It’s May 20 and the first day of summer as Louis knows it, so he shows up to the office forty minutes early with his heart in his throat and an iced Americano in his veins.
Summer, as far as Louis has been concerned for the past four years, begins on the first day of the internship program—the most magical time of the year. It’s a reprise from the monotony of academia, or the trauma of back-to-back hangovers. He loves the American university system, don’t get him wrong, but being an intern is just about everything he’s ever wanted to do. Well, maybe not the bitch work or the unpaid labour, but the fucking excitement that comes from working for an actual publication and interviewing actual people and writing for actual readers.
And this summer is special, more than any other one before it. Because he’s not just an intern this year, no, not with his experience and his yet-to-be-framed diploma from that prestigious upstate New York university. He has clout now, the kind that translates into a special title and an actual office for people with such titles.
Louis Tomlinson: Junior Intern Coordinator, the placard on the door reads. Well, more a piece of paper than an actual placard, but Eleanor at the front desk promised him something more substantial sometime next week. And it doesn’t matter, anyway, when he has a real job now for one of the best entertainment publications in the country. Placard or not, he’ll take it.
Even if it isn’t a permanent job, which it isn’t, not by any means. Though it’s not to say he wouldn’t come back to do it again next summer if they asked him, because he probably would. But his longevity with the mag is right there in his job title: junior intern coordinator, which means by the end of the internship program, he’ll be out a job. Which is fine, given that they’d kind-of, sort-of created the position just for him. After all, he’s Louis Tomlinson, star intern for Smut Magazine four years running, who’s too qualified to be just another trainee and too poor to be living unpaid again in Los Angeles.
So that’s fine. It’s a temporary job, but it’s one that pays. Yeah, it sucks that Professor Cowell hasn’t emailed him with any long-term job opportunities back east, but that’s just the lay of the land, he supposes. And in a way, Smut is a home away from home. Plus, he’ll be working directly with the new crop of interns and really, he can’t wait to get started with a bunch of college kids who love writing as much as he does. It’s basically just the best thing.
He snaps his head up to find Lou standing in the doorway—his doorway—and dressed in her usual brand of all-black, can’t-be-fucked grunge. She was never an intimidating Intern Coordinator to begin with, but now that they’re working together, he can smile at her a little easier.
“Hi, Lou. What’s up?”
She looks around his office. It’s cramped, but he’s already developed a sense of pride for it. “Nice box.”
He shrugs, smiles. “Bit weird, not being asked to get you coffee.”
“That can still change,” Lou says, winking. Her hair is an ashy purple tucked under a beanie, and Louis just finds it so cool. “Anyway, wanted to see that you’d settled in. And I’ve come to give you a pep talk before the interns arrive.”
Louis folds his arms. “Let’s have it, then.”
She smiles dryly. “I don’t do pep talks, remember? But really,” she says, dropping her voice like it’s a secret, “you know this place inside and out. Better than some of the other editors. You’ll be fine.”
He’s pretty certain, but it’s still nice to hear some reassurance. “You think?”
Lou rolls her eyes. “I think you and I both know. But.” She checks the clock hanging on the wall. “I have to go. Mandatory editorial meeting, now that I have a junior coordinator and all. Don’t scare them off.” And then she’s gone.
Louis blinks, staring at the space where Lou had been only seconds before. He’s not nervous, not really, but when he slides into his chair, his palms are somewhat sweaty. But that’s just the weather in Southern California, he thinks.
A second later, his monitor flashes with a new inter-office message. It’s from Lou, sent from her mobile.
Lou and Louis, the dream team, it reads. Do us proud!
The conference room is still empty when Louis walks over fifteen minutes later, and he tries not to make any rapid-fire judgments without having met any of the interns yet. After all, not everyone shows up to their first day almost an hour early.
He feels rather ill equipped, not having a PowerPoint presentation or at least a jar of candy for this first meeting. First impressions are everything and he’d rather not have his interns think of him as a crotchety old bore, as opposed to the fun fountain of knowledge he truly is. He’d have confetti and glitter cannons if he could, but he reminds himself to tone down the enthusiasm. But still, there’s a time and a place for crotchety and old and boring, and here is not one of them.
I am sooo fun, he sends quickly to Lou, well aware that she’s likely sitting in a meeting upstairs with Nick and Greg talking about their “vision” and the “future” of the magazine this summer. Whatever. She’s probably bored, and that’s what she gets for leaving him to do this all on his own.
Fuck off I’m working, she replies, and Louis snorts. He has very big shoes to fill.
The first to walk in is a mean-looking girl with hoop earrings and tattoos running down her arms to her hands. Louis tries figuring her out, tries reading what is almost certainly “Daddy” inked on her fist. But before he can do so, she’s waving and smiling over at him and it seems so nice and honest that he smiles right back.
This’ll be easy. This’ll be good.
The other seats slowly start to fill and by the time the clock hits five past 9, all fifteen interns are seated and looking up at him expectantly. Louis inhales sharply, hopes it isn’t visible, and stands up to shut the door. When he gets back, he foregoes his chair entirely and hops up, sitting down at the head of the table. Some eyes widen, but nobody says anything.
“Okay,” Louis says, patting his crossed legs. “I’m Louis and I’m the junior intern coordinator. And before you ask, no, I’m not fucking with you—I’m actually British.”
They laugh, maybe out of a sense of obligation, but it’s a laugh nonetheless and Louis makes a mental tally.
“So, welcome to Smut, probably the youngest and coolest magazine you’ll ever work for,” he continues. “Now, I’m here to shatter any misconceptions you might have about interning for us. I should probably start off by saying that you won’t be spending all your time getting coffee at the Starbucks around the corner.” A collective sigh of relief. “But, there is a Pinkberry just down the street, and we do fancy our share of frozen yoghurt.”
There’s another round of nervous laughter, and Louis kind of revels in it. He makes eye contact with a boy sitting just across from him with a curly fringe and wide, green eyes staring at him like he’s actually absorbing every word. Louis smirks and moves on.
“Okay, but really, this internship is what you make of it, so try to get as involved as you can.” He pauses for effect. “On a personal note, I worked six days a week for four consecutive summers here until I got my working visa. I’m not saying that you need to be that dedicated, but a little desperation would be nice.”
Another laugh, one that comes easier. Louis swallows down the pride in his chest. Who needs Lou, anyway?
He hands them each an introductory packet and spends the next thirty minutes going through the history of the magazine as well as the logistics of each department. When they get to the contract on the last page, he gives them several minutes to read through the fine print before signing. He stealthily pulls out his mobile and reads a message not from Lou, but from Zayn. No fire alarms, so u haven’t fucked up yet.
Louis bites down on a grin. He loves Lou, but he loves Zayn, even fancied himself in love with him once. But now they’re just best mates whenever Louis comes back each year. It makes sense.
I feel like the hot teacher, he sends along with a winking smiley face.
Once he’s collected all the contracts, he goes through the list of assignments he’d been emailed that morning. Compared to other magazines, Smut has a smaller staff, which allows for greater involvement in each intern’s assigned department. He remembers last summer, when he worked in opinions with Greg before he got moved up to managing editor. They’d gotten so close, they almost got matching tattoos at the end of the summer. Almost.
He reads out the list of assignments. It looks like the “Daddy” girl—Cher, he learns—gets to work with Lou’s sister, Sam, over in fashion. Meanwhile, a nervous-looking boy gets Matt over in features, while his blond friend goes to Olly in music. Before sending them all off, Louis makes sure to leave them with a piece of advice he’s almost certain they won’t take.
“If you have any questions about the program or if you just want to talk and cry because life is shit and everything is the worst, feel free to come to me,” he says earnestly. “My door is always open. Well, not always, but it’ll be unlocked and I swear I’ll answer if you knock nicely. Just look for the one with a piece of paper taped to it.”
They each nod and disappear, leaving Louis to the rest of his day.
Being junior internship coordinator, it turns out, also entails minor clerical work as well as increased editorial responsibility. So, between Excel spreadsheets and posting entries to the website, Louis’ morning comes and goes just like that. He sneaks off twice to the break room—once to steal a cookie and a second time to steal four more. He makes a silent promise to bring real food tomorrow.
Sometime after lunch, Louis hears a knock on his door. He expects it’ll be Lou, so he slams the table and yells, “Finally! Get the fuck in here!”
There’s a moment’s hesitation before the door opens to reveal—not Lou.
“Oh,” Louis says, face flushing. “I’m—wow, I’m sorry. Come in. I thought you were, um. Someone else.”
The boy with the curly hair steps inside, expression torn between amused and bashful. Without all the other interns as a distraction, Louis realises that he’s actually rather good-looking. More than that, really, if the way the sun from the tiny window hitting his face is anything to go by. It’s a good face.
“Hi,” the boy says, sitting down in the seat in front of Louis’ desk. “I’m not bothering, am I?” And fuck, that’s a British accent. Louis would know.
He tilts his head to the side. “I wasn’t aware we had another Englishman in the building. Harry, isn’t it?”
The boy nods. “‘M from Cheshire.”
Louis brightens at that. “Really? LA’s a bit far for you, innit?”
“For you, too,” Harry reminds him, sweeping his fringe to the side. “I actually go to school in Boston. But I thought I’d spend my summer somewhere…sunnier.”
Louis nods. A former east coast boy himself, he can relate.
“So.” Harry leans back in the chair before wobbling forward again, like he isn’t sure he can be that relaxed. “Where exactly are you from?”
Louis bites down on a smile. “I’m from Yorkshire. Couldn’t you tell?”
Harry narrows his eyes like he’s actually trying to tell for himself, before breaking out into an easy grin. Louis thinks he spots a dimple. “Yeah. Yeah, of course I could.”
Louis chuckles. “Yeah, right. So.” He’s looking at Harry, who’s looking right back at him. “What can I do for you?”
“Oh.” Harry ducks his head and Louis tracks the movement, rather endeared. “I. It’s just, you said that your door was open? Or at least, if we knocked. And yeah. Just wanted to talk?” He leaves it hanging as a question.
Louis gapes for a second before reining himself in; no one ever actually comes in to talk. “Oh. Oh. Fuck, I’m a twat. Sorry. Yeah, of course we can do that.”
Harry smiles slowly at that. “Okay, cool. I’m on a break right now, I guess, and no one else on staff seems to be from where, um, we’re from. So.”
“Right,” Louis says, nodding. “We’re a rare breed, you and I. All the girls love it. Or the boys, depending.”
Harry raises a brow, but doesn’t comment on it. “Anyway. I think I work upstairs with your friend Zayn? The editorial assistant?”
“You work with Zayn?” Louis closes his eyes, clutches a fist to his heart. “Oh, Zayn. I miss him so — wait.” He sits up straight and levels Harry with a stare. “So that means you work with Nick.”
“Um.” Harry blinks before nodding once. “Yes? You assigned me to him.”
Technically he didn’t, but that’s neither here nor there. Louis leans back incrementally. “Well, you’re a special one.” When Harry frowns at that, he says, “You get to work with the main man. The head honcho, as it were.”
Harry clears his throat. “Is that not normal?”
Louis shrugs. “Nah, it’s fine. Just. You must be pretty talented if you get to be the editor-in-chief’s intern. What, do you have a photographic memory or something?”
“No,” Harry says quickly, the tips of his ears reddening. “I’m not — no.”
“That’s a lie, I can tell.” Louis shakes his head. “Go on, spill. What’s on your résumé? Are you some sort of superstar?”
Harry purses his lips, clearly uncomfortable but not so much that Louis feels awful about it. If there’s going to be a new star intern, then Louis deserves to know.
“I, um. I dabble in a bunch of things,” Harry starts, slow and measured. “I write, I photograph, and I design. That’s mostly it.” He pauses, and then adds, “And some multimedia stuff once in a while.”
Louis lets out a low whistle. “So you are a superstar. Damn.” He smiles. “I’m going to have to keep an eye out for you, Harry…?”
“Styles,” Louis repeats, letting it weigh on his tongue. “Shit. Welcome to the team.” He reaches over the desk, hand out for Harry to take.
Harry watches it carefully, almost like he’s waiting for the punch line. But then he smiles, bright and confident, before taking Louis’ hand in his and shaking firmly.
“Thanks for having me.”
Later, once Harry has ducked out and promised to say hi to Zayn for him, Louis finds himself on Facebook in a clear violation of office policies. Well, not really, but it’s probably frowned upon, even though Louis can’t count the number of times he’d walked in on Lou cyber-stalking her ex-boyfriends. What can he say, he learns by example.
Anyway, it turns out that Styles really is Harry’s last name. And Louis’ suspicions prove correct when he scrolls through an album of Harry’s photography—they’re public, okay, so it’s not creepy—and discovers some really spectacular shots of the Commons and the skyline at night. There’s a link in his bio that leads to a portfolio website, where Louis finds writing and design clips and fuck, Harry’s good. Like, more than good. It’s kind of annoying.
But then Louis remembers how guarded Harry had been and how humbly he’d presented himself, and he finds he can’t really begrudge Harry for his talent. He’s come across his share of pretentious arseholes during and after university, but Harry is definitely not one of them. It’s just…
Styles. Talented guys like that don’t deserve names like Harry Styles. Hogarth Styles, maybe. There needs to be some kind of balance with these things.
He thinks about this long enough that when the clock hits 5, he’s genuinely shocked. Thankfully, he’s done enough of his work that he’s not exactly behind, but he’ll still have to haul ass tomorrow morning. Oh well.
Downstairs, he’s just about to walk out of the building when somebody grabs his arm.
“Wha — Zayn!”
Zayn laughs, drawing Louis into a tight embrace and making quite the scene in the lobby. But Louis doesn’t care because he’s missed this so much, the high pitch in Zayn’s laugh and the smoky smell in his shirt. Now that they’ve gone nine months without each other, Louis giggles into Zayn’s neck because he can.
“You’re the absolute worst,” Zayn says once they pull apart, one arm still slung over Louis’ shoulders. “How long have you been back?”
“Like, a week,” Louis says. “Not even.”
“Still.” Zayn attempts a frown but fails. “You could’ve called.”
“Why? So I could deny you our romantic reunion?”
Zayn shakes his head, but he’s laughing again. “Christ, Lou. I’ve missed you, man.”
Louis tugs on Zayn’s hand to lead him out of the building. Outside, the air is warm and just down the street, he can see the traffic to the freeway already backing up. Great.
“Missed you, too,” he says, closing his eyes and tilting his head up to catch some sun.
