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Thought The Song Was Sung

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Harry isn’t a loser.  He’s not.  He just hasn’t been on a date in a while, that’s all, and there are certain factors that need to be taken into account, thank you very much, Niall, special challenges that Harry faces because of his name and his past and who he is, and honestly when you step back and take a look at the entire picture, clearly --

“You need to get laid, mate.”

Harry buries his head in his hands.  “What makes you say that?”

“Three things.  One, it’s Saturday night.  Two, you answered your mobile on the second ring.  And three, I can hear your cat in the background, you pathetic shut-in.”

Harry heaves a deep sigh as he runs his fingers through the soft, white fur of Lucifer, his purebred Persian.  They’re sprawled out on the couch together watching old reruns of Lost in Space, Lucifer magnanimously allowing Harry to pet her as Harry eats popcorn and fully appreciates the camp flourish in Jonathan Harris’s voice every time he says the word creature.  Harry is having a lovely, relaxing time.  This a perfectly legitimate Saturday night.

“I’m not pathetic, am I, Lucy?”  She just narrows her green eyes at him and lets out a low hiss.

“You are now talking to your cat,” Niall points out, helpfully.

Harry groans and rolls over onto his stomach, picking half-popped kernels out from between the cushions of his sofa.  Subconsciously tidying.  “Well, what would you suggest then?  I’m not exactly twenty-five anymore, Nialler; I can’t like, go out and grind on some stranger in a club and bring him home and ask him to penetrate me, please.”

“Why not?”

Harry makes a face into his phone.

“Stop doing that.”

“What?”

“Pretending I can see you.  Look…”  Harry hears some keys tapping in the background and hopes Niall hasn’t called him in the middle of watching porn again.  (They toured the world together as teenagers, and therefore have no boundaries as washed up forty-three-year-olds.  Sometimes it is distressing.)

“Niall…” he warns.

“I’m making you a profile on Manhunter.co.uk.”

“Niall.”

“Look, it’s quick, easy and it’ll get you a few dates.  I’m just entering your birthday…  Height, hair color (once a luscious chocolate brown, currently flirting with silver fox status, let’s be honest), uncut obviously…  How big are you?”

“Please stop.”

“I’m putting eight.”

Harry presses his face into the couch cushion, letting out a low whine.  “For the love of God, Nialler.”

“Favorite movies, favorite books, easy easy easy… Ask a hard one, Manhunter!  Heh.  Hard one.  Get it.”  Harry thinks he hears a muffled, feminine giggle in the background of Niall’s call and sucks in another groan.

“What is even happening?”

Niall sounds supremely self-satisfied as he continues to narrate Harry’s worst nightmare.  “I’ll just nab a profile picture and -- wey hey!  Done!  You can call and thank me when the blow j offers start pouring in.  Your password is buttplugboy.  Good luck with all the penis.”

“But…”

Niall hangs up before Harry can ask him what he’s doing home on a Saturday night, sitting around at his computer and randomly worrying about his best friend’s sex life.

“Hypocrite,” he mutters.  Lucifer arches her back haughtily and jumps over to the coffee table.  “Not you, Lucy.”

He yawns and makes an abortive attempt to get up and go to bed before sinking back into the soft cushions, already warm from his body heat.  So comfy.  So easy not to move.  He’ll go online and delete his Manhunter profile first thing in the morning.  Then he’ll drive over to Niall’s house and punch him in the boob.  Then they’ll go out for tacos.  Good plan.

Harry drifts off to sleep as camp Dr. Smith wanders through a weird, curtained room full of alien statues on the television, hears his soft voice lilting through dreams.

I want to find and see this… wonderful creature of my imagination…  

 

*

Louis frowns at his screen.  Honestly, people are so dumb.

“Harry Styles,” he chuckles.  “Right.  Believable.”

But he’s bored; it’s another Saturday night and he ain’t got nobody.  He hums along with Sam Cooke as he scrolls through the list of recently created Manhunter profiles on his app, sending winks and cheeky messages to the cute ones.  And the semi-cute ones.  (He’s not desperate.  He’s not!  He’s just been on too many bad dates lately, that’s all, and there are certain factors that need to be taken into account, like the crinkles around his eyes that have been getting a little deeper lately, and his midsection that’s gone a bit soft…  blah blah blah, bitch bitch bitch, Louis’s old and he’s desperate.)

So he dashes off a quick zinger to the fake Harry Styles.  Probably wouldn’t bother if it were a fake Jonathan Knight or a fake Lance Bass, but Harry Styles had always been Louis’s personal favorite closeted boybander-turned totally gay ex-boybander-turned Where Are They Now? tabloid column regular.  He’d been the de facto frontman of One Direction way back when, with Liam, Zayn, Aiden and…  some blond kid, Louis can’t remember his name.  Anyway.

  hello mister or madam imposter.  8 inches, ha!!  is that the length of your dick or your nose?  (fairy tale jokes because i am so cool)  free advice, next time when selecting a profile pic don’t use an AP press photo that’s probably the first result on google images.

He probably won’t get a response, but the mental stimulation afforded by typing has distracted him for about twenty seconds.  So, good enough.  He tosses his phone back onto his messy bed and turns to consider the array of button-downs he’s identified as possibilities for tonight.  The guy he’s supposed to be meeting, David… is he worthy of Louis’s best look, the magic blue button-down that never fails to pull?  Or should Louis be breaking out a scoop neck, in the hope that David will be super into his collarbone tattoo?

“To cleavage or not to cleavage,” Louis murmurs.

On a whim, he picks up his phone and types out another message to the fake Harry Styles.  It’s kind of fun, sending thoughts into the void, not knowing who might read them on the other end.

  what do you think, is a first date too soon for tits out?  this is critical.

Who are we kidding, Louis goes with the scoop neck.  He catches a cab to the pounding, neon-lit club where he finds David primly sipping a whiskey sour and staring around at the fit nineteen-year-olds.  They dance a little, drink a little, find an all-night café afterward and indulge in a bit of coffee and conversation.  Which goes nowhere.

Honestly, Louis doesn’t even want to give the guy a blow job.  He’s an absolute wet mop.  A damp squib.  Who seems to be overly obsessed with competitive ice dancing, or ice hockey, or something.  Louis’s not paying too much attention.  But, well, at least he’s talking about sport?  Maybe...

“So who do you support?”

“Hmm?  For what?”

“Oh, er…”  Louis fights off the five different sarcastic rejoinders that immediately occur to him and instead goes with, “You know.  Footie.  I’m a Man U fan, meself.”

“Uh.  I don’t really pay it that much attention, if I’m honest.”  David blinks at him.  He’s good-looking, but nothing’s clicking.  Louis realizes that he isn’t even curious about what his penis looks like, and that’s when he ends the date.  A quick peck on the cheek, a hastily hailed taxi, and fifteen minutes later he’s crawling into bed, absolutely regretting passing up on mediocre sex.

“Stupid, stupid, dumb, stupid…”

He’s woken up six hours later by his buzzing phone.

Louis blinks; his room looks all weird, the shadows are wrong…  what time is it?  His Manhunter app is clamoring for his attention.  Seems there are two new PMs in his inbox and seriously, what kind of dork hangs out on a hook-up site at 7:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning, messaging people?

Oh.  Right.

Conversation with: Harry Styles

  heyyyyy.  um, sorry, my friend sort of made this account for me as a joke.  i’ll probably delete it.  (as to your second question, i always say it isn’t a successful first date unless a nip slip is involved.)

Louis groans.  He really can’t afford to find Fake Harry Styles endearing right now.  He considers deleting the second PM without opening it, but gives in and taps on it after about three seconds.

  also.  i’m more like… 7?  but haven’t measured in a while.

Oh.  That makes Louis sit up and consider his options.  He rubs the sleep out of his eyes and finds himself typing a response.

  a) i don’t believe you  b) metric or english units?

He half expects some snarky comment in return, but what he gets when his phone buzzes again (a few minutes later as he’s putting the kettle on) makes him let out another groan instead.  Because endearing.

  that is a very interesting point.  you would think we would have gone metric by now.  clearly the british lag far behind the rest of the world in wang technology.

And then two seconds later,

  how was your date, by the way?

Louis hauls himself up onto his counter top, banging his heels against the cabinets and biting his lip as he waits for his water to boil.  He could stop this weird dialogue in its tracks, just ignore Fake Harry’s last message and pretend he’s got more important things to do with his day, like gardening.  Or squash.  Or walking his dog that he’s not allowed to have because the landlord is an alien who does not value the unconditional love that small, furry animals provide to humans.  Louis’s about two seconds away from shoving his mobile down the garbage disposal, but he can’t help it.  He answers.

  you are polite, for an imposter.  let’s just say that not a single nip got slipped.  but why don’t we steer this conversation back in a more interesting direction, e.g. wangs?  or julie andrews.  (you choose.)

