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Soft Hands, Fast Feet, Can't Lose

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Track: Demi Lovato - Confident

The morning after a kegger was the worst. The absolute fucking worst.

Not even a victory on the field—a walloping, more accurately—could dull the discomfort of too many shots, too little sleep, and the sweaty mess that happens to your ass when you pass out in skinny jeans.

Your whole body is shot from the game. Every muscle, every tendon, every square inch of bruised flesh is done. You deplete every bit of energy you have in you for the game, use every last brain cell to run plays and stay focused, but you push through the exhaustion.

You stay up too late. You shout over music that’s too loud for too long. Braincells are replaced by foam from the tap of a keg. The empty spaces in your muscles where potential energy used to reside are filled with adrenaline and the buzz of sex. Booze. Power. Pride. Praise.

You’re Harry Styles: Superstar wide receiver for University of Texas at Amarillo, home of the Mighty Armadillos. Number 14. Son of John Duke ‘JD’ Styles, grandson of Emmett Styles, and future member of the Styles family’s legendary football dynasty for the Dallas Cowboys. Praise is something you’re used to.

The only thing that could numb the horror of a post-game kegger would be a morning blow job. That would dull the pain enough to make the day worth something. An egg sandwich wouldn’t hurt, either. A blowjob followed by a messy egg sandwich with too much ketchup, salt and pepper. That would hit the spot, alright.

Harry’s eyes moved beneath his closed lids. His dreams were flooded by the smell of butter and American cheese melting over a stack of sizzling fried eggs. He licked his dry lips and exhaled a puff of sour air. The breath bounced back at him, his nostrils wrinkling. He shifted his face and inhaled something that smelled fresh and felt silky against his nose.

The warm body tucked in his arms squirmed with a quiet huffed noise, small feet digging between his ankles. Harry tightened his left arm’s hold around the person, who hummed ever so softly and nuzzled their head backwards. The motion deepened their spoon, Harry’s chin digging in on the crook of their neck and their bodies fitting together.

They were motionless and silent for a long beat. Their breaths synced up, their chests and backs expanding and touching for each inhale or exhale. The frat house was quiet, no one traipsing up and down the halls in football gear or making protein shakes in the kitchen. No one having sex on the pool table. No one shouting mid-Madden marathon in the living room.

Curiosity finally overpowered sleepiness. Harry opened his green eyes and lifted his head off his pillow. He blinked a few times as he dragged his gaze up and down.

Soft, messy brown hair. Sharp jawline. High cheekbones. Fluttering eyelashes casting tiny shadows on dewy skin. Delicate collarbones.

Harry pinched the duvet away from the stranger’s chest.

‘Huh,’ he thought with furrowed brows.

It wasn’t the first time he’d taken a boy with a pretty face to bed, and it likely would not be the last. As long as none of said boys got too attached or made a public spectacle, life would go on as usual. Sports media was enchanted with his equal opportunity policy, which was absolutely not the norm, but was one of the many benefits of being a rich, star athlete in the modern age.

Harry shut his eyes and yawned.

“Cool.”

The mystery person bicycled their feet. They started to pull away to the edge of the bed. Low, raspy mumbles buzzed on his pillow. Harry opened his eyes and slid his hand up the front of the person’s shirt, smoothing his palm over lean abs. He thumbed over a fuzzy navel and nuzzled his nose behind the mystery man’s ear.

The man pushed Harry’s hand away with a muffled giggle, but his body stopped shifting. He settled with his ass nestled against Harry’s groin. Harry lightly kissed his neck.

“All good?” he murmured.

It took a moment, but a positive sounding, “Mmm,” was hummed. The body in Harry’s arms sagged into the mattress, his voice quiet to mumble, “Tired.”

“Whassyer name again?” Harry asked.

“Louis.”

“Louis. Right,” Harry said, holding out the word, his honeyed baritone settled in his deep Texas drawl. He yawned. “You comfortable?”

“Mmhmm.”

“Want water or something?”

“Hnngg. No.”

“You smell nice.”

“Thanks,” Louis said, half asleep. Harry’s warm palm smoothed circles on his lower stomach. He murmured, “You’ve got soft hands,” and Harry snorted. Louis’ ear tilted towards the sound. “What’s funny?”

“Was that a joke or something?”

“About what?”

“My soft hands.”

“Why would that be funny?”

Harry burped. “Doesn’t matter.”

Louis’ nose wrinkled with his eyes shut. He reached back to push Harry’s face away.

"Ugh. Gross.”

“Did we fuck last night? I can’t remember.” Harry yawned. “Would love to fuck you again. Actually, do you think you could just get on top? I’m super tired, big game and all, and you’re probably still loose, you know, so, yeah.” He landed a soft slap on Louis’ ass. “Help a pal out.”

Louis peeked over his shoulder. His eyes widened.

“Oh God,” he gasped, spinning away. He fell off the bed and clunked onto the floor. His head popped up, his hair fluffy and wild. He looked at Harry again. “Oh good God.”

Harry blinked at him.

“What’s up?”

Louis stood from the floor.

“What are you?”

Harry pushed himself up on one arm and laughed, “What?”

“What do you play?” Louis asked in the same demanding, quick tone.

Harry snorted.

“Football, of course. Don't you know who I am?"

Louis shoved his hand down the front of his boxers. He shifted his hand to the back of his pants then swayed his hips side to side. He lifted his hands, clasping them and staring up at the ceiling.

“Oh, thank fuck,” Louis exhaled. He linked his fingers behind his head. “We didn’t have sex.” He looked at Harry, then looked down at himself. “What the fuck?” His eyes widened to even rounder blue, his fingers pinching a red and black Armadillo’s jersey away from his chest. “Where am I? Why am I wearing this?”

Harry stretched his arms over his head.

“Beats me,” he said, sounding cheerful even as he stretched. His shoulders popped, his arms lowering. “You don’t deserve to wear those numbers with your piss poor attitude.”

“You’re obnoxious.”

“You’re the one in my bedroom.” Harry made a shooing motion with his hands. “Now get. You’re ruining my morning.”

Louis shoved his foot into one black Adidas sneaker.

“There has to be a reasonable explanation for this.”

“I mean, hello?” Harry drawled on a low laugh. He flexed his fingers and gestured from his body up to his face. Dark, wild waves framed his face. His red Armadillos tee was caught up above his abs, his jeans slouched low enough to show his hip dents and his backwards Packers cap sat crooked on top of his head. “You obviously wanted me.”

Louis stomped his foot on the ground to get his heel inside his shoe. “Not quite, pit stains. Try again.”

“Then what are you doing in my jersey and my bed? I don’t give that honor to just anyone. Well,” Harry drawled thoughtfully, nibbling his bottom lip with a proud smile. “I mean, yeah, lots have gotten the honor. But even so”—momentary disgust wrinkled his nose—“you’re sullying a proud piece of Texas history by wearing that.”

Louis looked around the room.

Pastel polos and Oxfords. Boat shoes. Khakis. So many khakis. Multiple bottles of Axe products. A fish bowl of colorful condoms. An abundance of UT Amarillo and Alpha Alpha Alpha Fraternity memorabilia. Posters of Harry Styles, Wide Receiver running on the field with his hands lifted towards a soaring football.

“This is a literal nightmare.” Louis’ gaze landed on a pile of wet, black fabric. He pointed at it. “Ah! Ah ha!” He brought his finger to Harry, who was standing beside a lifesized cardboard cutout of himself in uniform. “You! You must have spilled beer all over my shirt. That’s why we came in here together. That has to be it.”

Harry rolled his eyes and tossed his wrinkled tee onto the bed. He started unbuttoning his jeans.

“I highly doubt I left the party to fetch you a shirt, munchkin.”

Louis lifted his shirt off the floor with prim fingers. “Well, I highly doubt I’d have followed you into your bedroom otherwise.” A few drops of liquid dribbled onto the floor. “Ugh.”

“Are we done here?”

Louis moved towards the door.

“God, you’re the worst.”

Harry laughed, “Me?” and kicked his jeans off, knocking over the cardboard cutout of himself. He strode towards Louis on long, muscled legs with his hands on his hips. “Why am I the worst?” He pointed two fingers. “You’re the worst. Completely ungrateful for the opportunity to have sex with me, which you clearly fumbled. Pardon the football pun.”

Louis laughed, he downright cackled, and bulged his eyes.

“Do you hear yourself? Honestly, do you?”

“Crystal clear, bro, crystal clear.”

“I’m not your bro, thank fuck.” He shivered his shoulders within the borrowed, oversized jersey, the material slouching lower on the left side to reveal his collarbone. “Contrary to what your fans feed you on the regular, the world does not revolve around football, nor does it revolve around you.”

Harry pinched the bridge of his nose and clenched his eyes shut.

“Why are you being such a Bitter Betty about football? Do you even go here? Do you know you’re in the state of Texas?”

“I do go here, but I couldn't care less about a mob of idiots pounding into each other. Football is not the only sport on Earth.”

“Ohh, I see. You’re a jealous...What?” Harry sniffled and itched his navel. “Tennis player?”

“Not that it matters, but I run cross country—”

“Ah, here it is,” Harry drawled as he giggled, swirling his hand in the air. “The jealous track guys. You’re all alike, man. I hate to break it to you, but no one wants to watch a bunch of guys run through dog shit covered fields for, like, a hundred hours. Sorry not sorry.”

“Typical. You’d be jealous, too, if all the university funding went to a sport you didn’t play. Precious, spoiled football player. This school has some of the best athletes and artists in the country. Track, soccer, ballet—”

“Ballet!?”

“—And yet we’re working with old equipment in old gyms. We’re shoved into an impossibly tight schedule to make room for your kind to dick around and act like you’re the kings of the universe. It’s tiring.”

Harry cradled his ears with a rumpled frown. “You’re, like, legit shrill. Like an angry bird. And not the enjoyable phone game. You’re like an angry pigeon straight-up squawking in my ear. I’m too hungover for this shit.”

Louis pushed the bedroom door open and walked to the grand oak staircase. He was met with the beginnings of a hooted chorus, but he held up his hand to the nearest football player.

“Save it,” he said simply. He started jogging down the steps. “Nothing happened with your highness, thank fuck.”

Liam Payne (#7, Kicker; Senior; Orlando, FL) stared at Louis as if he said Harry had turned into an actual armadillo and was munching on his football pads. Liam looked to the players that lined the top floor balcony. The entire team was stunned, some even appearing visibly concerned with their hands clutching their cheeks.

Harry walked out of his bedroom in nothing but his black boxer briefs. He let out a mighty yawn, his arms stretched as wide to the sides as he could manage. He released his stretch.

“Anyone make breakfast yet? I’d kill for some bacon and eggs.” He thumbed crust out of the left corner of his eye as the front door slammed. “What?” He angled himself towards Liam. “What’s everyone looking at me for?”

“Did you sleep with him?” Liam asked.

“Ugh, no. Thank God,” Harry said, disgusted. “He was such a pill.”

“Uh oh,” Chase Headley said(#1, Quarterback; Senior; Philadelphia, PA), grinning and leaning his elbows on the top pole of the staircase bannister. His forehead wrinkled beneath his buzzed blond hair. “Has Hugo lost his touch? Hu-go, no!”

The mob of frat boys roared with laughter. Harry held his hand out as he trotted to the stairs.

“Hush, all of you. Fuck, I’m hungover. Is everyone else hungover? Y'all need to relax and stop paying such close attention to where my dick is going. I don’t have issues getting laid, unlike some of you,” Harry playfully elbowed a linebacker named Eric Dellarocca(#58, Linebacker; Sophomore; Nutley, NJ) in the stomach, “no names mentioned.”

“Maybe he’s just not into you,” Eric shrugged, clutching his middle.

“He’d have been into me if I wanted him to be,” Harry said as he rolled his eyes at Ryan Lange (#49, Running Back; Senior; Houston, TX), one of his best friends on the team. They bumped fists, Ryan giving Harry a small smirk. “He was in my room, wasn’t he?”

Chase and Liam followed closest behind Harry.

“And yet he ran from the building as if it was on fire,” Chase said with a wince, sucking air through his teeth. “Not the strongest vote of confidence.”

Harry swatted towards them without turning around.

“Y’all need to pay more attention to your own sex lives and less attention to mine.”

“What sex life?” Chase asked.

Harry barked, “Ha! You’re funny this morning, Headley.”

"It's noon," Liam said.

"Ugh, that pill woke me up so early," Harry groaned, rubbing his palm in circles over his scrunched nose. “Such a waste of a nice ass.”

He reached into a cabinet and grabbed a box of Frosted Flakes. He opened the box and sniffed, then stuck his hand inside.

Chase leaned over the breakfast bar and rested his chin on his palm.

“You know what, Hugo?”

“What?” Harry said with his head in the fridge.

“I don’t believe you.”

Harry stood up straight and turned. He held a carton of milk in one hand while munching on cereal cupped in his other hand, the cereal box balanced against his chest.

“About what?”

“I don’t think you can get him to want to fuck you,” Chase said, other football players flocking to the kitchen. He shrugged one muscled shoulder. “I don’t think he’s like that. He’s too...Studious, or something. Way too smart for you. Can see right through your aw shucks, Southern gentleman bullshit.”

“Louis is the vice president,” Liam pointed out.

“Of what?” Chase asked.

“Our student body.”

Chase, and a few nearby players, all tilted their heads right at the same time.

“We have that?”

Harry laughed and put his hand over his heart. “I don’t care if he’s the vice president of these great United States of America. I’d still be able to bang him against a goal post at half time.”

Chase’s lips twitched up.

“I don’t believe you.”

Harry poured milk into a blue cereal bowl.

“Well, QB-1, I don’t know how to break this to you gently, but I couldn't give a shit what you do or don’t believe about me. I’m just gonna keep living my life. YOLO and and FOMO and all that, you know?”

“C’mon, Styles,” Chase goaded, handing Harry a spoon. “We could have some fun with it. It’s been too dull around the house lately.”

