Harry sniffles again and replies, in a watery voice, “Because modern society is comprised of homophobic twats who can’t see true love when it whacks them over the head with a frying pan?”
Louis lets out a surprised bark of laughter at that, ruffling Harry’s curls and then digging his thumb into Harry’s side until he yelps. “Well yes, that and because we’re protecting our boys and our career, yeah? We can’t risk things falling apart yet.”
“I know,” Harry is resigned now and his tears have stopped. He emerges from his spot buried in Louis’ neck, wiping at his wet cheeks. His lip is still trembling but he manages to press a kiss to the worried furrow between Louis’ eyebrows. They roll onto their sides again, noses brushing as they look at each other. Harry’s eyes are rimmed in red, lashes clumping together with leftover tears.
“We’ve got time,” Louis repeats, and they both know he’s not talking about the hours before tomorrow. He’s talking about the years - maybe decades - that stretch out ahead of them.
Harry nods. “Can we talk about it? Please.”
This is an old routine for them; spinning stories about their future to help themselves feel better about their present. Louis casts his mind around for something new to cover. They were discussing travel destinations last time. He decides to go for full, tooth-aching sappiness tonight. He feels like Harry needs it.
Louis snuggles in close, pulling the blankets up over their shoulders so they’re sharing a cocoon of warmth. “You already know I’m going to marry you.”
Harry’s mouth spreads into a bright smile, dimples finally on full display. "I want that so much,“ he breathes, eyes bright. "What’ll it be like?”
“However we want it,” Louis whispers. “It might be huge and showy with hundreds of guests and a massive reception that everyone wants an invite to. It might be tiny, us and the boys and our families in our garden at home. Maybe we’ll wear matching suits or maybe we’ll do it on the beach somewhere and wear shorts. I don’t know yet, I just know I’ll be there to put a ring on your finger.”
“Louis,” Harry whispers back, overwhelmed again but for entirely different reasons.
“We’ll have a massive cake and I’ll get icing all over your lovely curls when you’re not looking. Niall will get piss-drunk and teach half the guests an Irish jig before passing out under a table. Liam will make an awkward speech that still manages to make everyone cry, and Zayn will do one that embarrasses the hell out of both of us. Possibly it will include a slide-show of incriminating pictures. Our mums will cry and hug us all night, and Gemma will help all my girls with their hair and makeup and then introduce them to cute boys. Nick will cop off with one of my previously-straight cousins in the toilets and Ed will show up in what he calls a ‘formal hoodie.’ Lux will be in her best party dress and she’ll dance on your big clown feet, and the wedding band will play 'What Makes You Beautiful’ just to make everyone laugh. And you and me? We’ll be in the middle of it all but we’ll barely notice. I know I won’t be able to look away from you. I’ll have your ring on my finger and that’s all I want, Harry. That’s all we’re ever going to need.”
When Louis finally stops, his mind whirling with all the images he just conjured, he realises that Harry has gone slack in his arms. His breathing has evened, mouth soft and open. He’s asleep, and Louis is glad to see it. He gathers Harry closer still and shuts his eyes.
“What if I can’t do it?” Harry’s voice is small and scared. Big green eyes stare back at Louis and all Louis can think is of how young Harry is. He didn’t ask for this and it’s not something he should be expected to go through, not a kind of pain someone his age should even know.
“You can do it.” Louis doesn’t let a single note of doubt creep into his tone. Right now Harry needs this, he needs certainty and reassurance and comfort, and if Louis controls himself Harry will never need to know just how worried he is. “We’ll just go one day at a time, my love. Tomorrow you just need to walk through a park, you see? That’s nothing.”
“With her,” Harry adds, mouth lowering unhappily. “And the cameras.”
“Don’t tell me you can’t deal with cameras yet,” Louis teases lightly. “How many thousands of paps have we had stalking us by now?”
“Not the same,” Harry insists stubbornly. “How do I - I don’t even really like her, what if I can’t pretend?”
“You do your best,” Louis coaches. “Smile at her, give her as much attention as you can, walk close enough to be friendly but not coupley yet, because they haven’t asked for that. If you need a distraction you talk to Lou or Tom or play with Lux, that’s the whole reason they’re coming with you. Keep the conversation light and if you get bored, well. Think of something else. Think of me.”
Keith looks like he wants to say something more, but they’re interrupted by footsteps pounding down the hallway. Louis appears at the doorframe a moment later, hovering at his grandfather’s shoulder. “Hey,” he says, grinning at both of them. He’s clearly just been at football training, still in loose black shorts and a dirty once-white t-shirt. His hair is everywhere, matted down with sweat at his temples and his face is still flushed and a little damp.
