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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 marksandspencer.com, 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?”

“Right.”

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.”

“Oh!”

“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.

Chapter Text

Marcel was sitting at his breakfast table on Saturday morning, peacefully perusing the internet, when a Sugarscape article came out of absolutely nowhere and attacked him.

Is Louis Tomlinson’s New Boyfriend Going To A Fancy Dress Party?  Because That’s The Only Explanation We Can Think Of.

He almost choked on his lukewarm tea.  Sputtering, trying not to panic as he brushed toast crumbs off his lap, Marcel clicked into the article and skimmed the rest of the text.

Oh, ‘ello, look what we have here.  Louis Tomlinson out on a cheeky date?  A fan got an eyeful of good ol’ Tommo getting extra friendly with a mystery lad yesterday -- on the tube, no less!  (Oh Louis, you minx.)  But who is this boy?  And why is he dressed like a stereotypical nerd off Saved By The Bell?

Marcel gulped as he stared at the iPhone quality picture below the text.  He and Louis were both in profile, Louis’s back plastered to his front and his bum clearly pushing into Marcel’s crotch in a way that was too close to be incidental even for the slightly crowded subway car.  You couldn’t see much of Marcel, thankfully -- only his head, glasses taped and slightly askew, and the pattern on his best slipover.  Louis was smiling devilishly and biting his lip, whereas Marcel (of course, obviously) looked exactly like a panicking mostly-virgin.  Marcel brushed a finger across the pixelated image of Louis’s cheek, murmuring “cute” under his breath before he buried his head in his hands and groaned.

Those glasses!  And that hair gel, what?  Well, we reckon they were on their way to a fancy dress party, and that we’ll be seeing more of Mystery Lad -- and his long, long legs -- sometime in the future.

“Not likely,” Marcel said, to the cold remnants of his marmalade toast.  “Not bloody likely.”

He closed his computer and sat at the table for a while, staring down at his hands as he tried not to pass out.  Embarrassment seemed a pale word for what he was feeling.  This wasn’t embarrassment -- more like deep, profound humiliation accompanied by borderline nausea and bitter self-recrimination.  A sick feeling invaded Marcel’s stomach and his heart started to pound.  He felt in his trouser pocket for his inhaler, just in case.  Why did I have to talk to him? Marcel asked himself.  Why did he have to talk to me?  Why couldn’t he have just hated me for spilling tea on him?  Who did I think I was, fancying Real Life Louis Tomlinson in the first place?

The night before had been something of a dream.  Louis had taken him out to a lovely little restaurant in his neighborhood.  They’d sat in a private back room and shared a big lobster brioche roll and buttermilk-battered halloumi -- literal heaven.  Marcel had finally found his voice around Louis.  He was still shy and a bit awkward, but he’d gotten brave with puns and made Louis laugh more times than he could count on his fingers.  And the way he’d laughed!  Like not only was he genuinely amused by whatever joke had managed to battle Marcel’s social filter and slip out of his mouth, but also like he was fond of Marcel The Person, the entire sum of him.  And maybe also a little proud of him for opening up.

He’d called a car to take Marcel back to his small flat in Fulham, and kissed him sweetly on the sidewalk out in front of the restaurant.

“Text you tomorrow if you want to meet up?” he’d asked, in a hopeful little whisper.  Marcel had nodded, and smiled too widely.

Obviously, it couldn’t happen again.

Never ever, Marcel groaned, knitting his fingers together in his lap and squeezing until his knuckles went white.  I’ll inevitably do something awful and ruin everything and make him hate me.  And that will hurt even worse than this.

The date had been nice.  Truly nice, at least in the moment.  But Marcel felt a little like he’d been steamrolled.  It was nothing Louis had done -- more the fact of him, and the way Marcel had been unable to focus on anything else all week, thoughts invaded, taken over.  He was floating out into uncharted territory, like a balloon detached from its tether.  In a way, he felt like he had lost his own sense of self.  That’s what happens to mortals when they get amorously involved with gods, isn’t it? he thought.  And it’s not necessarily the god’s fault -- they are what they are, and what they are is too much.  Too much for normal human beings.

Louis Tomlinson was too much for Marcel.

Marcel had barely moved on to attempting to figure out what to do about it when he felt his phone buzz in his pocket.  He had a new text.

Hello, love. xx  Fancy a picnic lunch on the Heath?  (This is Louis. ;)

Marcel’s heart twisted.  He felt an upwelling of panic mixed with incredible fondness, and had no idea what to do.  Say no, attempt to bury the entire Louis Tomlinson Incident deep down in his subconscious, and hope to someday fall back into the once comfortable (or at least familiar) routine of his life?  Or open himself up to more potential humiliation, lose himself just a bit more?

You’ve elided a winky face into a closed bracket, is what he texted back.

Marcel held his breath as he waited for Louis to respond.  It didn’t take long.

… Is that a yes? x

The problem with the decision he had to make was that it just wasn’t fair.  When one of the options meant spending more time with Louis -- looking at him, hearing his high, sunny voice, maybe getting to feel his body again, kiss him again -- there was no choice at all.  Marcel truly felt powerless.  Exactly like a mortal before a god.  He sighed deeply and started to type.

Of course.  Shall I bring biscuits?

He waited tensely for Louis's answer, biting his bottom lip.

Clearly, and for reference in all similar future situations, yes please! xx

Marcel put his phone down on the table for a moment and leaned back in his chair as he tried to regulate his breathing.  Fine, he could figure this out.  He just needed a strategy.  If Marcel Styles, Normal Human, couldn’t handle the reality of casual dates with Louis Tomlinson, Eternal Sun God, then maybe Marcel Styles needed an upgrade.  A confidence boost.  A complete refurbishment of both personality and appearance.

He called Veronica.

“Hey, Mar--”

“I need help.”  Marcel said it in a rush, his fingernails scratching at his thighs nervously.  “Please.”

“Okay, what do you --”

“I need…  I think I need a makeover.”  Marcel coughed, covering it up with a breathy little laugh as he fully comprehended what he was about to do.  “Yep,” he said.  “I definitely need a makeover.”

“Give me three fucking minutes; I’ll be over in a jiff.”

*

Veronica arrived half an hour later with a small roller suitcase and an almost wolfish look of glee on her face.  She marched right into Marcel’s flat and commandeered his kitchen table, unzipping the suitcase and pulling out bottle after bottle of unfamiliar personal hygiene products.  Skin refinisher?  Defining cream?  Marcel took one look at the ambitious gleam in her eyes and almost told her he’d changed his mind.

“Vee, I don’t -- what is that?” Marcel asked, as Veronica extracted something that looked like an alien probe and started screwing it onto the end of her intimidatingly heavy-duty hairdryer.

“It’s a diffuser, dear,” she said, voice soft and lips pursed as she concentrated on setting out the rest of her equipment.  “Your hair doesn't have to reveal the exact shape of your scalp, you know, and your little curlies are always wanting to spring free.”

“But… we’re doing hair, too?”

“Marcel,” Veronica said.  She set the diffuser contraption on the table and turned to look him full in the face.  “I have been waiting for this day for almost two years.  Babe, you are a knockout waiting to happen, and you’d better damn well know that I’m going to do this and do it right.”

Marcel made a meek noise and flushed a little at the compliment.  A knockout?  Oh no…  He twisted his hands in front of him, anxious anticipation fluttering around his belly.

“Now get in the shower,” Veronica said, and shoved a big brown bottle of something that looked like maple syrup into his hands.  “Wash out all of whatever it is you use to get your hair that flat, and then work this stuff through it with your fingers.  Thoroughly.”  She arched an eyebrow at him.

“Okay,” Marcel said.  He steeled himself, glancing down at the bottle of… well, it said MOROCCANOIL on it in big letters, but that couldn’t be right, could it?  One tries to get the oil and grease out of one’s hair, surely…

“Go on,” Veronica urged him, with a flutter of her lacquered nails.  “I’ll get your wardrobe options ready.”

“Wardrobe options?  Er…”

“Just go!  And don’t worry, I’m gonna make Louis Tomlinson want to set up a permanent home in your curls.”

Marcel squeaked, and went.  Veronica clearly knew what she was about.  She was one of the most beautiful women Marcel had ever seen, and he’d seen Daisy Lowe.  (Once.  In a restaurant.  Probably.  He thought it was her, but he’d kept his face mostly hidden behind his menu.)  Anyway, Veronica was his best friend and Marcel knew he could trust her not to go overboard and give him a mohawk, or something awfully drastic like that.

When he exited the shower, new contacts in and hair hanging in loose, heavy ringlets, Veronica had laid out three outfits on his couch.

“Is that one of your shirts?” he asked, pointing to a semi-sheer Saint Laurent tunic with a pink floral pattern.

“Let’s not concern ourselves with trivialities, Marcel,” she said, in an arch voice.  “Sit down.”  She shoved one of his kitchen chairs out and he obediently sat himself down, towel wrapped around his hips as she squirted some foam into her hands and started scrunching up his curls.  Marcel closed his eyes and breathed deeply -- Veronica’s hands felt nice in his hair, and the foam smelled like a salon.  Marcel had always secretly loved that sort of thing, loved the different scents hanging in the air at his mother’s hairdresser.  She used to take him along with her when he was too young to stay home alone, and he loved pretending to be one of the women under the huge hood dryers, flipping through outdated magazines in his plastic waiting room chair, kicking his chubby legs absentmindedly and fussing with imaginary curlers.

He opened his eyes when he felt an odd tugging, and discovered that Veronica was wrapping sections of his hair around her fingers and curling them up.

“Is this what people do?” he asked.  “Really?”

“Yes, really,” she said.  “Just to give the curls a little help.”

“How do you know, though?” Marcel asked, humming a little in contentment as he felt her tug on the next chunk.  “You have straight hair.”

“Told you I’ve been waiting to do this,” Veronica said.  “I revised.  Watched a ton of Youtube tutorials.”

Marcel frowned, twisting his neck to try to gaze up at her.  “If you wanted to fix my hair that badly, it must have looked ghastly all this time.”

Veronica dropped one of her hands to squeeze his shoulder.  “Marcel, no,” she said.  “You could never look ghastly.  Just a bit… a bit below your true potential, that’s all.”  She paused and cleared her throat before adding, “Bit nerdy, maybe.”

