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Dreaming of You

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This time baby, I’ll be bulletproof.

He’s got about five or so minutes before he has to clock in. He’s good on time. Excellent on time. Perfect, even.

I won’t let you turn around and tell me now I’m much too proud. All you do is fill me up with doubt.

The snow and ice that slather the pavement crunch beneath his overly-priced, slip-resistant, water-resistant, seamlessly-black-because-God-forbid-there’s-a-splash-0f-character-or-color work trainers, the breeze assaulting his cheeks and threatening to split his dry skin open, slip into the cracks and freeze his bones together. It’s a bit fucking Antarctic outside, the sky white and threateningly infinite and on the verge of dumping curtains of soft snow—as it has been, consistently, for the past…three weeks? Give or take?

Louis is a bit goddamn tired of it. To be quite fucking frank.

This time baby I’ll be bulletproof.

His headphones are smashed over his ears, burying the noise of the engines idling in the drive-thru, burying the hustled sounds of shoppers who need to just go the fuck home and enjoy the day like any sane, happy-with-thyself human being.

Like Louis would be doing if he didn’t have to work.

Like always.

Fuck life, fuck it all.

With a firm expression on his face that is not a frown (he’s a pleasant person; he’s not scowling because his life is sludge and he works at a goddamn Starbucks, no of course not), he slips one frozen, mitten-ed hand out of the sanctity of his pocket and opens the heavy door to the small, mostly-glass building—thanks to those fucking windows with their fucking smudgy handprints left behind from sticky children and bad-mannered plebeians. Said door—the handle nearly burning through his gloves with its cutting chill—is speckled in stickers that boast of warm lattes and joy and individuality and all the other bullocks that is oh-so-charming.

And he’s definitely not frowning.

He’s happy. Elated, even.

This time I’ll be bulletproof.

The minute he walks inside—leaving absolute zero behind and instead being assaulted with nervous, burning energy—his senses are pelted with the all-too-familiar wave of burnt espresso beans and brewing coffee, the undertones of cleaning product and stressed smiles hanging in the air like fog or precipitation or anything else that is mostly unpleasant and sometimes charming.

It all feels very familiar. Or, as Louis’ inner workings have come to begrudgingly label it as: Home.

“Louis!”

Immediately comes the chorus of the green apron-ed bodies as he slips off his headphones (bye La Roux, sweet friend) with a proficient flick, sliding his iPod into his jacket pocket and assessing the zoo at hand.

The line at the till is manageably long, filled with teenagers flicking through their phones (probably searching for their fucking Frappuccino recipes on that goddamned ‘Secret Menu’) and a scattering of elderly people with pleasant expressions, clutching coupons. The hand-off plane holds a small cluster, but Niall’s currently on bar (thank Jesus—he’s the most competent of the lot here, quick on his feet and damn good at sequencing and even better at customer service, the little gem) so the drinks are being delivered as quickly as they’re coming, all with a bright smile and an “Enjoy the rest of the day!” that tinkles against the stainless steel and porcelain pastry plates.

Thatta boy, Nialler.

“Hey, kids,” Louis greets easily, pulling up the dregs of his positivity that are mostly still lying in his warm bed, nestled in the keys of his laptop, and resting in the pages of his notebooks. Strewn on his bathroom floor, near the radiator where his cat usually sleeps. Sitting on his kitchen table where he left it with his smiling sisters and warm mother.

“When do you come on the floor?” Zayn drawls from his place at the till, ignoring the customers before him with practiced ease.

Oh, Zayn.

He’s brilliant on bar—he’s the fastest barista they have—but his customer service skills are shit and he equates a smile with a bored scowl. His conversation habits also lie somewhere near “despicable” and “deplorable”. (Actual words from the store manager.)

To be quite honest, it’s his devastating good looks and caramel latte skin that has kept him his job. Louis suspects that he might know this.

“In about—“ Louis glances at the clock on the wall. “2 minutes?”

“Fuck’s sake, Louis,” Zayn smirks, and an elderly lady gawps at his casual use of such ungodly language.

