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Saving Symphony Hall

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Saturday night dinners were a grand tradition, ever since Louis had first arrived in the city and sent a tentative Facebook message to Niall Horan hoping it was the same Niall Horan he remembered from middle school. Niall had written back in all caps with an invitation to dinner that turned weekly as soon as Louis showed up with a bottle of Babs’ favorite wine and pictures of Niall at twelve, all puffed blond hair and chubby red cheeks.

Niall and Babs lived above the park, in a neighborhood just around the corner from a whole block of cafes, hair salons, and corner groceries that had things like crates of salami and a dizzying variety of craft beer. Louis’ neighborhood was full of slick glass banks and trash, but Niall and Babs’ neighborhood was full of old men who grumbled when they counted your change and bodega cats, and Louis loved them all. Tonight, Louis had picked up a massive bag of salted gummy worms and a promising six-pack with an octopus on the label.

“Beautiful Tommo,” Niall said, opening the door and shooing Louis inside their cozy flat, “Will you please tell Babs that she is dead wrong about the best Edgar Wright film, which is obviously Shaun of the Dead?”

“I’m breaking up with you,” Babs said over her shoulder, poking gingerly at a delicious smelling stir-fry on the stove with a wooden spoon. Louis came over to look, and Babs bent to give him a quick kiss on the cheek. Tonight looked like marinated beef in a blend of red peppers, onions, and some difficult-to-identify green veg, and Louis couldn’t wait. He’d been starving since friday night, which was uncharacteristic, but nice.

“Best one as judged by anyone with taste is clearly Hot Fuzz. Niall, get back here and give my Lou a proper long hug while my hands are pot holders.”

“I’m all right,” Louis protested. As usual, Niall and Babs ignored this. Niall swept his arms around Louis from behind and rested his chin on Louis’ shoulder.

“I hate to say it but it really is Hot Fuzz,” Louis said.

“Wanker,” Niall said cheerfully, too loudly in Louis’ ear. “We’re gonna have to watch both of them to sort this out.”

“The sauce is too salty,” Babs said, “So it’s perfect.”

Louis leaned hard against Niall and let it shoot through his system, ease and comfort and trust. He was all right, he was always all right, but. Saturdays made a barricade against the rest of the week with its cold offices and long nights. Niall and Babs were the only two people in the world allowed to manhandle Louis into physical affection, and they took great advantage of it.

They took the food into the living room and ate off warm plates on their laps, because Louis liked couches and Niall liked sprawling and Babs liked it when Louis and Niall were comfortable, and therefore more at her mercy.

“You’ve missed dinner the past few weeks,” Babs said after they’d worked over the stirfry, opening a second bottle of the octopus-beer since it hadn’t disappointed.

“I know,” Louis said, wrinkling his nose in her in apology, “It’s been a bitch, s’all, chasing that idiot deal and working late and just crashing out after. I haven’t been one for company.”

Babs made a disapproving noise, and Louis shrugged because he agreed with her, but on the other hand, he didn’t know what she wanted him to do about it. Everybody had to grow up eventually and work a stupid job they hated, right?

“Well, I think that tonight at least, we should snuggle and smoke pot, make sure you get actual human contact.”

“I'm really fine ,” Louis said, and Babs gave him a skeptical look. Louis cleared his throat and reached for a second bottle of his own.

“I actually, err, I hooked up with somebody.”

Louis tried and failed to look extremely casual, not that it would have mattered because Babs shrieked and Niall feigned a heart attack, clutching his chest and falling backwards onto the couch.

“We need details!” Babs yelled as Niall reached out for a high five. Louis gave the high five but shook his head at Babs.

“You really don't,” he said. “It's not a whole thing. It was just a one night stand. Very normal.”

“Oh my god,” Niall said, “It was completely bonkers, that means. Obviously, because how else would he have gotten through your multi-step discouragement protocol. He must really had some game. I'm assuming it's a he?”

“I have no such thing,” Louis said loudly and guiltily.

“When? When? And where did you meet?” Babs chorused.

Louis squinted down the barrel of his beer and took a long drink. He didn’t know why there was an octopus on the label, maybe it had something to do with the coastline. This whole city was obsessed with reminding you that you lived on the ocean.

