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When It's Late At Night

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Louis holds his breath as the sound of faint footsteps echo just outside of the studio room he’s currently hiding in. The sound gets louder as someone’s giant, impatient feet get closer and closer to the door that Louis should’ve locked a few minutes ago when he crept in here. He squeezes his eyes shut, inwardly chanting a steady stream of don’t pick this door, don’t pick this door. The muscles of his body tense as he anticipates the inevitability of his boss finding him, but shockingly, it doesn’t come.

The footsteps pass right by him allowing Louis to relax back into the soft cushions of the sofa he’s sprawled out over. He releases the breath he had been holding, the soft whoosh of it turning into pained groan when the door of the room slams open without warning. Louis barely even has time to properly bury his face in the pillow he borrowed from a random dressing room six months ago and never bothered to return.

“No! Please! Just let me sleep for ten minutes! Five minutes!” he begs when neither of his requests are honored. His pillow- or the studio’s pillow- gets snatched right from under him, but James isn’t quick enough. Louis manages to catch a corner of it before it’s pulled out of reach, his bone-tired fingers clinging to it as if his life depends on it rather than just his beauty rest because honestly that’s just as important.

“Let go,” James grits out with a firm grip around his edge of the pillow.

“No, you let go. It’s mine!” Louis’ hands start to shake from the strain of playing tug-of-war with someone with three times his strength. Several people walk by the scene of their new battle and hardly even blink at the two of them fighting over something as stupid as a pillow which, let’s be honest, probably belongs to James in the first place.

The only thing that makes either of them loosen his grip is the sound of the fabric ripping apart between them. Louis’ affection for his napping companion makes him weak and his boss must sense it because the moment Louis gives him an inch James yanks the entire thing out of his hand, nearly falling over from the force.

Louis flops back and sighs in defeat at his loss just in time to get a whacked across the torso with it.

Ow.” Louis glares up at him. He’d threaten harassment or assault but then he’d just be incriminating himself since it was just three days ago that he tied all of James’ shoes together and then slapped him twice on the bum to wish him good luck for his last taping of the week. It probably didn’t help that his wife was present for both incidences.

“Whine more, will you,” James rolls his eyes. “And get up. Weekly briefing started two minutes ago so we’re officially late.”

“How many times must I tell you, you can’t be late for a meeting when it’s your bloody meeting. It starts when you say it does,” Louis mutters, still bitter that the almighty host of late night television’s biggest show chooses to have a meeting at the arse crack of nine.

James just stares at him, completely unsympathetic to Louis’ feelings and his sensitive sleeping schedule when he whacks him across the face with the pillow again. “I say it starts now. Get up or I’m dragging you.”

It’s an empty threat, or at least Louis thinks it is anyway. James doesn’t exactly have that soft twinkle in his eye that usually indicates that he’s full of shit.

“Fine,” Louis relents, “But I want coffee. Would you mind, mate?”

James’ head tilts to one side as he stares at Louis like he’s some cruel practical joke.

“Louis. Have you ever actually read your contract?” Louis feels his brow furrow. He has a contract? “Okay, never mind. Let’s just go,” James says to the inside of his eyelids as he massages his left temple.

Louis stands up, a strained noise coming from the back of his throat as he stretches, forcing James to move out his way as he fans his arms. He folds in on himself when he gets hit with the pillow for a third time.

He’s left slightly winded and highly offended as James throws a demanding “Hurry up,” over his shoulder. This is why Louis hates bosses. They’re so damn bossy.

*

Louis saunters into the briefing room a mere ten seconds after James and yet everyone in the room still turns to look at him like he’s committed some heinous crime when he drops down into the swivel chair next to Cara and Dillon, two other studio assistants who managed to make it here on time. He has no idea why they insist on making him look bad every day but something really needs to be done about it.

He glances around the giant round table full of producers and supervisors, noticing that everybody seems to have a small stack of papers in front of them. Louis sits up to lean over Dillon’s shoulder to see why this week’s schedule is so much more extensive than all the rest, but he doesn’t get to really see anything before a broad shoulder protectively hunches over to block his view.