Oh, and did Louis forget to mention that Zayn is a supervisor? Because yes, he is. Thus, he can swear and scowl as much as he wants to because he’s in charge and because he’s pretty and intelligent and a Coffee Master. This is how the world works.

Louis wishes he didn’t love him so that he could hate him.

“I’m hurrying, keep your kit on,” he grins, nodding respectfully towards the customers as they part for him.

“Tommo!” Niall thunders from the espresso machines, shouting to be heard over the steam wand and the laughing girls that keep whispering and casting lingering glances in his direction. “About fucking time! I need to eat something before I stick my head in the mocha.”

“He’ll do it too, ya know,” Louis says conversationally to a wide-eyed girl. “I’ve seen him. Mind you, he was in the backroom. But still counts.”

The girl startles into a laugh and Louis grins, unzipping his jacket and pulling his apron out of his bag (creased and a bit sticky with yesterday’s syrups, oops) before setting it down on the work station near the display case, currently littered with stray bags of coffee, strewn about papers, and empty whipped cream canisters.

And, really, it’s not so bad, he supposes. Being here. Now that he’s arrived, now that he’s actually managed to dress and make himself look presentable for the day, now that coffee beans and (probably) straight oxygen are filling his lungs, brightening him and giving a bit more bounce to his step, he supposes that this job isn’t quite as terrible as he sometimes thinks it is.

Because, sure. He typically hates his customers and their gold cards and their superior looks as they snatch their one Raw Sugar, extra dry cappuccinos out of his hand. The entitled fuckers.

But he absolutely and completely loves his co-workers. They’re probably the best co-workers he’s ever had, even. Have become his actual best mates—all his lifelong friends having abandoned him because they’re intelligent and driven and have actual careers and families and… No. Louis’ not bitter. He’s twenty-three and young and happy and he loves making coffee at the commercial monarch of coffee shops.

Point is, he’s got good people in his life and it’s because of this job. Even met his best, BEST friend here—Liam.

So maybe he doesn’t hate it.

By the time he’s clocked in and apron-ed up and wearing his best smile, he checks the duty roster, steeling himself for the dreaded “Drive-Thru Window” position (please no, please), only to find…

Louis Tomlinson: Bar

Yes.

Fucking yes.

“Alright, Nialler. Off you go. Time for the King to return to his throne,” Louis announces, already strutting over to his court and making as much of a show of it as he can, considering he’s wearing a stiff black polo and unflattering trousers. Thank the heavens for his arse, though—it makes even the cheapest fabrics look impressive.

He reaches Niall at the bar, surveying the splotchy counters, positions of the sauce bottles, and the general disarray of his tools (“Coffee is art and this is my medium,” he has insisted upon several occasions, most notably to a shy young girl on her first week here after she had the audacity to rearrange his pitchers; it was her first job though, so Louis kept his withering glare at a minimum) before settling his hands on his hips in impatience, meeting Niall’s eye.

“Be gone, stand-in,” Louis quips with a grin, thankful that he managed to fuss his hair into artful tufts today because a king is to always look his best.

Louis is, maybe, a tiny bit cocky about his skills. Possibly.

“A-fucking-men,” Niall smiles, unraveling his headset and stuffing it unceremoniously in Louis’ hands (disappointing—Louis likes to make a show of passing on headsets, likes when others set them atop his head like a crown; and no, he’s not taking the ‘king’ thing too far, he’s just gotta spruce up this job somehow), muttering about food and having to run to the loo and all other such hardships.

“Good to see you, too,” Louis smirks, assembling himself and stuffing the headset carefully over his soft and styled-just-so hair, pleased to find the earpiece silent.

Nobody’s in the drive-thru currently. So there’s a bonus. Yay. First positive situation of the day.

“Yeah, yeah,” Niall says, washing his hands. He’s got syrups and mocha splashed all up on his arms like bruises, some glued to bits of his hair. Messy little thing. “I’m just taking my lunch. I’ll be back on the floor soon enough.”

