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But Why Wonder, Why Wonder?

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The day Marcel wore his very best slipover, everything went completely to shit.  It wasn’t the slipover’s fault -- green and brown and argyle, Marcel’s favorite, so smart-looking and quite soft actually -- but the fact that Fate had decided to actually dress him up for the most humiliating day of his entire life was, Marcel thought, not nice.  He felt like Miss Havisham, wedding dress on and newly jilted, letter still in her hand.

“You’ll want to look your best today,” his boss had said, her voice sharp and mischievous when he’d answered her call on the first ring that morning.

He’d been sitting at the breakfast table, tea in hand and cloth napkin tucked under his chin so as to protect his normal unpatterned maroon slipover from getting bits of homemade scone crumbled on it.  The new issue of OK! was open in front of him.  Marcel didn’t usually buy gossip rags, but this one had Louis Tomlinson on the cover, (“You know, the actor, Louis Tomlinson,” as he was wont to say whenever he’d accidentally mentioned him in conversation to yet another uninterested party) and where Louis Tomlinson was involved, Marcel was weak.  The article itself he didn’t much care for, all nasty innuendo and unflattering gossip that he was sure had absolutely no basis in reality, but the pictures were spectacular.  In one of them you could even see part of Louis’s collarbone tattoo.  Marcel stared at it, and took another sip of his lukewarm tea.

“Marcel?  Did you hear me?  My signal’s cutting out…”  Veronica began to sound tinny in his ear, and Marcel was jolted back into the conversation.

“Um.  Yes.  Why?” he asked.

“New designer,” Veronica said, “Harvey just told me.”  Marcel could hear other people in the background; she was probably about to get on the tube.  Her voice was fading into static.  “Important… thank me later,” was all he could make out before the connection died with a beep.

He shrugged, finished his scone, and changed his slipover.  No one at work had ever expressed any sort of opinion on Marcel’s physical appearance before.  Why would they?  He was just Marcel.  He tended to blend into the scenery.  Marcel couldn’t help but wonder why Veronica was suddenly so concerned.

Glancing in the mirror as he fumbled for his keys, he studied his reflection.  His hair was fine.  Getting a bit long, but he’d still managed to slick it neatly back.  His face was his face, lips too big, skin just beginning to break out and eyes a cloudy blur behind his glasses.  His glasses.  They were still broken.  Veronica hadn’t specifically mentioned the bit of sellotape that had been holding them together all week, but Marcel began to suspect her phone call might have had more to do with that than with his choice of vest.

Of course she wouldn’t want him to show up with broken glasses to meet an important new designer.  Even if he did work on the financial side of things, his higher-ups at Marks and Spencer still expected him to represent the store as well as he was able, sartorially speaking.  And really, he did his best.  He was very loyal with his slipover purchases.

Veronica was perfectly right, Marcel nodded as he tripped over his welcome mat on the way out of his flat; he would thank her later for reminding him.  His vision wasn’t so bad, truth be told.  Marcel could still see without his glasses.  Basically.  So he slipped them into the pocket of his coat as he pushed through the front door of his building out into the street.

(And if he walked past the entrance to Fulham Broadway twice before finally locating it, no one else would ever know.)


It was right after he got to work that the trouble started.  A Veronica-shaped blob grabbed him by the shoulders as soon as he stepped off the elevator onto the twelfth floor and frogmarched him behind a large ficus.  There Marcel got the sense that she was surveying him critically.

"Okay," she said.  "Rude."

Marcel quavered, and his heart rate picked up.  He looked down at his big, ridiculous hands, fingers tangled together nervously as he wondered what he'd done this time.  Social faux pas seemed to flock to him somehow, leaving bad memories that clouded his mind.

"Um," he said.  "Have I, er..."

"I cannot believe you cover those things up with glasses on a daily basis, Styles.  It's a crime.  It's treason.  I should set Scotland Yard on you."

"Uh..."  Marcel had no idea what she was talking about.

"But perfect day to start wearing contacts; told you you'd thank me.  Meeting's in ten.  Good luck."

Good luck?

The Veronica-shaped blob squeezed his arm once and then swam out of his dim field of vision.  He couldn't really be sure, but Marcel got the distinct impression he'd been winked at.

He stood there gawkily for a few moments, frowning in confusion, and then shuffled off in what he hoped was the direction of the break room.  Tea.  More tea could help him sort things out.  He managed to locate the electric kettle, fill it with water and switch it on, all with minimal bumbling.  The tea itself was harder to find, but he eventually got hold of some cheap herbal stuff.  Marcel wrinkled his nose.  Oh well... best he could do at the moment.

It is what it is, he thought, unconsciously quoting Louis Tomlinson's tattoo.  It had become a sort of personal motto over the past year and a half, a way for him to calm himself down when his life felt like it was spiraling out of control.  It is what it is.  Marcel was what he was, and what he was in that moment was bewildered and vaguely apprehensive.

He’d just poured out his tea (not too hot, not too cold -- exactly lukewarm, the way he liked it) when disaster snuck up on him from behind unannounced.

“Ooh, is there enough for a second cuppa?” was all he heard before he was suddenly turning around, the toe of his shoe catching on a chair leg.  Marcel yelped, tripped, flailed, and spilled his tea all over the front of a smallish, bright-voiced blob in front of him.

“Oh d-dear,” Marcel stuttered, and when he realized that both of his hands were clutching the blob’s firm biceps, and his own best argyle slipover was pressed against the blob’s dripping wet, very male chest, “Oh dear me.  I’m, um.  Oh dear.”

“Wow,” said the blob.

Marcel blinked.  He thought he could just make out a pair of exceptionally blue eyes staring into his own for a moment, and then he recognized the voice.  And the stubbly jaw line that was finally sliding into focus.  And the hint of curling black script that was… right, wet, and.

Louis Tomlinson was here.  In person.  Louis Tomlinson.

I've only gone and spilled my tea all over him.  Before completely groping his arms.  Oh, help...

Marcel felt his airway begin to constrict.  Seconds ticked away like years as his throat shrank.  Marcel dropped to his knees, smaller and smaller amounts of air freezing his lungs, his chest heaving with the effort of drawing breath.  He could hear the telltale whistling coming from his throat.  His whole body felt tight, compressed suddenly, and he was coughing.  Gasping.  He was having a stress-induced asthma attack in front of Louis Tomlinson.  Brought on by Louis Tomlinson.

Wet, wet Louis Tomlinson, his brain thought, before it finally thought, Inhaler.

He patted his pockets; he kept it with him at all times, just a matter of which pocket…

Then there was something being pressed into his hand, its distinctive shape and smooth edges immediately reassuring.  Another, smaller hand helping him to hold it to his mouth.  A cold spritz into his lungs, and Marcel was counting out the ten seconds it would take the medicine to begin working.

It was then that he registered the soothing circles that were being rubbed into his back, and the distressingly familiar voice that was whispering in his ear.

“I’m right here, love.  You’re going to be okay.  Deep breath in for me… that’s good.”

Marcel’s breathing begin to even out again, but he still felt wretchedly claustrophobic.  Louis Tomlinson was being so nice to him, and had no idea it was not helping one bit to quell the panic that was rising up from the depths of Marcel’s stomach to strangle his heart.  Anti-helping.  That’s what Louis was doing.  And Marcel had ruined his shirt.  Wait, what was Louis Tomlinson doing in Marcel’s office building, anyway?  The two thoughts collided in Marcel’s brain the moment he opened his mouth to say something.

“Your shirt -- but why are you here?”

Louis’s blurry face chuckled at him, and all Marcel wanted to do was to just shrink away into the background.  To be that guy in the corner you barely notice, the one fussing quietly over his tea.

“I’m, erm, here for the design meeting.  You & I, by Tommo?”  He grinned hopefully at Marcel as he helped him to his feet, retrieving the thankfully intact mug and placing it in the break room sink.  Still very wet down the front, white t-shirt clinging...

Meeting.  New designer.  You’ll thank me later.  Good luck.

“Veronica,” Marcel mumbled.

“Um, no,” Louis laughed, an unsure little flyaway sound that tinkled like a bell.  “My name’s Louis.  Louis Tomlinson.”  He grinned again and crossed his eyes, making a silly face at Marcel.  “You know, the actor?”

“Oh, er…”  Marcel was breathing fine again, asthma attack having been brief and fairly mild, but his throat still felt choked with words.  There were so many, many words.  He didn’t want to say the wrong ones.

Also, Louis was touching him.  Louis Tomlinson been continually touching him for the last minute and a half at least.  His tiny, golden hand was fluttering about Marcel’s elbow, preparing to steady him again if need be, and Marcel couldn’t think about that.  Not right now.  He wanted out of this bloodbath.  His phone buzzed in his pocket and he fumbled for it, squinting at the screen, glad of the distraction.

Corky likes the new biscuits.  He did a poop on the patio in thanks.  Will send picture.

“Mum,” he sighed.  Of all the things he did not need.

“Louis, actually," said Louis.

Just then, Marcel heard the distinctive sound of a pair of high heels tap-tapping purposefully past on their way to the conference room.

“Veronica!” he called, in a high, wavering voice.  Oh, God.

“No, I told you, it’s Louis,” Louis continued to explain patiently.

Veronica rounded the corner and sighed, hands cocked on the hips of her charcoal pencil skirt.  “Marcel,” she sighed.  “What did you do?”

Marcel finally dug his broken glasses out of his coat pocket and slipped them on.  The edges of the break room sharpened up.  Veronica was taking in the scene, half-amused and half-aghast.  Louis, even hotter in high definition, simply looked confused.

“Babe, did you spill that on Mr. Tomlinson's shirt?” she asked, gently.

“Oh…”  Marcel looked back and forth between them.  The tea!  Right.  There had been tea, once, in a brighter world.  Before the Dark Times.  “Er… yes?”