Louis scoffs and wonders what it must be like to sit so straight all the time from a stick shoved up your arse. It’s not like Louis didn’t get a schedule too. It’s probably on his desk or in his mailbox. He rarely ever goes to those places so it’s not like he can say for sure, but he’s almost one-hundred percent certain.

James starts talking just as Dillon cuts his eyes over at him to see if he’s still trying to look at his papers. Louis shushes him. “I’m trying to listen, Dillon. Stop it,” he whispers as loudly as he can without screaming it. He gets Dillon flushing down to his chest and James throwing them a bored, knowing look because Dillon always listens and Louis, well.

His boss continues speaking like nothing even happened. “Back to what we were just discussing,” he says, aimlessly flipping through the schedule that everybody else starts flipping through too in reaction. “He’ll be with us all week so he’s the main guest, but we’ll also have other people booked. He’ll need to be worked into as many different segments as he’s comfortable with without eclipsing everyone else.”

Louis glances around the room only just now feeling the noticeable upward shift in energy. Whoever this mystery person is, is important enough to require a whole week worth of shows.  Apparently, he’s also amazing enough to have half the people in this room sitting in a star-stricken fog just from the mention of him. A few people even gasped. Dillon is one of these said people, so Louis reaches over and snatches his schedule right from under his arm for a peek.

He only has to scan over it for a few seconds before he sees their new headliner typed in bold beneath every fucking day this week: Harry Styles.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake, people. Really?”

Louis’ eyes snap up to the rest of the room when he realizes he said that out loud. He didn’t necessarily mean to but what can anybody really expect when the show volunteers to kiss the arse of a popstar boybander for five days straight.

“Which brings us to our next point,” James says over Louis’ honestly very predictable outburst considering he said pretty much the same thing when Bieber was on. “We’ll all need to pitch in to make Harry feel welcome. He’s been here before with his band, but never on his own so professionalism is key,” he says, looking Louis dead in the eye. “He’ll need to have one of us helping him navigate through the week to make him feel at home and keep him on track with the schedule but without smothering him or making him feel like he’s on display.”

Louis, Dillon, and everybody else nearly chokes on their tongues when his name gets called as the lucky pick.

What?” Louis exclaims. “You’re joking,” Louis laughs, his lips flat lining when James doesn’t even blink. “Oh my God, you can’t be serious. Why me?”

“Yeah, why him?” Dillon asks in a tone that suggests he might actually tear up like Cara currently is on Louis’ other side. As much as he thinks Dillon is an annoying, try-hard, overachieving bastard, he can’t help but actually agree. Louis is the last person who should’ve been picked. Who the hell thought this was going to be a good idea?

His boss surveys the looks of complete devastation around his table. “By show of hands, who can finish this line?” James asks the room. “Just stop your crying, it’s…”

Every hand around him shoots up in the air including the two executive producers sitting near the head of the table. James doesn’t call on any of them. Not even Dillon who’s practically bouncing in his seat. James just stares Louis down for an answer waiting as he racks his brain for one.

“Er- Just stop your crying because it’s already nine-fifteen so there’s only forty-five minutes left of this meeting?”

Every hopeful gaze in the room falls and then narrows at him like he’s the biggest moron they’ve ever seen. Even Dillon makes him feel like an idiot as he scoffs at Louis over his upturned nose and snatches his schedule back without so much as a word.

Okay, so, clearly that wasn’t the right answer. He made it up off the top of his head, but Jesus, it’s not like he killed somebody.

James raises a smug eyebrow at him. “And that, my friend, is exactly why you’re the one for the job.”

The meeting ends ten minutes after ten, solidifying this day as the worst in history. Dillon quickly packs up his things, refusing to meet Louis’ eyes for more than a few seconds.

“You don’t deserve to get to work with him,” he hisses. “It’s not fair. You didn’t even get here on time.”

“Yeah, I know. And look what it got me. I’m sure as hell never doing that again,” Louis mumbles. Dillon pushes away from the table and stomps away with his things tucked tight under his arm and his jaw clenched tight the way Louis’ always is while watching the end of The Notebook. Maybe it was something he said?

*

Day One

“You’re to be on your best behavior, Louis. I mean it,” James tells him the next morning at the bright hour of fucking seven. “Harry is our guest here, but besides that he’s also a very dear friend of mine.”