“Friday,” Louis said, “Just like, wherever you meet one night stands. A bar.”

“A bar,” Babs cackled, “Like you go to bars. Was it work? You were at the symphony this weekend! Holy shit, did you hook up with somebody at the symphony?”

“That would be so degenerate,” Louis said, but a massive grin spread over his face. Babs made a show of fanning herself.

“At least tell us the name,” Niall said, “Because ‘Sex God Who Was Cute Enough to Turn Louis ‘I don't need people’ Tomlinson’s Head’ is too many words when I'm half drunk.”

“You guys are insane,” Louis said, “His name was Harry.”

Is Harry,” Babs corrected, “Harry. I love Harry. Harry had better be an angel of the first order. Are you gonna see Harry again?”

Louis rolled his eyes. “No, see, the two you have been in a relationship for so long that you probably don’t remember this, but that’s the one part of one night stand, we’re total strangers, I don’t even know him.”

“Uh huh,” said Niall, “But he asked, didn’t he? You’re way too adorable and smart and irritating for someone to just be like, ‘thanks for the dick, gotta go.’ Obviously he wants to see you again. Back me up on this, Babs.”

“He asked,” Babs said with utter certainty. “Harry wants to see you again. Did you get his number? At least his subscription seat number? You guys gonna meet up at that shitty Victorian bar with all the columns and get sloshed on gin and make out in the men’s room?”

Louis snorted as he opened the gummy worms, glad to have something to do.

“Only in your fantasies, although he did kind of leave me his number, written on his ticket of all things. He left it my coat pocket like some kind of creepy spy.”

“I love that,” Niall said through a mouthful of gummy, “Our Harry is resourceful. Knew you wouldn’t take it straight from him. You’re so gonna see him again.”

“I'm not gonna see him again, and it was just a crazy night, weird ticket note notwithstanding. You know how alphas can be with the chase,” Louis said, and he ignored the thrill of excitement he felt at the idea, Harry's raspy voice on the phone, proposing where they could meet, maybe a coffee shop somewhere, a warm mug in Harry’s hand, rings clinking on the ceramic. Louis shook his head.

“Wait,” Babs said, and Niall gaped.

“Hold the friggin’ phone, you actually hooked up with an alpha?” Niall suddenly sounded more shocked than teasing, and Louis shook his head.

“All right, we are not gonna discuss it anymore, that's that,” he said firmly, throwing a worm at Niall, who caught it in his mouth impressively. Niall was a man of many talents.

“Oh, no fair. Can we discuss it with a metaphor?” Babs asked.

Louis considered, hovering his beer in the air like a judge about to make a ruling, if the beer were a gavel and Niall and Babs’ overly-decorated living room were a courtroom.

“Fine, we can discuss it with a metaphor,” Louis said. Niall looked way too excited, so Louis pushed him over facedown into the couch and sat on him. “Babs only,” he said.

“It’s like this,” Babs said with determination, “Imagine that we’re all out getting dinner, no, like we’ve already had burritos at that disgusting place you guys like,”

“La Taqueria!” Louis and Niall exclaimed at the same time, and fist bumped, Niall’s fist awkwardly angling backwards since he was still facedown in the cushions.

“It’s not disgusting, it’s authentic,” Louis said.

“Whatever,” said Babs, “We’ve stuffed ourselves with burritos and we’re regretting our life choices and then you see the perfect restaurant and you totally don’t need dinner, but what you do need is dessert. Like maybe you’re super hypoglycemic, for the last two years you haven't even had sugar, and you really need dessert.”

“I said metaphor,” Louis warned, “And I’m not hypoglycemic, I’ve been totally fine without...sugar, let's say I take those….like, diabetic sugar pills, or something.”

Babs waved her arm dismissively. “Whatever you need to tell yourself. Anyway you get the damn dessert, and about time, too. We’re all happy for you, you deserve it.”

“This has nothing to do with solving your Harry problem,” Niall said helpfully. “She just likes to tell long boring stories about how much we eat.”

“Are you saying our life is boring?” Babs said. The back of Niall’s head nodded, his summer-long hair grazing Louis’ elbow.

“It’s just the way I like it,” Niall informed her, “We organize our entire weekend around food and walking to get food. It’s a good life.”