“It’s no problem,” Louis piped up quickly, his voice high and pleasant.  Marcel felt a bit iffy in the knees again, and moved toward Veronica, grabbing at her hand like a lifeline.  “Really, it’s just an old t-shirt.  Probably should have dressed up a bit more for this, actually.”  Louis shrugged, his face radiating charm.  “Oh well.”

“Marcel,” said Veronica, “you have an extra shirt in your office, yeah?”  She gave his hand a squeeze and tried to let go, but Marcel just stared at her with wide, panicked eyes, trying to subtly shake his head in an abort, abort sort of way as he hung on for dear life.  “I know you do,” she said, finally wrenching her hand free.  “Your lilac jumper.  Why don’t you lend it to Mr. Tomlinson?  Meeting’s in three minutes…”

She left, tapping at her fancy wristwatch and raising her eyebrows at them.

Louis plucked at the wet t-shirt, which was clinging to the soft curves of his waist.  “Do you mind, mate?” he asked.  “I am a bit damp.”

Marcel stared dumbly.  

“Er… right.  I’ll just...”  Louis shrugged and began to turn, and the threat of not Louis Tomlinson after there had been Louis Tomlinson was just enough to shake Marcel out of his tummy-staring trance.

He squeaked, reached out and tapped Louis softly on the shoulder.  “Of course!” he said.  It came out far too eager, so he laughed to cover it up.  The laugh sounded fake, so he shifted his weight, cocking a narrow hip to one side faux-casually, and when that didn’t suddenly make him appear normal he just threw up his hands and barged out of the break room.  “Of course you can borrow my jumper, bro!  Get a move on!”

Jesus Christ.

“Okay… bro.”  Louis blinked once, and shook his head before following Marcel.

I’m never saying bro again, Marcel thought to himself as he led the way to his office.  He lived the entire journey in bitter regret, wondering, not for the first time, how it was he managed to do exactly the wrong thing in all situations.  He wished he could just disappear.  He was normally so good at it.  

"Here we are," he said as he rounded the final corner, fingers twitching nervously about the bottom of his slipover.  He stood outside his office door for a few moments, unsure why he wasn't pulling it open already.

Something was pinging in his brain.

But there was also Louis Tomlinson, smiling at him expectantly.  His lips were parted, and Marcel could barely see the sharp little canines that had starred in a rather disturbing number of his recent sexual fantasies.  How completely unfair, Marcel thought, that he looks even better in person.  His thoughts were clouded with cheekbones, long eyelashes, the thin lines across Louis’s forehead.  Marcel didn’t want to keep him waiting.

The moment he swung open his office door, he thought, This.  This is the low point.

The nadir, another part of his brain supplied automatically, and that’s what happens when you spend all your Saturday nights doing crossword puzzles alone in your flat.

There was another Louis Tomlinson on the other side of his office door -- a slightly shorter, slightly younger version with a two-dimensional smile.  He’d forgotten about the cut-out.  Which wasn’t his, of course.

“That’s not mine,” he gasped, as the real Louis snickered.

“Oh yeah?” Louis smirked, slinking into Marcel’s office and slinging an arm around his cardboard doppelgänger.  “Why’s it got a big heart drawn round the crotch in Sharpie?”

Marcel closed his eyes for a moment and tried to convince himself that this was all a horrible dream.  It didn’t work, primarily because one hundred percent of his dreams about Louis Tomlinson involved both of them being trouser-less, and having huge erections.  I don’t have an erection, Marcel thought to himself stubbornly.  I don’t.

“It’s Veronica’s,” he sighed, as Louis started to strip.  “She’s got a proper crush on you.”  It wasn’t a total lie, because Veronica had bought it for Marcel, for his birthday the week before, mostly as a joke.  And Marcel had kept it in his office as a sort of weird mascot for the marketing department, also mostly as a joke.

“Does she?” Louis asked, blue eyes twinkling as his head reappeared from under the hem of his t-shirt.  And there he was, standing in Marcel’s office, naked from the waist up.  It is what it is, thought Marcel, only this time he was reading his personal motto off of actual Louis Tomlinson’s actual chest.

“Yup,” Marcel muttered.  “Huge.  Huge crush on you.”

He didn’t stare this time.  Instead he swallowed dry in his throat and turned away, rummaging in his desk drawer for the ratty lilac jumper he liked to wear sometimes when it was a little too cold in the office.  He wasn’t sure when it had last been laundered.  As he pulled it out, trying to sniff at it surreptitiously, he felt the casual brush of a forearm against his bum.

“Oops, sorry,” Louis chuckled.  “I've gone and got a bit forward with you.”  He seemed to notice then that Marcel was agitated, shifting his weight from side to side and biting at his lip.  Wringing the jumper in his big hands.

“It’s, um…”  Marcel could feel tears pricking the back of his eyes and he breathed in deep and ragged, trying to keep them at bay.

“Hey,” Louis said softly, reaching out to rub one of Marcel’s arms, thumbing little circles into the crook of his elbow.  “Are you sure you’re all right?  One of my little sisters has really bad asthma, so I know how serious it can be.  And how scary.  No shame mate, if you need me to call somebody…”

Marcel just shook his head, voice gone as he handed over the jumper.  Louis smiled at him and tugged it on.  He was almost swimming in it, neck hole stretched out and pulled to one side so that What It Is could be read quite clearly, the big sleeves forming sweater paws in his palms.

“Thanks,” Louis said, looking down at himself and clearing his throat.  “Now then.  You’re good?  You sure?”

“You’re littler in person,” Marcel answered, and what a way for his vocal chords to make a reappearance.

“Well, you’re a bloody huge giraffe.”  Louis hip checked him on his way out of the office, wearing the ridiculous jumper proudly.  “Point us to the conference room, please.  We’re late.”


The meeting went well.  Despite their tardiness and Louis’s somewhat odd attire, Harvey and his fleet of upper management suits were impressed by the charm of his pitch.

“If Marks and Spencer agrees to carry it, You & I will be the first line of unisex undergarments to be sold in a department store in Great Britain.  Groundbreaking stuff.  A new attitude for a new generation of sexy, open-minded youth.  I’m thinking of a national campaign with me as the face -- fashion design has always been a pet dream of mine, and I’ve talked about that a considerable amount in interviews -- and beautiful androgynous models up on billboards and the sides of buses.  Classic composition, everything simple."

He clicked a remote, and the marketing slide of his Powerpoint presentation dissolved into a mock-up.  Marcel choked on air, his fingers skidding over the PDA he was using to take notes.  That was Zayn Malik.  The model Louis was rumored to be dating.  In a white thong.

So they are together, he thought, the voice in his head only slightly miserable-sounding.  Makes sense.  He was torn between wanting to claw Zayn’s perfect face off and wanting to see the two of them snog in a posh sauna somewhere, touching each other’s boners through damp towels.  Tendrils of steam rose up in his vision.  They were both so, so pretty.

“I knew they were hooking up,” Veronica whispered in his ear.  Marcel just shrugged, irritated to have been wrenched out of his semi-distressing fantasy.  She flipped her hair and leaned in closer, breathing into his ear.  “Zayn’s too hot for him, though.”

Marcel turned his whole body toward her in order give that ridiculous statement the scoffing it deserved.  Never, he mouthed.

She rolled her eyes.  “You’re delusional, darling.  Zayn is objectively hotter.”

Indignation rose up in Marcel’s heart, and he would have probably flipped her off a very tiny amount in a very subtle way had he not heard Harvey’s cigar-rough voice barking his name.

“Styles!  We’re not here to watch you canoodle!”

He jumped, and scooted his chair away from Veronica.  “Um…”

“What do you think?”

“Think?” he asked, pushing his drooping glasses up his nose.  The sellotape was beginning to un-stick.

“About the marketing plan.”

“Oh.”  Marcel glanced down at the notes he’d managed to tap into his PDA.

Marcel Edward Tomlinson-Styles.  Marcel Styles-Tomlinson.  Marcel Tomlinson.

“I think it’s brilliant,” he said.  “Very well thought out.  Upscale design.  Interesting concept.  We can definitely work with this.”

Marcel was a consummate professional.  When Louis beamed at him from across the room, his cheeks did not turn red.  Nor did his palms become so sweaty that he had to rub them up and down his thighs under the conference table.  He was the very essence of detached.  Veronica just smirked at him.

“Well, Tomlinson,” said Harvey, after a few muttered words with one of the other suits, “this all looks promising.  We like your concept.  Marketing likes your advertising hook.  We’re looking for something new and fresh in the lingerie department.  All that’s left is to examine your product.  If the manufacturing is as high quality as you say, we’ll move forward with planning a launch.”

Louis nodded.  “Of course, sir.  I can bring the full line to you as soon as you'd like to see it.  Tomorrow, even.”  He smiled, and Marcel held his breath.  Eye crinkles.  He was seeing Louis Tomlinson’s eye crinkles in person.

Harvey shook his head.  “No, I want to get moving on this.  Veronica, Marcel -- ”  Marcel’s head snapped up from where he’d been decorating his notes with pink heart emojis “ -- take an afternoon off sometime later this week and do an inspection of Mr. Tomlinson’s garments.  I don’t care when.  Vet his manufacturing; you know the drill.  But expedite this.  I want it launched in time for holiday shopping.”  He gave them both a stern look.

“Of course, sir,” said Veronica.  “I’ll begin the vetting process personally and Marcel will take point with Mr. Tomlinson on the marketing plan for the launch.”

And.  Marketing.  Because.

Ohhhhhhhh, Marcel thought, barely joining in the scattered applause as Louis concluded his presentation.  No, no, no, because -- no….

He hadn’t even realized that if Louis’s pitch were approved, they’d be working together.  Colleagues.  For more than just a morning of spilled tea and asthma attacks.  He’d probably have to contribute thoughts, and, like, ideas.  And talk!  He’d have to do that, too.  Suddenly Marcel was having flashbacks to sixth form Chemistry, in which he’d had the unfortunate luck to be partnered with a very attractive boy named Rhys.  One borderline incomprehensible Welsh accent plus two distractingly broad shoulders had equaled exactly two explosions and one panicked use of the eyewash station -- a perfectly balanced chemical equation.