Harry stuck his spoon into his cereal and stirred.

“You angling for a threeway with me and the VP?” He blew an air kiss before shoveling a bite of cereal into his mouth, batting his eyelashes. “Not happening, Freckles, no matter how sweetly you ask.”

The frat boys laughed, Liam snorting as he leaned on the bar beside Chase. Chase tapped his fingers against his closed lips, then arched his brows.

“Want to make a bet on it?”

“A bet?” Harry asked, snuffling as he chewed. “For what?”

“I’d be happy if you bet your room on it.”

Harry swallowed. “You’re serious? You want to make a bet to get my bedroom?”

“You’ve got the biggest room in the house, by far. Private bathroom, too.”

“Biggest cock, biggest room, you know how it is,” Harry said, the right side of his mouth higher than his left. He bumped fists with a nearby player, the kitchen laughing raucously. Harry scooped another spoonful of cereal and grinned before chewing it. “Dunno if you qualify for my room.”

Chase narrowed his eyes, wiggling one finger towards Harry.

“You’re dodging me.”

“I’m not. Why would you care if I get laid or not? I’d fuck him, win the bet, and you’d have to stay in your jizz rag filled bedroom as the universe intended.”

“I don’t give a shit about you getting laid, princess. I just don’t think you can land Laney Boggs. Plus, it’ll be fun to watch you crash and burn. Your room will be a bonus.”

“Louis is not Laney Boggs,” Harry said on a proper laugh. “He’s not hideous, shitty personality aside.”

“Laney Boggs wasn’t hideous,” Liam butted in. “Once she cut her ponytail, it became clear that she—”

“I think you like him already,” Chase gloated happily, folding his hands beneath his chin. “That’s why you’re being such a pussy.”

Harry’s laughter quieted.

“I don’t like him. Don't be ridiculous."

“No?”

Harry munched on cereal. “No. He’s an angry little twink.”

“Sounds to me like you don’t think you can do it.”

“I never said that.”

“What’s wrong? Not up for a challenge, Silver Spoon?”

Harry’s shoulders bobbed with a silent laugh. He shook his head, then swallowed his mouthful of cereal. Without warning, he dropped his empty bowl on the breakfast bar and surged forward.

“Hey, hey, hey, guys,” Liam said, gripping the center of Chase’s back. He squeezed his shoulders, holding him in place by his mesh tank. Another couple of players stood between Harry and the breakfast bar. “Chill out. It’s all in good fun. This is just a joke, yeah? No one’s making any bets about Louis, who is an actual person, yeah? We’re not living in She’s All That.”

Harry leaned over the bar, his nose practically touching Chase’s. They stared at each other, Harry smiling calmly. Though he smiled, his eyes flared with fury, his voice crawling out of his throat.

“Just who the fuck do you think you’re talking to, Headley?”

“I think I’ve been quite clear, Silver Spoon.”

Harry gripped Chase’s tank and pulled him half over the bar. Players shouted and stuck their arms between them, Harry relenting and releasing his grip. He smoothed his palms down Chase’s shirt, then tapped his knuckles once against the bar. His right hand straightened in the air between them.

“Let’s shake on it, then,” Harry said.

“Guys,” Liam warned, his hand gripping Harry’s wrist.

Chase asked, “How long?”

Harry’s brows pinched.

“For what?”

“How long until you get him?”

“Thanksgiving.”

“That’s, like, six weeks away. Lame, Styles. So fucking lame. I thought this was supposed to be a bet? A challenge?”

“Thanksgiving,” Harry repeated lowly, stepping closer. He winked. "He'll be eating cranberry sauce off my dick by then."

Liam’s hand fell from his wrist. He crossed his arms over his chest, watching both men eye each other.

"Just butting in to say I think this is a really bad idea,” Liam said as he tilted his head towards Harry, who was focused solely on Chase. "Like, bad bad idea and should not happen. We don't need another scandal. Louis is really well respected among students and faculty alike. I repeat: This is a bad idea." Liam looked at the surrounding players. "Surely I can't be the only one that thinks this is a bad idea?"

The players glanced at each other, some of their mouths gaping open and closed. The silence was deafening in the messy kitchen.

"Well, it is kind of mean, yeah," Ryan said slowly. Chase glared at him and Ryan held his palms out. "Hey, man, Tomlinson tutored me in Bio. He's a good guy. This plan sounds shitty."

"Hell of a runner, too," Eric piped up. “He’s really nice.”

"No one asked you losers, and who gives a shit about nice?" Chase barked with a hand flick. He made horns with his fingers and dragged his hand around the room of players. "The rest of you better keep your mouth shut. Don’t ruin our fun. This is a team only sort of situation." His pointed fingers landed on Harry. "Thanksgiving?"

“I’ll get him to fuck me by Thanksgiving Break, I can promise you that. I’ll get it done." Harry's cheek dimpled. "I always do.”

After a beat, Chase nodded and joined their hands. Harry grinned and pulled him into a hug over the bar. Chase slapped the center of his back.

“You’re gonna be First Lady, Styles! And, hey!” Chase gripped Harry’s outer biceps. “If you can get him to actually like you, I’ll throw in an extra hundred bucks, just for shits and gigs.”

“Dude,” Harry snorted. “I’m fucking loaded.”

“It’s about the pride, bro. The pride.”

“Well, then.” Harry bumped their fists, his eyes sparkling. “Consider it done.”

. . .

Track: La Roux - Bulletproof

“Grande iced coffee for Alice,” Louis said with his arm outstretched. He winked at a pretty student with long black hair as she took her drink. “Have a great day.”

“Thanks, Lou,” she said with a smile.

Louis pressed his palms to the small of his back and arched backwards. His bones popped audibly.

“Oof,” he exhaled.

His night in a strange bed made his muscles ache while his night of too much alcohol left his stomach feeling raw and queasy all day. He shifted his weight from foot to foot to relieve some of the soreness. His hips involuntarily swayed to the music piped through the sound system.

“Oh, fuck me,” he whispered, then stretched his right arm across his chest.

He switched to his left arm while pressing the ball of his left foot to the floor. He took an easy breath in and lowered his chest, letting his knuckles brush his ankles before gripping the backs of his calves.

“All good, man?”

Louis slowly rolled himself up and looked at Zayn.

“Yeah, I’m good. Tired, but it’s alright. We can start doing end of night stuff. It’s been a long day.” He yawned, blocking his open mouth with the back of his hand. “A weird, long night that led into a weird, long day.”

“Yeah, what’s up with you? You still didn’t tell me where you were the whole night.” Zayn crossed his arms. “I was worried.”

Louis tilted his head sideways. Both walked towards the registers.

“I was at that stupid frat party with Niall.”

“Ugh, I still can’t believe you caved.” Zayn opened a bag of hot coffee cups. “I told you it’d be shit.”

“I know. It was such a waste. You were right. Niall had fun, though, so at least that happened.”

“Fun? In a frat house? You’re lucky you didn’t catch leprosy.”

“Yeah, who knows. Beer pong. Quarters. Football.” Louis weakly pumped his fist as he read over a clipboard. “‘Rah rah college!’ and all that.”

“What’d you do, pass out at Niall’s?”

“Yeah,” Louis droned, his tone dropping the longer he held out the word. He scratched the back of his neck, keeping his eyes on his clipboard. “Something like that.”

Zayn stared at Louis in a way only Zayn seemed able to do. Brooding, thoughtful, amber-hued, but with laser-beam focus that knew every secret written on the inside of Louis’ brain. Louis looked up to find Zayn’s lips were pursed. A customer shuffled up to the counter and Louis hurried forward.

“I’ve got it,” Louis said.

Zayn's eyes followed him. “Want me to start on the bathrooms?”

“Sure, thanks.”

Zayn squeezed his shoulder and went towards the supply closet. Louis completed the customer’s order and started on their closing tasks, only working for a moment before the door swung open again.

Loud, booming voices poured into the sleepy Starbucks lobby. A pair of students looked up from their laptops. Louis craned his neck towards the door.

“No, no, no,” he whined under his breath. He spun towards the back room then spun again. Louis swallowed, pressing his palms together. “Give me strength, Starbucks mermaid.”

Half the football team filed in front of the register, led by one grinning Harry Styles. He looked much fresher compared to in the morning, wearing a blue plaid shirt and dark jeans, his hair blown back off his face and held in place by an American flag bandana that set off his tan.

Once Louis was home from his hellish morning, he did a Google search for Harry Styles. He found many articles about Harry’s sports prowess, his potential, his personality, and fan interactions (of which there was not a single negative story). He even learned what Harry’s preferred protein shake was and how many times a day he ate to maintain his muscle mass during the season.

The interviews he read and clips he watched that morning straddled the border of endearing and amusing. Harry was charming and quick on his feet despite what his Texas drawl would lead one to believe. He never lost his cool, even when interviewers crossed the line.

When pressed on the rumors of dabbling with both men and women, the young Styles merely grins, complete with an extra twinkle in his eye, and sips his iced coffee through its plastic straw.

HS: I’m not into limits—on the field or off the field. Simple as that.

INT: You don’t deny having relationships with men?

HS: No. I won’t deny it. And I don’t think I’d go so far as calling it relationships. (laughs) I’m not looking for a relationship. I like people. When I like someone and they like me too, we can have a good time.

INT: Are you openly bisexual, then? That would be a milestone if you ever play in the NFL. That’s a milestone in the NCAA!

HS: Another thing I don’t like is labels. Limits. Labels. Not for me.

INT: You had to have known that question was coming when you drop a bomb like that to SI.

HS: I like to think I’m open to whatever. Whoever. I’m open.

INT: But do you consider yourself bisexual?

HS: I was eating out—Uh—(smiles, holds up one finger, then drops his head for a beat before continuing)—I was eating a meal out with this lovely little lady and she told me about something called pan. Like, being open to people, and not being fixed on sex or gender or whatever. (shrugs)That works for me. Bi works for me too.

INT: I can see why you love the Alpha house so much. Lots to choose from. Like a naked buffet of hotties!

At that question, Styles’ smile never falters, but his eyes narrow ever so slightly. Is there more going on behind that pretty face besides football, sex, and parties?

HS: (quieter) It’s about people, and I happen to like a lot of people. (claps and laughs brightly) Football! I like football, too! (HS and INT laugh) Wanna talk football for a bit? Did you see the Dolphins game last week?

The articles and clips about his sexualtity led to sports gossip blogs about his rumored sexual partners, which Louis x-ed out of quickly. He would rather fall down a Wikipedia hole about Oscar award winners from the sixties than build a family tree of everyone Harry Styles was rumored to have fucked.

Louis could not fathom what he was doing in Harry Styles’ bed that morning, but if he had to wake up being spooned by any football player, a small part of him was relieved to have woken up with Harry Styles. He seemed human enough compared to most athletes at his level and was doing his part, in his own way, to widen the horizons of football fans.

That said, he was looking forward to never seeing Harry again. One awkward morning-after was enough.

“Hi, welcome to Starbucks,” Louis said as he grabbed a black Sharpie. He pasted on a smile and met Harry’s eyes. “What can I get started for you?”

Harry gave him his best sly, playful grin. “You’re sexy in green. Let’s go out tonight. I promise that you’ll have an amazing time.”

Louis blinked.

“No, thank you. What drink can I get started for you?

“I feel like we got off on the wrong foot this morning.” Harry held his hand out. “I’m Harry Styles. You’ve heard of me, I’m sure.”

“Hi, welcome to Starbucks,” Louis repeated, extra cheerful. He used the capped end of his Sharpie to guide Harry’s hand to the side. “What can I get started for you? Unless...” His eyes darted from large male to large male. “You’ve never been inside a Starbucks?”

Harry chuckled and leaned his hip against the counter.

“You’re funny. I like that. It’s hot.”

Louis gestured between them.

“I feel like we’re speaking different languages right now.”

“Anyway,” Harry drawled, fiddling with a display of rice crispy treats. He refocused on Louis and smiled, tapping his knuckles to the counter. “There’s a party at Kappa Beta Beta. They always have the most amazing ice luges. What time are you done here?”

“I don’t do parties, thanks.”

“You did last night.”

“I really just need your drink order, please.”

“Well, let’s see,” Harry said, leaning both elbows on the counter. “If you’ll go out with me, I’ll take a small coffee, please. Black."

"It's called a Tall."

Harry propped his chin on his palm and smiled wider.

"But, if you don’t want to go out, the team and I will just hang at home tonight. We’ll definitely get thirsty, so we would all like venti S’mores Frappuccinos, please.” He tilted his head towards the row of football players. “All of us. Frappuccinos with extra whipped cream. Cookie straws, too. If, like I said, you don’t want to go out tonight.”

Louis’ clenched jawline flickered with their eyes locked. The right side of Harry’s mouth quirked higher. Louis gripped a venti iced beverage cup without breaking eye contact.

“Frappuccinos it is.”

Harry stood up straight and laughed. “You’ve got to be kidding me. Is this a joke? I didn’t seriously mean for you to pick Option B.”

Zayn appeared behind the counter. Liam pushed himself through the crowd of football players.

“H-Hi, Zayn!” Liam smiled wide with all his teeth. He rolled up on the balls of his feet, his hands fidgeting in front of himself. “How are you doing? Did you have a good weekend? What'd you think of the Anthro assignment? Pretty tough, don’t you think? I’m sure you did amazing though. Your Blackboard replies are always so well thought out and so well written.”

Zayn stared at him. Liam bounced in place with his hands clasped in front of his stomach. Zayn exhaled and turned to shove his hands under the sink.

“I’ll help you with their order,” he murmured to Louis. He muttered, “Fucking pigs,” and soaped up to his wrists.

Louis only smiled wider and stared at Harry as he wrote on the plastic cup.

“Would you like extra graham cracker crumble on your Frappucinos, sir?”

Harry raised his eyebrows. “I’m offering you an out. Take it. Go out with me.”

“Have you made up your mind about that extra graham cracker crumble”—Louis tilted his head—“sir?”

