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'Til I Tasted You

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“Hiiii.”

The video started the same way they always did, with Harry’s trademark greeting and the camera focused on his wide, dimpled smile. He waved at the lens, and Louis had to resist the urge to wave back.

“I hope you’ve all been well,” Harry said, chatting as he busied himself setting up for whatever recipe he would be making today. “For those of you who missed it, earlier this week I was a guest on My Drunk Kitchen with my friend Hannah. There’s a link to the video on my blog.” He grinned at the camera, the faintest hint of pink in the apples of his cheeks. “Please don’t judge me too harshly if you’ve already watched it.”

Louis had watched it. Eleven times, in fact. Harry and Hannah had drank mojitos and made kale smoothies, which was all well and good until Harry asked if it was possible to make alcoholic smoothies. The answer was yes, they could, but no, they shouldn’t.

Louis thought he’d watch it once more for good measure, just as soon as this video was over.

It had become his Wednesday tradition: Wake up, go to class, come home, and watch the latest episode of Harry’s show. Actually, checking Harry’s blog was the first thing he did most evenings. And mornings. And lunch breaks.

He might have been a bit obsessed.

Still, at least he was learning something. Harry’s blog was a mixture of recipes, cooking tips, articles about interesting fruits and veg Louis had never heard of, and, once a week, an instructional video detailing how to cook one of the recipes he posted that week. When he first found Harry’s blog, Louis was fresh out of his first year of uni, moving into a flat with a friend and trying to learn how to cook so that he and Liam wouldn’t starve to death. It turned out to have been unnecessary, as Liam could actually cook quite well, but Louis had been a devoted follower ever since. Now, in his final year of uni, he couldn’t say he’d ever successfully managed to recreate one of Harry’s recipes. He could, however, now make a mean cheese toastie. He liked to think he owed that to Harry.

(Okay, so Liam had been the one to teach him, but he watched Harry’s video on cheese toasties and that had definitely helped too.)

Louis wasn’t the only one with a soft spot for a certain brunet, curly-haired cook. Harry's follower count on tumblr was staggering, as were the views on his videos. He was proper internet famous now, with sponsors and his own recipe book and t-shirts and hats with his blog’s logo on them. Of course, because Harry was too damn good for this world, all merchandise was fair trade and a portion of the proceeds went to feed the homeless.

Today, Harry was making some sort of bean soup that sounded perfect for the cooler weather they'd had lately. Harry looked as lovely as ever, his long brown hair gathered into a messy bun, and a red apron was fastened around his slim waist. His eyes were green and bright, seeming to look straight through the screen as he explained the proper way to dice the celery and carrots. Louis watched in rapt fascination as, yet again, ingredients changed in Harry’s capable hands, morphing from random components to a cohesive dish in no time at all. Of course, parts of the video were edited down to make it a reasonable length, but that didn’t change the fact that the finished product had Louis’ mouth watering as he stared at the screen, and he didn’t even like kale.

Once the video ended, and Harry had signed off with a cheery ‘happy cooking,’ Louis slammed the laptop shut and pushed himself away from his desk. “Liam!”

“Yeah?” his flatmate called warily from his room across the hall. Liam had his own Wednesday night tradition, thanks to Louis, though his involved regularly testing their fire extinguisher.

Louis opened his mobile, navigating to Harry’s blog to screenshot the recipe even as he shoved his feet into his shoes. “I’m making soup for dinner!” He grabbed a jacket and headed down the hall, though he still heard Liam’s weary sigh and a mutter of, “I’ll have the pizza guy on standby.” Undeterred, Louis collected his wallet and keys and stepped out into the brisk London air.

*

They ended up having pizza for dinner.

It started off well… Louis was getting very good at food prep, all his ingredients neatly diced and the sausage simmering away in a pot on the stove. Then the broth had evaporated and the sausage was burning and he dropped a can of beans and the kale—

Well, he was pretty sure he didn’t do anything wrong to the kale; it always just tasted a bit like dirt.

Still, the soup was a disaster, and it was the final blow when the pizza delivery guy wrinkled his nose the second Louis opened the door to him, peering curiously in the direction of the kitchen.

“Tried to cook again?” Steve the Pizza Guy asked, grinning as he traded the box of pizza for Louis’ money and a generous tip, courtesy of his flatmate. “What was it supposed to be this time?”

“Kale and white bean soup,” Liam supplied helpfully from the kitchen window, still fanning at the smoky air to try and keep from setting the fire alarm off.

“Harry again?” Steve asked, a sympathetic tilt to his head.

Liam just nodded solemnly, and Louis rolled his eyes and stomped into the lounge, throwing himself down on the couch with the pizza box in his lap.

Unbothered by his tantrum, Steve stayed to chat with Liam for a few more minutes before seeing himself out, promising Liam that he’d see him in class the following day.

With the kitchen mostly cleared out, Liam shut the window against the cool night air and sheepishly made his way into the lounge, a beer in each hand with the cap already off. He offered one to Louis with a shy smile. “Peace offering?”

Louis glared at the beer and then at Liam before sullenly taking it, passing Liam the now half-empty pizza box as his own olive branch. They sat in silence for a bit, Louis sipping at his beer while Liam ate, until the latter put the box down and cleared his throat.

“You know I’m just teasing you, right? About the Harry thing?”

“Yeah,” Louis said, staring down the mouth of his beer bottle as if it might transport him somewhere far away from a conversation he didn't want to have for, oh, the fifth time or so.

Liam sighed. “It’s sweet, Lou, it really is, but this guy’s videos aren’t magically going to make you a better cook.” He stretched out a socked foot, nudging Louis’ bare one. “Have you ever thought about taking a cooking class or something? Or maybe starting with something a little simpler? You’re getting really good at cheese toasties.”

Louis had to smile at that. “I am, aren’t I?” he asked, trademark cockiness finding its way back into his voice before he vanished it once more with a heavy sigh. “I know it’s silly, Li. I just want to be good at something.” Harry makes me want to be good at something, he thought.

“You’re good at loads of things,” Liam argued. “Just last night you kicked my arse at Rocket League.”

Louis laughed at the memory of Liam’s string of curses each time Louis stole the ball or made another goal in the game. “I am quite good at Rocket League,” he allowed.

Liam shrugged, his smile wide and easy now that the tension had dissipated. “See? What more do you need?” He threw back the rest of his beer, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. “You just need to find one of those gamer guys on YouTube to be obsessed with instead, and you’re all sorted.”

Louis stood, grabbing Liam’s empty bottle and the pizza box on his way to brave the disaster he’d made in the kitchen. “Ah, Liam, you know Markiplier never returned my calls.” He gave his flatmate an exaggerated wink before sauntering away to scrape charred bits of sausage out of the pan, wishing he could explain to Liam that he agreed his life would be far simpler if he had never found Harry’s blog. However, he’d come to care greatly for the lad after over a year of following him, and it was more than just a silly crush at this point. He genuinely cared about Harry as a person, even if the other man would never know he existed. It was no different than any other celebrity crush, or the footie players Liam obsessed over. And, as long as it wasn’t interfering with Louis’ life, what could be the harm? (Liam might say the harm was in their kitchen, but Louis would insist it was a worthy sacrifice).

*

“Niall! Food’s ready!” Harry called, switching off his camera. Sunday night meant one thing in their flat, and that was the certainty of a delicious, home-cooked meal. Recording an episode on Sunday gave Harry a couple days to edit—or, on the off chance something went terribly wrong, enough time to start over—and post on Wednesday. It worked out quite well, in his opinion.

Niall came around the corner in a hurry, making a beeline for the cupboard where they kept the dishes and pulling down a plate for each of them. He tilted his chin up, sniffing the air. “Smells amazing, Haz.”

Harry’s flatmate was never far away on a cooking night. He had been the guinea pig for countless recipes over the years, ever since they met during freshers’ week and Harry had offered Niall a homemade chocolate chip cookie. “You’re never getting rid of me now,” the blond had warned around a mouthful of cookie. He had been right.

“It’s a bit different tonight,” Harry cautioned, taking the plates from Niall and dishing them each up a generous portion. “I won’t be offended if you don’t like it.”

“My arse, you won’t,” Niall teased, taking his plate and carrying it to the table. “You were pissed off a couple weeks ago when I said your gravy was too thin.”

Harry narrowed his eyes, serving spoon held out menacingly. “It was supposed to be thin,” he said with the air of someone who has already won that particular argument. “It was an au jus.”

“Well, then ‘aw joo’ must be French for shitty gravy,” Niall replied nonchalantly. “Besides, this can’t be weirder than that beet soup thing.”

“You mean borsht?” Harry replied, joining Niall at the table. “I got a lot of comments on that one, you wanker.”

“Because your weird arse subscribers have weird arse tastes,” Niall muttered before finally taking a bite of his food. “Huh. This is pretty all right. What is it?”

“Vegan Shepherd’s Pie,” Harry replied smugly, delighting in the way Niall’s eyes widened when he realised he’d admitted to enjoying something vegan.

Not one to waste food, Niall begrudgingly chewed and swallowed, glaring at Harry as he did so. “I need to learn to ask before I eat,” he muttered, taking a swig of his beer.