Rhys had dental braces and spots, Marcel reminded himself.  This is Louis fucking Tomlinson.  The whole of Britain was probably doomed, if not the Empire.

Marcel swallowed and got to his feet shakily, sticking close to Veronica as everyone filed out of the conference room.  They met Louis in the hallway.  He was slipping a flash drive into the back pocket of his skater jeans, and tugging a gray beanie over his artfully mussed movie star hair.

“I’ll see you tomorrow then?” Louis asked.  He was addressing Veronica, of course.  Marcel had faded into the background once again, awkwardly shifting his weight from side to side as he listened to them talk logistics.

“... meet with me tomorrow morning; bring me all the paperwork on your manufacturer.  If it’s cheaper to do it in-house, we can explore that option.”  Louis was nodding, playing with his fringe as he watched Veronica strategize.  He had a serious, slightly intimidated look on his face -- Veronica in business mode was a thing to behold.  “... and I’ll make sure Marcel has a few hours for you in the afternoon to take you through the basic anatomy of a launch.  You two can start brainstorming.  Good?”  She snapped her appointment book shut and crossed her arms.

“Yeah, um, good,” Louis said.  He broke out into another delighted grin.  “Christ, I’d no idea everything would move so quickly!”

“Well, when Harvey wants something, he wants it yesterday,” she said.  “Marcel and I have handled quite a few major launches between us -- it’s clockwork to us at this point.  You’re in good hands.”

Marcel was thankful that Veronica was making him sound busy and important, at least.  His dull afternoons were generally spent in his office, making calls and checking market reports.  This was the first launch he’d been assigned since his promotion, and despite Veronica talking up his experience, it was the first one he’d been assigned to lead.  He wanted to do a good job for more than one reason.

“I know I am.  Thanks, Vee.”  Louis turned to go.  Marcel prepared to watch him walk off in the lilac jumper, having completely forgotten that Marcel was there.  But at the last second, Louis threw him a wink.  He hugged himself.  “Sorry, mate, you’re not getting this back.  Too comfy.”

Then he was gone.  Marcel felt his jaw drop, like in the movies.

“Louis Tomlinson stole my jumper.”

Veronica hummed, and flipped her hair over her shoulder.  “Louis Tomlinson stole your jumper.”

Louis Tomlinson is going to go home smelling like me.

So, all in all, it was the most humiliating day of Marcel Styles’s life.  He would keep it.


Marcel marched into work the next morning refreshed, bursting with ideas for the You & I launch, and wearing a plain slipover this time.  He hadn’t had any dreams.  Not ones that he could remember, anyway.

Definitely not any that involved blowing Louis up against his desk as the cardboard Louis watched.

His morning was spent alternately working in fevered triumph on marketing concepts that he was sure Louis would absolutely love, and tearing his hair out because oh my god he’s going to hate every single thought in my head and also my outfit and also my face.  And then before long he will come to the conclusion that he just hates the general me.  Marcel groaned, slumping over the desk that had never been (and would never be) the site of a sneaky office blowjob.  He might give the general me the benefit of the doubt at first, because he’s a nice man, Marcel mused.  But eventually.  Hatred.

Cardboard Louis was “returned” to Veronica’s office.  Marcel tidied up, washing out some of his perpetually tea-stained mugs and checking that he hadn’t spilled any of the Greek salad he’d had for lunch onto the carpet.  He made sure his hair was in order, slicked back on his head, no muss and no fuss and definitely none of those pesky curls.  Glasses… still broken, but they’d have to do.  He’d decided to order contacts online the night before in the midst of an absurd daydream about Louis -- Don’t want to be wearing broken glasses forever, Marcy, his mother’s voice had cooed in his head, think of the wedding pictures -- but it would take them a few days to ship.  He sat back down at his work computer now and ordered new frames, too, just in case the contacts were too difficult to deal with or hurt his eyes.  Plus it was a good way to kill time before his meeting with Louis.

Tap, tap-tap went Marcel’s long fingers on his thighs as he stared at the clock.

Five minutes past one o’clock.  Louis was late.

Six minutes past.  Louis had forgotten about their meeting.  At six and a half minutes, a text came buzzing through and Marcel almost brained himself on his desk lamp reaching for his phone.

Corky didn’t come for his biscuit today.  Bit odd.

Marcel sighed.

Seven minutes past.  Louis was never going to come.  He was MIA, possibly dead, and Marcel was never going to see him again.

At eight minutes past, Louis flew into Marcel’s office without knocking, cheeks flushed and snapback askew on his head.

“So sorry, mate!” he said.  “I had a lunch date with Z and we lost track of time…”

Lunch date.  With Z.  Zayn Malik, twenty-six years old.  Beautiful model, possible boyfriend.

“... really excited to get started, though.”  Louis heaved himself up so he was sitting on Marcel’s desk, dangling leg pressed casually against Marcel’s thigh.  Marcel blushed immediately at the contact.  He could barely bring himself to look Louis in the eye, but when he finally did there was a wink waiting for him.  “Been looking forward to it.  I’m holding your jumper hostage, you know, so you’d better have some good ideas for me.”

“Right,” Marcel whispered.  “Um.”  His hands were shaking as he started to speak, so much that he was sure Louis would notice.  Louis’s eyes seemed to be trained intently on Marcel’s face, though; maybe he had a new spot somewhere.  That was probably it.

Marcel managed to stammer out the basic marketing strategies that usually attended the launch of a line at Marks and Spencer.  You & I would get its very own portal on, and there would be web ads targeted at the appropriate audience -- in this case, both men and women.  Definitely young, definitely hip.  It was a market Marks and Spencer coveted, but could never quite nail down… Marcel wondered aloud why Louis hadn’t gone to TopShop with his cool, unisex idea.

“Did,” Louis shrugged.  “They rejected it.  Probably due to the fact that Zayn had a one-night stand with a VP there a couple of weeks ago, and never called.”  Louis rolled his eyes.  He had a tight, rueful little smile on his face that was hard to read.  “Didn’t warn me either, the bastard.  The whole board room was just glaring at me through my whole pitch, and I had no idea.”

Marcel’s ears perked up.  So, are they… they’re not exclusive?  Louis didn’t seem bothered by Zayn’s one-night stand, just that it had sabotaged his meeting with TopShop.

Marcel felt like a lead weight had been lifted off his chest, which was an absolutely preposterous way to feel, of course.  Just because Zayn wasn’t Louis’s steady boyfriend (maybe) didn’t mean Louis didn’t have a steady boyfriend (he probably did).  It definitely didn’t mean that Marcel should read anything into the way Louis’s warm calf was still pressed against his thigh.  No one who had Zayn Malik as a friend-probably-with-benefits would look twice at Marcel Styles.

“Sor -- ” Marcel cleared his throat.  “Sorry.”

Louis laughed, a bright, tinkling sound that Marcel was used to hearing in his computer speakers, or the cinema on Fulham Road.  He looked at Marcel with eyes crinkled in amusement.  “You’re sorry your competitors didn’t get me?  I’m that bad to work with, huh?”

Get me.

Marcel blushed, flustered.  “No, no, that’s not what I meant.  Just...  That was unfair of them.”

Louis laughed.  He brushed his leg over Marcel’s and nudged him with it to show that he was teasing, never breaking physical contact.  Marcel couldn’t breathe for a second.  “So you were saying, about the website?”


They got back into it, Marcel’s head pounding and his heart beating painfully in his throat.  He wondered how he was even talking, the knowledge that Louis was still pressing their legs together a little bit invading every thought in his head.   The atmosphere was electric.  Even the air felt tense.  But somehow the words came, and Louis didn’t hate his ideas, as it turned out.  In fact, he was quite enthusiastic about them.

"You make me strong," Louis read, fingers rubbing over his chin as he glanced over the copy Marcel had photoshopped onto his Zayn mock-up.  "You make me soft..."  Another shot of Zayn in the thong, his shoulders curved beautifully inward.  "You make me brave.  You make me beautiful.  You & I."

"Mixing up the models and the garments, of -- of course," Marcel said.  "We'd like as much diversity as possible in the campaign.  Gender and otherwise."

Louis just nodded, staring at the ad mock-ups.  He wasn't saying anything.  Marcel shrank into himself, beginning to panic.  He hates it.  The hatred is nigh.

"This," said Louis finally, with a surprised flutter of his eyelashes, "is bloody brilliant, mate."

"I--" Marcel stuttered, "I was just expanding on your concept, Mr. Tomlinson; it's all down to you, really..."

“Is it?” Louis asked.  He pursed his lips and smoothed out his face, like he’d thought of something cheeky to say, and wasn’t sure if he should.  Marcel blinked up at him and the sharp grin slowly returned.  “Is it me, or…?  I thought maybe you found Zayn inspiring?”  He pointed to where Marcel had fiddled with one of the images in Photoshop.  He’d done it the night before, just played around idly with the picture -- enhanced the beautiful amber tint to Zayn’s eyes and let the other colors wash away.

Marcel sputtered, and Louis laughed good-naturedly.

He’s just joking, Marcel told himself.  He’s just being a lad.  No... no need to panic.

Louis scrolled down the image, lingering for a moment on Zayn’s torso, and Marcel could see in the way he was looking at it that it was a familiar sight.  That realization sent a spike of ridiculous jealousy through Marcel’s chest; it settled in with an extra little jolt when Louis reached Zayn’s groin and stopped scrolling.

“So you think you’ll buy anything from the collection when it goes on sale?” he asked as he traced the visible outline of Zayn’s cock with the cursor, voice nonchalant.  “Be honest.”

“I…”  Marcel swallowed, tugging at his collar and pushing his glasses up his nose.  “I usually wear just normal briefs."

