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my kingdom for a kiss (tonight you're on my mind)

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The secluded VIP lounge is on the second-story of the club with the floor below and level above them crowded with people but their little inlet limited only to the Prince of Wales and his entourage. No more than thirty people spread across the richly decorated area, plush sofas and chairs in a large circle, a glass table in the middle of the room piled high with empty glasses.

Accustomed to having people hovering around and cleaning up after him, Louis sits back on his sofa, legs crossed as his eyes flicker over the people gathered to celebrate his birthday. It’d taken a great deal of begging for his Mum to allow the trip, but the Queen had relented finally on the condition that Louis use this as a last hurrah of sorts before settling more seriously into his princely duties.

He’d agreed, and now finds himself surrounded by the friends his mum has approved and a handful of security staff and aides. He plays distractedly with his necklace out of habit- his grandfather’s wedding ring heavy on its chain. He watches a man clear the table space in front of Louis’ seat, curly-looking locks pulled loosely back into a bun at the crown of his head.

Louis doesn’t know him but vaguely recalls seeing him speaking with Niall earlier. He’d watched from across the VIP area as the two told a story- constantly interrupting each other and laughing at their inside jokes- to a small crowd who laughed right along with them. Niall’s taste in friends has always been great- Louis would have never met Bressie or Eoghan if it weren’t for him- and if his favorite chef and good mate thinks the curly-haired lad is interesting, then Louis thinks he should pay him a bit of attention.

He debates calling out to him now but he’s struck silent, fascinated as he watches him diligently cleaning up glasses and assisting one of the VIP waitresses. She smiles, clearly charmed, and the lad grins back and says something low that Louis can’t hear. He can see the waitress give him a once-over, clearly interested, but he just continues helping her tidy up and side-steps slightly when she gets too close.

The movement is barely perceptible but recognisable to Louis and he spares a passing thought to the lad’s large, ring-clad hands as they finish sweeping up empty glasses. He moves away without even looking in Louis’ direction and he’s seen that move before, figures he must work somewhere in the palace and had come along at Niall’s invitation.

Only the palace workers have learned the truly remarkable art of politely ignoring the royal family while they’re working. Louis assumes it has something to do with trying to look invisible and he makes a mental note to ask Niall about it one day.

That move could come in handy if he’s ever trying to avoid his mum, though her focus is normally laser-pointed at him. He can’t really blame her; he’s often the source of most of her stress.

The pulsing beat of the club’s bass is echoing in his body, making his blood hum in his veins and his heart beat harder. He’s sipping on his third drink- some tequila mix Zayn had promised would help him enjoy his last weekend of freedom. It’s tasty enough, and he can already feel the alcohol warming him from the inside. He laughs when he sees Zayn inching closer to Louis’ PA, Liam’s face open and sweet. Louis can tell Liam is completely oblivious to Zayn’s intent, too naive to believe a man of Zayn’s status would be flirting with him.

It’s a dance that Zayn’s been learning the steps to since the Queen appointed Liam to Louis’ staff over the summer. He pushes as far as Liam will let him and then, the next time, he pushes just a bit further. Liam lets Zayn sling an arm around his neck now, will let Zayn come close and duck their heads together, telling jokes and having whispered conversations. Louis’ a bit impressed when he watches Zayn place his hand unnecessarily high on Liam’s thigh. The move is far from original but seems to be effective, Liam’s smile growing wider as Zayn leans in to shout something into Liam’s ear, the loud music allowing the pretense that they need to be so close.

Louis looks a little harder and smirks around another sip of his drink as he sees Zayn’s fingers clenching in the denim of Liam’s jeans, his pinky finger tracing the inseam. He also sees the exact moment Zayn strikes out again, when Liam seems to realise the touch and scoots away, ducking his head in a shy fashion.

Zayn frowns slightly but lets his hand fall away, facing Liam still as he continues the conversation, clearly trying to set himself up for a smooth recovery. Louis leans back into his seat with another sigh, looking around for the lad who had captured his interest for a moment, but he’s gone.

“What’s the frown for, little prince?” Alberto asks, looking over at him expectantly. “Is this not the birthday bash you begged for?”

Louis rolls his eyes and looks up at the head of his security. “It’d be better if I had a slightly longer leash.”

He gets nothing but a shrug in return, Alberto’s clear way of refusing to take blame. “You know the rules well enough: you’re to keep away from the masses and not make a fool of yourself.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Louis mutters under his breath, unsure if his voice is loud enough to carry. Alberto seems to get the message though, throwing a heavy arm around Louis’ shoulders and pulling him close.

“If I give you one hour on the main floor, will you keep that scowl off your face?”

Louis perks up at that, sitting up straight with both feet on the floor. Zayn sees his movement and comes to stand before them.

“You better not be kidding,” Louis warns.

“About what?” Zayn asks.

A sigh escapes Alberto’s lips, but he gets up and paces across the room. He stops when he gets to the balcony ledge, big hands gripping tightly to the balustrade. Louis and Zayn follow him, flanking him when they reach where he’s stood.

“I can see every single inch of the floor from here,” Alberto says. “I will give you one hour- no more- and if I lose sight of either of you for more than fifteen seconds, I will hunt you down and drag you back home immediately.”

Louis can’t keep the smile off his face, feeling buoyant with excitement at the promise of a chance at real, true anonymity. The press of the crowd in the dark room will hinder anyone from getting a good look at his face and the ones that do see him probably won’t recognise him. The details of his trip to Las Vegas have mostly been kept quiet and he finds most Americans don’t care anymore about the eligible Prince of Wales ever since he came out at eighteen.

He grabs Zayn’s hand and pulls him along, striding up to the velvet rope that separates their section from the rest of the club. He’s just about to unhook one of the ends and slip out when Alberto’s voice stops them.

“Not so fast, little Prince.”

Louis falls back, head hanging. “You know,” he starts, affecting his haughtiest tone, “one of these days I’m going to make you call me ‘Your Highness’.”

“Aye, little Prince,” Alberto answers, smirking when Louis finally looks back to him. “You’re not going down there alone.”

“But you said-”

“I said,” he replies, “that you could go down there. I didn’t say who’d be with you.” He turns and looks behind him. “Liam!”

Next to him, Zayn perks right back up, grin uncontrollable and a bit silly. The feeling that settles into Louis’ gut feels a bit like dread, though. Liam’s great fun as far as aides go, but he’s a stickler for the rules and he won’t let Zayn and Louis slip away, which is of course what Louis had been planning.

It’s a bit of a consolation to see Liam looking as unhappy about the terms as Louis does, though Zayn pulls his hand away and bounds over to Liam, coaxing him from his seat with a smile. Liam lets him pull him up, always one to follow direct orders and maybe a little interested in having fun, and they join Louis back at the barricade.

“One hour,” Alberto reminds, hooking the rope back up behind them and waving them away as he retreats back to his spot overlooking the crowded floor.

The music is even louder as they rush down the steps, the steady bass lifting Louis’ spirits. He may still have a babysitter but he’s freer than he thought he’d be this trip, and he’ll cherish every minute away from his team. They visit the bar first, Liam shouting their orders out for the bartender. Louis sees Liam blush when the bartender gives him an indiscreet once-over, and Louis stores the knowledge away for later. Maybe he isn’t as oblivious to Zayn’s advances as he lets on.

A quick glance upwards reveals Alberto keeping watch as he’d said, and Louis holds up his shot glass in a mock salute, tipping it back and grimacing as it burns going down. He watches Alberto laugh at him and he grins back, happy enough with the slack in his leash to be a good sport.

They shove their way into the thickest mass of bodies, dancing with a group of girls wearing sorority t-shirts. They’re nice girls, talking and laughing with them over the music, and Louis lets himself forget some of his concerns and lose himself in the music.

After some time, he checks his watch, noting half of his allotted hour is gone. He sighs and must catch Zayn’s attention, because an arm wraps around his shoulders and draws him in.

“How drunk are you?” Zayn shouts into his ear.

“Not drunk enough to go along with any of your schemes,” he retorts easily.

Zayn laughs against him, pulling him into a makeshift circle with Liam, who shoots the girl he’d been dancing with a smile in apology. She shrugs and finds another partner to dance with, and Liam looks at them in question.

“What’s going on?” he asks.

“Well, Leeyum, I noticed our Prince here eyeing a certain curly-haired lad earlier. You know anything about him?”

Liam shifts, uncomfortable. “You mean Harry,” he says. “I don’t think-”

Louis cuts him off. “Don’t start with that ‘thinking’ stuff, Payno.”

Laughing when Liam glares at him instinctively and then enjoying even further the strained look on his face when he realises Louis’ technically his boss, Louis decides to poke a bit further.

“Well, Liam?” Louis teases. “What do you know about Harry, then?”

Liam doesn’t answer right away. The music is numbingly loud where they are and Zayn drags them into a quieter corner, a small nook before the loos that is miles quieter than the rest of the floor.

“Harry’s a good lad. He’s been working in the kitchens for a few months; he makes those croissants you like so much.”

The memory of those croissants teases at Louis’ senses. They really are quite fantastic.

“You wouldn’t like him much and he probably wouldn’t go for you,” Liam adds, an unnecessary smirk on his face.

“I resent that, Liam,” Louis retorts.

“He’s a ‘rule-follower’ like me, the last thing he’d do is let you charm him,” he says, using air-quotes.

Zayn’s watching the exchange with a bit of a smirk on his face. He wraps his hand around Liam’s waist and positions them both in front of Louis.

“You going to take that, Tommo?” Zayn taunts. “Going to let your overpriced babysitter tell you who you can and cannot shag?”

“That’s not what I was doing-” Liam tries but Louis shushes him impatiently.

They stand in as much silence as possible in their little nook tucked away from the crowd. Louis turns around, can see where Alberto’s shifted to keep an eye on them.

“What are the terms?” Louis asks Zayn.

“Standard,” he replies. “You have until the morning to get him.”

Louis takes a moment to think about it. He knows Liam didn’t mean his words as a challenge but his overly competitive nature is taking them that way. He remembers Harry’s large hands and broad shoulders and thinks it probably doesn’t matter that much either way; if it gives him an excuse to pursue Harry, Louis is certainly not going to complain.

“I accept,” he says, holding out his hand for Zayn to shake. “Don’t even think about telling him, either,” he warns, poking Liam in the shoulder. “Always taking the fun out of things, Payno.”

Liam looks annoyed but he just nods, leaning into Zayn’s side for a moment too long before he pulls away and storms back up the stairs.

Louis is surprised he never noticed Liam’s attraction to Zayn before. He thinks about saying something now to Zayn, since they’re alone, but he bites his tongue and saves the knowledge for another time.

Watching Zayn unsuccessfully woo Liam is terribly entertaining.

Zayn’s voice startles him out of his thoughts. “Shall we make Alberto’s job a bit easier and go pay a visit to a certain servant boy?”

Louis turns and looks to Zayn, a smirk on his face. “‘Servant boy,’ really?” he drawls. “Is this some B-rated amateur porn?”

“We’ll find out in the morning if the shag is worth filming,” Zayn says, winking. He grabs Louis’ arm and they rush up the steps.

Alberto looks at them suspiciously but knows better than to ask why they’ve returned early, just settles into a chair pulled back from the mix of people and watches over the small crowd as Louis’ friends get louder and louder now that the night is in full force. Louis forgets about the eyes on him easily, so used to being watched that he feels weirder when he’s alone than when he’s in a crowd.

He loses himself in the company around him, always keeping an eye on Harry as he knocks back several shots, feeling the last of his inhibitions slowly fade away. He finally approaches Harry, noticing the way his spine stiffens when he realises who’s just come up next to him.

“Hi,” Louis says.

Smooth, Tommo. Sweep him off his feet one syllable at a time.

“Erm, hi,” Harry responds, straightening up and turning to face him.

There’s a slight height difference that has Louis looking up into sharp green eyes, and he smirks as he steps closer, his hand coming up to finger gently at the hem of Harry’s shirt. Some of Harry’s curls have fallen from his bun, the strands of hair sticking to his temples where he’s slick with sweat.

“I hear you’re the one who makes those delicious croissants back home.”

Really, Louis thinks to himself, why am I talking about croissants?

Harry flushes and shifts, his feet terribly pigeon-toed as he hunches a bit. Louis thinks he’s probably trying to make himself look smaller. “I worked in a bakery back home before I got the position on your staff.”

Louis reaches a hand up, tucking one of the loose locks behind Harry’s ear.

“You’re awfully pretty,” he says, watching as Harry’s flush grows darker.

“Erm,” he stutters, voice slow. “Thank you, Your Highness.”

Louis laughs, his fingers still on the lobe of Harry’s ear. “Just call me Louis.”

Harry pulls back quickly, stumbling a bit as he puts distance between them. “I should actually be going, Your High- erm, Louis,” he says, correcting himself when Louis narrows his eyes.

The look on Harry’s face reminds Louis of startled horses, and he lets him pull back and turn around and walk away. He frowns as he contemplates his next move before he stalks over to Zayn and Liam, who are bonding over his failed attempt to pull.

“Double the terms and I get until tomorrow night, too,” Louis says, hand out.

Zayn quiets his laughter quickly. “Double, Louis? Are you sure?”

He expression is eager though and he only waits for Louis to nod before sticking his hand out and shaking it firmly.

“You’re on.”

“Guys?” Liam looks nervous. “What are the terms?”

“Don’t worry about it, Payno,” Louis dismisses. “Just make sure Harry is around tomorrow night, too. Let Niall know where we’re going to be.”

“Louis, come on,” Liam persists. “What are the terms? Don’t hurt Harry trying to win a bet.”

Louis takes pause at that, turning to give his full attention to Liam. “I wouldn’t, Li. I’m not going to hurt anyone, I promise.”

Seemingly pacified, Liam settles back into his seat.

“Catch you tomorrow,” he says, making his way to Alberto and letting him know he wants to leave. He turns back again one more time, smiling when he sees Zayn’s arm around Liam’s shoulder, Liam tucked against his side as he talks, gesturing frantically with his hands. Before he leaves, he finds Harry watching him with a puzzled look on his face.

Not wanting to startle him off again, Louis just nods at him and smiles, pleased when Harry smiles back, cheek dimpling.

Fuck, that dimple could kill.

He follows Alberto down the stairs, keeping close to him as the crowd ebbs and flows around them. He lets Alberto put him into a car and slumps against the seat, plotting his next moves to get Harry.

~*~

The bright sunshine hurts his eyes when he wakes, but Louis just buries his head under his pillow and tries to find his way back to the lovely dream he’d been having- Harry’s large hands pinning him to the bed, broad shoulders blocking out the moonlight and curly locks of hair falling around them like a veil.

His phone is buzzing on the floor, though, and he unwillingly pulls himself from the bed, dropping to his knees next to his discarded pile of clothes and fishing his mobile out from the pocket of his jeans. He scrolls past the dozens of notifications set to silent on his phone, ignoring the emails and calendar notes as he finds the source of the buzzing.

Liam’s texted: got Harry to agree to hang out, don’t b mean to him plaese!1 hes nice and too good for youu

Louis rolls his eyes, clearing the rest of his notifications methodically. He rises from the floor, stretching his arms wide as he yawns before he makes his way into the bathroom, startled when he finds Zayn slumped against the edge of the large, round bathtub.

Fuck!” he shouts in surprise, banging back against the doorframe.

Clearly alive and fighting consciousness with all his might, Zayn mumbles, “Shove off, ‘m sleeping,” and shifts further onto his side, trying to tuck his head into the porcelain Jacuzzi tub and pulling back in confusion when he can’t.

“The hell am I doing in here?” he mutters, blinking open his eyes and looking to Louis.

His heartbeat returning to normal, Louis ignores the question and walks further into the bathroom, rubbing his shoulder where it’s sore from impact. He steps into the separate toilet, and can hear Zayn climbing out of the bath.

“What happened after I left, anyway?” Louis asks, stepping to the sink and washing his hands. He watches Zayn in the large mirror, noting the faintly hungover signs in the pull of his eyebrows and the way his eyes are half-closed against the sun coming in through the large, frosted window arching over the bath.

“Lots of shots,” Zayn says with a groan.

Louis hums in acknowledgement and waits as Zayn splashes cold water on his face, brushing his hair back from his forehead with his hands.

“You ever gonna tame that mane?” Louis teases, watching as Zayn tucks his long curls behind his ears. “Your mum must be going mental chasing you around with clippers.”

Zayn shrugs but smiles. “You’re one to talk. At least bookies didn’t have bets going on when I’d cut my hair. Saw your ugly mug on the front of every tabloid.”

“Isn’t my mug always in the tabloids?” Louis asks rhetorically.

Zayn laughs and dries his face off with the discarded flannel. He follows Louis out of the room and immediately faceplants into the bed.

“Nope, nuh-uh, get up,” Louis says, poking him in the side.

“Don’ wanna,” Zayn whines into the pillow. “Let’s just sleep and cuddle and maybe order some of those big waffles with whipped cream.”

Louis laughs and goes to one of his suitcases, crouching down and flipping it open, digging around for his swim trunks. He stands again and quickly slips them on over his pants, pulling a pair of joggers over it all. “You can stuff your face, if you’d like. I figured I’d invite Liam and Niall up here to have a bit of a swim. Liam’ll probably wear those black trunks you like so much.”

Louis doesn’t think he’s ever seen Zayn get out of bed so quickly.

“Thought you might reconsider,” he teases.

“Shut up,” Zayn says but there’s hardly any heat behind it. “I’ll meet you back here in a half-hour, twat.”

His room door slamming has never sounded so fun. He hears the lift open in the next room over and chuckles as he grabs his cell phone to text Liam and Niall and tell them to come up, a separate text to Liam filled with emojis to try and convince him to bring Harry along, too.

~*~

He’s still messing around on his mobile when he hears the lift into the suite opening. He turns and smiles when Liam and Niall walk in, closely followed by Harry.

“Lads!” he calls, standing and striding closer to them.

It may be his imagination or wishful thinking, but it seems like Harry’s eyes linger on his bare chest for a moment too long to be considered completely ‘friendly’. By the time Louis’ disentangled himself from Niall’s hug, Harry’s staring at the floor.

“Harry, right?” Louis asks as if he isn’t already vividly aware, holding out his hand.

He looks hesitant to take it but then Niall pokes an elbow into Harry’s ribs and he startles forward.

“Thank you for inviting me, Your- Louis,” he says, correcting himself when he sees Louis raise his eyebrows pointedly.

“Any friend of Niall’s is a friend of mine,” he declares grandly, before slipping off his joggers and racing through the living room to the small indoor pool before the terrace, cannonballing into the water with a shout.

He breaks the surface, the heated pool startling his senses compared to the cooler temperatures outside. He looks at the lads still standing where he’d left them, Niall and Harry laughing while Liam looks almost pained.

