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Black and White, Why I'm Here Tonight

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“My last question – and this is kind of a serious question, because I was having a conversation with somebody from the network earlier – do you think it would be a good idea at some point to have a gay or bisexual bachelor?”

"No.”

"Why not?”

“Just ‘cause… I respect them but, um, honestly I don’t think it’s a good example for kids to watch that on TV . . . There’s this thing about gay people it seems to me . . . they’re more ‘pervert’ in a sense. The show will be too hard to watch.”

Simon held the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger and let out a heavy sigh. No matter what he’d done he couldn’t make this disappear. He devoted an entire season to just badmouthing Juan Pablo, but the ratings hadn’t improved and there was still a stigma attached to the show. Especially after the Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality, “The Bachelor” just seemed “old fashioned, sexist, and bigoted,” according to a recent focus group.

So he’d resorted to doing exactly what the banished bachelor had spoken out against – having an openly not-straight bachelor. They’d selected their candidate extra carefully, going through five times the regular screening procedures and even a preliminary week in a test bachelor scenario. The final choice: a high school choir teacher from North Carolina named Louis Tomlinson. They’d specifically chosen a bisexual bachelor to not totally scare anyone away from the traditional setup of the show, but intrigue anyone who had stopped watching because of the scandal. It wasn’t the first time a show like this had been made, by any means (“A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila” comes to mind), but this was the highest profile show of its kind.

So far, interest in the show had piqued. It’d been searched more than any other reality show out, but that meant nothing for the ratings. He was just going to have to trust the love of trashy TV that Americans held so deeply for that.

He wasn’t so good with trust.

Chapter Text

x x

“Hello, I’m Louis Tomlinson and I am the bachelor.” A montage of his life began to roll across the screen as he narrated. Naturally, there were quite a few shirtless scenes. “I'm 25, from North Carolina - a cute little town called Hillsboro - and I teach high school choir to an amazing group of kids. Music is one of my biggest passions, behind my family. I have five younger sisters and one younger brother. With so many children around, I had a hand in raising some of the older ones and I can't wait to have a family of my own.

“To be completely honest I don't quite know how I ended up here. But I'm a big believer in fate and I truly believe that I'll find my soulmate through this experience.

“It's an honor to be the first bisexual bachelor but I don't want it to be a big deal. I'm so happy I have the opportunity to provide representation for so many people, but at the end of the day this is just another season of someone trying to find love.” That was the script. Well, the abridged version at least. Originally it wasn't even mentioned, but Louis was adamant that it truly was a big deal and finally got that bit in the script added.

He stood in the same spot where so many men and women had stood before him. It felt strangely monumental – not just because he was the first bi bachelor, but because he really, truly believed in the process. He’d watched the show growing up with his sisters, teasing them for getting so emotionally involved, but deep down he’d been even deeper down the rabbit hole, dreaming of the day he could participate. It wasn’t that he was naive about the process - it was all a scam! But he really felt like he’d meet his soulmate, no matter the outcomes of all the previous matchups. There had to be some reason all of these people were brought together. With all the romance in the air, however manufactured, it had to rub off at least a little.

That feeling wasn’t instant though. He’d done it as a joke with his sisters. He thought it was Lottie playing a prank when he got the callback. Then he had his live audition where he prolonged the joke, going as over the top mushy as he could bear and by the end of the five minutes was so into it that he forgot it was a joke. He may have accidentally slipped a few “he” pronouns into his monologue by accident and thought it was over. The moment they said he got the job he snapped back to reality and started puking. The producer, Caroline Watson, had talked to him for months to convince him he was right to do the show. She explained the historical importance of the season and even drove to his house one night he was particularly freaked. Just part of her job. It’s why she’s paid the big bucks.

Chris Harrison, the most pointless host in the world, walked up to him and patted him on the shoulder. “So, how are you feeling? Are you ready for the first limo?” Louis’ gut reaction was to make a snippy comment – it was what he’d grown up doing and Chris’ voice had Pavlov’ed its way into his brain. But he knew if he was going to be kept as the bachelor, he’d have to cooperate. He’d been given a strongly worded warning that they would not have another situation like Juan Pablo, and that they have no problem scrapping the idea and starting over with a new bachelor, his reputation ruined.

“As ready as I’ll ever be. Bring it on,” he said with a smirk.

As the first limo drove up the driveway and came to a stop just a few yards in front of him, he couldn’t help but hold his breath a little. (And also maybe pee his pants a little.) They’d told him much less about the setup of the show than he thought was fair. For all he knew, there could be 25 girls and this could be just another season of a trashy TV show that no one would remember in a month. Or, just maybe, this could be the start of something new.

The door opened and the first candidate stepped out. A man with fiery red messy hair in a simple black suit closed the door behind him and stretched his face into a gigantic grin. In just three easy strides he reached Louis and put his arms around him in the tightest hug he’d experienced since Daisy and Phoebe were young. It lasted a few beats too long to be a normal greeting of two strangers, but he went with it anyway. This show was going to be awkward no matter what. When the man released him, he was still smiling ear to ear.

“I’m Ed. I am so happy to be here – you are the most amazing man and I wouldn’t have shown up for anyone else.” He took a big breath as Louis opened his mouth to respond, but cut him off. “I hope to see more of you tonight.” And then he walked away.

Well that was the shortest and strangest introduction he’d ever been a part of. He hadn’t even gotten a chance to say a single word. But this was only the first person. The limo door started to open again before he could even catch his breath.

The next man was more professional looking: his suit sharp and well fitted, and hair brushed. But he was holding a bottle of tequila in one hand and shot glasses in the other. Louis started shaking his head through a smile.

“Hey!” the man yelled, as he walked forward.

“Hey! Whaddaya got there?”

“I’m Jeff, and I figured you might be just as nervous as me tonight, so I brought a little gift for the both of us.” He winked at Louis as he handed him the glasses and popped the bottle.

“I think this is just what I needed, Jeff. On three?” Jeff nodded in agreement and they counted together. “One… Two… Three!” They both drank them back and the rest of the night seemed to go a little better – not as scary, at least. The rest of that limo consisted of a man in a wedding dress (Calum, who Louis thought made one too many jokes that made his gender-confused heart flinch), an absolutely stunning man named Zayn who’d drawn a picture of the two of them making goofy faces at each other, and someone that referred to himself as “Grimmy,” which Louis thought was a bit strange, as he would never introduce himself to someone by a nickname that vaguely resembled the word “grimy,” but to each their own.

The next limo was ushered in and five women were introduced. The first was the tiniest person he’d ever seen. She introduced herself as Camila and stumbled over her words and feet, but it was cute. The next was a flight attendant named Lauren, who brought out a seatbelt and pretended to teach him the safety procedures, which Louis was 90% sure he’d seen on a previous season. Then Eleanor, who was soft spoken but seemed sweet and was calm, cool, and collected. Sophia was next, appearing in a stunning black gown. If Louis was completely honest, he didn’t hear a single word she’d said. He was all too focused on trying to breathe normally in front of such a gorgeous woman.

The last woman of that set was Jesy, wearing a short enough dress to see the perfect line of script running across her thigh. When she approached him, she took his hands in hers and quietly said, “Now I know the first introduction is always awkward. So I thought, why not get all the awkwardness out of the way on the spot? Should we go ahead and share our first kiss?”

Louis looked at her mildly startled, then cocked his head, “Why not?” They both leaned in for the gentlest, most innocent kiss, lasting all of a few seconds. It was not awkward at all. They smiled at each other before she walked into the mansion behind him.

The next limo had five more women. Ally, who was a tad too touchy for Louis’ taste. Leigh Anne, a pediatric nurse who’d brought a note from one of her patients and read it aloud, imitating the child’s voice as they’d written “my best friend Lee-lee.” Louis couldn’t help but be endeared by her obvious love for the child and passion for her work. Is it wrong he realized it reminded him of his mom?

Then there was Normani, who he had to calm down to speak to at all. Taylor stepped out next, tall and stunning she strutted up to him confidently and greeted him with a kiss on both cheeks. She left it at a sweet introduction and a promise to get to know him better. Then Dinah Jane. Oh, Dinah. She was one of those who had really done her research on him and let it be known, saying she knew they were meant for each other between every minor detail of his life. It was a tiny bit creepy in Louis’ opinion, but he tried not to let it show. The entire idea behind the show depended on the contestants’ creepiness, after all.