Fake Harry writes back almost instantly.

  genoooviaaa the land i call my home

Louis’s glad he’s already forgotten about tea, because he would have just spit it out all over himself.

  oh my god you are thirteen years old.  i am being a paedophile right now.  disaster.

And he can’t believe his heart is actually racing, like he’s actually hunched over his phone early on a Sunday ignoring the kettle’s ear-splitting whistle and waiting for another response from this stupid, stupid fake Harry Styles who probably does not have a seven-inch penis but who genuinely does know all the words to the Genovian national anthem from Princess Diaries 2.

  noooooo not thirteen just a terrifying nerd.  disaster averted.

Louis breaks into a sun-bright grin and laughs to himself as he composes a response.  All lingering thoughts of boring David and bad dates are banished from his mind, cast aside to make room for much more entertaining considerations, such as what reality TV does Fake Harry watch (The Bachelorette, Top Chef) and does he fold the toilet paper before he wipes, or does he just bunch it up (is that even a question?).  This is probably ridiculous, Louis thinks.  Almost certainly a ridiculous thing to be doing.  Oh, and who does he support.

  Man U and i can’t change.

Well.

 

*

Harry smiles to himself as he pulls into Gemma’s driveway.  His phone is meowing again.  It’s another message from Louis.

  i myself am 5.7 and very shapely

He nearly chokes.  He puts his car in park and quickly types,

  are we still talking height, or?

Harry waits in the car for Louis’s response, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel.  It’s been nearly a week of chatting and flirting and discussing the relative merits of idiotic Bachelorette contestants -- not to mention more substantive conversations about footballers that only sometimes stray to the topic of their thigh muscles.  (stevie g! Louis had exclaimed, prettiest legs in the prem! and Harry really can’t bring himself to argue with that... even though Steven Gerrard is a dirty, dirty scouser.)  And Harry is getting rather attached.  Especially now that Louis has changed his profile picture to a screencap of Julie Andrews in Victor/Victoria.

Harry’s phone meows again.  Julie smiles beatifically up at him in her best drag.

  ;)  some of us aren’t liars

He rolls his eyes and ignores the warm rush of pleasure that seems to bloom in his chest every time Louis teases him.  Then he gets a sort of idea, one that makes his head go a bit fuzzy, but…  Later.  (Maybe.)  He takes a deep breath and doesn’t answer for now, instead shoving his phone into his pocket and finally getting out of the car.

He knocks on Gemma’s front door and lets himself in, hears the TV on in the living room and rounds the corner to see Niall, of all people, sitting in the middle of a busted pillow fort, playing FIFA.

“Hey, buddy.”  Niall doesn’t even take his eyes off the screen.

“What are you…?”  Harry blinks.  Then he shakes his head.  “Never mind.  Look, is this Manhunter website that you signed me up for a place where like, murderers lure innocent men in with nice conversation about penises and Maria Von Trapp and then ask them on dates in order to, you now… murder them?”

Niall chuckles, twisting his shoulders as one of his players wins a header.  “Didn’t actually delete that profile, then.”

Harry squirms.  Luckily, his niece chooses that moment to run into the room screaming, “Uncle Harry!  Uncle Harry!  Mum, it’s Uncle Harry!”  She launches herself into his arms and Harry staggers backward.

“Oof.  Tabby, hello.”

She’s an adorable five-year-old, the youngest of Gemma’s three children and Harry’s surprised at just how big she’s gotten.  She’d only been a tiny infant during the divorce -- Harry had ended up babysitting a lot back then, and he likes to think that he and Tabitha share a special sort of bond -- but now she’s practically a young adult, wearing a real football kit with shin guards and everything.

“D’you have a match, then?”

“Yeah!  Niall’s coming to watch.”

Before he can think about that too hard, Harry hears the sound of thudding feet on the stairs, and he sets Tabby down (with just the slightest of twinges in his aging back) as his older sister rushes into the room.

“Harry!  This is, um…  Niall was just…”  She’s wide-eyed and clearly frazzled.  She shoots a quick glance at Niall and then turns back to Harry, as though she’s not quite sure of something.

“Hi, Gems.”  He holds out his arms, and she lets herself be drawn into a hug.

“This is probably going to sound rude, H, but why are you here?”

“Actually…”

“Harry fancies a boy!” Niall announces.  He switches off the video game console and stretches, ruffling his dark hair as he stands up.  (Harry almost can’t remember him as a blond anymore.  God, it’s been a long time.)

“Really?”  Gemma’s face looks like Christmas has come early, and she hasn’t had to cook for anybody or wrap any presents.  Harry stifles a groan when he sees the glint in her eye, the conspiratorial glances she and Niall think they’re being subtle about.  He should have known they’d join forces against him.

“It’s not a big deal,” Harry shrugs.  “I haven’t even met him.  It’s just an online thing.”

As if on cue, his pocket meows.

Tabitha shrinks away from him, looking around warily.  She whispers, “Did you bring your mean cat, Uncle Harry?”

Harry laughs.  “No, Tabs, you’re safe.”  He ruffles her messily braided hair, draws his phone out of his pocket and switches it to silent.  His fingers are itching to quickly tap into his Manhunter app, but he doesn’t give in.

“Is that him?” Niall asks.  “Is he messaging you?”  He immediately makes a lunge for the mobile.  Harry holds it up at arm’s length and dances away, congratulating himself on being taller…  but he didn’t take Gemma into account.  She hops onto the couch and swipes it cleanly out of Harry’s hand, keying in his passcode (Tabitha’s birthday) and giggling as she enters the app.

“Why must I be the only adult in the room?” Harry grumbles.

“Beginning to feel neglected,” she reads.  “Sad face.  Is it because I have been shamelessly overusing emoticons?  Winky face.  How about… oh.”  Gemma blushes, and holds the phone out to Harry.  “Then it gets a bit rude.”

Tabby’s standing in the middle of the room, arms crossed, tapping her little foot.  “We’re going to be late for my football game, by the way.”

So they all pile into Harry’s car, Gemma and Niall demanding pictures as Harry backs out of the driveway and steers them carefully toward the neighborhood park.  They make such a ruckus that he finally surrenders his phone, letting them stalk Louis’s profile in the backseat as he chats with Tabby about her football team in the front.

“Pippa’s mean.  She took my juicebox last time.”

“Louis Tomlinson, computer programmer, works from home.”

“So in other words he’s a slob,” Gemma says.

“She took your juicebox?  Oh no!”

“He’s quite fit, though.”

“But she didn’t take my chocolate biscuit, which is the best part of football.”

“Yeah, very fit,” Niall grins.  “Exactly Harry’s type.”

“You’re right, Tabitha,” Harry says a bit louder, “snacks are the best part of football.  What a nice conversation we’re having up here in the front of the car.”

“How do you know what Harry’s type is?”

Niall groans.  “He never learned how to wipe his browser history, back back on the ol’ tour bus.”

“I think Jasper’s mom is making us Rice Krispie treats today.”

“Oh dear,” Gemma frowns.

“They’re not as good.”

Harry nods understandingly.  “I agree.  Not enough chocolate.”

“He’s still pretty awful with computers.”

“Has no idea how to properly attach jpegs to an email,” Gemma muses.  “Maybe Louis can teach him.”

“I’m going to put my juicebox down my shirt this time, as a pre-paution.”

“Good idea, Tabs.”

“Plus it says here that his favorite movie is Grease.”

“Right.  I approve.”

“We approve!”

“Good to know.”

Harry pulls into the carpark, about ready to blow his brains out.  He swipes his phone back from Niall and taps out a quick message to Louis, explaining the situation and telling him that if he’s a patient boy, he might get a present later.  He feels a flutter of nerves in his chest as he presses send.

It’s a beautiful early fall day at the park, leaves just beginning to flame out into brilliant reds and yellows.  Harry tries to pay attention to Tabitha’s match, cheering her on as she breaks away with the ball, only to trip over her own feet (she’s a Styles, all right) and fall in a patch of freezing mud halfway down the pitch.  Gemma looks concerned until Tabby pops back up, laughing at the sight of her mud-covered hands and flicking them at a sour-faced girl Harry suspects is Pippa.  It’s the sort of game where no one’s too sure what the score is, but everyone gets Rice Krispie treats and Hawaiian Punch afterward.