“We’re inside, Louis,” Liam hisses as they approach. “Was that necessary?”

Louis just frowns and splashes at his feet, kicking onto his back and floating away. He can see them undress out of the corner of his eye, a surprising amount of tattoos inked onto Harry’s skin as he strips down to a pair of criminally tiny yellow shorts.

He wades to the shallow end of the modestly-sized pool, Liam and Niall using the stairs to get into the water. He turns to where he’d last seen Harry but he’s not there, and before he can turn again to look for him he hears a yelp of ‘Geronimo!’ and then feels a wave as Harry splashes in next to him, knees tucked into his arms.

“Nice form!” he yells when Harry breaks the surface, long hair hanging wet down his neck, plastered to his skin. Louis swims back over to him.

“Great,” Louis hears Liam tell Niall behind him, “there’s two of them now.”

Niall and Harry both laugh in unison and Louis splashes Harry once, a small wave breaking against his chest, giggling when Harry splashes back on instinct and then looks in horror when he realises what he’s done.

“Calm down, Hazza,” Niall says before he sneaks up behind Louis and dunks him.

Caught off guard, Louis gets water up his nose and swallows a larger amount, coughing when he comes back up.

“I’ll behead you,” he warns, “don’t think I won’t. Harry makes better croissants than you by far.”

Clearly not believing his threat, the other three just laugh at him and he splashes them all in turn, a full out naval war breaking out as the others gang up against him.

~*~

The morning passes slowly, the four of them wading in the pool for a bit before getting out and drying off and redressing, Louis lending Niall a jumper as they make their way outside onto the terrace.

“You keep threatening to have people beheaded,” Harry notes quietly as they all curl into the sofa on the brick-paved patio. Louis clutches a pillow in his arms as he watches Harry’s face, amazement clear when he takes in the view of the strip from where they’re seated.

“It’s treason against the crown to drown the future King, young Hazza,” he says with a laugh.

Harry rolls his eyes but his smile seems fond when he looks back and Louis ignores the flush he feels on his cheeks.

“Have you ever seen the Eiffel Tower?” Liam asks, pointing out the large decoration in front of the Paris Hotel.

Harry laughs and shakes his head, kneeling on the sofa and looking through the tall, thick glass that surrounds the half-wall around the patio.

“Stick with us, kid, you’ll see the stars,” Niall says, having procured a bag of crisps from somewhere and offering some to Louis when he notices his startled look.

“Did you magic those up?” he teases, taking a handful and passing the bag back.

“Is Zayn coming?” Liam asks.

The hopeful tone of his voice does not go unnoticed, and Louis and Harry share a look. Surprised that he isn’t the only one who’s noticed their awkward interactions, Louis almost forgets the question.

“Guess not,” he finally answers. He notices Harry shivering and gets them all back inside.

“‘M fine,” he protests.

Rolling his eyes, Louis shoves him gently in the back to get him to keep walking. “I’m not having you catch your death because you’re out in the cold with wet hair.”

“That’s an old wives’ tale,” Niall says but he goes inside willingly anyway when Louis glares at him.

They make plans to meet up for lunch after they’re completely dried off and Louis takes the lift down with them, getting off at Zayn’s floor and leaving them behind.

“Zayn Javadd, you better be dead,” he shouts as he storms into his suite, closing the door behind him.

He hears a mutter behind him and he spins around, mouth open to shout again but he stops in surprise when he sees the man standing before him.

“I didn’t mean cut your hair today,” he says weakly.

Zayn grins, fingers tangling through his hair. Louis circles him once, eyeing the buzzed sides and the way the waves fall in his eyes. He whistles.

“You’re going to be on every magazine cover now. Nobleman’s son shaves his head during bender in Vegas.”

“You like it? My cousin got it, and I thought it was so sick.”

“You look really fit, Zayn. Honest, it makes you look so sick.” A thought occurred to Louis. “Wait until Liam sees, he is going to lose his shit.”

Zayn lets his head fall forward, his hair falling into his eyes again. “I’m never going to get him to go out with me,” he moans, sinking into a chair in the seating area and pushing his hair back again.

Taking pity on his friend, Louis pats him on the back. “Liam’s more interested than you think,” he confides. “Just go slow, don’t scare him off constantly. I’m taking a shower and meeting up with them in thirty minutes for lunch. You should come with.”

He waits until Zayn agrees to go, smile wide on his face, before leaving and going back up to his room. He showers quickly, the warm water feeling nice against the cool slick of his hair from being outside in the desert winter. It isn’t completely cold out, the weather similar to spring in London, but it feels nice to be honestly warm again before he gets out.

He eyes the things he brought with him in his luggage, selecting a pair of black skinny jeans and an oversized t-shirt. He styles his hair quickly, trying to convince himself that he isn’t nervous about spending more time with Harry.

Reminding himself that it’s just a bet and doesn’t mean anything, he stops fiddling with his hair and lets it be, taking one last look in the mirror before stepping back and leaving his suite. He knocks on Alberto’s door.

“Where are we off to today, little Prince?” Alberto asks as he lets him into the room.

“Lunch with some of the lads. Also, Zayn shaved the sides of his head, so make sure to compliment him. You know how vain he gets.”

Alberto just laughs and grabs his keycard, ushering Louis out the door.

They’re waiting for the lift when Alberto leans in closer. “Harry’s a good kid, Lou. Be careful.”

Louis rolls his eyes so hard he almost blacks out. “One: I’m not some evil prat who’s going to chew him up and spit him out, and two: I will actually be King one day. I’m sure I’ll remember you constantly holding me back from fun.”

The sound of laughter causes Louis to jerk his head around, staring at him. “Why does everyone assume I’m going to ruin Harry if no one takes my threats seriously? I must not be very scary.”

“Terrifying, little Prince. You’re completely terrifying,” he assures Louis, following him into the lift once the doors open for them.

~*~

They eat at Margaritaville, on a patio overlooking the strip. Harry, in particular, is fascinated with people watching; the large shades he’s wearing not doing much to hide his wide-eyed gazing at everyone passing by.

“I take it you’ve never been to America, either then,” Louis observes.

Harry turns in his seat and looks at him, face already slightly tanned from their morning spent in the glassed-in pool. “I’ve never been anywhere, to be honest. London’s the furthest from home until this trip. Mum suggested I get my passport when I started working in the palace, so when Niall asked if I wanted to be his guest, I took the opportunity. Thank you again, this has been so great.”

Louis flushes under Harry’s sincerity and fiddles nervously with the ring on the chain around his neck. “Don’t thank me yet,” he tries, but his tone falls flat and Harry averts his gaze as their food is served.

The table is covered with empty plates and glasses by the time they’re done eating, and Louis reaches over to grab Harry’s hand when he starts trying to pile them up.

“‘M pretty sure you’re not supposed to work on holiday,” he says, trailing his index finger along the largest of Harry’s rings on his thumb, eyeing the others decorating his fingers. There’s at least one on almost every finger, different levels of tarnish but all silver. He shakes himself out of it, wrenching his gaze away and taking over for Harry, sliding all of the remaining food onto one plate, stacking the empties together.

He ignores the look Liam and Zayn throw him, resolving to use their actions against them if they call him out on his. Liam’s cheeks have been a pretty shade of pink since he saw Zayn’s new haircut and- at one point- Louis is pretty sure he saw Zayn feed Liam a bite of his lamb.

It’s quite disgusting what they’re doing, in Louis’ opinion. Niall’s the only one who hasn’t completely turned Louis off his food, his loud laughter and sunny disposition keeping his spirits lifted.

Harry just smiles, cheeks dimpling again. He relaxes back into his seat and tilts his head to the right towards the street, though Louis thinks he’s possibly still looking over at him.

~*~

The club that night is different than the one before but utterly the same, all at once. The white sofas and chairs are replaced with a black sectional, fitted together in the shape of a ‘U’. The table is smaller but there’s a bar that serves the VIP areas only, and Louis makes it his mission to drink his weight in alcohol.

“This is nice,” Harry says over the music.

Deciding to take a page from Zayn’s playbook, he presses closer to Harry as if he can’t hear him. He sets his hand on Harry’s thigh just above his knee, fingers splayed across the black denim of his jeans. Harry doesn’t move away, just pushes himself closer and repeats his words directly into Louis’ ear.

“I can be very nice, Harry,” he replies, lips a bare centimeter from Harry’s skin.

Pulling back, he squeezes Harry’s thigh once before ordering a round of shots. He hands one to Harry and one to Niall, before pulling Zayn and Liam into their group and calling for a toast.

“Gentleman, lads, men of all ages-” he starts.

“Pretty sure we’re all just about the same age,” Niall cuts in, laughing.

Twat,” Louis replies, before carrying on. “Cliché as it may be: let’s make tonight legendary. What happens in Vegas gets printed in the tabloids, that whole jazz.”

Harry laughs hard at that though it wasn’t extraordinarily funny, mouth open wide and complete delight written on his face. Zayn shoots him an incredulous look but Louis is pleased, trying to keep his expression from getting too fond and probably failing.

After that, another round is ordered, and then a third.

The last thing Louis is aware of is dancing against Harry on the crowded floor, Alberto looking down at them while Harry pushes him against the wall and presses their mouths together.

~*~

The next morning starts very similar to the last; Louis’ mobile is vibrating somewhere on the floor and the sun is entirely too bright, cascading in through the windows.

However, he realises fairly soon all the ways that this morning is entirely different; Louis’ face is resting on a warm expanse of skin and an arm is under his body and around his shoulders. For a moment he thinks it might be Zayn- wouldn’t be the first time they’ve woken up cuddling after a night out- and a curl tickling his nose convinces him he’s right, before he remembers the way Liam had been running his hands through Zayn’s new haircut all night and the way their fingers had been linked as they danced.

He pushes himself up so he’s hovering, looking down at Harry and watching as his lips pout and he curls closer to Louis’ warmth in his sleep. For the first time since they met, Harry's hair is both loose and dry at the same time, several pieces fanned against the pillow but most of it tangled behind his head. Louis reaches his left hand to tuck the piece that had been tickling his nose behind Harry’s ear, motion aborted when a gleam of metal catches his eye.

The ring resembles the many that Harry wears but it looks foreign on Louis’ fourth finger, the weight heavy as he clenches his fist and lowers his hand back to the bed. He drags his gaze down the broad expanse of Harry’s chest, trailing over the lines of his tattoos he only caught a glimpse of in the pool yesterday. Harry’s left hand is resting low on his stomach, fingers tucked into the waistband on his pants and he can’t see what he’s looking for.

“I need to pull down your pants a bit,” Louis says, realising the utter lunacy of speaking to a sleeping man. “I’m not looking at anything,” he starts again, then stops when he has a sudden realisation. “Though, maybe I’ve already seen it.” He shakes his head, deciding to himself to stay quiet for a bit.

The waistband comes easily, elastic clearly old and stretched out. He pulls Harry’s hand up and lets the band snap back, watching as Harry curls his fingers around Louis’ hand in his sleep.

Even though he knows the chain around his neck is empty and there's really only one way that had happened, the sight of his familiar platinum band on Harry’s fourth finger makes Louis’ breath catch in his throat. His grandfather’s ring fits snugly on Harry’s hand. He drops Harry’s hand and scrambles back off the bed- hazy, drunk memories from last night overwhelming him.

He remembers getting totally trashed, drunk out of his mind with the lads. He remembers Zayn reminding him about the bet, counting down the hours. Liam- who was drunker than Louis off of half the amount of alcohol- had raised the stakes, triple or nothing and Niall, holding his liquor like a pro, had seconded the motion, though he hadn’t known what they were talking about.

Louis remembers laughing at that, asking what he would have to do to win. Zayn had said “marry him” and Louis had thought it was the best idea in the world.

“Oh, bloody fucking hell,” he moans, dropping his head to his hands.

The sound of rustling grabs his attention and he raises his head, looking where Harry is waking up. The duvet is kicked off the end of the bed and the bedsheets are wrapped tightly around his waist, the movement of his thighs apparent under the light material.

“Morning,” Harry mumbles when he opens his eyes and sees Louis watching him.

“Yeah, morning,” Louis returns. He doesn’t want to freak Harry out but he really needs to figure out everything from the night before. He climbs back on the bed cautiously.

Clearly remembering something, Harry pushes himself up into a sitting position and looks at Louis with wide eyes.

“Did we get married?” he asks, voice hoarse with sleep.

His face is pale and his hand shakes as he looks down at the ring.

“Erm, yes? I think,” Louis says, kneeling on the edge of the bed.

“What are we going to do?”

“I’m not sure. I’ll have to tell Liam, if he doesn’t already know. He’ll handle-” he stops, suddenly struck.

“What?” Harry asks, reaching out his hand and palming Louis’ arm.

“Oh fuck, I’m going to have to tell my mum,” Louis says, closing his eyes.

The silence stretches between them for a long moment until Harry starts breathing heavily. “I’m going to have to tell the Queen,” he says. “And my mum.”

Louis can’t help but smile at Harry’s nerves, opening one eye and looking at him. “Who are you more scared of?” he teases.

Harry doesn’t seem to enjoy his humour at the moment, practically hyperventilating as he tries to disentangle himself from the sheets. Louis calms him like he would a colt, murmuring softly and running a soothing hand along his spine.

“I need my puffer,” Harry says, moving away and going to his discarded skinny jeans, pulling out an inhaler and taking a puff. He breathes for a moment and Louis sinks back against the pillows, legs crossed underneath him as he watches Harry take another puff.

“Sorry,” Harry says, turning back to face him.

Louis just shrugs, used to guys with minor asthma from his old uni’s footie team needing a break when they’d push too hard. He pats the spot in front of him and Harry climbs onto the bed again, long legs folding underneath his bum in a mirror of Louis’ pose.

“Maybe we can get it annulled and then you won’t have to tell your mum anything,” Louis offers.

Harry perks up, looking excited. “Is that a thing? That’s a thing, right? Can we do that?”

Louis shrugs again, picking at a loose thread in his black boxer-briefs. “I mean, we can do that. As long as we didn’t… you know.”

“Didn’t what?”

Louis rolls his eyes, blowing his fringe from his forehead with a sigh. “You know, Harry.” At the puzzled expression on Harry’s face, he continues. “As long as we didn’t consummate it or whatever.”

“Oh.” Harry looks a little relieved. “I don’t really remember if we did last night, do you?”

Louis shakes his head, staring at Harry. He doesn’t know how to ask the next question. Harry’s no help, staring back at him, still confused.

“Well,” Louis starts, clearing his throat. “Are you sore, erm, anywhere?”

The bemused expression doesn’t clear. “Sore from what?”

Louis stares harder, willing Harry to read his mind. “Um, you know.”

“Well, I work out a lot so I probably wouldn’t notice. I’ve been doing a lot of leg days recently. Are you sore?” Harry responds brightly, and Louis clearly needs to work on his telepathy.

Completely confused, Louis takes a moment. Maybe Harry doesn’t realise what he’s asking. “I’m not sore, Harry,” he says, trying to speak slowly and get his point across. “I play footie all the time, I’m used to a workout.”

Harry waves his hand, smiling wide. “No, Louis,” he laughs. “Is your bum sore?”

Louis stares at him, shocked. Harry just continues to smile and give him encouraging looks, like he’s welcoming Louis to speak.

“Why would my bum be sore?” Louis finally asks. “Isn’t yours sore?”

He must have caught Harry off-guard, because his shoulders drop and his smile falls. “Erm, no. I’m fine.”

Louis snaps out, “I’m fine, too.”

Harry nods and bites his bottom lip. The sight is distracting so Louis turns away, arms crossed over his chest.

He fumes for a second before turning back. “Why would you just assume I’m the bottom?” he asks.

While he didn’t necessarily expect a quick response- even after only two days, it’s clear that Harry speaks slower than paint dries- he’s still surprised by the length of time it takes for Harry to form a response. “Well,” he starts finally, waving his hands around like he’s sizing Louis up. “You’re like, tiny. And, erm. Pocket-sized. And I’m all, you know. Like, bigger. And erm. Broad.”

Louis isn’t proud of the way he flushes at that, his dream from the night before coming back to him in sharp detail.

“Regardless,” he says, uncrossing his arms and letting them fall to his sides. “We didn’t, erm, consummate it clearly and we can just call Liam up and get this straightened out. Should be solved before you know it.”

“Fine,” Harry says, relieved the conversation is moving forward. “But you’re not telling the Queen it was me. Say it was Zayn or something. I’m not getting fired over this.”

Louis scoffs. “Like I’d do anything to jeopardise those croissants. They’re really bloody fantastic, Hazza.”

Harry smiles and ducks his head, pleased with the compliment. Something stirs in Louis’ chest, a wisp of emotion that makes him smile back fondly. He ignores it and grabs for his mobile on the floor, bracing himself for a busy morning of being yelled at by everyone he knows.

~*~

It’s already twilight outside by the time the emergency phone meeting is over. Louis’ been cuddled into Zayn’s side for the last half hour, letting Liam deal with the rest of the issues. Harry’s been on edge all day, skin pale again and clammy when Louis had tried to soothe him by brushing his hair from his face and promising it would all be okay.

Harry stands when the phone is finally off, awkwardly hovering. “Am I allowed to go back to my room?” he asks, voice small.

“Absolutely, Harry. Thank you,” Liam says, his tone clipped and completely professional. “Zayn will walk you.”

“Of course,” Zayn says, standing up as well when he hears Liam’s tone.

Louis pouts up at him and mouths traitor, causing Zayn to roll his eyes and smile back.

“Let me know when dad’s done yelling at you,” Zayn whispers when he bends down, smacking a kiss to Louis’ temple.

The door closes behind them quietly and Louis ignores the part of him that twinges when Harry doesn’t turn to say goodbye. He faces Liam instead, taking a deep breath and preparing himself for some shouting. What he doesn’t expect, is Liam slipping into the seat next to him, face earnest and sad.

“Your Highness, I am so sorry. I wasn’t paying attention and let you and Harry slip away. I accept complete responsibility for this.”

A range of emotions flicker in Louis’ mind one after another. There’s guilt at making Liam feel responsible, sadness at his friend slipping and calling him ‘Your Highness’ like he hasn’t since the beginning and then a flash of annoyance at constantly being treated like a child by everyone in his life. Another glance at Liam’s face solidifies the feeling as guilt though, realizing the reason people treat him like a child is because he acts like one- pulling stunts like this and causing people worry.

His mum is furious with him and horribly disappointed, Harry’s life would be completely destroyed if this scandal ever came out, and now Liam’s reverting back to his first days on the job, when he’d been too afraid of Louis to relax ever.

Instead of letting any of his emotions get to him, he pulls Liam into his arms, hugging him tight. “I’m sorry, Li,” he says, breathing the words out against Liam’s temple. “I’m sorry I ruined our holiday and I’m sorry I messed up so bad. You’re so great, you’re getting a week off as soon as this is over and I’m giving you a raise, too.”

