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Dance to the Distortion

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Nestled at the intersection of Dover and Portsmouth Street, was a quaint flower shop called, Manchester’s Blooms. It was a simple store, wooden shelves stacked with an assortment of colorful flowers and spinning racks packed with planter seeds. A gentle hum reverberated throughout the glass-paneled space, melodic harmonies pouring from the pavilion of a vintage phonograph. Mindlessly spinning along the jockey was a worn-out onyx record that had already seen its fair amount of years. Sitting by the rotating vinyl, was Harry Styles.

He arched his back and let out a soft moan when the air bubbles along the knots of his spine popped. His fingers extended above his head, nimble digits intertwining with one another while he stretched out the sore muscles. The wooden stool underneath him was unforgiving on his back, every work shift proving to be the main reason why Harry had to take up yoga during his second year of university. Dropping his hands, he picked up the abandoned textbook that laid out next to the register and continued to skim the printed text.

Harry scratched blunt nails against his thigh, eyes continuing to trail over Paradise Lost. The material of washed-out overalls chaffed against his skin with the movement, denim gently clinging to the muscles along his thighs. He rested the arch of his foot against a metal ring around the bottom of the stool, his pair of faded pink converse slightly slipping from their lack of traction.

A bell gently chimed above the entrance of the shop, the glass door unceremoniously swinging open as a girl tumbled through. Her petite build was nearly covered by a bulky ceramic pot tucked in her arms. The corner of Harry’s mouth quirked in amusement while he watched his coworker abrasively push her way through the small entrance.

“Don’t worry ‘bout me,” Jules begrudgingly huffed, cropped brown hair hanging limp over her forehead when she heaved the pot onto a nearby table. She glimpsed over her shoulder and narrowed her eyes at Harry, “Managing on my own just fine.”

Harry let out a sharp laugh, closing the book in front of him, “I hear doing things on your own builds character.”

“Well, I hear you can shove your foot up your own arse,” She mumbled under her breath. Jules turned towards Harry and wiped her hands over the green apron tied on her front, eyes locked on the textbook in front of him, “How d’you already have coursework? I thought your first module was today?”

Harry nonchalantly shrugged, “Wanted to get ahead.”

Harry.”

“What?” He groaned, already knowing where the conversation was leading.

Jules walked over to the counter and rested her forearms against the surface, hazel eyes locked on Harry’s green irises.

“M’ not about to let you spend your last year of uni doing nothing other than coursework and organizing flower arrangements.”

“I signed up for yoga,” Harry grumbled, breaking their eye contact while he fidgeted with the silver band wrapped around his thumb.

“Aren’t there any pretty boys at that studio?” Jules pressed, her finger reaching out to trace the edge of the textbook. “Any that you could…I dunno, take on a date or suck off in the steam room or something?”

“Finding love and a nice cock in a steam room?” Harry asked with an unimpressed look. “Yeah, I think I’ll pass on that porno cliché.”

She groaned and pushed herself upwards, “Was just a suggestion!”

“And a shit one at that,” He snorted, the statement laced with fondness. “Anyways,” Harry roughly ran his fingers through his chestnut curls, the tips of the tendrils brushing against his pecs, “I don’t have time to focus on anything other than uni and work. I gotta –”

“Save money so you can move to big ol’ London and focus on film. Blah, blah, blah,” Jules cut him off, evident that she had heard the excuse multiple times during the past two years.

Harry nodded and pushed himself off the stool, “Exactly.”

“Where you going?” Jules pouted, the humidity causing her hair to stick against her caramel skin.

“Psychology,” Harry adjusted his white Henley, pulling the thin material away from his chest before he slipped the denim straps of his overalls over his shoulders.

Jules folded her arms across her chest once she gave him an obvious once-over, “Doesn’t someone look sweet for their first day.”

“If I didn’t know any better, I’d think you were being genuine,” Harry smirked, shoving his book into a leather bag and sliding it over his shoulder. He cocked his hands on his hips, “Alas, I do.”

“Stop reading Shakespeare, no one still living still says alas,” Jules rolled her eyes. She swept her hands towards the exit with and exaggerated grandeur, “Alight, get on out of me mam’s shop. Go make yourself brilliant and all that.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Harry nodded and turned on his heels.

The shop was only a ten-minute walk from the university’s campus and Harry had made the trek through the narrow streets more times than he could count. He popped in white earbuds and settled on a playlist that was a compilation of Bon Iver songs. With his hands shoved in his pockets and airy vocals crooning in his ears, Harry made his way through the congested streets.

Harry mostly kept to himself. Not just in that particular moment, but in general. He avoided the typical montage of students over-exaggeratingly greeting one another after only spending a few weeks apart. To him, those people were just going through motions that were projected upon them instead of being genuine with their actions.

It wasn’t that Harry was socially inept. Frankly, he was far from it. He could hold a conversation just fine and he had the ability to speak his mind to people he barely knew. The point, for him at least, was that he didn’t have intentions on wasting time with interactions that weren’t going to further either himself as an individual or his career as a filmmaker. Trivial conversations were called trivial for a reason and Harry didn’t want any part of it.

Pulling out his mobile, Harry saw he still had about a half hour before class started. Since the weather was remarkably cooperative for late January, students were laying out and playing football on the nearby lawn. After a moment of indecision, Harry shuffled towards a small maple tree, choosing to waste his free time on the mossy ground.

