3 September 2025
The Old Red Lion
Louis can’t fucking believe this. He absolutely cannot fucking believe this. Out of all the pubs in all of England he had to go and pick the one with Harry-fucking-Styles in it.
The universe obviously has it out for him tonight, because not only is Harry Styles - former member of the boy band Status Single and the literal bane of Louis’ existence - singing ABBA in a random pub in Cheshire, no. That would be too simple, see. Because not only is Harry Styles up on stage, in public for the first time in nine years - not that Louis’ been keeping track or anything - belting out the lyrics to the bloody song like his life depends on it...
He’s singing to Louis.
Quite terribly, to be honest, which strikes Louis as odd, because surely former pop sensation Harry Styles is familiar enough with his own bloody vocal register to know that there’s no chance in hell he can pull off ABBA. This just serves to makes Louis even more upset, because he loves ABBA, and now Harry Styles is going to ruin them forever
He briefly entertains the thought that maybe Harry Styles has lost his voice - that the talent upon which he rode to stardom has left his body over time, but there’s no way he’d be that lucky.
Maybe he’s just really fucking pissed.
Whatever it is, the people in the pub seem to be eating it up, though Louis supposes it’s because they’re all pretty fucking pissed as well.
Bloody hell, this is so embarrassing. Both for himself and the man shimmying around the stage like he’s fucking Mick Jagger - if Mick Jagger sang pop music and danced like a drunk dad at a barbecue.
And he is. A Dad. Louis vividly remembers his sisters reacting to that announcement. He’d been 13 at the time, just old enough to understand what was going on, but still too young to fully understand why a guy like that would give up his fame, his flashy lifestyle. Harry Styles had only been 22 for fucks sake. The same as Louis is right now. The age Louis is absolutely certain he’s not ready to have kids at.
It’d been that moment that convinced him Harry Styles was insane.
To be fair, Louis’ current predicament - courtesy of the man himself - isn’t doing much to disprove that theory. Like, at all.
He doesn’t seem to notice Louis’ annoyance, completely focused on his serenade (ugh) and ignoring everyone else in favour of Louis. He’s just… staring… as he sings. Intensely. It makes Louis squirm a bit, and the feeling only gets worse when he remembers that everyone can see this. Everyone is watching this happen, and Louis hates it. Hates Harry Styles for doing this to him. (Hates Harry Styles, full stop.)
His week had been going well up until this moment. He’d skyped with his younger sisters earlier today, he’d managed to get a good parking spot tonight, and the fittest bloke in the pub had just bought him a drink. Louis had been in the middle of debating whether or not he’d actually go home with the guy and wasn’t paying attention to the activity on stage until the pub had gone silent.
He’d turned around to see what - or who - had managed to shut the entire crowd up, and his laughter had died in his throat.
The lighting in the pub is dim, but not dim enough to hide the fact that the shirt Harry Styles has got on - black, with what looks like red roses - is sheer. He struts around the small stage like he fucking owns it, and his shirt is unbuttoned so far that Louis is sure he’s one hip thrust away from a proper nip slip. Not that he’s paying attention to Harry Styles’ nipples, of course. They’re just… They’re visible, okay? It’s not Louis’ fault his eyes are drawn in that direction.
He can’t even pretend it’s not him who’s being sung to, not when bloody Harry Styles keeps pointing his fucking ringed ex-boybander fingers at Louis. And only at Louis. One of the rings catches the light, threatening to blind him. And if that’s that not the cherry on top of the fucking shit sundae that is Louis’ life at the moment, everyone else has noticed the he’s the object of Harry’s attention as well.
Louis isn’t one to get flustered by attention, he’s a former drama club kid, for fuck’s sake, but this is different. This is happening without his consent, and he’s…
Well, he’s fucking embarrassed, okay?
And that song choice? What the hell is Harry Styles on about? Take A Chance On Me? Is he being wooed? Is Harry Styles fucking flirting with bim? No, that wouldn’t make sense. Then again, nothing about this evening is making much sense. At all.
Louis’ phone buzzes in his pocket. When he checks it, he sees that it’s only a work email - nothing that can’t wait - and as he locks the screen and goes to pocket it, his finger brushes the home button, bringing up the group picture of his siblings that he has set as his lock screen.
He sighs, because as fucking fucked up as this situation is, he can’t just not take a picture of Harry Styles for his sisters. If they ever found out he passed up an opportunity - and knowing them, they would - they might actually murder him. (Or at least never let him come home again.)
So, in the interest of being a good brother - and preserving his life - Louis lifts his phone as subtly as he can and snaps a quick picture. The flash goes off, and he flushes, hoping that Harry Styles hadn’t noticed, because this might make it seem like Louis actually, like, cared about his existence, or whatever. And he doesn’t.
It’s just really hard to ignore the existence of someone who’s trying to get your attention by shaking their arse in your general direction. At this point, it feels like the song has been going on for hours, and Louis has never been more grateful to hear the final notes of what used to be a song he liked, and was now relegated to the category of “songs to automatically skip.”
Fuck you, Harry Styles, he thinks. And then, why me? And finally, what do I do now?
Someone clears their throat to his left, and Louis suddenly remembers what he’d been doing before his world had been turned upside-down.
“Sorry, love, just got a bit distracted.”
The man he’d been flirting with hmms and Louis realises he’s not looking at Louis. He’s looking past Louis. At the stage. At Harry Styles. Fucking hell.
“So,” he asks, already more than prepared for the answer but still hoping he’s wrong, “this isn’t happening, then?”
“Sorry, sweetheart,” the man (Drew? Dave? Dan? He really hopes it isn’t Dan.) apologises, “but it’s not every night you get a chance to shag Harry Styles.” He doesn’t actually sound sorry at all, and Louis scowls.
“Fuck you, mate.”
“Maybe some other time, love.”
“Cheers,” Louis spits sarcastically, and glowers at the man’s back as he makes his way to the stage.
Fuck that guy. Fuck Harry Styles. Fuck pubs. Fuck karaoke night. Fuck Status Single, because that fucking band is the reason fucking Harry Styles is even fucking famous in the first place and just...
Status Single. Ugh.
The band had made their debut when he was 8 years old, and his two older sisters were taken with them almost immediately - along with what seemed like every other teenage girl in England. It got worse once they broke America. They became more popular. They were everywhere.
Louis hated it. Hated them, and the genre of pop music they stood for. Half because he hated pop music out of principle. (Yes, it’s cliche. Sue him.)
The other half was because while he couldn’t stand the four lads, hated them with a passion that only an angry teenage boy can, his two older sisters did not. Unfortunately.
To say Lottie and Fizzy were obsessed would be an understatement. Ever since the first time Tell Me No Lies played on the radio, the two of them had been hooked. They owned all the merch, they bought all the magazines, and Louis still remembers one terrifying night when he’d snuck in after curfew after getting drunk with Stan in the park, and nearly shit himself before realising the shadowy figure in the middle of the front hall was, indeed, not a burglar, but Zayn Malik of Status Single. Smiling serenely at Louis like he knew all of his secrets.