“I don’t have a Harry problem,” Louis said, “I solved my Harry problem. Handily. In a hallway.”

Niall tried to push himself up, cobra-yoga-pose-style,  so Louis flung his arms out on either side to grab the couch cushions and create more resistance. Babs added her weight to the pile, sitting on the back of Niall’s thighs and snuggling into the crook of Louis’ shoulder with her long legs sprawled comically off the couch. Louis beamed down at her. Babs was his favorite person, next to Niall, and he didn’t know what he would do without them.

“Did you know,” Louis said to Babs, ignoring Niall’s outraged huffing, “If I really did go into a sit-down restaurant and only got dessert, the restaurant would actually lose money on me? Most places have to get their customers to average at least twenty dollars’ worth before they make up the operational and wage costs, I read. They don’t do a great job of managing variable expense, probably.”

“Nobody cares about your efficiency expert bullshit,” Niall said into the couch.

“Harry cared,” Babs smirked, “Harry was all, oh, Louis, it’s so hot when you calculate the standard deviation of how tall I am,”

“Fuck off,” Louis said primly, “He wasn’t nearly tall enough to be a standard deviation taller than me. And I’m not an efficiency expert, this isn’t 1903, I’m not married to Lillian Gilbreth.”

“Thank god for Harry’s sake, although you probably would be if you could be,” Niall said.

“Can’t deny that, organizational psychology is a well-documented weakness of mine, but aside from Lillian I’m mostly gay,” Louis said, because it was his duty in the company of the heteronormative. Babs patted him on the arm.  

“Oh we're aware. You're all about the dark, dangerous, mysterious male alphas. Harry was like, oh, Louis,” Niall said, “ Let me draw the linear regression of your cute little ass,”

“Shut up,” Louis said, “That doesn’t even make sense. I like a male beta, personally.”

“Thanks love,” said Niall, “We like you too, every one of us.”

“Female alphas are mysterious and dangerous too,” Babs said with satisfaction and an absurd, nonthreatening grimace.

“None more so,” Niall said loyally.

“The point is that you find the perfect restaurant-” Babs started,

“A tall restaurant,” Niall said, muffled by couch.

“--and maybe you’re not exactly ready for dinner, for reasons that nobody here would ever judge you for, so you order a great dessert. And it’s like, the best dessert you’ve ever had in your life,”

“Chocolate,” Louis said, nodding, thinking of Harry’s hair, “Maybe like, chocolate with caramel, and a little espresso or something, and alcohol, and like, mint in there, somewhere,” Harry’s eyes had been green, Louis was almost certain, although it was hard to remember with the dark and all.

Babs made a face. “Ok, your funeral, chocolate and mint, gross. Yeah, but lots of alcohol, in order to psych yourself up enough to actually talk to the dessert,”

“Fuck off,” Louis said again, hitting Babs with a pillow but inadvertently freeing Niall as he did so. Niall surged up triumphantly, dumping both Louis and Babs onto the floor. Luckily, they’d mostly finished the beer. Babs rolled onto her back and stuck her feet in the air and twirled them, reflectively. Louis supposed that living with Niall, you stopped even noticing when you got thrown around in the living room. He situated himself rightside up again with his back against the couch and Niall started scritching him on the back of his head, to which Louis gave a happy sigh. He felt the beer fritzing in his limbs and Niall’s calm beta touch snaking its way into his insula, soothing. He’d been feeling paradoxically both more fulfilled and more wanting since the hookup, his usual self-soothing not getting as far that morning, and touch felt surprisingly helpful. He just hoped Babs wouldn't pick up on it or she'd get even more protective than usual, probably, and Louis honestly didn't want to deal.

But Babs was still on the Harry thing, thankfully, single-minded in the way that had gotten her international modeling contracts and this rare apartment and Niall.

“So you have the greatest dessert of your life but, does that mean that the restaurant somehow can’t serve you dinner, once you’re ready for dinner?” Babs pointed a finger at Louis, accusingly. “Does it really mean you can’t go back and order a nice salad, get yourself off to a healthy start? And then do dessert again? Can’t you?”

“Wait, I’m confused,” Niall said, “Is Tommo the restaurant, losing money on bad customer Harry?”

