. “It’s really hard.”

“It is, isn’t it?” Harry says. “Well, maybe tomorrow we can practice.”

“You have to visit the school tomorrow,” Louis reminds him, and oh, right.

“Looking forward to it?” Jay asks.

“I am, yeah. It’d be a whole different experience than it is now.”

“Oh yeah?”

“The school is a lot bigger, for one. And I would be the head of the whole department. Bit more bureaucratic, but it’d be a good career move.”

“And you could teach me to ride a bike,” Ernie reminds him, eyelids starting to droop a bit.

“I could, yeah,” Harry says, pushing his curls away from his face. “That’d be fun.”

“Well, we certainly hope you’ll take the job,” Dan says, laying a hand over Jay’s. “I know it’s not up to us, but it’d be so nice to have you here.”

“They haven’t even offered it to him yet, slow down,” Louis says with a laugh.

“Right.” Harry fights a yawn for a moment, and then succumbs. “I guess I’ll see what I think of it tomorrow, and we’ll go from there.”

“Good plan,” Jay says. “For now, I have two little kids that need to go to bed—”

“We’re not little!” cries Doris, just as Ernie pipes up with, “I’m not tired!”

“—and two big kids who should probably head up to the guest room before they fall asleep at the table.”

In full agreement with this plan, Harry and Louis manage to coax the kids into their beds, set themselves up in the guest room, and fall into bed.

The last thing Harry sees before he falls asleep is a text from Daisy.

Hey assholes, be louder next time, would you? Jesus. Welcome home.

--

“To new beginnings,” Louis says, clinking his wine glass against Harry’s.

“No, no. We don’t know if it’s a new beginning yet. To us.”

Louis gives him a fond smile. “Alright. To us. Cheers.”

Harry takes a long sip, letting the red wine settle for a moment before setting the glass back on the table. “So.”

“So,” Louis repeats, holding Harry’s gaze. “What’d you think?”

Harry takes a deep breath and breaks eye contact to look at the scenery. They’re sitting at the indoor tasting patio of their favorite winery, the one they try to visit whenever they’re in Northern California. Harry wishes they could transplant the many acres of the gorgeous vineyard to Los Angeles so he could go whenever he wants.

“If we ever have another wedding, I want to do it here,” he says, looking out the window.

Louis blinks. “What?”

“If we ever have one of those vow renewal things, I want to do it here.”

“Okay?” Louis was clearly not expecting this train of thought. To be fair, neither was Harry.

“Just saying.”

Louis shakes his head. “You are so random.”

“I know,” Harry says, and he takes another sip of wine. “Anyway, I liked it. The school, I mean.”

“I figured. You let Doris put your hair into a tiny ponytail when you got home,” Louis says with a laugh. “You never let me do that. What’d you like about it?”

Harry rolls his eyes. Doris is also a little kid, which may have had something to do with it. “The other teachers were really nice, and I think I could be a good fit there. I’d probably get a way bigger paycheck.”

“Higher cost of living, though.”

“You think so?”

“Probably. Also, not as many concerts,” he says, sticking his tongue out at Harry.

“I’d get over it. The students seem good. But they’re good at Pacific Grove too.”

“It’d definitely be a good career move.”

“It would. But what would you do?”

“Oh, I’d find something. Every school needs English teachers.”

“True,” Harry says, and he takes another long sip of wine as Louis does the same. They really need to order a case of this to ship home. It’s too good.

“So better paycheck, more responsibility, good students,” Louis says, counting off on his fingers. “What’s the catch?”

“I just don’t know that it felt right.”

Louis nods slowly. “Alright. Well we don’t have to make any decisions today.”

“Yeah, let’s wait and see if they even offer it to me. It’s a moot point if they don’t.”

Harry empties his glass in a few sips. “Exactly.”

“You wanna slow down there, pal?”

“I’m actually gonna go get another. You want one?”

Louis rolls his eyes, but he nods and says he does.

--

“I’m, uh, a little more drunk than I thought I was,” Harry says, resting his head on Louis’ shoulder.

“Yeah, maybe that third round wasn’t such a great idea.”

“Can your mom come get us?”

Louis groans. “Seriously?”

“Well, neither of us can drive home like this!”

“Fine, but I’m absolutely blaming you for this one,” Louis says, and then a minute later: “Hi, Mom. We’re at Arrowhead. Can you come pick us up? Harry got drunk.” A pause. “Okay, fine. I am too. Can you bring Phoebe too? We need someone to drive our car.”

He ends the call and gives Harry a smile. “You’re lucky I love you, baby.”

--

“Have a safe flight,” Jay says, waving goodbye to them. “Let me know when you’re back.”

“Mom, it’s only an hour,” Louis groans.

“I know, I know. But I just like to know when you’re home.”

“Will do,” Harry says, setting Ernie back down on the ground and picking Doris up for her hug. She sniffles a little bit and coughs into his shoulder.

“Please move here,” she says in his ear. “Please, please, pretty please.”

“We’ll see. Either way, we’ll come back and see you soon, okay?”

“Okay. With a moving truck.”

He shares a look with Jay, and they both shake their heads in laughter at the twins. “You two are something else.”

--

The day after they get home, Jay calls to say that Doris is sick, and the next day, Louis isn’t feeling well.

If he hadn’t texted to say as much, Harry would have been able to tell the minute he got home: Louis was asleep in bed, which he never does during the week. Harry’s heart twists as he sees that he’s hugging Harry’s pillow close to his chest. The blinds are drawn, shrouding the room in darkness.

Harry tugs the blanket over Louis’ bare shoulder and then heads out to the kitchen to make him some soup.

Louis wakes an hour later, sleepy soft as he wanders into the living room and plops on the couch wordlessly next to Harry.

“How are you doing, baby?”

“I feel like shit,” Louis groans, his voice rasps. “My head is pounding and I think I’m gonna die.”

Harry chuckles as he brings the back of his hand to Louis’ forehead, checking his temperature. “You’re not gonna die, sweetheart. You just have a fever.”

Two days later, Harry’s eating his words: he’s come down with the same bug as Louis, and he really thinks that he might not live to see another sunrise.

“I fucking hate this,” he says, blowing his nose with a tissue and tossing it into the garbage can. It bounces off the rim and joins a handful of others on the rug. He really needs to work on his aim.

“You’ll feel better in a few days, I promise,” says Louis from the other side of the bed. He’s wearing his reading glasses, and it’s a crime that Harry is too ill to make a move.

“I wish I believed you,” he groans.