Louis scoffs, shielding his eyes from the sun as they wait for their grand visitor to arrive. “I thought I was a dear friend of yours.”

“No, you’re the resident pest I can’t ever seem to get rid of,” he mumbles. “Alright fine. You’re both dear friends. Happy?” James says when Louis lifts a foot from the asphalt like he’s going to aim it right at his shin.

“Admit it. You love me,” Louis says just as a dark SUV rolls up the studio drive.

“Why remains a mystery to this day,” James mutters as the car slows to a stop a few yards away from them. Louis would follow through with kicking him in the shin but he swore to be on his best behavior. He’s never really been good at that sort of thing but he is determined to try.

James hurries to open the door for Harry before the driver can even get out of the car. Louis watches his boss envelope a taller man in dark jeans made of more holes than denim. The two men hug for way longer than is considered polite in this industry, but Louis guesses that’s to be expected since James claims to love him like a brother. They exchange fond greetings which is just a loud and jumbled recount of the last time they saw each other two months ago in London. Louis listens for details about this amazing drunken encounter but all he really registers is a bunch of laughter and embarrassed giggles; most of them coming from Harry rather than James. That’s different.

They pull away from each other and finally turn towards Louis still standing near the door in the hot L.A. sun waiting to usher his new popstar around the studio like he can’t read a fucking map.

“Harry, this is Louis, the assistant we told you about. He’s all yours for the next week so don’t hesitate to let him know if you need something or have any questions at all. He’s very excited to work with you,” James says with a suggestive raise of his eyebrows at Louis like he’s supposed to agree.

Louis kind of wants to leave him hanging for pimping him out to his popstar bff like he doesn’t have better things he could be doing right now. There are empty sofas inside of empty dressing rooms and Louis’ body isn’t star-fished on any of them.

“I’m very excited to work with you,” Louis parrots with his best smile in place. It fades when James checks an incoming call and then dismisses himself once he realizes he needs to take it.

“Sorry to leave right when you’re getting here, but it’s so great to see you, Haz. I’ll come find you in a bit. Louis’ amazing. He’ll show you around and get you acclimated,” he promises just as he conveniently ducks back into the building and out of sight.

Louis resents being talked about like he’s not standing right here. He also resents being made to do this at all. He’s tempted to go find Dillon or one of the other assistants since technically this is their collective dream date that Louis’ infringing on.

“Hi, Louis. I’m Harry. It’s very nice to meet you.”

He blinks down at Harry’s large hand when he reaches it out towards him to break the silence. Louis can’t tell if he’s being fake-humble because he’s a celebrity who likes to reminisce about how it used to feel to be normal or if he is real-humble and he’s actually this genuine. Between the obnoxious collection of rings adorning his fingers and the refreshingly worn-out boots on his feet it’s hard to tell. He could be a dick just as easily as he could be the most well-mannered person Louis’ ever met.

Louis meets him half-way for a quick handshake to test him out, deciding as soon as Harry smiles that his dimples are too deep and his eyes are too green to be trusted. Definitely the beautiful siren, diva-type.

“So, is it bad that it’s my first day and I don’t really know where I’m supposed to go?” Harry asks with a tiny chuckle. “I think I’m supposed to be meeting with James and the producers later, but I can’t be too sure,” he shrugs innocently.

Louis sees what he’s doing with his moisturized skin and his model hair. Louis has worked here for over a year. He has seen it all before and has never once been impressed by it, much like he isn’t very impressed right now.

“You don’t have to play popstar damsel in distress, Mr. Styles. I can just tell you your schedule if you need or get you another copy if you’ve lost yours.”

“Oh. Um, okay? Great.” Harry says, thick eyebrows inching together likes he’s confused. This is going to be the longest week of Louis’ fucking life and it’s only Monday. “Thanks so much, Louis. And not that it’s a big deal or anything but, could you please call me Harry?”

Louis returns his grin with a tight one of his own, turning on his heel to lead Harry straight to his fancy dressing room and dump him inside of it for the next hour until his meeting with James and the producers. “Right this way, Mr. Styles.”