“D’you have time for a drink?” Zayn asks. “Or maybe dinner?”
Louis keeps his eyes closed and thinks of the leftover Chinese takeaway in his fridge. He’s almost certain the sesame chicken can last another day.
They end up at a Mexican restaurant several blocks down, where they occupy a booth in the back with enough nachos and tacos to get them through a few hours of catching up. Zayn orders them a drink each, and Louis has to keep himself from getting more, what with having to drive home and all.
“So thanks for coming upstairs and saying hi to me, by the way,” Zayn says with a mouthful of salsa. “Oh wait. You didn’t.”
Louis makes a face. “Hey, I sent Harry to do the job, didn’t I?”
Zayn cocks his head to the side. “Harry?”
“Yeah,” Louis replies mindlessly, picking at his carne asada. “The fit intern?”
“Oh,” Zayn says in a tone that makes Louis look up.
“‘Oh’? What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Nothing.” Zayn smiles without judgment—or maybe just a little bit. “Just. You’ve already designated a fit intern?”
“Yeah, so?” Louis bites on a tortilla chip. “It’s an inevitability each year. You only forget because I was the fit one each year we interned. Though how you could forget, I don’t know.”
“Hey.” Zayn sticks out a finger and waves it in Louis’ face. “I was the fit intern.”
“Right,” Louis scoffs. “Whatever, babe.”
Zayn rolls his eyes but doesn’t bother fighting back, because he knows the truth. He’d come to Smut the same year as Louis, back when they’d both just ended their freshman year of college. But while Louis left for New York at the end of every summer, Zayn stayed in Los Angeles the whole year—and ended up getting moved to Nick’s floor even before graduation. Louis’ happy for him, really; it’s just weird that they’re not working with each other anymore.
“Just remember, Lou.” Zayn furrows his brows meaningfully. “You can look, but you can’t touch.”
Louis chokes on a bit of cabbage, because really? “Are you serious? I just said he was fit, that’s all. I don’t want to, like, jump his bones or anything.”
Zayn snorts. “I know. It’s just you have power now. And with great power—”
“Yeah, yeah, you comic book freak,” Louis says, trying for annoyed but coming out fond instead. “Well. If you won’t let me go home with one of the interns, what’re the chances you’ll come home with me?”
Zayn pauses. “Tonight?”
“Yeah.” Louis shrugs easily. “I mean. I dunno.”
“I’m only offering,” Louis says, raising his hands in front of him. “Just putting it out there. For old times’ sake. I’m not expecting anything, you know. Just…” He smirks. “You’re looking a bit blue around the balls, Malik.”
Zayn sputters, looking down at his groin. “I don’t even know what you’re implying. And for your information—”
“Please.” Louis waves him away with his fork. “I can sense the thirst from here. I know you, remember?”
“I.” Zayn stares at him, mouth slightly ajar, before slumping his shoulders in defeat. “I hate you. Nine months, Lou. We’re not supposed to be this freakishly connected after nine months.”
“Whatever.” Louis sits up straight. “So. Are you in or out? Hot piece of British arse right here.”
Zayn thinks about it for several seconds before pulling deeply from his drink. He wipes at his mouth with the back of his hand. “Yeah. Okay. Just this once.”
Louis’ lip curls. “Just this once.”
The next two weeks move quickly, especially for Louis, who spends his time running around the office like a headless chicken trying to help the interns settle into their respective departments. Lou helps out, of course, but only when she isn’t being dragged to more editorial meetings than what might be considered normal. Louis has the sneaking suspicion that they’re slowly transitioning her into features.
He doesn’t like it.
Other than that, he’s okay. More than, probably. He feels like he has a greater purpose at the magazine, and he particularly loves getting to know the interns. Cher, it turns out, is the loudest girl he’s met in a long while, on top of being a very hard worker within the fashion department. Niall, the blond one, brings his guitar to the office every other day for an impromptu afternoon show in the break room. And his friend, Liam, is secretly a riot whenever he chooses to speak above a certain decibel.
And Harry. Harry is a champion, apparently.
Louis doesn’t make his way upstairs all that often, much to Zayn’s frustration. But when he does, he usually sees Harry hunched over at the desk outside Nick’s office, looking intense and scarily concentrated. He’s probably only doing news round ups or scouring RSS feeds, but Louis is surprised by how much effort he seems to be putting forth.
At the end of each day, Zayn comes up to Louis to let him know “his boy” did well—never mind the fact that Louis can’t remember ever referring to Harry as his boy. But even Nick seems impressed, even sends Louis an email by the end of the second week commending him for hiring such an able group this year.
Not like he did any of the hiring, but still. He’ll take the compliment.
By the start of the third week, Louis gets his first real assignment that doesn’t have anything to do with managing the interns. Caroline, the web editor, had emailed him directly and asked him to prepare a presentation for Nick and the web team to brainstorm and suggest ideas for the website, including improvements or complete overhauls for any specific pages. And naturally, Louis freaks the fuck out.
He’s used to pitching ideas, having attended his fair share of editorial meetings over the last two summers. But heading a presentation all on his own is a monster of a different sort, one he’s not sure he’s prepared to tackle. As someone who’s contributed online countless times, he certainly knows the website, but maybe not enough.
So on the afternoon of his presentation, which he’s been toiling over for nearly a week now, he finds himself in the bathroom sick to his stomach. Perfect.
His presentation isn’t until 2, which leaves him with another hour of anxiety before he heads out there and implodes. Or something. He’s not sure yet. It’s not the smartest idea to hide out in the bathroom of all places, he knows that. But no one’s walked in yet and he’s not feeling particularly compelled to leave his newly-christened Safe Space. He could start a new life here, probably.
He types a quick message to Zayn—come to the 7th floor bathroom asap sos help—and sets his mobile down on the counter with a silent prayer.
The door swings open and Louis stares down into the sink. If he doesn’t make eye contact, he’s okay. But then there’s a voice saying, “Louis?” and he actually whines in the back of his throat because he knows who that is. And he’d really rather not make conversation right now.
Maybe if he doesn’t move.
But, a second time, “Louis?”
Louis releases a deep breath and, without turning around, looks up into the mirror. “Hiya, Harry.”
Harry stands there, appraising Louis carefully. They haven’t had a moment alone since that first day in Louis’ office, so the concern in Harry’s expression is a bit disarming. “Are you okay?” he asks, taking a step forward. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong,” Louis says instantly, trying for a reassuring smile. But he must fail because the steep line between Harry’s brows only deepens. Shit. “I’m okay, really.”
“You look pale.” Harry takes another step forward. It’s a small enough bathroom that he’s right behind Louis now, close enough that he can probably see the white in his knuckles from how tightly they’re gripping the counter. “Louis?”
“Honestly, it’s nothing.” Louis shakes his head. “I’m fine. Just nerves. I’m fine.”
But that’s apparently the wrong thing to say because Harry leans against the counter and offers Sympathetic Eyes. “Nerves? What for?”
And Louis wants to tell Harry to leave well enough alone, wants to ask what he’s even doing in this bathroom, anyway, when there’s one in perfect working condition on his own floor. But what comes out instead is, “A presentation. Nothing big, just.” He laughs nervously. “I don’t know.”
“Ah.” Harry leans against the counter. “What kind of presentation?”
Louis shrugs and turns to look at Harry properly. “Something to do with the website.”
Harry tilts his head. “That’s vague.”
“I’m not sure how much I’m meant to share,” Louis explains. Then, deadpan, “With subordinates, that is.”
“Oh,” Harry says, letting out a laugh. “Subordinates, is it? Even me?”
“Yes.” Louis keeps a straight face. “Even you, superstar.”
“Hey,” Harry says lowly, and Louis catches a faint flush colouring his cheeks. “Don’t make fun of me.”
Louis finally breaks, chuckling a bit to himself. “‘M not making fun. I’m just going with the office name. Superstar Styles, I believe it is. Unless you’ve heard differently?”
Harry shakes his head, looking down at his shoes. He hasn’t exactly said anything useful or reassuring, but Louis already feels a shade lighter from just this.
“Is that really what they call me?” Harry asks.
And his voice laced with such genuine concern that Louis wants to put him out of his misery.
“I dunno,” he says truthfully. “It might just be me. And I’ll stop if you want. But I think Nick’s ready to erect a statue in your honor. Just be prepared.”
Harry grins slowly. “You don’t have to. Stop, I mean. You can keep calling me that.”
“Oi,” Louis says, shoving him lightly in the shoulder. He probably shouldn’t have but—well, they probably shouldn’t be having this conversation either. And Harry doesn’t seem too bothered by it. “Don’t let that go to your head now.”
“I’m not, I swear,” Harry says, raising his hands in defense. “But if it’ll help distract you from your presentation, then it’s fine by me.”
“Oh.” Louis feels his chest deflate. “Right.”
“Hey, what, no.” Harry sidles up close without making any actual contact. “Seriously, don’t even worry about it. If that’s all, then you’ll be fine. I know it.”
Louis laughs again, helpless to anything else. “‘If that’s all’?”
Harry smiles, all ease. “Yeah. It’s nothing you can’t handle.”
“Is that so?” he asks. “I don’t really do presentations.”
“Now that’s a lie.”
“You did perfectly fine on my first day.” Harry pushes a stray curl to one side. “Remember? It was both intimidating and informative. You were brilliant.”
“I.” Louis blinks. “That was different.”
“I’m your boss,” Louis insists. “Or your mentor or something and I’m supposed to be good at things like that and—wow, I’m your kind-of boss and I’m completely undermining any authority I had by whinging like this. Christ. I’m sorry.”
Harry looks stricken then, like he doesn’t know what to do. He opens his mouth to say something at the same time Louis’ mobile buzzes to life on the bathroom counter; it’s Zayn.
“Right,” Louis repeats absently, staring down at Zayn’s message beckoning him to the break room. “I should go.”
“Harry,” Louis says a little forcefully, grimacing when he sees the wide, open look on Harry’s face as he’s cut off midsentence.
The thing is, Harry seems genuinely very nice. Louis can’t even remember the last time someone other than Lou or Zayn made him feel a little less shit at his job. But he’s also above Harry—his kind-of boss, as of two seconds ago—and conversations like this could be considered unprofessional. And Louis’ in no position to play around in any sort of grey area. So no.
“Harry,” he says again, softer this time. “Thank you for the concern, really. I didn’t mean to, um. Unload on you.”
“But still,” Louis says, gentle but firm. He’s backing away toward the door. “Anyway. I’m off.”
Harry nods. “Okay,” he replies softly.
Louis doesn’t know why he says it or why he feels the need to add it on, especially now, but it feels like a very mentor thing to do. So as he’s leaving with one foot out the door, he leans back in quickly.
“If you need to talk, my door’s open.”
And if he imagines the way that Harry’s face seems to brighten at that, then he very much doesn’t think about it on his way to the break room.
In the end, the presentation doesn’t conclude with the glorious applause and unanimous praise Louis imagined. But Nick doesn’t ask questions and Caroline smiles at him throughout, offering a silent thumbs up afterward. So it’s not a complete failure, either. That’s good enough.
“MVP, you are,” Zayn chirps on the elevator ride the next morning. “Nick seemed pleased when he came back. And Caroline couldn’t stop talking about you, raving on and on.”
Louis snorts from behind his coffee. “No, she was not.”
“Hmm, you’re probably right,” Zayn says, all feigned thoughtfulness. He twists away when Louis throws a punch at him. “Must’ve imagined that bit.”
“You’re miserable in the mornings,” Louis sighs, still too deprived of caffeine to give it his full weight. “Why can’t you just let me enjoy my moderate success?”
“I’m obviously joking, as I’ve only heard good things. But you know who was talking about you yesterday?” And when Louis stares at him blankly, Zayn rolls his eyes. “Harry.”
Louis is thankful to have a mouthful of coffee to spare him from a more obvious reaction. After swallowing, he asks, quite calmly, “What do you mean?”
“Just that he wouldn’t stop asking about you all afternoon,” Zayn explains. “Kept asking how your presentation went. Now why would he know about that?”
By some divine grace, the elevator lands on the seventh floor and Louis slips out before he can answer.
“Louis!” Zayn shouts just as the doors start to close.
“Ta, love!” Louis cries back, ignoring the looks from everyone else; they should be used to him by now.
Work goes on like usual. He opens his inbox to an email from Caroline complimenting him on a wonderful job, and that’s all the motivation he needs to finish transcribing several interviews going into a package scheduled for the next issue. When someone knocks at his door several hours later, he jumps and nearly drops the apple in his hand.
Rather than coming all the way inside, Harry only sticks his head past the door. “Hi.”
Louis arches an eyebrow. “Hi. Are you, um, planning on coming in?”
“Oh, I—yeah, sure.” Harry shuffles inside, closing the door carefully behind him. “I thought you’d be off to lunch with the rest of them.”
“The rest of them?”
“Yeah, the luncheon?” Harry shrugs. “With some visiting editor from another magazine. I think Panera’s catering on the top floor.”
“Oh. Didn’t get an invite. Guess it’s just me and this, now,” he says, raising his apple up. “What about you?”
Harry slides into the chair across from Louis. “‘M just an intern. The rest of them are cooped up doing work, but Nick forgot to assign anything before leaving, so…” He leans back in his seat. “Here I am.”
“Here you are,” Louis echoes, inadvertently scanning the planes of Harry’s torso. His eyes shoot back up. “No lunch?”
“Nah. Didn’t have time to pack anything this morning.”
“That’s a shame. Wait, hold on.” Louis opens a drawer and pulls out a baggie of Teddy Grahams, handing them to Harry. “Take these. Don’t like them but I bring them anyway.”
Harry looks at them like he’s just seen a miracle. “Thanks.”
“No problem,” Louis says. “Now what’s brought you into my office?”
Harry tosses a biscuit into his mouth. “How’d yesterday go?”
“Oh. That.” Louis shifts around in his seat. “Listen, Harry—”
“No, wait, now hear me out first,” Harry interrupts, waiting until Louis stops completely before resuming. “I’m asking because Nick gave me his notes from the presentation to type up, and I wanted to make sure he gave you a fair assessment by hearing both sides of the story.”
“Both sides of the story,” Louis repeats lamely.
Harry nods. “See? It’s completely relevant.” He sounds smug and Louis is almost impressed. “So, how’d it go? Did you make good suggestions?”
Louis narrows his eyes. “Couldn’t you see for yourself from Nick’s notes?”