“Usually?”  The blue beams of Louis’s eyes were dancing over his face again, making him feel uncomfortably hot.  “You sure you wouldn’t find yourself in the mood for some…”  He clicked on the still open PowerPoint of his original pitch and brought up an image of another garment, this one slightly more feminine.  Sweet, pale pink, with subtle lace edging.  Zayn hadn’t modeled that one.

“I -- I don’t know,” said Marcel.  He wasn't sure if Louis was still just joking.  This suddenly felt much more like... teasing.

“What’s the slogan for this going to be, then?" Louis pressed, biting his lip as his gaze flickered to Marcel’s lap.

“Hadn’t, um, gotten that far.”  Marcel’s voice was nothing but the whisper of a squeak.  He knit his hands together in his lap, twisting them nervously.  Now that he was looking at that particular pair of panties -- now that Louis had sort of... selected them for him -- Marcel wanted to wear them so badly he could almost feel the pink silk on his skin.  He felt a blush rise, and said the first thing that came to mind.

"You make me pretty?"

(Holy God did Marcel want to be pretty for Louis, the way Zayn was and the way Veronica could be.  But as always, he was just himself.  Just plain old Marcel in Marketing.)

"You make me pretty..." Louis echoed, as though thoughtfully considering.  But his eyes were roaming over Marcel, and he leaned forward subtly, licking his lips.  "Yeah," he said, causing Marcel's heart to stutter.  "Yeah, I can see that.  Glossy page in a magazine, on some male model with long, shapely legs.  Perfect."

Marcel drew in a shuddery breath.  "You don't have to...  Mr. Tomlinson.  It's all just," he chuckled nervously and made a fluid-wristed gesture toward his head, "swimming around in here, randomly.  Just suggestions.  You don't have to like any of it."

Louis grinned.  “You can call me by my first name, you know; I’m not a bloody grown-up.  And bollocks.  You’re a poet, I can tell,” he said, his pointer finger darting out to poke Marcel’s wrist, tracing over the bones there for a fleeting second.  “Probably got six notebooks full of poetry at home.”

“Seven,” Marcel muttered.  “And it’s just ad copy.”

“‘S proper poetry, love!”  Louis spread out his arms, and for a second Marcel was terrified he was going in for a hug.  Maybe someday he’d be mentally ready to hug Louis Tomlinson, but today was not that day.  Nope.  The leg touching was already borderline unhandleable, not to mention the…  No.  A hug could spell disaster.

Louis must have read it on his face, because he dropped his arms just as Veronica stormed in.

“Babe,” she said, obviously exasperated.  “Harvey’s killing me; I need a coffee break.  Oh, hi Louis.”

“Hey,” he replied, lightly.  His face had fallen a little.  Marcel wondered why.

“‘Course,” he said to Veronica, fumbling about with grabbing his wallet and his jacket.  “We were just about finished, I think.”

“Good meeting?  Marketing on track?”

“Yeah, fine,” Marcel answered, just as Louis blurted out, “Marcel’s perfect.”

Veronica’s eyebrows jumped about three feet up her forehead, and Marcel coughed awkwardly into his fist.

“Oh!” she said.  “Excellent…”  She gave Marcel an odd, slightly irritated look as he immediately burrowed into her side.  Marcel knew he was being a bit clingy, but Louis made him so fucking nervous.  He was a whirlwind of friendly touching and tight jeans and blue-blue eyes, and Marcel just didn’t trust himself not to say or do something embarrassing.  He needed moral support.

“Yep,” he nodded.  “Excellent.  We both… excelled.”  He closed his eyes, wincing at himself and desperate to get away.  “Goodbye, Mr. Tom -- Lou… um.”  He tugged rather violently on Veronica’s arm, barely letting her shrug apologetically before they were out the door and walking toward the elevators.

“What was that?” Veronica hissed as Marcel furiously punched the down button, glancing over his shoulder in case Louis had happened to follow them.

“That was me being weird,” Marcel said, gruffly.  “I’m either weird or invisible.  Those are my two modes.”

“Look, I know you fancy him --”

“Horribly,” Marcel sighed, as the elevator doors finally opened and they began their descent to the little coffee stand in the lobby of the building.  “I fancy him horribly.”

“... but he’s still a client.  You can’t just alternately clam up and act like a tosser.  You know I love you, but I’m going to have to get someone else in the department to lead this launch if you can’t handle working with him.”

Marcel wilted and wrung his hands.  “Two modes,” he said, helplessly, and made such a pathetic picture that Veronica sighed and rolled her eyes in affectionate exasperation before pulling him into a long hug.  The elevator dinged, and they walked out into the atrium with their arms linked.

Halfway through Veronica’s meticulous coffee order (“two medium-sized pumps… one swirl of whipped cream”), her phone buzzed with a text.  She fished it out of her purse, glaring at the barista as though daring him to mess it up.  Marcel watched her guardedly as she read her screen with pursed lips.

“It’s from Louis,” she said.

“You have his number?”

She rolled her eyes at Marcel.  “He says to tell you that he hopes he didn’t offend you, and he’d like to keep working with you.”

Marcel fish-mouthed silently for about twenty seconds.  Veronica was sitting down at a little fold-up table by the time he’d gathered his wits.  He stomped over and sat across from her.  “Offend me?  He thought he’d offended me?  Why would he think that?"

Veronica shrugged.  “You gave him a bit of a brush-off.  He’s human too, you know."

“Is not,” Marcel scoffed, crossing his arms moodily.  He could tell he was wearing what his mother liked to refer to as his “grump face.”

“Marcel, darling,” Veronica sighed, and reached over the table to touch his wrist.  “You’re being a child.”

The elevator doors dinged open just then, spitting out Louis Tomlinson and a couple of Marks and Sparks execs.  Marcel’s heart lurched into his throat and he tried to smile, barely registering Louis’s gaze flickering down to where Veronica was still holding his hand.

Louis gave them a quick nod and a wave, deft fingers fumbling for his ear buds as made his exit through the revolving door.

“Just try…”  Veronica finally took a sip of her coffee, pursing her lips into a frown.  “Try not to, like…  If you…”  Marcel stared at her, wide-eyed behind his broken spectacles.  She sighed.  “Maybe just try to be less like yourself?”

Marcel lowered his head, nodding.  “Right,” he said.  “Of course.”

Veronica gazed at him pityingly for a moment before her phone was buzzing again, this time with a call from Harvey.


It was very difficult to be less like himself, Marcel quickly discovered.  No matter how many pep-talks he gave himself over his morning tea or how many sparkling conversations he imagined having with Louis while riding to work on the tube, when he stepped through the revolving door into the Marks and Spencer building every day and had to start interacting with real people, he faded back into plain old Marcel: tongue-tied, pigeon-toed and painfully anxious.

It is what it is, he told himself.  Which is to say, just no use.

So he chose silence.  Chose sending curt, business-like emails to Louis and Veronica instead of attending their meetings, chose to eat lunch alone in his office without even cardboard Louis for company, chose to intently examine the potted ficus whenever he saw real Louis waiting for the elevator.

It was fine.  He could direct the launch just as well from behind his computer screen.

He only felt one pang of something -- something a bit like remorse, or perhaps nostalgia for the brave version of Marcel that never was -- on Thursday evening, when he heard a soft tap on his office door and looked up to see Louis.

"Working late?" Louis asked.  He stood there for a moment, his movie star features outlined by the dark hallway, and then stepped forward to reveal soft, tired eyes and rumpled hair that glowed in the warm light of Marcel's desk lamp.

Marcel blinked, clearing his throat.  He'd spent the afternoon mired in website logistics and hadn't noticed the sun setting or his colleagues leaving.  No one but Veronica ever checked in with him at the end of the day, anyway.

"Time is it?" he asked blearily, stretching in his office chair.  He didn't catch the way Louis's eyes tracked his movement, running down his torso and the length of his legs.

"Nearly eight o'clock, mate."

Marcel lifted his glasses to rub at the bridge of his nose.  "Oh," he said, stifling a yawn.  Fuck, he hadn't had dinner -- not so much as a banana since 11:30, and his stomach was about to eat itself.

"Want to, um..." Louis clapped his hands together and rubbed his palms a bit nervously.  "Just, I noticed your light was still on, and I was about to go get a meal somewhere.  Join me?"

"Oh," Marcel said again, blinking slowly up at Louis.  "Well... I can't."  I'm too scared.  "I'm... not hungry?"  I'm terrified.

Marcel's stomach chose that moment to unleash a horrendously loud growl.  Louis's hopeful smile flagged a bit, and Marcel screamed into the black hole in his mind where there were meant to be words, words like other people always seemed to find so effortlessly, polite conversational phrases such as actually, I am a bit peckish or you know what?  I could do with something to eat.  Even I'm afraid I can't join you, but there's a lovely tapas place just round the corner would have been better than what Marcel actually said, which was "Goodnight, then."

Louis sighed, and nodded.  "Goodnight, Marcel."

Marcel bit his lip, shoulders hunched as he heard Louis retreat down the hallway.

That night he ate a microwave dinner in front of the TV, too worn out to cook.  The late news ended with a soft fanfare of trumpets, and his phone rang, startling him out of his exhausted stupor.

“Mum,” he said, without even looking at the screen.  No one else ever called him at night.

“Hi, darling.  Do anything interesting today?”

Marcel frowned, crossing his arms testily on the couch.  “You know I never say yes when you ask me that question.”

“Nonsense, Marcy.  Last week you were experimenting with a new biscuit recipe.  Banana-almond, was it?”

Marcel sighed, drawing his knees up and wrapping a knitted afghan around them, rolling his eyes.  “Yes, Mum.  I think I’ve got that one perfected.”  He knew exactly what was coming next.

