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Staring Across the Room

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>>>SUNDAY<<<

 

Harry blinks the sleep from his eyes. Bright mid-morning light pours through the windows of his apartment. His hand fumbles into the small inset in the wall next to his bed until his fingers search out his glasses. He sits up in the alcoved loft his mattress is nestled in and glances out across the apartment below him to the couch.

It’s currently just a couch and not folded out into a bed, which means his roommate didn’t come home last night. Not that Harry expects him to. Logan has probably spent all of three nights here in the last month, and probably only that much because his girlfriend had been out of town. Harry wouldn’t want to sleep on a sofa bed either if there was a perfectly decent bed to sleep in elsewhere.

He climbs down from the loft, his feet cold against the hardwood floors and goes through his entire twenty minute starting-the-day yoga routine that he really only gets to complete in full on the weekends. He takes a good few minutes when he’s done to sit and tune into his breathing. Once he feels truly centered, he washes up in their very small bathroom before heading into their very tiny kitchen. He sets a kettle on the stove to make green tea and lets out a happy noise of pleasure when he peers into the refrigerator and realizes he’s remembered to make overnight oatmeal.

He scrolls through his phone as he sips his tea at the small round table that isn’t round any longer. They’ve taken a leaf down from it, so it sits snugly against the wall of their living space. Just large enough for two people really. He checks his Instagram for any notifications and sees Liam has liked the photograph he posted yesterday of pigeons on the street outside his apartment. His stomach takes flight a bit at the notion that Liam liked it. He tries to tell himself it means nothing. It’s just the quick touch of a fingertip to a screen. It probably means nothing, but he lets himself think for just a moment that it does before he looks through aesthetic blogs on tumblr, reblogging a few posts.

He listens to a podcast about natural history and the human impulse to garden while he sweeps the apartment and wishes for a few brief minutes he had some green space to garden. The podcast gets interrupted by a series of texts from Niall asking him what time he wants to go to Trader Joe’s today.

An hour later Niall picks him for their weekly grocery shopping excursion. He hops in the car with a shiver against the cold chill of late February in New York City. Harry can hardly remember a time before this meal planning tradition with he and Niall.

“When did we start doing this?” He asks him, curious now.

“Do what?” Niall checks his side mirror before speeding up and cutting across a lane of traffic.

“When did we start doing these weekly grocery shopping trips?”

“Dickhead!” Niall honks at someone who cuts him off. His old Corolla lets out a rather weak honk. “Been a few years now. I do remember when I first started working at the library, you brought in a sriracha mac and cheese for the potluck, and I decided right then and there that I was gonna be your best friend.”

Harry laughs. “I remember that recipe! I thought it would be sort of a safe food, less adventurous than some of the things I make.”

“I remember Liam drinking like a gallon of water, his face was so sweaty and red.” Niall starts cackling. “What a wuss. It wasn’t even that spicy.”

Harry pouts. He does remember that. He’d been trying to impress Liam not choke him with hot sauce. “Maybe I put in too much sriracha.”

“Nah. Liam’s just weak.” Harry opens his mouth to defend Liam, but Niall continues before he can. “Oh, save your breath, Harry. I’ll stop speaking ill of your man.”

Harry makes an odd spluttering sound that even he realizes is ridiculous. “He’s not my--don’t know what you--maybe it was too hot--”

Niall snorts. “Save it, H. We all know how wonderful you think Liam is.”

“He’s very good at what he does.” Harry answers primly as Niall pulls into the parking garage.

“What? Bossing people around? Kidding! Kidding!” Niall holds up a hand defensively as the car pulls to a halt.

Harry can’t let that pass though. “It’s his job, Niall. He’s supposed to be telling people what to do.”

Niall just laughs. “Dude, I know. He’s my boss, and therefore, he gets to tell me what to do. I’m just a lowly research assistant for exhibitions, and he’s the assistant director. But since he’s my boss, that also means I get to complain about how bossy he is. And therefore, you get to complain to me anytime about the director of the children’s department, even though you never do because you think Emily walks on water.”

“Fine. Agreed. You can complain about Liam, and I’ll continue to know it’s a privilege to work with Emily.”

“Okay, then.” Niall claps his hands together. “Let’s go buy some food. What’s on the menu this week? I can hardly stand the anticipation!”

“Chickpea noodle soup, fried chicken with a Burmese buffalo sauce, and a pork katsu BLT.” Harry recites dutifully from his list.

“No clue what half of that means, but I trust you.”

They gather the items on Harry’s list in duplicate in their carts so that they can cook together via Skype, which they do two or three times a week. Harry quite enjoys their cooking lessons, but as with everything about Niall, he has no idea how he has ended up doing this.

“So do you know much about the new Installation Coordinator?” Harry asks as he selects noodles for their soups, tossing a box into each of their carts.

“Not really.” Niall shakes his head. “Liam just told us his name and shared some info about him. But he’ll start work tomorrow. Hope he’s good because it’s going to be a lot of pressure to come in and organize the Mo Willems exhibit in a week.”

“Yeah, it was not cool that Anthony quit on such short notice.”

“I think you meant to say Anthony is a fucking douche canoe, and we’re lucky Zayn knew someone from art school with the experience to jump into something like this.”

“Sure. That’s what I meant.” Harry says with a smile.

“You’re too nice, H.” Niall says with thump on the back. “How are you ever going to get ahead in the cutthroat world of the New York City Public Library system?”

Harry shrugs and puts butter in his cart. “Maybe I’ll make some mini pies later for the staff lounge and get ahead by appealing to people’s taste buds.”

“As long as you don’t put a sign with it that says--”

“Pie like you berry much!”

“Harry, no--”

“Or maybe ‘I only have pies for you.’ Hmmmm--”

“Please stop--”

“I think you’re pie-fect?” Harry asks, a finger to his chin. “Or is that too derogatory with the implied accent?”

Later, Harry sings along to Dua Lipa as he bakes small blueberry pies for the staff lounge, and he realizes that he doesn’t even have someone who calls him when they’re “drunk and alone.” He sighs and goes back to ironing his bow ties for work this week as his pies cool on wire racks across the small counter space. He hopes Liam likes blueberry pie.

 

>>>MONDAY<<<

 

Harry’s alarm wakes him with enough time for his morning routine before he walks to work. He does an abbreviated version of his weekend yoga routine and brews himself a cup of green tea. He eats a bit of sprouted bread smeared with almond butter as he peruses Instagram to see if anyone liked his aesthetic photos of the pies he baked.

He takes a brief shower, carefully placing his curls under a shower cap, before selecting his clothes for the day. He settles on a pair of deep plum trousers with a bow tie that matches its color and a white and black checked shirt with an interesting Mandarin-esque collar.

He hopes to make a good impression on the new Installation Coordinator, seeing as how he’ll be working in Harry’s space for a while what with the Mo Willems exhibit being a children’s department exhibition. It’s been quite a while since the Children’s Center’s part of the main branch has had this big of a project going on. He lets a bit of his nervous energy overtake him as he walks down Lexington towards the library. He’s bundled up against the cold, his boots keeping his feet from completely freezing.

The first face he sees upon entering is Liam’s handsome smiling one.

“Harry! Should have known you’d be the first one to appear.”

“I--hi--I’m a little--am I early or--” Harry fumbles his words and can feel the heat rise in his cheeks as he sets down his pies on a low bookshelf and unwinds his scarf from around his neck. He always gets a bit tongue tied around Liam. It’s not that he has such a big crush on the man like Niall always tries to imply. It’s just that he greatly respects Liam as a person and as someone who is so passionate about his love for the library and making it look up to a certain standard. It doesn’t hurt that he’s quite handsome, but Harry just really admires his passion for the library especially because Harry has his own deep love for this place.

“Did you bring in a treat for the new guy, Harry?” Liam asks motioning to the tray Harry’s just set down. “That’s so thoughtful of you!”

“Oh. Um, yes. Yes, I did. I brought them for--him.”

“Wow you really are excited to meet our new Installation Coordinator.” Liam checks his watch. “He should be here any minute.”

Harry picks his tray back up. “Yes! Of course. I am, yes. I hope he’ll be able to--”

“Well, hello there, Liam. Good to see you again.” The voice behind Harry startles him for a moment. “And who might this be?”

Harry whirls around nearly dropping his tray of tiny blueberry pies. His jaw nearly drops open, but he just manages to keep it clamped shut. There’s a very astonishing man standing there that presumably is the new Installation Coordinator. His nose is cute as a button as is the quirk of his lips, his eyes almost a preternatural blue that draw him in with a spark. His cheekbones slash attractively across his face, and--his ears--they appear to be perfect somehow, if ears can achieve perfection that is.

“Louis, this is Harry Styles, one of our librarians in the children’s department. You’ll be seeing a lot of him while you create the installation.” Liam explains before motioning to Louis. “Harry, this is Louis Tomlinson, our new Installation Coordinator.”

“Nice to meet you, Harry,” Louis says with a broad smile. His eyes crinkle up in the corners, giving him a delightfully happy look. Harry feels a bit dazed, really. “I’d shake your hand, but--”

Louis motions to the tray in Harry’s hands.

“Ah, yes, Harry is our resident foodie,” Liam explains with a smile. “He baked you some mini blueberry pies as a welcome!”

“Really? How nice!” Louis says. “Pie like you berry much, Harry!”

Liam laughs as though Louis has said the funniest thing he’s ever heard. Liam has never once laughed at any of Harry’s puns, and now he’s laughing hysterically over one Louis says? It’s not even a good one. Niall even said so in the grocery store. Harry feels a dark cloud overshadowing this bit of time he had to speak with Liam.

“Well, I’m just going to put these in the staff lounge then,” Harry says a bit abruptly before walking off.

He unwraps the tray and places the pies in a careful arrangement. He takes the small folded piece of cardstock that reads “Pie like you berry much!” out of his pocket. He crumples it in his hand and tosses it in the trash can.

>>><<<

Harry prepares for toddler storytime, but keeps an eye out for the Installation Coordinator. He assumes he’ll be wanting some input from Harry as to placement, but he sees no sign of Louis for the first hour. He has two sessions of toddler storytime today; Monday mornings are always quite busy for him.

He’s in the middle of an action song and singing “We Are the Dinosaurs” as he leads the kids in stomping around the area marked off for story time when he sees Louis flit by the first time. He barely seems to even be around the areas designated for the exhibition. Harry tries not to get distracted though and focuses back in on the the interactive story of Mitchell Is Moving.

The next time he sees Louis is during his second session of toddler storytime nearly an hour and a half later. Louis seems to be hanging off of Liam’s every word as they wander through the space. Harry tries his best to focus on the dinosaur fingerplays, but he can tell from here that they aren’t even speaking about the exhibition. He tries not to let it bother him.

When Harry heads into the staff lounge for lunch, he sees Louis taking the last two pies off the tray. “Oops, you caught me!”

“Well, they’re for everyone to enjoy, so I hope you like them.” Harry says a bit stiffly.

“Right, thank you. I’m just grabbing one for Liam as well. We’re headed out to lunch now.” He sends Harry a blinding smile, eyes all crinkled up again. Harry isn’t going to fall for it though. He’s pretty sure Louis is using that smile as a weapon.

He withdraws his eye contact so as not to allow Louis’ offensively cute smile to ensnare him. He doesn’t see Louis even once all afternoon as he conducts preschool storytime and works on organizing tomorrow’s Crafternoon activity, and he can already tell based on the day’s happenings that he does not approve of the new Installation Coordinator.

 

>>>TUESDAY<<<

Tuesday mornings are usually fairly quiet ones for Harry. There’s no programming, and he has time to chat with his boss and help anyone who wanders in with their children. And he has plenty of time to finish preparing materials for the Crafternoon craft that he’ll present in the afternoon.

This Tuesday morning however is not at all a usual one. He walks in the less grand entrance of the children’s library to find Louis awaiting his arrival.

“Hi there, Harold! Was wondering if you could help me with something.” Louis beams his offensively attractive smile at him, and Harry feels the urge to give in to whatever Louis is asking. This man is dangerous.

“It’s just Harry actually. Not Harold.”

“Mmhmm. Okay, sure, sure. Can you walk with me for a moment, Harry?”

Louis starts walking off, and Harry feels he has no choice but to follow. He hasn’t even had time to put his lunch in the refrigerator yet.

“I’ve begun my plans for the exhibit--”

Harry thinks it’s about damn time he started planning, but he keeps his thoughts to himself.

“You see, Harold--”

“Harry.”

“Right. I’m going to let you in on a little secret.” Louis stops abruptly in the center of the room. “I want a lot of leeway to do things a certain way for this exhibit, so I had to spend a good bit of time yesterday making sure everyone is all in on my ideas. And now that they are, I can do as I please and make something really amazing out of all--this.”

Harry’s not sure he likes the implication that what’s here already isn’t amazing. He also has a bad feeling about the answer to his question. “You aren’t talking about using space in the library though--”

“Harry, Harry, Harry. I can’t really make any promises yet. It’s early stages still.”

“But you have the entire forum room for the exhibit!” Honestly, he can’t have Louis out here messing with the actual functional parts of the library. “I mean, you’ll have to speak with Emily, but--”

“No worries. Even if I need to block things off, I’ll do it with portable walls and such. It’ll be fine. Don’t worry. But if I were needing to block off a section, which would be the least important?”

Harry grits his teeth. “They’re all equally important.”

Louis frowns. “Well, that can’t be. What about this section?”

Louis pulls out a book about lizards. “Lizards A-Z? Surely kids don’t love--”

“The non-fiction animal books are some of our most popular books.”

“So you admit some are more popular than others then?”

“Yes, but not more important.”

“Ah. Well, Harold, if I need to block anything off, I’ll let you know.” Louis shoots him a slightly less shiny version of his deadly smile as he walks off, stopping here and there to draw something on his iPad.

Emily is in and out of meetings about Mo Willems’ week long residency with them as she’s in charge of the actual programming for the event. Louis flits in and out of the library, making notes and drawing, and he draws Harry’s eye to him out of sheer irritation. Harry tries his best to keep his mind on his task, which is to finish cutting out all the die cuts for the dinosaur craft this afternoon.

“What is that thing?”

Harry jumps a bit at the unexpected sound of Louis’ voice so close by. “It’s a die cut machine.”

“It looks like a torture device. Or maybe some kind of school implement from back when there were one room schoolhouses.”

Harry knows it’s a little old school. He found it buried beneath boxes in a storage area after all. Not that he’s going to admit that to Louis. “Yes, well, it’s very useful for cutting a lot of small shapes for craft projects.”

Harry gives the handle a push to cut out a series of green letter Ds. “Did you need something, Louis?”

“No, no. Just heading to lunch with Liam now.”

Harry gives the handle an extra hard push. It makes a satisfyingly loud noise as it slices multiple orange pieces of construction paper into small triangles.

If possible Louis becomes even more annoying that afternoon. Mainly because now he has a tape measure. The sound of it retracting in the quiet of the library is enough to drive anyone mad.

But the real trouble starts when Harry begins Crafternoon with a story. He’s midway through Dinosaurs Galore! when the unmistakable sound of the tape measure retracting zips through the library. Harry reads a little louder, and then ZIPPPP the sound rips through his story yet again. He wishes he could get up and go smack Louis over the head with Dinosaurs Galore! but no. He must continue the damn story. The rhymes grow louder and the zips grow more annoying, but he perseveres.

He gathers everyone around the tables he’s got set up for the craft and begins a quick tutorial for the parents and nannies and grandparents who have brought their little ones to Crafternoon. He shows them the simple D for dinosaur that makes up the body and the various rectangles and circle and triangles that make up the tail, legs, neck, feet, and spines. All punctuated with the sounds of a zipping measuring tape.

As everyone begins to work on the craft, he marches straight for Louis. “How can you possibly have this much measuring to do out here in the library?”

“Oh, is this bothering you?” Louis says with a grin, retracting the tape measure with one more loud zip.

Harry opens his mouth to say something. He’s not even sure what, but probably something slightly unprofessional.