“Going to drive-thru, then? After that?” Louis asks, already assuming his duties and peeling off the sticker that’s just been printed (Vanilla Bean Frappuccino with Raspberry. No.) and smoothing it over one of the plastic cups that he’s grown to loathe.

“’Course!” he replies, already bounding away, lighting up the dark hollows of their tiny, shaded Starbucks. “Customers love me!” He clomps into the backroom and then he’s out of sight, leaving behind a swirl of unmade drinks and littered surfaces.

So.

It’s down to Louis. Time to start the day.

With a sigh and less-than-disguised sneer at the drink in his hand, he sets the cup on the cold bar, whips open the fridge, and begins pouring the milk.

And, of course, the drive-thru dings. And, of course, Josh just left his post at drive-thru to run to the loo before Niall.

With a pointed stare at Zayn—who smirks in response, scanning someone’s app with an indifference that comes as natural to him as breathing—Louis presses the button on his belt-pack, scooping ice into the pitcher.

“Hi, welcome to Starbucks. This is Louis. What can we do for you today?”

Fuck everything.

**

The day is long and sticky and Louis keeps dropping cups and bumping into people and slamming his knees into the fridges and it’s just one of those days.

His shirt is pushed up to the elbows so his arms are essentially soaked in sauces and liquids that have crystallized into white masses and there are about eight different rushes in the first two hours he’s there; he's practically drowning in Caramel Flan Lattes and Frappuccinos and he sort of wants to pour boiling water on everybody or dump their drinks over their heads. (It’s a de-stressor. He can have this.)

And it’s all just…tedious. So tedious. That’s honestly the best word for it.

Because here Louis is, sticking his fingers in milky, lukewarm sanitizer water and wiping milk residue off of steam wands. Here he is, burning his fingers on boiling water (because these machines need to rinse every five motherfucking seconds and who has time for that and why does that have to happen?!) as he reaches for his shot glasses and here he is, remaking a drink for a very angry Italian man with severe eyebrows and a mobile that is more important than the world around him—namely Louis, who, apparently, does not warrant the respect of eye contact.

“How’s that for you now? Better?” Louis asks with a tight smile that has absolutely taken at least three years off of his life as he slides forth a quad espresso macchiato—marked with exactly one scoop of soy foam steamed at the precise temperature and topped with exactly one shake of cinnamon powder—that he’s made for the third consecutive time. God forbid there be a shake and a half.

(He’s not bitter. He’s not bitter. He’s not bitter.)

Angry Italian With Eyebrows And Mobile grips the drink in his tan, ringed fingers and brings it to his lips without subjecting Louis to his gaze, still mumbling into his phone with purpose. Sunglasses sit atop his head and his leather jacket—worn over a pressed business suit—screams mid-life crisis.

Everybody is just so impressed.

Without a word, Angry Italian With Eyebrows And Mobile walks away, intermittently bringing his little bitch drink to his little bitch lips.

Louis is not bitter. He’s not. Not terribly, at least.

But he’s better than this. He is.

Because he did not slave away at university for however many years (first studying Theater and then—after the charms of the stage dwindled to nothingness and he was left with a slew of drama queens, illicit affairs, and absolutely no direction in life—in English and Writing), getting top-notch grades, just to become a mule for the caffeine-deprived.

He’d had expectations though, is the thing. That’s where he went wrong.

After he’d graduated, he had expected to find the dream job. Somehow. He had expected Someone to know Someone to know another Someone who held the ropes at, say, a music magazine? Or perhaps an underground newspaper? Or even just a Someone who worked at a publishing company who would hire Louis on the spot, because he's clearly capable and well-spoken, and thus bringing forth a life of ease and praise.

At the time, it seemed relatively plausible.

Oops.

And so now he’s here. A bit aimless, a bit bitter, and a bit confused as to how to get from Point A to Point B. Because he wants to get started—properly started; these macchiatos and espresso con pannas can go and suck it—but he has very little idea as to how.

Of course, having said that…

His time here hasn’t been completely in vain.

No, not at all. Aside from the already-expressed sentiments of having met his best mates at this Hell Pit, he can accredit Starbucks and its memorably soulless customers to providing a hefty source of inspiration for his writing. Because, yes, Louis likes to write. Whatever. No big deal.