Niall comes by with dinner and conversation that night, which brings them out of their cave of a bedroom for the first time all day. He stays a respectable distance away from them, remaining firmly on the other couch, but still. Another human.

“Thank God you’re here. I was beginning to think I was going to go crazy if I had only Louis for company.”

Louis swats his shoulder. “Hello, I’m right here.”

“I know.”

“You know that both of you being out two days in a row isn’t helping the rumor mill at school,” Niall offers. “First you’re both out on the same day last week for ‘personal reasons’ and now you’re both sick. Everyone’s talking about it.”

“Define everyone,” Louis says.

“The usual crowd,” Niall says, folding his legs up underneath him. “All the ones that are obsessed with the two of you.”

Harry waves a hand in the air weakly. “I’m too sick to care, honestly.”

Niall grins. “Just telling you, you’re in for it when you get back.”

Harry’s in the bath later that night when Liam texts to tell him the exact same thing. Wiping a damp hand on a towel, Harry texts him back a string of emojis that he hopes translates to ‘I am too sick to care about this right now.’

“Louis!” he calls loudly, hoping he can hear him through the crack left in the doorway. “Babe, I need you!”

Louis comes running to the bathroom not thirty seconds later. “What happened? What’s wrong, where does it hurt?”

“It doesn’t hurt anywhere. Not anywhere new, at least. I just wanted some wine.”

Louis’ shoulders slump, and he shakes his head slowly, realizing he’s been played. “You’re a shit.”

Harry grins and blows him a kiss. “I know. That’s why you love me.”

“Mhm.”

Harry ends up having wine in the bath anyway.

--

The emotional breakdown Harry has been waiting for from Niall comes not halfway through a liquor bottle on a Friday night like he’d expected, but on a Tuesday after work when they’re walking his dog.

Harry’s nearing the end of a story about something dumb Louis said last night while they were falling asleep, and Niall just… cracks.

Ash went on a date with someone and Niall found out through a Facebook comment. Harry winces; he can’t imagine what that must have felt like.

Niall starts crying right there in the middle of the sidewalk, sobs wracking his body. Harry holds him close and tries to wrangle Ruby’s leash at the same time, letting him cry into his shoulder.

“I don’t get it,” he says, voice raspy. “I’m… I’m miserable without her, and she’s already out seeing other people.”

Harry rubs his back slowly, making soft, comforting noises when appropriate. He hopes they’re comforting anyway; he doesn’t know what else to do.

Eventually Niall get his breathing back under control and wipes his eyes, apologizing for his outburst.

Harry shakes his head. “You never need to apologize for that. I wish I could make it better for you.”

“Me too. I keep thinking that one day I’m gonna wake up and it’ll stop hurting, but I’m not sure that’s true.”

“I think it will,” Harry says, hugging him again. “Want to come over and play video games?”

When Louis comes home a few hours later, he finds the two of them perched in front of the television, playing FIFA. He makes extra for dinner, and the three of them eat in the living room. Niall seems happier when he goes home that night, but it still breaks Harry’s heart to think of him crying on the sidewalk.

“It would kill me if you did that to me,” Harry says, pulling back the bed covers that night.

“Did what?”

“Left me like Ash did.”

Louis’ face softens. “You can’t really ever think I’d—”

“No, but neither did Niall. It just makes me sick to see how heartbroken he is. To think about how much power one person—” He cuts himself off, unable to go further.

“We’re not them,” Louis reminds him as he gets into bed. “We’re not them and I love you and I want to be married to you for always.”

Harry lets out a breath, feeling the tight knot of vulnerability that sits in his chest unravel a bit. “Me too. It just… it helps if I say it out loud, sometimes. Makes it a little less scary.”

Louis nods, and then leans over to give Harry a hug. “Niall’s gonna be fine, and so are we.”

Harry squeezes back. “I hope so.”

--

Harry gets the call offering him the job at Westlake School in San Francisco on a Thursday afternoon during his free period. The man from HR says he’ll give him some time to decide and promises to send the offer letter within the next few minutes. Harry pulls up his inbox and stares at the screen until the email comes through. When he sees the salary they’re offering, his eyes nearly pop out of his head.

He tells Louis over dinner that night, and receives a big congratulatory hug and a long kiss in return.

“Your mom’s going to be so excited.”

“You can’t tell her,” Louis warns, his face suddenly serious. “Seriously. She won’t stop sending me links to houses for sale, and she only knows it’s a maybe right now.”

“And you think it’ll crush her if she knows I got the job and then we don’t go,” Harry finishes.

“Exactly.”

Harry deflates a little bit. “Right. Okay. Well, I guess we just have to make a decision.”

“Pros and cons,” Louis offers.

“Pros and cons.”

By the end of the conversation, they haven’t reached a decision. It’s frustrating, because both options are good. Here they have their friends and jobs they both really like and an apartment they love. It’s where they grew into adults, and to leave it all behind would crush Harry.

But then he thinks of Northern California and Louis’ family and the people at the school, and he thinks that it might be okay. They could get a dog, and Jay would babysit their future kids whenever they wanted, and life could be really good.

“We need to find you a job,” Harry says out loud, keeping the rest of his thoughts to himself, “before we can do anything else. I don’t want this decision to be just about me.”

Louis agrees, and that’s that.

Privately, Harry calls the HR department at Westlake the next day and tells them that he’s interested in the job, but would be more inclined to take it if there was a job opportunity for his husband. He’d mentioned it during the interview process, but he figures that there’s no harm in asking officially. The woman on the phone promises to look into it, and Harry keeps this to himself. What Louis doesn’t know won’t hurt him.

They return with an offer a few days later, and Harry buys a bottle of wine on the way home. They’re probably moving to San Francisco, and that’s worth celebrating.

--

The bottle of wine never gets opened.

Louis doesn’t react to the news the way Harry expects him to; instead, he’s mad. Furious, even.

“How dare you try to force a major life decision without running it by me first?”

“I just thought that it would be good to see if they had anything!” Harry says, crossing his arms in front of him. “I don’t get why you’re mad!”

“I’m mad because you did this without asking me, and it doesn’t feel right.”

“I was trying to help you!”

“You can help me by letting me find my own goddamn job,” Louis says, face tight with anger.

Harry’s confused. “I don’t get it. Is this a pride thing, or…?”

“It’s a ‘let me make my own decisions’ thing!”

Harry throws his hands up in the air. “I don’t know what you want from me. I’m trying to figure out a way to make this work. You said yourself you needed a job. Well, now you have one if you want it.”

Louis rolls his shoulders back, and his face hardens. “Maybe I don’t.”