Marcel let out an affronted squeak.  “Well, why didn’t you say something?  ‘Hello Marcel, great job on the new launch.  Sidenote: you look like a swot.’ ”

“Because it should be your decision how you want to look,” Veronica said, firmly.  She gave the curl she was working on a sharper tug than was strictly necessary, and Marcel shut up.  He just wanted to get all of this over with so he could go have lunch with Louis.  So with the flow he went, sitting quietly as Veronica cupped his carefully-shaped ringlets into her diffuser and dried his hair, obediently applying facial crèmes and tinted lip glosses and eventually, under protest, squeezing himself into shockingly tight trousers.

“I can’t… um…”  Veronica giggled as Marcel came out of his room in skinny jeans and the Saint Laurent shirt, walking oddly as he tried to adjust his crotch area to the close confines.  “I can’t go out in this.  Vee, I can’t.”

“Oh, you absolutely can,” she nodded, her eyes shining as she gave him an approving once-over.  “Look at you, Marcel!”  She pulled him in front of the mirror, her voice going up in an excited squeal.

“I look --”  Marcel twisted his hands helplessly as he stared at himself.

His curls were bouncy with shine, not frizzy as they normally were without mounds of hair gel, and his eyes almost glowed.  His lips were a rich pink color, and the tiny touch-ups of foundation Veronica had blended into his skin made his pale face look flawless.  The shirt gaped in front, and Marcel felt a little dizzy with anxiety about how much chest he was showing -- although… his chest looked different than he’d thought it would, somehow.  His pecs looked…  He looked…

“You look hot,” she said.

“I…”  Marcel frowned in confusion.  Part of him felt so pretty.  He’d always, always wanted to feel pretty, attractive and sort of… sort of delicate.  It was a latent desire, one of those hopeless daydreams that had come back full force ever since Louis had shown him the pale pink panties from the You & I line.  Marcel had always thought it would be impossible -- him, pretty, with his big uncoordinated limbs and huge hands and his face always breaking out.  He’d always been attracted to daintiness, and it was Louis who had that naturally.  Not him.

“Right fit,” Veronia said.  “I’m so happy you’re finally showing it off.”  She gave him a supportive little side-hug.  “How do you feel?”

“Like this isn’t appropriate to wear in a public area,” Marcel said.

Veronica laughed.  “Well trust me, you’re fine.  Not breaking any laws, Marce.”

Something in him felt resistant.  His heart was being tugged in two different directions.  On the one hand, pretty, pretty pretty pink fabric and nice hair and gosh, he loved looking so lovely.  On the other -- Marcel squinted, still getting used to the sensation of having contacts in, being able to see without the constant weight of his glasses on his nose.  He didn’t look or feel at all like himself.  Like Marcel Styles.

But that was the point, he remembered.  That was entirely the point.

“Somehow,” he said to Veronica, as she drifted into the kitchen and started packing up her things, “erm…”  He coughed nervously into his fist and let the rest of his words out in a rush.  “Somehow what seems okay and acceptable for other people feels a bit too daring for me.”  He toyed with the thin, brown leather cord that came out of the collar of the shirt, looking at her and shifting his weight around.

Veronica smiled easily at him.  “I remember the first time I wore a backless dress,” she said.  “I was seventeen, going to a concert.  I felt utterly naked.”  She shook her head and laughed at herself.  “You get used to it, Marcel.  I promise.  And you know, you look absolutely cracking.  If people stare, it’s because they’re blown over by how good you look.”

Marcel laughed, breathy, nasal little punches of air.  “Cracking,” he muttered.  “You sound like my mummy.”

Veronica finished packing up her suitcase of clothing and beauty products and gave Marcel an air-kiss on the cheek as she brushed by him.  “Have fun with Louis,” she said.  “He’s going to drop dead on the spot when he sees you.”

Marcel snorted and rolled his eyes, sneaking another glance at himself in the mirror.  So pretty...  Am I?  He craved it, while still being unsure if it was good enough.  I can’t pull this off.  I can’t.  Can I?

“I hope he won’t,” he answered, as Veronica shoved herself and her suitcase out the door and into the narrow hallway.

“That, or he’ll attach himself directly to one of your nipples and refuse to unlatch.”

“Stop,” Marcel said.  “Good-bye.”

He could hear her cackling all the way to the lift.

*

Forty-five minutes later, Marcel was standing awkwardly in Golders Hill Park, clutching a dozen banana-almond biscuits in a commemorative Queen’s Diamond Jubilee tin.  The sun was a good deal brighter than he’d expected it to be, and he realized that sunglasses were an item he would have to give some thought to, now that he was a contacts-wearer.  In the meantime, he stood by the fountain and tried not to fuss with his hair, which was getting rather blown about by the wind.

Louis had texted him that they would meet here at one.  It was ten after, and there was no sign of him.  Marcel’s nerves increased every time he felt someone’s eyes on him -- he’d drawn some lingering gazes on the tube on the way, and he had no idea what to do about it other than blush.  He just hoped it wouldn’t be too bad when Louis showed up, now that the Universe was seeing fit to provide him with press clippings of all of his embarrassing moments.

“Oh,” Marcel breathed, almost involuntarily.

Louis strolled into the park looking completely and unfairly attractive in skinny jeans and a dark hoodie that was partially unzipped to reveal no undershirt, the top of It Is What It Is just visible across his chest.  He had a folded-up blanket under one arm and was clutching a plastic Sainsbury’s bag that was full to bulging.  Marcel waved at him eagerly.

Louis saw him, and nodded.  And walked on.

“Oh,” Marcel said, this time in mild disappointment.  How awkward.  “Um…  What do I…”  He was talking to himself under his breath.  Finally he cleared his throat, and shouted, “Louis!”

Louis turned his head as Marcel started jogging toward him, his gait somewhat constricted by the straightjacket situation in the crotch of his trousers.  “Hiiiiii,” he said, face lighting up with his fiercest blush yet.

He saw the moment Louis’s eyes went wide.  He swallowed visibly, eyes raking up and down Marcel’s body for a long beat before meeting his gaze.  “Marcel,” he said.  His voice sounded a trifle thin.  It broke a bit on the second syllable, and he had to clear his throat.  “Hello.”

Marcel grinned, and waited for Louis to say something else.  His face was unreadable… curious, but not happy, exactly.  Although now he’d apparently recovered himself and was smiling.  There was some tension in his jaw.

Ah.  So not quite as fit as all that.  Marcel stood, shoulders hunching slightly in embarrassment.

“Well,” Louis said, finally, holding up the plastic bag.  “Let’s head to the Heath.”

Marcel nodded, but he felt sick to his stomach.  Does he have a fetish for nerds? he wondered.  Or possibly a hatred for hipsters?

They walked together for a few minutes in slightly uneasy silence.  Golders Hill Park abutted the West Heath, and it wasn’t long before they’d found a shaggy, secluded bit of grass on which to spread out the blanket Louis’d brought.  Marcel sat down on it, leaning on his elbows with his legs crossed in front of him, eyes closed for a moment.  He concentrated on the feel of the breeze washing over his face, cooling the blush that had settled in.  He breathed deeply, trying to compose himself.

Just then, he heard the sound of a tin popping.

“WOOF!” Louis shouted.

Marcel’s eyes flew open, and he twisted his body to give Louis a quizzical stare.  He saw him kneeling on the blanket, commemorative Diamond Jubilee tin on its side, banana-almond biscuits strewn about.

“Woof?” he asked.

Louis coughed out a little laugh, his shoulders shaking as he gathered up the biscuits.  “The top was stuck!” he said, as Marcel started to giggle.  “I was trying to pry it open, and it exploded on me.  Did you booby trap the tin or summat?”

“No,” Marcel said.  Booby trap.  He thought of about six different variations on a joke, and couldn’t get any of them out of his mouth in time.  Wordplay…  It just didn’t seem like the sort of thing New, Cool Marcel would do.  He cleared his throat awkwardly and shifted on his elbows.

“Did you make these?” Louis asked through a crumbly mouthful, not letting the silence linger.

Marcel nodded.  “Yes, I…  I think I’ve perfected the recipe now.”

Louis swooned theatrically and flopped down on the blanket, his head nearish Marcel’s hip.  “They’re divine,” he moaned.  “Heaven!”

Marcel lowered his eyes to his lap and blushed furiously, smiling to himself.  Louis wriggled until his cheek was pressed against Marcel’s thigh.  He stared up at Marcel, his bright blue eyes reflecting the sky.  Curious, jaw still munching away.  His face was so warm; Marcel could feel it through the denim.  So close.  Marcel tried not to get hard.

“Hi,” he said.

Louis grinned.  “You’re different today,” he said, after swallowing the rest of the biscuit.  His voice was soft and encouraging, gently inquisitive.

Marcel nodded.  He felt hot all over, like he was in a spotlight.  Like Louis was waiting for him to do something grand and entertaining, and he had no idea what any of his lines were.  He hadn’t even auditioned for this play, but here he was onstage.  In a costume.  Trying to be Cool, New Marcel Who Gets His Chest Out And Doesn’t Like Puns.

It was all bloody useless.

“I don’t…  Well.  I don’t feel different,” he said.  His voice had a sort of dark edge, wobbling slightly.  He was suddenly so embarrassed of himself, making such a transparent attempt to be attractive to Louis.  Of course he’s seen through it.  I must seem like an utter knobhead.  Once again, as always, Marcel felt lost and bashful.  It didn’t matter what he was wearing.  He was Old Marcel.  Just Marcel.  Our Lady Of Constant Mortification.

Louis was sweetly unaware of Marcel’s inner turmoil, head in his lap, staring up at him and toying with the floral hem of his shirt.  “You know I don’t care how you dress, right?” he asked.

Something in Marcel twisted.  He doesn’t like it.  He’s being nice.  I’m so stupid.  Just wanted to be pretty…  So stupid.

“I don’t -- I’m sorry.  Do you not, um…”

Louis blinked up at him, pressing his cheek into Marcel’s thigh, nose almost nuzzling his denim-clad cock.

“...I can go--go back to the other way, if you prefer…  I don’t, I mean, obviously...”  Marcel felt as though he’d gotten his meaning across, but he couldn’t seem to end his sentence, and he hoped Louis would stop him before he kept rambling.

Louis grabbed one of Marcel’s hands and squeezed it, linking their fingers together on top of the blanket.  “I didn’t mean that I like one look better than the other,” he said.  “I just don’t want you to feel pressured to change anything about yourself for me.  I mean this… whole thing… ” he waved his other hand in a circle, “doesn’t seem like the real you, do you know what I mean?”

