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“… conspiracy of fanfiction.”

 

“Last night I found a high school one,” says Niall errantly, staring at a piece of sausage.

“Huh?” Harry looks up from his phone.

“Fanfiction?” Zayn asks.

“Yeah, Harry was a football player”—Louis splutters—“American football, Tommo, calm down. You two were all blushy and shit and then you finally got your act together to ask him to prom. Absolutely disgusting,” Niall finishes with a grin.

“One time I found one where we were apples.”

“Liam,” says Louis, raising a brow at the Granny Smith oh so conveniently grasped in his hand, “we didn’t end up in anyone’s digestive tracts, did we?”

“Erm. Well. I think someone made a pie from you and Harry,” Liam admits sheepishly.

Harry contemplates drafting a tweet about apple pie.

-

“There is some really kinky shit on here.”

“Why do Harry and Louis always fuck in my bed?”

“I think the real question is: what exactly is the gangbang to monogamous sex ratio? And what does it mean?”

Paul laughs. “It’s not like there is no foundation to it.”

“We’re not that bad on stage!”

Preston raises a brow. “You really are.”

“Lies and slander.”

-

“LOUIS, WHY DID YOU LET HIM GO?!”

“Niall, I’m right here.”

No, fanfiction Harry is gone and fanfiction Louis is just moping and this is horrible!”

“He’s reading the one where we’re all teachers, love. I’ve got a cat named Duchess and you’re a footie coach.”

Harry smiles. “You came to visit me in London and told me your whole burdened back story in my dark room.”

“And Zayn cried when we told him that his mum and dad were back together.”

“Are we forgetting that it is a story?” Zayn demands.

“We would all cry if they broke up and got back together,” Liam points out.

“Oh, please. Niall would never let them break up.”

“Do we have no say in this?”

“I am Captain Horan of the SS Stylinson,” Niall affirms and that’s the end of that.

 

“You do talk some shit.”

 

When Niall thinks about it, sometimes they all want to clobber the two of them round the head. The sheer amount of energy it takes to ignore the flirty bickering is astounding.

“My first concert was Nickelback.”

“Oooh, look how cool I am.”

“My first concert—”

Louis cuts Liam off, eyes trained on Harry. “Don’t you win the prize of coolness?”

“My first concert,” Zayn starts, “was with the band—”

“It was actually Cascada,” Harry retorts, “I just didn’t wanna say that one.”

-

“We’ve always been fans—oh fucking bull—”

“—SHIT! Bastard! I did that good!”

“You need to shut the—”

“You did that shit—”

“—fuck up.”

“—I did that good!”

-

“London’s… quite… big.”

“You do talk some shit in interviews.”

-

“I learnt how to appreciate a good view.”

“What are you talking about?”

-

“Can I just interject there? I think he takes the cake for most morbid tone. Originally that was you, Harry, but I think he’s won.”

-

“Harry, I’ll be honest. If you were in invisible for one day you’d not do—that is shit—sorry.”

-

But Niall figures that witnessing their incessant verbal jabs at each other is infinitely better than witnessing their physical jabs at each other. And by jabs he means sword fighting. With their dicks. In multiple positions. Sometimes all day and all night.

(Like the time they came back from Los Angeles in the worst sex haze known to human history.

“I don’t remember the question,” Harry squeaks, hiding his face. Everyone at the press conference laughs.

“Harry, are you okay?”

“Just excited to be back at work!”

Niall doesn’t want to think about why Louis is smirking so hard.)

 

 “BIRDS DON’T EVEN HAVE EYEBROWS.”

 

“I never thought anyone could get so aggressive about birds’ eyebrows.”

“To be fair, those are some wicked eyebrows.”

“That one looks like an angry old—”

“What’s happening, lads?” Louis asks, leaning over to look at Niall’s phone.

“Just birds. And eyebrows.” Niall glances pointedly at the fat bird tattooed on Louis’ arm.

“It’s actually pretty amazing, you know,” says Harry, propped up with one shoulder against the doorframe, “the amount of birds that do have eyebrows.” He smiles down at his swallows.

“You’re disgusting,” Zayn bemoans.

“Revolting.”

“I’m returning my best man privileges. I’ll get the receipts and everything.”

“Liam, who even said you could be my best man what the fuck?”

“Didn’t we decide you couldn’t be our best men because you were the band?”

“That doesn’t even make sense. If two fifths of the band are getting married, how can the band be the band at the wedding?”

“You’re all dumb, I’m going to bed.”

Liam guesses they will just have to let Niall officiate the ceremony. After all, Harry and Louis deserve an unforgettable wedding.