Opening his satchel, he unzipped the bottom compartment and carefully pulled out an a7S II. Turning on the camera, Harry started to thumb through his reel and sort through pictures he took from the weekend prior. Images of graffiti and warehouses filtered through the display, the montage of colors dissipating into each other.

“Oi! Oi!” Harry vaguely heard someone yell.

A crease settled between his eyebrows and he turned his head to the side, chasing the tinny voice that filtered over his music. Without further notice, he was promptly nailed in the face. Not in a subtle-could-have-easily-acted-as-if-it-didn’t-happen way. No, it was a blooming-pain-and-seeing-flecks-of-white-in-his-vision type of way. And that was probably because Harry was brashly impaled by a spiraling football.

“Fuck!” Harry throatily grunted, his hand immediately moving to cover his nose when he heard a slight crunch.

There was a flurry of movement around him when he pulled his hand away, mentally thanking every possible deity that his nose wasn’t bleeding. The relief he felt was immediately plundered into horror as he realized the sound he heard, was the shattering of his new lens. He knocked the football to the side and gaped at the broken equipment in his palms.

“Oh my – Fuck! I’m so sorry!”

Harry’s jaw was slack as he looked up to see a student rushing towards him. The boy’s blue eyes were wide and frantic when he halted by the maple tree. His lip was tugged between his teeth as he anxiously looked between Harry’s dumbstruck expression and the camera. When he started to speak again, Harry numbly plucked his earbuds out.

Shit,” The boy huffed, his chest ballooning underneath a loose red shirt. He was anxiously shifting his weight from foot to foot, tight black denim stretching over his muscular legs, “I’m so sorry, mate. I –”

“You broke my lens,” Harry bluntly interrupted.

The boy froze, his lips parted a touch. He scrubbed a hand over his face, nervously looking back down at the camera as if it would magically repair itself if he stared hard enough.

“I – Uh,” He floundered, eyes darting anywhere other than Harry’s face. Eventually, he settled on, “I didn’t mean to.”

Harry snorted and rolled his eyes, “I’d hope not.”

“Right,” He uncomfortable said.

“Well…” Harry drawled out, his eyebrows furrowing together.

The boy scrunched his nose, “Well, what?”

“Well, aren’t you going to offer to fix it?” Harry cocked an eyebrow, carefully putting the remains of his camera into his bag.

“But,” He started, shutting his mouth into a firm line as he mulled over his words. “I mean technically, I hit you in the face and then you knocked it into your camera...”

Harry pushed himself to his feet, immediately folding his arms over his chest as he stood foot to foot with the other student. The other man stood at least four inches shorter than Harry, hitting 5’9 at the most. His brown hair was pushed back into a messy quiff, the tresses parted to the right and barely licking over his prominent cheekbone.

“Are you honestly trying to blame me for this?” Harry narrowed his eyes.

The boy pulled his shoulders back and mirrored Harry’s stance, “M’ trying my best here, mate.”

“Not your mate,” Harry corrected, grabbing the strap of his bag and shouldering it.

“Not polite either,” He mumbled under his breath.

Harry gawked at him, disbelief coating his tone, “Sorry if I’m not feeling all that pleasant given you’ve just destroyed my new lens!”

“It’s not like it was the camera itself!” The boy shifted his weight to the right, setting his hands on the curve of his waist. “So it’s not that bad.”

“Do you have any idea how much equipment costs?” Harry practically shouted, his shoulders heaving as he tried to contain the last spout of his anger. “Any idea at all?”

“Why the fuck would I know that?”

“Unbelievable,” Harry muttered under his breath.

“Look,” The boy’s tongue darted out to wet the plush of his bottom lip before he continued, “I’ll help you get your stupid lens sorted. No need to get stroppy.” He bent over and picked up his football, tucking it under his arm. Flicking his fringe out of his eyes, he rushed out, “How much was it, anyways? Fifty? Sixty quid?”

“Try three-hundred,” Harry humorlessly laughed.

The boy dropped his football and Harry might have found it comical under any other circumstance.

“Three-hundred pounds?! You paid that much for a sodding camera lens?!"

“At least you didn’t break the camera itself,” Harry lifted his eyebrow, the corner of his mouth quirking. “That would have been two-thousand.”

“You couldn’t have picked a less expensive hobby, could you?” The boy gruffed out as he pinched the bridge of his nose.

“Like football?” Harry scoffed, blatantly unimpressed.

“Oi!” He balked, looking genuinely affronted. “What’s wrong with footie?”

“Forget it,” Harry said with an exasperated sigh. “I’ve got class and I really don’t have time to argue over a stupid sport.” Harry pulled out his own mobile and gestured for the man to take it, “Just put your number in and we can figure it out later.”

The other student hesitantly looked at the extended mobile, “How do I know you’re not gonna use it to track me down and murder me?”

“With just a phone number?”

“You could look it up.”

“Why would I do that?”

“Because you’re angry.”

“And?”

“So…You might use it, find out me location, hack me off in my sleep.”

“Do you honestly think I would do that?”

“Dunno,” The boy narrowed his eyes and gave Harry a once over. “You look like you could be the sort.”

“I’m wearing overalls,” Harry deadpanned.