“All done.” Louis declares and saunters away. Harry tries not to watch him walk away. The real problem with that being that Louis looks as good walking away as he does coming towards him. It doesn’t matter how offensively attractive he finds Louis. He won’t allow him to pluck him like a petal off a daisy.

Harry trudges home a bit on edge. He takes an extra long shower to try and rid himself of some of the animosity he felt during the day. Somehow in just two days, Louis Tomlinson has crept beneath his skin and irritates him like a rash. It doesn’t help that he has never managed to wrangle a lunch with Liam, and Louis has been here two days and has made Liam his lunch buddy.

At precisely six-thirty, Niall’s Skype call comes through as Harry begins gathering ingredients for dinner on the counter. “Hi, H!”

Harry adjusts his laptop so that the camera better angles towards the preparation surface. “Hey, Niall. Ready to make chickpea noodle soup?”

“As ready as I’ll ever be.”

“Well, let’s cut the vegetables first then. Chop the carrots and celery fairly small, so they soften up more quickly.” Harry looks quickly into the screen to see if Niall’s chopping properly. He is. They’ve been doing this for awhile.

“So how is the new Installation Coordinator working out? I haven’t had time to meet you for lunch lately.”

Harry grunts as he slams the onion onto the cutting board. “Onion next.”

“That well, huh?”

Harry can hear the curiosity in Niall’s voice. He starts chopping the onion with firm, hard strokes of the knife.

“The onion really pissing you off there, H?”

Harry sighs. “No, just-- Louis is rather annoying is all.”

“Oh, really? What’s he done? Would have thought he’d be pretty cool if he’s a friend of Zayn’s.”

“Heat up the olive oil next, Niall. Over medium heat.” Harry lets a smattering of oil hit the bottom of his Dutch oven. “The first day all Louis did was kiss Liam’s ass all day and did absolutely no work.”

“Hoooooooo, Harrrrryyyyyyyy! Can’t believe I just heard you talk like that!” Niall lets out a loud continuous cackle as Harry hears the click of his stove turn on. “So you jealous that the new guy is after your man then?”

“No, absolutely not.” Harry says firmly as he peels a few cloves of garlic. “First of all, Liam isn’t my man. Second of all, Louis is annoying in his own right. Now, use your garlic press and put the garlic in first, just for a minute or so.”

“What’s he done that’s annoying besides stealing your man?” Niall asks as Harry watches him press the garlic into the pot.

“He’s not my--”

“Yeah, yeah. So what else or is that really all?”

“Well, he uses his--assets to push people around.” Harry stirs the garlic. “Go ahead and add all the vegetables and the bay leaf now. We’ll let them saute until they’re softened.”

“What assets?” Niall asks as he dutifully fills the pot. Harry can hear the sizzle on Niall’s end.

“Make sure you don’t have the heat up too high. You don’t want them to brown. I think I’m going to add a little thyme if you have any.” Harry says, ignoring the question.

“Why didn’t you answer me? What assets?” Niall asks as Harry hears him rummage through a cupboard, presumably to look for thyme.

“Just--he’s very--” Harry fumbles for the correct words. They’re on the tip of his tongue. He’s been thinking it all day for fuck’s sake.

“Very what?”

“He’s offensively attractive.” Harry declares. “I think it’s all fairly soft now. Let’s add the broth, and we’ll bring it to a boil.”

“Offensively attractive. He’s so incredibly attractive, it offends you? Wow. This Louis must be really something. I mean, we have Zayn walking around the place, and you don’t find him offensively attractive.”

Harry is stuck now on Skype with Niall waiting for the soup to boil. He’s not going to be able to get out of this interrogation easily.

“Zayn is beautiful. But no, I don’t find him offensively attractive because he uses his powers for good and not evil.” Harry declares.

Niall lets out an audible snort. “Okay, so what’s Louis done that’s so evil? It’s only his second day of work, isn’t it?”

“Yes. And he spent half the day pestering me and the other half measuring the library space as though he is just going to build giant walls in front of all the bookcases.”

“Sounds like someone wanted your attention to me, H.”

“He actually asked which books were the least important, Niall!” Harry says in a huff.

“Ouch. I know how you feel about your books.”

“He used the loudest tape measure known to man to measure things during Crafternoon! I kept having to try to read louder over the damn loud ZIPPPPP noises it made.” Harry knows it sounds like he’s whining, but he can’t help it. “He made my afternoon very difficult, Niall.”

“Huh. He was definitely trying to get your attention.”

Before Harry can dispute this claim, he notices the broth is boiling. “Time to add the noodles and chickpeas. We’re going to cook it until the noodles are just cooked through. I’m going to set the timer for eight minutes, and then we’ll check on them then.”

“So what are you going to do about Louis?”

“Do about him? I’m going to ignore him as best as I can for the next two weeks, and then he’ll be out of my hair until we at some point have another exhibition.”

 

>>>WEDNESDAY<<<

When Harry walks through the entrance of the library Wednesday morning, he’s very glad to see that Louis is not lying in wait for him. In fact, he doesn’t see Louis at all before his late morning Baby Laptime session. Not that he minds, but as he reads some short stories, he lets his mind wander to the thought that Louis should be working. As he leads a lively rhyme about baby dinosaurs, he does give some time to the thought that perhaps Louis needs to gather materials for the installation and maybe that’s where he’s been all morning. Towards the end of the session, he sees Liam enter the library out of the corner of his eye.

Liam seems to be taking in Baby Laptime with a lovely smile across his handsome face. It really is going well today. Generally, there’s a lot of crying, but today for some reason the babies are all quite happy. He does wish that Liam could have seen him on a day he’s dressed up a bit more. He’s learned not to wear a tie on a day there’s Baby Laptime as he’s occasionally called upon to help soothe a baby. He’s pretty well known amongst the parents and nannies at Baby Laptime as someone who is quite good with fussy babies.

As soon as it wraps up, Liam strolls over to where Harry has been sitting. “Hi, Harry! The babies were all so cute watching you sing. You have a lovely voice by the way. What’s this program called?”

“It’s our weekly Baby Laptime program.” Harry explains. “Just some songs and rhymes and a few short books. Pretty easy to plan.”

“Don’t sell yourself short, Harry! I can’t imagine trying to keep babies entertained, myself.”

Harry preens a bit at these compliments. He doesn’t mention that today was an aberration and that usually Baby Laptime dissolves into one baby crying and setting off the others. “Well, I’m glad you enjoyed what you saw then.”

“I really did, Harry. Anyway, do you have some time to talk right now. Maybe over lunch if that’s okay--”

“Yes! Yes, I’m free for lunch. Let’s go right now!” Harry clears his throat a bit. That may have all sounded a little too eager. It’s just that Liam has never seen a need to have lunch with him before. It’s not a big deal.

Harry decides not to point out that he has a perfectly decent lunch prepared in a bag in the staff lounge refrigerator, and instead, he lets Liam lead him to the cafe in the main section of the library.

As soon as they order and sit down, Harry realizes he doesn’t even know what Liam wants to discuss. He feels a little silly that he agreed so quickly that they should talk over lunch.

Liam appears not to have noticed. “So Harry, what do you think of Louis?”

Harry’s facial muscles strain as his brain tries to control the expression on his face. He tries to keep himself from an outright grimace, but he’s not sure whatever contorted expression he does have is any better. It’s not much better based on Liam’s reaction to it.

“You feeling okay, Harry?”

“Um--yes.” Harry takes his glasses off and cleans them with a microfiber cloth he carries in his pocket. “Sorry. I--uh--felt like I had to sneeze, but--it went away. Sorry. So Louis? Yes, he and I spoke a bit yesterday about the exhibit.”

Liam looks relieved. “Isn’t he great? His ideas are just what we need, I think. He’s off buying things for the installation now. I’m glad he got a chance to go over all his plans with you. I guess I didn’t need to drag you to lunch after all.”

“Oh. Well, he didn’t exactly share all his plans with me really. So perhaps we should still go over them.” Harry finally realizes that Liam is carrying his laptop with him.

“Sure!” Liam says and scooches his chair a bit closer to Harry as he opens his laptop. The food arrives, and they eat as they discuss Louis’ plans.

Harry nearly gasps as Liam pulls up the plans. They’re highly detailed and very precise. There seem to be mockups of every single aspect of the design for the forum room. Harry can’t help the look of delight that is surely spread across his face.

Mo Willems is one of his very favorite children’s authors, especially considering what an important role New York City plays in his books, and now he’s looking at plans on how to bring those books to life on a large scale. There are plans for a version of a bus from Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus to be used as a reading nook . There’s space for display cases and framed art for various stages of Mo’s illustrations as well as the graphic short story he did for DC Comics. There’s another section of bean bag chairs set up for reading from the selection of Mo Willems books that will be available to read.

The walls acting as backdrop show a design with the New York City skyline done in a simple blue, childlike method that deliberately connects with Mo’s work, while other walls are more simple with the light colors reminiscent of the colors used in his books. One wall bears an ice cream cone design.

He sees what kind of thought has gone into this. There’s a narrative component to how the design works, drawing the viewer through the characters of his books in a very deliberate way that tells it’s own story rather than chronologically by the order the books were written.

And now Harry can see what plans Louis really has for the library. He’s marked off space for when Mo is present to read aloud for a story time. He’s marked off an area to be used for a character meet and greet, the tables marked to be used for certain activities.

He’s honestly a bit in shock as he looks at it all.

“It’s pretty great, right?” Liam asks.

“Yeah.” Harry clears his throat. “It really is. Um, I had no idea that it was going to look like this.”

“Oh?” Liam looks a bit surprised. “I assumed he’d already spoken with Emily and you about this. It really needs to be signed off on by Emily or you if Emily’s put you in charge of it--”

“I’m sure Emily has seen it. Even if she hasn’t, I can’t imagine she’d have any issue with any of it.” Harry admits.

Liam looks relieved. “Okay, good because Louis should be back soon and he’s going to get started this afternoon I believe with painting the portable walls.”

He sees Louis come traipsing in after lunch with a parade of assistants all carrying various painting equipment like he’s some Peter Pan come to life leading his band of Lost Boys. Well, there are a few women following him into the exhibition room as well. He actually winks at Harry as he walks by, which Harry finds a bit too familiar thank you very much. He turns away so as not to watch Louis walk away from him. He doesn’t need that image burned into his brain.

When he goes to leave for the day, the crew of Lost Boys and Peter Pan seem to all be still hard at work in the exhibition room. He peeks his head in and is quite astonished at the progress. It looks like they’re working until they finish painting all the walls. He stops himself from wandering too far into the room and drawing any notice.

“Like what you see?”

Harry nearly pisses himself. He clutches his chest as he looks at Louis’ smug smile. There’s a smudge of light blue paint on his cheek and his clothes are spattered with a palette of soft colors. Louis’ smile has grown even more smug by the time Harry looks back at his face.

“You got a lot of paint on your clothes,” Harry says a bit defensively. It’s not like he was checking Louis out or something. Even if his jeans look like they probably took some time to tug them up his thighs and over his--well, he won’t even go there.

“Oh, that’s what you were checking out, were you? The paint?” Louis asks with one raised eyebrow. “Sure Harold.”

“It’s Harry. And yes , I was just looking at the paint. You seem to be quite messy,” Harry says with a sniff of disapproval.

Louis lets out a loud bark of laughter. “Didn’t you know? Getting messy is the best part.”

Louis winks at him for the second time today, and Harry is pretty sure Louis doesn’t need to swing his hips that much as he walks away.

 

>>>THURSDAY<<<

 

Harry sits up abruptly in bed. He’s glad he isn’t a few inches taller or he would have banged his head on the ceiling in his lofted alcove. His fingers scramble for his glasses, and he peers at the time on his phone once he has them on. It’s three o’clock in the morning. He groans and lets his head thump back against the pillow. He fluffs it back up and tries to go back to sleep, but he has an uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach that he’d been dreaming about Louis, his smug face the only thing he can really remember about it. It takes him a while to get back to sleep.

He oversleeps and has no time for even his abbreviated yoga routine. He brews his tea while he washes his face and dresses for work. He pours the tea into a travel cup to drink once he gets to work. His stomach rumbles a bit in protest as he walks into the library.

“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, Harold.”

Harry startles and nearly trips over his own feet. “What?”

Louis is carrying a box labeled ‘frames’ in his arms, clearly headed into the exhibition room. “Your stomach growled at me. You should really eat breakfast before work. I thought you were the type to know this.” Louis makes a tsking sound.

“I always eat breakfast--” Harry is interrupted by the rumble of his stomach again.

“Mmhmm.” Louis shakes his head in faux sadness. “Your tummy begs to differ, Harold.”

“Stop calling me Harold.”

“Okay.”

“Okay?” Harry asks, surprised.

“Yeah, if you don’t want me to call you Harold, I’ll stop calling you Harold.” Louis shrugs.

“Oh.”

“So Horton, why didn’t you eat breakfast? You’re clearly hungry.”

Harry purses his lips and gives Louis the coldest look he can muster before marching away towards the children’s library desk. It’s entirely Louis’ fault that he overslept and is hungry now. Not that he can really say that.

“Eat something, Hortensio!” Louis calls out after him. “My mom always gets hangry if she doesn’t eat, too!”

Harry sits at the desk, fuming. He’s not even sure why. It’s not like he really thinks Louis doesn’t remember his name. He realizes the whole ‘Harold’ thing is just a joke. One that he’s now pushed to a new level. It’s possible that, yes, he may be a bit like Louis’ mom apparently in that when he doesn’t eat he’s a little off. And of course, it doesn’t help that this man also invades his dreams now.

He tries to focus on a few preparations for the last bit of programming that the children’s library is responsible for before they begin their Mo Willems programming and exhibit next week.

“Whatcha doing?”

Harry’s hand jolts and knocks one of the castanets he’s putting into a basket onto the floor.

“Why are you always sneaking up on me?” Harry asks, irritation obvious in his voice as he picks up the castanet and tosses it into a basket with a few percussion instruments already in it.

“Maybe I’m not sneaking up on you.” Louis rejoins. “Maybe you’re just very unaware of your surroundings.”

“Do you need something?” Harry asks as he adds some hand cymbals to the basket.

Louis smacks down a granola bar onto the desk. “Here. I got you this.”

Harry stares at the granola bar.

“It’s a granola bar, not a poisonous snake,” Louis deadpans.

“I know.”

“Well, you were looking at it like you weren’t sure, so--”

“I just--didn’t expect you to get me a granola bar, I guess.” Harry can feel a flush burning into his cheeks. He knows he’s being ridiculous, and this is very kind really.

“Well, I did.” Louis answers. “It was a dollar seventy-five in the vending machine. So not like a big deal or anything.”

“I see. Er--thank you,” he says. He knows he sounds as awkward as he feels.

Louis stares at him for one long moment as though trying to decide something. He eventually sighs and then gives him a small wave as he walks back towards the exhibition room.

Harry gobbles down the granola bar, which does help he reluctantly admits if just to himself. He tries not to read too much into this act of kindness. Louis probably was just tired of getting snapped at. Harry finishes placing various percussion instruments into baskets and then pulls out his bongo drums that he now just stores here at the library.

When it starts nearing Pirate Harry’s Percussion Time, Harry puts on a large pirate’s hat and pins a small parrot to his shoulder. He starts greeting some of the regulars and says hello to the newcomers as they get comfortable with their charges in the storytime nook. Harry strategically places the baskets of instruments amongst them and begins with his best pirate accent.

“Ahoy, mateys! Are ya ready to sing some songs?”

“Aye, aye, Pirate Harry!” The regulars call out.

“Arrrrrr! Git yer instruments, ya scurvy buccaneers!” Harry waits for each child to choose an instrument as he puts his bongos in front of him.

He starts off with his adaptation of ‘A Sailor Went to Sea Sea Sea,’ which he’s changed to ‘A Pirate Went to Sea Sea Sea.’ As the kids sing and shake their maracas and tambourines and beat their drums and claves, Harry notices that someone is watching them from just outside the entrance to the exhibition room. He tries to ignore him, but he’s found that so far Louis has been very difficult to ignore.