“Or you need to learn to be a little more choosy about what you put in your mouth,” Harry suggested helpfully, causing Niall to spray beer all over the table.

“You’re such a wanker,” Niall wheezed, red-faced and coughing.

Harry just chuckled, leaning over to thump his flatmate on the back. “You love me anyway. Now eat up, and I’ll let you try some of the cupcakes I made for dessert.”

That perked Niall right up. “Chocolate?”

“Vegan Earl Grey with lemon buttercream.”

“Goddammit, Haz.”

*

Louis was absolutely, one hundred per cent, not going to watch Harry’s video this week.

He hadn’t checked his tumblr since last Wednesday, he had turned off tweet notifications, and unliked Harry’s Facebook page. Only temporarily, of course; once he proved to Liam (and, a tiny bit, to himself) that his life didn’t revolve around Harry, he could go back to… well, allowing his life to revolve around Harry.

However, that was easier said than done, especially with the notification from YouTube there on his screen, just waiting to take him straight to Harry’s newest video. His thumb hovered over the screen uncertainly, until he pressed it down with a scoff.

“Just for a moment,” he told himself as the page loaded. “Just to see what he’s making this week, that’s all.”

Then Harry’s face filled the screen, all smiles and dimples, and Louis’ resolve went straight out the window.

“Hiiii.”

That was it. All it took was one word and Louis was drawn right back in. He sighed, collapsing down on the couch with his mobile in hand, resigned to watching just this one more video. Liam was meeting with a classmate to revise for an exam, so Louis had the flat all to himself.

And god, was Harry a vision in a cupcake-patterned apron, his hair gathered into a high ponytail that bobbed and swayed as he set out his ingredients. He was talking about one of the ingredients, but Louis couldn’t even be bothered to listen. He’d be perfectly content to mute the volume and just watch Harry move about the screen.

Actually…

Louis wasn’t home alone that often, his and Liam’s schedule’s being fairly similar. But here he was, with an empty flat and a beautiful boy on his screen making beautiful food and the months since his last shag stretching out in front of him like a road disappearing into the distance.

Basically, he was horny, Harry was hot, and there was absolutely no one around to tell him not to wank on the sofa.

It felt naughty, opening the button on his jeans right there in the lounge and slipping them far enough down that he had access to his dick. It was slowly catching on to his grand plans, twitching in interest as Louis pulled it out of his pants and gave a testing stroke. On the screen, Harry had expertly cut slits into pieces of chicken and was carefully stuffing each one with slices of ham. It shouldn’t have been hot, was the thing, but something about the way Harry moved those long, clever fingers, the way he poked out his tongue a bit as he concentrated on his work… Raw chicken or not, Harry was a vision and Louis was definitely turned on.

“This is a new low even for you, Tommo,” Louis grumbled to himself, all the while taking firmer hold of his cock and stroking it to hardness. He could concentrate on one thing at a time: on the way Harry’s mouth moved while he spoke; how lovely those full lips would look curving around his cock or sliding along his skin; his throat, long and slender and so biteable, a vein tracing down the side whenever he was focussing on something; his hands; his hair; his—

It was too much, that all of that came in one gorgeous package called Harry, and Louis cried out in frustration as he picked up the pace. He was fully hard now, the precome dripping from the head easing the slide of his hand. He imagined a hand with longer fingers, steady enough to wield a knife with careful precision and gentle enough to pipe delicate designs onto cakes. He could hear Harry’s voice in his ear, saying the same things he said in his videos but in a completely new way: “Just like that. Keep going. It’s perfect.”

And maybe he should be ashamed, but the combination of imagining Harry’s words and watching him onscreen, laughing and vibrant even whilst breading chicken, had Louis hurtling over the edge too fast, too soon. His hips snapped up of their own accord as he fucked into his fist, coming with a shout that sounded like Harry and fuck and yes.

That’s when the shame hit, blood finding its way back north to fill his cheeks and colour his ears. He exited the video quickly, not even bothering to see how the dish turned out or what Harry had even been making.

He had just masturbated to a cooking video. Of a very fit man, yes, but a cooking show nonetheless. He guiltily wiped his hand on his jeans before standing, needing to get changed and cleaned up before Liam decided to show up. It felt strange not running to the shop to buy ingredients for whatever dish Harry had come up with that week. Of course, it would fail miserably and they’d order pizza in the end anyway, so maybe Louis should just skip to the pizza bit. Liam would be relieved, especially after the Vegan Shepherd’s Pie fiasco of the week before.

(Let it be known that vegan ground beef, when burning, smells absolutely foul. Steve the Pizza Guy wouldn’t even stick around to chat.)

So Louis took a shower and washed away any evidence of his infatuation, changed into clean, dry joggers, and ordered a pizza. He didn’t feel quite up to cooking tonight, not with the memory of Harry’s fingers deftly preparing food still fresh in his mind, especially not with that mental image associated with the warm, sleepy calm that seemed to have soaked into every inch of his body.

Liam came home not long after the pizza arrived, poking his head slowly through the doorway and taking a careful sniff. “It smells good in here,” Liam said, looking rather bewildered as he stepped inside and toed off his trainers.

From his usual spot on the couch, Louis rolled his eyes. “I ordered pizza. Your half is in the kitchen.”

Still eyeing Louis warily, like a wild animal that might attack at any moment, Liam slunk into the kitchen in search of his dinner. Moments later, pizza in hand, Liam perched on the edge of the sofa with concern etched into his features. “Lou, it’s Wednesday.”

“So it is,” Louis agreed, picking a piece of pepperoni off his remaining slice.

“You always cook on Wednesdays,” Liam pressed on, frowning.

“I always burn things on Wednesdays,” Louis corrected him. “Thought I’d give it a rest for a week, eh?” He took a bite of pizza in a way he hoped conveyed total nonchalance, but probably read as woefully awkward.

Liam scooted a bit closer, leaving his plate on the cushion beside him and resting a warm palm on Louis’ shoulder. “Are you all right? Did something happen with Harry?” He asked in the way one might ask a friend about a breakup, and that was just too much for Louis to handle.

“I’m fine,” Louis snapped, leaning away from Liam’s touch. “Not everything is about Harry, is it? I just didn’t feel like failing at cooking tonight, Liam, so you and Steve need to mind your own bloody business.” Because Steve had said the same things when he dropped the pizza off, asking after Harry as if they’d had a lovers’ quarrel and needed to patch things up. It wasn’t even coming from a place of judgment, but somehow Louis couldn’t stand the thought of all these people knowing Harry was so important to him while Harry wasn't even aware that Louis existed. Harry was the star and Louis had been pulled in to orbit him, one of many satellites that would continue on their courses with no recognition or effect. And he would continue to do so until he crashed and burned, probably, though maybe he already had.

Liam recoiled as if he’d been slapped, his large brown eyes filled with worry for his friend. “I’m sorry, Lou,” he said quietly, sounding like a scolded child. “Thank you for getting pizza.”

“Sure,” Louis replied with a shrug before changing the subject, determined not to sit and stew about things that were out of his control. “Are you ready for your exam tomorrow?” Louis asked, knowing that was sure to set Liam on a tirade about whatever his economics class was currently covering. It worked a treat, and Louis let himself drift away on Liam’s voice. He snapped a picture with his mobile as he listened, posting it to tumblr with the caption: ‘I may not be able to cook like @HarryStyles, but I can order a pizza with the best of them !’ It was silly, but making light of a situation always made him feel a bit better. And who knows, perhaps Harry might even see it.

*

When he wasn’t blogging or filming, Harry was a normal uni student like anyone else. He went to class and hit the pubs with his mates and lounged around his messy flat. The kitchen was always pristine for his videos, of course, but the rest of the flat more than made up the difference. Living with Niall, as it turned out, was much like living with barely contained chaos in human form.

Thursdays, the day after he posted a video, were usually lots of fun. There were always new posts on tumblr, gifs of his new video and photos of attempts at his latest recipe. And while Harry wasn’t vain by any stretch of the word, it was nice to see other people getting excited about cooking (even if he had to wade through the occasional lewd post to find them).

He always had lots of tumblr and Twitter mentions, of course, by people posting pictures of varying quality of last night’s dish, chicken cordon bleu. Most were passable, some were exceptional, and a fair few were posted alongside those yellow stars that said things like ‘you tried’ or ‘there was an attempt.’ Sometimes, if he could see where they went wrong, he’d send them an encouraging message in response.

One post, however, caught his eye.

It was a photo of a slice of pepperoni pizza with a bite taken from the tip, standing out from the various incarnations of chicken cordon bleu. The poster was clearly a fan, having made reference to not being able to cook like Harry. Intrigued, Harry clicked on the person’s blog, curious to see what else @LouisTomlinson had to say about his cooking.

There were some posts about football, some about music, but by and large most of the content seemed to revolve around Harry. There were several reblogged recipes, including his video each week, and a gifset of him and Hannah Hart sitting on her kitchen floor, both positively sloshed and leaning heavily against one another. He had to smile at that; Harry and Hannah had become quite good friends since his blog started gaining attention. She was a lovely person and had been invaluable at helping Harry navigate the world of internet stardom.