Liam laughs a little, reaching his arms to hold Louis around the waist and hugging him back. “You’re saying you’re going to actually do what you’re supposed to?” he teases, and Louis laughs as he pulls back.

“Let’s just say I’m going to do better,” he decides. “Keep the bar kind of low. And don’t call me ‘Your Highness’ in private, you know the rules.”

Liam smiles at him and stands up again, organising the paperwork the PR people sent over. Louis helps, shuffling together a sample copy of the annulment papers he and Harry are going to be signing. He frowns at them and doesn’t care when he sees he’s wrinkled the corner a bit.

He stops when Liam grabs his left hand, lifting it up and looking at the ring Louis hadn’t realised he was still wearing.

“A bit nicer than what you get from a gumball machine,” he says. “You two were prepared, Harry’s got so many. What’d you do for his ring? Move one of the others over?”

The silence that follows Liam’s question is answer enough. Louis stubbornly doesn’t say anything, reaching for the stack of papers in Liam’s hand and putting them on top of his pile. He shoves them unnecessarily quickly into Liam’s bag and tries to turn away but Liam catches his arm gently, keeping him in place.

“Louis, tell me you didn’t…”

He meets Liam’s gaze and tries to hold it, but he can’t, eyes falling to his chin. He feels like a naughty child again. He stands still as Liam reaches his other hand out for the chain around Louis’ neck, pulling it out from under his jumper.

If Louis had expected a reaction when Liam finds the chain empty, he would have been disappointed. A quick glance shows that Liam doesn’t even blink, letting the chain fall back and stepping away.

“Don’t go on about it,” Louis says, trying to joke.

For his part, Liam just looks uncomfortable. “It’s just that… you won’t let anyone even touch it. You don’t let it be cleaned and won’t store it with your other jewelry and-”

Again, don’t go on about it,” Louis snaps.

“-you’re the one always telling me it’s the only thing you have left of your grandfather,” Liam finishes.

Liam!” Louis doesn’t like raising his voice, but his shout quiets Liam’s babbling.

He takes a deep breath as he thinks over his next words carefully. “I was very, very drunk,” he says, voice even. “I would not have given him my ring under any other circumstances and I will get it back from him as soon as I see him in the morning.”

Liam nods, pacified. “Course, Lou. I’m sorry.”

Louis nods. “I think I’m just going to stay in tonight, Liam. Is Alberto still on the couch?” Liam sticks his head around the door frame and nods when he ducks back in. “Wake him up and let him know he can go.”

“Aye-aye, sir,” Liam says, smiling. He grabs his bag and goes to leave, stopping before he reaches the door and turning around. “I’m sorry, again, if I dropped the ball. This job is so important to me, I don’t want to ever make you think I don’t take it seriously.”

“I know, Li. Thank you.”

With a last nod, Liam leaves the room. Louis can hear him waking Alberto and waits until they leave, burrowing under the blankets and throwing them over his head. He pulls out his phone and texts Zayn to come back to the room.

He waits under the blankets, barely breathing until Zayn lifts the duvet and slips in with him.

“You wanna talk about anything?” Zayn asks.

Louis shakes his head ‘no’, pressing himself further against Zayn’s side.

“Cool, I’m exhausted,” Zayn says and Louis smiles, breathing easier with the familiar weight of his best friend since childhood next to him, trying not to think about how the first minutes this morning- when he had been pressed against someone else- had also felt so right.

~*~

To Louis’ surprise, Zayn is the first one awake the next morning and Louis comes to with the smell of breakfast thick in the air and the curtains pulled back once again. Without the hangover, however, he finds himself much more willing to greet the sunlight, stretching in bed and even venturing over to the window, looking at the strip below him.

He exits his room after a quick wee, stopping just past the door when he sees Harry sitting at the table instead of Zayn as he’d expected.

“Oh,” he says, stumbling a bit when he starts walking again.

“Hi,” Harry says, voice meek as he stares down at the table. “Alberto let me in. I hope that’s okay.”

“Yeah, course it is,” Louis replies, taking a seat across from Harry. He sees Alberto standing in the kitchen, sullen look on his face as he nurses a cup of coffee. “You brought brekkie?”

“Erm, yeah. I didn’t know what you’d like and I didn’t have your number so I came up to ask but then I didn’t have access to your floor, of course, so I had to wake up Alberto- I don’t think he’s used to mornings, to be honest- and then all I knew was that you liked croissants and I didn’t think the ones here would be half as good as the ones at home- not that I think I’m a better chef than the ones here, I mean, they’re obviously professionals, but I thought you might prefer Niall’s cooking over someone else’s- anyway so I just got french toast and fruit because it seemed like a safe bet.”

Eyebrows having surely disappeared into his hair, Louis sits stunned for a moment when Harry stops to take a breath.

“That was… the most I’ve ever heard you speak,” Louis says slowly. “And possibly the fastest.”

“Well,” Harry says, taking a breath, “I’m nervous.”

He had thought Harry’s deep breath in was an indication of another long-winded, run-on sentence but the simple declaration surprises him into a laugh.

“What could be funny this early?” Alberto grumbles, coming in from the kitchen area and grabbing an apple from the table.

“I heard that one reason people laugh is because their brain is trying to help them understand something that startles them. That’s why there’s nervous laughter,” Harry explains.

“Didn’t tell me you hitched yourself to a brainiac, little Prince,” Alberto complains, biting the apple between his teeth as he sticks his now-free hand out to ruffle through Harry’s loose curls.

Harry flushes, ducking his head and patting his hair back in place as Alberto leaves the room. Louis sees him turn towards the sitting area, imagines him kicking up his heels as he hears the telly switch on. He only realises they’re alone when he turns back around, Harry staring at him.

“Um, you mentioned french toast?” Louis asks, getting to his feet.

Harry nods and points at the covered plates and Louis holds back a groan when he lifts the lid of one, the smell wafting up. He keeps his plain but pours syrup into a small bowl, sitting at the table.

“What are you doing with that?” Harry asks as he makes his own, cutting up strawberries and pouring strawberry-flavoured syrup on his.

“Like this.” Louis demonstrates ripping off a chunk of his toast, dipping it in the syrup and bringing it to his mouth. He drips a bit of it on his face but he uses his thumb to wipe it up, sucking it into his mouth.

“Right,” Harry says, and Louis’ sure he imagines the dazed quality to his voice. “So you eat like a child,” he concludes after a moment, voice returning to normal.

Louis just smiles and rips off another piece. He’s tempted to make a comment about the disgusting red swirls on Harry’s plate but he doesn’t and keeps his own eyes on his food, the two of them eating in silence until their plates are empty. Louis clears the table before Harry can, rinsing the dishes off in the sink before returning them to the room service trolley.

He settles into his seat once he’s finished, Harry’s fingers drumming erratically on the table. Louis catches sight of his grandfather’s ring, staring at it on Harry’s hand and noticing how well it fits with the other assorted rings. It looks somehow right alongside them, which he would have thought was crazy if he wasn’t looking right at it.

All of Harry’s rings seem old and worn, different shades of tarnished silver with the one on his thumb almost black. The previous king’s signature ring- the one he’d given Louis when he was just a little boy and didn’t understand the concept of royalty or dying- sits snug on Harry’s fourth finger as if it was made for him.

The thoughts racing through his mind and the feelings piling in his stomach make him uncomfortable and he tears his eyes away.

Looking up to see Harry’s gaze trained on Louis’ hand, he realizes with a start that he’s been absentmindedly twirling Harry’s ring around his finger. He hadn’t thought to take it off last night and he doesn’t anticipate doing so now, either.

“Oh, right,” he says, looking down at his hand. “I guess we should give them back.”

“Probably best,” Harry agrees. The fingers of his right hand go to the ring on his left, but they don’t slide it off yet. “I can only imagine how expensive this ring is,” he says with a laugh, looking down at it. “Doesn’t really fit in with my gaudy collection, I suppose.”

Louis bites the inside of his cheek before he can correct Harry, forcing himself to slip off Harry’s ring from his finger and offer it back to him, palm up. “Your rings aren’t gaudy,” is all he allows himself to concede.

Harry smiles but it’s tight, not relaxed like normal. He takes the ring Louis hands him and slips it easily onto his pinky finger before removing Louis’ grandfather’s ring and handing it back. Louis takes it quietly, unhooking the chain around his neck and sliding it through the finger hole, slipping it over his head and tucking it under his shirt.

“Family thing,” he says, forcing an offhanded tone, and Harry just nods.

“Think I read somewhere what it was. I should have given it back yesterday, I just wasn’t really thinking about it.”

Louis nods, knowing he hadn’t considered the ring on his hand either. He hides his hands under the table when he realises he’s still rubbing the skin where the metal had just been, noticing the missing weight.

“So, what happens now?” Harry asks.

“What do you mean?”

“Do I get to keep my job?”

Louis resists the urge to snap, instead taking a breath before exhaling. “I’d really like to know what it is that makes people feel they’ll be fired for my choices. Of course you still have your job, Harry. I would never take that from you.”

Harry nods and visibly relaxes, a small smile on his face. “Maybe people wouldn’t be so afraid if you stopped reminding everyone of the things you’re going to do to them when you’re King,” he offers, grin growing cheeky.

Louis laughs, startled. “Where’s the fun in that?”

~*~

Zayn lets himself back into Louis’ suite just as Louis is walking Harry out.

“Cheers, Hazza,” Zayn says with an easy smile, knocking knuckles with Harry as they pass each other.

The lift doors close behind Harry quietly, and Louis leans back against them for a moment, hand grabbing onto his grandfather’s ring through his shirt absentmindedly.

“We ever gonna talk about it, or…” Zayn asks, trailing off and making his way further into the suite.

“What could there be left to say, you heard everything during the meetings yesterday.”

“How about you explain your side of the story, we mostly just heard Harry’s.”

Louis sighs and pulls Zayn down onto the sofa. Alberto raises his eyebrows but a shake of Louis’ head has him on his feet.

“I’ll be in my room, come find me if you go anywhere,” he says as he leaves.

Waiting until the door closes, Louis grabs a throw blanket from the armchair and settles it around his and Zayn’s waists. “There’s nothing to say,” he says when he’s sure Alberto’s gone. “We got drunk and got married, I don’t know why everyone’s surprised. Things like this happen in Vegas.”

“Yeah, but for all that you like schemes and things, this is pretty far, even for you. What, did he want to save himself until marriage so you decided to do it just to win the stupid bet?”

Shifting closer into Zayn’s side provides an extra source of comfort, the familiar smells of his cologne mixed with his cigarettes relaxing Louis even further.

“I didn’t do it for the bet. You win anyway, we didn’t have sex.”

The smile on Zayn’s lips is clear when he speaks next and Louis barely resists pinching him in retaliation for having won their stupid bet. “All that and you didn’t even get a shag out of it?”

“Twat,” Louis says, but even he can hear the fond tone of his voice. He pulls away from Zayn and lets himself fall onto his back, head on the armrest as he kicks out against Zayn’s shin.

“Leemo tripled the stakes, too. This is going to be fun for me.”

Humming his acknowledgment, Louis shifts onto his side, tucking his toes between the small of Zayn’s back and the sofa cushion. His left hand grabs at the familiar weight of the ring around his neck, fiddling with it out of habit.

“What happened between you and Liam after we left, anyway?” he asks, turning his head and looking at Zayn.

He’s pleased when Zayn scowls at him, pushing his hair off his face- a nervous tell he’s had since he was old enough to grow it out.

“Nothing happened,” he snaps, reaching for the remote control to keep his hand busy and flipping through the channels too quickly to see anything.

Turning back to the telly and watching the programs flick by, Louis smiles. “Don’t forget- I know you as well as you know me. What happened?”

The silence stretches thin as Zayn ignores him, but Louis knows how to wait him out and- eventually- Zayn turns off the television and shifts on the couch, tucking his knees under himself. They’re close enough that Louis’ calves are pressed against the side of Zayn’s legs, and he finally turns to look at him, eyebrows raised in expectation.

“We kissed.”

Louis pumps his fist in the air, cackling when Zayn’s scowl only deepens. “Aw, what’s the matter?” he teases. “Is Liam a bad snogger? I’d had him pegged as a dark horse- lady in the streets, freak in the sheets type deal.”

Zayn punches his knee too lightly to do any harm. “It was good but now things are awkward.”

Louis observes, “You lot seemed fine yesterday.”

Yesterday, we were a bit busy taking care of your shitstorm. Then I went to his room this morning and asked him to breakfast after Harry had come up here. He looked so… skittish and closed-off. Basically shut the door in my face. I don’t know what happened.”

As he listens, Louis lets his smile fade. Zayn looks proper tore up about it as he speaks, and Louis knows that what had started as fun- a bit of flirting with Louis’ aide to pass the time- had turned into what felt like genuine friendship and a bit of a serious crush on Zayn’s end. Louis reaches his arms up and makes grabby hands, pulling Zayn down next to him for a hug.

“He’s probably freaking out because you’re a dashing nobleman- son of a lowly county Duke, but a nobleman all the same,” he teases, pleased when Zayn pinches his side in retort. His boy will be fine soon. “But Liam’s the type to care about rank, and- to Liam- an Earl is an Earl is an Earl. Your pretty eyes and sharp cheekbones can only mesmerise him so much.”

“Liam isn’t just an aide,” Zayn snaps even as he snuggles further into Louis’ chest. “He’s so brilliant. Did you know he sends half of his wages home to his parents and then half of what’s left to children’s hospitals? He was poorly when he was little and he wants to help make a difference to other poorly children. He left his dog with his sister when he became your PA but he visits him when he can. Named him Loki.”

Louis hums as he listens, carding his hand through Zayn’s hair. “I know Liam’s great, Zee. No one is denying that. But he isn’t going to let himself get swept away for a bit of fun. If you’re serious about this- and judging from your borderline obsession and stalker knowledge of his life, you are very much serious- you need to actually sit down and talk to him.”

Zayn’s breath is warm against his shoulder before he pulls back, nodding his head. “I will,” he says. “I’ll talk to him.”

Determination on his face, Zayn stands.

“What, you’re going now?” Louis calls after him.

“Yep,” Zayn answers, pausing only when he’s at the door to the suite. “And you need to sort out this thing with Harry before it gets any weirder. You’d never give your grandfather’s ring away, not even when you’re drunk.”

Louis scowls at his back but Zayn’s already gone, slipping out from the room.

~*~

The late afternoon sun is painting the Strip in brilliant oranges and reds and Louis is standing at the edge of the patio and looking down over the road. He knows Zayn would be itching for paint right now, would want to capture the colors, but he hasn’t heard from him since he left the suite an hour ago and Louis genuinely hopes he and Liam are reaching common ground.

He startles when the lift opens and Harry comes inside and then he smiles, a content feeling pouring over him that he doesn’t want to investigate further.

“Hazza!” he crows, smiling, leaning his forearm above him on the door into the room from the terrace.

Harry smiles back but shoves his hands in his pockets. His hair is pulled back into another bun and he’s wearing black skinnies and a flowy shirt, unbuttoned to the middle of his chest so his swallow tattoos can be seen. Louis swallows hard and tears his gaze from the sliver of skin, looking back to Harry’s eyes.

Big mistake.

They’re green and warm, quite lovely for sure, and Louis has to shake his head a bit when he realises Harry’s said something and he hadn’t been listening.

“What’s that? Sorry, spaced out for a bit.”

“You alright?” Harry asks, voice deep and concerned. He steps forward and touches Louis’ elbow gently.

Louis remembers that he’s blocking the doorway, stepping back quickly and gesturing Harry outside with him. “I’m fine, I’m perfect. What did you say again?”

Harry smiles as he passes him, stopping several feet away before turning back to face Louis. The backdrop of the Strip behind him is startling, the sky a perfect shade of gold, highlighting the small wisps of hair that frame his face and don’t reach the bun. He pulls his focus back just as Harry begins to speak again.

“I said: I went to grab Liam for a bite to eat but he was a bit… preoccupied.”

Louis isn’t necessarily proud of his smirk at Harry’s words but he can’t help it. “A bit preoccupied with a certain pretty Earl?” he asks, laughing.

Harry smirks as well, just a hint of a dimple in his cheek. “Yes, well, that pretty Earl told me to come ask you instead. Hope that’s alright.”

“Course it is. We’re proper friends now, I hope,” Louis says.

He can feel a flush colouring his cheeks as Harry beams, dimples deep now. He resists the urge to press a finger to the groove, wanting to find out how deep it really is.

“From feeding the future king, marrying him to divorcing him and now befriending him. Bit backwards but I’m still up from where I was.”

Startled into laughter, Louis closes the door behind him and leans back against it. “What an optimistic look on life,” he observes.

Harry shrugs but seems to relax a bit. “Did you want to do dinner then?” he asks.

Louis smiles and nods. “Sure, anywhere you want.”

~*~

Alberto keeps a short distance between them as they make their way down the strip, walking close to each other as they point out different sights. Harry’s fascinated with all the Christmas lights, multi-story tree towers looming over them in front of every building. Louis pulls the sleeves of his jumper down further to combat the slight chill to the early evening air.

“Cold?” Harry asks and Louis smiles ruefully.

“A bit.”

“Let’s find somewhere to eat then, maybe inside this time.”

Louis lets Alberto make a few calls and they find themselves at the back entrance to a relatively well-known barbeque restaurant within fifteen minutes, the owner opening the door at their knock and smiling wide.

“So nice to meet you, Your Highness. My name is Steven,” he says, half-bowing before stopping awkwardly and holding out a hand.

Louis laughs, used to people’s nerves. He shakes the man’s hand and Harry does as well.

“We’ve got a table for you near the kitchen, it’s right this way.”

They follow him to a small booth, table set for them already. Alberto declines their invitation to join them, pulling up a chair next to the back door and pulling out his phone.

“A couple bourbons for us and send one to the big burly guy who pretends he doesn’t know how to smile,” Louis requests. Steven nods, smiling as he hands them a menu each and leaves.

From their spot, they can see only the expediting station, waiters and runners on one side as the head chef arranges the plates so they’re ready to serve.

“This is what I want to do one day,” Harry says, in an uncharacteristically unguarded moment.

Louis looks over his menu at him. “Work in a barbeque joint in Nevada?” he asks with a smile.

Harry rolls his eyes fondly. “No, of course not. I just want my own restaurant. I want to feed people.”

“Oi, you feed me! I don’t take lightly to the threat of those croissants leaving.”

Harry laughs, surprisingly loud. His eyes are closed and his mouth open, hand coming up after a moment and covering his face as his laughter fades to giggles.

“Every time you say you like them,” he explains once he’s calm, face still flushed red and eyes bright, “I just picture the way my mum would swoon if she knew the Prince of Wales liked her son’s baked goods.”