They sing ‘If You’re a Pirate, and You Know It’ to the tune of ‘If You’re Happy and You Know It,’ which the children get a huge kick out of. He reads one Pirate Pete book and then begins collecting instruments and reminding everyone about all their Mo Willems programs and events that will be taking place next week instead of all their usual programming.

Louis appears in front of the desk as soon as Harry sits down in his chair. “Nice bird.”

At first Harry’s not even sure what he’s talking about until he realizes he still has a stuffed animal parrot pinned to his shoulder. He quickly takes the pirate hat off his head and unpins the parrot.

“Um, thanks. I call her Darcy.” He suddenly feels like maybe that was a little too much information.

“Yeah, that was really good, Harry.” Harry flushes a bit at the compliment, though he’s not sure why he cares what Louis thinks. This also marks the first time Louis has used his proper name to address him, and for some reason it doesn’t feel as right as it should. “Emily told me you’re both free to help with the exhibit after Pirate Harry time was done.”

“Oh, sure. Of course. Emily asked to see me after lunch, so I’m sure we’ll decide how you can use me after that.” As soon as the words leave his mouth, he wishes he could stuff them back inside. He looks quickly to Louis for a snarky comment, but instead what he sees is Louis frozen in surprise. His blue eyes pop wide, his mouth hanging open a bit.

“Right.” Louis says hoarsely. He clears his throat. “She may have event details to go over with you first. I could use you--er, we could use you--your help. Tomorrow. Could use more help tomorrow.”

Louis coughs into his fist. “Need a drink. Sorry.”

Louis walks briskly towards the exhibit room, and Harry’s not sure what the hell just happened, but whatever did happen was strange.

After lunch, he and Emily sit down to discuss all of next week’s programming. Mo will be in the library every day next week, although only a few of the days will he be present with the public. There are sure to be large crowds coming through, so they make some strategic decisions accordingly. Emily shares the calendar of events and takes Harry’s ideas into consideration in particular the order of books to present throughout the week.

“Oh, that makes a lot of sense, Harry.” Emily declares. “That will follow what Louis’ got planned for the exhibit perfectly.”

He and Emily will do story times with Mo Willems’ stories on the days he’s not meeting with the public, and they’ve scheduled him to do a storytime, a storytime with a question and answer period and book signing, and another question and answer with his daughter after screening her film ‘Team Mo.’ The week will culminate in a family weekend event that will include a meet and greet with some of Mo’s characters. Louis has apparently hired people to wear the costumes for Elephant and Piggie.

Harry is so geared up for next week after finalizing plans with Emily, he nearly forgets that Emily has volunteered all their time for the rest of today and tomorrow to Louis. He reluctantly heads for the exhibition room to see what Louis might need.

He hasn’t poked his head in since he got caught yesterday evening, so he’s unprepared for how it’s coming along. It’s all looking incredible, although there’s clearly a lot more work to be done. There are a few people working on the construction of the Pigeon’s bus, which will also need to be painted.

“Harry! Oh good, you’re here.” Again, Harry isn’t as pleased as he thought he’d be to hear Louis use his real name again. Who knew he’d miss being called Harold? Louis clearly thinks nothing of it. “Can you go unpack the rest of the frames? They’re there in the corner. You can help Tris and Sam finish matting all the illustrations and then you can just help do whatever they need as they hang the frames.”

“Oh, I don’t know if I know how to mat things properly--”

Louis shoots him a look of exasperation. “It’s not that hard, Harry. Just have Tris show you how to do it.”

Someone calls out for Louis to look at something, and he walks off as Harry gives him the middle finger behind his back, in as dignified a manner as possible, of course.

Tris does indeed teach him how to properly mat the illustrations, and then he just acts as a human table, holding the framed pieces in order and handing them to Sam to place properly on the walls. It’s a little insulting really to be helping about as well as an inanimate object could. When they finish one wall, Harry encourages them to take a break, and he heads off to find Louis.

Louis is directing the painting of the inside of the bus as he works on the outside himself. “Hi, Louis. I was wondering if maybe I could go through all the boxes of books and get those organized--”

“No, I don’t think we’re ready for the books yet.”

“Oh, but I can keep them out of the way--”

“We have a lot of construction going on.” Louis points out. “I don’t want the books getting ruined before any of the children get a chance to even look at them.”

Harry really wants to work with the books and not the god forsaken framed art. “Oh but--”

“No buts, Harry, I--”

Liam suddenly appears out of thin air wearing a construction hat that confuses Harry a bit for a moment before he remembers how very cautious Liam can be. “Harry. Louis. How’s it all going? Everything going smoothly?”

Louis brushes this off and just nods briefly. Harry can’t even concentrate on Liam though. “Louis, I really think I’d be of more use to you if you just let me get the books out.”

“Harry, I already said, no.” Louis insists.

“Is everything okay?” Liam asks, his eyebrows furrowed.

Harry doesn’t answer Liam. He’s seething a bit instead at being bossed around by someone who isn’t his boss. He suddenly has a new understanding for Niall claiming Liam is too bossy. There’s also something about Louis calling him Harry that is really pissing him off. Like, oh, suddenly Louis is suddenly so professional. Please.

He stalks off back to Tris and Sam to be their human table.

Louis calls a halt to all activity and claims they have enough done for today to go home for the night. Harry lets out an audible sigh.

“Too much physical labor for a librarian, huh?”

He didn’t realize Louis was right behind him. He turns to look at Louis’ stupidly cute face all smirks and crinkly eyes and splattered paint.

“No.” He knows he sounds juvenile and sulky. He’s not really used to people discounting his ideas about things here.

“We’ll get to your precious books tomorrow, Hazza.”

Harry stops in his tracks. He doesn’t say anything about the new nickname. It somehow sounds better than the others and for some odd reason he maybe likes the way Louis says it better than ‘Harry.’ Louis keeps going, forcing Harry to watch him walk away.

“Oh, and Hazza maybe wear more--appropriate clothes.” Louis tosses over his shoulder.

“Excuse me?” Harry hates the shrill tone that comes out of his mouth. He looks down at his very nice green blazer and the graphic check print of his buttoned up shirt and bow tie. He’s always thought the close fit of these pants really accentuated the length of his legs, but apparently some people don’t care for his style.

Louis stops and looks back with a wide grin on his face. “Oh, Hazza, did you think I was making fun? Tsk. I meant that you should wear something you can get a bit--messy in.”

“Oh.” Harry watches Louis’ hips sway as he walks out of the library and onto the city streets. “Right.”

Harry rushes home when he realizes the time. He and Niall are going to have to eat a fairly late dinner at this rate. As soon as he walks in the door of his apartment, he gets a text from Niall asking if he’s ready to cook. He grabs his laptop off its charger and heads into the kitchen. He logs into Skype and then starts gathering ingredients.

“Hey, H. How was work?”

“Don’t ask.” Harry snorts as he warms up a pan. “Let’s cook the bacon while we prepare the pork.”

“Too late. I’ve already asked about work.”

Harry puts a few slices of bacon onto the pan. “It was fine, Niall. It was Pirate Harry day, so there’s that. Okay, let’s make the dipping sauce and then we can just set it aside.”

“Yeah, I know how much you love your terrible pirate accent.”

“Heyyy! It’s pretty good, I think.” Harry mutters. “Some people think it’s good.”

“Sure, H. Now what goes in this sauce?”

“Okay, stir up the soy sauce, mirin, Worcestershire, ketchup, mustard, and a little hot water.”

“That sounds disgusting, H.”

“I promise it isn’t.” Harry watches Niall dutifully add things to a small bowl. “Now whisk it up. And we’ll set it aside.”

Harry directs Niall on how to place the pork cutlets between waxed paper and pound it with a meat pounder. Then they make a breading for them before frying them up.

“Okay, now we’ll just put the cutlets between some toast and add some bacon, lettuce, and tomato, and we’re done!”

“Looks really good, H. But I really don’t trust this dipping sauce.”

“Niall, I promise it tastes fine--” Harry suddenly stops himself. “No, you know what Niall? If you don’t want to try it, that’s fine. You know what you like and don’t like. You know what you’re best at. You don’t need me telling you what to do.”

“Uh, okay, H. Thanks. But I think that all had to do with something besides my dipping sauce for the Pork Katsu BLTs.”

Harry shrugs even though Niall can’t really see it. “I’m just saying that I maybe understand a little bit better how you don’t appreciate when Liam micro manages you, that’s all.”

“Say what now? You’ve been defending Liam since the day I met you! What the fuck are you talking about?”

“I’m just saying I got a little taste of it today, and I didn’t appreciate being treated like a child.” Harry sniffs.

“Liam was bossing you around today?” Niall asks already taking a large bite of his sandwich.

“No,” Harry answers as he carries his plate out to their small table. He comes back into the kitchen to retrieve Niall via Skype. “Liam wasn’t bossing me around.”

“Well, then who did boss you around? Ooooooooooooooooooooooh! IT WAS LOUIS WASN’T IT?”

“Oh my god calm down, Niall.” Harry dips his sandwich into the sauce. “I’m just saying that some people should let others do what they’re best at.”

“What? Talk like a pirate and wear a bird pinned to their shoulder while they sing songs? It’s kind of a specific skill set, H.” This sets Niall off into peals of laughter at his own jokes.

Harry doesn’t dignify this with a real answer and takes a bite of his sandwich before he continues. “Also, he told me not to wear the type of clothes that I usually wear.”

“Oh hell no--” Niall begins. Harry would dearly love to hear Niall freak out about how shit that is, but he knows he’ll feel lingering guilt if he doesn’t set him straight.

“Well, I have to help him tomorrow with the exhibit, so--”

“Oh. That makes sense then actually. Wouldn’t want your bow ties getting caught on any of those wooden pigeons they’ve got all over the place.”

“I know how to dress appropriately for manual labor!” Harry insists. It’s not like he knew he was going to be called upon in quite this manner today. He’s been forewarned about tomorrow. It’s fine.

 

>>>FRIDAY<<<

 

Harry sets multiple alarms so as not to oversleep today. He tries to recapture the rhythm he once had in the mornings before his sleep, and really his life as well, became more--complicated. He has time for his yoga and his green tea and his oatmeal, and yet, there’s still an unnerving feeling in the pit of his stomach that he attributes to making sure the exhibit is ready for Mo on Monday. He decides not to think about what else it could be.

He dresses more casually as Louis suggested in faded jeans and a deep blue sweatshirt. He assumes Emily would approve as he’ll apparently be spending the day doing god knows what for Louis. No, not Louis. For Mo. For the exhibition. He shakes his head as he makes his way down Thirty-Eighth Street as though he could shake Louis from his brain.

The walk to work calms him a bit, and he’s even a bit early, which is always a good thing for him. He quite enjoys the quiet of the library at this time of day. He’s therefore rather surprised to find he’s not the first person at work in the library. He can hear noises coming from the exhibition room, and he suspects who might be here at work even earlier than he is.

When he peeks his head into the room, the sight that befalls him is of Louis facing away from him towards the wooden bus that he appears to be painting wheels on. It’s not just any sight though. It’s a sight to ruin the strongest of souls. Louis squats before the bus in jeans more leggings than jeans. His t-shirt is rucked up in back exposing the small dimples of his back just above the most spectacular ass Harry has ever seen. Fuck, he’s been trying not to think about that.

He must make a sound, probably one of inappropriate wheezing, because Louis turns to look over his shoulder. He’s honestly not sure how Louis can even balance like that; if he tried to squat down like that to paint, he’d probably topple right over. The smug smile that Louis shoots him tells him that he has not got control over the expression on his face, and while that smile irritates him to no end, it doesn’t stop the response of his body that is going to become a problem if he doesn’t get ahold of himself.

“Hi.” He manages to speak at least, although it’s a bit unfortunate that it comes out in a low, hoarse tone that surprises even himself. Jesus, this is embarrassing.

The self-satisfied smirk leaves Louis’ face to be replaced by an uncertain one, and he wobbles a bit on his heels before he stands up. “Hi.”

“Uh, no one is here yet, but--”

“I’m here.” Louis answers.

“Er, I meant besides you. Besides us.” Harry corrects. “I think Emily intends for me to help you the rest of the day, so if you have anything--”

“Go unpack your precious books, Hazza.” Louis waves his hand in the direction of the boxes of books that have sat neglected in the corner until now.

“Really?” The thought of unpacking all those glorious new Mo Willems picture books makes him a bit giddy. Nothing to do with the nickname that he’s decided he likes a tiny bit.

Louis huffs out a laugh. “You should see your face right now. You know you don’t get to take the books home with you, right? They’re for the children.”

“Psshhhh.” Harry can’t help but grin back at him. “I’m a children’s librarian. Of course I’m excited about new books. Ahhhh, the smell of fresh books.”

“Huh.” Louis looks at him curiously.  “Must be like me and tempera paints.”

“You sniff your paints? I really don’t think that’s a good idea, Louis. Not at all like smelling books.” Harry teases.

“Oh, shove off. I just meant tempera paints make me think of getting out my paint sets as a kid, painting my mom big bright rainbows on huge pieces of newsprint. When I smell them now, that’s what it makes me think of.”

Louis’ face rearranges itself into the most pleasing thing Harry has ever seen. His striking blue eyes nearly close to slits, and his lips dip into a curve of a smile that begs for Harry to reciprocate. He’s helpless to stop himself from grinning back. They both smile foolishly at each other for a few long moments.

A blob of black paint drips off the end of Louis’ paintbrush and lands with a plop onto the drop cloth at Louis’ feet. “Whoops.”

It breaks the spell, but Harry can still see the ghost of a smile lingering on Louis’ face.

Harry clears his throat. “Well, guess I’ll go unpack the books then.”

“Don’t have too much fun over there, Hazza. Probably be best to keep them in the library for now if you can. At least until we have things placed properly in here.” Louis sets his paintbrush on the tray. “Here, let me help you carry the boxes out there.”

Harry just nods and together they carry the boxes back behind the librarian’s desk. Louis stands there for a moment, watching him. “Well, I guess I should--”

“Smell these books with me?” Harry finishes.

Louis huffs out a laugh. “You know what? Sure, Hazza. Let’s go for it. See if these books smell as good as you say they do.”

The foolish smiles are back on both their faces as Louis hops up to sit on the desk, and Harry carefully uses a box cutter to place careful cuts along the tape lining the box.

Louis does a fake drum roll across the desk as Harry bends down from his chair to let his nose grow closer to the now open box. He takes an exaggerated long sniff of a breath and breathes back out with a long sigh of contentment.

“Alright, move over, Hazza.” Louis says as he jumps down off the desk. “Let me get a sniff of it. See what all the fuss is about.”

Louis squats down to sit back on his heels like he’d done earlier when Harry walked in on him painting. Harry’s not sure which view is more appealing really, the one where he gets to see Louis’ ridiculous face as he takes a long sniff of Mo Willems books or the one where he got to ogle his backside. It’s a toss up really.

Louis looks up at him from beneath his absurdly long eyelashes from his spot on the floor beside the box of books. In this moment, he has completely forgotten why Louis is looking at him. He’s spellbinding. Harry’s not sure he’s even breathing right now.

The moment holds them both hostage for a moment with its stillness, and then Louis shoots up from the floor. He lets out a cough and rubs the back of his neck with one hand. “Yeah, I think I get what you mean there, Hazza. They do smell--quite nice.”

“Yeah.” Harry’s been struck dumb, and he’s lucky he manages to say anything at all.

“Well, I should--” Louis motions to the exhibition room and starts backing away from the desk, hitting one of the tables behind him in his haste. “Just--uh--let me know when you’re done.”

Harry takes his time taking inventory of the books and doesn’t attempt to go back into the exhibition room until others begin arriving for work. When he reenters, the room is bustling with activity, and he joins in the organized chaos mainly just running things back and forth between people who need something. Although one person seems to be asking for help from him more than the others in the room.

“Hazza, where is that box with the vinyl characters in it?”

“Hazza, will you have them place the benches in the direct center of the other room?”

“Hazza, can you go flip that switch and see if the lighting works on this?”