“Exactly,” He huffed, pulling a confused look from Harry. Gesturing to Harry’s lanky body, he explained, “That’s how they get ya. Looks sweet an innocent, but actually, they’re a serial killer. Waiting to lure you in. I’ve seen it in a documentary.”

Harry let out a surprised laugh, “Are you forgetting the part where you hit me?”

“What’s your point?”

“That’s hardly luring someone in.”

“Oh,” His eyebrows furrowed together, cheeks hollowed. He lolled his head to the side, “You’ve got a point there.”

“I know,” Harry groaned. He pushed his mobile forward, “So, can you just? I really have to go.”

The boy eyed the mobile and let out a defeated sigh, “Fine.”

He tapped his fingers over the screen and smirked to himself before he handed with back to Harry with a smug expression. Harry looked at the screen and saw that in favor for adding a name, he chose to just use a football emoticon.

“Really?”

The other boy grinned, “Really.”

Without another word, Harry pocketed his phone and walked away from the other man.

“Lovely chattin’, mate!”

Harry froze and took a deep breath, mentally running through a list of reasons why it would not be acceptable to punch the boy in his face. He rolled his shoulders back and flipped the other boy off over his shoulder, hearing a musical laugh in response.

“Menace,” Harry grumbled to himself.

Momentarily pushing the incident from his mind, Harry walked to Stopford Building. Once he made it to the second level, he double checked a number inscribed on a plaque to the left of the door. Seeing that it matched his syllabus, he walked into the lecture hall.

The room was already mostly packed, earning him a seat towards the back. He shuffled past a gauntlet of students, ignoring monotonous conversations while he stopped at an empty table. Settling his bag on the floor, Harry got situated in his seat and thrummed his fingers over his knees. After about five minutes of waiting, a man strode into the hall, settling himself at the front of the room.

He was lean, tall in stature, and impeccably young to be teaching at university. Harry pulled out his notebook as the professor presumably began to write his name on a large whiteboard. The last of the students were trickling into the room, settling in the few remaining seats.

“Sorry m’ late, professor,” A rushed voice huffed out.

Harry’s eyes snapped towards the front of the room. His mouth went slack as he watched football boy stand in the doorway, his weight slumped against the plaster frame. Involuntarily, Harry’s fingers stiffened their hold around his notebook while he watched the boy look around the room. When their eyes met, a mixture of surprise and exasperation clouded the boy’s expression.

“No problem,” The professor nodded, pulling his thick black hair into a loose ponytail. He gestured to the back of the room, “Find a seat and we’ll get started.”

“Right,” He nodded, eyes frantically darting across the filled desks.

Harry looked around and saw that the only remaining chair was at his table. Knowing exactly what was going to happen, Harry slumped forwards and rested his head on his folded arms. He took three deep breaths as footsteps got louder, mentally willing himself to be the bigger person. Harry lifted his head when the chair to his right slid out from its place, the metal legs noisily scraping against the floor.

“Shit,” The boy winced at the abrasive sound. He tossed his bag on the top of the table with a loud thump, causing a thick textbook to tumble out and clatter onto the ground. The boy huffed under his breath, “Buggering, fuck.”

He sat down and looked over at Harry’s disgruntled expression, “What?”

“You couldn’t be a more disruptive person if you tried,” Harry snipped, turning back to the front to see their professor turning towards the room.

“And you couldn’t be more of a pretentious twat if you tried,” He grumbled, arms folding over his chest.

“Pretentious?” Harry seethed, keeping his voice low.

The boy cocked his eyebrow, his gaze leisurely dragging over Harry’s appearance.

“You heard me.”

“Can I remind you that this is all your fault?”

The boy snorted, “Have a feeling you will regardless.”

Their professor cleared his throat and leaned back against the front table. His ankles crossed and while he rested his palms on the table’s surface. Harry sat higher in his chair, choosing to ignore the pointed scoff from his right.

Looking over the class, the professor started with, “This is introduction to psychology, section thirteen. If that is not the class you have listed on your course schedule, I suggest you leave now.”

Everyone looked around the room to see if anyone would move. When all the students remained seated, their professor kindly smiled and nodded.

“Excellent,” He pushed himself off the table and slowly paced at the front of the room. “My name is Steven Aoki and I’ll be instructing this introductory course. This is my first-year teaching which means,” He paused as he rolled his fingers through the air, “I’m not much older than all of you.”

He clasped his hands behind his back, “That being said, please don’t call me professor or sir. It’s too formal and this course will be anything but.”

“So he’s one of those,” The boy next to Harry murmured.

Harry decided it was best to ignore him.

“You can call me Steven or Mr. Aoki, whatever you’re more comfortable with,” Their professor continued. “In this class, we will be talking about a few controversial topics. If at any time you become uncomfortable with the material, speak with me privately and we will figure out an alternative. I am here to challenge you and broaden your horizons, not to make you uncomfortable.”

“Doubtful,” The boy scoffed.

Harry pinched the bridge of his nose in favor of giving into the other boy’s antics.

“Since we will be talking about sensitive topics,” Mr. Aoki carried on, oblivious to the semi-silent feud occurring in the back corner of the room, “There will be a zero-tolerance policy for any judgement or disrespectful comments. Is that understood?”