. . .

Harry managed one more icy swallow before he heaved and pushed his cup away. His throat bobbed, his frown deepening. He wiped his hand over his mouth.

“These are disgusting. How does anyone drink this regularly? So expensive, and I say that as an actual rich person.”

“I think they’re kind of good.” Liam’s cheeks hollowed around his straw, a touch of whipped cream on his top lip. “Oh, and, um, thanks for treating us.”

Harry pushed his venti Frappucino across the kitchen table.

“Anytime. You can eat mine.” He sat back in his chair, his feet up on his seat and his knees pressed to the edge of the table. “He’s a real pain though, isn’t he?”

Discomfort flickered over Liam’s face, but was quickly masked by a suck of his drink.

“Um, who? Louis?”

“Uh, yeah,” Harry scoffed. He held his hands up to his face, palms outward. “I mean, hello. I’m offering him the chance of a lifetime and all he would talk about was graham cracker crumble.”

“Maybe he’s not into you.”

“Everyone’s into me.”

Liam burst out laughing. “Maybe that attitude is why he’s not so into you. Just be yourself and be nice. Don’t be so cocky.”

“But why? I don’t get it,” Harry said, his face scrunched. He blinked confusedly at Liam. “I am nice, ain’t I?”

Chase cackled from his spot sprawled on the sofa, a half eaten cookie straw hanging out of his mouth like a cigar. He lifted his body over the edge of the couch to grin towards the kitchen. He plucked his straw from his mouth and pointed it at Harry.

“You’re fucked, Styles. Or rather, you won’t be fucked, which works out nicely for me.” He chomped on his straw, continued to laugh. “You picked the wrong Laney Boggs!”

. . .

Track: The Strokes - Reptillia

Louis exhaled a smooth breath. The sun had not risen fully, the milky purple air in front of his mouth turning to fog each time he exhaled. He gripped his ankle and stretched the front of his thigh, switching legs twice before bending down to touch his toes. He held the backs of his calves, his nose resting on the air between his shins.

“Woah, baby. Hot view in the morning. I like.”

Louis’ relaxed body turned to a tense bundle of muscles and bones. He glared backwards through the gap between his ankles.

Harry jogged closer. His long legs made for an effortless gait. Custom red and black Armadillos gear clung to his lithe limbs, a black snapback pushing his curls down to his neck.

Louis slowly rolled upright.

“I don’t care what you like. I don’t care about being hot for you.” He stretched his right arm across his chest, looking in the opposite direction of Harry. “And don’t ever call me baby again.”

“That’s no fun.”

“I’m not here for your fun.”

“Yeah, I sort of got that memo.”

Louis switched arms. “How did you even find out where I work? Where I run?”

“You work at the campus Starbucks. Not exactly a specialty store. This is a path on campus that any student can use. Why can’t I use it?”

“Don’t you have your own training to get to? Why do you have to mooch off of mine and mess with my training schedule?”

“I’m not mooching.”

“And my schedule?”

“The cheerleaders know everything about everyone. I just had to mention your name and they basically gave me a printed copy of your day-to-day. I even know your study spot in the library. Nice view. Very plant-y.”

“That’s fucked up.”

“I know, I was shocked they ever went into the library, too.”

Louis sighed, his hands on his hips and his posture tight. His eyes narrowed, cool blue cutting through the foggy morning air.

“I meant it’s fucked up that you’re so lazy that you need a rundown about someone you’re pretending to be interested in for whatever mysterious, bullshit reason. And don’t speak of the cheerleaders that way, dick. They’re serious athletes, just like you, but make a fraction of the income, if any, while having to remain in unreal shape to please the unwashed masses.” He turned away and stepped on the back of his right heel. “You’re the definition of clueless.”

“So, do you run every morning at the same time?” Harry stepped around Louis’ discarded sneakers. “Just trying to plan my schedule around football and stuff.”

Louis did not grace him with a reply. Instead, he popped his earbuds in and trotted towards a marked trail. The muscles of his legs twitched and flexed beneath his royal blue running shorts, which hit mid-thigh.

Harry jogged behind him. “Hey, you lost your shoes.” Louis’ stride sped up, his calves rounding above his tapered ankles. Harry panted and willed his legs to work faster. “What if you step on a nail? What about broken glass? What about dog shit?”

The soles of Louis’ bare feet flew across the path before he turned a corner. A cloud of actual dust puffed in Harry’s sweating face in the wake of Louis’ sudden speed. The words, “Bye, baby,” floated through the dust, Louis already sounding miles away.

Harry bent forward while cradling his side. He panted and held one hand up.

“I’ll catch up with you,” he called out, his words visibly puffing in the chilly air. He heaved a breath into his lungs. “I’ll be right there.”

Louis did not reply.

. . .

“Come on, Styles,” Harry panted to himself, just barely able to see Louis jogging ahead of him. “You’re a college athlete. NCAA. All American.” He pumped his arms faster and tried to get his legs to work. “Come on, Styles. You got this.”

Ahead of him, Louis’ stride was as easy and natural as ever, his body seeming to bounce on the balls of his feet and only move further away from Harry. Harry grit his teeth and continued to run.

. . .

“Oh, hey, good morning,” Harry said, already running across the field. He reached Louis as Louis put his earbuds in. “How’s it going? Did you eat breakfast yet? I make really good smoothies. How are you—Okay, cool.” Harry waved at Louis’ rapidly retreating figured. “Nice talking with you, as usual!”

. . .

Harry reached Louis’ running spot at quarter to five—quarter to five in the morning—and did a victorious fist pump. When no one appeared after a couple of minutes, he slowly spun around the field. He checked his watch, nibbling his bottom lip. A crackling sound came from the woods and Harry glanced up.

Louis emerged through the morning fog, his sneakers clasped in his hand, white earbuds bouncing on the sweat soaked blue material of his tee that was glued to his chest. Harry opened his mouth and went towards him, but Louis continued running as if he wasn’t there, bypassing him without so much as a glance.

“Are you kidding me!?” Harry shouted, looking at his watch again. “You ran at—When do you sleep!? What’s wrong with you!?”

. . .

Five mornings of runs and Harry had yet to get a single word out of Louis. He tried his best to keep up, but long distance was not his forte. Anytime Louis seemed close enough to talk to, the runner would get a surge of some sort of otherworldly power that allowed him to fly, his breathing seemingly unaffected by running for so long.

Finally, mid-run on morning six, Harry caught sight of Louis a few yards ahead of him.

“Ah ha!” Harry cried, reaching his hands out in front of himself. He made grabby hands. “I’m almost as fast as you!”

He was sweating profusely, had lost his headband in a bush fifteen minutes earlier, and couldn’t feel his fingers or toes, but he was so close he couldn’t help but beam.

“I’m almost to you!” Harry said, pushing himself faster. He panted, “I’m almost—I’m—”

Louis rounded a sharp corner with heavy greenery.

Harry panicked and jumped over a fallen log as he hurried to get to him. When he rounded the same corner, he was met with three empty paths. Louis was nowhere to be found. The woods were silent, fog misting over each path.

He clutched his hands in his hair, tilted his head back, and howled, “No!”

It was a moment of drama, but after killing himself to go on daily runs at five in the morning, only to then go to his daily morning practice for the football team, he was feeling a touch exhausted and hysterical. His arms stuck out straight and gestured to each path.

“What are you? A wood nymph? A fairy of the woods? Legolas!? Jesus Christ!” He spun with his arms still out. “This is ridiculous! Who do you think you are!? This is fucking—”

He heard something in the brush behind him and froze, his breath caught in his chest. He didn’t think these woods had any deadly animals, but what did he know? His experience with the great outdoors was mostly limited to taking Instagram pictures in pumpkin patches.

Harry gulped, his eyes sliding sideways toward the crackling sound. Slowly, he turned his body, only to be met with a leafy branch that thwacked him square in the face.

“Fuck,” he gasped, landing flat on the ground. Mud squelched under his ass, the back of his head mushed into what smelled suspiciously not like mud. “What—”

The sound of quiet, high pitched laughter coincided with light feet jogging down the path that led to school. Harry lifted himself on one elbow, leaves stuck in his hair, and peered at Louis’ legs disappearing into the fog.

“Legolas,” he whimpered, then shut his eyes and flopped on his back.

. . .

Liam plucked the last bit of green out of Harry’s hair. “Good, um, run th-this morning?”

“You can laugh.”

Loud laughter poured over his face before Harry even finished his statement of permission. Laughter echoed around the grunt-filled weight room from nearby athletes. Liam’s teary eyes crinkled at him.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Liam said, still giggling. He squirted antibiotic ointment on Harry’s left brow. “I’m sorry, I swear. It’s just…C’mon, you gotta admit that it’s kind of funny. And symbolic.”

“No,” Harry said stubbornly. “It’s not funny.”

“It is. He’s literally running circles around you in your pursuit for this stupid bet, which I think is a sign you should drop it.”

“No. I’m going to win.”

“Well, then, you’d better start running faster, or else you’re never going to catch him.”

“He’s like a gazelle, Li,” Harry said, wincing and crunching his face. Liam smoothed a bandaid over the tiny cut over Harry’s brow; a wound from his brush with the brush. “A short, stumpy gazelle that doesn’t wear shoes or like football. I tried being friendly. I tried being nice. I hit on him the way I hit on everyone else, but he hates it. I’m lost. I’ve never had this happen to me before.”

A weight stack thumped against the floor. “Maybe you need to catch him when he’s not gazelle-ing,” Eric said from beside them.

Harry’s face lit up, wonder softening his features. “What do you mean?”

Liam snapped the first aid kit shut and whispered, “Dammit.”

“Like, he has to go to class,” Eric said while stretching his legs in a vee. “He has to eat, right? Try to talk to him then, when he’s not able to outrun you.”

“Will wonders never cease?” Harry said happily, cupping Eric’s sweaty cheeks. He planted a wet kiss on Eric’s forehead. “Who knew they made geniuses in the state of New Jersey!?”

Eric laughed, Liam snorting and Harry planting another kiss on Eric’s nose.

“Styles,” Chase barked, appearing in front of them in a sweat drenched red tank top. He thrust a pile of paper at Harry. “You’d better fuck that angry bitch.”

“Calling him an angry bitch is a bit much, don’t you think?” Harry winced. “Be nice, QB. Be nice. He’s a person, you know? Even if he’s a pill.”

“Read what he said about the team." Chase shook his handful of paper. “Read it.”

Harry sighed and sat up on his weight bench. His eyes scanned side to side over the article. “This is an article about”—his words slowed—“allocation of donor funds.” He squinted at Liam, a playful glimmer of knowing present in his eyes. “Did I say that right? Allocation?” Liam nodded with a small smile. Harry looked to Chase. “Why do you care? You’re a senior. And didn’t you get a full ride like the rest of us?”

“Well, yeah, of course I got a full ride,” Chase scoffed, tilting his chin up. “But read what he says about fairness and accountability. Fairness! Accountability! As if we ain’t fair and accountable!”

Liam muffled a laugh as Eric whispered, “Jesus Christ,” and resumed his weight reps.

Harry handed Chase the paper. “I just don’t get why you care. It’s not like he names you in the article. He’s talking about funds in general and making things fair for all athletes. What’s wrong with that?”

“He says that football is a drain on academics and culture.” Chase pointed his finger and poked at the pages, eyes furious. “Can’t you read, Styles?”

“Yeah, I can. I just don’t see why you care. The NCAA is pretty shitty to athletes, so I don’t get the fury, man.”

“They printed it in the school paper,” Chase said, extra slow, tilting his head as he spoke. “A school paper which I didn’t know existed until today, but it exists. People apparently read this shit. This dribble. We can’t have this kind of thought going around.”

Harry exchanged a look with Liam, who rolled his eyes and focused on his bicep curls.

. . .

Harry checked his printed schedule, then craned his neck to look at the names of two enormous classrooms. He stepped into the closest one.

“Wow,” he whispered, awed and grinning. “So this is what the school part of school looks like!”

He spun in a slow circle with his arms outstretched. The other students unpacked their backpacks and quietly ate their bagged lunches in their seats, as per usual.

“Harry—Harry Styles? The Harry Styles?”

Harry looked towards the stuttering voice. “Yes, sir.” He held his hand out and flashed a winning grin, the green of his brand new flannel shirt causing his eyes to glow extra bright. “I’m Harry Styles. Pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

“You’re Harry Styles,” Professor Mullins said on a laugh, his bowtie practically spinning. Harry eased his hand out of his grip. “I mean, of course you are!” The professor knocked his fist on the top of his desk. “You’ve been attending my class all semester,” he winked dramatically, “Harry Styles. Wide receiver. Son of JD Styles, the NFL’s greatest quarterback since Joe Montana. Harry Styles. Cowboy dynasty. Attending my class. Yes.”

Harry drawled, “Right, so, are seats in ABC order or…”

Professor Mullins held his arm out.

“Please, feel free to sit wherever you’d like.”

Harry gave him a thumbs up, appearing every bit the cardboard cutout he had of himself in his room. Professor Mullins gripped the center of his chest and backed against the white wipe board. Harry walked towards the steps of the lecture hall. His smile widened at the sight of a familiar face.

Louis, who was trying his hardest to hide behind his open laptop, whispered, “Please, God, no,” and slouched lower in his seat.

His effort to disappear failed. Harry happily shuffled into his row and sat down right next to him.

“Got some good porn going on there?”

Louis’ face went pink. He sank lower in his chair. “Go away. Ugh.” He waved his hand in front of his face, coughing. “You reek of Axe.”

“Not happening.” Harry unzipped his backpack and pulled out a blue spiral notebook. “You can’t run away now, Legolas.”

Louis tilted his laptop away from wandering eyes. Harry propped his brown cowboys boots on the seat in front of him, Louis kicking his ankle hard enough to get his feet down.

“Why did Professor Mullins cream himself when you walked in?”

“I guess he’s a Cowboys fan.” Harry slid his arm along the back of Louis’ chair. “You know the drill. Family dynasty and all.”