“Dating Harry is the restaurant, idiot,” Babs said, “And the dessert is sex. Harry is probably a great customer, by the way. Bet he tips like a motherfucker.”

“You’re wrong,” Louis said, grabbing himself a new handful of gummy worms and stuffing it in his mouth. He was careful not to move his head, so as not to disturb the scritching.

“Harry’s the dessert, and that’s all it is, getting dessert in a moment of weakness, it’ll never happen again, if I did it all the time I’d get a heart attack and die,” Louis garbled around the mouthful.

“Louis, jesus,” Niall said, sliding off the couch and joining them on the floor. Niall wrapped his arm around Louis and tugged him in for a cuddle, and like clockwork, Babs came over to fill in the other side. Inevitably, they ended up on the floor for these evenings, despite the fact that Niall and Babs had three entire couches in their living room in a dense cluster. Louis made a show of sighing in protest but melted against them in three seconds. Louis didn’t have a lot of bare skin but where he did, along his arms and the side of his neck, he felt Babs’ cuddle like a stable, steady, glow and Niall’s like a rippling, chatty murmur.

“Do you really think that you’ll die if you start dating again?” Niall asked, too seriously.

Louis was not prepared for that question, so he rubbed his salt-sticky fingers on Niall's jeans in lieu of responding. Babs and Niall exchanged The Look right over his head. Louis knew The Look from many previous occasions over the last two years.

“Stop that,” Louis said. “We’re all dying. Life is but a Sisyphean march through time.”

“I'm going to sit on you next,” Babs warned, but she only cuddled harder.

“For real, I mean this isn’t just about Harry, right? You are gonna start dating again someday, yeah?” Niall asked, crossing and uncrossing his ankles and tapping Louis’ foot with his own.

Louis shrugged.

“Niall,” Babs said, sounding warninglike. “Hey, we’re just giving you a hard time because we’re happy for you, you know that, right? It’s cool to see you get out there and connect with somebody.”

“Not to mention that we don’t have to wonder if this is the weekend we’ll need to take you to the doctor for stim overdose and touch depri,” Niall said, and Babs whacked him on the side of the head, because violence was their love language.

“Like we'd ever let Louis get depri,” Babs said darkly. Louis squeezed her hand reassuringly. Babs felt the pull to protect Louis, even from a happily-mated distance, a little bit more acutely than Niall did, and she was a protective person by nature anyway. Louis knew that as hard as the last few years had been for him, it had been hard for them to be there for it. He'd never forget that.

“I do know,” he said quickly. Niall and Babs informed Louis on a regular basis that they were his platonic life partners, but Louis still worried about burdening them, about everything his stupid omega body wanted just being too much. Still, Louis handled it. It was all fine.

“Well, hey,” Niall said, “Harry was really lucky. I mean you should totally call him, make his day, but like, if you don’t, he was still really lucky. And there's nothing wrong with going for what you need.”

“Aw,” Louis said, “Shut up. Let’s play games. We’re all very proud of me, dessert was great, now I feel the need to kick both of your asses in Halo, sequentially.”

Niall was already reaching for the controllers and flipping on the whirring projector that they used for a tv. Louis grabbed one of the much-abused pillows off the couch and shoved it under himself for a comfier seat.

“Someday, you’ll have to tell us what really happened with Thomas,” Niall said. He raised his hand at Louis’ glare.

“We hate him, we hate him,” Niall said, Babs nodding vigorously as he booted up the game. Louis couldn’t even remember where they’d left off, some terrifying jungle full of cat-like aliens the size of buses, but he’d just trail behind Niall’s avatar until he remembered the button combinations, as usual.

“I just mean, you’ve never told us the full story.”

“Yeah, I know. Someday,” Louis agreed. He sent a blast of alien bullets into the computerized palm trees, machine gun terror singing through dissolving pixels in a satisfying stream. At least he always remembered where the trigger was.

 

*



“Did you bring me food?” Babs said, making grabby hands, “Thank fuck, I’m starved.”

Three of this season’s new, gazelle-like models made shocked eyes at her, and Babs winked in their direction.

“Protip, ladies, get a rockstar boyfriend who will bring you fries when you text him from rehearsal,” she called.

“Don’t tease the animals,” Louis said.