Harry only grins.
“Also, no offense, but that’s a bullshit reason. It doesn’t even make sense.”
Harry’s grin widens.
Louis sighs, resigned. “It went well, if you must know. And. Thanks, I suppose. It wasn’t fair of me to complain to you like that, but I’m glad you were there.” He waves his hand around. “Helped me out of my own head and all that.”
“Glad to help,” Harry says, nodding. “I get anxiety sometimes, too, so I understand. Doesn’t make it any less difficult, though. It’s hard, sometimes for no reason at all.”
“Definitely, yeah.” Louis picks at his apple stem before considering Harry warily. “You’re, like, oddly insightful. Did you know that?”
Harry huffs his chest a bit. “They don’t call me Superstar Styles for nothing.”
“Oh, so we’ve gone and accepted the nickname, have we?”
“Maybe,” Harry says offhandedly. “All because of you.”
Louis groans. “I’ve gone and given you an ego, haven’t I?”
Harry laughs and somehow spends the entirety of his lunch break in Louis’ office. It’s fine.
Lunch becomes a sort of Thing between them, with Harry dropping by Louis’ office every day around noon. Louis doesn’t question it, not really.
It makes sense that Harry’s schedule is a bit skewed from the other interns who don’t have to deal with Nick’s random assignments. Forty-five minute lunch breaks—sometimes an hour if they can manage it, which they usually can—are Harry’s only saving grace during the day, and if he chooses to spend it with Louis, then that’s that. At least here, Louis isn’t sending him off unexpectedly to Urban Outfitters for new trousers under the pretence of an upcoming fashion shoot.
About a week into their new arrangement, Harry has gotten comfortable enough to prop his feet on Louis’ desk. He considers making a fuss about it, but finds he doesn’t care all that much. There aren’t even any framed pictures of his family for Harry to kick around, which he should probably think about fixing.
“They’re really very nice,” Harry says midway through an explanation about the family whose house he’s renting a room in. “Just kinda sucks that I couldn’t live with friends though, you know?”
Louis sips from his Snapple. “D’you have friends? I thought you were a lone wolf ‘round here.”
Harry makes a pathetic attempt at a wolf howl, which has Louis snickering all the same. “Nah, I have friends. Liam and Niall are chill.”
“Chill,” Louis mocks, making a face. “God. You’ve gone all…California beachy on me.”
“Whatever,” Harry says, reaching over to swipe a dried cranberry from Louis’ trail mix. “Plus I have you, I guess.”
For some reason, that small admission makes Louis’ stomach warm and he can’t place why. But Harry keeps munching away on his food like he’s said nothing out of the ordinary, so he drops it and moves on.
“I’m better than the rest of them anyway,” Louis quips.
Harry gives him A Look, and Louis very nearly withers from under it. But then Harry quirks his lips up into a small smile and says, “Maybe only by very little.”
Louis scoffs. “Maybe?”
“Maybe,” Harry says with a sage nod.
“Then maybe I’ll stop inviting you over for lunch,” Louis says with a frown.
“Like that’ll stop me,” Harry replies playfully, reaching over for more trail mix. But Louis swipes the bag away with a quiet hurrah, gloating at Harry’s empty grabby hands and the disappointment etched all over his face.
“Should’ve been quicker, Styles.” Louis plucks an almond into his mouth. “And not as smug, perhaps.”
Harry hits him with a full blast of puppy dog eyes coupled with the slightest tremble of his bottom lip. Louis manages a proud fifteen seconds before his resolve crumbles and he’s forced to hand the bag over, his shoulders slumped in defeat.
“Another one bites the dust,” Harry singsongs and Louis makes a sound that suspiciously resembles dork, but neither one of them points it out as Harry makes an effort of picking out the rest of the dried cranberries from the mix.
Louis takes the opportunity to open up his email. It’s only been fifteen minutes since he last looked, but he checks his inbox almost compulsively ever since graduation when Professor Cowell promised to keep in touch with any job listings. Nothing yet.
“I thought we said no work at lunch,” Harry says, peering over the desk in an attempt to look at Louis’ monitor.
Louis closes the window and sticks his tongue out. “We made no such deal.”
“Excuse me, but I distinctly remember—”
But Harry’s cut short when there’s a knock at the door and, well, shit. Louis doesn’t know why he feels like he’s just been caught passing notes in class, but it’s that same sort of anxiety. Harry’s looking at the door, too, but probably significantly less panicked than him.
Louis clears his throat, thinking of a logical explanation to offer. “Come in.”
The door opens and Louis actually sighs in relief when it’s just Zayn who walks in. He blinks and stares at Harry, who’s already turned back around, unconcerned.
“Hi,” Zayn says slowly, shutting the door with a muted click. “I didn’t realise we were having afternoon tea.”
Harry chuckles and Louis would kick him under the table if his feet weren’t still on his desk, which. He shoves them off and ignores the look of feigned hurt on his face.
“You’re not missing out on anything,” Louis says in a level voice. “What’s up?”
Zayn still has his eyes tracking Harry’s movements, which are pretty much limited to eating the rest of the food on Louis’ desk. Louis actually does move to kick him, but swears under his breath when he stubs his toe instead. Zayn looks up.
“I’m going out to lunch and I came to see if you wanted to come. But,” he pauses and glances back over at Harry. “I think you’ve eaten already? In which case, I can leave if you want.”
But before Louis can say yes, leave and don’t ever come back please, Harry stands up. “I should actually get going. Nick mentioned something about fixing several InDesign files, so. See you both.” He nods at Zayn then turns to Louis with a smile. “Bye, Lou.”
And then he’s out.
“Lou,” Zayn echoes as soon as a safe gap of time has passed. “You two are having lunch now?”
Louis gives a one-shouldered shrug. “It’s nothing.” He’s the picture of blasé. “I told all the interns that my door was always open.”
“He seemed pretty comfy,” Zayn says, nodding at the empty chair.
“It’s no different from all the times I would have lunch with Lou before,” Louis says, an edge to his voice.
“Zayn.” He feels heat rise to his neck. “I’m not interested in listening to what you think is happening here because it isn’t. I thought you knew me better than that.”
Zayn’s face falls. “Of course I do. That’s not what this is about.” He takes the seat across from Louis. “Don’t get mad at me just because I’m concerned. You’re my best mate.”
“I.” Louis falters. Zayn’s right. It’s not fair of him to turn the situation into some sort of personal attack when it obviously isn’t. And…he hasn’t said anything aloud or admitted anything to himself, but he knows well enough that there’s cause for concern if this is how he reacts.
“There’s nothing to be concerned about. I know my boundaries, trust me,” he sighs. When he looks Zayn in the eye, he chances a smirk. “It’s not my fault you’re doing bigger and better things now and I’m left scrambling for a replacement.”
“Hey,” Zayn says with a soft smile. Louis can see the rest of this conversation playing at the tip of his tongue, but he feels his chest lighten when Zayn drops it and walks over to his side of the desk instead, dropping heavily in his lap. “We’re both bigger and better now.”
Louis groans under Zayn’s weight, but it’s all a joke. He even hums happily when Zayn kisses him on the forehead. Funnily enough, no one would think twice about the situation if they were to walk into Louis’ office right now.
“Why can’t you just be with me and give me orgasms for the rest of my life?” Louis mumbles despairingly into Zayn’s chest.
It’s a testament to their friendship that Zayn doesn’t laugh. Instead, he runs fingers through Louis’ hair and whispers soothingly to him. “Because, love. We’d kill each other. Day one, guaranteed.”
Another moment passes before Zayn’s practically whispering into his hair. “Lunch is fine. Just…nothing more, okay? This is different, and I think you and I both know that.”
Louis just shuts his eyes and doesn’t say anything.
Smut’s office sees several changes by the third week in June, with a few of them coming from the internship coordinating department itself. First, Lou officially becomes a features assistant, which comes as a surprise to absolutely nobody given how much time she’d been spending there in the last month. She still keeps her other title as head internship coordinator, but now that the internship program is in full swing and the interns are more or less capable of leading themselves, it makes sense to give her added responsibilities.
The second change, surprisingly, is a sort-of promotion for Louis. According to Lou, the editorial team has been thinking about a tablet edition of the magazine for a long time and now, it’s in a position to finally make it happen. And when Greg, the project’s head, has to choose a right-hand man, he chooses Louis. It’s brilliant.
Being a part of Greg’s team, however, means greater time on the eighth floor. Though that wouldn’t be a problem normally, it rapidly presents itself as one when Louis realises how much of his day will be spent in close proximity to Harry.
Nothing has changed since Zayn talked to him, and it’s still very much a Non-Situation in his mind. They’re still friendly and still eat lunch together in his office when the opportunity comes. And even though they’re both busier these days—him with the tablet project and Harry with the daily demands of being Nick Grimshaw’s intern—it never feels like they’re seeing less of each other. Every summer works out that there’s one intern who gets closer to the program coordinator than all the others. If that’s Harry for Louis, then he’s accepted it.
He’s all about friendliness in the work place. Or something.
Yet with every passing day, it feels more and more like they’re inching toward something greater than just a healthy office relationship. Louis can’t put his finger on it, doesn’t really want to, but he thinks it might be something like what he and Zayn have. He remembers the excitement of getting to know Zayn that first summer, of sharing things that would eventually amount to an incredible friendship. That’s probably all this is. When he thinks about it, Harry is probably the kind of friend he would’ve made at school. It’s only awkward now that there’s a hierarchy in their job descriptions. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be an issue.
But then there’ll be times when he’s upstairs and Harry’ll look up from his desk and wink, like it’s the most casual thing in the world. And then he gets the all-too-familiar urge to throw himself down the stairwell, no big deal.
He’s mostly good about resisting the urge to stare at Harry from across the room. That is, until Lou brings Lux to the office.
It’s nearly 3pm and they didn’t have time to eat lunch because Harry’d been off at a photo shoot and Greg chose to order a pizza rather than give Louis some time to breathe. He’s usually good about handling long stretches of work, but he’s a bit restless going on and on about responsive design and media extensions.
And it has nothing at all to do with Harry walking around with Lux, all baby-voiced and decidedly not distracting. Nothing at all.
“Look at Uncle Lou,” he hears Harry cooing from where he has Lux perched at the end of his desk. “Look how concentrated he is.”
Louis scoffs, not looking up from his workstation. The eighth floor is pretty open, with Nick’s the only real office on the floor; the rest of them are scattered around in cubicles and desks. So all afternoon, he’s had a front-row seat to Harry and Lux running around and jostling the poor developers who have to take Greg and Louis’ ideas and make them reality. Louis had been tasked with watching over Lux while Lou went through her daily meetings, but Harry offered to take her off his hands while he and Greg worked. Louis mentally curses interns and their free time.
“Some of us have work to do, Styles,” he says very seriously.
“Yes, Louis,” Greg says next to him, maybe a little bit teasing. “Work. Why don’t you get to it, instead of doting on the children?”
“Did you hear that, Lux? Work,” Harry repeats in that same baby voice that has Lux giggling and saying it over and over again. Work, work, work. Louis smiles to himself with his head ducked down.
The next thirty minutes stretch on that way, with Louis inching toward the day’s finish line and Harry teasing him just to get a laugh out of Lux. It’s not a bad way to work, Louis thinks privately, and watching Harry with Lux is kind of mesmerising. He doesn’t brag about it (much), but Lux loved him most during her visits over the last two summers. And he should be jealous that she’s warmed up so quickly to Harry, but seeing somebody else work well with children and love children as much as he does is pretty amazing.
“Done!” Louis declares triumphantly, standing up with arms in the air. He pointedly ignores Greg’s eye rolls and sighs. “Finally. Maybe I’ll have some life left to live yet.”
“You’re a menace,” Greg says fondly before standing up and disappearing into the stairwell.
“Uncle Lou!” Lux screams, coming out of nowhere and barreling into his knees. Louis oofs and lifts Lux into his arms as Harry trails after her, smiling. “Tag, now.”
Louis tugs gently on one of her pigtails. “Excuse me?”
Lux sighs long-sufferingly. “Tag, please.”
“Yeah, Lou.” Harry smirks, eyes playful. “Please?”
“Not you, too.” He looks Harry from head to toe, casually absorbing the way his tattoos peek out from under his sleeves or the way his jeans cling to unnaturally thin legs. “You’re an overgrown child.”
Harry shrugs and pries Lux from Louis’ arms, sending her hurtling toward a corner of the room. Without notice, he grabs Louis’ wrist and yanks him in the opposite direction, laughing when Louis starts sputtering in protest.
“You’ve got to run when you’re playing tag,” Harry explains.
Louis sends a silent note of thanks to whomever that the floor is empty and no one—Zayn included—is around to yell at them for actually running around like schoolyard children. Then again, it’s not like anyone would really mind their roughhousing when Lux is involved, but that’s beside the point. The point is…he’s been quite literally dragged into running, and Louis Tomlinson does not run without at least several weeks’ worth of mental preparation.
He hears Lux’s delighted squeals from behind as she tears after them and he makes an evasive maneuver between two cubicles, losing track of Harry who's somewhere ahead of him. Ducking down, he keeps himself small and moves quietly along the far wall, hoping that Lux won’t find him. Not like he’d ever admit it aloud, but this is rather exciting.
“Found you,” Harry whispers suddenly from behind, breath hot on Louis’ neck and making him jump. He laughs as Louis schools his expression into something a little more unimpressed.
“Thanks,” he says flatly.
Harry squeezes his shoulder and Louis feels a blush threatening to form all the way in his toes. “No problem.”
Just then, Lux appears and latches onto Louis’ pinkie, dragging him back in between fits of laughter. “Come on, Uncle Lou!”
But before Louis can reply, Harry grabs him by the waist and hauls him in close. “Hey, he’s mine,” he says, shifting so that their sides are pressed together.
“Um,” Louis says.
Lux frowns, tugging at her dress. “But I tagged him. He’s it!”
Harry gives this a moment’s consideration, all the while still holding onto Louis. And if Louis happens to lean into it, well. Maybe he’s a bit weak-kneed from running.
“Yes you’re right, duck,” Harry admits in a soft voice. “But now he’s tagged me, see?” With that, he nudges Louis in the side until he gets the hint and sheepishly pats Harry on the back. “So now I’m it, and you better run before I get you!”
That must make sense because Lux runs away, tittering and disappearing behind the row of cubicles. Harry chuckles to himself and waits several beats before letting go of Louis’ side.