“I figured your family dynasty was a couple of sad used car dealerships and—What the fuck?” Louis shoved Harry’s hand off. “We’re not on a date. Chill out.” He lifted himself up and moved one seat away. His mouth warped to dry heave. “Ugh, I almost just threw up in my mouth thinking about that possibility.”

“Excuse you,” Harry laughed easily. “Every location of Styles Ford, Styles Dodge, and Styles Jeep are the highest rated dealerships in Texas.” He held up one finger. “We’re number one, darlin’. I can sell a truck in my sleep.”

“Congratulations.”

“Alright, everyone,” Professor Mullins said from the front of the room, clapping his hands. “Let’s get started.”

The lights dimmed and a white projection screen lowered from the ceiling. Students fell into a trance, the glow of laptop screens and the tap of keystrokes hypnotizing beneath Professor Mullin’s droning voice.

Three minutes into the lecture, Harry propped both boots on top of the chair in front of him. A woman sitting beside his boots glanced at the intrusion, momentarily alarmed, then exchanged a look with Louis. Louis rolled his eyes.

Harry leaned across the empty seat and asked Louis, “What class is this?”

Louis stared straight ahead.

“Shakespeare's Tragedies.”

“Sad.”

“Uh, yeah,” Louis whispered, a vein in his neck bulging. “Kind of the point.”

“Louis?”

Louis took a smooth breath in through his rounded lips, his fingers never stopping their typing.

“Hey,” Harry whispered, poking his shoulder with his pencil eraser. “Louis? Lou?”

“What?” Louis hissed over him, swatting at the pencil. Some nearby students glanced their direction and Louis shifted in his seat. “What do you want?”

“Why is everyone so quiet?”

“Because we’re in class.” Louis looked to him, baffled, Harry’s pencil hanging from his lips. Louis sighed and refocused on his notes. “Your pencil isn’t even sharpened. Be quiet. You’re distracting.”

“You know,” Harry said, lengthening his words. He widened his eyes and pouted. “I might need a tutor for this class.”

Louis’ typing slowed.

“Don’t even try it, Styles.”

Harry’s hand shot up in the air and Professor Mullins pointed at him.

“Yes! Mr. Styles! You have a comment about the use of Desdemona’s Willow Song in Othello?”

“Nah, I don’t know or care about any of that,” Harry said with a bright smile. “I was just wondering, would it be possible for me to get a tutor for class? I’m feeling a little overwhelmed.”

“Don’t,” Louis exhaled.

Surprised, Professor Mullins clucked, “Oh! Well, we usually handle this during office hours, but...” He shuffled a stack of papers on his desk, his glasses fallen to the very tip of his nose. “Let’s see here.”

The other students all looked at Harry, exchanging frustrated glances, and refocusing on their laptops.

“Isn’t Louis Tomlinson on that list?” Harry poked Louis’ cheek with his wet eraser. Louis pushed his pencil away, Harry chuckling as he said, “He’s smart, right?”

“Oh, yes! I was actually just about to say that he’s listed as a tutor and would be more than capable of helping.” He let the papers flutter to his desk. “Does that sound good, Louis? You can fill out the usual paperwork and drop it at the Office of Academic Affairs once you begin tutoring,” Professor Mullin’s voice sped up with excitement, “Harry ‘Hugo’ Styles, the legend, the—”

“Do you really need to call him that?” Louis said over him, his voice clipped. “We’re not in the stadium right now, we’re in class. Our focus should be on academics, yes? Shouldn’t he just be Harry Styles, Student?”

A number of students nodded, one whispering, “Fuck yeah, Tomlinson,” and pumping up his fist.

Harry laughed easily and propped his hands behind his head. “He’s just a fan, Tomlinson. Lighten up.”

“We’re here to receive an education, not to lighten up, Styles,” Louis said, quiet but venomous. His eyes bore into Harry. “Not all of us are here wasting time before we inherit our family cash cow. So, if you wouldn’t mind, either send your body double for the remainder of the semester, or kindly shut the fuck up. Some of us are here to learn.”

The class went deathly silent. Harry blinked wide-eyed at Louis, his mouth slightly agape. Even Professor Mullins was standing stunned with his hands on his cheeks, the entire class staring at the tense duo.

Harry arched his eyebrows.

“So, like, can I get your number for tutoring?”

. . .

Track: The Editors - Papillon

Louis refused to give Harry his phone number, but agreed to meet him in the library the following day at six. Harry power walked through the stacks of books, his hair still wet from showering at the gym.

Practice had not been easy that day, despite their win the previous week. Coach railed them the entire time. Drill after drill after drill, even when it started to rain. The day ended with so many bleacher laps Harry thought he was going to vomit. The last thing he wanted to do was talk Shakespeare on an empty stomach.

He made it to their designated meeting spot with three minutes to spare. Just before he rounded the last book shelf, he heard a soft duo of laughs from the table-filled study area. One laugh was low and grunted; definitely not Louis.

“I’m never going to get it,” that person said. Something thudded on the table. “It’s hopeless.”

“Nonsense.” Louis’ higher, more gentle laughter mixed into his voice. “You just did it. You’ve got this.” Harry peeked through a row of books. Louis pushed a thick math textbook towards the student sitting beside him. “C’mon, one more equation, man.” Louis tapped the right page of the book. “You’ve got it.”

The student’s shoulders sagged with a sigh, but he peered at the book, his pencil scribbling into his notebook. Harry watched Louis’ eyes slowly scan side to side, following along with the student’s work.

“Yeah,” Louis droned happily, his eyes crinkled. He nodded slow and proud, the student’s smile growing as his pencil sped up. “You’re doing it, Matty, you’re totally doing it.” Matty started to laugh before he dropped his pencil. Louis glanced at his work. “Boom!” He made an exploding sound and fluttered his fingers above the paper. “Done. You smoked it. You are going to destroy your exam tomorrow.”

Matty laughed and sat back in his chair, stretching his arms over his head. His Amarillo Basketball shirt rode up on his stomach.

“You wanna get beers like usual? My treat.”

“Nah, not tonight. Thanks, though.” Louis checked his watch. “I’ve got a new student coming in after you.”

“Busy, busy.”

Harry stepped out from the book case. Louis’ eyes darted towards him. Harry lifted his right hand.

“Hi.”

“Hey,” Louis said tightly. He stood up. “Matty, this is—”

“Harry Styles, holy shit, yeah,” Matty blurted out. “I mean, uh, hi. Yeah. Okay.” He side stepped around the table, pink warming the tips of his brown cheeks. “I’ll go now. Thanks, Lou.” He gave them two thumbs up. “From athlete to mathlete.”

“Yeah,” Louis said, his face softening. “You’ll be great tomorrow.”

Matty walked past Harry and smiled wider. “You’re in good hands, man.”

“Yeah, I’m sure.” Harry held his hand out with a grin. Matty’s joy only multiplied as their hands slapped. “Nice to meet you, man. See you around.”

“Yeah,” Matty squeaked, Louis sighing audibly from the table. “See you, Harry Styles.”

Harry laughed, “Bye,” as he passed. He gestured to the open chair beside Louis. “May I?”

Louis nodded.

“Sure.”

Harry sat down and unzipped his backpack. He pulled out two heavy textbooks.

“Cool, so, I have homework in all my classes and I haven’t, uh, technically attended many classes. Strenuous practice and event schedule, you know? I gave my unofficial tutors the week off, so if you could maybe clean everything up, it would—”

“Um, hold on one second,” Louis said quietly, squinting at the pile of books. “What do you mean your unofficial tutors?”

“Some of the football players have unofficial tutors.”

“Unofficial as in...” Louis left his statement open-ended and raised his brows. “What does that mean?”

“Like, private donors pay for them. Football boosters. They’re students, but not work-study people like you.”

Louis rested his cheek on his palm. “So, they’re, like, professional class takers?”

“They take our notes.”

“And exams?”

“Well, not technically,” Harry drawled, grinning. “You know how it is.” His right eyelid flickered. “Busy schedule and all.”

They stared at each other for a moment.

“Right,” Louis said and clapped his palms. He tilted his fingers towards Harry. “I’m not here to do your homework. I’m specifically meant to tutor you for Shakespeare’s Tragedies. You come to me with completed assignments for that class, I look over them, and we talk about any issues you’re having.”

Harry tapped a fresh pencil eraser against his mouth.

“But...I didn’t do any assignments yet.”

“Were you planning on getting started anytime soon?”

“Can’t you, like, get me started?” Harry’s nose crinkled as he smiled. “Just this once, I promise.”

“No.”

Harry continued smiling, his eyes darting side to side over Louis’ face. When Louis did not budge or say anything further, Harry chuckled, “No?”

“No,” Louis repeated, just as mellow. “I’m not here to do your homework. Do it yourself.”

“But—”

“No buts.” Louis sat back in his seat, his arms crossed over his chest. “I’m not doing your assignment.”

“So,” Harry held out the word, “what are we supposed to do this entire hour?”

“You can start on your assignment.”

“Which one?”

“I would suggest Shakespeare, since you’ve got me here.”

“Can’t we just talk?”

“About Shakespeare.”

“What about you?”

“I am a tutor for Shakespeare.”

Harry sighed, his face suddenly drained.

“Why are you being so frustrating?”

“Why are you fucking with me?”

“Tutors can say, ‘Fucking with me,’ on the school’s dime?”

Louis blew a breath through his lips. “I’m not going to say anything in about a minute if you don’t get to work or say something constructive.”

“You’re being such a pain in the ass. Jesus Christ.” Harry rubbed his fingers over his forehead. “Dragging me here after practice. I haven’t even had dinner yet and you’re being difficult as hell.”

“I dragged you here?” Louis touched the center of his chest. “Me? I dragged you here? You are the one who made a spectacle of himself in class the other day on your weird crusade to talk to me.”

Harry smiled with his mouth shut, his jawline clenched.

“Isn’t it exhausting to be this way all the time? You’re so difficult.”

“You don’t seem to understand, so I’ll say it real slow.” Louis swayed his pinched fingers towards Harry for each word to say, “I cannot stand you.”

“Me? What’s so wrong with me? Most people love me.” Harry pointed over his shoulder. “That guy, Matty, loves me and I just met him.”

“Would you like a bullet-pointed list?”

“Oh yes, please. By all means. Tutor me in why I’m such a terrible person.”

Louis ticked items off his fingers.

“You’re self-centered. Spoiled. Lazy. Annoying. Pushy. Completely out of touch with how the world really works for normal people. Fake. Reliant on your charm.” Louis flared his fingers and eased his palm towards Harry before pulling it back to himself. “It makes me nauseous just to be around you, quite honestly.”

“That’s not very nice to say,” Harry said, tutting his tongue. “Not very gentlemanly.”

“I don’t care if you think I’m nice, don’t you get that? I don’t like you,” Louis said with perfect diction. “I don’t want to be friends with you. I want nothing to do with you.”

“Tough.” Harry sat back in his seat with his arms crossed over his chest and nodded towards his stack of books. “You’re my tutor and you work for me, so sit back down and get to work.”

Louis stood and shouldered his blue backpack.

“Okay. I’m out. The university’s twenty dollars an hour isn’t worth it.”

Harry gaped up at him.

“Hey, you can’t just leave me here! I have homework!”

Louis leaned over with one hand on the back of his chair.

“This is a library, child,” he said quietly, blinking his eyes extra wide. “Find the aisle and it will lead you to the exit. If you’re scared, just yell, ‘I need an adult!’ and one of the nice librarians will help you find the potty.”

Harry’s outrage only grew as Louis strode away from the table. “Who do you think you are?” he called out.

Louis waved over his shoulder without turning around. Harry stared at his back, shaking his head, small gasps still leaving his open lips.

“The nerve of that guy. Terrible manners. Just terrible,” Harry whispered. He rubbed his hand over his groin, wincing and shifting his hips. “Fuck me.” He bit his bottom lip and rubbed his palm up and down once. “He’s kinda hot when he’s an asshole.”

“Hi, Hugo.”

Harry looked up as if angels had floated down from the highest shelf of the reference section. He smiled wide, his groin still aching but his body relaxing in his seat.

“Evening, ladies.” He tipped his head forward. “How are y’all doing tonight?”

“Saw you were havin’ a bit of a tough time,” a blonde sorority sister named Mila said as she sat down in Louis’ empty seat. She ran her fingers through Harry’s hair, her lips so glossy they reflected Harry’s face. “Wanna come to the Delta house for a bit?”

Another blonde sorority sister named Alison leaned back against the table. “It’s pasta night and you love pasta night.”

“I do love a Delta pasta night,” Harry said with a quiet chuckle. “You sure it won’t be a bother?”

“A bother? With you?” Alison giggled, her curly hair bouncing along with her shoulders. “No way!”

Mila said, “We can fool around for a while, watch TV, eat pasta, you know. Fun stuff.” She stroked his cheek. “You look like you could use some fun.”

Harry sighed and shrugged one shoulder.

“Oh, alright.” His dimple deepened. “If y’all insist.”

. . .

“We’re fine,” Zayn said, shooing his hands towards the door. “Go.”

Louis looked at him wryly and rounded the counter of Starbucks, but left one foot behind the counter.

“You’re sure?”

“Dude. You make the schedule. You’re off. Get out of here before I order a dozen S’mores frappes.”

That was enough to get Louis to move. He pushed through the door as he pulled his apron over his head.

“Hi, Lou.”

Louis jumped away from the greeting with his apron-wrapped arms twisted over his face. He pulled his arms down.

“What do you want, Styles?”

Harry took one step closer with his hands clasped in front of himself. “I want to apologize to you.”

Louis arched his brows as he untangled his wrists.

“Oh, yeah? And what brought this on? You found Jesus in the ripples of your Gatorade at practice?”

Harry jogged beside Louis’ quick strides. “No, I’ve never seen a Gatorade Jesus, sadly. I’ve thought a lot since our tutoring session yesterday and I spent a lovely evening with a dozen beautiful sorority sisters. Beautiful inside and out.”