The next car was full of men again. Luke was too tall and too baby faced for him, but he internally swore to give him a chance. Greg made it very clear that he has a son and that son is the most important thing in his life. Liam took a deep breath and spoke too fast about how much this opportunity means to him. It was adorable. Ashton drove up in a motorcycle, but was rather boring when he started talking.

The final limo drove up and a man with bright green hair stepped out. Louis was unsure, to say the least. But when he opened his mouth, the questions slipped away. This man was definitely a no. He was trying to repeat that stunt from the bachelorette a few seasons ago immediately jumping to the fantasy suite. Because even though that was obviously a no-no for Desiree, because Louis is a bi man, that is obviously acceptable. Louis just stared at the key in the man’s hand.

“Are you serious? I can’t tell if you’re serious? I’m really hoping you’re not serious.”

“Um…”

“I’ll take that as a yes. I don’t know what you were expecting when you signed up for this, but it’s a no from me. I want you to leave right now.” Louis’ voice quivered a little, but he thought he held it together pretty well. He could feel Simon’s eyes lighting up from behind the camera at the thought of someone being sent home this early. He knew it’d make great commercials.

Michael closed his hand around the key and stepped back. It was reminiscent of the scene at the end of Gilmore Girls where Logan walks away from Rory. Except less emotional. Well still emotional, but just anger and annoyance.

Taylor, 28, Dental Hygienist, Wyomissing, PA “ Oh. My. God. This is a game changer. He is obviously not playing by the rules of previous seasons. I knew this would be different but oh my God! Telling someone to leave right off the bat like that?! Wow…”

Zayn, 25, Comic Book Illustrator, Joplin, MO “I feel so bad for Louis. That was obviously really uncomfortable. Michael’s a dick. I would’ve kicked him off, too!”

Louis took a deep breath and tried to clear his mind from that tragic moment of his life. Both the present moment and when Logan left Rory - they were both pivotal moments in his life, the latter more so. The next person to step out of the limo was a blond man with spiky hair carrying a guitar. As he walked toward Louis slowly, he swung the guitar in front of him and began to sing.

“At first I was afraid, I was petrified - Kept thinking I could never live without you by my side. But then I spent so many nights thinking how you don't know me. How could it be? So I dropped my life to see if we could love in outer space! I just walked in to find you here with that hot suit upon your ass! I should have changed this stupid hair, and had a better melody. If I'd known for just one second you'd be here to date me. Go on now, go, don't slam the door! Just turn around now, 'Cause you're not alone anymore. I really hope that you won't hurt me with goodbye. Do you think I'd crumble? Did you think I'd lay down and die? Oh no, not I! We will surviveeeeee!”

By the end of the song Louis couldn’t wipe the stupid smile off of his face. It was like one of his students had written something for him. He couldn’t help be proud, but he couldn’t really tell why? Proud? What a strange emotional response to this particular situation.

“My name’s Niall, by the way.”

“Hello, Niall. That was incredible. Thank you so much. We will definitely get to know each other much better, I believe.” Niall smiled wider and gave him a big hug before walking into the mansion. He was definitely a contender.

Ed, 29, Bartender, Chicago, IL A little angry, “That was absolutely genius. I should’ve done that.”

Next, a woman in a long purple dress with a high slit cut into it stepped out from the limo. She was walking like she might already be a little buzzed, but she wasn’t sloppy exactly, just giggly. Very cute and sweet. Her name was Jade, and she was walking away as fast as she had appeared. Next was a woman named Perrie, who had done her hair to look like Princess Leia, and when asked about it, she said she just liked the way it looked and seemed festive.

Then a man with long legs wearing a ridiculous striped suit appeared with long curly locks. No, really - it was the most hideous suit Louis had ever seen and yet it was really fucking hot when he wore it. Louis was intrigued. He beamed as he walked up to him and grabbed his hands. They were cold but warm, which made absolutely no sense. What was Louis even thinking? Emotionally warm? That didn’t really make any sense at all. But this strange man was messing with his brain a little. He was chewing gum kind of obnoxiously, but it was almost attractive in a douchey way.

“Hello, I’m Harry.” he spoke in a calming, deep voice and took long strides with his hands pointed outward, dipping down with each step to create a goofy looking walk. “I think I’m the last one, so you’ve probably heard how great you are a million times by now, so instead of telling you that, I thought I’d keep this short and just say that you being you is inspiring. And I’m a big believer in fate, and I think that whether or not we hit it off, we’re both meant to be here. So I hope you find what you’re looking for in one of us over the next few weeks.” He finished with a sweet smile in the side of his mouth and pulled Louis in for a hug, whispering in his ear so the cameras couldn’t hear, “I hope it’s me you find though.”

Harry’s hair smelled like fresh fruit and Louis was enthralled. Maybe he should’ve been afraid of Harry. Soulmates was a big yikes to be talking about when you’ve only known each other for maybe a minute, but he was just really smooth. It felt sincere, and he’d found a way to not sound creepy at all. It felt comfortable, somehow - right. Harry pulled away and tried to take a step toward the mansion at the same time and tripped over Louis’ foot, making him stumble back into his arms. So Mr. Perfect here wasn’t so perfect after all. Then his dimples popped out as he blushed and apologized quietly as he looked at the ground. Louis scrunched his nose to keep from splitting his face open and squeezed his arm as he walked away. Something inside of him was telling him to back off. Like he was feeling Too Much for this stranger. But wasn’t that the point of this whole experience?

Nick “Grimmy”, 32, Radio Talk Show Host, Santa Monica, CA “ Are you fucking kidding me? Is this soulmate shit really working? I could have spewed that shit too, but I figured a reasonable guy like him would puke or scream or run away at that. But now he’s all goo goo eyes?! Oh, It’s on, Styles.”

Dinah Jane, 23, Law Student, Charlottesville, VA “I really hope he was looking at me like that. I mean, I said the same kind of thing, right? I hope I made a better impression than that dude.”

Chris walked up to Louis and grabbed his shoulder again. (He’d been instructed to be at least as touchy as he normally is if not more so with Louis. Viewers can pick up on little clues and Simon didn’t want anyone to think Chris was at all uncomfortable with this season, even if he was.) “So how are you feeling about all of those wonderful ladies and gentlemen in there?”

“I’m overwhelmed to tell you the truth. I didn’t think I’d like more than one of them. This is going to be a lot harder than I thought.” He gave the usual answer and was excited to see everyone again. He didn’t want to have to deal with all of the formalities, but knew it was a necessity. The two of them walked into the mansion to where all of the contestants were greeting each other, some more kindly than others.

“Ooh, look who’s graced us with his presence!” Niall shouted, a bit too loudly as he was probably past the tipsy mark.

“Hello, ladies and gentlemen.” Chris nodded to Niall. “I think I’ll propose a toast then leave you all to your party.” He motioned to a glass of champagne that they had grabbed on the way in. “Here’s to Louis finding love in this incredible place, and to all of you - best of luck. Cheers!”

***

Ally, 22, Waitress, New York, NY “It’s important to maintain as much eye contact as possible. I need to really get the biggest impact for a short period of time that I can. There’s a lot of beautiful people here and I need to stand out.”

Ally was obviously trying to make as much eye contact as possible. Her eyes were huge and it was a little uncomfortable for Louis. She was nice enough, but there was nothing clicking exactly. Every touch seemed mechanical rather than natural.

“Sorry, do you think I could steal him away for a few minutes?” Greg walked up, trying to remain as small as possible to not disrupt them too much. This was going to be an awkward few weeks with 24 people dating one man, but if everyone was as respectful as Greg, it would be okay.

“Um… sure. I think I’ve had my fair share of him for the night.” Ally glanced at Louis one last time, probably hoping for a “don’t go!” or a first impression rose, but he just smiled back at her as she left.

“Hello, Greg!”

“You remembered my name! I’m very impressed!”

The night went on, Greg showing pictures of his son, which would have seemed like too much too soon, but Louis really appreciated how loving he sounded. He was really gushing over that little boy. It was refreshing. Many of the other people there did nothing but talk about Louis, which in small doses was great. No one likes talking about themselves more than Louis does, but it got to be  too much. No matter how many times he changed the subject, there was always another person he’d need to steer away.

***

Louis relaxed back into the couch outside and tried to absorb everything Zayn was saying. Their hands were touching, but not completely intertwined. He was hypnotizing. Every word he said pierced Louis’ skin.

“...so I’m like, course I’m gonna spray paint the walls!” Louis couldn’t help but laugh. Zayn was the most down to earth, amazing, low-key hilarious, not to mention hot as fuck, person he’d ever met. It was just natural with him. He knew what he had to do.

