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kiss me on the mouth (and set me free)

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Louis wakes up to the sound of sniffling, and is immediately aware of two awful and unexpected things, neither of which he knows how to deal with. First of all, his head is throbbing in a way that is far more painful than the hangovers he normally gets. Though, to be fair, last night he’d had significantly more drinks than he normally gets. So, maybe that one isn’t entirely unexpected, but the way everything is bright and loud and painful is awful enough to make up for the apparent predictability of his current pain.

But second, and even more awful than the way Louis’ head is spinning, is Harry. Louis’ best friend and flatmate is sitting in the corner of the room, hunched over himself as his body heaves. It takes Louis a moment to process what Harry is doing, and he almost spits out a blunt, “Haz, what the fuck?” before his brain catches up with the situation. Harry is crying.

This isn’t exactly something that Louis is new to. Louis and Harry have been best friends for about three years now, and Louis has seen more than his fair share of Harry’s tears. Harry is an unabashed crier, and that’s what makes this whole situation worse. He had cried at Toy Story 3, at Finding Dory, at The Fault in our Stars (both the book and the movie), and each and every time Louis was met with a punch to his shoulder and a “why aren’t you crying, are you heartless?” before being ordered to get more tissues.

Even with serious matters, Harry never tries to hide from Louis. Louis had seen Harry cry in these situations a total of three times - once, when his first girlfriend told him that she wanted to see other people, again when his childhood cat had to be put down, and again when his great-grandfather had passed away. All three times, Harry had grabbed the cheap wine from their pathetic excuse of a liquor cabinet and dragged Louis to the couch to wail about how unfair it was. Louis had suddenly had a lapful of Harry and a sopping wet t-shirt, but he knew how to deal with that.

This, Harry hiding his feelings and sobbing quietly in the corner while Louis slept, is completely new territory.  Louis becomes suddenly aware that he is in Harry’s room, and a new wave of worry sweeps over him. He and Harry have very little personal space, and are often in each other’s rooms as well as flopped over each other’s bodies. This lack of space is only more extreme when they are drunk or hungover. But now, Louis is in Harry’s bed with a headache, and Harry is in a corner crying, the furthest away from Louis he can get while staying in his own room.

“Hey,” Louis tries to say softly, but his voice is rough from tequila and sleep and it comes out significantly more gruffly than he intends it to.

Harry’s head shoots up from where it is buried in his hands, but all Louis can make out from his face is guilt. “Shit, sorry. Did I wake you up?” Harry asks, hastily wiping at his eyes.

And, yep, that is Harry to the core. He might be miserable about something affecting him, but his first concern will always be for others.

“No,” Louis lies, because he wishes Harry had woken him up, deliberately and much, much sooner. “But you should have. What’s wrong?”

Harry falters, and Louis raises his eyebrows in a challenge, daring Harry to say it’s nothing.

“It’s nothing.” Harry says.

Perhaps Louis’ facial expressions are not quite as expressive as he thought. “Harold Edward Styles.” Louis emphasizes, moving quickly out of bed to comfort Harry on the floor, and immediately regretting the sudden movement. “Oh god, my head. Hang on, fuck.”

Harry may be selfless and kind no matter what, but Louis has never claimed to be.

Still, Louis manages to crawl over to Harry, breathing deeply and clutching at his head. He’s leaning on Harry for support rather than the other way around, but he supposes it’s the thought that counts. Maybe they’re mutually leaning on each other for support. Louis can still help Harry feel better.

And that’s when the nausea hits.

“Um, Harry.” Louis croaks out unhelpfully.

“Yeah, Lou?” Harry sniffles.

“I know you need moral support and all right now, but.” Louis pauses, swallowing hard.

“But?”

Louis throws up.

 

-

 

After throwing up two times, including once directly onto the floor of Harry’s room (“Oh god, I am so sorry, Haz.”), and being brought ibuprofen and water (“Ungh, thank you Haz.”), Louis is feeling much better.

He is currently laying on their couch, as Harry had forced him to do while he went to clean the contents of Louis’ stomach off of his carpet. Louis had felt a bit bad about this, but also a bit like he would puke again if he so much as moved a centimeter, so he let it be.

“Good night last night, then?” Harry asks, coming back in the room with a smile that, although it doesn’t quite reach his eyes, is fond nonetheless.

Louis isn’t quite sure how Harry is smiling at him after just scrubbing his throw up off of the carpet, but he’ll count his blessings and not question it. “You were there, mate, it was sick.”

“Ha. Sick.” Harry jokes, and Louis groans out of obligation to let him know that he is not funny.

“It was good for you too, yeah?” Louis asks, because he’s still not sure exactly where the fine line is between Harry having a blast dancing (badly) and freestyling (also badly) last night, to Harry crying to himself this morning. Harry had been the designated driver last night, but even without drinking Louis thought that Harry had a great time last night.

“Yeah,” Harry says with a smile, but it looks all wrong. His dimples don’t pop out and the skin by the corners of his eyes is smooth. Harry hiding his feelings is quite possibly the worst thing in the world.

“Well, there’s something you aren’t telling me and I won’t stand for it.” Louis says stubbornly, grabbing his best friend and tugging him down to sit on the couch next to him, laying his head in Harry’s lap. “Explain.”

“It’s nothing. Just a…bit of a change of plans.” Harry says vaguely, but he chokes up in the middle and Louis’ own lungs tighten at the sound.

“Change of what plans?” He demands, because how is he supposed to help Harry if he doesn’t even know what’s going on?

And then Harry is crying again.

“Shit,” Louis whispers, sitting up as quickly as his body will allow and pulling Harry into a hug, thanking whatever god there is for the beauty that is modern medicine.  “Hey, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“You didn’t.” Harry says, shaking his head in such a vigorous manner that Louis’ own head spins just watching him. “I just… I’m going to miss all of this, so much. I’m going to miss you so much.”

It takes Louis a minute to process this. Having grown up with four younger sisters, comforting is second nature to him. He is on autopilot, assuring Harry that it’s okay and there’s no need to worry before his brain catches up with Harry’s words. “Wait, what?”

Harry chuckles wetly, and the sound wrenches at Louis’ heart. He’s never seen Harry like this before, and he really doesn’t like it.

“Harry…” Louis says slowly. “What do you mean?”

Harry takes a deep breath, and looks Louis straight in the eye. “I’m getting kicked out of uni.”

There’s a beat of stoic silence before Louis lets out a snort of laughter. “That was good,” He shakes his head. “Maybe you should be the one pursuing acting, that almost had me fooled. I thought you were serious.”

“I am serious.” Harry says.

Louis cocks an eyebrow at his best friend, hoping his facial expressions have recovered enough for his doubt to show clearly.

But Harry’s face remains impassive, and when he still hasn’t broken into a smile after thirty seconds, Louis realizes that this really is serious.

And well, shit. Louis actually had not seen that coming. He’s crying out in protest before he can help himself, “But you’re one of the best students here! You’ve got incredible grades, you study and work really hard, and you-”

“It’s not…me.” Harry interrupts, apparently intending this as an explanation. Louis looks at him blankly, and he elaborates, “It’s the money.”

“Tuition hikes.” Louis says quietly, finally understanding.

Their university had recently announced some new policy changes, including a sharp increase in tuition. Louis, having four sisters and a single working mum, is on scholarship, so it doesn’t affect him much at all. Harry, on the other hand, comes from a painfully middle-class family. They make too much to be considered in need of aid by the government, but not nearly enough to be able to support two children through college. They’re supportive morally, if not financially, believing firmly that Harry is able to handle it himself. Which, it seems to be turning out, he is not.

But Harry is nothing if not a hard-worker. He had juggled three jobs throughout their first few years in uni, and managed to make it by. Given the new increase, though, it really isn’t logical for him to be able to support himself in finishing uni without some sort of outside money.

“And it just, it really sucks, you know?” Harry says, and he’s choking up again and starting to ramble like he does when he’s really upset, but now at least Louis understands. “It’s so unfair, because it’s about to be our senior year and I- well, I almost made it, Lou. I’m so close, and yet. I’m not going to be able to get there. I’ve been applying to scholarships, but it’s so much harder if you aren’t low-income and maybe if I was independent it would be different, but it’s too late to start trying to file emancipation papers and I just, Louis… I’m not going to make it.”

There’s an ugly feeling brewing in Louis’ gut, anger towards their university for raising tuition, bitterness towards Harry’s family for not supporting him more, and resentment towards the scholarship committees for rejecting his brilliant best friend. He knows life isn’t fair, but he had thought that it was more fair than this.

Harry deserves his education more than anyone Louis knows. And it’s devastating to know that Harry has come so close, has seen the finish line, only to have it ripped away from him.

So when Louis says to the sniffling boy in his arms, “There’s got to be a way,” he means it with everything in him.

 

-

 

Unfortunately, no amount of sheer love and support from a best friend can change the harsh reality of a situation.

So after Harry’s sobs turned into sniffles which quieted into steady breathing, Louis begins trying to turn his belief in Harry into a solid solution. This mostly consists of him spewing out bad ideas, because Harry is usually the problem solver, and Louis is usually the one wallowing in self-pity. The roles are reversed now, and Louis is a bit out of his depth with problem solving, but once again hopefully it’s the thought that counts.

“We’ll petition the board. You’re one of the most qualified students here, surely they can’t just let you go.” Louis says confidently, more trying to cheer Harry up than actually offering valid ideas. However, if Harry had smiled and agreed, Louis most certainly would have marched down to the student union building and banged on the door to defend Harry’s honor.

But Harry doesn’t smile and agree. Instead he asks sarcastically, “You think they care more about one student than they do about money?”

He’s being cynical, the fucker, but he’s also right.  At least, Louis supposes, he isn’t crying or hiding anymore.

“We’ll apply for more scholarships, then!” Louis suggests, enthusing a deliberately obnoxious amount of positivity. He will not let Harry’s sudden pessimism hold him back for a second. At Harry’s withering glare, however, Louis drops the overly optimistic tone and asks weakly, “I’ll apply in your name?”

“I’ve already applied to every one I qualify for.” Harry says flatly.

“We’ll find you a sugar daddy.” Louis counters with a smirk, and to his satisfaction Harry laughs out loud. It isn’t a serious suggestion – they both know Harry would sooner drop out of uni than compromise himself - but it takes the serious look off of Harry’s face.

The bark of laughter only lasts a moment, and all too soon Harry sighs. “If only there was a way for them to consider me without my parent’s incomes.” He says quietly. He doesn’t sound sad anymore, just resigned, as if he has accepted his fate. And that hits Louis harder than anything.

“What if… what if there was a way?” Louis offers softly, his mouth plowing ahead before he even has a fully formed plan in mind, “Marriage. Marriage makes you legally independent, right?”

Harry gives him a blank look, clearly not following. Which, Louis supposes, is valid because the shell of an idea he is clinging to is borderline insane.

Harry, being his endlessly patient self, asks with a wry smile, “And who am I going to spontaneously marry for financial aid?”

He clearly intends for it to be a rhetorical question, for it to shoot down Louis’ ridiculous marriage idea. But Louis answers easily, “Me. You’ll marry me.”

Harry stares at him calmly for a beat, not realizing that Louis actually means it before a look of alarm washes over his face and he splutters out “Wait, you- me- what?”

“Oh, relax,” Louis assures him. “Not for real. We made a pact, remember?”

Harry still looks lost.

“When we moved in together, what was our pact?” Louis prods gently.

“To…never have a threesome together.” Harry says slowly, pausing for a long moment. “I’m sorry, how is that relevant?”

“It’s – read between the lines, Harry.” Louis says, unwilling to relent that his line of thought is not the easiest to follow. “We agreed to never have sex with each other, basically.”

Harry stares at him before asking tentatively “And…you’re saying you want us to have sex? And get married?”

He seems like he’s trying his hardest to be polite in turning Louis down, which Louis finds hilarious, but he also looks vaguely horrified by Louis’ suggestion, which Louis finds a bit offensive. Torn between laughing at Harry’s discomfort and hitting Harry for his disgusted expression, Louis chooses the latter and smacks the side of Harry’s head.

“No, idiot.” Louis rolls his eyes, but he suspects it comes out more fondly than he had intended. “I’m saying we have a pact, and we’re going to keep it. We’re just also going to get married.”

Comprehension dawns on Harry’s face, and it looks a lot like he thinks Louis is crazy. “You’re going to marry me to keep me in school?”

Louis can’t help it - his best friend is truly daft. He hits Harry’s arm and sighs a bit impatiently. “It wouldn’t be forever. Just for the year, probably. Could be even less, so long as the financial aid office can’t take back the money once we separate. We would just get it annulled, or get divorced or whatever, right after we’re done needing you to be independent.”

“And you would…you would do that? For me?” Harry asks, finally on the same page as Louis and looking increasingly amazed by what Louis is saying.

“’Course.” Louis shrugs, thinking it should probably be a bit more weird than it actually feels. “You’re my best mate, I’d do anything for you. Except, you know, maybe not the sex thing.”

(Actually, Louis would very much like to do the sex thing, but he wouldn’t dare admit that.)

And, now that he thinks about it, perhaps offering to marry his best friend would have been a much better plan if he wasn’t also secretly in love with his said best friend.

But before he can backtrack, or even think about having regrets, Harry is saying meaningfully, “Thank you, Louis. Thank you so much.” His eyes are wet again, but in a good way this time. And with Harry beaming at him with a smile so wide his face nearly splits, his dimples on display and the corners of his eyes crinkled just like they should be, Louis really can’t bring himself to care about personal consequences. There’s hope twinkling in Harry’s eyes again, and it might be unorthodox, but Louis can’t help but feel like he’s done a really good thing.

“Seriously, Louis.” Harry is emphasizing gratefully. “I could kiss you right now. I owe you so big.”

Louis’ breath catches a bit in his throat, but he knows Harry well, knows that he doesn’t mean it the way Louis wishes he did. So Louis does what he does best when it comes to emotions he can’t quite handle: he laughs it off. “Nah. The only thing you owe me, is a ring.”

 

-

 

“If you think I’m going to be Louis Styles, you’ve got another thing coming.” Louis threatens through a mouthful of bacon the next day. His horrible hangover has long since faded and instead of emptying his stomach in Harry’s room, he is filling it with Harry’s amazing cooking.

“I don’t want to be Harry Tomlinson.” Harry whines, and it occurs to Louis that this is probably not a normal conversation among best friends. “Maybe we can hyphenate?”

“My last name is long enough as is. Plus, I’ll have to rework my entire signature, and only for a year. Not worth it.” Louis counters.

“To be fair, he’s marrying you so you can get thousands of dollars from the government,” Niall points out from the couch. “You can at least take his last name.”

“Exactly.” Louis agrees, motioning for Niall to have another waffle. Niall is one of their best friends, and frequently visits their flat solely because Harry is an excellent cook. He would definitely have taken another waffle regardless of whether Louis had offered, but that’s neither here nor there.

“Come on,” Harry complains, shaking his head as he transfers the sausages he’s just finished from the frying pan to a plate. “I’ll even take the first slot, we can be Harry and Louis Styles-Tomlinson.”

“Nope.” Louis replies, popping the “p”.

“You can keep your same last names, can’t you?” Niall asks, seemingly trying to find a compromise. Louis knows better though, knows Niall is acutely aware that appeasing Harry will likely result in more food for him.

“I guess. But we’re getting married.” Harry emphasizes. “I want to do it right.”

“What does it matter?” Louis asks. “It’s not real. Niall’s right, we’ll just keep our names.”

“Where’s the fun in that?” Harry asks, cocking a hip as he turns away from the stove to face Louis and Niall. Louis thinks Harry is trying to be intimidating, but considering he is wearing a frilly pink apron (courtesy of his sister Gemma), the attempt falls far short. It’s downright unfair how hot he looks despite the pink frills.

“The fun?” Louis echoes incredulously.

“Yeah. We’re basically pulling a huge con on the school, aren’t we?” Harry says, raising an eyebrow. “We should go all out.”

“All out?” Louis echoes again, not knowing what else to say. Louis is rarely left speechless, and will furiously deny being so if anyone ever asks about this moment.

But Harry doesn’t seem to notice, continuing seamlessly, “Yeah. Zayn can be your best man. Liam will be mine. We can have, like, a small ceremony in a park or something.” He flips a pancake with a careless shrug, as if his two friends aren’t gaping at him wordlessly.

“What the fuck?” Niall asks, voicing Louis’ exact thoughts.

At least Niall is on the same page as Louis, staring at Harry with a look of shock that Louis is sure he is matching. The effect of their glares is softened significantly by the fact that Harry is not paying them any attention, and has started making omelets.

“Why don’t I get to be anyone’s best man?” Niall demands, and well, that was not exactly the objection Louis had been expecting.

“Oh, I had figured you could be our officiator? Officiant? Whatever the term is. You’ll be the one to marry us.” Harry explains, like he’s had this all planned out from the start.

What the fuck.

“What the fuck?” Louis asks aloud, mostly because it seems to be the only thing running through his brain.

Harry and Niall turn to him with twin expressions of curiosity, as if he’s the one being outrageous. Although, to be fair, this was his idea.

“You’re kidding, right?” Louis snaps. It’s a bit sassier than he intends, but Harry and Niall are close enough to him to know that there’s no venom in his tone. “We don’t even need a ceremony, just a little slip of paper signed by some old official saying that we’re officially married.”

“Who’re you calling an old official?” Niall huffs, puffing up his chest proudly. “That’s my role you’re talking about, and if you want me to authorize your wedding, I expect some goddamned respect.”

Louis flings a piece of bacon at him.

They aren’t even listening to him. He’s going to have to get married to the boy he’s been in love with for three years, have a legitimate mock ceremony and wedding, and he’s going to have to pretend it doesn’t mean a damn thing.

“Hey, does this make you my fiancée?” Harry asks suddenly, a stupidly hopeful look in his eyes.

Louis holds up his left hand stubbornly, because rather than discussing with him they seem to have chosen to just ignore his complaints. “No ring, no engagement,” He snaps.

Harry presents him with a ring pop within the hour.

 

-

 

“Zaynnnnn.” Louis whines, banging his head on the door of his (other) best friend’s flat.

Though he considers them both his best friends, the friendship Louis has with Zayn is much different from his relationship with Harry. For one, Louis hasn’t been harboring a secret love for him for the past three years. Also, he’s not marrying him.

There’s a bottle of cheap wine in Louis’ left hand and two fancy glasses in his right, because Louis is a firm believer that your life is more put together when you drink out of proper glasses, even if the reason you’re drinking is because it’s falling apart. Zayn calls him stupid for it every time they drink, but it means less dishes for him to wash so Louis knows he doesn’t actually mind.

“Z, my hands are full, please open up.” Louis calls out after a minute in which Zayn has not opened the door, nor has there been any sound within the flat to indicate that he is coming. There’s a spare key on top of the doorframe, but Louis’ hands are full and he’s actually not the tallest person, if he ever starts admitting that he’s not 5’10”. Anyways, it’s hardly past noon and Louis can’t think of anywhere that Zayn would possibly be other than inside his flat, ignoring him.

The door finally opens, revealing a figure clad in the Ed Sheeran shirt Louis had gotten Zayn for his last birthday. Louis gratefully barges in, ready to wail about his life problems, and is already in Zayn’s kitchen when he realizes that the person who had opened the door is most definitely not Zayn.

“Erm…hello.” Louis says, turning and blinking at the woman standing there. The Ed Sheeran t-shirt seems to be precisely all she is wearing, and Louis quickly averts his eyes.

“Hi.” She replies easily, not seeming self-conscious whatsoever.

She might not be uncomfortable, but Louis certainly is. He doesn’t want to leave, because he clearly came intending to drink and he’s pretty sure that the only thing worse than crashing Zayn’s one-night stand would be barging in and then immediately retreating.

“So.” Louis says, because the silence has stretched on a bit too long for his liking already. He clears his throat and does a calculating sweep of what he can see of Zayn’s flat. There’s a trail of clothes on the floor going down the hall, but the living room seems devoid of signs of sex, so Louis drops down onto the couch, setting his alcoholic supplies on Zayn’s coffee table. “I’m Louis.”

“Nice to meet you.” The woman says, making no effort to introduce herself.

Louis waits for a beat of tense silence before taking the logical course of action in times of distress, and grabbing for the alcohol. “Care for a drink?”

By the time Zayn emerges, Louis is buzzed and has discovered that this woman whom Zayn had slept with is a Taurus (“Highly compatible with Capricorns, if you get what I mean,” she had said with a smirk), a model (which explained the lack of insecurity and the perfect symmetry of her face) and a downright flirt (“A Victoria’s Secret model, you know” she had elaborated unnecessarily, dropping a slow wink).

“What.” Zayn says flatly, rubbing at his eyes in tired exasperation as he walks in. He looks devastatingly well put together even as he stands before them in his boxers and a stained tank top. Louis doesn’t really want to think about what those stains are.

There you are.” Louis says. “Fucking finally.” It comes out more bitterly than Louis had intended it to, but Zayn is sleeping with gorgeous models and Louis is planning a fake wedding with his unrequited love. He has a right to be bitter.

“I believe I took your wine glass.” The model informs him.

“Then share,” Zayn grumbles to her, taking a swig from the glass she is holding and sitting on the couch a seat away from Louis, pulling the woman into his lap. He then turns to Louis. “Care to explain why you’re here? Also, I take it you’ve met Gigi?”

Louis realizes despite his decently lengthy conversation with this woman, he actually hadn’t gotten her name, but nods anyways before blurting out “I’m marrying Harry.”

Louis expects Zayn to be shocked, and to demand an explanation immediately. What he doesn’t expect is for Zayn to grin, slow and wide, before pumping a fist with the hand that is not currently wrapped around Gigi’s waist. “Yes!” He cheers to Louis’ bewilderment. “Liam owes me 15 quid.”

“I…sorry, what?” Louis snaps.

“We bet on you. When you’d get together.” Zayn answers easily. His eyes flick down to the blue raspberry ring pop that is currently embellishing Louis’ left hand, before he motions curiously to the wine. “Why’re we moping though? This is good news, innit? Marriage is kind of sudden, I’d say. Wouldn’t you want to date properly for a while first?”

“We aren’t together.” Louis huffs, a bit thrown off by Zayn’s betting. “We’re getting married as friends. For Harry’s financial aid.”

And there’s the shock Louis had been expecting. Zayn opens his mouth, then closes it. Then repeats.

Gigi, who had seemed content to quietly nurse her glass of wine up until now, lets out a snort of laughter. “Married as friends?” She asks, turning to Louis with impeccable eyebrows raised high. “Hate to break it to you, but that is not a thing.”

Louis shrugs, not exactly in disagreement. “Well, it shouldn’t be, that’s for sure.”

Zayn still seems at a loss for words, turning his attention to Louis with a pitying and knowing gaze. “How did it even get this far?”

“It just kind of happened,” Louis admits with another shrug. “Definitely a rushed idea. But, what else can I do? Harry’s going to be forced to drop out of uni otherwise.”

It’s quiet for a moment, Zayn pondering the sudden news Louis has given him and Gigi smirking into her wine. Finally, Zayn sighs softly. “Well,” he says kindly “If anyone has to fake marry Harry in order to keep him in school, I’m glad it’s you.”

It’s a strange sentence, but the sentiment rings true. And the thing is, Louis is glad, too. It’ll be hard to act as though marrying Harry doesn’t mean anything, but it would be far worse to watch Harry marry someone else, even if it wasn’t real.

“Also,” Zayn adds thoughtfully. “I think this counts enough that Liam still owes me 15 quid.”

Louis rolls his eyes, wanting to pry Zayn for further advice about what to do. But Gigi has started rolling her hips back against Zayn’s lap and Zayn understandably no longer looks like he is thinking much about Louis or his problems anymore. Louis is pretty sure he overstayed his welcome the instant he walked in the door, but he supposes this is what best friends are for.

Zayn makes a small sound that Louis never wants to hear again, and he jerks up out of his seat, clearing his throat loudly to startle the couple out of their lustful daze. Yep, Louis has really overstayed his welcome.

“Alright, well, thank you for the counseling, but I believe it’s time for me to go.” Louis announces, grabbing his bottle of wine but abandoning the glasses. Maybe Zayn will keep them and Louis can stop bringing them over every time. “Gigi, lovely meeting you. Also, I bought the shirt you are wearing. Zayn, you’d be my best man right?”

He’s answered with a sultry “Well, maybe I should take it off then,” and a dazed “Yeah, of course, Lou,” respectively, and quickly exits to avoid finding out if Gigi is really as brazen as she seems.

“No threesome then?” Gigi calls out after him.

“Shh.” Zayn scolds immediately, but Louis can hear the mirth in his tone. “He can’t, he’s a married man now.”

Zayn’s cackle of triumphant laughter turns quickly into a moan and Louis practically runs down the hall.

 

-

 

When Louis flings open the door to their flat, he is fully expecting to find Harry enjoying the lazy way Saturday mornings blend into Saturday afternoons, probably lounging around in pajama pants. What he does not expect, is for Harry to be dressed in a three-piece suit, admiring himself in the hall mirror.

The door swings shut with a soft click behind him, but it takes Louis a moment longer to find his voice. The thing is, Harry always looks good. Louis is used to his long curly hair, his piercing green eyes, and his dimpled charm, having been caught off guard many times with how effortlessly handsome Harry is. But when Harry puts real effort into his appearance, he reaches new levels of stunning.

“You really do go all out, dontcha?” Louis asks, in what he sincerely hopes comes out as a teasing manner. It sounds strained even to his own ears, but Louis really can’t be bothered to care when Harry is standing there prettily in a slim suit. Louis’ mouth is suddenly dry and all he can hear is the echo of his heartbeat drumming in his ears.

On second thought, maybe drinking during the day is not the best idea.

“Oh,” Harry whips towards Louis in surprise, looking sheepish but pleased. “Well, I can’t wear a flowing see-through shirt to my own wedding now, can I?”

For the second time in 24 hours, Louis knows this is supposed to be a rhetorical question. But the filter on his mouth is compromised by alcohol and a gorgeous boy, so he finds himself saying “You can wear whatever you want, H.” If it comes out bordering on reverent, well, no one has to know.

Harry smirks, and Louis’ stomach drops. “Yeah?”  He asks, and it’s not flirting (or if it is, it’s some of the tamest Louis’ experienced in a long while). Harry turns, his body angled towards Louis now, and it takes all of Louis’ willpower to not tear off the suit right then.

“Yeah.” Louis echoes weakly, shaking his head quickly to clear his thoughts. “So,” he tries again, and his voice carries strongly this time. “Want to hear something funny?”

He’s ready to launch into his story about Zayn and Gigi and how he essentially crashed Zayn’s morning-after with a model, but Harry hasn’t yet responded. He’s looking at Louis a bit strangely, an expression on his face that Louis doesn’t know how to decipher.

It’s a look Louis has seen before, but not one usually directed at him. Harry looks like he is searching for something in his face, giving Louis an intense gaze that he usually reserves for newly formed acquaintances or people he doesn’t trust. Louis is a bit offended to be on the receiving end of this look – after all, he is Harry’s best friend and fiancée for crying out loud.

Louis is trying to piece together an eloquent comment – “Why do you look like you’re looking for something you lost in my face” is not quite the level of coherency he is aiming for – but Harry speaks up first. “What’s funny?”

Louis opens his mouth, still caught up on the previous intensity of Harry’s gaze. But Harry has moved away from the hall as if nothing had happened and is flopping down on the couch, suit and all. “I just rejected an offer for a threesome by a Victoria’s Secret model.” Louis says instead, following Harry and draping his body across his friend.

“A Victoria’s Secret model and Zayn?” Harry asks, feigning a gasp. “Sounds like quite the offer, Lou. You’re missing out!”

Louis rolls his eyes, because if Harry thinks he can get away with being the more dramatic one, he’s wrong. He pinches Harry’s cheek, right where his dimple would appear, and coos, “All in the name of monogamy, my love.”

Harry barks out a laugh, his eyes crinkling happily, and Louis can’t help but preen. Earning those unexpected laughs from Harry, the ones that he tries to hold back but isn’t able to, is one of Louis’ favorite things.

“So loyal,” Harry praises teasingly.

“Yep. But…” Louis waggles his eyebrows ridiculously. “Zayn might just bring her as his plus one to our wedding, so if you’re interested I’m sure some foursome shenanigans can go down. It’ll be our honeymoon night after all, how could they say ‘no’?”

It might not have been Louis’ best, but he certainly thinks it is still deserving of at least a chuckle. But Harry doesn’t chuckle. Rather, his dimpled grin slips, fading into something like concern. “D’you reckon Zayn likes her then?”

Louis feels himself mirror Harry, his own smile falling from his face. Why? He wants to ask. Why does it matter who Zayn likes? A wave of insecurity sweeps through him, but he hides it, quipping “Scoping out the boys in front of your future husband? Have some shame, Harold.”

Harry laughs again, but it’s hollow, as if he’s so preoccupied with something else that he doesn’t realize he is laughing. “No, but really, Louis. Does he fancy her?”