The class mumbled in agreement, pulling a satisfied nod from their professor.

“Great!” Mr. Aoki chirped and pulled out a piece of paper from his bag, resting it on a folder. He positioned a pen over the sheet and looked out over the room, “I’m going to callout roll and when I say your name, tell me your year, what you’re studying, and…Hmm, let’s go with favorite film.”

Harry lightly snorted which caused the boy to his right to look at him with his eyes suspiciously narrowed.

“What’re you on about?”

The corner of Harry’s mouth lifted and he glimpsed at him from the corner of his sightline, “Looks like I’ll be getting your name after all.”

“Oh for fucks sake,” He grumbled, sitting back in his chair with arms folded as if he was a petulant child. When Harry puffed out a laugh, he elbowed Harry in the side, “Shut it.”

“I’ll do my best not to murder you,” Harry quietly said as Mr. Aoki rolled through the roster.

“That’s not funny.”

“Then why are you smiling?”

“Am not.”

Harry rolled his eyes when the boy pointedly turned away to hide his bitten-back grin.

“Harry Styles?” Mr. Aoki called out, his eyes roaming over the crowd.

“Here,” Harry gingerly raised his hand. The rest of the room turned back to face him as he began, “M’ Harry –”

“Obviously”

Harry continued as if he hadn’t been interrupted by the gremlin at his side, “I’m in my third year and I study film.”

“Of course,” The other boy grumbled.

Harry nonchalantly kicked him in the ankle, eliciting a muffled groan in response.

“Studying film?” Mr. Aoki grinned, lowering his folder and tilting his head to the side. “In that case, I take it my third question will come easy to you?”

“A bit,” Harry nodded, his teeth pressing into bottom lip. “At the moment…I’d probably have to say, Kill your Darlings.”

Mr. Aoki nodded in understanding, “Mind if I ask why?”

“Well,” Harry started, acutely aware of the pair of blue eyes that were piercing into him, “From a cinematography stance, the color pallet is gorgeous. It’s also shot non-linear which I’ve always preferred.” He fiddled with the ring around his thumb, “And, um, the topic itself…I dunno, I think it’s powerful. You know, the relationship between Allen and Lucien. Just like, uh, how that basically started the beat movement.”

“Honestly, me nan talks faster than you. Even when she doesn’t have her teeth in.”

Harry could feel his jaw clench, fingers digging into the lip of the table as the other boy continued to antagonize him.

“Thank you, Harry,” Mr. Aoki genuinely said, tone polar-opposite of the boy’s next to Harry. “Let’s see…Who do we have next?”

When Mr. Aoki glanced back down at his list, Harry whipped towards his right to rush out, “Are you physically unable to be civil?”

“Me?!” The boy incredulously responded.

“Yes, you!” Harry whisper-shouted.

“You started it when you didn’t accept my apology!”

Harry flicked the boy’s bicep, unable to help his childish response.

“Did – Did you just flick me?” He gaped, the corner of his lips twitching in amusement.

“Yeah, what of it?” Harry purposefully brushed a piece of his hair off his shoulder.

The other boy opened his mouth to respond but snapped it shut when their professor called out, “Louis Tomlinson?”

“That’s me,” The boy begrudging answered.

“Louis Tomlinson, hmm?” Harry quietly mumbled with a smile full of mirth.

Louis quickly swatted him under the table, “Right. I’m in me third year studying sports management –”

“Typical,” Harry cut in.

“And,” Louis loudly continued over Harry’s interjection, “My favorite film is…Uh, Grease.”

Harry’s eyes widened at that, his head gently cocking to the side. When Mr. Aoki carried on with the roster, Louis turned and looked at Harry, his posture already defensive.

“If you give me shit, I’ll kick your arse.”

“Surprisingly,” Harry drawled out, “That might be your only redeeming factor.”

Louis scoffed, “Even giving a compliment, you’re still a twat.”

Harry directed his attention back to the front of the room, pushing Louis’ irritating comments from his mind. That proved to be exponentially difficult since Louis apparently did not have the ability to keep his mouth closed for more than three minutes at a time. Choosing to blatantly ignore him, Harry plucked his pen from the table and opened to a blank sheet in his notebook.

Mr. Aoki went through the course objectives, his voice serving as a monotonous drone as Harry drew. Eventually abstract lines morphed into a greenhouse, his absent-minded ministrations pulling together to create a figure of a woman by plotted pansies.

“That meant to be your girlfriend?” Louis snorted, his knuckle jutting out towards Harry’s picture.

“No,” Harry curtly responded.

“Is it a real person?”

“Yes.”

“S’a bit creepy.”

“It’s really not.”

There was a brief pause and Harry knew that it was too good to last.

“Well?”

Harry dropped his pen and glared at Louis, “What, Louis?”

Louis rolled his eyes, “Who is it?”

“Why do you care?” Harry groaned, mindfully keeping his voice low.

Louis smirked, “Want to give the poor bird a warning not to go out with you.”

Harry slumped his shoulders and closed his book, tension radiating from every molecule in his body. There was something, rather multiple things, that were infuriating about Louis. Usually, Harry had the capability of shrugging off people, not even thinking twice about it before he moved along. The difference was that Harry had never met someone who actively tried to get a rouse out of him. Typically, people stopped talking when he made it clear he would rather be left alone.