Sometimes he writes convoluted, endless stories in his head while he scrubs chocolate off of plates and sloshes soapy water around in the industrial sinks. Sometimes he hums words as he’s counting out the change for someone’s tall Sumatra and catalogues the way they fit into a customer’s returning smile as he places the cool coins in their hand. And sometimes he scribbles words in the journal he keeps in his Partner Pocket in back and always inconspicuously tucks into his apron before he comes onto the floor. Whenever there’s a lull in his drink line and everything seems relatively clean, he’ll slide the tiny journal out of his pocket, uncap the pen he always keeps beside it, and just scribbles it all down in handwriting that is barely decipherable but there. He’ll scratch out words when he hears a disjointed, disembodied conversation that lingers in the warm air and trickles down Louis’ skin like the slow, milky pour of fresh espresso. He’ll glide his pen across the page in careless strokes when the café is empty, quiet, open. When the caffeine is numbing his fingertips and sparking the edges of his mind. When he’s standing at the bar with nothing to do and he has an internal list of descriptions about the day and the way the sun hangs in the sky in the evening, filling the shop with violet light and a hint of sadness.

He loves his journal. Writes in it every day—just random bits, small bits—and always keeps it at work, away from his sisters’ prying hands, and he tucks mementos in there, tucks receipts and memories in between the shitty pages and he writes about all the small things.

Because he needs to remind himself that, yes, his life still does matter and that he still has a road of opportunities ahead of him. That it’s all going to work out, even when he’s gritting out apologies to impatient, stiff-lipped customers sneering out “You’re taking too long”s as his feet ache and his stomach growls and his throat screeches in protest as it's assaulted by currents of steam, when the syrup splashes onto his skin and sticks there, when mocha speckles his glasses, when burns pepper the soft skin of his underarms.

It’s all going to work out. It’s all going to be fine.

And so Louis pours some more milk into another pitcher, flashing a relieved grin to Niall who has just returned from his lunch and is already assembling himself at the drive-thru window.

“Glad to you have you back, Nialler,” Louis smirks, pulling the lever and hearing the screech of steam cut through the air, the clinking mugs, the rustling newspapers, and chatter, chatter, chatter.

“Glad to be back, Tommo," Niall grins, much cleaner but still disheveled as he assembles his headset and swivels his hips for no other reason than just because. "Took the best wee.”

And Louis laughs and shakes his head as he hears the familiar ding of another car in his headset, listening as Niall’s sunshine voice lilts through his ears while he pulls the shots for the grande mocha he is currently concocting.

It’s not so bad.

**

It’s nearing six in the evening, and the sky is tie dye—just orange and yellow and pink, all bleeding into each other and setting the snow and ice on fire.

It’s so utterly beautiful. Beautiful enough to jot a brief description of it in his soggy journal. And it’s so utterly unfair because Louis still has another two hours before he gets to finally leave.

His feet hurt incredibly, his back hurts even more, his hands are sticky and dry, his hair is most definitely wilted, and his apron is so catastrophically stained that he is now going to have to wash it before his shift tomorrow and, really, that is just a hassle that he wants absolutely no part of.

He’s also a bit pissy maybe.

Because Niall left an hour ago (whistling and taking two full trays of drinks with him, as well as all the light in the air) and Zayn left wordlessly (he never says goodbye, always just slips away undetected) thirty minutes after that, leaving the middle-aged and thoroughly-unimpressed-and-bitter Supervisor to assume control. Who has, annoyingly, been harping at Louis to make whipped creams for the entire thirty minutes she’s been here when any of the other idiots could do it. Louis has a line of drinks, thank you. And he also has no patience, thank you.

So, naturally, he nearly collapses with joy when he suddenly sees Liam walking through the door, a bright smile on his handsomely boyish face, his rumpled clothes soft and clean beneath his enormous, puffy jacket.

“Oh thank fuck,” Louis groans appreciatively to the heavens, wrapping his arms around his espresso machine to support himself. “My prince!” he calls, robust and joyous.