“Would you mind waiting here a second?” He squeezed Zayn’s hands when he nodded and rose to step away.

When he returned, he had a red rose in hand. “Zayn, it’s been incredible meeting you tonight. You’re stunning and hilarious and I would love to get to know you more. Will you accept this rose?”

“Of course I will.” Zayn smiled up at him as he took the rose, then wrapped his arms around Louis’ neck for a comfortable, warm hug.

Zayn, 25, Comic Book Illustrator, Joplin, MO “Yeah. I mean obviously I’m so, so happy to have received the first impression rose. I’m just glad to have another day to get to know him. He’s really great.”

***

After talking to nearly all of the 23 remaining (minus Michael), it was time for the first rose ceremony. Louis had practiced his “Will you accept this rose?” voice, and his apologetic look for those he doesn’t select in the mirror (which was pretty difficult because he has a habit of unconsciously smiling when he delivers bad news), but he was more nervous than ever. How did he get himself into this situation? Who was he to reject people just like that - without more than a few moments of small talk? All of them seemed nice enough, and he could definitely grow to love a few of them, but how was he supposed to know which ones this early? He couldn’t make a mistake, even if it was just a stupid TV show.

Chris walked in the room behind Louis, “Are you all ready for this? I know it’s a tough decision for Louis, as you’re all really incredible.” Turning to Louis, “When you’re ready.”

“As Chris said, it’s been hard making these decisions. You’re all lovely people, but I’m just going to go with my gut here. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for all taking a chance on me.” He took a deep breath and picked up the first rose. “Niall.” Niall broke into a grin and skipped to the spot in front of Louis. He couldn’t help but match that grin. It’s infectious. “Niall, will you accept this rose?”

“I was hoping you’d ask.” Grabbing the rose, he pulled Louis into a tight hug and then walked back to his spot. The ceremony continued, everyone receiving their rose without incident. At the end, Ally, Calum, Lauren, Jeff, Luke, and Dinah were the ones who would leave.

Luke, 22, Tree Lover, Lexington, KY “I just feel like I really lost my shot. I didn’t get to talk to him for long at all. But I guess that’s that.”

Lauren, 25, Flight Attendant, Emporia, KS Crying, “...Hijo de su pinche madre! Vale verga! Rata de dos patas! …” Her face suddenly changes as she smiles into the camera and laughs. “You thought! I don’t give a fuck, my girlfriend is at home; we just wanted a third. I’ll be just fine.” That won’t be aired for sure.

Calum, 26, War Veteran, Austin, TX “I’m just… I wish this would have worked out. I feel like I’ve been looking for a relationship that could last for so long. And they just never work. I know I’m young, but when it happens over and over again, you start to lose hope. I just want to feel loved.” He shrugs sadly as the camera holds on him for a second too long.

Ally, 22, Waitress, New York, NY “I don’t have anything to say really. It didn’t work. That’s ok. I’m sure he’ll find his ‘One’ here somewhere. And hopefully mine is still out there.”

Dinah Jane, 23, Law Student, Charlottesville, VA “Yeah I’m bummed. I wish I could have even stayed one more week. Just to get a real shot. I’m not gonna make a scene, but I’m not gonna say it doesn’t hurt either.”

Jeff, 30, Real Estate Agent, San Francisco, CA “I’m not really heartbroken. I mean it sucks, but I tried. I didn’t even really get the chance to know Louis that well so I’ll be okay.”

Chapter Text

x

Greg grinned as he walked into the living room of the mansion with an envelope in hand. “We have a date card!” Everyone’s heads turned excitedly from their conversations.

Perrie, 25, Elementary School Teacher, Jacksonville, FL “Ahh! The first date! There's so much pressure on whoever’s there. It can really make or break the season.”

Greg opened the envelope with anticipation in his eyes. “A group date!” He looks back down and reads the riddle. “We go together like rama lamma lamma ka dinga da dinga dong!”

Perrie started screaming. “Grease! Grease! Oh my God!”

Greg hurried to read the names, if only for Perrie’s sake. “Greg. Ahh me! Zayn. Ashton. Liam. Ed. Nick. Niall. Harry.” All of guys started whooping and hollering.

Jade, 23, Accountant, Annapolis, MD “ If this was going to be an all guys’ season then why am I even here? I know Grease better than all of them. Whatever this date is, I'd have been da bomb.”

***

“Hello, boys! Well I hope you all got the Grease reference from the clue. That play, and movie, means a lot to me because it was my first real performance when I played Danny Zuko in high school.”

Harry, 23, Baker and Aspiring World Changer, Harpers Ferry, WV “Picturing baby Louis as Danny is a little bit too painful to handle… Him in those tiny little red shorts? Wow. I am thinking a lot of things.”

“So I thought today we could recreate the Greased Lightnin’ scene with our own music video. It's my favorite song from the movie and to perform and I thought it'd be fun to get all the guys together and be the T-Birds!” Niall looked like he could run a mile. He’s jumping up and down and his arms were above his head in the victory stance.

“Thank you for your enthusiasm, Niall. As I want to be in video, too, I thought it'd be best to have a third party here to direct.” He turned to the door of the large gym where they all stood as a middle aged woman entered. “I am so honored to introduce to you all Didi Conn, who played Frenchy in the movie!”

All of the men began clapping and Didi faked shock and gratefulness with a hand to her chest as she stopped in front of them all and took a little bow. “I am so excited to be here with all of you beautiful men but we'll just have to see if you're singers and dancers.

Zayn, 25, Comic Book Illustrator, Joplin, MO “ I didn't sign up for this.”

Ed, 29, Bartender, Chicago, IL “I'm not gonna lie - I'm a pretty decent singer and I'm stoked to show Louis what I got.”

Of all of the boys, only Nick and Ashton hadn't seen the movie before. They all sat in front the costume rack huddled around a laptop to allow the two a chance to see the video. Niall and Harry used the opportunity for karaoke.

Only a few seconds into the video, Nick looked up at Louis, “Looks gay, I'm in!” After they'd had ample time to study the video, everyone was given a costume- leather jacket, white t-shirt, and jeans. Then they were sent to hair and makeup. Ashton tried to refuse to stay “manly” but was quickly denied.

Louis’ original idea behind the video had been to actually set roles for everyone, but the numbers didn’t quite work out, so he thought it’d be more fair to just have a pack of men singing alternating lines. He admired all of the slicked back looks and leather jackets and tried not to show any favoritism (but if he was honest, Ed looked kind of - ok, really - strange with that particular hair style).

They divvied up the lines of the song, and everyone practiced their parts as seriously as if it was an actual audition. There was singing all around, and some of them weren’t half bad!

Greg looked up from his lyric sheet. “Hey, I thought the line was ‘the chicks’ll cream’?” Niall started laughing hysterically.

Harry turned to them from the hair station, completely stone-faced, “Wait, I’ve always thought it was ‘the chicks agree’?”

“Have you people not had any schooling? It’s ‘the chicks’ll scream’!” Louis’ voice got higher, and he seemed mildly offended.

Greg, still contemplating any deeper meaning of the song, furrowed his eyebrows. “I guess that does make more sense.” Niall was still laughing, probably more out of nervousness than actual humor at this point. No one seemed to mind though.

Harry finished getting his hair done and walked towards the group. It was too long to just slick it back so the hair stylist put it in a low bun with lots of gel. He looked good. Really good. Louis tried not to stare. He couldn’t make any comments in a group setting or drama would start really quickly, so he just looked back down at a lyric sheet. Not that he needed it. “Ok! Are y’all ready to start?”

Niall decided he was going to be front and center. At one point he dropped to his knees for dramatic effect and ended up injuring himself in the act. Ashton fought him for the front man but failed. He didn’t know the words well enough and couldn’t get the dance moves quite right. Nick and Greg were all over the dancing, while Ed and Harry really nailed the growl. Zayn very much tried to fade into the background, and mostly succeeded.

Given that Louis had done this before, he should be fantastic. And he did not disappoint. The other men had trouble concentrating on their own parts. Even with Niall taking center stage, the others seemed to move around Louis like some sort of gravity. An Edward-Bella kind of movement.

x

When they finished recording they watched it back, complete with popcorn and a giant couch. Nick, Greg, Ashton, and Ed sat in front while the other five squished together comfortably, throwing popcorn at each other and laughing (well the former was mainly Louis and the latter, Niall).

As the video came to an end, Zayn patted Louis’ leg beside him and asked just above a whisper, “Do you think we could talk for a minute?”

