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The Twenty Four Hour Cafe

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There’s a cute boy in Louis’s coffee shop tonight.

(a very cute boy).

He’s made a nest for himself on one of the couches, taking up the entire leather space with papers and textbooks and a sparkly pink pencil case spilling its supplies.

He appeared about three hours ago, no doubt lured by the 24 Hour sign and the promise of free refills of coffee. This boy is on his fourth cup, and Louis is seriously considering secretly switching his drink to decaf before the boy has some sort of heart attack.

After the second refill, Louis had started just walking over to his couch with the pot and refilling. It’s been rather hypnotizing, watching the boy switch between drinking the coffee like water, writing notes, highlighting, and typing on the laptop balanced on his knees. It’s been like a strange dance. A strange dance of a boy who clearly got behind in his schedule; probably a procrastinator.

-

“Free refills” is one of the least intelligent business decisions Louis thinks this coffee shop has made (at least it’s only on black coffee), but he thanks it tonight, as it gives him an excellent excuse to watch the boy as he works. It’s only to see when he next needs a refill, truly it is.

Which happens to be right now, actually.

He fills a cool blue mug, leaving enough room for the ridiculous amount of creamer the boy has added to each cup so far.

He walks it over carefully (swinging his hips helps him keep balance, okay?), and sets it down in front of the boy, picking up the empty mug that’s just been finished.

“You might want to slow down a bit,” Louis says. The boy looks up at him with wide eyes.

Like, really wide eyes.

Like, maybe he needs to blink more.

“How many have I had?” the boy asks. His voice is deep and ridiculously slow, even as his eyes are the size of the moon and his hands are shaking as he pours the creamer in with barely a glance at it.

“This is number six, I think,” Louis says. “You don’t have a heart condition, do you? I don’t want to have a customer’s death on my hands.”

“Five… cups?” the boy asks instead. He still hasn’t blinked. He looks like a small wild animal, glancing down at the notes again and back at Louis. “But… I only have… five more pages.” Does he look scared now? Why does he look scared?

“Hey, it’s okay,” Louis hastens to reassure. “I’m not cutting you off, just making sure you’re alright.”

The boy, for what it’s worth, looks relieved. “Thank you… so much. Thank you so much. I only have five pages left.” He blinks. “You’re very cute.”

Well that’s one way to tell Louis which team he plays for. Huh.

Louis can feel his ears burning, he slops some coffee on the table. The boy is completely brazen about it; for that matter he may not have even realized he said something.

“Um- thanks,” Louis gets out. “Can I get a name with that flirt?”

“Harry,” the boy says after thinking for a moment.

“Well good luck with your paper, Harry. I wish you the best of luck.”

Harry looks like he might cry. Louis hopes it’s just the lack of sleep making him emotional.

“That’s so… sweet of you,” Harry says, brows drawn as if he had to dig deep inside to find the words to speak.

Louis nods, unsure how to respond. “Well I’m sweet like that,” he ends up saying. “Call if you need anything.”

He turns toward the counter, but finds himself turning back when he hears Harry mutter, “But I don’t have your number…”

Jesus, is this boy drunk or has he just completely overdosed on caffeine? It’s endearing but also concerning. “Tell you what,” he says. “Come find me at the end of the night and I’ll give you my number, as a reward for finishing your paper. Sound good?”

Harry nods enthusiastically, and reaches for his cup of coffee, adding creamer until the cup is filled to the brim. It’s the third time he’s added creamer to this cup. With those shaking hands, Louis thinks, there’s no way Harry can drink that without spilling.

Louis makes his way back to the counter, and he looks back to see that the boy, as predicted, has spilled coffee across his notes, but he seems too entranced in his writing to notice.

Harry doesn’t need another refill, and eventually Louis starts having to make drinks for the morning rush (morning rush in his coffee shop tends to start around five, which disgusts Louis to no end. Why wake up before the sun rises?).

A low rumble of voices now rolls over the soft music as business picks up (and only an hour until he’s off work!), but when a certain deep voice begins to drawl, Louis immediately hones in on it.

“No, I didn’t make it home last night.” Harry is speaking into his phone, clearly trying to speak softly so he doesn’t annoy other customers, but his voice is much to deep to be able to whisper.

“I had a paper due… No, I haven’t gone to sleep yet… No, I’m fine, really- … The coffee shop on the corner, what do you mean you’re already here?”

The bell above the door chimes as a boy bursts into the building. “Hazza!” he all but shouts, earning glares from the early rising businessmen and women who simply want to caffeinate themselves in peace. If he even notices, he isn’t embarrassed by it, making a beeline for Harry and throwing his arms around him.

“I was so worried!” he coos into Harry’s neck, his blond hair squishing against his cheek.

“Ni…” Harry mumbles, clearly embarrassed. “Please let me go. Don’t you have a class to get to?”

“Sure do,” Niall says. “And so do you! But first, I’m treating you to breakfast. Knowing you, you’ve been destroying your insides with acidic coffee all night. Come on, up up up!”

