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I Could Fall or I Could Fly

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PART 1: Need

 

A cool droplet runs down Louis’ back from the water he’s splashed slightly too vigorously in his face. He looks up into the mirror above the sink as he wipes himself dry on a brand new towel that he just tore the tags off of yesterday. He thinks briefly about shaving as he pats his face, but then leaves it for now. He walks out of the bathroom and decides to leave his phone charging in the bedroom instead of checking it. He can’t remember the last time he woke up and didn’t check his phone immediately. Odd that.

He doesn’t need to check any emails or texts from his nutritionist or coaches or the physiotherapist. He’s probably got messages from his mum and some of the lads, but they can all wait for a bit. He wanders into the kitchen, scratching his belly idly and stretching his arms as he flips on the kettle. While he waits, he grabs the remote and switches on the telly, quickly flipping through to the last recorded match of his former team.

He watches their scarlet kits gather in formation, and then, the screen changes and his own face appears. The announcers begin speaking. “Louis Tomlinson, newly retired football star, appears to have left Manchester for Malibu--” Louis’ fingers fumble over the remote as he clicks off the telly. He isn’t ready for that yet. All his life, football has always come first, and now all that’s before him is--

He drops the remote as he glances across the room, and his feet carry him out the glass doors that lead onto the deck. This is what’s before him: a California beach and all the time in the world. He’s owned this house as one of his investments for years and never seen it in person before a few days ago.

He looks out at his back garden and marvels a bit. He’s never had a garden before that was a beach. He scans the waves seeing a pelican swoop low over the water, and his eyes catch on a pair of bright yellow shorts standing directly in front of his house.

They’re being worn by a very fit man who looks vaguely familiar. Before he can look away, two girls dash towards the man from the direction of his neighbour’s house. They must ask for a photo because he watches as they pull out their phones and the man smiles a movie star smile, and it hits him who this is. He’s seen his face on many a tabloid back home, although the only film he’s seen him in is a war movie with Tom Hardy a few years back.

Harry Styles.

Louis briefly wonders what his real name is, before he refocuses on Harry’s long legs. He remembers him being quite handsome in the film, but he’s even more fit in person, particularly in those shorts. Maybe it’s time to update his wanking material. Tom Hardy was due to be replaced in his fantasies anyway.

His brain finally clears enough to wonder why Harry Styles is walking on the beach in front of his house in the first place. He tries to recall whether his broker ever said anything about the neighbours, but it was long enough ago that he can’t remember. Does he know someone nearby? Does he live somewhere nearby?

These are one too many questions for this early in the morning. He pushes his sunnies up into his hair, which has grown a bit long and unruly as of late, and checks his watch. It’s mid-day. He’s quite taken aback. He hasn’t slept in like this in--years, maybe.

When he looks up, the girls are scampering off towards the house next to his own, and he wonders again if the girls are his neighbours or just guests. He’s just about to go check on his tea when Harry’s gaze ensnares him. His stare is quite unnerving. Harry doesn’t look away when most people would after having inadvertently caught someone looking at them. Maybe he’s used to people watching him.

///

Harry walks out of his best friend’s beach house and out onto the sand. He breathes in the ocean air and exhales slowly, absorbing the moment. He only gets as far as the next house over when two young girls coming spilling out of Niall’s house to accost him. He sighs and puts on his best Harry Styles brand smile for a selfie that is sure to show up on social media as soon as they get back inside the house.

He’s quite sure these two haven’t seen Dunkirk, so it’s more likely they’ve become fans of his through the romantic comedies he’s been doing more of lately. He’s not really sure the turn his acting career has taken is the one he wanted, but everything technically is going well. He just hasn’t found anything he’s passionate about since Dunkirk. He tries not to think about why he’s holed up in Annie’s beach house, avoiding the reality of choosing a new acting role.

The girls hadn’t stopped long enough to explain who they were, but he thinks he detected an Irish accent out of them, so probably relatives of some kind. They had to have been watching for him through the huge windows overlooking the beach, or they’d never have noticed what with him being so close to Annie’s new neighbor’s house.

He’s only been staying at Annie’s for two weeks, and Niall’s already dropped by several times. It seems a bit odd he hasn’t mentioned relatives in town, although most of the time he drops by to play them new songs he’s working on. He suspects Niall’s interest lies with impressing Annie rather than her famous best friend, but he’ll have to weasel it out of her later whether Niall does this on a regular basis.  People need to be vigilant about finding opportunities to tease their childhood friends, even as adults.