Marcel stayed silent, his heart sinking.  I knew I couldn’t pull it off, he thought.  And now I’ve made an ass of myself trying to look cool.  He closed his eyes, feeling waves of mortification wash over him.  At least this can end, now.

Louis threw a hand over his face.  “Oh God, wait.  That sounds completely bigheaded.  Maybe this is how you always dress on weekends!”

That surprised a weak laugh out of Marcel, even as his entire soul continued to collapse in on itself.  “It’s not,” he said, quietly.  “And I’m a fool.”

“You’re not, love,” Louis answered.  He sat up, and cupped Marcel’s face in his hand.  “I shouldn’t have said anything.  I just --”  He rolled his eyes.  “This is going to sound bigheaded too, like I’m really full of myself.  And I was.  I used to be.  Just to warn you.”

Marcel managed a tight-lipped smile.

“One of my old boyfriends -- the only other proper one I’ve had, actually -- made a huge compromise for me,” Louis said.  “Because I asked him to.  I pressured him back into the closet for me, for my career.  Essentially asked him to pretend to be somebody else.  And it eventually blew up in both of our faces.”  He worried his lip, gazing down at Marcel’s outfit.  “So I don’t want you changing yourself for me.  That is, if trying to dress cool for the movie star is what you’re doing here.”

Marcel’s mouth had dropped open a touch, and he sucked in a quick breath as his eyes went wide.  “Only… other proper...?”

“Boyfriend,” Louis said.  He said the word confidently, looking straight into Marcel’s eyes.

“Oh,” Marcel said, the word escaping his lips in a rush of air.  He tripped over heavy questions in his mind, trying keep the conversation going so that he wouldn’t get stuck on boyfriendboyfriendboyfriend.  “But he... he didn’t want to get back together with you when you came out?”

Louis frowned.  He looked sad all of a sudden, his jaw going absolutely rigid.  He opened and closed his hand a few times, making a fist.  “Well, you know, I…  He outed me.”

Marcel’s mouth dropped open.  “What?”  he blurted.  He tentatively put out a hand to touch Louis’s temple, fingers gently carding through his fringe.  “I didn’t…  What?  Louis, I had no idea that you were outed.”

“My publicist managed to get on top of the story pretty quickly,” Louis said.  His voice sounded more bitter than Marcel ever remembered hearing it.  Good, he thought.  I’ve made the most incorrect possible social choice yet again.  Well done.  His heart ached as Louis went on.   “She made it seem like it was my decision.  Like I was brave.”  He snorted, and rolled his eyes.  “In actuality, it just felt like my entire world was crumbling around me.  I lost Hawkeye to Jeremy Renner and I had to move back to London to take a stage part…  I…”

“Would you not have come out, otherwise?”

Louis shook his head, and Marcel’s fingers trembled as they danced behind his ear.  “I don’t know,” he sighed.  “It’s easy when you’re single.  It’s when you’re in a relationship that it gets…  It got so complicated.  And bad, at the end.”  He paused for a moment.  “But it is what it is.”

The quote hit Marcel like a ton of bricks.  He’d always thought of it as a positive statement -- it had become a source of comfort to him, really, a reminder about self-acceptance that he seemed to need every day.  But the way Louis said it -- he sounded so resentful.  Biting, even.  His face was cloudy, and Marcel suddenly found the strength to fight through his own whirling insecurities.

He cleared his throat.  “You’re why I came out to my mum,” he said.

Louis’s head whipped up, his eyes narrowing.  “What?”

Marcel nodded.  “I remember the whole story breaking and everything, and you  -- well you seemed, in the press, so proud and lovely and like you were handling it so well.  I just.”  He shrugged.  “It gave me courage, I suppose.”  His stomach fluttered and he averted his gaze, examining the pills in the wool blanket, his hand still softly tugging at Louis’s hair.  “Even if it was all an act, it helped me.  I’ve… you must have realized by now, I’ve never -- I’ve never been too comfortable with myself.  But you helped me get over that one hurdle, at least.  And that’s when I started to quite… like you.”  He blushed.  “So thank you, Louis.  I’m sorry for bringing it up.”

Louis swallowed.  Marcel only saw it out of the corner of his eyes, his vision blurring with tears.  He had no idea where any of this was going, why he’d had to confess all of that all of a sudden.  Since Louis had come into his life, he’d been on a rollercoaster.  Out of control and at the mercy of larger forces, trying to keep his hands and arms inside the car at all times and just hoping it would stay on the track.

He sniffed, blinking away the blurriness.  “Marcel,” Louis said, softly.  “Look at me.”

He turned his head, and saw Louis sitting up on his knees next to him.  His face was soft and open.  “Me coming out made you feel better about yourself, made you feel safe enough to talk to your mum?”

Marcel nodded.  “But I didn’t know it was such a bad thing for you, I’m sorry for --”

Louis shook his head.  “Worth the while, then.”

Marcel watched him for a moment, heart stuttering at the feel of a hand coming to rest just below his hip.  Louis rubbed his thumb in soothing circles, pressing it into the meat of Marcel’s thigh, delicious warmth blooming under his touch.  “Okay?”

Marcel nodded.  “Okay,” he replied, shakily.

“Can I kiss you, please?”

I don’t know why you’re interested in me, Marcel thought.  He didn’t say it, didn’t do anything but lean in and press his lips to Louis’s.  They kissed slowly, more timidly than they had the day before, but sweeter -- like they were stopping to feel each other out, to get a sense of how the other liked to kiss.  Soon kissing gave way to snogging, and Louis had Marcel flat on his back, in a predictably heated state.

Marcel broke away when Louis swung a leg over his hip.  “Public decency laws,” he rasped.  “Louis.”  He moaned, letting his head hit the hard ground under the picnic blanket as Louis started to assault his neck.  “Please…”

“Well it is the West Heath,” Louis mumbled.

Marcel snorted.  “Stop.”

Louis groaned but sat up, his hair sticking every which way, adorably tousled by the wind.  “You think George Michael is gonna pop out of a bush and heckle us?”

“No.”  Marcel grinned widely and swatted at Louis’s chest, biting down hard on his bottom lip when Louis caught his hand in both of his own and held it over his heart.  “No,” he said again, lightly, “but I heard they caught him skulking ‘round here again last Christmas…”

Louis let out a tittering laugh, as usual seeming far too amused for the quality of Marcel’s joke.  “Well…” he said, between giggles, drawing out the word as he very visibly went through George Michael’s entire discography in his head, “I suppose we were moving a little fast, love.”

Marcel hummed contentedly, not overthinking things for once, blissed out from wordplay and foreplay.  He let out a lazy laugh.  Then he eased himself up onto his elbows and pressed his lips to Louis’s ear.  “I want your sex,” he whispered.

Louis went rigid.  He sucked in a breath, and Marcel tensed.  All of a sudden, the air around them felt charged.

“Let’s get you back to my place,” Louis said, his voice low and rough at the edges.

Marcel nodded.  His limbs felt floaty -- he was back in dreamland now, all his self-doubts having temporarily evaporated in the light of Louis’s kindness.  He knew they would be back, but in the meantime he decided to get really brave.  “And then you can treat me like your proper boyfriend,” he said.

His heart skipped a beat as Louis grabbed his hand, and he laughed again when Louis pretended that he wanted to tug him away without gathering up their picnic blanket and all the uneaten food.  But Marcel insisted they do things correctly and neatly.  Honestly, he needed the break to cool down before they walked back toward Golders Hill Park.  He silently congratulated himself on not having to hold the folded picnic blanket across his crotch.

Louis’s house was only a few minutes away on foot, and they went upstairs straightaway, only taking a moment to dump off the Sainsbury’s bag on the cluttered kitchen counter.  Being alone with Louis -- really alone, in a place where there were soft surfaces and sexual expectations, and probably other things…  Marcel had to fight to breathe, fight to keep himself from getting too excited.  He felt nerves edging in as Louis took his hand and led him around a corner into the master bedroom.

“Well, here we are again, ” Marcel said in a strained voice, painfully aware of how dorky he looked spinning around to take it all in.  The bed, the hardwoods, the crown molding.  “Didn’t really get a chance to admire it last time.”  His heart was spiking with adrenaline, humming in his chest.

Louis laughed helplessly.  “Like the decor, do you?”

Marcel blinked and slowly turned to stare at Louis, breath caught in his throat.  “Yes.”  He knew his voice sounded a little strangled, ridiculous.  He probably looked a little wide-eyed, still.  Say something else, he thought, heart doing star jumps in his chest.  Stop acting like a weird tourist and start acting like someone who is here to have sex.  “Nice,” he said.  “It’s, um…” he gestured to the piles of clothes dumped across the furniture.  “Eclectic.”

Louis giggled again, catching his bottom lip in his teeth.  “Not moonlighting as an estate agent, are you?”  he asked.  Marcel blushed a deep red and brought his hands together in front of him, tangling his fingers and twisting self-consciously.

“No, just…”  Making a fool of myself as usual.

“You’re so funny.  Do you know how funny you are?”  Louis said it softly, and then his hands were on Marcel.  Like he couldn’t help himself.

Funny, Marcel thought, his heart falling a little.  I suppose that’s something.

Marcel helped Louis remove the gauzy pink tunic, then, and his stomach lurched when he saw his reflection in the mirror above Louis’s nightstand.  The trousers Veronica had given him were so tight -- they’d ridden down his hips on the way up the stairs, and he looked like he had a little muffin top.  Marcel bit his lip, his body involuntarily stiffening.  He closed his eyes in mortification as he felt Louis’s hands slide down his sides and come to rest on the plump spots just above his waistband.

“You’re so, ehm…”  Marcel opened his eyes when he heard Louis swallow a word.  Louis blinked, and shook his head.  Like he’d been about to say something, and then stopped himself.

“What?” Marcel asked.  Ugly?  Embarrassing?  Lumpily-waisted?

“Nothing, love,” Louis sighed.  “I’m just enjoying this.”  He leaned in to kiss him, little pecks all around his mouth, whiting out Marcel’s brain except for the persistent voice of doubt that had now regained a foothold.  What wouldn’t he say?

Marcel didn’t resist when Louis went to undo his flies, and glanced up to the mirror again just in time to see his ugly tighty-whities and blindingly pale thighs being revealed.  He hadn’t ever actually been naked with anyone before, and suddenly it hit him, what was about to happen.  Or what he had implied to Louis was about to happen.  And just like that, the emotional thunderstorm that had been brewing all morning -- ever since the Sugarscape article had interrupted his breakfast -- broke.  Marcel felt himself sink into utter, pathetic despair.