Harry sighs and pushes Niall off of him in order to start gathering up his papers and books into a tall pile, topping it off with his sparkly pink pencil pouch and sliding it all into his bag with his laptop.

Niall tugs him by the arm until Harry is up and following him, tripping over his long legs with a sleepless haze.

They pass by the front counter and Harry pauses in front of Louis, almost overbalancing Niall who is still trying to tug him out the door.

“Um,” Harry says to Louis. No less eloquent than he has been the rest of the night, Louis supposes.

“Don’t worry about it, Love,” Louis says. “Come back some other time and we’ll continue this.”

Harry nods and his face lights up like a lightning bug. He lets Niall pull him out the door and Louis faintly hears the Irish lilt, “were yeh talking to strangers again?”

-

Harry is not back the next night. Louis thinks that’s probably good. As adorable as the boy is, he was pretty low on sleep and another night of insomnia would probably do nothing good for his health.

The night after that Louis has off. He rather hopes Harry doesn’t show up when he’s not there.

On the third night, Louis is polishing some glasses (pretending the coffee shop is a bar is one of his favourite pastimes), and the bell above the door chimes to alert him of a new customer.

A new customer with a mop of curly hair and a pink sparkly pencil case.

He’s got a travel mug in one hand and his old rucksack slung over his shoulder. He slings his belongings down onto the same couch as last time and makes his way up to the counter, travel mug still in hand.

“Harold!” Louis berates. “Don’t tell me you’re cheating on me with another coffee shop now!”

Harry’s eyebrows knit together and his lips turn down into the most pronounced frown Louis has ever seen. “I’m not… Harold,” he says as if the name is utterly foreign to him.

“Oh dear,” Louis says, studying Harry. The boy’s not blinking very much. “That’s not your first cup of coffee tonight, is it?”

Harry shakes his head. “Many,” he mumbles. “Is that bad?”

Louis feels a sense of déjà vu. “Not if you don’t mind losing some teeth,” he says. Harry looks horrified, though, so Louis backtracks. “Unless, of course, you’re brushing regularly, and eating plenty of vegetables. Need a refill?” he asks, motioning to the mug.

“Yes please,” Harry says, handing it over. He gazes unrelentingly at Louis as he takes the mug and fills it with fresh java roast. “Do I… did we meet?” Harry asks finally.

Oh Lord. “Do you remember anything from the last time you were here?” Louis asks gently.

“Um… the rise and fall of Aztec culture… advanced calculus chapter five… you wished me luck?”

“That I did, Curly.” Louis hands back the travel mug. “I’ll wish it again tonight. Maybe if you remember my name I’ll even give you my number like you talked about last time.”

Harry nods fervently. “I remember you! Your name was- um… fuck.”

Louis laughs, he can’t help himself. “Give it time, maybe it’ll come back to you while you’re studying.”

Harry pouts. He may be an oversized five-year-old.

“Go on,” Louis says, motioning to Harry’s stuff sprawled across the couch. “The sooner you get work done, the sooner I come refill that mug of yours.”

Harry stares at Louis. He nods. He stares a bit more. He takes a long sip of coffee and turns slowly to claim his couch again.

They don’t get the chance to speak much, because it’s midterms and the place is crowded, leading to Louis spending all night making and remaking drinks, filling the bake case and washing dishes. Still, he’s always sure to fill Harry’s cup if it’s ever lacking.

-

It’s a Thursday night, nearing 2 in the morning, and the café is positively silent. There’s a total of three people spread out among the tables and they’re all intent on their work; earphones in, coffees empty (if they’re going to sit here all night the least they can do is buy another cup, Louis grouches to himself).

Louis has brewed fresh coffee. He’s done all the dishes. He’s stocked the bake case and the drinks case. He’s made the blueberry muffins twice because the first time he did he had forgotten to top them with sugar before they went in the oven.

He’s been watching the sky outside as the moon has slowly been covered over by clouds. The drizzle starts around half past two and only grows heavier from there; a steady thrumming of the pavement turning into sweeping sheets. It’s making Louis rather sleepy, and as he leans against the back counter he starts to watch the grandfather clock in the corner, counting the number of times the seconds hand passes twelve. He wonders who would really notice if he dumps all the coffee out and brews it again. Just for something to do.

Lightning flashes against the windows, startling the girl sitting at the tall table in the front corner. Louis counts the seconds until the thunder rolls. He blinks lazily in the fluorescent lights and rubs absentmindedly at his tummy.

It’s a few minutes of rain battering against the windows before the next time lightning illuminates the street. This time the storm must be on top of them, because thunder rolls at almost the same moment, and the lights surge bright for a split second before the whole place is plunged into darkness.

And someone outside screams.

Louis honestly wouldn’t be too upset about the electricity fizzing out (it always comes back before too long), but the scream outside is a little worrying. He makes his way around the counter toward the door where the rain is still battering against the glass (the three customers in the café are sort of grumbling but they don’t have any current drinks so Louis doesn’t feel the need to cater to them).