“What?”

“I said, maybe I don’t want the job.”

“I heard you. I’m asking for a bit of clarification.”

“Maybe I don’t want a new job and maybe I don’t want you to take it either,” Louis says, and Harry inhales a shocked breath.

“And you didn’t want to tell me this before?” He feels suddenly like the foundation of his world has been rocked. They don’t keep stuff from each other - not like this.

“I didn’t know how I felt about it before.”

“And now you do.”

“And now I think I don’t want to move to San Francisco after all,” Louis amends.

“Right,” Harry snaps. “Well, let me know when you make a decision.”

--

Louis doesn’t come to bed that night. Harry sits in their bedroom and stews in his anger and frustration for far longer than he should. He hears Louis brushing his teeth, and he expects a “goodnight” at the very least when he’s done.

It never comes, and after nearly an hour Harry turns out the light, accepting Louis won’t be sleeping next to him tonight.

He lays in the dark, brain running a million miles a minute. He watches the numbers on the clock tick over, counting the endless minutes, unable to sleep. He should get up and say something to Louis, swallow his pride and make the first move. But he doesn’t want to, not when it feels like the knot in his stomach is a tight ball of anxiety over the whole situation.

His mom and stepdad got them a framed copy of their wedding vows as a first year anniversary gift, and it’s this piece of artwork that catches Harry’s eye from its place over the dresser.

For better or for worse.

He heaves a sigh and swings his legs over the side of the bed. He grabs his sweatshirt from the clean laundry pile affectionately known as Hoodie Mountain and heads out to the hallway.

The bed in the guest bedroom is untouched, so there’s only one place he could be.

Just as he expects, he finds Louis on the couch, legs tugged close to his chest, a throw pillow in his arms. Harry smiles slightly at the way that he always has to be hugging something when he sleeps: a pillow, a blanket, Harry himself.

Harry likes that last option best of all.

He thinks about it for a moment and then gets onto the couch next to Louis, spooning him from behind, his chin resting on Louis’ shoulder. For a moment it’s weird, because Harry is so used to being the little spoon: the one comforted, protected, watched over. But that goes both ways.

“Louis,” he says quietly, waiting a moment for him to stir.

“What time is it?”

“Just after eleven,” Harry says quietly. “Can we talk?”

Louis nods. After a bit of maneuvering, he turns in Harry’s arms. Neither of them fall off the couch in the process, so that counts as a win.

“So,” Louis says, his face just inches away from Harry’s.

“So,”  Harry repeats. “First off, I want you to know that I love you.”

“I love you too.”

“I love you and I don’t understand why you acted the way you did tonight.” Harry watches Louis’ face for a reaction. Finding none, he continues. “If you didn’t want to move, why didn’t you just say so back when I found out about the job opening?”

“I wanted to let you make your own choices. I figured you’d change your mind or I’d eventually figure out a way to tell you.”

“Well, you did,” Harry says glumly.

Louis looks contrite. “Yeah, I’d pictured it being a bit more civil.”

“Happens, I guess.” He brushes a lock of hair away from Louis’ forehead. “Can you talk me through it? Because I thought you wanted to live closer to your family. If we moved, we could get a dog.”

Louis nods. “I know. I was on board until we went up there, and then I realized I didn’t want to do it. I don’t really want to be in the same city as my family. They’re too intense.”

Harry gets it. The Tomlinson-Deakins are maybe the most exuberant, involved family he’s ever met. “Yeah, that makes sense.”

“I like our life here, and I don’t want any of that to change.” Louis gives him a sad smile.

“Even though we would make more money up north and have free childcare for our future kids and live in a place that has actual seasons?” Harry asks. He means it as a serious question but his voice is light. If Louis doesn’t want to move, they won’t move. They’re in this together.

“Even in spite of all of those things. I know that’s selfish, and I’m not supposed to be selfish, but… I want to stay.”

Harry nods slowly. “Alright, we’ll stay.”

“Really?”

“I’m not gonna move if you don’t want to. Besides, something felt off about it there anyway. It didn’t feel like it was entirely the right decision.”

“I’m sorry I’m a crazy person,” Louis says quietly.

“Stop, you’re not. Or, maybe you are, but I am too. I just wish you’d said something sooner.”

“I told you—”

“I know,” Harry placates. “I just want you to talk to me.”

“I’m working on it,” Louis says. “This just felt like such a big thing that I didn’t know how.”

“The big things are what we’re supposed to be able to talk about. We’ll work on it.” Harry realizes he could have handled this whole thing better. Not ambushing Louis with a job would have been a good start.

“So we’re gonna stay?” Louis asks, stretching his hands above his hair.

“We’re gonna stay,” Harry retreats. “In this apartment and this place and this life.”

Louis nods happily. “We can always think about it again in the future.”

“I think a new place was tentatively in our five year plan,” Harry says.

“But not in the one year plan,” Louis finishes, and Harry agrees.

He calls Westlake the next morning to tell them he won’t be taking the position. The man from HR tries to convince him to think about it further, but when Harry explains that his husband’s opinions factor into the decision too, he seems to understand entirely.

He’d expected something like this to feel like he was being controlled. Instead, it feels like he and Louis made a decision based on what was best for their family and their relationship. Somehow, more than anything else they’ve done lately, it makes him feel like a real adult.

--

“Do you think,” Zayn asks Harry a few nights later, when the five of them are crowded around a table at their favorite bar, “that the exposure of your laurel tattoos and that girl fainting are related? Or purely coincidental.”

Harry groans, thinking about how his shirt had ridden up during a particularly vigorous dodgeball move, embarrassingly revealing the tattoos by his hips.

“Absolutely related,” says Liam. “That girl is great at dodgeball. There was no need for her to pass out, unless something happened.”

Niall snorts. “Oh, something happened alright.”

“Guys, stop it,” Harry says with a pout. He already feels bad enough that a student passed out during the Teachers vs. Students dodgeball tournament. He doesn’t need to add the burden of it being possibly his fault to the mix.

“I mean, can you blame her?” Louis asks with a smirk. “Those tattoos are hot.”

Niall shoves him lightly against the wall with his shoulder. “Come off it, Tommo, we said no flirting tonight.”

“Those two,” Louis protests, pointing a finger between Liam and Zayn, who are indeed making faces at each other across the table, “haven’t stopped flirting all night. So forgive me for saying one thing about how hot my husband is.”

“Mhm,” Niall says, rolling his eyes. “Just one thing, that’s all you think it is?”