“Stop,” he said.

Louis stopped immediately and took a step back.  Marcel drew up his trousers again and buttoned them, and went to sit on the bed.  He pulled a pillow over his crotch and sat with his back to the headboard, gloomily staring at his feet.

When Marcel didn’t speak for a few moments, Louis came and sat on the edge of the bed.  He hesitantly reached out to stroke Marcel’s ankle.   “First of all,” he said, “thank you for stopping me.”

Marcel snorted.  “Please,” he said.  I am such an idiot.

“It’s really fine,” Louis insisted.  “I thought maybe we went too far yesterday, anyway.  We don’t have to do anything you’re not ready to do.”

“I am ready,” Marcel protested weakly, knowing it wasn’t really true.  “It’s just…”  His mind was whirring, rewinding everything that Louis had ever said to him.  He could remember Louis calling him funny, and amazing, but not once had Louis ever said anything about Marcel’s physical appearance.  Never given any indication that he liked how Marcel looked, or was particularly physically attracted to him.  Other than his cock, Marcel supposed, but a cock was a cock.

You just think I’m funny.  He said it so savagely in his own head, it felt like something had torn inside him.  That’s all.  Kinda funny.

Louis had reacted in a lukewarm way at best to Marcel’s makeover.  And Marcel just… he couldn’t go any further without asking.

“What do you like about me?” he mumbled.  “Why are you even with me right now?”  He mentally kicked himself for letting his insecurities show, but he felt driven by something he couldn’t control.  Louis made him feel safe enough to blurt things out.  And while Marcel was always endeavoring to hide the ugly parts of himself away as best he could, there was also a constant, competing need to bare his entire soul.

Louis let out a breath of air and ruffled a hand through his fringe.  Marcel looked down, trying and failing to avoid thinking about the lack of bulge in Louis’s jeans.  He’d taken Marcel’s trousers off, and hadn’t gotten turned on at all.  Meanwhile, Marcel was still sitting here with a pillow over his crotch, hard as sin.

“You’re unique, I suppose,” is what Louis finally said.  “You’re creative and smart, and I’ve never met anyone like you.”

Marcel nodded, heart breaking a little as tears bloomed in his eyes.  He knew Louis thought he was saying the right things.  Maybe the men out in L.A. wanted to hear about how unique and smart they were, but all Marcel had ever wanted was to fit in.  To be acceptable, at a minimum.  Acceptable enough that he wouldn’t stand out.  Creative.  Unique.  He shook his head.  Louis was handing him lines, and Marcel didn’t quite know how to explain to him that they were exactly the wrong ones.

“Okay,” he said, softly.  “I, um…  Sorry.  I think I have to go.”

Louis looked devastated.  “Babe --”  He grabbed Marcel’s hand, clutching it as Marcel shuffled the pillow off of his stubborn erection and swung his legs over the side of the bed to stand up.  “Did I do something wrong?”

Marcel turned and offered him a weak smile.  “No, Louis,” he said.  “I just… can’t have sex with you right now.”  Maybe ever.

“That’s okay,” Louis said.  “Totally fine.  We can go at whatever pace you want.”  He let out a tentative laugh.  “I, uh, promise I can control myself.”

Yes, Marcel thought icily.  Clearly that won’t be a problem.

“Will you please tell me what’s bothering you, though?” Louis asked, after a moment of silence.  “Obviously something is.”  He squeezed Marcel’s hand, moving closer to him and placing his free hand on Marcel’s wrist, clinging to him a little.  He looked small, and soft, and vulnerable, and Marcel hated lying to him.  He couldn’t believe they were doing such a horrible job of communicating when Louis was putting forth such a noble, straightforward effort.  As usual, it was down to Marcel.  Marcel Styles, Inevitable Weak Link.

“I --”  He decided to be as honest as he could be.  “No," he said.  "I can’t.  Not right now.”

Louis nodded, concern evident in his eyes.  “I know I sound like a broken record,” he said, “but whenever you’re ready…”

“Yeah.”

Marcel didn’t know what to say.  He wasn’t sure where this left them, whether the word "boyfriend" was still on the table.  He wanted Louis, and he felt that want deeply, but he was so confused.  Angry with himself for sabotaging everything, for spiraling down into the sort of self-loathing mood that in his experience could only be lifted by lots of alone time, a good book, and having a tea in the bath.

He was about to say something that would end it.  Something graceful and bittersweet, a turn of phrase that Louis might even remember afterward.  They’d have one last kiss, and then Marcel would be out of Louis’s life forever, taking what was left of his shattered dignity along with him.

Unfortunately, Fate, as usual, managed to intervene at exactly the right time to cause Marcel maximum embarrassment.  Just as he opened his mouth, his stomach let out a nasty-sounding growl.

Louis’s hands flew to his face.  “I never fed you!” he gasped.

Marcel tried to say something, but his stomach gurgled.  It sounded like the put-put of a dying car engine.  He closed his eyes for a moment, mortified.

“I invited you to a picnic lunch and never gave you any food!”

Louis looked so horrified, staring down at Marcel’s stomach, that it surprised Marcel into a laugh.  “Terrible,” he said, shaking his head.   “Terrible date partner.”  What am I doing? he wondered, from slightly outside himself.  Making a joke?  He felt something unknot in his chest as Louis started to giggle hysterically.

“Horrendous courtship behavior on my part!”

And Marcel really hadn’t meant to stay, not after having a sex crisis and an emotional meltdown of Homeric proportions.  But Louis was turning into his bare chest now, shoulders shaking with laughter, nudging his head under Marcel’s hand so that Marcel would pet his hair.

“What would your mum say?” he wondered.

“Please don’t mention my mother while I’m still hard,” Marcel grimaced.

Louis snickered.  “Forgive me,” he said.  There was a pause as he nuzzled in closer to Marcel’s neck, and when he spoke again there was a slightly mischievous undertone to his voice.  “Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.  I’ve eaten all your biscuits and given you nothing in return.”

“And please, for the love of --”  Marcel cleared his throat.  “Don’t call me Father.”

“Says the boy who got someone off in a church…”  Louis smirked when Marcel tugged sharply on a lock of his hair.  “Thought maybe you had a religion kink or summat.”

“Louis,” Marcel said, putting a bit of space between them so that he could look him right in the eye.  “Take careful note of the following fact.  I do not have, nor do I wish to develop, a religion kink.”

Louis shrugged, smiling cheekily.  “Worth a shot, though.  Boyfriend.”

Boyfriend.  The word shot straight through Marcel’s heart like a carefully aimed arrow.  Marcel tried to roll his eyes, but he was caught up in it.  “Boyfriend,” he murmured.  He wondered how it was possible that he felt so light all of a sudden, after he’d just prepared himself for an entire Sunday of emotional recovery in a series of baths.

“Come on, then,” Louis said, just as Marcel’s stomach growled again.  “Best thing for an empty stomach is good food.  And the best thing for feeling bad is distraction, and the company of good people.  Hate being alone when I feel bad!  Worst thing for it, me mum always said.”

Well that's… a different philosophy.  Marcel blinked.  Louis tossed him his shirt and grabbed his hand, dragging him downstairs and making him sit at the breakfast bar in his kitchen while he unpacked their lunch.  They ate with plastic cutlery out of Tupperware containers, and Louis was doing that thing again.  The thing Marcel had tried to discount, to brush off when he’d thought about their first date.  The thing he’d told himself wouldn’t -- couldn’t -- happen again.

Louis was genuinely enjoying Marcel’s conversation.  It seemed like a magic trick.  Like some sort of miracle.

He does like me, Marcel thought, full of wonder.  He honestly does.  He -- he must.

Marcel squared his shoulders, and in that moment decided to stop nitpicking and second-guessing things.  When the Universe hands you a miracle, he reasoned, you don’t ask for sources and annotations and MLA-formatted footnotes.  Louis liked him, somehow.  That was good enough for Marcel.  Even if it was in spite of his lumpy waist and mayonnaise-colored thighs.

I’ll take it.

*

Marcel steeled himself for what was about to happen.  It was the choice he had made.  The phone was already ringing, so he had to live with it.

"Hell-ooooooo!  Marcel!"  His cousin’s distinctive voice came down the line, flutey and energetic as ever.

"Hi, um, Leeroy.”  Marcel cleared his throat, shifting into a more comfortable position on his couch.  “How are you?”  In the distance, he could hear the loud popping of his electric kettle -- the most exciting noise he expected in his flat all day, other than Leeroy’s voice in his ear.  His cousin’s boundless enthusiasm always made Marcel nervous, but right now he needed advice.

“Oh I’m spiffy, really,” Leeroy answered.  “More than tolerable shag last night, poked his tongue in me first thing, can you believe it?  Went out to an awfully nice brunch with Great Aunt Angeline, ate loads!  Came home to find Chuck Norris peeing in the bath.”

Marcel chuckled softly as he drew his afghan up around him.  The day was overcast and rather dismal, and he wanted to feel cozy.  The rain couldn’t seem to really get going -- every once in a while there’d be a big, spattering volley of it against the window, and then nothing.

“Is his sinus infection better?” Marcel asked.

“Yes, darling, thank you for asking.  I give him his antibiotic twice a day and that seems to have cleared it up.  He’s just getting old and confused, I suppose.  Like me!”

Marcel winced slightly at Leeroy’s high trill of a laugh, already on edge from what he was about to ask.  He swallowed audibly, heart starting to trip over itself as he got more nervous.  “Oh, erm…”  He poked his fingers through a few of the holes in the crochet, and let them hang there off his shoulder like deadweights.

“So why did you call me today, little cousin?” Leeroy asked after a moment, in a kinder, less affected voice.  “Is it to do with that new man-friend Auntie Elfie’s been telling the entire family about?”

Marcel sputtered.  “She isn’t!”

Leeroy laughed.  “Oh, Marcy,” he said.  “She’s been to tea with Uncle Everard, dinner with my mum and dad, popped round the nursing home to see Grammy Dorcas and gone to watch Cousin Maxie’s amateur bowling league, all in the past two days.”

Marcel buried his face in his hands, fingers all twisted and tangled in the afghan, and moaned loudly.  “What is she saying?”

“Just that you have an extremely mysterious, manly new friend who sounds very rugged and handsome over the phone.  And to whom she has not yet been properly introduced -- she stressed that point several times.”

“That’s it?”  Marcel was suspicious.  “Are you sure?”