Among the reblogs, there were a few original posts as well. Most were pictures of blackened pans and the charred remains of food, lumpy cake and, in one case, a nicely cooked (if slightly lopsided) cheese toastie. There were also a handful of selfies featuring a man with stunning blue eyes and a rakish smile. Harry knew he had some male fans, but he certainly hadn’t been expecting the handsome, tattooed man in the photos. He looked like blokes who would have picked on Harry in sixth form, not one who would actually follow his blog.

Unable to resist, Harry tapped on the ‘ask’ button and typed out a message to Louis, if that’s what his name really was.

‘heyyy. I just wanted to tell you not to give up. That was an excellent cheese toastie, and even the pros have to order a pizza now and then. Thanks for watching .xx’

He hit send before he could change his mind, then went back to his mentions to comment on a few other posts. Still, he couldn’t keep his mind from returning to the bright-eyed man in the selfies on @LouisTomlinson’s blog. He had never before hoped a fan responded to his ask quite as much as he hoped Louis would. Tucking his mobile away, he headed for his next class with a smile on his face.

When Harry made it home that night, he already had a recipe chosen for his next video.

*

Louis was not what you might call a ‘big blog.’ He had a handful of followers, most of whom were fellow Harry fans, and interacted with them mostly in the form of screaming in capital letters over their idol. It was a fun way to pass the time, and a safe place Louis could escape to when the rest of his life was too much to deal with. And sure, he spent a bit more money than was necessary on buying ingredients for meals he was only going to ruin anyway, but he liked to think he was getting a little better. Maybe.

Still, aside from the occasional ask from a friend or a rude anon, he didn’t get many messages. That suited Louis just fine; he was happy to stick to his little corner of tumblr, and if he got five or six notes on one of his selfies, that was good enough for him.

He was in class when he saw the notification that he’d received an ask. He didn’t look too closely at it, needing instead to focus on the material, and it would still be there when he was finished with his class.

By the time class was over, though, Liam had decided they needed a night out. That was fine with Louis; he didn’t have anything going on until Friday afternoon, and a pint or three sounded like a good idea. Maybe it would help him get a curly-haired cook off his mind for one night, at least.

The pub was crowded and dark, the music just this side of too loud and the bass turned low enough that Louis felt it in his chest. He was sat in a booth with Liam, Kayla (Liam’s on-again-off-again girlfriend), and Steve the Pizza Guy. Louis should probably start referring to him as just Steve, since he and Liam were actually pretty good mates, but he would always be the pizza guy, so.

“What have you been up to, Louis?” Kayla asked, tapping her painted nails against her Collins glass. “I feel like I haven’t seen you in ages.”

Louis shrugged. He liked Kayla just fine, but as she was usually the reason for the ‘off-again’ stretches in their relationship and he was the one who had to help Liam through it, he wasn’t always happy to hear she was back in the picture. “Not much,” he said, turning his pint glass in slow circles in the condensation on the table. “Just uni, mostly.”

“And pining over Harry Styles,” Steve chimed in helpfully. He was already flushed scarlet, his dark hair messy from running a hand through it far too often. Steve was not very good at holding his liquor.

“Come on, man,” Liam warned, knowing how tired Louis was of the subject and trying to spare his friend the teasing that usually followed. It was too late, though; the damage had been done.

“Harry Styles?” Kayla quirked a sculpted brow at Louis, mouth twitching upward in a smile. “The blogger?”

Louis groaned internally, resisting the urge to hide his face in his arms on the somewhat sticky table.

“Louis’ a bit obsessed,” Steve told her, patting Louis’ back.

Kayla laughed. “Never took you for the type, if I’m honest. You don’t seem like the cooking sort.”

“He isn’t,” Liam and Steve replied at the same time. Louis kicked his flatmate under the table.

“It’s not that big a deal,” he muttered darkly, glaring into his beer. “Everyone’s allowed to have a little crush.”

“And Harry is rather fit, isn’t he?”

Louis looked up in shock at Kayla’s words. She was smiling kindly at him, none of the teasing or mirth that usually accompanied such a statement.

She winked at him, ignoring Liam gaping beside her. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a fan,” she said nonchalantly. “I’ve never missed a Wednesday video. You have good taste, Louis, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.” She shot a meaningful glance at the other two men around the table, ending with Liam. “Where do you think I learned to make that spag bol that you like so much?”

“Thanks, Kayla,” Louis said, feeling a rush of affection for the blonde lady, and not just because of the stunned look on Liam’s face. He raised his glass and held it out to knock against hers in a toast. “Now I know who to text on Wednesday evenings.”

She grinned as she raised her glass as well. “At least until you get Harry Styles’ number,” she joked.

As Louis downed the rest of his beer, he couldn’t help but think, wouldn’t that be something.

It wasn’t until Louis was crawling into bed that night, checking Facebook and tumblr and his email a final time on his mobile, that he remembered the message waiting patiently in his tumblr inbox. He read the message, squinted at the url of the asker, and then scanned it again. He was pretty drunk, sure, but that was still no explanation for why he had a message from Harry Styles sitting in his ask box. It must have been a fake, or someone with their name one letter off, so Louis typed back a snarky reply before locking his screen and setting his mobile in its usual spot on his nightstand.

He dreamt that he had Harry’s number, written in messy scrawl on a recipe card, and he put it in a pan on the hob until it caught fire and disappeared in a black curl of smoke.

*

“What’s that face for?”

Niall and Harry were seated at the table together, Niall happily munching on the cinnamon scones Harry had gotten up early to bake. Harry had checked his mobile once he was situated in his chair, a still steaming scone on his plate and a cup of coffee fresh from the French press, only to find himself frowning at one of the messages he’d gotten in return after his foray into his tumblr fandom yesterday.

Not even knowing how to respond, Harry wordlessly passed the mobile over to his flatmate, allowing Niall to read the message for himself.

“’Listen, pal,’” Niall read aloud, eyebrows shooting up the farther he got into the reply. “’I don’t know who you think you are, but I am not near drunk enough to think that Harry Styles is actually contacting me. Hope you had a good laugh, but please consider getting a life and also fucking off.’ Wow, Haz, what did you do to this guy?” Niall asked, handing the mobile back with a low whistle.

Harry looked back down at the screen helplessly. “I just sent him an ask thanking him for watching the show,” he murmured, green eyes wide. “I didn’t mean to piss him off. What should I do?”

“Said he was drunk, didn’t he?” Niall said around a mouthful of scone. “Write him back. Maybe he’ll be sober when he reads it.” The blond paused thoughtfully. “Or maybe he’ll be drunk again, in which case he’s probably an alcoholic and you don’t need to be messaging him anyway.”

Harry snorted. “So helpful, as always,” he muttered, even as his thumbs flew over the keyboard to construct a reply. He held it up for Niall to approve before sending.

‘hey again. Sorry if I upset you with my last ask, but I truly am Harry. Sorry again, and I really hope you’ll be watching on Wednesday! xx’

“Perfect,” Niall replied with a grin, so Harry sent it and tried not to think about @LouisTomlinson while he got ready for his first class of the day.

It was mid-afternoon when Harry finally got a response, and he couldn’t help chuckling to himself as he read the message.

‘holy shit. You really are Harry Styles. Excuse me while I go die in shame.’

‘No need for that,’ Harry typed back, ‘but maybe don’t drink and use tumblr next time.’ He pressed send and was about to put his mobile away when it buzzed again, Louis’ reply coming through almost immediately.

‘you’re one to talk, mate. I saw you with Hannah Hart.’

‘Never said anything about drinking and using YouTube, now did I?’ Harry replied, unable to keep the grin from his face. Was this… was he flirting? With some random internet stranger? Get a grip, Harry, he scolded himself, tucking his mobile into his pocket and standing to get to his next class. They make television shows about crap like this. That would be wonderful publicity for his blog, wouldn’t it? Ending up on an episode of Catfish after pining over a blue-eyed boy who might or might not have flirted with him.

Except Harry had no reason to be pining. He got flirty messages from men, women, and gender nonconforming people alike every day. There was always someone wanting to tell him that he was hot or handsome or even pretty, now and again. What was it about this one boy, who had actually told Harry to fuck off, that had Harry so intrigued?

Still, he couldn’t help but hope that Louis would write him back, and that he really would watch on Wednesday. Maybe it was a bit strange, planning an entire show around someone he didn’t even know, but at the very least he hoped he could make Louis smile.

Just for good measure, the next time he was on tumblr, Harry made sure to follow @LouisTomlinson. Only because Louis was funny, and reblogged some nice gifs of Harry, and absolutely not at all because he hoped there would be more selfies in the near future.

*

Louis was staring at his tumblr notifications, stunned.

The whole weekend had been a bit mad, what with waking up Friday morning (afternoon) to another message from Imposter Harry Styles, only to click on the user pic to find, to his horror, that the real Harry Styles actually had messaged him, and Louis had sworn at him, and basically his life was over.

