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Saving Symphony Hall

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When Harry found Louis an hour later, he was deep in an impromptu financial strategy session with seven artists who were clamoring to show him contracts and exhibit deals on their phones. Louis was having the time of his absolute life. His sleeves were rolled up, jacket discarded and hair wild, and he was giving an impassioned speech about impact evaluations for arts programs. The blue-haired beta was sprinting away to refill his drink.

“What is this party?” Harry asked, astonished.

“Gotta use their fucking weapons against them,” Louis yelled, to a general cheer. “Don't you ever let the suits act like you can't understand your own data. I'm giving you all my email and links to read on how to run some basic stats.”

A girl with a shock of pink hair in a pixie who'd need help figuring out her taxes bumped Harry with her elbow.

“Of course you'd be the one to bring the goddamn sexy CEO type, Styles. How are you always the lucky one?”

“Hands off, you lot,” Harry said, a grin so wide it threatened to drown out the chandeliers. “I found him first.”

Louis disentangled himself from the students, trading promises for contract reviews all around, and couldn’t even be annoyed at the multiple hair-ruffles and cheek kisses he got in return. Artists were just different creatures. Artists were delightful. Louis loved artists.

“Oh my god,” Harry said, sliding into Louis’ side, even though Louis was perfectly capable of walking, “I leave you for like, half a minute, I swear.”

Louis tried to poke him, but ended up giving Harry a weird pat on the side of his ribcage. “Best party,” he said, contentedly. Harry chuckled, low in his throat. “Not as good as leaving a party with you, though,” Louis ventured.

“Harry Styles, say goodbye to me,” said Iwa, stately and affectionate at the same time. She’d materialized at Harry’s elbow to give him a gentle hug and then hold him at arm's length, assessing. Harry tilted his head at her like a sunflower. Despite his height over the tiny omega, it was clear that Harry was waiting on her every word. 

“Your talk was lovely. More important, your work has been lovely,” Iwa said gravely.

Harry beamed. Iwa held up a hand to indicate she wasn't done yet. Louis realized he was nearly holding his breath.

“I must admit, I had my concerns when we heard that you were returning. You are in such a vulnerable place in your work--no,” she said gently in response to Harry's face, “No, you've been very successful. But I mean the work, in who you will become . I worried that moving back to that city would signify repetition, being comfortable over growing. I feel reassured that it's not.” 

“I think so,” Harry said, “I never know until I finish, but this project, I think it's the work. I think it's real. I think… I've found some very new things, in old places.” 

“We will see,” Iwa said, not unkindly, and including Louis in her glance, which made him smile back at her. The whole thing felt a little outside his ken, laden with the context of values and judgements from Harry's professional world, but he had no doubt at all that Harry was going to prove his own choices.

“I was struck by one thing in particular in your talk, if you will forgive me for sounding like an auntie to you one more time--”

“Why do you think I even come to these things?” Harry asked, ducking his head, ever the charmer. Iwa narrowed her eyes in a way that suggested she had never fallen for it, and it cemented Louis’ already high opinion.

“I enjoyed your appreciation for negative space, for allowing things to grow on their own, for holding back. But it occurred to me, Harry Styles, that one had better not fail to act entirely. Or miss the chance to do something with a space that does not appear often.”

Harry flushed and his eyes flickered to Louis, who was watching with mild confusion, but Harry nodded at Iwa.

Iwa pursed her lips at Harry for a considering moment and then, apparently satisfied, and turned away in a clear dismissal. Harry wilted just a tiny bit. Louis floated back up to his side and intertwined their fingers, discretion be damned. It was the end of the night and everyone was drunk anyway.

“Once your teacher, always your teacher, eh?” Louis said as they got their coats.

“She's incredible,” Harry said, his face reverent, “I wouldn't be doing any of this without her.”

Louis nodded, finding Harry's scarf and throwing it over his head with a quick and accurate toss.

“Gotcha,” he said playfully, and to his surprise Harry stepped forward and caught him up in a crushing hug.

“I was told that you downloaded a spreadsheet from Iwa’s email and showed her how to make charts out of it to get a better exhibition contract,” Harry said. Louis closed his eyes, soaking in being surrounded by Harry after an evening of craving alpha touch, a little fatigue running not unpleasantly under the sensation.

“I wasn't trying to be a fucking nerd, I just, I really don't like people getting caught up by stupid business stuff because no one ever told them how it worked,” he said, quiet and a little embarrassed against Harry's shirt.