Louis hesitates for only a split second before answering noncommittally, “Well, if there even is a morning after, he’s got to like her at least a little.” Harry looks dejected, and Louis is thoroughly confused. He realizes he has some options here. He could either a) lie that Zayn likes her a lot and keep Harry’s affections to himself, or b) truthfully admit that he doesn’t think Zayn would pursue anything with Gigi. Louis might be a little (or a lot) jealous of how Harry is reacting to news about Zayn’s love life, but he would always put Harry’s happiness first. He pauses, studying his friend before adding, “I don’t see it being anything long-term, though.”

Harry perks up. “Really?”

Louis’ heart drops. He presses his lips together, and nods reluctantly, vaguely regretting his honesty. “Yeah. Why?” Harry doesn’t answer, and Louis plows ahead uncertainly. “Are you- you don’t…fancy him? Do you?”

There’s a moment of torturous quiet, as if Harry is mulling it over, but then Louis is gifted again with one of Harry’s unexpected laughs, loud and bright and sudden. “Me??” He shouts, his grin so wide he can barely get out his next words. “Are you blind?”

“Blind?” Louis demands, knowing full well that his expression of mock offense is overtaken by a smile of relief. “What are you talking about?”

Harry beams at Louis, childish and excited, but says seriously “Not me, I’m an Aquarius. But Capricorns and Virgos are extremely compatible. Very likely to be soul mates.”

Louis waits, not entirely sure how this is supposed to clear anything up for him. He’s somewhat glad that Gigi had given him a rundown of various zodiac signs earlier, as it’s apparently proving to be useful already. She had informed him that both he and Zayn are Capricorns, as their birthdays fall within the same range. He’s not too sure who the Virgo that Harry is referring to might be, though. Harry shows no sign of further clarifying, so Louis pitches in the only bit of astrological knowledge he possesses. “Same with Capricorns and Taurus, I believe. Gigi’s a Taurus.”

Harry’s gaze darkens. “Well, it’s not like I believe in that stuff.”

“What?” Harry had been the one to bring this up in the first place.

“Just because you’re a Capricorn, doesn’t mean you have to be with one of them.” Harry mutters in explanation.

“Me?” Louis is completely lost. “I thought we were talking about Zayn!”

“Oh.” A pause. “You’re both Capricorns, huh?”

Louis nods.

“Well. Liam’s a Virgo.” Harry announces, before quickly extracting himself from underneath Louis on the couch and heading towards his room, presumably to change. “But don’t you go getting any ideas.”

It isn’t until Harry has made his exit that it occurs to Louis. “Huh” He says to the empty room. “So is Niall.”

 

-

 

Louis wakes up the next morning to the sound of someone playing guitar, loudly and badly. Louis didn’t even know it was possible to be this awful – he’s sure that he could pluck a few strings and make it sound at least decent –but he isn’t focusing on that right now. Actually, he can’t focus on anything over the cringe-worthy twanging.

He squeezes his eyes shut, hoping he can block out the noise, but it’s as if someone is playing directly in front of his face. Finally, Louis cracks an eye open. There is indeed someone butchering the guitar directly in front of his face.

“Harry.” Louis snaps, affixing the aspiring guitarist with the most lethal one-eyed glare he can muster. “Shut. Up.”

Harry drops the guitar easily to his side and, satisfied, Louis lets his eyes close once more. He doesn’t know what time it is, but lack of sunlight in his room makes him grateful for this fact. Louis doesn’t even want to know; he just wants to go back to sleep.

“It’s 6 AM.” Harry announces, and Louis would punch him if he was willing to move at all. As is, Louis peeks his eye open again with what he hopes is an even more intimidating glare.

Harry is unaffected, pulling Louis’ blankets off of him with a sweeping motion. The cold rushes in and Louis cries out, grabbing for his covers. But Harry is faster than him (which Louis will later attribute to his brain already being fully functioning) and yanks the blankets out of reach.

“You are dead.” Louis seethes, curling around his pillow. He is, unfortunately, awake now. But his begrudging alertness serves him well, as he is now able to fully express his irritation with a proper glare from two eyes.

Harry actually looks repentant for a moment, before shrugging it off. “Did you know Niall lent me his guitar?”

“He’s dead to me, too.” Louis informs him in lieu of answering. “And did you wake me up at arse-o-clock in the morning to tell me that Niall gave you a guitar?”

“Nah.” Harry says easily. “We’re going out.”

It’s only then Louis realizes that Harry is fully dressed, in a suit that is wholly different from the one that Louis had walked in on him trying on the day before. For one thing, it’s bright red. Also, it’s patterned with purple flowers.

Louis isn’t sure how it’s possible for Harry to not look completely ridiculous, but somehow he pulls it off.

“What are you wearing?” Louis manages to ask finally, his eyebrows raised high.

“Don’t you mean…what are you wearing?” Harry asks, and upon seeing the smirk that accompanies his words, Louis’ eyes drop worriedly to the outfit folded in Harry’s arms.

 He’s dressed in a white button down and red braces minutes later.

 

-

 

“I haven’t even worn braces in nearly five years.” Louis huffs from the passenger’s seat, for what he doesn’t doubt must be the umpteenth time. The only downside to Harry driving is that his eyes are focused on the road, so Louis has taken to complaining vocally rather than giving him pointed looks.

There’s a thoughtful pause, and Louis thinks for a split second that he might’ve finally outdone Harry. But then Harry returns a pun, smugly, as he has to every other complaint Louis has voiced so far this morning. “Well, I guess it’s time to embrace it!”

“I don’t even own braces anymore.” Louis continues, undeterred. “You know I don’t wear these.”

“Better brace yourself, then. Looks like it’s a trend that’s up and coming.” Harry replies.

Louis hates him.

“Where are we going anyways?” He asks, changing the topic abruptly. It’s only a matter of time before Harry’s pun quality becomes even more unbearable.

“Well, fiancée,” Harry answers with a dimpled smirk. “I do believe this is our first date.”

There are very few occasions in which Harry manages to be suave. He’s normally something akin to a newborn animal, with curious eyes and too long limbs that he has yet to master. However, expertly whipping Liam’s car into a parking spot precisely as he finishes his words, Louis can’t help but be impressed.

That is, until he presses his nose up against the car window to see where they are.

“This is an arts and crafts shop.” Louis says flatly. He’s not quite sure what he expected (seeing as it’s not a real date because they aren’t really getting married), but this is definitely not it.

“Indeed it is.” Harry says sagely, quirking a smile at Louis.

Harry is an idiot, and Louis is so in love with him.

“You’re awful at first dates, you know that?” Louis says, rolling his eyes fondly. He tries not to think about what Harry’s first dates must usually be like, though they probably involve leggy blondes and fancy dinners.

“That he is.” Liam’s voice agrees from the backseat, and Louis lets out an embarrassingly high-pitched yelp of surprise as he jerks around. Liam is laying across all three spots in the back, a blanket covering him. “Sorry!” Liam apologizes hastily, sitting up and looking oddly earnest considering he has apparently been laying there for the entire drive. Louis’ confusion must show, because Liam asks by way of explanation “Did you really think I’d trust you fools with my car alone?”

Harry clicks his tongue, chastising. “Stop making stuff up,” He turns to Louis. “Liam’s here because I’m punishing him for declining to be my best man.”

“You knew he was here?” Louis demands of Harry.

Harry shrugs. “I made him come.”

“You made him- Christ, you really are awful at first dates.” Louis mutters.

“That’s what you think.” Liam huffs to Harry, but gives Louis an empathetic nod of agreement. “I’m here because you failed your license test three times, and I spent a good fortune on Matilda here.”

In retrospect, Louis probably should have questioned why Liam didn’t want to be Harry’s best man, or what kind of ‘date’ they were on, or how long exactly Liam had been sleeping in the backseat for this, or why the red-orange of his braces matched the color of Harry’s suit perfectly. Instead, what comes out of his mouth is “You named your car Matilda, Liam?”

The answer is yes.

Louis gets out of the car first, slamming the door unnecessarily and clapping his hands. “Alright, then. Well. Let’s do this.”

They walk into Craft Corner together, with Harry in a bright red floral suit, Louis in equally stunning suspenders, and Liam in a grey hoodie and sweatpants.

The young girl working at the cash register turns as if to greet them, and instead stares for a moment before offering a weak smile. Harry, being Harry, struts confidently up to her and asks with a sweetly dimpled smile, “Where can we find your rubber stamps at?”

The girl babbles directions to the back of the store, next to the fabrics, and Louis doesn’t even question why they need rubber stamps, just grips Liam’s arm to drag him away from the woodwork section and hopes Harry will follow.

He needn’t have worried.

“Almost wouldn’t recognize you in suspenders again, Lou.” Liam says conversationally, and it’s like a trigger for the idiot Louis is in love with.

“You’ll just have to suspend your disbelief, Liam!” Harry calls out cheerily, skipping ahead of them.

Louis vows to hit him later.

 “These ones.” Harry announces from the middle of the stamps and stencils aisle, having gotten there a minute before Louis and Liam. He’s holding up a package of wonky capital alphabet stamps, the letters so curled that they’re difficult to read.

“You just picked those because they’re the ones that are on sale.” Louis points out, waving his hand towards where the prices are marked.

Harry scrunches his nose, fighting back a smile. “You have no proof.”

“I saw you.” Louis sighs, throwing up his hands dramatically. “You were looking at the prices, not the stamps themselves.”

“And we’re marrying for financial aid,” Harry says patronizingly. “Our wedding is on a very strict budget.”

“All capitals?” Liam questions. “It’s going to look like you’re screaming at people.”

“It’s ‘cos we can’t afford both capitals and lowercase.” Louis whispers mock conspiratorially to Liam.

Harry frowns at him petulantly, but doesn’t argue. “To the fabric!” He announces instead, brushing off their comments and dropping the stamps into the store basket he is carrying with a satisfied nod.

Harry leads the way to the neighboring section, unabashedly greeting the woman working at the counter and asking, “What’s the cheapest fabric you’ve got that’s white?”

They end up with some extremely thin linen, and a shit ton of it. “Are you making sheets?” The worker asks, as she expertly cuts the fabric from the bolt.

Harry nods, dimpling charmingly at her. “Something like that.”

 They also end up with some off-white scrap cloth of varying consistency, because it was in the discount bin and Harry insisted it was too good of a deal to pass up.

“What exactly are you making?” Louis asks, once they’re out of earshot of the woman who had cut the fabric for them. Having been best friends with Harry for three years, he can tell when the boy’s got a ridiculous scheme planned. This so-called ‘date’ is certainly one of them, and the mass of white linen in Harry’s arms seem to indicate another.

“Weddings are white.” Harry answers simply. “Haven’t put much thought into our venue, yet, but I’m assuming that it won’t be fit for a wedding until we deck it out properly.”

Louis isn’t even surprised at this point. He shakes his head, asking cautiously “So this… ‘date’…?”

Harry turns away from the parchment that they are considering, and studies Louis’ face. It’s the same searching look that he had given Louis the day before, and again, it makes Louis squirm. He doesn’t seem inclined to say anything, though, so Louis stumbles ahead.

“It’s just wedding planning, then?” Louis asks, cringing slightly at himself. “It’s not an actual date or anything?” He turns immediately towards the rows of parchment once the words have left his mouth, vainly attempting to hide the flush he feels creeping onto his face.

Harry doesn’t reply, and Louis bites at his lip to distract himself from the silence. He can’t recall feeling anything but comfortable around Harry, ever, but now he wishes he was anywhere else other than having this one-sided conversation that he’s started.

“It’s whatever you want it to be,” Harry says, voice low and slow as always.

Louis can’t help but be surprised by this response, and also a bit annoyed because Harry’s being cryptic again and it’s wholly unhelpful for his conflicting feelings. “What does that even mean?” He snaps, looking up at Harry again.

Harry smiles softly, shrugging and reaching up over Louis to select the cheapest blank cards that are available. “I mean, I’d consider it both. After all, it’s not right to get married without having been on a single date now is it?”

Louis laughs. Harry makes it sound so easy. “But we aren’t really- it’s not real-”

“The only candles on sale are either clean linen or green grass.” Liam announces, interrupting Louis’ protests as he returns from having gone off to scope out the candles at Harry’s request.

“Get both,” Louis orders, trying to get their conversation back on track as fast as possible.

Grass and linen?” Harry asks incredulously, turning to Louis with a horrified expression. “What kind of wedding scent will that be? It’ll be terrible.”

“It’ll be…fresh.” Louis defends himself weakly. To be perfectly honest, he doesn’t really give a fuck what their fake wedding smells like.

“Fresh.” Harry repeats flatly, giving Louis a look of disapproval.

“Do you want me to contribute to the wedding decisions, or not?” Louis demands, and to his surprise, Harry relents.

“Alright, Li, yeah. Get both.” Harry says, holding out the basket.

Liam crinkles his nose judgmentally but starts stacking the candles with their other items nonetheless, muttering “God, it’s like you’re married already.”

The twin expressions of skepticism that Louis and Harry give him in response don’t exactly prove him wrong.

Harry is the one whose expression changes first, face lighting up as he snaps his fingers and announces, “We need fake flowers.”

“Fake flowers for a fake wedding, sounds perfect,” Louis mutters, and Harry makes a ‘tsk’ sound with his tongue.

“Fake flowers because real ones will wilt too quickly, and we haven’t even picked a date.” Harry explains, grabbing Louis by the elbow and heading towards the correct section.

The plastic flowers are all the same price and Harry, the fucker, picks out red roses. “Romantic.” He emphasizes, waggling his eyebrows at Louis.

Louis rolls his eyes to hide the blush that colors his cheeks. Harry is bloody ridiculous, and Louis is bloody in love with him.

“An old married couple, you lot are.” Liam grumbles again, but Louis is too busy smiling at Harry to even give him a second glance.

Harry does, though, sticking his tongue out at his friend. “Your own fault for being here. Just say the word, and you can be on your way.”

“I’m not going to be your best man, Harry.” Liam says, gentle but firm. “And for the last time, I’m here for the sake of Matilda, not for your wedding shenanigans.”

Harry huffs, not deigning Liam with a response, but Louis knows his best friend well enough to be able to recognize that this conversation is far from over.

He’s still confused though, so as they head towards the checkout line, he can’t help but ask Liam quietly, “Wait, why don’t you want to be H’s best man?”

Liam looks genuinely surprised by the question, as if he had expected Louis to know. “Harry didn’t tell you?” Louis shakes his head, and Liam snorts, saying “Communication is key in a relationship, you know.”

  “We’re not actually in a relationship, for fuck’s sake.” Louis snaps. He’s not sure why the lines seem so blurred all of a sudden, but he’d thought it would be clear to everyone else that marrying for financial aid didn’t change his and Harry’s friendship whatsoever. Louis himself was certainly struggling with that fact due to his feelings, but no one else should be confused by the situation.

Liam raises his eyebrows dubiously, and Louis can’t help but feel bewildered. He doesn’t know how to respond, and he notices that his speechlessness has become somewhat of a regular thing lately.

“Well, anyways.” Liam says, with a shrug. “Zayn and I are a lot like Harry and you. And I’ve got an elaborate plan to get us together, though maybe not quite as elaborate as yours.”

“What? Harry and I aren’t together.” Louis insists, but finds himself saying it quietly, as if he’s afraid Harry will hear.

“You keep telling yourself that.” Liam replies, shrugging. “But my plan is to tell Zayn that Harry no longer wants me as his best man or even to be invited to the wedding. I bet I can get him to take me as his plus one, in the name of making sure Harry doesn’t regret not having me there.”

Louis’ first thought is that this seems excessive. His second thought is of Gigi. “What if Zayn’s already got a plus one to the wedding?” He asks.

Liam snorts again. “You’re really not that observant, are you?”

Louis stares at him, his mind caught up on the model that he had probably inadvertently invited to his fake wedding.

Liam shakes his head. “That’s not even possible. Zayn hasn’t seriously dated anyone in ages. And even if he did like someone, how is he going to ask ‘em to his best mates’ fake wedding? That’s just setting himself up for a night of awkward.”

Louis gulps. “Right,” he says weakly, making a mental note to make it clear to Zayn that Gigi is not invited as soon as possible. Maybe he can say he only wants close friends at the wedding, even if it is a fake wedding and he honestly could care less about the guest list. Zayn will probably see right through him, damn it, but he’s got to at least try something.

Louis is sure he looks like a deer caught in the headlights right now, hoping against hope that Liam doesn’t continue this conversation. He doesn’t have anything to say other than “Well, let me uninvite who I think he’d take as his plus one and I’m sure you’ll be in the clear”, and he thinks it’d be best to keep that to himself.

Luckily, Harry comes to his rescue. He has just purchased their odd assortment of items with a 30% off coupon and is looking entirely too pleased with himself. He drops his change in the donation jar next to the cash register and turns to Liam and Louis with an exaggerated wink. “Are you ready for part two?”

 

-

 

Part two, it turns out, is far more like what Louis would expect a date with Harry to be like than part one.

Harry pulls into the gravel parking lot of a vineyard with significantly less suave than his earlier performance, having to straighten out four times before Matilda is properly centered with the wooden block that marks where the parking spot is.

Liam is radiating stress, both from the crunching of gravel beneath Matilda’s tyres and the number of times Harry attempts to park. All of his nails on his right hand are bitten to the nub of his finger by the time Harry has successfully parked, and he leaps out of the car to inspect all four wheels the instant Harry unlocks the doors.

“Christ, no wonder you failed your license test so many times,” Liam grumbles, fussing over Matilda.

Harry shrugs, unaffected. “Matilda’s fine, we’re fine, I don’t see anything ‘unsafe’ about my driving at all.”

Louis laughs, clapping Liam on the back. “C’mon mate, Matilda’s alright.” He starts to walk towards the double doors of the building in front of him, arm slung around Liam, before noticing that Harry is lingering behind them. “Haz? You coming?”

“You, uh…” Harry smiles sheepishly, holding his hands out with his palms facing forwards. “You’ve got bear with me for a bit, here, Lou.”

“Meaning?” Louis asks, stopping and turning to face Harry fully, his arm dropping away from Liam.

“Meaning I’ve signed us up for free wine tasting for our wedding.” Harry explains. “So we’ve got to act the part. Especially because the wine for our wedding will most likely be Tesco’s cheapest rather than this winery’s finest.”

Louis doesn’t even try to stop the delighted smirk that forms on his face. “Why, Harold.” He says gleefully. “How downright devious of you.”

“Good Lord, just get married already.” Liam huffs. “I’ll just wait with Matilda then, shall I? You don’t need a non-best man’s input on the wine that you aren’t buying anyways, and I’d rather not third-wheel more than I have to.”

Louis suspects Liam opting out also is due to his past of having kidney troubles, but doesn’t mention it.

“Ha. I guess that makes Matilda the fourth wheel.” Harry says, smiling wide. “Which is funny, ‘cos she has four wheels.”

Louis punches his arm, before interlacing their fingers, trying to make the action quick and meaningless although in reality his heart is pounding. “Remind me why I’m marrying you?” He quips in response to Harry’s latest joke.

Harry smirks, and Louis can’t help but feel relieved. Two days ago, Harry might have backtracked with insecurity, declaring that they should call the whole thing off and that it wasn’t fair to Louis. At least now they’ve reached the point that Harry has accepted this is something they’re going through with and is able to joke about it. “You’re madly in love with me.” Harry teases, and Louis can’t help but grimace at how oblivious Harry is that it’s the truth.

“Don’t think it’s unconditional, though.” Louis retorts instead. “Better watch yourself with the jokes, Styles.”

Harry beams. “You called me Styles.”

Louis gives him a funny look. He has a wide repertoire of nicknames for Harry, and this one certainly isn’t new.

Harry ducks his head and his lips brush against Louis’ ear, alighting his senses as he whispers lowly, “That means you’ll become a Styles soon enough, too.” He says it like a filthy secret, and Louis all but combusts on the spot.

“Over my dead body.” Louis manages to reply, shooting Harry an angelic smile and tugging on his hand, acutely aware of how close they are, how close Harry’s lips just were. “Now. Shall we?”

“We shall.” Harry says easily, and Liam makes retching noises from inside his beloved car. Louis flips him off with his free hand, and let’s Harry guide him inside the winery doors.

 

-

 

The first thing Louis notices, is that it’s cold inside. Walking into the winery feels like walking into a fridge, and Louis desperately focuses on anything that is not how his nipples are hardening in response.

He ends up focusing on the second thing he notices, which is that the winery is outrageously fancy. The outside had looked a bit like an abandoned barn of some sort, but the inside resembles the venue for a luxurious wedding itself. The floors are made of polished wood, accented with plush rugs of deep maroon, and there’s an intricate crystal chandelier hanging high overhead. Tall, single-legged wooden tables are scattered throughout the room, each covered with a strip of maroon tablecloth and bearing a bottle of alcohol, accompanied by a neat row of miniature champagne flutes.

Louis is shallowly grateful that Liam, clad in sweatpants, had decided to stay in the car. He feels vulgar compared to the environment here, and he’s dressed more classily than he has been in years.

Harry, being Harry, doesn’t seem to feel at all out of place despite his objectively outlandish choice of suits. “Hello.” He drawls out slowly, dimple flashing at the crisply dressed man who greets them.

The man’s greying hair is slicked back, presumably to cover what Louis suspects is an unfortunate bald spot, and he is wearing an impeccably tailored black suit. He fits neatly into Louis’ mental image of what a proper butler would look like, eyebrows raised in elegant surprise at Harry and Louis’ appearance.

“Welcome,” He says, his British accent sounding nearly as forced as the smile pasted on his face looks. “How can I help you folks today?”

Louis can’t quite put his finger on why, but he dislikes the man immediately.

Louis makes no move to answer, and after a moment Harry says, “Well, I believe my fiancée and I have a reservation for a free tasting? Under the name Styles.” He squeezes Louis’ hand in a way that is unexpectedly tender. Given the words accompanying the gesture, Louis is pretty sure it’s meant to be the equivalent of one of Harry’s teasing elbow jabs, as if to say “Ha! Styles. Not Tomlinson.” but it feels soft and affectionate and Louis really doesn’t know how to handle that.

“Excellent.” Their host says, smiling thinly. “My name is Simon Cowell, and I’ll be assisting you today.”

“Pleasure to meet you.” Harry says, nodding, but not releasing Louis’ hand to shake Simon’s like Louis is sure he normally would.

Louis clears his throat unnecessarily, adding “Yeah, ‘s a pleasure.”

“The pleasure is all mine, boys.” Simon says, and if Louis hadn’t already felt so out of place he would have rolled his eyes at the strained fake niceties they were exchanging. “Now, if you don’t mind me seeing some identification?”

Harry’s free hand drops to his back pocket, fishing for his wallet, and Louis mimics him. After Simon confirms that they are indeed of age, which Louis thinks should be rather obvious, he flashes another forced smile at them. “Wonderful.” He says, exuding insincerity. “Now, would you like a spittoon?”

“A what?” Louis blurts out, not filtering himself in time.

“No, thank you.” Harry replies smoothly, turning and pressing a kiss to Louis’ cheek before Louis even realizes what’s happening. Harry jerks a thumb at Louis and says apologetically to Simon, “You’ll have to excuse him, it’s his first time tasting.”

Louis sucks in his cheeks, his brain flatlining. It’s not that platonic kisses are anything new between him and Harry – they really have no boundaries of personal space at all – but in this context, pretending to be each other’s fiancées, it makes Louis breathless. “Sorry.” He chokes out, smiling at Simon in what he hopes is an apologetic way and not in a giddy my-3-year-crush-who-is-platonically-marrying-me-just-kissed-my-cheek kind of way.

Simon goes to select drinks that he thinks they might enjoy, and Louis turns to Harry, hissing in his ear, “There is no way this is not also your first wine tasting. What the fuck is a spittoon anyways? Isn’t it like for tobacco in old western movies?”

Harry lets out a deep laugh, grinning childishly at Louis. “I read Attending a Wine Event for Dummies.” He admits, dimpling as he fights back more laughter at Louis’ expression of disbelief. “And it’s a container that you spit wine into after tasting it if you don’t want to get too drunk to taste the others properly.”

Louis is in love with him, this boy who owns bright floral suits, reads the For Dummies series, makes god-awful puns, and can’t park consistently to save his life. His senses are heightened to just how closely he and Harry are standing, and how they are still holding hands even though Simon has left the room. Harry’s lips, specifically, are right there in front of Louis’ face, not even inches away, and all Louis wants is to kiss him senseless and never let him go.

“Ahem.” Simon loudly feigns clearing his throat, and Louis wonders bitterly if this man is even capable of any earnest actions.

“Yes?” Louis snaps, whipping his head towards the man. He supposes Simon’s interruption is a blessing in disguise, because he doubts suddenly kissing Harry would go over well.

While it’s true that the boundaries between him and Harry are nonexistent, kissing on the lips is where they draw the line. They’ve kissed cheeks, and tops of heads, and temples, and hands, and probably many other body parts just out of silliness, but a kiss straight on the lips holds a weight that they never dared to shoulder. Now would definitely not be the time to change that, especially since they aren’t actually dating, no matter how real this feels.

Simon has swapped out a number of the wines on the ornate tables surrounding them, and he explains “I chose some flavours I hope that you will enjoy. If you don’t mind, I’ll join you as you taste to get a sense of what your preferences are. And of course, if you are not satisfied, I would be delighted to bring out some more options.”

“Delighted.” Louis echoes Simon’s phrasing sarcastically, and Simon gives him a saccharine smile.

Harry, however, actually does look delighted, and tugs Louis’ over to the first table. Simon follows and expertly pours two mini flutes of the red wine, waiting patiently for the two to test the drink.

Louis tilts his head back, knocking the flute of wine back like a shot. He’s finished, announcing “That was delicious,” before Harry has even taken a sip.

Harry, to Louis’ amusement, is lightly swirling the wine within the flute, examining it with an artfully posed look of intense contemplation. “Appealing color. Like a ruby.” He comments mildly, emphasizing his accent in what Louis knows is surely his attempt at sounding posh. Harry lifts the glass up to his nose, sniffing delicately at the drink and adding, “Mmm, exceptional. Earthy, like cedar, but with a hint of…currant. Maybe pomegranate.”

Louis resists rolling his eyes at his future husband, but he’s pretty sure it shows on his face that he’s only barely holding back a fit of laughter.

Harry then takes a sip of the wine, swishing it about in his mouth before swallowing and smacking his lips a total of eight times. “It’s a bit dry, but I do love that tannic aftertaste.”

Louis has no idea how wine can possibly be dry – is it not liquid after all? – or what the fuck a tannic aftertaste is like, but he assumes it’s something bitter based on his own experience with the wine. He raises an eyebrow at Harry, as if to ask are you quite finished? And Harry smiles toothily at him, finishing off in true Harry fashion. “Well, Lou,” He says with a shit-eating grin. “I wouldn’t whine if we chose this one for our wedding.”

Louis can’t help but bark out a laugh, not at Harry’s pun exactly, but just at how bloody absurd Harry is. “Well,” He replies, pretending to take Harry’s comments very seriously. “I’d say it’s a bit excessive, wouldn’t you?”

It’s clearly a jab at Harry’s wine tasting performance, and the widening of Harry’s smirk shows that he catches on. “Not at all.” Harry says smoothly, taking Louis’ arm and steering him towards the next table. “But let’s not put all our grapes in one basket just yet.”

Louis rolls his eyes, but allows Harry to guide him to a table of white wine. This time, Louis does his best to mimic Harry, peering into the glass critically and smelling the wine before actually drinking it. But all he comes up with is that the wine is slightly cloudy, smells fruity, and tastes sweet. He keeps his comment to a simple, “Ah. Scrumptious,” causing Harry to snort in laughter as he sniffs at his own wine.

Harry smirks at Louis, and it’s suddenly clear that his theatrics are entirely for Louis’ benefit. “Such depth of color. Such body. And how aromatic! It’s like…honeysuckle and apricot, perhaps even a hint of jasmine. And my oh my, so sweet and crisp.” Harry smacks his lips seven too many times again, and beams at Simon upon setting down his empty glass. “Elegant.”

Louis fights back a fond smile, glancing at the ground until he’s got his facial muscles back under control. “On to the next one, then, shall we?” He asks, raising an eyebrow as he notices Simon furiously scribbling notes on Harry’s comments. Harry is aware of this as well, and looks far too smug for someone who has smacked his lips 16 times within the past five minutes.

Simon pours them each another glass of wine, and then another, and then another, and then another. Harry’s comments become increasingly less intelligent, and considerably more incoherent as they go on, and Louis’ ability to hold back his laughter decreases in a similar fashion.

“Did you know wine doesn’t make you fat?” Harry asks Louis after another glass of white wine that Louis couldn’t tell apart from any of the others at this point. This one Harry had informed Simon was “what quiche would taste like in wine form.” Simon, for his part, had dutifully written this down. “It makes you lean.” Harry pauses a bit too long. “On other people, because you can’t stand on your own!”

Harry is flushed and smiling, eyes crinkled, cheeks red, and dimples on display. He looks a mess, but his smile is so wide that he pulls it off. Louis knows he probably looks similarly disheveled, but he’s too happy to care.

Harry downs a glass of wine that looks suspiciously brown, and Louis follows in suit. “Grapey.” Harry tells Simon seriously. “Like Kool-aid. But probably wouldn’t work well as a hair-dye.”

Louis is laughing before Harry has even finished, nearing the fine line between tipsy and drunk.