---

Harry hasn’t been through these corridors in years and yet they still feel vaguely familiar. Not familiar enough to where he knows where the hell he’s going of course but he does his best to keep up with his new assistant who walks incredibly fast for someone so petite. He’s takes two full steps in the time it takes Harry to take one, but thankfully Harry’s long legs are helping him stay close as they blur past staff members and large photographs of past guests hanging on the walls. They stop in front of a thick door on the left and the change in pace is so sudden that Harry nearly runs right into Louis. He opens the door that has Harry’s name spelled out across it in place of whoever occupied it last.

“This is your dressing room. It’s yours for the week,” Louis reveals, the impatient set to his jaw noticeable as Harry pokes his head into the room first before stepping in all the way to check it out. It’s the same just get it over with look that Harry’s sister wears at Christmas whenever Harry unwraps a gift.

The first thing Harry realizes and still can’t get over is how much bigger rooms like this feel compared to when he shared spaces this size with three other people. The constant overcrowding was maddening at times, but he kind of misses it. It was nice always having someone to talk to. There is a bouquet of pink roses sitting on the large vanity along with a copy of his elusive and busy schedule taped to the panel of mirrors that stretches across the back wall. There’s a large bowl of ripe bananas beside an even bigger bowl of other fresh fruit, several bottles of water with the Late Late logo printed on the labels, and a basket of favors including his favorite granola bars and candies that makes Harry’s stomach grumble because he’s running off nothing but tea.

Harry walks in a bit further and takes a seat on his plush sofa admiring the beautiful acoustic guitar leaned against the desk holding a big flat-screen and an empty rack of clothing yet to be filled because wardrobe has yet to meet with him. He can’t remember exactly when they’re supposed to come, but he think it’s sometime this afternoon.

“Wow. I can’t believe I get my very own banana bowl,” he grins. “Everyone else just chucks them in with the oranges and the apples. It’s unnatural.”

He knows Louis doesn’t want to humor him by grinning back but Harry still enjoys watching him paste on a fake smile to appear like he does.

“Yeah,” he agrees half-heartedly. “You’re welcome by the way. Banana bowls are hard to come by in this place. That took like, three whole minutes to achieve.”

“Oh. Did it? Excuse me,” Harry apologizes. “I didn’t realize it was you who worked on my room. Thanks, Louis. It looks great.” His assistant seems a little thrown off by Harry’s response, modestly shrugging one shoulder rather than resorting back to sarcasm.

“It was nothing. It’s just flowers and fruit. It’s what James said you like, so.”

Harry grins in thanks again which seems like a pretty harmless gesture to him, but it must rub Louis the wrong way somehow because he has no interest in sticking around.

“Well, Styles, I guess you’re all settled in now,” he announces to his phone as he checks it for the time. “Your schedule’s right over there on the mirror with my number on it. Your meeting is in room 121 in about thirty minutes. Your stylists are coming in later, you’ll practice your segments with James this afternoon, and as you know from experience we’ll let in your legion of fans off the street and start taping around eight. Questions?” Harry doesn’t say anything making his assistant sport the first genuine smile Harry’s seen from him, already backing out of the room. “Great! Bye, Styles! Have fun!”

Harry chuckles as he shuffles back out into the corridor as if his dressing room is on fire. “Wow. You don’t like me very much, do you?”

Louis must catch what he said just before the door closes because he pushes it back open, expression sheepish and slightly guilty like Harry maybe wasn’t supposed to know that.

“Huh?”

“You don’t like me,” Harry repeats, no longer making it a question since it’s completely obvious.

What? Sure, I do,” Louis insists. “Who told you that?”

“No one had to say it,” Harry laughs. “I can just tell. And that’s okay. You can’t win over everyone, right?”

Louis doesn’t exactly hurry to deny his claim. “That’s nonsense, Styles. I like you just fine,” he lies. “I got you a banana bowl, remember?”

“True, but you hardly ever look at me.”

“I’m looking at you right now,” Louis quips making Harry bite back a laugh when he subconsciously rolls his eyes because he’s been found out. Harry could tell that Louis wasn’t into this the moment he set foot out of the car and Louis started picking at his nails.