Louis smiles, flushing himself. “Maybe I’ll tell her meself one day,” he challenges.

“You’d make her whole life if you did that,” he says.

Louis ducks back down to look at his menu, ignoring the way Harry’s still looking at him.

~*~

Full from their meal and warm from the heat of their whiskeys, they make their way back out into the chilly desert night.

“Thought Las Vegas was supposed to be warm,” Harry says, teeth chattering exaggeratedly.

Louis laughs and pushes him gently, a little buzzed from the second drink they’d both had. “Prat, it’s nice out.”

Harry straightens and smiles, hand warm when he pushes Louis back just as gently. “You were cold earlier!” he accuses, jumping out of the way when Louis makes to shove him again.

“Didn’t know I was a babysitter,” Alberto complains loudly behind them as they make their way towards the strip.

“Best paid gig in the world,” Louis says. “Great perks, too. Get to enjoy my sparkling company, after all.”

Alberto laughs and passes a hand through Louis’ hair, ruffling it up in the way Louis hates most and ignoring his indignant protests.

Seeing Harry’s laughing face gives him pause and he takes a breath before speaking. “Normally, I’d threaten to have you beheaded,” he teases. “But Harold here has pointed out to me that threats aren’t a very effective way to make friends. So you’re fine this time, but after this you walk the plank.”

Harry laughs louder, biting his palm to keep quiet when a group of girls near the entrance to the back alley gives them a startled look. “You’re mixing metaphors,” he says.

“I most certainly am not,” Louis retorts.

“Oh, are you a pirate prince, now?”

The lights from the Strip cast colours against Harry’s skin, making his eyes appear almost iridescent. He doesn’t answer the question, just stares for a minute. He swears they’re blue before he tilts his head and the lights change and the green is back. He tilts his head the other way and smiles when the blue comes back.

“What are you doing?” Harry laughs, cocking his head to the side and following Louis’ movements.

“Your eyes are changing colours with the fairy lights,” Louis explains. “Here, stand still.”

He steps closer to Harry, taking his jaw in his hand and holding his head still as he tilts his own side-to-side again. From closer up, he can see the green from both angles, but the blue comes back when he tilts his head as far horizontally as he can to the left.

“Those girls are still looking at us,” Harry reminds, keeping still save for the barely-there movement of his lips.

Louis steps back a half-step but doesn’t drop his hand. He misses Harry’s warmth immediately. “Do you care if they look?” he asks, voice small between them.

Harry shakes his head and pushes back into Louis’ space, hands settling on Louis’ waist. Louis uses his hand on Harry’s chin to bring their mouths closer, trusting that the girls near them don’t recognise him. They’re still in an alley near the back entrance of the restaurant, mostly concealed from the majority of the people passing.

From the corner of his eye, Louis can see Alberto shift himself so he’s blocking the view of them as well as he can. Taking a quick breath in, Louis presses up on his toes just enough to close the distance between them, lips fitting to Harry’s like they were made for each other.

The kiss is not what Louis remembers- the hazy memory of an alcohol-fueled snog session in a dark club is nothing compared to the way they’re kissing now. Harry’s lips are soft as is his jaw, smooth skin trailing against Louis’ stubble as he presses closer. Louis opens his mouth and nips his teeth gently against the swell of Harry’s bottom lip.

A gasp escapes Harry’s mouth at the sensation, lips parting enough for Louis to slip his tongue inside, tracing lightly against Harry’s and coaxing him to respond.

Instead, Harry pulls back just a little, rubbing the tip of his nose against Louis’ as he takes a breath. “Are you sure this is okay?” he asks quietly.

Not hesitating for even a moment, Louis nods and grips the collar of Harry’s jacket in his fist, pulling them together again.

Harry’s eager for it, mouth opening immediately and licking inside of Louis’ mouth. He lets Harry pull him closer, large hand pressed against the small of Louis’ back. He whimpers when Harry slips his hand under his shirt, rings cold from the night air against his over-heated skin.

Louis’ hand is small but powerful against the back of Harry’s neck as Harry doesn’t fight him, tilting his head as Louis directs. He kisses Harry until the taste of the dessert they’d shared  and the bourbon they’d drank earlier is gone, kisses until he can only taste himself in Harry’s mouth.

Reluctantly, he finally pulls back enough to breathe, opening his eyes and finding Harry already looking down at him. He smiles and is pleased when Harry responds with one of his own.

This time, he doesn’t resist his urges, pressing the tip of his pointer finger against Harry’s dimple and laughing when he smiles wider and the dimple creases further.

“You’re different from everyone I’ve ever known,” Louis says, whispering the words like a secret.

Still smiling, Harry ducks his head and presses a last kiss to Louis’ lips. “Can we go back to your room? I just want… I want one night with you.” He breathes the words as quietly as Louis had, the expectant expression on his face the only proof they were ever said.

“Yes, fuck, let’s do that,” Louis agrees, pulling away further and grabbing onto the sleeve of Harry’s jacket, dragging him along behind him.

“You’re welcome,” Alberto shouts from where he’s following them, people passing on the pavement looking at him strangely as Harry and Louis giggle and break out into a run, racing down the street back to the hotel and ignoring Alberto’s indignant yelling behind them.

Harry’s got longer strides but worse shoes, and Louis has years of footie training on his side as he pulls ahead and barrels into the hotel. He sprints to the lifts, Harry hot on his heels and he laughs when they have to wait for an open lift, giggling into Harry’s shoulder as they both try to slow their breathing.

Alberto jogs up behind them, having barely broken a sweat, and Louis rolls his eyes. Ridiculously fit bodyguards are not a good idea to bring on future dates.

He pauses at that thought, heart still beating heavy in his chest. He wants more dates with Harry.

He starts laughing all over again, fringe sweaty on his forehead as he leans against Harry’s side.

“What’s so funny?” Harry asks as he giggles himself, brushing Louis’ hair back from his face.

He pulls away and steps into the lift when the doors open, swiping his keycard for his floor and moving for Harry and Alberto to follow him.

“You can’t play with my hair if you’re going to tuck yours into that horrendous bun. Royal decree,” he declares, ignoring the faint gagging sound Alberto makes in his corner.

Harry pulls a face. “What’s wrong with my bun?”

Fascinated by the way Harry’s biceps pull under the thin material of his jacket as he reaches back to adjust his hair, Louis takes a moment to answer.

“Can’t get my hand through those locks if it’s in a bun, Curly,” he finally says, noting the flash of heat in Harry’s gaze. He steps closer and gets his hand on the back of Harry’s neck to pull him in. “Reckon you’d like it if I pulled your hair a bit while you fucked me, wouldn’t you?” he breathes out, hoping Alberto can’t hear him over the sounds of the lift.

The big man puts up with so much, he doesn’t need to be scarred any further.

Harry nods and looks at Louis’ mouth, licking his lips but holding still as Louis moves his hand up and pulls the elastic band from Harry’s hair gently, letting it fall free against his shoulders. Harry makes to duck forward and continue their kissing from earlier but Alberto clears his throat and startles them apart.

“The lift’s been stopped for some time, boys,” he says at their dazed expressions.

Chuckling softly, Louis links his fingers with Harry’s, thumb tracing one of Harry’s rings as he tugs him into his suite and through to the bedroom.

He vaguely registers Alberto staying in the lift- presumably heading to his own room- before he pushes Harry down so he’s sitting on the edge of the bed.

The slight height difference is now reversed from when they’re standing, Louis needing to tilt Harry’s face up with a hand to his jaw in order to bring their mouths together in a kiss. It’s heated and smooth- just like picking up where they had left off outside- and Louis whimpers when Harry’s lips part and his tongue coaxes Louis’ mouth open.

Pulling back just enough to shuck off his jumper and vest, he tugs impatiently at the shoulders of Harry’s shirt until Harry lifts his arms obligingly and Louis can slip it all the way off. He lets it fall to the floor and pushes at Harry’s chest with both hands, urging him back further on the bed.

The mattress barely makes a sound as Harry scoots back as instructed, taking the opportunity to remove his boots and socks as Louis follows suit. He leaves his skinnies on, the denim pulled tight across his thighs as he climbs onto the bed and crawls forward until he’s hovering over Harry’s thighs on his hands and knees.

“Hi,” he says, smiling and pressing a soft kiss to Harry’s lips.

“Hi,” Harry replies, voice low.

Harry’s rings are cold and his fingers are warm as he slips his hands down Louis’ chest, reverently tracing the lettering on his clavicle.

“Mum about murdered me when I got that,” Louis admits in a soft almost-whisper, shifting closer until he can rest his weight differently, knees tight against Harry’s hips as he wraps his arms around Harry’s neck.

Smiling to himself as Harry ignores him and continues to map out Louis’ tattoos with slight brushes of his fingers, Louis nudges his nose against Harry’s jaw and coaxes his face back up so he can reclaim Harry’s mouth in another kiss.

This kiss is immediately different, Louis slipping his tongue inside Harry’s mouth right away and encouraging Harry to respond in kind. He sucks at the tip of Harry’s tongue sloppily, whimpering into his mouth when Harry abandons the tattoos and slides his hands around to Louis’ back, tracing the bumps of his spine in time with their breaths. Louis rocks his hips down into Harry’s even though he’s growing uncomfortable as his dick presses against the inside of his zip.

Not wanting to pull back from the kiss, especially when Harry gasps against his lips as Louis licks back into Harry’s mouth, so he balances awkwardly on one hand while he fiddles with his trouser button with the other.

Laughing against Louis’ lips when he almost tumbles forward, Harry must understand what he wants to do because he keeps their lips together as he brings his hands back to Louis’ front, batting away Louis’ hands and getting his jeans undone quickly. Louis moans and finally pulls back with a quiet smack, straddling Harry’s thighs and getting his own trousers undone. They wiggle around each other, pushing their jeans down.

Harry sits up when they’re in just their pants, back to the pillows and headboard. He reaches his hands out and Louis closes his eyes when Harry’s long fingers grip his hips, pulling him into his lap. Louis goes willingly, keeping his eyes closed as Harry gets his legs spread above him, dicks brushing against each other as Harry guides their mouths together.

Moaning when Harry rolls his hips, Louis opens his eyes and rests his forehead against Harry’s shoulder, watching his abs tighten as he moves in the dim light from the outside Vegas strip. They fall into a dirty rhythm that has Louis quickly approaching the edge of his orgasm. He shifts his hips back at the last second, biting into the broad muscle of Harry’s shoulder as he tries to calm down enough make the night last a bit longer.

He pulls back fully to the top of Harry’s knees, looking Harry over and seeing the quick breaths he’s taking as he bites his bottom lip- clearly close to the edge himself. There’s a slight sheen of sweat along his collarbones and Louis ducks his head to lap along the tips of the sparrow wings inked on Harry’s chest.

“If this is just for tonight,” Louis says, “I want everything.”

Harry’s hand fists in the long hairs at the nape of Louis’ neck, tugging gently until Louis looks up at him enough to see how dark Harry’s eyes have turned. He looks almost drugged in the streetlights filtering through the windows, and Louis pulls at the hand in his hair slowly, taking the puffy bud of Harry’s pretty, pink nipple into his mouth as he keeps eye contact.

“Want to fuck me?” Louis asks when he pulls back, biting down on a cheeky smirk when Harry’s mouth falls open and his eyes almost cross before he closes them and nods.

“Yeah, want to,” Harry responds.

Louis smiles and rewards that answer with a kiss to Harry’s other nipple, sucking once hard enough that it makes a slick sound when he pulls back. He lets the edge of his bottom teeth brush against the peak of his nipple, cataloguing the way the sharp sensation makes Harry shiver and moan.

Climbing from the bed and finding his bag of supplies in his suitcase, Louis returns to Harry quickly with lube and a strip of condoms. He drops what is in his hands to the mattress and settles against Harry’s chest once he’s back, eyes closing when Harry’s hands come up to palm at his hips and brush gently over the swell of Louis’ arse.

The very concept of wearing pants has never offended Louis as greatly as it does now, when all he wants is to be able to feel Harry bare against him. He hooks his fingers under his waistband and tries to do the same to Harry’s, tugging at them both ineffectively until Harry takes pity on him and helps. It’s an awkward moment, trying to avoid knees in sensitive places until they can fling their pants off the bed and Harry can bring Louis’ hips down against his own again.

The sound of Louis uncapping the lube is loud in the otherwise quiet room, and he pours some over his fingers, wrapping his clean hand around Harry’s neck and tangling his fingers in his curls to ground himself as he reaches his other hand around and presses a slick finger inside. He tugs at the hair in his fist as he relaxes his body around the digit, the angle slightly awkward but then Harry’s hands slide from his hips around his back, hauling him closer and mouthing at Louis’ jawline.

The angle changes as Louis arches against Harry’s chest, pleasure shooting through him as he slips inside another finger. The stretch is a bit soon but he’s distracted by Harry nipping along his jaw. He’s whimpering as he rocks back onto his fingers, the sounds light and too breathy. He tries to keep quiet, bites down on his lip and tries to bury his face in Harry’s shoulder but a hand on his chest stops him.

“Kiss me,” Harry practically commands, rocking his hips up and letting his cock brush against Louis’ skin. He’s panting and mouthing along Louis’ cheek until Louis shifts enough to fit their mouths together.

He nips and licks at Harry’s lips, too distracted with stretching himself open to have any finesse with the kiss. Harry doesn’t seem to mind, answering kisses messy in turn. His hands grip Louis’ arse and knead his cheeks gently, one finger slipping to trace along the edge of Louis’ rim.

“Gonna stay just like this?” Harry asks, pulling his mouth away and letting the tip of his finger press inside. “Gonna sit in my lap?”

Normally, Louis would try to maintain some aspect of dignity. He’s not exactly a stranger to pretty boys in his bed but it’s been a long time since he actually pulled with someone new. He’s so used to tumbling into bed with mates for no strings attached quickies that he can’t really control the way his body reacts to the feeling of someone foreign fitting the length of their finger inside his body.

A sharp moan tears its way from Louis’ throat, equally due to the words Harry’s saying and the way he crooks his fingers just so, searching for and soon finding the edge of Louis’ prostate. Somehow, Harry’s found the perfect angle within seconds, the very tip of his finger making Louis’ eyes cross as he rocks into the pressure.

The sensation is strange, Louis’ fingers thinner and at an awkward angle, unable to fit fully inside. Harry’s is thicker and rough, his rings brushing against Louis’ knuckles as he fills him and makes him cry out when he teases a second around Louis’ rim.

“‘M ready,” Louis pants, using the hand in Harry’s hair to pull his mouth back to his. He lets his fingers slip out and tries to get Harry to follow his lead but he just gets his hand smacked away in return for his eagerness before Harry takes the opportunity to slip the second finger fully inside.

The act surprises Louis and he moans and pulls back, rocking his hips down and riding Harry’s fingers for a long moment until he finally slips them out. Louis bites his lip against another breathy whimper at the loss, rolling his hips to chase the sensation as he hears Harry open the condom and slick himself up.

One of Harry’s hands grabs at Louis’ waist and guides him into a better position, slightly lifted on his knees. Harry’s other hand grips his cock and presses just the tip against Louis’ arse, slowly guiding himself inside.

Louis bites his bottom lip against a moan as Harry feeds his cock into Louis’ arse, their combined fingers having relaxed him enough to take it though he still is very much aware of the stretch. He lets himself drop further onto Harry’s lap and takes the last bit quickly, biting Harry’s shoulder hard enough that he can see the imprint of his teeth when he pulls back.

Not seeming to mind the sting of pain, Harry grunts and pulls him in closer with the hand around his waist. He wraps his other hand around Louis’ cock, stroking him from base to tip in slow motions as he shifts inside Louis, who rocks his hips gently to get used to the stretch.

Louis wraps his arms around Harry’s neck as he sucks a bruise onto Harry’s shoulder, nipping at the red skin when he pulls back and shifts up onto his knees, pulling off of Harry slightly before slipping back down. He looks up and meets Harry’s eyes, a thin band of green around his wide pupils and Louis wants to completely drown in the way Harry’s making him feel- tight inside his stomach and unbalanced entirely.

Instead of focusing on that, he chases another feeling entirely. Harry’s hand at his waist is just about the only thing keeping Louis moving as Harry continues stroking him off, rings adding to the sensations while Louis rolls his hips as best he can and tries to grind down onto Harry’s cock. He’s overwhelmed with all the different things he’s feeling all at once, Harry thick and rubbing against his prostate so perfectly even as he sets his teeth to the inside of Louis’ bicep, nipping gently at his skin there.

Louis is barely even aware of the pithy gasps Harry’s fucking out of him, only quieting when Harry shifts a bit and presses his nose to Louis’ chin, tilting his head up so they can kiss. Just as before, Louis finds it hard to concentrate on making the kiss good. He sucks on Harry’s bottom lip until it’s spit-slick and swollen, pulling back and admiring the deep pink as he rocks down into Harry’s lap and clenches his fist tighter, relishing the sweet moan he forces from Harry’s mouth when he tugs his hair sharply.

Wanting to drag this out a bit longer, wanting to ride Harry’s dick until the sun comes back up and bathes them in fire-beams through the windows, Louis desperately tries to hold on and keep his orgasm at bay. He can’t though- can’t hold back when Harry flicks his wrist just so- and he barrels over the edge, crying out against Harry’s mouth as he spills over his fingers.

He looks down as he comes, forehead resting against Harry’s shoulder as he watches as Harry’s rings get covered in his jizz. He groans weakly, another spurt dragged from his cock, and he grinds down one last time, desperate to get Harry off as well.

Harry grunts and gets his sticky hand on Louis’ hip, pushing him onto his back against the duvet. Louis moans when Harry slips out, his body clenching on nothing as Harry plants his elbow on the bed next to Louis’ head and settles between Louis’ thighs, using his messy hand to peel off the condom and jerking himself off against Louis’ hip as he captures Louis’ mouth in another kiss.

Still hazy from his orgasm but determined to make it as good for Harry as he can, Louis forces himself to kiss back. It’s sloppy and wet, the sounds filling the air as their mouths slip against each other and Harry fucks his slick fist. Louis reaches a hand down, fingers teasing the head of Harry’s dick in time with their panting until Harry’s clenching his jaw and sucking in a breath, spilling against Louis’ stomach and hip.

“Oh, hell,” Louis breathes as he feels Harry’s load on his skin, stroking him slowly through his orgasm until Harry stops moving, keeping himself above Louis for only a moment before slipping to his side next to him on the bed.

Unexpected giggles build up from his stomach from the adrenaline pulsing in his veins and Louis bites down on his smile  until he can’t contain them anymore, turning into Harry’s chest and laughing against his sweat-soaked chest. Harry lets out a small laugh, wrapping an arm around Louis’ waist and pulling him in closer, both of them on their sides and pressed against each other until Louis’ laughter ceases.