“Do you know what wine’s favorite historical time period is?” Harry asks, turning to Louis with a lopsided grin. Louis shakes his head. “The ‘Grape Depression’!” Harry is cackling again, and even Simon looks a bit amused at the pair. “Don’t worry,” Harry assures him, after tripping over his own feet. “I fall a lot even when I’m sober. The reason I wore a red suit was so it’d be okay if I spilled.”

Simon nods impassively and Louis can’t help but wonder how drunk they have to get for him to kick them out. He supposes Simon is patient due to his expectation that they will pay a decent sum of money on wine for their wedding, and he’s tempted to push their limits.

But then Harry is piping up again, pulling Louis from his thoughts as he demands attention, sipping at another glass of red wine and tugging at Louis’ sleeve. “When’s the only time you should trust rumors about a wine being good?”

“When?” Louis asks, indulging him as always.

“When you heard them through the grapevine!” Harry crows, knocking back the rest of his drink in celebration of his joke and turning to Simon. “I’m very grapeful for this wine.”

Simon sighs, looking doubtfully at his notebook for a moment before nodding and writing something down.

Louis can’t help but smile warmly at Harry. “I love you,” He blurts out, his mind-to-mouth filter made nonexistent by all the alcohol. The words are out and there’s a blissful pause before Louis realizes what he’s said.

He freezes.

He has said he loves Harry before, hundreds of times probably, and probably will thousands more times without even thinking twice. But usually he says it deliberately, under the guise of thanking Harry for cooking him breakfast or making him tea, not just because it’s the truth.

But Harry either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care, because he doesn’t miss a beat in pulling Louis close and pressing a kiss to the top of his head, saying quietly “And I love you too.”

Louis gasps, partly at how his heart flutters at Harry’s soft words, but mostly because, pressed close to Harry like this it is very clear that the alcohol has affected him in other ways than just bringing out his worst jokes. Harry is hard.

Louis isn’t quite sure how he hadn’t noticed before, but realizing by being held against him is probably the cruelest way for him to find out. Louis’ own dick swells in response and if Louis couldn’t think before, he certainly can’t now. He’s suddenly aware of how badly he wants Harry, and has to forcibly jerk out of Harry’s arms to remind himself that Harry is straight for fuck’s sake, and hard only as a result of being drunk.

Louis isn’t sure if Harry is completely unashamed by the fact the he just rubbed his hard-on against him or if he’s actually unaware of it, but he looks calmly at Louis and says, “So, do you think you’ve decided on a wine, fiancée?”

The emphasis on the word ‘fiancée’ hits Louis like a bucket of ice water, an abrupt reminder that this is all fake. “Not yet, love.” Louis manages to reply, but his head feels heavy and his tongue thick and useless. He’s willing his own dick to soften, struggling to think of anything that’s not how good it felt to be right up against Harry like that.

“Terribly sorry,” Harry says to Simon, who finally looks like his patience is wearing thin. “But I think we’ll have to get back to you on our final wine decision. We’re a bit out of it at the moment, surely you understand.”

“Of course,” Simon says politely, a carefully constructed smile on his face. “I’ll follow up with you via email, if that’s alright.”

Harry is nodding and grabbing Louis’ hand, tugging him towards the door before he has a chance to say anything to Simon himself. “Thank you!” He calls out, stumbling after Harry.

Harry turns back towards the room, just as they are about to exit. “Oh, and Simon?”

“Yes?” Simon asks, sounding downright exasperated.

“Have a grape day.” Harry beams.

 

-

 

Liam, understandably, is driving now. “If either of you throws up inside Matilda, I swear to God I will crash and kill us all.”

“Doesn’t that miss the point, then?” Louis asks, because taking the piss out of Liam is one of his favorite pastimes. “If you’re gonna wreck the car anyways, might as well let us puke in peace, mate.”

Liam, the incredibly safe driver that he is, just grips the steering wheel tighter and gives Louis a stern look through the rearview mirror. He had insisted both Louis and Harry get in the backseat, not trusting either of them to not get handsy with Matilda’s various controls on the console.

“Jesus, Liam, it’s a car not a lady.” Louis had grumbled, but obediently clambered in back with Harry anyways. Normally he wouldn’t mind being closer to Harry instead of up front with Liam, and would even prefer it. But right now, his pants are still rather tight around the crotch and Harry is too close and too clingy to give his situation a chance to improve at all.

Fortunately, Liam seems to be taking the scenic route to wherever it is they’re going, and the long drive gives Louis the much needed opportunity to regain control of his body and sober up. By the time they pull into the small parking lot of Abundtant Cakes, Louis barely feels tipsy anymore.

Harry, who was actually quite drunk a half hour before, apparently agrees with the sentiment, saying “Aww c’mon, Li. We weren’t even that drunk.”

Seeing as Harry had spent the first twenty minutes of the ride opening and closing the window to grate on Liam’s nerves, Liam doesn’t seem particularly inclined to agree. Instead he snorts derisively, parks skillfully in front of the small bakery, and hops out. “Shut the window, Haz,” He instructs. “It’s time for part three.”

Harry obeys easily, getting out of the car and wrapping an arm around Louis before they walk into the store. Louis can’t tell if Harry’s arm around his shoulders is a part of the fiancée act or not, but he doesn’t particularly care, leaning into Harry’s side contentedly.

Liam has rushed into the bakery before them, and as they finally walk in, Louis sees him already ordering a muffin and a coffee. Louis’ own stomach growls quietly at the heavenly smell of freshly baked goods, and he realizes that he hasn’t eaten anything of substance all day.

Harry turns his head towards Louis, pressing his lips into Louis’ hair when he doesn’t look up to meet his gaze. “After this,” Harry murmurs, and Louis is somewhat surprised by how attuned Harry is to him right now. “We’ll get some food. But first, wedding cake, yeah?”

Louis nods. Harry hasn’t explicitly said so, but it’s clear that this is more serious than their wine tasting adventure. He knows Harry has a soft spot in his heart for local bakeries, having worked in one during his high school years to save up for uni, and he suspects that it’s no coincidence that Harry has brought them here.

“How can I help you?” A sweet, elderly woman at the cash register asks after handing Liam his order.

“We’re here to see about ordering a wedding cake.” Louis answers for them, and he knows Harry is smiling without even looking.

“Lovely.” The woman exclaims. “Well, my name is Edith and I’d be more than happy to tell you about all of our options.”

Glancing out of the corner of his eye, Louis sees that Liam has taken up a seat by the window and is happily enjoying his chocolate chip muffin. He makes no move to join them in their cake tasting, so Louis turns back to Edith, saying earnestly, “That would be great.”

Edith, unexpectedly nimble despite her age, ducks underneath the counter for a moment and reappears seconds later with a thick book. “Feel free to flip through this for inspiration. Do you know what size or flavors you might be considering? Any allergens of guests or yourselves?”

“No, no allergies.” Louis answers, looking at Harry hesitantly. “And…a small cake I think should be fine.” It’s not something they’ve talked about at all, so Louis leaves a pause in case Harry wants to object or add something. He doesn’t say anything, though, so Louis adds “And I think traditional vanilla would be good. Maybe with fruit?” He’s guessing entirely now, not sure at all what Harry would like. Harry is often not one to go along with societal norms, but he has a feeling that a traditional wedding cake is something the sap in Harry would enjoy.

“Buttercream frosting.” Harry adds, his voice rasping in a way that makes Louis feel at home.

“Perfect.” Edith says, nodding primly to herself. “You go ahead and flip through the book, and I’ll be right back with some samples for you to choose from.”

Harry thanks her and lifts the massive book from the counter, setting it down on a nearby table and taking a seat. Louis wonders vaguely why they aren’t sitting with Liam, but drops down into the booth next to Harry without questioning it aloud.

“Hey.” Harry says softly, reaching for where Louis’ hand is resting on the table and covering his fist with his own. “Thank you.”

Louis raises his eyebrows in surprise, caught off guard by the vulnerability in Harry’s tone. “What for?”

“Do you remember,” Harry starts, speaking slowly as always. If he asks if he remembers their wine tasting from an hour ago, Louis will smash his first cake sample in Harry’s face. But Louis doubts it - Harry looks serious and sincere, a crease of concentration between his brows that wouldn’t be there if he was just making a joke. “Our freshman year?”

Louis loves Harry a lot, but it’s moments like these when he wishes the boy would let his words come a little faster for once in his life. Louis does in fact remember their freshman year, and he doubts he could ever forget it. They had been in the dorms that year, as was required of all first years. He had been placed with Zayn, in a tiny ass room with a bunkbed and a desk and not much else. He’d met Harry in the bathrooms and discovered that he lived just down the hall, and was rooming with Liam. The four had been fast friends ever since. It had started off small, by going to parties together, studying together, and getting food together. Before he had realized it was happening, they were doing everything together. And when, heading into their sophomore year, Zayn had announced he wanted a single so he could smoke without Louis’ nagging, and Liam was considering rooming with Niall, the loud Irish blonde who drank and ate more than all of them combined, it was an obvious solution for Louis and Harry to move in together too.

“What about it?” Louis prods, finally realizing that he’s been lost in his thoughts and Harry has yet to elaborate exactly what about freshman year he is caught up on. Louis isn’t quite sure what the connection is between Harry thanking him now and whatever had happened during their freshman year, but he hopes Harry will hurry up and explain.

Harry looks at Louis with wide eyes, a small smile on his lips. “It was after you’d gotten in a drinking competition with Niall.” He says fondly. “I’m sure you at least remember it didn’t end well for you.” Louis laughs, nodding. Drinking with Niall never does. “And you were a mess afterwards, just dropped down on the kitchen table and fell asleep right there.” Louis grins, indeed remembering this from stories Harry had told ever since it happened. “I heard you, though, because you were a little shit even then and didn’t even try to be quiet, went and knocked our salt and pepper right onto the ground.”

Louis nods, chuckling. “So I’ve been told,” He teases, because this is one of Harry’s favorite tales to tell about him being drunk.

“Yeah. I’ve told you all that before.” Harry agrees, pausing thoughtfully for a moment, before saying quietly. “But I don’t think I ever told you about afterwards. I got you into your bed and tucked you in, God knows how, and I was just about to leave… but you told me to wait.”

Louis instinctively goes rigid at Harry’s words, because he most definitely does not remember this. What if he had admitted his feelings for Harry way back then, and Harry has simply been too sweet to bring it up for the three years since then?

“You looked sad, Lou.” Harry tells him. “And you thanked me, and I know you were drunk but it was so genuine and raw. You seemed so touched - I don’t think anyone had taken care of you like that before.” Harry muses. “I knew you’d do the same for me, though, so I didn’t think it was a big deal. And I told you so. And do you know what you said?”

Louis swallows, shaking his head no.

“You said it was a big deal. Because it was always going to be you and me against the world.” Harry finishes quietly. “And you were right. And here we are.” Harry gestures to the bakery around them, to the book of wedding cakes in front of them. “So thank you. For being right about that. And sticking with me, just me and you against the world.”

Louis wants to make a joke out of it, like he usually would. He wants to tell Harry to “Save that sappy stuff for the vows,” and move on. But Harry is looking at him like he’s the best thing that’s ever happened to him, and he can’t bring himself to make light of the situation no matter how overwhelmed he feels.

“I don’t…” Louis says finally. “I don’t remember that, actually. But, I know I meant it.”

Harry smiles, shaking his head a little and causing his curls to bounce. “I know,” He says softly.

Edith comes bustling out with a tray of white squares of cake minutes later, but Louis can’t quite bring himself to tear his eyes away from Harry. Harry’s got a funny look in his eyes, like he wants to say something else but isn’t sure. And Louis feels like there’s something different between them now, a sudden surge of depth that he wasn’t expecting and can’t fully comprehend.

“Haz,” Louis starts, but Harry shushes him, effectively shutting him up by lifting a miniature forkful of white chocolate raspberry cake to his lips and gently forcing it into his mouth. Louis rolls his eyes, but chews obediently before assuring Edith that the cake is great.

“They’re all wonderful.” Harry says to her kindly, after they’ve tried each of the offered samples. “But I think this one…” Harry points to one of the simpler samples, a white frosted cake topped with fresh strawberries, and winks at Louis. “Takes the cake.”

Louis groans, but nods at Edith and agrees, “That’s the one, then.”

Harry makes Edith promise that there will be frosted flowers involved somehow, and she agrees happily. Louis shakes his head, watching the exchange fondly. Harry charms everyone with such ease, it’s no wonder Louis fell for him too.

“Thank you both,” Edith says warmly, having finished detailing their order in her small spiral notebook. “Have a great day.”

“You too.” Louis says, smiling back at her. She gives them both one last sample for the road, and they get ready to leave.

Louis is fussing with the lapel of Harry’s suit as he stands, smoothing it out, when he catches Liam’s knowing gaze. He flushes and immediately drops his hands, but Harry looks more put together now anyways. Harry doesn’t seem to notice the pointed looks that Liam is sending their way, placing one hand at the small of Louis’ back as they make their exit. He waves to Edith with his free hand, and she chuckles softly. “I’m very happy for you both, I can see how in love you are.” She beams before finishing by calling out, “Congratulations!”

Louis is sure he looks thoroughly shocked, and glancing up reveals that Harry’s expression matches his own. Harry recovers more quickly, laughing good-naturedly and tipping an invisible hat in her direction as he says “Thank you, we do our best.”

“Do you even need a wedding at this point?” Liam asks, climbing into the driver’s seat without discussion. “You’re basically husbands already.”

Louis slides into the front passenger’s side, if only to be able to punch Liam’s arm for the comment and to not have to meet Harry’s gaze the whole ride home.

 

-

 

“Welcome home, lads!” Niall calls out brightly from inside Louis and Harry’s kitchen when they arrive back at their apartment.

Louis isn’t sure when their apartment stopped being just their apartment and turned into a free for all, but it was probably when they decided to put the spare key underneath the doormat. So, the day they moved in.

Niall is always welcome though, and right now it seems that he is cooking potatoes for them all, so he is even more of a welcome sight than usual.

“Nialler!” Louis hollers, rushing in and slinging an arm around Niall’s neck in greeting.

“What the fuck are you wearing?” Niall asks, and Louis realizes that he’s grown used to the braces again.

“Long story.” Louis says, because Harry has just walked in behind him and Niall’s eyes are bulging in surprise at his vibrant suit.

“Very long,” Harry grumbles, stalking off towards his room to change.

Louis shrugs, hopping up onto the counter. He knows Harry well enough to guess that he is upset at how Louis has been ignoring him ever since the bakery. But between pretending to actually be Harry’s loving fiancée and everyone commenting on what a great couple he and Harry are, Louis needs the blurred boundary of their relationship to be clear. He’s already almost kissed Harry, grinded against him, and confessed his love, all within the span of their day out. If this keeps up, he might actually do something he regrets and give away the secret he’s worked so hard to keep for the past three years.

“What’s he on about?” Niall asks, waving his spatula in the direction Harry had gone.

“I’m avoiding him.” Louis answers truthfully, and Niall raises an eyebrow.

“And here I thought he was taking you out on the date of your life.” Niall comments, but seems content to not press further.

Louis accepts the silence for a moment for asking timidly, “What do you mean, the date of my life? We aren’t actually together, you know.”

Niall raises his eyebrows again, looking perplexed. “Really,” He says dryly, drawing out the word.

Louis can’t tell if Niall is being sarcastic or not, but before he gets a chance to ask Harry walks in, clad in a pair of loose sweatpants and literally nothing else. Louis’ mouth goes dry at the sight, and whatever reply he had for Niall dies on his tongue.

“Foods done!” Niall announces, blissfully oblivious to Louis’ temporary brain lapse. Louis startles slightly the sound of his voice, tearing his gaze away from Harry’s sculpted body. Harry has been working out more lately, and it’s easy to see the drastic progress he’s made.

“Right.” Louis says weakly, grabbing for a plate and quickly piling it full with potatoes, studiously avoiding looking in Harry’s direction. The last thing he needs is to get hard around him again.

“So,” Niall says, brow furrowing in confusion as he glances back and forth between Louis and Harry. Louis can feel Harry’s eyes on him, but he focuses deliberately on his meal, keeping a steady flow of food crammed in his mouth as an excuse to not participate in the conversation Niall is attempting. “Guess what.”

Louis looks up at Niall finally, raising his eyebrows questioningly as he struggles to chew the large bite he just took. He glances at Harry, not sure why he isn’t answering, and finds Harry’s gaze still fixed solely on him. Flushing a bit at the sudden intensity of their eye contact, Louis whips back around to Niall, swallowing a bit too soon and choking out “What?”

Niall looks even more bewildered by the change in Louis and Harry’s dynamic now, but chooses to overlook it, saying proudly, “I’m officially ordained.”

Louis nearly chokes again in surprise at the news, absently wondering how suddenly everything in his life is revolving around this fake wedding even as he congratulates Niall. “Wow. Good of you, mate! That was fast.”

“I did it online.” Niall admits with a laugh. “It was free.” He reaches for his phone excitedly. “Do you want to see my email confirmation?”

Louis takes Niall’s offered phone, peering at the email. “Not valid in some provinces of Canada,” He reads aloud, laughing and looking up out of instinct at Harry. Harry, however, looks far from amused. He quirks an inquisitive eyebrow up at Louis and Louis feels his smile fade in response.

“Well.” Niall says loudly, clearly trying to cut in. “You aren’t getting married in Canada, I hope.”

“I was thinking Thursday, actually.” Harry says, and it’s the first time he’s spoken since entering the room.

“What?” Louis asks.

“The wedding. Having it on Thursday.” Harry clarifies, as if that should have been obvious.

“Does it matter what day it is?” Louis asks before he thinks better of it. “We could get married right now if we wanted to.”

 “You want to get married right now?” Harry demands testily, and Louis hastily backtracks.

“No!” He corrects himself quickly, making sure to get it in before Harry gets a chance to follow up with any accusations. “I don’t, I was just saying that it doesn’t matter-”

Harry exhales sharply at his words and abruptly stands. The outburst is relatively small, all things considered, but it’s enough for Louis to falter in his words as his attention focuses even more wholly on Harry than it was already. Beside him, Niall has gone extremely still. Harry is towering over the table, looking agitated, and Louis has never felt so small in his life.

“I get it.” Harry says, his voice calm in contrast to the dark look in his eyes. He speaks slowly, but each word is clipped at the end, indicative of his irritation. “Nothing matters, is that how it is? Because it’s not a “real” wedding, it doesn’t mean anything to you?” He actually brings his hands up to mime air quotes, but his tone is dangerously hostile and Louis doesn’t dare comment. “Well, guess what, Louis?” Harry asks bitingly, not giving him a chance to respond before muttering. “It might not mean anything to you, but it means a fucking lot to me.”

Harry steps away from the table then, turning and dropping his plate unceremoniously in the sink with a stiff nod of gratitude to Niall before disappearing to his room once more.

Even after Harry has left, Louis finds himself frozen in place. He doesn’t know how to react. He can feel Niall watching him closely, but can’t bring himself to meet his friend’s sympathetic blue eyes. He wishes he’d had the guts to respond, to defend himself and tell Harry that the reason he’s fucking up so badly is because it means more to him than Harry will ever know.

“Lou…” Niall prods gently, nudging their shoulders together gently. Louis hadn’t even noticed his eyes beginning to water, but he quickly blinks the threatening tears away.

He lets his body shudder, doing his best to block the image of Harry’s piercing gaze from his mind. “Sorry.” He mutters, shaking his head at Niall and forcing his lips upwards in what he hopes is at least a semi-convincing smile. But based on the way Niall winces in response, he doubts he even managed a grimace.

“Lou,” Niall repeats quietly, wrapping a comforting arm around his friend. Louis leans into it, sighing. “What happened?”

Niall has been sitting at the table the whole time, too, so Louis knows he’s referring to more than just this exchange with Harry. Louis supposes it’s a valid question, because even he can’t recall having a serious fight with Harry in the entirety of their friendship. They bicker constantly, but their arguments are always trivial, which this certainly had not been.

“Louis?” Niall pries again, pulling Louis from his thoughts.

 Louis tilts his head back, squeezing his eyes shut so he doesn’t have to see the pitying expression he knows Niall will soon be wearing. “Well. I fell in love with him,” He answers simply. Louis had meant for it to be flat and void of emotion, but it comes out raw and vulnerable. It’s only after the words are already out that he realizes it is the first time he’s spoken them out loud.

“Oh, Louis.” Niall breathes, and Louis blinks his eyes back open, staring resolutely at the ceiling. “For how long?”

Louis grimaces, letting out a self-deprecating chuckle. “Three years now, I reckon.” There’s a long beat of silence, in which Louis assumes Niall is processing this new information. Then, Louis jerks to face Niall, sudden and urgent. He locks eyes with Niall, hoping the intensity of his gaze conveys how serious he is in this moment. “You can’t tell anyone, Niall.”

Niall immediately holds up his palms in surrender. “Wouldn’t dare.” He promises, but he looks sad for him and Louis hates it.

“Not even Zayn or Liam.” Louis adds for emphasis. “And especially not Haz.”

Niall shakes his head, frowning slightly as if he’s insulted that Louis would even entertain the idea that Niall might betray his trust. “I won’t.”

Louis nods solemnly before shaking his head and wincing. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to threaten you, it’s just… I’ve never told anyone that before.”

Niall nods in understanding.

“I just can’t let it come between us,” Louis says quietly, feeling like he owes Niall a bit more explanation. “I’m doing a shit job of it, I know, but there’s no way Harry feels the same and if I tell him then I’m risking screwing up either our friendship or his college career, or both.”

“A bit dramatic, don’t you think?” Niall asks, scoffing in an attempt to lighten the mood. “Harry wouldn’t hold it against you. I mean, it’s not like it’s a bad thing after all.”

“He wouldn’t go through with our marriage scheme, though. He wouldn’t put me through it if he knew what it means to me. And I can’t be the reason he doesn’t get to finish out his senior year.” Louis says. He knows it’s the truth, and has thought it over time and time again. “And if he did know, he’d never treat me the same. He’d get all…careful.” Louis crinkles his nose at the thought. “Like a cuddle or a touch might set me off in heartbreak.”

Niall looks dubious, asking cautiously, “Are you sure he doesn’t feel the same way? Because sometimes… I dunno, I just get the feeling it might be mutual.”

“Not possible.” Louis replies immediately, without thinking twice. He can’t allow himself to even consider that as an option. There’s no way. Harry is his best friend, he is Harry’s best friend, and that’s all there is to it. Niall looks torn between agreeing with Louis and wanting to argue with him for his own benefit, so Louis adds gently, “I’m okay, Niall. I’d rather not turn this into a dramatic mess, and just pretend I don’t feel anything.”

It takes Niall a moment before he concedes. “Well,” He says hesitantly. “You’ve got to at least do a better job of it, then.”

Louis nods, embarrassed. “Yeah, caught me off guard today with the ‘date’ we went on. I’ll fix it, though, it’ll work out.”

Niall nods affirmatively, and lets the conversation shift away from Harry.

They talk about classes, about senior year, and about how they wished they’d splurged for a house instead of settling for shitty on-campus apartments again. Niall is considering joining a frat, but isn’t sure if it will be right for him or if it’s too late to do so, and he is worried about getting his GPA up before graduation. It is strikingly different from anything Louis had been stressed about recently, and he gladly immerses himself in the typical uni student problems that his life should be centered on. It’s nice, Louis thinks, to finally feel like Harry and the fake wedding aren’t the only relevant things he has going on.

In fact, both Louis and Niall are so engrossed in their conversation that neither boy notices the telltale sound of footsteps shuffling in retreat back down the hall.

 

-

 

The next day, Louis isn’t trying to avoid Harry. He just happens to not see him all day.

Not running into Harry in the morning is unusual, but Louis counts it as a blessing as he hurries to shower and slip out of the flat. Not running into Harry during class is strange, too, but Louis tries not to think too much of it. Not running into Harry at lunch is downright inexplicable, because Louis and Harry have the same hour gap between classes for lunch and always see each other back at the apartment scrambling for food before heading their separate ways.

By the time Louis’ classes have finished and he is walking home, he has safely concluded that Harry is the one avoiding him. It’s odd, because he’d always thought himself to be the more petty of the two. Harry’s deliberate absence from his day proves otherwise.

So when Louis walks into their flat to see that Harry is not avoiding him, and is sitting calmly at the kitchen table, he is thoroughly surprised.

“Haz!” Louis blurts upon seeing the familiar curly haired figure hunched over the table.

Harry’s brow is furrowed in concentration as he presses an obnoxiously swirled capital stamp against a cheap piece of parchment paper. He doesn’t react to Louis’ greeting, instead lining up another stamp and pushing it evenly against the paper.

It hasn’t even been a full twelve hours, but Louis feels a strange sense of relief and comfort at seeing Harry there. He missed him, he realizes. “Harry.” Louis says quietly, toeing off his shoes and stepping quickly over to the kitchen area. Even though Harry evidently was not avoiding him, Louis knows he would have had every right to be. He drops down in the chair besides Harry, taking a moment to prepare himself before apologizing softly, “I’m sorry.”

Harry looks up at him then, one eyebrow raised in question.

Louis taught Harry that look. He resists rolling his eyes, but just barely. “I know I keep making comments about how us getting married isn’t ‘real,’ but you have to know that I don’t mean to make it seem like I don’t care, because I do.”

Harry nods, and returns to his stamping. There is a long moment of silence before he replies. “I think… you… should invite… your family.” Harry says slowly, his lips forming each word in time with his stamping.

It takes all of Louis’ self-control to not ask “Why? It’s not like we’re actually getting married,” but he restrains himself at the last second. “I- sorry? What?” He asks, eloquent as always.

“I called up Gemma today.” Harry continues, blinking up at Louis. “I think you should call your sisters too. My mum probably won’t come, but I invited her. You should invite yours, too.”

Louis doesn’t know what to say that won’t set Harry off again. “You…want our families to be there?” He asks cautiously.

Harry snorts, but the derisive effect is diminished somewhat by the obvious panic that takes over his face as he realizes that while looking at Louis, he had stamped an ‘A’ that is fairly crooked.

“Harry?” Louis prompts.

“Oh.” Harry abandons multitasking in defeat, and sets down the stamp he is holding. If Louis squints, the letter looks somewhat like an L, but if his eyes are open fully it looks more like an F. “No, I don’t particularly care if our families come. I’d rather they didn’t, but I don’t mind either way. I called up Gemma, just to let her know, and she said if I hadn’t told her she would’ve killed us both.” Harry shrugs one shoulder. “Apparently you can only get married for the first time once, even if it is for financial aid.”

“Ah.” Louis nods, feeling flustered. He hadn’t put any thought towards how the sudden marriage would affect or involve his family at all, which is strange for him. He usually thinks of his family first. “You.. yeah, you’re right. Thanks, Haz.”

Harry nods, the corners of his lips quirking up in a smile. “Gems is gonna kill you anyways, you know.”

Louis laughs, relaxing at the sight of Harry’s teasing smile. “Nah, I think saving baby brother’s education trumps taking baby brother’s marriage virginity.”

Harry laughs too, dimples popping out at his cheeks. “But you didn’t even ask her permission. What a scrub.”

“I didn’t ask permission? I didn’t even propose!” Louis protests, but he knows the happy crinkle of his eyes weakens the strength of his argument.

“This was your idea.” Harry points out. “I think that counts as a proposal.”

Louis is tempted to defend himself with the fact that Harry was the one who got them rings. But just before he speaks, he notices the plastic remainder of Harry’s said ringpop sitting idly on the table next to him and grabs it in a moment of inspiration.

He drops down on one knee.

Harry drops his stamp.

“Lou…” Harry says shakily, and it sounds like a warning. His eyes are wide with an emotion that blurs the line of fond and panicked, and there’s a letter that resembles both W and N now haphazardly in the middle of the card he was working on.

“Harry.” Louis counters, hoping his mischievous smirk hides his obvious affection and the hammering of his heart. “Will you marry me?”

Harry’s nervous expression melts into something akin to disappointment and relief, before a laugh takes over. “That’s it?” He asks, teasingly, even as he nods and eagerly accepts the candy ring that he had bought himself.

“Got to save the good stuff for the vows,” Louis assures him with a wink.

Harry laughs, loud and sudden. “Well, now I’m sure.” He says, his green eyes glinting mischievously. “Once Gemma hears what a weak proposal that was, she’s definitely going to kill you.”

Louis laughs easily, but he knows Harry is probably right. His sister is a hell of a girl, clever and confident in the most intimidating way. Louis has no doubt that even when they were young, Gemma was able to scare off anyone who rubbed her or her brother the wrong way with little more than a glare.

She’s also caring, funny, and embarrassing in the way that all siblings are, but Louis doubts his having seen this side of her will exempt him from the beating headed his way. Louis can already picture it, Gemma smacking the sides of both of their heads and yelling at them about how stupid they are. And the whole thing really does seem stupid, when he thinks about it. Harry should have done this with a girl he fancies, someone he’s genuinely interested in. It might have been a bit awkward for him to ask her, but Louis is almost positive there’s no way it would backfire so much that she would reject him entirely. What a pickup line that would be. No, Harry is only doing this with Louis because he’s his best friend. Because he’s safe. And then, what’s going to happen when Harry does meet someone he fancies? How is he going to explain that he’s actually married and in the process of getting a divorce, but definitely single and no not separated.