“C’mon then, Uncle Lou,” he says with a wink before tearing after her.
Louis stands there staring after Harry, feeling properly winded.
The week that follows brings about less toddlers and more work for Louis. On more than one occasion, he finds himself staying several hours later than usual just to catch up. It’s rewarding, sure, but he’s not proud of the way he has to say no each of the three times Zayn has asked him out to drinks after work. He’s severely lacking best mate time, but he promises to pay Zayn back in kind once things die down.
One happy consequence of long nights, however, is rekindling his friendship with Greg. Louis had been worried that Greg’s move to managing editor would’ve made things different somehow, but that’s not the case. They spend nearly all day together and joke around just as much as they actually get shit done. It feels like last summer all over again.
And if Harry spends a lot of that time looking over at their touching and horseplay with a curious eye, then that’s just a fringe benefit. Keep him guessing, Louis thinks.
Still, he’d like to see more of Harry and have enough time during the week to have regular lunch together. They can manage once or twice at most, but it’s usually rushed with Louis running back to the eighth floor or Harry heading off to the photo studios or design labs. As it turns out, being friends with a superstar is a bit difficult.
So when there’s a knock on his office door one free afternoon, he can’t help the eager “Come in!” that he practically shouts.
But when the door swings open, he’s more than a little surprised to see Niall standing in the doorway.
“Hiya,” Niall says, taking a few steps in and digging his hands into his pockets. He looks around the sparse room. “Nice digs.”
“Thanks,” Louis replies, scooting up closer to his desk. “Y’alright?”
“Yeah.” Niall nods. “Working with Olly has been excellent.”
“Oh cool.” Louis smiles. Music is the only department he never got to work in, and from what he understands, Olly’s a pretty great person to work under. “That’s good.”
Niall nods again. But rather than saying anything else, he just glances around the room with an expression just this side of nervous that has Louis narrowing his eyes in suspicion.
“Hey, Niall,” he says in his best I’m Here For You voice. “What’s up?”
“Oh what—oh.” Niall smiles sheepishly. “Yeah, so we’re having a party. Nothing big, just at mine and Liam’s house over the weekend, mostly for the interns and our friends along with a couple people on staff we really like.” He pauses long enough to beam at Louis. “Anyway, yeah we like you, and Aiden in publishing said you’d be cool about it, so. If you want to come.”
It’s easily the most awkward party invitation he’s ever received, but it also rings genuine and unabashed, much like Niall himself. Plus, Louis likes Niall very much from the several interactions they’ve had and, if he’s being honest, he’s quite flattered that they’d invite him in the first place.
“Could I bring Zayn?” he asks. “He’s cool, too.”
Niall grins. “Yeah, definitely. I’ll email you details?”
Something about that just seems so funny, but Louis agrees and sends Niall out on his way, feeling pleased with himself.
He types out a message to Zayn: we're going to a party this weekend xx
A minute later: ok but i'm not drunk-fucking u
Louis snorts. He’ll make no such promises.
Niall and Liam’s house is a shared little thing just off La Brea Avenue where parking is an absolute nightmare. So Louis and Zayn break their No Taxis in LA rule and take a taxi over. Besides, if memory serves, intern-thrown parties have a reputation for being utter shit, and not drinking is definitely not an option.
But when they walk into the house, they’re a little impressed. Parties in their day had been a regular thing, too, albeit filled with less people from Smut and more of the shady neighbors living on Louis and Zayn’s street. This crowd, however, runs the gamut from nearly all the interns to almost half the staff to boot. Louis takes it back; he is very impressed.
“Shit,” Zayn says above the music.
“I didn’t even know they knew this many people on staff.” Louis nods over at a table where a bottle of Malibu Red is calling his name. “Imbibe with me, Zayner?”
Zayn throws an easy arm around his shoulders. “Naturally.”
Louis makes his way through the house after that with Zayn trailing behind him and nursing a vodka Red Bull like he’s back in uni all over again. He idles through several rounds of small talk with people on staff he rarely ever sees, including Aiden, whom he hasn’t had a real conversation with since their ill fated fling that first summer in LA.
About an hour goes by before he finally sees Harry, who’s standing over in a corner with some other interns. He’s unrecognisable at first in a snapback and black tank showing off other tattoos that Louis had never even considered. Normally, the combination would remind Louis strongly of the frat-bro douches he’d spent the past four years avoiding. But right now, there’s a little twist in his gut that tells him it’s very okay tonight.
“I think I see Perrie,” Zayn says, softly petting Louis’ wrist. “That girl from PR, remember?”
“No, I don't,” Louis laughs. “But go on before she sees us and gets the wrong idea.”
Zayn grins and dashes away, but not before pecking Louis on his cheek. Louis smiles fondly to himself and when he looks back to the corner, he finds Harry already watching him with bright eyes.
“Hey there,” Harry greets when Louis gets to him. There’s a good inch between them and in this corner, it feels even less. “Niall said he invited you, but honestly, I didn’t think you were coming.”
Louis frowns. “I’m cool, remember?” He turns to the three other interns, all of whom he hasn’t really seen since that first day. “I’m cool.”
They laugh and Harry grasps Louis’ shoulder like he’s reining him in. “We know,” he says, voice slower than usual. “Cool and busy, so pardon my surprise. I’m not used to seeing you outside of work.”
“It’s like seeing a dog walk on its hind legs,” Louis recites directly from Mean Girls. “And personally, I am offended.”
Harry’s still holding onto him and squeezes once before dropping his hand. “Don’t be. I like seeing you out and about. It tells me you’re not actually a robot programmed to stay inside the office.”
“You’re weird,” Louis says instantly. And, without even thinking, he bops Harry once on the nose with his finger. “So weird. Weird Superstar Styles.”
“That’s what they call me,” Harry replies, smirking. He looks around for a moment and all Louis wants to do is drag his attention back to him. “Where’s Zayn? D’you lose track of him?”
“Nah,” Louis says, draining his drink and grabbing the beer from Harry’s hand. Harry makes a face but lets it happen. “I figured I’d let him do his own thing for tonight. I’m sweet like that.”
Harry studies him curiously, lips quirked up a bit in something that reads like confusion. Louis wants to smooth them out with his thumb, but Harry’s the weird one here—not him. He looks over and realises the other interns have gone. Good.
“What?” he finally asks when he notices Harry still watching him.
“Nothing.” Harry shakes his head. “Nothing. How about another drink to replace the one you stole from me?”
“That’s a very strong accusation, but I’ll go with it anyway,” Louis says with a small bow.
Harry shakes his head again, this time with a soft laugh, and guides Louis to the kitchen with a hand low on his back.
“So, how long have you and Zayn known each other?” Harry asks.
They’re out in the back where it’s quieter and they can drink their beers in peace. It’s nice out, as most early July nights are. Louis thinks about Harry’s question for a moment, thinks that he’s already told him this before, but if he’s asking now then he mustn’t have. Still comes out of the blue, though.
“Four years now,” Louis says proudly. “Shit. That’s a long time.”
Harry nods, pulling a sip from his drink. “Yeah. Not just, y’know, with Zayn. But with Smut, too.”
“Yeah,” Louis agrees. “‘M old, Harry, and ‘m only getting older. No one will want me this way.”
“You’re ridiculous,” Harry snorts. “You’re not old. If you’re old, then I’ve got very little to look forward to in my life.”
“No, I predict a long and happy youth for you, Harry Styles,” Louis declares, brandishing his drink around. “I do. Trust me. I have a good gut when it comes to these things.”
Harry reaches over and pokes Louis in the stomach. “A good gut, eh?”
Louis gasps, thoroughly scandalised. “Excuse me,” he says, backing away. “Just what’re you insinuating?”
“You’re very difficult, you know,” Harry says tiredly, but it’s fond all the same.
“‘M drunk,” Louis says, shrugging.
Harry smiles. “No. All the time, even when you’re sober.”
Louis figures he should say something to that, should defend his honour or something. But Harry’s smiling at him like that and he’ll go along with it.
“Whatever,” he settles for.
They stay like that, staring at each other in comfortable silence. There’s a softer sort of smile playing on Harry’s lips now, and it almost feels like looking into the sun. Louis has to look down and bite on his lip and he’s reminded strongly of sixth form back home and the shyness in not knowing what he wanted.
Well, he knows now what he wants; he’s sure of that.
But then the back door opens and Aiden’s standing there, silhouette outlined by the light inside. His quiff is more deflated from when Louis had seen him last, and his cheeks are red and dimpled into a wide smile.
“Hi again,” Louis says, tipping his drink forward in greeting.
“Hey, Lou,” he slurs, sidling up to Louis and wrapping an arm around his waist. Louis’ surprised but he goes with it, making a face over at Harry who’s watching them with an unreadable expression.
“What’s up, Aiden?” Louis pats his head. “You’re a bit drunk, it would seem.”
“So it would,” Aiden says, nodding into Louis’ neck. “I. Um. I was supposed to get you.”
“Is that so?”
Aiden hums in agreement. “Zayn sent me. He’s looking for you. Something about Perrie Edwards.”
Louis groans. He knows that Zayn doesn’t actually need him. More likely, he’s just lost his nerve and needs Louis to shove several more shots down his throat to get him going.
“Tell him I’ll be there in a bit,” Louis whispers.
Aiden pulls away, face lighting up. “Alright.” He goes to walk back inside, but not before turning around and looking at Louis once more. “Y’look good, Lou.” Then he’s gone.
Louis lets out a low whistle and glances over at Harry apologetically. He’s still got a blank look on his face that Louis can’t fathom.
“Sorry about that,” he says. “Dunno what got into him.”
“Right,” Harry replies quietly.
Louis is about to say something else when the back door flies open again, this time for Niall to stumble out with a pretty blond girl tied to his waist. They must both be pissed out of their minds because they don’t acknowledge Harry and Louis at all, instead fumbling down the porch steps to the back fence and into a hammock where they both collapse and fold into each other.
“Jesus Christ,” Niall’s voice comes a beat later.
They share a look of disgust mingled with amusement before breaking into raucous laughter that doesn’t have Niall or the girl looking up even once. Harry even snorts on his drink, getting the front of his shirt wet.
“Fuck,” Harry hisses, but he’s still smiling. “I should, yeah, I’m going to go to the bathroom.”
“Alright. Don’t forget about me, Styles.”
Harry rolls his eyes and finds his way back inside.
Twenty minutes pass before Louis comes to the conclusion that yes, Harry did forget about him. No matter. He’ll just find Harry and remind him that he’s cool and fun to be around and then maybe he’ll think about forgiving him when the time comes. After another drink, probably.
The house is less packed when he goes back in. The music still blares at him after spending all that time outside, but he’s more comfortable with it now that he’s got a buzz going on. He catches a glimpse of Liam sprawled across the couch next to one of the other interns and Olly ducking out through the front door with Caroline, which, hmm, curious. Matt is playing beer pong with someone Louis recognises from the art department and Zayn, bless his heart, is tangled in the corner with Perrie.
But no Harry.
It’s not until he makes his way into the kitchen that he finds Harry. And then his stomach drops as bile rises to the back of his throat.
Harry’s not the only one in the kitchen; Cher is there, too. Louis feels like he’s watching a car crash in slow motion, helpless as they kiss hungrily and grab at each other like there’s no one else around them.
He can’t move, can’t make a sound. So it isn’t until another group wanders into the kitchen that he can clear his throat to make Harry look up, recognition pooling in his eyes.
“Hi,” Louis says, feeling manic.
Harry’s face drops and before he can say anything, Cher is turning red to her roots and giggling out a breathless, “Fuck. Sorry, Louis.”
Louis almost laughs because why is she apologising, what even. “I—no, it’s fine—” He looks to the ground, embarrassment creeping into his neck. “I’ll be going, then.”
He spins around, filtering out of the room and ignoring Harry’s voice behind him. His breath is coming up short and he can’t fucking figure out why, can’t even see straight as he loses himself in the group of people swarmed in the living room. Which doesn’t even make sense because he’s supposed to be drunk, and he feels alarmingly sober right now.
There’s absolutely no reason to be upset, Louis tells himself. Harry is—Harry is an intern and Louis is basically his boss. They’re colleagues at best and anything else, like that little meeting on the patio and every other one in his office for the last month and a half, is strictly professional. Well, maybe not this party, but that’s how Louis got into tonight’s mess in the first place. He should’ve been reasonable like Lou, minus the baby, and stayed home.
“Zayn,” he says, voice coming out desperate. He tugs at Zayn’s arm, pulling him away from Perrie against the wall. “Zayn. I don’t feel well.”
But Zayn is utterly sloshed, just smiles at Louis and says, “In a bit, love.”
Well. There’s that.
Louis stumbles backward, lost, and hits a solid body behind him. “Oh, fuck, sorry—”
But it’s only Aiden. Aiden, who’s so drunk and blown out in his pupils that he grabs Louis by the arm without a second thought and pulls him into something like dancing. At least, it feels like dancing when matched up with the song.
“Aiden, I probably shouldn’t,” he says uselessly; the music’s too loud.
“Just one dance!” Aiden shouts, moving in close to Louis.
And, yeah, he probably shouldn’t. But he can’t leave without Zayn and he definitely doesn’t want to risk the chance of running into Harry, so.
One dance it is.
Until it turns into three and four and Louis is so dizzy he can’t stand up on his own. But that’s fine, because Aiden is everywhere and holding him up, even pulling him by the wrist when the next song starts.
“What, where are we going?” he mumbles as he looks around for Zayn, who’s nowhere to be found. Brilliant.
Aiden stops in front of a door, suddenly more alert than before. “Bathroom?” He says it like a question and Louis supposes it is, one that only he has the answer to. And, right, he shouldn’t have danced earlier, probably shouldn’t have even come to this party. But Aiden is here and he’s familiar and right now, familiar is sounding more and more like a comfort.
Louis inhales sharply, torn, until somehow he sees Harry ahead of him. There’s a whole room between them and Cher is still looped around his side, but Harry very clearly sees him and Louis knows he can see what may or may not happen in the next few seconds.
“Okay,” he says.
He can regret it in the morning.
Work on Monday is awkward in the way it only ever is after a party. It’s like there’s a nudge-wink sort of secret between all the people that were invited and faint bitterness from the people who weren’t. With an office this small, everyone knows everything eventually.