“So far,” Louis says, but the look on his face suggests that there’s much more to come.

--

“I’m so booooored,” Harry whines, flopping himself on the couch, body fully extended. Louis looks up from his book, takes one look at him, and pushes Harry’s feet off his lap. “Louis, pay attention to me.”

“I’m reading.”

“I can see that. Why don’t you read later?”

“And do what instead?” Louis asks, giving him a once over over the rim of his reading glasses. They’re the ones that make him look really sexy, and Harry can’t find it within himself to be embarrassed at how much they turn him on.

“Have sex with me.”

Louis shakes his head. “I already told you, I’m reading. I want to finish this before we go to Niall’s party.”

Niall recently purchased a new condo, and decided to have a housewarming party to celebrate the occasion. It’s in a few hours: not far enough away to do anything substantial, but soon enough that they’re forced to hang around the house until it’s time to go.

If Louis would agree to have sex with him, he wouldn’t have to be bored. He could be having an orgasm instead. Or more than one. Sometimes Louis does this thing where he pushes Harry right to the edge just to see how far he can get without coming, and then he — well, Harry doesn’t want to think about it right now, not when it’s a reminder that he’s not currently on the receiving end of said sexual trick.

The rest of the early afternoon passes with Louis on the couch and Harry looking up from his own book every so often to ask if he wants to have sex yet. He’s not surprised when the answer is no, but he gets whiny nonetheless. What’s the good of having a husband if one can’t have sex with them whenever one wants? Especially when one is bored with nothing to do.

“What do you want for lunch?” Harry asks, feeling his stomach growl.

There’s no reply.

“Louis.”

He looks up from his book. “Huh, sorry? Say that again.”

“I asked what you want for lunch.”

“Oh. What about grilled cheese?”

“Okay. Can we have sex after that?” He gives Louis his cheekiest grin, but Louis turns him down once again.

“You know, I’m gonna start to think you’re not attracted to me if you keep saying no.”

This time it’s Louis who rolls his eyes. “You know I think you’re plenty hot. I just want to finish this book before we go.”

“Mhm,” Harry says. “Well, we gotta go in an hour, so make sure you get ready soon.”

“Yes, dad,” Louis jokes.

Harry probably could have predicted that it would happen. With fifteen minutes to go, he’s looking for his jacket — it’s been a weird March, with lots of rain — when Louis comes ambling into the room.

“Hey, you ready to go?”

Louis shakes his head. “I wanna have sex.”

“Are you serious.”

“As a heart attack. C’mon, clothes off, I want you and we don’t have a lot of time.”

“That’s what I’ve been saying all day!”

“Yeah, and now I want to. Are you gonna stand there staring at me or are you gonna take off your clothes?”

Harry shakes his head in disbelief, but he’s laughing as he unzips his boots. “Fine, but first I’m gonna call Niall and tell him we’re gonna be late.”

“Always have to be so goddamn polite, don’t you?” Louis asks with a laugh. “Just don’t blame it on me.”

“But it’s your fault!”

“Just pretend we already left and we ran over a cat or something.”

“Right, because letting him think we’re cat murderers is so much better than telling him we’re late to his party because you wanted to have sex!” Harry says, stripping off his jeans.

“At least it won’t make him more aware of the fact that he’s alone!” Louis cries.

“You are literally the worst person I’ve ever met,” Harry says, and then he calls Niall and tells him they’ve run into some car trouble. He stutters through the conversation while Louis kisses his way down his bare chest and pushes him against the wall.

“I gotta go, Niall. See you—” he chokes back a groan when Louis slips a hand into his boxers and grips his cock, “see you soon, bye.”

They’re an hour late to the party, and when Niall asks if their car is okay, Louis smiles sweetly and says it’s perfect.

--

“Did we really have to go to Ohio, of all places, for this conference?” asks Louis.

“Ohio can be fun,” Harry tries.

“Name one fun thing about Ohio,” Bebe challenges.

Harry looks at Louis with a blank stare, racking his brains for a fun Ohio fact. “Alright, yeah. I’ve got nothing.”

“That’s what I thought,” she says, high fiving Louis in victory. “I’m gonna go up to my room. Let me know if you discover anything worth doing in Ohio.”

“Seems unlikely,” Louis says, waving goodbye to her.

“So much hatred for a state that did nothing wrong to either of you,” Harry says, shaking his head.

They’re in Ohio for a professional development conference. Harry had jumped at the opportunity to go and Louis had reluctantly tagged along, claiming that he wouldn’t allow Harry to die a sad, lonely death in the wasteland of Ohio.

Louis is a bit of a drama queen.

“Hey, uh, we might be in trouble,” Louis says, looking up from his phone to stare at Harry with a worried expression. He passes the phone over to him, and Harry sees—

Oh.

Okay. It’s a photo from Niall, a screenshot of the ‘proofstagram’ account that’s still running rampant. The photo shows Harry, Louis, and Bebe sitting at a table in the bar at LAX. That part is fine, completely harmless. But Louis has his arm slung around Harry’s shoulders, both of them laughing. They’re the picture of casual intimacy. And even stronger evidence is the fact that Louis is wearing the same jacket Harry wore yesterday. How did someone get this photo? Who saw them?

“I guess we can’t hide this forever,” Louis tries weakly.

“We did take our promise of ‘let’s be subtle’ a little bit too far,” Harry agrees.

“I guess we’ll see what happens. No sense in worrying about it now.”

“Hey, when all the people that have been trying to get me to date you for ages find out that I already married you, they’re gonna go nuts.”

“Gonna be hilarious,” Louis says with a giggle, and Harry kisses him right there in the middle of the hotel restaurant.

--

“I’m sorry but I’m gonna be home late, my meeting ran long and there’s so much fucking traffic,” Harry says. “Did you go to the grocery store?”

‘What? I can’t hear you.”

“This goddamn car Bluetooth,” Harry hisses, pushing buttons on the screen in the car and trying not to hit the car in front of him, which has slowed down on the freeway for absolutely no reason except—oh, there’s an accident ahead. “Never fucking works. Can you hear me now?”

“I could hear you the whole time, I was just kidding,” Louis says.

“Not in the mood, Lou.”

“Okay, sorry. Yeah, I went to the grocery store.”

“You got the stuff on the list?”

“Yes, husband, I got the stuff on the list.”

Harry smiles despite himself. “Love you. See you soon.”

It turns out Louis did not buy the stuff on the list. Or, he did, but he failed to notice the second list that was sitting right beside it.

“I did think the list was pretty sparse,” Louis admits.