“You found Jesus between twenty-four boobs?”

Harry jogged backwards to keep up. “No. No boob Jesus. But I realized that I wasn’t treating you like the beautiful soul you are. I was treating you like a game. Like I was competing. And that’s wrong.” Harry shook his head. “That’s no way to make a new friend, and I love making friends. I excell at it.”

Louis surged past him.

“You’re a hippie slash football player slash narcissist combo? Cool. Good to know.”

“Do you accept my apology?”

“No.”

Harry’s mouth flopped open. “Why? I’m being genuine, I swear.”

Louis granted him a moment of eye contact.

“What are you apologizing for? Verbalize it.”

“Um…” Harry exhaled and shook his arms out, as if he was about to catch a pass. “For coming on too strong and being weird and going to your running spot and being loud in class and making that stupid comment about you working for me. That was awful and I’m sorry. Old habit from my dad, I reckon. My cheerleader comment was awful, too.” Harry ran his hand over the back of his hair, looking down at the ground. “You were right to call me on it. It was not nice, and the cheerleaders are so nice to the team. I need more people like you around me, to be honest. I need people to call me on my shit.”

Louis’ eyes flickered away from Harry’s face. “It’s not just coming on too strong,” he said, quieter. “It’s…” He licked his top lip. “It’s that you’re coming on at all.” He looked at Harry, his arms crossed over his chest. “What do you even want from me?”

Louis’ posture was closed, yet still relaxed. His stare was firm and unwavering, but his eyes looked genuinely curious. Harry tried to think of something charming to say—something convincing and interesting to someone as smart as Louis. But he didn’t know Louis. Not really. He knew details about his day to day schedule, he definitely knew what pissed him off, but that was about it.

“I want to get to know you,” Harry said.

“Why?”

Harry’s head tilted sideways. “Uh…” He smiled with all his teeth and nodded along as he drawled, “You, uh…Uh...”

“Right.” Louis turned and walked towards his black Nissan Altima. “That’s what I thought.”

He lifted his keyfob. The Altima’s lights seemed to snicker at Harry. Instead of watching Louis run away from him, Harry would now have to watch him drive away. Progress.

“I...I read your article,” Harry blurted out. He ran up to the driver’s side and waited as Louis put his backpack in the trunk. “Your article about allocation of donor funds.”

Louis didn’t look up from his bag.

“And?”

“And it...I...It made me think about things differently. It made me think about how lucky I am. I’m rich. My dad could have paid for me to go anywhere, but I went here because they gave me the best funding. Full ride and bennies. All the football players get that because they want a winning team.”

Harry felt like he was still blurting out whatever thought came to mind to keep Louis still, but the words popped out of his brain and flew even faster out of his mouth. Louis peered at Harry around the open trunk, a bit of his bottom lip nibbled between his teeth.

“I, um, didn’t know how unbalanced scholarships were for athletes and artists,” Harry said softer, taking a step towards the back of the car. “I didn’t know that artists and most other sports teams are not even eligible for a full ride when that’s the norm for football players, even the shitty ones. It’s not fair and I hope a lot of people read your article, because it was...It was eye opening.”

Louis never broke their stare, even as he shut his trunk and walked closer. He stood toe to toe with Harry.

“How’d you stumble upon my article when you won’t even open a textbook?”

“One of the players on the team showed me. He wasn’t too happy about what you had to say.” Harry smirked wryly. “He’s not your biggest fan.”

“Not a surprise.”

Harry lifted his hands with his palms aimed for Louis’ shoulders, but paused and dropped his arms. He swallowed, then clasped his hands in front of himself.

“Let me make it up to you. Everything. The frappuccinos. Class. The tutoring session from hell. All of my stupid behavior. I’ll make it up to you.”

“There’s nothing to make up,” Louis said on an easy laugh. He pulled his car door open. “We don’t know each other.”

Harry gripped the top of the door.

“But I want to. I want to know you.”

“Because we accidentally cuddled for one night? Jeez, Styles.” Louis laughed as he sat in his car and tossed his phone in his cup holder. “Didn’t pin you for a romantic.”

“It’s not about that.”

Louis’ brows arched as he turned the key in the ignition. “Please. No guy puts in as much effort as you if he doesn’t want to get off.”

“I swear, it’s not like that. I’m not into you like that. You hate football, for God’s sake.”

“Then why?”

“Because you…” Harry’s mouth went fishy and round for a moment. “Because I think you’re interesting.”

“Was that a question?”

“No, I think you’re interesting.”

“What is interesting about me?”

Harry’s fingers clenched on the door, his forehead wrinkling.

“Do you have to ask so many questions all the time?”

Louis looked straight ahead and tightened his grip on the steering wheel.

“Could you try not to be lazy for one goddamn second of your life? Jesus Christ, Styles, it’s like I have to coach an apology out of you when you’re the one trying to apologize to me.”

“I’m not lazy,” Harry said, rare snappiness entering his tone. “Stop saying I’m lazy. It’s rude.”

“Look,” Louis said quietly. He glanced at his watch. “I need to be somewhere, like, now. I don’t have time for this. Let’s just call it a truce and move on.”

He went to pull the door closed but Harry’s hand held firm.

“I don’t do truces. I want to make it up to you. Let me make it up to you. Please?”

“You want to make it up to me?”

“Yes.”

Louis thumbed at the passenger seat.

“Get in.”

Harry’s eyes brightened, his chest swelling beneath his shirt. He hurried around the other side of the car and jumped inside. His joy was short lived when a McDonalds bag deflated under his ass like a whoopie cushion.

“Yuck, you’re messy,” Harry said, kicking an empty soda cup off his left foot. “Who would have thunk it? I thought nerds were tidy?”

Louis put his hand on the back of Harry’s seat and looked over his shoulder. A hint of a smile licked at his lips as he backed the car out.

“Fuck you. I’m not messy. Have you seen your bedroom?”

Harry plucked an empty Starbucks drink tray off his right boot and tossed it in the book filled backseat. The car slowed at a red light.

“Right.” He brushed his hands together, turning in his seat. “So, where are we going? And how am I going to”—he flattened his palm on Louis’ inner thigh—“make it up to you?”

Louis held his stare for a long beat, his eyes innocent and soft.

. . .

Track: Tchaikovsky - Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy

Harry did not expect Louis’ sweet smile to lead to him running around backstage in a dusty theatre he did not know even existed while carrying armfuls of heavy costumes and helping to move heavy sets.

It was a bye week. Usually, he spent his free Friday night unwinding with a keg and relaxing inside of someone lovely, not sweating and pushing set pieces on stage while wearing a borrowed black shirt from a stage hand that smelled like old Subway sandwiches.

“Intermission,” the stage manager announced through the intercom. “Fifteen until curtain, fifteen until curtain.”

“Thank you fifteen,” came the reply of the dancers and crew as they hurried around the dressing room.

Harry flopped into a green velvet arm chair, which had caused him to rip a hole in the right knee of his jeans during an Act I set change. He rubbed his bare knee.

“Are we almost done, Tomlinson?”

“No,” Louis said, laughing lightly. He pinched a needle and masterfully stitched along the seam of a shimmery white top draped on a mannequin. “Intermission is like half time in your language.”

A dancer appeared in front of him and Louis smiled at her, plucking the top off the mannequin and handing it over.

“Should be good to go,” he said, spinning and taking another spool of thread out of his belt. He called out, “Anne Marie, are you around?”

A brunette dancer ran up wearing what appeared to be an Arabian Nights themed costume.

“You look like Jasmine.” Harry gave her a thumbs up. “Hot.”

“Thank you,” she replied softly. Her smirk was hidden by her pink veil, but she and Louis’s eyes crinkled at each other as he stitched something on her waistband.

Anne Marie left them. Louis gripped a feathery headpiece and adjusted a jewel on the front.

Harry asked, “But, like, why are we here? How many jobs do you have? Tutoring and Starbucks and…” Harry watched Louis fluff the headpiece on another dancer. “Whatever this is.”

“This is what I do. This is what I want to do. Why I came to this hellhole of a university. So, you’re helping me.” Two more dancers ran up to Louis with flowy skirts in hand. Louis pulled out pale blue thread from his belt and accepted one of the skirts, his eyes extra feline as they focused on Harry’s face. “Isn’t that what friends do? Help each other?”

Harry let his right hand flop exhaustedly in the air.

“I would have preferred to suck your dick or something.”

Louis snorted and sent the dancers on their way. “Great job pretending your effort in getting to know me wasn’t to get laid. You lasted a whole two hours.”

“Hey, I can think you’re interesting and still want to suck your dick. This is America.”

“While that’s not a surprising reply from you, it’s sad that you value your self worth as nothing more than someone to give blow jobs to make up for bad behavior.” Louis stretched his arms over his head, his back cracking as he arched side to side. He pulled a rack of costumes closer and flicked through the hangers. “Explains a lot, actually.”

Harry sighed. Louis shoved a rack of costumes at him, a layer of frilly costumes covering his body.

“This sucks,” Harry griped, tule stuck over his mouth. “I’m bored. It smells weird back here. Let’s leave early. I’ll buy us burgers.”

“I’m at work right now. Bring that rack to Stage Left.”

“You’re at work? Then where’s my frappuccino?”

“Be quiet and go stare at the sequins or something. I’ve got shit to do.” Louis waved over a dancer named Miranda. He gave her a small smile, softness lightening his eyes. “Alright, babe, let’s see it.”

Miranda lifted her slender arm and stretched to the left. A sliver of her side was revealed from a burst seam in the velvety green material.

“I’m so sorry, Lou. I must have caught it on something and then it just ripped.”

Louis nodded and felt over the rip. “No problem. I’ll have it fixed in no time. You’ll be perfect for the next show.” He winked and stood up straight. “Randy Randa. Always busting my work up.” Miranda laughed loudly. “This seam, though...” He ran his fingers over the seam around her flowy gold skirt. “This one is worrying me more. C’mere.”

As if they knew a secret language Harry was not privy to, the dancer jumped into Louis’ waiting arms, appearing weightless and effortless. Harry’s eyes widened, his mouth a perfect circle amidst the layers of ballet costumes. Louis’ legs seemed to bend even more gracefully than the dancer as he sank into a low squat before easing her higher in his arms. Harry held perfectly still, his breath caught in his chest.

“Yeah, I figured Greg was probably pulling it for that last lift,” Louis said easily, as if he wasn’t holding another human in his arms. He lowered the dancer. “I’ll double up on that seam, just incase, and take some of the volume out before next performance. You can leave it at my station. I’ll fix it by the weekend.”

“You’re the best, Lou,” she sighed. “Thank you!”

“You’re welcome.” Louis’ smile fell when he looked to Harry. “Get up. Do your job.”

Harry sighed and got up, gripping the top of the musty clothing rack and pushing it away. Miranda muffled a laugh in her small hand, Louis rolling his eyes as he started to mend another costume.

“What are you doing with a football player?” she inquired, stretching the ball of her foot forward. She glanced at Harry’s ass before he rounded a corner backstage. “With that football player?”

With pins in his mouth, Louis said, “He won’t leave me alone, for whatever reason. He’s like head lice.” He spun his mannequin. “I figured I’d put him to work.”

“Maybe he likes you.”

“Doubtful.”

“I think my roommate has slept with him before. Aria, too.”

“Not shocking.”

She looked around them, lowering her voice to whisper, “I’ve heard that he’s nice and super fun in bed, but that he’s also kind of a player. He sleeps around like crazy.”

“Even less shocking.”

“Bad boys can be hot, though. I dated a football player once.” She adjusted her high bun. “Wretched human, decent lay.”

Louis snorted and looped his needle through the seam of her skirt.

“I’m not interested.”

“He could be fun just to fuck.”

That made Louis laugh properly. He spotted Harry nearby and quieted, steeling his expression. “Oh, good. You didn’t get distracted by the shoes again.”

“Hey,” Harry said, grinning lopsided and slow. “Ballet shoes are so cool to watch when they get all burned and ripped and all that. I had to learn how they do it. It’s part of my art education tonight.” He held his hand out towards Miranda, charm seeping out from his twinkling eyes. “Hi, I’m Harry Styles. Louis must have forgotten his manners and didn’t introduce us. You were spellbinding out there.”

Miranda shook his hand. Her heavily made up eyes crinkled and darted between them.

“I’m Miranda.”

“Clara to makeup,” the stage manager’s voice said through the intercom. “Clara to makeup.”

“And that’s my cue,” she said. She waggled her fingers at them. “See you.”

She floated away with a chorus of younger ballerinas following after her.

“I thought she said her name was Miranda?” Harry asked.

Louis pushed a clothing trunk closed. “Clara is her character.”

“You know”—Harry tapped his fingers on his chin—“I think I fucked her once.”

“She said you fucked her roommate.”

“Oh, right. That makes sense.” Harry scanned the backstage area. “I definitely fucked the pink fluffy one with the nose. Chrissy, I think?”

Louis didn’t look away from his work to prompt, “Caitlin?”

“Yeah, maybe. The one in blue, as well. With the sparkles on her face.”

“You must be more of a ballet fan than you think,” Louis said as he closed another trunk. “Company mascot, even.”

“No, not really. The music makes me sleepy.”

“Sleepy?” Louis snorted, both arms full of costumes. “You’re ridiculous. The music is, for the most part, exhilarating. It’s the best part. Sorry they haven’t choreographed a ballet to Pitbull’s Fireball yet, though I’m sure that’s soon to come based on the state of arts funding in America.”

“What is this opera even about? Everyone’s dressed all, like, slutty Disney with weird monks and creepy animals.”

“Thanks for the feedback about my creations,” Louis said on a belly laugh. Harry’s face flushed, his eyes going wide. “Don’t worry, I could give a shit what you think.” Louis slid a hanger into a leotard. “This is a special Halloween show for children. It’s not one ballet. There’s a bit of everything to keep the kids engaged. Romeo and Juliet, Nutcracker, Swan Lake. That’s why the costumes look a little crazy and mismatched.”