“Mhm,” Harry said, releasing Louis reluctantly. “Something like five people stopped me on the way to find you, demanding I bring you back. Nick said you'd be his date if I messed up. I think you're the new favorite. You're a dangerous one, you.”

“Guess you should get me out of here,” Louis said, shy and gratified and extremely, extremely happy.

“Thank you. For coming with me, for doing that for Iwa.” Harry said. Louis’ fate was sealed, he'd go to a million parties with a million strangers in a million unfamiliar places with Harry if they all ended this way.


*


Harry seemed thoughtful on the drive and Louis was happy to let him turn the evening over in his head. He held Harry's hand in his lap with one hand and enjoyed the long, slinking curves on the coastline, hugging them with the satisfying smoothness of his roadster and not hurrying. It was a clear, clean night. There were so few lights along the coast that the earth looked blacker than the ocean, where thick moonlight scattered off the waves.

So Louis was caught off guard when they got into the tiny, empty house and Harry was on him in a ripple of alpha energy that caught Louis up and called out a whirring bolt from his instincts to match it.

“Hazz, a little wired, are we,” Louis said, breathy. Harry had him by the elbows, nearly on tiptoe, flirtation rolling between them as he walked them down the hallway still in their coats, not turning on any lights. He walked them into the first bedroom where Harry had thrown his bags earlier that day, faces close, still not quite touching. Harry wrapped his arms around Louis’ waist, put him up easily on the low cabinet facing the bed. He had a thing for picking Louis up, but Louis could forgive him for the way it made his stomach swoop. 

“A little,” Harry said, looking wicked, “Hard to behave when you're hit by alpha around your smart, sexy, infuriating, not-boyfriend.”

“Wait, you're not,” Louis bit his lip for a millisecond, mind scrambling, a nasty shiver running up his spine. Maybe he’d misunderstood this. “Are you mad? Are you feeling angry?”

“I'm sorry, what?” Harry said, pulling back to give Louis an entirely bemused, half-drunk face.

“I--kind of thought, like, I don't know,” Louis took a deep breath. It was Harry he was talking to. Harry, who was holding him up with gentle hands pressing into his hips, waiting, like Harry always did, for him to get the thought out.

“I heard that feeling alpha would make you mad. Like, by default. That you couldn't help it.”

“No,” Harry said, definitively. “The fuck? I'm a little--” he waved his hand, hair messy, eyes glossy, frantic tilt to the way he rocked on his feet, Louis got that, could sense the rolling energy and want off him, but not anger.

“No,” Harry repeated, “No, it doesn't make you mad. Jittery, a little wild. Annoyingly flirtatious, is a thing I may have been told? But what you turn that into is up to you. Anybody who told you they needed to be angry was just an asshole looking for an excuse.”

Harry was still standing back, still clearly wanting touch and tenderness and more, and it was strange to be on the flip side of this equation. Louis wasn't reluctant to try it out. He pulled Harry back in, locked him in with his thighs, felt the shimmering burr of relief that came with every touch. Touch me.

“Yeah,” he said into Harry's neck, catching Harry's earlobe in a teasing kiss. “I guess he was.” 

“I'm starting to have really mixed feelings about this ex of yours,” Harry muttered.

“Haaaah,” Louis said, and then it dawned on him.

“Speaking of exes,” he said, tentatively, because it was such a strange, novel idea, being the focus of that. Harry groaned, half an alpha-growl that sent lust pooling deep in Louis’ pelvis, half embarrassment. 

“Oh my god you're jealous,” Louis said, delighted and amazed.

“Shut up,” Harry said. 

“You are!” Louis said, “and you're not mad! What a night!”

“I'm bothered by the way those two things seem intertwined for you,” Harry said, but he was clearly distracted, getting his hands deeper in the curve of Louis’ lower back and kissing up his neck. Louis shivered, sensitivity flooding through his skin already.

“Huh,” Louis said. He pushed his way off the cabinet and turned them, steering Harry lightly against the wall in his place. Harry went, with a questioning look.

“Sit,” Louis ordered, in between kissing Harry, long and slow and calibrated to drive him crazy, looking away at the bedroom. Harry loved attention and hated being ignored and Louis loved playing with it, pretending to be distracted and thinking even with Harry nudging into his space insistently. Harry huffed a breath into Louis’ face and used a hand to pull Louis’ jaw firmly into place, slotting his mouth onto Louis’ and kissing deep. Louis smiled around it.