“What am I gonna do? Niall’s coming over in an hour.”

“It’s fine, I’ll just order Chinese food.”

Harry glares at him. “We are not feeding our friend shitty Chinese food when we invited him to our house for dinner. We’re not in college anymore. Besides, I don’t even like Chinese food.”

“That is true. But it’s Niall, he doesn’t really care.”

“I care!” Harry exclaims. “I’m trying to help him feel better and I don’t think shitty Chinese food is the way to do that.”

“It’s been months, H. I think he’s getting better.”

“There’s no point in having this argument, I’m gonna bake the lemon pie and then go to the grocery store to try to salvage this.”

Louis has the good sense to stay out of his way while he bakes. He grabs his keys and pokes his head into their bedroom, where Louis is folding laundry.

“I’ll  get one of those hot meal roast things at the store, that’ll have to be good enough. The pie is in the oven and I have the timer set. I trust you can make sure the oven doesn’t catch fire.” He sounds snarkier than he means, but he doesn’t feel particularly bad about it in this moment.

“Got it,” Louis says.

Harry makes what is possibly the quickest grocery store trip in the world, grabbing a roast chicken, cornbread, some vegetables, and mashed potatoes. Niall is distantly Irish — he has to like mashed potatoes, right?

When he gets home, Niall is already there, drinking a beer and talking to Louis in the living room. It’s kind of good that he’s here already; it forces Harry to play nice with Louis, instead of getting mad at him for screwing up.

After some easy conversation and half a beer, Harry feels himself relax a bit. It’s not like Louis forgot the stuff intentionally. And it’s worked out fine; Niall does care more about being with them than he does about the food.

The food is good though, he thinks as they start eating a while later, and he makes a pledge to do this more often. He always enjoys having people over, but he feels pressure to make things really nice for any guests they have. Maybe a pre-cooked meal from the grocery store and a not-so-pristine kitchen are okay for guests sometimes.

When Harry brings out the pie, Louis turns to Niall. He’s two beers in, and his voice has gotten a little louder, his motions more animated.

“I’ve been thinking,” he says, and he slings an arm over Niall’s shoulder. “We need to find you a girlfriend. Or at least someone to go out with.”

Harry turns to him, alarmed, knife hovering in the air above the pie. He wants to cut this conversation off before it even starts.

“Hm, maybe,” Niall says casually, taking a sip of his beer. “Or a boyfriend.”

This time it’s Louis who looks shocked. “What?!”

“What did you just say?” Harry asks, certain he hasn’t heard him right.

“Might have gone on a date with someone just last night even,” he says, trying to hide his smile.

Harry sits down, knife frozen in the pie. “Oh my god, tell me everything.”

“I met a guy at a bar last weekend. We started talking, exchanged numbers, he asked me out.” He’s trying to hide a smile, but the glow in his eyes tells Harry everything he needs to know.

“I can’t believe this,” Louis says, shaking his head. He turns to Harry, and they share a happy look. “Niall likes boys. Who ever knew this day would come?”

“I mean, I’ve always been curious,” Niall says. “But Ash and I were together for so long that there were never any… opportunities.”

“This is maybe the greatest day of my entire life,” says Louis, “including my wedding day. Sorry, babe.”

“None taken. This is the best,” Harry says. He feels giddy. “But seriously, I need every detail.”

“His name is Shawn, he’s in grad school at USC.”

“And?” Harry asks, trying to get more information.

“Where’d you go?”

“For dinner at this place near his apartment.”

“Oh yeah? What’s his apartment like?” Louis asks, shooting Harry a sneaky grin.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Niall says evasively. “Hey, great pie, Harry. You’ll have to get me the recipe.”

“I will. One condition though.”

“What’s that?”

“You have to answer the question. Is he a good kisser?”

Niall flushes bright red and covers his face with his hands.

“You want the recipe, you gotta answer the question.”

Niall shakes his head.

“So you’re saying he’s not a good kisser?”

Niall shakes his head again.

“Answer the question, Niall,” Harry says, trying to make his voice sound threatening. From the way Louis giggles, it must not have worked.

“Yes, he’s a good kisser, alright?” Niall exclaims. “Good at lots of things.”

“Oh my god,” Louis says, just as Harry yells, “Get it Niall!”

Harry and Louis high five and jump up from their seats to hug Niall.

“Get off me, stop kissing my cheek!” he protests, trying to push them away without much effort. A moment later, they release him, satisfied smiles on both of their faces.

“God, I feel like such a proud parent,” Louis says.

“Me too. Our little baby’s all grown up.”

“You don’t drive all the way to USC for just anyone,” Louis says, settling back into his seat. “That’s far. You must really like him.”

“I do. It’s a bit early to tell how much, but… yeah.”

“I’m so happy for you,” Harry says. And he is. He feels like his heart might burst a little bit. He’s been so worried about Niall, and now Niall is here having feelings for a boy.

“I want to meet him,” Louis says.

Niall shakes his head. “No way. You’re all crazy. There’s no way I’m letting any of you meet him until we’re engaged at least.”

“So you want to be engaged to him?” Harry asks, grinning again. Niall flips him off and tells him to get back to his pie.

--

“We should get a dog,” Harry says one night as they’re clearing the dishes from dinner.

“We don’t have space for a dog, H. We’ve talked about this.”

“I know, but I want one.” He knows he sounds petulant. He doesn’t care. He wants a puppy, goddamn it.

“What is this about?” Louis asks as he rinses the plates and hands them to Harry to put in the dishwasher.

Harry takes a deep breath, steadying himself for the conversation. He doesn’t know why he feels so anxious. He and Louis are in love, the forever kind of love, and yet talking about their future still sometimes feels like laying an open wound on the table.

“Remember how we talked about the five year plan? Back when we were thinking about San Francisco?”

Louis nods.

“Well, I kind of want to talk about it for real,” Harry continues.

“What do you mean?”

“Like, our plan. Dogs, kids, the whole thing.”

Louis inhales sharply, and then nods again. “Alright, yeah. Can we just do the dishes and then we’ll talk? Doesn’t seem like a dishes conversation.”

“Yeah, of course.”

The first time that Harry decided he wanted to have kids with Louis Tomlinson, he was 22 years old. It was only a fleeting thought, one borne from watching him interact with a toddler in a restaurant, but it stuck. Over the last six years, they’ve talked about it: how many they want to have, what they’re going to name them, what kind of parents they’ll be. Harry’s been itching to make it a reality for a long time, and it’s still not time, but he wants to talk about it.