It’s a good look on him. Harry grins back at him from his spot on the bed and Louis slips past Keith to enter the room. “How was the drive up?” he asks, toeing off his trainers and flopping down next to Harry. The smell of damp, dirty socks fills the room and Harry wrinkles his nose.
“It was fine,” he says. “Babe, can you get rid of your dirty shoes and socks? That’s rank.”
“In a minute,” Louis says, waving a hand unconcernedly and leaning in for a quick hello kiss. Harry accepts it automatically but he can’t help his frown as they pull away.
“You actually really stink.”
Louis just laughs, flicking damp hair out of his eyes. “No hard work without a little sweat, Styles.”
Harry raises an eyebrow. “I know, I’ve seen you work up a sweat enough times.”
It’s a lazy attempt at flirting but Louis smirks back at him all the same and they stare at each other for a moment while Harry calculates how much time they have before dinner.
Keith clears his throat pointedly from the doorway and Harry and Louis jump, looking away from each other.
“Your mother and the girls will be here in about an hour, I suggest you clean up before then,” Keith says, and if anything he just seems amused. “By the way, did you know this door has a lock?”
He raises his eyebrows at them briefly before turning and walking away, and Louis makes a strangled sort of noise before he manages to yell, “Thanks, grandad!” and Harry collapses into giggles against his side.
Louis buries his faces in his hands. “Oh my god,” he mutters. “Did my grandfather just give me permission to shag my boyfriend in his house?”
The bird is beautiful, dark on Harry’s pale skin, the design intricate and gorgeously drawn. It’s red and angry looking at the edges, obviously sensitive. Louis draws a deep breath as Harry pulls away the bandage completely, showing off the entire left bird.
“God,” Louis says, hushed. He raises his hand and his fingers hover above the tattoo, wanting to touch but knowing he can’t. “So this is yours?”
“Yeah,” Harry’s tone is rough, and he stares at Louis as he starts to uncover the right side of his chest. “This…this is yours.”
“Oh,” Louis breathes out the sound involuntarily, feels it pushed out of him when Harry reveals the other bird. Just like they planned, it’s slightly different to the left side - smaller, its eyebrows more curved, its tail shorter. The two of them together, twins-but-not-quite, staring at each other across Harry’s chest, make a stunning sight.
“Harry,” Louis says, reverent. “They’re so beautiful.”
Deep voice. Slow voice, thick with sleep, tongue wrapping lovingly around Louis’ name.
Harry voice. Lovely lovely Harry voice. Louis smiles and curls deeper into his cushion, his sore head welcoming the softness of it.
“Baby, hey, wake up.”
Lovely Harry voice, a bit more forceful and accompanied by a big hand shaking Louis’ shoulder. Louis scowls this time, pulling away from the touch.
Louis finally opens his eyes, vision swimming for a moment before it locks on Harry’s concerned face. He’s kneeling in front of the couch, brows furrowed, curls still messy from sleep.
“You’re sick,” Harry says, voice resigned. “Shit.”
“How on earth d'you know that?” Louis asks. He sits up with some difficulty, groaning as the movement aggravates his headache.
Harry just points at the untouched cup of tea on the coffee table. “You never, ever forget to finish your tea,” he says simply. He presses his palm to Louis’ forehead with a frown. “You’re also really warm, and you hardly ever fall back asleep once you’re out of bed. Is your throat sore?”
Louis knows that as soon as one of them gets any kind of throat issue, they have to call into management right away so they can instigate quarantine policies. One band member with no voice is okay, but five is a disaster. He shakes his head. “Head’s killing me, I think I could sleep for days, and I just have that overall gross feeling, you know? Eurgh.”
"Babe,” Harry clucks sympathetically, eyes big and worried. “What do you need, hmm? More tea? Breakfast? Did you take some painkillers yet?
"They haven’t done anything,” Louis replies, somewhat bitterly. He closes his eyes, rubbing his temples. “I’m not hungry, love, I just want to sleep as much as I can before we have to leave. Can you just finish up that little bit of packing for me? You know what I need.”
“Of course,” Harry presses a kiss to his forehead and Louis curls up into the couch again.
Louis’ hands are balled into angry little fists, his jaw clenched and eyes ice-cold. “You’re honestly going to keep us apart for New Year’s? What about Christmas? What about my birthday?”
Paula meets his gaze unflinchingly. “New Year’s is non-negotiable. Of course, you will be with Eleanor that night anyway. Taylor will be with her family for Christmas, and I suggest you do the same. If you spend your birthday together it will be absolutely locked down. You know how to do that by now.”
“Oh yes, I know all about it,” Louis snaps acidly. “I’m very practiced in erasing my relationship from the world.”
“Lou,” Harry says softly. He reaches for Louis’ hand and holds it, rubbing his thumb over Louis’ tense knuckles. Louis relaxes, but only marginally.