“Have I hit a nerve?” Louis pressed on, sounding delighted by possibility. “Let me guess,” He continued, lowering his voice, “You’ve asked her out and she said no. So now your plan is to win her over with your, uh, let’s loosely say, artistic abilities?”

“Alright, class!” Mr. Aoki crowed from the front. “That’s it for today, I’ll see you all on Friday.”
Harry immediately pushed himself out of his chair and gathered his things.

“I’m right, aren’t I?” Louis bragged with a smug tone, taking his time as he gathered his belongings.

“Not even close,” Harry muttered before he hurried out of the room.

****

“We have a Code Pineapple!”

Louis shut the door to his shared flat with a rough kick of his foot. The wood rattled in its frame, a sound Louis had grown accustomed to since he moved in at the beginning of summer. He brusquely dropped his bag next to the doorway and toed off his shoes, immediately traipsing through the space to find his flatmate, Niall.

“Lou, if you keep using pineapple, it loses its effect!”

The flat was relatively small, not serving too big of a space given that only two students lived there. Furniture was sparse and eclectic, most hauled from craigslist giveaways and extended family. A kitchen connected to the living room and at the end of a narrow hall, there was a bathroom and two bedrooms. It was painfully simple, smelled slightly of stale cigarettes, and Louis loved every bit of it.

“No, I really mean it this time!” Louis yelled, pouting when he pushed open a window to check the fire escape and didn’t see Niall. He jogged to the center of their living room and climbed on their coffee table. Cupping his hands around his mouth, Louis deeply inhaled and then let out a loud yell, “PINAPPLE!”

There was a sharp clatter from the bathroom and a smatter of swearing. The door flung open and Louis watched as Niall tumbled out with a fluffy blue towel wrapped around his hips. His blonde hair was matted back by water, soap suds still clinging to his milky skin.

“Pineapple?” Niall seriously huffed out on a ragged breath. He blue eyes were manically blown out, “As in, pineapple?”

Louis frantically nodded, “Pineapple.”

“Oh, fuck,” Niall nodded, turning on his heel to rush to his room. “I’m getting the kit!”

“I got my laptop!” Louis shouted, climbing off the table to stand at the island in their kitchen.

He pulled his laptop from his bag and opened it, the screen illuminating as it powered up. Louis could hear Niall frantically thumping around his room, probably hauling on a pair of pants. True to his word, Niall scrambled to the kitchen with a box labeled, Code Pineapple.

Niall flipped open the box and immediately pulled out a yellow pad of sticky-notes, smacking one in the center of the fridge.

“Target?” Niall asked, already positioning his marker over the note.

“Harry Styles.”

“Good name.” Niall began writing Harry’s name on the note, humming out loud, “Almost too good.”

“I know,” Louis rolled his eyes and opened Facebook on his computer. “That’s why he can’t be trusted.”

Niall nodded and slapped another sticky-note on the fridge, “Alright. Where did you encounter Mr. Styles?”

“Encounter?” Louis cackled. “Niall, really?”

“If we’re doing this, you’re gonna let me do it like Criminal Minds,” Niall cocked his hip and set his hands on his waist.

“Fine,” Louis huffed. “On the lawn.”

Niall wrote the word “Lawn” and underlined it.

“What time?”

“Around three?”

Niall groaned, “You didn’t check the time?”

“I was distracted!” Louis defensively held up his hands. “He was yelling at me cos I hit him.”

“Louis!” Niall shouted, pegging his marker at Louis’ head. “You can go ‘round hitting suspected serial killers! What the fuck were you thinking?!”

“I didn’t do it on purpose!” Louis kicked his foot against the island. “I accidentally hit him with a football and broke his stupid camera lens.”

“You broke his camera?”

“Just the lens bit.”

Niall cocked his head, “Then what?”

Louis awkwardly scratched the back of his neck, “Well…We argued because he said I have to buy him a new lens.”

“I mean,” Niall floundered for a minute, looking between the sticky-notes on the fridge and Louis, “You broke his shit. Kinda makes sense, mate.”

“Whatever,” Louis grumbled. “He was being a prat.”

“So that makes him a suspected murderer?”

“He asked for my number!” Louis crowed, his hands flailing in front of him. “That’s what all the bad guys do!”

“Or…He just wanted to make sure you were gonna buy him a new lens,” Niall slowly said as if he was speaking to a toddler.

“Or he wanted to kill me,” Louis deadpanned.

Niall’s entire body sagged, “Louis, I don’t think you understand what Code Pineapple is for.”

“Niall,” Louis groaned, feeling the innate need to stomp his foot.

“Hold that thought,” Niall held up his pointer finger. He dug through the box and Louis knew what he was getting before he managed to pull out a crumpled-up sheet of paper.

When Louis and Niall were eight years old, they created: Code Pineapple. They came up with the idea after watching an endless marathon of horror movies that were far too graphic for young boys their age. In general terms, Code Pineapple was only to be enacted if either boy met someone they deemed to be “suspicious” or “dangerous” and that enactment would lead to a self-led investigation.

So far, Louis had enacted Code Pineapple seventeen times.

Niall, none.

“I know what it says,” Louis grumbled, pushing the piece of paper away from him.

“New rule,” Niall roughly clasped Louis’ shoulder and shook him, “Only Nialler can enact Code Pineapple. You’ve lost the privilege.”