“Shh.” Harry shushes loudly, cutting into Louis’ thoughts.

“Hmm?” Louis asks, looking up at his best friend.

“I can hear you thinking.” Harry scolds, giving him a look of mock annoyance. “It’s interfering with my creative process.” He wiggles a stamp at Louis.

 Louis smiles, shaking his head to clear it. “Sorry.”

Harry rolls his eyes, but it’s fond. “You know I was joking, right? Your life isn’t actually in imminent danger.”

Louis scoffs, replying sarcastically “But Gemma isn’t going to be pleased either, now, will she?”

Harry shrugs noncommittally. “You’d be surprised.”

Louis opens his mouth to protest, but Harry shoves a flimsy card and a stamp into his hand. “If you won’t stop agonizing over my sister’s opinion of how you came up with a plan to keep me from dropping out of uni, at least help with the invites.”

Louis closes his mouth, and takes the offered items. “Alright. Who’s this for, then?”

“You can make it for your family, if you’d like.” Harry answers, pausing thoughtfully before snapping his fingers as if he’s just had a breakthrough. “Or, better yet, make it for Liam. We’ll have to rip that one up anyways, so it doesn’t matter if it looks good. A perfect practice card.”

“Gee, thank you.” Louis teases sarcastically. “What confidence you have in my abilities to make a nice card.”

Harry fixes him with a dubious look. “I might be your fiancée now, but I’m still your best friend, Lou. And I know what your primary school art projects looked like.”

Louis’ offended reaction might have been more convincing if his breath hadn’t caught at the word ‘fiancée.’ “Fine.” He concedes, grabbing for what he thinks must be an ‘L’. “Liam’s card. Why exactly are we making him an invite, just to rip it up?”

“It’s for his grand scheme.” Harry grumbles, waving a hand dismissively. “He wants me to leave it obviously in the trash for Zayn to find and question, so we don’t have to stage an argument.”

“I mean, to be fair, you can’t really act.” Louis points out.

“I know.” Harry grimaces. “But is me acting really worse than luring Zayn to look in our trash can? Why would he even look in our trash?”

Louis knows where this is going before Harry voices it. Based on the way Harry’s face lights up, he knew what Harry was going to think of even before Harry himself. “Do you think you could do it?”

Harry gives him a hopeful look, and Louis is sure Harry knows what his answer will be. He sighs, and nods. “I’ll do my best.”

They continue stamping for a while, and Louis has finished Liam’s invite as well as his family’s and is almost done with Zayn’s by the time Harry has to leave to go to work. Hearing the telltale sounds of Harry getting changed and organizing his bag, Louis tries to think of which job Harry is running off to now. It’s not his job at the bakery, that one is weekends and early mornings. Maybe tonight he’s bartending, in which case he won’t be home until 2am at the earliest. Or maybe it’s his waiter job, down at the posh Italian place where Louis had visited Harry on his first day, and gotten sneered at for only ordering a dessert and a drink the whole four hours he sat there in silent support. If he is waiting tables tonight, he’ll be back sometime around midnight.

“Later, Lou!” Harry calls out as he shoves on his shoes, his keys jangling as he heads out the door. He’s dressed casually, in sinfully tight black jeans and a Hawaiian printed shirt. The bartender job, then. Louis waves back, watching him leave. He feels somewhat better knowing that soon Harry won’t have to juggle three jobs plus school in his hectic schedule.

 He puts the finishing touches on Zayn’s invite, namely a small dick drawn in the corner before picking up his phone. He means to call his mum, or even Lottie. But he can’t begin to imagine how that conversation will go. “Hey, mum, I know it’s been a while since I’ve called but I just wanted to tell you that I’m platonically marrying Harry this Thursday, but it’s really no big deal even though I’ve been in love with him for 3 years.”

His thumb hovers over Lottie’s contact name instead, but he doesn’t like how that conversation would go either. “Hey Lots, so guess what! I’m getting married. To Harry. As friends. Just thought you should know, but it really doesn’t change anything.”

He considers texting her, maybe just a picture of the invite and leaving it with no explanation. But he’s sure she’d kill him for that, too.

Ultimately, he calls Zayn instead.

“I live literally down the hall from you.” Zayn says by way of greeting, answering after two rings.

“That you do.” Louis agrees.

“Why are you calling? We are less than ten feet apart right now.” Zayn says.

“Come over?” Louis asks, glancing at the invite on the table that reads ‘LIAM’.  “I can’t figure out how to tell my family I’m getting married.”

Zayn lets out a chuckle that’s caught somewhere between a laugh and a sigh, and hangs up.

 Louis sets down his phone and tears Liam’s invite neatly in half, positioning it at the top of the trash in their garbage bin with his name facing upwards. Then, he busies himself making tea and rummaging through their fridge for food.

“Oh.” Zayn’s voice comes from behind him after a moment and Louis startles, whacking his head against the freezer as he jumps in surprise.

“Jesus.” He curses, rubbing at the back of his head. “Didn’t even hear you come in.”

“Not an alcohol type problem, then?” He asks, motioning to the tea brewing with one hand and holding up a pack of beer with the other.

Louis swats at Zayn’s arm, laughing and pulling some leftover Chinese takeout from the fridge victoriously. “We can get drunk after I call my family.”

Zayn shrugs and sets the beer down on the table, peering down at the invitations laid out there. “Some real wedding planning going on, I see?”

Louis sighs, running a hand through his hair as he heats up the food. “Yeah. Harry’s taking it pretty seriously.”

Louis doesn’t have to look at Zayn to know he’s smirking.

Louis shoves a plate of day old chow mein at his friend, and drops down at the table with another plate to join him. He quickly gathers up the invitations and piles them together away from the food, because Harry will kill him if he gets soy sauce on them and he doesn’t need yet another person out for him. “Here.” Louis hands Zayn a card, the letters ZAYN stamped across the top. “You’re invited, obviously.”

Zayn squints at the card. “I can’t read any of this, mate.”

Louis peers at it over his shoulder. “Well. It says ‘ZAYN’ at the top. And there’s a dick at the bottom.”

“Cheers.” Zayn says, laughing. “I’m guessing Harry did the rest?”

Louis nods. He picks up another card and frowns at it before grumbling, “I can’t even read when my own wedding is.”

Zayn grins and shrugs off his leather jacket, digging into his noodles. “You’ll figure it out.”

“Mm.” Louis hums in agreement. He counts to five before yelping in what he hopes is a sudden and alarmed way, deliberately dropping his dumpling and causing a splash of soy sauce. He grabs a napkin quickly and wipes up the mess, before passing it to Zayn. “Put that in the bin, will ya?”

His acting was good, but his reasoning was not. “It’s right there.” Zayn says slowly, glancing down at the bin that is indeed within a reasonable distance from Louis as well. Zayn, the good sport that he is, takes the napkin from Louis anyways.

“It’s closer to you.” Louis says weakly, shoving the whole dumpling into his mouth to avoid answering further complaints.

Zayn tosses the napkin into the bin without even looking.

Louis swallows his dumpling and curses under his breath.

 “So.” Zayn says. “Your family.”

Louis groans. “I really didn’t think this through. They all know I fancy Harry. How am I going to tell them I’m marrying him as a friend?”

“I think the bigger problem is that they won’t get to be at your wedding.” Zayn says thoughtfully, brushing a stray strand of his hair that had fallen from his quiff out of his eyes.

“What do you mean?” Louis asks.

“I mean, for your sisters at least, it’ll probably be a lot like telling me was.” Zayn says. “Except, I get to be your best man, and they’re stuck in Doncaster and have school the next day.”

“Lottie is going to kill me.” Louis agrees.

“Yeah, but that’s because she loves you and she knows you have feelings for Harry and you’re an idiot about it.” Zayn says simply.

Louis isn’t even offended. It is a pretty idiotic plan, in retrospect.

“Your mum on the other hand…” Zayn trails off, whistling lowly instead of using words to finish his thought.

Louis knows what he means. After the first time he met Louis’ mum, Zayn had immediately informed his friend that he knew where all of Louis’ lethal sass came from. His mum is a fierce lady, and he is guaranteed to have quite the talk coming his way.

“Should I call?” Louis asks, feeling petulant.

“What, were you going to text her that her oldest child is getting married?” Zayn asks incredulously, pushing Louis’ phone at him. “Yes, call.”

Louis pouts exaggeratedly at his friend. “What do I even say?” He tears a piece of paper from his notebook, frowning at the blank lines before attempting to jot down an explanation of the situation. “It sounds ridiculous.” Louis drops his pen and pushes the paper away from him. “I can’t do this.”

“She’s your mum.” Zayn says, and the exasperated encouragement is just what Louis needs. “You’re overthinking this. She’s going to give you shit for it, but she loves and supports you so it’ll be fine. And, you know, it’s a good thing you’re doing – helping Harry with his financial problems.”

Louis sighs, crumpling up the paper and nodding. Zayn, as usual, is right.

Zayn takes the crumpled up paper without prompting this time, putting it in the bin without a second glance for the torn invitation strategically placed at the top of the garbage piled in it.

Harry’s plan is stupid, Louis decides. He can’t think of any reason that Zayn would give their garbage bin a second glance, let alone question the invitation. He probably thinks they misspelled something or got confused by the stamps, both of which Louis would definitely do.

He’ll go about this his own way, then.

“D’you reckon it’s just because I fancy him?” Louis asks Zayn, studying his friend’s face intently.

“What do you mean?” Zayn asks, one eyebrow quirking upwards.

“I mean, do you think I’m only marrying him to help him out because I’ve got feelings for him?” Louis clarifies. “Or is it something that any best friend would do?”

“Well…” Zayn looks thoughtful. “All I can say for sure is that he’d do the same for you.”

Louis swallows. He doesn’t have any solid proof, but he knows somehow that Zayn is right about that too. Louis shakes his head. “But like, say…Liam was in the same situation as Harry. Would you marry him for financial aid too?”

Zayn pales slightly, looking hesitant.

He doesn’t answer immediately, and Louis can’t help but feel disappointed on Liam’s behalf. He’d been sure that Zayn would at least agree, and that would have been a good enough start. He doesn’t even know why Zayn is reacting badly, because he knows for a fact that Zayn’s been with lads before.

There’s a long pause before Zayn finally says, “I would.”

“Oh.” Louis’ surprise must be obvious, because Zayn raises his eyebrows in question. Louis hastily explains, “Well, you took so long I assumed you were going to say no.”

Zayn smiles weakly, and it comes out looking like a grimace. “I just don’t think it’s the best example for you to be using to figure out your shit with Harry.”

“Why not?” Louis frowns. “You and Liam are best mates too. And it’s not like you’re madly in love-”

Zayn winces and Louis trails off as his brain catches up to the situation.

“Oh. Shit.”

“Yeah.” Zayn whispers.

“You have feelings for Liam??” Louis whisper-shrieks, feeling borderline hysterical.

Zayn looks sheepish, but somewhat pleased, and Louis wants to hit him until he is properly apologetic. He settles for punching his arm, throwing himself onto Zayn in an embrace so tight that it is equal parts celebratory and punishing.

“How long?” Louis demands. Being practically in Zayn’s lap doesn’t stop him from fixing his friend with one of the glares he has been told he inherited straight from his mum.

Zayn shakes his head quickly, holding his hands up in innocence. “It’s recent, I promise. Only a couple months or so.”

Months.” Louis echoes.

“But I didn’t want to say anything,” Zayn defends himself hurriedly. “Because I wasn’t sure. And I didn’t want to fuck anything up with our friendship until I knew.”

Louis smacks the side of Zayn’s head, hugging him so hard that he doesn’t know how Zayn is managing to breathe. “You idiot. You absolute idiot.”

“What?” Zayn chokes out, grabbing at Louis’ hands to loosen his grip. “It doesn’t change anything. Liam only sees me as a friend, anyways.”

“I can’t believe it.” Louis says softly, standing and shaking his head in wonder. “A match made in heaven, you are. And to think I’ve been trying to trick you into looking in our bin, to figure out how to tell you that Gigi can’t come the wedding, and you’ve had feelings for Liam this whole time?”

Zayn looks confused, glancing towards the garbage bin once more. “Sorry…what?”

Louis is pretty sure he looks insane right now, but his head is reeling with this new information. Zayn’s nervousness at Louis’ reaction seems to have faded, as he looks far too at ease for someone who deserves to be beat by his best friend.

“Liam declined being Harry’s best man.” Louis whispers conspiratorially. He always did have a flair for the dramatic.

“What? Why?” Zayn asks, looking alarmed. There’s a pause before he adds, “And how is this relevant?”

“He wants to be your plus one instead.” Louis explains simply, shrugging as he sits down next to Zayn again as if he hasn’t just shattered Zayn’s world.

“He…” Zayn opens and closes his mouth a couple times, dumbfounded. “Me?”

Louis nods, unable to keep the gleeful smile from spreading across his face. Matchmaking is exhilarating.

“So.” Louis says, smirking. “Here’s what’s going to happen, yeah? You’re going to talk to him. Tell him to be Harry’s best man and ask him as your plus one.” Zayn pales again, and Louis shakes his head before he can protest. “What have you got to worry about? You know he won’t say no.”

Zayn hesitates, but doesn’t seem to be able to come up with any other valid points.

“Just try not to upstage my fake romance with your real one at the wedding.” Louis mutters, crinkling his nose in mock distaste.

Zayn knows him well enough to read how happy he is for them, though, and hugs him tight, smacking a kiss to his temple. “I will.” He stands, popping open a beer can from the pack he brought over and taking a long swig to bolster himself. “Right now.”

“Go get ‘em.” Louis encourages, nodding in satisfaction.

Zayn snags the torn up invitation from the bin, probably intending to use it as part of a grand romantic gesture to Liam. He’s halfway out the door, invitation in one hand and beer can in the other, when he stops and calls out softly, “Hey, Louis?”

“Yeah?”

“Thanks.” He says. “And, I’m sorry for not telling you sooner – you know how it is.”

Louis knows. “It’s okay, Z. Go get your boy.”

 Zayn nods, and the smile that spreads on his face makes Louis smile too. Until he adds, “And you, call your mum!”

The door shuts behind him, and Louis spends the next half hour mindlessly debating what to tell his mum.

In the end, he doesn’t.

He has a beer, and goes to sleep. Mum can wait until morning.

 

-

 

Louis wakes up the next morning to the sound of snoring and a mouthful of long hair. It takes him a moment to process that the body draped over him is Harry. In another context, Louis could see himself being excited to wake up with Harry. But the boy in his arms reeks of alcohol and Harry coming into his bed after a long, rough night of bartending is really nothing new.

Still, Louis does his best to reposition himself without waking Harry as he grabs for his phone to check the time. It’s early enough that he doesn’t yet have to get ready for class, but not quite early enough for him to be able to go back to sleep.

Unlocking his phone, he is greeted with three missed calls from Lottie, all at varyingly distressing times of night. There’s a text from her as well: I had to hear from GEMMA that my own brother is getting married??? TOMORROW NIGHT??

Louis winces, exiting out without replying. There’s one missed call from his mum as well, from earlier this morning. Louis groans aloud at that. He really should have called last night.

Harry stirs beside him, rolling over and cracking an eye open to look at Louis. “Wha’ ‘ime ‘sit?”

Louis has mastered Harry’s lack of coherency in the mornings well, and is able to understand Harry asking for the time easily. “A little after 8.”

“Wha’s zong?” Harry asks, before extending his body in a rather painful looking stretch. He relaxes after a moment, looking satisfied, and repeats “What’s wrong?”

“I hate you.” Louis deadpans.

“How romantic.” Harry coos without missing a beat. “Now, what’s the matter?”

Louis can’t help but laugh at Harry’s response. “Nothing. Gemma beat me to telling Lottie that we’re getting married, and now my family as well as yours wants me dead.”

Harry grins. “Told ya so.”

Louis’ phone starts ringing again at that exact moment, the stock iPhone ringtone blaring out into the early morning silence. He cringes at his phone screen as a picture of him and Lottie pops up, Harry laughing besides him.

When he doesn’t answer immediately, Harry reaches over and grabs his phone, swiping his thumb across the screen to answer. His voice is deeper than usual, rough from having just woken up, as he drawls out “Louis’ phone, his fiancée speaking.”

Louis can’t make out Lottie’s words, but he can hear the tinny sound of her voice carrying from the phone as she tells Harry off.

“I know.” Harry says to her, his voice calming and deep compared to what sounds like muffled screeching coming from Lottie’s end. “It’s tomorrow.”

There’s a longer pause, filled with the faint sound of Lottie’s voice, but she’s quieter now that her initial anger has worn off. Finally, Harry hands the phone to Louis.

“Does he know?” Lottie snaps the moment Louis greets her.

“What are you talking about?” Louis asks, glancing at Harry.

“That you would rather marry him for real than marry him to save his arse?” She clarifies, her words clipped and brisk.

Louis laughs nervously. “Lots, that’s not how it is-”

“So he doesn’t know.” She interrupts knowingly. “You’re stupid, d’you that?”

“It’s for Harry.” Louis emphasizes, falling back on his bed and laying his head against Harry. “He’s my best mate, anyone’d do the same for theirs.”

No. No,” Lottie says loudly, cutting him off. “I wouldn’t even think to marry any of my friends for their financial aid. It wouldn’t even cross my mind. Yeah, if they asked me to, I’d do anything to help. But I wouldn’t have thought of that myself.”

Louis doesn’t really know what to say to that. “Well. It’s almost the same thing.”

It’s not. He knows it, and Lottie knows he does. “So he really has no idea?” She asks instead of calling him out. Her tone is softer now, and Louis hopes it’s because she’s finally accepted that he and Harry are getting married.

“No.” Louis answers quietly.

Lottie sighs, but it sounds like she’s riled up again. “You both are stupid, then.”

Louis isn’t quite sure what she means by that, but she’s not wrong. He chuckles softly, “Yeah. We probably are.”

Lottie groans in frustration at his response. “How can you be so blind?”

“What do you-”

“And how dare you let Gemma be the one to tell me this?” Lottie interrupts him accusingly. “I had to hear from my brother’s friend’s sister that he’s getting married? Do you know how fucked up that is?”

“I know.” Louis winces. “I know, I’m sorry about that. I just didn’t know how to tell you.”

“Oh, I don’t know, maybe ‘hey I’m marrying Harry but it’s complicated.’” Lottie snaps. “That’s all it would have taken.”

“’M sorry.” Louis repeats quietly.

“God, I feel like I’m the older one right now.” Lottie huffs, but she’s calming down again. Softer, more caring, she asks “You’re doing okay, though?”

Harry lets out a soft snore from underneath him, startling Louis. Glancing over at the sleeping boy, he can’t help but feel a rush of affection. “Yeah. It’s…it’s complicated, you know? But it’s worth it.”

“You’re a sap.” Lottie informs him. “I can hear how fond you are, it’s disgusting.”

Louis chuckles quietly, trying not to disturb Harry. “Thanks, Lots. And hey, I really am sorry for not being the first one to tell you.”

“It’s okay.” Lottie says, and Louis knows she’s smiling. “You’re an idiot, it’s nothing new.”

He laughs again, nodding. “So we’re okay?”

“No.” Lottie says immediately. “But Gemma’s picking me up tomorrow after work, and we’re driving to London straightaway to crash your wedding, big bro. After I’ve smacked you in person, then we’ll be good.”

“You’re coming?” Louis practically shouts in surprise, and Harry groans underneath him. “Sorry, shit, sorry Haz. “Louis whispers, before hissing to Lottie “Gemma’s coming?”

“A chance to see you make a fool of yourself on supposedly one of the most important days of your life? Wouldn’t miss it for the world.” Lottie’s smile comes through despite her attempt to sound dry. “Mum is trying to take off work, as well. So if she’s able, then we might all come.”

“But…” Louis glances at Harry uncertainly. “You know, it’s not like a huge deal. It doesn’t change anything.”

“Except you’ll be married.” Lottie scoffs. “We’re family, Lou. If I was getting married, even to a friend for the same reason you are, wouldn’t you want to come?”

That’s a good point, actually. Louis concedes. “When’d you grow up on me, huh? You’ve gone and gotten smart all of a sudden.”

“Wish I could say the same for you.” Lottie teases, giggling at Louis’ offended reaction before sighing softly. “I’ve got to get to work – gotta get in early if I’m trying to ditch to come to see you. But I’ll see you tomorrow night, okay? Don’t do anything more stupid than you’ve already done.”

“I won’t.” Louis assures her. “Drive safe, yeah? Try to butter up Gemma for me.”

Lottie tsks in mock regret. “No can do. We’ve already agreed to spend the drive planning different ways to kill you both.”

Louis laughs, feeling like a weight has been lifted from his shoulders. “What’s new?” He teases back. “Anyways, take care. Love you.”

“Love you.” Lottie hangs up, and Louis turns to Harry, whose lips are quirked up in amusement as he watches Louis.

“You didn’t tell me our families are coming.” Louis accuses, twisting to tickle Harry as revenge.

Harry pulls away, laughing and swatting at Louis’ hands.  Harry has never been much for fighting back, always choosing defense over offense. Louis tickles him relentlessly, until his cheeks are pink from laughter and his dimples seem permanently etched into his cheeks. Harry finally grips Louis’ wrists, his long fingers holding him gently and Louis lets himself go still.

Harry catches his breath for a moment before saying with a tentative smile, “So…did I mention our families are coming?”

“You little shit.” Louis says, but there’s no malice in his tone.

“You’re okay with this still, right?” Harry asks, his brow furrowing slightly. “If it’s too much pressure or if you’ve changed your mind, I don’t want you to feel locked in. We can call the whole thing off anytime. No one will mind - they’ll understand, you know?”

“I know.” Louis says quietly. “But I’m sure.” He grins up at Harry, needing to break the sudden seriousness. “You are about to become Mr. Harold Tomlinson.”

Harry makes a face. “Am not.” He drops Louis’ wrists and stands, presumably to go get ready for his day. He makes finger guns at Louis as he walks out of his room backwards, calling out “You’ll be Mr. Louis Styles.”

Louis look of mock disgust is rewarded with a loud laugh.

He waits a moment after Harry has left before picking up his phone again and dialing his mum. She answers on the first ring.

“Louis William Tomlinson.” Jay sounds cross, to say the least.

“Hey, mum.” Louis replies uncertainly.

“You are unbelievable. My own son.” She says, and Louis imagines her shaking her head in disapproval. “Getting married to his best friend, and not telling me? It is the day before the wedding and I had to find out from Lottie, who, mind you, didn’t hear it from you either.”

“I know.” Louis says, sighing. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know how to tell you. It’s a complicated situation. If I was actually getting married, I’d have told you straight away.”

“You are actually getting married.” Jay insists. “It’ll be legal, and I hear you’re even holding a ceremony?”

“Yeah.” Louis affirms sheepishly. “I didn’t realise how seriously Harry would take it.”

He can almost see his mom beaming on the other end of the line. “Ah, Harry. What a boy. You’re sure it’s not a real wedding? You’d make a fine couple, if I do say so myself.”

“Mum!” Louis exclaims, doing his best to sound scandalized.

She laughs heartily. “Don’t act like you think otherwise.”

Louis loves her so much. “Thanks, mum. Do you know if you can come?”

“I’ll be there.” Jay assures him. “Do try to have a decently nice ceremony, won’t you? I know you’re on a budget and that will probably be painfully obvious, but we’d rather not drive down to see you wed in your living room if possible.”

“Will do, yeah. We got some decorations, so it should look alright.” Louis tells her.

Jay sighs. “Your eye for decoration concerns me, darling, but I suppose it’s the thought that counts. Anyways, my break is about to end so I’ve got to run. I’ll see you later tomorrow, though. No more surprises, okay?”

“No more.” Louis agrees. “Love you.”

“Love you too, baby.” Jay says, before hanging up.

Louis lays in bed thinking for a moment after the line goes silent. That went unexpectedly well. Zayn was right, he thinks to himself. His family was upset at not being told, but the main cause of their distress would have been if they weren’t able to attend.

“Haz?” Louis yells, not willing to get out of bed.

A mop of curls pokes into his room a moment later. “Yep?”

“My whole family’s coming.” Louis tells him. “Tomorrow.”

Harry’s face lights up, and Louis feels a smile forming on his own face in response. “Really? That’s great! Gemma and my mum are coming too.”

Harry has to leave for class, though, so he quickly busies himself getting ready. He confirms with Louis when he’ll be home and when he estimates Gemma will arrive before finally heading out.

It feels domestic, planning for both of their families to come visit. Louis wonders if Harry notices that too, but the curly haired lad is gone before Louis has a chance to ask.

 

-

 

“Louis!” a voice carries down the hall later that day, after Louis has gotten back to the building after his classes.

He is waiting in front of their apartment building’s elevator, and has been doing so for nearly ten minutes now. The lift is a bit finicky sometimes, but Louis supposes that’s the expected downside of student housing. He is, however, feeling increasingly murderous with every minute in which it still hasn’t arrived.

As is, he barely spares the figure running towards him a glance. “What?”

“It worked!” It’s Liam, probably the only person who won’t let Louis’ sourness dampen his mood. He looks ecstatic, bouncing on his toes even after he reaches Louis and Louis can’t help but feel his irritation at the lift fade somewhat the sight.

“What worked?” He asks in monotone. He wants to be excited for Lam, but he’s been standing here for far too long and can’t help but be less than thrilled about news he doesn’t even know yet. A woman with blond hair is waiting for the lift also, and glances up curiously at the pair.

“Zayn asked me to be his plus one!” Liam whispers, lowering his voice for the woman’s sake, Louis assumes. His eyes are bright with excitement, though, and his voice actually doesn’t get that much quieter.

Louis can’t help but smile at that, fist pumping as he mentally congratulates Zayn on having the balls to actually go through with asking Liam out. The elevator finally dings and Louis lets out a victorious shout both for Liam and himself as the doors slide open slowly. When Liam doesn’t immediately follow him in, Louis grips his arm and drags him inside. He’ll be damned if he has to wait for the lift again because Liam was too slow. Still, he’s excited for Liam, and says as much. “Liam! That’s great, mate. I’m happy for you.”

“It wasn’t even because of me boycotting being Harry’s best man.” Liam adds, jerking his arm from Louis’ grip to allow the lady - who is no longer faking polite disinterest, looking on at Liam and Louis with wide eyes – to go first. Liam follows her into the elevator. “Turns out he’s had feelings for me for a while, but I had no idea. Said you were the one who talked to him about it and convinced him to ask me out.”

Louis shrugs, smiling wide at Liam as the elevator lurches upwards. “Nah. It was all him.”

Liam sees straight through the modesty though, punching Louis’ bicep fondly. “I appreciate it,” He says, as if Louis hadn’t said anything.

“You said he asked you out?” Louis asks. “Does that mean you’re dating now, or?”

Liam’s cheeks tint pink at his question, and it makes for a contradictory sight. Liam is dressed in activewear, looking like a die-hard gym enthusiast. His dopey smile and colored blush contrast starkly with his focused, athletic outfit. It makes Louis feel protective of him, of this bashful boy who can lift heavy weights and run long distances but can’t face his feelings.

“Well?” Louis waggles his eyebrows suggestively at Liam, and almost at that exact moment the elevator comes to a screeching halt, sending Louis stumbling back against the wall.

“Oh my god.” Liam says from the corner of the lift that he is now in, his eyes flitting around the enclosed space nervously. He lunges forward before Louis can react, pressing the button for their floor, then the button to open the doors, before settling on the emergency button repeatedly.

Louis groans, letting his head fall back against the wall. “Usually getting stuck in elevators with an attractive boy is an ideal situation,” He quips.

Liam looks appalled. “What do you mean?”

Louis sighs. He forgets what a goody-two-shoes Liam is sometimes. He’ll be good for Zayn, Louis thinks. He drops a lewd wink at Liam, lowering his voice seductively as he says, “Elevator sex, Liam.”

The woman standing in the far corner bursts out laughing, and Louis startles out of his smirk.

“Sorry!” He rushes to say, his cheeks warming slightly. “Forgot you were there for a mo’, didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.”

“No, no harm done.” She assures him, beaming. “I’ve had my fair share of public experiences as well,” She winks with a friendly smile before continuing, “But in all honesty, I’d prefer it if you didn’t enlighten this young man with the wonders of exhibitionism just now.”

Louis barks out a delighted laugh. She’s sarcastic but kind, and it makes Louis feel like they’re old friends. He likes her immediately.

Liam, however, looks mortified. If he was pink before, he is beet red now. “We’re not- we wouldn’t- that’s not- it’s not what it seems like!” He stutters, struggling to defend himself. He steps away from Louis and closer to the elevator doors as if adding an extra few centimeters of distance between them will eliminate any thoughts the lady has of them being together.

Louis rolls his eyes, reaching out and tweaking Liam’s left nipple in a lightning fast move before patting him consolingly on the cheek. “There, there. She knows, love. She’s probably overheard all about your success with Zayn.”

The woman nods, looking vaguely impressed. “Sex-god Zayn from floor five? You’re together?”

Louis can’t help but crinkle his nose at the nickname. “Sex-god Zayn?? That’s what you know him as?”

She shrugs, her blond hair bouncing with the movement. “What? He’s hot. I used to walk up to the fifth floor before taking the elevator up to my floor just for the chance to see him. Waste of time, that was. Good cardio, though, I suppose.” She looks thoughtful. “Should’ve done that today – then I wouldn’t be trapped in a lift right now.”