They’ve been making more of an effort to talk about the big things more frequently after the mess that was the San Francisco Affair, as Harry’s taken to calling it, and this is part of that.

They settle on the couch, feet tangled as they face each other.

“Alright, so,” Louis says, ever the leader, “what are you thinking?”

“I want a baby,” Harry says immediately.

“I do too,” Louis says, face softening a bit. “But you know—”

“It’s not the right time, yeah. Doesn’t stop me from thinking about it.”

“Same. Just a question of when, I guess.”

“I feel like it’s a question of how, first,” Harry says. “Are you still thinking you want to adopt?”

“Yeah, definitely,” Louis says with a vigorous nod. That’s the one thing they’ve always been set on from day one.

“But when? It takes a long time, I think.”

“I’d have a baby with you tomorrow if I thought we could make it work,” Louis says, and the pure honesty in his tone combined with the image of him holding their baby in his arms makes Harry need to squeeze his eyes shut with how much he wants it. “But I don’t think we’re ready.”

“How do you think…” Harry stops, trying to figure out the right way to phrase it. His voice is quieter when he speaks again, a bit more nervous. “How do you think you’ll know when we’re ready?”

“Remember how I said I didn’t want to move to San Francisco because I like our life here and I knew it was selfish?” Harry nods. “Well, I like the way we are right now. I like that it’s just the two of us. A baby is gonna change everything forever.”

“We’ll never have this again,” Harry says, realization dawning on him. It’s not like he didn’t know it before. It’s just never been as much of a reality as it is now. If they had a baby right now, they’d be tired all the time, probably grumpy half the time, and definitely broke.

“I don’t know if we’re gonna stay here forever, and I feel like we need to figure that out first. I mean, we can always move after we have kids, but I think we need to think about it a bit first. I feel like San Francisco threw us off, you know?”

“Yeah,” Harry says, and he resists the urge to say that it wouldn’t have thrown them off if Louis had just been honest about it from the start.

“Like, it’s a big decision, and it’s easy to get emotional about it, which is fine. But from a purely practical standpoint, I don’t think we make enough money for a kid.”

“Adoption is really expensive,” Harry acknowledges, and not for the first time he wishes that they could have a kid for free. “I hate that straight people don’t have this problem.”

“Sucks,” Louis agrees with a smile.

“But the point stands. How do you think we’ll know when we’re ready?”

Louis considers it. “I think we’ll have jobs that feel right — San Francisco wasn’t right, but something will be. Maybe it’s that we stay here, where our friends are. Maybe not. But either way, we’ll make more money, and then we can buy a house.”

“You want to buy a house with me?” Harry asks, throwing a hand over his heart. “You like me that much?”

Louis rolls his eyes. “I’m literally married to you, you dingbat.”

Harry sticks out his tongue.

“We don’t need to move to change,” Louis continues. “We can stay here physically without becoming stagnant in our lives. I think we need to be publicly married at work, to start. We can start looking at jobs, and take our time to find the right thing, and be strategic about it. And then we’ll get where we want to be.”

Harry nods, considering it. “You’re so sexy when you’re practical.”

Louis bursts into laughter. “Is that a yes?”

“That’s a yes. Let’s do it, I want all of it with you.” He lurches forward until he’s half on top of Louis, pressing kisses all over his face. “Can’t wait to be a dad with you.”

“Same,” Louis says, squirming underneath Harry. “It’s gonna be amazing.”

“This is pretty damn amazing too, though.”

“It is. I’m proud of us.”

“Me too,” Harry says, pulling back so that he can get his hand out from where it’s wedged underneath Louis’ body. “High five.”

Louis misses and smacks the air instead. They both start laughing, and then Harry collapses on top of Louis, face smushed into a pillow.

“I’m exhausted,” he mumbles. “Emotionally. Why is being an adult so tiring? I’m too young for this.”

“You know what we deserve?” Louis asks. “To get very, very drunk.”

“I completely agree.”

Two hours later, Louis is starting his third frozen margarita at their favorite outdoor bar, and Harry is getting a fourth refill of tortilla chips.

“This was a great idea,” Louis slurs, dropping a messy kiss to Harry’s cheek. “That was supposed to be for your mouth. I think I’m a little drunk.”

“I think you are, baby,” Harry says, laughing. “That’s okay. It’s been a day.”

“It has been a day,” Louis agrees loudly. “I love you so, so much.”

“Shhh, keep your voice down a little bit,” Harry tries. His teeth feel weird. Maybe he’s drunk too.

“I want to tell everyone at school. I want everyone to know that you’re mine.”

“Well, they’re going to if you don’t talk a little quieter.”

“You’re gonna have to help me walk home,” Louis says.

“I will, baby, I got you.”

“You always do,” Louis says with a sweet smile, and Harry knows they’re both drunk and Louis might not mean it to sound as sappy and heart-twisting as it does. But then again, maybe he does.

--

Harry’s hangover is very real the next morning. He’s quite possibly never been so hungover in his entire life.

He ducks out during his free second period to get himself a coffee, and at the last minute, gets one for Louis too. The sun is incredibly bright on his walk to the Starbucks around the corner, and when he gets back to the school, he doesn’t bother taking off his sunglasses.

He heads straight for Louis’ classroom. He knocks once on the open door and strolls right in. Louis is sitting on the front of his desk, arms crossed as he talks about Shakespeare or whatever it is that literature teachers talk about. Harry would normally be too focused on how sexy he looks with his sleeves rolled up, but his pounding headache is too strong.

He lifts the coffee cup in greeting and places it on the desk. He leaves the room without a word. Louis’ answering grin is enough of a response for now.

He leans back against the wall outside the door, listening to the tittering of the students.

“Mr. Styles looks real good in sunglasses,” he hears a student say. Despite the slight nausea, he grins, frozen as he waits for Louis’ response.

“Yeah, he does,” Louis answers quietly, and the room erupts into discussion. “Guys, guys, can you please be quiet? I’m gonna be honest, I have the worst headache in the world and I’m gonna need you to speak a little softer.”

“Oh my god, do you have a hangover?” Abigail Curran asks loudly, her voice unmistakeable. “Wait, does Mr. Styles have a hangover too?”

This only serves to spur the other students on.

“Were you two together?”

“Did you guys finally go on a date? Is that why he brought you a coffee?”

“I think you’re his type. You should ask him out.”

“Let’s talk about The Merchant of Venice ,” Louis says, using his commanding teacher voice. It doesn’t stop the students from discussing how they think Louis should make a move on Harry.

He’s tempted to storm in there and tell them that Louis already did, seven years ago, but he’s too hungover for that.