Then, though, Harry replied again. And again. And now, sitting at the top of his notifications, was a follow from Harry Styles himself. Louis was barely resisting the urge to shout it from the rooftops, to take a screenshot and wave it in the face of anyone who demanded proof. He might have done, a week ago, but that was before. Now he’d exchanged messages with the man, ones that he hoped he wasn’t wrong in reading as somewhat flirtatious, and he wanted to keep that for himself.

Liam, though. He could tell Liam.

“Look at this,” Louis said smugly, pressing his mobile screen into Liam’s face the moment he got home. Liam was sitting on the couch working on coursework, his eyes going crossed from trying to look at the screen that was far too close to his face.

“What am I supposed to be looking at, exactly?” Liam huffed, pushing the mobile away to a more reasonable distance.

Louis pulled his phone back, cradling it to his chest and smiling smugly. “Harry fucking Styles followed me on tumblr, that’s what,” he announced, chin held high.

“Yeah, right. And I bet he told you the secret to making a perfect quiche, too.”

“Hey!” Louis cried indignantly, turning the screen back around so Liam could actually see it. “You don’t have to be such an arse about it. He really did follow me!”

Liam’s eyebrows knit together as he squinted at the screen. Louis could tell the precise moment when he got to The Notification by the way his eyes widened almost comically. “Holy shit, Lou. Harry Styles followed you on tumblr.”

“I know!” Louis shouted, feeling every bit like a teenager who just got asked to the big dance by the most popular boy in school.

Liam’s face lit up, his grin wide and eyes crinkling at the corners. “What happened? Has he said anything? Have you said anything?”

Louis flung himself on the couch next to Liam, recounting his post and rather unkind reply to Harry’s first message, along with all of the correspondence that followed. “He said he hoped I’d be watching Wednesday,” Louis said, a bit breathlessly from talking so much and so fast. “What do you think that means?”

“Well,” Liam replied, throwing an arm around Louis’ shoulders and pulling him in for a quick hug, “I think it means you’d better watch his show, and I’d better make sure the fire extinguisher still works.”

Louis punched him in the arm.

For the rest off the weekend, Louis checked his tumblr almost obsessively in case he received another message from Harry. When none came by Saturday night, Louis realised that technically it was his turn to say something, since Harry had sent the last ask. But what would he say? ‘Hey mate, thanks for the follow, hope it’s cool that I have a big fat crush on you?’

No. He’d wait until he saw Harry’s new episode Wednesday, then he’d have something to talk about. Harry had followed him; clearly he was interested in maintaining contact. A few days without talking were nothing, especially when one of them was kind of a big deal and probably had a very busy schedule that left no time for random boys on the internet.

(That would be Harry. Louis had far too much time for random boys on the internet.)

By the time Wednesday rolled around, Louis had typed out and deleted what felt like a hundred messages. They ranged from the tame (‘Do you want to hear a joke?’) to the bold (‘Can I have your number so we can text instead?’) to the pathetic (‘Your hair looks like it’s really soft.’). He changed his mind every time, though, determined to wait until he had watched Harry’s video. Harry wanted him to; surely there was a reason beyond just hoping for hits.

Louis nearly dropped his mobile in excitement when he got the notification that Harry had uploaded a new video. He pulled his laptop onto his knees, the browser already navigated to Harry’s YouTube account. He pressed refresh and clicked on the newest video, jiggling his foot in anticipation while waiting for it to load. Had the internet always been so goddamn slow?

Finally the video was ready and Louis eagerly clicked play, leaning closer to the screen and turning the volume as high as it would go. Harry’s intro played, followed by his customary ‘hiiii,’ and Louis didn’t even realise he’d been holding his breath.

“I know I usually let you guys vote on which recipe I’ll make,” Harry was saying, lining several ingredients up on the counter: flour, oil, salt. “However, this week I had something a little different in mind.” He leaned forward and smiled into the camera, both hands flat on the worktop. “We all know how to order a pizza, but how many of you know how to make your own from scratch?”

Louis couldn’t help but laugh. Pizza. Harry was making a fucking pizza. Louis didn’t know whether it was logical or arrogant to assume that he himself might be the cause of that.

So he sat and watched Harry make a pizza, enraptured as always with the way Harry’s hands kneaded the dough and ladled on the sauce, how he grated a block of cheese over the top and carefully layered on the toppings. It came out of the oven looking like the best pizza Louis had ever seen, and he couldn’t stop his mouth from watering as Harry cut it into slices and moved one to a plate.

“Why did the hipster burn his mouth?” Harry asked with a grin, lifting the plate up to show the camera. “He ate pizza before it was cool!” He chuckled at his own joke before blowing over the slice to cool it. He took a bite and hissed, not having waited quite long enough. “Ouch. Anyway, thank you all for watching! I hope you enjoy your homemade pizza, and thank you to my friend Lewis for the inspiration!” Harry waved at the camera one more time before returning to blowing on the pizza, and that’s where the video ended.

Louis was stunned. He clicked back a few seconds to hear Harry’s sign off again, and there it was as plain as day. He fumbled for his mobile, quickly opening tumblr and finally typing a response to Harry’s ask. His fingers were shaking as he hit send, an exhilarating thrill pumping through his body with each steady beat of his pounding heart.

“Liam!” Louis shouted, shutting his laptop and jumping to his feet. “I’m making pizza for dinner!”

*

It only took the length of Harry’s video for a message to hit his ask box. He smiled at the notification; Louis must have watched it the second it was posted. The message, however, wasn’t exactly what he’d been expecting.

‘You pronounced my name wrong.’

Harry barked out a laugh. He clicked on Louis’ url, deciding to switch to the messaging system now that they were mutuals. ‘I’m sorry about that. The ‘s’ is silent, I take it?’

A reply came an hour later, just as Harry was sitting down to eat his own dinner of takeaway Chinese (because even he needed a break from cooking sometimes). ‘Yes. It rhymes with chewy, which is how my pizza turned out.’ A picture followed, Louis’ pizza looking edible if not quite right.

‘You either didn’t add enough water or over kneaded the dough,’ Harry typed back. ‘Easy fixes You did really well.’

‘Ugh! You make it sound so simple! Still, this is far better than I usually do. Thanks for mentioning me. :)’

Harry smiled at his mobile, not even caring that his lo mein was growing cold. ‘My pleasure. Thanks for the inspiration. xx’

‘Anytime, mate! See you next week!’

Harry set his phone aside with a smile on his face. Despite the dough problem, Louis’ pizza actually had turned out really well. He seemed like he just needed some advice here and there, a little coaching, and he’d be just fine at cooking. Harry couldn’t help but picture the blue-eyed man from the selfies, laughing as he mixed up ingredients and flicking flour at Harry as he looked on. His face fell suddenly as he realised he had just been imagining them cooking together.

“Get a grip, Styles,” Harry muttered to himself before taking a big bite of egg roll.

“Whassat?” Niall asked, turning away from his PS4 game long enough to quirk an eyebrow at his flatmate.

Harry swallowed and offered a smile that he hope didn’t say, ‘I fancy someone I met on the internet and I don’t know how to feel about it.’ “Nothing, Ni. You’re about to get killed, by the way.”

“Fuck!” Niall hollered, turning back to his game and narrowly avoiding losing a life.

Shaking his head fondly, Harry turned back to tumblr. His blog post containing the video was rapidly gaining notes, and already people were posting pictures of their finished pizzas. Some looked perfect, others barely qualified as food, but every single one got compared to Louis’ (LOO-ee, he reminded himself). What on earth was it about the man that had Harry so enthralled? A couple photos and a handful of messages shouldn’t be enough to have his stomach fluttering at the very thought of Louis. Yet, there it was, a sort of giddiness whenever his thoughts turned to the blue-eyed stranger.

It was ridiculous; he didn’t know a damn thing about Louis other than his name. All his tumblr said was that he was from England. Harry didn’t know Louis’ age, or location, if he was single or even if he liked men (not that it mattered, Harry told himself, because they were practical strangers). He exited the app and put his mobile away, deciding to focus on Niall dying a couple dozen times instead of fixating on someone he didn’t even know. He’d talk to Louis next Wednesday or Thursday, just like any other fan, and that would be that.

Of course, life was rarely that simple.

It seemed like over the next few days, everything he did made him think of Louis in some way or another. Would he like the recipe Harry posted that day? Would he laugh at that meme? Did he send that anonymous ask begging Harry to braid his hair for one of his videos? Okay, probably not that last one, but if he had Harry would consider it a lot more seriously.

There were no more messages exchanged in the meantime; on Harry’s part, not to seem overly obsessed, and on Louis’ part probably actually not being overly obsessed. Sure, he was a fan, but that didn’t mean he wanted to exchange pleasantries every day of the week. At least, if it did, then Louis was far better at playing cool and collected than Harry was.

All this and he still hadn’t even met the bloke. Probably never would, honestly, though the odds of that became far more likely a couple weeks later.

Louis started sending messages again each time Harry posted a video. It became a Wednesday night ritual—Louis would send Harry a picture of his attempt, and Harry would gently tell him where he went wrong. Tone wasn’t easily conveyed through text, but Harry always came away from those conversations feeling as if Louis’ feathers had been ruffled at having made such simple mistakes.