Which makes things a bit difficult for Louis, who finds himself having to avoid two people for the rest of the week. It’s easier with Aiden, who spends most of his time way, way downstairs and doesn’t even work in the same department as him. Plus, they’d left that bathroom with some silent agreement to never bring it up and never seek each other out.
Or at least, that’s the kind of agreement Louis had made.
But Harry, on the other hand, is a different story. Nothing happened. And Louis has to keep reminding himself of that fact, even as he ducks away in hallways and begs Greg to let him do whatever he can alone and in the privacy of his office. He claims a head cold and, for the most part, it works.
Zayn is the only person he sees all week. After apologising profusely for blowing him off like that (which Louis doesn’t mind all that much, if only because it led to getting blown off in a decidedly very different way), he takes Louis out for lunch at Chipotle and makes Concerned Eyes when Louis tells him, out of best mate obligation, exactly what happened at the party.
“First of all,” Zayn says with a mouthful of burrito, “Aiden again?”
“I had to do something,” Louis explains. “You were preoccupied.”
“You mean you had to get Harry’s attention somehow,” Zayn says knowingly. “Lou, you can’t—”
“I know, I know,” Louis interrupts. “It was a split-second decision and I made the wrong call.”
Zayn nods. “Second of all,” he pauses for effect, “Can’t you fuck around with someone else? I’m not talking about Aiden, but. You could have anyone. Literally anyone, and you go for the one person you’re not allowed to lust after?”
Louis laughs bitterly. “It’s not about lust or sex or any of that, mate. Harry’s great and I. I like him for him. That’s all.”
“Oh.” Zayn’s face softens. “That’s not—I didn’t realise.”
“Neither did I, really,” Louis says, looking down and swirling his fork through his burrito bowl.
“He’s an asshole,” Zayn says suddenly, face stern, and Louis loves him very much. “For doing that to you.”
“No he’s not, and he didn’t do anything to me,” Louis says softly. “Don’t worry. I’ll get over it. I am over it.”
They both know it isn’t true, but maybe one day.
It’s lucky that Harry never asks questions when Louis offers excuses to skip out on lunch. They both know he’s been in his office for the last week, but he always seems to accept the fake sicknesses or last-minute projects that Louis throws his way. He’s perfect.
Until, of course, he comes into Louis’ office without an invitation.
Well, no, he has an invitation, but what choice does Louis have when Harry knocks on his door and stands there in his doorway, all hunched shoulders and pigeon toes? It’s not fair, is the thing, and he sits across Louis looking a bit like a kid sent to the headmaster’s office.
“Is something wrong?” Harry asks and ah, straight to the heart of it, then.
Louis gives up on pretending to type something on his computer and reclines into his chair instead. “What do you mean? It’s just been busy and I haven’t been feeling all that well, lately.”
“No, I didn’t—I mean—” Harry shakes his head and takes a frustrated breath, tossing his fringe to one side. Louis wants to reach out and do it for him. “Are you feeling better, then?”
A part of Louis’ chest aches. “Yeah. Yeah, mostly.”
Harry smiles and no, no, his whole chest definitely aches. “Okay good. I didn’t, um, want you holing yourself up in here all the time. I meant what I said at the party, I like seeing you out and about.”
“Thanks,” Louis says gently. “And sorry, I guess, for ditching out on lunch all week. It’s been hellish.”
“At least you let me in today,” Harry says with a wink and Louis could die.
“Figured you would have busted the door down eventually,” Louis says, not entirely proud of how easily he can fall back into this. “Greg says you’ve been asking about me.”
Harry blushes like he hadn’t expected Louis to know this; it makes Louis’ stomach wriggle. “I haven’t been, not really.” He straightens his back and looks him in the eye. “At least, no more than a friend normally would.”
A friend. Louis shrugs. “‘S what Greg said. I don’t make things up.”
“Right.” Harry says. But then his face falls slightly and his voice goes quiet when he says, “So. Speaking of Greg…”
“Speaking of Greg?”
Harry looks down at his lap, messing around with his fringe again the way that Louis has come to memorise. “Just. Like, I dunno.” He manages a breath. “Are you two a thing? Together, I mean?”
It takes a moment for Harry’s question to really sink in, and when it does, Louis’ eyebrows shoot up to his hairline. Everybody who’s been on staff long enough knows just the kind of relationship Louis and Greg have had from way back, even before Greg moved up to a bigger position. But even then, he can’t think of any reason for people to assume more than that, especially now.
“What,” Louis says. “No, I mean, no.” When Harry’s eyes flash with confusion, he adds, “No, no, Greg and I just get on really well.”
Harry seems sceptical. “So whenever you’re upstairs…?”
“All platonic,” Louis says hurriedly. “Strictly friendship. Like a brother, he is.”
“So kind of like Zayn?” Harry asks and, god, what’s with the curiosity today?
“Kind of?” Louis offers. “Zayn’s different but, well, yeah, no we’re just best mates. Nothing there, either.”
“Okay,” Harry says slowly, processing. A beat later and he smiles again, seemingly pleased. “Okay. I was just wondering.”
Louis stares. “You were just wondering?”
“Yeah,” Harry says easily, shifting around in his seat. “Hey, so, I couldn’t help but notice that it’s lunch time?”
“What?” And oh, yeah, Louis checks the clock and it is. “Okay, and?”
“And,” Harry says meaningfully, “I see you’re not eating anything right now. So d’you wanna get lunch? Away from the office, I mean. It’s such a nice day out.”
Louis wants to point out that it’s summer and every day is a nice day out. But then he’s understanding what Harry’s just asked him and he should really say no. He should really, really say no, and not just because he can still see Cher wrapped around him like an octopus in that kitchen. Because it’s the right thing to do.
“Yeah, okay,” he says instead, because of course he does.
Of course Harry has to go back upstairs and of course he chooses today of all days to whip out a fedora that Louis is positive he’s never seen before. Alone, it looks completely ridiculous and not even worth a second look. But on Harry, it’s ungodly in the best way possible.
Louis would like to think he starts sweating from walking in the summer heat, but he knows better.
They end up at a Middle Eastern place down the block with the best chicken shawarma in all of Los Angeles and, for whatever reason, Harry ends up ordering for both of them and even pays before Louis can get a second word in.
“Don’t worry,” Harry says, shoving him aside. “Consider it payback for letting me loiter in your office all these months.”
Louis tries not to think too much about what that means.
When they’re seated, Harry doesn’t hesitate in swiping one of Louis’ pita chips—never mind that he has a pile of his own on his plate. But whatever. Louis will go along with all of it, including that fucking fedora.
They talk about how the last week has gone for each of them, keeping each other updated on the demands of the midsummer spike in workload that usually happens every year. But even when the conversation centers on work, Louis finds it’s easier to be with Harry like this. Away from the office, he doesn’t necessarily have to act a certain way. In this nondescript shawarma place, they could be anyone they wanted.
“Um, so I have another question,” Harry says, wiping his mouth with a napkin.
“At the party on Saturday,” he starts and Louis freezes, “I saw you with Aiden? And like, I get that it’s none of my business, too, but.” He looks up with wide eyes. “Are you two a thing, then?”
Louis could cry.
“No,” Louis says emphatically. “I’m not. We’re not. I’m not with anyone, not Greg, not Zayn, and definitely not Aiden. That was a mistake and I shouldn’t have done it. I could never be with anyone I work with.”
Harry’s forehead wrinkles in confusion. “So? I mean, I understand why you wouldn’t with Greg and Zayn, but Aiden doesn’t even work in your department.”
“Well, other than the fact that, on a basic human level, Aiden and I simply aren’t compatible,” he explains, “we still work in the same office. And that’s just too weird and ethically murky for me to be entirely comfortable with.”
Harry doesn’t respond right away. Instead, he seems to think about this for a long time. Louis is content to just sit there and let everything soak in, for both their sakes.
Then, “I’m not actually interested in Cher.”
Louis blinks. “What?”
Harry shrugs. “I’m not. Like, she kind of cornered me in the kitchen and I was just drunk enough and I don’t know what I was thinking—”
“Sounds familiar,” Louis interrupts, heart racing in his chest.
“Yeah.” Harry smirks. “Anyway. I’m not interested in her. I’m not.”
“Okay?” Louis says, a bit overwhelmed by Harry’s seemingly strong reaction to this. He says it with some sort of importance, like he really wants Louis to get it, and he just wants to tell Harry that he can do whatever he wants with the other interns. He’d honestly say it, too, even if it killed him inside.
But then Harry sighs and says, “Yeah, okay.”
The walk back to the office is quiet and Louis can’t help feeling like he’s done something wrong. But when he looks up to catch Harry’s eye, he’s met with a quick grin and a friendly punch to the arm, so he can’t have fucked up too bad. It’s when they walk into the lobby, however, that they run into Greg.
“Hello there,” Greg says, glancing between them. “Where are you coming from?”
“Just a quick lunch,” Harry explains casually. “Couldn’t waste a nice day out.”
Greg smiles. “My thoughts exactly.” But his eyes are on Louis, who’s shifting from one foot to the other. “Just you two?”
Louis wants to lie but that won’t really work when the truth is there in plain sight. He swallows. “Yeah. You see,” he says slowly, “Harry here’s a bit of a loner.”
“Hey,” Harry pipes in, apparently oblivious to Greg’s watchful gaze.
“The plight of being a superstar intern and working for a certain editor-in-chief who keeps Harry all to himself. And since I know a thing or two about being trapped on the eighth floor,” Louis says, giving Greg a pointed look that has him laughing, “I figured we had to stick together. Take him under my protection or something.”
Greg seems to buy this and Louis mentally congratulates himself for a job well done.
They enter the lift together, none of them talking and Harry staring at his shoes with a soft smile the whole ride up.
Summer session has been something of a nightmare here, as this year’s batch of students doesn’t seem particularly interested in the learning bit of things. And it certainly doesn’t help that half the buildings on campus don’t have air conditioning in this 100% humidity. Consider yourself lucky in Los Angeles and visit several beaches on my behalf.
As for your earlier question—no, I’m afraid I haven’t heard anything new on the job front. But it tends to be this way during the summer; you might have better luck once things wind down and students find their way back to the classrooms in the fall.
Per usual, I’ll keep you updated. Stay vigilant and good luck with everything!
Louis groans from his desk. Somehow, professors always manage to inflect some sort of optimism and encouragement in their words, even when they really mean ha, tough cookies in the real world. It’s quite shitty.
Truth be told, he hasn’t been actively searching for a future outside of Smut—and it’s not even because he’s expecting them to offer him a long-term position at the end of the summer (though Lou swears she’ll find a way to sponsor him and keep him in the states). It’s hard to think that far ahead when he’s still so swamped with everything else that’s going on here.
So if he’s been putting all his eggs in one basket and hoping on eventual good news from Professor Cowell, then maybe he needs to be more pragmatic and start sending résumés out. He loves Smut and wants to believe the best in what Lou tells him, but he also doesn’t want to be the unemployed Brit forced to go home and accept defeat.
Not that going home would constitute any sort of failure because it wouldn’t, but still. He’s made it this far already.
Yet with Professor Cowell’s email weighing heavily on his mind, Louis can’t bring himself to actually do anything useful. Greg and him have been winding down and most of their work and planning is finally making its way to the developers. Now it’s mid-July and he’s seen weeks of long days and nights, so he figures he can slack a bit this afternoon.
He lasts about thirty minutes, however, of browsing the Internet and sending Zayn obnoxious text messages before he actually feels guilty about it. So he goes to the bathroom just to do something; he figures you can never wash your hands enough, anyway.
He should be more surprised when Harry follows him inside not a minute later, but he isn’t.
“Hi,” Louis says, smirking. “Don’t you have a bathroom on your own floor?”
Harry hops onto the counter, clearly disregarding the maybe-wet surface. “Zayn told me you were bugging him and sent me to ask you to cease and desist. I only saw you walk in here,” he says. “This one’s roomier, anyway.”
“Unlikely,” Louis laughs. “You share a bathroom with Nick. Shit’s big.”
“I wouldn’t know, he normally flushes.” Harry waggles his eyebrows playfully.
Louis groans. “Ugh. Faecal jokes. In the bathroom. Original.”
Harry shoves him in the shoulder. “Don’t be mean. And great, this is such an awkward prelude to the question I was going to ask you.”
He pats his hands dry on his trousers. “A question for me?”
“Yes for you, Mr. Self-Absorbed,” Harry says, no heat in his words. “Now hush and let me get it out.”
Louis bites down on the urge to make another bathroom-related joke and instead watches on as Harry looks down, twisting his hands together. If he could hear thoughts, Louis’ almost certain he’d hear the gears turning in Harry’s head as he fumbles over words that aren’t coming out. Then it occurs to Louis that maybe Harry’s nervous and, huh, that makes no sense.
Harry looks up, a startled smile on his face. “Yes, okay. Basically, would you want to get a drink or something after work?” His face falls for no reason and he rushes in with, “I mean, Zayn mentioned that you two do it sometimes and he could come, too, if he wanted, and yeah, that’s basically it.”
Louis fishmouths for a moment, not quite processing Harry’s question. What comes out is, “You’re not 21 here, yet. We, um. We can’t.”
Take the out, Louis thinks. Take it.
Harry blinks. “Oh. You’re right. Um, well…” He takes a deep breath. “Would you want to get dinner then?”
And shit, that’s pretty hard to misinterpret.
This is so unfair because the only thing that comes to mind is a resounding yes, especially with how long he’s waited for this and how Harry’s watching him with hope in his eyes. Because yeah, he probably knows, too, just how interested Louis is and how easily the answer could slip out.
But then Louis reminds himself that he’s in the bathroom right now, the office bathroom with Harry, an intern, and then the answer is there for him, plain and simple, except for the fact that it really isn’t.
“Fuck,” Louis sighs and he instantly sees the way in which Harry’s face crumples. “Harry, I can’t—I’m sorry, it’s not—”
“Right,” Harry interrupts, everything about him suddenly gone steely. “I should go.”
And Louis lets him, lets him jump off and walk out without another word.
Fuck, fuck, fuck.
So things around the office get quiet, which makes it impossible for Louis to throw himself into this work the way he wants to. Instead he emails Caroline for assignments more than he probably should, and checks his inbox for messages from Simon about twice as much. Lou is too busy with features to have a proper conversation and Zayn’s thing with Perrie is supposedly something serious, so Louis isn’t about to get in the way of that. And the one person in the world obligated to listen to his whinging, his mum, is too exhausted for a phone call because one of the twins has a fucking ear infection and Louis can’t be there because he’s chosen to be here.