“Hazza, the wire for the craft hasn’t come. Would you go check with the mail room?”

“Hazza, who is--”

“Hazza, what is--”

“Hazza, where is--”

By lunch time, Harry is ready to pick Louis up and hurl him out the window. He is never going to hassle Niall about hating being bossed around again. It doesn’t help that Louis gives him dazzling smiles every time he asks something of him as though they were payment of some kind. Then, to top it off, Liam comes in the room to check on the progress, and Louis waltzes off with him to have lunch. Harry watches them go burning holes into their backs with his eyes.  

The afternoon continues to be more of the same except perhaps worse. It seems as though every time he wanders over to see what Louis needs next he gets an eyeful of Louis’ ass as he bends over in front of him. It’s so perfectly formed, and Harry’s mind keeps imagining his own large hands spread across it, two very enticing handfuls. Harry realizes what he’s doing--daydreaming about Louis’ ass--and snaps out of it, only to be drawn back in by Louis’ collarbones, Louis’ ankles, Louis’ curves.

He may be losing it. He’s definitely fighting a losing battle with his dick. He’s had to escape multiple times to the bathroom to try and calm it down.

The bookcases within the Pigeon’s bus are finally ready to stock with the books Harry has sorted through and inventoried. Harry excitedly places them in an appealing way to hopefully draw children into taking a look at them. His shirt sleeve keeps catching on the cardboard of the box. He pushes at the sleeves of his shirt and rolls them up a bit just as the clatter of wood hitting the floor makes him snap his head towards the sound.

Louis is standing transfixed looking down at him, a small wooden version of Knuffle Bunny at his feet. “You have tattoos.”

Harry looks down at his own wrists and forearms before looking back at Louis with a shrug. “Yeah, I keep them covered for the most part at work.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah.”

“Do you have--many of them?” Louis’ voice sounds strangled as though it was hard to get the words out.

“Well, I have quite a few on my arms, some on my legs. One on my rib cage and stomach and on my chest--” Harry turns his body to point out where they’re all located beneath his clothes.

“I see.” Louis pauses. “They’re um--quite nice. I guess I--er, I mean, I like them.”

“Thanks?” Harry isn’t really sure what to make of any of it. He wants to pull down his shirt sleeves and hide them away from the world again.

 

>>>SATURDAY<<<

Harry sits on the floor in the middle of his apartment surrounded by Mo Willems books and a clipboard full of notes. He needs to organize everything. He and Emily have divided up the books to be used for storytelling, so they can practice a bit for the storytimes that they’ll be doing this week.

He reads aloud Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus and Knuffle Bunny and The Thank You Book and The Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed and Leonardo the Terrible Monster and Nanette’s Baguettes and tries to narrow down which ones he’ll be doing when he just wants to do them all.

He makes some decisions and then gathers up some materials to make finger puppets of Gerald the Elephant and Piggie for The Thank You Book. He dumps everything on his small table and takes a long look at all the books he’s brought home that are sitting in the middle of his living room.

He smiles to himself thinking about how Louis had told him not to be thinking he was taking the books home with him. Well, he does intend to return them. Thinking about Louis at all is probably where he first goes wrong.

Suddenly, his mind floods with images of Louis yesterday and how fucking--hot he’d looked in those tight jeans. He tries not to give in, but he can’t seem to stop himself from remembering when he first walked in and saw him crouched down to paint. When he’d seen the dimples just above the top of his jeans, he’d wanted to kiss each one. Fuck, he’d wanted to do more than that. He’d wanted to peel those jeans right off his body and get a taste.

His mind stutters at this acknowledgement, and he scoots the chair back so quickly it makes a loud squeak across his floor that startles him even more. He can’t stop the images now that they’ve started. He can feel himself hardening in his sweatpants as he envisions Louis’ gorgeous face and the curve of his lips when he smiles, his delicately beautiful wrists and collarbones seemingly crafted by the gods that Harry wants to press his lips to, the strong thighs and firm ass that Harry longs to bite down on.

Fucking hell. He’s fully hard now, and he can’t stop himself from reaching into his pants and letting his fingers grasp around himself. He thinks about how it would feel if Louis were here right now. He leans back in the chair, closes his eyes, and pictures them both on the couch. He imagines himself looking into Louis’ vivid blue, blue eyes as Louis’ hand reaches around his hard cock. God, his fingers would look so good wrapped around him. In his fantasy Louis pumps his fist around him, tentative at first, then harder, faster. Harry speeds up his hand, the friction just on this side of pleasure rather than pain. He’s gasping a bit at the sensation and the images of Louis that flip through his mind. He’s always had a bit of an overactive imagination.

He comes into his own hand with Louis’ name on his lips. He opens his eyes to sweat dripping down his forehead and foggy glasses. He wipes his hand on his shirt, and then slips the glasses off his face and wipes them quickly as well. God, it’s been awhile since he’s come like that, hard and fast. He can’t help the huff of laughter that bubbles up inside him. Fuck, that felt good.

In the next moment, what he’s done begins to sink in. He just jerked off to a fantasy of Louis. This is probably not his most professional moment. Not that anyone knows he apparently has dirty thoughts about Louis besides himself. He’s just going to call this an aberration, a one time thing that he won’t think about again. It’s just been a long while since Harry has been in a relationship. Been a long time since he’s had sex really. He needs to get out more. He groans and takes off his now filthy shirt and walks it over to his laundry basket. Guess he’s going to have to do laundry today.

 

>>>SUNDAY<<<

 

Harry wakes up with a moan that suspiciously sounds like the word ‘Louis.’ Christ, is he dreaming about him now? This is not good. He sits up in bed and fumbles for his glasses, his hard dick pressed against his stomach. Fucking hell. He lays back with a thump and groans. He refuses to give in to his baser impulses and tries to think about anything other than Louis. Non-sexy thoughts, he tells himself as he takes some deep breaths. Dewey decimal system, don’t think about Louis. Shelf reading, don’t think about Louis. Budget cuts, helping kids with their homework, when people ask you to help them find a book with only the vaguest details. Don’t think about Louis. Don’t think about Louis. Don’t think about Louis.

It’s not working.

He tries scrolling his phone, but then his traitorous fingers try to find Louis on Facebook, which yields an Instagram account full of selfies. Fuck does this man never take a bad photograph? What kind of sorcery is this? And the angle he’s taking the photographs is ridiculous. No one looks good from this angle. No one but Louis apparently. It’s not fair, really.

He climbs out of bed and tries to go through his morning routine, but some of his favorite yoga poses are surprisingly difficult to do with a hard dick. Fuck it. He scurries across the room and back up into his bed. Now that he’s giving in to this, he can’t gets his clothes off fast enough and his fingers fumble with the bottle of lube, trying to open it as quickly as he can. The first glide of his slick fingers feels like heaven. He lets out a long, low moan of pleasure.

He closes his eyes and imagines how the hot, wet heat of Louis mouth would feel. His mind conjures up Louis in vivid detail and how he would look with his lips wrapped around his cock, his blue eyes looking up at him beneath those ridiculously long eyelashes. His fantasy begins to stutter as he feels his orgasm build. Maybe next time he can think about all the ways he wants to touch Louis. He spills into his hand with a gasp.

This time he doesn’t even have a few minutes of euphoria to think about how great that orgasm was. He was literally thinking about fantasizing about Louis again while he was fantasizing about Louis. This is a new level of bad. And awkward. And Harry is an awful person.

This is it though. No more. He climbs back out of bed and washes up and restarts his day with yoga, green tea, and an overnight chia seed pudding. Like a normal, functioning person who doesn’t jerk off to fantasies of their coworkers that they don’t even like. Well, like that much anyway. He’s too bossy to be very likeable. A small, unwanted thought creeps in that maybe Louis is bossy in bed. Maybe he would tell Harry what to do. Maybe that wouldn’t be so bad. Fuck. No, no, no, no, no, no. This is a bad train of thought. Very bad.

He needs to keep his mind off of this. He hooks up his phone to his bluetooth speakers and plays Yann Tiersen’s L’Absente as he tries to sweep the apartment. Sweeping helps only marginally, so he cleans the bathroom and then the kitchen and then mops the entire apartment.

Niall texts that he’s on his way to pick him up to do their weekly grocery shopping trip, so he takes a quick shower and most decidedly ignores his dick which is begging him to think about Louis again.

“No,” he says out loud. He’s not sure if he’s talking to himself or his dick, but either way it’s probably a bad sign.

When Niall shows up, he realizes he hasn’t even made a shopping list yet. Or thought about what they’ll make this week.

“Um, I guess I forgot to make the list. I’ll just go do it now,” he says as he scurries off to grab a piece of paper and a pen.

“What the fuck are you listening to, H?”

“Oh.” Harry turns off the music. “It’s Yann Tiersen. He’s a French musician. Sort of post-rock, folktronica.”

Niall looks at him like he’s just begun speaking in French. “What the fuck is that supposed to mean? And did I hear a tuba? Was that a tuba?”

“It was an orchestra, Niall. So yes, you may have heard a tuba.” Harry pulls up his favorite website for recipes and quickly starts jotting down ingredients from a few recipes.

“What’s all this about?” Niall asks, looking at him strangely again. “You forgot about making a list? Who are you and what have you done with Harry?”

Harry just shrugs, but it’s making him uncomfortable to think about why he’s forgotten to do something that he hasn’t forgotten to do every week for the last two years. Fucking Louis. Just upending his whole life like this in just one week.

Niall is watching him write over his shoulder. “So what are we having this week then?”

“Pumpkin black bean chili, maple bourbon glazed salmon, and--” He checks his phone for one more recipe. “Dijon chicken with rutabaga mash.”

“Sounds alright. But why are you acting so weird lately?” Niall looks at him suspiciously.

“I’m not. Not weird. Not acting weird.” Harry can tell he sounds weird.

“Yeah you are. Even just right there, saying it like that was weird.”

“Was it?” He tries to answer innocently.

“Yes. You look guilty. Why do you look guilty?” Niall looks even more suspicious.

“I’m not guilty! I didn’t do anything wrong .”

“Wait. Are you seeing someone? You’re acting all secretive and shit. Does this mean you met someone? Why didn’t you tell me, H? I want all the deets.” Niall flops down into a chair and rests his elbows on the table and his chin in his hands. He flutters his eyelashes, making heart eyes at him.

Harry rolls his eyes. “I haven’t met anyone, Niall. You would know if I had. All I do is work and grocery shop with you.”

“Dude. That is some sad shit right there.” Niall says, shaking his head. “Also, that’s a damn lie because I know you go to weird ass concerts with Logan sometimes, and we go to the movies like almost every week if there’s something decent playing. And you have your monthly poker night with your college friends, and--”

“Okay, I get it. I don’t just work and grocery shop. But I’m still not seeing anyone so there you have it.”

Niall eyes him skeptically. “So maybe you aren’t seeing someone. Maybe you’re just--interested in someone.”

“Well, you’re always accusing me of liking Liam more than I should.” Honestly, Niall is a menace, and he’s getting too close to the truth.

“Mmhmm, except you’ve never acted like this before, so it’s not Liam. And this odd behavior just started. Is it--wait--not the new guy? Not Louis? I thought you hated him!”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Harry sniffs. “We’re just colleagues, if that.”

“What was Liam wearing on Friday?”

“I have no idea.”

“What was Louis wearing on Friday?”

“Tight black jeans, a green t-shirt, black Vans--” He claps his hands over his mouth before he can implicate himself any further

“Well, well, well. That just says it all, my friend. The good ol’ Nialler still has it! Can detect bullshit from fifty feet.”

“Oh, shut up, Niall.”

 

>>>MONDAY<<<

 

A cloud of trepidation follows Harry as he makes his way through the doors of the library on Monday morning. It’s nerve wracking enough to be meeting one of his heroes today, but to add to that he’s also got to manage this weird Louis obsession he seems to have somehow acquired.  

Before he even walks into the building, he’s greeted with images of characters from Mo’s books. Elephant and Piggies sweet smiles, the Pigeon’s sassy glare, Knuffle Bunny’s static stare. He does a double take at the outfit the Naked Mole Rat is wearing in the image. It looks quite like an outfit he wore last week. In any case, they bring a smile to his face and a childlike burst of excitement in his heart.

He’s early for work, but there are a few people around, most likely doing some last minute preparations for Mo’s arrival. He heads straight to the exhibition room to see what the final product looks like. He audibly gasps when he sees the rooms. Louis must have worked many extra hours this weekend to have everything looking as pristine as it does.

It’s like he’s diving headfirst into a Mo Willems story. The colors and simple patterns perfectly compliment the artwork arranged in a gallery style along the walls. He’s surprised by how the soft blue, sketched outline of the New York City skyline brings such whimsy to the exhibition. It reminds him of something though he’s not sure what.

Although the bus driver welcomes the viewer into the room on a portable wall with large inset windows that hold devices for the audio guide, the Pigeon’s bus takes center stage. Harry walks around it, the books he organized still in their proper places inside the shelving within the bus. There are small benches with characters placed strategically for photo ops and clear display cases jutting from the walls holding original sketches and illustrations. Tablets have been fastened to the wall loaded with information and media about Mo and his books.

Harry continues to wander mesmerized through the space past the bold ice cream print wall lined with illustrations and an area of multiple colorful, polka dot bean bag chairs. He briefly glances in at the gift shop comprising one corner of the main room, and then leans in closer to inspect one particular draft of Knuffle Bunny being a bear instead of a bunny.

Harry somehow senses Louis’ presence this time before he startles him. He wonders why he seems to be so attuned to Louis after such a short time. He speaks to him without even turning around. “This is all really something, Louis. It’s dazzling and whimsical and--”

He turns to look at Louis who is rocking back on his heels with a huge smile on his face. Louis is quite dazzling and whimsical in his own right. “Thanks, Hazza.”

Harry’s mind draws a blank for a moment at the sight of his now seemingly exclusive fantasy man. “Uhhhh--when will Mo be here, again?”

“In about an hour.” Louis answers. “Hey, Hazza, I just want to say thank you for the help, even if most of your help was relegated to being a helpful piece of furniture.”

“Heyyy!” Harry protests even though for the most part it was true.

“Kidding, kidding!” Louis’s hands fly up in defense. “Would you like to see what I did to your precious library?”

Harry’s heart skips a beat at the thought of Louis messing with anything in the library even though Liam’s already shown him all the plans already. “Sure.”

Louis leads him back out into the library with the faintest of fingertip touches to Harry’s lower back. It sends a slow warmth through Harry that makes him want to close his eyes and lean back into the touch. He glances towards Louis who doesn’t seem to be having the same reaction to his touch.

When they reach the first table, Harry finds his eyes reluctant to move away from Louis. Louis looks up at him and opens his mouth to speak, presumably about the activity that’s placed on the table, but instead his mouth hangs open a bit. He must see something on Harry’s face that he’s unable to control. Louis seems to finally realize the placement of his hand and jerks it away as if singed.

Louis clears his throat, and Harry forces his eyes to the table. He suddenly realizes that Emily must have given Louis all the activities they’ve planned, and he’s arranged them at the tables.

“Emily tells me most of the activities were your ideas,” Louis says hoarsely. He clears his throat again.

“Yes. I just brought the final items to her apartment yesterday.” Harry watches him curiously. Now that Louis has removed his touch, his brain is starting to work more clearly. “ How do you have them already?”

Louis shrugs. “She brought them round yesterday evening.”

“Here?”

“Yeah, I was here fairly late last night making sure everything was just right.” Harry looks at him closely until Louis finally notices, his cheeks staining a faint pink at the length of Harry’s stare. “What?”

“You’re a bit of a perfectionist, aren’t you?”

“So I’ve been told.” Louis gestures at the table, focusing them back on the work and off of the odd crackle of tension between them. “This table is for kids to practice sketching.”

Harry looks at the neatly organized basket of paper and cup of pencils as well as a sample of Mo’s sketches in a clear plastic upright display for inspiration. “Looks great.”

Louis heads to the next table where foot long lengths of thin wire are collected in a long, narrow basket alongside a plastic box with small packages of clay. “For the wire sculptures.”