“Of course, babe!” They both got up, untangling themselves from the other three and each other. There was already another area set up for just this purpose: a loveseat surrounded by flowering trees and plenty of throw pillows and blankets in case the night got chilly. “How are you feeling?” He asked as they got comfortable again, just as close.

“Okay. I just felt like I needed a few minutes to talk to you. I know I didn’t really stand out in that video… It’s not really my thing.”

“Not your thing?”

“I don’t really like the spotlight very much.” He hadn’t made eye contact once.

“And here you are on TV. What happened there?”

“My mom,” he chuckled. “She sent in the application, thinking I couldn’t find someone on my own. I decided to go through with it when I found out you were the bachelor this season. I thought I could fake it for you. It’s hard to fake a personality, did you know that?” A dark smile creeped its way onto his face.

“Well I’m flattered.” He lifted Zayn’s chin to meet his eyes. “I get it. Well maybe I don’t - I love being on camera.” They both laughed, leaning in closer to each other. “But I promise to never make you do anything else embarrassing ever again - at least on camera. And I do know a little about trying to fake it. I went a whole year after figuring out I was bi trying to act straight. I couldn’t do it - I’m pretty flamboyant, if you haven’t noticed - and my mom already knew, so I signed up for a musical and here we are.”

“You’re amazing, you know that?”

“I’ve been told a few times this week. Not that I believe it though.” Zayn leaned in even closer. It started innocently, Louis meeting his lips and moving his hand to the back of Zayn’s neck. He shifted, moving impossibly closer and lifting his leg to curl it around Louis’. They fit together perfectly, and they could have been there for hours before there was a thump close by and they sprang apart like shrapnel.

“Oh God, I didn’t mean to - sorry! I’ll just…” Niall started backing out of the area.

“Niall! Sorry, you can have him. I think... we’re done here.” He smiled back to Louis and squeezed his leg as he got up, almost missing Louis’ quiet whisper of “I knew there was a reason I gave you that rose.” They had A Moment while looking into each other’s eyes as Zayn left and Niall took his seat.

“Hey, Ni. Sorry about that. This is all a little… awkward.”

“Nah, don’t worry about it. I knew what I was gettin’ into.”

Louis looked at him, a little confused, “How are you so cool about this? No one else knows how to act. Including me!”

“I don’t know. I’ve never really been the jealous type. Everyone here is cool. You’d be lucky to end up with any one of them.”

“Not you? You’re not campaigning for yourself?”

Shocked, “Of course, I am! I don’t wanna come across ungrateful or uninterested. I am in this for however long you want me here. You… you’re incredible. I hope you know that. Watching you in that video - I realized just how much I want you, how much I want to be here.”

“You’re pretty incredible yourself. You even got hurt on the job! How’s your knee?”

“Ahh, it’s fine. It’s been a thing forever so don’t worry about it.”

***

“Do you think he’s kissed anyone yet?” Liam was patiently waiting for his turn with Louis.

Nick responded. “I don’t know. I mean except for Jesy the first night.”

Zayn, 25, Comic Book Illustrator, Joplin, MO “Pfft, I’m not telling anyone! Well okay, maybe I’d tell Liam, but if I tell all of them they’ll react badly and I don’t need that right now. I feel good. Whether or not I get the rose tonight, I feel like I’ve gotten the validation I need.”

Niall returned to the group and a few minutes later, Louis. “D’ya mind if I join, boys?” He smushed himself between Greg and Liam on a couch. Everyone eyed the rose sitting on a table in front of them, and Louis slowly picked it up. “I’ve had a great night getting to know each of you a little bit better.” He twirled the rose between his fingers steadily. “I’m going to give this to the person I feel like I’ve really seen blossom in that video today. He was energetic and up for anything, which is something I really admire in a person.” He took a deep breath and turned his head. “Niall, will you accept this rose?”

“I would be honored.” He reached over from his seat across from Louis and took the rose, his fingers lingering over Louis’.

Liam, 24, Firefighter, Beaufort, SC “You know what? It sucks! It really sucks. I know it’s early, but I just feel like I haven’t had any real time with him and there’s a real chance that I’m going home this week if I don’t force that time with him. I didn’t think this show would be so much work!”

***

x

“I just think… I mean have you ever seen such a hairy back? There's no way Louis is into that.” The other women looked at Jade and laughed. They probably just didn't want to accidentally become the drama girl of the season. Because who knows how much that gets exaggerated.

Jade, 23, Accountant, Annapolis, MD “I'm not crazy - I mean there's no way. It's disgusting! How are they not shouting about this too?”

Camila hopped into the room, “Someone has a date!” Everyone else turned in anticipation. The first one-on-one date is a huge honor. Camila opened the card slowly to build suspense. “Leigh Anne, Hollywood awaits… From, Louis” Leigh started squealing while everyone else tried to hide their bitterness.

A few hours later, Louis pulled up in a vintage convertible. He jumped out and greeted Leigh with a kiss on the cheek. They waved to everyone else as he pulled away.

“So, what are we doing?” Leigh turned to him after putting her chunky sunglasses on.

“Oh, so driving around with me isn’t enough?” He looked at her fake expectantly then immediately continued, “It’s a surprise!”

“You’ve got to be kidding me. I hate surprises please just tell me so I can mentally prepare! I don’t want to accidentally mess it up!”

“But that’s half the fun!” Just at that moment, just as they were really getting onto the highway, the car started making sputtering noises and Louis was forced to pull over. “Um… this isn’t what was planned. I mean vintage is just code for old so I don’t know why I wasn’t expecting this.” Meanwhile, Leigh could not stop laughing. “You know what? Fuck it!”

They ended up walking the rest of the way: a better idea in theory than in reality. The first few minutes were nice. They strolled down the road hand in hand. Then the exhaustion set in as they essentially climbed a mountain. The producers definitely seemed in on the joke- they definitely could have gotten another car… or a helicopter or private jet or hot air balloon or anything. But once they got to their final destination, it was all worth it. There was a picnic set up below the Hollywood sign, and because of the delay in arrival, they made it just in time for sunset. It was gorgeous, and they were hysterical after the walk. The two of them sat on the blanket laid out and opened the basket. Louis pulled out the bottle of champagne from the ice bucket and poured both of them a glass. He toasted simply, “to us,” and they drank.

Leigh pulled out the food prepared for them and leaned into his side as they got comfortable. “How are you feeling about all of this?” She asked quietly.

“I don’t really know. This is the craziest thing that’s ever happened to me. I don’t really even know how I got here. One day I was helping take care of my new baby siblings and the next I’m sorting people into ‘yes’ and ‘no’ piles. This is just… big, you know?”

“Aw, you have baby siblings?”

His quiet voice turned chipper. He never turned down an opportunity to gush about babies. “Yes! Six, in fact. The newest twins are by my new step-dad.”

“I don’t mean to intrude, but what’s the story there?”

“Oh, no problem! Well my biological father disappeared pretty soon after I was born. My mom remarried and I was adopted by the man I call ‘dad’ now. I got four new siblings and helped raise them, as my mom kept working full time and she and my dad ended up getting a divorce. They just fell out of love, I guess. And then she found my step-dad and they are the happiest couple I’ve ever seen.” He paused for a moment, but without a response, he continued quietly, “I think I just wanted to find my own version of that.”

She smiled at his little confession. Even in this impossible situation - sitting in front of the Hollywood sign with a beautiful woman and being the bachelor on a ridiculous tv show - he felt comfortable. Maybe it was Leigh. Or maybe he just somehow knew that he’d find the one here. That they were close and it was finally happening for him - what he'd been waiting for his entire life.

***

x x

The remaining women climbed into a limo at 9 o'clock that night prompted by another note from Louis. All it had said was “Shoot an arrow through my heart,” so no one really knew what they were getting into.

They pulled up to an abandoned warehouse and the car came to a stop.

“Um… are we at the right place?” Taylor tried to peek out the window, looking for any sign of life. Or Louis.

Just then something hit the side of the car and shook it violently. All but Sophia and Jesy screamed.

Another hit from the other side and more screams. There was a figure running around the car.

Taylor started screaming and shaking, wiggling trying to get away from something. “There’s something on my foot! It’s grabbing me! Make it stop! Make it stop!”

“Oh my God, Taylor.” A voice said from underneath the seat, laughing as he crawled out, revealing himself as Louis. “I’m sorry, but that was hilarious. You were so scared!”

Taylor was not as amused as Louis or the other girls. She rolled her eyes, but accepted a hug from Louis after he escaped.

“Were you hiding under there the entire time?” Jade looked a little nervous as she tried to remember if she’d said anything embarrassing during the ride.