It was only his love for his sisters that kept him from ripping the thing to bloody pieces. That, and the fact that it felt too much like kicking an actual person. Not that he’d tried, obviously. And when his sisters later asked why Zayn was lying on the kitchen floor, he’d blamed the cat.
(They didn’t have a cat.)
While there was no real frontman of Status Single, it was obvious most of the attention was focused on Harry Styles. Which meant that while Status Single was everywhere, Harry Styles was even more so - meaning he was more often than not the one Louis blamed their infectious presence on. What could he say? The kid bugged him to no end.
The things he read about Harry in the tabloids didn’t help either. Womaniser. Lothario. Heart-breaker. Villain of the year. The list went on. Harry wasn’t a nice guy. (The other members seemed nice enough, but they were still members of Status Single and were therefore tainted by association.)
The tabloids weren’t far off then, Louis thinks, a bit meanly, as he watches Harry Styles rest his large hand on Derek’s arm, smiling his toothy smile and looking like he was undressing Derek (or maybe it was Dominic?) with his green, green eyes.
But it had been Louis that Harry Styles sang to, right? Not Dominic. Louis. So why was Harry Styles over there and not next to Louis, making those eyes at him? As if Harry Styles would actually shag that guy. Surely he’s got better taste than that. Not that it matters, obviously. Louis isn’t interested. He’s not.
And okay, he’ll admit Harry is attractive. If you’re into curls. And green eyes. And long (long) legs, broad shoulders, narrow waists, deep voices, and dimples.
(Which Louis totally isn’t.)
Although apparently, Harry Styles has terrible taste after all, because Derek (Dennis?) gives Louis a smug smile and a thumbs up, and Louis feels his scowl deepen. How bloody nice for him. He gets to shag a celebrity, while Louis gets to slink home to his shitty one bedroom flat and wank in the shower. While not thinking of Harry Styles. And the way he swivelled his hips onstage and his shirt moved to the side, exposing his extra...nope. Nope, not going there. He’s going to go home and have a cold, wank-free shower. Alone. And he’s never coming back to this particular pub again.
Fucking Harry Styles.
Harry hadn’t meant to sing that song.
He hadn’t meant to sing to that man either; it’d just kind of happened, really.
Five minutes ago he was prepared to go onstage with his sister to perform their much practiced - and completely platonic- version of Endless Love when he’d looked across the room and spotted quite possibly the fittest man he’d ever seen in his life across the pub. Unfortunately for Harry, his attention was currently held by a far less (in Harry’s opinion, anyway) man, who kept making the man laugh.
Harry didn’t like that; he wanted to be the one making him laugh. He wanted to see that smile up close, hear that laugh right in his ear.
He wanted to look at that guy forever.
Which is why, after undoing the first three (okay, four) buttons on his shirt - and ignoring his sister’s comment about “laying it on a little thick” - he’d made his way to the table where the middle-aged women running karaoke night had set up camp to change the song at the minute minute. It ended up costing him a fair amount of begging (and £200) but it would be worth it, Harry was sure of it.
Except… Except his quest to locate the Man of his Dreams has been interrupted by said man’s companion, who is currently leering at Harry in a way that makes his skin crawl. He doesn’t know if he was supposed to catch that thumbs up - it wasn’t exactly covert - but there’s nothing about this conversation that deserves any sort of triumphant hand gesture.
He could have sworn he saw the man in this area when he’d finished on stage, and slightly regrets his stop by the toilets before coming out here, because it’s becoming apparent that Harry’s lost him. He curses his narcissism and desire to check his hair before going to speak to the object of his affections, and sighs, as the creep in front of him won’t take a hint.
He’d opened with a stereotypical, “So, come here often?” that had Harry resisting the urge to roll his eyes as he grinned, because Harry Styles is nothing if not polite. “Nope, first time actually.” It was that answer that led to the thumbs up, and Harry works to keep a straight face and pretend like he’s unaware of the other man’s intentions.
“New in town?” he asks next, and Harry nods, causing the man’s lecherous smile widens. “You should let me be your guide then, I can show you…” he pauses to waggle his eyebrows suggestively. “Around.”
“Actually,” Harry says, trying not to make it obvious that he’s searching for the man he’d been singing too, “I’m pretty familiar. I grew up here. But thank you for the offer.”
“Of course.” The man rests his (disgustingly sweaty) hand on Harry’s bicep. “How could I forget where the famous Harry Styles spent his boyhood.”
Harry’s blood freezes at the fact that this man has apparently recognised him. “Sorry, mate,” he laughs awkwardly, “I’m not who you think I am.”
“C’mon. You think I wouldn’t recognise those?” He gestures to Harry’s torso, where both his butterfly and sparrow tattoos are on display.
“Must be a coincidence,” he says lightly. “You seem really drunk.”
“If you don’t want to go home with me you can just say so.”
“Okay,” Harry says, “I don’t want to go home with you. Actually, I was looking for the man who was with you earlier. Where did he go?” Harry bristles as he feels himself being examined from head to toe. “The man you were with, where did he go?”
“He left, sweetheart. Wasn’t interested in you, which means it’s my lucky—”
Harry cuts him off, annoyed that he won’t actually take Harry’s refusal seriously, and frustrated because he doesn’t have time to deal with this; the future love of his life is missing, and Harry’s determined to track him down. “Do you know his name? How can I find him?”
“I’ve never met him before tonight. I do, however, have his phone number if you want it.”
“Yes, please,” Harry says, trying to keep the desperation from his voice, because he can’t let this guy know how much he wants it. The man produces a drink napkin from the pocket of his bootcut jeans with a phone number written on it. Harry feels his blood thrum with excitement at the knowledge that he’s going to find this guy, only to have his hopes dashed as he watches the napkin get shoved into the remains of someone’s drink that’s been abandoned on the bar, soaking the paper and obscuring Harry’s one connection to the stranger forever.
Harry starts to see red, and his hands curl into fists. He’s never punched an actual person, only the bags at the gym, but right now he wants to deck this guy and wipe the bloody smug expression off his face. Before he gets a chance to act on his anger, he feels someone wrap an arm around his waist. He stiffens until he hears Gemma saying, “Sorry, he’s pissed.”
“Don’t apologise to him,” Harry cries, feeling the betrayal of his one and only dearest sister apologising to the man who’s just ruined his life. “He’s a supervillain.”
Gemma snorts. “Okay, bud. Let’s get you home.”
Harry allows Gemma to half-carry him to her car, and crawls into the backseat. He puts his seatbelt on, and then tucks the shoulder strap behind himself as he lies down, stretching the length of the seat.
“Maybe he didn’t like the song,” he mumbles, “he probably just didn’t like the song.”