It was after one such interaction regarding Louis’ latest failure (“How do you burn no bake cookies?” “They seemed like they’d taste better warm!”) that everything changed. He could tell Louis was irritated, his grammar and punctuation getting oddly more precise the more worked up he got. Harry was getting full sentences, now, which he’d learned meant that Louis was proper peeved.

HarryStyles: Louis, literally the only mistake you made was cooking these.

LouisTomlinson: Yeah, Harry. It’s clearly the cooking that’s my problem.

HarryStyles: You weren’t supposed to cook them!

LouisTomlinson: If you think you’re so incredible, why don’t you come here and teach me how to do it?

Harry huffed, frustrated, wishing he could reach through the computer screen and smack some sense into Louis. He typed back his reply without even thinking about it.

HarryStyles: Fine! I will!

It didn’t sink in what he’d done until after he’d hit send. He had just offered to meet a stranger, a fan, off the internet. That’s how people got murdered, right? Maybe Louis wouldn’t take him seriously. Surely he’d realise that Harry was bluffing, and that would be the end of it.

Harry almost didn’t dare look at the screen when tumblr pinged with Louis’ response: You’d really do that for me?

He could practically hear the hopeful tone in Louis’ words; he couldn’t bear to let him down now. Harry groaned, letting his head thunk down on the edge of his desk. At least if he was going to get murdered, it would be by someone cute.

*

“Louis?”

“In here.”

Louis was still exactly where he was when he’d somehow managed to make tentative plans to meet fucking Harry Styles: lying on the couch, one leg slung up on the back, the other dangling off to rest on the floor, and an arm flung over his eyes. His mobile rested on his stomach.

Liam came from the direction of the bathroom, dressed in pyjamas and toweling off his still-damp hair. “Are you hungover? Bit early, mate. And it’s a weeknight.”

“’M not hungover,” Louis grumbled, glaring at Liam. He reluctantly pulled himself into a sitting position at Liam’s insistence, scooting over enough that his flatmate could join him on the couch.

“It is Wednesday,” Liam said thoughtfully, dropping the towel to rake his fingers through his short brown hair. “And nothing’s on fire. Did you and Harry have a fight?”

Louis looked down at his lap guiltily. “Worse,” he replied, fiddling with his mobile without actually unlocking the screen; he didn’t want to see their conversation, the tumblr app still open. At Liam’s curious expression, Louis continued: “I sort of made plans to meet him?”

Liam’s face broke into a smile, one hand coming up to thump Louis on the back. “That’s great, Lou!” he exclaimed. At Louis’ despondent glare, Liam’s enthusiasm flagged and his thumps turned into consoling rubs instead. “That’s… terrible?” he tried again.

“I can’t meet him,” Louis explained sadly. “He’ll figure out that I’m not worth his time, or that I have a big stupid crush on him, and then he'll never talk to me again.”

“Or not,” Liam objected. “You might come out of this with a great new friend. And you never know,” he added, nudging Louis with his elbow, “he might feel the same way.”

“Yeah,” Louis agreed hollowly, forcing a smile that didn’t meet his eyes. “Yeah, he might.” He turned to look at his friend, wrinkling his nose. “By the way, I, erm, burned no bake cookies today.”

Liam sighed. “There should be an award for people like you.”

Louis shoved him off the couch.

Harry and Louis continued messaging throughout the weekend, hashing out the details for Louis’ private cooking lesson. They both lived in London, which Louis knew but Harry was surprised to discover, so it really came down to deciding on a time, a place, and a dish.

What do you want to cook? x

Louis bit his lip as he read the text, because they were texting now. He had Harry Styles’ number. In his mobile. No big deal.

Idk, he texted back. Something I can’t cause to catch fire.

Milkshakes, then? Harry replied, adding the ice cream cone emoji.

Louis laughed, not caring that he was sat around a table in the library with his mates, who were all trying harder than he was to study. Challenge accepted, he responded, followed by three flame emojis.

“Okay, okay,” Kayla said, pushing her chem textbook away from her and fixing Louis with a pointed look. “You have been grinning like an idiot all evening. Who are you texting?”

“Harry Styles,” Liam supplied, looking up from the flashcards he was making long enough to waggle his eyebrows at Louis.

Kayla’s jaw dropped as she looked from her boyfriend to Louis. “What, seriously?”

There was a thud as Louis let his head fall forward onto the library table. “Liam. Why?”

Liam was laughing, Kayla was squealing, and Louis was sure he was going to die of embarrassment or get kicked out of the library. Perhaps both.

“How did this happen?” Kayla squeaked, hands clasped under her chin and eyes wide. It was like Louis said he’d gotten Sebastian Stan’s number instead of a food blogger’s.

Louis grudgingly explained the story to her. Liam went back to his flashcards, interjecting what he thought was a witty comment now and then until Kayla threatened to take his Sharpie away.

“When are you going to meet him?” Kayla asked excitedly when Louis finished his story, tapping Liam’s marker against her chin as her boyfriend glowered in the seat next to her.

“We haven’t set a day yet,” Louis told her. “We’re still trying to decide what I’m going to burn.”

Kayla sighed, dropping Liam’s Sharpie to clasp her hands together dramatically. “You’re going to meet and fall in love and he’s going to have you on his show.”

Liam, having snatched his marker back the second it hit the table, rolled his eyes. “If this Harry bloke knows what’s good for him, he won’t let Louis anywhere near his show.” Liam paused for a moment, thinking. “Or his cookware.”

“Good thing we’re cooking at ours then, innit?” Louis replied haughtily, relishing the shocked look on Liam’s face.

And, crap. That was perhaps the sort of thing he should have discussed with Harry first. He pulled his mobile back out, scrolling past the slew of emojis Harry had texted him.

So our little lesson. My flat okay? Wouldn’t want to endanger your fancy kitchen.

It wasn’t a minute before his mobile buzzed. Sure, text me your address. Next Saturday? x

Louis swallowed hard. Next Saturday. As in, a week from then. In one week, Harry Styles would be in his kitchen, watching his every move and offering pointers.

Maybe he’d take a leaf out of Hannah Hart’s book and see if he could handle cooking drunk. God knew he’d need the liquid courage.

*

Harry stood outside of Louis’ building, looking up at it nervously. He had left the address with Niall so someone could find his body if Louis turned out to be a murderer, but that wasn’t what he was nervous about.

It had maybe been a while since Harry had been alone in the presence of an attractive man. Between school and his blog, Harry didn’t exactly have a lot of time for a love life. At least, not a fulfilling one. And this? This was starting to feel a bit like a date.

Cute boy? Check. Fun activity? Check. Flirty messages leading up to said fun activity? Well. Harry hadn’t meant to flirt, and he couldn’t be entirely sure Louis was, but he’d be lying if he said he hadn’t slipped any innuendo into their conversation the past week.

“Not a date,” Harry reminded himself, mustering the courage to finally go inside. Though, maybe it could lead to one. Maybe they’d hit it off and Harry could ask Louis out on a real date. He let the thought linger as he climbed the stairs to Louis’ floor and, unwilling to be found loitering in the hall like some sort of weirdo, knocked on the door to announce his presence.

“Coming!” a voice called from inside, and moments later the door opened to reveal the brunet man from the selfies on Louis’ blog. He was a bit shorter than Harry had imagined, but his eyes were even bluer than they’d looked in the photos. He was smiling shyly, his thin lips framed by just the right amount of scruff, and he toyed with the hem of his Henley. “You must be Harry,” he said, his voice crisp and somewhat airy.

“I must,” Harry replied with a grin, reaching out to shake Louis’ hand. “Nice to finally meet you in person, Louis.”

“Likewise,” Louis said, shaking Harry’s hand briefly before stepping aside to welcome him in. “Come on through, the kitchen is to your right.”

It was a typical student flat, small and sparsely decorated, and the kitchen was tidy if nothing spectacular. There was a small stove, a fridge, and a microwave, as well as a coffee maker and a kettle. The worktop was small and cluttered, but Harry had cooked with less space before.

Two people in a cramped kitchen, however, might be a different story.

“It’s not much,” Louis said apologetically, once Harry had taken a look around. He seemed so quiet, far more reserved than his online persona. Harry couldn’t help but wonder why he was holding back.

“It’s great,” Harry assured him, reaching to open the fridge. “May I?” At Louis’ nod, Harry opened the door and peeked inside. There was an impressive amount of beer, but squeezed in between bottles and ready-to-eat meals Harry could see some of the ingredients he'd asked Louis to have on hand.

Louis must have followed Harry’s train of thought, because he said, “I think I managed to find everything.”

“We’ll make do if you didn’t,” Harry smiled. “Are you ready to get started?”

“Might as well,” Louis said reluctantly, turning on the tap to wash his hands. “Just so you know, there’s a fire extinguisher in the broom cupboard and the smoke detector stops beeping if you hit it three times.”

Harry’s eyes flicked from the cupboard to the fire alarm, and the broom sitting just beneath it like it had been used to silence the thing recently. “I’m sure we’ll be fine,” he said cautiously, though he was starting to wonder if perhaps Louis hadn’t been exaggerating his dreadful cooking abilities after all.