Leeroy coughed.  “Well…”

A lead weight dropped in Marcel’s stomach.  He knew what was coming.  He hadn’t even honestly needed to ask.

“... She may also be mentioning to people that she interrupted you in the middle of…”

He trailed off, and all Marcel could hear for the next few seconds was the beating of his own heart in his ears and the sound of Chuck Norris’s loud purring over the phone.

“In the middle of…?”

“I think the word she used was ‘coitus.’ ”

“Oh, God and Jesus.”

Leeroy laughed fondly, a tad too amused for Marcel’s taste.  “Don’t be embarrassed, Marcy.  Everybody’s happy for you.  And we all want to meet him.”

Marcel snorted.  He lurched up off the couch, almost tripping as he extracted himself from the afghan.  “Honestly,” he said, as he wandered over to the kitchen.  “Would you let any of your boyfriends near our family, Leeroy?  Because the last one I can recall being introduced to was called Sixth Form Steven!”

“Because he taught sixth form, you ninny.”

“Well that was still years ago.”  Marcel pouted as he poured the water for his tea and waited for it to cool to his satisfaction.

“Right now, my only long-term commitment is to Chuck Norris,” Leeroy said, sounding just a tad flippant and self-righteous.  It made Marcel scowl.  “But if I ever do decide to take a serious lover, I shall of course strip him nude and present him as a sacrifice to Grammy Dorcas.  As is my duty as a Styles.  Familia supra omnia!”

Marcel rolled his eyes.  “Right.”

“I truly would.  Well, maybe not the nude bit.  But Marcel, if he doesn’t like your family, he’s not the right bloke for you anyhow.  You love us.”

“I know,” Marcel sighed.

“You can’t live without us.”

“Don’t rub it in.”

“You act all mortified and ashamed, but can’t go three days without ringing one of us up for a random ch--”

“I CALLED TO ASK YOU ABOUT ANAL SEX!”

Marcel slammed down his mug, sloshing hot tea over his hand.  He yelped quietly, and desperately hoped Mrs. Goldman in 3B didn’t have her hearing aids in.  Leeroy stifled a laugh.

“Excuse me?  Could you maybe yell it louder?”

Marcel groaned, and took one sip of his tea before abandoning it and running back to do a belly flop onto the couch.  “I said…” he lowered his voice a tad, blushing into the couch cushions.  “I need to ask your advice about anal sex, because I am a big embarrassing anal sex virgin!”

“Oh, darling.”

“Don’t need your darlings, Leeroy, just need to know what I have to do so I don’t act a tit.”

“Top or bottom?”

“Both,” Marcel said, decisively.  “But bottoming seems a bit more complex, doesn’t it?”

“Yes, well…”  He heard Leeroy put something down, heard him shuffling around until he had settled himself.  “Bottoming, then.  Where to start?”

“I dunno,” Marcel shrugged.  “I was hoping you would tell me.”

Leeroy was silent for a few seconds, then hummed to himself as though considering.  “How well do you know your anus?”

“Oh my God.”  Marcel considered hanging up.  Instead he just put the phone on speaker and buried his face in a pillow.

“I'm serious,” Leeroy said.  “It helps to understand your anus.”

“What, like… chat to it?  Ask about its hopes and dreams?”

“Ha, no, more like scientific knowledge.  Experiments, Marcy.”

“Oh.”  Marcel felt a bit stupid, but he grudgingly decided to listen to Leeroy and take his advice seriously.  “Go on.”

“You should get good at fingering yourself before bringing another person into it, trust me.  Start in a warm bath and pet around your hole…”

“Ew,” Marcel muttered, involuntarily.  Hearing his cousin say the word hole was apparently going to be a necessary evil.  Leeroy didn’t seem the least bit embarrassed, of course.  He kept talking, telling Marcel how to open himself up, telling him about the crucial importance of lube and giving several practical tips that Marcel tried very hard not to picture visually.

“And, um… cleanliness concerns?” he asked.

“Right.  Poo isn’t actually stored in the rectum,” Leeroy explained, “so all you really have to do is wash well around the outside.  If you’re concerned, though, you can go in the toilet right before and finger yourself a little, do a digital sweep for any bits that have been left behind.”

“Poo orts,” Marcel said, absentmindedly.  He suddenly longed for the simple days of Sunday crosswords.

Leeroy chuckled.  “Exactly.”

Marcel turned over onto his back, hugging the pillow to his chest and clutching the phone to his ear.  “I don’t know, Leeroy, I just --”

“Everybody poops, Marcel.”

Marcel narrowed his eyes.  He wasn’t sure Louis Tomlinson pooped.  He had his doubts.

“And I promise you,” Leeroy continued, “there will be an embarrassing moment or fifty.  But if it didn’t involve trust, it wouldn’t be hot.  That stuff can actually bring you closer together.”

Marcel nodded mutely, mulling it over.  He thought he understood what Leeroy was saying.  He already knew that no matter what, Louis would be patient, considerate, and unfailingly kind.  An ideal first partner.  If Marcel could only get up the courage to get over his own issues and just do it…  Just let his mind go and his thighs open, get Louis inside him, moving…  His heart leapt.  God, he wanted it so badly.  Louis.  Louis fucking me.  His skin felt tight all over, too warm, cock starting to thicken up in his trousers.  Marcel had to get off the phone.

“Okay,” he said, quickly, “thanks for your help, Lee.  I'm gonna, um…”

“Take a bath?”

“I… no.  I mean.  Not necessarily.”

“Good luck,” Leeroy said, chuckling.  “Go slow.  Stop if it hurts.”

“We never had this conversation,” Marcel said.

“Be one with your anus!”

Marcel hung up.  He stood up, and brushed off his jeans.  Lube, he thought.  Right.  He pulled on a rain slicker, popped out to the nearest shop that had self checkout lanes, came home and drew himself a bath.  The following four hours consisted of awkward fits and starts, followed by sudden, dawning triumph and two magnificent orgasms.

(But Leeroy couldn’t prove a thing.)

*

Thursday brought the first press release for You & I.  Production was gearing up, and everything was going smoothly.  The launch was still some weeks away, but Veronica had arranged for a little after hours gathering in one of the Marketing Department’s conference rooms to celebrate the first wave of press.

When Marcel walked in, he looked up to see the final version of one of his ads projected six feet high on the wall.   It was stunning: the tagline YOU MAKE ME STRONG emblazoned on a new, professionally-shot black and white picture of Zayn in boxer briefs.  His mouth dropped open, and he felt excitement prickle over his skin.  You & I was going to be amazing.  Groundbreaking, even.  He was so proud of Louis, it was making his chest puff up.

“If you keep staring at Zayn like that, lamb chop, I'm going to start getting jealous.”

Marcel jumped, and bit his lip over a startled squeak as he felt Louis’s arm wrap around his waist.  He turned to smile at him fondly.

“Lamb chop?” he asked.

Louis shrugged, grinning up at him.  He was wearing Marcel’s big lilac jumper again, and the sight of him looking so cozy in it made Marcel’s heart stutter.  “We have to figure out our romantic endearments, Marce,” he said.

Marcel flushed pleasantly.  He was wearing his contacts again today, and his hair was down.  He was feeling good about the way he looked, much more comfortable in his normal dress shirt, slipover and khaki trousers combo than he had been in the skinny jeans.  Louis tucked a stray curl behind his ear.

“What about just, like, love?” Marcel said.  “Lamb chop sounds like you’re going to eat me.”

Louis’s soft smile turned into a wicked smirk at that.  He opened his mouth to say something, but Marcel covered it with his hand.  “Oh, stop.  Hush.”

Louis rolled his eyes.  He pulled Marcel’s hand away and said, “Love is nice, but we have to get creative if we’re going to beat all the other couples.”

Marcel snorted.  “Beat them at what?”

“At being the most romantic!” Louis said, as if it was obvious.  “How about stud?“

Marcel shook his head slowly, eyes trained intently on Louis’s face.

“Bumblebee?”

“No.”

“Gossamer strand?”

Marcel squawked out a laugh.  Somehow they had ended up holding hands, fingers tangled together in the flickering light of the projector.  Other people had begun to arrive, and Veronica was passing out Moscow Mules in coffee-stained mugs from the break room.  Just as Marcel was about to suggest “teaspoon,” another man came up and threw an arm around Louis, breaking into their bubble.

“Tommo,” he said.

“Cordo,” Louis nodded.

Marcel swallowed a little yelp at the sight of James Corden, Also An Actor.  He tensed up immediately -- of course Louis is friends with other celebrities.  Besides Zayn.  I still can’t talk to Zayn, I get too nervous, oh no...

“Who’s this, then?” James asked, giving Marcel a once-over.  “Someone special, eh?”

Marcel blushed and looked at the ground, squeezing Louis’s hand.  He stared at his slightly pigeon-toed feet as he heard Louis say, “This is my boyfriend, Marcel,” and then forced himself to glance up again and meet James’s eye.

“Hi,” he said.  He bravely extended his free hand, and James shook it.  “I’m Marcel Styles.”

“James Corden,” he replied pleasantly.  He had a good-natured smile that calmed Marcel’s bubbling anxiety somewhat.  “Are you one of the models for the campaign?”

Marcel’s eyes almost bugged out of his head.  “No,” he said.  “No, no, I…  I work in Marketing here.”

“He wrote the slogan,” Louis said proudly, pointing to the screen.  “He’s basically a genius.”

Marcel rolled his eyes, feeling hot under his collar and blushing severely now.  “ ‘M not,” he said, quietly.  He nudged Louis.  “You’re the one who made all the nice pants.”

James looked absolutely delighted, glancing back and forth between them with a wide grin.  “And how exactly did you meet?” he asked.  His eyes were especially animated, cheeks pink as he took a quick sip of his drink.  “Don’t tell me the boring version.”

“He threw tea on me,” Louis said.  “And then he humped me on the tube.”

Marcel buried his face in his hands as he felt Louis’s arms wrap around him.  “Did not,” he said, voice muffled as Louis rubbed up and down his biceps.  He was fighting not to giggle, embarrassed but feeling rather adored in spite of it.  Louis always made every social interaction better.

“Sorry, no,” Louis amended.  “He didn’t throw the tea; it was an accident.  What happened was, I came into the break room and he saw me and he just swooned.”

Marcel rubbed his nose and raised his head again, meeting Corden’s eye.  “I had an asthma attack,” he explained.

“You swooned,” Louis said.

“I swooned.”

James shook his head at them.  “Oh, you two are trouble,” he said.  “You’re trouble on the horizon; I can tell.”