“What’s that?” Gemma asks as she starts the car.
“The guy. The one I was singing to. Maybe he just didn’t like the song? D’you think that’s why it didn’t work?”
“Are you joking?”
He shakes his head.
“You publicly embarrassed the guy, Harry.”
Harry blinks, trying to comprehend. “I didn’t mean to. I thought he’d be…I don’t know, flattered? I mean, I would’ve been.”
“Not everyone is you, though.”
“Hey!” he cries, only half-pretending to be offended. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
She slows at the light, turns around and fixes him with a level stare. “You know exactly what I mean.”
He doesn’t, but he’s too drunk to argue with her. Crawling into bed and hiding under the covers sounds like a much better idea, and maybe if he’s lucky he won’t remember this in the morning.
“You certainly drank enough for that to be a real possibility,” Gemma says, and Harry realises he’d said that last part out loud.
“I fucked up, Gemma,” he says sadly.
“That you did, little brother. But, if it makes you feel any better, you’ll probably never see that guy again.”
“That doesn’t make me feel better, actually.”
She laughs. “It actually wouldn’t surprise me if you did see him again. Sounds like something that would happen to you.”
“Don’t get my hopes up,” he all but wails pathetically.
“You’re being a drama queen. What do you even know about this guy, anyway?”
That he’s pretty, Harry wants to tell her. That he’s pretty, and that he has kind eyes, and that Harry wants to marry him probably. Only he doesn’t say any of that, because his eyelids are heavy, and speech seems like too much work now; he’s just so sleepy. Harry faintly registers Gemma telling him goodnight - a bit too patronisingly for his taste, really - before he’s falling asleep in the backseat of her car.
He dreams of boys, and kisses, and the colour blue. He dreams of ABBA, of heartbreak, of spilt drinks, of Louis. The napkin had said Louis, he’s sure of it.
He clings to the name, determined to remember it come morning. Because Harry’s going to find that boy. Man. Boy-man. Harry’s going to find that boy-man, Harry’s going to marry that boy-man, but mostly, Harry just wants to see him again.
* * *
Louis pads to his small kitchen in search of breakfast, eyes still blurry and neck sore from his unfortunate sleeping position the night before. He hopes he can get that sorted out before Saturday, because it won’t do him any good to be in pain on his first day in a new coaching job.
Cracking his neck, Louis fills up the kettle at the sink and starts it up. He peeks through the cupboards as if he’s going to use a different mug than usual, then selects the one he drinks from every morning. It’s comforting, this routine. Making tea. Drinking tea. (Not cleaning up after, though. He hates that.)
His phone buzzes as it has been all morning, and he’s finally wide-awake enough to care. When he picks it up, he sees he has several messages from both Lottie and Fizzy, and even a few missed calls. Trying to push down the panic that hits when he thinks about why his two older sisters are trying so hard to reach him, he opens the first message from Fizzy.
There’s no way that was actually Harry Styles Lou
The next message is a group message from Lottie to both him and Fizzy, because apparently that’s a thing they’re doing now.
pix or it didn’t happen
He doesn’t open any more messages, or listen to any voicemails before he’s hitting the button to facetime Fizzy. She picks up after two rings, and Louis has to double-check that he chose the right contact, because instead of Fizzy, Lottie’s face fills the screen, a cross between accusatory and barely contained glee.
“Here!” his older sister calls from somewhere off-screen. “Lots hijacked my phone.”
“I did not,” Lottie huffs, “I merely commandeered it.”
“That doesn’t even make sense,” Fizzy says, and Lottie groans.
“I don’t care. Louis saw Harry Styles last night, and absolutely nothing else is important.”
“Hold on,” Louis interrupts, “you said you wanted a picture or it ‘didn’t happen.’ He punctuates his last words with air-quotes, and Lottie giggles.
“You did send a picture. A very blurry picture, yes, but luckily for you, I’m very good at identifying blurry pictures of every member of Status Single.”
“Former members,” Louis reminds her, because he’s cranky and he knows it will upset her. Except apparently not today, because she just laughs.
“Honestly, I don’t know how we doubted you. It makes sense that he would pop up there, considering it’s his hometown and all.”
“Hometown,” she repeats slowly. “Typically, the town in which you were born, and—”
“Shut up, I know what a bloody hometown is, just… What?”
Lottie lets out an indigent squawk that confuses Louis until he realises Fizzy’s just reclaimed her phone, and is laughing at him.
“Did you really not know? Louis, you’re living in Harry Styles’ hometown. I can’t believe you forgot.”
“Forgot? I never even knew this in the first place.”
She rolls her eyes. “We told you before you left, dude. Why do you think we were so excited when you told us you were moving there?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” he spits out sarcastically, “because you were excited that your younger brother was making his way in the world?”
“Obviously not,” Lottie says in the background.
“Of course we were,” Fizzy soothes while scowling at her. “It being the place Harry Styles grew up was just the bonus.”
“An extremely fit bonus.”
“Be quiet, Lottie.”
“Make me,” she challenges, and then, “when do we get to meet him?”
“You can’t meet him,” Louis says, “are you insane?”
“Wow, arsehole. You don’t even like the guy and you’re still trying to keep him all to yourself.”
“I’m not keeping him all to— He’s not even mine to keep! And even if that was legitimately something that could happen— Which it obviously isn’t, I don’t want him— Did the two of you forget how I feel about that bloody band?”
“Honestly, we’d assumed you were over it, considering you moved to Harry Styles’ hometown and all.”
“I told you,” he grits out, “I didn’t fucking know it was his fucking hometown.”
Lottie rolls her eyes. “Whatever.” She snaps her gum. “Also, Fizzy and I are coming to see you this weekend.”
“You are not. I’m serious, Lots, don’t come here. And…” Louis trials off, because as much as he despises the guy, he doesn’t exactly think the updated whereabouts of the mysterious Harry Styles is something that’s meant to be broadcast. “And don’t tell anyone he’s here, okay? I don’t want people flooding the place.”
“Are you seriously asking us to keep this a secret?”
She sighs. “Only because it’s you, Lou.”
“Thank you,” he says, “I know how hard it’ll be.” (And he does, because his sisters are terrible gossips, but he knows better than to mention that on the phone.)
The sun shining through the window bounces off the shiny surface of his microwave, very nearly blinding Louis, and also drawing his attention to the fact that if he doesn’t end the call now, he’ll end up late for work.
“I’ve got to go,” he tells his sisters apologetically, “but we’ll talk again soon, okay?”
They murmur their responses, and Louis is about to hang up when Lottie says, “Wait, one more thing.”
“What did he smell like?” they both ask at the same time, and it’s all a bit too much really. After such an emotionally taxing conversation, this is what finally pushes him over the edge, and this time, Louis really does hang up. And turns off his phone, because he knows his sisters, and really doesn’t feel like answering any more of their questions today. Besides, he’s got work soon, and needs to get ready. And he can’t do that when his mind is filled with thoughts of Harry Styles. (Only because his sisters put them there, of course.)