"Well, yeah. But don't worry! Y'all were cute!" They all climbed out of the car slowly and were huddled outside when Chris Harrison walked up.

"Hello ladies, Louis."

In unison, "Hi, Chris."

"Tonight all of you are going to make your way through a haunted paintball course."

Sophia, 26, Model, Los Angeles, CA   "This is my kind of night!"

"You'll be split up into groups and make your way through these buildings behind me. There are lots of people waiting inside for you and you are to shoot them and get through. There are clues hidden throughout to lead you to the location of the cocktail party. You should not shoot each other under any circumstances, only the bad guys. The groups may cooperate with each other, but the last group to find the party has to go back to the house immediately, giving up the remaining time tonight. Whichever group Louis is in does not automatically win. If his group is last, those in his group will have to return to the house. Are you ready?"

Camila, 22, Grad Student, Atlanta, GA Her mouth had dropped open and she was darting her eyes back and forth. “I’m already gonna have to run around crazy and if I don’t win I don’t even get to see Louis?!? What the fuck?!”

Everyone grabbed a paintball gun and chose groups. Taylor, Sophia, and Eleanor ended up in one group, Camila, Jade, and Perrie in another, and Jesy, Normani, and Louis in the final one. He was silently fought over of course, but they all played it cool enough.

Each group chose to enter a different building. The first building was a huge warehouse with giant crates creating a maze. Taylor and Sophia were the badasses of their group, shooting everything in their path. With Eleanor following and calling out directions, they made it to the first clue pretty quickly.

She read, "'One of these is not like the other.' Well that's really fucking helpful. What is that telling us? Okay, let's just keep moving, maybe it’ll become clear." Sophia shot another zombie.

***

Camila was a screamer. But a surprisingly effective one. She kept her eyes closed with each shot and somehow hit each target. Their building was also a huge warehouse, but it was disturbingly empty. There was junk lining the walls so the bad guys could hide, but it was dark enough that the girls couldn't see past a few feet in front of them. Jade didn't know what was happening at all. She just stayed quiet, not noticing any target before Camila got it. With Perrie giggling with each step and shooting an appropriate amount of guys with chainsaws, they found a clue. (This one more helpful than the last.)

Jade picked it up. "You are not in the place where it is."

"So I guess we... just... leave?"

Perrie took the note from her and stuffed it in her pocket. "I think it means there's nothing else here. We should walk to the next building."

Camila took the lead and hit a ghost with the butt of her gun in panic before realizing that nothing is real. "Holy shit, oh my god, are you okay?" The ghost reached for her with a groan and she screamed again and shot it in close range. She yelled, "Sorry!" as she ran away towards the door. Jade and Perrie were giggling nervously as they followed her lead.

***

The final group was in something that looked more like a house on the inside. There were rooms filled with old creepy dolls, and rooms with nothing at all. They made their way with Louis scaring each of the girls as much as he possibly could, and added nothing helpful to the process. Jesy was trying her best and looked legit, but kept aiming and missing horribly. Luckily, Normani was amazing and after shooting a doctor covered in blood, she found a note attached to his back that read, "I know where to go.”

“Wait, were we not supposed to kill him? How were we supposed to know that?”

“Dammit, Mani!” Louis teased through a laugh.

“Well if neither of you are gonna take this seriously, I guess I have to. If he’s supposed to have known, it has to be clear directions from here, so keep looking around the room for any other clue or trap door or anything.” Louis took a seat on a crate and let the others do the searching.

***

The other two groups bumped into each other outside, with Camila almost shooting Taylor. She apologized by giving up their clue. They figured out the right building and went inside. A wall of zombies approached them and were getting slaughtered until Jade yelled out, “Stop! There’s a clue on their backs!”

Perrie knocked them off guard by running at them and was able to grab a clue. She ran back to the group screaming and jumping like she had found a spider in her hair and threw the clue at Jade.

“‘I know where to go.’” She looked up at the zombies and started talking to them like they were toddlers. “Can we follow you? Are you going to help us?”

One of them nodded and grunted and they all turned around and led them through the house. Louis’ group was making a lot of noise in one of the rooms and saw the zombies leading the group.

Jesy yelled, “Normani, follow them instead!” The second she’d said it, the zombies started running at full speed.

“Shit! It’s a race!” Taylor was the fastest but Perrie was right behind her. They were led through cobwebs and over mounds of dirt and down steps and up a ladder and a whole lot of other things. Eleanor fell behind the rest of the group and fucked the chances for her team.

It was a long sprint to the finish though. They were in a ridiculously long underground hallway lined with flashing red lights. As they got closer, they could make out Chris Harrison, shouting “Your entire team needs to cross the finish line to win!”

The women and Louis made it to the finish line roughly in a clump. They were in a cool hangout spot in the basement, set up with food (lots of pizza and beer) and bean bag chairs and fairy lights and a fireplace. “I’m sorry girls, but you’ll have to say goodbye to Louis. Eleanor, Taylor, and Sophia, you have to return to the mansion.”

Taylor, 28, Dental Hygienist, Wyomissing, PA “Listen, I am not about to lose another opportunity with Louis because of someone else. If I fail, it’s going to be because of me. I’m not playing nice anymore.”

After the losers and Chris had left, the remaining girls and Louis spent quite a while as a group getting to know each other. They all heard about Perrie’s dogs and Camila’s music addiction. It was a nice bonding session, but of course that’s not good TV.

Caroline threw a chip at Jesy to get her attention without disturbing the others. When she caught her eye, she motioned to Louis and tried to charades her way to a rose and kissing and something no one could have possibly understood, but Jesy got the point.

She held up a finger to Caroline, ( One minute! ) then pointed to Normani talking.

Caroline shook her head with a stern look on her face and pointed to her empty watch hand while mouthing “now or never.” As if on purpose, she shifted her weight to the other foot, so the intern prepping the group date rose was in plain view.

“Hey Louis, sorry to interrupt; do you think I could borrow you for a minute?”

“Sure, darling.” Caroline smiled to herself and used the cameras to escort them to the prepared one on one room.

Once they were out of earshot, “That was so much fun tonight.”

“I thought so too! I’m glad these group dates aren’t too awkward. Yet, at least. I thought our team was kind of badass.”

“If only Normani hadn’t fucked it up, we could’ve won by a long shot.”

“Yeah, she’s gotta go home for sure. I can’t have that kind of negligence around.” He smiled, joking of course. They continued to talk, banter, gossip, and laugh, but the more they did, the more he began to realize there were no more than feelings there.

A knock on the door. Camila peaked her head in, clearly drunk. “Hiiiiii can I join?”

Jesy stood up, “Sure, I’ll give you two some privacy.”

Jesy, 26, Photographer, Washington, DC “I think we had a really good talk! He’s just so wonderful. So kind and present and,” her eyes got huge, “beautiful! You can never be sure here but I’m about as sure as I can be that I’ll get a rose this week. And with any luck, that will be the rose just in the other room!”

Before the door was even closed, Camila started talking. “Louis, you’re just so fucking hot. We know how this is gonna end up. Just let the others go. It’s us standing here at the end.” With that, she lunged forward for a kiss, but Louis swerved and hugged her instead. She was wasted enough not to notice.

Camila, 22, Grad Student, Atlanta, GA “See you fuckers next week!” From behind the camera, “You haven’t gotten a rose yet, you know that right?” “What?”

***

“So Perrie, how’d you end up here?”

“The typical answer: I had a shitty ex who said nasty things about me and I want to get over the whole meeting people thing and just get to the good part already so this seemed fun.”

Louis scrunched up his mouth and furrowed his eyebrows. “I don’t know how typical that answer really is.” He started to smile but she remained serious.

“Maybe, but it’s not a joke though. I really had a tough time after him and I’m ready to dive back in and just make this one last. And I’m pretty damn sure you’re not as shitty as him so I’m good there.”

“Thanks for the confidence!”

***

Chris walks in the main room where everyone has gathered, with a rose in hand. “Don’t mind me, I’m just going to put this right here.” He placed it on the table and backed out of the room.

Louis was the first to speak up. “Well that’s a buzzkill.” All the women laughed nervously. “I guess I should just get this over with.” He picked up the rose and inched forward in his seat. “I want to give this rose to the person that I feel I really got to know better, in the game and in her head. Perrie, will you accept this rose?”

“Absolutely. Thank you.”

***

Eleanor, 26, Stylist, Salt Lake City, UT “I really need to step up my game. I’ve barely said a word to Louis all week. If I don’t get a chance to really imprint my face in his brain tonight , I’m going home To-Night . And that just wouldn’t be fair. I deserve a chance just like everyone else.”