“Sorry,” he says, hiccupping slightly once he’s calm. “I don’t know where that came from.”

Harry smiles and tilts his chin up for a kiss, brushing his swollen lips against Louis’ lightly. “Don’t apologize. I like it when you laugh. And when you come.”

Louis feels his cheeks flush and he pulls away, a giddy smile on his face as he stands from the bed. “Want to shower?” he asks, his dick giving a valiant twitch when he sees Harry stretch his arms above his head over the foot of the bed and smirk at him, his abs pulled taut.

“Yeah, ‘course,” Harry says, voice slow and slightly rough from his moaning as he stands and follows Louis into the bathroom.

~*~

“Today’s been so great,” Harry whispers later against his lips, the water from the shower pounding down around them.

Louis smiles up at him, hands carding through the ends of Harry’s wet curls. “Tonight was better.”

Rolling his eyes at Louis’ cheekiness, Harry slips his fingers along the crease of Louis’ arse, rubbing teasingly along the rim of his hole. Louis gasps out a breath and lets his head fall back as he goes up on his toes, trying to get Harry to press inside deeper.

Water pelts his forehead and eyes where they’re closed, smoothing his hair back from his face as he rolls his hips, but Harry doesn’t press inside, just teases him a bit longer before pulling his hand away.

“That’s mean.” Louis says, breathless and a bit dazed.

Harry just beams at him and steps under the water, rinsing the rest of the conditioner from his hair as Louis steps out and dries off. He walks into his room and pulls on a fresh pair of pants, grabbing a pair for Harry and stripping the dirty duvet from the bed.

He carries the bundle through the suite to the laundry bin, tossing it in. He makes his way to the kitchen, grabbing a mostly-full bottle of whiskey from the freezer where Niall had stashed it the first night. He remembers for a moment that he’d invited about thirty people on his birthday weekend and he’s only stuck close to a few but he shrugs it off.

Nothing to do about it now. He’s leaving tomorrow with Zayn and Liam, the rest of his friends have probably barely noticed he’s gone and are enjoying themselves just fine in his absence.

Debating for a moment, he grabs a box of snack cakes as well, heading back to his room to find Harry- wet hair towel-dried and hanging loose around his face, curls already forming at the ends. His towel is knotted around his hips and he smiles when he sees Louis.

“Hey,” he says, like they hadn’t been apart for only a moment.

A tingling tendril of fond affection tickles at the base of Louis’ spine as he answers and smiles back, stepping inside and setting down the bottle and box on the bedside table. Harry’s hands are cool when they grip his biceps from behind, pressing against his back and forcing a shiver along Louis’ spine.

“Provisions!” Harry laughs lowly, fingers trailing down Louis’ arms and along the soft of his belly.

Instead of laughing back like he’d meant, Louis goes pliant in Harry’s arms and tips his head back against Harry’s shoulder, mouth parted.

Apparently taking pity on his blatant eagerness, Harry brings their mouths together in a light, gentle kiss- the tip of his tongue just faintly brushing along Louis’ top lip.

The angle is shit and Louis wants something to grab onto, so he pulls away and turns around. His hands go to Harry’s hips, kneading the his soft skin there even as he brings their mouths together again, moaning at the feeling of Harry’s hard abdomen against his own.

“Aren’t we going to refuel?” Harry asks with a cheeky grin when they pull apart.

Louis rolls his eyes and climbs onto the bed, ignoring how he’s half-hard just from the kissing, as he settles against the pillows with his legs stretched out in front of him, ankles crossed. Harry unknots his towel and climbs up beside him, clearly uninterested in the pair of pants that Louis had left out for him.

Proud of himself for the restraint he shows by not climbing back into Harry’s lap, Louis makes grabby hands towards the supplies left on Harry’s side of the bed. He gives a pleased hum when Harry dutifully grabs the whiskey first, untwisting the cap and handing it to Louis.

“Your Highness,” he says with a smirk.

Louis just smiles, drinking directly from the bottle and handing it back. He eyes the assorted snacks from the box that Harry has helpfully poured out onto the bed between them.

“Those things are shit,” Harry says with a frown.

Rolling his eyes again, Louis ignores him, selecting a pink one and tearing open the package.

“I almost shouldn’t let you eat them,” Harry muses, though he does nothing to stop Louis when he brings it to his mouth and bites off a chunk.

Mmm,” Louis exaggerates, ripping off another chunk. “Best thing I’ve ever had.”

“I’d be insulted if I didn’t know you were just being a complete arse on purpose.”

Louis chews and swallows, resisting gagging at the chalky taste. Pasting on a big smile, he meets Harry’s eye. “Better than your croissants,” he teases as he pops the last bite between his lips.

Clearly unamused, Harry growls and lunges at him, pinning his hands to the mattress and covering his body with his larger frame.

“Take it back.” Harry says, lips inches from Louis’.

Louis shakes his head, laughing as he finishes chewing, and Harry squeezes his wrists once. Louis gasps after he swallows- nearly resisting choking as his body goes taut when Harry hitches his hips forward, nudging Louis’ cock through the thin fabric of his pants.

“Are you sure you prefer these over my croissants?” Harry asks.

Louis nods, forcing out a cheeky, “Do you think we could pause this? Only, I’d like another of those delectable treats.”

Harry’s eyes narrow and he nips at Louis’ bottom lip before pulling away and manhandling Louis onto his front.

Willing to see where this is headed, Louis makes it easy for him to do so and rests his forehead against the pillow once he’s in place. Harry’s fingers tuck under the elastic of his pants but he pauses.

“Can I take these off?” he asks, lips brushing just above the waistband.

Louis agrees, voice soft as a wave of arousal crashes over him as Harry drags his pants down quickly. The tease of his fingers against the back of Louis’ thigh make his eyes close and he buries his head in the pillow further when Harry urges him up and onto his knees.

“This okay?” Harry asks, a hands gripping the inside of Louis’ thighs and guiding him until he’s spread out. Harry slips between where his calves rest against the bed, fingers digging into the globes of Louis’ arse and spreading his cheeks slightly. He sighs out a breath over Louis’ exposed hole.

Yes,” Louis moans in response, fisting his hands in the pillow and resting his forehead against his curled fingers as his body instantly shifts back, trying to get Harry closer.

The first shock of Harry’s wet tongue against his skin startles a moan from Louis’ lips. He presses himself up on shaky arms, rocking back to chase the sensation when Harry pulls away, hands going to Louis’ hips to help steady him until his arms are braced.

Louis whimpers when Harry spreads his cheeks again, tonguing along the crease and slipping past his hole, teasing his balls with little barely-there licks until Louis’ panting with need. Harry won’t put his mouth where Louis wants him most, and he rocks back against Harry’s face to try to encourage him to give Louis what he so desperately needs.

When it doesn’t work- when all Harry does is laugh and smack the back of his thigh playfully- Louis slips back down to his elbows. His body hums with pleasure when the position allows Harry to grip his arse harder, his long fingers rough against Louis’ skin as he takes advantage of the new angle.

Every tiny tease from Harry’s tongue gets Louis hotter and more desperate. One ex had gone down on him before like this, but Louis had been on his back then and they’d neither of them liked it very much so they hadn’t tried again.

With Harry, Louis might not ever let him stop.

Even with the lack of stimulation where he most wants it, Louis is already obsessed with the sensations running up his spine when Harry’s nose brushes his taint or his bottom lip drags along his sack. Harry continues teasing him for longer than Louis can keep track off, until his chin is slick where his rubs against the swell of his arse.

A fleeting thought crosses Louis mind that he wants to repeat this exact scenario with Harry, but he wants Harry’s rings back on. He wants to feel the cool metal against his skin where it’s warm from his firm grip. They had been sensational when Harry had briefly fingered him, and then pulled him off. He bites inside of his cheek to keep a moan quiet at the thought, Harry’s thumbs teasing along his rim as his tongue traces his perineum

Seemingly sensing his desperation, Harry moves his head away, pressing one light kiss to Louis’ spine as he sits up and rubs his palms over the globes of Louis’ arse.

“Take it back.”

It takes Louis a moment to process, shaking his head to clear the hazy arousal clouding his mind. “What?”

“Take back what you said about my croissants.”

Startled, Louis laughs, shifting so he can look over his shoulder at Harry’s completely serious face. “You’re holding back on me because of that?” he asks. “You’re the best damn baker I’ve ever known. Everything you make is probably fantastic, and your croissants are better than sex, happy?”

Harry frowns at that unfathomably, fingers slipping down and digging harshly into the meat of Louis’ thighs. “You’ve clearly been having sex wrong if you think that,” he says, affronted, leaning back in and spreading Louis’ cheeks again.

Louis can’t even think of a response by the time Harry’s mouth is back, lips and tongue concentrated on his hole. All of the stimulation after such a long time of being teased has Louis feeling lightheaded, letting his shoulders drop and burying his face back in his pillow as he tries to fuck back against Harry’s face.

Moaning encouragingly against Louis’ rim, vibrations shocking every nerve ending they touch, Harry presses in closer, tongue stabbing at Louis’ entrance. He slides inside, Louis still stretched from riding Harry before their shower, feeling like he’s trying to fill Louis up from just his tongue.

Logically, Louis knows that Harry’s tongue is only solong and is barely pressed in past the tip, but it feels as though he’s licking along the inside of Louis’ spine. He feels Harry slip away, the tip of his finger coming up and pressing inside easily- Louis’ hole spit-slicked from Harry’s mouth and stretched still from Harry’s cock. Harry slides his finger along Louis’ prostate easily, teasing little gasps from Louis’ mouth as he licks around his finger, tongue laving against Louis’ hole.

Shoving his face further into the pillow, Louis muffles his groans when Harry’s mouth replaces his finger completely, breaching Louis’s rim. Louis arches his back and reaches behind himself to tug at Harry’s hair. The angle is shit and the reach is far, but he pulls roughly once at the strands he’s able to fist and drags a moan out of Harry’s mouth.

The vibrations startle him- somehow still surprised how much Harry seems to like having his hair pulled- and Louis loses himself in the sensations as his hand falls back to the pillow. He can’t keep track of how many times Harry pulls his mouth away to slip in one finger or two and can’t keep the tears from building in the corners of his eyes as Harry’s smart mouth sucks and licks into him, bringing him to the edge and keeping him there for long minutes.

Finally, after Louis’ started sobbing brokenly into his pillow, Harry pulls back completely. Louis can hear his hard panting, as if he hadn’t wanted to miss out on the taste of Louis’ arse even to breathe, and the thought is almost enough to push him over the edge but he needs stimulation, he needs to be touched.

He lifts his head from the pillowcase, fabric damp where his tears have fallen. He turns back to look at Harry, watches his chest rising and falling as he wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. He looks so broad and toned, sitting back with his bum on his calves as he looks back at him.

“You’re so hot, fuck,” Harry breathes, taking his hand from his mouth and trailing his fingers along Louis’ ankle. “I could eat your arse out for days.”

Louis groans and flips over to his back, running his toes along Harry’s side. “I don’t know why you stopped, then.”

Harry grins at him, clearly unconcerned with Louis’ tone. “I really want to fuck you again.”

Louis presses his feet into Harry’s skin, groaning and fisting his hands in the slack from the sheets underneath him. “Then why aren’t you?”

Harry smirks and slips off the bed, and Louis watches his perky little bum as he crosses into the bathroom. He hears the sink go and sees when Harry comes back to the door, mouth foamy around his toothbrush.

Ah.

Harry smirks as well as he can with a full mouth- and that’s a visual Louis hadn’t realised he needed until just now. He sits up in bed when Harry makes his way back to the sink, the sound of the tap going again as Louis takes another swig from the bottle of whiskey. He winces when he realises most of the snack cakes took a hit while Harry was rimming him, shifting and feeling the plastic of one under his arse.

He stands from the bed on wobbly knees, still unbearably aroused, and quickly grabs each flattened package, double-checking for crumbs. He should be surprised when a pair of large hands grip his waist and Harry pulls him to his chest- grinding his cock against Louis’ arse as he does so- but he feels content instead, letting Harry guide him back to the bed and watching as he grabs a condom and lube from where they’d stashed it earlier.

“One last time?” Harry asks with a smirk, eyes bright.

Louis rolls his eyes and spreads his legs all at once, lifting his hips when Harry settles onto the bed between his thighs. He grins back and accepts a kiss when Harry puts a hand near his pillow and leans in, the taste of mint mixing with the alcohol still on Louis’ tongue.

As Harry slicks his fingers and presses them into Louis slowly, rechecking that he’s ready, Louis realises how horribly he’s going to miss this when the morning breaks and they have to fall back into their roles. He tries to push the thought away, tries to focus on the present, but it’s hard to ignore the realisation that his entire perspective has actually changed and he’s not going to want to go back to how things were before tonight.

He doesn’t know how to tell Harry he wants more, so he bites his lip and arches his back, practically gagging for Harry to fill him up again and take over his thoughts.

~*~

Louis’ a bit sore when he wakes up- two rounds like the ones he’d had the night before enough to leave a lingering ache- and he’s also a bit confused when he rolls over and Harry isn’t in bed next to him. The sheets are cool to the touch, so Louis knows Harry’s been gone for longer than a trip to the loo would warrant.

“This was the best night of my life,” Harry had said before they fell asleep, arms tight around Louis’ waist.

“Mine, too,” Louis had whispered back.

“I hate that I have to wake up when everything’s going to be different.”

Louis hadn’t trusted himself to comment, so he’d rested his cheek over Harry’s heart, fingers tracing over his shoulder blade distractedly.

They’d found an extra duvet in the room after they’d both got off a second time- Louis’s legs tight and high around Harry’s waist as he’d fucked into him deep and slow- and the bedding pools around his waist when he sits up, looking around. Harry’s clothes are gone but there’s a note propped up next to the whiskey on the nightstand.

With a sigh and bit of unease, Louis picks up the piece of paper and unfolds it.

Best night of my life
-H

Harry’s writing is neat, five words that shouldn’t make Louis feel as awful as they do for how narrow the letters are. The ink barely takes up any space at all on the paper but there’s a hollow in Louis’ chest as he memorizes the way Harry swoops the loops in his ‘B’.

He flops back into his pillows with the note in his hand, wanting to throw the covers back over his face and sleep through the rest of forever, but he and Harry are signing their annulment papers at noon and then his flight home is leaving a couple hours later.

Surprised that Liam hasn’t found him and made him wake up and get moving, Louis steals a last moment to enjoy his birthday vacation. After today, he’s promised his mum he’ll start taking his duties seriously. He has just the last couple of hours of freedom. Once he lands in London in the morning, he’s got a full day of engagements and the day after is his birthday, when dozens of foreign dignitaries or their representatives are invited to a banquet at the Queen’s invitation.

Louis groans and finally slips out of bed, padding into the bathroom and starting the shower while he weighs the odds of running away into the Grand Canyon and living like a mountain man.

Being Prince of Wales has surprisingly never taught him wilderness skills, however, and he doesn’t much fancy the thought of being chased around by wild animals while he tries to forage for food to eat. He’s no match for bears.

The water helps wake him up and he’s feeling better by the time he’s dried off and slipping into Liam-approved travel clothing. He’ll never understand why he can’t fly in sweat shorts and comfy jumpers, but he figures he’s given Liam enough to stress over for a lifetime and he owes the boy a break.

He finishes stripping the sheets from the bed, laughing roughly when he finds one last package of snack cakes. It’s one of the pink ones- of course it is- and he feels a flicker of something sad when he picks it up and sets it out of the way.

He bundles the sheets and spare duvet into the same laundry bin he’d used the night before, stepping into the tall basket and jumping until the sheets are packed tight. He narrowly manages to not knock the entire thing down, climbing out gingerly from it and stumbling a bit when he tries to get both feet back on the ground.

He bum twinges just a bit and he grits his teeth around a wave of embarrassing arousal.

He walks into his bedroom, lifting his overnight bag onto the bed and setting his laptop and charger inside, pulling his phone cord from the wall and wrapping that up as well. He tosses in a change of clothes and a book he’s been fighting his way through, never having enough patience to sit and read more than a chapter at a time.

The plane ride will be long and boring, especially with Zayn and Liam being all coupled up now. Maybe he’ll finally finish it. Maybe he’ll just sleep.

He sets the packed bag by the door before getting his two suitcases open on the bare mattress and packing the rest of his things. He flutters around the suite, putting things away and grabbing any remaining possessions of his that he sees.

The kitchen and dining area have been checked by the time someone comes up on the lift. Liam’s in his usual dress clothes after the brief few days of dressing casually, a folder of paperwork clutched in his hands. He smiles when he sees Louis.

“Didn’t expect you to be awake and ready. Alberto said you got in late last night.”

Louis shrugs. “Did he say anything else?”

“About what?” Liam asks, brow furrowed.

Sighing, he shakes his head. “Nothing, I guess. Doesn’t matter.”

He doesn’t know why Liam being unaware of what happened the night before with Harry bothers him so much. Liam’s yelled at him enough about Louis’ one-night stands that he wants Liam to recognise the irony of having one that mattered with someone he can never share a night with again.

He shakes himself off, feels foolish for putting so much weight on a good night with a nice boy. He and Harry will settle into the same relationship that he has with Niall or Liam- he’ll constantly remind him to use his first name and get fat off of his croissants. The feelings will fade one day.

They have to.

Focusing again on Liam, Louis smiles. “What’s on the schedule today, Payno?”

“We’ve got Maggie coming with the paperwork in a couple minutes. Harry and Zayn are on their way up and then our flight is at four. We’re home at ten in the morning tomorrow. Your mother’s been briefed, of course, and we’ve got a person inside the city clerk’s office that is going to bury the marriage license and the annulment notice. You two will be all set.”

“Yeah, cheers,” Louis says shortly, hating the petulant tone in his words. He’s acting like a spoilt child and he knows he needs to stop.

From the corner of his eye, Louis can see the strange look that crosses Liam’s face but neither of them speak further. Liam sets up at the table, fanning his paperwork out on the surface and Louis busies himself making tea.

The lift must ding at the same time the kettle goes because Louis startles when he turns away from the stove towards the mugs and Harry’s standing in the archway to the kitchen. In his surprise, he drops the teapot on the floor. It barely misses his feet and somehow doesn’t splinter into a thousand pieces, though water does rush out of the spout quickly.

“Shit, didn’t mean to sneak up on you,” Harry says, grabbing his bicep and pulling him back before the boiling water can hit his toes.

Stumbling with the tug of Harry’s hand, Louis narrowly manages to avoid falling back into Harry’s chest, pulling away at the last second and getting his bearings.

“Thanks, mate.” he says, voice forcefully calm and tone clipped. He grabs paper towels from near the sink and mops up the puddle, straightening the teapot and emptying it in the sink.