“You did great, Miss Fan-Tab-ulous!” Harry crows, wrapping up his muddy niece in a hug (making sure not to burst her carefully hidden juicebox).  “You’re going to be a striker for Manchester one day.”

Tabitha struggles her way out of Harry’s arms and makes a horrified face.  “I support Chelsea, how many times do I have to tell you?”  She huffs and flicks her hair behind her back, turns around to rejoin her teammates.

“You’re a nightmare child, Tabitha Styles!” Harry calls fondly after her.

He doesn’t notice Gemma standing just behind him, until she whispers in his ear.  “So, this Louis guy.  Are you going to meet him?”

Harry sighs.  The truth is, Niall was right.  Louis is literally exactly his type, judging from the pictures of him on his Manhunter profile.  He’s tiny and cute, with sharp cheekbones and a blinding smile.  Bright blue eyes.  The one shirtless pic he’d included makes Harry’s mouth go dry whenever he looks at it.  (Which is not often, shut up.)  Makes his heart race.

The truth also is, Harry’s scared.

“I don’t know,” he says.  “It’s sort of nice hiding behind my phone.  I mean, he’s quite funny and it’s gotten to the point where it’s a little embarrassing how much I like him already.  But what if we meet, and he’s a completely different person?  Or what if he’s perfect, but I’m not what he was expecting?  What if it doesn’t work?”

Gemma hooks her chin over Harry’s shoulder and hugs him from behind the way she used to when they were kids.  “Guess you’ll just have to take a chance and find out,” she says.

“I just…”

“I know,” she sighs.  “But it’s been a long time since you were actually interested in someone, and I worry about you.”

Harry snorts.  “Excuse me?”

“Specifically, I worry about you growing old with cats.”

Harry gasps.  “Cats are noble, snuggly creatures!”

“Your cat is named after the devil.”

“Point.”

 

*

Louis’s glad no one is around to see him smiling down at his phone as he reads Fake Harry’s message.  He quickly types out a response, and does not stick his tongue between his teeth.  Nope.

 i have a niece that age.  well, almost.  she’s turning five tomorrow; i’m driving up to donny for the party.

He’s not surprised when he doesn’t get an answer back.  Fake Harry is spending the evening with his family, and that’s just nice.  Family is nice.  So Louis does some work, lounging around in his sweats and munching half-heartedly on soggy water chestnuts floating around at the bottom of yesterday’s Chinese takeaway.  Code code code.  Buggy code.  He groans and shoves his keyboard away after a while, bored.

“Why aren’t I a hacker?” he asks the dog he doesn’t own.  “Or a superspy?”

Just then, his mobile buzzes.

 oh, are you from doncaster originally?

Thank god for fake ex-pop stars.  Louis doesn’t stop to question why he suddenly breaks into a grin, grabs his phone and heaves a sigh of relief as he starts tapping out a response.  He’s just happy to have an excuse to quit banging his head against that same boring program he’s been debugging all week.

  donny soldier!  what about you?  bet you’re too posh for anything, ent ya?

 might be.

Louis definitely refuses to get a thrill imagining Fake Harry’s voice, refuses to wonder if it’s deep and throaty and sex-coated, like the real Harry Styles’s.  He kind of wants to ask, but wow, talk about creepy?  And they’ve sort of fallen into this system for getting to know each other where personal information is slipped casually into conversation, never asked for directly.  Shit, he still doesn’t even know this guy’s name.

 i bet my niece is funnier than your niece.

is what he eventually ends up sending.

 not possible.

Louis scoffs.  “Yeah, right,” he breathes.

 prove it, posh spice.

There’s a long pause after this question, during which Louis glances up at his computer and notices a whole string of messy, redundant language that he hadn’t seen before.  He mutters heavily Doncaster-accented curses under his breath at whatever show-offy engineer originally wrote this headache, and sets about fixing it.  He gets in the zone, and suddenly it’s half an hour later, and his phone has buzzed three times.

 my sister and a friend and i were playing scrabble after dinner…

Louis snorts.  “Scrabble.  Ridiculous.  Scrabble.”  He’s not immediately endeared, stop.

... and tabby came up to the table and asked who was winning.  i asked her who she wanted to win.  she said, ‘niall.’  (he’s my, well.  you probably know.)

Louis furrows his brow.  “No I don’t, weird man.”  He shrugs and continues to read.

anyway, i said that i was beating niall’s pants off.  she just nodded quietly.  then two seconds later she yelled ‘GODZILLA!!!!’ and smashed the whole board up and ran out of the room.

It just slips out, it doesn’t mean anything.  Okay, Louis might have laughed, a little, but this kid clearly has nothing on Martha Tomlinson-Smith.

 hahahaaha.  do you know what my niece asked me for, for her birthday tomorrow?

Harry answers immediately.

 what?

  she wants me to light one of my farts on fire.

  HAHAHAHAHA.  kids are the absolute best.

Louis grins.  He can almost hear Fake Harry laughing in delight.

  i know!  two weeks ago she demanded that i pay her a 50p.  and i was like, ‘ok, what are you going to do to earn it?’ and she said, really proudly, ‘i’ll poop in this cup!’ like that’s genuinely the first thing she thought of.

  ahahaha i’m laughing so hard my stomach hurts!!  i love children.  i can’t wait to have kids of my own.

  me either!  i want to have like, at least five.

  me too!

Louis feels something shift in his chest.  He’s mooning over his phone like an idiot and has to take a few deep breaths to steady himself.  When he does, he finds that the rush of excitement has been replaced by a sort of undefined ache.

He really does want to have children.  He’s always wanted to, been dreaming of a family since he was still a teenager.  Not that he’s going to tell Fake Harry that.  He doesn’t want to sound completely daft, and if anyone asks, he was the most notorious party animal in the Computer Sciences Department at Manchester University.  (You’d be surprised.)

  well.  i’ve got some more work to do, and then i better turn in.  drive tomorrow and all that.

  remember to buckle up!

Louis snorts and rolls his eyes.  “Buckle up.”

  you are an absurd person.

  xx GUH NIIIIGHT

  NIGHT NIGHT

He falls asleep with an odd, light feeling in his lungs and a smile on his face.  In his dreams, Harry Styles sings to a sea of screaming fans.  His voice his rough, his shirt open to reveal some of his tattoos.  His forehead is a little sweaty, like maybe he hasn’t done this in a while.  His curly hair is pulled back with some sort of headscarf.

Baby, you don’t have to worry.  I am coming back for you…

He points right at Louis, picks his face out of the crowded audience.  Louis doesn’t remember any more.

 

*

The drive up to Doncaster the next morning is uneventful.  Lottie and her husband live in a much nicer neighborhood than the one in which the Tomlinson children had grown up, a pretty little house on a quiet street that borders a park.  Louis leaves his car in the driveway and wanders up the front walk, admiring the unruly, late-blooming heleniums in his sister’s garden.

He can already hear the commotion inside the house, the running feet and cries of “Uncle Buttzerbee!” that ring out, muffled.

The door is pulled open before he can knock, and he grins down at a small girl with sandy hair trimmed into a neat bowl cut.

“Happy birthday, gorgeous.”

“Happy birthday, Buttzerbee!”

Louis swallows a chuckle, contorting his face slightly to contain his smile.  “It’s not my birthday,” he says.

“Oh yeah.”  Martha shrugs and leaves the door wide open, running through the hallway toward the kitchen, skidding on well-worn socks.  “Mu-um!” she yells.  “Uncle Buttzerbee is here!”

Lottie rounds the corner, dark blonde hair streaked white with flour.  She yelps as her chocolate frosting-smeared torso connects with Martha’s face, then steps back and peers down at her youngest daughter with narrowed eyes.  “You haven’t lost another tooth, have you, darling?  Hi, Louis.”

“Yeah!” Martha shouts, grimacing and pointing.  “Three days ago, but the fairy never came yet!  You already knew that, Mum, I be-minded you about it yesterday!”

“What an irresponsible tooth fairy you have in this house,” Louis tuts, winking at his younger sister, who just rolls her eyes.

“She was waiting for your birthday, love.  Sure you’ll find something tomorrow morning.”  She gives her daughter an affectionate swat on the bum and says, “Now go play with Fizzy and the boys.”

“Aunt Chickenbutt!” Martha squeals, and barrels out the sliding back door into the fenced yard.  “My birthday is the best!  Isn’t my birthday the best?”

“You know I’m owed Uncle Tax on all your candy!” Louis calls after her.