Niall gestured towards the fast-food bag that Louis had brought. “Two orders of fries, we know what a marathon these things are. Louis and I are going to go watch every Edgar Wright movie without you on this fine school night because we are irresponsible adults.”

Louis nodded as he surveyed the chaos, because he loved Babs’ insane work world and he loved getting to see behind the scenes of what would eventually turn into the stunning Victoria’s Secret December show. It was easy to forget that Babs was a supermodel when she spent most of her non-work time in sweatpants and one of Niall’s old band t-shirts, but the Victoria’s Secret season had woken itself up with a groan and a vengeance. They were months away from the live show and Babs was already grinding hard in random designs and rehearsals, amping up her workouts and social media presence and having strange, tense phone conversations about her brand. Stylists ran in every direction, the shoot director was yelling about amber lighting switches for contrasting skin, and somebody young and fragile--probably an intern--was crying in a corner. Louis sighed happily and scarfed a couple of fries out of Babs’ bag.

And there, leaning against a temporary table with his arms folded and a perky smile on his face, was Harry.

Louis opened his eyes, which had closed of their own accord, like a flying object had come at his face. But it was only Harry, definitely Harry: unfair dimple in one cheek, fluffy hair piled artistically high over his head, a silky pink button-down with scarlet-flowered-print cuffs rolled up his forearms and a camera in one hand. He was just as gorgeous as Louis’ memory of him, maybe more. He looked sexy and comfortable and effortlessly high fashion, he looked like Louis’ worst nightmare.

“Cute new photographer,” Niall noted, “Is that the one you were telling me about?”

“Oh, that's Styles, definitely not ours,” Babs said, distracted by the fact that an entire wing had started to sag off of one shoulder. She frowned down at it and picked at the feather-glue-sparkle combination that wasn’t pulling its weight.

“A triumph for my career, going to the same pompous performing arts high as somebody who got famous.”

“What?” Louis croaked. Possibly he was finally having a psychotic break, although he never imagined it happening in the form of a delusion about handsome alphas on a Victoria's Secret set. Harry was wearing boots with heels .

“You know, Harry Styles? Brilliant artist, great photographer, sort of an all around rising star in the art world because he's good looking enough for the popular mags, too. He had that piece in Vienna, the fountain installation with the flying boats?”

“Oh shit, I did hear about that,” Louis said.

“Didn’t he auction a piece of his hair once?” Niall mused. Babs nodded.

“Yeah like, for your entire salary. I mean he's not like, Banksy level making it, but he gets a lot of buzz. He's here on set in a total hush, checking out the design work because corporate wants to weasel into his next installation, rumor is he’s a bit into fashion. Rather a coup to even get him to come visit rehearsal for ten minutes, since high art gallery types are obviously above--” Babs gestured in the general direction of her cleavage, “--all this. I’m pretty sure he’s just doing it to be nice to me, he always was the sweetest kid, even in high school. I'm surprised you don't know his shit, Louis, it's right up your alley.”

Louis, who had started backing away involuntarily, made a tiny choking noise in the back of his throat that was meant to be a disinterested, I’ll have to check that out.

Niall looked at Louis with narrowing suspicion, and then his eyes bugged out and he grabbed Louis with one hand and Babs with the other.

“Heyo,” Babs said, “These are just the practice wings and they’re still like, a thousand dollars each, you can grab me later.”

“Harry, Harry Styles,” Niall said meaningfully, jerking his chin urgently towards Louis, who was halfway to the door and angled behind Niall’s body, now, “Funny, Louis recently met a Harry.”

“There's no way,” Babs said.

“Pretty sure it was Harold,” Louis said quickly. Maybe the fries bag was big enough to cover his face. Babs was tall, maybe her giraffe legs could shield him. Maybe he could kick over a lamp and set Babs’ wings on fire and that would serve as a distraction while he bolted out the back door. Those things had to be flammable, all synthetic blends that they were.

“Was it,” said Niall, “So why are you pulling me towards the door?”

“Holy shit, it is Louis’ Harry,” Babs said.

“It was Hans, come to think of it,” Louis said, “Definitely a Hans. Sort of a blond bloke, Swedish.”

Louis looked longingly towards the door. Just a few more feet.

“STYLES,” Babs yelled, waving her cursedly long arm, “So excited you could make it. Got some cute boys for you to meet.”