They’ll find out soon enough.

--

“Well, don’t you clean up well,” Harry says as he approaches Louis. “Might have to ask you to save me a dance.”

“Yeah, maybe,” Louis says, and he reaches out to adjust Harry’s tie.

Behind them, Niall coughs. “Watch it.”

Louis shrugs. “It’s prom night and we’re in love.”

“Not to all these people you’re not,” Niall reminds them. “Wait, did you two not come together?”

“We did. Louis made me drop him off at the door,” Harry says, giving Louis a pointed look.

“I wanted it to look like we came separately!”

“Mhm,” Harry says. “Anyway, what’s the deal? What are our official chaperone duties?”

“You’ll want to check specifics with Katie, but I’m pretty sure just make sure no one gets too drunk or starts having sex on the dance floor.”

“Lovely,” Louis snorts.

Harry’s official job is actually to man the punch station, Katie tells him. When he makes his way over there, he fills a cup of punch for himself. He has to make sure it’s not spiked, after all. He drinks the whole cup in one go. It’s delicious. He’s pretty sure it’s not spiked, but it doesn’t hurt to have a second cup just to be sure.

Louis is across the room, greeting students as they enter. Of course he got the fun job.

Rachel Kimball and Sara Archibald are the first two to approach the refreshments table, their arms wrapped around each other. Huh. That’s new.

Good for them.

“Good evening ladies! You both look lovely.”

“Thanks,” Sara says, her smile glowing. “Did you know that you and Mr. T are wearing matching outfits?”

He looks down at his suit and then over at Louis, pretending to consider it. “Matching? You mean we’re both in black? Men get such boring outfit options.”

“Your ties match,” Rachel says.

“Huh. Well, isn’t that something. Want some punch?”

They’re not the only ones to point out that they’re matching.

“Don’t teachers have one of those Facebook groups like we do so that no one wears the same dress?” asks Abigail Curran.

“Well, if I wear a dress next year, then I definitely won’t be matching Mr. Tomlinson,” Harry quips. “Maybe I can borrow yours.”

An hour into the prom, when the floor has filled up a bit and people are actually dancing, Harry looks up from the punch to find two students, a girl and a guy, tugging Louis across the dance floor.

“Mr. T, doesn’t Mr. Styles look lovely tonight?”

Louis grins at him. “Eh, he’s alright. I still think I look better.”

“You should ask him to dance anyway,” the girl says. “It’s only polite.”

“Hmm. I don’t know. What do you think, Mr. Styles?”

Harry pretends to think about it. “I suppose we could indulge them for one dance. But just one. The punch won’t pour itself, you know.”

Both of the students cheer, clapping their hands excitedly.

“This is a good dancing song too,” says the boy. “ Very romantic.”

“You’re right,” Louis says, just as the opening strains of Elton John’s Your Song begin.

“Did you… plan this?” Harry asks the students, and the girl shakes her head immediately. Too quick for it to be the truth.

“Mr. Styles, may I have this dance?”

“You surely may,” Harry says, extending his hand to Louis. They stay on the edge of the floor, swaying slowly. Having Louis in his arms feels so natural, like they’re in their kitchen and not in a hotel ballroom filled with high school seniors. It’s easy to forget for a few minutes.

The flash of camera phones draws his awareness back to the room, and it’s then that he notices a crowd has gathered around them.

“This is ridiculous,” Harry says quietly, following Louis’ lead as they dance. They can’t be heard over the murmurs of students who can’t believe this is happening.

“You need to step on my toes or something, make it look like we’ve never done this before,” Louis says.

“You mean like at our wedding?” Even though they’d practiced dozens of times, Harry had stumbled through their wedding dance with all the grace of a newborn deer. He’d been really fucking nervous.

“Ah, that was a good time,” Louis says, giving Harry the fondest face in the world. He’s tempted to tell Louis to cool it, but he’s got his arms wrapped around Harry’s waist by now and there’s no point in continuing to hide anything.

The song ends and they continue to dance; the group around them slowly disbands as they get bored of staring at the two of them.

“God, this prom is so much better than my senior prom,” Louis says with a frown. “Mine sucked.”

“I know,” Harry says quietly. He’s never forgotten Louis’ story of getting embarrassed at senior prom because it turned out his date was seeing someone else at the same time. It certainly hadn’t been a night to remember, not like Harry’s was.

“It’s alright, I guess not all of us could be the prom king,” Louis ribs. “Or end up in our local newspaper as a kid for saving everyone from a burning building.”

“I did not save anyone from a burning building,” Harry insists. “I called the fire department because I saw smoke coming from the house next to ours, and they went in and saved a cat and turned off the stove. There was no one there.”

“Okay, but you were still in the newspaper for it. Face it, you’re a hero.”

“I will not.”

They have to separate for a bit after that, because they are technically chaperoning the event. But ten minutes later, Louis decides his post is useless and joins Harry at the drinks table.

“What time are we allowed to leave?” he asks quietly.

“I think around ten-thirty.” It’s nine-fifteen now, and Harry really just wants this to be over already. “What do you have planned?”

“I want you to take me somewhere.”

“Where?” Harry hopes whatever Louis is thinking of doesn’t interfere with his own plans for the evening.

“You know where.”

“Yeah, but you’re gonna have to say it.”

“Can we not do this here, please?” Louis asks, looking sweetly embarrassed.

“Ten-thirty,” Harry says, and he hopes it sounds like a promise.

By 9:45, a lot of the students have left, and there’s no more punch. A few of the teachers have already left; what’s two more?

“Alright,” Harry says, turning to Louis. “Maybe we can get out of here. What were you thinking?”

“I want to have sex.”

“Now? We’re at prom.”

“I know, but you just said we were gonna leave. Besides, you’re supposed to have sex on prom night.”

“I think it’s that you’re supposed to lose your virginity,” Harry points out.

“Exactly. Let’s go.”

“But you’re not—”

“Do you want to have fun or not?” Louis asks, poking Harry in the chest.

“Alright, alright, I’m in.”

“Yess,” Louis cheers. “I’ll go first, I’ll meet you outside in three minutes.”

When he’s gone, Harry checks his pockets to make sure his phone and wallet are there. He counts down the seconds and cleans up the punch table as best he can to pass the time. Once 180 seconds have gone by, he waves a quick goodbye to Katie and darts out a side door.

He doesn’t see Louis anywhere in the lobby, though he does see two senior boys making out on a couch. He texts Louis to ask where he is. When Harry sees his response, he rolls his eyes.