Liam beams, brown eyes lit up as he strides inside, apron in hand. “Honey, I’m home,” he smiles in that amiable voice of his, seemingly proud of his joke, and Louis allows it, merely smiling fondly at him as he rinses his machine (again) and collects his speckled shot glasses.

“What can I make for you? Your soy chai? With all the caffeine we have to offer?” Louis teases, quirking an eyebrow.

Liam has terrible taste in beverages. His standard drink is a venti soy chai tea latte with eight pumps of chai, two vanilla, three frap roast, a splash of iced coffee, and four shots. Honestly, it’s a wonder that his heart hasn’t burst clean out of his chest. Louis can handle his fair bit of caffeine but that?

That is just…nauseatingly unapproachable.

“No, I think I’m going to get a doubleshot on ice. With toffee nut and white mocha. Grande,” he adds as an afterthought, noting Louis’ glare (size first, please) (no, he’s not a diva on bar, nope) and uncapping his Chapstick. He glides it onto his lips, eyes a bit glinty, large smile still in place.

Something’s up.

“I’ve got a date,” he casually mentions with a grin after a few moments—after Louis refuses to take the bait of his bright, dancing eyes.

“Another one?” Louis smiles, swirling the shots and syrups as they pour into the cup. “Who this time? That one bloke with the pretentious profile? With the bad hair? Who likes your ‘sense of wanderlust’ and ‘ability to provoke that fickle mistress we call situational irony’? Because that’s gonna get you a good shag. A good shag. Might even dress up as his cat or Napoleon or some shit.”

(Liam is intent on finding a boyfriend. So Liam is diligently and relentlessly dating online. And Louis is diligently and relentlessly making fun of Liam. It’s all very splendid.)

Liam narrows his eyes, but his smile is still present, leaning on the counter lightly as he watches Louis. “I think he’s nice.”

“Well of course he’s nice,” Louis rolls his eyes, shaking the shots up with the ice in the plastic tumbler; it's loud as fuck in his ear and completely unnecessary. “It’s a dating website. He has to be nice if he’s going to find his next victim.”

“Oh so now he’s a murderer?” Liam’s asking, amused. His treebark eyes are large and soft under the mood lightning that gently alights his tidy, close-cropped hair. His face is the sort of perfect pleasantness any Starbucks would die for—Liam is the physical embodiment of ‘inoffensive’. His manner is mild like a doe and his eyes wide like a newborn pup. His tongue is a bit quick though, Louis having corrupted him properly, and one could even call him ‘cheeky’ on a given day. He’s a good lad, sweet and mild and supportive and very sensitive. Likes to sing. Studied music in university before he dropped out because he had trouble focusing—undiagnosed ADHD.

It’s a story not altogether separate from Louis’ and so they bonded with commonalities and became best friends after they realized that they, somehow, were perfect compliments to each other. Where Liam was pleasant, Louis was obnoxious. Where Liam was humble, Louis was…not. Where Liam was trepid, Louis was smug, etc., etc., etc.

A match made in heaven, it is. Best mates for life.

“Never said he was a murderer, Liam,” Louis says, plopping down the finished drink of sugar slathered upon sugar upon caffeine. “You came to your own conclusions on that one. But now that you mention it, his jumper did scream ‘dice you up like an onion in the basement of me mum’s house’.”

Liam’s face scrunches. “It was a bad jumper, wasn’t it?”

“Not bad,” Louis corrects, planting his hands on the counter and smirking. He leans into it, letting the weight off of his feet and cocks his head a bit to the side as Liam eyes him. “Bloody atrocious.”

With that, Liam smiles, rolling his eyes, and shuffles to the backroom to deposit his jacket.

And just like that, Louis’ night is saved.

**

Liam is very. Very. Boy crazy.

He is on the hunt.

And it’s funny because Louis enjoys watching him flirt with every single customer that looks even remotely approachable and enjoys teasing him for it even more, enjoys the way Liam flushes and acts completely oblivious to any such antics. Which only sends Louis into delighted cackles. Sometimes Louis gives play-by-plays (over the headset) of Liam’s interactions so that all their co-workers can share in the mirth.