“Oh good, because I think Corky’s bored of the white chocolate and cranberry.”  Her voice was strained, and shot through with a unique, oddball energy.  All of the Styleses were a bit quirky.  Eccentric, some would say.  Marcel had disliked that about them as an awkward teenager with friends to impress (or at least not scare off), had just wanted everyone to act normal for once, but now that he was away from home he found himself missing it terribly.  “I hope it's just biscuit boredom, anyway -- I haven’t seen him in almost two days!” his mother went on.  “I’m getting worried.”

He couldn’t help teasing her.  “You’re worried because you’ve not seen a squirrel in your backyard,” he said.  “Just to clarify.  48 hours with no squirrel sightings, that’s what’s got you so concerned that you called me at half-eleven?”

“He’s not just any squirrel, Marcy,” she said, reprovingly.  “He’s smart.  He comes right up to the screen door on the patio and waits for his biscuit like a polite little man.”

Marcel laughed easily, sliding down on his couch and rubbing at his tired eyelids.  “How do you even know it’s the same squirrel?”

“Oh,” she said, making her voice extra ingenuous.  “I can tell.”

“Can you?” he asked.  “How?”

“Well…” his mother sighed, like the answer was so complicated and she was so put upon at the moment that she couldn’t possibly be bothered to explain.  “That doesn’t matter; I’m still worried.  You had better send me some of those new biscuits.”

“Okay, Mum.  Goodnight.”

“Perhaps I can entice him.”

Marcel smiled softly.  His mother had always been very persistent about her fixations, and it usually took three or four goodbyes to get her off the phone.  “He’s probably just at, like, an important squirrel meeting,” he said.  “Night, Mum.”

“For two whole days?”

“Night, Mum.”

“Okay.  Well.  Goodnight, then, Marcy.”

Two minutes later his phone buzzed with a text.

Send biscuits.  Love, Mummy


On Friday, Marcel wore his very best slipover again, thinking that its lovely argyle pattern couldn’t possibly bring total humiliation crashing down upon him twice in one week.

He was wrong.

This time it began with Louis Tomlinson showing up half an hour late for a meeting in Marcel's lilac jumper.

"I swear me bloody mobile has it out for me," he said, looking windswept and unfairly comfy as he burst into the conference room.  "Nice vest, Marcel.  It was supposed to bleedin' alert me, honestly."  He shrugged, all brash charm, and Marcel tried to ignore the distressing sense of déjà vu that was tugging at the pit of his stomach.

"Well, Louis," Veronica said, snapping her appointment book shut and rising to her feet, "since it's already nearly four, maybe it's a good day to knock off early and look at your prototypes."

"Oh!" he said, with a particularly winning smile.  "I've been looking forward to this part!  I'm sure you'll like them.  Even have a few extras if you're after a free sample... as long as Z hasn't stolen them all."

Marcel's knees went weak as he stood, heart seizing up with Zayn Malik-based envy.  Probably made him look like a prat as he tripped and banged his shin on a chair on the way out of the room.

Typical and predictable.

Finally they were all stood in the hallway, Marcel rubbing his leg, fussing over the seams of his trousers as Louis looked on in concern.

“All right?” he asked.  Marcel’s phone rang but he ignored it, standing awkwardly, shin still stinging.

“Certainly,” Veronica said, when she saw that Marcel didn’t intend to answer.  “Where to?”

“I’ve got the whole line back at my design studio,” Louis said.

Marcel cleared his throat.  “Is that in the City, or…?”

Louis laughed.  “Nope,” he said.  “I’m a simple man, me.  I’ve just converted a spare room in me flat.”  It was charming, how his northern accent got thicker whenever he was accused of being fancy.

That was something Marcel hadn’t noticed in interviews, and obviously not at the movies.  He was being charmed by real life Louis Tomlinson.

If only he were a pompous arse, Marcel thought briefly, before taking it back.  It would have been worse if his celebrity crush had turned out to be anything other than kind and accommodating and lovely.  Plus, he’s too talented to be pompous.  Pompous people always feel they have something to prove.

Marcel shook his head, trying to sort out his muddled thoughts as he followed Veronica and Louis to the elevators.  They were chatting freely about London Fashion Week, practically best friends from the sound of it.  Marcel didn’t process much of their conversation, mesmerized by the graceful way Louis was moving his hands as he talked.

When they pushed through the revolving door out into the street, Marcel expected Louis to be mobbed immediately by a crowd of fans.  What happened instead was that everyone on the sidewalk either ignored them or stared at them curiously for only about a beat longer than they would have if it had just been Marcel and his broken glasses.  He spent a minute or two feeling indignant about their lack of interest in contemporary British cinema.

“Of course, Vee!” Louis was saying, when Marcel blinked back to life.  “I take the tube all the time; look at my Oyster card.”  He held it out as proof, and it was just a bit adorable.

Veronica lead them down gum-stained steps into a station, and after a few minutes’ wait they were crowding onto a bustling northern line train toward Edgware.  The car was stuffed full of tourists and commuters, bodies packed together tightly.  Marcel’s breath hitched as he was accidentally shoved forward into Louis’s back, clutching at his hip on instinct as he tried not to lose his balance.  All of a sudden his big hand was pressed into the curve of Louis’s waist, his crotch lined up perfectly with The Bum Of Louis Tomlinson, he was close enough to smell Louis’s spicy cologne and oops, this was going to end badly.

Miraculously, an open seat appeared right in front of them.

“Vee?” Louis gestured.

Veronica snorted and rolled her eyes.  “Please, this skirt is YSL.  I’m not sitting.”

Throat dry and breath shallow, Marcel squeezed around Louis and made for the seat, stubbornly pushing his glasses up his nose as he prayed to every deity he could think of that Louis hadn’t noticed his semi as he brushed past.  But his brief hope was soon dashed -- a tired-looking woman with three shopping bags and an enormous baby bump also had her eyes on the empty seat, two steps behind him.  She was holding her hands around her belly protectively in the crowded car.

Crikey, she must be like ten and a half months pregnant, Marcel moaned.  Pasting a smile on his face, he held out his hand.  She took it gratefully and sat herself down, exhaling heavily.

“Thank you,” she mouthed, and Marcel just nodded.  He was a good person.  Surely this would build good karma.

But the universe immediately laughed at him as he turned around, lurched through an opening between two French tourists and found himself plastered against Louis Tomlinson’s front.  The car jerked forward, and Marcel’s phone was ringing again.

“Fuck me,” he gasped, with a little squeak, glasses askew.  He could feel everything, Louis’s crotch pressed into his upper thigh, the hard grip of Louis’s hands on his biceps, his own skyrocketing heart rate.

“Steady on, mate,” Louis chuckled.  “Save something for date number two.”

Marcel laughed nervously, because that was a joke.  So funny.  Louis Tomlinson.  Hahaha.  He fumbled for the overhead bar, almost falling over before he could catch hold of it.  Finally, thankfully, he did so.  He breathed a sigh of relief even as he felt his knuckles turn white with how tightly he was holding on.  Holding himself away from Louis.  Not quite touching like that, not anymore.  There was at least a quarter inch of space between the crotch of his trousers and Louis’s stomach.

“Good?” Louis whispered.  Marcel could do nothing but swallow, his other hand hovering awkwardly because he had nowhere to put it that wasn’t on Louis, or a sweaty Frenchman.  So, no.  He was not good.  He was not good at all.  What he was was standing in a crowded, public subway car an inch away from a man he was hopelessly gone for.  Who just happened to be a famous actor.  And people were beginning to notice.

Marcel saw a round-eyed girl across the way tug her phone out of her bag, looking from side-to-side shiftily as she pretended to scroll through her texts.  But she’d forgotten to turn her ringer off, and her camera’s shutter sound seemed to somehow echo through the loud compartment.  Louis either didn’t notice or didn’t care.  He wiggled around to say something to Veronica, shoulders falling back into Marcel’s chest with the rocking of the train.  Marcel let out a soft “oof” at the contact; Louis thrust out his bum as a sort of counterweight, swaying his hips as he tried to situate himself.  Which meant there was friction.  Oh, God, there was friction.  Louis’s arse was rubbing right over Marcel’s dick.

Marcel desperately tried to think of something, anything else.  Anything, anything.  Whale blubber.  The water stain on his bathroom ceiling, just to the left of the tub.  His morning cup of tea -- no, no, that thought only led to wet t-shirts.  Marketing analyses.  His grandmother.  He had to banish that image quickly, though, because The Thing was already happening, the situation arriving where it had been inevitably headed from the moment he’d first touched Louis.  Marcel was hard.

Louis and Veronica were still chatting about something, and maybe it was enough of a distraction.  Maybe Louis wouldn’t notice.  But it wasn’t like Marcel had a small dick (not that anyone knew that but himself), and it was only getting bigger and harder all the time, straining up against the constricting material of his brown chinos right into the side of Louis’s left arsecheek.  Marcel’s heart was beating in his throat, clammy sweat dripping down his back as he tried to breathe without vomiting.

There was a jolt.  The lights flickered and the car swerved on its track.  Louis bounced off him and thudded back into his chest, position shifting slightly.  Now Marcel’s fully stiff cock was settled right against the crack of Louis’s bum, pressing into the layers of clothing and feeling the slow drag and hot build-up of pleasure as Louis… froze.

Marcel knew.  Louis’s whole body was tense, suddenly, and he was barely breathing.  He’d noticed.

Neither of them said anything for a moment, Louis’s conversation with Veronica petering out as the train stopped at another platform and the phone camera girl got off.

“I-I’m...” Marcel whispered, hoping the shakiness of his voice would be masked by the station announcements and the noisy chatter of other people.  He meant to say sorry, but it wouldn’t come out.

“Yeah, you are,” Louis whispered back.

Marcel let out a shuddering breath, so thoroughly, completely humiliated that he almost didn’t notice when Louis started to grind on him.  It was subtle at first.  Just a few back-and-forth rocks along with the train car.  But then it was more.  Then it was Louis arching his spine, pretending to fidget as he moved his bum up and down the hard length outlined in Marcel’s trousers.  It was teasing little circles as Veronica stood right in front of them, oblivious, absorbed in her phone.