He wonders whether he should bother continuing his walk or if he’ll just be inviting trouble when he feels another set of eyes on him. He’s got a sixth sense about this kind of thing. His eyes immediately spot a bit of reflected light shining from the deck of Annie’s neighbor. His gaze catches on a pair of muscular legs and a tightly honed, shirtless body clothed only in a pair of soccer shorts. This would all be impressive in and of itself, but then Harry sees the man’s face, and he simply can’t look away.

The sharp angles of his face, his wide set eyes, his soft brown hair held back by sunglasses. To say this man is stunning would be a gross understatement. He knows he’s staring too long, but he can’t seem to stop. His brain tries to process what to do to keep this man from leaving his sight, but his mind clouds over with words like hard, soft, beautiful, want.

Rather than trust his voice, Harry smiles and lifts a hand to wave in greeting. The man nods his head and gives him a smile in return before turning and walking back into the house, allowing Harry a brief glimpse of the most perfect ass to press against a pair of soccer shorts he’s ever seen. It takes a minute for him to catch his breath before he heads back inside Annie’s house. He’s pretty sure he shouldn’t be around any errant fans right now. In fact, he’s pretty sure he should go take a cold shower.  

///

The day after his odd encounter with a movie star, Louis finds himself bored to tears lying on a very lovely couch that someone must have chosen for him when decorating this place years ago and staring at the ceiling. His knee hurts a bit, so he’s got it propped up on a pillow. He can’t seem to summon the will to even reach for the remote right now.

His sad moment is interrupted by a loud pounding at his front door. He nearly falls off the couch at the sound. The knocking continues incessantly until he actually reaches the door and wrenches it open, and Niall Horan nearly falls through his doorway.

Louis’ sisters have had posters of Niall plastered all over their walls for years, and now one of the biggest pop stars in the world is practically knocking his door down. California is already fucking weird as hell, and he’s only been here for a few days.

“Hiya, mate. Nice to meet ya. I’m Niall.” Niall stretches out a hand, a friendly grin on his face.

Louis shakes it. “Ehm--hi. I’m Louis--”

“Pshhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! I know who you are, mate! Can’t say I’m that happy to see you considering I thought maybe you’d rethink retirement, maybe pull a Scholes and get back out on the pitch. I mean, you still have time to do that, I suppose.” Niall suddenly stops talking to scrutinize Louis’ face. “What are ya? Thirty-five? You could still have another season in you, lad!”

“Well, I--”

“Oh ho, or maybe you’re pulling a Beckham and gonna play for the Galaxy! Am I in the know? Do I have the hot goss? Does anyone know you’re here?”

Louis pulls a face. “Yeah, I heard my whereabouts mentioned by Crerand during the match the other day.”

“Ah, fuck. So I’m actually out of the loop then! Bloody L.A., I tell ya, too much sunlight, you start forgetting to keep up with football ‘cause you’re outside all the time!”

“Yeah, I could see how that could become a problem.” Louis huffs out a laugh. “Well, Niall can I offer you a cuppa?”

A gleeful smile spreads across Niall’s face just before he cuffs Louis on the shoulder and starts leading them both towards the kitchen. “I knew we were gonna be great mates!”

Louis’ still a bit bewildered how offering a random pop star who has shown up at his door a cup of tea has suddenly gained him a friend. He’d almost wonder if it was the pain pills creating bizarre scenarios in his head, but he quit taking them weeks ago.

He flips the kettle on and faces Niall who has taken a guitar off his shoulder and set it on a chair. To be honest Louis hadn’t even noticed the guitar what with the sudden appearance of a boyband member in his house. “So Niall, what brings you to my house today?”

Niall turns from rummaging in his cupboards, emerging with a package of crisps. “Oh, just being neighbourly!”

“So you’re my neighbour then?”

Niall snorts as he sits down munching a chip. “Mate, who else would I be? Do you think I just show up out of nowhere? I might be Irish, but I’m not actually a leprechaun.”

“Right. Of course. So I saw a pair of girls come out of a house nearby. Your sisters?” Louis guesses. They’d greatly reminded him of his own sisters, and he has a sudden pang of loneliness being so far away from his family.