Everyone gathered in the living room of the mansion before beginning to get ready for the cocktail party when Chris walked in. “Hello ladies, how is everyone doing?”

Unanimous mumbling. His announcements usually were not good news.

“I have a message from Louis - he’s already made his decision for tonight and wants to skip the party and head straight into the rose ceremony. That means you will not get another chance to talk to him before possibly going home. I’ll see you in a few hours.”

Eleanor, 26, Stylist, Salt Lake City, UT “What the fuck?!?!”

***

x

All of the contestants were standing on one side of the ceremony room when Louis walked in to stand beside the table covered in roses. “Hey, guys. Sorry about the change in plans. I just - I’d already made my decision and talking to any of you any more would just make it harder. None of you deserve to have this dragged out like that. And I don’t think I do either. So, I guess we should get started then…”

A helpful recap: Perrie, Niall, and Leigh Anne all already have roses. The remaining competitors are Ed, Nick, Harry, Zayn, Ashton, Liam, Greg, Eleanor, Normani, Camila, Jade, Jesy, Taylor, and Sophia.

Louis picked up a rose and took a deep breath. “Liam.”

Liam wiped his face with his hand (of relief, not tears), and approached him.

“Liam, will you accept this rose?”

“Yes.” And they hugged and he returned to his spot and the cycle began again.

“Jade… Taylor… Nick… Harry… Greg… Normani… Sophia… Zayn… Eleanor.”

So that was it. Jesy, Ashton, Camila, and Ed were going home. Jesy started crying quietly the second she realized and moved quickly to say goodbye to the others then hug Louis and make her way out before she got too embarrassing.

A camera followed her on the way out. “I just really thought I had something here.” Sniffle. “I wasn’t idiotic enough to really believe I was going to make it to the end, but couldn’t I have lasted just a week longer? Am I really that repulsive?” Her tears sped up and she couldn’t help the gasps any more.

Louis was alerted of the drama and excused himself from the toast happening inside. He found Jesy stepping into her limo. “Wait a second, can we talk really quickly?”

She continued to hide her face but didn’t move forward into the vehicle any further.

“I’m so sorry. It’s truly nothing against you. I just didn’t feel that spark, you know? It happens to everyone! You are an amazing person. And under normal circumstances we could be best friends.” He chuckled solemnly and paused for any sort of response. When none came, he put his hand gently on her shoulder. She immediately pulled away from the contact and started gasping in tears again.

“Sorry, I just - I have to go.”

Chapter Text

Week 3: Universal Studios 

They all take a trip to Universal Studios. Liam, Perrie, and Greg do the Men In Black ride and get a private tour of the whole place and pose with aliens. Go to a restaurant and just walk around the park, meeting characters and having fun. 

Nick, Normani, Harry, Eleanor, Taylor, Leigh, Niall, Jade, Sophia, and Louis all play quiddich then they eat at three broomsticks. 

Zayn has a one-on-one where they do yoga on the beach. It's super hot and Louis tells Chris he's falling in love. Greg, Normani, and Sophia leave.

 

“Helloooooooooooooo!” Taylor was laying across the steps up to the bedrooms, holding her cellphone to her ear while it was on speakerphone, clearly very drunk. The phone beeped, as she had been singing over the ringing and voice mail message. “Oh! Oh fuck you aren’t there are you?” She was laughing through her words so that they were barely comprehensible. “Oh well. I’m just sitting here missing you. I wish you were here but I don’t think I’d like it if you were here though. You would win and I love you but I don’t want you to win because that would mean you’re with Louis and not me and that’s not right! You’re right. I’m right. Forget Louis… Timliston? Tossiton? Tonisson? Whatever it is - we should get that fucking bachelor wedding. We deserve it and we have a way better love story than anyone could on this show. It’s not real, Kar-Bear! I miss the world - this is all so fake. I love you come pick me up please. I just miss you a lot. I miss you, Karlie!” The voice mail had beeped to end the message somewhere along the second “miss you,” but her point had been made. 

Perrie looked shocked. She’d been two steps into the room when she realized what was happening and froze to keep listening before Taylor noticed her. 

Eleanor, Perrie, and Nick were sitting on the patio chairs by the beach. “Someone needs to deal with this. If Taylor doesn’t say anything - if she doesn’t leave - I mean how can we let this happen to Louis? If he’s falling for her, he’ll be so hurt by this. I don’t want to tell him!” Eleanor looked on the verge of tears. “It’s not fair to us either. She doesn’t even want to be here. She’s taking our time with him from us!”

“I’m here for the drama, but every time someone lets the bachelor in on the drama, they take the heat for it.” Nick put his hands up as he stood up, “I’m out. I’m not saying anything. It’ll work itself out or one of you will deal with it. I’m gonna try to stay out of it.”

As Nick walked back inside the house, Perrie looked up at Eleanor from where she was reclining. “I know what you’re saying, and something should be done. But I really don’t want to be the one to do it. Nick’s right. Whoever says something is gonna go. They’ll always be the one that comes across as dramatic to him.”

Eleanor, 26, Stylist, Salt Lake City, UT “I have to do it. I’m gonna tell him. I have to.”

 

 

Week 4: San Francisco

Nick has a one-on-one where they go to Alcatraz and take a haunted tour at night. Nick can't stop making Askaban jokes. They keep screaming and laughing and it's tons of fun. 

Niall, Liam, Zayn, Taylor, Jade, Perrie, and Leigh play soccer with a bunch of kids. Zayn quietly bonds with a little girl, while Leigh is clearly experienced with kids. She gets the rose. 

 

Harry, 23, Baker and Aspiring World Changer, Harpers Ferry, WV “Listen, no one is excited about a two-on-one. One of us is going home, and El has clearly gotten close to Louis so I really don’t know about this. But whatever happens, happens. If I go home, at least I know myself a little better.” He takes a deep breath. “I don’t want to go home though. I don’t want to ever see Louis for the last time…”

“Hello, my lovelies!” Harry and Eleanor half ran up to Louis to see who could jump into his arms first. Harry won. “I thought we’d take a helicopter today; how does that sound?”

“Amazing!” 

“I’ve never been in one before!”

“I’m excited! We have a very simple, very romantic date planned. Hopefully we can try to get past the awkwardness of a two-on-one?” Louis reached for both of their hands as they approached the helicopter, making it very obvious to the two contestants that this was not going to be not-awkward. 

They flew over San Francisco as the sun set and the lights started to flicker on. Every time Harry or Eleanor saw something exciting - whether it was a bridge or a tiny island or landmark - they would tug Louis toward their side of the helicopter, pulling him away from the other person. It didn’t get any less awkward when they landed close to the Golden Gate Bridge and they both tried to pull him out their side of the helicopter. He ended up de-linking both hands and waiting for both of them to get out before he moved at all. He didn’t grab either of their open hands again.

The three of them walked over to a table set up with candles and cloth napkins folded into swans. There was a single rose lying in the center of the table. 

Harry and Louis sat down and Eleanor stopped halfway in the air, popping back up, almost flipping the table over. “Louis, I really need to talk to you before we even eat. Can I just have a minute? I’m so sorry, Harry. I just need a minute.”

“Um, all right. Yeah, we can go just over there.” Louis pointed over towards the helicopter and they started walking in silence. 

Harry continued to sit awkwardly, pouring himself some wine and sipping slowly.

Louis plopped to the ground, resting his back on the bottom of the chopper. “What’s going through your mind?”

Eleanor chose not to sit down and started pacing in front of him. “I didn’t want to do this. I feel awful doing this, but I couldn’t not do this.” She took a deep breath and held her hand to her face. 

Louis reached up to grab her hand and stop her pacing. “It’s ok. You’re scaring me. Just say what you need to say.”

“Taylor drunk dialed her ex.”

“What?”

She started talking faster, a rush of words falling out of her mouth as quickly as they could. “Perrie saw her leave a message on her ex’s phone saying she missed her and she loves her and she doesn’t want to be here anymore. Then Perrie told the rest of us. And I just - I couldn’t let you go on thinking she was here for the right reasons. She’s taking up your time for other people that -”

“Excuse me,” Chris Harrison disrupted their concentration. “I’m so sorry to interrupt, but there’s a woman here that says she needs to speak to you, Louis.” Just then a tall blond woman who bore a remarkable resemblance to Taylor approached the group. 

Harry raised his head and tried to listen more closely as he continued to sit alone at the table. 