“You won’t call me by my first name,” Harry continues. “And for some reason, you don’t really like it whenever I smile or say thank you. You get this look on your face like you want to push me into oncoming traffic or something...kind of like right now,” he smiles wider just to prove his point.

“It’s early. There’s no reason to smile. It’s unsettling,” Louis says in his own defense.

“There’s also the fact that you’re trying to dump me in my dressing room for the day so you don’t have to deal with me or speak to me, which is fine except I kind of wanted a quick tour of the place before things get too busy, and since I don’t really know my way around, I’d prefer to not go alone if at all possible. Please?” he tacks on at the last minute.

Louis sighs to himself, widening the door all the way to meet Harry’s gaze. “Is this your diva boybander way of saying you want me to walk you through the bloody studio?”

“Ex-boybander. We’re on a hiatus,” Harry corrects, “But, yes. It is,” he grins. “Do you mind?”

Louis makes a face at his use of the term hiatus as well as the way his dimples pop along with his smile. He looks like he really wants to slam the door shut and run for the hills, but he stays put.

“You know there are like, ten billion maps all over this place. It’s literally impossible to get lost.”

“Maybe. But what if I’m the one person who does?”

“Then I’d say my assumptions about you are dead-on, mate.” Louis is wearing a thin smirk that should really be offensive, but Harry kind of likes it. Louis is a stark contrast to the small group of assistants and staff members he saw earlier who looked close to tears at the sight of him and Louis speeding by as a pair which is probably how Louis got the honor of babysitting him all week; he isn’t too star struck to do his job because he doesn’t see Harry as a star. Well, he called him a popstar a little while ago which was interesting to say the least. Harry considers himself more contemporary these days.

“I want to start back at the front,” Harry announces as he stands up. “I remember this place being huge so we should get started.”

“You know, mate, any friend of James’ is a friend of, well, James, but I’m sure if you asked him to replace me with another assistant he’d be more than willing to-”

“Nah. It’s okay,” Harry waves him off. “Who wants a happy assistant who likes me when I can have miserable little you?”

Harry walks past him and his slack jaw as he runs that back through his head. “Did you- Did you just call me little? As in, short?”

Yep,” Harry confirms.

“Well, your jeans are missing half their fabric,” Louis informs him as he shuts and locks the dressing room door behind them. “And those boots have definitely seen better days,” he quips, rushing to catch up with Harry’s long strides as he heads back the way they came.

Harry could slow down and wait for him so that it’s easier for him to sling fashion insults over his shoulder, but he kind of likes making Louis work. It’s clearly not something he’s used to doing very often.

---

Louis waits for the corridor to empty as he hovers near the door he’s been scoping out for the past five minutes. There’s a group of writers still lingering along with one of the producers that Louis tries to hurry along with the combined power of his mind and wishful thinking. They finally leave and Louis slips into the empty dressing room running and swan-diving onto a sofa that welcomes him like a long-lost friend.

All he has wanted to do since he woke up this morning is to go back to sleep which was no easy task with Harry Styles around. Besides meal times where he had a civic duty to annoy the shit out of James, this is the first free moment he’s had to himself all day. Between touring the building and ushering Harry from one meeting to another like a famous lost sheep he hasn’t had time for much else. The only reason Louis could sneak away just now is because his popstar is currently being beautified by wardrobe, hair, and makeup. Louis doesn’t know how long his well-earned break is going to last. There’s only so much they can do for a man who is already fucking gorgeous so he doesn’t count on getting much of a nap.

Louis’ phone buzzes with a message from Harry not even fifteen minutes after lying down. Louis can’t decide if he’s more annoyed by the fact that Harry’s already finished or impressed since it takes Louis longer than that just to drag his sorry arse out of bed.

He knocks on Harry’s door and pushes it open to find him sitting on his sofa wearing a suit that Louis had originally turned his nose up at because the pattern is fucking atrocious. It’s the worst thing he’s ever seen, and oddly enough Harry looks amazing in it. He looks great in general, actually. Louis doesn’t understand how that’s even possible because there are honest to God rainbows on his shoes and his hairstyle has no rhyme or reason to it. From a logical standpoint, he should not look good, but it’s hard to argue with yellow plaid and beauty staring you right in the face.