He’s never wanted to be home more.
And the only other person here who could possibly understand that hasn’t come around his office at all, not since Louis rejected him in a fucking bathroom, of all places.
Harry keeps to himself, which Louis figures is probably the best way to go about things. But it sucks, or something, because he’d been the only person Louis could count on. It had been fun and innocent enough and sure, it was nearly impossible to be around that kind of temptation all the time, but it worked—they worked and now that’s in the shitter.
The next two weeks creep along with no progress. Being on separate floors has its advantages, until Greg will call him up for a random meeting with the developers. When that happens, Louis chances a glimpse in Harry’s direction only to see that his desk is empty. And that’s fine. That’s okay.
He’ll try to act subtle sometimes, might even ask Greg where Harry is because can you manage up here, I can reassign another intern upstairs if you need. And it’ll just turn out that Harry’s at the studios more often than normal and whether that’s intentional or not, Louis doesn’t know. It just means that Harry is going on about work and life as usual and Louis should think about doing the same.
And if they run into each other in the lobby and Harry stumbles away from the lift, pretending to have dropped something along the way, then Louis doesn’t notice at all.
He keeps going, stomach dropping as the lift doors close.
The thing is, there isn’t meanness in what Harry’s doing. Louis knows well enough that Harry isn’t a mean person and that avoiding him is most likely the logical conclusion to what must’ve been a very long period of deliberation. In fact, he almost seems sad about having to pretend like he doesn’t see Louis and that’s probably the most unbearable thing about all of this.
So if Harry is going to be sad, then Louis is going to be sad, too. He comes to work and holes himself up in his office, thankful that none of the other interns ever took him up on his offer to talk, and stays there all day. It makes sense.
“The girls miss you, as well,” Jay says, voice tinny coming through his laptop speakers. “Well. Maybe less so for Lottie. She’s taken up residence in your room, you see.”
Louis groans. This is what his life has come to: Skyping his mum on his lunch break. And even then, it hasn’t been a very sympathetic conversation thus far.
“Kick her out or something,” Louis says despondently. “She acts like I’m not coming back.”
His mum raises an eyebrow. “Do you plan on coming back, then?”
“I. I don’t know.” Louis buries his face in his hands. “That’s beside the point, with the point being that you seem to have cleared your home of my existence.”
“Now that’s hardly the truth,” Jay says. “The banister still wobbles from when you kicked it that one time before footie practice.”
“That was Stan,” he says flatly.
“Is that right? Well then,” she replies with a playful grin. Louis groans again. “Oh, baby, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong,” Louis insists, ducking so that only the top half of his head is visible through the camera.
“There may be an eight hour time difference but I can still tell when you’re off,” Jay says, sitting up straight. “Why else would you Skype your mother, from work no less?”
Louis shakes his head. “I just wanted to talk to you and make sure you hadn’t forgotten about me. Clearly I’ve failed.”
“Is it a boy?” she asks.
“What—no,” Louis sputters. “I miss you and I miss the girls and I miss home. That should be reason enough.”
Jay considers this for a second before leaning in with a gentler voice. “Darling, whatever’s making you feel this way, it’ll all work out in the end.” Louis makes to protest but she goes on. “Trust me, I know.”
He wants to counter that, wants to ask how she could possibly know, when there’s a knock on his door followed by a manic-sounding, “Louis, I know you’re in there! Get the fuck up and open this before I chop it down!”
Louis winces. “That’ll be Lou, then.”
Jay clucks happily. “Go on, answer the door and give your surrogate mum thanks and a kiss on my behalf. I love you, baby, and tell me when it all sorts itself.” She blows him a kiss and disconnects.
Louis takes a moment to compose himself and shouts back, “It’s unlocked!”
The door opens and Lou marches inside, locking it behind her and dropping down in the seat in front of him. She folds her arms and gives him an expectant look.
“Hello?” he tries.
Lou rolls her eyes. “Malik says you’ve been sulking.”
Louis could kill Zayn. “Well, he’s lying.”
“Greg says he hasn’t seen you all week.”
“We’ve finished everything up and he knows where to find me otherwise,” Louis says breezily.
“I haven’t talked to you in forever.”
Louis frowns. “You’ve been busy.”
Lou opens her mouth but shuts it promptly, sagging into her chair. “Fine. I guess I have.”
He shrugs. “Not a bad thing, though. I’ve been busy before, too.”
She leans forward then, elbows on the desk as she tucks a strand of purple hair behind her ear. “Is it work? Have we been pushing you too hard? Has Greg been an absolute dick?”
It’s the first time in ages but Louis actually laughs then, loud and surprised. “No, god, of course not. Greg’s brilliant. Everything is fine.” But the words sound hollow even to him.
Lou doesn’t seem convinced. “You know, it’s my job to fix your problems. Any troubles you’re having or any shit you’re going through, you’re supposed to talk to me.”
“I know,” he says carefully, shifting in his seat. “But it’s nothing worth bothering you over.”
Lou sighs. “I heard something about an intern?” He freezes at that and Lou must see because she adds, “Don’t worry, Malik didn’t give me a name or anything, but I can guess.”
Louis groans for about the millionth time today.
“Hey,” Lou says, tone soft. “I’m not, like, going to suggest anything either way, because we both know what I’m supposed to say in this situation.”
“It’s the only thing to say,” Louis says in a small voice.
“Yeah, whatever,” she says. “Just. Be smart. And do what’s best for you, whatever that means. That’s the only thing you can do in situations like this.”
Louis doesn’t respond, just stares down where his fingers are laced in his lap.
Lou checks the clock and tsks. “I have to go,” she says, standing. “Surprise, I know, but I had to make sure you knew I still cared, you fucker.”
He smiles, thankful for their special way of showing affection. “Oh, hey. My mum said to thank you and give you a kiss.”
Lou laughs. “You can keep the kiss and I’ll take the rest. Someone has to keep you in check.”
Once she’s gone, Louis takes a moment just to breathe and remember this moment and tell himself that, no matter what he thought before, at least he’s not here alone.
There’s a black tie dinner for some ceremony hosted by a charity Louis can’t quite remember the name of. Apparently, they’ve been given an award.
Select staff is invited but, due to seating limits and the like, it’s pretty much understood that only the editorial staff will be attending. It isn’t until a few days after Louis receives his invitation in his mailbox that he realises this means no interns.
“We’re going together, obviously?” Zayn asks when they run into each other in the break room. Louis can see the apology in his eyes then, the I’m sorry for not checking up on you and spending more time with my girlfriend instead that’s dancing around there.
But it was never a problem to begin with.
“Obviously,” Louis says, grinning. “Get dressed and pregame at mine?”
Zayn smiles, relieved. “I’ll bring drinks.”
On Sunday, Louis wakes up feeling randomly excited for the night’s dinner. He’s always been a sucker for dressing up and going out, and it only helps that the invitation very clearly reads open bar. At least he and Zayn have been more lenient with their No Taxis rule.
Zayn shows up to Louis’ flat halfway dressed with a shirt in desperate need of an iron. He sets two cases of Smirnoff Ice on the kitchen table and Louis scoffs because, what, are they fifteen?
But getting ready together reminds Louis of when they used to live together, before Zayn got a permanent job and found a bigger, cleaner flat more suitable to post-university livelihood. It’s not that way anymore, of course, and he’s really just glad to be spending any time with Zayn at all.
“I’m the shittiest human being alive,” Zayn says when they’re on the couch with five minutes to spare before their taxi arrives. “Like, honestly. I am.”
Louis makes a mental note to monitor Zayn’s trips to the bar later. “Why is that?”
“You needed me,” Zayn huffs, and Louis resists his instinct to roll his eyes because he hates being told he needs anyone or anything, no matter how true that might be. “I’m meant to be your best mate. I should’ve been here helping you.”
“Oh, pet.” Louis pats his hair the way he’s only ever allowed when one of them is buzzed. “You make it sound like it’s a bigger deal than it really is. It’s, um.” He swallows around a lump in his throat. “It was never anything more than a severe case of sexual frustration. So unless you planned on sucking my dick every night for the last two months, it’s a moot point.”
Zayn groans into his neck. “I should’ve done something. I saw how into him you were, and I should’ve done something.”
Louis doesn’t say anything to that.
When they get to the hotel, Zayn has sobered up somewhat and they trail in behind Lou and her fiancé, Tom. She gives Louis a kiss on the cheek and a friendly pat on the bum before going separate ways in the event hall, which is draped in enough red and black to give him a headache. Other people are starting to filter in, most of whom he doesn’t recognise, and Louis has the sinking feeling that this is going to be a very long night.
“I’m going to the bar,” he declares, tugging on Zayn’s elbow once.
“I’ll be over there with Nick,” Zayn nods, over at a table closer to the podium up front.
He hovers at the bar, trying to decide whether or not tonight is the night to give whiskey sours another try and, more importantly, whether or not ordering two in his first hour is a sensible decision. He’d had a bad experience his sophomore year and, at an event like this, he’s not sure he wants to take that gamble a second time. Then again, at an event like this, he probably shouldn’t get completely shit-faced either, so he’s at somewhat of an impasse.
The bartender has wandered off and left him to his decision when he feels a body slide up next to his.
Louis looks over and, sure enough, it’s Harry Styles standing next to him with a cautious smile playing on his lips.
He swallows tightly. “Hi.”
Harry shifts a bit, backing up just enough to leave more than a respectable distance between them. He looks good in a dinner jacket and Louis just wants to fall into a pit of his own misery.
“Hi,” he says again, looking down at the wooden countertop.
“You said that already,” Louis says quietly, his brain whirring to catch up. “I, um. No interns, I thought? Shit, I mean—” He taps the bar several times, searching for words. “How are you here?”
“Greg’s sick, apparently.” He shrugs. “Gave me his invitation and sent me in his stead.”
“Bastard,” Louis replies without much heat. He notices he’s been staring at Harry this whole time. “Perks of being a superstar intern, innit?”
Harry gives a small smile that doesn’t reach his eyes. “Something like that, yeah.”
This is easily the most awkward interaction Louis’ had in the last few months, which really says something. Harry must notice it, too, because he’s looking down and shaking his head like he’s just as lost.
“I’m flying blind, here,” Louis blurts out before he can take it back. “I mean. Didn’t think I’d see you. Haven’t, as a matter of fact.”
Harry looks incredibly remorseful then. “Lou—”
“Nah, it’s fine,” he clips, shaking his head. His gaze falls down to Harry’s bowtie, which is just slightly askew. “Though props must be given for your choice in accessories. I’m a man for flair.”
Harry blinks. “What—oh.” He smiles again, flashing his teeth this time. “I have to get people’s attention somehow.”
Louis ignores the tacit your attention that seems to go unspoken. “Right. Well, it’s a bit off-center. Here…” Without even thinking about it, he reaches out to fix the bowtie. He hears Harry’s sharp intake of breath but ignores it, untying it completely and starting from scratch.
He makes careful work of it, wary of his fingers so that they don’t tug too hard or brush against the underside of Harry’s chin. Occasionally, his knuckles graze Harry’s collarbones and Louis has to bite his tongue to keep from asking how he stays so warm all the time. It takes a great level of restraint to keep from dropping the bowtie altogether and roaming the front of Harry’s chest with his palms instead.
Breathe, he tells himself.
When he’s finished, Louis pulls on both ends once more for good measure and backs away, pleased with his work. Only when he looks up does he realise Harry watching him, probably has been this whole time, with his jaw clenched and his eyes dark green, almost black.
“Done,” he manages weakly.
Harry replies several beats later. “Thanks. I should, um. Probably go to my table.”
“Me too,” Louis says before leaving the bar first.
He doesn’t even get himself a drink.
Drinks come over the next three hours, of course, finding their way into Louis’ system as the night drags at an impossibly slow rate. Between the other magazines there for recognition and the unbearable banter between all the presenters, Louis finds solace in gin. Gin is nice.
Besides, alcohol is the only reasonable solution when Harry Styles is sitting only a few tables away from him looking both incredible and completely off-limits. They make eye contact several times throughout the course of the night, both of them looking down immediately only to repeat the same mistake barely ten minutes later. If anyone were watching them—which shouldn’t be a problem, since Lou and Tom have both ducked out early and Zayn seems comfortably drunk over at Nick’s table—they’d likely catch on quick. As it is, it feels like a dirty secret that Louis can’t seem to move past.
“‘M afraid I’m drunk,” Louis mumbles into Zayn’s ear during a gap in awards. He pointedly ignores the way Harry seems to be staring from where he’s seated next to Matt. “Really drunk, like.”
Zayn’s eyes widen as he leans into Louis’ touch. “Me too. Nick went to get me water.”
Louis snorts; Zayn is likely the only person in the world who could get the editor-in-chief of a magazine to play his chaperone.
“Gonna go to the loo,” he stage whispers. “Wish me luck, love.”
And they both laugh because it’s funny, probably.
Inside, it’s the nicest bathroom Louis has ever seen, which makes sense given that they’re in a ridiculously posh hotel for an award they haven’t even received yet. If he manages to make it to the end of the night alive, it’ll be a miracle.
He’s over at the sink, smelling the lavender soap on his hands and eyeing the tray of mints down the way when the door opens. Harry walks in.
“D’you need me to fix your bowtie again?” Louis laughs, because everything sounds like a joke. “Y’know, it’s funny. I feel like we keep running into each other in the loo. Seems like we’re meant to meet here.”
But Harry waits for him to finish rinsing his hands, a strange intensity blistering in his eyes. It’s enough to make Louis sober up, just slightly.
“What?” he asks.
“Why have you been avoiding me?” Harry demands. His voice is soft but there’s an edge to it, some kind of ferocity that tells Louis this isn’t the first time he’s wondered this.
Louis takes his time drying his hands because this is suddenly a lot for him to handle. “No, Harry…” he tries carefully. “You’re the one who’s been avoiding me.”
“You haven’t spoken to me in weeks,” Louis persists, looking away. “I don’t—you pretend you don’t see me.”
He looks up again to see Harry shaking his head insistently. “No, no. You said no to dinner with me.”
Louis gapes at him. “Yeah, but that didn’t mean to stop being my friend!”
Harry’s lips tilt downward. “You weren’t interested,” he rasps. “And I. I didn’t know how to deal with that kind of rejection, so I backed off.”
“Yeah, well.” Louis folds his arms, his head throbbing. “You didn’t need to. It wouldn’t have made anything awkward because I like being friends with you.”