He’s suddenly not interested in tea, a feat that’s only happened on a handful of occasions in his life.

Trust a curly-headed Northern lad to get under his skin so quickly. Damn croissants.

Maggie’s arrival is easy to hear when he’s finally finished throwing the mess away: the ding of the lift heard clear through the suite. He steps out into the dining room, sees Liam clear a spot at the head of the table for Maggie. Harry’s to her left and he looks completely miserable, won’t meet Louis’ eye or acknowledge him as he approaches. Louis takes the spot to Maggie’s right, Liam settling next to him and Zayn smoking out on the terrace, having come up with Harry and slipped outside to give them privacy.

He’s watching through the glass, eyes trained on Louis as he smokes almost absent-mindedly. Louis knows that Zayn will be inside the second he signals that he needs him, and he feels buoyed. It isn’t enough to completely calm him, but knowing he has Zayn in his corner always is a wonderful relief.

“Good morning, Your Highness.” Maggie says, tone clipped and professional the same way Liam’s gets every time he speaks to anyone but Louis.

“Good morning, thank you for coming.”

Producing two thin, stapled packets of paper from her bag, Maggie hands one to Harry and one to Louis. She’d explained everything to them the other day, had gone over the language in the contract. They’ll sign two copies, one to be destroyed by their resource at City Hall and the other to be put under lock and key as proof of the marriage dissolution in case it ever came out that Louis had been married.

He frowns at the copy in front of him, hating every spot of ink on the pages that spell out the end of his marriage. He’s stupid for his thoughts, knows his infatuation with Harry will pass- it has to pass- but he still feels irrationally saddened.

“Now the reason for the annulment is listed as inability to consummate, is that right?” Maggie asks, taping the section of the paperwork that must list the reason. Louis can’t focus on the type, not really.

“Yes,” Louis answers for them both.

“Great, then as long as you haven’t consummated the marriage since I last spoke with you, sign on the indicated line on page three.”

“Well, it wouldn’t be ‘consummating it’ even if we’d had sex,” Louis says with a forced smile.

The questioning look Maggie gives him makes him nervous.

“Cause, like,” he starts again, “we filed a few days ago. So anything since then wouldn’t count.”

Shaking her head, Maggie hesitates only a moment. “No, I’m afraid that’s not correct. If you’ve had consensual sexual contact since the marriage ceremony, that would be considered consummation.”

Louis pauses, pen in his hand, poised to sign where Maggie’s indicated. Harry’s already signed his copy as Maggie was speaking and is staring at a spot on the table.

“Sign it, Lou.” he mumbles when Louis doesn’t move, the frown clear in his voice even though his head is ducked down and Louis can’t see his face clearly.

Meaning to agree- to sign and forget this ever happened- Louis’ a bit surprised when he instead says, “We had sex last night.”

He’s staring at Harry, sees the shock evident on his face when he finally looks up- green eyes wide and pink lips parted. Liam slumps back into his seat, hand flat on the table and body turned to Louis, but Louis daren’t look round in fear of seeing the disappointment on Liam’s face. Only Maggie is able to recover smoothly from the news.

“Is there an issue of fraud or forced consent?” she asks after a pause.

“No.” Louis says, eyes fixed on Harry’s.

“What about inability to consent- were either of you intoxicated past the point of knowing what you were agreeing to?”

I wasn’t,” Louis says, still holding Harry’s gaze and giving him the opportunity to take this road out, too.

He hopes he’s made his intentions or desires clear, but he isn’t sure of it until Harry smiles at him softly. A pretty flush colors his cheeks and he ducks his head again, hand pushing his hair back in what Louis’ come to realise is a beautiful nervous tick as he takes a deep breath.

“I wasn’t, either.” Harry finally answers, looking back up at Louis through his eyelashes.

Maggie’s quiet for a moment, looking between the two of them. Louis is still too nervous to check Liam’s reaction and is finding it hard to pull his focus away from the pink in Harry’s cheeks.

Maggie laughs quietly. “I don’t think we can move forward with the annulment then, gentlemen. I’m required to inform you that a divorce- if sought- will take up to a year, though I have a feeling this information doesn’t apply here.”

Louis smiles back at her, tearing his attention from Harry unwillingly, and stands when she does, shaking her hand. Harry seems to be in a daze, taking a moment before he shakes her hand as well, walking her to the lift with a bewildered look in Louis’ direction.

Breathing deep and gathering his resolve, Louis turns to look at Liam, who’s still seated and staring up at him with an unreadable expression on his face. His lips are pressed tightly together, cheeks red with all the words he’s forcing himself to not say.

“I know you’re mad,” Louis starts, but Liam gets up before he can say anything more, storming out of the room and onto the terrace with Zayn. Louis watches as he shouts something, voice loud enough that Louis hears him through the glass.

To his surprise, Liam holds out his hand and Zayn passes over a cigarette, the two of them going over to the seating area and fitting next to each other on a deck sofa as Zayn shoots a quick look at Louis, surprise and a bit of a smirk clear on his face.

The sound of a throat clearing brings his attention back inside. He turns, spirits already soaring, to see Harry standing at the head of the table, hands on the back of the chair before him. “That was a bit unexpected,” Harry says.

Biting down on his lip and failing to hide his smile, Louis says, “Hey, fancy being married to a Prince for a bit longer? Like, we can start with a year and make our way towards forever?” He knows he’s being cheesy but he can’t help it, the giddiness filling his stomach with butterflies.

Harry’s eyes sparkle and his smile stretches wide, dimples in his cheeks. “I’m telling the Queen that this is all your fault.” he warns as Louis steps closer.

Closing the distance between them, Louis just laughs and wraps his arms around Harry’s neck, bringing their mouths together. “This is insane,” he says between kisses.

Harry agrees and pulls back, kissing the tip of Louis’ nose. “I need to tell my mum? Is that okay?”

“Of course, babe. Do you want to call her now?”

Harry nods and Louis lets him walk away, sees him pull his mobile from his pocket as he slips into Louis’ bedroom. He stares at the doorway for a moment before rolling his eyes at himself- such a puppy when it comes to Harry- and turning on his heel. He slips out onto the terrace, sees Liam and Zayn break away from a soft kiss and turn to look at him in unison.

“Heard about your slaggy behaviour,” Zayn calls out as he approaches. “Too bad the bet’s already over.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Louis says, settling into a deck chair across from them. “Speaking of anyway, I owe you,” he directs at Zayn.

He lifts his hips to get to his wallet, tossing some cash onto the table between them. Zayn nods, mumbling ‘cheers’ as he leans forward and grabs it. He looks at the bills in his hand.

“American dollars aren’t worth as much.” he tries.

Louis shifts, goes to drag out his wallet again but then he stops. “You paid for the club lounge in Nevada, arse,” he says.

Zayn laughs and settles back into his seat. “Almost had you there for a second, though.”

Liam looks between the two of them, bemused. “Wait,” he says, slowly. He motions to the bills as Zayn shoves them into his front pocket. “That’s not the money for the bet?”

Louis laughs, thinking it’s a joke, but then stops when Liam doesn’t start in with him.

“You think money is what our terms are?” he asks, incredulous.

Zayn chortles into his hand, stubbing out his cigarette on the ground under the toe of his shoe. “I’m no Prince of Wales,” he laughs, “but I’m not exactly hurting for money, babe.”

Liam’s expression clouds over further. “I don’t understand. What are the terms then?”

Charity work, Li,” Louis says, face red from holding back another onslaught of giggles.

“What?”

Zayn takes pity on Liam first, controlling his laughter. “Since we were sixteen, our terms have been each other’s charity work. For example, our lovely Prince here is going to speak at the hospice fundraiser for me next weekend and then the weekend after he’s going to make another speech for the British Asian Trust with me. Since you were kind enough to triple the terms,” Zayn reminds, “he’s also going to take a little trip for me to one of Yorkshire’s juvenile prisons where we are going to teach some mean kids to play nicely with one another.”

Louis rolls his eyes, laughter having quieted while listening to Zayn’s explanation.

The sound of a throat clearing catches Louis’ attention for a second time and he turns his head, resting his cheek against the back of his chair as he looks at Harry, stood in the doorway. Louis can see his eyes are red-rimmed from tears as he walks closer but his dimples are still on full display and he goes willingly into Louis’ lap when Louis holds out his arms.

“I told her you married me for my croissants.” Harry tries to joke and Louis huffs out a laugh, kissing his temple lightly.

“What’d she say to that?” he asks.

“Doesn’t blame you.”

“That’s right,” he says. He cuffs Harry’s chin with his index finger gently, turns his head away to look over at Liam. “Can that be our official comment? His croissants put a spell on me and stole my self-control?”

Liam smiles but shakes his head. “Harry, you better come back on our flight though. Can you be packed and ready in an hour?”

Harry nods and stands, looking back at Louis with a soft smile. “I’ll see you soon… husband?”

Louis laughs. “Yeah. Husband.”

He leans back down and presses a light kiss to Louis’ lips before walking away. Zayn gets up and goes with him, but Liam hangs back.

Louis lifts his eyebrow when Liam meets his gaze. “Yes, Payno? You have concerns, I’m sure.”

Liam rolls his eyes fondly, smiling easily. “Just, have you guys considered everything? What if you hate each other in a week?”

“Then we go through with the divorce if we can’t be married.”

“What are you going to tell the nation?”

“I came out when I was eighteen and have had countless front-page articles about my slaggy behaviour. Marrying a pretty lad in a surprise ceremony will hardly be the worst thing I’ve ever done. Especially when the people learn he’s a normal lad from a working background.”

“We’ll have to title his family. What do we know about them?”

At this, Louis pauses. “Erm. Well, his mum’s called is Anne and he has a sister, Gemma. His parents are divorced.”

Liam nods as he speaks but then looks concerned when he pauses.

“And?” he prompts.

“That might be all I currently know about his family.”

Liam rolls his eyes and his shoulders slump as he tosses his head against the headrest. “Louis,” he admonishes. “For all you know, you just married a republican.”

Louis laughs. “He works in the palace and keeps me supplied with buttery baked goods, I doubt he’s anti-royalist.”

“Even so,” Liam says to the sky, waving his hand in front of his face. “We’ll have to give him a crash course before we announce anything. We typically have a week before the marriage license becomes public record. I don’t think anyone will be looking for yours specifically so we probably have more time. It will look better, though, if we release a statement before someone finds out on their own.”

Louis nods along and sits up.

Liam seems surprised when he notices his attention. “You’re actually listening to me?” he asks.

“I’m actually pretty serious about this,” he admits, voice level. “Something about Harry is different. Last night was… it was life-changing.”

Liam beams. “I’m going to take complete advantage of your cooperation, fair warning.”

“Yeah, yeah. Just make sure you schedule in those charity things for Zayn, yeah?”

“Oh, I’m sure I’ll be able to fit them in. By the way, how are you going to tell your mum that the annulment is off?”

Louis bites his bottom lip. “I’ll think of something.”

“When, on the plane?”

“Yes, Liam, on the plane.”

~*~

The flight is delayed several hours due to inclement weather and, once they’re in the air, it is a long and stressful journey. Zayn’s curled into his seat next to Liam while Louis and Harry are huddled around a table on a conference call with an emergency advisor, steaming mugs of tea in front of them.

Louis distracts himself from the woman on the phone by watching the scowl Harry makes every time he takes a sip of his tea. Reaching over to the phone and muting their side, he turns to him.

“You can ask for a coffee, love,” he laughs low.

Harry’s face lights up in excitement for a second. “That’s not unpatriotic?” he asks.

“Trying to impress your future mummy-in-law?” Zayn teases from across the aisle.

Louis barely resists snapping at Zayn when Harry pales again and sloshes his tea over the edge. Liam, to his surprise, speaks up instead.

“Not really the time for that, sweetheart,” he says distractedly, flipping through a book in front of him.

He realises what he’s said and looks up, eyes wide when Louis smirks.

“Do my ears deceive me or has Liam Payne actually taken my side for once? And also used a pet name?” Louis drawls.

Liam rolls his eyes but shushes them, going back to his book. “Unmute the phone and get your ducks in line,” he says.

Louis does so, pouting at the tabletop until Harry reaches under the table and palms his knee. He gets a smile when he looks up and he settles a bit, stopping a stewardess and asking for a coffee for Harry. He receives a wider smile and a squeeze before Harry turns his attention back to the phone.

Louis falls back in his seat as he asks the advisor if there’s anything else they need to go over.

“No,” she says. “You’ll land at a private airfield and cars will meet you there. You four will go directly to Kensington, where the Queen will meet with you upon arrival. She’s cleared her day and yours for meetings and introductions.”

“Introductions?” Harry asks.

“Of course,” she responds. “Her Majesty would like to meet her new son-in-law.”

The line closes with a click. Louis tries to ignore the dueling emotions of pride and nervousness in his gut her final words caused but he can’t. Harry already makes him feel so many different things after only a few days.

“You’re so good at this so far. You’d have made a much better royal than I have.”

Harry laughs and Louis hears the wetness, can tell Harry wants to cry. “I guess we’re going to find out if that’s true at all.”

Gathering his resolve, Louis turns them both so they’re facing each other full-on. “They can’t change us, Haz. I’ve been in this funhouse my whole life and you still like me. Plus, my mum is really nice. She’s going to absolutely love you.”

Tears are pooling in Harry’s eyes but they don’t fall. “I don’t know what I’m going to do, my name is going to be everywhere after this. I keep forgetting that.”

Louis doesn’t know what to say so he stays quiet and just pulls Harry into his arms, kissing his temple and smoothing back a stray curl. He tries to be strong and calm for them both.

~*~

Louis wakes up when they’re getting ready to land, Harry sleeping soundly next to him. It’s already well into the afternoon in London but it’s just past nine in Vegas and Louis’ internal clock is well-fucked.

He stretches and watches as Liam wakes up Harry and then Zayn, getting everything packed away and smiling when the flight attendant double-checks they’re all buckled in before they begin their descent. The medium-sized charter plane touches down with hardly a bump, one of the smoothest landings Louis’ ever experienced. Zayn is- as usual- clinging tightly to his armrest while attempting to appear cool, but Louis is surprised to see Harry also clutching his own knee until the plane comes to a stop on the tarmac.

Watching as he relaxes his fingers where they’d been turning white, Louis wonders how much of the nerves had to do with the flight and how much of them have to do with meeting his mum.

The smell of burnt rubber is always his least favorite part of flying, and he scowls when the doors slide open and the smell drifts in. He grabs his bag and lets Alberto exit first before following him with Harry. Zayn sticks close behind them, followed closely by Liam. Louis smiles when his usual driver comes and takes his bag, slipping it into the boot.

He slides into the back of the car and waits for the others to come in after him, but only Alberto and Harry do.

“They’re taking a separate one,” Alberto explains. “Preston’s got Zayn and Liam.”

“They should save themselves,” Louis notes, slipping a cigarette from his pack and slipping it between his lips until he looks up and sees the slight frown on Harry’s face. He raises his hand to his mouth and takes the cigarette out, slipping it back into the pack. “It really will be fine, Haz. I promise.”

Harry smiles at him but doesn’t respond, staring out the window as the car moves. Alberto is settled in the passenger seat in front of them, speaking in low voices with the driver while Louis sits quietly in the back, fiddling with his hands and desperate for a smoke. He doesn’t want to show his nerves and he remembers the puffer Harry keeps nearby for emergencies, and he pulls his grandfather’s ring over his shirt, slipping his fingers around the metal again and again as they drive closer and closer to his mum.

“Can I give this back to you?” he asks.

When Harry looks over at him, he has a confused expression on his face that clears when he sees the ring in Louis’ hand. He smiles, one of his bright and joyous ones that Louis is growing quite fond of. Harry turns in his seat fully but stays buckled in, holding out his hand and letting Louis slip the ring on.

“I’ll take such good care of it, Lou. If you want, we’ll get a different one and you can have this back.”

Before Louis can respond and tell him he’s being crazy, Harry’s taking off his pinky ring and grabbing for Louis’ left hand, gliding the warm metal over his knuckles until it settles.

“I want you to wear the ring I gave you,” Louis finally says, ignoring how he chokes up at the feeling of the ring. Though he’d worn it for only a short time before, the weight has been missed since he’d returned it and now that he has it back and he can’t stop smiling at it. “And I want to wear this one.”

Harry’s smile matches his and he leans forward, kissing his lips softly.

“We’re going to figure this whole thing out,” Louis promises. “You’re going to be great.”

~*~

Before he ever knew what being a monarch or even a royal meant, Louis had thought his mum was the best in the world. His father had passed when he was very young but his mum had been there for him always, kissing his scrapes when he fell down and reading him bedtime stories when she’d tuck him in at night.

Even when she had married Mark and had children with him, she would always tell Louis how special he was, how he was going to be a great man when he grew older. He’d slowly learned what being royal was, especially when his grandfather had died when Félicité was just a baby. He hadn’t understood why his mum was gone so much after that and he’d not paid his tutors or stepfather any mind. He’d act out and get himself hurt, just wanting his mother to make him all better again.

It was soon clear how to distinguish between Johannah, his mother, and Johannah, the queen, but being before her now, Louis is at a loss as to who he is currently facing.

Guilt tangles inside his gut when his mum dismisses the servants with a wave of her hand, a slight frown on her face. Louis and Harry are seated on a plush sofa in one of the many sitting rooms the palace has, a decision Louis made because he thought the location would look normal enough that it would ease Harry’s nerves.

He curses himself again for bringing this stress on everyone, turning to check how Harry’s doing. He’s clearly nervous but Louis can tell that he’s trying to act normal and his heart swells a bit with pride.

“You must be Harry,” his mum says, voice soft and warmer than Louis had expected and he turns back to her with a smile.

“Yes, Your Highness- Your Majesty, m’am,” Harry stutters, playing with his wedding ring.

Louis grabs his hand without thought, trying to relieve some of his stress, but then he looks up and sees his mum’s eyes trained on their hands, a confused smile on her face.

“I’ll admit, Louis,” she says, turning her head towards him. “I honestly thought we’d have one weekend of quiet.” She shifts slightly in her seat to face Harry better. “Harry,” she says, obviously repressing a smile when Harry drops Louis’ hand and snaps to attention. “While what you and my son did was quite foolish, I’ve no doubt there’s a reason you were brought into our lives. I look forward to getting to know you.”

“Thank you, m’am,” Harry says.

“I’d love it if you called me ‘Jay’, Harry. You are a part of this family now. Do you think you’d be okay with calling me that? I know we may have to work up to it.”

Harry smiles, relaxing just a fraction against Louis’ side. “I think I can try it. Once the shock wears off.”

She smiles at him brightly, clearly charmed. Louis understands completely, there is something extremely endearing about Harry. She stands from her sofa and crosses over to them and takes Harry’s hand and she settles into the space next to him. “How about a cuppa, dear, while Louis gets on the phone with your mother and invites her down to dinner soon.”