He’ll just have to make sure the stag night involves negative amounts of tequila.

 

“It’s like you’re my mirror.”

 

“It’s a bit weird.”

“More like fucking crazy.”

“Scary as shit.”

Louis rolls his eyes. “Calm yourselves, not everyone is as melodramatic as you.”

Liam makes an affronted sound. “Ask anyone! In fact, you could probably ask your mum and she would agree.”

“Ask me what?” Jay wonders, appearing at Liam’s side with a champagne flute in hand.

“The creepy mirroring thing they do,” Zayn explains. “Like some shit from a horror movie.”

“Well…”

“Mum!”

“Don’t sound so scandalized, Lou, you know it’s a bit strange considering it’s only been four years,” Jay concedes.

“I mean, look right now, he’s over there with his hands on his hips”—Niall points across the room to where Harry is chatting with Cal—“and look at you.”

Louis pretends not to notice that he’s had his hands on his hips for the past two minutes.

 

“Questions, questions…”

 

“I like the fact that, Harry, you seem to be quite democratic spreading the love around.”

Apparently being grilled by Jonathan Ross is a thing now, and Harry tries not to laugh at the absurdity of it all. It’s to be expected, of course. He’s not stupid. Naturally there will be questions about his alleged love affairs, the lothario that he is. He can feel Louis rolling his eyes on the other side of the couch.

“Not only do you seem to have a lot of love to give, and you happen to share it with a lot of people, but at the same time you seem to have a very broad area of people you would choose to give your love to!”

There’s even more laughter from the audience at this, and Harry himself can’t help from grinning a bit, if only because of how utterly false such claims in actuality are. Exasperating, is what it is, but of course he won’t deny these statements. He can’t do that, and while it does hurt, while he can feel Niall tensing up despite his chuckling, while he knows it probably isn’t a very good idea for the cameras to span over to Louis at the moment because they will most likely catch him frowning resolutely down at his shoes, Harry is aware of the looming danger that lies ahead should he suddenly decide to recollect his image into the real him, the actual Harry Styles—and not the womanizing heartthrob the papers deem him as. So Harry laughs and doesn’t question Jonathan Ross as he rambles on.

“Which is a nice thing, it shows you in a great light, and it means you have a lot of elder fans who think they stand a chance as well”—later when they get home, Louis will crack stupid jibes at the ‘Harry-likes-older-women’ stunt and they’ll settle under the covers, whisper about their futures growing old together instead—“and that’s a good thing. But are you looking for someone—what are you looking for in a partner, if indeed you are looking for a regular partner right now?”

Harry wants to shake his head, tell the world that he doesn’t need to look. He already has Louis. He has found his other half and he won’t be letting go if he can help it.

“Um, I dunno.” Except he does know. “I think you just kinda know when you find someone, I guess.”

He knows, is the thing. He knows in his heart, in his bones, in every fibre of his—albeit cheesy—being. Louis is it for him and he’s sitting right on this same couch and Harry is kind of glad Niall and Liam sit between them as buffers as Harry might end up doing something stupid like absentmindedly take Louis’ hand in his or accidentally knock knees with him or even simply stare too long at Louis’ eyelashes.

He does that a lot without really realizing it. Sometimes he gets so wrapped up in his own universe where the only entity is Louis and only Louis, that he entirely forgets the mechanics of walking down the street or just stringing words together to form coherent sentences.

But he knows Louis is just as bad, so Harry figures it balances everything out. Equality and all that.

“I think just someone who’s nice.” It’s a little inside joke they’ve developed over the years. And when Jonathan Ross takes the mickey out of him, Harry smiles secretly and tries not to completely blow his cover when a few minutes later Louis tells a very nice story about the only meal he has ever cooked. Typically, Harry forgets to school his expression into something respectable when Louis goes through the hand motions of stuffing the chicken with mozzarella and wrapping it in parma ham.

And it’s, you know. Whatever. Harry can totally deal. Obviously.

When it airs on telly Gemma calls and affirms that, no, Harry definitely cannot deal. Judging by how out of control his fond is, she claims. But it’s okay because Louis is even worse, is Anne’s sporting quip.

The boys find they don’t really care because, in retrospect, Niall is the one who firmly outright embarrasses himself. Louis insists that begging to use the loo on national television is exceptionally legendary and worthy of a proper slow clap. They end up stifling superfluous giggles into the crooks of each other’s necks.

And this time Harry doesn’t need to hide his shit-face eating grin.

-

“Do you believe in love at first sight?”

Harry can’t tell you the moment he fell in love with Louis. He doesn’t believe there is one.