Louis went oddly soft and serious at that.  He briefly broke away from Marcel to give James a hug.  “Thanks for coming, man,” he said, in a low voice.

“ ‘Course,” James replied.  “You’re my second-favorite pants designer, after all.”

Marcel stood and held Louis’s hand while he and James caught up for a bit and argued over who James’s favorite pants designer was.  He was quiet, not adding much to the conversation, but he felt wonderfully secure.  Louis’s hand had a sort of anchoring effect on him.  He almost forgot he was in the presence of two intimidatingly famous people.  When Zayn showed up a few minutes later, Marcel nodded a hello.  Zayn glanced down at their linked hands and smiled.

“Hi, Marcel,” he said.  “Louis, can I grab you for a minute?”

Marcel had just let go of Louis’s hand when he felt a sharp tug on the back of his shirt.  Veronica yanked him over into a corner before he could protest.  She looked right this side of livid, and oh dear, Marcel realized, I haven’t told her yet.  They’d been working so hard on the press kit all week, they’d barely exchanged two words that didn’t have to do with ad copy or the tone of the release.

“Are you dating him?” she demanded.  “Is it a casual thing?  What?”

Marcel reached up to readjust his glasses before realizing that he didn’t have them on.  Instead, he flipped his hair down and shook it out, nervously combing through the floppy fringe.  “Dating… we--we’re dating,” he said, his voice high and a bit tight.

“You don’t sound one hundred percent sure,” she said.

Marcel’s mouth dropped open, and he made a tiny, affronted noise.  “We are, promise!”  Veronica’s eyes narrowed at him skeptically.  “He calls me lamb chop.”

She relaxed then, and huffed out a small sigh.  “Well, all right then,” she said.  “But he better treat you like a goddamn princess.”

She still looked cross, so Marcel drew her into a hug.  “Thank you,” he whispered, feeling her shoulders untense a bit under his touch.  “He’s been very good to me.  You have no idea.”

When they finally parted, Veronica was moving her own glasses to dab the sides of her eyes, trying not to smear her makeup.  She was blinking rapidly.  “Well, you’re sort of my best friend, you know.  You knob.”

Marcel smiled.  “Happy for me?” he asked.

She nodded.  “Ecstatic for you, Marcel.”

They both took a sip of their Moscow Mules, content to stand back and survey the party for a moment, basking in the strength of their friendship.  Marcel couldn’t help it.  His eyes locked in on Louis straightaway and stayed glued to him as he moved around, shaking Harvey’s hand and bantering with Zayn.  He was so dynamic.  How could Marcel look at anything else?

“Did you ever manage to pull Zayn?” he asked, absentmindedly.

“Uh, well…”

With an effort, Marcel tore his eyes away from Louis and glanced at Veronica just in time to see her grimace.  “What?  Why are you making your Wrong Coffee Face?”

“My what?”

Marcel giggled through his nose, feeling alcoholic warmth invade his sinuses.  “You know, when the guy downstairs puts the wrong size pump of something into your coffee.”

Veronica rolled her eyes.  “We went on a date,” she said.  “I wasn’t going to say anything.”

Marcel’s eyes went wide.  “A date!” he squeaked.  Veronica immediately shushed him, glancing around to make sure no one was listening in.  “What, when?  What did you wear?”  He paused a moment, then added, “What did he wear?  I want to picture you.”

Her face softened, and she let out a rueful little laugh.  “Doesn’t matter, Marcel.  It was the worst date of my life.”

Marcel nodded his head.  “Go on, please,” he said, “before I die of curiosity!”

“We could barely hold a conversation,” she grumbled.  “It was like talking to your reflection in a mirror.  It was…”  She sighed.  “Then we tried to kiss, at the end of the night.  Because it’s expected, you know?”

Marcel shrugged.  “Okay,” he said.  “And?”

She shook her head, her Wrong Coffee Face making a second appearance, and shivered with visceral disgust.  “It was absolutely, cosmically incorrect."

“What does that mean?”

She made her eyes big for emphasis, pushing up her glasses.  “It was…  I felt like I was kissing myself.  Like when you practice snogging your hand.  God,” she shook herself, making a little agck sound in the back of her throat.  “It was disgusting.  We both like, ran away.  And haven’t talked since.”

Marcel raised his eyebrows.  “Well… weird.”  He grabbed her hand and squeezed.  “I’m sorry, Vee.”

She shrugged.  “I think we can all mutually agree to just forget it ever happened and go on with our lives.”

“ ‘Course we can.”

Veronica smiled at him, and gave his shoulder a little tap, pointing at Louis.  He was coming over to them, his eyes trained on Marcel with an unbelievably soft look.

“God, he’s already soppy over you,” she said.  “Just look at him.  I don’t even think I have to give him a ‘you hurt him, I pan fry your balls’ speech.”

“Yes, please don’t do that,” Marcel said under his breath, heart rate picking up as he met Louis’s eyes.  He held out his hand and Louis immediately took it.  They fit together perfectly, creating a tight seal, Louis’s smaller fingers folding into Marcel’s bigger ones like they were meant to be there.  He felt alive through all parts of his body, every nerve on fire as Louis brushed closer to him, grazing his chin over Marcel’s shoulder and whispering into his ear.

“Want to get out of here?  Go home with me?”

Marcel turned to him, breath hitching and adrenaline spiking.  All of a sudden his palms felt sweaty, his skin tingly and odd.  They hadn’t been alone together since the Saturday debacle, just meeting for working lunches and quick coffees in the lobby of the Marks and Spencer building, and Louis hadn’t mentioned sex.  He’d stayed far away from the topic, in fact.

Probably thinks I’ll freak out if he brings it up again, Marcel thought.  He felt a stab of disappointment in himself.  But he shook it off quickly, and nodded.

“Certainly.  Yes!  Sure.”

Louis stood on his tiptoes to kiss Marcel’s cheek, and Marcel shivered.  His hand tightened around Louis’s, his body going a little stiff.  He felt delirious, unsteady on his feet, suddenly.  Anxiety was hitting him.

“You don’t, um…”  Louis looked unsure of himself for a second, nodding a quick goodbye to Veronica before dragging Marcel out into the hallway.  “You don’t have to be nervous, okay?”

Marcel felt a sweat break out on his forehead, holding his arms rigidly by his sides.  “I’m not,” he lied, in a slightly croaky voice.

“All I want to do is get you alone for a little while,” Louis said, wrapping Marcel in a hug and swaying them back and forth.  As though they were slow dancing.  Marcel tried to will himself to relax, but this much full-body contact with Louis was always enough to cause his brain to short circuit.  “Just want to hold you,” Louis said, dragging his lips up Marcel’s neck and brushing them over his jaw.  “I want to sleep in the same bed with you, and wake up next to you.  I’ve been thinking about it so much.”

Marcel’s heart burst open in his chest.  Louis was asking him so sweetly, and Marcel wanted it too.  He wanted to spend the night with Louis, even if they did nothing but talk and sleep and eat breakfast together the next morning.  Determination picked up the thumping beat of his pulse, and finally drowned out the scared, self-critical voices.

“Come back to mine,” he said.  He squeezed Louis’s back, digging the tips of his fingers into the material of the lilac jumper.  “I want to show you…”  Marcel bit his lip.  He didn’t say it.  He barely even thought it; it felt so private.

I want to show you that I’m ready.

Possibilities spooled themselves out in his head as Louis hailed a cab and opened the door for him, guiding him into the back seat with a hand on his waist -- images of Louis unable to keep himself from touching, of both of them giving into temptation and sinking down onto Marcel’s bed, Louis unbuttoning his trousers again and finding something quite different this time...  Marcel shivered as he gazed out the window.  Louis’s hand was running lightly up and down his arm, over and over.  I want it, he thought.  So badly.

“This it?” Louis murmured, glancing up at Marcel’s building after tipping the driver.

Marcel nodded, and took his hand.

He led Louis up to his door, fumbling with his keys because his fingers were shaking.  He tried to hide his visible nerves from Louis, because he wanted it this time, dammit.  He needed it.  He was excited and anxious, but he really wanted it.  Louis didn’t press up against him as he struggled with his sticky lock, just leaned on the wall a good two feet away and gazed at him.  Marcel felt himself flush under his stare.

“You are nervous,” Louis said.  He was frowning slightly.

Marcel sighed as he finally got the door open and flicked on the lights.  Might as well try to explain myself now.

“Yes, I’m a little nervous,” he said, when Louis had followed him inside the flat and shut the door.  “I am always a little nervous.  But it doesn’t mean I’m not falling in love with you.”  He didn’t turn around to see Louis’s reaction.  He had to get it all out first.  “I just… want to make sure you’re actually attracted to me, before we have sex.”

He heard a small gasp of surprise from behind him, and felt his shoulders cave in a bit.  “Marcel, Christ, of course I am!”

“Physically, I mean.”  Marcel closed his eyes, and clenched his fist.  He was so glad he wasn’t looking at Louis right now.  His intense eyes had the tendency to completely shut down the speech centers in Marcel’s brain.  “I -- I understand if you’re not, like… I know…  I think I get it now, that you really do like me, in the personality sense, and I make you laugh and we have the best conversations…”  Suddenly all of Marcel’s doubts and fears concentrated in the center of his chest like a heavy weight, pushing down on his heart, suffocating him.  He felt for his inhaler.  “But I want you to think I’m pretty, too.”

“I do!  So much!  How could you not…”

Marcel whipped around just in time to see Louis’s lip wobble, and his nose quiver.  He was looking sideways, seemingly staring at the neat pile of mail in the basket on Marcel’s side table.  When he finally glanced up again, his eyes were shiny.  He took two strides towards Marcel and flung his arms around him, his head resting on Marcel’s chest.  “I thought it was obvious.”

“Well…”  Marcel almost stumbled, willing himself to explain fully.  “I tried to be -- to make myself look good on Saturday.  And you didn’t say anything.  You kind of frowned, and… even when you undressed me...”

Louis hiccuped a laugh.  “You were fucking hot on Saturday.  I didn’t want you to feel objectified.”

Marcel breathed, his burning lungs opening up again as he felt the clot of nerves dissipate.  “You… what?”

“Marcel.”  Louis lifted his head and pulled them apart a little bit, just so they could see each other’s faces.  “My old boyfriend used to absolutely hate it when I called him pretty, or beautiful.  He made it seem like men -- I don’t know, like they shouldn’t be called that.  And I guess it truly didn’t occur to me that you might…  I want to say that sort of thing to you all the time, Marcel, every time I see you.  I’ve literally had to stop myself.”