There’s a wire sculpture of a pigeon, it’s feet cemented in modeling clay, already completed in a small plastic case in the middle of the table. “Did you do this?”

“Yes.” Louis waves it off and is moving on to the next table while Harry wants to stay behind and examine the charming little bird. “The next station is your finger puppets.”

Louis walks him from table to table to examine the activities, but Harry is having trouble focusing on what’s being shown and instead watches Louis speak about them. There’s something about the way Louis speaks that’s quite mesmerizing. At some point Harry realizes that Louis has walked him through each table because he’s looking for Harry to approve them.

“Oh.” Harry stops abruptly, and Louis back at him curiously, waiting for him to say something. It takes a moment for Harry’s brain to work again when met with Louis’ eyes like that. They’re dangerous, honestly. “Uhhh, ummm. It all looks wonderful. Really. Engagingly displayed and--”

Louis’ eyes gain a sparkle of pleasure to them, which makes Harry’s brain short circuit a bit as they stare at each other. That’s the only explanation for what he lets slip out of his mouth. “Beautiful and lovely and blue--”

Fuck.

Louis’s eyebrows raise to the rooftops. He doesn’t let it drop. Of course, he doesn’t. He’s been a little shit all week, why would he pretend Harry hadn’t said ‘blue?’ Louis looks around the library in faux confusion. “I’m glad you think so much of the activity displays, Hazza. Not sure what you meant by ‘blue’ though--”

“The--errr--the skyline--in the room--you painted it blue--the skyline is painted blue.”

“Ah, of course. The skyline that’s in a completely different room than the one we are currently in. Okay, then.” He smiles pleasantly as if nothing is amiss. “Well, should probably go check in with Liam. He’s probably at work by now.”

“Yes, umm, of course. I’ll just--” Harry awkwardly points to his desk which Emily is sitting next to and apparently watching the entire interaction. Well, shit.

He walks back towards his desk, and he can feel Emily’s curiosity from here. He plops into his chair and pretends to be busy.

“Harry?”

“Yes, Emily?” Harry responds as he shuffles his notes into two separate, meaningless piles.

“Can I ask?”

“Ask what?” He asks as he divides the stack into two more meaningless piles.

“You know what.”

“No.” Harry lays his head directly on top of his piles.

“Okay, just--you know.”

“No, I don’t know. What?” He asks from his place at the surface of the desk.

“Well, quite frankly I think you should go for it.”

“What?” He pops up in his chair, notes scattering across his desk as he looks at her.

“There’s an extremely good looking man passing you sly smiles trying to fluster you. I can see that it’s working quite well on you by the way.” Emily says with a patient smile and a pat on the arm. “Well, let’s go over the agenda.”

Mo shows up mid-morning to meet with the staff and go through the exhibit. He shakes everyone’s hands and wears a bright smile beneath his mustache and beard. He compliments Harry’s glasses as being quite like his own; clearly the man has good taste. He takes photos with people and for the press that’s there.

Harry and Emily gather kids for a story time and listen in the back just as raptly as any of the children there as Mo reads The Pigeon Needs a Bath and Sam the Most Scaredy-Cat Kid in the Whole World. In fact, he’s so wrapped up in the moment that he fails to sense Louis’ presence this time. He doesn’t notice until Louis’ warm breath heats the skin just under his ear as he whispers, “He’s quite good, isn’t he?”

Louis’ lips are so close to a spot that Harry would dearly like for him to explore, and it sends a prickle of sensation across his skin. It’s so unexpected that it washes through him like a wave. He hopes no one is looking at his face because he’s sure his desire is written across it in bold print.

He swallows and turns to look at Louis who would surely have noticed the unguarded look on Harry’s face, but as luck would have it, Louis has turned his attention to Mo. Suddenly, the room erupts into applause and snaps Harry back into reality. He claps along with the audience and attempts to regain his composure. He manages to retain his dignity at least for today.

 

>>>TUESDAY<<<

 

Harry walks two large cupcake containers filled with tiny amaretto cupcakes with almond buttercream frosting down busy sidewalks, which is not the smartest or most convenient method of bringing cupcakes to work. He should have called Niall and begged him to pick him up today. It’s so cold out, the cupcakes are going to be frozen by the time he gets there. He’s quite on edge by the time he makes it through the doors and into the library.

He deposits the cupcakes into the staff lounge with a small sign that says ‘Welcome, Mo!’ and another that reads ‘Amaretto Almond Cupcakes~We’re nuts about you!’ Mo will only be in later today for a meeting, and Harry and Emily will handle the programming surrounding his exhibition with their own storytimes featuring Mo’s books. As he tries to exit the room, his long scarf gets caught on the door handle and shuts before he can stop it. It tugs him back and almost knocks him over. Fuck, he hopes this isn’t a sign of how the whole day is going to go.

Harry has the morning storytime, so he readies his Gerald the Elephant and Piggie finger puppets and has The Thank You Book ready to go. His eyes dart more than he’d like towards the exhibition room as people stream in and out of the room and back into the library. He helps people with their crafts at the tables and restocks items that need restocking. He tries to tell himself he’s just watching out a for Mo sighting, but he knows there’s more to it than that.

He’s got quite a large gathering of children for his storytime due of course to the extra number of visitors to the exhibit. He tells the story of how Piggie sets out to thank everyone and how Gerald the Elephant frets Piggie will forget someone important. He has the pages displayed as he goes, but most of the children simply watch his puppets as he tries his best to be engaging with his Gerald and Piggie voices. He’s pretty sure he succeeds. He gets a long round of applause, and he’s feeling quite pleased with himself when he notices someone standing at the back of the crowd. He stiffens in surprise at the sight of Louis watching him intently. He tries to stem the flow of blood to his cheeks by busying himself with taking down the easel holding the book he’d been displaying.

Emily sends him on his lunch break, and he’s happy to find Niall in the staff lounge about to eat lunch as well. They heat up their matching bowls of chili with a laugh. It’s always nice to have good leftovers. Harry looks over at his cupcake containers and finds there’s only one cupcake left. He’s glad they’ve gone over so well with the staff, although his baked goods always do, but he is a little concerned that Mo possibly hasn’t had one.

“Have you seen Mo around yet?” Harry asks as he takes a bite of chili. “I hope he got a chance to have a cupcake. I mean, I made them for him, but I haven’t seen him around at all yet.”

“Yeah, I saw him with Liam earlier. Don’t know if he got a cupcake though.” Niall replies. “Maybe you’d better grab it and hold on to it for him. You know how the people around here feel about your treats, H. Surprised there’s even one left, really.”

“Yeah, maybe I--” They’re interrupted by the door swinging open.

“Hey, Nialler. Hazza.” Louis says with a wave. He seems to look Harry’s way for a few extra seconds, but maybe Harry is just imagining things. Louis opens the refrigerator and begins rummaging around when it sinks in that Louis also has a nickname for Niall. Not that he cares really. He just didn’t realize Louis was handing out nicknames to everyone. Although, a lot of people call Niall, ‘Nialler.’

Louis walking in distracts him enough that he forgets about the cupcake until it’s already in Louis’ hands. “Ohhhhhhh, did you make these, Hazza? Holy shit these look good.”

“Wait!” Harry screeches. He jumps from his chair and is in front of Louis before he has a chance to explain. Louis visibly startles and almost drops the cupcake. “Wait. Sorry. It’s just. I don’t know if Mo’s had one yet. And I obviously brought them to welcome him and just--”

“Are you telling me I can’t have the last cupcake on the off chance someone else wants it?”

“What? No--not just someone.” Harry insists. “I’m not sure the person I made them in honor of has even had one, that’s all.”

“Ah, okay.” Louis nods as though in understanding right before he stuffs the entire mini cupcake in his mouth.

Harry gasps.

“It willy guh.” Louis mumbles, bits of cupcake fly out of his mouth and land on Harry’s buttoned up cardigan sweater as he looks at Louis in astonishment. Louis finishes chewing and swallows and clarifies, “It’s really good.”

Harry stands there in shock, his mouth hanging open a bit. Louis reaches out and brushes off the cupcake crumbs from Harry’s sweater.

“Oops,” Louis says with a grin. “Well, have a good rest of the day, Hazza. Nialler.”

Harry stands rooted to the spot, watching helplessly as Louis struts back out through the door. It shuts behind him, and Niall bursts into hysterical laughter. Actual tears of laughter stream down Niall’s face.

Harry storms out of the room to find Louis. Who knows what he thinks he’s going to say or do when he finds him, but it does not matter because he almost directly runs into Louis who now has his coat on and is laughing as he leads Mo Willems and Liam towards the exit, clearly heading out to lunch. Harry grits his teeth as Liam turns and notices him out of the corner of his eye.

“Harry! Your cupcakes were delicious!” Liam exclaims. He turns to Mo. “Did you try one of the cupcakes Harry made you?”

“I haven’t had a chance to yet.” Mo says, smiling at Harry. “I’ll be sure to try one after lunch.”

“Tsk.” Louis shakes his head sadly. “I just went to check on those delightful cupcakes, and I’m afraid they’re all gone.”

“Oh, I’m sorry I didn’t get one, Harry,” Mo says. He doesn’t sound that regretful. He doesn’t even know what he’s missing. His amaretto cupcakes are to die for. The trio continues out the door with Louis turning around briefly to shoot Harry a wicked grin. Fucking hell.

Still fuming, Harry heads back into the lounge and plops into his chair, facing his now lukewarm chili. At least Niall’s laughter has died down into hiccups.

“Sorry, H.” Niall says. He doesn’t look that sorry.

He gives Niall a look and takes a bite of cold chili. With a noise of disgust, he takes the bowl back to the microwave to warm it up. Out of all that has just happened in the last ten minutes, there’s one thing that is running in a loop through Harry’s mind as he watches his chili spin around inside the microwave. “So he calls you Nialler, does he?”

“What?” Niall looks at him oddly.

“Louis. He calls you Nialler.” Harry scoffs. “A bit overly familiar, don’t you think?”

Niall narrows his eyes slyly. “Yes, but he calls you Hazza. Don’t see you complaining.”

“Well, he was calling me Harold, and I asked him to stop. I didn’t want to risk getting some other, worse nickname.”

“Yeah, well, don’t worry about it, H.” Niall reassures. “Louis has nicknames for everyone around here. He calls Zayn “Zee.” Liam is Lima, Emily is Emmu--”

Harry purses his lips. “Okay, I get the picture.”

“See? So nothing to worry about then.”

Harry sniffs. “I wasn’t worried.”

Harry stews for the next hour back at his desk. He can barely get any of his work accomplished. He watches Louis, Mo, and Liam return from lunch and sends them karmic curses in his head. He’s glad Emily is handling the rest of the day’s programming because he is really not up to the task anymore.

He continues to stew, his thoughts churning over the stupid cupcakes and the dumb nicknames. He can’t even explain to himself why he’s so upset about the nicknames. Why does he even care? What does it matter to him if Louis gives nicknames to every damn person in the city? He’s honestly disgusted with himself for dwelling on this all so much. It’s ridiculous.

It’s nearly time for his break, and he wishes he could go take a walk through Bryant Park and clear his head. The cold is a big deterrent though. He heads to the bathroom instead and splashes some water on his face. He’s got to get a hold of himself. He pats his face dry with a paper towel and heads to the staff lounge to get his fruit infused water.

He pulls it from the refrigerator and takes a few long gulps. He hears the door to the lounge click open just as he takes another gulp of water. Whoever has just walked in makes an odd strangled noise. Harry spins around to find Louis staring, his eyes wide and alarmingly blue, his soft, pink lips slightly open.

Harry glares at him. He has been wanting to confront Louis all afternoon, but now that he’s standing in front of him, gaping at him, he just wants to be as far away as possible. He neatly sidesteps him towards the door and lets his long strides carry him away from Louis and his need to slap him upside the head.

He heads for the storage room to do inventory or pace whatever the need may be once he gets in there. He swipes his badge and enters the room, heading all the way to the back to regain control of his emotions. He gets nearly to the back wall before he realizes someone has come in behind him. He whirls around to find Louis right at his heels.

“What do you want?” He asks, not hiding the petulance in his tone.

“Hey, you aren’t--upset, are you?” Louis asks. He looks uncertain as though Harry doesn’t have every right to be upset with him.

“Of course, I’m upset! What the hell, Louis? Wasn’t that the whole point of everything you did today?”

“Uhhh, no that wasn’t the point--”

Harry throws his arms up in the air. “Well, I can tell you that you failed spectacularly if your goal was to not upset me.”

Louis tries to hide a smile. “Well, the goal wasn’t to upset you, but it wasn’t to not upset you either.”

“What was the goal then?” Harry asks tersely.

“I dunno. Bit of fun, I guess.” Louis gives him his dazzling smile again as though it will just work on whomever he smiles at. Harry isn’t falling for that thing again. “Fun and attention, I suppose.”

“Attention? Why would you need to have my attention specifically, might I ask?”

Louis shrugs, but keeps his dazzling smile on his face. “You’re the most fun to tease so far.”

“I see.” Harry begins marching back to the exit. There’s no point trying to get anything done in here.

He feels Louis’ fingers close around his forearm to stop him. “Hey, wait, Hazza. I really didn’t mean to make you--”

“Everything is fine, Louis. Really. And you don’t have to call me by some bizarre made up nickname either.”

Louis looks slightly confused. “I call everyone by a nickname.”

“Yes, so I’ve heard.” Harry says stiffly.

“Wait. So you’re mad about that too?” Louis now just looks intrigued. “I get that you’re mad about the cupcake, but you’re mad about the nicknames, too?”

“I just think they’re awfully familiar, seeing as how you haven’t been here that long.”

“So are you mad about the nicknames or the cupcakes?”

“Both.”

“I’m still not getting why you’re mad about the--oh.”

Louis’ expression changes. A dangerously attractive look replaces the more neutral one that was there before. Harry feels a prickle akin to fear at the back of his neck as if he’s being stalked by a tiger. Louis advances on him, stepping closer and closer until Harry is forced to stumble backwards away from him. He steadies himself on the shelves he finds at his back and watches the flick of Louis’ tongue as he licks his lips.

Harry finds himself held captive by Louis’ gaze as Louis reaches out for him. Harry isn’t sure what Louis is going to do until he watches Louis’ fingers draw the silk of his tie from beneath his sweater. Louis gives it a short tug, beckoning Harry forward. He tugs it down so that Harry bends nearer.

“Hazza, did you want your nickname to be special?” Louis whispers gruffly. Harry can feel the warmth of his breath on his lips, that’s how close their lips are to one another. “Are you--jealous that everyone else got one, too?”

“No.” Harry lies. It doesn’t sound convincing to himself, so it’s probably not convincing for Louis either.

“I think you are, Harry.” Louis tugs the tie a little further, and Harry lets himself be drawn further into the vortex that is Louis Tomlinson. Their lips meet, just a tentative brush of contact, and that’s all it takes for Harry’s blood to pump hot and thick through his veins. Harry’s fingers move of their own volition as he presses his fingertips to the small of Louis’ back to draw his smaller, firm body against his own. Louis’ lips find his again, pressing harder this time and drawing sparks of pleasure that zip down his spine.

Harry doesn’t even hear the buzz of the door as it opens, but Louis must hear it because he quickly backs away from Harry before Harry can react, leaving Harry grasping at air.

One of the other children’s librarians looks at them curiously. “Harry? Didn’t your shift end?”

Harry has no idea what time it is or what day it is or probably his last name at this point. The kiss has struck him stupid. “Uhhh, yeah. I guess I’ll--I better go.”

He walks dazedly back out to his desk and grabs his coat. He hasn’t looked back to see whether Louis has followed him. He turns, and he finds Louis standing at the entrance to the exhibit room, watching him. Their eyes clash green and blue fire as Harry’s mind whirs with unsettling thoughts. He finally tears his gaze away from Louis and walks through the exit doors.

He walks the cold streets towards his apartment, his mind moving in a hundred directions, but even the cold can’t dampen the enthusiasm coursing through him so that he can hardly wait to jerk off to the now very real memory of how Louis felt beneath his fingers and the taste of his kiss.