Harry, with his green, green eyes, and curls that Louis’ been dead jealous of ever since he spotted the lad on the telly one morning before school - he’ll let himself admit that much - and collection of tattoos that’s grown exponentially over the years. Louis would care, he does have a thing for tattoos, after all, except it’s Harry, and no amount of ink can change that fact. (Not even the laurels on his hips that had made a surprise appearance during his little performance the night before.)
Louis picks up his cup of tea, wincing when he realises he’d been on the phone long enough for it to have gone completely cold. A glance at the clock on the microwave lets him know he’s run out of time to make a new one if he doesn’t want to be late for work, and he resigns himself to the fact that he’ll have to make do with the shit tea available at the office. This is also Harry Styles’ fault, he thinks, as his sisters would have never called him this early if he hadn’t pulled that bullshit last night. Jesus, last night. Louis is still in a partial state of disbelief over the situation. Things like this don’t happen to him. They just… don’t.
And no matter what, he feels secure in the fact that he won’t have to see Harry Styles again. That shouldn’t be too hard, all he has to do is avoid anywhere he might show up. Like the pub. And…well, that’s all he’s got so far, really. Maybe he can ask his sisters what they think. Except he doesn’t exactly fancy a repeat of their conversation from earlier. Also, there’s no proof that Harry Styles is living here again, he reminds himself. For all he knows, it was a one-off thing before the other man fucked off to God knows where for another decade.
* * *
Louis arrives at the office five minutes early. He takes this as an opportunity to steal Luke’s regular parking spot, because Luke was a dick to him last week and he still isn’t quite over it. (It doesn’t hurt that the spot is closer to the door either.)
He reaches the door at the same time as his co-worker, Louise, who looks far too awake for eight o’clock in the morning. Louis groans internally, because he doesn’t mind her, he really doesn’t, but he’s in a bit of a shit mood and just wants to get to his desk. Maybe steal a quick kip before his boss shows up. But Louise has other plans for his morning, apparently.
“Good morning, Louis!” she chirps. “Sleep well?”
Louis shrugs in response. His non-verbal reply doesn’t seem to faze her as she prattles on.
“I slept great! Did you know you’re supposed to turn off your electronics an hour before you sleep? I started doing that and now I sleep like a baby! It also probably helps that I’ve given up gluten. Have you thought about giving up gluten, Louis? I’ve really noticed a lot of positive changes! In fact, I’m considering submitting a suggestion to the tea lady to—”
This gets Louis’ attention. “Why would you do that?”
“To improve everyone's health, obviously,” she says like he’s being ridiculous. Which he most certainly is not. If anything, she’s the ridiculous one if she thinks she can convince Agnes to change her ways. The old girl’s been here for ages, and besides, aren’t people always saying you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? Still, it would be entertaining to watch her try; Louis does get awfully bored.
“I think you should go for it,” he says, working hard to keep the sarcasm from his voice. “I’m sure she’d love to hear your opinions on her food.”
“Do you think?”
“Sure thing, Louise. I think you should go tell her right now, actually.”
“That’s a good idea!”
Louis doesn’t look over his shoulder to see if she’s left, but he takes the sudden silence as confirmation that he’s alone again. It’s not that he minds Louise, or any of his other co-workers really, but it’s Monday morning, he’s hungover, and he’s still in a foul mood over Harry Styles. Which only makes his foul mood worse, because he doesn’t want to be in a foul mood, and he especially doesn’t want to spend any of his time thinking about him.
Which turns out to be easier said than done, because when he makes his first call of the morning he hears the unmistakable sound of Status Single warbling in the background. How bloody brilliant. And of course, the women on the other end of the line is one of those people who actually answers the phone for unknown numbers, and even wants to hear his sales pitch. The same sales pitch he’s having quite a bit of trouble remembering, because Harry Styles is belting out the chorus to Tell Me No Lies, and it’s taking Louis back to the first time he heard Harry Styles sing.
It was that same song, actually. They’d been guests on Top of the Pops; it was all his sisters could talk about the week before, and Louis was curious. He’d pretended to be absorbed in his comic books, and would fight anyone who tried to say otherwise, but he wanted to see this group that had his sisters so excited.
The song had already made its radio debut - it was everywhere at this point - but before that performance, Louis had known very little about the individual members, much less what their voices sounded like. Louis wasn’t a fan of the song - even at eight years old he considered himself much too cool to listen to “dumb pop music” - but that didn’t mean the moment the third member stepped to the side, revealing 16 year old Harry Styles in all his curly-haired, scarf-wearing glory, hadn’t left an impression on Louis. Especially when he opened his mouth and started to sing. Louis hadn’t wanted to like it, he really didn’t, and, if he’s honest, that might’ve been the moment his infamous Harry Styles grudge began.
That hadn’t been the only time he’d heard Harry Styles sing - his sisters were obsessed with the band, after all - but last night had been the first time he’d ever heard him sing solo. He’d sounded amazing, of course, but that still didn’t make Louis hate it any less. And he’d really, really, hated it.
The song ends, and the next song is also by Status Single and Louis can’t do this.
“I’m sorry, madam,” he apologises, though he’s not very sorry at all, “but your taste in music is terrible and I’m going to have to end this call now. Have a nice day!”
He hangs up and spins his chair around, jumping slightly when he sees that his cubemate, Daniel, has shown up and is glaring at him.
“You can’t do that,” he says, and Louis rolls his eyes.
“’course I can. See my name up there?” He points to the leaderboard on the wall where his name has sat at the top for weeks. “That means I can do what I want— Within reason, obviously,” he amends. “But I’m aware of exactly how far I can push this without getting in trouble. And that, love, is what gets me through the day.”
“You’re mad, mate,” Daniel scoffs. “Some of us actually take our work seriously around here, maybe you should try it.”
“Please,” Louis snorts, “I take my work plenty seriously.”
“You just hung up on a caller because you didn’t like their choice of music.”
Daniel just rolls his eyes and turns back around. Louis spins in his chair a few more times before checking to see who he’s calling next. In five hours it’ll be lunchtime, and despite what he’d just told Daniel dearest, that’s really the thing getting him through the day. He thinks about his favourite sandwich as he works his way down the list, until it’s finally noon, and he can’t get out of his cube fast enough.
* * *
Louis doesn’t mind having all the attention on him, thrives on it even, just not when he’s eating, and especially not when he’s doing it so sloppily.
“What’re you lot looking at?” he mumbles around a mouthful, and it’s Louise who speaks up.
“I don’t know about everyone else,” she says, “but I’m making sure you don’t choke yourself.”
“Cheers,” he says sarcastically, “but I’m an adult. I can handle eating without supervision, thank you very much.”
“Adults don’t push people out of the way,” someone else informs him - he doesn’t know who, he still hasn’t bothered to learn the names of every single employee.