“There are kids out there?”

“Mmhmm.”

“They voluntarily came to see the ballet?”

“They did,” Louis said, high and sweet. “Art outreach is something that should be a priority in this country. How else do you think your array of exes got into ballet? Monday Night Football?”

Harry chuckled. “They’re not my exes, silly. I don’t do exes. Relationships just aren’t my thing. Plus, I’ve found that ballet dancers tend to be too regimented and serious about their art. Too disciplined.” He looked pointedly at Louis. “Often stubborn.”

Louis thumbed over his shoulder.

“C’mon, we have to set the costumes for the finale.”

Harry groaned, heaving himself out of his green chair.

“This sucks.”

“Yeah, you’ve said that already. You’re doing a real bang up job of trying to make up your bad behavior by exhibiting even more bad behavior.”

“I’m not behaving badly,” Harry said, dropping his voice to a whisper. They went through the back passage behind the stage, neon tape on the floor lighting their way. “I’ve done everything you asked.”

“Yeah,” Louis chuckled softly. They emerged on the other side of the stage. “You’ve been a peach.”

Relieved, Harry sighed, “Thank you.” Louis raised his eyebrows, the backstage lighting giving his cheekbones a haunting blue glow. Harry whispered, “Oh, was that...Were you being sarcastic?”

Louis’ lips twitched up at the ends and he turned away. Orchestral music started to sing from behind the blackout curtains, the sound of pointe shoes touching the stage barely able to be heard. Louis nodded his head to the passageway. Both were silent for the quick walk back to the dressing room.

They were alone at Louis’ workstation, save for the makeup crew cleaning brushes one room over. Harry leaned his butt on a countertop covered in organized rows of thread, watching Louis pack up his materials in a black case.

“So, were you a dancer or something?”

“Yeah,” Louis chuckled, “or something.”

Harry crossed his ankles.

“I thought you’re a runner?”

“I am, but I’ve always loved dance. My whole life.”

“Even the dancing with the tappy shoes?”

A giggle shook Louis’ chest before he could smother it.

“The tappy shoes?”

Harry’s body stiffened, Louis quickly swallowing his laughter.

“Tap shoes, they’re called,” Louis said, stifling another small laugh. “And yes. I did that. Jazz, tap, modern, hip hop, everything. I loved ballet the most, though my body was better suited for more modern styles.”

“Why’d you get into costumes?”

“My mom’s an amazing seamstress, my dad’s a tailor, and my family owns a dry cleaners. I’ve alway been good with a needle. I know I don’t have what it takes to be a pro dancer. Plus, I’d rather not live that life. I like creating things and chilling out with my sewing machine and making regular money.” Louis held up a sewing kit and pushed it to Harry’s chest. “Hold, please.”

Harry cradled the kit in his arms.

“How’d cross country happen if you loved dance so much?”

“That was a way for me to get a scholarship to college. This college, specifically, since they had a really good design program. Excellent dance program, too, but they don’t have the money for full scholarships.” His eyes darted from compartment to compartment. His hands moved evern faster to pack up spools of thread and shiny metal tools. “So, I got partial scholarship for cross country, partial for academics, partial for design, and then make up living expenses with work study and Starbucks.”

“Okay, but, like, people don’t just wake up one day and decide to be a Division I cross country runner.”

“My dad wouldn’t help pay for ballet lessons if I didn’t play a sport at school. My friends were runners, so I joined. I didn’t know I’d be decent at it. I’m a utility runner, at best, but I’m consistent. I’m not here to be a superstar—I’m here to get an education.”

“What is your major? Project Runway?”

Louis’ eyes crinkled as he sorted thread into his kit. He smiled up at Harry.

“Close. Bachelor of Fine Arts with a major in Fashion Design and a minor in Dance. I just couldn’t fully give it up. Not yet. Maybe not ever. Who knows.”

“Christ, how do you fit it all in? Work and school and clothes and cross country and everything?”

“I’m busy.”

“When do you have time for a social life?”

Louis snapped his kit shut. “We need to get backstage.”

Harry’s eyes followed Louis out of the workspace. He placed the kit on the counter and pushed off. He saw a male dancer run up to Louis and snag his arm, spinning him away from the backstage entrance.

“Oh, Lou! Can I talk to you for a second?” the dancer asked. “I need an alteration by tomorrow and I’m panicking.”

“Yeah, sure, um...” Louis looked over his shoulder at Harry. “Can you find your way to where we dropped the costume rack? I’ll be there in a second.”

Harry nodded. “Okay.”

“Holy shit, you’re Harry Styles,” the dancer said, his hand loosening from Louis’ forearm. He surged forward with his arm outstretched, wearing nothing but flesh colored boy shorts on his muscled, tall body, his face painted like a lion. “Shit, man, I’m such a fan. That play against Alabama last week? Out of control! You’re a genius. A genius! I’m Sebastian, by the way.”

Harry gripped his hand and smiled wide. It was like the air in his lungs had been changed back to oxygen instead of whatever stuffy, hair spray scented chemical of discomfort he had been inhaling the entire time he was backstage at the ballet.

“Thanks, man. Thanks so much.”

The orchestra surged through the speakers in the dressing room. Louis sighed.

“Right. Now that you’ve gotten the tip of your mental dick sucked a little, can you please get to Stage Left? That’s our musical cue.”

“Yeah,” Harry laughed, releasing Sebastian’s hand. “If you ever want to check out a game, let me know. I can get you tickets, no problem.”

Sebastian clutched his heart, his lion eyes watering.

“Thanks, man!”

Harry smirked, then turned away. Sebastian’s eyes followed Harry’s back. He bit his thumb.

“So,” Sebastian said, letting the word hang in the air. “Is he fair game?”

After assessing Sebastian’s emergency alteration, which was a one inch rip in his favorite pair of skinny jeans, and dodging questions about how long he’d been fucking Harry Styles, Louis made his way backstage. From the music, he could tell they were nearly at the last quick change of the night. He reached the rack of skirts and looked for Harry’s looming figure, but he was nowhere to be found. A chorus of dancers ran backstage, fresh sweat shining on their necks.

Louis handed Miranda a small white towel.

“Do you know where Harry went?” he whispered. “It’s like watching an oversized puppy. He’s probably pissing on a newspaper right now.”

“Check Stage Right,” Miranda whispered, huffing quiet laughs into her towel. She caught her breath for a moment. “I think I saw him there for my last entrance.”

“Thanks.”

Louis snuck through the back passage behind the stage. The orchestra was playing so loudly that the walls were vibrating, even if the thick cement muffled the sound. He came out on the other side and bypassed a group of chorus girls. He did a quick scan of everyone standing in the wing and frowned, itching the back of his neck. He stepped up to the stage manager and opened his mouth, but closed it, his teeth clicking.

Boots stuck out over the arm of a velvet couch hidden within the curtains. Louis stepped closer and pulled the curtain aside. Harry was sprawled on his stomach with his face at the very end of the curtain’s edge, his palms cradling his cheeks. His face was lit from the stage lights, his eyes wide and his mouth slightly agape.

Louis glanced at the stage and smiled to himself. Rows of male dancers dressed as Nutcrackers did fast pirouettes until they all fell down. Children cheered and laughed from the audience, a low laugh mixed in with their high pitched giggles. Louis watched Harry’s back shake as he giggled.

Gently, Louis touched Harry’s calf. Harry jumped, his head whipping over his shoulder. His mouth fell open even wider.

“Sorry,” he whispered, scooting back on the sofa. He got himself upright and brushed his hands over his dusty black shirt. “What do you want me to do?”

Louis glanced at the dancers as another round of laughter came from the audience. He swallowed and shook his head.

“Nevermind. I can handle it. You can watch, if you want. This is one of my favorite parts, too.”

Aloof amusement flickered over Harry’s face. “I don’t care about the ballet.” A cymbal crashed and the children all roared with laughter. Harry’s aloofness disappeared, his eyes dropping to the floor. “I mean, um…”

Louis stood on tiptoe and whispered in his ear, “Your secret is safe with me, Tim Riggins.”

He lowered himself to flatfoot, Harry’s lips moving without sound. Harry glanced at the stage, the right side of his mouth rising. He looked to Louis, the scrunch of his brows deepening. Louis smiled softly and Harry looked down at their hands. Their pinky fingers were linked for all of a second before Louis was gone, jogging around the corner of the backstage passage.

Louis reached the other side of the stage and quickly handed over skirts for the finale. He tried not to prick his fingers on the pins that attached name tag to each skirt, but every once in a while the light would scan over the wings and there would be a flash of Harry’s face, grinning with childish wonder and fixed on whatever dancer was center stage.

He grit his teeth and wiped the back of his hand over his forehead, shaking his head and muttering to himself.

“Good thing you’re a dog person,” Miranda whispered as she floated past.

. . .

“We’re done?”

“We’re done.”

“Oh, thank God,” Harry said, collapsing on top his green chair from earlier. A cloud of dust was expelled from the material, but Harry just groaned with pleasure. “How the fuck do you do this all the time? It was like packing up would never end. You should just make all your dancers wear, like, yoga pants and a t-shirt of their choice. This all takes so fucking long.”

Louis snorted and shouldered his backpack. “You had a tough night, I’ll give you that.” He could feel Harry’s bright eyes scanning over his face, but he kept his head tilted away. “It was our first time doing this particular show, so it’s always a little more nuts.” Louis took his keys out of his pocket, glancing at Harry. “I can give you a ride home.”

Harry heaved himself out of the chair.

“Best thing you’ve said all night.”

“Oh, c’mon,” Louis laughed, “besides the work, you didn’t hate this. Admit it.”

“It…” Harry’s mouth battled to remain a straight line, but his cheeks rounded, his dimples emerging. “Was interesting.”

“Like me?”

Harry’s smile only grew, his hands digging into his pockets. “Yeah.” He nodded and fell into step beside Louis. “You are interesting for sure.”

“I don’t know why you feel so shy about admitting you liked watching the show. It’s supposed to be enjoyable.”

“I’m not being shy.”

Louis held the door open for Harry.

“You are.”

They walked into the crowded lobby. Kids ran around their legs in colorful Halloween costumes, some of the dancers standing on the sides and signing programs.

“I guess I just...I dunno. I feel weird in a place like this because I never really spent time around art and stuff.”

“No?” They both stopped to allow a parade of tiny Marvel heroes pass. “You mean there’s no YouTube video of Harry Styles in show choir?”

Harry laughed delightedly, his eyes following a tiny Spiderman as he ran into a little girl dressed as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. Both kids fell on their bottoms amidst the chaos.

“Nah.”

“You seemed to like it tonight,” Louis said, starting to walk again. “There’s no shame in it.”

“My mama took me to see Peter Pan at a local theater when I was, like, five, and I...I told my parents I wanted to be an actor when I grew up.” Harry laughed quietly. “My dad nearly cried. Then he told me I was never allowed to go to the theater again and he got me a private football coach. That sort of took away any time to go to the ballet.”

Louis stopped in place.

“You were five years old.”

Harry turned towards him with his thumbs looped in his belt.

“I was.”

“That’s...Sad.”

Harry shrugged one shoulder. “It is what it is.” He wrinkled his nose as he smiled. “I don’t think I’d have been a good actor. I probably just wanted to fly.”

“Excuse me, sir!? Are you Harry Styles!?”

Louis watched Harry’s eyes go extra wide. His energy somehow grew warmer as he knelt down in front of a little boy dressed as a scarecrow.

“I certainly am,” Harry said, his voice deep but airy with excitement. “And who are you, Mr. Scarecrow?”

“My name’s Tyler! Oh, wow, you’re Harry Styles! Me and my daddy watch you on TV every week! You’re really Harry Styles!?”

Harry’s cheek dimpled, a few more little boys in Halloween costumes rushing up behind Tyler.

“I am.” Harry held his hand out, shaking Tyler’s tiny hand. “So nice to meet you.”

A little boy dressed as Bob The Builder asked, “Did you go to the ballet!?”

Harry glanced up at Louis, his smile going sly for a hair of a beat. He directed his attention back to the crowd of boys.

“I certainly did. I was actually backstage the whole time. Did you see me?” They all shook their heads, their attention completely on Harry. “Did you all like the show?”

They cried, “Yeah!”

“My favorite part was the part with the knights. Oh! And the big line of nutcrackers. That was awesome.”

Just saying the word nutcrackers sent the boys into giggles, the skin beside Harry’s eyes crinkling as he laughed with them. One of their mothers came up with her phone held to her chest.

“Would you mind taking a photo with the boys? They’re all in the same Cub Scout den and they’re huge Armadillo fans. Hometown and all.”

“Sure, of course,” Harry said warmly. He held his arms out and got on both knees, the little boys crowding around him. “Now, y’all better promise to stay in scouts until you reach Eagle Scout, you hear?”

Mini-Spiderman asked, “Are you an Eagle Scout?”

Harry held up three fingers.

“Scout’s honor, Spidey.”

The boys all twittered with excitement, Harry chuckling quietly. They huddled together for the photo.

“So, you see, boys?” the mother said as she a photo of the crowd. “Boys can like football and ballet. You can like whatever hobby you want.”

Harry squeezed Bob the Builder’s shoulder. “That’s right. Do whatever makes you happy. And make sure to listen to everything your mama says. Promise?”

The group of boys nodded, reverence and awe widening their eyes. They left with the den mother, who mouthed, “Thank you so much,” to Harry before she was pulled into the crowd of children.

Harry stood up. “Sorry about that. You probably want to head home.”

Louis blinked rapidly, dragging his eyes from Harry’s face.

“No worries, it’s...fine. Yeah. That,” he tilted his head towards the exit, “that was nice of you. Really nice. You were so good with them.”

“We do a lot of events where we talk to kids about sports and not doing drugs and all that. I actually really like that part of what I do. Plus, it’s usually at a pancake breakfast or an Applebee's. I love pancakes, so it all works out.”