“Stay.”

Harry's eyes darkened, but he stayed. Louis turned his back on Harry and took a few steps into the bedroom.

“So other people looking at me, that got you, huh,” he said casually, working at the knot in his tie.

“It did,” Harry said, and Louis smiled at the bedroom wall, undid the tie with an audible slide of the fabric from under his collar. He plucked at the buttons of his cuffs, one and then the other.

“How did it make you feel?” Louis asked, quiet in the half-lit bedroom, the only noise the rustle of his shirt as he meticulously pulled the hem out from his slacks, the creak from the low cabinet as Harry shifted on it.

“Like I wanted to grab you right there, in front of all of those people, do things to you that made you forget they were even there.” 

Louis felt his throat flex and his knees weaken at the image, the sincerity in Harry's voice. But he still kept his back turned, unbuttoned his shirt and let it fall off his shoulders, bare skin and curved back emerging inch by inch.

“But none of them get to see me like you do,” Louis said, thoughtfully.

“Although you know, Nick really did hit on me.”

Harry growled and Louis turned back to him, eyes dancing. Harry looked-- fuck --Harry's head was tipped back against the wall and his mouth was wet and panting and he almost looked wrecked, without their even touching. Louis stayed in place, difficult as it as, and undid his belt, pulled the long leather strap out with a smooth flick that he knew showed off his wrist.

“But I don't want him,” he whispered, “I want you.”

“Fuck,” Harry managed. Louis raked a hand back through his hair, let it get even looser and messier across his forehead, and started stepping out of his slacks.

“Louis,” Harry said drawing it out, rough and questioning. Louis didn't know if he'd ever felt as wanted as this. “Let me touch you,”

“Tell me why I should,” Louis said, still teasing, still caught up in the addiction of the way they could torture each other without really torturing at all. It was all so brand new.

Harry looked ravenous, face drawn into a focus. “Iwa is married to Megan Santoria,” he said, pronouncing every word like it was the dirtiest thing he could fit in his pretty, pretty mouth. “I'll introduce you.”

“You incorrigible--you awful--you could have told me!” Louis gasped. Harry sprang off the wall, was across the room faster than Louis could blink, knocking him off his feet in sheer, exuberant alpha strength and catapulting them onto the bed. 

“Drama queen,” Louis grinned through his teeth, biting them in the air at Harry. It was a cold-hot head rush, the press of Harry's body against his, all clothed where Louis was bare. Louis was holding him away with all the strength he could muster in his shoulders, but it was a joke that Harry could see through, and that was the best kind.

“I love-- love-- what a music nerd you are,” Harry stuttered, something passing over his face in a flash. Vulnerability, gathering itself in the lines of his face, and sinking away just as swiftly.

“I want you,” Louis whispered, in case that was it, and he let it out on his own face, all the thoughts he'd had during Harry's talk, watching the evolution of his art and thinking about the way Harry saw the world. And he let it out--broadcasting the feeling in the chemical language that he didn't even feel fluent in anymore. But Harry was good at interpretation. They kissed long and slow and hot, like the night was infinite.

“Want me to introduce you to your favorite violinist, I'm sure you mean,” Harry said, equilibrium back in full force. Louis was already wet and loose in his arms, the heavy pull of wanting to be good for Harry beating in his pulse. Of knowing that Harry already thought he was, and how mutual that was. Being in bed with someone who took their pleasure in your own was entirely different, and Louis intended to never forget that.

“The only introduction I'm interested in is to what's in your pants,” Louis said, knowing it would make Harry laugh, and getting very much in the way as Harry struggled to pull his own clothes off. Harry was more than this but he was also just really, fucking hot, and Louis had to look at every piece of him in sequence, lick up the sensitive skin of his ribs, bite down the curve of his thighs, hold down the swell of his shoulder muscle into the mattress.

They didn't make it all the way before Louis had Harry in his mouth, swallowing down the length of him with Harry still in socks and his pants tangled up around his ankles, wrenching harsh quick gasps from Harry's throat. Louis had rather forgotten how much he liked going down on a beautiful boy. He loved it, really; loved to learn the flurry of nonverbal motion and sound that stitched together into a set of instructions. He loved the way that Harry flinched but also moaned when he traced the ticklish skin behind his knees, loved the weight and heat of Harry's cock and the way he jerked compulsively when Louis found the right sequence of tongue and fingers and mouth.

He came off and Harry actually whimpered. The best.