This all comes to a screeching halt as soon as he opens the door to his apartment.

“Logan?” He looks in astonishment at his roommate.

“Hey, Harry. Good to see you, man.” Logan says from his perch on the couch. He tosses his phone to the side that he’d been texting on.

“Uh, yeah. Er--good to see you, too,” Harry says as he peels off his coat and scarf. “It’s been awhile since you’ve been here.”

“Yeah, Keri went out of town to visit some college friends. Thought I’d check in with you, I’m sure you like having the place to yourself for the most part, but I know we haven’t spent much time together lately. You up for hanging out with your not-very-attentive roommate?”

Harry smiles, although a part of him would much rather be in his bed fantasizing about Louis. “I’ll make us some dinner.”

He sets Logan to work cutting peppers into matchstick size pieces, while he prepares pasta and chicken. He makes a quick red sauce for it as he and Logan catch up a little. Their camaraderie is an easy one; they’ve been friends since their freshman year of college after all. He’s happy Logan has found Keri, so he doesn’t begrudge him his relationship at all. But it is rather nice to have his friend around every once in awhile.

As they sit down to eat, talk turns to work. “Hope you haven’t been spending all your time at the library, Harry. Although, I’m sure you have been.”

“Well, I mean, it keeps me quite busy. Work, I mean. Right now there’s an exhibition for Mo Willems, and it took quite a bit of preparation. So yeah, I worked some overtime, I guess.”

“Unpaid overtime, I suppose?” Logan asks, an eyebrow raised.

“It’s a salaried position, so yeah.” Harry admits.

“Of course.” Logan sighs. “Well, tell me about it anyway. Is it something you think Nic would like? Maybe I could bring him round. I’m babysitting him tomorrow after school. He’s seven. Do you think it would work for his age?”

“Oh, yeah, I think your nephew will love it!” Harry replies enthusiastically. “I’m sure he’s familiar with Mo’s books, too. Most seven year olds are. Tomorrow will be a good day to come. Mo will be there reading from his books and then he’s going to have a question and answer session and a book signing, so it will be a great time to be there.”

“Great. We’ll be there then.”

 

>>>WEDNESDAY<<<

 

It’s a bit odd to wake up with someone else in the apartment, even if it’s just his roommate. Harry does his best to stay quiet as he gets ready for the day. Yoga is out, but he still drinks his tea and eats breakfast although he does it standing up in the kitchen. Logan’s alarm goes off just as Harry is pulling a woolen hat over his curls, bundled up as best he can against the cold.

Logan walks over bleary eyed towards the bathroom. “See ya later, Harry.”

“See you at storytime.” Harry answers before he wraps a scarf around his neck and face.

He heads out into the blustery morning and tries to distract himself from the cold by thinking about today’s plans at work. He doesn’t quite succeed because all he can think about is the moment Louis pressed his lips to his. During every pause in the conversation last night, he thought of Louis. As he lay awake unable to sleep well past his usual time, he thought of Louis. And as he walks up the steps into work, all he can think about is Louis.

When he opens the door, he somehow expects to see Louis’ face, but instead it’s Liam who is waiting for him.

“Hi, Harry!” Liam says, a bright smile on his face. “Always on time! Can always count on you, Harry!”

For the first time in the years Harry has worked here, he is not thrilled to see Liam. In fact, he’s a bit wary. He has come to see Niall’s point about Liam’s micromanagement issues. Liam has spent a lot of time poking around the children’s library the past two weeks. He would have assumed the Assistant Director of Exhibitions would have bigger fish to fry than watching a children’s story time and offering his thoughts on it. Harry had heard that Liam offered Emily some constructive criticism the other day. It didn’t go over well with her, and Harry had gotten an earful about it from her.

“Um, do you need something Liam?” Harry asks as he unwinds himself from his scarf and coat. He hopes he can still perhaps speak with Louis before many people show up for work and definitely before the library opens. Not that he has any idea what he’ll actually say to Louis, but maybe it will come to him in the moment. He pulls his hat off his head and runs a hand through his hair.

“Oh, uh, you have a--well--” Liam reaches toward him and plucks a bit of fuzz from his hat out of his hair. It’s at this moment that movement across the room near the entrance to the exhibit hall catches Harry’s eye. He spies Louis watching them, looking from Liam to him and back again. “There! Got it!”

“Thanks.” Harry answers, his mouth a bit dry. He watches Louis retreat back into the hall. He really needs to go speak with him, but he has to hear Liam out first.

“Well, I was hoping you’d be able to stay a bit later today, Harry. If at all possible, that is. I just think we could use a few more hands on deck, so to speak. What with Mo doing multiple events today.”

“Oh. Uh, sure. I can stay.” Harry tries to look around Liam to see if Louis has come back out of the hall.

“Great! Thanks, Harry!” Liam pats him on the shoulder. Only a few short weeks ago, Harry would have been pleased as punch to have Liam pay him any attention at all, and now that he has Liam’s attention, his mind is entirely focused on someone else.

He stows his coat and goes in search of Louis. He walks through the exhibit hall, but he’s not there. He checks the staff lounge, but he isn’t there either. He must be back at his desk, which Harry isn’t even sure he knows where it is. And Harry really probably should not be off wandering the library administration offices when he’s supposed to be in the children’s library. He sighs and heads back to work.

Louis does reappear for the morning storytime that Mo conducts. Mo goes for classics this morning, reading Knuffle Bunny and Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. He gets some interesting questions from the question and answer portion of the program, such as what’s your third favorite type of bird and what color do you think Pigeon likes best?

When the question and answer is over, Harry helps direct traffic into a makeshift line for the book signing. He’s basically crowd control at this point as he tries to entertain a crying two year old in line with Elephant and Piggie finger puppets. He looks up to see Louis at the edge of the crowd, watching him, an enigmatic look on his face.

Harry tries to make his way towards him, and Louis looks as though he’s going to meet him halfway. Liam suddenly appears between them and walks over to speak quietly with Harry about their afternoon event, effectively halting his attempt to talk to Louis.

When lunch rolls around, Harry waits in the staff lounge hoping for Louis to make an appearance, but he doesn’t. When the second storytime is nearly ready to begin, Harry spots Logan walking in with his nephew.

“Hey guys!” Harry greets them as they walk towards him. “You’re just in time! Mo’s about to start.”

Harry ushers them over to a good spot and stands just off to the side of them, smiling down at Logan and Nic as they enjoy Mo’s engaging voices. He’s applauding along with the rest of the audience when he realizes Louis is standing at the back of the crowd. Harry feels a bit tense with frustration, trapped between the audience and a bookcase. There’s no way to get to Louis at the moment. He feels pretty damn frustrated by the inscrutable look on Louis’ face as well. He tries to enjoy the question and answer, and he tries to keep his focus on Logan and Nic. But he’s fairly distracted by the very attractive man at the back whom he kissed only yesterday.

Nic gets to ask a question, and Harry whips out his phone to record the moment.

“Hi, Mr. Mo.” Nic says, which garners a murmur of laughter from the crowd.

“Hi, there!” Mo answers cheerfully. “Do you have a question for me?”

“No. I just want to say I like your books because they’re funny and everyone is all worked up over nothing in them.”

Mo sits stunned silent for a moment before bursting into laughter. “I couldn’t have put that better myself.”

Harry stands in line with Logan and Nic as they wait to have Nic’s books signed. Nic has a copy of the Elephant and Piggie books, I Like Slop! and Let’s Go For a Drive! Mo recognizes Nic as soon as he steps up with his books.

“Ah hello again, thank you for your earlier remarks.”

“You’re welcome,” Nic says solemnly as he hands over his books to be signed.

Mo signs them without even looking, able to draw quick sketches of Elephant and Piggie along with his signature without ever looking down, thus enabling him to give all his attention to the reader who has come for the signing. “So you like Elephant and Piggie best then?”

“Yes,” Nic replies. “I am a little too much like Gerald the Elephant though, but I like that he keeps getting less worried every time there’s a new book.”

Mo’s hand stills, and he stares at Nic. “I’m a bit like Gerald the Elephant, too. I think I’m learning to be less worried just like him, too. How about you?”

“Yeah, I think i am, too,” Nic says with a smile. “It’s because I’m in therapy. Probably Gerald has been going to therapy, too.”

“Good for you.” Mo says. “I always say, if you find yourself in the wrong story, you can leave. Sounds like you’re finding a way to leave your old story behind.”

Harry walks Logan and Nic over to the exhibition hall, so they can go through the exhibit.

Logan is suitably impressed by Mo. “Wow, that was really great, Harry. You were right that it’s perfect for Nic. I didn’t even know if he’d know who Mo was.”

“Yeah, he’s pretty amazing.” Harry agrees just as Louis appears just outside the doors into the exhibit. Louis stops in his tracks.

“Hi!” Harry calls out to him. “Logan, this is Louis. He installed the exhibit you’re about to see. Louis, this is Logan and his nephew Nic--”

“Cool!” Nic exclaims as he gets a peek inside the room. “You put a bus in there?”

The tight-lipped expression on Louis’ face turns into a small smile as he looks at Nic. “Yeah, I did. I figured that was the most important part.”

“It is!” Nic yells as he takes off into the hall.

“Well, guess I better chase after him.” Logan says with a laugh.  “I’ll see you at home, Harry.”

“Okay!” Harry calls after them. He turns back to Louis, relieved to finally have a moment to talk to him, but the look on Louis’ face is not inviting. “Louis, I--”

“There you are!” Liam steps right in between them, facing Harry. “Would you mind coming back over to the line? We could really use some help over there, it looks like.”

Harry glances back over to the line and back to Liam’s worried face. He sees the back of Louis round the corner in the direction of the main offices of the library and sighs. “Of course.”

 

>>>THURSDAY<<<

 

Harry wakes up with a headache. He stifles his groan when he remembers he isn’t the only one in the apartment. While it’s been nice to catch up with Logan, he’ll be a little glad when Keri comes home today. He pops some Advil before heading out, hoping it’ll kick in before he reaches the library. It doesn’t. Instead of heading to his desk, he heads straight towards the library cafe in search of coffee.

He didn’t sleep well last night or the night before. It’s a Louis induced headache. Louis-induced insomnia. Louis-induced worry. As he waits for the barista to make his latte, he sees the man inducing all his issues. Louis walks into the cafe with a yawn. It’s the cutest yawn Harry has ever seen. The sleeves of Louis’ sweater are a bit long and cover part of his hand and fingers as he rubs his eyes. The sleepy blue eyes finally focus and notice Harry staring at him.

Harry doesn’t even bother to look away. He doesn’t care about being caught staring at this point. He’s got to talk to Louis. He has a twist in his gut from the look on Louis’ face last night. He’s almost sure Louis has the wrong idea about he and Logan.

Louis wheels around and starts walking quickly out of the cafe. Harry can’t help the loud, “Hey!” that leaves his mouth in surprise. He’s about to just go after him when he hears them call his name for his latte. Harry grabs the latte, thanks the barista, and dodges a few people in line and tries to quickly walk after him, but he’s of course got quite a head start. He’s probably back at his desk.

It’s nearing Harry’s official start time, so he heads reluctantly back into the children’s library. The day is a busy one for he and Emily, most of the programming falling on their shoulders today. They have a craft hour in the morning, and they spend a lot of time preparing their small event room for Mo’s late afternoon session which is basically a cartoon drawing workshop for local elementary school students. He sees no sign of Louis all day.

It occurs to him now that Louis probably doesn’t have much to do here any longer. He probably just has to make sure that the exhibit looks well throughout the day, and perhaps, he’s already begun thinking about his next project for the library, one that won’t be held in the children’s library.

He’s still thinking about how best to find Louis and speak with him as he leaves the small event space that Mo is currently occupying with some very excited school children. He shrugs on his coat and scarf and hat and gloves, and as he turns towards the exit, Louis appears with Liam.

Louis startles and halts to a stop. Liam stops, too, and looks around curiously before spotting Harry. “Hey there, Harry! See you tomorrow! Another big day ahead for us!”

Liam turns to Louis and ushers him towards the small room. “Thanks for staying late tonight, thought we’d check in on Mo and then I wanted to pick your brain about--”

Harry never hears what Liam wants to talk with Louis about as the door shuts behind them. Harry stands rooted to the floor, overly warm in all his winter gear, peering in through the glass that is shutting him out. He watches Louis talk to some of the children, watches them smile at him as he seems to take time pointing things out in their artwork. He can see Liam prattling on next to Louis as Louis walks around from table to table interacting with the students.

Harry wants to keep standing right where he is and just watch Louis move about the room. He’s not sure how long he stands there, but he sees Louis and Liam approach Mo and then begin heading for the door. Harry’s brain finally catches up, and he makes a mad dash for the exit before anyone notices he’s been watching them for god knows how long. The frigid air that meets him as he walks outside blasts a bit more sense into his head as he walks quickly home.

He can’t stop thinking about Louis, about their kiss and what it could mean, but he knows he should probably do something about it before it’s too late.

>>><<<

“Okay, first let’s make the glaze. So combine the soy sauce, bourbon, and maple syrup.”

“Did you just pour yourself a shot of bourbon?” Niall asks.

“Yes.” Harry replies. “Okay, lay the salmon out on the foil, and we’re going to drizzle a fourth of a cup of the glaze over the top of it.”

“Did you just pour bourbon into that glass?”

“Yes, I’m going to make a drink with it. Now, thinly slice the white onion so that--ow, fuck! I cut myself. Hold on. Gotta get a band-aid.”

As he’s walking away from the laptop he can hear NIall call out, “Not surprised you cut yourself if you’re trying to cook while you drink shots of bourbon.”

Harry grimaces. What does Niall know anyway? Nothing, that’s what. He returns with a bandaged finger. “Okay, so let’s place the onion slices on top and then we’ll bake it at 425 degrees for thirty minutes.”

“Got it.” Niall says, and Harry watches the screen as Niall appears to put his salmon into the oven. “Now what?”

“While it’s cooking, we’ll reduce the sauce by about half. We should wait about fifteen minutes or so to do that though, so I’ll just--” Harry mixes a bit of club soda and lime juice with the large shot of bourbon that’s in his glass. He mixes in a bit of syrup as well and takes a long drink of it.

“Harry?”

“Yes?”

“Is there a reason you’re drinking so heavily on a Thursday night?”

“Nope. I just like bourbon.” That’s not entirely true as he only keeps it around the house for cooking, but no one has to know all these details about him.

“I thought you only used it in your cooking.”

Oh, for fuck’s sake. “Well, you thought wrong, Niall. I sometimes like to have a drink or two of it.

Harry takes a few more sips as Niall leaves the screen to go use the bathroom. Harry sort of forgets what he’s doing and wanders away to stare out the window and sip his cocktail.

“Harry? Harry, are you still there?” He hears Niall yelling.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m still here. Right here. Uhhh-is it time to make the reduction?”

“Yeah, I think it is.”

“Ah, okay. Um, let’s cook it on medium-high heat then until the fish is done.”

“You okay, Harry?”

“Yes. I’m perfectly fine.” Harry sniffs.

“Okay, well it looks like you put your pot holder on the stove because it’s sort of smoking or somethi--”

“Shit! Fuck! Shit!” Harry grabs the pot holder and throws it in the sink and turns the water on, dousing the fabric with a sizzle until it stops smoking.

“Maybe you should stop drinking bourbon and just tell me what’s wrong.”

“Nothing’s wrong, NIall. Everything is fine. It’s just that some people like to kiss other people and then avoid them and then the kissee doesn’t know what to do and sure maybe the other person doesn’t know about roommate statuses, but maybe they should have just asked then.”

The timer goes off with a loud buzz, startling Harry as he lets out a loud yelp.

“Okay, if you’re not completely drunk, can you tell me what we’re supposed to do with this thick brown liquid we’ve got going on here?”

Harry pulls out his foil wrapped salmon. “Okay, open it up and we’ll top the fish with the liquid.”

He forgets it might be hot as he opens the foil, and the steam burns his fingers. “Ahhh! I burnt myself!”