He hangs his grey wool pea coat up in the hall closet and gives Lottie a hug, careful not to get any frosting on his shirt.  “Need some help, Lotts?” he asks.  He truly loves being around family, doesn’t get up north often enough anymore.  His voice goes softer, up here.  Like he can trust that people actually hear him when he says something.

“I think I’ve about got the cake under control,” she says.  She’s staring into space, as though she’s reading from a long, invisible checklist.  She ticks items off on her fingers.  “Got the presents wrapped.  Dog’s fed.  Dinner’s ordered -- hope you don’t mind pizza, apparently it had to be pizza.  Um, what else…”

“Why don’t I clean the kitchen for you, so you can go up and grab a shower.”

“Oh!  Right, shower.”  Lottie blinks.  Then she smiles up at Louis.  “Thanks, Uncle Buttzerbee, you’re the best.”

“Go on,” Louis growls, elbowing her gently in the ribs as she laughs her way up the staircase.  He shakes his head fondly and steps into the disaster area of a kitchen (the Tommos were never known for their culinary skills).  Snaps on the battered old radio Lottie got for her sixteenth birthday and never threw away, and tunes it to Top Forty Hits, only slightly annoyed that most of the radio stations in Doncaster have changed since he was a kid.

The washing up goes fairly smoothly…  Louis’s scraping the last of the smudged chocolate out of the tiling grout when Daisy and Phoebe arrive.  They’ve come in separate cars from separate cities -- Daisy’s finishing up her doctorate in Manchester and Phoebe owns a bar in Sheffield -- but have still managed to end up on Lottie’s front stoop at the same time.  Blame twin magic.

“Hello, loves,” Louis greets them, hugging them both at once and kissing their wispy blonde hair like he used to when they were babies.

Martha runs in at the sound of new people arriving.  “Aunt Butthead,” she says, magnanimously.  “Aunt Butthead II.  Welcome to my birthday.”

“Happy birthday, Martha,” they reply in unison, and give her one hug each.

“Everyone who has a present,” she says, eyeing them all hopefully, “can put them over there.”  She points to the kitchen table, which is already piled high with brightly-wrapped gifts.  Louis winks at her as he slides a thin package out of his sleeve and places it atop the scrum.  Daisy and Phoebe add their more traditional-looking boxes, and Martha drags them outside for a game of backyard boules with Fizzy and her two sons.  Jay is sitting serenely in a lawn chair, watching her children and grandchildren roll around in the grass together.  Louis gives her a big hug and a kiss, and spends time sitting with her and chatting about Doncaster.

The rest of the day passes so quickly and pleasantly, Louis almost doesn’t think about Fake Harry at all.  Just once when Martha gets so excited that she does a face plant into her slice of cake before everyone else is served, and ends up with chocolate icing on her eyelids.  Louis thinks Fake Harry would probably laugh at that.  And then again when she says polite thank yous to all of her aunts for the Barbies and the patent leather coin purses, but screams with joy when she unwraps the brand-new Whoopie Cushion that Louis has given her.

Four large pizzas, one viewing of Wreck-It Ralph and exactly seven fake farts later, Louis is taking Jay home in his car.  He’s going to stay the night as her guest in his old room, too exhausted to drive all the way back to London.

She makes him some tea and they have a nice late night chat, giggling together about Tomlinson pranks and childhood memories.  Her white hair gleams under the fluorescent light.  Suddenly Louis wonders when his mother got so old, and feels uncomfortable in the pit his stomach.  He loves coming home, but…  Eventually it’s going to be bittersweet.

“I’m going up, Mum.”

“Okay, baby.”  She kisses him on the temple and she eases out of her chair, shuffles over to the sink with their empty mugs.  “Watch your step on the landing.”

Louis smiles softly.  She’s been telling him to watch his step on the landing ever since he tripped on a patch of torn-up carpet when he was five.

“I will, Mum.  Good night.”

He brushes his teeth, runs a comb through his hair until it lies in a flat, sideswept fringe the way it used to when he was a teenager.  Louis wants to feel young tonight.  Maybe it’s the faded peace sign sticker that Fizzy stuck on the bathroom mirror when she was thirteen years old, still there and peeling around the edges.  Or maybe it’s the pictures of (mostly shirtless) male celebrities that Louis had surreptitiously ripped out of his mother’s gossip magazines, glued into the pages of a notebook and hidden above a loose ceiling panel in his closet.  He laughs at himself as he spits out the toothpaste, trying not to see the lines on his face.  He wonders if the notebook is still there.  Surely he must have thrown it away before he left for uni…

Louis changes into a soft white t-shirt and faded pajama bottoms, and opens the closet.  It’s full of guest towels, now, instead of his artfully ripped tops and piles of old TOMS.  He feels around for the loose panel, grunting a little as he finds the right spot.  It’s dusty up here.  He has to stand on his tiptoes to feel around the edges of the ceiling with his fingers -- that second growth spurt he used to hope for is over three decades late now, and not likely to arrive -- and there.  He brushes over cool spiral binding, digs his nails in and pulls the gritty notebook out of its hiding spot.

“Oh my god.”  Louis laughs down at what he’d written on the cover: LOUIS TOMLINSON’S GALLERY OF HOT MEN.  WARNING: OPEN AND YOU WILL BE CURSED.  (UNLESS YOU ARE LOUIS TOMLINSON)

He flops down on his old bed, mattress creaking under him, and starts to flip through the notebook.  The first page is an elaboration on the specifics of the curse involved in opening the notebook, should the opener not, in fact, be Louis Tomlinson.  (An overwhelming ear wax problem and “mega spots” constitute just the first wave of horrors.)

The next page is a picture of Aaron Carter, complete with embarrassing commentary written by fourteen-year-old Louis in purple biro: “Aaron Carter is American.  And HOT!!!”  (Christ, Louis had forgotten that aspect of the notebook.)  He turns the brittle page over, warped because he used too much glue.  Chad Michael Murray is staring back at him.  Louis snorts fondly.  “Hi, Chad.”  The next page is dedicated to Hayden Christensen, the one after that to Jesse McCartney.  Justin Bieber.  Chris Brown.  (“Ew.  Go away.”)  Taylor Lautner.  Harry Styles.

Harry Styles.

Harry Styles.

Harry Styles.

A total of ten pages devoted entirely to Harry Styles.  Glossy pictures ripped out and then cut carefully around with scissors, of Harry Styles singing into a microphone, Harry Styles behind the wheel of a car, Harry Styles shirtless on a beach somewhere.  Even one of Harry Styles with his arm slung homoerotically around one of his other bandmates -- that blond one, what was his name?  Louis can never remember.  He has the sense it’s a name he’s heard recently, somewhere…  Oh well, he’ll think of it.  Harry Styles with a puppy in his arms, Harry Styles sitting front row at Burberry during London Fashion Week.  A few old calendar pages on which Louis had apparently celebrated “I Love Harry Styles Week” and “Harry Styles Is A God Day.”  Whole purple-inked stories that start like this:

I’d been in London for two hours before someone introduced me to Harry Styles, a member of the band One Direction.  It was funny meeting him for the first time.  He was 17 and I was DAZZLED by his terrifically unexplainably extreme attractiveness.  (He was immediately attracted to me too because you know, I’m older.)

and end like this:

I put my hand on his chest.  I tapped it.  I loved him.  I knew I loved him right then.  “I love you, Harry,” I said quietly.  At first he didn’t respond, his head hung to his chest but when he lifted it tears were slowly trickling down his cheeks.  “I love you too,” he said and leaned in and kissed me.  It was the greatest kiss EVER.  My body trembled, my mind swam.  The End.

“Oh, Jesus,” Louis groaned, setting the open notebook aside and rolling onto his back.  “I am actually the most embarrassing person on the planet.”

Before he knows it, his hand is reaching for his phone on the bedside table and he’s tapping into the Manhunter app.  He needs to have a normal conversation with Fake Harry to prove to himself that he’s not an incredible gay loser of a nineteen-year-old anymore.  Plus he remembers something Fake Harry mentioned yesterday.

  did you or did you not say something about a present?  i think i’ve been quite patient.

Fake Harry doesn’t answer for about five minutes, and Louis wonders if he’s asleep.  Just as he’s about to switch off the lamp and roll over, his phone buzzes.  It’s a picture message.

Of a cock.

“Oh my god.”  Louis clutches the phone to his chest.  He can’t look.  He draws a deep breath and exhales slowly.  He looks again.