Hunching over against the rain, Louis hurries through the doorway and tries to look around to see any untoward activity. It’s almost entirely deserted (which makes sense, considering the time and weather), but only half a block away from him he sees - Harry.

“Harry?” He calls, his voice getting lost in the wind. Harry’s in all fours on the wet pavement, and as Louis comes closer he finds that there are papers scattered all around him, soaking wet as he tries to pick them up without ripping them.

Louis bends down to try to help him, already soaked to the bone. Harry looks up and meets his eye, a little crazed-looking.

Louis gathers the papers a lot faster than Harry does, and then gives him a hand up. He sort of assumes Harry was on his way to the café, and doesn’t let go of his hand, guiding him past the row of closed shops to the café door where the emergency lights have clicked on and are illuminating the windows.

The last of the three customers is just leaving as they enter, and Louis hears her mutter something about the wifi not working (did she… not notice the storm taking out the electricity for the whole block?).

Inside, Louis leaves Harry dripping at the entrance and runs into the back to find the lost-and-found box. He comes back with the emergency lantern (a little redundant with the emergency lights flickering above them already), and a handful of shirts from the lost-and-found box that look decently clean.

He hands a shirt to Harry and takes one for himself to dry his hair with.

“I hope you didn’t need the wifi tonight,” Louis says, just searching for something to say. Harry has sort of half-heartedly dried off his arms, but he’s still holding all his sopping wet materials.

Harry shakes his head. Water droplets fly everywhere as he does so. “I just... needed these,” he says, motioning to the pile in his arms.

Louis frowns at them, wondering just how much is going to be readable even after they dry. “You need coffee,” he says.

Harry’s eyes widen. “Do you have any?” he asks, a glimmer of hope evident on his face. Louis wants to laugh.

“I made it less than an hour ago, should still be quite warm,” he says. “You just go take your spot. Dry off. I’ll pour you a mug.”

Harry looks so happy, and Louis’s not sure if it’s because of the coffee or Louis pouring him coffee. He hopes it’s the latter, but who knows?

He takes his time getting out the cup (because the darkest part of the café with the emergency lights is right behind the counter), and pours the breakfast blend, since he brewed it most recently. He pours another cup for himself, just for the hell of it.

He carries both mugs over to where Harry is sat, and sets down the mug in front of him. Harry is intently peeling apart the wet pages and laying them out across the coffee table.

Harry looks up and his face splits into a grin. “Thank you,” he says, the sincerity evident in his voice. “Thank you so much, what do I owe you?”

Louis waves his hand. “Don’t worry about it. On the house. Considering I don’t think we’re getting any other customers to drink it any time soon.”

Harry takes a large swig from his mug and grimaces at the taste. Louis sips his, standing awkwardly on the other side of the table. Harry’s been acting positively normal, besides the screaming earlier, meaning he’s not had nearly as much coffee as normal.

As if reading his mind, Harry pipes up, “I didn’t know I have a paper due tomorrow. Just found out from my roommate, but he was going to bed and his snores sound like I’m rooming with a mountain troll.”

Louis snorts out a laugh. “Well, I promise not to snore, so you’re safe here.”

He stands there awkwardly a moment more on the other end of the coffee table, wondering how unprofessional it would be to just sit in a chair nearby instead of returning to the counter. No one’s going to come in at this point.

“You know,” Harry says, grabbing his attention again. “You can sit next to me if you’d like. I don’t need this whole couch and it’s really kind of… eerily quiet in here.”

It’s true it is eerily quiet, since there’s no overhead music. Louis considers it for only a split second before coming around the table to join him, sitting carefully in order to not spill his drink. “I promise I won’t disturb your paper-writing,” he says in a faux whisper.

Harry smiles, dimples appearing on his cheeks as he flips through the pages of his textbook which showers them both with water droplets.

-

The resolution doesn’t last that long.

The electricity comes back on at four, but Louis doesn’t bother taking his position back at the front unless someone is actively ordering. Harry manages to drink almost the entire pot of breakfast blend. He rarely blinks.

“Hazza,” Louis tries to whisper through giggles. “Did you see what you wrote here?” he asks, pointing to a newly dried page of notes where the ink is all rather smudgy.

Harry stares at him owlishly, a smile breaking his face whenever he looks in Louis’s direction.

“You wrote,” Louis has to take a break because he’s sniggering too much. “You wrote, ’balieve in the power of bureaucracy’, you see that, Hazza? baaaaa-leeaaave.”

He breaks off speaking because he’s giggling too much, and he looks over at Harry in time to see that he’s covering his mouth to try not to do the same.

“Don’t be ridiculous, Loooooou,” Harry says. He tends to say Louis’s name like he’s forgetting how it ends. “These are my science notes, I didn’t write anything about the bureaucracy.”

-

When Niall comes to retrieve his roommate later that day, he finds Harry sound asleep on the couch, with a mess of notes spread out in front of him, and a very sleepy looking Louis manning the till. This time, though, when Harry leaves, he has a new contact in his phone with 2 Unread Messages awaiting him for whenever he gets over his sleep deprived state.