Liam doesn’t seem to know how to respond to this information, choosing to remain quiet and continue jabbing at the emergency button on the elevator. After a few moments of uncomfortable silence, save for the persistent clicking of Liam pressing buttons, he finally stops, turning to the woman and extending a stiff hand. He’s had time to recover now, but he doesn’t look any less embarrassed. “Seems like we’re going to be here a while, so we might as well get to know each other. I’m Liam.” He says, smiling uncertainly. “And I’m not-quite dating sex-god Zayn, but hopefully getting there, as of last night.”

The woman smiles widely, displaying a row of pearly white teeth. “Nice to meet you. I’m Perrie. I just got home from work, and I’m currently carrying a purse that looks full of womanly items, but is actually entirely stuffed bears and Skittles.”

Louis’ eyes flit to the large white purse on Perrie’s shoulder. It’s a simple bag, and matches her outfit perfectly. Louis wouldn’t normally even give it a second glance. Perrie follows his gaze and drops her bag halfway down her arm to open it, indeed revealing nothing but rainbow patterned stuffed bears and fun-sized packets of Skittles.

“I didn’t realize we were doing a proper ice breaker,” Louis comments mildly. “Interesting fact and everything.”

Perrie shrugs. “I’m not about to stand here making tense small talk with you for however long we’re stuck in here.”

Liam motions to the bag, brows furrowed slightly. “What on earth are you carrying that all around for?”

“See?” Perrie says to Louis, looking smug. “Conversation starter.” Then, to Liam. “I work at Build-a-Bear Workshop. Just had a rainbow themed party for a young boy who recently came out. Want some Skittles?”

Liam blinks.

“I’m Louis.” Louis fills the gap in the conversation as Liam draws a blank. He extends a hand as well, trying to think of an interesting fact to share about himself. “My birthday is Christmas Eve.”

Perrie makes a face. “Boring.” She informs him, scrutinizing her nails exaggeratedly for effect. “Liam here is starting a new chapter of his life in which he woos the hottest boy in this building, I’ve got an unexpected stash of rainbows on my person right now, and all you’ve got to contribute is when your birthday is?” She looks at him, unimpressed and expectant.

Louis stares at her for a moment, noting the lack of judgement in her expression, before shrugging and saying as nonchalantly as possible “I’m marrying my best friend platonically tomorrow night because he doesn’t know I’m in love with him and he needs the financial aid.”

Perrie’s blue eyes widen. She doesn’t immediately respond, and Louis can’t help but feel proud at having rendered the clever girl speechless. Finally, she lets out a low whistle. “Well. I daresay you’ve got both Liam and I beat.”

Louis shrugs again.

Perrie grins at him. “Quite another take on friends with benefits, if I do say so myself.” She peers down at the elevator floor critically. “How dirty do you reckon this is?”

 “Clean enough,” Louis replies, dropping down onto the floor and sitting cross-legged.

Perrie follows in suit, and then Liam. “So.” She says, turning to Louis and propping her chin up with one hand. “Do tell.”

Louis tells.

It’s nearly an hour later when the elevator is finally fixed. When the doors finally creak open on floors five and eight, respectively, Louis emerges with a stuffed rainbow bear in his arms, Liam with too many Skittles in his mouth, and Perrie with a wedding invitation in her hand.

 

-

 

“What do you mean you didn’t plan them a bachelor’s party?” Niall’s voice bellows out as Louis and Liam walk into his and Harry’s flat minutes later. “Liam!” Niall pounces on them immediately. “Did you plan a bachelor’s party for Harry?”

Liam looks flustered, chewing rapidly on Skittles before responding. “Well, I mean, I only agreed to be his best man again this morning…”

Niall throws up his hands in frustration. “That’s a ‘no,’ then.”

Louis follows Liam into the flat, toeing off his shoes and flopping down on the couch, sprawling over Zayn, who is already sitting there. He positions the stuffed rainbow bear gifted to him by Perrie on the couch next to them. It probably says something about the nature of his life that none of his friends give the sudden appearance of a rainbow stuffed bear a second thought.

Niall is standing in the center of the room, looking as annoyed as Louis thinks he’s ever seen the carefree boy, which is hardly at all.

“Worst best men in history, you are.” Niall says, shaking his head. “The priestly officiant shouldn’t be the one planning the night of drinking.”

Harry laughs at that from where he is leaning against the hall that leads to his room, looking amused but tired. There’s a stray streak of flour on his cheek, right at the corner of his lips, and Louis thinks he could quite effectively kiss it off.

“Well,” Louis pipes up, tearing his gaze away from Harry and focusing on Liam, who looks positively forlorn at the thought of having neglected his best-man duties. “To be fair, Niall, you are the only remaining single man here. Harold and I are engaged to be married, and Liam and Zayn are a thing as of last night.”

Liam and Zayn flush in synchronization at his words, both quickly averting their eyes from each other.

Niall’s eyes bulge in surprise. “Liam and Zayn got together before you and Harry?” His gaze locks on Liam and Zayn, twin sheepish smiles and light blushes on their faces. “Oh my god!” He shouts, sounding almost too enthusiastic. Then, the reason for his gusto comes out as he adds, “Someone owes me ten quid.”

Harry and Zayn both pull out their wallets, and Louis all but chokes on his own spit. “What the fuck. You bet on yourselves?” He’s staring at Harry, but he can’t help it. Harry bet that they would get together before Liam and Zayn? Does that mean he sees them together for real? Or just that it’s so unlikely that Zayn and Liam would get together that he thought he and Louis would get together first if anything?

Harry is frowning at the bill in his hand regretfully. “Louis and I getting married is the whole reason that Liam and Zayn are together now. I don’t know if that counts as them being together first.”

“It counts.” Liam insists, as Zayn hands over ten pounds to Niall. “I’ve already paid up fifteen pounds to Zayn for you and Lou getting together period.”

 “We aren’t even actually together.” Louis interrupts and the money changing hands comes to a halt. Everyone is looking at him, and Louis gets the vague sense that he’s the only one missing out on something. He plows ahead nonetheless. “Are…uh, Liam and Zayn, are you guys official? Because if so, you’ve got us…beat, I guess.”

Liam’s eyes go wide and he closes his mouth, twisting his hands together uncertainly. “We, uh…” He turns to face Zayn, looking imploringly at him.

Louis, currently sitting mostly on Zayn, slides down so only his head is in Zayn’s lap. He’s not quite sure if this makes him more or less conspicuous, but at least now he isn’t directly in the line of their eye contact.

Zayn looks up at Liam, seeming unsure. “We are..?” He says, his tone rising slightly at the end to make it a half question.

“Yeah.” Liam says, a wide smile spreading on his face. “Yeah, we are.”

They stare at each other fondly for a beat longer, before they’re interrupted by Niall making gagging sounds. “Good god, I could have told you that.” He grumbles, but his face is shining with happiness for his friends. “You’re sickeningly sweet already. Next thing I know, you’ll be getting married too.”

“Let me know if you need any advice on getting there,” Louis jokes, and Harry laughs weakly. Turning, Louis finds Harry’s gaze fixed intently on him. He meets it easily, but he doesn’t know what it means.

Harry breaks the eye contact first, clearing his throat quietly and glancing down as he pockets his wallet. “How about instead of figuring out how much money is owed, we go bar hopping for the bachelor’s party, drinks are on me and Zayn, and we call it even.”

Liam huffs, but he looks pleased. “As if we’d let you pay for your own bachelor’s party. Drinks are on Zayn.”

“How is that fair?” Zayn protests, but he’s nodding and standing in a way that contrasts his words.

“As long as drinks aren’t on me.” Niall says with a shrug. “We’re going to drink until you’re broke.”

 

-

 

Zayn doesn’t end up broke, but it’s a close thing. Fortunately for his wallet, he is able to save a sizable sum of money due to the amount of free drinks he weasels out of each bartender that he talks to.

It’s been two hours, three bars, and more drinks than Louis’ fuzzy mind cares to count. The first bar had doubled as a pizza parlor, and they had devoured their fill of some of the best pizza pies Louis has ever eaten in his life. The second was a strip club, which Niall had insisted was a must for a bachelor’s party. Needless to say, he was the one who enjoyed it the most. The third, the place that they are currently at, is a high-end bar with neon lights zigzagging around the room and fancy glassware hanging from the ceiling.

The people dancing around them are all dressed extremely well, and Louis feels somewhat out of place in his baseball tee. His black jeans are tight, though, so he knows at least his arse looks good.

“What can I get you, sir?” The bartender asks, looking thoroughly professional and bored.

Louis is pretty sure he’s never been called ‘sir’ at a bar in his life. “Holy shit.” He says, turning to Niall.

“Sorry, sir. I don’t recognize that drink.” The bartender replies in monotone.

“I…what?” Louis gives him an incredulous look. “It’s not a drink, it’s an expression.”

“I don’t believe we serve anything of that category here. Drinks only. Sometimes snacks, but not tonight.” The bartender tells him flatly, setting down the cup he was polishing and looking evenly at Louis.

Zayn, looking effortlessly attractive despite this being their third bar tonight, rolls his eyes and takes up ordering for the five of them instead. This bartender seems to have no personality as far as Louis is concerned, but Zayn enthusiastically meets the challenge by stepping up his flirting, his smirk on display. He looks downright devastating. Next to him, Liam looks vaguely uncomfortable, and yet seems to be drawing most of the bartender’s attention.

Louis turns away from the odd trio, shaking his head. “Well, the bartender sucks, but the rest of the place seems incredible.”

“I know right.” Niall agrees smugly, choosing to ignore the first part of what Louis said. “I might be last minute in the bachelor party planning, but you can bet this is the best goddamned bachelor’s party you’ve ever had.”

“The only bachelor’s party I’ve ever had,” Louis reminds Niall, chuckling.

“Pretty sure priestly officiants shouldn’t say ‘goddamned’” Harry adds in.

Niall flips them both off. “Technicalities,” He grumbles. “Besides, if you think the cussing is sinful, you didn’t see me back at that last place.” Niall waggles his eyebrows suggestively and snags a drink from a triumphant Zayn and a red-faced Liam before disappearing into the crowd.

“How is he still going strong?” Louis asks Harry, but taking a drink from Zayn nonetheless.

“He’s Irish.” Harry replies, shrugging. “You were already done for after the third round of shots.”

“There were a lot of drinks in between!” Louis protests, but he knows he’s a bit of a lightweight, especially compared to Niall.

“Well you’d better enjoy these,” Zayn says, smirking. “I had to actually put in some effort for these ones.”

Liam splutters in protest, pressing close to Zayn’s side. “You had to put in effort? That was all me. I’m pretty sure I accidentally agreed to a threesome with that man.”

Liam looks thoroughly scarred at just the thought of it, and Louis bursts out laughing.

“It wouldn’t be too bad.” Zayn says thoughtfully. “He’s an odd one, but he was pretty fit.”

Liam gags, and Zayn shrugs.

“Well, take some drinks at least.” He says, motioning to Harry and Louis. “We might have to sell our bodies for this.”

Louis takes two shots from Zayn in quick succession, and Harry reaches out to steady him unnecessarily. He looks concerned, like he thinks that was a bad idea.

Louis doesn’t care. He is much more focused on how good Harry looks, fitting in perfectly with the posh atmosphere in his sheer black shirt and ridiculously tight jeans. Louis doesn’t need to look around to know there’s no one at this bar that he wants more than Harry.

Harry takes a shot as well, and Liam and Zayn disappear into the crowd, still bickering over the bartender.

 “So…” Harry says, and his voice is so low that Louis can barely distinguish his words over the music of the club. “What’s the plan?”

It’s a question he’s asked Louis dozens of times, that Louis has asked him dozens of times, whenever they go clubbing together. It’s a cue for them to decide if one of them will be bringing someone home and which of them either will not or will be going to someone else’s.

Louis turns to Harry, startled by how close they are all of a sudden. He tries not to show how affected he is though, raising an eyebrow curiously. “If you think I’m bringing home any boy that’s not you the night before we get married, you’d better think again.”

Harry dimples, a smirk slowly spreading on his face. He crowds in to Louis, and Louis isn’t sure how it’s possible for them to be so close and yet not touching. “You’d bring me home?” Harry asks lowly, his voice husky and seductive in a way that sends chills down Louis’ spine.

Louis is too drunk for this. He doesn’t know where the line is, not when Harry is right here, centimeters away from him, teasing him like this. He laughs it off, stumbling backwards to create some space between them. It’s probably blatantly uncharacteristic, as he isn’t usually one for personal space, and Harry knows this. Louis is normally all over Harry, or whoever he happens to be with, and is only more handsy when drunk. But his vision is blurred and the boundaries are blurred, and he can’t think straight right now.

“I’ll always take you home,” Louis says, hoping that the hesitation in which he got his shit together didn’t drag on too awkwardly. It’s true in more ways than Louis will admit, yet ambiguous enough that he can leave Harry to make of it what he will.

Harry smiles, but Louis isn’t quite sure why. “Dance with me,” He says, and it’s not a question.

In the back of his mind, Louis notices that Harry doesn’t comment on whether or not he’d be taking someone home tonight himself. But there’s a set of sparkling green eyes fixed on him and a hand with long fingers outstretched to him, and Louis is pretty sure he knows the answer.

He chooses to not question it, and follows Harry onto the floor.

The best part about dancing with Harry is witnessing how little he cares now about what others think. Louis is pretty sure that part of the reason he loves this is because he’s had the chance to see Harry’s confidence and abilities grow over the years. When they went to their first party as freshmen, Harry had stood nervously pressed against the wall almost the entire time, moving only if he was in someone’s way or to get more food. He progressed to head bobbing and mingling, then bouncing in place, and finally to fully letting go on the dance floor. Now, Louis knows, Harry doesn’t even need alcohol to be comfortable with himself dancing however he feels fits the song. It makes Louis proud in ways he doesn’t fully comprehend, especially because Harry is a god-awful dancer.

Harry, in typical Harry fashion, has begun a painfully slow shimmy, rocking his shoulders exaggeratedly as he beckons Louis closer. Louis laughs, smiling brightly as he joins his best friend.

They dance like idiots together for a bit, but the racing of alcohol through his veins combined with the thrumming of the base through his body soon has Louis swiveling his hips for all he’s worth. It’s sultry, and he’s pressed closer to Harry than he thinks he normally would be. Usually when he dances like this, it’s when he’s looking to pull; it’s followed by lecherous gazes, whispers in his ear, and rushed blowjobs in dingy bar bathrooms.

Tonight, though, he’ll tease himself instead, save himself for the one person he wants, and the one person he can’t have. The show he’s putting on with his dancing, then, isn’t for anyone but himself – though if Harry happens to be enjoying it, that’s more than alright, too.

It doesn’t take long for the first man to approach them. Harry’s hands are gripping Louis’ hips, supporting him, but Louis hadn’t actually noticed the touch until a new pair of hands appears.

“Mind if I cut in?” The owner of the offending touch is a tall bloke with reddish brown hair and hazel coloured eyes. He looks decent enough, and on another night Louis might’ve willingly begun grinding up against him instead.

Louis doesn’t immediately reply, but he guesses his disinterest is evident on his face because after a tense beat of silence Harry says, “Actually, yes. Find someone else.”

“Wasn’t talking to you.” The bloke says coldly, moving closer to Louis.

“And we weren’t talking to you.” Louis shoots back, giving him a dark look and grinding up against Harry for show. Harry bites back a gasp, and although Louis’ intention was to rub in the bloke’s face what he’s missing out on, Louis can’t help but be equally pleased by Harry’s reaction.

The man leaves them, and Louis gives Harry a triumphant grin. Harry mimics the gesture, but his face clings to a hint of seriousness, his eyes looking darker than usual. It’s just the lighting, Louis tells himself, but something feels different in their dynamic that Louis can’t quite put his finger on.

The display to get the man to leave them alone was nothing new. Louis has sucked a hickey into Harry’s neck in an exaggerated display of claiming him once before to fend off a guy who just wouldn’t leave Harry alone. So, Louis isn’t sure why he feels differently now - why Harry seems to be looking at him differently now.

“Lou.” An arm slings around his shoulder and Louis barely stops himself from smacking the owner as he registers his name and Zayn’s voice.

“Zayn?” Louis questions, turning to his friend and allowing some space between him and Harry. He hadn’t realized how unnecessarily close they were before. It’s suddenly too hot and too crowded, and Louis feels like his body is on fire from Harry’s touch.

“No threesome with the weird bartender.” Zayn informs him, and Louis tries to act like this is important and serious information. “Have a smoke with me?” Zayn asks, patting his back pocket.

Louis nods. He needs the fresh air anyways. “Wanna come?” He asks Harry, but the curly haired boy has already taken up dancing with a stunning redheaded girl.

Harry shakes his head no, waving them off.

So Louis blindly follows Zayn through the pulsing of the club, doing his best to not glace back at Harry and the girl. Zayn weaves them through the crowd, holding Louis’ hand to make sure he’s following. They emerge out the back door of the club, which leads to a small alleyway. There are trash bags piled next to the building, but otherwise the dimly lit alley is empty.

“Lovely.” Louis comments dryly, but joins Zayn in sitting on the concrete steps by the door as he pulls out a cigarette.

“Want one of your own?” Zayn offers him the pack, but Louis shakes his head.

Zayn shrugs, pulling out a lighter. His features go still in concentration, the cigarette poised between his lips and his hands holding up the lighter. The shadows cast from the flame cause his cheekbones to flicker for a moment, but then the cigarette is lit and Zayn’s face disappears momentarily behind a cloud of smoke.

“You have a nice face.” Louis tells his friend.

Zayn laughs quietly, ducking his head to hide a smile. “Thanks, Lou. You’re a lightweight, you know that?”

Louis frowns. “Am not. You didn’t even do the last round of shots.”

Zayn smirks. “Because I know my limit.”

“You do have a nice face though. Did you know people in our building have been calling you sex-god Zayn?” Louis says.

Zayn makes a face. “I really hope you’re so drunk that you’re making things up now.”

Louis shakes his head solemnly. “It’s true.”

Zayn shrugs, holding out the cigarette for Louis. “Well, they could be saying worse things about me, I suppose.”

Louis takes a drag, relishing the tingling warmth that spreads through his lungs. He doesn’t smoke often, but he used to, and the feeling is familiar and comforting against the brisk London air.

 “I know you’re out of it right now,” Zayn starts, giving Louis a look when he starts to protest. “But I also don’t know when else I’m going to have a chance to talk to you before tomorrow.”

Louis looks at his friend quizzically. “Okay. And?”

Zayn gives him a meaningful look, but Louis doesn’t know what exactly it’s supposed to mean. Then he says, “Do you really think it’s so impossible for Harry to like you too?”

“Well of course he likes me,” Louis starts, deflecting easily despite his drunken state.

“No, Louis, for him to like you. For him to be in love with you the way you are with him.” Zayn interrupts to clarify, leaving no room for Louis to weasel out of the question.

“I…” Louis trails off. “I’m not in love with him.” He scoffs, but he feels his cheeks heating up.

“Look at me.” Zayn says quietly.

Louis doesn’t meet his eyes.

“Stop, Lou.” Zayn’s voice is gentle, soothing. He wraps an arm around his friend. “It’s okay. It’s obvious, really. And the same way it’s obvious to me that you’re bloody in love with him, I’m pretty sure he’s feeling the exact same way about you.”

“We’re best friends.” Louis tells Zayn, as if he doesn’t know. “Nothing has changed. I won’t let it.”

“It won’t be in a bad way.” Zayn says. “Sometimes change is good. Me and Liam, you think that’s good, right?”

Louis snorts. “Of course. I can’t believe you and him kept this from each other for so long.”

Zayn’s grip around Louis shoulders tightens from a soothing touch into an exasperated squeeze. “And one of these days, I’m going to tell you the exact same thing about you and Harry.”

Louis doesn’t say anything. When he finally brings himself to meet Zayn’s gaze, he finds Zayn looking at him with a knowing smile.

“What.” Louis says flatly, and Zayn smacks a kiss to the top of his head before standing and crushing the cigarette underneath his shoe.

“Just be ready, okay? I’ve got a feeling.” Zayn replies.

There’s a moment of quiet, and then Louis says seriously, “I have something to tell you.”

Zayn raises his eyebrows, gesturing for him to go on.

“Gigi isn’t invited to the wedding.”

Zayn rolls his eyes, but says agreeably, “Okay, Louis.”

It’s dripping with sarcasm, and Louis can’t help but pout a little at how obvious Zayn makes it sound.

“Now, c’mon,” Zayn says, smiling and offering Louis a hand up. “Let’s get you even more shitfaced than you already are.”

 

-

 

Louis wakes up the next afternoon with a pounding headache. There’s a heavy body draped over him and a bony elbow digging into his back from beneath him. It takes a minute for Louis to process exactly where he is.

It’s bright, is the first thing that he registers. The sun streaming in through the window is making everything borderline painful to look at. It’s warm, too - stiflingly, uncomfortably so. He thinks they’re at Liam’s, because room is unfamiliar and everything seems to be neatly in place.

He tries to sit up, not caring too much about disturbing the bodies around him. Harry, who is sleeping half on top of him, grunts and shifts as he stirs. Whoever is beneath him doesn’t seem bothered at all, so it’s probably Zayn. Zayn could sleep anywhere and through anything, Louis thinks.

“Hey.” A gruff voice reaches his ears, and then there’s a figure in front of him, smiling kindly. Liam. “I made eggs and coffee if you ever feel like getting up.”

Louis forces what he hopes is a grateful smile onto his face. He would nod in acknowledgement, but his throbbing head doesn’t like that idea much. Liam retreats down the hall, and Louis clumsily extracts himself from the heap of bodies on Niall and Liam’s living room floor. There’s a sleeping bag laid out as a cushion for them, which Louis suspects is Liam’s doing. The thought is nice, but it doesn’t seem to be doing much as he and Harry had apparently opted to pile on top of Zayn instead.

Louis trudges into the kitchen, dropping into a chair with a groan. “My head…” He grumbles, rubbing at his temples.

Liam looks vaguely sympathetic, placing a mug of steaming black coffee in front of him. “It’s like three in the afternoon.” Liam tells him. “I was hoping you’d have slept off the hangover somehow.”

“If only.” Louis mutters, taking a grateful sip of the coffee.

Niall stumbles in then, crashing half onto the chair besides Louis and half on Louis lap, resting his head against his friend. “I’m dying.” He announces. “Fuck being a holy priestly officiant, I’m dead.”

“Oh my god.” Louis groans, closing his eyes. “My whole family is coming in tonight. I’m getting married tonight.”

“Did you seriously forget that?” Liam asks dubiously.

“It’s not the first thing on my mind, okay?” Louis snaps. “Just because you don’t drink…” He can’t think of a threatening way to finish his thought, so he leaves it at that. Liam seems to get the message regardless, holding his hands up in defeat.

“Speaking of,” Niall pipes up, but his words come slower than usual, like he has to brace himself before each one. “Your husband and your best man are currently passed out on our floor.”

“I know.” Louis chuckles, giving Liam a grateful look as he places a plate of eggs in front of him. “They’ll probably wake up soon.”

They don’t.

Louis and Niall wake Harry and Zayn two hours later, when Louis’ mum phones to say that she’s almost to London with four of Louis’ siblings in tow. Louis can’t help the excitement he feels at hearing his younger siblings, Phoebe, Daisy, Ernest, and Doris, squealing out their ‘hello’s and ‘are we there yet?’s from the car.

“I’m in the front seat!” Daisy had announced happily.

“And I get to be in the front seat on the drive home!” Phoebe had yelled shortly after.

Louis isn’t sure how Jay knew that he needed a warning call to get his shit together before they arrived, but he appreciates it. Mums just know, he supposes.

Everything is hectic after that. Zayn and Harry are trudging around the kitchen, with some combination of exhaustion and excitement in their bones. Niall is holding up a script-like paper, running over lines like an aspiring actor. Liam is making pasta, and the apartment smells nearly as good as when Harry cooks. Louis, however, is doing nothing. He doesn’t know what he even should be doing.

“You’re freaking out.” Zayn says calmly, smiling at Louis over the rim of his coffee mug and interrupting his train of thought.

“I…” Louis shrugs, conceding. “Yeah. I’m freaking out.”

“Don’t worry. It’s only your wedding day, the most important day of your life.” Zayn grins.

Louis hates him. “Wow, no pressure.” He responds dryly, looking over at Harry.

Harry looks objectively adorable. Louis is pretty sure there’s no one who could disagree. He’s in too small sweatpants, sitting cross legged at the kitchen table and cradling his coffee mug in his hands.

“What should I do, though?” Louis asks, needing something to keep himself busy. He’d heard that weddings were a busy event, full of planning and set up, and yet he can’t think of a single helpful thing to occupy himself with.

“I now pronounce you man and husband.” Niall practices under his breath from the couch.

Liam sets down a giant pot of noodles, nearly too big for him to hold. “Well, I’m going to finish making us some food, and then Matilda and I will be off to pick up your cake.”

Louis steals a glance at Zayn, stage whispering “You realize you’ve just entered into a relationship with a guy who named his car Matilda, right? I’ll distract while you run.”

Zayn looks intrigued. “Is that who Matilda is? I’ve been wondering who the secret girl Liam’s been spending all his time with is.”

Louis rolls his eyes.

Liam clears his throat, looking pointedly at Louis. “And you should be in English right now, I believe.”

“Oh.” Louis blinks. He’d forgotten it was a Thursday. “I forgot about class.”

“What’s new, mate?” Niall asks, shrugging. “I’m skipping, me head hurts.”

“I went this morning.” Liam informs them. He had planned out his schedule for the semester to have early classes during the mornings and free afternoons. Louis’ schedule is significantly more of a wreck, with odd gaps in which he either comes home or lounges around on campus. He should definitely be in English Literature right now.

“It’s our wedding day.” Harry declares, and Louis is pretty sure it’s the first thing he’s said all morning other than the string off curse words he’d grumbled when Louis had woken him up. “I took off of work for this.”

“Well I would bloody well hope you would take off of work to get married,” Louis begins sarcastically, and Harry shoots him a look.

“Get some clothes on,” Harry tells him, ironically. Harry himself is wearing sweatpants and nothing else. Louis at least is fully clothed. Before he can comment, Harry continues “We’re going to decorate the venue.”

Louis salutes his future husband, glad to feel like he has a job to do, and strips out of his joggers in the middle of the room. There’s a pair of jeans lying on the couch, probably Niall’s, and he pulls them on quickly. They fit him surprisingly well. “Ready.”

Harry sighs, but shrugs and disappears into Liam’s room to borrow a shirt.

Liam shakes his head. “If it weren’t your wedding day, Styles…” He threatens.

Harry strides over to his friend, pinching his cheek. “Love you too, Liam.” He coos. “Don’t overcook the chicken.” Then he turns on his heel and walks out, waving at the remaining boys as he walks down the hall.

Louis follows.

 

-

 

He doesn’t know what he was expecting when Harry had said they were off to decorate the venue, but standing in a children’s playground five minutes from their building with two large tote bags of previously purchased craft items is certainly not it.

“Harry,” Louis says flatly, interrupting Harry as he muses aloud about whether or not caterpillars know when they see butterflies that they are related. It might have only been a short walk, but Harry filled the time well with his ramblings. Louis would never admit it, but he enjoyed every minute.

“Yes?” Harry turns to Louis, looking curious and expectant.

“This is a children’s playground.” Louis says.

“It is.” Harry agrees, looking mildly disappointed that Louis hadn’t interrupted to contribute to his quandary about butterflies.

This is the venue you chose?” Louis asks, incredulous.

“There’s a gazebo!” Harry replies, pointing to the wooden structure nearby. “It’s perfect. Do you not like it?” His brow furrows worriedly, and Louis wants to laugh out loud.

“It’s not what I pictured when you said ‘park,’ but it’ll do, I suppose.” Louis answers truthfully.

“How many grassy parks do you know of in London that we can have to ourselves for a night to get married for free?” Harry counters. “It’s great.”

Louis can’t argue that, so he helps Harry drag four picnic tables in front of the gazebo, setting a candle and a fake flower on each one. Harry haphazardly hangs the white fabric all around the gazebo, adding some more candles along the gazebo railings.

“Candles are romantic.” Harry tells him.

Louis hadn’t realized that their wedding needed to be romantic – they were getting married for financial aid the last time he checked. Not knowing how to respond, Louis says neutrally, “That they are, Hazza.”

His phone buzzes, and he turns away from the sight that is Harry clad in Liam’s clothes hanging white fabric around a children’s playground. It’s a text from Liam, starting a new group chat between the five of them. Louis rolls his eyes, even though no one is around to see. Liam is always deleting their old messages to make space and keep order on his phone. The result is him starting a new group chat every time they need to talk, and creating chaos for everyone else. Louis probably has nearly 20 identical groupchats for the five of them on his phone.

The message Liam sent is a picture of the food he’s prepared, which includes a hilarious amount of spaghetti, lemonade, and what Louis’ suspects was prebought frozen pizza. Niall replies immediately, telling Liam the food looks great and renaming the latest group chat Men of Matrimony pt. 1.

pt 1? Louis texts back. Then, Looking good, Liam! Thx.