“Shit.”  This is no pic pulled off Google Images, this is clearly a selfie that was just taken.  Of an erect cock.  And a large, attractive hand holding a ruler up next to it.  “Seven fucking inches,” Louis breathes.  And change.  Shit.  Shit.

His phone buzzes again, making Louis suck in another breath.  He can feel himself hardening a little beneath the flimsy material of his pajama bottoms.  He bites his lip and taps on the incoming message.

  hi louis.  07-555-341-678 if you want to talk.

Louis gasps.  This is a big step, one that he’s not sure he should take when he’s lying in his childhood bed with his mother probably still awake downstairs.  On the other hand…  Fuck, that’s a pretty cock.

He dials the number, heart beating wildly against his ribcage.  He swallows nervously when someone picks up on the second ring.  “Hello?”

“Louis?  Hi!”  A pleasant, deep voice rumbles over the line and Louis has to bite down on his knuckle to keep from making a very embarrassing noise.  “You got my message, then.”  Fake Harry has a lovely voice.  Throaty and rough, just like he’d been hoping.

“Um…”  God, Louis has no idea what to say.  “Yes.  I did.”

“Told you I wasn’t a liar.”  Louis can practically hear the cheeky smile.

“Well…  I mean…”

Then Fake Harry starts to laugh, and Louis starts laughing, muffling the noise in his pillow so as to not disturb Jay.  Their laughter -- Louis’s high and melodic, Fake Harry’s low and resonant -- combine in a sort of lovely euphony, and Louis’s head is fuzzy.  His heart is racing.

My body trembled, my mind swam.

“Oh, shut up.”

“Pardon?”

“Not you!  Sorry, not you.  I’m just…”

“Are you alone?” Fake Harry asks, lowering his voice cautiously.

“Yes,” Louis sighs.  “I was talking to myself, a bit, never mind; it’s incredibly embarrassing and I can explain later.  But I am.”  He clears his throat awkwardly.  “Alone.”

“Good.”

“So…”  Louis can think of one question he desperately wants to ask, curled up in bed and whispering late at night into his phone, bathed in dim lamplight that casts weird shadows on the walls.  “What can I call you?”

“Harry,” Fake Harry answers, sounding a bit confused.

“Oh!”  Louis raises his eyebrows.  “Oh, right.  That must be why…  Right, I get it.  Funny.”

It was obviously part of the joke, why Harry’s friend had made the fake Harry Styles profile for him on Manhunter in the first place.  Their names are the same.

“Hmm?”

“Oh, nothing.  Just me being weird.”

“I mean, unless you were hoping to call me Daddy, or something; I’m not personally into that, but…”

“No!  No,” says Louis, quickly.  “Harry’s just fine.”

“Okay.  So how was your niece’s birthday party?”

Louis sighs, smiling and playing with the hem of the sheet as he tells Fake Harry -- no, Harry -- all about it.  He puts the phone against the pillow and snuggles up, almost like he’s twelve years old and having a sleepover with Stan.  It’s an easy conversation; their chemistry apparently hasn’t been affected by the switch from typing to talking.  Louis’s glad.  He’s delighted to discover that when Harry’s really amused by something, his laugh turns into a hoarse squawk.  Louis can hear him covering his mouth with one hand as he talks about Martha getting Daisy for the third straight time with the Whoopie Cushion.

“That sounds like a great party.”

“It was.  It was nice getting to have a chat with my mum, too.”

They fall into a companionable silence.  Louis licks his lips and rolls over onto his tummy, something itching at his skin.  That picture.  Harry’s soft breathing on the other end of the line.

“So,” Harry says, and Louis wonders where he’s going to take them now.  To a good night, or…  “My penis.”

“Is already my lockscreen, yes.”

Harry claps his hand over his mouth to stifle another one of his laughter-squawks, and Louis smiles.  He’d been a little bit horny ever since the picture had come through…  He’s glad Harry’s not ready to say good night quite yet.

“You might want to frame it,” Harry suggests.  “Hang it above your bed.  You know, for company.”

“My sheets would never be clean again.”

Harry giggles, and Louis swears he sounds turned on.  Biting down a smile, Louis runs a hand through his soft hair and then brings it down to flick lightly at one of his nipples, pinching it through his thin t-shirt as he whispers, “You know, I’m at me mum’s house, still.  She’s downstairs.  I feel like a teenager sneaking around.”

Harry laughs again.  “Well, I’ve locked my cat out of the room, so.”

Louis chuckles.  “So.”

Suddenly the atmosphere between them is charged.  Every breath Louis takes is filled with static electricity, ratcheting the tension in his body, and he wants to palm himself.  He feels like they’re on the brink of something, both waiting for the other one to take the first step.  Waiting for the electrons to move, for the spark to snap.

“I, um…” Louis begins.  “I want to touch you.”  It comes out soft, like a whisper.

“Oh, God,” Harry breathes.  “Yes.  Want that so much.”

Louis answers with a breathy little laugh, “Thank fuck!  I was terrified of saying it.”

“Lou, I sent you a picture of my cock.”

Then they both start laughing again, like the inevitable consequence of LouisandHarry is pure joy, nothing but joy and laughter and dick pics forever.  Louis giggles, “Okay.  Now that we’ve got that out of the way, like...  How do we do this?”

Harry audibly licks his lips, and it sends a spike of arousal straight through Louis’s gut.  “Well,” he says, “I’m touching myself right now.”

“Really?”  Louis feels his throat constrict, swallows tightly.  His skin is galvanized; a single air current makes him shiver as he discreetly adjusts himself.

“Fuck, Lou, I’m so attracted to you.  You have no idea.”  Louis can hear the urgency in Harry’s voice, and has to remind himself to breathe.  “‘S probably creepy…”

“No,” Louis protests.  “I’m… I mean.  Fuck, I’m going to look at your cock again.”  He fumbles the phone as he concentrates on bringing up the photo without ending the call.  His palms are slick with sweat.  “Shit, Harry.  Keep talking, keep talking,” Louis says.  “I want you to tell me what you’re going to do to me with that massive hard-on of yours.”

“Oh,” Harry breathes.  Louis can’t help it, he has to touch himself.  He keeps the heel of his hand pressed lightly on the outline of his swelling prick, willing himself to wait.  Then Harry whispers, and his voice is like a warm puff of air on Louis’s cheek.  “Well, I’d start with kissing you.  I want to taste you on my lips, and feel you breathing…  I want to lick along that tattoo on your collarbone, run my fingertips over your arms, take my time sucking a deep bruise into your neck.”

“Are we naked?” Louis asks.

“No,” Harry says, voice steady.  “Not yet.  But you’ve got me hard just from the kissing, and I’m feeling trapped in my jeans.  So I sling my leg over you on the couch and press my hands into your hips, and…  Our cocks are rubbing together, through our clothes.  I’m grinding on you.”

Louis moans and presses down on his erection, jerking his hand over the rough cotton.  “Fuck, Harry.  You’ve got me so hard right now.”

“It’s mutual,” Harry breathes.

“I want to take your trousers off,” Louis says.  “I’d flip you around so you were the one pinned to the couch, and then I’d make you promise to stay perfectly still while I go down on you.  Take you all the way.”

Harry gasps into the phone, and Louis can hear the soft fwap fwap of him jerking off.  The sound only gets him more riled up.  “So eager,” Louis breathes, sneaking his own hand down below the waistband of his pajamas.  He sucks in a ragged breath as he finally starts to wank in earnest.

“Would you let me come in your mouth?” asks Harry.

“Yeah,” says, Louis, weakly.  He can’t help it; his mind is picturing the real Harry Styles, the celebrity.  He knows he shouldn’t; he knows it’s weird.  But he has no idea what his Harry looks like except for his cock and his hand.  And he was just looking at that stupid notebook, and he’s here in his old room, where he must have wanked over Harry Styles at least five hundred times -- staring at the ever-present bulge in those obscenely tight jeans he used to wear, like he was some kind of walking Sticky Fingers album cover.  It’s just reflex.  He can’t help it.  It’s happening.

“Yeah,” Louis continues.  “You can come in my mouth, all over my face.”

Harry moans low into the phone.  His breathing goes heavy and a couple seconds later Louis hears the unmistakable sound of a man bringing himself off.

“You finished already, didn’t you.”

“Sorry,” Harry laughs, panting into the phone.  “Shit, you had me so worked up…”

Louis bites his lip and wanks harder, no longer bothered that it’s curly hair he’s picturing, tattoos and green eyes and fuck-me lips.