It is what it is.

“Louis,” Marcel whined, not sure what to say to get him to stop.

But Louis just acted like he hadn’t heard, and what is he doing? Marcel wondered.  Trying to get me to embarrass myself?  He probably thinks it’s funny.

Marcel was on the edge of tears when Golders Green was announced.  He could feel the wetness in his pants, the head of his cock pressing into a sticky patch of precome that he hoped to Christ hadn’t soaked through his chinos.  He could feel the uncontrollable, shooting stabs of arousal begin to intensify, honey-warm heaviness in his balls.  His body was crying out for him to just wrap his arms around Louis’s waist and thrust up, dry hump him to orgasm.  Fuck, fuck.  Instead he stood as still and tense as he possibly could, willing himself not to come.  It was a battle he just barely won.

When the train pulled into the station, Marcel got to the door so fast he practically pushed Louis onto the floor.  He was tense and jittery, and very obviously aroused as he dashed out onto the open-air platform.  Quickly, he ripped off his clearly cursed argyle slipover and bunched it around his crotch, trying to appear casual.  He’d gotten hot on the tube, that’s all.

Hot in the sense of overheated.

Luckily, his powers of blending in had apparently returned full-force.  People streamed around him on either side, Veronica barely sparing him a glance as she clicked past in her heels.  Only Louis smirked at him, gaze flicking down once to the bundle of fabric and up again to Marcel’s face.   He didn't say anything, just quickened his pace to catch up with Veronica.  He touched her lightly on the shoulder and indicated which set of stairs they should take.

Marcel followed, walking stiffly.

His mind was tipsy with unanswered questions and slowly subsiding arousal.  It took an embarrassingly long time for his hard-on to go down, but Marcel supposed that was what he got for being a 23-year-old virgin.  Practical virgin, anyway.  Marcel pressed his hand to his hip pocket, checking for his inhaler, just in case.

Stay calm, he ordered himself.  Please, he added, because he was not above begging.

Louis’s “flat” was less a flat and more a lovely, vine-covered house set back off the road and sheltered by a high brick wall.  Louis let them in, unceremoniously toeing off his shoes and leading them upstairs in his bare feet.  Marcel wasn’t sure what to do with his slipover now that he didn’t need it to cover his crotch.  He had to keep pretending that he’d taken it off because he was too warm, and settled for draping it awkwardly over one of his forearms.  The inside of the house was just as charming as the outside, but more or less covered in random mess.  Empty cereal bowls, brightly-colored socks scattered everywhere.  Bits of football gear and also scraps of fabric and measuring tape.

“Sorry about the --”  Louis waved his hand through the air, clearly not even sorry enough to finish his sentence.  “Anyway, here’s where the magic happens.”  He waggled his eyebrows and opened a door at the end of the upstairs hallway.

The design studio was awash in natural light.  Louis had a few mannequins lined up against the wall, most with odd bits of cloth tacked onto them, half-finished pieces.  Bolts of fabric were strewn over a large table, fancy sewing machine at one end.  Images ripped from magazines and books were taped up on the windows, presumably for inspiration… some were garments, but others were particularly striking architectural photographs, or nature scenes.

Marcel would have liked to spend time here.  He’d have liked to sit and watch Louis work.  Watch the tilt of his head and the cant of his hips as he stood, gazing at a sketch or a photograph.  The delicate bones in his wrist as he fed fabric through his sewing machine, pins bunched in his mouth, muffled curses.  Marcel would probably have constructed an entire daydream around it, if he hadn’t been so thoroughly preoccupied by the weirdness in his stomach.  It was a weirdness that was quickly curdling into frustration.

“Very nice,” Veronica murmured, eyeing a softly-structured gown in a slinky grey satin that Louis had pinned onto one of the mannequins.

“‘S just a hobby,” he shrugged.  “I like to experiment with draping.  I’m getting better, I think.”

Veronica nodded.  “You definitely have talent.”

Marcel narrowed his eyes as he watched Louis preen at her compliments.  He was so stupidly endearing, even when he’d just done… that… and now Marcel was invisible again, apparently.  Bleeding into the background as Louis and Veronica talked.  No one asked his opinion, and he drifted awkwardly around the room, peering over Veronica’s shoulder at the You & I prototypes.

Marcel had no idea what he was supposed to do.  Like, Louis had given him a fucking boner!  And then deliberately exacerbated it, and then ignored him completely.  (It wasn’t fair of Louis to do that to him, Marcel thought.  Even if he was Louis Tomlinson, You Know, The Actor.)  Was it meant to be some sort of revenge for Monday’s tea incident?  But Louis truly hadn’t seemed to mind, wrapping his arms around himself, cozy in Marcel’s huge lilac jumper that he’d worn again.  There was nothing outwardly cruel or calculating about him, all bright smiles and proud of his work.  Really the opposite of Marcel, charisma-wise.

His face is on billboards.  His love life is in magazines.  He's here in front of me, but he's there, too -- and always unattainable.  Marcel frowned and tried to quash the angsty little temper tantrum his heart was throwing.

Just then he heard the distant sound of the front door slamming shut, and the soft thud of footsteps on the stairs.

“Bebs?  You home?”  A male voice with a thick Bradford accent called from the hallway.

“In here,” Louis trilled, “with the people from Marks and Sparks!”

Marcel’s heart stuttered where it was lodged in his throat as the door to the design studio swung open and Zayn Malik entered the room, sweeping a disinterested hand through his beautifully disheveled, slightly too-long hair.  Like Louis, he was even more glorious in person, foundation smudged on his cheek and eyes still made up from a shoot.  He walked right past Marcel without seeming to notice him.  Instantly, Louis drew him into a hug, tugging him down violently by a pierced earlobe to kiss his temple.

“Oi!  Lewis,” Zayn grumbled, rubbing his ear.

Louis patted his cheek fondly.  “Just love seeing that famous pout, darling.”

Marcel’s heart plummeted.  Darling.  And Zayn had a key to the house.  Suddenly his posh sauna fantasy with the damp towels seemed more like a nightmare -- one that was about to be acted out in front of him, if Zayn and Louis got any closer.  They had their arms draped around each other now, Zayn squinting curiously at Veronica.

“Do I know you?”

“Um,” Veronica said, her voice breathy and… odd.  They stared at each other for a few moments.  “I don’t think so.  Of course, I know who you are.”  She laughed nervously.  “Everyone does.  I mean, they do!  They do.  Plus, you were in Louis’s PowerPoint pitch.  In the, uh, thong.”

Veronica’s jaw was clenched, eyes wide as she turned to Marcel, a silent help me on her face.

Wildly, Marcel cast about for anything else to talk about, determined to at least save Veronica from total self-immolation since it was clearly too late to save himself.  He was about to open his mouth and say something completely inane, possibly Thong Song lyrics, fall on the sword, as it were -- but he ended up falling over a mannequin instead.  The padded form crashed to the ground and Marcel with it, just as his phone started to ring again.

“Oopsie,” he squeaked.  He had a deep voice, dammit, why did it insist on coming out so high sometimes?

“Oh, God, Marcel.”  Louis rushed over to help him up.  “Sorry; they’re all in the way.”

No they’re not, Marcel thought.  They’re neatly lined up along the wall.  It is me who is the stupid, stupid… stupid person in this situation.  But his big, clammy hand was in Louis’s small warm one, and he was being lifted shakily to his feet.  “Do -- do you, um…” he stammered.  He needed to get out of there, gather his thoughts and his composure.  “Toilet?”

All the breath went out of him, shoulders slumped as he just surrendered to the sensation of being the most embarrassing human.  It only hurt that Louis smiled warmly at him and guided him out into the hallway, hand on the small of his back.  So he mostly notices me when I’m a fuck up, Marcel thought, I guess that’s convenient.

“Toilet’s just through here,” Louis said.  But instead of leaving Marcel to it, he glanced down the hallway to make sure they were still alone, grabbed Marcel’s upper arm and crowded him into a corner.  He stood on his tiptoes, pressing his lips to Marcel’s ear.  “Been dying to ask -- does your girlfriend know you get off on grinding against men’s arses in the subway?  Or is it just my arse.”

Marcel froze.  “What?”

Louis stepped back, hands on his hips, sleeves of the lilac jumper rolled up twice and still falling down over his pretty wrists.  “Your girlfriend,” he said, clearly enunciating the word.  He nodded his head back toward the design studio.  “Vee.”

“Veronica?”  Marcel stared dumbly.

Louis raised his eyebrows.

“... is not my girlfriend.”  Marcel licked his lips.  “Never been big into girlfriends, actually.”  Then, in a moment of boldness, “Do people know you get off on humiliating poor sods who have hopeless crushes on you?  What about your boyfriend?”

“What boyfriend?  Wait, crush?”

“Zayn Malik,” Marcel supplied.  “Underwear model.  You called him darling.”

Now it was Louis’s turn to stare in confusion.  He blinked twice, and as Marcel made to move away, he caught his arm again.  “So very much not my boyfriend.  I can’t tell you how much Zayn is not my boyfriend.”

“Oh,” Marcel said.

“And you and Veronica,” Louis said, squeezing his arm lightly, “there’s nothing going on?”

Marcel shook his head.  “I’m really, really gay, actually.”

“And have a crush on me.  You mentioned a crush.”

Marcel sighed.  “I did.”

Louis nodded, gazing up at Marcel for a moment as though considering.  He opened his mouth, then closed it.  Marcel’s heart had stopped totally, his lungs collapsed, waiting for Louis’s next move.

He dropped Marcel’s arm and coughed into his balled-up sweater fist.  “Toilet’s that way.”

Marcel’s stomach felt like lead.  “Right,” he breathed, smoothing his dress shirt, dorkily tucked into his too-high trousers.  “I didn’t think…  Obviously.  I mean,” he chuckled.  “Look at me.”