Louis shook him off and folded his arms, “But what if I need it?”

“Sucks,” Niall laughed, opening the fridge to grab a water bottle. “Now pull ‘im up, I wanna see what he looks like.”

Louis typed in Harry’s name into the search bar and restlessly shifted his weight from side to side as the page loaded. He scrolled through the first four Harry Styles before he paused over the fifth.

“No. Fucking. Way.”

Niall stepped by Louis’ side and narrowed his eyes as he looked at the thumbnail, his expression an exact mirror of Louis’.

“Is – Is that a dog collar?” Niall gaped, impatiently reaching over Louis to click on Harry’s profile when Louis remained motionless.

Louis’ jaw was ridiculously hung when Niall enlarged Harry’s profile picture, overwhelmingly gobsmacked at the image flooding the screen. It was definitely the same Harry Styles he had met that afternoon, head full of unruly curls and doe-green-eyes. Except this Harry was wearing a red suit. A floral red suit without any shirt underneath. A floral red suit without any shirt underneath and a leather collar wrapped around his ivory neck.

Leaning closer to the screen, Louis was vaguely aware that his irises were probably well blown out. During class, he noticed that Harry had an impressive collection of tattoos on his left arm. It was an eclectic assortment that ranged everything from a tits-out mermaid to a shaded rose. What Louis didn’t expect to find out was that the trail of ink extended to Harry’s upper body and abdomen.

It started with two swallows underneath his collar bones, the birds positioned as if they were flying towards each other. Then there was the imprinted butterfly that rested over Harry’s stomach. Bold and obnoxiously proud from where it showed underneath the opened suit jacket. But of course, as if he wasn’t already obscene enough, there was more. Two more, to be exact. Lining his hip bones were two tattoos of laurel leaves, the branches extending to the waistline of his trousers.

“Who the fuck is this kid?” Louis mumbled under his breath, his eyes never leaving the picture.

Niall exited out of the picture and began digging through tagged photos of Harry. He made a triumphant noise from the back of his throat when he landed on an album that was full of similar photos, all clearly done in a proper studio.

“He’s well fit.”

Louis raised his eyebrow, “I thought you were supposed to be the straight one?”

Niall snorted, “M’ straight, not blind.”

“Yeah,” Louis rolled his eyes and looked back at the screen. He felt his throat slightly constrict when he noticed a barely socially acceptable picture of Harry wearing nothing but the leather collar, “Suppose he it.”

Niall’s eyes were full of mirth as he looked between the screen and Louis, his elbow suggestively digging into Louis’ side.

“You fancy him!” Niall beamed.

“Definitely not,” Louis snorted. He madly gestured towards the photo album, “Just look at him! He’s pretentious.” He groaned and accusingly pointed, “Honestly, who even wears that kind of shit anyways?”

“Apparently, the lads you’re in to,” Niall smirked. With one withering look from Louis, Niall huffed out, “Forget it. M’ gonna go take a nap, I think you’ve aged me at least ten years in the past ten minutes.”

When Niall disappeared into the back, Louis grumbled to himself as he tore off the two sticky-notes from the fridge. He crumbled them and tossed the pieces of paper into the bin. Grabbing his laptop, Louis begrudging trudged to his room.

Louis’ bedroom was relatively plain. Blue sheets and a matching comforter covered a queen-sized bed that was tucked in a corner. The walls were still bare and a floor lamp let off an eerie glow inside the small room. Louis pushed open a rectangular window by his bedside and pulled out a packet of stokes from his back pocket. He sat on his bed and lit one of the fags, inhaling sharply before exhaling smoke outside the window.

With the lit cigarette dangling past the window pane, Louis opened Google. He hesitated for a moment before typing three words into the search bar.

Kill Your Darlings

****

“I was wrong and you’re gay.”

Harry hadn’t even finished setting his bag down before Louis decided it was already time to be nuisance in his life. The corners of his lips turned downwards as he looked up to see Louis rounding their table. Louis shrugged off his bag and plopped into his seat, expectantly watching Harry.

“I’m sorry,” Harry shook his head, confusion blatantly covering his voice, “But…What?”

Louis melodramatically huffed as if it was a chore to explain himself, “What I said on Wednesday?”

Harry slowly took his seat, eyes narrowed at the other boy.

“About the girl in the picture?” Louis impatiently tacked on.

“What about her?” Harry asked at a complete loss.

“You don’t like her because you’re gay,” Louis simply put. “I was wrong.”

Harry repeatedly opened and closed his mouth, unable to properly formulate a response.

“Please tell me you’re not having your big gay moment?” Louis rolled his eyes. He pulled out a laptop from his bag and set it on the table, glimpsing at Harry from the corner of his eyes, “M’ not prepared to handle a crisis if it is.”

“What’s wrong with you?” Harry exasperated, his eyes nearly bulged out. He shook his head, “Who handles a situation like that when they’re talking to someone they don’t even know?!”

Louis held up his hands defensively, “I was just –”

“No,” Harry cut him off with a pointed finger. “What if – Alright, what if this was my – Sorry, how did you so eloquently say it?” Harry scoffed, the anger in his gut pushing a boiling point, “Oh, right! ‘Big gay moment?’ What if I was actually going through a sexuality crisis?!”