“Imagine how good your cock is going to feel with my hand wrapped around it,” Harry whispers, coming down from his orgasm.  Louis can hear him shifting his weight, probably reaching for a tissue to clean himself up.  “Getting you so hard you feel like you’re going to burst.”

“Mmmm,” Louis moans, desperately chasing his own release.  “More.”

“I want you to get me ready with your fingers,” Harry says, and shit motherfucker, that pushes some of Louis’s fantasy buttons, hard.  “I want you to open me up, get me all slick…  push my head down and fuck me straight into the mattress.”

Louis’s orgasm crashes over him like a tidal wave, rocking his whole body as he loses it, spilling over his fingers and onto his stomach.  He takes a few jagged breaths before he holds the phone shakily up to his ear and says, “We need to meet.”

“I was hoping you were going to say something like that.”

“Also, you owe me a new t-shirt.  This one I’m wearing has just been defiled.”

Harry giggles and yawns.  “I’ll see what I can do…  ‘Night Louis.”

“G’night Harry.  Call you tomorrow?”

“I’d love that.”

Louis hears a soft beep, and the line goes dead.  He doesn’t even bother to clean himself up before switching off the lamp and rolling over, not caring that he’ll be all crusty in the morning.  His thoughts sink easily into a heavy, sex-sated sleep, and he can’t help it; they’re only dreams anyway…  Harry Styles is singing to him again.

 

*

Harry Styles has absolutely fallen in love with Louis’s voice.  He hears it in his head when he wakes up in the morning, tries to imagine what it would sound like a bit cracked and sleep-heavy.  He hears it singing in the shower, high and bright and lovely.  He hears it whispering sweet things in his ear, barely husky, right at the edge of turned on.  He can’t stop hearing it.

And it’s partially because they call each other all the time now, every spare minute either of them have.  Harry’s getting used to the crick in his neck from talking on his phone while he’s cooking, rolling his eyes and grinning as Louis teases him about hand-preparing organic meals for his cat.

“No!  Oww, dammit…”

Harry frowns, in the midst of sautéing Lucifer’s wild salmon.  “What did you do, drop your disgusting microwave mac and cheese on yourself?” he asks.

“All down me front,” Louis moans.  “And I was in my best jumper.  Awful.”

“You’ll just have to change into another one, then.”

“But Harry, when I entered the abbey, all my worldly clothes were given to the poor!  Which is to say I don’t have any clean laundry because I am stupid and lazy and very stupid.”  Louis’s whining pointlessly, and it shouldn’t be cute.  It shouldn’t sound so good.

“Well,” Harry sighs, with a bit of a rueful grin.  “You’ll just have to go shirtless, then, Maria.”

“Thanks a lot, Captain Von Trapp.”

“Heyyy, but aren’t you supposed to be the big problem solver?”  Harry transfers the salmon to Lucy’s food dish and starts to sing, “Nobody solves a problem like Mariaaaaa…”  He has to hold the phone away from his ear to protect himself from the piercing sound of Louis’s voice.

“MARIA?  HARRY.  WAIT.  WHAT?”

Harry furrows his brow.  “Yeah, cos.  Like.  She made all of those clothes out of curtains, and she brought music back into the Von Trapps’ life.  Problems, solved!”

“Oh my god, Harry.  Maria was the problem.  The nuns wanted to solve the problem of Maria.  They weren’t like, singing the song because they were jealous of her problem solving abilities.  They were singing it because she was always late and terrible at being a nun.”

Harry stands up, eyes wide, as Lucifer starts munching wetly on her dinner.  “Ohhhhhhh.”

Louis bursts into delighted laughter on the other side of the phone.  “Wait, so you really…?”

“I haven’t seen that movie since I was a kid, okay!” Harry cries, trying to defend himself without starting to laugh along with Louis.  “I just thought, like, Maria’s the greatest!  She could catch a cloud and pin it down!  Who could keep a wave upon the sand?  Maria, probably!”

Louis can barely speak.  He’s almost hiccoughing with laughter, and Harry gives in, feeling his face redden as he shrugs and chuckles good-naturedly at himself.

“Hazza.”  God, that bright voice can be so full of affection when it softens.

“Mmm?”

“I think that’s the worst thing I’ve ever heard.”

Harry giggles.  His heart is racing, he thinks now is as good a time as any to ask.  “So how’s Friday for you?”

“Loud.  Why?”

“Loud?”  Harry frowns.  “Why?”

“Is there an echo?”

“I’m just…”  Harry is a bit breathless still from the teasing.  He starts to fix himself an arugula salad and shakes his head to clear it, focusing on the sound of Louis’s voice.  “Erm, why is Friday loud?”

“Because on Fridays, the pub below my flat has live music.  It’s horrible.  Absolute worst bands you could imagine, and you can hear them all down the block.”

“So come to dinner with me.  I’ll whisk you away from your dreary existence of writing computer thingies and living above a violently loud pub.”

Louis pauses before answering, just long enough for Harry to get a spike of anxiety through his heart.  But then he clears his throat and says, “Sure, all right.  Whisk me away.”

Harry breaks into a face-splitting grin.  “Perfect.  I know this nice little restaurant full of quiet things, like people doing crosswords and grandmothers knitting.  And hipsters knitting.”

Louis snorts.  “Text me the address and I’ll be there at 7.”

“Brilliant.  I’ll do that.  Bring all of your nipples.”  (He swears he can hear Louis make a face into the phone.)

 

*

 *GASP* captain are you standing me up?!

  kindly calm your tits, dame andrews, i’m just getting off the tube.  do you like the café?

  yeah, it’s quite cute actually.

  it’s my sister’s favorite.

  can’t wait to see you.

  xxxx

Louis takes a deep breath and puts away his mobile.  He’s still not sure he wants to do this…  Well, he knows he has to.  It’s just.  Harry’s seen what Louis looks like already, but all Louis’s been picturing in his head all week is Harry fucking Styles.  And that’s not fair to anyone.  He just needs to get it over with.  Rip off the mental Band-Aid so he can proceed to fall in love with the gorgeous voice and the hilarious, loving, refreshingly goofy personality on the other end of the conversations he’s been looking forward to and obsessing over for the better part of two weeks.  He just needs to see Harry’s face.

And now he’s about to.  It’s fucking nerve-wracking, okay?

Louis takes a deep breath to steady himself, flicking his fringe out of his eyes as he stares at the door of the restaurant.  He’s at a sheltered booth near the back, and he has a good, clear yet unobtrusive view of everyone who comes in -- he wants to give himself as much of a buffer as he possibly can, wants to be able to freak out with joy or contain his disappointment before Harry even sees him.  He wonders if he could identify Harry from his left hand alone…  He’s looked at that damn cock shot enough.

A woman in a puffy coat comes in, waving at an older man by the window.  Not Harry.

An art student-looking teenager with swirling, colorful tattoos and gauged earlobes darts in to pick up some takeaway.  Not Harry.

Harry Styles comes in.

Harry Styles?

Louis freezes.  Fuck.  This is by far the most inconvenient thing to ever happen to him.  He’d thought his Harry would only have to compete with Harry Styles in his head, not in real fucking life.

“Oh, God.”  Louis hides behind his menu, trying not to shamelessly gawk at the major celebrity stumbling awkwardly through the door.  Harry’s wrapped up in a stylish black wool coat, legs still long and lean in form-fitting trousers.  He looks good.  Like.  He’s older, obviously, he’s no longer the fresh-faced teenager Louis was in love with at nineteen.  His hair is swept back from his face, streaked heavily with silver, and his hairline has receded just a touch.  But his green eyes still sparkle.  His dimple…  Louis had forgotten.  But there it is, cute as a fucking button as he shares a joke with one of the passing waitresses.  He must come here a lot.

Louis bites his lip.  He really kind of wants to go up and get an autograph or something -- he’s never been shy about that sort of thing, and he is a fan.  But, no.  Louis takes a deep breath and drops his eyes to his menu.  Nope.  He remembers his Harry.  His Harry who makes him laugh, and who harbors radical, endearingly optimistic misconceptions about The Sound of Music, and who makes his heart fill up with the good kind of ache, the kind that he knows could turn into love all too quickly…  Louis will wait for his Harry.  When his Harry comes, they’re going to laugh about this coincidence and it’ll just be another funny detail in the story of how they met.

Harry Styles starts ambling toward the back of the restaurant.  Louis grits his teeth.  His Harry can show up any time now, please.

A shadow falls across his menu.  No.  Louis studiously keeps his head lowered.

“Louis?”

Well, now he’s just being rude.  He looks up finally, squinting.  “Yes?”