“Listen,” he replies, feeling a bit defensive now, “they were running out.” He resumes eating, not caring that he looks like a right slob hunched over his tray like this, stuffing his face. But he’s hungry, okay? It’s not his fault he had nothing in for breakfast this morning. (Except that it is, and he really needs to stop by the shop on his way home tonight. And the pet store, because Clifford’s food container is looking a bit empty.)
The rest of Louis’ day goes quite a bit slower than he’d like it to, if he’s honest. Although he’s someone who could literally talk someone’s ear off - and he’s pretty sure he has before, actually - talking to strangers on the phone for a good seven hours is exhausting in the worst way. Once he finishes his final call of the day, he can’t talk to anyone else, it’s just how he is. Luckily for him, his co-workers are familiar with this, and even more familiar with his reaction to people who ignore this particular quirk, so no one forces him to make any small talk as he packs up his bag and heads out with a quick nod in Kyle’s direction, who replies with his customary two-fingered salute.
* * *
Louis stops by the pet shop first on his way home, because he doesn’t feel like checking his balance right now, and Cliffords’s food is a bigger priority. Louis’ content to eat Pot Noodles for a week if it means his dog eats well. Sometimes he wonders if Clifford is aware just how spoiled he truly is, and then remembers that he’s a dog, and also hasn’t known life to be any other way, seeing as Louis had gotten him as a puppy the day he moved to Holmes Chapel.
He’d just arrived in the village in his hand-me-down Ford Ka when he passed by a sign advertising labradoodle puppies. That fact alone was enough to make him double-take, and the word “<b>FREE” in all caps at the bottom of the cardboard convinced him to stop.
Cliff’s grown an insane amount since then, though he’s still convinced that he can easily fit on Louis’ lap for a cuddle. Not that Louis minds, even if his dog is larger than he is and dwarfs him with little effort. Having Clifford also makes his one-bedroom flat slightly less depressing, even if he is a bit pathetic for choosing to spend Friday nights with his dog instead of going out.
It’s not that he doesn’t have people to go out with, but they’re all work friends, people Louis would rather not see pissed - or be pissed in front of, if he’s honest. Last night had been the first time he’d gone out for a drink with the intention of hooking up with someone in ages, and it was all thanks to Harry bloody Styles that he’d gone home alone. Then again, considering what a loser that guy (Donovan?) turned out to be, maybe Louis should be grateful.
Except that would mean being indebted to Harry Styles, which Louis is absolutely against. He absentmindedly wonders if Harry Styles had really gone home with David (Duke?), and then scowls, because he shouldn’t care. Besides, it’s not like he could have prevented it, as much as he would have liked to. No, no, that’s not right. He wouldn’t have liked to, he doesn’t care - he doesn’t.
The bell above the door jingles as he enters the shop, and the woman behind the till smiles at him. He manages a small one in return, and hurries to the dog food aisle before she can engage him in conversation.
Louis groans when he notices the brand of food he normally buys is almost 15 quid for a bag now. It’s so much, and he wouldn’t get it if he thought Clifford would eat anything else, but he won’t, so Louis groans again as he grabs a bag and carries it to the front, grumbling to himself the whole time. This fucking food shouldn’t cost so much; really, he should get some sort of frequent shopper discount, because it’s not his fault his dog eats so bloody much.
If Louis ruled the world, no one would have to choose between feeding their pet or feeding themselves. Or feeding themselves and keeping the heat on. Or feeding themselves and anything, really. Louis would do a lot of things if he ruled the world, he could improve so much. He could do things like preventing Harry Styles from showing up in the same pub as him. Or even in the same country. God, that’s tempting; he really wants that. A Harry Styles-less existence.
He allows himself to indulge those thoughts the rest of the way home before finally coming to the conclusion that ruling the world seems like a lot of responsibility, and Harry Styles just isn’t worth it.
(And the voice in the back of his mind telling him he doesn’t actually want a Harry Styles-less existence can fuck right off, thank you very much.)
* * *
Harry hums along to the music coming from his Bluetooth speakers as he mashes bananas with a fork. They’re the perfect texture, soft enough to easily squash, but not so soft that they’ve gone brown; he doesn’t care for the overly-sweet tang overripe bananas add to his pancakes, so it’d been a pleasant surprise this morning to find the bananas he’d purchased last week in this perfect condition.
The griddle beeps twice from its spot on the marble countertop, letting Harry know that it’s reached the desired pancake-making temperature, and Harry shushes it.
“Not yet, I’m still making the batter,” he says, and hears a giggle from the kitchen doorway.
“Daddy, why do you always talk to the kitchen appliances?” his daughter asks, rubbing her eyes sleepily. “You know they won’t answer you.”
“Do I?” he teases. “Do you? How do you know they aren’t answering me right this minute?”
Beau rolls her still bleary eyes, and hops up onto one of the stools at the breakfast bar. She rests her elbows on the table and puts her small chin in her hands. “Are you going to make bacon?”
Harry winces. “I think we’re out.” Correction: he knows they’re out. He’d used the last of Beau’s favourite veggie bacon to make a midnight snack last night, completely forgetting that he’d promised her a proper breakfast for her first day of soccer school.
“Did you eat it all again?”
“It was the bacon thief,” he informs her gravely. “Struck again last night— Truly a tragedy of epic proportions. I’ve tried to tell him to stop, but he’s insatiable.”
Beau rolls her eyes again, used to her father’s antics. Harry grins at her and sticks his tongue out. “D’you want sausage instead?”
She shakes her head. “Just pancakes, please. And can I make the juice?”
Harry, having anticipated her request, had cut all the oranges in their fridge in half before she’d woken up and lined them up next to the electric juicer. “Of course, Bo-bear. Go ahead.”
Beau hops off the stool, slipping slightly as her socked feet come in contact with the wood floor. Harry watches, ready to catch her if she starts to fall, but she rights herself before he even has to move.
He turns back to his bananas, giving them one final mash before dumping them into a bright orange bowl already containing almond milk, rapeseed oil, and an egg. The music on his playlist changes from Joni Mitchell to an old Status Single song, and he cringes.
“Did you add this?” he asks Beau, who sticks another orange half in the juicer in lieu of an answer. Harry cringes harder as his own voice drifts out of the speakers, and he abandons his whisking to change the song.
“I wanted to hear that,” Beau whines, and Harry looks skyward as he switches it back. His daughter sings along as she finishes making the juice, smiling happily to herself and Harry supposes his sacrifice is worth it, then. Even if it means having to listen to his old band’s music. Especially this particular song. So many memories are attached to it, some good, most bad, but he can’t tell Beau any of that, because she’s only nine and doesn’t need to know the graphic details of Harry’s past.