He knocks on the door of the handicapped bathroom four times in quick succession and pushes open the door. Louis is sitting on the lid of the toilet scrolling on his phone. He looks up in relief when Harry enters.

“That was way more than three minutes.”

“What are you doing in here?”

“Waiting for you so we can have sex, duh. Did you think I was gonna start by myself?”

Harry laughs. “No, but I do like that sometimes.”

“I know you do. C’mon, lock the door. Want you so bad.”

“Me too,” Harry says, and he bends down to kiss Louis sweetly. “But I have a better place for us to go.”

He watches Louis’ face as he pulls a hotel key card out of his wallet.

“Harry,” he says, shocked. “What’s that?”

“It’s the key to our room. We don’t have to have sex in the bathroom.”

“You got us a room?”

“Hell yeah I did. Don’t you know that’s where all the good sex happens on prom night?”

Louis laughs. “You’re so dumb.”

Harry cups Louis’ face in his hands. “I knew you felt like you never got to do prom properly, so I thought now was a good time for a redo.”

Louis shakes his head, looking like he can’t quite believe it. “You are something else, Styles.”

“That’s why you married me, right?” Harry asks, and Louis kisses him in response.

--

They kiss in the elevator all the way up to the sixteenth floor, and they take no time getting undressed once they’re in the hotel room. Harry pushes Louis back against the bed, and Louis rolls them over immediately, making sure that he’s in control.

“I can’t believe I’m married to you,” Louis murmurs as he kisses his way down Harry’s bare chest. “Can’t believe that you picked me, of all the people in the world.”

“Only you, baby. It was only ever gonna be you.”

“I’m so lucky.”

“Me too,” Harry mumbles. His nerve endings feel like they’re on fire. Louis’ hands are touching everywhere except where he needs them.

Louis whispers promises and adorations across Harry’s skin, telling him how beautiful he looks in the soft lighting, how much he loves him and wants him.

“If you want me so much you should fuck me already,” Harry says, squirmy, and Louis only laughs and continues to whisper how much he loves him.

He’s absolutely desperate by the time that Louis inserts a finger, whining that he’s been ready for ages.

“I’m trying to be romantic,” Louis says as he pulls it out to come back with two. “I’m so lucky to have you, so glad you married me. You’re the best husband in the world.”

“I love you too,” Harry says, and then he drags Louis up to give him a long kiss.

After an agonizing moment, Louis finally finds a condom. He slaps Harry’s hand away when he tries to help him put it on. “Gonna make you feel so good,” Louis says.

“You always do,” Harry says, the words a ragged moan as Louis starts to push into him. “Love you so much, so lucky to have you, so glad I’m yours.”

“You’re mine,” Louis says, leaning down to kiss him. “Always and forever. And I’m yours.”

--

Louis wears Harry’s favorite Rolling Stones shirt to breakfast the next morning, the same shirt that Louis always begs him to throw out because it’s falling apart.

“Look at this,” he says, holding it out in front of him. “This hole is as big as my hand.”

“So we’ll grab safety pins from the hotel before we go,” Harry shrugs. “No big deal.”

He uses his fork to steal some home fries off Louis’ plate. Louis gives him a pointed look, but stays quiet.

“Nice ring,” Harry says, grabbing Louis’ hand to look at the small silver band that sits on his ring finger.

“Eh, just this thing some guy gave me last night. Not sure I’m gonna keep it.”

“You better,” Harry warns, rubbing his thumb over the ring. “Anyway, it’s just a cheap one, so if you lose it again, no big deal.”

“Wow, you have so little faith in me,” Louis says, mock affronted.

“And so much data to support my claims.”

Harry’s about to say that no matter what, the ring is only ever about what it represents, not the ring itself, when in his peripheral vision he sees Kylie Allen walking toward them. He freezes: his hand is caressing Louis’, Louis is wearing his shirt, they’ve clearly spent the night together. He doesn’t drop Louis’ hand.

“Hi, Mr. T, Mr Styles. Funny I would run into you here!” Kylie says, her voice animated.

“Hey, Kylie.”

“Morning,” adds Harry. “Did you have a fun night?”

“I did, yeah.” She rubs one eye, sending a streak of eye makeup across her cheek. She looks like she didn’t get much sleep. Oh, to be eighteen again. “I was just… we were just wondering,” she says, gesturing to a group of students at a table across the restaurant, who are looking on eagerly, “are you guys together? Like, together together?”

He looks at Louis, who just shrugs. After all this time, they’re tired. A big reveal is never going to accomplish anything; might as well go out with a whimper.

Harry winks at her. “Don’t tell anyone, promise?”

Her mouth falls open and for a moment, she freezes, completely stunned. She whispers a soft, “Yeah, uh, okay,” then turns away, clearly whispering “ oh my god ” as she backs away from the table slowly. Harry and Louis watch as she collapses into the seat at the table with her friends, who crowd around her, desperate for information.

“Well, I think that’ll do it,” Louis says, squeezing Harry’s hand. “How long do you think it’ll take to blow over?”

“Eh, it might be alright by the time school starts again. And,” he grins, elbowing Louis’ side, “I think I know the perfect follow up.”

--

It’s just a brief brush of Louis’ lips over Harry’s cheek on the stage at graduation when he returns to his seat after giving out a few French awards, but the crowd still goes wild. Harry grins and squeezes his hand, and that’s that.

Everyone knows, and summer vacation starts in three days, and they never have to hide again.

--

The ring of the last bell of the school year is anticlimactic for Harry, considering that the actual students have been gone for two days now.

He does a last visual sweep of his classroom to make sure he isn’t leaving anything behind, and then he shuts off the light and closes the door. It’s been a good year in this room, and he looks forward to returning next year. For now, he’s ready for a summer of adventures with his husband.

He crosses the hall to Louis’ classroom and knocks on the door. Louis silences the loud music that’s playing from his laptop and signals to him to open it.

“Hey, you ready to go?”

“Yeah, let me just pack up my stuff,” Louis says, and Harry watches him dart around the room, grabbing pens and a pair of sunglasses and even a spare sweatshirt, stuffing it all into his bag. “Okay, I’m good.”

“Your car keys are over there, we might need those,” Harry points out with a grin.

“Oh, right.” Louis grabs them and pecks Harry on the cheek. “What would I do without you?”

“Starve, probably,” Harry quips.

Louis turns off the light and shuts the door without any fanfare. He slips his hand into Harry’s and together they walk out into the bright sunlight, heat and light chasing them out into the beginning of a great summer.

 

Art by Harrehleh