“I think that you can definitely be infatuated with someone the first time you see them.”

He can tell you about the wild attraction he felt from the get go. He can tell you about a blue-eyed boy in a bathroom who told him he’d be someone, that he would make it. A boy who wanted his autograph because he genuinely believed Harry would get through.

He can tell you about thousands of texts sent in only the first few months of knowing Louis. About nights spent talking of nothing and everything at once. The one night at the bungalow when they dragged their mattresses onto the grass to watch the stars and Louis told him how amazing he thought outer space was, how beautiful galaxies were, how oblivion seemed looming to some people but Louis felt more alive whenever he saw Jupiter winking from the sky. Harry remembers wanting to tell him how he thought Louis shined in the dark like his own personal sun. He remembers wondering if Louis knew the story of how the sun died every night to let the moon breathe.

He can tell you about moving to London with his favourite person in the world. About making egg on toast and watching trashy reality television in their boxers. About the New Year’s party they hosted together, waking up with pounding hangovers and bacon everywhere.

He can tell you about those precious days at Leeds, when he knew and it wasn’t just a feeling or a guess, he knew it was real and it would take all he had to hang on to it and he knew it was the right thing to do because Louis felt the same.

Of course, he can’t actually tell you. Because his handlers are giving him loaded glances and he can hear the ingrained fake narrative playing in his head. Harry Styles the Womanizer, their eyes scream.

But he continues with a soft smile etched on his face: “And then you can fall in love with them afterwards.”

-

“There’s pictures of you kissing,” the blonde woman says gravely.

And, well. Niall feels like telling her that even though half of the pictures in question are edited, some of them are completely real.

There’s a heavy pause before Harry hits his cue. “That is photoshop.”

And this is the issue, isn’t it? Because yes, that is photoshop, Niall thinks, as Liam explains how the original photo contained a girl whose cheeks both Harry and Louis were kissing.

But the photo of them whispering on stage? You can’t edit real life events. Niall wonders what the woman must think of their blatant lies. He wonders if she even noticed.

“So there’s nothing going on between you two , then?”

It’s a stilted question. A question they all know Harry can’t answer convincingly. He is no actor. There’s a reason they don’t talk about iCarly.

Niall goes for the denial at the same time Liam pulls the “it’s just me and Niall” joke. Harry mouths ‘no’ and they move on swiftly.

When it’s over Liam drags Harry over to the dressing room and hands him a banana. Louis and Zayn come back looking vaguely irritated with the world in general.

They all lounge on the floor, practicing harmonies to ease the tension.

Louis’ hand never leaves Harry’s curls.

-

“Finally, is there anything you would like to set straight?”

There’s a great pun waiting to be pointed out, and while Louis isn’t in the position to do so, he gladly applauds Scott Mill’s choice of words. He’ll have to send him a fruit basket or something.

He knows most of this will be cut out of the official footage to be posted for everyone to see on the web, but for now, for this radio broadcast, he approves of the loaded silences.

After he emphasizes their will to change peoples’ minds, Liam goes on a memorized tirade of bullshit and their handlers nod seriously. Louis thinks it’s a good thing at least one of them is able to put up with regularly spewing the lies.

Harry is having none of it. 

“I have a secret.”

Zayn nearly laughs aloud at the expression of pure exasperation on Liam’s face.

“What was that, Harry?”

“Not telling you. Thanks for having us, Scott Mills.”

Louis can’t help smiling at his stupid wonderful perfect buffoon of a fiancé.

 

“Touring is definitely the best part of the job.”

 

South America is a blessing.

Zayn thinks there might be something in the air, maybe the water.

Or the marijuana.

Whatever it is, they’re enjoying the sightseeing and newfound energy they’ve acquired. He can’t remember the last time all five of them got to go somewhere together in public without constant minders making sure Harry and Louis were at least two metres apart at all times.

Christ the Redeemer stands behind them, and Zayn still can't believe this is his life.

Louis leans against the railing beside him, all crinkly-eyed and content.

Zayn pokes him lightly. “You’re all smiley.”

“Does that mean I have to change my name to Miley?”

“Smiley Miley here is just appreciating the view,” adds Harry, on Louis’ other side.

“In your four years of One Direction you’ve learnt to appreciate a good view,” Liam says dutifully.

Niall pulls out his phone. “Lads! Selfies!” He stretches his arms for the shot as they all make silly faces.

When he checks the camera roll he finds that Harry and Louis aren’t even facing the lens in a good portion of the shots, just giggling at something one or the other had said. It’s no surprise.