“Hi, Louis. My name is Karlie. Um… this is really awkward, I’m so sorry about this. Um, do you think we could talk for a minute?”

“Sure…” He knew what this was about. He’d put the pieces together. Eleanor had obviously done the same and had frozen in place with her jaw dropped to the floor. 

After taking a moment to collect herself, Eleanor walked back to the table with Harry. There was a few beats of silence before she started to fill Harry in on what had happened. 

Karlie took a deep breath and looked into Louis’ eyes. “I’m so sorry about this again. I just -” Her voice was calm and slow, her speech rehearsed and heartfelt. “I got a call and I couldn’t not act. I love Taylor. She loves me. She said she doesn’t want to be here anymore. But I don’t think she can tell you herself. She’s competitive. It’s one of her faults.” Karlie began to smile as she thought of her, but quickly brought back focus. “She can’t just leave a show like this. She has a chance at a prize and she cannot leave on her own. She’s gonna fight to win you but she doesn’t want to win. She’s going to get to the end of this and not know how to get out of it.”

“What do you want me to do about her?” Louis wasn’t saying it in anger, or at a loss for words. He just wanted every side of the debate.

“I want to talk to her. I want to convince her to come home with me.”

“But what if you can’t? What if she wants to stay? You broke up for a reason. What if the drunk dial was just that - a drunk dial?”

“...We’ve kept in contact this whole time. This isn’t a fling or a mistake. The mistake was her coming here in the first place. Her parents convinced her I’m not right for her - “too girly,” I think were their exact words. But she knows that we’re right together.”

Louis tilted his head back, running his fingers through his hair as Chris returned to the conversation.

Louis approached the table of the two people vying nervously for his heart. They both sat up straighter when they noticed him. “Hey, guys. I feel horrible doing this. We haven’t even had dinner yet. But, I have to go deal with something. I promise I’ll make up the time with you both. I can’t even give one of you a rose because we’ve had only a few minutes together. I promise, tomorrow night we’ll have our time.” He hugged them both and walked away with Chris and Karlie. 

Harry, 23, Baker and Aspiring World Changer, Harpers Ferry, WV “Um…” There was a very long pause as he just darted his eyes around the room. “What just happened?”

Eleanor, 26, Stylist, Salt Lake City, UT “...Is this all my fault?”

“I wonder what they’re doing.” Jade was absentmindedly braiding her hair as she sat curled into the armrest of the couch. “Do you think he’ll definitely send one of them home? Who will it be?”

“Harry has it in the bag.” Zayn was reclining on the other end of the couch watching her. Nick and Leigh were on the floor with their backs leaning against the base. The tv was on but no one was really watching. Two-on-ones are always tense, but these two were well loved by the whole house. Taylor was across the room in an un-reclined recliner chair with Perrie at her feet. Everyone was just waiting for word. True, they all wanted to be the last one standing, but it’s still hard to see a friend go. Liam and Niall were dealing with the stress in their own ways - Niall was sleeping and Liam was doing laps in the pool.

The others hummed in passive agreement, but Perrie turned her face away from the group. She and Eleanor had gotten really close and she couldn’t imagine going through the rest of this experience without her. Losing Sophia had already hurt her enough.

A knock on the wall behind them pulled them from their thoughts and made Jade jump enough that she kicked Nick in the back of his head. “Sorry for startling you!” Louis turned the corner into the room with Karlie hiding behind him. The second she looked up from the floor, she locked eyes with Taylor. She gasped and kicked Perrie in the head when she jumped to her feet. Leigh pulled Perrie into her side and started patting her head. “Taylor, do you think the three of us could talk for a few minutes?”

“Sure,” she breathed. The three of them left the rest of the group in stunned silence. 

The remaining five of them looked at each other with wide eyes. “I have to go tell Liam and Niall.” Nick got up and ran out of the room. Just then, Eleanor and Harry came into the room, looking just as confused as the rest of them. 

“Was that…?” Jade started.

“Karlie, yeah. Tay’s ex.” Eleanor looked exhausted. She plopped down into Taylor’s seat and spread out dramatically. 

“So neither of you…?”

“Nope. We didn’t even get a real date. I had just started to tell him about Taylor’s conversation from the other night and she just appeared with Chris Harrison. Why does that guy always have bad news?”

“He said we’ll get some time with him tomorrow night.” Harry interjected as he squeezed himself between Zayn and Jade. “It’s not the same as a date, but I guess it’ll do.”

Harry, 23, Baker and Aspiring World Changer, Harpers Ferry, WV “Yeah, I’m mad! I’m sorry, am I supposed to be okay with this? At least Eleanor got a few seconds alone with him. I got nothing. And this was my chance! Ugh!” He was yelling, then exhaled a long breath and continued, quieter. “Yeah, I’m pissed.”

***

“Karlie? What are you doing here?” Seeming to forget Louis’ presence, Taylor grabbed both of Karlie’s hands in her own. 

“You can’t come on a show like this if you still feel something for someone else. Did you really think you could just forget me? Are you really ready to marry someone else?” Karlie was less scripted than before. Her voice was louder and faster.

“I don’t… I…”

“Why did you come at all? Just because your dad said something disgusting? He’s been pushing you your whole life, forming you into who he wanted you to be. Until you went back home, you were happy! We were happy! Why would you listen to him?”

“He’s my dad!”

“That doesn’t mean that what he says is gospel. You need to think on your own.”

Louis was still there. “Girls, I shouldn’t even be in this conversation. I think I’m going to excuse myself…” He started slowly backing out of the room, but his movement seemed to spark Taylor back to reality. 

“Wait. I…” Taylor closed her eyes for a second, seemingly to convince herself to say what she had to. “There’s no point in us talking any more, alone or otherwise. She’s right…” Her voice got quiet all of a sudden and she shrugged one shoulder with a soft smile. “I shouldn’t have come here at all. My mom set it up. They wanted me to end up with a guy and I fell for it - I just don’t want to disappoint them. I don’t belong here at all. It’s not you that I want. Karlie and I… We’re endgame. I should be back home with her. I’m so sorry about all this.”

He was shocked, to say the least. When he entered the show, he didn’t expect everyone to throw themselves at his feet, and even less, he thought that at least half of them would leave the show of their own accord after they met him. But as time went on, he may have slipped into self absorption a little. It’s pretty impossible not to when you have twitter accounts dedicated to you and housewives having fantasies about you, not to mention the 20-some people that dropped everything for the chance at a few dates with him. So hearing someone just outright say that they don’t want to be with him?

Strange.

But he understood. “I get it. I’m glad you two found each other, and I’m glad I got to meet both of you. I’ll give you time to explain to the others and say goodbye.” 

Niall, 24, Musician, Nashville, TN “Um, what the hell?! I can’t believe I slept through all of this!”

Taylor, 28, Dental Hygienist, Wyomissing, PA “I feel good. I think all is right with me again.” She smiled softly to someone off camera.

 

Louis apologizes to Harry just before the rose ceremony starts and gives him his rose. Eleanor leaves but Louis clarifies that he's glad she approached him.

 


Week 5: New York City 

“I got a date! I got a date!” Niall was hopping around, mocking the rest of the room. It worked for him. No one was upset like they would be if anyone else did the same thing. After about his third hop they even started joining his chant. 

The one-on-one goes to Niall, who ends up on the most cliche, over the top, perfect date ever. They go ice skating, to a movie set type place with fake rain where they kiss, go to central park, a hot air balloon, go skinny dipping. BUT it's all shortened. The second they're up in the air they have to start going down. They literally have to run through the rain to get to the skating rink, etc.

For the group date, they do American Idol with James Corden as the host/judge. Harry sings Isn't She Lovely and Louis says that he could be a star. Perrie and Jade are fucking amazing. Nick is the worst ever. Leigh raps Nicki. Zayn is unbelievable and gets the rose, but Louis admits he feels like Zayn's heart isn't in it and he needs that validation. Liam gets a one-on-one to Niagara Falls. They go on a private boat to the base of the falls and get soaked and share a kiss. (Think that scene in The Office when Jim and Pam get married).

Nick, Perrie, and Jade leave.

 

Week 6: Hawaii

Liam and Leigh go snorkeling and have pina coladas on a two-on-one, but Louis can't choose between them so neither gets a rose but neither goes home.

Another two-on-one with Niall and Zayn.


"Both of you have been amazing tonight and I had a tough time choosing. But the person who is receiving the rose tonight is the person I feel has really tried tonight to do things out of their comfort zone. Zayn, will you accept this rose?" He held the rose up to be taken from him, but Zayn didn't even look up from his feet. Louis reached toward him to get his attention. What was he doing? Had he fallen asleep?