Harry Styles breaks into a wide grin, and holds out his hand.  “‘M Harry.”

“Did he pay you?”

Harry frowns, and his sharp eyebrows furrow.  “What?”

“Is this a joke?  I mean I knew he was posh; this neighborhood is right posh, but I didn’t think he could afford to hire…”

Louis stands up, peering around at the corners of the restaurant.  “Harry?  This isn’t funny, mate.”  It really isn’t funny.  It’s toying with his emotions in the worst way (though his Harry couldn’t know that), and Louis is cross.

Harry Styles puts a gentle hand on Louis’s forearm, causing Louis’s glance to flick back to his face.  “Did you not hear me?” he asks, an amused smile touching the corners of his lips.  “I’m Harry.”

“Yes,” Louis snaps, removing his arm.  “I know.  And it’s not a great joke, to be honest.  Is he waiting outside, or?”  Louis starts to move to the door, feeling tears prick at his eyelids because he’s been struggling with this all week and it’s really not funny, just humiliating because now he’s acting like a lunatic in front of someone he idolized (still idolizes).  He wonders if his Harry is laughing at him.  Does he get off on this sort of thing?  Hidden cameras had better not be involved.

Just as Louis is pushing through the door, he runs into a solid body.  A short, dark-haired man who seems to be attached at the mouth to a pretty brunette.

“Louis, wait…”

“Oof.  Sorry, I -- ”

“Harry?”  The woman has detached herself and is staring over Louis’s shoulder.

“Gemma?  Wait, NIALL?”

“Niall!” Louis snaps his fingers.  “That’s the one I forgot.”

“Hi, Harry.”

Louis is stuck in the middle of some sort of weird boyband reunion, here.  He looks from Harry’s stunned face to Niall’s sheepish one.  “Didn’t you used to be blond?”

“Niall,” Harry says, very carefully.  “What the fuck do you think you’re doing with my sister.”

“Um…”

“We were snogging, Harry,” says the woman.  Apparently Gemma.  Apparently Harry’s sister, Gemma.

“Where are your kids?” demands Harry.

“Oh, I don’t know.”

“What?!”

“I left them with a babysitter, you moron.  I’m on a date.”

“With Niall.  With Niall?”

Gemma nods.

“How long have you two been…?”  Harry thinks better of the rest of that sentence and is content to gesture back and forth between Gemma and Niall to get his meaning across.

“I’m sorry you found out this way,” Gemma sighs.  “We didn’t want to tell you until we knew for sure it was serious…”

“Six months,” Niall declares, proudly.

“SIX MONTHS?”

“Well, this is awkward!”  Louis claps his hands together and moves to extricate himself from the situation.

“Oi!” Niall cries, face brightening as he catches Louis’s elbow.  “Is this Louis?”

“How do you know my name?”

Niall grins.  “How could I not?  The famous Louis Tomlinson!  Harry’s only been obsessed with you for weeks, mate.  You’re all he can fucking talk about.”

“Harry’s… what?”

“Niall James Horan!”  Harry looks like he wants to strangle his ex-bandmate, but Niall just cackles a laugh.

And.  Oh, God.  Suddenly understanding washes through Louis.  He lets himself recognize Harry’s voice, lets himself believe the impossible.  He starts shaking.  “No…”  He turns to Harry.  “You can’t really…”

“Lou,” murmurs Harry, immediately forgetting about Niall and Gemma and stepping closer to Louis, running his large, expressive hands down his arms.  “Babe, it’s me.”

Louis finally raises his eyes to Harry’s.  “Oh.”

Harry nods, smiling softly, looking for all the world as though he’s gazing at something beautiful and rare.  “Hi.”

“Hello.”  Louis can’t stop trembling.  “I didn’t know.  I… you…  You’re obsessed with me?  I’m all you talk about?”  This is all so fucking surreal.

Harry frowns.  “Are you disappointed?”

“No!” squawks Louis, loudly, and he hears Niall laughing somewhere in the distant background.  “I had the biggest crush on you as a teenager!  I cut out pictures of you and glued them into a notebook, for Christ’s sake!  God, I was the most embarrassing.  I’ve no idea how I survived puberty, to be honest.”

Now Gemma’s laughing.  She and Niall are hanging off each other, absolutely dying, and it finally brings Louis out of the moment just a little bit.

Harry’s face is bright red, but there’s a big smile on his face as he loops Louis’s arm securely through his own and guides him out the door.  “I’ll deal with you two life-ruiners later,” he says, poking Niall in the shoulder.  “Enjoy your date.  I’m on one of my own.”

Louis nearly stumbles trying to keep up with Harry’s long, swift strides.  They only make it to the end of the block before Harry pulls Louis around the corner and crowds him up against a brick wall.  “Can I kiss you?” he asks, breathlessly.

“You’d better kiss me, Harry Styles.”

Harry leans in and brushes his lips against Louis, a gentle caress that sends shivers up and down Louis’s spine.  Louis can barely breathe.  He leans up into the kiss, deepening it as he slides his hands inside Harry’s trench to touch the soft knit jumper at his waist.  Harry moans brokenly, like he’s been waiting for this moment and fuck if Louis isn’t overwhelmed.  It’s just that Harry is overwhelming; it’s Harry Styles, his Harry that he’s kissing, and his heart is going to burst, he thinks.  Louis gives him more, and Harry opens his mouth to allow Louis’s tongue inside.  They snog wetly, all heat and need.  Louis can’t function; his brain is white static and now Harry is touching him, broad hand sliding up his chest to gently fondle at his neck and Harry’s so fucking fit and tall and kissing him is blindingly hot.

Still shaking, Louis reaches up to curl a tendril of Harry’s famous hair around one of his fingers.  Then he rakes his hand around to the back of Harry’s flushed neck, pulling him even closer.  There’s nothing chaste about it.  Harry finally breaks the kiss and presses his forehead to Louis’s, breathing hotly down his neck.

“Excellent first date so far,” Louis manages.

“Mmm,” Harry nuzzles at his nose, making Louis smile.  “No nip slips yet.”

“Well, we’ve got six of them between us… or was that just a rumor?”

Harry grins wickedly.  “Come home with me and find out.”

Louis almost faints.  He doesn’t want to move, doesn’t want to leave Harry’s arms.  Wants to just stand here in the cold October air and trace Harry’s eyebrows, his jawline.  Stare at him until he wakes up from this ridiculously vivid dream.  “We’re going to make the cab driver uncomfortable, aren’t we?”

“Yup.”

Harry slips his hands down to Louis’s thighs, heaving him up -- strong, holy fuck -- and smacking him repeatedly on the lips as he twirls them out to the curb.

“You’re a menace!” Louis growls, retaliating by biting down on Harry’s earlobe until he collapses into giggles and lets Louis’s feet slide back to the sidewalk.

“Oh good.  I was afraid you were going to stop teasing me once you found out who I was.”

Louis rolls his eyes.  “Why would I do that, Hazza, when you’re so very embarrassing?”

“Point.”

Harry’s grinning so big Louis’s afraid his dimple is going to explode.  His own cheeks are aching; he realizes he’s laughing just for the sake of it as they flag down a cab together, tumble into the backseat and pick up where they left off.  Except this time Louis’s legs are slung over Harry’s lap, and those big hands are dancing up his thighs, obscene lips sucking at his neck, licking and tonguing a bruise as Louis tries not to gasp from the sensation.

“Shit,” he groans.  “We’re too old for this.”

“I don’t give a fuck.”

Louis’s going to die.  Harry Styles is going to kill him.  Oh, God.

 

*

Harry reaches over Louis’s lap to pay the disgruntled driver before they extricate themselves from the cab in a mass of flailing limbs and racing heartbeats.  He needs to touch Louis, needs to feel his hands on him.  But first, keys.  Louis stops for a moment as the taxi speeds away, staring up at Harry’s Primrose Hill residence in poorly-concealed awe.  Harry watches him, suddenly unsure.

“This is amazing, Posh Spice.”

“Thanks, David.”

Louis elbows him in the side, hard,  and runs up to the door.  “Well!” he cries, looking adorably eager.  (Harry fails to suppress a fond smile.)  “Hurry up and give me a tour.”

“Starting with the bedroom,” Harry growls, wrapping his arms around Louis and nipping at his neck before he slots the key in the door and lets them in.  “I meant what I said about you fucking me into the mattress.”  He feels Louis shiver, and it goes straight to Harry’s cock.  “You can do that, can’t you?”

He sees Louis swallow, feels two small hands on his face as Louis swings around to look him straight in the eye.  “I was born to do that.”