“Hazza,” Louis said, mouth wet and voice raw, “would you fuck me?”

“Lou, christ,” Harry said, going up onto his arms to find Louis’ face and measure his expression.

“Don't you want to?” Louis said, emphasizing with a velvet slide of his fingers around Harry's saliva-drenched cock, a pull of his want in the air around them even though he knew none of that was necessary at this point, but he wanted Harry to feel at least as out of his mind as Harry made him feel. Fair’s fair.

“Is that what you want?” Harry asked, barely even able to form the sentence, but damned if he wasn't going to be sure. Wanted? Louis needed it, was going to lose it at the sound of Harry’s voice and the heat between them. Louis got off his knees and crawled up the bed, certain Harry could feel the warm, wet slick down his inner thigh and the tremble in his limbs.

“Yes, that's what I want,” Louis said. He almost felt like he was running a fever. He felt empty and wild, like he'd lost the melody of control he'd been following, and he wanted Harry to take it up. He dragged up Harry’s body, shameless.

Harry flipped Louis handily, longwise on the mattress and down on his front, spooning behind him. He kissed into the back of Louis’ neck, a slip of teeth that called up the omega even more, and Louis bit into the sheet to keep himself from saying something terrible.

“It’s what I want, too,” Harry said. His strong hand was pressing into Louis, catching on the warm slick between them, and Louis could feel the wanting in the thrust of Harry’s hips behind him. He slid an exploratory finger in, shallow and careful, and Louis exhaled every bit of air in his lungs. It was so good, and it also burned, the long absent stretch of his muscle.

“Oh, this might take a bit,” Harry said, into the back of Louis’ head. He sounded calm, maybe even detached, except that Louis knew that was just how Harry sounded when he was being thoughtful. He could feel the throb of Harry’s pulse and the catch of his abs in how closely they were entangled on the bed, and Harry smelled rich and warm and strong. His cock was hard and close, friction teasingly light behind him. Louis wanted to know every detail of what he was thinking and feeling, take every single expression of Harry and hold it close.

“Just fuck me,” Louis said, desperate between gritted teeth, no more inhibition left anywhere in his brain. It wasn't even the alpha anymore, it was the way Harry had let him tease him that morning and had seemed so proud in front of his friends, the images floating in front of Louis’ closed eyes, Harry's face on stage finding his. Harry was touching him deeper, and Louis felt the need of it clenching the pit of his stomach.

“No,” Harry breathed, almost sounding pained, rocking into Louis and just about killing him with the press of his cock on the sheets underneath them, “You get more time, when you're this tight.”

“I haaate you,” Louis moaned more than said into the pillow.

“Sure you do,” Harry drawled, slowing even more, adding another finger, doing something Louis couldn't distinguish but that he felt in a beating rhythm through his muscles. He shivered uncontrollably, but Harry had Louis wrapped with his other arm, holding his head as he arched back, unable to stop himself. Louis was rolling his hips back into Harry, moans stuttering out of his mouth.

“How long has it been?” Harry asked, mumbling, like he didn’t even know if he could ask.

Louis managed to snort half-heartedly. Honestly? “How long have we known each other?”

“Really?” Harry asked, astonished, but Louis could also feel a new edge in it, happy and protective.

“Of course you would be possessive,” Louis managed, breath shallow and ragged, and managed to inject some tease into it. Harry had the decency to sound a little abashed. God, he wanted Harry now. He couldn't fucking answer questions with Harry's long fingers twisting inside him, coaxing the slow, fierce build from somewhere up his spine.

“How could I not, with you,” Harry said, squeezing Louis in a little hug, but also putting more weight on him, the edgy wind of his hips betraying that Harry was struggling to take it slow, too.

“You can do whatever you want, but I hope it's me,” Harry said. Louis had the thought that Harry really didn’t need to worry, that nobody in the entire universe could hold a candle to the goddamn hotness of Harry for Louis, but honestly if Harry thought that Louis was the one who had a choice about the matter he wasn’t going to enlighten him. His thoughts ended when Harry pulled his fingers out and moved over Louis to hold himself carefully over him. Louis was so relieved he could cry.  

“Fuck me,” he repeated, into the sheets. Harry caught the edge of Louis’ ear, then his cheek, in a loose, open-mouthed kiss that said he was there.

“I am,” he whispered, “Beautiful. I am.”

