The best seat in symphony hall was a box on stage left that sat just high enough to avoid line of sight from the crowd without losing view of the musicians’ faces. It had its own entrance, a rather Narnian lamp, and it allowed both alcohol and snacks, which in Louis’ opinion was more important than all the other features combined.
Thomas had claimed that it had worse acoustics than the premium seats in orchestra, and that holding a box seat made Louis look like a pretentious ass, and Louis’ opinion on that was that Thomas could go straight to hell. Both Thomas and his god-damn hipster director from the West End with the bad shirts and no compunction about cheating.
Louis contentedly sank farther into the velvet seat and braced his feet against the box wall, beneath the red railing so he wouldn’t give some staid older lady in upper orchestra a heart attack. Maybe the box seat was pretentious, but it was his pretentious: he’d attended every season from this box for the last four years. And tonight, he was going to wash away an exhausting week chasing a failed partnership deal with some Saint-Saëns, and he was going to do it with snacks.
As usual the other seats in the box were empty, granting Louis a blissful isolation. Louis had had his eye on this box since he first came to the symphony to catch a Bernstein celebratory series. He’d been drawn in by musical theater highlights, but he’d been entranced by the symphony from the moment he stepped into the absurdly ornate, red and gold hall. Louis didn’t indulge his omega side much, but as far as that went, he was a full sucker for sensory soothing. The lush music, the shimmering crystal chandeliers, the sculpted columns, the heavy curtains and shifting textures all gave Louis a deep, riveting sense of joy. The symphony hall had been the first place Louis felt at home in this city.
Box seats were impossible to get, nearly always held in the voracious claws of long-term subscribers. When Louis noticed that one of the beautiful box seats was empty, he’d made flirtatious eyes at one of the ushers until he found out that three of the season ticket holders were on semi-permanent vacation to their new home in the Bahamas, and that the fourth hadn’t sold out to a season subscriber yet because everybody wanted a box set. Louis had snatched it up, and it had been his personal box ever since.
Maybe that was why Louis jumped so much he nearly fell out of his seat when a tall, squinty-eyed, moppy-haired man with cheekbones like cut glass came through his door into his box and took a seat right next to Louis, just as the chandeliers started their ascent to the ceiling.
“So sorry, love,” the man said, not sounding sorry. His face had a quirk in it that was halfway to a smile and his eyes were sleepy, a vibrant green even in the moody symphony hall lighting. Louis realized he was turned halfway around and staring, although in his defense, four years and nobody had ever come to sit in his box, let alone done it with inappropriate endearments. He closed his mouth with a snap.
“Didn’t mean to startle you, hope you don’t mind if I join,” the man continued with a wry twinkle, pulling the cuffs of his sleeves into place and stretching long--really long--legs into Louis’ designated alcohol floor spot. Louis was about to give a gracious reply even though he did mind, thanks very much, but then the stranger’s outstretched foot knocked over the flimsy plastic cup of gin and tonic that was integral to Louis’ plan of relaxation, and the only path forward was hatred.
“Join, yes, destroy everything in sight, no,” Louis said, voice dry as sawdust. That same voice had struck terror in the hearts of many a boardroom in the city. The man blinked, unusually slowly, face like it was permanently at ease. If anything, his mouth twitched closer to a smile. The gin vanished into the thick carpet and Louis watched it go, mournfully.
“Isn’t that what these are for?” the stranger said, tapping the discrete drink holders set back against the railing. Louis noticed that his hands were beautiful, large and graceful and covered in silver rings, and he hated harder.
“If you want to spend the whole night disrupting your neighbor’s experience by reaching in front of their face, maybe,” Louis said acerbically, “Some of us are trying to have a more civilized experience. I think the ushers stopped carrying bibs about a decade ago.”
Rather than taking offense like Louis expected, the stranger threw back his head and laughed, not even trying to be quiet. Louis felt it like a warm wash of sensation down his back, a disturbing frisson that made him feel twitchy. Usually by this point strangers had backed far away from Louis and avoided making eye contact for the rest of the time they shared an elevator or a cab ride or a theatre seat with him. This stranger was eyeing Louis up and down, unabashed.
Louis folded his arms and stared straight ahead to the stage. The stranger was wearing a gorgeous suit, definitely bespoke, and it had a hint of lavender in a dark, swirling leaf pattern, whereas Louis was wearing his most comfortable sweater that pooled about him in a cozy mess and he hadn’t done his hair and he was in glasses, for chrissake. At least the lights were dimming. Louis shook his head minutely to clear it and turned his attention to his orchestra, but then he felt the hairs at the back of his neck stand up.
“I’m Harry,” said the-stranger-named-Harry, leaning forward to whisper against the left side of Louis’ head. His arm was on their shared armrest, because this Harry was clearly not fussed about personal space, or the person who had prior claim on the box. Louis felt Harry’s breath against the curl of his ear, and that wash of warmth again. Christ. He blinked and pulled his sensations inward, careful to make sure that he wasn’t unconsciously broadcasting anything pheromonal. That would just be the icing on an already spectacularly shitty week.
“Hello, Harry,” Louis said quietly, between his teeth, not turning his head, still feeling Harry’s face far too close, “I’m an audience member at an event that prizes audience silence.”
Harry huffed an amused breath as he sat back in his seat and Louis caught the trail of his scent on it. It was a flash of salt and amber with a base of something sweet, like vanilla musk, maybe. It all but made his mouth water. Just his luck.