Then they’re kissing again and maybe it’s just been a while, but fuck, Harry can’t remember kissing like this.  It’s hot and it’s sweet and it’s all Harry can do to hang on, because Louis Tomlinson is hitting him like a hurricane.  He needs to get Louis’s shirt off now, needs to get his hands on that chest and those biceps, needs to lick along his tummy and suck a bruise into his waistband.  So he tugs at Louis’s t-shirt, lifting it up over his stomach as he kneels on the floor right in the entryway.

“Oh my god,” Louis breathes, plunging his fingers into Harry’s hair, and Harry smiles to himself because he can already tell that’s going to be a major thing for them.  “Harry, Jesus.”

Harry gleefully noses around Louis’s crotch -- which is bulging considerably against his trousers -- and starts licking and teasing the soft skin of his stomach.  He waits until Louis is almost whimpering to move north, leaving a wet trail up his abdominals to the dip in the center of his chest.  Harry almost growls as he feels Louis’s fingertips dig into his scalp.  He’s always enjoyed being treated roughly, and a good seventy percent of his fantasies surrounding Louis Tomlinson have to do with surrendering, letting Louis take exactly what he wants.

Then Harry’s tongue flicks one of Louis’s nipples, and Louis gasps.  His whole body jerks.

“Oh,” Harry smiles, raising his head.  Maybe surrendering can wait.

“Yeah,” Louis breathes, glassy-eyed.

Harry chuckles and brings his hand up to roll the little nub between his fingers.  Louis’s mouth drops open, his eyelids fluttering closed, but he makes no sound this time as Harry works on him.  He uses his teeth on the other one, backing Louis up against the banister as Louis’s small body bucks against him.  When Harry steps back to admire his work, he leaves Louis heaving, with a beautiful sweat-sheen down his torso.

“You’re really hard,” he says.

“Your… voice is really deep.”

Harry’s going to split the zipper of his trousers if he doesn’t get Louis to bed immediately.  He takes his hand, drags him upstairs and practically shoves him into the bedroom, pushing him onto the king size bed so that he’s splayed out, shirtless, in a state of obvious arousal under his jeans.  Harry wastes no time pulling off his jumper and undershirt, glowing as he hears Louis whimper.  He knows he’s done a good job keeping his body in shape over the years, and he would make the effort all over again just for this one moment.

Louis’s the hottest guy he’s ever seen.  Objectively, Harry knows that can’t be true -- he’s partied with actors, rock stars, models…  But fuck if anyone’s ever done it for him like this.  There’s just something about Louis that makes Harry want to simultaneously worship him and wreck him.  Harry pauses for a moment before he climbs into bed, admiring Louis’s gorgeous blue eyes, his high cheekbones.  The perfect shape to his chest.  The way his hips and thighs look in those jeans.  Then he’s on him, aligning their torsos as they moan into each other’s mouths.

Harry trails his hand up Louis’s arm and feels Louis shudder beneath him.  He’s so delightfully responsive.  It gives Harry an idea; they’re both too far gone now anyway for more than a few quick pumps if their pants come off.  At least, he is.  So he pins Louis, fingers digging into his waist hard enough to leave bruises, and rocks his pelvis down onto the swell in his trousers.  The hot friction of their trapped cocks isn’t enough, but it’s so good.

“Can you come like this?” Harry gasps.

“I’m not -- not sure…” Louis says, his voice keening thinly.

“Do it for me,” says Harry, “And I’ll let you fuck me afterward.”  He’s grinding down with everything he’s got, focusing on the dull, rough almost almost almost.  Louis is gasping beneath him, clutching at his biceps as they rut filthily.

It’s only about twenty seconds before Harry loses it, coming so hard in his pants that he almost blacks out.  “Fuck… Louis!”  He groans through his orgasm, clutching Louis as he shudders.  Louis follows him seconds after; Harry feels the warmth spread across his thigh as he comes down, breathless, pressing sweet kisses all over Louis’s face.

He flops over onto his back, sweaty and spent, Louis curled into to his side.

“That was…”

“I know.”

“I haven’t done that since I was a teenager.”

Harry takes Louis’s hand, and rolls over onto his side.  He runs his fingers through Louis’s soft fringe, tucking it behind his ear as he stares at the stubble dusting his jawline.  “I, um..."  Harry laughs weakly.  "I didn’t have sex with a man until I was twenty-four years old.”

“Really?”  Louis’s eyes widen and he catches his breath.

“I was too famous.  I was terrified of being caught and outed.  I was just…  It was awful.”

Louis squeezes his hand.  “I’m sorry.”

Harry tucks his head under Louis’s chin, tangling their legs together as he breathes in his scent.  “You make me feel young again.”

After they shower, barely able to keep their hands off each other to save themselves for what’s coming next, after Louis takes his time opening Harry up, feeling him stretch, and after he adds a third finger and hits Harry’s spot, after he rolls on the condom and feels Harry adjust around him, after he fucks him long and hard and so fucking good that Harry comes untouched (which Louis is sure he’s going to be secretly, personally proud about for the rest of his life), he asks, “Is that why you never went for a solo career?  You wanted to be out?”

It’s a question that people ask Harry sometimes, and he usually doesn’t give them a straight answer.  But he rolls over in bed now, tugging on his slightly swollen bottom lip as he says, “Partially, I suppose.”

“And?”

“To be completely honest… I’m just not sure I could perform by myself.”

Louis plays with Harry’s curls as Harry cuddles into his chest.  “I remember you wrote a song,” he says.  “It was leaked, or something; only the fans really knew about it.  It was good, Harry.”

“You have to say that, you had a notebook dedicated to me.”

Louis reaches down to give Harry’s bottom a slap and Harry yelps, pinching his side in retaliation.  They end up in a ridiculous, childish wrestling match that ends in some lazy snogging before Louis asks, “Have you written others?”

Harry shrugs.  “Yeah, but…”

“I want to hear them!”

And because Harry can’t refuse Louis anything, he grabs his old guitar and plays him a song.  And then another one.  It’s two in the morning and they’re curled up, naked in bed with Harry’s fingers on the strings and Louis’s heart in his throat.

“You’re really brilliant, you know,” Louis says, after the last notes fade away.  “You have this thing, I don’t know what to call it.”

“The X factor?” Harry sighs, wearily.

“Shut up, idiot.”  Louis bites his shoulder as Harry giggles.  “I’m just saying, if you ever decided to go for it…  You’d smash it, Harry.”

“I do love performing.”

But tonight is not the night that Harry really considers it.  Tonight is the night he sets aside his guitar and captures Louis, bringing him off for the third time with his hands and his mouth.

 

*

Three months later, he really considers it.

 

*

Five months later, he’s in the studio and three weeks after that, he’s sitting on the panel as one of the judges on the new, revamped X-Factor.  Audiences love him.  Now that he’s not being seen through the lens of “boybander” or “teen pop idol,” people are suddenly surprised at how funny and charming he is, how thoughtful and polite.  He’s by far the most sought-after mentor.  At the end of every show he blows a kiss to the camera for Louis.

He performs the first single off his new album at the finale, and it climbs into the top five instantly, hitting number one two weeks later and staying on the charts for almost 25 weeks.  He’s interviewed, and when they ask who his X-Factor kisses are for he’s more than happy to tell them.  At length.  (They have to cut out quite a bit.)

 

*

Two years later, Martha Tomlinson-Smith is the ring bearer at her uncle’s wedding.  She walks proudly down the aisle in the rented tux she insisted upon wearing, her short hair slicked back.  She smiles at everyone, especially that girl with the long, loose curls and the pretty white tights in the front row…  Tabitha.  She’s squished in between her mummy Gemma and stepdad Niall.  Martha had been seated next to her at the rehearsal dinner the night before; found out she’s a bit older, more mature.  Excitingly girly.

Martha spent the entire night trying to make her laugh.

Now that she’s at the front, she takes her place by her mother, Louis’s matron of honor.  Part of Mummy’s job is to hold little baby June, Martha’s newest cousin, who is watching her two daddies get married with big, round eyes.  Martha isn’t paying attention to the words of the ceremony…  She’s sneaking peeks at Tabitha, making funny faces at her, trying to get her to giggle.

Suddenly Uncle Buttzerbee and her new Uncle Poopbutt are snogging (gross), and everyone’s applauding and Mummy’s crying and Martha just wants to eat cake already.  And go to the party.  Mummy said there would be music…

Maybe, if she’s brave enough, she’ll ask Tabitha to dance.