Not that she couldn’t find plenty about it online. Unfortunately. Not all of it true, obviously - not that that little detail meant anything to the general public. This isn’t the only reason Harry discourages her from using the computer for anything other than schoolwork, and finding the answer to any question she has that Harry can’t answer on his own. (Which, as it turns out, is quite a lot.) It’s not the only reason, but it definitely is the largest one.
The longer he can keep her in the dark, the better.
By the time he’s finished making the pancakes, Beau’s already consumed 90% of the orange juice, and Harry pretends to scowl at her as he gulps down the remaining half glass. He’s not mad, not really, but it’s delicious and he does wish he could have a bit more, but they can always pick up more oranges on the way home this afternoon.
The clock on the dishwasher lets him know that they’ve still got a few hours before Beau’s first day of soccer school at the Holmes Chapel football club, which is good, because he’s still got to pack her bag, and he can’t remember if he’d moved her kit from the washer to the dryer last night.
His question is answered when Beau sits down at the table across from him, and he notices a triangle of the red and black jersey peeking out from underneath her fluffy pink bathrobe. He smiles and shakes his head at her eagerness to play.
“Are you excited about today?” he asks her, and she nods with a mouth full of pancake.
Harry watches her chew and swallow before answering properly. “You know I am, Daddy.”
“I do,” he replies, voice teasing, “so excited that you just had to put on your uniform first thing, hmm?”
“No,” she giggles, “I slept in it.”
He rolls his eyes, grinning affectionately. “That was silly of you.”
Beau sticks her tongue out at him, and he returns the gesture before starting on his own plate of food. They eat in silence after that, both too preoccupied with their food to continue the conversation.
After, Harry lets Beau go out into the garden to “practice”, which mostly consists of her kicking the ball into the fence so hard it shakes. Harry winces at a particularly hard one, and makes a mental note to apologise to Ms Jones when he sees her next, as they’re not exactly being neighbourly at the moment. But Harry doesn’t have the heart to stop Beau; her excitement is contagious. He knows how much she’s been looking forward to living in what she’s dubbed a “normal place”, and Harry is determined to give her every normal childhood experience his tiny hometown has to offer, including taking classes at the local soccer school. That had been at the top of her list for a while, as none of the places they lived previously had a proper one.
(He still doesn’t know why the Saturday classes are called “Soccer School”, though. He supposes it must be for the alliteration. It’s the only reasonable explanation.)
* * *
Two hours, and one car ride later, Beau’s still kicking a football around, but now she’s on a proper pitch joined by the other girls in her class as they wait for the class to begin. Beau kicks the ball particularly hard, causing the other girls to scatter and the ball to go sailing.
Beau turns to him, looking apologetic. “Whoops.”
“Kicked it a little too hard there, huh?” Harry chuckles.
“I’m really, really good at football,” she says proudly.
Harry rolls his eyes affectionately. “You really, really are, Bo-bear,”’ he says, before running off to fetch the ball for her.
He’d intended to kick it back to the group of children, but at the last minute he notices another person in front of him, and because Harry is well, Harry, he manages to trip over the ball - quite fantastically, he might add - and stumble into the man in front of him. They land in a heap on the ground, Harry on top. He bites his lip and blushes. And then blushes even more when he realises who he’s just fallen on.
Harry feels a bit breathless, and his mouth has gone dry enough that he can’t seem to form words. Not that there are any coming to mind to even bother saying. Harry is literally struck dumb. He’s getting a do-over, the universe has taken pity on him and is giving him a second chance with this man. And Harry intends to make the most of it.
Once he gets off the ground, that is.
He stands up without using his hands, intending to help the other man up but he’s already standing before Harry can even extend a hand.
“So, do you always assault people with your body?” he asks, and…oh. It’s a sentence that could be quite flirtatious in this situation, but it’s not. The man sounds angry, which doesn’t make sense. Harry didn’t even hurt him - at least, he doesn’t think so.
“I… no? You’re just lucky,” he tries, and when he only receives a blank look in response, he asks, “did I hurt you? Are you okay?”
“I’m fine, thanks,” Louis snaps, and Harry frowns.
“Are you sure?”
Harry’s about to ask him which child is his when the other man jogs off without another word. Harry watches him go, and continues watching as he rounds the children up to begin the class - not a parent then, but the coach. Harry feels like a bit of creep for staring the way he is, so he finally tears his eyes away from Louis (Coach Louis) and heads to the stands where the other parents are sitting. He sits somewhere in the middle, not close enough to strike up a conversation with anyone, but that doesn’t stop some of the mums from gravitating towards him and chatting him up anyway.
Harry makes polite small-talk with them while simultaneously trying to keep track of Beau’s performance on the field, and is more than a little relieved when the class finally comes to an end, which he feels a bit bad about, because it’s his daughter’s thing, and she’s been excited about it ever since they found out about the school, but Harry hadn’t been in the mood to make friends this morning - something unusual for him, if he’s honest - and he’s just tired now.
He’s not too tired, however, to try talking to Louis again.
He catches Louis by the cooler full of juice cartons, ignoring Louis’ judgemental look as he fishes one out for himself after handing one to his daughter. He takes a long pull on the juice carton just as Louis says, “My sisters were always big fans of yours.” Harry promptly begins to choke, barely registering Beau hitting him on the back as he frantically tries to figure out how Louis knows.
“What are you talking about?” she asks Louis, and his eyes flick to meet Harry’s, who works to send a silent message to the other man. Don’t, he thinks as loud as he can. Please, don’t.
Louis nods minutely, and claps excitedly as he addresses Beau. “So, little miss, what brings you to our fine pitch today?”
She looks at him like she doesn’t understand the question. “I’m here for soccer school.”
“Of course you are,” Louis replies, not missing a beat.
“Are you done with your juice, love?” Harry asks her, and his daughter presents him with her finished carton. He takes it with a tight smile and ruffles her hair. “Why don’t you go and play with the other kids for a minute while Daddy talks to your coach. Is that okay?”
“Sure,” Beau replies easily, and runs off before Harry can say anything else.
“She’s pretty down-to-earth for the daughter of a popstar, isn’t she?” Louis asks once Beau is out of earshot, and watches in amusement as Harry goes pale at the reminder.
“How did you know it was me?” he whispers. And then, much softer, “How much to keep it quiet?”
Louis looks offended. “Are you trying to pay me off or something, mate? Why would you assume I want your money? And how dare you accuse me of…” he trails off. “I don’t know what you’re accusing me of, but… Just don’t. I’m not going to tell anyone, okay?”
Harry stays silent during Louis’ short rant, and just nods once he’s done.
“Okay. Okay, I believe you.”
The air is tense around them, the awkward quiet eventually pierced by Beau calling out for her father. Harry whips around in time to see her racing across the field towards a pair of girls kicking a ball around, and cheers as she manages to score a goal. He turns back, intending to pick up his conversation with Louis, and is disappointed to find that the other man is gone.
* * *
Louis’ drive home from the club seems to take longer than the one there, like he can’t get away quick enough, no matter how fast he goes. He’s going to be off for the rest of today, he knows it, and it’s all Harry Styles’ fault.