“Are you?”

“No, but that’s not the point!” Harry groaned, internally wanting to bash his own head against the table in frustration.

“Then what is the point?”

“The point is, you can’t run your mouth like that when you could hurt someone!”

Louis was quiet for a moment, nodding to himself as Harry’s chest was practically heaving from ragged breaths.

“So…You’re not gay?”

“Oh my god,” Harry pinched the bridge of his nose.

“Because I watched that movie of yours, the darlings one,” Louis pushed on as if he wasn’t the most offensive human being, “And it’s very, very, gay.”

Harry snapped his head towards Louis, “You watched it?”

Louis shrugged, a faint blush creeping along his neck, “Yeah? So?”

“And all you got from it…Was that I’m gay?” Harry asked, distaste licking each word he said.

“So I was right!” Louis beamed, the skin by his eyes crinkling. He pushed open the screen of his laptop and mumbled under his breath, “Honestly, I should have known from the collar.”

“Excuse me?”

Louis tugged his bottom lip between his teeth and shook his head, waving Harry off.

“No, no,” Harry pressed, “What was that?”

“You should really make your Facebook private.”

“You looked me up?!” Harry’s eyes widened to a comical degree. He jerkily waved his hands, “Tell me you understand how ironic that is!”

Louis’ fingers rolled over his keyboard as he put in his password, ignoring the way Harry was going positively mental by his side. When Louis didn’t respond, Harry sunk back into his chair and roughly combed his fingers through his hair. He slightly winced as the tresses knotted around the rings that were slipped over his middle and pointer finger.

“So…” Louis drawled out after two minutes.

“Leave me alone.”

“Do you often fancy yourself a collar?”

“Shut up.”

“Or is that just for special occasions?”

“I did it for a friend,” Harry defensively snapped.

Louis crudely held his fist to his mouth and poked his tongue against his cheek. He waggled his eyebrows, “Very good friend, I bet.”

She is, actually,” Harry cocked his eyebrow. He continued even though he knew he didn’t owe Louis any explanation, “The girl in the picture?” Louis nodded, perking up in his chair with interest. “She’s works with me and needed someone for a project.”

“She does photography?” Louis set his elbow on the table and rested his chin against his palm.

“Fashion design,” Harry corrected. “Speaking of photography,” Harry drawled out, secretly reveling in the understanding that flickered over Louis’ smug expression, “Figure out when you’re going to pay me back?”

“About that…”

“Louis,” Harry warned.

“Good afternoon, class!” Their professor chirped as he strode through the door with an easy smile stretched over his face. “Quick announcement before we get started today.”

Louis winked at Harry before he turned towards the front and effectively ended their conversation. Harry bit back a groan as he looked ahead, his eyebrows pinching together when he saw two new students standing at the front of the room. The other students seemed to have caught on as well, a few straightening their backs in attention.

It was two boys, one stockier than the other. The muscular one had an eager smile on his face and short brown hair that made him look more like a member of the military than a university student. In complete contrast, the other student was lean with a rather nonplussed expression, his black quiff parted to show that the left side of his head was buzzed.

“Gentlemen,” Mr. Aoki gestured between the two students and the class, “Whenever you’re ready.”

“Hi everyone!” Stocky greeted them with an overwhelming amount of pep that Harry couldn’t possibly reciprocate. He pointed to himself first, “I’m Liam Payne and this is –”

“Zayn Malik,” The second student supplied, his countenance infinitely more relaxed.

“We just wanted to take a minute to tell you about a research project that we’re conducting with the university,” Liam said as he started to hand out a small stack of paper to a student in the front row.

There was a murmur rolling through the class as the papers were spread out, people leaning into their friends as they looked over the fliers.

“All of the basic information is on the sheet that’s being passed around now,” Zayn chimed in.

Harry grabbed the remaining pieces of paper from a girl to his left, eyes already skimming over the sheet as he handed the rest to Louis.

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“We’re selecting five couples for a romantic couples study. The study will last the remainder of the semester and will finish the week before graduation,” Liam said once everyone had gotten a flier. “Ideally, we’re looking for five couples that are different from each other so our research can be well-rounded. So… That includes different genders, sexualities, races, religions, etc.”

“It will be a time commitment, almost like a part-time job,” Zayn carefully explained. “That is why the university has sponsored it as a paid study.”

“How much will the couples be paid?” Came from someone in the middle of the room.

“Hundred-fifty,” Zayn answered. The corner of his mouth twitched upwards when he added, “Per person.”

Louis lifted his head at that as he mumbled, “Holy shit.”

Harry’s eyes widened, nodding to himself as the room began to hum with chatter.

“That being said,” Liam clasped his hands behind his back to get everyone’s attention, “There will be a brief interview process before we decide the five couples so we can decide if you and your partner would be a good fit.”

“Or not,” Zayn tacked on with a grin.

Liam nodded with a small smile, “Yeah, or not.”

“Any other questions?” Zayn asked, amber eyes raking over the room.

When nobody raised their hands, Liam gave a quick wave to the room, “Great! Thank you for your time!”

Mr. Aoki stepped forward and politely saw them out. He turned to the class and asked them to take out their textbooks, instantly rolling into his lecture since they had already lost a good amount of time due to the announcement. Harry shoved the flier in his bag, his attention settling on the slideshow ahead. Shockingly enough, Louis remained silent, his eyes still locked on the flier.