“Gonna get a tattoo, anyone coming?” Harry asks, eyes still looking out over the view.

Louis tilts his head. “Of what?”

“Brazil.”

“Why?”

“One tattoo for every proposal, remember?”

Niall laughs. “Does that count as the proposal?”

“Niall, it only counts if they’ve got a ring.”

Zayn smirks. “Li, he’s taking one out right now.”

Louis carefully keeps his eyes trained on the horizon. “Harold, you literally cannot get down on one knee here.”

Harry leans even closer, right fist closed, pulls his right arm and Louis’ left over the edge, their elbows resting on the railing. “I’m trying to be creative. Do you mind?”

“Does ‘do you mind’ translate to ‘will you marry me’ or?” Niall stage whispers.

Louis chuckles. “No, I don’t mind.”

(“Does that mean ‘yes I will marry you and have your curly-haired babies’ or what?” Niall tilts his phone to stealthily snap a picture of the scenery to include proper documentation of Harry and Louis’ arms.

Liam snorts.)

Harry unfolds his fingers, careful not to drop the ring, takes it in his left hand and slips it on Louis’ finger.

It takes all the willpower Louis has not to kiss him right then and there. “I suppose I’ll come with you to get that tattoo,” he says instead.

“Yeah? And you’ll marry me, too?”

Harry looks away from the horizon, watches as Louis threads their fingers together for a moment, squeezes tightly—the weight of the ring resting solidly as a new constant in their lives—then lets go with a smile.

“And I’ll marry you, Harry.”

-

“Are you wearing Harry’s clothes?” Liam asks, staring at the bottom of Louis’ jeans which are noticeably folded several times more than his usual.

Caroline sighs. “Are you wearing that on stage, dear?”

Louis grins, taking a large bite of a granola bar. “Oh, indeed.”

“The shirt looks like a circus tent on you,” crows Harry gleefully.

“You are a giant,” says Louis gravely.

Zayn blinks over the rim of his coffee cup. “It’s too early for this shit.”

-

“Haz, c’mere! I wanna try something,” Louis calls.

There’s a makeshift recording booth in the corner where Liam is messing around with the chorus of Better Than Words.

Harry bounds over to where Louis sits on the floor, staring at the lyrics in front of him.

“Echo?” Louis asks.

Harry grins. “Full line or whatever I feel like?”

“Whatever you think feels right, love.”

Harry nods.

Everyone tries,” Louis starts.

They try,” Harry sings.

To see what it feels like

Feels like

But they’ll never be right

Liam looks up. “Louis, go ‘it’s better’.”

’Cause it’s better,” he sings, smiling at Harry.

It’s better,” Harry echoes.

“Do it again together.”

It’s better.

Julian has them record it side-by-side in the corner of the hotel room.

And while they’re at it they figure they might as well do Strong, too.

And if he feels my traces in your hair.

Sorry, love, but I don’t really care.

-

“So, since we’re in Vegas, does that mean a gunshot wedding?” Liam ponders. 

“That’s way too Ross and Rachel for them.”

“Yeah,” says Zayn, not looking up from his canvas. “They’re more Monica and Chandler.”

“Thank you,” says Harry sincerely, hand on his heart.

“I’m Chandler, then?” asks Louis.

“And Harry’s Monica,” says Niall, nodding seriously. “He’d totally be the New York chef.”

“And we’d have twins by the end of the show!” Harry beams.

Louis grins. “Wedding first, love. Then babies.”

-

Harry puts his earbuds in, presses play, and pulls noise-cancelling headphones over his ears, as well. He can’t hear Louis, though he knows he’s probably shouting now, judging by the exaggerated mouthing he’s doing. Harry gives him a thumbs up to start.

“I love you,” says Louis slowly, enunciating every syllable clearly.

Niall almost pisses himself when Harry lights up like a Christmas tree. “I LOVE YOU!” he yells, unaware of the high decibels he’s reaching because of the blearing music.

Zayn winces. “This is the worst game you’ve ever come up with and we’re not even high.”

“Or drunk,” says Liam.

“It’s not a game,” Louis admonishes. “We need to get better at lip reading.”

“DOT GAME WE BED LIP READING.”

Niall laughs so hard he falls off the bed.

Smiling, Louis signs ‘NO’ at Harry and motions to start again.

“Apparently, if you whisper elephants do, it sounds like I love you.”

“APPARENTLY IF YOU WHIP HER OLIVE JUICE IT SOUNDS LIKE I LOVE YOU.”

“Niall shat himself.”

“NIALL SHAT HIMSELF.”

“You spat on my face.”