Clifford rushes him as soon as he steps through the door, and Louis grunts as he’s knocked back against the wall.
“Whoa, boyo,” he grunts, “careful there, yeah?”
Clifford doesn’t answer, obviously, and doesn’t back up either as he snuffles his nose into Louis’ jacket pockets, looking for a treat.
“You know as well as I do that there’s nothing there,” Louis says, shaking his head at Clifford’s behaviour, a bad habit Louis had accidentally caused the week he decided he was going to train Clifford to obey him. It hadn’t worked, and now Clifford routinely checked him for goodies despite the fact that it’s been months since Louis’ pockets contained anything resembling a dog biscuit.
Apparently accepting the fact that he’s not getting anything to eat, Clifford moves away and Louis gently pushes him to the side so he can enter his flat properly. He sets his bag next to the doorway, hangs up his jacket, and sighs as he looks around his living room. It’s a right mess, he’s been too tired to do much cleaning lately and for the first time today Louis is almost glad he’s had such a crap morning. Because when Louis gets stressed and upset enough, he cleans.
Deciding he doesn’t want to deal with preparing lunch, Louis unlocks his phone to order a pizza. The person on the other end of the line sounds like they’re judging his order, just like they always seem to, but Louis ignores them, just as he always does, orders a coke and finishes the call, stroking Clifford’s fuzzy head as he does so.
He searches for a station on the radio, eventually giving up and settling on his usual, and sets about his tasks.
* * *
Louis’ halfway through rearranging his bookshelf when the door buzzes, and Clifford barks to let him know. Louis turns to get the door and manages to bump one of the stacks with his hip. Everything clatters to the floor just as the song ends and the DJ reminds him exactly what song he’d been dancing his arse off to. (Late Status Single. Off their last album. He doesn’t know how he remembers this.)
He bends over to pick up the fallen books just as the door buzzes again and Clifford begins to bark louder. Patting down his pockets to make sure his wallet is in there, Louis heads for the door, working to keep Clifford out of the way with his hip.
“One pizza with…” the kid squints at the recipe, “double cheese, ham, pepperoni and jalapeños?”
“That’s me,” he says.
“Here you go.”
“Cheers, mate.” Louis pays and takes the box inside, closing the door with the same hip he’d used to keep Clifford back before. Clifford gets in his way again, of course, because he’s got pizza, and Clifford loves pizza. Maybe even more than he loves Louis. (Louis doesn’t like to consider that fact.)
He settles down on the sofa to eat, and considers turning the radio back on before he remembers how it betrayed him earlier.
Louis is aware that not everyone holds grudges like this against their sister’s childhood idols, and he’s also aware that most people would have been flattered and even pleased to be personally serenaded by Harry Styles. There has to be some reason this particular man has managed to get under Louis’ skin the way he has. Louis hasn’t been this annoyed by someone since he spent two years hating Oliver Smith before he realised he was being flirted with, and the rush of emotion he got when he saw Oliver was because he fancied him.
Maybe Louis fancies Harry Styles.
He snorts so loud he scares Clifford, and then nearly drops the pizza box. Shaking his head at the situation, Louis laughs to himself, because of course he doesn’t fancy Harry Styles. The very idea is as preposterous as it is false.
Fancying Harry Styles. God.
The rest of his evening is relaxing, and by the time Louis goes to bed that night he’s nearly over the events of that morning.
(That is, until he turns on his car radio on the way to work only to hear Harry Fucking Styles coming through the speakers.)
(He can’t turn it off fast enough.)
* * *
Harry’s sure that when his Mum showed up for her only granddaughter’s 9th birthday party, she didn’t expect her adult son to drag her away from the festivities to beg her for advice.
(He’s desperate, okay?)
“I need help with something,” He tells her slowly. “Well, someone, really. There’s this man, see, and—”
“This wouldn’t happen to have anything to do with the boy from the pub, would it?”
“What?” Harry laughs nervously, “what boy? What pub? I don’t know any boys or any pubs, Mummy; don’t be ridiculous.”
“Gemma told me all about it, dear, you don’t have to lie to me.”
“Did she? Interesting.” He’s already planning what he’s going to say to his sister once he gets her alone, something starting with “Tattle tale” and ending with “Stop gossiping about me to Mum” that will most likely fall on deaf ears, but it’s more for his own satisfaction than anything, so the wasted time will be worth it. Plus, he kind of likes that Gemma’s so invested in the Louis thing, because it means she thinks it’s a Thing, and if she thinks it’s a Thing then the chances of it becoming a Real Thing increase. She’s just got an eye for that sort of stuff.
But, wait, that’s not his plan. Harry’s beyond wanting to hook up with a fit boy. He wants to befriend said fit boy, and make that fit boy smile at him for more than five minutes. Preferably genuinely. Possibly na— No. No. If Operation Befriend Louis is to be successful, then Harry has to push away any thoughts about the man that aren’t purely platonic.
“Gemma says you fancy him.”
“I do not fancy him. I just think he’s a bit fit and has nice eyes and his smile is like the sun and he makes me laugh a lot even when he’s making fun of me. But I don’t want to date him; I want to be his friend. But I don’t know how, and I need your help.”
He really does, especially if he’s going to get through the rest of Beau’s soccer school session with Louis. Because while he’s not narcissistic, he doesn’t need people to like him, it’s just preferable to the alternative. The alternative, that, before last Saturday, he hadn’t truly experienced since he was 16 and put in a band with three other boys.
People have always loved Harry. Perhaps a little too much at times - the devotion bordering on obsession was more creepy than cute, if he’s honest, but people have always loved Harry. Even as a child, he was constantly referred to as “a little charmer,” and that charm stuck with him throughout his life. His charm became his “thing” in Status Single. Harry Styles: The Charmer.
And, okay, he knows that people dislike him; it’s impossible to exist in the public eye and not get hate, but this is his bloody hometown. Nobody hates Harry in Holmes Chapel. Except maybe the guy from the other night. And the person who’d shouted obscenities yesterday morning when he accidentally cut them up. The girl whose skirt he lifted in Year 4 probably doesn’t have fond memories of him - she also most likely doesn’t live in the village anymore, so Harry’s not really sure that counts, but he does know that with the exception of these three people, nobody hates Harry in Holmes Chapel.
Except maybe Louis.
Logically, Harry knows that every individual is entitled to their own free will, and he can’t actually force someone to be his friend - not to mention doing so would set a horrid example for his terribly impressionable daughter, but bloody hell, why doesn’t Louis like him? It has to go beyond their first meeting, because although he understands the point Gemma made, there’s no way someone could feel so strongly about a little public serenade but he’d end up on their shit list.
Once again, Louis appears to be the exception.
Not for long though, because Harry’s determined to win Louis over. It’s not even about him being fit anymore - although Harry can’t deny he wouldn’t like a snog - it’s about his pride. Because people have always loved Harry. And, dammit, someday Louis will too.