Louis sighs and fishes Harry’s phone out of his back pocket, accepting the clear dismissal. “Don’t scare this one away, mum. We’re a bit stuck with him and I find I’m quite fond of him, also.”

Harry flushes at that and smiles, standing when Louis does and brushing his fingers along Louis’ arm.

“Be right back, love,” Louis says, tapping his finger against Harry’s bottom lip.

He steps away and looks back before he leaves the room, sees Harry settled back into the sofa next to Louis’ mum. They’re in an easy conversation, Harry’s nerves all but disappeared as Louis’ mum laughs genuinely, hand on Harry’s arm.

Ducking into the corridor, he pulls up the contact information for Anne on Harry’s phone, carefully copying it over to his own mobile and placing the call.

Pacing as it rings, he takes several deep breaths. He’s always been a charmer- he and Harry are similar in that respect- and he knows he can always charm Anne by complimenting Harry. While he plans to do much of that- no one has ever been easier to admire and shower in adulation than Harry is- he wants a genuine friendship with her on his own behalf. He has a feeling winning over Harry’s family will be important to him in the long run and the click of the line picking up is Louis’ cue to start.

~*~

The sitting room is missing a Queen when Louis returns after a phone conversation with Anne that he feels actually went very well. Harry’s shoulders are relaxed where he’s stood in front of the mantle, fingers tracing the edges of a photo frame. He turns when he hears Louis come up behind him.

“How’d it go?” Louis asks, pressing a kiss to Harry’s full bottom lip.

“Okay, I think,” Harry answers with a grin. “Your mum is as nice as you had said.”

“To you, at least. I’m still due for an earful when you’re not around to protect me. Your mum was nice, though. Cried a bit when I apologized for not having given her son the wedding he deserves. I pulled out all the stops to win her over, I admit. Think I used up most of my charm.”

“There’s a limit to your charms?” Harry teases, wrapping his hands around Louis’ hips and pulling him onto his lap as he settles into an armchair.

“Mmm,” Louis hums, noncommittal as he wiggles a bit so Harry’s bony knees aren’t digging into his bum. “No limit when it comes to you, love. I’m going to keep coming up with new ways to charm you. Can’t have you growing bored of me.”

Finding that Harry’s knees are basically endless, Louis shifts so he can straddle Harry’s thighs in the chair. Pressed close to him, he leans forward to attach their mouths again. He hums with pleasure when one of Harry’s hands slides over his trousers and presses against Louis’ bum, the other untucking his shirt and running his fingers gently over Louis’ warm skin.

“Can’t wait to see you in my bed,” Louis murmurs when he pulls away, using both hands to push Harry’s curls from his face as he leans in to kiss his temples and then his forehead, trailing a line of soft kisses along the bridge of his nose before pressing his lips to Harry’s mouth again.

Harry’s hand on his bum presses harder against him, middle finger pushing between his cheeks through the fabric. His dress clothes are too thick, and he can hardly feel the pressure, but knowing that Harry’s mind is on the same track as his is enticing.

He pulls away reluctantly, smiling when Harry pouts at him.

“You’re too much, Hazza,” he whispers.

He gets off of Harry’s lap, surprised when he looks around and no one’s come into the room. There are very few places in the palace that are private enough for a repeat performance of their snogging and Louis plans on introducing Harry to each of them in the next twenty four hours before his duties officially start up again.

~*~

Annoyed that Harry isn’t allowed to attend his birthday dinner, Louis is snappish and jittery all the next day. Poor Liam takes the brunt of most of his attitude, smile growing tight as he finishes going over the guests for the night. Louis finally gets a break to get ready for the night and he rushes into his room, slamming the door behind him and sighing at the blissful silence.

He’s just finishing getting dressed when a knock sounds at his door and he lets his temper go completely. “Oh, fuck off, Liam. I don’t need your help.”

He turns to the door, surprised when he sees Harry step inside instead. He relaxes and smiles but Harry’s face is uncharacteristically stormy.

“Why are you being mean to Liam?”

Not expecting the question, Louis doesn’t answer for a moment. “What?” he finally asks.

“Liam’s upset, says you’ve been a right twat.”

“He never said that,” Louis frowns, feeling guilty.

Harry rolls his eyes and comes further into the room, fastening Louis’ cufflinks on his wrists and straightening his tie. “No, Liam didn’t use those words exactly but I could read between the lines.”

Louis sighs and sits down on the chair near the edge of his bed, pulling Harry into his lap and kissing him softly until his pouts fades away.

“I’ll apologise to Liam, okay? I really have been a ‘twat’, as you so kindly stated.”

Harry has the grace to flush a bit at that, looking down.

“I just wish you could be there, in some way. Even if I don’t introduce you as my husband.”

“Your mum doesn’t think it’s a good idea just yet,” Harry shrugs, clearly unconcerned when he looks back up and meets Louis’ eye.

Louis knows Harry isn’t ready to face that kind of scrutiny, a roomful of people wondering who he is and where he came from, but a part of him still wants to show Harry off in front of all the stuffy party guests.

“Go apologise,” Harry demands, standing from the chair and shooing Louis up and out of the room.

“Be in here when I’m done? We didn’t get a chance to explore this bed yet, we both crashed so hard from the jet lag last night.”

Harry flushes further, eyes falling to Louis’ lips. He smiles and presses up on his toes for a quick kiss, pulling away far too soon and leaving the room. He turns at the end of the corridor when Harry calls his name.

“I will be,” he says. “In here, I mean. I’ll be in here when you come back.”

Louis grins and waves a little, ducking around the corner before he can convince himself to skip out entirely and just spend the whole evening in bed with his husband.

He finds Liam quickly enough, his expression still pinched as he speaks with Zayn.

“Hey, Li,” Louis says when he comes up to them.

Liam turns to him but doesn’t respond, lips pressed in a tight line.

“Right, so I was an arse earlier and I’m really sorry. You’ve been really great about everything and you barely yelled at me at all about Vegas. I’ve been a shit boss and a worse friend. Forgive?”

Liam barely pauses before he smiles wide and nods. “‘Course, though I’m pretty sure you’re only apologising because Harry told you to.”

Louis beams and claps him on the shoulder, ignoring Zayn rolling his eyes. “He is my better half,” Louis concedes.

~*~

The party is just as dull as Louis had feared and dinner drags on for what feels like hours. The dessert course is coming and he’s skipped a course already in preparation for the chocolate cake he’d seen the kitchen baking earlier.

Nostalgic for the birthdays when he’d be allowed to blow out the candles, he watches when the servers  start to bring out cake slices for each guest. He takes a sip of his water as they enter the room, sputtering when the second server in the door is Harry.

He looks absolutely adorable in his black coat and white gloves, his expression serious as he follows the woman before him. She serves the Queen first and steps back gracefully, Harry passing her on the side and getting closer than he should to Louis’ chair as he places his slice down on the table.

Jay looks torn between amusement and disapproval when she realises who has caught Louis’ attention, but Harry’s eyes are twinkling as he steps back and Louis can’t contain his smile.

He turns slightly in his seat while the rest of the guests are served in unison, servants lining up behind their chairs and delivering their plates.

“You’re in trouble,” Louis mouths at Harry, discreetly pointing at Liam in his corner, stricken expression evident though he quickly buries his head in his hands.

Harry giggles quietly, the huff of laughter hardly heard by Louis. “I’m here,” he mouths back, spreading his fingers a bit where his hands are hanging by his hips.

Puckering his lips in what he hopes is a subtle kiss, Louis straightens in his seat and winks at Zayn down the table from him. Zayn tilts his head back in acknowledgment, most likely biting the inside of his cheek to keep his own laughter at bay.

Harry files out with the other servers, winking at Louis before he disappears back into the kitchens.

~*~

Finally, after another two hours of dinner, speeches and shaking hands goodbye, Louis stumbles up the stairs to his room. His mum had given him a pointed look when she told him Harry couldn’t do that again and Louis had promised, knowing how foolish they’d all look- including Harry- if he’d been caught or remembered by any of the guests. She’d then kissed his cheek goodnight and smiled at him, so he doesn’t feel like either he or Harry are in trouble.

Opening his door and stepping inside, he makes his way through the small sitting area in front of his bed and hears the en suite shower on. He tugs his fancy clothes off, leaving them in a pile on the floor on his carpet as he walks into the bathroom naked.

Harry sees him through the glass, smile evident even past the steam. He pulls the door open for Louis to slip in, shutting it behind him quickly and pressing him against the tile wall.

Still mostly dry, Louis whimpers when Harry’s wet skin slips against his and he leans down to kiss him.

“You were naughty earlier,” Louis breaths when Harry pulls back, licking down his throat and sucking a mark onto the sharp jut of Louis’ collarbone.

“Don’t care. Loved seeing you in there,” Harry pants, pulling back.

He’s hard, cock pressed against Louis’ hip as if he’d been jacking off while he waited for Louis to find him.

“I missed you today,” Louis admits.

“Did you like your cake?”

Louis pushes Harry away just enough to look at him. “Wait, did you make that?”

The smile that dimples Harry’s cheek is answer enough.

“Babe! Is that where you were all day? You don’t have to do that anymore.”

Harry’s face falls, bottom lip sticking out. Louis resists taking it between his teeth.

“You promised I could keep my job,” Harry pouts.

Louis sighs. “I know I did, babe. Things are a little different now, though.”

He reaches around Harry and shuts the water off before opening the door and grabbing a towel. He dries off where Harry’s wet skin had got him wet, not having really spent any time under the water. He takes the towel in hand, ignoring the frown still on Harry’s mouth, and wipes Harry down slowly before letting him take it himself and scrub it through his hair.

Louis steps out first and brushes his teeth, watching Harry in the mirror until he comes up to the sink to his right and gets his brush ready, maintaining eye contact with Louis the entire time.

Cleaning his teeth should not have Louis half-hard but he’s coming to realise Harry affects him in ways he’s never really known before.

He finishes first and heads into the bedroom, pulling back the corner of the duvet. He slips underneath it, scooting over to his phone and methodically going through his notifications until he feels Harry slide in behind him.

“I’m sorry about today,” Harry says, mouthing along the back of Louis’ shoulder.

He sets his phone down and turns onto his back, pulling Harry further on top of him until he’s hovering over him, the light from the moon outside his window silhouetting his curls.

“Don’t apologise,” he whispers, running a hand over Harry’s sparrow tattoos. “I promised you that you could keep your job and I promptly forgot, like an absolute idiot.”

Harry shakes his head, wet curls swaying with the movement. “No, I should have known that staying married changes things.”

“You regretting it?” Louis asks, keeping a smile on his face even as his heart beats harder in anticipation.

Harry’s face falls in shock. “I could never regret you.”

“What about your restaurant dreams?” Louis asks, fidgeting and dropping his smile.

He doesn’t care if Harry sees him being vulnerable. He’s going to see Louis a lot worse if they figure this out together.

Harry’s arms are straining with holding himself up but he doesn’t move, staring earnestly at Louis underneath him. “I don’t care about that. I’m going to be able to do so many other things. Bigger and better things.”

Confused, Louis frowns and tugs at Harry’s arms until he falls to his elbows, chest pressed to Louis’ skin. “What do you want to do?”

Harry beams, kissing him once quickly. “I want to start so many charities. I was reading up on different queer youth groups in Wales. I want to Patron those. Is that allowed?”

Louis smiles, slipping his hands into Harry’s wet hair and lifting his head as much as he can, brushing their mouths together. “You can Patron absolutely whatever you want, love. You’re so, so good, babe.”

Harry smiles at the endearments and brings their mouths together again. Louis loses himself in their kissing, leaving one hand in Harry’s hair and tracing the other along Harry’s biceps and forearms. He kisses Harry until he’s warm throughout, panting against Harry’s mouth and trying to breathe through his nose so he doesn’t have to pull away.

Eventually, though, he does pull back, head falling against the pillows and Harry finally collapsing next to him on the bed, face tucked against Louis’ shoulder. They breathe together, Louis’ feet nudging against Harry’s legs because he needs to keep multiple points of contact between them.

“I’m going to build us a house,” Louis says after a moment.

Harry shifts so he’s looking up at him. “What,” he asks, laughing.

“I’m going to build us a house,” Louis repeats. “I’m going to make us a place that’s just ours- no servants, no press, no outside world. We won’t be able to go very often,” he hastens to add when Harry pushes himself up, face excited. “We’ll need to live in one of the palaces, officially at least. But I’m going to make you a place where you can escape from all of this.”

Harry bounces a bit, shaking the bed them. “Can it have a big kitchen?” he asks, excited. “With high ceilings and white cabinets? And marble countertops and an island as big as this bed?”

Louis laughs. “Of course it can.”

“It needs two ovens, so I can cook big dinners for my mum and Gemma when they come to visit. And a huge pantry for all of my things. Oh, Louis, are you just teasing? Because I’ve almost never been more excited for anything else, ever!”

“I can tell,” Louis says, laughing still. “I guess you speak quickly when you’re excited, too.”

Harry stops bouncing, sitting up on his knees with his head tilted to the side. “What?”

“When we gave back the rings,” Louis explains, not understanding the look that passes over Harry’s face at his words. “You told me you speak quickly when you’re nervous.”

“You remember that?”

“I mean, yeah.”

Harry laughs and lays down on his front, both hands under his pillow as Louis moulds himself to Harry’s side. He uses one arm to pull the duvet over them both, pressing a kiss to the back of Harry’s head.

He isn’t even ashamed that he counts curls until he slips off into sleep.

~*~

Besides the buzzing of his phone’s alarm, Louis actually wakes up feeling relaxed. His mum has excused him from his other duties until Harry’s etiquette lessons- what Louis has lovingly been referring to as ‘Princess Lessons’ since they’d become a thing- are complete. He slides his finger across the screen to shut off his alarm, smiling once he notices Harry’s awake as well.

“Did you promise me a house last night?” Harry asks, voice rough with sleep.

Louis pretends to not remember. “I don’t think so.”

Unfazed, Harry rolls onto his back, stealing the covers with him. “Must have been my other Prince.”

“Yeah?” Louis asks, pulling the covers off of Harry’s body and hooking their ankles together. “Do you have many others?”

Harry shrugs but can’t keep the smile off his face as he stretches his arms to the headboard. “Just a couple.”

“Am I the cutest?”

“Of course.”

Louis grins like an idiot, a swooping sensation in his gut and he stands and heads off for a wee. “Your lessons start in a half hour,” he calls out. Harry groans and Louis giggles. “You can’t embarrass us, you have to go.”

When he comes back out, Harry is making the bed up and Louis pouts a bit when he sees that he’s slipped on a pair of pants. He doesn’t say anything, can tell Harry’s feeling nervous from the way he’s tucking and retucking the corners until they’re perfect.

They get dressed mostly in silence, Louis taking Harry’s hand when they walk out of his room. “Nothing to be worried about, love. You’re going to be a natural, I can just tell.”

Harry smiles and seems to relax at Louis’ words. He squeezes his hand gently. “You’ll stay with me?”

“The whole time,” Louis promises.

~*~

Princess lessons start horribly.

Lou Teasdale- who has been doing Louis’ hair since he can remember- made a house call of sorts for them. Her first idea, however, is to cut Harry’s hair so it hits above his ears. Harry looks stricken but it’s nothing compared to the way Louis reacts: a loud, emphatic ‘no!’ shouted from his spot in the corner.

Lou drops the handful of curls she had been messing with, stepping away from Harry’s chair and turning to look at Louis. “Your Highness?” she asks, confused.

“Don’t cut his hair.”

“I don’t understand, Sir,” she says slowly, clearly not trying to offend. “How should we do it instead?”

Louis approaches, placing a soothing hand on Harry’s shoulder and squeezing. “Just take off an inch or so, just enough to make it look healthy. I don’t want his hair cut, this is who he is.”

Clearly disagreeing with Louis’ decision, Lou nods shortly and steps forward again. Louis moves out of her way but stays close, eyes fixed on Harry’s through the mirror.

~*~

The lessons- somehow- get worse.

Harry’s horribly pigeon-toed and a terrible sloucher. Caroline tries to dress him but she gives up after only a short time, throwing her hands up in the air and saying she can’t work until Harry learns to stand better.

Clearly frustrated and embarrassed, Harry stands in the middle of the room red-faced and refusing to meet Louis’ eye. They’re alone, Caroline and her assistant having left for a breather while Louis stays back to tend to Harry.

He comes around to his back, reaching up and rubbing Harry’s shoulders as he leans in and kisses his back through his suit. “I know this sucks,” he says quietly, just loud enough for Harry to hear, “but we really do need to work on your slouching.”

Harry nods and turns, kissing Louis desperately and clearly trying to hide his embarrassment. Louis lets him for a moment, running his hands along his spine to soothe him. He pulls back to see Harry looking much better. His face is still pink but it isn’t the blazing red it had been.

“Can I try to help you?” Louis asks.

Nodding eagerly, Harry lets Louis lead him to a chair near the side of the room. He motions for Harry to sit and stands behind him once he does. He places a hand on each of Harry’s shoulders, pulling back until he’s sitting straight up and his shoulders are wide.

“You look so much broader now,” Louis says as he holds the pose for a moment before taking his hands away.

“Feels weird,” he says.

Louis nods, though Harry can’t see him. “It will for a bit until you’re used to it. Feel where the chair hits your back?”

Harry nods.

“We’ll put a chair just like this one in our room and you can sit in it in the mornings and remind yourself how to hold your shoulders. Want to try walking with your shoulders back?”

Harry nods again and stands stiffly, trying to keep his position. Louis corrects him again, keeping an eye on Harry has he steps forward. He’s still extremely pigeon-toed, but he looks so proud of himself for keeping his posture that Louis doesn’t have the heart to correct him.

Instead, he goes to the door and locks it, stalking to where Harry is standing, clearly confused. He presses Harry’s shoulders back again. “Ruin your posture and I stop,” Louis warns, sinking to his knees gracefully and pulling open Harry’s trousers and pants.

He keeps his eyes on Harry as much as he can, spending most of his time focusing his lips and tongue on the head of Harry’s cock as he watches his shoulders. They stay mostly in line, Harry’s face pinched as if he’s concentrating on staying upright.

Louis bobs his head after that, closing his eyes and sucking Harry’s dick until he’s moaning out a warning and spilling across Louis’ tongue.

Louis swallows what he can, but a drop ends up on Harry’s black trousers.

“Whoops,” Louis giggles, wiping at the stain with his thumb.

“Caroline’s going to kill us, these were really expensive.”

Rolling his eyes, Louis gets to his feet. He tries to straighten Harry’s clothes as best he can but there’s no hiding what they’ve been doing.