“Cool.”

Harry took two quick steps to get to the door of the theater. He held it open for Louis, gesturing with his arm.

“After you.”

“Thanks.”

They walked in silence to the car. Harry glanced at Louis out of the corner of his eyes.

“Um, so, do you think we could try tutoring again?”

Louis laughed without sound, his shoulder twitching up. He unlocked the car and peered over the roof.

“Are you going to do your assignments?”

Harry slid into the passenger’s side. “I promise.”

Louis pulled his door shut and buckled his seat belt. He turned the key in the ignition and tilted his head side to side, then put his hand on the back of Harry’s seat.

Track: The Wombats - Give Me A Try

“Yeah, we can try again.” He stared out the back window. Headlights from a passing car illuminated his eyes electric blue. “But you have no more second chances.”

Harry nodded quickly.

“Okay. Thank you. You won’t be sorry, I promise.”

“Whatever,” Louis sighed.

He put the car in Drive and turned out of the parking lot. Harry smiled wide and bounced in his seat, his feet antsy on the floor.

“Oh, can I get your number now?”

Louis turned another corner.

“Nope.”

Harry pouted. “Then how am I going to contact you about tutoring?”

“You have my school email.”

“But what about texts?”

“We’re not going there. If you want to communicate with me, communicate like a human with a brain.”

“But texting is fun.” Harry waggled his iPhone. “I can have an entire conversation in only Emoji. C’mon, it’ll be fun.”

“I’m not here for fun.”

“Can we stop at McDonald’s? You have a nice collection of leftovers in the car, but I’m hungry.”

Louis’ fingers tightened on the wheel, though the corners of his lips started to twitch upwards.

“I’m about ten seconds from kicking you out of my car and screaming, ‘Hashtag: Blessed,’ as I drive away.”

“Well, I’d just scream back”—Harry raised his voice to a shout—“‘Emoji: Praying hands with the blue shirt. Hashtag: Not lazy. Hashtag: FOMO. Emoji: Seashell. Hashtag: Ballet sucks. Hashtag—’”

Loud, uncontrollable laughter finally spilled out of Louis, his head dropping forward at a red light. Harry laughed along with him, delighted, his face sending beams of warmth across the front seat.

“I’m not giving you my phone number,” Louis said through his giggles, sniffling. “Hashtag: Get over it.”

“Why? Too afraid I’ll make you laugh and you’ll actually start to like me?”

“Oh, that’ll never happen,” Louis said, still laughing. “Don’t you worry about that.”

“Hashtag: You suck.”

“Hashtag: You’re not getting McDonald’s, brat.”

“Hashtag: Heartbroken. And hungry.”

Harry sounded legitimately hurt, a simper in his voice and his face smushed in a frown as he stared straight ahead. Louis’ left leg bobbed as he drove for a few blocks. His eyes glanced right for a split second before he sighed. The car made a sharp left turn, Harry’s grinning face illuminated by the yellow and red arches of a McDonald’s Drive-Thru.

. . .

Track: Ariana Grande - Focus

Two tutoring sessions passed, during which Harry completed two short Blackboard essay assignments and mapped out an outline for a paper about Othello. Session three was not as productive.

Louis said, “You’re not focusing.”

Harry ran his fingers through his hair, knocking his Packers cap to the library floor. He groaned and buried his face in his hands.

“I’m tired, alright? Give me a break. I did, like, a million laps today.”

“You? You’re tired? I ran this morning—”

‘We. We ran together.”

I ran while you flailed. We did not do anything together. Then I trained, then Starbucks, then had class and sewed my fingers to the bone, then came here to tutor your sorry ass when I should be home studying. I don’t want to hear you’re tired when you spent the day with your hand down your pants or on an XBox controller.”

“Play Station.”

“Whatever.”

Harry dropped his hands. “But, wait, aren’t you the one always telling me that I shouldn’t judge the extent of other people’s problems? My problems are my problems and your problems are your problems.” Louis stared at him for a moment with his mouth agape. Harry prodded Louis’ shoulder with his eraser. “I got you there, don’t I?”

“You didn’t get anything.”

“I bet you think I don’t listen to a word you say.”

“A broken clock is right twice a day. Get back to work.”

“This is boring,” Harry groaned, pulling his cheeks down to make a monster face at Louis’ profile. “Do something funny.”

Louis laughed lightly, shaking his head. “You have this strange idea that the world is here for your entertainment.”

Harry poked Louis’ wrist with his eraser, dragging the rubbery nub up the arm of his maroon sweater.

“You’re not being a very good tutor if you can’t keep me engaged,” he said in a sing song voice.

Louis’ pen stilled mid-word. He placed his pen on the table and flattened his palm on top of it. He spread his legs, turning to face Harry head on. He casually propped his cheek on his fist.

“And what would you have me do to keep you engaged?”

Harry grinned as he scanned Louis’ front. Their eyes locked.

“A little one-on-one action. A little skin,” Harry said quieter with a small narrowing of his eyes. He pinched his bottom lip between his teeth, then released it. “A little heat. Something to keep the blood pumping. Loosen us up, you know?”

“Blood pumping, hm?”

“Mmhmm,” Harry hummed lowly. As Louis smiled wider, Harry followed suit. “Please and thank you.”

Louis leaned in to conspiratorially whisper, “I think you’re full of it.”

“Full of what?”

“You wouldn’t know what to do if I actually got your blood pumping.”

“Try me.”

Without missing a beat, Louis stood and flattened his palms on Harry’s chest. He gracefully swung his leg over Harry’s thighs, straddled his lap, and scooted close enough for their groins to line up.

“Is this what you want?” Louis let his head loll as he ground slow circles. Harry dropped his pencil, and his mouth flopped open. “A little one-on-one action? A little personal attention?”

The high, gentle rasp in his voice made Harry’s brows twitch inwards. Louis ran his palms up to stroke the sides of Harry’s neck, his lower body gyrating in slow circles. His version of a lap dance was precise in its own way, his movements as controlled as one would expect from a trained dancer, but with just enough looseness to make Harry arch hungrily against him.

Harry gasped until words made it out of his throat. “I...I did not anticipate our tutoring session taking this sort of turn, but, fuck me.” His hands settled on Louis’ ass, squeezing and kneading the flexing muscles. “I am so game. Why do you always have on so many layers? You’re a hot little spinner type. You should wear, like, no clothes ever.”

“Yeah?”

Harry arched his hips up, his chin lifting and his lips just missing Louis’ mouth.

“Fuck, yeah.”

Louis’ gaze slowly, ever so slowly, dripped from Harry’s eyes to his mouth. “You wanna fuck my mouth, Styles? Wanna watch my ass bounce when I ride that python between your legs? Want me to swallow you whole behind the card catalog? Let me suck you real slow in the stacks?”

Words were lost yet again for Harry, who looked from Louis to the surrounding empty tables. The tables around them were empty, his heavy breaths panting into the air. His head shook minutely.

“Am I awake right now?”

“Oh, you’re awake, babe.” The sound of his quiet laughter made Harry even harder, his head dropping further back the more Louis ground against him. Louis gasped and made a shallow thrusting motion with his hips. “Definitely awake down there.”

Harry’s right hand slipped up the bottom of Louis’ sweater while his left hand dug into Louis’ ass. He massaged whatever lean, rolling muscles he could get his hands on, but could not look away from Louis’ eyes—blue and heavy-lidded yet light with mischief, the playful heat of his stare matching the tender murmurs falling from his lips.

“Or maybe you’re the one who likes to get fucked, hmm?” Louis asked, letting his head roll to the side. Harry mirrored him, their gazes linked. Low laughter crawled from Louis’ throat, his fingers tightening in the back of Harry’s hair. “I think that’s it. You want me to fuck you, don’t you, Styles? God, you’re such a dirty fuck, aren’t you? Say it. Say you’re a dirty fuck.”

“I’m a dirty fuck.”

Louis swayed his lips closer to Harry’s face, Harry’s mouth opening hungrily and his hands clenching on Louis’ hot skin. Another deep grind of his hips made Harry gasp.

“You want me to fuck you so hard, don’t you?” Louis pulled his hair. “Say it.”

“I want you to f-fuck me. So hard.”

“God, you’re easy. Say it again.” Louis dragged his lips up Harry’s neck then snagged his earlobe, tonguing the underside of the fleshy bit of skin. “Say it, baby. Tell me what you want and I’ll give it to you.” He kissed beneath his ear. “Whatever you want, baby.”

“I wanna fuck you,” Harry said, encircling his arms around Louis’ ass. He pushed Louis down as he ground up. “Let’s go to the bathroom. Gotta get you naked.”

Louis simpered, “Yeah?” and opened his teeth on Harry’s neck.

Harry’s eyes clenched shut, his hips jutting upwards. “Fuck, yeah,” he breathed.

Louis let out a whimpered moan and rotated his hips, his thick ass clenching under Harry’s palms.“When was Othello published, hm?” Louis gripped Harry’s hair and rolled his head back. “Can you tell me, baby?”

“Sixteen-oh-eight.”

Louis gave his hair a sharp tug.

“I said published, bitch.”

“Sixteen twenty—Sixteen twenty—” Harry pushed Louis’ shirt up with both hands, his fingers sliding around to the front of his stomach. “Fuck, keep doing that with your hips, Lou. Gonna come.” Louis pulled his hair hard and Harry moaned, “Sixteen twenty-two.”

“And what are the main conflicts?”

“Race. Isolation. Bloodlust. Military versus civilian. Lack of communication. Oh, fuck—” Harry surged forward for a kiss but his head was pulled backwards. “Fuck, this is so hot. Keep quizzing me.”

Louis gave his hair one more sharp tug and sat back. “God, you’re so easy to rile up. Too easy. And you’re full of shit. You’re focused and absorbing information, you just don’t want to work. Lazy.”

Harry made a quiet, whimpered sound and squeezed Louis’ ass. He thumped his thighs up against Louis’ ass and looked down at their groins with wide eyes, as if they were sitting in a stalled car and he was willing the engine to start. Harry squirmed, squeezing his ass again.

“Keep going, c’mon. Was just getting—”

“Hey,” Louis barked. He pulled Harry’s hair hard and glared at him, which only made Harry moan lowly and let his head sway in the direction of his tug. “Hands off.”

“But we—But you—” Harry’s frantic eyes darted over Louis’ face. “We were just getting going. What about all that mouth fucking dirty boy talk? That was hot shit! Real hot!”

“As if I could ever let someone fuck my mouth who thinks there are still card catalogues in libraries.” Louis snorted and stood up. “Please.”

“But—”

“Asshole!”

Louis looked at the new voice in time for his face to be pelted with icy slush. He clenched his eyes and dropped his head forward, able to hear Harry shout, “What the fuck!?”

“Ow, shit, ow.” Louis pushed the heels of his hands over his eyes. Another shower of something freezing and icy slapped both he and Harry in the face. “What is this?”

“Lara?” Harry said, confused. He licked his lips. “S’Mores Frappuccino?”

“You’re an asshole, Harry Styles,” Lara said, sounding on the brink of tears. “A huge, gaping asshole!”

Harry blinked.

“Why?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe because we fucked all last weekend”—she dumped another Frappuccino on Louis’ head and Louis weakly cried out—“and you never fucking called. And now you’re here, doing whatever it is you’re doing with him!”

“I’m not fucking him,” Louis said loudly, frustrated. “Why is that so hard for everyone to understand?”

“But I never said I’d call you. We were a one night stand,” Harry said, baffled even as marshmallow whipped cream dripped off his nose. “And he’s my tutor. He’s very nice.”

Lara’s voice went higher and higher until she shrieked. An empty Starbucks cup bounced off of Harry’s forehead. Louis opened his eyes in time to see her flounce away beneath a cape of long blonde hair.

“Fuck these fucking S’more Frappucinos,” Louis muttered. He glared at Harry. “Ever since you came around, it’s like I’m doomed for them to haunt me the rest of my days.”

“I’m so sorry.” Harry pushed a blob of whipped cream off of Louis’ hair. “I had no idea that would happen.”

Louis fixed him with a bored stare. Chocolate fudge dotted the end of his nose.

“You don’t say.”

Harry held his hand over his mouth, his eyes crinkled and his shoulders shuddering. He sucked in a quick breath as Frappuccino dripped from his earlobes.

“Shit,” Harry said, starting to giggle. “I’m so sorry to laugh. This is totally not funny and all my fault. I’ll, um, get us paper towels and clean this up. You wait here, okay?”

Louis shifted off of Harry’s lap. “Actually.” He pushed their items into their backpacks with his sticky arm. He stood and handed Harry both bags. “Hold these.” Louis looked down at him with a face full of sugar water and gripped Harry’s hand, cold goop squishing between their fingers. “And come with me.”

Harry glanced at their joined hands. The icy drink gluing their palms together suddenly felt a whole lot warmer, his feet stumbling to run behind Louis. Curious eyes pinged in Harry’s peripheral vision. Hissed whispers, camera shutters, and muffled laughs buzzed in his ears.

“We should go to the bathroom and clean up,” he whispered, more and more stares landing on them. Louis continued marching through the library. “Lou,” he hissed, slowing their steps, “where are we going? What are you doing?”

Louis stopped in front of the main library desk and dropped Harry’s hand.

“Everyone,” he called out. His voice was loud enough to carry but not a harsh shout. More like a driven announcement. He clapped his hands in front of his chest. “If I could please have everyone’s attention, I’ll only interrupt your study for a minute.”

The library full of students looked up. Curious murmurs and whispers licked over their faces, including, “Is that Frappuccino?” and, “Ooh, want to get Starbucks on the way home?” and, “I heard Harry Styles has a huge dick.”

Harry blinked at Louis, his lashes sticky and dark.

“What are you doing!?” he whispered.

Louis clasped his hands in front of his his lower stomach. “Alright. So. Please raise your hand if you have ever had consensual, good sex with Harry Styles.”

A beat passed with no sound of movement.