(As a friend, of course.)
He listens intently as his mum shares her wisdom, and once she’s done, he feels more confident than he has since first laying eyes on Louis the week before. One glance at Beau reminds him that they’re meant to be on their way to her birthday dinner. Luckily for him, she’s already ready to go, eagerly bouncing on her toes in a circle around a very Done Gemma. Apparently, while he was talking to his Mum, Gemma had promised Beau she could have ice cream after dinner - in addition to her cake - and since it’s his daughter’s birthday he decides he’ll allow it.
Plus, Harry could really go for a cone, and he feels better about the treat if he’s got Beau as an excuse. That’s the price of growing up, Harry supposes. Nothing’s a treat anymore, at least not without guilt. It’s been a while since he’s allowed himself to have something just because, and it’ll be a while longer until he does it again. But Harry doesn’t mind.
* * *
They’re walking around with their cones after their meal when Beau shouts excitedly, nearly causing Harry to drop his ice cream.
“Look!” she cries. “It’s Louis!”
Sure enough, not too far ahead is the back of a very familiar football coach.
“Yup,” Harry confirms, “that’s him, alright.”
Beau tugs at the hem of his shirt. “We should follow him,” she says.
“I don’t think that’s the best idea, love. He’s probably busy.”
She pouts. “But he doesn’t look busy.”
“Beau,” he says like a warning. “We’re going to be polite and let the man shop in peace, okay?”
“Okay.” The sigh that follows is one familiar to parents everywhere, the one that means: “I’m going to listen, but I’m not going to like it, and I’m going to make sure you are aware of this the entire bloody time.” Harry - who is 100% not a fan of that sigh, stops walking.
“We’re not going to have any of that,” he tells her, feeling his mother’s stare behind him. He’s been nervous about being home, under her watchful eye, afraid that she’ll eventually tell him he’s doing this all wrong. (In reality, he knows that she wouldn’t, and that he is doing a good job, but that worry is still there.)
“Sorry, Daddy,” Beau says, and Harry tucks a stray piece of hair behind her ear before it can find its way into her ice cream.
“It’s fine, love. Let’s just finish our ice cream and head home, yeah? We can all watch a film together before it’s time for bed.”
That promise seems to do the trick, as Beau immediately drops the subject in favour of trying to pick what film to watch, a near-impossible feat, as his daughter has never been able to pick a favourite anything in her life. Still, the point was to distract her, and he succeeded, and the hour or so it will take to finally choose a film will be worth it.
Even if it means he didn’t get to talk to Louis.
Which is fine. It’s totally fine. Like he told Beau, Louis looked busy - it definitely wasn’t because he was nervous. Not that Harry doesn’t get nervous, just… Well, most people don’t make Harry nervous the way Louis does.
And, okay, maybe he was a little nervous. Maybe a bit more than that.
Maybe Louis makes him simultaneously want to declare his love in a public place and run away and never look back.
But it’s fine. It’s totally fine.
* * *
Tomorrow Beau will be attending a proper school for the first time in her life. The exact one he’d gone to, actually. Harry finds that thought amusing. It’s one of the main reasons he’d picked Holmes Chapel as their permanent home base - a fact he plans to never ever share with his mum, lest she subject him to a tearful conversation about the importance of being near your family. (He’d been on the receiving end of that particular speech the night he told her he was leaving. It’s not something he’d care to repeat.)
Harry had loved his time at Holmes Chapel Primary School, holds many fond memories from those years, and he hopes that Beau’s experience will be as pleasant as his own. When they toured the school grounds two weeks back, he’d had a blast pointing out all the things he remembered about the place to his daughter. Even though so much had changed since he’d attended, there was still enough nostalgia attached to get him excited.
He’s only really worried about one thing, because the biggest downside of them moving so frequently is that it’s made it hard for Beau to learn how to make friends. It’s not that she doesn’t want to befriend the other kids, exactly, it’s just that her interests don’t really line up with the interests of a normal - Harry despises that word with a passion - nine year old. And she’s not shy, she’s the exact opposite of shy, but she comes on very strong, too overwhelming for a new person. It breaks Harry’s heart sometimes, because he remembers that too. The loneliness.
His mum had been there for him through all of that, just as he plans to be there for Beau should problems arise. He knows he’s most likely overthinking this - she hasn’t even set foot in the building yet for fuck’s sake, but if there’s one thing he’s learned from being a parent, it’s that if there’s something to worry about, fret or feel guilty over, he’ll find it.
(It’s one of his least useful talents.)
He sticks his head into Beau’s room and finds that she’s still awake.
“You’re meant to be sleeping,” he reminds her.
“Can’t,” she says, and Harry chuckles fondly.
“Feeling nervous at all?”
She shakes her head quickly, then hesitates for a moment before nodding. “A little bit.”
“That’s fine,” he assures her. “It’s okay to be nervous. I’m nervous too.”
He nods. “Really, really.”
“Really really really?”
Harry winks and ruffles his daughter’s hair. “Really really really,” he confirms with a grin.
Beau looks slightly more convinced after that, and Harry adjusts her duvet as she nestles her head into her pillow.
“Do you want Mr Bear?”
“Please,” she says, because even though she claims that she’s too old to still be sleeping with a stuffed toy, Harry knows that Mr Bear spends more time in her bed than he does on the shelf.
Harry fetches the toy, taking a moment to run his thumb over the worn fur on the old bear’s leg. It’s worn through in places, patches of white visible through the light brown fluff. Countless surgeries have been performed over the years, and as a result one of Mr Bear’s legs is permanently stuck at a rather uncomfortable angle. Beau never seems to mind, though, and that’s all that really matters.
He runs his eyes over the other toys on the shelf, all reminders of his daughter’s childhood that Harry wouldn’t trade for the world. Because as much as he’s been craving stability, nothing on earth comes close to topping everything they’ve experienced these past nine years.
“Mr Bear, please,” Beau complains, drawing Harry out of his thoughts, and he remembers why he’s standing there in the first place.
“Sorry, sweetheart,” he apologises, “Daddy’s distracted tonight.”
“I forgive you,” she says, and Harry’s heart feels full as he hands her the bear.
(He wants to ask his mum if it’d been like this for her, if every one of his milestones filled to the brim with this emotion, this pride that threatens to spill over at any moment.) (He suspects he knows the answer.)
Beau helps snap Harry out of his melancholy retrospective with a, “Goodnight, Daddy.” He echoes the sentiment before leaning down to kiss her forehead. When he goes to turn off the light, he can hear her speaking softly to Mr Bear, and he thinks it’s about tomorrow, but he doesn’t want to eavesdrop, so he flips the switch and closes the door softly, wondering briefly when he let himself become such a sop.
(He reckons he knows the answer, but it’s easier to pretend this is an uncommon occurrence.)