Harry anchored him down on the bed, and when he pushed in, slow and careful in the most Harry way, Louis grabbed his hand where it was braced in the sheets and he didn’t care if it was cheesy, he just wanted them to be together for this. Harry curled his fingers in Louis’ and held his throat with his other hand, just lightly, just testing. Louis pushed into the pressure of it, let Harry know how much he wanted to let him, the overarching joy of alpha dominance shivering between them. Harry held him closer, mine, stay, and Louis gave him the most omega whine he'd ever heard in his life.

“God, fuck, you’re so hot,” Harry gasped, pulling back in a fluid motion that was more than Louis felt like he could take. He was painfully hard, pushed deep into the sheets and trying to rock back as much as he could against Harry’s weight, which wasn’t much, because Harry was trapping him down. Harry was just as amazing at this as Louis remembered, finding a rhythm that was sending tight ripples of feeling through Louis’ entire body. He was shaking, out of control, but Harry was right there with him, hips snapping and making the best noises. He was relentless and tender and overwhelming all at once. Louis wanted him to have everything.

“Hazz,” Louis gasped, clutching into Harry’s hand, driving back on him, unsure what he even wanted to say, “So good, so long,”

“I know, you’re so good, babe, you’re perfect,” Harry said. Louis felt the rising crest in his muscles, clenched down on Harry’s cock and dragged out a long, deep moan. They were slick with sweat and scent and lust, lost to everything but the devastating need between them.  

When he came, Louis felt like he was breaking apart at the seams, falling into the unsound openness of the moonlit ocean. Harry held him through it, thrust deep and long and came a moment later, muffling his moan in an open mouth on Louis’ neck, just barely holding his teeth back.


*

 

Louis set his alarm to vibrate at five am, and then put it under his pillow in the second bedroom to make sure it woke him up. 

When it went off, the night had turned into a cold, winter early morning, grey predawn light and a snap in the air from outside. Louis crept across the hallway to where he'd left Harry in the other room. Harry was fast asleep under a thick white comforter, but he was scooted far to the side of the mattress, leaving a Louis-sized hole. Louis pulled off his sweatshirt and snuggled in, next to Harry.

“Is it time to go already,” Harry asked, eyes shut and confused, but pulling Louis in immediately and wrapping the comforter over both of them.

“No, we've got hours yet,” Louis said, finding a space for his feet so he wasn't putting cold toes onto Harry and keeping him awake. Harry made a very contented noise. “Just thought I'd come back.”

“Thank god,” Harry mumbled. Louis could still hear the sleep in his voice, and he wondered if Harry would even remember this conversation.

“Didn’t want you to go. Want you to stay. For good,” Harry said, with emphasis, tugging at Louis again. Definitely asleep.

“Go back to bed, I’ll keep guard,” Louis said, patting his arm. 

“Not spending the night if it's morning,” Harry said, in a half-asleep, singsong voice of revelation. Louis felt his heart thudding in his chest, how very much he loved being here, with Harry. It felt so loud, he almost worried it would wake Harry up for real.

“A clever loophole in your own rules, Louis Tomlinson.”

“I'm crafty when it comes to getting what I want,” Louis whispered into Harry's arm. He watched the sunrise through the shutters, Harry's long and peaceful breaths pulling them into the morning.


*

 

Going back to the office was like stepping into an icebox, and Louis hated it. At some undefinable point in the past few months, life outside the office had become full-color reality. His actual, real job was merely the cold half-dream that he floated through on the weekdays.

“Louis Tomlinson, what the fuck,” Abi said when he walked in. Louis waved a hand at her, engrossed in putting the rest of a vanilla creamer into his styrofoam cup of shitty black tea from reception.

“Look at me,” she snapped, leaning out from behind her monitor. Louis did, his mind jumping back into the present, because Abi sounded genuinely worried, and Abi was someone who didn’t sound like that for no reason. Abi frowned at him.

“So I knew you’d been sneaking off to spend weekends with your favorite arts organization,” she said.

“It’s not really sneaking if it’s the weekend, is it,” Louis said snippily, tamping down on his desire to spit fire back about the value of the arts and also maybe what it means to have personal time which he knew would be lost on Abi, who once told Louis that she walked out on a first date after finding out that the girl worked fewer than fifty-five hours a week. How is somebody like that supposed to understand people like us, Louis, she’d said.

“Or does the firm want me to start sleeping in the office now?” 

“More than usual?” Abi said, “You might consider it.”