Once they’d both washed and dried their hands, Harry pulled up the recipe they’d be making on his iPad and propped it against the tile backsplash. He thought they’d start with something familiar, something simple, and maybe try one a bit more difficult the next time. If there was a next time, of course.

Louis raised a skeptical eyebrow when he saw what Harry had chosen. “Chocolate chip cookies? Harry, a child can make chocolate chip cookies.” He crossed his arms over his chest, unimpressed.

Harry chuckled, already rummaging through the cabinets for a mixing bowl and baking sheet. “A child can make no bake cookies as well.” He set the mixing bowl on the counter in front of Louis. “We’re making something simple to be sure you have a handle on how to read a recipe. Besides, when we’re finished, we’ll have cookies.”

Not looking entirely convinced, Louis set about pulling out the milk and butter, mouth twisted to one side. “All right,” he said finally, leaning against the worktop in a way that accentuated the curves of his body, a thin torso that tucked in at the waist and bloomed at the hips, leading to strong thighs hidden beneath the fabric of tight skinny jeans. “I could always go for a cookie.”

Harry swallowed hard, his mouth suddenly feeling like it was already filled with crumbs. If he’d been attracted to Louis by his face alone, it was nothing compared to the lust that hit him now that he’d seen the entire package. In Harry’s opinion, Louis was, to use a foodie-appropriate cliché, practically edible, and Harry considered himself to have fucking good taste.

He didn’t realise he’d been staring until the sound of his name brought him back to task. And god, how lovely did the syllables of his name sound in Louis’ rasp of a voice. Soft and warm, like butter and brown sugar, and—oh, right, baking.

“Is everything ready?” Harry asked, trying to cover his awkwardness. He could feel the heat rising in his cheeks, and only hoped Louis didn’t notice the blush.

If he did notice, Louis didn’t comment, for which Harry was grateful. “No,” Louis said flatly.

Harry blinked, taken aback. “N-no?” he asked, suddenly panicked. Shit, had he creeped Louis out? He was being such a huge weirdo that Louis changed his mind, and was probably about to ask him to leave, and shit, Harry needed to take a fucking breath, and—

“We can’t start yet,” Louis said simply, an innocent smirk on his face. And, what ?

“What?” Harry asked aloud.

“You have to say it first,” Louis said, leering at Harry now.

Ah.

Harry heaved a put-upon sigh and gave Louis a wry glance before turning to smile into an invisible camera. “Hiiii.”

To his right, Louis whooped joyfully, punching the air with the hand holding a small prep bowl. “Yes! Now we’re ready!”

Harry couldn’t help but laugh, a new kind of flush staining his cheeks. All the shyness seemed to have seeped out of Louis, leaving the other man lighter and brighter somehow. Louis was all smiles as he held out the bowl to Harry, blue eyes gleaming in the overhead light of the small kitchen.

“All right, Styles, show me what you’re made of.”

Harry decided the best course of action was to let Louis follow the recipe while he looked on, ready to coach and correct as needed. He gently took the bowl of brown sugar from Louis, showing him how to weigh it properly. Louis cracked the first egg rather poorly, getting bits of shell into the mix, so Harry demonstrated a better method on the second egg. They were pressed close together out of necessity, hips and shoulders bumping as they added all the ingredients into the mixture, and each accidental graze had Harry’s stomach fluttering.

Soon enough the batter was ready, and with Harry’s guidance Louis spooned it onto the pan in somewhat uneven dollops. Then the pan was going into the oven, the timer was set, and Harry and Louis were left to wait.

Louis picked up the hand mixer, popping out the beaters and offering one to Harry even as he took a big lick of his own.

“You know you can get salmonella from uncooked eggs,” Harry cautioned lightly, but still gladly accepted the beater. He took a testing taste of the dough, pleased to find that it tasted exactly as it should. He chuckled, lowering the beater to grin devilishly at Louis. “Hey, Louis.”

“Hmm?” Louis asked, not bother to look up from the utensil he was happily licking clean. Harry tried not to stare at the way his tongue darted out, gathering clumps of batter before disappearing back into his mouth.

“What’s the best part of baking with the Quidditch team?”

That got Louis’ attention, his eyes flicking up curiously. “I don’t know, what?”

Harry’s smile grew even wider in anticipation of the punch line. “Licking the Beaters.”

There was a moment of silence as Louis processed the joke, his face slowly morphing into an incredulous expression. Without a word, he leaned over and snatched the beater out of Harry’s hand.

“Hey!” Harry protested, watching Louis abandon his clean beater for Harry’s batter-covered one. Harry crossed his arms sullenly.

“No, you’ve lost your privileges,” Louis insisted, taking a particularly big lick. “That was just dreadful, Harry. I hope your taste in baked goods is better than your taste in jokes.”

Harry stuck out his tongue petulantly and Louis mirrored the gesture, like they were a pair of five year-olds instead of two grown men. The action drew Harry’s attention to Louis’ mouth, and the smear of batter clinging to his scruff.

Without thinking, Harry reached out and brushed the glob away. He froze once he realised what he’d done, his wide eyes meeting Louis’ startled blue ones. “Sorry,” he said, quickly stepping out of Louis’ space and wiping his hands off on a kitchen towel. He could feel the blush from the tip of his ears all the way down his neck. He was very aware of the fact that, until now, he hadn’t purposefully touched Louis, aside from their brief handshake, and then to touch him in such a familiar way…

He needed to get a fucking grip. If he hadn’t weirded Louis out before, he surely had now.

But Louis didn’t say anything, just brushed his own fingers over the spot Harry’s had touched only moments ago, and cast a glance at the clock on the stove. “Five more minutes,” Louis murmured, and was Harry imagining the higher pitch to his voice? “What should we do with ourselves?”

Harry had a few things he could think of to use those five minutes for: things involving fingers and tongues, fewer clothes and more skin. Instead, though, he went with the safer choice by collecting the empty bowl and the licked-clean beaters. “We can clean up the kitchen so you won’t have to later.”

His face shifting into a grin, Louis planted both palms on the worktop and swung himself up to sit on the counter, letting his heels thud against the cabinets below. “Or,” he said, smiling wickedly, “you can clean the kitchen, and I’ll supervise.”

“You can supervise me eating the cookies as well, then.”

That got a grumble from Louis as he slid back down to the floor, turning around to gather up ingredients and return them to their proper places. “I like you a lot better when you’re on the other side of a computer screen.”

Harry chuckled, rinsing the dishes and setting them aside to dry. He turned to lean against the counter, drying his hands and watching Louis flit about the small kitchen. Once everything was put away, Louis busied himself filling the kettle and setting out a pair of mugs, humming to himself as he did. It felt so domestic, Louis making them tea while their cookies baked in the oven, and Harry’s heart gave a longing little clench. He definitely needed to ask Louis out, and now, before he was so overcome that he couldn’t manage to form the words. He opened his mouth to speak and—

Several things happened all at the same time. The kettle went off in tandem with the oven timer, which coincided with a loud knock on the front door. Louis cursed, eyes flicking between the three sounds demanding attention before landing on Harry. “Can you get the door while I grab the cookies?”

With a nod, Harry turned to answer the knocking. It felt a little strange, opening the door in a flat that he had never been to, one he barely knew the owner of. But that wasn’t entirely true, was it? He did know Louis. They’d grown rather close over the course of their correspondence, and working with him in the kitchen today felt as much like the hundredth as it did the first. That had something bright and warm swelling in Harry’s chest, like he’d swallowed a star and it was still burning insistently inside of him.

When Harry unlatched the door and pulled it open, he was met with the sight of a man with short hair and wide, brown eyes. His hands were full of shopping bags and takeaway, and he was looking down as he adjusted his grip on the bag of what smelled like Indian food. “Sorry, Lou, Kayla forgot something in the car so she has my key—” He stopped talking, blinking in surprise when he finally looked up to see who it was that opened the door. “You aren’t Louis.”

“’Fraid not,” Harry replied with a sheepish grin.

“You’re Harry Styles.”

It still felt so strange to be recognised. Harry had gone from being this quirky, invisible kid in secondary to a YouTube star what seemed like overnight. Yeah, YouTube was small potatoes compared to other forms of celebrity, but still. He had a book deal. He had merch. People knew who he was. Now he was quirky and internet famous.

The man at the door smiled, a wide one that showed all his teeth. “I thought Louis was being, like, catfished or was having me on, but you’re really here to cook with him, aren’t you? I’m Liam, his flatmate.” He looked down at his parcels. “I’d shake your hand, but, erm…”

Harry relieved Liam of enough bags that they each had a hand free for a brief, firm shake before Harry stepped out of the doorway to let Liam inside. “Baking, actually,” Harry said.

Liam sniffed the air suspiciously. “But I don’t smell anything burning,” he protested, looking around in confusion. “It smells good in here.”

“Because I didn’t burn anything, Liam,” Louis said, appearing in the doorway of the kitchen to chuck an oven mitt at his flatmate. “The perfect, not-burnt-at-all cookies are cooling at the mo’, and you can have one if you stop talking shit.”