“Well,” Marcel squeaked.  “Don’t!”

Louis’s face broke into the softest smile, gazing up at Marcel.  “Do you want to know the first thing I noticed about you?” he asked.

Marcel nodded.

“It was your arse.  You were reaching up into the cupboard for a mug, and I literally stopped in the doorway of the break room and stared.  Like a creep.”

Marcel flushed euphorically, his heart thumping.  “Really?” he breathed.

“Yes!  You’ve got the cutest goddamn arse, hasn’t anyone ever told you?  And the second thing I noticed about you,” Louis went on without even a pause, “were your dreamboat eyes.  I didn’t even feel you spill all that terrible cold tea on me, barely noticed that it was happening.  I was hypnotized by your eyes.”

Marcel worked his jaw, pursing his lips and glancing away for a second as he tried not to cry.  Is this real?  God, this is real.

“You…” Louis said.  He had to clear his throat, his voice raspy and thick.  Marcel felt his hands start to wander, over the planes of his back, up and down his arms and over his shoulders, squeezing, desperate.  “You’re so exquisite.  So pretty, Marcel, gorgeous.  So wonderful.  You’re the most wonderful boy I’ve ever met.”

Marcel took a shuddering breath, so relieved and happy he felt like his entire body was glowing.  Louis was his.  Really his, and he was Louis’s.  His brain came back to ecstatic life and he felt the most like himself he ever had.  “If I’m wonderful,” he said softly, “then you’re… you’re two-derful.”

Louis huffed a laugh.  His eyes were watering, and he rocked up to press a light kiss to Marcel’s lips.  There was a long pause while he thought through his response.  “Un-five-tunately,” he said, a smile creeping onto his face like he was proud of himself, “that’s gonna go three my head.”

“Ridiculous,” Marcel said.  They were falling into it so easily, it felt like floating.  “You’re ridiculous.  I huh-nine you now.”

“Huh-nine,” Louis snorted, giggles overtaking him as he pressed himself even closer to Marcel.  “God.  I want to touch and kiss you all over your entire body.”

Marcel shivered, his hands clamming up and his breaths already coming in ragged pants.  “Please,” he whispered.  “Yes, Louis, please.”  He fought to calm himself down, cool the ever-present, embarrassing flush in his cheeks and not get hard so quickly this time.  But Louis had grabbed his hips and was pressing their crotches together.  Marcel’s penis apparently thought this was a race.

“Jesus,” he gasped.  “I’m sorry, I’m…”

“Too fast?” Louis asked.  He broke them apart, both breathing heavily and looking at each other through lidded eyes.

Marcel shook his head, swallowing.  “Mm, no…” he whispered.  “No, Louis, this was never about me not wanting to do --” he blinked, fighting to think through the haze of hormones, “almost all the sex things with you.  Um, immediately and often.”

Louis smirked and arched an eyebrow.  “Almost all?” he asked.  “What’s out, then?”

Marcel shrugged.  “I don’t like feet."

Louis snorted out a giggle, petting both his hands down the V-neck of Marcel’s slipover so they met together over his heart.  “So I can’t suck on your toes, but pissing on you is okay?”

Marcel went white as a sheet except for two spots of color high on his cheeks.  “Oh,” he squeaked.  “Well…”

“It’s okay, I don’t want to do that.”  Louis rubbed his hands soothingly up Marcel’s arms, but Marcel was still thinking about it, a tiny line forming between his eyebrows.

“Well, I’ve read that urine is sterile, actually, and…”

Louis barked out a laugh, but his expression showed that he wasn’t entirely unintrigued.  “Okay, tiger, let’s save the watersports negotiations for next week, shall we?”

“Build our fundamentals,” Marcel nodded.

“Right.  Sounds fun…”  Louis gave Marcel a big, cheesy grin before adding, “damental.”

Marcel snickered.  “No, it sounds funda-mental.”

Louis’s entire face lit up like he had just discovered the long lost secret to eternal youth, and he threw his head back and erupted in laughter.  Marcel was still surprised every single time Louis found his weird, picky little word jokes so genuinely funny, but he grinned proudly nevertheless.   “I lo--” Louis caught himself as it was about to slip out.

“Y-you…?”  Marcel almost choked.

“Ha, ha,” Louis stammered.  “We’ve known each other less than a fortnight.  I just realized.”

“Your internal calendar is accurate.”

Louis’s eyes sparked again, that expression that had first convinced Marcel that Louis truly liked him -- he always seemed to be surprised by what slipped out of Marcel’s mouth, both delighted and captivated by it.  “Yes,” he said.  “Which means I don’t that-other-thing.  Because that’s far too soon.  But I do… lube you.”

They both burst into fresh giggles.  “How forward,” Marcel gasped.

“I lube you, Marcel.”  Louis had gone from slightly unsure of himself to absolutely wicked, pressing into Marcel’s space again to tickle up his sides and make him shudder and bite down on a squeal.  “I lube you so much.”

“Actually,” Marcel said, between tiny, muted noises as he twisted and turned out of the way of Louis’s clever fingers, “I lube me, too.  I’ve been lubing me all week long practicing for this, so…”

Louis stopped tickling immediately.  His eyes went dark, and he brought his hands up to Marcel’s face.  “You’ve been…”  His jaw was slack, lips slightly parted and pink as bubblegum.

“Practicing,” Marcel murmured.  He put his hands over Louis’s and slowly slid them down, dragging them inch by inch over his neck, his chest, and his stomach.  A shiver wracked his body again, but not because he was ticklish, this time.  Softly, he brushed Louis’s hands over the hard bulge in the front of his trousers, and then around his hips to the crack of his arse.  “Right… right there.  Every night, thinking of you.”

Louis swallowed audibly.  Marcel could almost feel the thrumming of his pulse, like it was leaping out at him and making his own heart beat faster in the glow of their bodies.  “Could I watch you?” Louis asked softly.  “Please…  Marcel, that would be --” his voice broke off in a whine.  “That would be so unbelievably hot.”

Marcel nodded shyly.  “I can do that for you.”  It made him feel so confident and sexy, seeing Louis obviously affected by him.  By just the thought of him…

“You’re an arse-worshipper,” he whispered.  “Aren’t you?”

Louis rolled his eyes, and now it was his turn to blush.  “Just show me to the bedroom, Styles.  Before I combust.”

Marcel caught his hand and dragged him down the short hallway to his bedroom.  It was small, but neat and exceptionally cozy.  Marcel flicked on the fairy lights that he’d looped around his curtain rods; they cast a perfect glow over his dark blue comforter.  Books that couldn’t fit in the small bookshelf were stacked up at the foot of his bed, the Times open to the crossword, pen lying across it.

“Crossword in pen?” Louis asked, as he dragged Marcel to the bed and leaned in to snog him senseless.  “Brave man.”

“My mum always says it doesn’t count if you do it in pencil.”

“Why do we always end up…” Louis said between kisses, raining them down on Marcel’s lips and cheekbones and the corners of his eyes, “talking about your mum when we’re about to get it on?”

“It’s both curious and disturbing,” Marcel answered.  “Let’s not do it ever again.”

“Okay.”

Louis started to use his tongue, pressing Marcel back into the mattress and kissing him deep, hot and wet.  Marcel could finally feel Louis’s cock thickening up against his thigh, occasionally rubbing over his own erection through their clothing.  It made his eyes roll back in his head, eyelids fluttering because God, it felt like he’d been hard for weeks and weeks.  Just waiting for Louis to touch him.

“ ‘M gonna soak through my trousers if you keep that up,” he warned.

“God, right,” Louis breathed.  “You get so wet.”  He said it reverently, as if it were praise.

Marcel’s heart expanded as they started to shake the bed frame in their building excitement.  He felt safe and so desired, as though every part of him were perfectly formed, and doing exactly what it was made to do.  He was made to get wet for Louis, to get hard for Louis at the drop of a hat.  His ears were made to hear the soft gasp as Louis undid his trousers and slid them down his thighs.

“Oh, Marcel.”

Marcel breathed in the close, sweet air of the bedroom as he felt Louis’s hands pet over the pink silk.  He didn’t have to wait long for Louis to speak.

“You are stunning, sweetheart.  So pretty, so gorgeous in these, I think I might actually go mad.”

Marcel breathed out again, excitement shooting down his spine, and opened his eyes.  Louis was staring down at him, at the rosy tip of his cock peeking out of the top of the panties, like he was seeing God.

Finally he tore his eyes away and looked up at Marcel’s face.  “I’ve never, ever seen anything more beautiful.”

Marcel smiled, and he could tell by the way Louis was looking at him now that the radiant happiness he was feeling was showing on his face.  Lighting up his eyes.  “Thank you,” he whispered.  He felt a thrill all through him.

Louis leaned forward and kissed him, murmuring something into his lips.  “Nothing but the truth,” Marcel thought it was.  Then Louis rocked back, pushing Marcel’s shirt and slipover up his chest, and his eyes drifted down again.

Marcel was pooling precome on his stomach, foreskin already stretched over the engorged head of his dick.  He struggled out of his shirts and then watched as Louis ran just the tips of his fingers under the lace edging he had designed, first across the front of the panties and then down the creases of Marcel’s thighs.  His hands were trembling.

“You don’t have to be nervous,” Marcel told him, with the hint of a smirk.

Louis choked out a wet laugh.  “I can’t help it.  You’ve overwhelmed me.”

For the first time, Marcel felt like the serene one.  He looked at Louis’s big eyes, the color in his cheeks and the way his shoulders were hunched, and he said, “My lube is in the top drawer of the nightstand, Louis.  Could you hand it to me?”

Louis did as he was asked, biting his bottom lip and looking a bit scared.  Marcel took the half-empty bottle and shifted around, getting his jeans and socks all the way off.  When he was naked but for the panties, he turned over and got up onto his hands and knees, presenting himself to Louis.  Since he’d begun his fingering regimen, he’d taken to thoroughly cleaning himself multiple times a day, just because it was easier to always be ready.  He sent out a silent message of thanks to Leeroy as he drew aside the lace covering his hole and began to circle it deliberately with his freshly lubed finger.

He heard a sharp intake of breath behind him as he slipped just the first knuckle inside, the ring of muscle expanding and accepting it greedily.

“Oh, God.  You look amazing.”