Liam has absolutely no idea that Louis does that. Which makes it even funnier.

But, as fun as it all is… It’s also a bit trying. Because Liam talks a lot. And Liam talks about this dating profile a lot. And Liam talks about wanting things like children a lot. And…

Liam talks a lot. And Louis doesn’t have enough emotional capacity to understand or tolerate it.

“Oh, will you just shut up about babies? Fucks’ sake,” he sighs, stalking out of the back room as Liam trails behind.

“I’m getting old,” Liam whines, wet rag in hand. For the past twenty minutes he’s been carrying the soggy mass, pretending to wipe things down when in actuality, he’s been describing his dream man to Louis and listing the reasons why he’ll probably end up alone.

It’s all a bit much.

“You do realize you’re twenty-two? Correct? And that I am, in fact, a year older than you? And have no qualms with slapping you in the face with a spoon?” To prove his point, Louis lifts the nearest object in question, brandishing the broad metal surface in Liam’s face, eyes narrowed.

Louis might be a bit sensitive about his age. Is, perhaps, a bit obsessed with staying as young as possible. Forever.

It’s fine.

Liam blanches only slightly before continuing. “Yes, but—“

And then Liam stops.

His eyes, which have widened infinitesimally and are a fraction more glazed, have hooked onto something over Louis’ shoulder, somewhere near the entrance to the shop.

No doubt a customer. No doubt male. No doubt a candidate for another round of ‘Highly Entertaining and Borderline Embarrassing Flirting Techniques by Liam Payne’: Louis’ favorite program. Much better than ‘Let’s Talk About Babies’.

So with an amused grin already beginning to peek through his lips, Louis turns around as he hears the sound of the door closing. He turns around, letting Liam drool all over the freshly-mopped floor, and his eyes travel to—

A total and complete hipster douchebag.

That is probably the best way to describe this character.

It’s a boy—and yeah, okay, he’s quite fit, could even be classified as beautiful by a susceptible youth—and he’s got good, proper hair (longish, a bit curly and wavy, smooth and brown like the chocolate Louis devours without mercy) and a good, structured face (hello, lips; hello, eyes; hello, everything) and he’s tall and stick-like and carrying a shoulder bag that most definitely holds his laptop. He’s got this large black scarf wound around his neck, his skin flushed pink with the cold.

And he’s got this…jacket. This utterly ridiculous, unforgivable, hipster jacket that’s anal-seepage-mustard brown and corduroy. With actual patches on the elbows. Like he’s some stuffy professor or Indiana Jones. An olive beanie is stuffed over his curls, a tiny white pin with a black mustache is stuck on his collar, and his face is buried in his tweed-bedecked iPhone—and is that a pinky ring? Please.

Louis likes to pride himself on never judging books by their covers. But he is thoroughly unimpressed at this moment in time.

Still, though. He paints on a fake smile.

As he opens his mouth to spew forth a falsely cheery greeting, he is suddenly cut off by the pleasant musicality that is Liam Payne flirting.

“Well, hello there,” he says amiably, nearly plowing Louis over as he rushes to the counter, eyes impossibly wide and sparkly.

And here we go.

Smirking, Louis walks to the bar, readies himself for whatever this little number is going to order. He predicts a cappuccino. Probably with an agave syrup stirred in.

“Can we get you anything to drink?” Liam asks sweetly, leaning so far over the counter he’s about to belly-flop onto it.

Louis bites back a chuckle, instead gently tapping his fingers against the tops of the cups that stand to his left.

“Erm, yeah...” comes the response, and Louis blinks a bit because his voice doesn’t really match his exterior. It’s oddly deep, sounding like it's been pulled from the center of the earth. Or a catacomb. Rumbly. Annoyingly drawn out. Probably because he’s still distractedly glued to his phone, oblivious to life and people that are more than just words on a screen.

Louis sighs, tapping his fingers impatiently.

“Something sweet?” Liam offers as he bats his eyelashes obscenely, and Louis nearly bites through his cheek to withhold that laugh.