“Oh, my god. Well, go run some cold water over it. Jesus Christ, Harry.”

The burn isn’t that bad. He runs some water over it. It’s fine.

“That burn’s gonna hurt once all the alcohol is gone from your system.” Niall points out helpfully.

“Oh shut up.”

“Just saying.” Niall says. “Okay, I poured the shit over the fish, now what?”

“Now we stick it back in the oven and turn it on broil, and we’ll broil it for about three minutes. We want it to be just a little browned.”

“Got it. As soon as this fish is done we’re talking about how Louis kissed you though.”

Harry drops the pan with a bang on the stove. He’s lucky it didn’t fly off onto the floor. He puts the pan back in the oven with a dishtowel instead of his now wet pot holder. “What--no--I didn’t--well, it was--it just--how did--”

“How much bourbon did you have to drink before we started? I only know because you half ass told me already. You said some people like to kiss other people and then avoid them. I assume you meant Louis because you never shut up about him, and I assume you mean Louis kissed you and not the other way around, but--”

“I DID NOT KISS LOUIS. I ONLY KISSED HIM BACK.”

“Well, okay then. Thanks for clearing that up. What are you going to do about it?”

“I DON’T KNOW.”

“Great. We’ll figure it out, but for now, let’s take the salmon out of the oven.”

Harry didn’t even hear the buzzer going off. Maybe he has had too much bourbon. He takes another sip of his drink before he takes the salmon out of the oven with the soaking wet pot holder. He sighs. “Um, what am I gonna do?”

“With Louis or the salmon?”

Harry snorts. “I think I know how to eat the salmon.”

Harry watches Niall on the screen as he waggles his eyebrows. “But do you know how to eat L--”

“STOP! Don’t be crass, Niall.” He clinks the glass down on the countertop and groans. “I think Louis has the wrong idea about me and Logan.”

“How in the hell does he even know about Logan?” Niall asks. Harry sees Niall is plating his dinner, so he does the same. He’s a little woozy from the alcohol. “ I’ve seen Logan like once in the last six months.”

“Logan brought his nephew to Mo’s storytime yesterday.” Harry answers, miserably. “And Logan said something about seeing me at home, and I don’t know. Louis looked at me all funny, and now he’s completely avoiding me.”

“Wow. Okay. Well, I’m assuming by you sounding all sad as shit and drinking half a bottle of bourbon, this means you’re interested in Louis.”

“I guess.” Harry sniffs.

“You guess? On a scale of ‘I just want to suck his dick and get him out of my system’ to ‘I want to bring him home to meet my parents,’ where are we putting Louis on here?”

“Ummmm, I guess a little closer to the parents than just the dick sucking. Maybe.”

“Wow, I’m really wishing I’d picked a different scale, but anyway, I think honesty is probably your best bet here, H.” Niall advises with a faux wise shake of his head through the screen.

Harry purses his lips. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Just tell him that Logan is your practically non-existent roommate!” Niall says. “And probably drink a lot of water and take some Advil before you go to bed. You’re gonna be hungover as shit tomorrow.”

 

>>>FRIDAY<<<

 

Harry wakes up a little worse for wear. He pops more Advil and starts his day. He revels a bit in having his apartment back all to himself. He completes his morning routine and tries to keep himself centered. It’s a little too easy to get off track and think of nothing but blue eyes and scruffy brown hair.

He’s determined to take Niall’s advice today. He’s going to find Louis, and he’s going to simply explain that he and Logan are not together. The only problem with this advice is that it implies that Harry expects something from Louis, something more than just a quick kiss in the storage room. He has to take this chances though. He can’t let it all just pass him by. If he lets Louis go, he’ll have almost no interaction with him, no reason to see him until the next time there’s a large event for the children’s library again. And that will probably not be for a long while yet. It’s imperative that he speak to Louis. Today. Lord knows, everyone here has already fallen under Louis’ spell. It may have taken Harry a little longer to succumb to it, but he has now. And he doesn’t have any desire to break it.

He sees absolutely no sign of Louis all morning, which he has anticipated might happen, so he just resolves that he will make the most of whatever opportunity presents itself during Mo’s film screening this evening. Surely, Louis will be in attendance for that.

He bides his time, and when Mo takes the makeshift stage to welcome everyone and thank them for coming, he finally spots Louis standing in the back on the other side of the crowd.

“Hi, I’m Mo Willems--and I’m a balloon salesman!”

“Nooooooo!” The children all roar.

Harry begins making his way to the back of the crowd.

“I’m Mo Willems--and I am a corporate attorney specializing in tax affairs!”

“Noooooo!” The children roar again.

Harry has made it to the back of the room without Louis noticing and scurrying off. He begins making his way over to where Louis is stood watching Mo talk about the film they’re about to see that was created by his daughter, who was also the inspiration for some of his books.

Team Mo, the film is called. Harry catches up with Louis just as the lights are lowered and everyone’s attention is placed firmly on the film.

“Hi, Lou,” Harry breathes quietly against Louis’ ear. He sees Louis shiver and wonders if it’s just because his voice was unexpected. “I need to talk with you about something.”

Louis doesn’t say anything, but he didn’t run away so he feels compelled to continue. There’s something about the darkness that lends itself to the truth. “I just wanted you to know something.”

“What’s that?” Louis whispers back. “What is it you want me to know?”

“Well, it’s about Logan.” Harry sees Louis’ back immediately stiffen. He can’t stop his fingers from reaching out to try and soothe Louis’ response. He lets his hand press gently against Louis’ shoulder. “He’s just my roommate, barely a roommate actually. He’s not home very often.”

Louis says nothing, but he relaxes into Harry’s touch, and in the dim light he can just make out a look on Louis’ face that exudes relief and a bit of hope. Harry continues,“I just thought you should know that that’s all we are. Roommates and old friends.”

Harry can definitely detect the hint of a smile curving on Louis’ lips now as he turns to look back at Harry. “So why are you so adamant that I know this information, Hazza?”

Harry face heats up under his gaze, and he hopes the darkness of the room hides most of it. “No reason. Just thought you might have got the wrong idea about him.”

“Hmmm.” Harry feels rather than hears Louis’ hum in response. He takes his hand from Louis’ shoulder, but he stays firmly at his side as they project Trixie Willems documentary about her father on the wide screen in front of them.

They aren’t even touching and yet something sparks between them like static electricity crackling in the air. He wants to purposely reach out to touch and be stung by it. The darkness surrounding them, lit only by the light of the film on the screen, only adds to Harry’s desire to reach out and ignite the flame between them. The kiss that has infiltrated all parts of his mind plays and replays in his brain at all hours of the day and night. He hopes Louis feels some part of whatever this is that’s between them.

Just as the film credits begin to roll, Louis hand brushes his, and the electric spark that Harry knew was between them shoots straight through his every nerve ending. Louis’ hand jerks back from the touch, and their eyes meet, blue fire to green.

The lights come up, and Harry takes a breath he didn’t know he was holding before he joins in with the applause from the audience. Some of the tension of the darkness dissipates, and they exchange tentative, small smiles as though they both know what’s just passed between them.

Mo reads The Duckling Gets a Cookie and Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs, and he adds a bit when he finishes reading. “I spoke with a young man the other day, and he really reminded me of something that I think is explained in Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs, and that is that if you don’t like the story you’re in, leave. Find yourself a new story to be a part of. Make yourself a new story to be a part of. And now I’ll take some questions.”

Harry can see Liam making his way towards them, probably to send Louis off to do some errand or other. They watch him make his way closer, and while Harry knows this little interlude between them is over, he’s finally hopeful it isn’t the end.

He feels a brush of air against his neck as Louis leans in to speak. “See you tomorrow, Hazza.”

Louis steps behind him to intercept Liam, and as he goes he lets his fingertips drag along Harry’s lower back, burning a line from his touch right through his blazer. It nearly knocks Harry right off his feet. He’s never been so ready for tomorrow.

 

>>>SATURDAY<<<

 

Harry wakes up before his alarm even goes off. He stretches out his limbs in bed with a huge smile on his face. Today is their final day with Mo, and although the exhibit will run much longer, the library is going to be a lot less high key after today. It will also be a lot less full of Louis, which he doesn’t like to think about, but if all goes well, he’ll be seeing a lot more of Louis outside of work. He lets himself daydream about bringing Louis lunch or maybe eating together in the cafe. Leaving work together and deciding on whose apartment to go back to. Running back to his apartment, hand in hand, as fast as possible so he can rip Louis’ clothes off him as soon as he gets him through the door. Okay, maybe he’s getting a little ahead of himself.

He does some self-talk as he walks towards the library. He’s definitely going to ask Louis out today. He’s just going to come right out and ask. As he walks up the steps to the door, he wonders for a moment how he got here to a place where he’s going to ask out Louis Tomlinson, his former nemesis. Life is weird. He shrugs and opens the door ready to start a very busy Mo Willems Family Day.

Emily walks in not long after Harry, and together they begin moving quickly about the library, setting up the usual crafts that they’ve had out all week and adding in some new ones. Harry sets up a painting station with models of pigeons and a drying rack for the paintings that will be done. He’s already thinking of the fabulous display he’s going to make of them all. Emily is busy arranging the cardboard character cutouts and book jacket cutouts for photo opportunities. Harry busies himself with arranging the supplies to make Knuffle Bunny and Pigeon puppets, and Emily places a large graph for favorite characters in another area.

He tries to keep his eyes open for any sign of Louis, but he doesn’t appear until just before the doors open to the public. His entrance is quite dramatic.

“HARRY!” Louis yells out from somewhere in the library.

Harry whips around from where he’s setting extra markers out on Mo’s table where he’ll be signing books off and on throughout the day and sees Louis standing in the middle of the library holding what appears to be a huge light blue-grey elephant costume and wearing a look of panic on his face. The huge head of the costume nearly looks too big for Louis to carry.

“Ummm--hi?”

“Harry! My favorite person! The best baker! The best librarian in all the world!” Louis exclaims, a beaming smile of epic proportions on his much too handsome face. He knows him better than this by now though.

“I’m scared to ask what that has to do with the giant elephant costume in your arms.”

“What? No, no, no, no. Nothing to do with this giant elephant costume that I no longer have someone to wear it all day because they are currently at home with the flu. No, I just wanted to tell you how wonderful and amazing of a person you are. The kind of person who would do anything to make this event perfect for all the children who are coming here today to meet Gerald the Elephant.”

“LOUIS! I can’t wear an elephant costume all day! I have to--”

Louis turns to Emily. “Emily, would Harry be able to be Gerald the Elephant today, or is he too needed elsewhere?”

Harry looks at Emily who is wearing a look he has never seen on her face before, maybe even a little devious. “I think we can make do without him.”

“Et tu, Emmu?”

Emily shrugs and walks away. He looks back at Louis who is holding out the costume to him, a hopeful look on his face.

Harry knows when he’s been beat. He sighs. “So who is going to be PIggie?”

“Well--me. The original Piggie is sick, too. Apparently they’re a real life couple. The acting students I mean, not the actual Piggie and Gerald. Well, maybe Piggie and Gerald, too. It’s never really specified, so maybe I shouldn’t presume.”

“Oh.”

“Does that change your mind about it because I could sweeten the pot a bit?” Louis says with a grin.

“Oh really?” Harry taps his chin and pretends to think about it.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. If you do me this huge, enormous favor, I’ll--”

Harry’s mind comes up very quickly with a few scenarios involving Louis that he’d wear an elephant costume for.

“--take you to dinner. Somewhere expensive. Tonigh--.”

“Deal.” Harry says before Louis can even finish.

“Well, ehm--great then.”

Louis hands over the elephant costume, and Harry sticks his legs into the heavy fabric legs and arms and has Louis zip him up. He puts on the enormous head and says, “How do I look?”

“Perfect!”

Louis turns on his heel and scurries away. Harry hopes he’s actually coming back dressed as Piggie. A few minutes later, Emily goes to open the doors, and Piggie comes lumbering into the library cursing.

“Fuck, it’s hard to see out of this thing,” Piggie says.

“The kids are coming in. Stop cussing,” Gerald says.

“Wow, we’re already in character. Gerald is such a worrier.”

They take their positions in an alcove, as ready as they’ll ever be for the meet and greet.

It’s honestly the most fun day Harry has had in recent memory, lumbering around in a ridiculous costume with Louis by his side while they make many, many children happy as they interact and pose for photographs.

They practically sprint towards the bathroom when their lunch break comes. Harry had a bit too much tea this morning it seems.

“Get it off me! Get it off!” Harry cries as Louis’s fumbling fingers still inside the pink hoofs of the Piggie costume try to unzip the unwieldy elephant one. Louis’s laughter fills the small space as he finally gets the zipper down. Harry awkwardly tries to pull the costume off of him as quickly as possible, probably making everything take twice as long. “Fuck! I gotta pee!”

“Don’t you dare go to the bathroom without getting me out of this thing first!” Louis shouts. “I drank way too much coffee this morning!”

Harry frantically unzips Louis’ costume and even helps pull it off Louis’ body from behind, and then, he inadvertently swipes his fingers down Louis’ calf as he kneels to the floor to let Louis step from the costume. The sting of attraction that was present last night reappears with Harry frozen on his knees behind Louis. He hears Louis’ shaky exhale as he looks over his shoulder at Harry. The moment stays fixed in place for one, two, three heartbeats as Harry looks up at Louis’ flushed face from his position on the floor.

“You better go before you piss yourself,” Louis says hoarsely.

Harry scrambles to his feet and manages to knock his knee against an open stall door as he rushes towards the urinal. He lets out a loud, low moan as he finally releases the increasing pressure.

Louis is standing at the sinks, and Harry thinks he hears him mutter, “Jesus,” before he finally walks over to relieve himself. Harry zips up and goes to wash his hands before gathering up the elephant costume in his arms.

“Let’s go stuff these in Liam’s office before any kid catches us with them.” Louis suggests.

They peek out of the bathroom to make sure the coast is clear and then run down the hall towards the elevator that will lead them to the administrative offices. When they hear footsteps, they look at each other in panic though it’s likely just a staff member, and when the elevator doors open, they burst inside it and frantically push the button to close the doors. They giggle behind their arms full of costumes as they slump against the back of the elevator.

Harry lets his head fall back against the mirrored wall of the elevator and turns his head to look at Louis. Louis hair is nearly plastered to his forehead, his captivating eyes gleaming blue sapphires in the fluorescent lights of the elevator, and Harry’s sure he’s never seen anything more beautiful. The spark between them is heady, and Harry wants to drop the costume in his hands and pin Louis up against the mirrors behind him. The ding of the door opening stops him though. He takes an unsteady breath as Louis leads him out into the maze of desks and finds his way through to what is apparently Liam’s office. Louis ushers them inside, and they dump the costumes on the nearby chairs.

“Lunch?” Louis asks.

“Um, yeah. We better eat.” Harry knows he has a packed lunch in the staff lounge refrigerator, but he waits to see if an invitation is forthcoming.

“Cafe?” Louis asks.

“Sure,” Harry responds, supremely happy to let his leftovers stay put in the refrigerator.

They walk back out to the elevator, and Louis hesitates. “Want to take the stairs?”

Harry wonders why, but he doesn’t really care as long as they’re heading to lunch together. He smiles. “Okay, better exercise that way.”

“Uh, yeah. Exercise.” Louis mutters.

They eat a quick lunch in the cafe, laughing about how this day has been quite unexpected for both of them.

“I was pissing myself when they both called in this morning, not gonna lie,” Louis says. “Wasn’t sure who was gullible enough to get me out of this mess.”

“Heyyyyy!” Harry says. “Maybe I wanted to.”

“Sure, Hazza. You quoted Julius Caesar at Emily about it.”

Harry lets out a loud honking laugh and covers his mouth. “Sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry,” Louis says, his eyes shining brightly. “I like making you laugh.”

“Oh.” Harry lowers his eyes with a small grin on his face.

“Yeah. So--we should probably get back into costume.”

Harry groans.

“What? I thought you wanted to. You just claimed so like thirty seconds ago!” Louis shakes his head as they stand up from the table, throw away their garbage, and start heading towards the elevator.