Slowly but surely, students lifted their hands. Even a couple of hands behind the reference desk rose. Soft rounds of applause and wolf whistles could be heard, prompting muffled giggles and snorts. Louis squinted at the older women behind the desk. He looked to Harry, who shrugged as if to say, 'What?'

Louis steeled his expression and nodded slowly.

“Right. Now, raise your hand if Harry Styles ever forced you to do something without your consent, or did something you didn’t enjoy.”

All of the hands dropped. Louis’ eyes scanned around the silent room.

“Uh huh,” he said, letting the silence linger for a moment. “Finally, please raise your hand if Harry Styles ever told you that he was your boyfriend, told you that you were dating, or told you that you were in an exclusive relationship.”

The student hands remained down, though a handful of students tittered with visible annoyance; mostly huffed sighs and eye rolls. Louis pushed slush off his brow.

“Right, that’s what I thought. Okay, so, just because he likes to have sex with a lot of people doesn’t mean he should be villainized. If you were both consenting adults and he never said you were in a relationship, I’m not sure what the problem is. And, if you were paying attention, I did not raise my hand because I am not, and never will be, having sex with Harry Styles.” He itched ice out of his left ear and exhaled a sigh. “Thank you for your time.”

Louis took his bag from Harry and walked away without looking back. Harry watched Louis walk out of the library with awe softening his face, his mouth agape and something warm swirling in his belly. Did he have too much Mountain Dew that morning?

Harry heard a quiet cough and looked forward, then remembering his audience. The mostly friendly crowd stared at him. Some students waved or discreetly made, ‘Text me,’ motions with their phones.

“Um...” He ran his fingers back through his wet hair and pasted on a smile. “Thanks for the applause, y’all. Means a lot. Happy to get the positive feedback and, uh...” He held up a peace sign. “Go Armadillos.”

He winked at the desk of librarians before he legged it out of the library. Louis was already a block away when he reached the street.

“Hey,” Harry called softly. His sneakers slapped against the sidewalk. “Lou, wait.” He caught sight of bright pink tinting Louis’ cheeks. “Slow down. Please?”

Harry’s fingers brushed his palm and Louis slowed his steps.

“What do you want?”

“Why did you do that?”

“I don’t know,” Louis said over him. Tension curled his shoulders forward. “I shouldn’t have done it. I shouldn’t have made a scene like that. There are enough soapboxes in the world. I shouldn’t—” His eyes darted to Harry. “I’m sorry for not running it by you.”

Harry’s palms rounded around Louis’ outer biceps. Their shoes tapped slower over the sidewalk until they came to a halt. Confusion clouded Harry’s eyes, but pleasant surprise softened his voice.

“Are you kidding me? That was—That was amazing. I’ve never had someone do something like that for me—someone stand up for me like that. Usually I just brush it off or pretend it’s a joke. I should be thanking you. You don’t have to apologize for anything. I’m just...I’m shocked you would defend me.”

“I did it for the good of humanity. Shaming you for enjoying sex is not okay. People should mind their business and focus on their own sex lives, whether you’re an athlete or a librarian.”

Harry thumbed Louis’ cheekbone.

“Hot damn, Tomlinson.” He sucked a bit of graham cracker crumble off the pad of his thumb, never breaking eye contact. “I wish we would have accidentally spooned years ago. You’re kind of a hero under all those cardigans.”

Louis rolled his eyes and snorted, walking away with his thumbs looped in his backpack straps. He saw Harry’s long legs striding beside him and ducked his head down, his Frappuccino covered cheeks burning bright red.

. . .

Harry shut the front door of the frat house. Laughter and hoots greeted him, along with some slow claps.

“Heard about your little study date,” Chase laughed, clapping as he came closer. “That Lara, man. A real wild one, hm?”

Harry snorted and ran his hand over his sticky face.

“Yeah, it was interesting.”

“Good thing Tomlinson’s so thirsty for it, yeah? Or else he’d have been gone the second she lost her shit. That’s what you get for putting your dick in crazy.”

“Yeah,” Harry said gruffy. He cleared his throat. “Yeah.”

Chase tilted his head, peering up at Harry with a smirk.

“You don’t…” His eyes narrowed, victory puffing his chest. Other football players popped their heads up from the living room, their audience growing more by the second. “You don’t actually like him, do you?”

“Nope,” Harry said, shaking his head. “Not in the least.” He breezed towards the steps. “I gotta shower this shit off.”

Harry ignored the chatter of the team on the main floor as he went upstairs. He dropped his backpack beside his bed, pulled off his sticky clothes, and jumped in the shower.

His phone was vibrating on the middle of his bed when he emerged from the bathroom. Harry picked it up and scanned through his new messages. Booty calls, party invites, praise for his last game. All the norm.

As he contemplated which party to grace with his presence that evening, his eyes eyes were drawn from his phone screen to the collection of books spilling out of his backpack. He looked away from his paperback copies of Hamlet and Othello to refocus on his text messages.

Harry’ lips tightened the more he scanned. His head dropped forward, his own words, flippant and arrogant, bouncing around his head.

A deep, gnarled, sick feeling burrowed into his lower belly. It reminded him of the time when he accidentally complained too loudly about how salty the vegetable soup was in the cafeteria. He was certain the nice older lady behind the register who wore colorful headbands to work every day heard him. The sight of her sad, but still professional, face was burned into his memory.

But Louis wasn’t there like the cafeteria lady. Louis didn’t hear him talk to Chase. Louis defended him in front of the entire library, while he talked poorly about Louis behind Louis’ back to his teammates and called him terrible names. His stomach clenched tighter. He didn’t even really like Louis. Why the sudden wave of nerves?

Harry tossed his phone on the bed and grabbed clean red boxers. His hand went towards his phone, but his arm started to move in the direction of Othello.

It wasn’t like he wanted to read or something. He had an assignment to work on before his next tortuous tutoring session and Louis had, of course, left an annoying blue Post-It reminder in his paperback.

There was a knock at the door. Harry stood up straight with his arms at his sides.

“Yeah?”

Liam popped his head in.

“Hey, man. You coming out?”

“Um...” Harry pressed his lips together and glanced at his pile of books. “Nah. Thanks. I gotta study.”

“What?”

“I have homework to do.”

“Oh.” Liam clutched the doorframe with both hands. “Are you...Are you alright, man?”

“Yeah, of course,” Harry chuckled. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

“I just...I don’t think I’ve ever heard you say you were doing homework. Or turning down a party.”

“Yeah, well, I…” Harry’s throat bobbed as he swallowed. He shrugged. “It’s the bet and all, you know? I gotta pretend to be into all his stupid shit to keep it going. Once the bet is done, I’m so gonna be back on the scene.”

Liam’s face fell.

“Oh. Right. The bet.”

“Yeah.”

“Okay. Um,” Liam said, thumbing behind himself. “We’ll be down the road at Delta, if you wanna come out.”

“Cool, thanks.”

Harry watched Liam walk down the hall. Players stampeded towards the steps, some loudly discussing the festivities on the night’s agenda, some slapping hands with Harry as they passed.

It wasn’t until the front door slammed and the house went quiet that Harry shut his bedroom door, locked it, and walked back to bed. He grabbed his copy of Othello from off the floor and slid under the covers. He cuddled his upper back against his pile of pillows and itched his bare feet together, stretching his body along the length of the bed. He opened to his marked page.

Don’t be lazy. Don’t Google. Read the whole thing. I’ll know if you don’t.

Harry ran his fingers over Louis’ neat handwriting on the Post-It. He started to smile, his body snuggling lower under the covers as he started to read.

. . .

Louis sketched idly for a moment with the tip of his pencil not touching his sketchbook. He placed his pencil on the cafeteria table and swapped it for a purple pencil, which he used to fill in a paisley pattern hanging on his faceless male model.

“Evening, Lou.”

Louis looked up. “Oh. Hi.” He pushed his undone hair off his face and sat back. “What’s up?”

Harry pointed at the empty seat across from Louis.

“Can I sit with you?”

“Yeah, sure, of course.” Louis used his foot to push the chair out from under the table. “I’m only here another ten minutes, though.”

“Class?”

“Textile Manufacturing, yeah. What are you doing in here? I thought you always ate at training table?”

Harry sank down into the chair and placed his tray on the table.

“I like to switch up my snack options from time to time.”

Harry’s meticulous arrangement of raisins and almonds in the shape of a flower on top of his bowl of steaming oatmeal made Louis’ lips twitch.

“Oatmeal is your snack of choice?”

Harry stirred brown sugar into the bowl.

“It makes my belly feel cozy.”

Louis laughed and picked up a green colored pencil. He started to add eyes to his sketch’s model.

“Are they really strict with your diet during the season?”

“Eh. Depends.” Harry ate a spoonful of oatmeal, chewing while saying, “My metabolism is pretty fast, so I actually have to make an effort to eat more and build.”

“You’re lucky.”

“Did you have a good day?”

Louis’ eyes slowly slid up from his sketch. “Yeah,” he said, nodding. “It was alright. Busy.”

Harry gave him a dimpled smirk with his mouth closed, his jaw moving as he chewed oatmeal. He swallowed.

“You’re a busy bee. Always buzz-buzz-buzzing all over the place.”

“Ha.” Louis switched to a regular pencil. He glanced up at Harry. “You? Good day?”

“Yeah, it was good. Oh! I have news.” Harry reached into his backpack, rifling around an unruly bundle of papers. He slapped a piece of paper on the table and said, “Bam!” Louis tilted his head and focused on the page. “You’ll have to give me more lapdance quizzes. I got an A-Minus on that Othello quiz!” He started to raise the roof. “I said published, bitch!”

Louis smiled softly. “Congratulations. Let’s see it.” He pulled Harry’s quiz closer, scanning over his answers. “Harry,” he said on a laugh. He poked the only question Harry got wrong with his red colored pencil. “Why didn’t you answer Iago? You definitely know that’s the character’s name. We’ve talked about Iago countless times.”

“I got confused with the parrot in Aladdin and the little dog, Percy, in Pocahontas.”

Louis’ head fell back as both laughed. A group of football players came up to the table.

“Hey guys,” Ryan said, holding a tray of full of hard boiled eggs and grilled chicken. “Can we sit?”

Harry looked to Louis.

“Yeah, sure.” Louis held his hand out. “Make yourselves comfortable.”

Every seat at the table was taken up by members of the team, all wearing various red and black Armadillo’s shirts and sweats. Some seemed uninterested in having conversation, and set into inhaling piles of protein, while a few sat near Harry and Louis.

Liam sat down next to Louis. “Oh, cool, is this something you’re making?” he asked, staring at the sketch.

Louis dropped his pencil and stretched his hand.

“Sort of. We’re working through popular fabrics, decade by decade, and have to incorporate them into current trends. This is the sixties. I’m not sure if I’ll actually make this look, but it’s been bouncing around my head.”

Harry said, “Oh shit. Liam, this is Louis. Louis this is Liam.” He swayed his hand between them. “Sorry, how rude. I should have introduced you two.”

“Thanks, but we know each other,” Louis said, amused. “Student government stuff.”

“And Statistics last year,” Liam added.

“Yeah, sadly,” Louis groaned, he and Liam grinning at each other. “I hate numbers.”

“But you’re so good at math,” Ryan said as he cut into a chicken breast. “I might need you for help next semester. I think I have to take some finance class.”

“That class sounds like the worst,” Eric said with a mouthful of hard boiled egg. “Not looking forward to that when I’m a senior.”

Louis popped the top off his cup. “It’s actually not too bad.” He dunked his tea bag. “I’ve tutored a few people for it. I could definitely give you a hand, no problem.”

Harry ate his oatmeal and watched Louis interact with his friends. Louis was quiet and usually waited for someone to address him, but he was still friendly. He never seemed uncomfortable, but his replies sounded guarded to Harry’s ears, even if he warmed up when speaking to Liam, Ryan, or Eric.

“So, um,” Liam said, scooting a touch closer to Louis. He lowered his voice. “How’s Zayn doing?”

Louis gave him a surprised smirk. “Oh, you know Zayn? I didn’t know that.”

Liam licked his lips, then pressed them together. He cleared his throat.

“No, um, no I don’t.” He sat back, laughing out, “Nevermind.”

Louis stared at Liam curiously. His phone alarm went off, the phone buzzing on top of the table.

“I’ve got to get going.” Louis silenced the alarm and stuck his phone in his pocket. “Actually—” he pointed to his sketchbook and pencils, “—can you all watch my stuff for a second? I want to get more tea before class.”

“Yeah, sure,” Harry said. His fingers crept towards a few loose colored pencils. “Can I color?

“Try not to draw any dicks on my models, Riggins,” Louis said as he stood. “And use a fresh page.”

Harry grinned and grabbed a red pencil.

“You’ll just have to wait and see my creation.”

“Ha.”

Louis glanced at Harry and grabbed his cup. He walked towards the coffee and tea station on the other side of the cafeteria.

When he finished with his tea, he went back to the table. Some of the players had left, but Harry and his friends were still there, laughing at something Liam said. Louis shut his sketchbook and placed his items in his backpack. He shouldered the bag.

“Thanks for watching my stuff. I’ll see you guys around.”

The nearby players all said good-bye. Harry gave him an extra sunny smile and waggle of his fingers.

“Bye, Lou. Have fun in class. Draw pretty.”

Louis waved at him before turning away from the table. He hurried to get to class and made it with seven minutes to spare. He was so caught up in prepping his fabrics for class and setting up his sewing supplies that he didn’t open his sketchbook until halfway through class, when his teacher instructed students to design two patterns that might have been used in the eighties.

He opened to his last sketch, then turned the page. Instead of a blank sheet of white he found sketched doodles, and someone had written a note in blue colored pencil, their handwriting stumpy and efficient in all-caps.

Louis blinked at the message. There were so many people in the cafeteria table. Who would write the note, and why?

“Louis, do you have any questions?”

Louis quickly turned the page and looked at his teacher. He shook his head.

“No. No questions.”