After an hour of going over the basic premise of case studies, Harry was nearly ready to rip his hair out. All he wanted to do was trudge back to his flat, edit his reel, and have cheap wine. His eyes continued to dance from the ticking clock above the door to the flier that was still clutched in Louis’ hands. His eyebrows pulled together when he looked at Louis, almost worried that he managed to stay quiet for such an extended amount of time.

When their professor dismissed them, Harry shot out of his chair with a speed that genuinely didn’t know he had. He shouldered his bag and without looking back, made his way out of the door. It wasn’t until he was in the stairwell that he heard a thunderous noise rumbling behind him. A crease pinched along his forehead as he turned around.

“What the – Hey!” Harry yelped, eyes wide as Louis barreled into him.

Louis fisted one hand in Harry’s grey jumper and then proceeded to pull him down the stairs. Harry stumbled after the shorter man, knocking into more than just one person as his lanky limbs flailed outwards to get balance.

“For fucks sake!” Harry grumbled, trying to swat Louis’ hand off him. “Lemme go!”

“Keep moving,” Louis instructed, his grip not easing up until they were outside.

Louis guided them towards the side of the building, only letting go once Harry’s back was against a brick wall.

“What the fuck is your problem?!” Harry yelled as he rearranged his now-stretched jumper.

“We have to do the couples study.”

Harry looked at Louis as if he had sprouted an extra limb.

“What?”

“The couples study,” Louis rushed, pulling out the flier from his bag. “We can do it and get the money to fix your camera. Bang-boom, it's sorted.”

“Are…Are you actually mental?” Harry disbelievingly asked.

Louis swatted him in the shoulder, “Just hear me out, yeah?”

“No,” Harry straightforwardly said, moving to walk around Louis.

“Why not?!” Louis asked, instantly falling into step next to Harry as he walked. “It would be so easy!”

“Did you miss the bit where it’s a couples study?” Harry snorted. He tightened his grip on his bag, “Surely, you’ve heard of the term before.”

“Now is not the time to be a twat, I’m trying to fix things!”

“Then fix it like an adult and earn the money on your own!”

“But –”

“No.”

Louis grabbed Harry’s shoulder and pulled him to a stop. When Harry didn’t turn around, Louis huffed out in annoyance and stepped in front of him. He settled his hands on his hips and jutted his chin upwards, waiting for Harry to look at him.

“Give me one good reason why it wouldn’t work.”

“I don’t like you,” Harry easily answered.

Louis rolled his eyes, “A better reason than that.”

“We’re not a couple, Louis!” Harry exclaimed, irises blown out as he looked over Louis’ face. “We can’t do a couples study because we,” He frantically gestured between the two of them, “Are not dating!”

“That’s why we're gonna lie,” Louis smugly said as if it was the most brilliant suggestion.

Harry folded his arms over his chest, “You want to pretend to be my boyfriend?”

Louis’ nose scrunched in distaste, “Yeah, no. Don’t say it like that.”

“I’m going home,” Harry muttered, starting to take a step forwards.

“Nope,” Louis took a step back and pushed his palm against the front of Harry’s chest. “We’re doing this.”

“No,” Harry removed Louis’ hand from him, “We are not.”

Louis obnoxiously groaned, “I thought you wanted your fuckin’ lens fixed!”

“I do!”

“Then what’s the issue?!”

Harry arched his back so he was eye-level with Louis, “I loathe you.”

“Who even says loathe anymore?” Louis bewildered. When Harry looked at him unimpressed, Louis sighed, “Just…I don’t have time around footie and class to get a job.”

“Not my problem,” Harry snipped.

“Actually, it is if you need the money.”

Harry pressed the heels of his palms against his eyelids, roughly pushing back as he let out a frustrated groan. He scrubbed a hand over his face and looked around at the different students passing them by, all oblivious to the exchange happening in front of them. With his bottom lip trapped between his teeth, Harry’s gaze settled back on Louis’ expectant one.

“The flier said we have to be living together,” Harry weakly argued.

Louis adjusted his bag over his shoulder and countered, “We just have to improvise when they’re around.”

“Improvise?” Harry quirked his eyebrow.

When Louis nodded, Harry looked down at his feet. He scuffed his black boot against the sidewalk and mulled over Louis’ proposition. The only reason he remotely entertained the idea was because he had planned on using the new lens for filming his final thesis. He needed to have a quality reel put together so he had something to show when he moved to London and a good lens was part of that equation.

On the other hand, there were numerous flaws with the remote possibility of them faking a relationship. The most pertinent one being that Harry and Louis didn’t have the ability to act civil with each other. Let alone loving. Harry couldn’t even imagine what sort of consequences there would be if people found out they were lying. He was on a scholarship to attend university and something as idiotic as this could jeopardize everything he worked for.

With that in mind, Harry couldn’t possibly fathom why the following words tumbled out of his mouth.

“If we’re going to do this,” Harry carefully started, watching as a smug expression flitted over Louis’ face, “There is no half-arseing it.”

The corner of Louis’ mouth quirked and he nodded in agreement.

“So we’re doing this?”

“Yeah,” Harry hesitantly nodded. “We’re doing this.”