He turned to go, uniquely horrible feeling washing through his body as he staggered toward the bathroom, willing himself not to glance back at Louis.  If only he’d called in sick this morning.  If only Marks and Spencer hadn’t hired him.  If only he’d never gotten a marketing degree…  Then he could love Louis Tomlinson in peace, not stumbling down the hallway of his house on the way to the toilet, having just been rejected by him.

Marcel felt a hand on his shoulder.

“Oh fuck it,” Louis breathed.  “I am looking at you.”  He pressed their mouths together.

Marcel gasped into it, stumbling in confusion.  But Louis’s arms were there to catch him, strong muscles flexing as Louis steadied him.  He smelled of spices, manly cologne that made Marcel’s knees go weak, a hint of menthol on his breath from cigarettes Marcel had never seen him smoke.  His lips were moving sweetly against Marcel’s own, pressing soft little bird pecks into the corners of Marcel’s mouth in a way that Marcel, in all his fantasizing, had never imagined Louis would kiss.  God, it was better than -- so much better.  Marcel felt dizzy.

Louis squeezed Marcel’s arms, fingers massaging comfortingly as he pulled back.  “You can tell me to piss off,” he said.

“Don’t you dare,” Marcel breathed.  “Don’t you dare piss off.”

He gazed into Louis’s eyes.  They were such a kind shade of blue, he thought, pupils blown as they moved left to right in little increments, trying to read the expression on Marcel’s face.  Marcel just smiled.  He leaned down to nudge Louis’s nose with his own.  “Please,” he added.

Louis grinned back, a full, dazzling, heart-stopping smile.  “Well since you asked nicely,” he said.

Then they were kissing again, this time with more heat.  Marcel shivered as Louis’s tongue licked into his mouth for the first time, the smaller man guiding him through a doorway into a messy bedroom.  His thumb was pressing insistently into Marcel’s bicep now, just this side of painful, small teeth nipping at Marcel’s bottom lip in the most perfect and overwhelming way.  Marcel’s skin felt tight, every nerve ending a live wire.  He was letting out accidental moans with each new place Louis touched him.  He couldn’t help himself, and there was a sick lurch behind his heart -- am I doing this right?  Am I being embarrassing?  But Louis was muttering curses under his breath, lips and teeth grazing down the column of Marcel’s throat and he was so obviously into it for some reason.  Marcel could hardly worry.  Just then the backs of his knees hit the side of a bed and he sat down hard, broken glasses knocked off his face as Louis straddled him.

“You didn’t really need to use the loo, did you?” he asked.  Then he added,  “Fuck, your eyes are so pretty,” as if that were a natural follow-up.

Marcel shook his head forcefully.  “No, no, I’m, uh --” he gulped.  “I’m all good in that department.”

“Was going to wait until goddamn Zayn left to tell you the crush is mutual,” Louis murmured.  “And Vee.  But then you looked so sad, it made my heart hurt.”

“Not sad!” Marcel gasped, as Louis started rocking down.  “Keep -- just keep… going, please.”  They were both hard, and oh, fuck fuck fuck their cocks were touching through their clothing.  Marcel took Louis’s hips in both of his big hands and squeezed, eliciting a full-body shudder.

“God, Marcel,” Louis said.

Marcel moved his hands around to Louis’s arse and squeezed there, pulling Louis up so that he was partially supporting his weight.  He felt Louis react to it, faster breaths and a high-pitched whine that was muffled when he brought their mouths together again.  He was so tiny, honestly, and the lilac jumper just accentuated it.  A bright, squirming ball of sensory overload.

“They’re still in the next room,” Marcel reminded Louis.

“Shit.  Can I --” Louis asked, as he wedged a hand between their bodies to palm the hot bulge in the front of Marcel’s trousers.  He pressed down with the heel of his hand, and Marcel let out a broken little cry.  “Want to, with my mouth.”

“Oh my God, please, yes,” Marcel said, and all he needed to do was not faint as Louis Tomlinson sank to his knees in front of him.

Of course, that’s when his phone went off.  It lit up his pocket right next to Louis’s cheek.  Marcel dug it out and dropped it, unanswered, onto the bed.  Louis looked up slyly through his long eyelashes, fingers fluttering over the zip on Marcel’s trousers.

“Don’t feel like a chat?” he asked.

“Not… terribly… at this moment,” Marcel managed to answer, his voice strained.  He felt for the space of a panicked second like his throat was about to close up.

Louis just chuckled and proceeded to unzip Marcel’s flies.  His little hands were teasing the fabric open over the hard line of Marcel's cock, thumb running up the underside of it along the front seams of his white cotton briefs.

"Wow, Marcel," he murmured, digging his fingers under the elastic band right where Marcel's treasure trail ended and tugging it down.  His gorgeous face was a bit blurred around the edges, and Marcel couldn't tell if it was just that he didn't have his glasses on or if he was starting to tear up a little because of how fucking amazing Louis was making him feel.

Two more seconds and his cock was out.  Louis wrapped a fist around it reverently and gave it a couple slow tugs, testing the feel of it.

"You're so wet," he whispered, swirling his thumb over the mess of precome at the tip.

"Is that --" Marcel blinked.  "Is that bad?"  He was concentrating so hard on not coming all over Louis's fingers, he could barely get the words out.

"It's hot," Louis said, biting his lip for a moment before moving in to brush a few of his soft little bird kisses up the side of Marcel's shaft.

Marcel's hips bucked up involuntarily and he came in a single hot streak onto Louis's face.

"Oh no," he gasped, as Louis quickly wrapped a hand around him to stroke him through the rest of it.  "Oh dear, oh... f-fuck..."

And now his throat did close up.  His phone was ringing yet again, heart squeezing in his chest so hard it felt stalled.  The ice was back in his lungs, freezing him out as he gasped for breath and dug frantically into his back pocket.  In a second the inhaler was at his mouth, medicine delivered.  Louis jumped up onto the bed with him immediately.  He had an arm around Marcel, rubbing deep circles into his back with one hand and discreetly wiping come off his eyelid with the other.

Marcel's shoulders heaved, hands shaking as he gave himself another puff.  What a bookend to the week.

"I'm so sorry,” he gasped, as soon as he could speak.  “I’m -- God, I’m…”

“No, no,” Louis insisted, taking Marcel’s face in his hands and turning it gently so that Marcel could see him.  “Don’t start apologizing.  You’re wonderful.  I was going too fast.”

“But I --”

“Marcel.  The only thing we’re in danger of here is me getting an even bigger head than I have already,” Louis said, giggling a bit at himself and leaning forward to touch their foreheads together.  “Are you okay?” he whispered.

“You take my breath away.”

There was a pregnant pause before Louis and Marcel both burst into laughter at the same time.  Marcel eased himself back into his trousers, shoulders shaking, exhilarated that Louis hadn’t groaned at his bad joke.  His heart raced.  His nerves sang, excitement zipping through them like vibrations down a violin string.

“It’s just, that was my first,” Marcel cleared his throat.  “That was my first, like, attempt.  At receiving, um…”

Louis’s eyes widened.  “Oh,” he said.  “I’m sorry, God.  I’m sorry; I went too fast.  This is going too fast.  Fuck, I should have tried to be more gentlemanly.”

Marcel chuckled.  He wiped a stray tear out of the corner of his eye and reached over to squeeze Louis’s upper thigh, fingers brushing over the front of his crotch.  “You’re all gentleman.”

“Cheeky.  I shouldn’t have just attacked you like that, though, I --”

“You didn’t do anything wrong,” Marcel said.  “Anyway, I swear I’m not a total virgin.”

Louis raised his eyebrows with a shy smile.  “Yeah?” he said, bumping shoulders with Marcel.  “What’ve you done, then, bad boy?”

Marcel cleared his throat, blushing as he fiddled with his fingers.  “I gave a boy a handjob once,” he confessed.  “It was in a church.”

Louis’s jaw dropped.  “Mar-cel!  You nasty pasty.  Did he return the favor?”

Marcel laughed, swatting Louis’s thigh softly with the back of his hand.  “Shut up.  You don’t want to know.”

“I do, actually,” Louis said, waggling his eyebrows and hooking his ankle around Marcel’s, swinging their legs together.  “I need all the hot goss.”

Marcel sighed and rolled his eyes.  “Well, you know, first time touching a penis.  It was all very exciting.  Bit of a blur.”

“Okay, Styles, keep your secrets,” Louis said, and leaned over to kiss Marcel once on the mouth.  He was looking at him like he was hopelessly endeared.  Like…  like they were a couple, or something.

Marcel cleared his throat, about to ask a question he didn’t even know how to phrase, when his phone started ringing again.  He glanced down at where he’d dumped it on the bed, screen flashing with a familiar picture.

“Whoever that is really wants to talk to you,” Louis said, gently.

“Can I?” Marcel asked, picking up the phone and gesturing with it.  “‘S a bit rude…”

“Go for it,” Louis smiled, and lounged back on the bed.  He looked like a sex god, propped up on his elbow as he reached down with his other hand.

Marcel took a deep breath and answered the call.  “Mum,” he said, voice cracking as Louis began to casually touch himself over his jeans.

“Darling!  Corky’s back!  I’ve been trying to call you all afternoon; where are you?”

“At work,” Marcel answered, sticking out his tongue at Louis when Louis raised his eyebrows.

“But you always pick up at work,” she said.  “Anyway, cancel the alarms and stand down red alert.  Corky came for his biscuit.  One of my ginger snaps; I do make good ginger snaps, don’t I?”

“You do, Mum.  I’m glad you saw your squirrel again.”

She hummed with contentment as Louis shot Marcel a confused glance.  Marcel shook his head.

“Me too,” she said.  “I knew there was nothing to worry about.”

Marcel chuckled.  “Oh, did you?”

“Corky’s a very loyal squirrel.”

“Yes he is,” Marcel affirmed.  “Now, I'm afraid I’ve got to dash --”

“What, you can’t chat a bit with your old mum?  It’s not working hours anymore, five o’clock already if you haven’t noticed.”