Louis made the bedsprings creak as he shuffled out of his clothes, and Marcel sunk his finger in deeper, starting to move it carefully in and out.

“So pretty,” Louis said.  He either understood that Marcel needed constant feedback in such a vulnerable situation, or he couldn’t stop himself from commenting -- or maybe it was a mixture of both.  “So pretty.  Wonderful boy.”  His voice was raw with emotion.

Soon Marcel had two fingers in and was stretching himself, trying to find that hard-to-reach spot he sometimes hit by accident.  The angle wasn’t quite right like this, and his shoulders were starting to burn.  But he arched his back and thrust his head up and kept going, focusing on the stream of praise he was getting from Louis.

“So adorable, in my panties.  It's so hot thinking about how you were doing this to yourself all week and didn't tell me.”

“Couldn't --” Marcel grunted.  “Couldn't get enough of it, once I started.  I've no idea why I never tried it before.”

“And you were thinking of me, yeah?”

“All the time,” Marcel gasped.  He’d just brushed it, feeling a hot jolt through his heavy cock which was hanging between his legs now and stretching out the silk.  He was starting to feel like he was close to coming.  “Every second.  Pretended it was you inside me.”

He thrust a third digit in, fucking himself with quick, jerky strokes.  He couldn't get deep enough like this.  “I need you,” he panted.  “Louis, please, I want you to come inside me, please.”

He heard Louis scrambling around almost frantically, banging in the nightstand as he searched for a condom.

“Turn over for me, baby,” he said.  “Can you turn over for me, Marcel?”

Marcel did so, blinking and staring up at Louis, face hot and forehead slightly sweaty from the way he’d exerted himself.  Louis looked absolutely wrecked.  His fringe was mussed and his golden chest was flushed all the way up to his neck.  Marcel groaned low in his throat as he watched Louis roll the condom on.  His penis was smaller than Marcel’s, but perfectly shaped.  And bigger than anything he’d had in him yet.

“You touching yourself…” he murmured.  Shit.  He could watch Louis fuck up into his own fist all day, probably, and never get bored.  Watching him work the lube over the condom, jerking himself the way he liked it, was maybe the most erotic thing Marcel had ever seen.

Louis Tomlinson.  Marcel realized in that moment that he’d stopped thinking of Louis as the movie star he had a crush on.  At some point during the week, in between coffee dates and sample deliveries, and all his “babes” and “loves” and “lamb chops,” he’d become Louis Tomlinson, Marcel’s boyfriend, who happened to be an actor.

He wasn’t a god anymore.  He was a man, just like Marcel was a man.  And here they were, together, in the flesh.

“Fuck me,” Marcel said.  Suddenly he wanted to feel Louis’s skin, feel his physical presence everywhere, invading him.  “Fuck me, come on.”

Louis shuffled forward on the bed, holding his dick in his hand.  “Marce?” he said, softly, as he lined it up.

“Nngh,” Marcel groaned as he felt the first push.  Louis’s cockhead breached him, and his mouth dropped open.  “Y-yeah?”

“This is already the best sex of my life.”

“Unh… deeper,” Marcel breathed.  “Deeper, Louis.”

The feeling was like, and yet unlike his fingers.  Louis’s cock was so blunt, so there and unyielding, sinking slowly into Marcel…  It made him feel tingly, rooted to the ground through his stomach.  And every inch Louis pushed in, another flicker of pleasure shot through him.

He reached out a hand, needing more contact.  Needing to have Louis in every way.  Louis tangled their fingers together and pulled back to drive in again, this time getting deeper.  “Oh,” Marcel gasped.  He felt the slightly sticky fingers of Louis’s other hand trace light patterns on his chest as he continued his slow, circling thrusts.  Felt him petting over the baby fat at his waist.

“Love all your soft bits,” Louis whispered.  “Love these so much.  They’re so cute, Marcel.”

Tears started to leak out, making tracks down Marcel’s cheeks.  They took him by surprise, but he let them run freely.  Louis increased his pace, rocking the bed frame again.  They both knew as soon as he hit Marcel’s spot.

“Oh, God, there.”

Louis shifted, changing his angle and beginning to fuck straight on in earnest, hitting it more often as he took them both closer to climax.

Marcel’s throat felt raw; he’d been breathing through his mouth, panting every breath.  He opened his eyes and saw Louis above him, gazing down as he encircled Marcel’s cock with his free hand.  “Come for me.”

Marcel’s body went rigid, two jerks from spurting up his stomach all the way to his neck.  His whole body shook with it, pleasure rushing out in shockwaves through his chest and into his limbs.  For a second, he thought he’d reached a higher plane of existence.

“Louis,” he breathed.  “Lou.”

Louis suddenly shuddered to a stop, curling his body over Marcel’s as he spilled into the condom.  His head was on Marcel’s messy chest, eyes shut tight and his shoulders shaking.  Marcel gently carded his fingers through Louis’s hair as he came down.

“I lube you,” Louis whispered.  He looked so small and needy, wrapped up in Marcel’s arms.  Marcel just held him for a while, until he slipped out soft and they cleaned up with some tissues from the nightstand.

As Louis curled around him and Marcel reached his long arm over to flick off the fairy lights, he whispered, “Louis?”

“Mmm,” Louis answered.  His voice was high and rich, and sounded so satisfied.

“I feel very eleven-derly toward you, too.”

The last thing he heard before he fell asleep was Louis’s amused sigh, coming from somewhere between his shoulder blades.

*

“Are you sure you're all right, Marcy?  Your color’s a bit hectic.”

“Fine, Mum.”  Marcel drummed his fingertips on his mother’s kitchen table at her house in Barnet, trying not to let nerves overwhelm him.  He glanced at his watch.  “Lou should be here soon.  Always arrives places a bit late, honestly.”

His mother moved from the sink, where she was finishing the washing up, and draped a cotton-candy colored dish towel over the arm of a three-foot-tall cement statue of a nude man.

“You couldn’t put Bernard away for today?” Marcel asked, his voice a bit strained as he glanced at the indecent garden statue next to his mum’s refrigerator.

“I’d be lost without Bernard!” his mum exclaimed.  “He holds all of my things for me.”  A purse and two hair ties were slung around Bernard’s wrist, a sun hat sitting primly on his head.  “He’s a nice man,” she said, patting the top of the sun hat as she maneuvered around him and sat across from Marcel at the small table.  “Useful.  What?”

“I just…”  Marcel huffed, pushing his new glasses up his nose and shaking out his curly fringe.  “I just don’t want him to think we’re all weirdos.”

His mother made a face, and blew ripples across her cooling tea.  “Well I’m not a weirdo, dear,” she said, “so you don’t have to worry.  Is that why you’ve not brought him round for two whole months?”

“No,” Marcel said defensively, even though he knew his mother could see straight through him.  “Work was busy.  Launching his line and everything; this weekend’s the first time we were free.  And then he’s signed on to a new show, and he’s had to do press just this morning, last second...”

“Mm-hm,” his mother said, primly.  Just then, the doorbell chimed.  She set her tea back down, and said, “Ah.  Another tourist come to visit the Weirdo Museum.”

“Mummy,” Marcel moaned.  “I didn’t mean --”

“Pish posh,” she said, shooing Marcel out of his chair, “never mind.  Just come introduce us, there’s a love.”

Marcel followed her down the hall, glaring moodily at her back until she opened the door to reveal Louis beaming at them, clutching a bouquet of colorful stargazer lilies in his hands.

“I’m Elfrida Styles!” she said, too eager to wait for Marcel to actually introduce her.  Marcel tried not to facepalm as she let Louis into the house, hugging him straightaway and nearly crushing the flowers.

“I know exactly who you are, lovely,” Louis said.  “Marcel has loads of family photo albums in his flat.”

“And you’ve snooped your way right through them,” Marcel added wryly, shutting the door.

“Had to find the naked baby pictures, didn’t I?” Louis said.  He curled his hand around Marcel’s crooked elbow and leaned up to smack a kiss onto the corner of his mouth.  “Hi, babe.  Missed you.”

Marcel rolled his eyes.

Elfrida chuckled, accepting the bouquet from Louis and taking a sniff.  “These are gorge,” she said.  “You’re a dear, Louis; come help me put them in some water.”

They all went back to the kitchen, Marcel cringing when Louis nearly walked straight into Bernard’s outstretched arm.  The air seemed tense for a moment.  Marcel watched, biting his lip, as Louis looked from the statue to his mother and back to the statue.

“What a truly tiny cock,” he said, finally.

Elfrida hooted with laughter.  “Shapely, though!”

“Yes, very cute,” Louis said, eyeing it up and winking at Marcel as he walked around Bernard and helped himself to tea from the kettle.

Half an hour later, Marcel returned from the toilet to find his boyfriend and his mother crouched down by the sliding glass door, gazing out into the back garden.  A small red squirrel was creeping up the stone patio, sniffing carefully at a piece of biscuit that had been left out.

His mother shifted, and whispered, “See?  His tail is quite short.  Could be an imposter squirrel.”

“Oh, I’m sure it’s Corky,” Louis whispered back.  “Look how brave he is… See, he’s got it now.  He’s not even taking it back to the tree, just munching away and staring at us.”

Elfrida nodded.  “Perhaps you’re right.  Good old Corky.”

That was when Marcel fully realized something that he hadn’t quite wrapped his head around before, despite the overwhelming evidence that had been presented to him at every turn.  He tugged Louis up by the arm and mumbled an excuse before dragging him back down the hall to the toilet and pressing him up against the sink.

“Marce, what in the --”

“You're a weirdo,” Marcel said.  He clutched Louis’s biceps, massaging hard circles into them with his thumbs.  “You're a weirdo!”

Louis scoffed.  “Am not.”

“Yes you are!” Marcel said, leaning up to peck him on the lips.  “Yes you are!  That's why you like all my puns and help me with the crossword and sneak around trying to locate bare-bum baby photos of me!”

Louis made a pouty little frown face that was rather adorable.  “I just think I have good taste in puns,” he said.

Marcel laughed.  He'd never felt so elated.  “You're a weirdo too!  It's like…” he felt a shiver of realization run through him.

“Like what, angel food cake?”

“Like we’re meant to be family.”  He shrugged helplessly.  “I love you, Louis Tomlinson, you absolute weirdo.”

Louis was taking deep breaths, staring into Marcel’s eyes.  He looked like he was blinking back tears, suddenly.  “I love you, too,” he croaked.

Then Marcel brought their lips together in a kiss, and they didn't leave the toilet until his mother came in with a broom.