Clearly annoyed, Caroline sends them both glares when Louis asks her to come back to the room. She purses her lips as she watches Harry walk, conceding that his focus is improving his posture. She also does not comment on the pigeon toes, for which Louis is inordinately grateful.

Caroline must notice the stain on Harry’s trousers because she glares at Louis as she helps Harry out of them.

“Maybe not on the Versace, next time?” she asks.

Louis beams and then laughs when Harry flushes. “I’m afraid I can’t make that promise, Caro,” he says.

~*~

The lessons in proper table manners are honestly Louis’ favourite.

“When in doubt, pinky out, right?” Harry asks in a low tone as they take their seats together in the grand dining room.

Having thought the gilded decor and overall lush feel to the room would impress upon Harry the importance of the lesson, Louis is concerned when he sees the stress evident on Harry’s face.

“The pinky thing is a bit overrated, to be honest,” he admits, watching with pride as Harry settles into his chair, shoulders back the way they had been practicing. “Just be natural. We’ll help you along.”

Right on time, Niall comes into the room pushing a serving tray in front of him. He sets a covered plate in front of both Harry and Louis, serving from the correct side before circling to his own seat with a dish in his hands.

Harry goes to remove the dome before Niall’s seated and Louis presses his hands down gently. “The highest rank is served first, then the next and so on. We wait until everyone has been served before we begin to eat.”

“I knew that, of course,” Harry nods, biting him lip.

He’s clearly exasperated for his little mistake and Louis reaches under the table further, trailing his fingers along the inside of Harry’s thigh as Niall sits down and places his dish in front of him. Harry stares straight ahead as they all remove the domes, the scent of stew wafting into the air.

“Figured I’d give you something you like first,” Niall explains, smiling when Harry relaxes just a bit.

Keeping his fingers moving in a slow pattern and moving higher bit by bit, Louis listens as Niall instructs Harry on which silverware he should be using. He takes his hand away when Harry slouches, pressing his shoulders back again and showing him how to lean forward correctly and discreetly. Harry mimics him and Louis lets his hand fall to Harry’s lap again, stroking him through his trousers.

Harry catches on quickly, listening with increasingly bright cheeks as Niall serves them tea and demonstrates how Harry should properly drink his. He doesn’t even make a face at the taste, too focused on trying to hide the way Louis’ touch is affecting him.

He pulls his hand back when Harry is breathing heavy through his nose, Niall having gone back to the kitchens to grab another group of props for their lesson. Harry turns to look at Louis, eyes bright.

“What?” Louis asks, smirking.

Harry pouts in response, shifting in his seat and reaching down to adjust himself. Louis can clearly see how hard he is through his expensive trousers, cock full against his thigh and straining against the fabric.

“That’s not exactly nice,” Harry says, voice slower than normal. “Now I’m going to think of this at every fancy party.”

“If I have my way,” Louis drawls, mimicking Harry’s slow way of speaking, “you’ll think of this every day for the rest of your life.”

Harry’s flush deepens and he ducks his head, smiling at his hands in his lap until Niall comes back in with a banana. Harry looks up and frowns in confusion when he sees what he’s carrying.

“What’s this for?” he asks.

Niall smirks at them, setting it down within Harry’s reach and sitting back in his seat. “It’s come to our attention that you eat things a little… differently than how you should.”

Affronted, Harry straightens his back without needing Louis to remind him, shoulders broad. “I’m sure I don’t know what you mean.”

Laughing and clearly unconcerned, Niall motions to the banana. “Go ahead, mate. Show Lou how you eat that.”

Assuming it has something to do with the phallic shape, Louis rolls his eyes and relaxes in his chair, turning to look at Harry. He watches Harry grab the banana and peel it, sticking his tongue out before swallowing most of it in one go and Louis feels his face heat.

It’s positively pornographic.

“What’s the matter with how I eat bananas?” Harry asks once he’s chewed and swallowed.

“You can't deep throat a banana in public," Niall explains.

Louis’ shocked anyone can form words right now, to be honest. He’s going to need a minute.

“I do not deep throat my bananas,” Harry protests, scandalised.

“Tell him, Lou.”

Louis looks from Harry to Niall, eyes wide. “Erm. Well, Haz. You kind of… do?” he says, lilting at the end of his sentence as if he’s asking a question. “You do this thing with your tongue.” He demonstrates it, sticking his tongue out and miming eating a banana.

Speaking quickly, Harry says, “I don’t do anything with my tongue, what the fuck?”

Louis realises he’s let the lesson get out of hand. He stands next to Harry and presses his shoulders back again. “It’s endearing, babe, I promise. But it’s just another little something we’ll have to watch for.”

Harry sighs and nods, holding his posture when Louis takes his hands away. “I guess I didn’t notice. Why didn’t anyone tell me before all this?”

“To be fair, mate,” Niall chimes in, “I thought you knew.”

“I’m going to be the worst at this,” Harry bemoans. “I thought I’d just have to be nice and wave at people. I have to dress a certain way and talk a certain way. I have to mind my eating and use the right fork. I have to do everything and keep my shoulders back and head up.”

Louis smiles softly at him, cupping his cheek and tilting his head back. He leans in and presses a soft kiss to Harry’s cupid’s bow. “You’re doing so well. Most of the time, we get to relax and be ourselves. When the public sees us, we only have to put on a little mask. Like the kind you wear to a masquerade ball. Enough so you show your true personality but you behave just a little bit better. Your flaws will be endearing to them, promise. It’s only when we have stuffy things to do that we have to be completely perfect. I’ve managed, haven’t I?”

Harry nods.

“You’ll manage, too. You’re born for this, Haz. I mean it.”

The smile he gets in return is blinding, Harry’s bottom lip caught between his teeth even as his cheek dimples. Louis leans in and kisses him again, waving Niall away when he starts making gagging noises.

~*~

The Queen decides that the best place to introduce Harry to the general public is in Wales. Louis agrees with her decision. Wales is symbolic, as it is the title Harry has married into and will receive after his investiture. It’s also one of Louis’ favourite places. He’s Patron to many of the country’s charities and attended school there when he was quite young. He still speaks Welsh well and he teaches Harry some phrases in the week leading up to their trip.

Eager to learn, Harry soaks up the information. His pronunciation is stiff but he’ll relax into it with practice.

“Sud ydych chi?” he repeats after Louis dutifully.

Sut,” Louis corrects him. He smiles when Harry repeats the word again. “I think that’s good for now, babe. You’re speaking more Welsh than I did my first visit here.”

“Well, you were a baby, so that doesn’t count,” Harry says, though his smile belies the fact that he’s pleased with the praise.

Liam knocks on the doorframe and pokes his head inside. “We’re leaving in an hour,” he reminds. “Do you need help packing?”

“He’s fine, he can do it himself,” Harry answers with a smirk as he heads to the walk-in closet.

“What about you?” Liam asks.

Harry stops in his tracks and turns around. “You don’t have to help me.”

Shrugging, Liam smiles. “You’re my boss now, too. You can make me call you Your Highness, if you’d like.”

Laughing and ducking into the bathroom, Louis misses the rest of their conversation. He truly enjoys all of the ways Harry can be reminded that he’s married to a prince. From his constant attempts to sneak into the kitchens to the way he is clearly uncomfortable being picked up after, he’s putting up quite a resistance. Not a day has passed without Harry tidying up the room so it’s spotless, the maid stopping in to chat with him for the time it would have normally taken her to straighten the room. He finds a way to convince Niall to let him make the croissants, complaining that Louis won’t want him anymore if the croissants go away.

The night before, Harry’s family had come for dinner. The intimate party had been a welcome relief, Harry feeling like he could fully relax. He’d already won over Louis’ sisters, though they had instantly preferred Gemma over the both of them, begging her to teach them how she did her makeup and hair.

Anne was perfectly lovely, had let Louis pull her into a hug and had thanked him for everything he was doing for Harry.

“He’s been miserable being away from home,” she’d admitted. “But these last couple weeks, he’s found a new joy.”

Louis had flushed and smiled, being saved quickly by Robin who started loudly talking about sports. Laughing, Louis had let himself be led away from Anne. The next time he saw her, she was wrapped up in conversation with Jay, the two looking like nothing more than average, run-of-the-mill mums.

He thinks about all the ways his own life has changed since he met Harry as he packs some of their toiletries. Having discovered how much Harry likes his apple and jasmine scented shampoo, Louis double-checks that he’s grabbed a bottle for their trip. He slides it into the lined bag he has special for liquids, doesn’t want to take a chance of his laptop or phone getting damaged, and walks back into the bedroom.

“Liam leave?” he asks.

Harry turns from where he’s putting together their suitcase, the majority of their clothes already waiting for their arrival. Harry had insisted on bringing a carry on, said he needed it to feel normal one last time, and Louis had laughed and agreed. He gives Harry the bag in his hands and watches as he carefully fits it along the side of the suitcase, snapping the netting over it so it doesn’t go loose.

The suitcase is surprisingly empty, and Louis quirks his eyebrow at Harry, who just shrugs.

“We don’t really wear jammies and all our fancy clothes are there. I didn’t know what to pack.”

Louis laughs and lets Harry pull him into a kiss with his hands on Louis’ hips, Louis pressing up on his toes to get closer.

“I’m so excited for this,” Harry says when they pull apart, eyes bright and cheeks pink.

“Me too,” Louis admits. “No more worrying about hiding or being caught out.”

“Do you honestly think people will accept me?”

Harry looks worried, his smile turned to a frown as he thinks.

“Hazza, they’re going to absolutely adore you.”

Pleased again, Harry smiles. He takes a breath and slowly says, “Yr wyf i yn dy garu di.”

The words are almost antiquated, clearly something Harry practiced out of an old text, but Louis feels warm throughout as they settle in his mind. Harry shifts in front of him but doesn’t slouch, his posture much improved over his crash course though his feet are as awful as ever.

“You love me?” Louis asks, voice small. He clears his throat. “Honestly?”

Harry smiles, eyes alight once again as he nods. “Course I do.”

Louis wraps his arms around Harry’s shoulders, pulling him into a hug and sighing when Harry wraps his own arms tighter around Louis’ waist. “I love you, Hazza. I’m so happy with you here.”

He pulls away after a moment, horrified when he realises both he and Harry have tears in their eyes.

“C’mon,” he says, voice gruff. “Let’s get finished before Liam stumbles in here and catches us being ridiculous saps.”

Harry shrugs and smiles before turning back to the suitcase. “We can always threaten to behead him when you’re King if he gets too comfortable.”

Louis laughs and kisses Harry’s cheek, turning away and pulling out their travel outfits.

“I think I’ve created a monster, Hazza.”

He gets a wink and another dazzling smile in return.

~*~

Epilogue

Near the end of the path with a basket in his hands and a boy on each side, Harry carefully picks his way through the gardens while Louis follows at a slower pace. He’s cradling six-month old Alexandra in his arms, cooing at her softly when she opens her huge blue eyes and looks up at him.

“You’re the prettiest little girl in the whole nation,” he says gently, rocking her as he walks.

She gurgles in response, reaching her hands up and scraping her palms against Louis’ jaw.

“Stop trying to steal my daughter’s affection,” Harry teases when Louis catches up to their picnic spot.

Affecting a cool and detached air, Louis turns up his nose. “I’ve no idea what you mean,” he says.

Harry rolls his eyes in response, unfolding a blanket and spreading it out on the lawn. Near the pond on their lot, James and David are barefoot in the mud, probably searching for frogs. Harry glares at Louis, who puts on his most innocent expression.

“What is that look for?”

“You know perfectly well ‘what’,” Harry says, slipping to his knees on the blanket and unpacking their lunch. “Ever since you and Niall told them they can tell the weather by the colour of the frogs, they’ve been relentless.”

Louis smirks and sets Alex down on her back, watching as she pats the softness of the blanket in her chubby baby hands. She rocks herself for a moment before rolling onto her belly, the ability still new enough that Louis and Harry watch in fascination and clap excitedly when she looks at them. Kicking her feet and laughing, she settles after a second, pulling a fold in the fabric into her mouth.

“Boys, leave the frogs alone and come eat,” Louis calls, earning a smile from Harry. It quickly turns into a frown when he adds, “I’ll help you find some later.”

Louis William, you most certainly will not,” Harry hisses, setting out a bowl of fruit and breaking off pieces of a submarine sandwich for them all.

Louis grins, kicks off his own shoes and jogs over to his sons, holding out his hands for them to grab and leading them into the clear water to rinse their feet. Seven year old James doesn’t want to hold his father’s hand but he does begrudgingly, letting out a startled laugh when five year old David splashes. Louis brings them back to the shore over the little rock path, their feet drying in the warm summer grass as they make their way back to the blanket.

“Sorry, dad,” they say in unison when Harry looks pointedly at them.

“I wish you boys would leave the frogs alone. They’re not doing you any harm.”

“But, Niall said brown frogs means it’s gonna snow,” James says excitedly, sitting cross-legged in front of his plate and waiting for everyone else to be seated before he can eat.

David brings his plate so he can sit between Harry and Alex, who’s dozing on the blanket with a wide-brimmed hat fixed under her chin.

“Hi, baby,” David says, watching as Louis settles down and Harry hands over his plate.

They begin eating after they’re all ready and Louis’ spooned fruit onto each of their plates, enjoying the rare quiet and calm. It’s a record warm summer already, and Louis lets his head fall back between bites, soaking up as much of the sun as he can.

They finish eating, the boys waiting until their parents are done before asking to be excused to play.

“Fine, go,” Harry sighs, picking up Alexandra where she’s waking up and fussing. “But leave the frogs alone please. Look at them but don’t touch.”

Agreeing and buzzing with excitement, they race back to the water. Louis pulls his shirt off and lies out on his back, warm from the sun as he watches to make sure they don’t go more than ankle deep in the still water. He can hear Harry grab a packet of Alex’s baby cereal snacks, and turns to watch her try to feed herself. She mostly just gums around her fist, doesn’t realise yet that she will have better luck if she lets the treat go, and Louis smiles at the pretty picture they make.

Harry’s hair is shorter than it’s been since they met, curls soft and falling just past his ears when it’s styled back from his face. Louis shields his eyes from the sun and meets Harry’s gaze, smiling wide.

“Today is one of those perfect days,” Louis says.

Harry grins back, still traces of the boy Louis met over a decade ago. He’s grown into his role as a royal, holds his shoulders back easily and speaks slow and sure. He’s better out of them both at charity work and hosting dinners for foreign guests, though he needs more days to be alone than Louis usually does. He goes to his mum’s home every couple months for a day out of the spotlight when Louis can’t be with him, as days like today are extremely rare. They’ve not had a day alone together since Alex’s birth, one or the both of them off doing their duties and having to leave the children behind with nannies.

The house in Wales has always been their preferred getaway, the press often leaving them alone long enough to enjoy a weekend as a family. The beautiful weather they’re having just makes the whole day so much better.

“When are you leaving?” Harry asks, though Louis knows Harry has his schedule better memorised than he does.

“I’ve got a whole week to be at your beck-and-call, love. I’m not needed in London until next Monday and you and the little one will be joining me soon after.

Harry sighs, frowning a bit until he looks down at Alex in his arms. “I don’t like leaving the boys behind.”

Louis knows he doesn’t. He turns back to watch them, thinks they’re looking for fish now as they hover over a deep puddle off the pond’s bank. “It’s hard sometimes, being away from your parents when you’re that young. But James is fortunate to have David here with him. They can both go to school here for a bit and learn the culture. He’ll be Prince of Wales one day, he needs to appreciate it the way I learned to.”

“He’s going to be my baby forever,” Harry counters.

Louis smiles, hearing the pout in his voice and knowing Harry doesn’t mean it.

“Oh come on,” he teases, sitting up and turning to look at Harry again. “Don’t you want him to fuck off to Vegas for his birthday and meet the love of his life?”

Harry just rolls his eyes but he smiles and sets Alex down on her bottom, watching her bounce a bit as she successfully manages to eat a piece of cereal.

“I’ve never once regretted this,” Harry says after a moment. “Just so you know. It was stressful for a long time and some days I thought I couldn’t do it anymore- couldn’t fake a smile and live in the public’s eye. But I’ve never actually thought I could quit this: you. I could never have walked away.”

“Sap,” Louis says, but there’s no heat behind it.

“You haven’t regretted it either.”

Louis scoots across the blanket so he’s settled next to Harry. He leans his head on Harry’s shoulder. “I’ve regretted that I changed your life so drastically,” he admits. “But I’ve always been too selfish to really want to change that.”

They watch as David splashes water at James’ legs, laughing when James counter-attacks.

“Good thing they’re not in their nice clothes,” Harry sighs, giggling again when they step away from the puddle, bottoms soaked. “You’ve really taught them to be quite naughty. I get full control over this one.”

Louis just nods, turning to press a kiss to Harry’s shoulder through his thin t-shirt.

Yr wyf i yn dy garu di,” he whispers.

“You can’t steal my line!” Harry laughs, turning and bringing their lips together briefly. “I know now how silly and formal that sounds. I’m better at Welsh than you!”

“You are,” Louis concedes. “But I don’t want you to say it any other way. I love the thought of you- twenty-one and nervous about all the ways your life was going to change- looking up how to tell me you love me. Wanting to be impressive, wanting to be right.”

Harry flushes but doesn’t deny it.

“It’s perfect,” Louis says. “It’s our history, so it’s perfect. I wouldn’t change any words you’ve ever said to me, not for nowt.”

Harry just rolls his eyes and pulls him into another kiss. Louis pulls back after a moment, the tips of his fingers coming up to trace along the edge of Harry's jaw.

"You're the best thing that has ever happened to me," he admits in a whisper. "You're a thousand times too good for me and you're completely lovely with balancing everything. You're an absolute dream."

Harry's face is a deep pink but he's smiling so hard his dimple seems endless and his green eyes are narrowed.

Louis lets his head fall back to Harry's shoulder so he can look at where the boys have graduated to dragging rocks over near the water's edge, looking as if they're trying to spear head some fish. They're horribly uncoordinated, Harry's bad habits rubbing off on them all, and they end up even more wet when they slip seconds apart from each other, landing on their bottoms on the muddy banks.

Harry sighs, clearly frustrated. Louis want to reassure him. "Don't worry, Haz. They're getting along, isn't that what is most important? They're finally grown out of their constantly fighting phase."

"James told David the other day that they need to be friends because they're going to need to keep the other boys away from Alexandra."

Louis laughs, such an obvious thing for serious and steadfast James to say.

"Whatever the reason, I'll take it."

Harry just nods against where his cheek is brushing Louis' fringe. They watch James and David play together while Alex continues to learn the best way to get her treats from her blanket to her mouth. Louis and Harry both cheer her on when she seems to get a hang of it.

Louis lets himself enjoy the sunlight while he can. He's got a full week off from Princely duties- a miracle in itself- and he plans on spending every second of it with his family.