Harry’s head shoots up at that, apparently surprised. Louis could kick him for being so thick skulled.
“Oh.” Harry seems appropriately chastened. “Good.”
They fall into an uneasy silence with both of them casting glances on the ground and sneaking glimpses at each other in an entirely unsubtle way. Louis’ heart is pounding in his chest, not just from this conversation but from all the gin, and he figures now is his chance. Now that everything’s out on the line and there’s barely anything left to lose, this is the only way to go.
“But,” he says, startling both of them. “I guess I can tell you now that I am.”
Harry furrows his brow. “What?”
Louis shrugs. “I am interested. I shouldn’t be, but. There it is.”
He watches as the weight of the admission plays across Harry’s features, first in bouts of confusion before blooming into something like relief. When he finally smiles, it leaves Louis breathless.
“We can’t do anything about it, though—” Louis manages before Harry’s mouth swallows his words whole.
His mind reels with the suddenness of Harry just there and all around him. Mindlessly, he grabs at Harry’s hips to steady himself, bracing against the way he’s being kissed like he’ll never be kissed again. Their lips slide together messily, and Louis could pretend that it’s from the sloppiness of being drunk but he knows it’s more than that. Knows that it’s mingled with a desperation he’s known all this time, but maybe never felt quite this intensely before.
And Harry just gives it to him, parting Louis’ lips easily with his tongue and swiping in like he can’t afford to leave any part of Louis unexplored. His hands, which started off in Louis’ hair, have found their way down his neck to the slope of his bum, pulling their bodies impossibly closer and kneading with an urgency he didn’t know to expect from Harry.
Louis pulls away first, easily giving up a few more kisses when Harry whines high in his throat and leans back in for more. He’s panting, embarrassingly out of breath, and holding on while he waits for his bearings.
“Fuck,” is all he gets out.
“Wait five minutes,” Harry says, dropping a kiss to the skin beneath his jaw. “Five minutes, and I’ll come back.”
He pulls away and Louis instinctively reaches out.
“Where are you going?”
“Five minutes,” he repeats, holding up a hand and disappearing out of the bathroom. And fuck.
Louis couldn’t move even if he wanted to, still too dazed and overwhelmed. He should probably leave, should probably find Zayn and get himself sorted because this is far and away the worst thing he could’ve done tonight. But he’s frozen, like his body has no choice but to listen to Harry and isn’t that just the way.
When Harry comes back, he has a lopsided grin on his face as he reaches out for Louis. “Come on. We’re leaving.”
But Louis shows a remarkable display of self-control by holding back. “What do you mean? I have Zayn—”
“He’s sorted,” Harry says, rubbing against the nub of Louis’ wrist. “I told him you weren’t feeling well and I’d get home. Besides, Nick’s keeping track of him for the night.”
Louis blinks, mildly impressed. “Nice.”
But he doesn’t move. There’s a moment where he stares at Harry’s fingers, now threaded between his, and finds himself rooted to his spot. This is it. That’s all he can tell himself. This is it.
Harry squeezes lightly. He offers a smile but Louis can see through it, can see the fragile uncertainty there. And in this moment, he can’t even pretend that it’s not on him, that he isn’t the one who’s deciding for both of them.
He closes his eyes and brings Harry’s knuckles up to his lips. “Get me home then, Styles.”
And he melts at the way Harry lights up completely, beaming like he’s just gotten so lucky.
The next twenty minutes fly by, with both of them stumbling into a taxi waiting outside and keeping to their respective sides as they drive through traffic to Louis’ flat. Now that they’ve broken that barrier, it’s like a constant physical itch to keep away from Harry even for these brief moments. Harry, on the other hand, seems to revel in it; his fingers trail dangerously along the seam of Louis’ slacks, threatening to break the temporary peace they’ve established in the back seat. Louis could kill him.
“Stop that,” he hisses, though he’s not sure how much he means it.
Harry seems to think about it seriously, ministrations frozen somewhere near Louis’ knee. Then, with a lazy grin, “Fine. Only because if I keep going, I don’t think I’ll be able to stop myself from sucking you right now.”
Louis gasps, pulling away from Harry and looking out the window to keep from reacting any further. He feels his cheeks flush with the promise of Harry’s words, and he wants nothing more than to get out of his cab—if only to save their driver from extra embarrassment. He shifts uncomfortably in his too-tight trousers and glowers when Harry actually snickers.
The walk to Louis’ building is a clumsy one and by the time they climb to his floor, they’re laughing hotly into each other’s necks and most likely making too much noise for this late at night. Louis would feel more remorseful about it if his neighbours weren’t such dickheads; honestly, who sings karaoke at 4 in the fucking morning?
He must say this out loud because Harry is barking with laughter and whispering things like I can sing right now, if you want and okay—they haven’t even started and this is already too much. He fumbles with his keys and trips through the doorway, only stabilising when Harry pushes him roughly against the wall and clamps their mouths together.
It hasn’t even been that long and Louis has forgotten just how amazing this is. The heat of Harry’s tongue is enough to make his mind go fuzzy around the edges and his kneecaps turn to gelatin. At least Harry is strong—even stronger than Louis had expected and god, Louis had expected a lot—and capable of propping Louis up, slotting their legs together ostensibly under the pretence of keeping him upright. When he feels Harry hard against him, Louis bites down into their kiss and growls, absolutely glowing from the attention.
“You’re so hot,” Louis mumbles where their faces are still smashed together.
Harry moves down to suck on a spot high on his neck, applying just enough pressure to make him whimper embarrassingly. “Mm, you too.” He hums and goes back to kiss Louis properly, breath heavy and hot. “To a bed? You look like you need the added support.”
Louis musters enough strength to push him off. See, he’s fine; he doesn’t need the added support. But then there are arms circling his waist from behind and heaving him up into the air, sending his legs flailing in surprise.
“What the fuck!” he shouts, sounding more panicked than strictly necessary.
“I’ve always wanted to lift you,” Harry laughs, nipping at his ear as they move through the darkness to the bedroom. “‘S all in good fun.”
“This is not fun,” Louis protests before he’s dropped unceremoniously onto his mattress. “Hey.”
Harry sinks to his knees and pulls Louis to the edge of the bed. He makes quick work of stripping him down to his pants, which last just long enough for Harry to take an appreciative look before they’re flying off to the carpet, too. Louis stares in awe as Harry strokes him to full hardness, mouthing along the fever-warm inside of his thighs.
He meets Louis’ eyes once and, with a wink, takes him into his mouth.
Louis bucks up involuntarily, going easily when Harry’s arm holds him down and presses him into the bed. It’s just. He doesn’t know how long he’s going to be able to last, is the thing—not with the way Harry’s face flushes like that, or the way his cheeks hollow out just so to let more of Louis in until he’s nudging against the back of his throat. Harry keeps it up so that his nose grazes the groomed patch of hair at the root of Louis’ stomach and it’s so ridiculously obscene that Louis has to throw his head back, mewling high and long. Either it’s been way too long, or Harry is the actual second coming of Christ.
“Fuck,” Louis whines for lack of anything better to do.
Harry swirls his tongue in a way that sends a shiver rippling through his body. He pulls off long enough to say, “I’m really, really enjoying this.”
That’s enough for Louis to actually moan aloud and push Harry along as he bobs his head between his thighs, concentrating on the head of Louis’ cock as his hand compensates for what his mouth won’t reach. It only takes three, four more strokes before he’s coming hard in Harry’s mouth, vision whiting out as his body sags into the mattress, spent.
When he can open his eyes again, he finds Harry already half-sprawled across him with his trousers pulled down just far enough to let his cock out. Louis lazily swats his hand away to do the job himself, stroking expertly and smiling when Harry buries his face in Louis’ neck, mumbling nonsense as he falls apart.
“Go on,” he urges, kissing Harry’s damp fringe.
Harry cries aloud before spilling over Louis’ fingers and into the space between them, his body actually shaking with the force of his orgasm. Louis guides him gently through it, dropping sweet kisses all over Harry’s face before he collapses uselessly.
“Fucking hell,” Harry says eventually.
“Yeah,” Louis sighs. They didn’t even turn the lights on.
Harry twists and props up on an elbow. Looking down at Louis, he asks, “You good?”
Louis dares to look at him, never mind how vulnerable he already feels. Harry’s eyes, normally green, sparkle like gold now and it makes sense that Louis can’t help himself, has to lean over and kiss him just to get it out of his system. He backs away but barely, letting their foreheads butt together.
There’s something else unreadable in Harry’s face even as he smiles, cupping Louis’ cheek and pressing another kiss to his mouth. It’s still there when they pull apart and Louis pretends that’s not the reason his stomach swoops weakly. That’s not what he wants to think about right now.
Right now, he’ll go with it.
When Louis wakes up, Harry isn’t there.
He goes about his morning normally—or, at least, as normally as he can with a massive hangover. After a shower, he rifles through his cabinets for some ibuprofen to go along with a modest breakfast of toast and eggs. Setting the plate down on the kitchen table, he pours one glass of orange juice and sits down in the usual, comfortable silence of his flat.
Outside, cars whiz by and he stares straight ahead until the absolute last possible moment. He doesn’t want to be late.
It’s not until he’s caught in traffic on Wilshire Boulevard that everything hits him at once. Harry showing up at the ceremony. Harry cornering him in the bathroom. Harry carrying him to his bedroom and blowing him like a fucking champion.
Yeah. Yeah, that happened.
Well, okay. He skips existential breakdown and goes directly to pounding stress headache, which doesn’t quite cancel out the hangover headache like he’d hoped. No matter; Mondays are meant to be total shit, and anything less than this would be unnatural or something.
Maybe Harry feels horrible, too.
Flashes of last night fly through his mind randomly all throughout his first hour at work. He can’t even focus on the sixteen—sixteen—audio files Caroline had emailed him for transcription when he’s thinking about what Harry’s mouth had tasted like. And he knows how simple it is, how he could very easily go upstairs to find Harry and, and what? Talk to him? Ask him why he left? He knows it doesn’t matter, that it would be some sort of personal torture to even indulge in that kind of conversation when he knows it’s not one worth having.
He doesn't want to call it one, but he knows what last night was.
The clock hits ten when he heads out into the break room in desperate need of tea, no matter how shitty he knows it’ll be. It’s by some cruel hand of fate, of course, that he finds Harry already hunched over the kettle.
“Oh,” he says, causing Harry to turn around. “Hi.”
Harry looks exhausted, but he’d fallen asleep so easily next to Louis last night. Fuck.
“Hi,” Harry returns. But he sighs like he’s given up, shoulders slumping. “I’m sorry.”
Louis shakes his head. He goes over to the basket of tea bags, flipping through them. “Harry. It’s fine.”
But Harry recoils at that, hurt all over his face. “You don’t—you don’t even want to know why I wasn’t there this morning?”
He gives up on all pretence of picking out tea; none of it looks good anyway. “What am I meant to say, Harry? It doesn’t matter. I woke up, you weren’t there. That’s all.”
Harry looks down, suddenly so small with his feet twisted inward and his hands moving nervously. “I didn’t...I left because.” He takes a deep breath and Louis has to remind himself that he can’t just reach out and calm him. “I already knew what you would say. I saw it all over your face last night and I went for it anyway because I knew, I knew that it wouldn’t happen again. So I left before you could kick me out and tell me we were wrong.” He looks up then, the rims of his eyes tellingly red. “That it was a mistake.”
And Louis doesn’t care now, doesn’t give a fuck who walks in and sees them like this. But he walks over and pulls Harry into the tightest hug he can offer, arms wound tight around Harry’s waist until he’s almost certain he’s crushing his lungs. But he doesn’t let up, doesn’t stop until he feels Harry sink into him and hug him back even tighter. They stay that way for a long while, swaying in the middle of the break room very near tears like someone’s gone off to war.
“I should, um,” Harry murmurs in a tight voice, “I should probably get back upstairs. Nick will want his tea.”
Louis laughs brokenly. “Go on, superstar.”
Before walking out, Harry turns to look at him carefully. “Lunch later?”
“Oh.” He blinks. “Yeah. Definitely.”
“See you then.” Harry smiles, not quite real and not entirely genuine. But Louis returns the gesture and for now, it’s fine. They’re fine.
Louis didn’t think he meant it, but Harry actually shows up at his office for lunch just as he’d promised. He slides into the chair that’s more his than anyone else’s, and it’s normal. Or, at least, it feels normal. Quite honestly, Louis doesn’t know what normal is anymore.
“So, I’ve been assigned to photograph a model for one of our FOB pages,” is the first thing that comes out of Harry’s mouth once he’s seated. “And she’s, like, possibly actually insane. She’s a fucking nightmare. Threw a candlestick at my head, she did. Oh, d’you want a carrot?”
And that’s that.
The way they go about lunch and the rest of that week, it’s almost like nothing had happened. Which, Louis guesses, is the whole point to this, but still. He was the kid in primary school who didn’t want the orange ice lolly but also threw a fit if he ever saw anyone else in his class eating it. Years later, nothing has changed: he’s every bit as selfish and determined to have it all, even if he knows he can’t. He hates himself for it.
Harry plays the part convincingly; acting like nothing ever transpired between them. He’s gone back to his old self, almost like sex managed to pluck them both from their earlier rut when really, it’s only driven them deeper down. But he waves at Louis in the hallways, comes by every day for lunch, even presses close to him on the lift down to the lobby at the end of the day. It is what it has to be.
And it’s not like Louis can even hate him for it because he’s doing precisely what needs to be done for both their sakes. It would suck even more to lose Harry’s friendship than to pretend like that’s all it is, like that’s all it ever was.
It’s just. He’s left with not knowing how to feel about everything. Bitter, for one, but that’s pretty much standard regardless. Seeing Harry every day and pretending like he doesn’t have the constant urge to reach out and snog him senseless feels like living a lie. Worse yet, it’s even more horrible to see Harry do the same exact thing to him. He can’t tell if he should be offended or relieved that it comes so easily; he can’t tell.
“Are you doing all right?” Zayn asks one Saturday night he brings In-N-Out over to Louis’ flat. “I mean, you can lie to me if you want, but I’ll know the truth.”
Louis kicks him lightly from where he’s sitting on the couch. “I hate when you do that. Why ask in the first place?”
“Because it’s the respectable thing to do,” Zayn explains, ripping open a packet of sauce. “And because you’re my other girlfriend and Perrie actually gets concerned when I don’t bring you up in conversation at least every other day.”