"Lou..." Zayn reacted just before he was touched.

He nodded, a question in his eyes.

"Um, can we talk over there for just a few minutes?"

He was nervous and Louis knew there was something big on his mind. What else could he have to say that was so big? Why wasn't he just taking the fucking rose? They both gave Niall a nervous smile and walked just out of his earshot to a small sitting area already set up on the other side of the boat. 

"I have to talk to you about something..." He was hiding his face and Louis did not like it one bit. 

"Well I kind of got that already. What is it? You can tell me anything, you know that."

"Do I, though?"

"Well I can't speak for you, but I want you to be able to tell me anything - to really be yourself, because that's who I want to see. I don't want you to feel pressured into doing anything that's not 100% you." He leaned over to rest his hand on Zayn's thigh, but he pulled away. 

He was struggling to get the words out, but finally got the words out in one fowl swoop. "I don't know if I can be here anymore."

"What are you saying? I thought we were past that?"

"Exactly!" He abruptly stood up and was suddenly yelling. "YOU thought we were past that. But I never was! You always try to force your own feelings on other people. Just because you can date a bunch of people at once doesn't mean that other people can! Just because you try to talk your way out of something and think you succeeded doesn't mean you have! You don't think of other people. I've tried to explain this but you over and over again but you just haven't listened to me! You don't get it! We're different and you think a couple of conversations will fix everything."

"But..."

"No! It's my time to talk. Don't you dare fucking interrupt me again." He looked at Louis to make sure he got it. From the horrified look on his face it was pretty clear he had. Zayn took a deep breath and continued talking, this time in less of a yell and more of a hushed scream. "I can't stay here - with so many people you care about, and so many other people you actually understand, and - I - you don't -" he took a fist full of his own hair trying to compose himself again. "This may be realer than I thought it was going to be, but it's still just a fucking TV show. I have to second guess every word, every movement, every look, everything! I get enough of that in my daily life - I don't need this added pressure."

"But it goes right back to normal after this. We can have a normal life - it doesn't matter how we started. We can still have a happy ending!"

"Do you really believe that? After we finish filming, we'll be trashy reality TV stars. Random people will recognize us on the street and we'll never be allowed to do anything embarrassing again without fear of major humiliation."

"If you didn't have any intention of staying - if you never believed in this in the first place, then why'd you even come? Why'd you let me think I could have you? Why'd you let me give you that stupid rose the first night?" 

"I didn't think it would come to this! I thought, at best, I'd get a good story out of it. Fuck, I'm lying again! I didn't even want to come. My mom forced me. She woke me up with a phone call one morning saying she knew I was bi and said I needed to 'get out there' because she thinks I'm lonely. She told me to come so I would. I was hoping to hate you and for you to hate me so I could just go home again. But then you spoke, and we hit it off and I changed my mind. I wanted to stick it out. But then I saw you with the rest of them. And you hit it off with them, too. And I just can't do it. The only way I'm staying - the only way I go back to that house instead of straight to the airport when we dock is if you can tell me right fucking now that I'm going to be the one you propose to at the end of this. You have to tell me right fucking now or I'm out for good."

"You know I can't -"

"I don't want any of that showbiz shit, I want a real fucking answer. Is it me? Can you tell me that you will for sure bring me to the finale and propose?""I... Please, Zayn."

"Is it me? I need an answer.""I love you."It doesn't even slow him down. "But do you love one of them, too?"

"I..."

"That's what I thought. There's no future for me here. I think I have to go now." 

 

Super awkward ending to other two-on-one and Niall doesn't get a rose either. Louis talks to Chris and admits that he really did love Zayn and doesn't know what he's going to do anymore. There may not be a proposal at the end of it. Chris makes weird gestures that hint that he may actually like Louis and makes everything weird.

Harry has a one-on-one with a clue on the date card about italian food and they end up going to chuck e cheese where there's tons of bickering and joking then to a private ellie goulding concert where she sings sweet disposition and army all acoustic. Harry rests his head on Louis' shoulder and says this is a once in a lifetime experience and Louis says "only if you want it to be." In a talking head, Harry can't stop smiling and says he just really loves italian food. 

At the rose ceremony they all talk together because everyone's actually super close. Leigh ends up leaving.

 

 

Week 7: Hometowns

Louis goes to Liam's apartment the night before the hometown is supposed to start and tells him he's gonna let him go. Liam has a breakdown.

He does the same to Niall but he's actually super thankful - says that he didn't want to hurt him after the thing with Zayn but he really wasn't feeling anything more than friends anymore. Makes a comment that Harry is perfect for him. 

Harry's hometown - they go to the bakery Harry works at which they have to themselves and lick cookie dough off each others fingers - turns into making out. Go to the appalachian trail and scream off a cliff. Gemma and Anne love Louis to bits and tease him about the glamorous reality show life. Harry gets lost in his own town. Louis doesn't tell him he's the only one left, but does tell Anne. tells Chris that he might love him. 

 


Week 8: Puerto Rico/Overnight

Harry, 23, Baker and Aspiring World Changer, Harpers Ferry, WV “Listen, I know you’re not supposed to spill what happens in the mysterious fantasy suite and I should just let the world’s minds wander… but we didn’t sleep a wink.” He hesitated and broke into a smile. “No, really - we spent the entire night on the beach talking about the future and our family and about our hopes and dreams and fears and just everything. We watched the sunrise and…” His eyes got shiny as he took a deep breath. “It was the best night of my life. Ever. I don’t want this to end. I just don’t know what’s happening with Liam and Niall. They could’ve broken sex records, whatever that is, for all I know. There’s no way my chick flick perfect night beach sesh could beat that.”

Louis Tomlinson “Nothing could beat that. It was amazing and there’s nothing left for me to think about. I’m proposing to him as soon as humanly possible.” He smiled into the camera, knowing that they couldn’t air it in that episode. He just needed it off his chest.

In Puerto Rico they walk through historic San Juan and see the sunset over the beach while talking. Harry says the reasons he fell in love with Louis. Louis says, "I love you, too. Wait oh fuck. I can't say that. God, Harry not like that I mean that they told me not to say it, not that I don't mean it because I do but you can't know that yet oh, fuck. Fuck it I love you, Harry."

 

The Final Rose

Chris walks away, leaving him alone. Louis put his hands on either side of his face and pulled his head backwards, seeing the light from the sun through his closed eyelids. He moved his right hand to his pants pocket and felt the lump where the tiny ring box was kept. He smiled.

His opposite pocket started vibrating. He opened his eyes and reached for his phone. Zayn’s face was staring back at him from his contact picture. He slid to answer.

In the quietest voice possible, “Zayn?”

“Don’t say anything,” hardly the greatest introduction. He was desperate, “please. I am so sorry. I fucked up. I fucked up so bad. I shouldn’t have left. I thought I was better out of all of this but I can’t stop thinking about you. I need you, Louis. I -”

“Stop talking. You left me. You hurt me. You don’t get to come crawling back. You left. You told me you didn’t want to be in my life.

“That’s not what I -”

“No. You can’t come back from that. I am about to have the happiest fucking moment of my life and you are not allowed to ruin it. I sprang back from you. I found someone who cares enough about me to give a shit what happens to me. You left! You - Fuck this, I’m over you, you’re not going to ruin this for me and Harry. We’re happy. I don’t know how I fell for you, but it wasn’t real at all. You were right about that. But me and Harry - we’re it. We’re the real thing. And you can’t take that away from me. I waited for you to call. For you to try to come back. But you’re too late. We’re done. We were done long ago and I’m better for it. So… thanks, I guess. I almost made a huge mistake. But I’m good now.”

“I’m sorry… I - I’m glad you’re happy.” There was a click and he was gone. Louis stared at his phone for a second before putting it away and taking a deep breath. Closure: the sweet smell of closure.

 

Harry walks up, clearly nervous. Harry confesses his love (again) and then waits for Louis to start talking. When he does, he admits that Harry has been the only one left for weeks now. The only one he's dating and the only one for Louis. He drops down on one knee and proposes. Harry says yes and they kiss and live happily ever after. 

 

After the final rose

Louis and Harry are incredibly happy together. They privately got married at a courthouse but will have their TV wedding too.

Zayn is there and apologizes again to Louis but says hes happy for both of them and remains pretty quiet otherwise. 

Niall comes out as asexual and says that he and Jade are in a QPP.

Perrie and Leigh are together.