Louis’ eyes jerked back across the room to see Harry turn left with a face of quizzical detachment that transformed into a kind of bright surprise as soon as he saw Babs, and Niall, and--oh god--Louis. Harry pushed himself off the table and weaved through the room, ducking rhinestones and stepping through tangles of lighting cords. He was like a magnet in a paperclip store, easy charm pulling everyone’s attention. Louis saw at least three fashion assistants do an involuntary double take, so apparently everybody in the fucking world knew who Harry was except for Louis.

“You are dead to me forever,” Louis hissed through his teeth.

“Hiiii,” Harry said, three feet in front of Louis and terribly, terribly real. “Babs, it’s been a long time.”

“Hasn’t it though,” Babs said with her bright, tv interview voice. “This is my partner, Niall, made him see your Reverie exhibit and he sat in your big cocoon-net thing for like, forty minutes.”

“It was a dream,” Niall said, nodding, “Big fan. We’ll have to get Louis out to see it. Harry, Louis.” Niall gave Louis a tiny little push in Harry’s direction. Niall was going to die in a blaze of gore later that night.  

Louis, who was an adult capable of doing adult things like see an alpha that he had a casual, crazy, sort of hormone-imbalanced hookup with in a bloody theatre and be casual and calm about it, nodded.

“Sounds like a thing,” he choked. Babs and Niall looked at each other like a pair of cats sharing a canary.

“Hope you’ll like it, Louis,” Harry said, small smile on his face, one hand in his pocket, the other balancing the camera carelessly on his shoulder. He was looking way too intently at Louis’ face, green eyes lit with purpose. Harry was probably trying to figure out whether this was the way that Babs and Niall usually acted, and trying to respect Louis’ privacy by not acting like they’d met before. That was unexpectedly polite. Wanker. At this inopportune moment, Louis’ body decided to remind him of exactly how Harry’s thighs had felt, pressing him into the wall at the symphony, Harry’s breath on his neck.

“So, enjoying rehearsal?” Louis asked, a little desperately. Harry blinked at him, and Louis avoided looking at his eyelashes, the way they threw shadows on his high cheekbones.

“It’s not my usual scene,” Harry said, “But I appreciate anything that people put a lot of work into, and the chance to see a backstage. I'm all about the backstage. I like seeing things in the drafting stage, all the work behind shows.”

“I get that,” Niall chirped. Heedless of potential wing-damage, he had his arm wrapped around Babs’ waist and was smiling broadly at the world. “Babs will be on her feet for hours tonight, won’t you, babe?”

“Well it’s a living, nothing like how hard Louis works,” Babs said. “Didn’t you close a million dollar deal last week?”

“Hah,” Louis said, “Failed to close, utter failure, thanks Babs.”

“We should all get lunch sometime, talk more about our terrible jobs,” Babs said. “Harry, can't believe you actually moved back to this city, you must be looking to meet people, right?”

“Always,” Harry said, “Certainly people who appreciate big cocoons. I've got a new prototype we should get Niall's opinion on. Yours too,” he said to Louis, flashing a smile that surely should be a controlled substance.

“Where are you?” Babs asked.

“Moved into a new place near the park,” Harry said.

“Sick,” Niall said, shaking his head, “Great area. Cool people for neighbors only. Bet you're close, you should come over for dinner. Louis comes over all the time to escape his downtown coffin, don’t you, Louis?”

“Never,” Louis said, “I am a vampire who can’t cross thresholds without an invitation.”

“What if you got an invitation?” Harry asked provocatively, head to the side, dazzlingly unself-conscious. Louis clutched at the bag of fries and Niall looked like he was barely controlling himself and Louis was going to kill him twice.

“But I’m glad that’s not my problem,” Harry said, with worrying sincerity. Harry wasn’t an insane person who believed that vampires were real, was he? Why didn't he have the decency to vanish into Louis’ imagination as an occasional guilty wank fantasy instead of being a real person saying strange things in front of Louis’ actual friends?

“Hardest part of my job lately has been finding a space to put the next installation. I’ve been so tired of museums, honestly. One of the reasons it was so nice to get a call from Babs.”