“Well, you see, I’m --”

“Are you out with friends?” she asked.

“Well --”

“Hi, Marcel’s mum!” Louis shouted, his bright voice carrying across the bed and going down the line.

Marcel gaped and Louis shrugged, and they both heard the delighted “Oooooo!” that came out of the phone.

“Mum,” Marcel started.

“You’re with a man!” she cried.  “A lovely, lovely man.”

“He is lovely,” Marcel said, “yes.  Goodbye, Mum.”

“I’m going to phone your cousin Leeroy!”

Marcel sighed and groaned.  Leeroy, the only other openly gay member in Marcel’s extended family, was very outgoing -- always having lots of weird sex that he liked to tell Marcel about in way too much detail.  “Goodbye, Mum.”

“I’ll ask him to give you some pointers --”

“Bye, Mum,” Marcel said quickly, before hanging up and turning his phone completely off.  “You are such a shit,” he told Louis, turning on him with a shy grin.  He amazed himself, talking like that to Louis, but something had shifted inside him a bit.  Not enough to shove aside all his insecurities, but enough to un-paralyze his tongue.

Louis laughed, and pulled Marcel down on top of him.  “Yeah, you’re learning that, aren’t you?”

“Mmm.”  Marcel couldn’t help leaning down, just a bit, to breathe in the scent of Louis’s cologne.

“Now, what was that about a squirrel?”

“Nothing,” Marcel sighed, pressing an experimental kiss to the scruff at Louis’s jaw.  It sent a jolt down his spine -- even though he’d already had his cock out and everything, the act felt daring for some reason.  Just deciding to kiss Louis Tomlinson.

“I’d quite like to meet your mum, you know,” Louis said, letting Marcel mouth at him and barely suppressing shivers.  “She sounds like an interesting lady.”

Marcel shifted his hips in response, letting Louis’s half-hard cock drag down his thigh.  “Stop talking about my mum, please.”

“Note taken.”  Louis sucked in a breath as Marcel moved down his torso, shoving the jumper up to kiss and lick at Louis’s tattoos.  Marcel felt his skin quiver, and smiled to himself.  He was doing something right.

When he popped the button on Louis’s jeans, Louis brought his hands down to cover Marcel’s, stilling them on the zipper.  “Wait,” he said, a bit breathless.  “Maybe we should slow down…”

Marcel responded by stroking up the thick outline of Louis’s erection, leaning down to bite at it gently through the denim.  “Why?” he asked.

Louis’s eyes rolled back in his head and he let his head drop, throwing an arm over his face and groaning.  “Because… you…  I didn't realize before that you were inexperienced and I thought maybe you’d want to -- want you to be ready.  Don’t want to pressure you into doing anything.”  His hips were rocking up, though, in little thrusts that Louis couldn’t seem to control.

“I’ve been ready, Louis.  Please.”

Louis sighed, bringing a hand down to pet through Marcel's hair.

"Or..."  Marcel's heart lurched.  "If it's -- if you don't want to... with, um.  With me..."

"I want to," Louis said quickly.  "Oh my god, Marcel, you know I want to.  Your lips, I mean Jesus...  But only if it's not too, like, overwhelming, or -- what if you regret it later?"

Marcel scooted himself up the bed, and took Louis's face in his hands.  He stared at him seriously.  “Louis, I’m a grown man and I would very much like to give you a blowjob before my boss walks in on us.”

Louis moaned and leaned up to kiss him.  Their tongues slid together, hot and sloppy for a few seconds, until Marcel felt hungry for more.  He gave Louis’s mouth a parting peck and shuffled down his body again, appreciating his bare torso with a few nips.  “Get a move on, bro,” Louis said, and reached out, laughing, to ward off Marcel’s immediate attack on him.  Their hands locked together, pushing against each other playfully.

“Arse,” Marcel said.

“You’re an arse-y, Marcy,” Louis shot back, and Marcel flushed pink with pleasure at being teased.  He untwined their fingers and slid them down Louis’s skin, relishing the feel of him.  Not quite believing, still.  His hands were trembling with excitement as he finally undid Louis’s flies.  Then he blinked, heart stuttering.

“For a pants designer,” he said, “you seem to be wearing a distinct lack of them.”

Louis laughed softly, before hissing in a breath as Marcel pulled Louis’s cock out and licked his lips, gazing at it.  It was shorter than his own, but pleasantly thick and the same beautiful golden color as the rest of Louis’s skin.  “Should just leave you like this, probably,” Marcel said, mentally gearing himself up to put his tongue on it.  “Payback for the tube.”

“I’m terrible,” Louis agreed.  “I can never resist anything.”

“And I’m too nice for my own good.”

Marcel leaned down and started sucking a bruise into Louis’s soft hipbone, feeling the hot length of Louis’s hard-on graze his cheek.

“You missed,” Louis said, and Marcel pinched his inner thigh.  He patiently finished his lovebite, giving it one last lick before moving on to the main attraction.  He could tell Louis was trying to hold still, fists clenched in the sheets and not quite succeeding.

He experienced just a moment’s hesitation before sucking Louis between his lips and bobbing down.  He was insecure about a lot of things -- his hair, his slight acne… but one thing Marcel had always felt quite sure about was that he’d know what to do with a dick in his mouth.  He was naturally empathetic, and years of vivid fantasies about what he himself would want to feel (not to mention a healthy porn consumption) had him bursting with ideas of things to try.

It wasn’t long before Louis’s hand was fisted in his hair, guiding him up and down as Marcel hummed low in his throat.  It was sloppy and wonderful, Marcel’s jaw already aching but his heart so eager to please.  He varied the speed of what he was doing, moaning whenever Louis tucked the longer tendrils of his hair behind his ears, tracing veins with his tongue and gently testing his gag reflex.

“So good, babe,” Louis murmured.  His breathing was growing ragged, and Marcel was hard again.  He started humping softly against the mattress, trying to get friction on his own cock as he worked Louis over.

“Shit,” Louis said.  “Shit, shit, shit…”

Marcel had gotten through about five of his twenty-two top blowjob techniques (he’d numbered them and everything, back in year 12 when he was bored in Maths) before Louis tugged on his hair and mumbled out a garbled warning.

“M’gonna… uhn…  Marcel…”

Marcel ignored him and just took him down further, proud of himself for how well he was doing on his first try.  He held his breath, heart skipping a beat as he felt Louis shoot down the back of his throat.  He pulled off a few seconds later with a pop, sucking in a deep lungful of air as he nuzzled the bruise he’d made on Louis’s hip, grinning up at him.  He felt hot in his clothes, and Louis’s grazed his fingertips reverently over Marcel’s face, appreciating the rosy flush on his cheeks.  Marcel let himself be tugged up the bed to kiss Louis with numbed lips.

“Fuck, you’re amazing.”

Marcel laughed, shaking his head.  “That’s very odd to think about,” he said.  “You’re… you.”

Louis held him close, rubbing his shoulders and down the backs of his arms as Marcel nuzzled at the script of his It Is What It Is tattoo.  “I am me,” Louis said.  He petted Marcel’s hair and took a deep breath before letting it out again.  “I get that the whole celebrity thing is a bit of a mind-fuck, but please trust me that on this end, that’s all I am -- just boring old me.  And you’re the interesting one.”

Marcel didn’t know what to say to that, words crowding in his throat and threatening to choke him with emotion.  He kissed Louis, more roughly than he’d dared to before.  Louis kissed him back just as thoroughly until they were interrupted by a knock at the door.

Marcel broke away, using his arms to propel himself off Louis.  He straightened out his shirt and rumpled chinos, ineffectually trying to slick his hair back down with the palms of his hands.

“Oops,” Louis said, before --

“If you’re all done in there,” Veronica said, a wry note to her voice, “I thought we could talk.”

Louis pulled Marcel’s jumper back on, though they were literally standing in his bedroom and he had an entire wardrobe of both designer shirts and ratty old tees to choose from.  He zipped his flies hurriedly and went to the door.

“Sorry, sorry,” he said, squeezing out into the hallway and letting Marcel find his glasses and sort himself out in the crotch area before joining them.

Veronica was talking to Louis about his garments when he finally, sheepishly stuck his head out.  He slunk behind Louis, twisting his argyle slipover in his hands and trying not to burst with joy.  Veronica shot him a Serious Look, a We’ll Discuss It Later Look, and a Congratulations On Getting Off With Louis Tomlinson Look in quick succession, but went on talking shop.  Because she was the ultimate professional and Marcel had just blown someone on a work outing.

He had never been happier.

“... I’ll shoot Harvey a favorable report on your garment construction, and we can finalize the manufacturing plan on Monday,” she said.  “Other than that, I think we’re done…”

Zayn joined them, climbing the stairs with a bowl of cereal in his hands, having apparently drifted down to the kitchen at some point and helped himself.  His eyes narrowed suspiciously on Louis, and then slid over to Marcel.  Then they widened.

“Oh wait, so that’s --”

“Bye, Zayn!” Louis said quickly, making a shooing motion with his hands.  “Bye, Veronica, and,” catching Marcel’s hand as he turned to follow her down the stairs, “not bye Marcel because I’m taking you out to dinner.”

“You are?” Marcel breathed, smile nearly splitting his face in two.

“Yeah, somewhere nice,” Louis said, smiling back.  “For a date,” he clarified.  “A proper first date-type occasion.”


“Unless you had plans?”

Marcel heard the sound of Veronica and Zayn letting themselves out down in the foyer, but couldn’t tear his eyes away from Louis.  From how Louis was looking at him.

“Was going to go smuggle the cardboard Louis back into my office, if I’m honest,” he shrugged.  “But I think it can wait.”

Louis laughed, and Marcel felt dizzy.  Good dizzy.  How Did I Get Here And Can I Please Stay Forever dizzy.  He tucked his lucky slipover under his arm and let Louis draw him in for another kiss.