He shouldn’t preen from that knowledge, but he does anyway. “Speaking of, how are things with Perrie?”
Zayn considers this, actually thinks about it for a long moment. He looks away from the television long enough to meet Louis with earnest eyes. “I think I’m in love with her.”
Louis’ heart does this funny little thing where it both melts and freezes over. “Oh, Zayn. That’s—that’s fucking fantastic. ‘M happy for you, honestly.”
“You have to be,” Zayn says jokingly, turning back to the telly. But Louis can tell he’s smiling into his burger. “Anyway. I’m going to tell her. It’s just strange to think about. Fucking weird summer, it is.”
“Yeah,” Louis says distantly. “You know you can invite her whenever you come over.”
“Fuck that,” Zayn snorts. “Not to this pigsty, I won’t.”
Louis looks around, lips pulling down at the truth in Zayn’s words. In the interim since his little romp with Harry, he hasn’t exactly found the time or wherewithal to clean. “I suppose I’ll have to clean it up soon,” he says sadly. “It’ll make packing that much easier.”
Zayn turns around, actually frowning. “Hey. Don’t say that. You’ve got a month yet.”
“Barely,” Louis says with a shrug.
“Lots of time still,” Zayn insists. “And you never know. You might have to keep it a permanent arrangement.”
Louis thinks about that. Somehow, it doesn’t help. “I guess.”
Zayn jumps onto the couch with him, moving just close enough so that he’s within reach. “But really. Are you all right?”
He laughs on a sigh, tilting his head back. “I’ve got you, haven’t I?”
That earns him a shove in the arm and a muttered asshole, but it’s worth it to see the smug grin on Zayn’s face.
August is hot and quick. Louis rarely ever goes out to lunch anymore to avoid the heat but on the rare occasion that he does, he comes back to the office and spends the first five minutes back wiping himself dry in the bathroom. The air conditioning operates on full blast all the time but even then, it doesn’t stop him from coming into the office once or twice in just shorts, flip-flops, and a singlet. The perks of working for a magazine with a next-to-non-existent dress code.
The start of August also brings about the first round of two-week notices from the interns, mostly the ones who attend schools that operate on a semester system and therefore have to return by the end of the month. Cher, Liam, Niall and half the other interns all filter into Louis’ office over the course of the week, staying long enough to have one more conversation (for most of them, it’s the first and last one) with him.
Harry brings his in one day during lunch. He slips it onto Louis’ desk between the grapes and water bottles, quick and nearly unnoticeable, and smiles.
So that’s it.
He doesn’t open the envelope for quite some time but, when he finally does, he learns that Harry plans to leave on August 15 to give himself some time to pack up before returning to school. And that’s when Louis realises, maybe for the first time, just how impossible they were from the very start. They could’ve never done anything while working for Smut. And now, Harry’s going back to Boston and he’s—well, he’ll be somewhere far away from Harry, no doubt. In the end, there was never any way to give themselves the chance they deserved. Maybe he should be sadder and not as resigned.
He remembers what Lou had said, about being smart and doing what was best for him. Doing things properly with Harry and then putting himself through that inevitable torment of separating isn’t smart, and it definitely isn’t the best thing. So he stays away from that.
“What’ll you do?” Harry asks, feet propped up on Louis’ desk like they always are.
Louis shakes his hair out and looks through the window to see the Hollywood sign out there even through the smog. “Dunno. Something great, I’m sure.”
He means it to sound sarcastic but Harry’s always been immune to those sorts of things. So instead, he says, “You will. Don’t worry.”
Harry sounds so certain, it hurts.
With a week left to go before Harry and the first half of interns leave, Louis has the task of planning the end-of-the-summer party meant to thank the interns for all their hard work. So really, he’s charged with ordering enough pizzas to feed the seventh and eighth floors, as well as unearthing the Smut Magazine shirts they normally hand out each year; he’s pretty sure he has about eight, most of them stolen, in his closet.
He doesn’t know where the fucking shirts are, of course, because they’d actually smartened up to his ploys and hid them somewhere private only to the knowledge of the intern coordinator, which he is now. So somebody better answer his emails before he goes and gets his own shirts made, preferably ones with boobs on the front and dicks on the back out of sheer petulance, if anything else.
When he checks his email for Lucy the secretary’s reply, he’s not surprised to find her message absent. He is, however, very surprised to find an email from Professor Cowell—more than half a month later without any correspondence. He opens it.
I don’t know if you’ve made any progress with respect to finding a job, but if you haven’t, then I might have a bit of good news heading your way.
There’s an old colleague of mine who’s the editor for an online publication called MonstR, which is based out of NYC. MonstR is very pop culture focused, which would align perfectly with the work that you’ve done at Smut. The brand itself is expanding into different cities and she’s starting to hire for positions at the Boston and Philadelphia branches. Who knows—maybe one day, you’ll be able to work your way to the New York office.
I’ve attached her contact information at the bottom of this email. I’ve told her a great deal about you and she’s very interested in interviewing you. This seems right up your alley and I think you’d be a good fit. Email me if you have any questions. Good luck!
He rereads the message once, then rereads it again for good measure.
An interview. He has an interview. Granted, he hasn’t actually done anything or made any moves to acquire said interview, but he has an interview. For a real job. Holy shit.
After a few breathing exercises, he tries not to freak out and instead goes through his day the way he normally would. By the time he leaves the office, he’s sorted out the T-shirt situation and ordered enough pizzas to feed the entire building. And, more importantly, he has a phone interview scheduled in two days and he tries his best not to throw up on the drive home.
He tells Lou first. Well, second technically, but only because Zayn had been with him when he found out.
“Fucking Christ,” she says in between tears, smacking him first around the head before drawing him in for a second, bone-crushing hug. For a small woman, she’s frighteningly powerful. “When I said to make yourself happy, this is not what I meant!”
“But it’ll make me happy,” Louis reasons when he pulls back. He gives her a slight pout. “And it’s what’s best for me. Honestly.”
She gives him a withering look. “I meant what was best for us.”
Louis laughs and pulls her back in for another hug, so, so thankful that he’s gotten as close to her as he has. “I’m sending you pictures every day so that Lux doesn’t forget who I am.”
“You’re her godfather, she’s not going to forget who you are,” she says when they break apart.
“No, I’m not,” Louis says, frowning.
“Oh yeah, you’re not,” she says with a smirk, dodging when Louis goes to swat her arm. “But might as well be. Uncle Lou and all.”
He rolls his eyes.
It’s August 15, the day of the party and the last day for most of their interns. They’d been in one of the bigger conference rooms, eating pizza and hovering over the gelato he’d ordered special for the occasion, when Lou pulled him into a neighbouring office to demand exactly what news Malik had been teasing her with all morning. And what better way to start telling the office.
They wander back in with Lou making a direct beeline for Zayn standing against the wall with Greg to kick him, most likely. He shoots Zayn a knowing glance and laughs out loud when he flops away just a second too late.
He’s going to miss it here.
In the corner, he spots Liam and Niall laughing about something with the other interns. Louis regrets not getting to know them all better, if only because he’d gotten to know everyone he ever interned with over the years so well. But then again, it’s not his fault that this year managed to offer the one exception.
Speaking of which.
Harry is nowhere to be found. Normally, Louis would think to find him with Nick or some of the older editors, since apparently he has a proclivity for hanging out with people that aren’t strictly within his age group. Oh well. But that little bit of trivia isn’t exactly helpful when he sees that none of the usual suspects have Harry hanging at their sides.
He lucks out when he catches someone ducking out of the room and into the hallway, off toward the bathrooms. If it weren’t for the mop of hair, he wouldn’t have paid a second’s notice, but.
For the briefest of moments, Louis wonders how long it’ll be like this. Today is Harry’s last day and even then, he’s something like a magnet that just knows to catch Louis’ attention. If he had every shot in the world with Harry, then he knows he wouldn’t mind feeling like this all the time.
Harry doesn’t look up immediately when Louis slips in behind him, and for the first time, Louis knows what it’s like to be the one walking in. Per usual, they’re alone and he considers how many other bathrooms there have to be to allow them this sort of privacy each time. But he won’t question it—not now, when he has to say something.
He dreams up something cool to say but the only thing that falls out is, “Hey.”
Harry jumps, actually jumps, and Louis thinks he’s better at this when the roles are reversed. The relief in his eyes when he sees it’s only Louis makes him warm inside.
“Christ, Lou,” he says, laughing a bit. “What’s up? Other than you scaring me shitless, of course.”
“You’re like a deer,” Louis says, inching closer. “You scare too easily.”
Harry rolls his eyes rather than feigning hurt; they’ve spent enough time together for him to know it won’t work with Louis. “Thanks for the party, by the way. ‘S a bit weird, finally saying goodbye to everyone. Three months went by like that.”
It’s not until Harry actually says that out loud that Louis realises yeah, it’s only been three months. But three months, he figures, is more than enough time for everything to change. This, right here, the two of them, is proof of that.
“Um.” Harry shuffles closer to Louis, looking down and pulling his bottom lip between his teeth. “I’m actually glad you’re here because, well, I wanted to—”
“Wait,” he says, looking up at Louis with determined eyes. But he knows well enough to leave it alone. “I have something to say.”
Louis swallows, and nods.
“Basically, this is my first internship ever,” Harry starts out, smiling slightly, “and I was terrified to move out to LA because, like, gangs and stuff.” Louis snorts but Harry presses on, grinning fully now. “But you made everything so much better. You’re a proper friend and you made everything feel like home even when it wasn’t. Like, you’re the only one here who knows what actual tea is and…and I can’t believe that three months is all the time I got with you because, well, because. Fuck, Lou.” He’s laughing, actually laughing, and Louis has to question his sanity right now. “Because I think we could’ve had a long run. A much longer run, and I’m really going to miss you.”
He’s still standing there, frozen, when Harry flings himself around Louis and hangs onto him fiercely. It takes a moment’s delay before he’s hugging back, insides bursting with every sort of emotion he didn’t even know he could feel. Goddamn it. Goddamn it. He’d been planning out this speech, meticulously rehearsing word after word to get it right, only to have Harry pour his fucking heart out like that. It’s…it’s…
It’s fucking frustrating, is what it is.
“Goddamn it,” he whispers out loud.
Harry draws away, but just enough so that he’s still holding onto Louis loosely.
Louis casts his eyes downward, thinking of the right way to go about doing this. If he’s going to do this with Harry, going to do all of this, then he has to do it right.
He looks up then, brought back to earth by the feel of Harry’s strong arms cinched around his waist. It’s a feeling he doesn’t plan on giving up any time soon.
“So,” he starts. “I got a job.”
Harry blinks before tightening his hold on Louis again. “Shit, Lou, congrat—”
“Wait, no, no, no,” Louis says, fast enough that Harry is watching him now carefully. “That’s not all.”
“Okay,” Harry says slowly.
“I’m going to be a staff editor for a website called MonstR,” he explains, taking in every detail on Harry’s face. “Have you heard of it?”
Harry shakes his head.
“Well, that’s fine.” Louis looks down again to pick invisible lint off Harry’s shirt. “They’re opening offices up in select cities, which kind of works out for you. D’you wanna know why?”
There’s a moment’s breath where it’s just Harry staring at him like he’s maybe, finally figuring this out, but it won’t be real until Louis says it out loud, until he puts it into words that it’s actually happening.
He smiles. “I’ve accepted a job in Boston.”
Harry breathes in deeply, the muscles in his neck moving with it. “I, um. When—”
“Three weeks,” he says quickly. “Turned in my notice two days ago.”
They stand there in silence, suspended in a moment untouched by everything else out there. Here, it’s them in each other’s arms, watching and waiting for the next move. Louis doesn’t even know if he’s breathing with the way that Harry is looking at him, all intense and awed. He makes a mental photograph and tucks it away for safekeeping.
Then, a breathless, “Really?”
Louis laughs and it feels like the first real one in weeks. “Yeah. Really.” He runs a hand across Harry’s chest; suddenly feeling like this is the right thing to do. “It’ll be hard at first, getting used to a new city. But maybe if I had some help…?”
“Oh my god,” Harry whispers, light flooding his eyes. “I—I don’t—fuck, can I kiss you?”
He reels with the question, already falling in when he says, “Obviously.”
And just like that, they’re kissing again. It isn’t the first time, hardly even, but in a lot of ways it feels like it is, even in this bathroom where he’d broken Harry’s heart once. The thought barely registers in his mind as he holds onto Harry’s shoulders, arching up into the kiss properly like he’s seen in the movies, bending beneath Harry’s body until he gets the hint and grabs Louis by the waist to drag him in impossibly closer.
They shift to make it better and it works as Louis winds his arms around Harry’s neck, both of them smiling like idiots as their lips slide softly together. Their sounds echo against the tiles and Harry backs him up against the sink, spanning his hands across Louis’ back like he’s looking and looking and can’t get enough. It’s only a second before he’s actually lifting Louis onto the counter, and it’s the second time he’s been manhandled like this but with Harry, he thinks it might become A Thing.
He’s fine with it.
When they break apart, they’re both making soft little noises and Louis is just so incredibly pleased to have Harry in between his legs, breathing against his neck like he’s just run a marathon. With their hearts beating this fast, he wouldn’t be surprised.
“I like you,” Harry says finally. “I think that’s appropriate to say now.”
Louis laughs again, huffing warm air against Harry’s shoulder. “Is the jig up, then?”
Harry replies by dropping a sweet kiss to the corner of Louis’ eye, his cheek, his chin. It’s impossibly tender and Louis wriggles with the sensation of it.
“We’ll go to the best Italian places,” Harry whispers, his thumb rubbing circles into Louis’ hip. He’s so warm. “I’ll feed you cannolis in the Commons and I’ll lick the cream off your nose.”
Louis gives a filthy grin. “I bet you will.”
“That, too,” Harry says easily, kissing him again like he can’t stop. “So much of that, it’s not even funny.”
Somehow, Harry makes that sounds completely endearing.
“I like the sound of that,” Louis sighs happily.
“Wait,” Harry says suddenly like he’s remembered something. “I’m still technically an intern…which means you’re still technically my boss. Which makes this,” he gestures between them, “a bit improper.”
Louis tries to think of something to say to that, but he’s so fucking happy, right here and in this moment, that he can’t.
“Fuck it,” he says easily.
Harry snorts, leaning in for another kiss. “Happily.”