Harry beamed at him. “I knew you could do it!” he cheered proudly, that warmth inside of him practically a supernova at the way Louis flushed at the praise, a pleased little smile on his face. “I can’t wait to try one, Lou.”

It was sweet, watching the way sassy, unapologetic Louis turned bashful in the face of a compliment. His tanned cheeks flushed a dusky pink, one thin lip pulled between his teeth, eyes on the ground and long lashes kissing his cheekbones. He was beautiful.

Harry swallowed hard.

“Look at you! You’re blushing!”

The moment that had swelled around them, pervading the air and filling the room so thoroughly that Harry almost felt as if he couldn’t breathe, burst in the span of those few words from Liam. Harry felt robbed by them as Louis snapped his head back up, eyes wide and cheeks much paler as if in defiance.

“I was not,” Louis protested half-heartedly. “’S just hot in the kitchen. That’s all.” He made a show of fanning himself.

Liam rolled his eyes, clearly no more fooled by Louis than Harry was, and Liam had known him for much longer. “I have to hand it to you, mate; no one else makes him blush like that,” Liam told Harry. He took a step closer to Louis, slapping him playfully on the shoulder. “Proper in love with you, this one is.”

The words hadn’t even had time to sink in before Harry was being pushed toward the door.

“Right, well, I think it’s time you were off,” Louis said, fire in his eyes and a thickness to his voice that Harry couldn’t place.

He groped at the door frame, turning to give Louis a questioning look, but the other man wouldn’t meet his eyes. “Louis, you don’t have to be embarrassed—”

“Thanks for coming round, Harry,” Louis said stiffly, as if he were conducting a job interview. “I’ll be seeing you.” Then Harry had to pull away as the door slammed shut in his face.

“But I didn’t even get to try your cookies,” he whispered to it sadly. He waited a moment, two, for Louis to come back (surely he would come back!), before reluctantly making his way out of the building.

*

Louis had never felt like a bigger idiot in his life.

He had embarrassed himself in front of Harry after finally getting the chance to meet with him in person. Well, Louis had been awkward for most of Harry’s visit, but Liam’s gaffe was what put the nail in the coffin. Now that Harry knew that Louis had a big stupid crush, he probably would want to keep his distance. Or worse, he’d keep talking to Louis out of pity.

Judging by the number of text messages on Louis’ mobile, Harry was going the latter route.

Hey how did the cookies turn out? x

Did you watch my last video? I mentioned you .xx

Are you getting my texts?

When Louis didn’t respond, Harry switched to tumblr messages. All of them were so sickeningly kind that Louis couldn’t stand it. He was a big boy; he could handle being turned down.

Louis didn’t watch either of Harry’s latest videos. Eventually (but not for a solid week) the messages tapered off and then stopped coming, and Liam and Kayla stopped asking him if he was okay. He forgave Liam, of course he did—it wasn’t his flatmate’s fault that Louis was trying to pretend he had a chance with the famous Harry Styles.

“Are you just going to mope around all day?” Liam asked about a month after the Cookie Catastrophe. “Even Steve is worried about you; in class today he asked me why you haven’t been ordering on Wednesdays.”

“Tell him I’m on a diet,” Louis grumbled. “I’ve sworn off pizza and boys who are out of my league.” He rolled away from the telly to face the back of the couch, hoping Liam would take the hint to leave him alone.

No such luck. He felt Liam settle into the hollow left by the bend in his knees. “He’s not out of your league,” Liam said softly. “I still can’t believe I made such an arse of myself.”

Louis twisted his upper body to glare up at his friend. “An arse of yourself? I think I’m the one looking like an arse here.” He turned back with a huff. “It wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t bloody true.” He felt one of Liam’s big, warm palms against his back, rubbing gently.

“For what it’s worth, he didn’t look like he minded.”

Louis didn’t answer; instead, he waited for Liam to sigh in resignation and leave him alone to wallow.

The next day, when Louis got out of class, he had a text from Liam waiting for him.

Hey can u pick me up wen u get out of class? It was followed by an address Louis didn’t recognise. Liam had one class on Wednesdays and then usually either went to the gym or Kayla’s; this was not the address of either.

Call an uber, cheap arse, Louis replied, even as he plugged the address into his mobile. It was on the North side of town. What the hell was Liam doing on the other side of campus? Probably a study group or something, but then he had his own car. Whatever, Louis thought to himself. He would just make Liam pay him back in pizza. He did mention Steve missed delivering to them, after all. Louis tried to forget that a few weeks ago, Wednesday night pizza meant that he had been watching Harry’s newest video. Maybe reintroducing half of that routine would bring a feeling of normalcy back to their lives.

He shook his head. He needed to stop obsessing over someone he simply couldn’t have. It had been fine when it was a harmless crush, but now that Louis had met Harry—had heard his voice in person and felt the warmth of his skin, had personally caused the smile so big it carved dimples in his cheeks—now it was a painful reminder of what he couldn’t have.

The address turned out to belong to a block of flats in a nice neighborhood. It was a bit more posh than student housing, so perhaps a professor? What would Liam be doing at a professor’s flat, though?

I’m out front, Louis texted once the car was parked. Hurry so we can order pizzaaa !

The reply came before Louis even had time to lock his mobile screen.

Can u come up? I need help carrying something. 3B

What the fuck did Liam need help carrying? It better not be a body… Louis replied warily. He climbed out of the car and made sure to lock the doors behind him, peering up at the building. Surely Liam hadn’t actually murdered anybody. Maybe he’d bought something off Craigslist and needed help moving it, though why wouldn’t he have taken his own car for that? Liam’s decisions made relatively little sense at the best of times, so Louis wasn’t sure why he was surprised.

The inside of the building was clean and nicely decorated; the walls of the lobby were white with metal trim and the floor tiles appeared to be made of stone. It was definitely, definitely out of Louis’ price range. Who on Earth did Liam know that lived somewhere like this?

The lift ride to the third floor was brief. Louis was the lone occupant of the lift and he spent the entire journey staring into the security camera—he wanted his presence here well documented just in case he was about to be murdered by some sort of well-off psychopath. When the doors opened, he stepped out into a hallway decorated in the same art deco style as the lobby, the white walls broken up by dark stained doors with shiny metal numbers on them.

He found 3B around the corner. There was a welcome mat in front of the door with a large, glittery pineapple on it, which only confused Louis more. He was beginning to wonder if this was all some strange dream, and he was going to wake back up in a world where he never met Harry Styles in person and welcome mats weren’t emblazoned with flamboyant tropical fruit. After a deep breath, and one more check that he was in front of the proper flat, Louis raised his fist and knocked.

There was the sound of footsteps on hardwood, and then the door swung slowly inward to reveal—

“Harry?” Louis asked, taking a step backward in surprise. “What are you doing here?”

Harry laughed, not seeming at all bothered by the presence of Louis on his doorstep. “I live here,” he said, his eyes bright with amusement. “Your flatmate found me on Twitter and said you wanted my address. I take it he was fibbing just a bit.”

Oh. Oh. “I hate Liam,” Louis groaned, pulling out his mobile to text his flatmate a similar, if more harshly worded, sentiment.

“You might as well come in since you’re here,” Harry insisted, opening the door further and stepping inside. “I was just about to start dinner.”

Louis eyed Harry distrustfully before reluctantly joining him inside. He didn’t want pity, but this didn’t feel like that at all. It felt like Harry was glad to see him, genuinely wanted his company. Louis was glad to see Harry as well. It had only been a month since they’d made cookies in Louis’ cramped, shitty kitchen, but it seemed so much longer now that he was back in Harry’s presence.

Harry led Louis into a brightly lit flat with soft grey walls and hardwood floors. The decor was an odd mishmash of typical student furnishings and a few nicer things, like a dining table with six matching chairs. Beyond the dining room was the kitchen Harry filmed all of his videos in, complete with a camera and tripod in the corner.

“This is beautiful,” Louis murmured appreciatively, stepping into the kitchen and running his hand along the counter top. “It’s really yours?”

Harry ducked his head bashfully. “Not just mine, my friend Niall lives here too, but yeah.” He glanced up through his eyelashes, looking devastatingly lovely with the hint of blush staining his cheeks. “Did you want to stay for dinner? Strangely enough, Niall is out for the evening, and I have plenty for the two of us.”

Louis got the feeling that, like his own flatmate, Niall had been in on making sure that Harry was here alone when Louis came calling. Still, he wasn’t going to pass up dinner made by his favourite food blogger. Sorry, Hannah, he apologised silently. “Okay, Styles,” Louis said, feeling confident enough now to slip his jacket off and drape it over the back of one of the kitchen chairs. “What are we making?”

“You want to help?” Harry asked brightly, looking pleasantly surprised.

“Of course,” Louis said with a nod, already rolling up his sleeves to wash his hands. “I reckon I’m well overdue for my second lesson.”

Harry grinned at him for a beat before springing into action, pulling up a recipe on his iPad and handing it to Louis before pulling ingredients from the fridge. Soon the counter was covered with a variety of items, and Louis was feeling a bit overwhelmed.