At that, the boy breaks into a smile, the glow of his mobile alighting his features in cold blues. He looks up then, looks up at Liam with a happy face, and Louis mentally hands over a few generous bonus points for that.

He always hands out bonus points for a decent smiling customer. Louis is charitable.

“No, thank you,” he rumbles, now giving Liam his full attention. “Just a grande Pike. In a mug. With three seconds of soy, please.”

Three seconds of soy?

So he’s one of those.

Unable to resist rolling his eyes, Louis plucks one of the cream coloured cermanic mugs off the top of the espresso machine, immediately striding over to the carafes and pouring the steaming brew into the cup, leaving what—he can only assume—will allot for three fucking seconds of soy.

Honestly. How irritatingly specific can someone be?

He’s vaguely aware that Liam and the boy are flirting—or maybe Liam’s just flirting at him, he doesn’t know—but he’s already uninvested in the situation, instead opening the fridge and bending down for the soy, uncapping it loudly as he rises.

He pauses with the carton suspended above the cup, mildly unsure of the situation at hand as he eyes the black liquid.

“So what exactly do you mean by ‘three seconds’?” he suddenly asks, irate, cutting into the conversation being had and probably failing to disguise the distaste that flows off of him in waves. (So he’s heard.)

He stares firmly at Hipster Boy, soy carton still poised, and raises his eyebrow impatiently as Hipster finally turns to Louis for the first time, ripping his gaze away from his phone again. Those little green eyes slide unhurriedly over before clicking into place with Louis’ own and Louis expects an answer—he really, really does, any time now, thanks—but all he receives is a stare.

A long and unnerving stare.

“As informative as that is, it doesn’t really answer my question,” Louis says dryly after a moment, and immediately Hipster Boy blinks, huffing out a laugh and shaking his head a bit.

(Louis probably should work on his customer service skills one of these days; he's dangerously close to becoming Zayn.)

“Uhm, I’m not sure what you mean?” Hipster asks, amused, and he’s locking his phone now, stuffing it into his pocket as he turns to face Louis over the barrier separating the counter from the bar. Inexplicably, his face suddenly seems twenty times brighter, like a flashlight's been set on him. All eyes on deck.

It does nothing to soothe Louis' annoyance.

“Like. Is it three quick seconds? As in ‘one-two-three,'?" he explains with all the condescending patience he can summon, feeling Liam's miffed posture. Oh well. "Or is it slow seconds? Like ‘one one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousand’…? There's a lot of wiggle room here. I need specifics.”

Liam roll his eyes. “Just count, Louis. Come on,” he mutters hastily, looking like a poked bear, but Hipster Boy’s eyes are amused, watching Louis intently, laughter ghosting on his breath.

“I didn’t realize it would be a whole thing,” he comments, but the words are swept up in a warm smile so Louis can’t really take offense to them, can only take them as a mere nuisance because he’s still holding the soy and this boy still hasn’t answered him.

“Well, it is a whole thing. So. Answer me?” Louis asks/tells.

He realizes he sounds a bit…well. Dickish. Unwarrantedly dickish. So as an apology, he grins, smiles toothily and winningly, and flirtatiously bumps his chin against his left shoulder because he’s been told it’s cute and he likes to be cute, especially when he’s dangerously close to possessing Zayn-like social skills. Or lack thereof.

And it seems to do the trick, Hipster Boy’s smile immediately widening to an impossible size.

My, what a large mouth you have.

The better to…

What was it? ‘Gobble you up?’ No matter. Louis was never well-versed in that particular fairy tale.

Still, though. Physically, Hipster Boy is fetching, quite fetching, he must admit. Liam would be smart to snatch him up for a bit of fun.

“How about I count for you?” Hipster Boy finally suggests, and his voice sounds warmer, a bit fonder, eyes completely glued to Louis. Too glued. The scent of flirtation is in the air.

Louis glances at Liam, who’s staring between them a bit awkwardly.

Well, shit.