 Zayn & Liam’s weddin will be pt 2 Niall replies, and Louis laughs out loud. on me way to occupy the park, don’t leave yet!

“S’cuse me, mister?” A small voice pipes up loudly, startling Louis. There’s a young boy standing in front of him, holding a football.

“What can I do for you, mate?” Louis asks, smiling kindly and squatting down to the boy’s height.

“What are you doing with all the lighty-things?” The kid asks.

Louis glances around. He has to admit, there is an alarming number of candles. “We’re setting up for a wedding later,” He tells the boy.

“It looks scary.” The kid informs him. “Want to play footie?”

Louis doesn’t know this precocious boy with the football, but he has never turned down a game in his life and doesn’t plan on it now.

He’s beating the boy, who he’d learned is named Aiden, by one point when Niall shows up in a fancy suit, sprinting through the grass and kicking the ball straight past him into the makeshift goal.

“Oi! Niall!” Louis shouts, running after the ball.

“Tie!” Aiden cheers, high fiving Niall eagerly.

Louis kicks it back towards the pair, jogging over to sling an arm around Niall. “Look at you, mate!” He says, tugging at the lapel of Niall’s suit. “All dressed up.”

“Which you should be too,” Niall reminds him, laughing and taking a seat at one of the picnic tables.

Aiden runs up to Louis then, tugging at his shirt. “My mum’s here to pick me up, mister.”

“Okay,” Louis says, looking up. There’s a lady smiling and watching them, who he presumes is the boy’s mum. She waves at them, and Louis waves back. “Thanks for the game, kid. You were great.”

“Can I come to your wedding?” Aiden asks, big blue eyes blinking up at Louis pleadingly. “I’ve got to be home by eight, but I’ve never been to a wedding before. My sister says there’s always good cake.”

Louis beams at Aiden fondly. “You sure can. It starts at six,” He glances around dramatically before whispering loudly, “But if you’re only coming for the cake, seven’s the time to come.”

Aiden nods eagerly and runs off, shouting excitedly to his mum about how he’s going to his first wedding.

“You and kids,” Niall comments, grinning. “They’re such a handful, but they always take a shine to you.”

Louis shrugs. “Got enough siblings to know how to get them to like me, I suppose. Maybe they can sense it.”

Niall nods good-naturedly, but he looks hesitant.

“You okay?” Louis asks.

Niall looks at him for a moment before blurting out, “What if I fuck up your wedding ceremony?” His Irish accent is strong and the words blur together in his distress, but Louis understands him clearly.

“Nialler,” Louis says kindly, trying not to laugh at his friend’s worries. “It’s me and Harry. I know it’s turned into a huge thing, but it’s not that serious, you know? It’s still us.”

Niall looks unconvinced.

“You won’t fuck up.” Louis assures him, before adding “And even if you do, there’s nothing to fuck up. Our wedding is going to be a disaster in the best of ways, like all weddings are.”

“What the fuck kinds of weddings have you been to?” Niall laughs, but he seems more like his lighthearted self again. “You and Harry are good, yeah?”

Louis nods. “Surprisingly, yeah. There’s been some moments, but mostly nothing’s changed.”

“Good.” Niall says, smiling. “Have you decided between Styles and Tomlinson yet?”

“Styles, definitely.” Harry interrupts, walking over and brushing his hands together as if he has just completed some hard labor.

Louis peers behind his tall figure to see what exactly he’s been doing all this time. To say the gazebo behind him looks interesting would be an understatement. The cheap fabric Harry had bought actually looks good initially, hung in carefully flowing arches around the gazebo. About halfway through, however, you can see where Harry ran out of linen and began using the discount scraps. The varying fabric types, square sizes, and shades of white bring an abruptly mishmashed look to the decorations. It’s odd, but it doesn’t necessarily look bad. Louis doesn’t give much of a fuck about the appearances of their wedding anyways, and he rather likes the character it brings.

“Tomlinson.” Louis argues, frowning at Harry, who is smirking like he’s already won.

Niall sighs, shaking his head. “Figure it out, will ya? The decorations look…unique, by the way.”

“It’s the best I could do.” Harry says.

“Yeah, you should take on a fourth job as a wedding decorator.” Niall jokes. Louis laughs, but he can’t help the pleasant warmth that spreads through him with the knowledge that Harry doesn’t have to try to look for a fourth job.

Harry seems to be thinking along the same lines, smiling gratefully at Louis.

“Anyways,” Niall continues, glancing between the pair with a grin. “I’m here to watch over your decorations and make sure no kids come and mess anything up. So, you two can head home and put on some suits and get the last minute things you need to do done.”

Louis loves Niall.

They start to walk home, and it’s not until Louis looks back and sees Niall swinging on the swingset that the reality of the situation sets in, breathing nervous butterflies into his stomach.

Tonight’s the night he marries Harry.

 

-

 

The final hours leading up to the wedding are a blur for Louis.

He doesn’t remember taking a shower, but he knows he did, steaming up the bathroom in the way that always annoys Harry - “Lou we’re going to get mold!” is a lecture Louis has received many times. He doesn’t remember opting to leave his hair in sideswept fringe rather than styling it up into a quiff, but he supposes it was a decision made out of laziness. He doesn’t remember getting dressed either, but he thinks he probably agonized more than normal over the tight fit of his suit.

He does remember, however, Harry. Harry had hopped out of the shower clad in a white towel, making a joke about how the towel color he’d chosen was symbolic for their wedding day. He had stressed about whether to hope his hair would dry in time or to blow dry it and risk it being overly fluffy during the wedding. He had put on his plain black suit before glancing at Louis and deciding that they looked too similar, donning a cream suit with a black floral pattern instead. Louis remembers wondering absently when Harry had amassed such a collection of vibrant suits, and more prominently how it was possible for Harry to look so effortlessly good.

He vaguely remembers a phone call from Lottie, telling him that Gemma had driven like a maniac to get them there early and that they had already arrived with Harry’s mum, Anne, and were waiting with Niall at the park. She had scolded him for the decorations, but sounded happy for him overall. His mum had called as well, shortly after Lottie, to announce that she had arrived with four fussy children and to insist on him sending pictures of himself to her because if his outfit looked anything like the venue, he’d be disowned.

He’s in the backseat of Matilda now, on his way to the park. Liam is driving, of course, and Zayn had called shotgun before Louis had even known they would be taking the car. Harry is sitting beside him, separated by the middle seat on which they had piled the pasta noodles and sauce that Liam had insisted on transporting last so it would be as hot as possible.

“It’s a wedding with our families, no one is going to mind if the pasta isn’t fresh off the stove.” Louis had reasoned, but despite it being his wedding, he had been promptly shot down.

Harry had apparently convinced Liam in a bet at some point during the bachelor’s party last night to let him borrow Matilda after the wedding for a grand honeymoon exit, and Matilda is currently sporting ‘JUST MARRIED’ in white washable paint on her rear window. Liam is grumbling about how it’s practically vandalism and makes it hard for him to see, and the normalcy of it all startles Louis.

He had expected today to feel immense, like his life was about to change. But he feels like himself, like he’s on his way to a park for a shitty barbecue with his ridiculous friends and nothing else.

“Crazy we’re about to get married, innit?” Louis asks Harry.

Harry chuckles. “Getting cold feet? Gonna be a bit hard for you to leave me at the altar considering there isn’t one.”

Louis smiles. “That’s the only reason I’m not,” He confesses teasingly.

“Oi!” Niall’s voice carries through the open car windows before Harry can retaliate, and Liam parks easily. There’s a low din of voices as the guests mingle amongst themselves, but Niall’s voice carries over them. “The lovebirds are here!”

Louis chuckles, waving back to the blonde figure grinning at them.

It’s a less than graceful entrance, and certainly not traditional at all. Harry and Louis spend the first few minutes after their arrival struggling to carry the pot of noodles over to one of the picnic tables as Liam and Zayn follow with the sauce. Zayn spills marinara on his white shirt, but otherwise the transporting goes without incident. Their families, who were talking idly before their arrival, hover over them until the food has been placed securely before they smother them with hugs.

Louis crouches down to hug Ernest and Doris first, and Phoebe and Daisy run up to join in as well. It’s been a few months since he’s seen his younger siblings, and he can’t help but feel emotional at how they’ve grown even over the short period of time. They’re all dressed in their Sunday best, Ernest in a small suit and the girls in pretty pastel dresses, and it makes Louis’ heart swell as if it was his real wedding.

“Is it true you’re gonna be a husband after this?” Phoebe asks.

“And Harry is also gonna be a husband?” Daisy echoes, smiling.

Louis scoops up Ernest, clad in a small suit, and lets Doris hug his leg happily as he turns to the older pair of twins. “That’s right.” He says, nodding.

“Does that make him family?” Phoebe questions, crinkling her nose in concentration.

Louis laughs. “Brother in law.” He says, smiling wide. “So yes, officially part of the family.”

“He already practically was part of the family.” Fizzy interjects from where she’s standing next to Louis’ mum. “Came over during hols last year and everything.”

“Are you…” Daisy glances at Jay furtively before whispering. “Dating?”

Jay laughs loudly, pulling Daisy in for a hug. “You aren’t allowed to date, young lady, because you’re not even to secondary school yet. It’s alright for Louis, though, because he’s older.”

“I want to be older.” Daisy pouts.

“Make way!” Liam calls out.

“CAKE!” Ernest and Doris shriek immediately as they see Liam and Zayn carrying the cake towards the picnic table stacked with all of the food.

The kids skirt out of the way before quickly following along to see what the cake looks like and to try to swipe some icing. Fizzy follows to babysit and make sure that none of them actually get away with a fingerful of frosting.

“Come here.” Jay says, trusting Fizzy to watch over the youngest two. She beams at Louis and opens her arms for a hug. “I’m so proud of you, baby.”

Louis lets himself embrace his mum, and it feels like home in a way that he didn’t know was possible while being hundreds of kilometers away from Doncaster.

                She hugs him tight, pressing a kiss to his temple and whispering, “And I love you no matter what. You know that, right?”

“Yes, mum.” Louis says, pretending to roll his eyes and earning a swat on his shoulder for it. He grins at her. “I love you too.”

“Well if mum isn’t going to lecture you, allow me.” Lottie says, slinging an arm around his neck that quickly turns from a friendly hug into a chokehold.

“Lottie!” Louis gasps out, laughing despite his sister’s irritation. He twists to turn her hold on him into a hug, and she lets him willingly.

“You’re still stupid.” She tells him when she finally pulls back.

“I know.” He agrees, shrugging but smiling. He can’t seem to stop smiling today.

“It seems a little less stupid, though. Now that I see the two of you together.” Lottie admits softly. She sounds significantly more serious than Louis had expected her to be.

“Why?” He asks, surprised.

“Because he’s just as stupid as you,” Lottie answers easily, the solemn look on her face vanishing as she gives his arm a punch for good measure before going to help Fizzy with holding Doris and Ernest’s curious hands back from the cake.

His family having made themselves scarce, Louis takes a moment to survey the scene. Niall is standing just in front of the gazebo, talking animatedly to Perrie, who Louis admittedly had forgotten was coming. Zayn is by the public water fountain, doing his best to scrub at the sauce stain on his sleeve. Liam, lighter in hand, is inside the gazebo attempting to light the many candles that Harry had set up. The gazebo looks slightly sacrificial, but Louis decides to turn a blind eye.

Harry himself is standing not too far from Louis, talking with Gemma and Anne. Gemma looks exasperated, but Anne is smiling broadly so Louis takes that to be a good sign. To his surprise, there are some faces present that he doesn’t recall inviting. Harry has asked some friends of his to be there, apparently, because Louis sees the familiar red hair of their mutual friend Ed talking to the skinny figure that is their less-mutual friend Nick. Louis can’t help but feel bad that the closest person to a friend he invited is Perrie, who is only here due to an unlucky elevator and her sheer enthusiasm about the platonic wedding.

Louis is still surveying the small crowd when he sees a familiar face walking towards him. “SURPRISE!” The person yells, and Louis feels himself freeze in shock as he identifies who it is.

“Stan! What are you doing here?” Louis demands, crushing his childhood friend in a fierce hug. It’s been nearly a year since they’ve seen each other. Stan has grown out a beard, and he looks more mature and confident than Louis has ever seen him. Still, Louis would recognize him anywhere. He doesn’t think he’s ever had a better surprise in his life than this, including the time Lottie had surprised him with concert tickets to see The Fray.

“Drove down just for you, mate.” Stan tells him. “Harry invited me. Said you didn’t know it yet, but you’d regret it if you didn’t invite me and he’d rather it be a surprise than him telling you what to do.”

Louis can’t do anything other than give Stan a watery smile.

“You’ve turned into a right mess since I’ve last seen you, Lou.” Stan teases, eyes twinkling as he falls right back into taking the piss out of his best friend. “Gone and gotten yourself hitched without even dating the bloke, or at least that’s what the rumors say.”

Louis bursts out laughing. “Did Harry not tell you? We’re marrying so he can get on scholarship.”

Stan raises his eyebrows. “Is that all, then? Because as far as I know, the road to financial aid doesn’t usually involve marriage.” Louis can’t manage a response, but he flushes red and Stan smirks. “Knew it.”

Louis opens his mouth to defend himself, but is interrupted before whatever weak reply he has is able to emerge.

“Ahem.” There’s a clinking sound and an echoing voice, and Louis turns to see Niall tapping a fork against a coffee mug. They don’t have enough champagne flutes or wine glasses to provide proper cutlery for everyone, so a number of guests have varying styles of cups. “Thank you.” Niall says, and Louis has no idea where he got the microphone from or when, but he’s now holding up a mic that amplifies his voice unnecessarily loudly across the park. “If we could all take a seat, there’s nametags that should at least be somewhat legible placed around the picnic tables.”

“I’m happy for you, mate.” Stan says quietly, giving Louis an approving nod and squeezing his shoulder. Before Louis has a chance to attempt to deny his feelings for Harry, Stan disappears to join the rest of the guests in trying to find their seats.

Louis sighs, turning away from the guests and going over to where Harry, Liam, Zayn, and Niall are all standing on the steps of the gazebo. Before he even arrives, Niall is shooing him away, leaning away from the microphone to hiss “Go stand over by that tree. Come over when you hear the cue.”

“Why? What cu-” Louis splutters, but is shoved in the direction Niall had pointed by Zayn before he can finish.

“You’ll know.” Zayn assures him.

Louis huffs, but obeys, trying not to look too petulant as he walks over to the tree Niall had indicated.

“I just want to start by thanking you all for coming out tonight.” Niall’s voice comes lilting over the microphone again once everyone is seated.

“It’s a wedding, Niall, not a concert.” Liam hisses.

“Excuse me, who is the certified officiant here?” Niall asks, turning away from the mic only slightly. The audience chuckles softly.

Liam holds his hands up in defense and shrugs.

“We are gathered here tonight to bear witness to the holy matrimony of Mr. Harry Edward Styles and Mr. Louis William Tomlinson.” He pauses for effect, seeming to be waiting for something. After a moment, Stan lets out a hoot and a slow clap, and Niall finally continues. “Before we get started, I would like to add in a disclaimer that this is my first time officiating a wedding, and I will be following instructions from e-how.” More chuckles from the audience. “I am not, however, sponsored, although I wish I was. Would’ve made paying for the alcohol a bit easier. Also, they are not liable for any mistakes I make in this wedding, although I wish they were.”

Everyone is at least smiling now, and Louis can’t help but think that Niall has done a great job in getting the audience on the same page as the rest of the boys in the lack of seriousness of the wedding that is about to occur. He flashes Niall a thumbs up.

“Great. So, here we go.” Niall says, grinning.

Next to him, Harry lifts up a guitar and begins strumming. Louis watches in confusion. He remembers Harry waking him up on the day of their ‘date’ by playing guitar. Maybe he was practicing to be the live entertainment at their wedding as well as one of the grooms. There are more twangy notes that Louis winces at than there are good ones, and he can’t help but wonder how Harry can have such a lovely voice and yet no instrumental talent. Shaking his head fondly, Louis manages to tear his eyes away from Harry to see how the audience is taking his impromptu entertainment.

Louis expects to find cringing faces and forced smiles as he skims over the audience’s faces. What he doesn’t expect, is for everyone’s eyes to be glued to him. Louis stares blankly back at them for a moment before his brain catches up to the situation.

“Oh my god,” Louis says under his breath, as he finally puts a name to the tune of the song that Harry is playing - Here Comes the Bride.

This is his cue, then. Louis resists rolling his eyes at the theatrics - he’s sure his mum is filming and would appreciate that – and slowly begins to step down the path towards the gazebo.

Harry is watching him like he only has eyes for him, and Louis is suddenly grateful for the absurdity of their wedding ceremony. If it was just Harry looking at him like he hung the moon, Louis might just start to believe it was real. As is, however, there’s a poorly played version of Here Comes the Bride pinging through the air, the officiant clearly has e-how’s webpage open on his phone, and his best man has a stain on his sleeve that is a disturbing shade of red.

Harry has a shit-eating grin on his face, looking far too pleased with his musical abilities for someone who has most of the audience cringing. Louis tries and fails to not find it hopelessly endearing.

“Nice!” Niall whispers as Louis reaches the gazebo. “Did you know e-how has an app?”

Louis actually does roll his eyes this time, as he watches Niall press the download button on his phone. There’s some clunking as Harry sets Niall’s guitar to the side, still proud as ever. “I love you,” Louis says patronizingly, partly to fill the silence as Niall waits for his phone to load and partly because he is offended that he was left out on the plan to have him walk down the aisle. “But stick to singing, okay love?”

Harry laughs, along with most of their families, before pulling a fake pout and mimicking Louis’ accent as he retorts “Let’s insult my talents when we aren’t in the middle of getting married, okay love?”

The delivery was seamless, Louis will give him that. The audience laughs even more loudly and Louis shakes his head, ducking to hide a fond smile.

“Alright!” Niall’s voice is back, the e-how app downloaded and running on his phone. “So, this is the part of the wedding in which I am supposed to share a reading of some kind – poems, religious texts, or literary passages. But instead, I’m going to tell you some stories about my two mates here today, Harry and Louis.”

Harry raises his eyebrows, exchanging a wide eyed look with Louis who mimics the gesture to indicate he doesn’t know what Niall is about to say either.

“So, I figure we need an introduction as to how we all got here tonight.” Niall begins, his voice blasting across the park. It’s only just past six, and the sun is beginning to sink behind the hills, but the park itself is deserted save for their wedding processions. “Believe it or not,” Niall says, stepping away from the mic so his voice carries only slightly louder than it normally would. “This Styles-Tomlinson wedding has been in the making for a long time now.”

Louis wants to snort at that. A week isn’t really considered a long time, especially for planning a wedding. He’s pretty sure he hears Lottie scoff from the crowd.

Niall shakes his head, hastily backtracking. “Not concretely, of course. But I can’t say I was surprised when Lou told me he was going to be marrying Harry.” There are murmurs of agreement from the audience that Louis isn’t quite sure how to feel about.

“I met Louis and Harry the fall of my freshman year.” Niall says. “Even then, in his first year, Harry was working two jobs – the bakery and the radio station, if I’m remembering this right.” Harry nods stiffly, and Niall smiles at him. “There was one night, the three of us were playing FIFA together as always. And Harry had to leave to cover the evening slot at the radio station.” Nick, who runs the school radio, snaps his fingers in quiet acknowledgement and Niall points at him, nodding. Louis wonders if Harry knew to invite Nick for Niall’s story. “Our chemistry professor sent out an email shortly after Harry left, announcing a last minute quiz to be held the next day. We texted Harry right away, of course, but what sticks with me the most is Lou’s reaction to the whole thing.”

Louis feels himself go still. He remembers that night clearly. He’d mostly been upset at Harry leaving, as that was before they lived together when all he ever wanted was to be around the green-eyed boy from down the hall as much as possible. He had whined to Niall about how awful it was that Harry had to juggle two jobs plus his school schedule, especially with unreliable professors and clubs he was involved in as well. That had been shortly after Harry had begun his second job at the radio station, and he had been so eager to please that he had been neglecting to take any time for himself.

Niall is looking at Louis now, and Louis gives him a small smile. “Louis went on for a good hour about how unfair it was, telling me how Harry deserved so much more than working shitty jobs every day and sleeping for only four hours every night. He wished there was a way to help, to do something, and I told him that there wasn’t anything we could do except be there for him as friends.” Niall pauses, taking a breath. “Turns out, I was wrong. Guess we should have been there for him as husbands.”

There’s more laughs, and Louis nods in acknowledgement. Niall has a way with people, and he has already got the crowd wrapped around his finger for sure.

 “So, a week ago? – yeah, a week ago, Louis came to me announcing that he’d leaped headfirst into a plan to marry Harry to get him on scholarship. I didn’t think of it myself, or expect it at all, but I wasn’t surprised to hear it. And if you know Louis and Harry, you probably weren’t surprised either. I guess Louis finally found a way to do something.”

Niall pauses, and the air hangs full of unspoken words and unclear implications.

But then he continues, pulling a grin as he lightens the mood by concluding “And so that is why today we are here, to marry these lovesick idiots of best friends.”

“Oi!” Louis calls out, pretending to be offended. The act falls far short, because Harry is looking at him like he’s seeing him for the first time and Louis can’t bring himself to look away, not even to glare at Niall for calling them idiots at their own wedding.

“So.” Niall is glancing at his phone again, and Louis sees him tap a box next to Minister Actions to check it off. The next section reads Exchange of Vows. Niall pockets his phone, nodding to Louis and Harry. “Take it away, lads.”

Louis takes a deep breath, mentally sorting out what he’s going to say.

“I-” Harry blurts, grabbing Louis’ hand to get his attention. He looks somewhat panicked. “Can I go first?”

Louis nods, squeezing Harry’s hand reassuringly. He doesn’t see how it makes much of a difference. “Sure.”

Harry drops Louis’ hand to pull a crumpled piece of paper out of his suit pocket, but intertwines their fingers once more immediately afterwards. The gesture blurs the line for Louis again, but he doesn’t let go. If they’re getting married platonically, surely they can hold hands platonically.

“Louis.” Harry begins, and his voice is lower and quieter than Louis had expected, like there’s no one else there but them. The audience fades from Louis’ senses and his stomach twists nervously at the sudden tension in the air. Harry exhales slowly, like he’s preparing himself for something, and with the air rushing out of his lungs his worry seems to fade as well. He smiles, dimples on display, and it’s aimed solely at Louis.

The somber atmosphere is weird. They should be joking, telling embarrassing stories about each other, priding themselves on pulling the ultimate con. But it feels real. Harry is looking at him with something in his eyes that Louis can only describe as love - and he knows it’s not like that, that Harry’s love for him is much more like his own love for Lottie than anything else - but he can’t convince the hammering of his heart of that fact.

“Louis.” Harry repeats, and he’s looking at Louis as if he is the sun. “I don’t think there are words for what I want to say to you, so forgive me if this doesn’t come out quite right.”

And well, that’s odd, because didn’t Harry prewrite his vows? Louis glances down at the paper Harry is holding, and sees that it’s blank save for some badly drawn stick figures. He wonders for the umpteenth time why is this is the dork that he’s in love with.

“I met you in the loo freshman year, and I’ve never been more grateful for anything in my life.” Harry says, and it’s meaningful and urgent in a way that has Louis gripping Harry’s hand tighter to anchor himself. He decides to categorize the things Harry says in an attempt to keep himself grounded.

“You swept into my life that day, setting me straight and spiraling me out of control at the same time. And we clicked right away, y’know? I don’t think I’ve ever had that instant connection with anyone before.” Real.

 “You drive me mad sometimes, but you also take the best care of me. You’ve been watching out for me since day one, from making sure I don’t drink too much, to tucking me in when I do, and everything in between.” Real.

“You make me laugh when I’m sad, make me study when I’m lazy, make me get out of bed when I’m stubborn. You make me a better person, Lou. And when the biggest thing of all hit me, being faced with being kicked out of uni, you were right there taking care of me just like you always do.” Real.

“I vow to take care of you like you do to me. I vow to be the kind of person that deserves you. I vow to be the best, best friend you could ever imagine. Because that’s what you are to me.” Real.

Louis sucks in a breath at Harry’s last words, though, because they are a much needed douse of cold water and it brings him crashing back to reality. He’s Harry’s best friend. Nothing more. He really needs to remember that. It’s just hard to do so when Harry is waxing poetry with his pretty pink lips, holding Louis’ hand and vowing to take care of him forever.

Harry hesitates, but then he adds softly, “I love you. And I vow to always love you.”

Louis doesn’t know what to make of that. Harry loves him as his best, best friend. And always will. He supposes that’s real, too. But something about the way Harry says it makes Louis feel like it suggests so much more.

Louis clears this throat softly, trying to keep his imagination from the better of him. He’s aware that he is putting an unintended romantic twist on everything Harry has said, and he knows it needs to stop. He needs to say his vows as Harry’s best friend, not blurt out an incoherent profession of his love.

“I love you too,” He says, and he means for it to be nonchalant but it comes out full of emotion. He clears his throat again, barely able to hear himself over the pounding of his heart.

Harry’s presence is overwhelming; Louis’ senses are alight with Harry’s touch in his hand, Harry’s eyes on his face, Harry’s body so close and yet too far. He looks up at him, and is met with a gaze of surprising intensity. Harry’s face is now a mask, and though Louis can’t fully tell what he is feeling, he has some guesses. Harry looks hopeful. Happy.

The sun is finally disappearing along the horizon, and Louis is almost certain that Harry must have planned it deliberately, the way the deep orange rays of light flood the park. The wedding looks surprisingly picturesque, the glowing light softening the edges of their rough decorations. And Harry, well - Harry looks ethereal.

His hair is somewhat unruly, windswept and curling around his shoulders. His suit is a gaudy pattern, and one of the buttons of his shirt has come undone. The glint in his eyes is child-like and manic, and his dimples seem to be permanently etched deep into his cheeks. There’s sweat above his brow, and also on his hands.

Louis has never seen someone so beautiful.

He wants to write poetry, take photos, paint masterpieces. He wants to capture this moment and make it timeless. Harry is a work of art, and Louis will only have his mum’s iPhone video to remember him by.

The silence has stretched on a bit too long now, and Louis realizes it with a sudden panicked constriction of his chest. But he doesn’t know how to fill it, can’t think of anything to say to Harry that’s not “You’re so beautiful, you’ve always been so beautiful, and I think I fell in love with you the day I laid eyes on you back in the dorm bathroom freshman year.” He can’t think of anything to vow to Harry that’s not “I’ve loved you every day for the past 3 years, and I vow that I always will.” He can’t say this, though. He has to keep it as friendly as possible, even if Harry is looking at him like he might just love him too.

Louis’ original plan had been to go for the dramatic, to thank the audience for their support of the greatest con in their university’s history and to vow that he and Harry would always be partners in crime. But somehow it feels wrong after what Harry has said. It’s too impersonal, too dismissive of everything Louis feels.

“You tell the worst jokes.” Louis blurts. He doesn’t know what he’s saying, but the words are tumbling out of him before he can think twice. “You’re always making awful puns. They’re never funny, except they always are because it’s you.”

Harry laughs out loud, looking surprised but pleased, and it spurs Louis on.

“You’re so ridiculous, too.” Louis continues, his emotions building up with an inexplicable vehemence. “You took me on a date to a craft store at six in the morning, and made horrendously uncultured comments all throughout a wine tasting, and played Here Comes the Bride probably for only the second time in your life at our wedding. It’s ridiculous and embarrassing and I loved every minute.”

Harry is smirking now, watching Louis with a smile that’s fond and something else that Louis can’t quite put his finger on.

“You’re so bloody tall.” Louis says. “You take up more than half the bed whenever you crash with me, and all of the couch whenever you’re there and yet you still insist on being the little spoon. It makes no sense, but no matter how much I grumble and complain about how you should bugger off, I never actually want you to leave.”

Harry squeezes his hand, and there’s something in his eyes that makes Louis feel like Harry understands more than he gives him credit for.

“You drive me crazy in the best of ways. I actually cannot picture my life without you in it, and I don’t want to. It’s because of who you are. You’re so unafraid to be yourself, and I love you for it.” Louis feels himself flush at the admission, but Harry is smiling so he thinks it’s okay - thinks it could pass as the type of love best friends feel.

“So,” Louis says, his nerves fading into a strange sense of calm. “The other day, you told me a story.”

Harry draws in a sharp breath.

“It was about how once I said to you, that it was always going to be you and me against the world. I didn’t actually remember that happening, so I want to say it again. That’s my vow to you. Whether it’s us getting through uni, standing up to the financial aid system, dealing with shitty jobs, or whatever else life throws at us – I vow to always be by your side for it. I can’t promise that we’ll always make it out on top, but I do promise that it will always be the two of us. You and me, against the world.”

Harry’s eyes are shining with emotion, and his smile has gone somewhat watery. Louis would make fun of him for it, but he’s pretty sure he looks the same.

Niall clears his throat, looking between the two of them in disbelief. “Well.” He says, taking the microphone back and giving Louis and Harry a stern look. “That was supposed to be a quick vow, not a love declaration.”

Louis can’t tell if it’s supposed to be a joke or not, but he also can’t bring himself to break eye contact with Harry to check Niall’s expression. There are soft chuckles from the audience, though, so he supposes it must have been.