“Oops, how about the stairs again?” Louis asks as he looks dubiously at the elevator.

“Yeah, sure, but why are you suddenly anti-elevator?”

“Well, Hazza, when I rode it up with you earlier, I imagined some unprofessional things.”

“Like what?”

“Like what happened in the storage room.”

Harry can feel his face heating up, and he chokes a bit on his words. “Oh. Uh, yeah I might have thought something similar.”

“Similar?”

“Yeah, I want to kiss you again.”

Louis clears his throat. “Better take the stairs.”

He quickly starts taking the stairs ahead of Louis, taking even two at a time if he has to just to keep ahead of him. He can hear Louis panting a bit behind him.

“You know, it’s not a race, Hazza.”

“I have to keep ahead of you!” He shouts out  as he keeps moving.

“Why?”

He stops so abruptly that Louis nearly runs into him. Louis steadies himself for a moment, his hands pressed against Harry’s back.

“It’s not in our best interests for me to be watching you run up stairs in front of me.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah.”

And then Harry turns back and conquers the rest of the stairs at warp speed. The afternoon carries on much like the morning. Harry gives lots of high fives, and Louis poses in increasingly silly poses as the day wears on. As the last child leaves the library and Emily locks up behind them, Harry and Louis pull off the heads of their costumes. They both grin at each other, and Harry knows the dumb smile on Louis’ face is very likely a reflection of his own.

“So--” Louis begins.

“Yes?”

“I guess I’m taking you to dinner then.” Louis says with bright, cheery smile as though he can’t think of anything else he’d rather be doing. It’s a good look.

They see others gathering around talking, probably making dinner plans themselves as a group. Harry and Louis make a quick getaway before they can get sucked into their coworkers’ plans. They walk out into the brisk evening air.

“So where are we headed then, Lou?”

Louis’ eyebrow shoots up in a bit of surprise. The nickname rolls off his tongue before he knows what to do with it. He decides to just keep barreling through. “There are so many great places around here. I live nearby so I know what’s around. What are you in the mood for?”

“You pick.” Louis insists. “You’re the one who did me a favor.”

Harry thinks about what’s nearby and decides. “Spanish tapas sound good?”

“Sure. Never had them before, but I’m sure they’ll be fine.”

“Never? Oh Louis! Louis, Louis, Louis! You don’t know what you’ve been missing!”

“Actually, I’ve got a pretty good idea of what I’m been missing out on.” Louis answers as he looks up at Harry through his very long eyelashes. Harry wonders how he ever resisted these eyelashes.

Harry smiles at him and feels much more sure of Louis now. He takes his hand in his and heads off down Forty-Second Street. They order sangria and way too many tapas for them to eat all in one sitting, croquetas and albondigas and jamon iberico with tomato bread and empanadas.

They speak the language of first dates--families, hometowns, careers, hobbies--but it’s all interspersed with things they already have in common from work.

 

“Liam is a bit--” Harry begins.

“Liam is very nearly unbearable, but luckily he’s very nice which makes up for a lot.” Louis replies.

 

“It’s cute the way you hero worship Emily--” Louis begins.

“Heroine worship.” Harry replies.

 

“You know you stole my pun that first day--” Harry begins.

“You don’t own every pun in existence, Hazza.” Louis replies.

 

“Remember when I ate the last cupcake--” Louis begins.

“Mo never got to taste my baking, and I almost kicked you in the shins.” Harry replies.

 

They laugh and tease, and then, they toast to a very successful writer’s residency for Mo and to their own teamwork. “We were a good team, don’t you think, Haz?”

“Yeah, we were.”

Louis holds his glass up to make another toast. “Dream team!”

“To the dream team!” Harry seconds.

They giggle at each other foolishly for a few long moments.

Harry doesn’t want the night to end. “Would you like to come back to my place for a drink? I think I have--something I’m sure. Oh, I think I have bourbon. I--usually just use it for cooking though.”

“But do you have any baked goods in the house? That’s the real way to lure me over to your apartment.” A smile breaks over Louis’ face like the sun through the clouds.

It takes Harry a moment to collect himself. “Uhhhh--I think there might be some leftover brownies actually.”

“Sold. Let’s go.”

They pack up their leftovers to put in Harry’s refrigerator, and Harry lets the bag hang from one hand while he holds Louis’ hand with the other as they walk the few blocks towards Harry’s apartment. It’s the happiest he’s been in a very long time, just walking down his street holding someone’s hand. Holding Louis’ hand. He feels a bit mystified at how he ended up here, but the whirlwind that is Louis Tomlinson definitely has something to do with it.

When they walk in the building, Harry can’t help but tease. “You okay to ride the elevator, Lou? Think you can resist me for the forty-five seconds it will take to get to my floor?”

Louis rolls his eyes, but when the elevator doors open, Louis grabs him by the lapels of his coat and backs them both into the elevator until Louis’ back hits the grey wall of it behind him. Louis keeps tugging him forward.

“You know, I don’t think I can resist you, Hazza,” Louis says as he meets Harry’s lips with a kiss. Harry’s senses swim at the electrifying crackle that zips through him as Louis deepens the kiss and wraps his arms around Harry’s neck.

The elevator doors slide open with a ding, and Harry faces old Mrs. Miller from two doors down with an armful of beautiful boy. “Hi, Mrs. Miller.”

Mrs. Miller waves him off, but he thinks he sees a small smile as he straightens his glasses on his face. He leads Louis into his apartment, and although it’s a very, incredibly small space, Harry likes to think he’s made it a home. He tries to see the apartment from Louis’ eyes. Will he think the black and white Berenice Abbott prints are pretentious? Will he think the small collection of Walking Ware china in the kitchen is too kitschy? Will he see his aprons that say ‘Whip it good’ with a picture of a whisk on it and the other that says ‘This is how I roll’ with a picture of a rolling pin on it and think they’re dumb?

“I can feel your worry from here. Not sure what there is to be worried about though.” Louis shrugs and heads to the large windows to peer through the glass at the city below. “This is an awesome view, Hazza.”

“Yeah, it is.” Harry answers as he takes a long, thorough look at Louis’ ass, although he thinks they are likely talking about different views.

Louis turns and spots Harry’s bed, high up in the lofted alcove where his mattress fits. “Holy shit. It’s like you have a grown up bunk bed!”

Louis scrambles up the small ladder and crawls into Harry’s bed. He peeks out from it with such a large smile that his eyes are reduced to thin blue slits. Harry could get used to seeing his face up there in his bed.

He clears his throat. “Ummm--would you like a drink or--”

Louis gestures to him from the bed, a playful look on his face as he crooks his finger at him. Harry wonders about this hold, this power, that Louis has over people. He’s drawn to Louis as surely as if being pulled by an invisible string. He’s helpless to resist. He doesn’t want to resist. Who would want to resist Louis? He carefully climbs the ladder up into the loft. The last thing he wants is to fall off and brain himself when he has the opportunity to be in a bed with Louis. Louis scooches back so that Harry can fit in alongside him. It’s just like one of his fantasies really.

“What fantasies?” Louis whispers into the dimly lit alcove as he presses his body against the side of Harry’s.

Fuck. What part of that did he actually say out loud? “What?”

“You said this was like one of your fantasies.” Louis pushes.

“Oh, well--it is.” He admits. “I’ve been fantasizing about you for at least a week.”

“Just for the last week?” Louis tsks. “I’m losing my touch.”

Harry stiffens a bit at the thought Louis does this a lot. Maybe he’s making more of this than it really is.

“I can feel you worrying again,” Louis says.

“Yeah, well--I’m a little nervous.”

“Yeah, well--me too.” Louis agrees. “I’ve been fantasizing about you since the second I laid eyes on you, so there’s that.”

“Really?”

“Yes, really, Hazza. Surely, you knew I was trying to get your attention. I was quite obnoxious about it.”

“Actually at first I thought you were just really annoying.” Harry smiles at the look of outrage on Louis’ face.

“Rude. Very rude, Hazza. That’s it; I’m going.” Louis half-heartedly attempts to sit up and climb over Harry to get off the bed.

“No, no!” Harry laughs pulling Louis back. Louis lets himself be pulled back and lands on top of him. “Don’t go! I changed my mind! I did! I changed my mind.”

“Oops,” Louis says although he doesn’t even bother to try to roll off of Harry.

“Hi.” Harry says as he looks into Louis eyes again. They’re so close now, nearly nose to nose. Close enough for Harry to steal as many kisses as Louis will allow. He’s ready to start now. He leans in to capture Louis’ lips in a kiss. It’s better than any fantasy he had while he lay in bed the last few weeks. Louis’ soft lips part and open to him with a small moan. It lights Harry’s heart on fire. He can hardly believe he can affect Louis this way, except that he hopes it’s a mutual affliction.

Louis pulls away for a brief moment, only to gently pull Harry’s glasses off his face. Though things become blurrier in the soft light, Harry is ready to know Louis by touch and not sight. Louis sets the glasses carefully into the inset of the wall, and then, with his hands pressed to Harry’s chest, he returns to their kiss.

He licks into Louis’ mouth. He tastes an intoxicating flavor of orange and lime cut with red wine from the sangria. He can’t get enough of it. He can’t get enough of Louis.  It’s a taste that could become addictive, and he suspects it has nothing to do with the flavors of the sangria and everything to do with Louis.

Harry’s hands find their way along Louis’ curves, pressing and touching where they’ve been desperate to press and touch for almost as long as he’s known Louis. His hands greedy for what they’ve been denied until now. Louis’ lips leave his own, but they don’t go far. They travel across his jaw and nip just under his ear in a spot that sends shockwaves through his body. He can’t stop the whimper that escapes.

“Like that do you?” Louis says, nosing along the spot he’s just discovered is Harry’s weakness. Louis returns to it, nipping and soothing as Harry writhes beneath him.

Louis sits up atop him and lifts his shirt up over his head. He tosses it to the floor below them. Harry tries to look his fill at the toned arms and body before him; it makes him want to grab his glasses back to see every inch clearly, but more importantly, he wants to get his hands and mouth all over him. Louis gives him a delicious grin as he takes the black satin of Harry’s tie and begins to tug it loose. Louis flings it to the side and begins to work through the buttons of his shirt. Harry can feel the frantic beat of his own heart in his ears as Louis’ fingers brush against his skin as he reveals more and more of his chest and stomach the further down he unbuttons his shirt. He pushes the shirt wide and licks his lips as though looking upon a feast.

“You’re really fucking gorgeous, Hazza, and these tattoos--I want to lick every one of them.” Harry lets out a strangled noise of impatience at this revelation. “Oh, do you want to hear more about what I want to do to you?”

“No, I want you to actually do them.”

Louis lets out a stream of laughter that bubbles out of him in a burst that dies abruptly when Harry’s fingers reach between them to slide just below the waist of Louis’ pants. Harry stills his fingers waiting for an answer to his silent question.

“Yes,” Louis croaks out.

Harry’s fingers fumble a bit as he unbuttons and unzips, and then he lets his hands slide along Louis’ skin just below the top of his boxers as he trails his fingers around to Louis’ lower back. He cups Louis’ ass in his hands and pulls him up roughly against him.

“Yes, yes, yes,” Louis whispers.

Harry tugs at Louis’ pants awkwardly until they reach Louis’ knees, and Louis tugs them the rest of the way off. The small space lends itself to both intimacy and a certain absurdness as they try to get their clothes off each other without hitting elbows against the wall or heads against the ceiling or worse, falling right off the bed.

Louis’ fingers are only slightly less fumbling as they unbutton and unzip and tug their way down Harry’s legs. Louis sits up on top of him again, nude and hard and glowing a bit in the faint light. He’s so beautiful it hurts a little.

Louis leans in now, lowering himself chest to chest with Harry. He whispers against his ear, “I want to touch you and make you come for me, if that’s okay.”

“Fuck. Okay. Yes! More than okay! Yes! Please! Louuuuuu--” Louis’ name dies on his lips as Louis grinds down, the circular motions of his body bringing gasps of breath from his lungs. Louis leans in further, his lips mere inches from Harry’s, as their cocks slide against each other. The friction feels like a potent drug in his bloodstream. Then he feels Louis’ hand, his fingers gripping ahold of them both as he slides his fingers from the tip and then down, slowly at first and then a bit faster, rougher.

Louis pants against Harry’s lips, and Harry can’t help but capture them again in a hard kiss. He threads his fingers through the silken strands at the back of Louis’ head and pulls him in. It forces Louis to release them, though he continues to slide up and down. Harry lets his fingers roam over Louis’ shoulders and the muscles of his back that strain and flex as he moves on top of him. He strokes over his ass again and then around to their dicks where he takes them both in one large hand. Louis lets out a small cry against Harry’s lips, and Harry releases him from the kiss.

Harry pumps his fist up and down and begins to give in to the sensation building at the base of his spine. His eyes close as he lets it begin to overwhelm him, but when he feels Louis’ teeth against his nipple, his eyes fly open and he comes with a shout between them.

“Sensitive,” Louis remarks. “I’ll remember that.”

Harry growls and takes Louis’ hard cock in his hand and brushes the tip with his thumb. Louis gasps, and Harry continues, a hard stroke and a soft touch. Only a few more strokes and Louis is coming in streaks across the tattoo that’s inked on Harry’s stomach.

Louis flops down next to Harry and grins at him, his white teeth gleam a bit in the muted light. “You should keep something in this little inset in the wall to clean up after sex, so you don’t have to leave the bed.”

“Yes, that would have been convenient.” Harry murmurs. “I don’t usually have much reason to have anything readily available.”

“Well, I’m hoping that’s something that’s about to change,” Louis says as he nuzzles his nose into Harry’s neck.

“Me, too,” Harry says. “Will you--”

“Will I, what?” Louis whispers against Harry.

“Stay. Please just--stay.”

 

>>>EPILOGUE<<<

 

“Okay, let’s start by making the puttanesca. Did you wash all your vegetables with that vegetable rinse I gave you?” Harry asks.

“Why yes, I did, H.” Niall answers through the screen.

“And are all the ones on the list I gave you chopped up?”

“Yep!”

“Okay, great. Let’s add a little olive oil to the pan first, and then we’ll quickly chop the red onion and tomato. Do you have your garlic press out? We’re going to put in two cloves of garlic.”

“Got it.”

“Okay, then we’ll just cook it until it’s fragrant before we put in the rest of the vegetables.”

“Already smells great in here, boys,” Louis says as he walks into the small kitchen and starts rummaging in the refrigerator. He takes out a sparkling water and twists the top off.

Harry smiles at him fondly. “Thanks baby. It’s just olive oil, onion, garlic and tomato at this point though.”

Louis smiles back at him and leans in for a quick kiss. “Yes, but those things in combination are already delicious.”

Harry pretends to think about it. “Point taken.”

“Christ, put some pants on, Louis! I can see the outline of your ass in those underwear.”

“Sorry, Nialler!” Louis calls out as he starts walking out the room, shaking his ass from side to side a little more than necessary. “But if Harry had it his way, I’d just strip naked as soon as I enter the apartment.”

“Too much information, Tommo!”

Louis cackles as he heads down the hallway.

“Okay, add a small handful of cauliflower now and just the stems of the chard. We’ll use the leaves later. Oh, and also add the zucchini.”

“Is he out of the room?” Niall asks.

“Yes. But before you say anything, put a splash of water in the pan, and we’ll keep stirring until they begin to soften and combine.”

“Okay, so when are you asking him to marry you? Before the trip? During? After? I mean, I vote for during probably, find a nice romantic spot.”

“Yeah, I’m thinking Parc Guell maybe when we’re in Barcelona? Or maybe take him out for tapas in Madrid and recreate our first date a little bit. Okay, add the balsamic and a few dashes of soy sauce now.”

“Will do. Oh, and H?”

“Yes?”

“I’m really happy for you and Louis. You both deserve some sweet happiness.”

Harry smiles. “Thanks, Niall.”

“But please, don’t ever Skype me when he’s nude.”

Harry lets out his loud honk of a laugh. “I promise.”