Distractions aside, the music was still everything when it started. Louis watched happily as the conductor led the orchestra through a leisurely first movement, unhurried and subtle. Louis rather liked this Beethoven selection, even if it wasn’t much of a challenge, more of a crowd-pleaser. The concertmaster had been with them for only three months after the previous, ancient violinist had been replaced and Louis wanted him to do well. Louis had even gone so far as to tweet about ticket sales, much as it had earned him some jabs at work. Work could eat it: the hall looked fuller than ever. Louis pulled his feet up onto the chair and rested his chin on his knees, letting the music float on. He could stay here for hours. Here, in the dark, it was a relief to not inhibit all of the small, delicate omega mannerisms that earned sideways looks when he was skewering the analytics on a financial. Here, Louis could trust in heavy curtains and staid audience tradition to grant restful separation from the churning, busy world of other people's agendas. Louis spent too many hours of his life managing other people's expectations, and here, all of that could fall away.
Except that there was also a stranger in his box, a strange alpha. Louis tried to settle and pretend this was just like any concert, alone in his box, but there was something intimate about Harry's presence. For at least twenty minutes into the first act, Louis tried to figure out what this annoying interloper was doing. Harry was breathing too loudly, maybe, or it was the way that Louis had to worry about curling up with his feet underneath of himself and accidentally hitting Harry when he did so. Twice. And then that he had to mutter something that was halfway between an apology and irritation under his breath as he readjusted. And then that he had to steal small glances at Harry only to find the taller man watching the orchestra, an expression of benign contentment on his face. It was a nice face, and Louis hated it.
Louis was a master of objective observation and he objectively observed that he was being a complete idiot. The concertmaster, Payne, was handling a tricky intersection with violent strings and gentle percussion, and it was all going pretty well. But fuck it all, Louis couldn’t concentrate. It was the closest physical proximity Louis had had to an alpha since...Well, in a long time, anyway. He felt it in his bones. Louis passed the program from one hand to the other and then dropped it, and picked it up, and as he picked it up, he kicked the empty cup out from under his foot and directly into Harry’s ankle. Shit. Harry jerked his chin slightly in Louis’ direction and raised an eyebrow, and Louis forced himself to put both feet on the floor and glue them there.
By the time intermission came, Louis hopped out of his seat and made a beeline for the bar as soon as the chandeliers lit. He didn’t look back to see what Harry was doing, or whether Harry knew how to navigate the strange intersection between the hallway and the main lobby that, as Thomas used to say, “kept the plebs out.” Then he firmly stopped thinking about Thomas and headed for his patented anti-Thomas-thinking remedy, which was more alcohol.
As ever, ten older couples had already gotten in line for the bar in front of him. Louis never would have believed, four years ago, that the sweet little old people at the symphony would be such terrors in the bar lines. Louis shook his fringe out of his face and wondered why he’d forgone any styling. He tapped at his thigh and then flinched when a mid-fifties, silver fox alpha in front of him in line leaned back, too close. Louis smiled vacantly at the man in apology. Jesus. It must have been longer than he thought since he’d had a good touch, even just a platonic cuddle. He made a mental note to pick up stimulants on his way into work on monday. Or Amazon Fresh did stims if you got the bulk pack, right? He'd order them that night when he got home, that’s what he’d do.
In the corner of his eye, a striking figure in a suit came into view. Harry, for some inexplicable reason, heading straight for the bar. Louis sighed, deeply and profoundly. Of course the one person to somehow beg, steal or borrow a ticket in his box would be an alpha, and a drop-dead gorgeous alpha, the kind of guy that probably amused himself by stalking omegas that looked like Louis, trying to make them nervous. He'd get a surprise here, then. Louis was used to being underestimated. And he wasn’t usually the one who left the interaction feeling nervous.
“Hello there, floor drink man,” Harry said, smiling down at Louis. Out of their seats he made Louis feel goddamn pocket-size. Harry didn’t look predatory, to be fair, not with those big earnest dimples and hair curling over his ears. But there was something in the way that he leaned forward, big hands in his pockets, and that something made Louis feel like he needed to take an extra step back. He didn't, in case Harry thought it meant something or in case it triggered one of those godawful alpha I just want to help are you OK, things.
“Louis,” Louis said. “Most people prefer Louis.”
“I’ll bet they do,” Harry said. “Let me get your round, hey? In reparation?”
“It’s the least you could do,” Louis agreed. “A four-year streak of coming to the symphony alone was broken tonight. They were probably going to put in a plaque.”
Then Louis wrinkled his nose, because maybe that sounded a bit pathetic. He liked being alone, not that it mattered to this stranger. Harry was already leaning out over the queue and mouthed an order to the bartender. How he got her attention and had the apparent power to jump the ten older couples in front of them, Louis had no idea. He did wish he could harness that power for the coffee place in the lobby of his office, where Louis consistently had to remind the barista of his existence. Harry had too many rings on his fingers to live in a boardroom, Louis thought, and his hair made him look like an artist, but the suit was well out of the range. Not the usual type of alpha to haunt symphony hall alone, but maybe he’d gotten a ticket as a gift, or was visiting from out of town. Louis frowned at himself and shut the calculus down: it was hard to turn it off sometimes, the perpetual strategy and transactions of work bleeding onto real humans in real places.
“Get lost in your thoughts here often? Gin and tonic, yeah, love?” Harry said, and he was looking down at Louis and arching an eyebrow. That was it; Louis spun on his heel to find the bathroom.
“Try not to spill it on the way back to the box,” Louis said, over his shoulder. Harry laughed again. A problem, that was, easy laughing, being so happy was not very suited to the staid symphony hall. Louis ignored the smile that crept over his own face, thankful that Harry couldn't see it.