“YOU SPAT ON MY FACE. … OH. SORRY, LOU!”

“Luke, I am your father.”

“FLUTE I DAM YOUR FATHER. WAIT NO THAT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE IT’S STAR WARS ISN’T IT?”

They all have to take a minute to calm themselves down. Eventually, they stop guffawing long enough for the two to switch positions.

“When will Leonardo DiCaprio win an Oscar?”

“OH OH WHEN WILL LEONARDO DICAPRIO WIN AN OSCAR.”

“How can they be so good at this?” wonders Liam.

“I want a baby.”

“I KNOW YOU WANT A BABY, HARRY. ME TOO.”

“I’m starting to believe they’re telepathic,” says Zayn.

“It’s gotta be you.”

Louis grins. “SHADOW PICO.”

“Definitely telepathic,” mutters Niall.

“I got a purse.”

“I GOT A PURSE.”

“And extra milk.”

“AND EXTRA MILK.”

“You’re the—”

“YOU’RE THE ONE WHO CHOKES ON WATER.”

“Scooby-doo.” “SCOOBY-DOO.”

Harry signs ‘ONE MORE’.

“Louis, will you marry me?”

“OBVIOUSLY I’LL MARRY YOU. NOW KISS ME, YOU FOOL.”

 

“Always in my heart. Sincerely, Louis.”

 

“I can hear you staring from over there, Lou, you’re not subtle.”

“As if you’re subtle. Ever,” Louis scoffs.

“Neither of you are subtle,” says Lottie resolutely.

“It’s pretty gross,” Fizzy adds.

“I feed you and you repay me with mockery!” Louis cries, descending on his sisters with the intent of a tickle war.

“Technically, I’m feeding them, babe.”

Louis pauses. “True. Here, I’ll help.”

“DON’T!” Daisy and Phoebe scream.

Harry smiles. “It’s alright, he won’t burn anything on my watch. Besides, he’s fine with chopping veggies.”

“Vegetables,” Louis sneers, “my sworn enemies.” Phoebe laughs delightedly.

“I thought I was your one true mortal enemy?”

“Of course, bro.” Louis nudges his hip into Harry’s.

“Mate.” Harry nudges back.

“Pal.”

“Disgusting,” Lottie and Fizzy sing.

“DISGUSTING!” Harry and Louis sing back.

Later, Jay finds them in the middle of a food fight. The bananas are mysteriously untouched.

-

Niall stares at Harry’s curls for one minute and forty-seven seconds before he cracks. “What does the winner get if they win the hair bet?”

Harry looks up dazed from his phone. “What?”

“The hair bet. What do you win?”

“Winner gets to propose, mate. Winner always gets to propose,” Liam says.

Louis runs his fingers through Harry’s springy bits. “Loser gets to propose in Paris. On Valentine’s Day. Winner gets Japan. And Leeds.”

Harry fist pumps the air. “I won!”

“And here I thought it would be the sparkly dildo,” says Zayn.

-

“Second most retweeted tweet in history.”

“If Ellen had never done that Oscar selfie it would be the most retweeted ever.”

“Now the whole world knows how much of a sap you are, Tommo.”

“I can’t believe you fucking slayed Obama.”

Harry fiddles with his left ring finger, a perpetual dimple carved into his cheek. “Remember that time John Green and his wife asked Obama to decide a name for their daughter?”

Louis’ eyes shine even brighter at the mention of babies. “Are you thinking to ask Obama for future baby names?”

“Could ask Beckham, too,” Niall muses.

Zayn suggests asking the Queen of England while they’re at it.

“Soon,” Louis whispers against Harry’s lips.

-

Well, look who Curly nearly ran into,” crows Coincidence, looking down at the O2 Apollo where The Script are finishing up their set. Stan pushes Louis further into the pulsing crowd; Harry is led off by Gemma to the other side of the venue.

Please. I can do better than that,” Fate chuckles, watching Harry being interviewed by the X Factor producers a year later in the middle of the crowds lining up.

But—” Coincidence tries. Louis keeps his spot in the spiraling queue for auditions. He can’t help but stare at the boy they’re interviewing; there’s something familiar about him and Louis doesn’t quite know what.

Almost,” smiles Fate, and pushes them along to boot camp.

Then shoves them unceremoniously into a bathroom.

“Oops!” Harry blushes crimson.

“Hi,” Louis grins.

The judges announce they’ll be put through together as a band, all five of them.

You sure have outdone yourself,” laughs Coincidence.

Louis doesn’t think twice before leaping into Harry’s arms.

I know.” Fate beams.