Harry beamed at Babs, who looked properly delighted. “Oh, poor babe, tired of all the museums. I’ll pull you into my sordid commercial environs anyday, Styles. Knew the galleries would get their claws in you our junior year when you started winning all those contests. We were kind of surprised hear you’d moved back, not exactly the art capital of the world, here.”

Harry shrugged, had the grace to at least look slightly embarrassed. “Honestly yeah, but I think it’s what I need. I needed a new place. I can feel it in the work...good to explore, again. I’ve gotta do my next piece somewhere different, something that’s not just the front yard of another tourist attraction.”  

Louis decided that the whole conversation was aggressively annoying. Harry Styles, Fancy Artist, was clearly on a level even worse than Harry Styles, Alpha.

“Guess we should let all you arty types get back to it, huh,” Louis said. “Western civ’s not gonna reinvent itself in the form of a spangled corset, and Niall and I have a lot of on-screen gore to watch.”

“Are you doing a monster movie night?” Harry asked, leaning a little forward. Louis leaned back but still caught a hint of Harry’s scent on the very tip of his tongue, fuck, and that was as good as he remembered too. Some shivery part of his brain wanted to reach out, pull Harry in, see if he remembered how Louis smelled too. His body was trying to kill him, it was. “I love monster movies.”

“Cool,” Louis said, and externally winced, on his actual face. God. Harry had a slightly concentrated expression, undoubtedly trying to endure the painfulness of having to see a one night stand in the harsh light of day and act nice about it. Louis took Niall’s arm and pulled him away from Babs, who let out a small squeak of outrage.

“I think a stylist is coming over here to murder Babs, so luckily, you guys will have your own gore to deal with.”

Louis had stalked down two hallways and was halfway to the car before he realized he’d taken the fries with him. Oh well, Babs deserved a penalty for this entire experience. Now she was in there in a room with Harry, with someone who had way too much knowledge of Louis from way too vulnerable an angle, and god, everything was too much. Alphas shouldn't be allowed to talk to each other. Maybe that was bigoted, but sacrifices had to be made.

“Hey, uh, you can stop running,” Niall said from behind, sounding worried.

“I’m not running,” Louis said. Niall made a rude noise.

“Did you see the way he looked at you? It was like he thought he was dreaming seeing you again. ‘I like monster movies,’ oh my god, Tommo, you could’ve thrown the guy a bone. Or a french fry.”

“What are you talking about?” Louis asked. Niall threw his hands up to the sky.

“He liked you! So much!”

“No, pretty sure he was being blackmailed by a former high school classmate into talking to someone he thought he’d never see again. That’s probably like, a recurring high school nightmare, actually, right up there with showing up for a test naked. I bet he’s going to make some beautiful art about the trauma, and it’ll win a Grammy, and then I’ll have see it on the front page of the bloody newspaper.”

Louis stopped, out of breath.

“That’s elaborate,” Niall observed, “Grammys are music. You’re a worse gay man than I am, and I’m living the heterosexual dream, married to a supermodel.”

“Which is fashion, which is art, so you have an unfair advantage. Niall, oh god, Harry is some famous fucking artist? I haven't so much as winked in an alpha’s direction for two years and I picked somebody famous .

Louis sat down abruptly right in the middle of the parking lot and buried his face in his palms. There was a curly fry that had snuck into their fry bag, so he un-buried his face to eat it and then re-buried. Niall sat down next to him.

“One freakout at a time,” Niall suggested. Louis nodded.

“Look, I'm sure he thought it was a cute coincidence that you turned up here. Like a movie, you know? Babs won't talk to him about it, I'm sure. She's way too protective of your headspace. She'll probably just interrogate Harry to figure out whether he's good enough to lay his hands on you. Not that anyone's judging.”

“I want zombies,” Louis said, plaintively, “And to not talk about this anymore.”

Niall slung an arm around Louis’ shoulders. Louis felt his heart rate calm, his breath slow down. Why was he spinning out? This was why Louis didn’t do this kind of thing, open himself up to freaking alphas, to touch and entanglement and everything it caused. It just wasn’t worth it. He leaned against Niall.

“Let’s get some zombies,” Niall said, his thumb brushing Louis’ jumper soothingly. “Zombies never let us down.  Unlike dumbass alphas, we know that zombies only want us for our brains.”