“How many people are we feeding?” Louis asked, balking at all the food.

“Just us!” Harry replied, setting out a cutting board and a knife. “Well, and a ‘thanks-for-making-yourself-scarce’ plate for Niall.”

Louis laughed at that and moved next to Harry, watching him lay out three chicken breasts on the cutting board. “Tell me what to do,” he said, taking hold of the knife.

“You’re going to cut a slit in each breast, but don’t go all the way through. Make a pocket.”

“Here?” Louis asked, pressing the knife into the top of one of the portions without cutting it.

Harry shook his head, stepping into Louis’ space and wrapping his hand around Louis’ on the knife handle. “No, here,” he said, guiding Louis’ hand to the side of the breast. He felt warm and solid against Louis’ back, and it was all Louis could do not to close his eyes and lean into the contact.

His hand felt cold when Harry released it, and that was enough to break the spell. Louis carefully cut a pocket into each piece of chicken, and, after watching Harry demonstrate on the first one, tucked a piece of mozzarella and some basil inside. Harry showed Louis how to wrap each breast with thin strips of Parma ham to hide the pocket and sear each side. Then they were in the oven and Harry and Louis were peeling potatoes for mash over a bowl, Louis clumsily with a peeler and Harry quite deftly with a paring knife.

“I didn’t intend to do this for a living, you know,” Harry said quietly while the potatoes were boiling. “Food blogging. It was just for fun.”

“Yeah?” Louis said, cocking his head. He was sat on the worktop, watching Harry move around his kitchen with ease. He looked so comfortable, so at home, like every utensil was an extension of himself. It was clear that Harry loved cooking, and that love was the ingredient which made his food so special. There was no doubt in Louis’ mind why Harry had become an internet sensation; he was made to love and be loved.

“Yeah,” Harry confirmed, draining the potatoes and adding in milk and butter. “It’s like, I went to bed one night with only my mum and sister subscribed to my channel, and then a big name blogger shared one of my posts and the rest is history.” He shrugged. “It seems like a dream, sometimes, that this is my life.”

Louis doesn’t know how to respond, but he doesn’t have to; Harry turns on the hand mixer and the sound of it drowns out the voice in Louis’ head insisting that he’d like to be a part of that dream.

Dinner was, in a word, incredible. The chicken came out moist and tender, contrasting nicely with the crunch of the Parma ham on the outside. The potatoes were creamy without being too runny, and all of it paired incredibly well with the wine Harry had poured them both generous glasses of.

“You did a really good job,” Harry complemented, cutting open his chicken to reveal the layers of cheese and basil. “These turned out perfectly.”

Louis scoffed, eyes on his plate. It did turn out really well, but Louis could hardly take the credit. “You did most of the work,” he argued. “I just—”

“You’re not a bad cook, Louis,” Harry interrupted. “I think you just get a little distracted and miss steps here and there. You just need someone to keep you focused.”

Louis felt his cheeks colour, and it had very little to do with how much wine he’d consumed. “Like you?” he asked bravely, meeting Harry’s gaze and holding it.

“Louis,” Harry said softly, setting his fork down.            

Louis felt his whole body go tense. He’d done it again; he’d completely misread the situation. Why did his brain confuse cooking with flirting? What the hell was his problem?

“I’m sorry,” Louis said, pushing his chair back. “I should go. I can’t believe I did this again.” He clearly wasn’t capable of being around Harry without acting like a teenager, so he should just stay away for good. God, Harry must think so poorly of him.

“Wait!” Harry called, chair legs screeching on the floor as he rushed to his feet. “Louis, listen to me for a second.”

Louis paused, one arm halfway in the sleeve of his jacket. “I’m listening,” he said quietly, bracing himself for what was probably meant to be a gentle letdown that would hurt all the same.

“Do you know why I messaged you at the very beginning?” Harry asked, a slight tremor in his voice like he was nervous. When Louis shook his head, Harry kept talking. “Because, among all the posts about chicken cordon bleu, someone posted a slice of pizza. Then I looked at his blog and found a man not afraid of standing out, as well as being funny and clever. He wasn’t ashamed to post pictures of his failures and laugh them off, and from what I saw he never had a bad word to say about anyone else either.” He swallowed, still looking Louis in the eye unblinkingly. “Then I saw a photo of him, and on top of everything else he was so obviously out of my league, someone I never would have dreamt of talking to in school. He was gorgeous. You’re gorgeous,” he amended, finally looking away in embarrassment.

“Harry,” Louis said on an exhale, not realising he hadn’t taken a breath at all while Harry had been speaking. “I thought it was just me,” he admitted. “I thought I was a fanboy with a crush, and you’d think I was a creep if I acted on it.”

Harry shook his head vehemently. “Is that why you ran away from me? It’s not just you,” he continued, voice growing more gentle. “I’ve liked you since we started talking. Since I saw a photo of you, if I’m honest.”

Louis gave a stilted bark of a laugh. “Wait. So all along, I’ve liked you, and you’ve liked me, and we were making ourselves miserable for no reason?”

“You were making yourself miserable,” Harry countered. “I was going to ask you out once I’d tried your cookies, but then your flatmate came home, and you panicked…”

“I hate Liam,” Louis said for the second time that afternoon. He looked at Harry curiously. “Why after the cookies, though? Why not when we were waiting for them to cool?”

Harry shrugged. “Had to make sure you could bake, didn’t I?” he said teasingly. “It wouldn’t do for Harry Styles’ boyfriend to be total rubbish in the kitchen.”

“Hmm,” Louis said, taking a step around the table and closer to Harry. “Well, what if Harry Styles’ boyfriend wasn’t completely hopeless, and just needed a lot of lessons from a very capable teacher?”

“Did you have someone in mind?” Harry asked somewhat breathlessly, his eyes hooded as he watched Louis draw closer and closer.

Louis took two more steps so that he was right up in Harry’s space, the remainder of their dinner forgotten and growing cold on the table beside them. “I might,” Louis admitted, so close now that he could feel the warmth of Harry’s breath on his face. “He’s awfully busy being an internet celebrity, though.”

“Is he?” Harry murmured, and god, the heat in his voice had Louis’ eyes fluttering closed, a ball of heat zipping down his spine and pooling in his abdomen. “Well, then, maybe I could teach you instead.”

Any witty response Louis had in mind died on his lips as Harry brought their mouths together. Louis let himself sag forward, melting into Harry’s arms and feeling them cradle him close. Louis put all the long months of watching Harry from afar into that kiss, letting his lips say all the words that he hadn’t been able to voice. Harry gave back just as good as he got, his mouth wet and greedy as it parted for Louis and invited him inside.

“We should probably… dinner…” Harry gasped, pulling back and looking at Louis with a hunger that couldn’t be satisfied by food.

“Forget it,” Louis said, surging forward for another kiss. “We’ll cook it again. More practice.”

Harry didn’t have anything to say to that.

*

“Hiiii.”

The video started the same way they always did, with Harry’s trademark greeting and the camera focused on his wide, dimpled smile. He waved at the lens, and Louis still had to resist the urge to wave back.

He’d given in to temptation, once or twice, but it always made Harry giggle so hard that they had to stop recording and start over. Which wasn’t the end of the world, but once Harry got giggly he tended to stay giggly. There was a whole episode on making aubergine parmigiana in which Harry could not stop laughing thanks to Louis making faces just off camera. “Louis’ pulling a funny face,” Harry explained helplessly.

Sometimes Louis stepped in to help, holding a strainer or handing over a utensil. He always smiled brightly at the camera and had something clever to say, and Harry’s fans absolutely adored him. There was a whole corner of the internet devoted to their relationship, and every cute exchange between them had been made into gif form a dozen times over. In the year since Louis had first accidentally poked his head into one of Harry’s YouTube videos and the comment section exploded.

WHO IS THATT

Ummm can I get the recipe for the hottie @4:27

harry has a boyfriend??? Wtf???????

Once, Harry even let Louis make his own video. Of course he chose to make the first meal he and Harry cooked together, and only sort of burned one of the pieces of chicken. It quickly became one of Harry’s most popular videos on YouTube.

“Babe,” Harry’s voice cut through Louis’ dreaming. “I asked if you’d pass me the whisk.”

“Oh,” Louis said, snapping back to the present moment and heading for the utensil drawer. “Sorry, love, was just thinking about the first time we kissed.” He grabbed the whisk from the drawer and dutifully passed it over.

Harry smiled as he accepted the utensil. “No wonder you have a dreamy look in your eyes,” he teased, just barely dodging the oven mitt Louis chucked at him in response. “Come on, why don’t you give me a hand? Say hello to everyone and whisk the flour into the batter for me.”

“Hello, everyone!” Louis said cheerfully, stepping into the frame and positioning himself in front of the mixing bowl. He nudged Harry aside with his hip as he snatched the whisk back from his boyfriend. He looked at it, then down at the bowl disdainfully. “Erm, Harry? How do you whisk?” he asked shyly, glancing up at Harry.

Harry chuckled, pressing a kiss to Louis’ temple and wrapping his arms around Louis to demonstrate. “Don’t worry, love. I’ll show you.”

The End