“Louis,” Niall says, but Louis still doesn’t look away. “Do you take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health?”

“I do.”

“Harry, do you also take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health?”

“I do.”

Zayn and Liam step up to Niall, holding out silver rings that Louis doesn’t recognize.

“Dollar Tree,” Harry mouths with a shrug, and Louis doesn’t know whether to laugh and cry at how much he loves this ridiculous boy.

Niall holds up the rings for the audience to see. “I bless these rings as a symbol of unity. These two lives will now join together. Wherever they go – may they always return to one another. May these two find in each other the love for which all yearn.” He pauses dramatically before asking, “Can you believe I got that off of Yahoo! Answers?”

Louis hadn’t realized he was holding his breath until the laugh bubbles out of him and he nearly chokes. His outburst is acceptable though, because most of the audience is chuckling with him. He meets his mum’s gaze, and finds her beaming at him with wet eyes.

Zayn and Liam pass the rings to Louis and Harry, respectively. The park goes silent, like a blanket of seriousness has descended over them despite Niall’s joking. But then Harry meets Louis’ gaze, wiggling his eyebrows and the moment is broken. Louis grins, extending his left hand and Harry slides the cool piece of plastic onto his fourth finger easily. Then, Harry holds out his hand and Louis does the same, his hands only trembling slightly.

“If anyone has any reason why these two should not be lawfully wed, speak now or forever hold your peace.” Niall says loudly, but the audience remains quiet.

“I’m ready to object just because they’re both so bloody blind,” Zayn grumbles under his breath to Liam. Louis’ mind races to process what his friend has said, but before he can fully grasp it, Niall is continuing.

“In that case,” He says to the audience. “By the power vested in me, though it really probably should not be, I now pronounce you husband and husband.” Niall pauses, and there is a tentative smattering of applause before he continues. “You may now kiss the groom.”

They had briefly discussed this beforehand, how awkward it would be to opt for a hug and how uncomfortable it would be to share a meaningless first kiss in front of their families. They had decided to go for a quick kiss on both cheeks, a middle compromise.

But as Louis leans towards Harry’s right cheek, he notices that Harry isn’t moving. Harry isn’t that much taller than Louis, but it would be nice if he ducked down to make it easier. Louis absolutely refuses to go on his toes for this.

“Lou.” Harry’s voice comes as a choked whisper, and Louis freezes.

He panics.

Is Harry having regrets already? Has he realized that Louis has feelings for him and doesn’t want to go through with it anymore? Is this awkward for him even though they’re only kissing each other’s cheeks?

But then there are long fingers tilting up his chin, imploring eyes meeting his own, and soft lips too close and yet too far. “Can I kiss you?” Harry asks, breathing the question quietly so that only Louis is able to hear.

It’s an out, Louis realizes. Harry is scared that he will say no, and is giving him a chance to fall back on kissing each other’s cheeks in case he wants to keep this fully platonic. And that’s unbelievable to Louis, that Harry could even entertain the idea that he would ever reject him.

He isn’t sure how he does it, how his heart hasn’t jack-rabbited straight out of his body and left him as a stunned shell of his former self, but Louis nods, wrapping his arms around Harry’s neck by way of answer and effectively closing the remaining distance between them.

Harry makes a surprised sound as their lips meet, like he wasn’t expecting it even though he was the one who instigated this. Louis would tease him about it if he wasn’t otherwise occupied. But as is, Harry’s lips are soft and warm against his own and he understandably doesn’t have much else on his mind.

It’s unfamiliar, of course, like all first kisses are. They bump their noses accidentally and it’s wet in a way that borderlines being gross. It turns out that Harry is that much taller than Louis, and Louis gives in to going slightly up on tiptoe.

They get the hang of it though, parted lips brushing together tentatively, tenderly. Harry holds him gently, like he might disappear at any moment, and Louis can’t help but grip Harry’s neck desperately, like this could all turn out to be a dream.

When reality still hasn’t shattered the moment, Louis finds himself relaxing, his body melting against Harry as he kisses him more deeply. Harry tastes like the fruity mints Liam had given them on the drive over, and he kisses in a slow, careful way that reminds Louis of how he talks. It’s not necessarily the best kiss Louis has ever had, and yet it most definitely is.

Niall lets out an unprofessional whistle, and it’s only then that Louis realizes the whole park had been stunned into silence. Following Niall’s lead, the audience lets out various clapping, cheering, and hooting, and Louis and Harry break apart after what is probably a bit too long to kiss at a family wedding.

“Fucking finally.” Zayn says next to them, managing to sound bored and enthusiastic at the same time.

“Pay up!” Liam crows, and Louis glimpses Zayn and Niall pulling out their wallets to hand him ten quid out of the corner of his eye.

Louis knows everyone is probably looking incredibly proud, but he can’t bring himself to tear his gaze from Harry’s smiling face to see. Harry looks radiant. The dimpled adoration directed at him is overwhelming, and Louis finds himself at a loss for words. He’s vaguely aware that his face is probably also manic with happiness, but he can’t be bothered to care.

“So,” Harry says after a moment, and it’s barely a whisper. “Is it terrible of me to ask you out on a date after we’ve just been married?”

“No.” Louis whispers back, and he’s pretty sure that his face is about to split from how widely he’s smiling.

Harry nods, looking thoughtful. “Will you let me take you out tonight?” He asks, as if Louis would ever say no.

Louis kisses him again by way of answer.

“I present to you Mr. Louis and Harry Styles!” Niall calls out, whooping happily.

There are very few things that would cause Louis to break apart from Harry, but this is one of them. He pulls back with a squawk of indignation that he will later deny, demanding, “Styles?”

Harry chuckles, and Louis feels the vibrations from it trembling through his body. “You might not have been paying attention when we filed the marriage license, and I might have taken advantage.”

“Taking advantage of your own fiancée?” Louis asks, pretending to be offended. “I’m divorcing you.” He informs him.

The statement might have been more believable if Louis wasn’t still in Harry’s arms. Niall motioning them over to sign their wedding certificate is the only reason that they do finally separate.

“Did you really just sign with a smiley face next to your name on our marriage certificate?” Harry asks once they’re done.

Louis shrugs. “It’s a moment deserving of a smiley. I’m really happy right now.”

Harry rolls his eyes, but it’s more fond than anything else. “Me too.”

 

-

 

Their families, understandably, are in a flurry of emotions.

“Louis William Tomlinson!” Jay exclaims, rounding on him as soon as they step down from the gazebo.

“Louis William Styles, actually.” Harry corrects her, looking far too pleased for someone facing his new mother-in-law.

Harry has an arm around Louis’ shoulders and it’s nice, being close to him like this. They had already been constantly close normally, but this is different. It makes Louis feel warm inside somehow.

Jay pinches the bridge of her nose, looking surprisingly frustrated considering how widely she is smiling. “You just got platonically married, but it turns out it’s not as platonic as you informed me, and there’s a strange boy telling everyone you promised him cake.”

Louis knows his mum, and easily recognizes that out of her complaints, the last part is what is currently stressing her out the most. “Ah! Aiden came.” Louis looks around before spotting the young boy playing with Daisy and Phoebe by the swingset. “Don’t worry about him, he’s invited.”

Jay sighs, and it’s probably a testament to what a hassle Louis has been growing up that she doesn’t question it further.  “Well. I just want to say that I’m very happy for both of you. Extremely unconventional, but somehow it was still a very romantic ceremony.”

“Romantic.” Harry echoes triumphantly, turning to Louis. “Told you it wasn’t too many candles.”

“Actually, it is a rather concerning amount.” Jay says truthfully, and Harry sighs.

She pulls them both in for a tight hug, the kind that only mums can give, and tells Harry to take care of her boy before disappearing to check on the rest of her children.

“Harry.” Anne’s voice rings through the air as she approaches them next, accomplishing with one stern syllable the ferocity Louis had expected from Jay when he first arrived to the park.

“Hey, mum.” Harry says weakly, turning himself and Louis around to face his mum.

“Do you mean to tell me that you used marriage as a means to get yourself financial aid and a boyfriend?”

Harry’s eyes flit to meet Louis’. “Um. I mean, I don’t know if that’s…what we are, but-”

“Yes.” Louis interrupts Harry’s uncertain rambling. “He did. And the plan is working impressively well so far, if I do say so myself.”

Harry bites his lip to control his smile, but doesn’t quite succeed. He looks adorable, and Louis is so in love with him.

Anne, however, looks pensive. After a moment, she shakes her head and sighs, saying to Harry “I suppose congratulations is due, but I do expect another wedding in your future, young man. Preferably one with a budget of over fifty pounds.”

Louis laughs, and Harry shrugs and assures her “It’s just for financial aid, mum.”

“Ah, but that’s not entirely true now is it? It’s what you were telling yourselves though, I’m sure.” Anne replies, giving them a knowing smile. Harry and Louis blush, and Anne winks. “That’s what I thought.”

Liam, Zayn, and Niall have begun distributing pasta and pizza to the guests, and a line is forming by the picnic tables for food. After Anne leaves them to get some food as well, Ed, Nick, and Stan come up briefly to give Louis and Harry their best, along with some crude jokes and knowing winks.

“Knew it was coming, mates. Would’ve had to be blind to not know it was coming.” Ed says good-naturedly. “Can’t believe it took a wedding to get you two together, though.”

 “And you were trying to act like you didn’t have feelings,” Stan scoffs. “As if you could get away with that, you were snogging him not an hour later!”

Louis doesn’t hear what Nick says to Harry, because Gemma comes up to him in the same moment, but he’s sure it is something similar.

“Louis.” Gemma says evenly. “Mind if I steal you away for a minute?”

Harry is distracted catching up with Nick, and doesn’t pay much mind to his sister guiding his husband a short distance from the rest of the crowd. She planned this, Louis thinks, absently admiring of Gemma.

“So.” Gemma begins, looking at him like a cat sizing up its prey. “I’d be lying if I said I saw this coming, because how you two went about it is beyond me, but I’ve definitely been guessing you might get together for a while.”

“Yeah?” Louis asks, mildly surprised. It’s one thing for Liam, Zayn, and Niall to say such things because they see Louis with Harry on a daily basis. Gemma, however, has seen Louis rarely.

“Oh, please.” Gemma says, a devious smirk spreading on her face. Gemma’s resemblance to Harry is striking, and Louis is almost surprised by the dimples that appear at her cheeks. “He only talks about you all the time when he calls home. He’s fancied you for ages, it seems like.”

Louis’ brain flatlines.

His shock must be evident because Gemma laughs, looking delighted. Her eyebrows arch up gleefully as she leans in towards Louis. “You really didn’t know? Harry’s bloody awful at disguising his feelings, always has been. In primary school he told a girl he liked her but in the way that he liked football in the hopes that she wouldn’t figure out that he loved football.”

Louis laughs, but his mind is still reeling. How long? he wants to ask, but he knows it’s not his place to. That’s a question for Harry, later. “I had no idea.” He admits sheepishly.

Gemma shakes her head disapprovingly. “Lottie was telling me you both were bloody idiots. Guess she’s right. We figured it out during the drive, did you know? She told me how she thought the wedding was an awful idea because you fancy Harry, and I nearly crashed the car.”

Louis flushes, shrugging a little in embarrassment. “Not my brightest idea, but it’s all worked out I’d say.”

“Thank god.” Gemma agrees. “Lottie and I were going to embark on some serious matchmaking if it hadn’t.”

Louis laughs, smiling at Gemma gratefully. He appreciates knowing that they would have gotten him and Harry together somehow anyways.

Gemma smiles at him, nodding, before leaning in with abrupt intensity, saying “And just so we’re clear, if you hurt him I will sneak into your flat, shave every hair off of your head and use it as fuel for a fire that I will burn your tea leaves and all of your homework and notes in.” Gemma’s eyes are glinting fiercely, but there’s a saccharine smile on her face. Louis gulps. “Got it?”

Louis nods, taking note to someday intimidate his sisters’ future boyfriends like this. “Got it.”

“Good.” Gemma nods, apparently satisfied, and guiding him back towards the rest of the crowd. “For the record, I’m really happy you two finally got together.”

Louis chuckles weakly. “Thanks, Gem.”

She laughs, looking pleased with herself as she gives him a hug. “Don’t look so terrified, it’s every older sibling’s duty to strike fear into the hearts of those who date their baby siblings. You should know this!”

Louis shrugs, smiling. “Yeah, well. Lottie hasn’t gotten serious with anyone yet, so I haven’t had the experience I guess.”

“Really?” Gemma asks, eyebrows shooting skywards. She gives him a pat on the back, leaning in to whisper conspiratorially “You might want to ask her about a fellow named Tommy.”

“Wha-” Louis starts to demand, but Gemma is laughing and backing away from him, disappearing into the small crowd. Louis feels a bit disgruntled but he supposes after springing a surprise wedding on Lottie, it would be hypocritical to be mad at her for not telling him the details of her romantic life.

“The other part of being an older sibling is telling embarrassing stories, and trust me, we’ll have loads of fun with that!” Gemma calls out instead of explaining further, winking before going to talk to Anne.

Louis rejoins Harry as he is about to reach the front of the food line, figuring that he’s allowed to cut on his wedding day. No one seems to mind, so he grabs a plate, letting Liam pile on noodles, Zayn pour on sauce, and Niall add a slice of pizza.

It doesn’t take too long for everyone to be served and seated, probably because the number of guests is fairly few. What does take some time is getting Ernest and Doris to behave, but the promise of cake in the near future makes that a significantly easier process than Louis had expected as well.

Louis is ready to start eating when Zayn stands, tapping a fork against a teacup filled with wine and clearing his throat loudly. Liam is standing as well, holding a plastic cup and understandably not tapping it with a utensil.

The murmurs of mingling guests die down, though they weren’t very loud to begin with, and Zayn clears his throat once more. “Thank you.” He says. “As the best men, we would like to propose a quick toast to the newlyweds.”

Louis looks up at Liam and Zayn, taken aback by the joy clear on both of their faces. Harry takes his hand, squeezing softly and Louis smiles wide.

“I think most of what there is to say has already been said,” Zayn begins, smirking. His sleeves are rolled up to his elbows and there’s more pasta sauce spilled down the front of his white shirt, evidence of his role in distributing the marinara for their meal. His collar is sticking up and his hair has fallen from the quiffed style he originally had it in, and yet he still looks better than Louis and Harry combined.

“Not that we don’t still have a lot to say about how excited we are at the turn of events,” Liam cuts in apologetically.

Zayn gives Liam a patient smile. “Of course. As many of you know, Liam and I only recently discovered mutual feelings for each other as well.” Zayn links his and Liam’s hands together, and the crowd dutifully responds with a chorus of awww’s.

“Louis was the one who helped us realize it, actually.” Liam adds in, beaming at his friend.

“And afterwards, Louis told me that he couldn’t believe we’d gone for so long being so blind.” Zayn says quietly, a small smirk at his lips. “And I said that someday, I’d be telling him the exact same thing about him and Harry.”

Liam lets out a hoot, and the crowd quickly follows with a smattering of applause.

“Today is that day.” Zayn announces, lifting his mug.

Liam follows in suit with his plastic cup. “Cheers to the newlyweds!”

“Cheers!” Zayn echoes, taking a sip. “And I told ya so.”

There’s cheers of agreement and an assortment of clinking sounds as different styled cups meet in a toast around them.

Liam presses a kiss to Zayn’s cheek, and Louis chuckles as he squeezes Harry’s hand.

“Can we eat?” Niall asks, sniffing tearfully. “You’re all adorable and I’m going to cry if we don’t move on soon.”

Everyone laughs, and a few napkins are generously passed Niall’s way.

They eat and they drink and they dance, and everyone has a great time. They cut the cake, which the children especially enjoy and Niall plays his guitar as music to dance to. Louis and Harry dance with each other, then with their mums, and then with their sisters. This process takes considerably longer for Louis, whose siblings each demand a dance until Niall has run out of songs that he knows how to play and the dancing stops. Louis gathers up a handful of the fake roses Harry had bought, tying them together and flinging his makeshift bouquet deliberately at Liam and Zayn, shouting “You’re next!”

By the end of the night, Zayn and Liam have snuck off to god-knows-where for reasons Louis doesn’t want to dwell on and Harry is sitting at a table because he kept tripping while trying to dance without music and nearly sprained his ankle. Aiden has gone home, and Louis’ sisters are all at varying stages of falling asleep. Niall and Ed have digressed from playing dance music on their guitars to jamming out with off-key chords. The candles are gradually flickering out and without Liam, who has the lighter, the crowd mingles in increasing darkness.

It smells like a mildly nauseating mix of freshly cut grass and freshly done laundry, and yet, Louis is happier than he has ever been, sitting in the progressing darkness in Harry’s arms.

 

-

 

Eventually, the wedding comes to an end.

Jay buckles a sleeping Ernest and Doris into the backseat of her car, gathering Phoebe and Daisy as well. Anne insists that she should leave too, in order to be home with enough time to rest up for work the next day. Lottie and Gemma hug their brothers and brother-in-laws goodbye and genuinely wish them well. Nick heads home to get some sleep so he can wake up bright and early for his breakfast-time radio show the next morning. Liam and Zayn reappear looking noticeably more disheveled than they had been before they left, and immediately begin packing up the leftover food and taking down decorations. Niall, Ed, and Perrie continue drinking and chatting at the tables, not in a rush to be headed home just yet.

As for Harry and Louis, after bidding their families a heartfelt goodbye, Harry takes Matilda’s keys from Liam and they head off on what is technically both their honeymoon and first date.

“Where exactly are we going?” Louis asks, sliding into the passenger’s seat as Harry holds the door open for him. “You don’t have to do that, by the way. I’m capable.”

“I’m aware.” Harry replies. “But it’s romantic.”

Louis raises a dubious eyebrow at his husband, but shrugs.

Harry gets in to the driver’s seat, winking at Louis and saying, “And I’m taking you out to a movie.”

Louis laughs, settling into his seat and propping his feet up on the dash. Liam would disapprove, but Liam isn’t paying attention. Also, it’s Louis’ wedding day. He thinks that should be a suitable excuse to get away with nearly anything.

Harry  reverses abruptly out of the parking lot with a squeal of tires that causes Liam to nearly fall from where he is standing on the gazebo railings in a heap of white fabric, shouting “If there is one scratch, you’re dead to me!”

Harry laughs loudly, waving out the window to his friend and driving much more safely as he turns onto the main road.

Louis flicks on the radio, and they drive in relative silence to wherever it is Harry is taking them. Louis hopes it’s a comfortable silence, but can’t help the anxious feeling that is pooling in his gut. There are a zillion things he could say to Harry without making it awkward, but none of these things are what he wants to talk about. He wants to ask about their relationship, about how this is going to work, about how long Harry has liked Louis too. He wants to know if it’s too soon to call this love, if Harry’s going to regret this tomorrow, if he regrets it already.

“Lou.” Harry’s voice cuts into Louis’ thoughts, and he realizes he was so caught up in his thoughts that he didn’t even notice the car coming to a stop.

“Is this a…” Louis twists to look out the window instead of meeting Harry’s eyes. There’s a large white screen in front of them, and a number of other cars in rows on a field facing it. “A drive-in movie?”

Harry’s fingers capture his wrist, and he doesn’t say anything until Louis finally turns back around to face him. “Lou,” he repeats, his eyebrows knit together in worry. Louis wants to kiss the line between his brows away.

“Yeah?” Louis chokes out. His instinct is to deflect, to ask what movie are we seeing? or say I’ve never been to a drive-in movie before but he knows Harry deserves more than that, deserves for him to be vulnerable with him rather than on defense.

“We’ve got half an hour til the movie starts.” Harry says, and there’s an intensity in his green eyes that Louis can’t look away from. Harry’s words are unhurried as unusual, his fingers still circling Louis’ wrist, and Louis feels like he’s frozen in time. “And we’re going to talk.”

Louis swallows, nodding. “About…?” He asks tentatively, knowing the answer but needing it confirmed.

“About us.” Harry supplies. His jaw is set, and he looks uneasy. Louis wants to comfort him, but he’s sure he looks the same. He doesn’t know what happened, why his excitement at the wedding has morphed into discomfort and uncertainty, but it’s like he’s been transported back in time to when Harry had taken him out and he hadn’t known where any of the boundaries were.

Still, Louis nods, giving Harry a nervous smile. “Okay.”

Harry chews on his lip for a moment, studying Louis’ face. Louis doesn’t exactly know how Harry wants to do this, where Harry wants to start, so he waits.

“Okay.” Harry echoes. Then, “Here’s how this is going to go. I’m going to talk, and you’re going to listen. And then you’re going to talk, and I’m going to listen. And then we’re going to figure out what exactly we’re doing here.”

Louis nods, feeling somewhat apprehensive. “That sounds pretty serious.”

Harry chuckles humorlessly, and unbuckles his seatbelt, choosing not to agree or disagree. Instead, he says “Do you remember that girl I dated, back during freshman year?”

Louis blinks. “Yeah.” He does remember. Harry had been effortlessly charming even as a freshman, and with trademark curls and dimples he’d had nearly anyone who met him tripping over their feet for him instantly. They usually were attracted to his looks, though. She had been the first to fall for his personality, too. When they broke up, it was the first time Louis had seen Harry cry.

“I thought I was in love with her.” Harry says lightly, and Louis is lost. He hasn’t thought about Harry’s ex-girlfriend in probably three years, and he doesn’t see how she’s relevant now. Hell, he doesn’t even remember the girl’s name.

“Okay.” Louis says, just to be saying something.

Harry gives him a tolerant look. “She was the most beautiful person who had ever showed interest in me. And she was funny, smart, and kind. She had these really pretty blue eyes and I wanted to whisk her away and marry her and start a family almost immediately after I found out we both liked each other. When she broke up with me, I was heartbroken, you remember.”

Harry grimaces, and Louis feels himself mirroring the expression automatically.

“But I don’t think I ever really loved her. I was in love with the idea of being in love.” Harry explains, shaking his head. “Still am, I think.”

Louis nods in understanding. He used to have the somewhat disillusioned idealization of falling in love and starting a family, too, so he gets where Harry is coming from.

“I tried to take a step back, and figure out what it is I’m looking for in a person, rather than just someone who has mutual feelings. And I realized, there was someone else who was funny, smart, and kind in my life. Someone else who was the most beautiful person I had, and have, ever seen. Someone else with really pretty blue eyes that I wanted to whisk away.”

Louis can’t help the breathless laugh that escapes him, aware that he probably sounds slightly hysterical. He doesn’t care though, not when he has more important things to think about – namely that Harry has liked him back since their freshman year.

“I figured it was because you had comforted me after the breakup,” Harry says, shrugging. “That it was typical to fall for your best friend. But if that were true, the feelings shouldn’t have lasted - especially not three full years.” Harry looks sheepish, blushing and adding “And it didn’t help that you only got more fit as the years went by.”

Harry goes quiet, looking expectantly at Louis. But Louis’ mouth feels dry, his mind numb. His heart is racing, blood rushing through his ears in shock. It feels surreal, like he’s imagining this somehow. Harry has had a crush on him and thought he was fit for the past three years, too.

“Lou?” Harry prods, his thumb stroking at the back of Louis’ hand.

“I-” Louis says, hesitating for a split second before abandoning his inhibitions and blurting, “I think I’m in love with you.”

The immense relief on Harry’s face is nearly comical, and if Louis wasn’t so petrified himself he would definitely either make fun of him or kiss the expression away.

“I think I fell in love with you freshman year, and never looked back.” Louis continues quietly. “And I don’t know if that’s weird, or if it’s too soon, or-”

“I’m in love with you, too.” Harry blurts, cutting Louis off and effectively stunning him into silence.

It takes a moment for Louis to find his voice. “I guess we really were blind.” He says weakly.

Harry chuckles, leaning in towards Louis with a smile spreading across his face. “Better late than never.”

Louis nods, and it’s only with that movement that he realizes just how close Harry is to him.

“Lou?” Harry asks softly, and Louis realizes he’s hoping against hope that the next words out of Harry’s mouth will be can I kiss you? again. They aren’t, though. “Does this make you my boyfriend?”

Louis laughs softly, reminded of when Harry had asked him the same thing about being his fiancée. It’s odd to think just how much has changed since then.

“Yes,” Louis says, smiling. “I think it does.”

“Me, too.” Harry agrees, dimpling cheekily. “I just wanted to make sure it was official.”

Louis lets his gaze drop to Harry’s lips for a moment before he whispers, “Can I kiss you?”

Harry smiles, leaning over the console to connect their lips. “You don’t have to ask,” He murmurs.

And then they’re kissing.

It’s different than their first kiss, more intimate. Without an audience of their loved ones and having moved past their own initial shock, there are less nerves involved. While their kiss at the wedding was mostly chaste, this one is downright filthy. Harry’s lips are still soft against his own but now they’re familiar and insistent, his tongue licking deftly into Louis’ mouth with want. Louis doesn’t know why he’s surprised by this - Harry has always been a charmer throughout uni and it only makes sense that he would have picked up some skills - but the way Harry kisses literally takes his breath away. Louis had expected it to be a little clumsy, a little wet, a little sloppy. But with Harry’s mouth unrelenting against his own, there’s no room for awkwardness whatsoever. Louis tugs at Harry’s curls, pressing closer to him and kissing him back like his life depends on it. It’s hotter than a kiss should be, and with the heat comes a feeling of need coiling in Louis’ gut. He wants to do so much, to mark the porcelain skin at the crook of Harry’s neck, to kiss all over his body and especially at those tattoos, to spread him out naked and tease him until he’s begging for anything Louis will give him.

A sudden crescendo of music jerks Louis from his thoughts as the advertisements before the film begin to play. He pulls away for breath, panting a little from the intensity of the kiss. Harry’s eyes are dark with lust, and Louis wants nothing more than to forget the movie and see if they can get away with sex in the backseat without anyone noticing.

“Louis,” Harry whispers, and god he looks a mess already - lips bitten red, cheeks flushed, and curls a disarray. Louis wants to see what he would look like after more.

Louis makes an executive decision, pulling away from Harry to shrug off his suit jacket.

“You’re wearing braces.” Harry says breathlessly, eyes wide. He looks so innocent, so young, with his eyes gaping at Louis’ suspenders like this. Louis wants to wreck him.

“I am.” Louis agrees, snapping one of the straps before grinning predatorily at Harry.

“Lou, what-” Harry asks, but that’s all he gets out before Louis has reached over to pull down the zip of his pants. Harry draws in a sharp breath, forgetting his train of thought, and Louis leans over the console, contorting himself fairly easily to mouth through the zip of Harry’s dress suit at the cotton of his briefs. “Holy shit.”

Louis smirks, pleased with the reaction. Harry is hard already and Louis easily frees his dick from his pants, pausing for a moment to admire it.

Louis has seen Harry’s dick before, of course. There’s no way to be roommates for two years without seeing what should be private, especially considering Harry’s general preference to be naked whenever possible. Louis is pretty sure Zayn and Niall have seen Harry’s dick, too, and they’ve never even lived with him. Louis has seen Harry when he has been hard before, too. They have both witnessed a fair share of each other’s inconvenient boners, some of which Louis realizes in retrospect were probably caused by each other.

And yet, Louis has never seen Harry naked and hard at the same time. Harry is big, he thinks to himself. This is something he already knew, but it’s different seeing his dick hardened to its fullest right in front of him. It’s different being allowed to touch. Louis wants to jerk him off, wants to see Harry’s pretty face as he orgasms. He wants to blow him, wants to feel his dick nudging against the back of his throat. He wants to ride him, wants to feel Harry inside him filling him up and nearly splitting him open.

All of that can come later, though. For now, Louis just wants to taste, wants to make Harry fall apart. “This okay?” He asks sultrily, looking up at Harry through his lashes.

Harry seems to have just caught his breath, his eyes glazed as he says “More than okay. Lou-” Louis lowers his head again, taking Harry in his mouth as far as he can in one go. Whatever Harry had planned on saying lapses into a garbled version of Louis’ name, and Louis hums around Harry’s dick in response, pleased.

The thing is, Louis is usually a fairly humble person. He is the first to credit other people, and the last to brag about his own accomplishments. But one thing he willingly acknowledges about himself is that he knows how to give a good blowjob. (There was a period of time shortly after announcing his sexuality that Louis had been distressed with being out and yet having no experience with men whatsoever. “It’s the same as getting sexual experience with girls, I’m sure.” Stan had advised him sagely. “Go suck some dicks and learn.” Louis had listened.)

Harry apparently agrees, judging by the noises he is making as Louis bobs his head up and down. Louis hadn’t known what Harry’s moans were like before this moment, but now that he knows he doesn’t think he’ll ever be able to unlearn the sound and doesn’t ever want to stop hearing it.

“Jesus, Louis-” Harry has apparently recovered his linguistic abilities, and that just won’t do.

Louis pulls off, swirling his tongue expertly around Harry’s length before he deepthroats Harry once more, causing Harry’s hips to jerk upwards to meet him with an incoherent shout. Much better.

“Christ, fuck – fuck” Harry chokes out. “Lou, ‘m gonna – fuck

Louis doesn’t pull off – he wonders if Harry thought he would, if Harry hadn’t thought through the fact that they would be reupholstering Matilda if he had – and Harry comes, hard.