Harry looks up from playing the guitar that Louis spent all yesterday on a wild goose chase after before resorting to just stealing one from the music pit. Louis figured it was just a diva demand on Harry’s part to make himself seem more interesting. Louis didn’t think he could actually play the damn thing.

“I didn’t realize boybanders played instruments.”

“Ex-boybander,” Harry corrects for what has to be the hundredth time today. “And, now you do.” Harry finishes the last few chords of a Coldplay song and then grins up at Louis’ raised eyebrows. He loves Yellow. “What?” Harry teases. “Did I ruin the stereotype for you?”

“Actually, yes,” Louis admits. “I sincerely thought you couldn’t play a note. No offense.” Harry laughs when he does, seemingly not offended at all.

Credibility is a hard thing for Louis to give. Being somewhat skilled at an instrument doesn’t make you a god in his opinion, but in Harry’s case, it definitely doesn’t hurt.

“Filming starts in ten so we better get going,” Louis announces as Harry carefully leans the guitar against the arm of the sofa.

We?” he smirks. “You’re not going to throw me out into the hall, point me in the mostly right direction, and wish me luck like earlier?” Earlier Louis nearly caused Dillon and half the staff to have a stroke because he set a wild Harry Styles loose to wander through the studio and the poor things weren’t prepared in the slightest.

“You want me to send you off dressed like that?” Louis deadpans. “Get real, Styles. I can’t have you blinding people, now can I?”

“You mean blinding them with my good looks and charm?” He waggles his eyebrows and clicks the heels of his rainbow shoes together; a lot of work to get the flat expression that Louis gives him in return.

“Yeah, sure. Let’s go with that,” Louis mumbles, holding the door open to escort him to the stage.

Harry has caused a scene pretty much everywhere he has gone today, but nothing compares to the complete meltdown the audience has when they see him. He waves excitedly and blows a few kisses in their direction and the volume of screams around the room amplifies so much that Louis wishes laryngitis on them all.

Once Harry sits down next to James and the cameras start rolling, Louis isn’t really needed. He could go hibernate for the next hour in an empty dressing room somewhere now that he has the chance. No one would bother him. No one would even notice he was gone. Louis has every intention of doing just that but he can’t bring himself to leave all the excitement going on here.

He gets it for the most part. He can see how this boy with a cute smile has everybody in the room staring at him with hearts and stars in their eyes, but in his opinion, it’s nothing special.

A dozen celebrities come through this studio every week and Harry is just like the rest of them, which is why Louis can’t figure out why he’s still standing here in the wings with the rest of the staff laughing good-naturedly as James teases him about everything from his hair to his bad jokes that he insists on telling.

Once his initial interview is over Louis decides to take off. All that’s left now is the musical performance, and although Harry can strum a few chords, Louis isn’t interested in watching Mr. Popstar bounce around the stage to vague lyrics about young love and the color of some girl’s eyes. No thanks.

He sticks around long enough to make sure Harry’s band gets set up alright and nothing catastrophic happens to anyone. The lights dim just as Louis turns on heel to leave, a soft piano playing a haunting intro to a song Louis’ never heard. He takes one full step before stopping dead in his tracks as someone opens their mouth to let out a deep voice that nearly stops Louis’ heart in his chest from how powerfully the tone hits him.

Louis turns back to the stage, feeling like the world’s single biggest idiot ever as his client completes the mystery line to the song that everyone seemed to know and love yesterday except him.

Just stop your crying it’s a sign of the times.

It’s so simple; it’s just one line and it already has Louis contemplating all his life choices for the past twenty-five years. It’s not some bubblegum pop song about love. Hell, it’s not even pop. Louis doesn’t know what’s going on here or how this song managed to slip under his radar, just that he may have been completely wrong about Harry Styles.

Louis glances to his right to find Dillon huddled near the wall with four other assistants all watching the stage with glassy eyes.

“See?" Dillon sniffs at him. “Isn’t he amazing?”

Louis can’t understand why he’s so inclined to agree with this over-emotional idiot or why his head nods without his consent, but he kind of thinks Harry is amazing too. Fuck.