Louis put the tea down on his desk, folded his arms over his chest. It was hard to pay attention to much past the sticky feeling of absence in his chest that whispered Harry after the weekend, but the sense of urgency from Abi pinged against it, a distraction at least. Abi looked serious under her usual opaque sarcasm.

“Tell me,” he said.

“I knew you were volunteering, I guess I thought you were experimenting with having a hobby or some dumb shit,” she said.

“But I didn’t know that you were full out running a fucking campaign for the symphony. Otherwise I would’ve told you sooner.”

“What does it matter?” Louis said, scrambling through possibilities in his mind. The last thing he needed was to be hauled up in front of the partners for a hazing over taking off early on fridays to get to the symphony. But his hours were still impeachable. Maybe fewer than they’d been in the past two years, but he had to still be way outside the bounds of sane working conditions.

“It matters because the symphony hall? The place where you’ve apparently been learning to woodshop? The place you’ve been devoting your considerable business expertise toward? The place you’ve been giving all kinds of free consulting?”

“I get it, it's stupid,” Louis snapped, “Stop dicking around, tell me.”  

“The debt owners are our fucking clients, Louis.”

Louis fell back against his chair. Abi glared at him across the room, the Abi-glare of angry concern. Judging by Abi’s face, this really was bad.

“Christ,” he said, staring at his greyish-cream tea. It steamed a soft cloud on his glasses that covered the office, and then melted away too soon.

“The org that bought out the debt is owned by clients, and not only did they buy out the debt this last year, they did it because they want the real estate. The symphony’s been failing for the last few years and they want to develop the lot so, it was only a matter of time. I mean why the hell did you think somebody would buy out the debt of a bloody orchestra and enforce a lapsed deadline? They need the place to fail, so they can tear the building down. And now suddenly there’s all this buzz about Harry Styles, and revitalizing the arts, and I was like, where does this fuddy-duddy orchestra get an idea like that, whose bloody strategy does this seem like, and it’s you, my god, of course it’s you.”

“How fucked am I?” Louis asked, weakly, although he already knew. He hadn’t been thinking of the symphony project as work, it didn’t feel like it even lived in the same universe as all the bluster and corporate espionage and analytics hacking of his shitty job, but, when Abi said it, it did sound like work. Work that he was liable for if he’d unwittingly worked against a client. It would be his job. In the wrong hands, maybe more. Maybe his career.  

Abi blew out a long breath, hissed between her teeth. It was a face Louis had seen a lot before, deadly and focused, as Abi laid out a do-or-die strategy for a client who was hovering on the brink of disaster. He’d never imagined being the focus of it.

“You can live. You’re too valuable, the partners want to sweep this under the rug, make sure that nobody finds out. You’re an idiot for not realizing this, thank god you have me.”

Louis chuckled, dry and tight and unconvincing in his ears. But yeah.

“Obviously, you’ll have to axe your thing at the symphony,” Abi said, casually, like it really was obvious, even though it hit Louis like a sucker punch, harrowed through the lining of his chest, leaving him cold and empty on the chair.

“No more weekends there, and really, you shouldn’t have any contact anymore. Like, you better not touch that director and first chair or anyone else involved with a ten-foot pole. By the way, did you hear they’re secretly banging? Cute couple, saw it on instagram,”

“Huh,” Louis said, faintly. Abi tapped her chin with a manicured fingernail, and then bit the edge of it, and then made a face as she realized what she’d done. Biting her nails was Abi’s singular vice in a world of strict control, not counting, of course, the alcohol and the profanity.

“Really, you shouldn’t even go to the symphony until this blows over. Even better, undercut the project altogether, make sure that the hall goes under, then you’ll be safe for sure.”

“Safe,” Louis echoed.

Abi nodded, satisfied with the strategy, job well done. Louis had seen that before, too. She turned away, flicked her monitor back on, and started typing, turning her attention away from Louis.

Louis watched the steam rise off his cup, counted his breaths in time with the curls of it, holding them until it faded. In, and out. When Abi spoke again he jumped, because that was supposed to be the end of the conversation, Louis was supposed to be smart enough to pick up what she’d laid down, and that would be the end of it.  

“You didn’t hear this from me, but, you’re so close to making the vote for partner, Louis,” Abi said, still staring at her screen.

 “And I’ll kill you if you ever repeat this, but you deserve to make partner more than anybody here. You work the hardest out of any of us, and you’ve sacrificed more. Don’t let something as stupid as this distract you. Don’t lose your focus.”