“Jesus fucking Christ.” Harry breathes out throatily, after his body has gone boneless. Louis takes that as his cue to pull off, swallowing and tucking Harry back into his pants. “Louis.”

Louis smirks up at him, sitting upright again and shifting a bit in his seat to get situated. He doesn’t expect Harry to return the favor right now but his pants are definitely a bit tight. “Yes, Harold?”

Harry sighs, biting his lip as he runs a hand through his hair in a vain attempt to tame his curls. “This was supposed to be a sweet, innocent first date, not you making my 3 year long fantasies come true,” He says, sticking out his lower lip. His sinful lips pushed out in a pout is equal parts arousing and adorable, and Louis is somewhat conflicted about whether to feel turned on or endeared. “But now I just want to take you home, tie you up with your suspenders, and fuck you into the mattress.”

Louis sucks in a sharp breath, his mouth going dry at the thought. Turned on it is, then. “Who says I’d be willing to put out on our first date?” He retorts, a little too late. He definitely would be willing, but he doesn’t exactly like how easily Harry had assumed so. Being tied up is a bit of an intimidating thought, actually, but his dick is definitely interested.

“Oh.” Harry sounds somewhat startled. “I guess that would be kind of fast. That’s alright, next time then.”

Next time. Louis likes the sound of that. “Next time?” He asks, trying not to feel too hopeful.

Harry shrugs, nodding, and reaches over to untuck Louis’ dress shirt from his pants, rucking it up his chest and unclipping Louis’ braces in the same movement.

“Haz, you don’t-” Louis starts to tell Harry, not wanting him to feel obligated. But then Harry is sliding open his zip and there’s a warm hand on his dick and Louis isn’t thinking about much else. “-have to do this.” He finishes lamely, shuddering out a breath.

“I want to.” Harry tells him, and it sounds genuine. “I’ve wanted to ever since that day in the loo freshman year.”

Louis doesn’t know how to respond to that, and isn’t in the frame of mind to come up with anything. The thing is, Harry’s hands are huge. His palm engulfs Louis’ dick and Louis can’t help the way he whines a little at the feeling, bucking up into the touch.

It’s dry at first, but Louis isn’t even bothered because it’s Harry and the friction from it has him keening into his hand. Louis is unbearably hard already, leaking with it as Harry’s hand speeds up.

“Liam’s car-” Louis gasps out, embarrassingly close already and not sure how he is lucid enough to think of Matilda’s well-being.

“-will be fine.” Harry supplies for him, his words syrupy slow and his brow knit as he concentrates on Louis’ dick in his hand.

“Fuck, I can’t-” Louis chokes out, because Harry is looking at him expectantly and it’s too much and yet not enough at the same time.

Harry urges him softly, but Louis doesn’t catch his words because at the same moment his wrist twists just so and Louis’ body floods with pleasure as he comes.

“Jesus, that was hot.” Harry comments after a moment, sounding a little breathless himself. “You’re so pretty, Lou.”

Louis flushes at the praise, thankful for the darkness that hopefully masks the red blush of his cheeks. He’s not quite recovered enough to make conversation with Harry, still reeling from how unbelievably good that was. He feels like a teenager, swapping orgasms secretly with his date under the cover of a car, and not at all like a married man.  

Harry doesn’t seem to mind the silence – if anything, he seems to understand - opening the glove compartment to grab some napkins that Liam has apparently hoarded from various fast-food joints and using them to quickly clean up the streaks of white that now coat Louis’ bare stomach. Louis is dimly aware that they’ve made a bit of a mess, but mostly Harry had been successful in pushing his shirt up out of the way. There’s nothing on Matilda, so far as he can see, and for that he’s grateful.

“I can’t believe that just happened.” Louis says finally, and if his voice shakes Harry doesn’t comment.

“Honeymoon sex,” Harry says, waggling his eyebrows. “Is apparently the best sex.”

“Does this even qualify, though?” Louis asks, teasing as he zips up his pants and smooths his shirt, doing his best to appear presentable again.

Harry pouts, and this time Louis surges forwards to kiss the expression from his face. “Well,” Harry says, when he has finally pulled back. “It’s infinitely better than any sex I’ve had with you so far, so I think it does. We’ll blow this away with the real deal later on though, I bet.” There’s a pause, and then “Ha! Get it? Blow.”

Louis rolls his eyes fondly, smirking. “Oh, will we?”

“Later.” Harry promises.

They only have eyes for each other, and it understandably takes them a while longer to notice that the movie has started playing.

“Is it too late for me to buy you popcorn and pretend to yawn to put an arm around you?” Harry whispers, glancing at the screen.

Louis laughs, leaning into Harry willingly and smiling as Harry wraps an arm around him. “Considering you just had your hand down my pants, I’d say that pulling out your moves is a bit unnecessary.”

“I’m trying to woo you properly,” Harry explains, smiling cheekily.

“You’ve already married me.” Louis points out. “Pretty sure I’ve been wooed.”

Harry laughs, loud and sudden, the sound filling up the car. More than anything, Louis wants to keep hearing that laugh for the rest of his life. “That I did,” Harry agrees, and they settle into a comfortable quiet, Harry’s arm wrapped around Louis’ shoulders and Louis’ hand resting on Harry’s thigh.

The movie is awful, from what Louis sees of it. It’s what he would call an attempt at a scary movie rather than an actual horror film. He zones out after the third time the main character goes to investigate a mysterious sound that will probably lead to his next near death experience. Glancing at Harry, he finds the boy’s eyes already on him, a small smile on his face.

“You look bored,” Harry whispers loudly. “Is the wooing not working?”

“Promise me that if you ever hear strange sounds in our flat, you won’t go looking for the source.” Louis replies with a huff. “This guy doesn’t know what’s good for him.”

There’s a pause in which the man onscreen descends into the basement of his house, wielding only a flashlight and a broom.

“Did you hear that?” Harry whispers, as suddenly as he says anything.

Louis gives him a pointed look, and Harry relents, laughing as he abandons his obvious attempt to try to scare him.

“Do you want to get out of here?” Harry asks, already starting up the ignition.

“Usually that’s an innuendo for sex, but I think we’ve done things backwards.” Louis says thoughtfully, and Harry laughs again.

“How does breakfast at midnight sound?” Harry suggests, quirking a smile and carefully backing out of the parking spot.

The man onscreen lets out a shriek of surprise, dropping his flashlight, and Louis rolls his eyes. “Sounds perfect.”

The movie was terrible, but the diner Harry takes them to is amazing. Everything is delicious, from the fluffy eggs to the crispy bacon. They have a contest as to who can eat the most pancakes – Harry wins – and the waitress who had cooed at them when they entered - “Newlyweds! How exciting!” - is now giving them poorly concealed looks of judgement.

They split the bill, after quite a bit of bickering, and end up leaving with round stomachs, loosened belts, and full to-go boxes.

All in all, it’s one of the best first dates Louis has been on.

-

 

They get back to their apartment far past midnight, and find Liam, Niall, Zayn, and Perrie all inside.

“What are you all even doing here?” Louis asks as they walk in, not entirely surprised to discover the lights on and their four friends sprawled in various places in the common room.

“We had to bring over your decorations.” Niall tells him from where he is laying on the floor, pointing to a heap of white fabric, melted candles, and fake roses that is piled by the hall.

“And the cake.” Liam chimes in from the couch, motioning towards the kitchen.

“And I brought you a present.” Perrie says, holding up another rainbow stuffed bear, this one smaller than the first.

“We just never left.” Zayn finishes, not bothering to come up with an excuse and simply shrugging by way of explanation.

“Sounds about right.” Harry says, seeming rather unbothered for someone who had been whispering dirty things against Louis’ neck the whole elevator ride up. It’s a shame the elevator hadn’t broken down this time, Louis thinks regretfully. They could have definitely taken advantage of that.

“Oh my god.” Liam blurts, eyes wide. He’s staring at Harry, his eyes doing a frantic sweep over his body from his mussed hair to his tight trousers.

“What?” Niall prompts after a moment in which Liam doesn’t elaborate.

Liam lets out a wail, burying his face in his hands. “You guys shagged in Matilda. I’m going to kill you.”

An amused laugh escapes Louis before he realizes it, and he turns to look at Harry critically. “Is it really that obvious?” He asks, just to mess with Liam.

“No!” Harry cries out in the same instant. “We would never.”

“Oh, but you did!” Liam says, looking up at them in betrayal. “I lived with you all of freshman year, Harry. I know what you look like after you’ve gotten off.”

The tips of Harry’s ears go red, and just about everyone is laughing. “Well, Matilda is fine.” Harry huffs, dropping down onto the couch. “We didn’t… not technically, anyways.”

Liam frowns distrustfully and Zayn pulls him into his arms, pressing his lips to his temple. “Relax, babe.” He says, and Louis raises his eyebrows at Zayn at the pet name. “The important thing is that they’ve finally realized they’re bloody in love with each other, innit?”

Louis smiles at Harry and finds Harry already watching him fondly, smiling back.

Niall hoots his agreement. “Fucking finally!” He agrees. “Did you guys like…talk it over yet? Are you dating?

“We’re dating.” Louis confirms, squishing himself in next to Harry on the couch and squeezing his hand, fingers grazing over the silver plastic of his ring.

Harry nods in agreement.

“Celebratory shots?” Niall asks, and Perrie lets out an excited hell yeah!.

The rest of the night is a haze of alcohol thrumming through his veins and Harry’s intoxicating presence. Niall and Perrie laugh loudly while Zayn and Liam whisper to themselves, and Harry and Louis are joined at the hip, all soft touches and fond smiles.

They open up the small pile of wedding gifts they’ve received, ranging from a fiercely threatening card from Gemma to a small ukulele from Ed. The most notable, however, is a neatly wrapped box of condoms and strawberry flavored lube. The attached card reads, “Be safe. Love, Anne xx”. (Louis had assumed Stan had gifted them, but Stan’s gift consisted solely of a card reading ‘It should be enough of a wedding gift to you that I’m even here.’)

Harry is mortified, but Louis laughs and smacks a sloppy kiss to the redness of his cheek. “Extra large, hmm?” He asks with a lewd wink. “Your mum knows her boy.”

A chorus of disgusted gagging from Zayn, Liam, Niall, and Perrie immediately follows his statement, and when Louis continues to croon teasingly to Harry about how he can’t wait to try out the lube, Niall tackles him down to shut him up.

Later that night, they are all spread out in Harry and Louis’ living room watching late-night cartoons. Liam and Louis are sitting on the couch with a sleeping Harry laying over them. Zayn and Niall are sprawled out on the floor, and Perrie is asleep in a chair.

“Do you reckon you’re going to get divorced then?” Liam asks Louis quietly. He says it in a way that is genuinely curious, but Louis doesn’t know how to answer him.

Louis shrugs slightly, trying not to disturb the curly haired boy in his lap. “I’m not sure.” He answers honestly. “We’re just going to see how things work out, I think.”

If Harry smiles a little in his sleep at that, no one has to know.

 

 -

 

As it turns out, how things work out is surprisingly well.

Over the next week, Louis realizes that Harry and Louis as boyfriends is hardly different from Harry and Louis as best friends, and he thinks that the lack of change in their dynamic just goes to show how blind they really were. There’s more touching now, of course, from gentle brushes of fingertips to desperate grips digging into skin. There are more kisses, more love, and far more love-making than there ever was before. But considering their day-to-day interaction, not much has changed.

It’s a week later, and Louis and Zayn are flopped on the couch watching a cooking show when Harry comes home calling out, “Lou!”

This is nothing new, so Louis doesn’t bother to look away from Gordon Ramsay’s yelling as he shouts back, “Yeah, babe?”

Zayn pinches his forearm at the nickname, looking so fond and proud that Louis has to retaliate by mussing his hair.

But before he can get more than a swipe at Zayn’s quiff, Harry’s voice comes again, sounding frantic. “Lou!” The floor echoes with the sound of Harry stumbling out of his shoes at the doorway and hopping into the living room area.

“Hey, you – what’s up?” Louis asks, his tone automatically soothing as he sees the wild look in Harry’s eye. Harry is grinning, though, looking nearly possessed with how widely his smile is stretching, so Louis figures it must be something good.

Harry is clutching an envelope in shaking hands, and shoves it at Louis in lieu of answering him before seizing him up off of the couch in a bruising kiss.

“Mm I-” Louis mumbles against his boy’s lips, waving the unopened letter in his hand. “didn’t even-” Harry’s lips are insistent against his, kissing him deeply. “-get a chance to-”

Harry pulls back, trying to sound impatient but failing to sound anything but thrilled as he huffs out “Fine, open it.”

Harry is jittery with excitement in his arms, but Louis forces himself to tear his gaze away from the restless boy to look at the envelope in his hand. It is addressed to Mr. Harry Edward Styles, and the sender is marked as University Financial Aid Office.

“Oh my god.” Louis says, looking up at Harry in astonishment. “Oh my god.”

“I know,” Harry preens.

Louis rips urgently at the envelope, whipping the paper inside of it out and skimming over the words. “Due to the change in your circumstances, you will be receiving full scholarship,” He reads aloud incredulously.

“Yep.” Harry says. He’s practically glowing with happiness, and Louis has never been so in love.

“Harry!” Louis shouts, flinging the letter up in the air in excitement and hauling Harry close to kiss him proudly. “It worked.”

“Erm.” Zayn clears his throat deliberately. His eyes are glued to MasterChef with a deliberate intensity, only flickering up to them once he’s drawn their attention to his presence on the couch. “Should I…leave?”

It’s a valid question, Louis thinks, because he and Harry have practically become one unit in the past few seconds and based on the gleam in Harry’s eye, Louis doesn’t think he’d be opposed to having a quick shag on the couch in celebration.

“No.” Harry answers, looking offended that Zayn would even ask. “If you’re leaving, it better be to go get your boy and tell him to come join us in celebrating!”

Zayn blinks.

Harry’s smile is unwavering, and after a moment Zayn asks hesitantly “Was that a poor attempt at an invite for a foursome or…?”

No.” Louis emphasizes. His and Harry’s pact to not have sex with each other has long since been (gladly) broken, but doing so with Zayn and Liam is where he draws the line. “Go get him. Niall, too. We’ll, uh, cook?”

“I’ll cook.” Harry corrects.

“We’ve still got wine from the wedding.” Louis adds, nodding. “We can have that karaoke night we’ve been meaning to host.”

“I would tease you about being a domestic, married couple,” Zayn tells them as he stands and heads towards the door. “But you literally are.”

The door clicks shut as Zayn leaves, and Louis presses a chaste kiss to Harry’s lips. “Am I allowed to admit I was worried that it wouldn’t turn out this well?” He asks after pulling back, feeling sheepish. With Harry’s income being so high from his multiple jobs, Louis had feared that the financial aid office would give him minimal grants rather than a full ride.

“What, you mean you didn’t have complete faith in us?” Harry demands teasingly.

More than anything, Louis likes that he says ‘us’. “Of course I did!” He defends himself, laughing and tugging Harry towards the kitchen. “Just worried a little, too - you know how it is.”

Harry follows Louis to the kitchen, lifting him up onto the counter and slipping in between his legs to kiss him again. “I know.” He says quietly. “Have I said thank you, by the way?”

Louis smiles softly. “You don’t need to, Haz.”

“I do, though. This is huge. Like, us being in love with each other aside, you agreed to marry me for my financial aid.” Harry explains, eyes wide in admiration.

Louis wants to make a joke out of it, to say something about how he only did it as revenge on their university. But what he finds himself saying is, “Anything for you.” It’s genuine, and based on the way Harry smiles adoringly at him, he knows.

Harry pecks Louis lips again before stepping away, busying himself with gathering ingredients from the fridge and saying conversationally, “Well, for what it’s worth, at least even if the financial aid hadn’t come through, we would have still figured out our feelings through the whole wedding.”

“That’s true.” Louis agrees, hopping down to help Harry wash vegetables. He is a terrible cook to say the least, but he can still help with the preparatory steps.

“Pretty sure finding love is supposed to be better than getting wealth in the grand scheme of life anyways.” Harry says wisely.

Louis rolls his eyes, but he’s smiling. “Stop pretending you’re deep, and get cooking,” He snaps, and Harry grins.

He flashes Louis a wide smirk. “You know I can do deep.” He says with a suggestive wink, and Louis sighs.

“You’ll be six feet deep under the ground if you don’t get a move on.” He retaliates, and Harry looks impressed.

“My puns are rubbing off on you.” Harry informs him.

Louis doesn’t have a comeback other than I’ll show you ‘rubbing off’ on you, and he’s pretty sure that would only validate Harry’s statement more.

The door slams open just then, saving Louis from having to respond. “We come bearing booze!” An Irish accent rings through the flat and Harry lets out an excited shout of welcome.

“And music!” Liam’s voice comes next, followed by some shuffling noises before he apparently successfully sets his phone up with a speaker, blasting music throughout the flat.

“And-” Zayn starts to call out, but then his voice drops. “Liam what is this?”

A surprise.” Liam hisses, not quite as quietly as Louis assumes he intended to.

“Oh. Shit.” Zayn says and Niall laughs loudly.

“Oi!” Louis shouts. “What’s with all these secrets?”

 There’s a guilty silence, and Harry laughs as he expertly chops vegetables. To say it is concerning would be an understatement, and Louis watches in slight horror how fast the knife in Harry’s hand is flying even as his head is thrown back in laughter. But then Harry is moving again, expertly setting the vegetables to boil and, having placed chicken in the oven to cook, drying off his hands before clapping them together.

“Food should be ready soon.” He announces to the boys. Zayn and Niall are sitting at the table, next to where they’ve set down the beer they brought over, and Liam is hovering nearby.

“I take it you’ve all heard the news?” Louis immediately fills the gap in conversation, because damn it if he’ll miss a chance to brag about his boy.

Zayn’s lips curl upwards knowingly. “Just tell us again, Lou, we all know you will anyways.”

“He’s not wrong.” Harry says when Louis huffs, shrugging at Louis and wrapping his arms around him, resting his chin on Louis’ head.

Louis flips Zayn off, standing up straighter in pride on Harry’s behalf as he leans into his embrace. “Well, Harry received a letter from the financial aid department today.” He announces, and he’s pretty sure his smile is contagious because all three boys are looking back at him with similar expressions of affection. “The wedding scheme is officially a success-”

“Not like it wasn’t already a success when you figured out you’ve both been in love for three years or anything-” Zayn mutters under his breath.

Louis gives him a sharp look, but continues as if he hasn’t said anything. “-and Harry is now fully on scholarship!”

Despite Zayn’s snarky interruption, the boys cheer properly at the news. Niall in particular looks absolutely ecstatic. “And I officiated the wedding.” He says as a grin spreads slowly on his face, like he’s realizing it for the first time. “I married you. I made it all happen.”

Louis rolls his eyes. “Sure, Niall.” He says agreeably. He doesn’t mind Niall taking the credit for their getting together, especially not when Harry is holding him like he’ll never let him go.

Liam, however, looks equal parts excited and impatient.

“Li…you okay?” Harry asks.

“I…” Liam glances at Zayn, and then at Niall. Niall flashes Liam an encouraging thumbs-up. Zayn sighs and nods, leaning back in his chair with a small smile. “I have something for you. And I wanted to wait and surprise you, but I just can’t anymore.”

“It hasn’t even been ten minutes.” Zayn comments dryly, but there’s love in his eyes.

Liam smacks his arm scoldingly, saying “Shut up, you’re excited for this too and I know it.” Then, he reaches into his pocket and pulls out a square velvet box.

“Oh my god, you’re proposing.” Louis shouts, jumping out of Harry’s arms in excitement. Zayn and Liam have equally panicked expressions on their faces, and Louis’ enthusiasm quickly dies down. He settles back besides Harry, tucking into the taller boy’s side and slipping an arm around his waist as he looks at Liam in confusion. “Or not.”

“Definitely not.” Liam says quickly, cheeks red.

“Not yet, anyways.” Zayn adds cheekily, winking at Liam, who reddens further if possible.

“I’m so painfully single.” Niall groans, knocking his head against the wood of the table in front of him. “I hate you all.”

“It’s a gift,” Liam explains, as Zayn pats Niall’s shoulder consolingly. “For you both.”

“You’re giving us rings?” Louis asks dubiously.

“You’re giving us rings!” Harry says happily.

They look at each other in bewilderment, and Liam takes the opportunity to continue. “They’re real rings. Or at least, more authentic than your plastic ones. Y’know, to seal the deal.”

Louis feels like he could cry. “Liam.”

Liam shrugs modestly, holding out the box towards them. “It’s nothing, really. My mum didn’t want the rings anymore and she had a coupon for buy one get free customization she wasn’t going to use, and there was a sale anyways and-”

“You’re making it worse, babe.” Zayn whispers, cutting off Liam’s ramblings by pulling him into his lap.

“I love you.” Harry says. It’s not entirely clear who he is talking to, but it doesn’t necessarily matter because it applies to all four of them anyways.

Louis slips off his plastic ring gratefully – the silver paint had been chipping already, the letters spelling ‘ahoy matey!’ on the plastic fading (the rings had apparently been part of a pirate set) – and Harry slides the new ring onto his fourth finger. The cool metal fits snugly and Liam seems to breathe a sigh of relief at the fact.

Louis swaps out the ring on Harry’s left hand, replacing the plastic that reads ‘shiver me timbers!’ with the new ring, which has the words ‘you and me against the world’ carved in a curling script on the inside.

“They’re engraved?” Harry says in disbelief, turning emotionally to look at Liam.

Liam’s ears are red and he stammers humbly for a moment before Zayn comes to his rescue, saying, “That they are. Do you like it?”

Like it?” Louis demands, giving them a watery smile. “We love it. Bring it the fuck in, lads.” He stretches out his arms, and the boys grumble a bit before standing to crush Louis and Harry in a hug.

“It’s like you don’t realize you’re still in your twenties.” Zayn mutters. “Group hugs, really?”

“I’m going to cry again.” Niall informs them weepily.

The dinging of the timer for their food breaks them apart moments later, Harry struggling to extract himself and hissing “The food is going to burn for fuck’s sake, let me out.”

Louis stubbornly clings to him more tightly instead, and the chicken ends up slightly overdone.

They eat and drink, and no one complains about the overcooked food. Liam sets up karaoke on the television, and the rest of the night is spent putting on drunken performances. They do duets (Harry and Louis vs. Liam and Zayn with Niall as the judge), solos (Niall wins, and Louis anoints his forehead with wine in congratulations), and group singing (their screaming renditions of Rihanna past midnight will probably result in some complaints from the neighbors).

“And I,” Louis sings out, dragging out the note as his voice tremors exaggeratedly up and down to Whitney Houston. “I, will always love youuuu.”

“And I,” Harry echoes him, smiling dopily. “I, will always love Louuu.”

It’s downright cheesy, but it makes Louis smile nonetheless.

When they fall asleep later - Harry and Louis on the couch, Zayn and Liam on the floor, and Niall in a chair - Louis still has the song stuck in his head. He wonders if it’s too early to know that he really will always love Harry. He wonders what it means that he’s known it since that first day freshman year.

When he wakes up the next morning, his memories of the night are somewhat fuzzy. However, he clearly remembers how he felt, and how he currently feels: happy.

 

-

 

When they send out the invitations two years later for the renewal of their vows, Louis and Harry are pretty sure that no one is surprised. They ultimately chose to not have their marriage annulled – “Seems a little counterproductive, don’t you think?” Harry had asked with a smirk. “I’ll just propose to you the next day again, anyways.” – so their status as husbands is still official and valid.

Harry had proposed anyways, though, surprising Louis by dropping to one knee in the middle of the restaurant on their wedding anniversary and giving a sweet proposal that had brought Louis near tears. “It’s been you and me against the world since we first met five years ago.” He had said, looking up at Louis with love shining in his eyes. “I fell in love with you then, and I’ve never looked back. We married young - probably too young - but I have no regrets when it comes to you. I would choose you every day, and I will choose you every day for the rest of my life. I would marry you again, every day, if I could. So that’s why I’m asking you now – will you marry me, again?”

Louis had said yes, of course, and - thanks to Zayn and Liam who had been filming on their phones - the proposal went viral by the end of the day.

“I had to find out my son is getting married again through the internet?” Jay had screeched at him when she called that evening. Louis assured her that he had been planning on telling her that night, and they sent out the wedding invitations shortly afterwards, if only to appease their frustrated families. This time, however, the invites are legible and planned, the neat script clearly stating the date and a venue that they had decided upon.

(“I want it to be a recreation of our first wedding.” Harry had whispered to Louis dreamily one night in bed, understandably dazed due to literally being inside of Louis at the time. Louis had caught the words, though, and had done his best to find a park with a gazebo similar to the one they had originally been married in.)

This time, however, there are some significant changes. For one thing, the park is not a children’s playground. It’s more of a small forest, with overarching trees and a charming white gazebo decorated with crawling green vines and billowing white chiffon. There are white folding chairs for guests to sit at during the ceremony, and separate tables covered in flowing tablecloths for the food and reception. There’s a wooden platform to dance on and Perrie and three of her friends serve as the live music. The candles are scented mountain pine and ocean breeze, and the resulting smell of nature is refreshing and enjoyable.

Best men and officiants aren’t technically needed for vow renewal ceremonies, but Niall, Liam, and Zayn all take front row seats to support them. In their ‘Men of Matrimony pt. 2’ group chat, Zayn and Liam declared themselves honorary best men despite the different occasion.

However, because they didn’t get to at the first wedding, Louis asked Doris to be the flower girl, and Ernest the ring bearer for their second try. However, the two had been fussy and instead insisted on switching roles so Ernest ends up being the one who runs down the aisle happily tossing petals, and Doris beams in her pretty blue dress as she presents the rings.

They get new rings for the occasion, ones that are all their own. The rings are simple, elegant silver bands with subtle designs. ‘You and me against the world’ is engraved on the inside, which Liam gets great satisfaction from. Less subtle, are the large tattoos that Louis and Harry have gotten over the years, a rope and an anchor, a rose and a dagger, their first words to each other. These are mostly covered by their suits, though, which are both formal black this time around. Harry’s hair has recently been cut short, but otherwise he is the same beautiful boy that Louis married for financial aid two short years before.

Their families come, of course, as well as their extended families, and they both invite far more friends than they did to the first wedding. It’s a rather large event overall, but Louis and Harry only have eyes for each other.

Harry is the one to walk down the aisle this time, purely because Louis insisted it was unfair how he had been tricked the first time around. When they kiss, it’s far from surprising and lasts an indecently long time although no one seems to mind. Jay cries at Harry’s vows, and Anne cries at Louis’, and both Louis and Harry themselves are teary-eyed by the time the ceremony is over.

When the food is brought out and the dancing starts, a stream of friends and family make their way over to congratulate the couple. Eventually, once everyone has voiced their best wishes, Louis and Harry get a moment to breathe.

“I love you,” Harry whispers to Louis after they’ve exited the gazebo, side by side with hands intertwined.

“I love you, too.” Louis says with a loopy smile, punctuating the words by pressing a soft kiss to Harry’s lips.

All in all, the second wedding is equally as romantic and successful as the first, albeit more put together. However, it’s safe to say that the honeymoon sex for the second wedding is significantly better, and Harry finally makes good on his promise to put Louis’ braces to good use.

They spend their honeymoon in Scandinavia, occupying their time by making love and sightseeing. One night, laying in bed in post-coital bliss, Harry rolls over in Louis arms to face him and whispers, “Lou?”

“Hmm?” Louis acknowledges sleepily, blinking his eyes open and kissing Harry’s nose.

“Have I told you lately how happy I am that I needed financial aid?” Harry asks softly, his voice low.

“Yeah, love.” Louis says. “Me too.”

“So many things could have gone wrong, you know?”

“But they didn’t.”

“Can you believe that? I thought you’d gone crazy when you first said we should get married.”

“I felt crazy,” Louis admits.

“Crazy in love,” Harry teases, and Louis snorts. “Seriously, though.” Harry adds. “I love you.”

“I love you, too.” Louis says, a small smile spreading on his face.

“Do you like Scandinavia?” Harry asks, and even in the dark Louis can see him smirking.

“Of course I like it.” Louis answers, studying Harry warily. “It’s amazing.”

“Me too.” Harry agrees. There’s a pause, and then “Do you want to know what our honeymoon here has taught me about us?” Louis nods, and Harry’s smirk dimples into a full Cheshire cat grin. “You ‘Sweden’ my life.” Harry says solemnly. “And there’s ‘Norway’ I could ever imagine it without you.”

Louis groans, burying his face in the crook of Harry’s neck, pressing a soft kiss there. “I hate you,” He informs Harry, but they both know the words are meaningless.

“You married me.” Harry tells him, and Louis supposes it’s a valid point. “Twice.”

“Guess I did,” Louis agrees softly, smiling to himself.

Harry’s breathing evens out after that and that’s how they fall asleep, limbs tangled together with how close they are despite the large size of the bed.

As he’s drifting off, Louis can’t help but think about Harry’s awful puns. They’re terrible, as usual, but the meaning behind them rings true. They’ve been through a lot together, from friends to husbands to lovers, and he can’t wait to spend the rest of his life like this, with Harry in his arms.

There’s ‘Norway’ he could imagine his life without this ridiculous boy either.

 

Fin.