“Maybe we’ll have Liam count it for you, eh?” Louis asks, grinning impishly. The boy’s eyes slide back to Liam, almost as if registering him for the first time. Again. “What say you, Hipster Boy?” Louis presses. “Do you trust our Liam?”

“I’m very trustworthy. Counting seconds is a specialty of mine,” Liam says proudly, flashing his sparkling teeth, which makes Hipster Boy laugh.

Louis smiles, feeling a pride in his chest. Thatta boy.

“I definitely trust our Liam,” Hipster Boy replies and Louis flashes a grin in Liam’s direction as he preens.

So Louis begins pouring.

“One…Two…Three.”

Louis cuts off the flow, caps the soy, and stuffs it back in the fridge. By the time he straightens, ready to hand the mug over to Hipster, he finds it already gone, instead resting in Liam’s strong hands and being passed over to its new home.

“Here you go, then,” Liam grins, and Louis doesn’t miss the way his fingers deliberately brush over Hipster’s. “Hope my counting expertise has shone through.”

Oh dear god.

Louis fights back a snort, but smiles nonetheless, lightly shaking his head as he picks at some milk residue on the grating of the espresso machine.

“That’s probably the best three seconds I’ve ever heard counted,” Hipster Boy says dopily, and though his lips aren’t exactly smiling—more twisting about pleasantly, odd as it is—his words sound as if they are. He probably thinks he’s charming. One of those.

“I’m happy to hear it,” Liam practically purrs. “Enjoy. And don’t be a stranger. We’ve a long night ahead of us.”

Louis bites back another snort, schooling his face into neutrality.

God, Liam is so easy to laugh at. It’s just so easy.

“You and me both,” Hipster says, unperturbed. “I’ll be sure to stop by at regular intervals.” He grins then, and his smile is so sure and so effortless that it sort of irks Louis. Irks him enough to roll his eyes just the tiniest bit.

Luckily nobody notices and so he just picks up a rag from the sanitizer bucket and begins wiping every surface down as he hears Hipster retreating to his seat.

He then feels Liam sidle up to him as he dabs at a puddle of milk.

“I’m in love,” he whispers before he dashes off, delighted and quick.

Of course. Louis can only burst into laughter as Liam retreats, before slipping out the journal from his apron pocket. He scribbles down two words:

‘Found: Hipster’

And then he tucks it away, forgetting about it completely, and continues scrubbing the counter.

**

The rest of the shift is seamless, thank fuck. Louis has barely any drinks to make and even less work to do, so he considers himself alarmingly blessed when eight o’clock finally rolls around.

“Au revoir, peasants,” he sing-songs through his headset. “The King is leaving the building.”

“Stay? And work for me so I can flirt with my new husband?” Liam’s voice offers over the speaker.

Louis laughs, merely replying with a solid, “No,” before sliding off the headset, ejecting the battery and winding up the chord. He nearly prances to the backroom to clock out, dumping his journal in his Partner Pocket and grinning from ear-to-ear.

Goodbye Hell Pit, goodbye. Time for home and warmth and food and tea and sleep.

He calls out his goodbyes to his co-workers (and a pouting Liam who he just laughs at, ruffling his barely-there hair) and his regulars as he walks towards the door.

“Bye Louis!”

“See you, Louis!”

“Louis! Stay and have a drink!” the young girl by the leather chairs says (she comes in every night with her boyfriend and Louis never remembers her name—can only remember how fucking annoying her laugh is) as she gestures him over.

He easily declines, waving a hand. “Nah. Had plenty of drinks. See you tomorrow!”

He exits, stepping into the tundra, with the wind and snow whipping madly around him. As he trots to his car, past the long line of windows, he glances up only to find a wide set of eyes peering at him.

Oh yeah. Hipster Boy.

He’s still there, tucked in the corner and wrapped in his scarf (that ridiculous jacket hanging off the back of his chair) with a large pair of headphones stuffed over his ears, his Macbook set before him, papers strewn about. An impressively huge novel sits atop the chair pulled to his side.

And he’s staring at Louis, quietly, his hands poised over the keypad as if frozen.

So Louis makes sure to look away before the boy smiles, mind already at home, already far away and warm.