“Ah, no. Cousins. Or daughters of cousins really. Never had so many cousins until I got famous, funny that.” Niall winks. “Not sure how far removed they are, but they’re family, so they’re welcome. Family is so important, mate. It’s everything really.”

Louis nods his agreement. He feels the same way, but he just needed a bit of space for now and a beautiful place where not everyone knew who he was. Although it seems he’s inadvertently moved in next door to a football fan.

“I saw them yesterday down on the beach getting selfies with Harry Styles.”

“WHAT?????????” Niall stands up from his chair so quickly it nearly falls over, a pained expression on his face. “They’ve been harrassing Harry? I’m never gonna get in good with Annie! Fuck, fuck, fuck.”

Louis feels lost again as he has already multiple times in this conversation. “Who’s Annie?”

“Oh, I’ve been wooing Harry’s best friend stealthily. She lives next door to you on the other side. But now my annoying family is ruining it! I should never have let them in the house! I never liked Aileen anyway. No wonder her daughters are awful creatures.”

Louis can’t imagine Niall doing anything by stealth, but he ignores that part. “You just said family is everything to you.”

“Yeah, well, that was before I knew they were out here besmirching the Horan name. Sorry, but I need to get going and lay down the law. You’ll have to wait on the new song I was gonna sing you.” Niall cracks his knuckles as menacing as a leprechaun can be. “Bye, now, Lou.”

No one ever calls Louis, Lou. But he’s fairly sure Niall is not the usual person he encounters.

///

It takes two days for Harry’s resolve to break, and he finds himself very casually asking Annie about her new neighbor as they make lunch. Annie grins so widely he’s afraid her face might split. Maybe he was less casual than he thought.

“Got a look at him, did you?” She wiggles her eyebrows comically.

“Hmm? Just saw him out on the deck the other morning. Waved hello.” He shrugs in what he hopes in a nonchalant manner.

Annie laughs as she pulls her hair up into a haphazard bun. “You might be an actor, but you’re not much of a liar, H.”

He coughs. “Don’t know what you mean.”

“Just that I’ve been waiting for you to ask about him. Figured you’d ask as soon as you saw him.”

“Why’s that?” He asks even though he’s clearly been caught out at this point.

“Oh, just that my new neighbor happens to be extremely hot, that’s all. Just thought you might want a few more details about him. But if you’re not interested--” She trails off and fills a glass of water from the fridge.

He waits, hoping she’ll finish talking about him. Maybe even give him a name he can Google. He silently counts to ten, and when she says nothing, he sighs and gives in. “Fine. You win. What’s his name? Do you know anything about him?”

He rolls his eyes at her obvious delight. “Ha! Knew it. Anyway, we have the same broker, and she gave me the heads up that he was going to finally move into the house. So I looked him up when I got the name.”

“Which is?”

“Louis Tomlinson. Newly retired soccer player from the UK.”

“Soccer? Huh. Explains his--” Harry catches himself from saying anything further.

“Yes?” She asks knowingly.

“Er--assets.”

“Mmhmm. Sure does,” Annie says as she pulls her laptop across the kitchen island and opens it, quickly typing in a few words and then positioning the screen in front of Harry.

It’s a glorious sight. He hadn’t really hoped to find this many high quality photographs of the man unless he was famous, which apparently Louis Tomlinson is. There are photos of him diving to head a ball, others where he’s clearly in mid-flight running down the field, others where his foot is connecting with the soccer ball and his muscles are contracted in graceful movement. He studies the curves of Louis’ body like he might be tested on the exact diameters and angles later. Then, he finds one of Louis at a charity event in a well fitting suit that makes his mouth water nearly as much as all the game photos. He’s not sure how long he stares at the photographs before he hears Annie’s voice.

“If you can keep your drooling to a minimum, we could go over and meet him.”

“What? No. Er--I mean, sure. I mean, if you were going to do that anyway, I could--uh, come with you. If you want. Or not. Either way. I don’t have a preference about if I were to go--or not go--or--”

“Christ, H. It’s pretty clear you want to go. Now go make yourself pretty, and we’ll go show you off to the neighbor. Maybe get you a date and out of my house for once.”

“Wait--what--” He splutters. “Uh, I’m not saying--is he--do you even know if--”

“He’s gay, Harry. He came out a few years ago,” she states bluntly. “No public relationships though. Not sure why. Maybe just not a lot of time for one.”

“Oh. Okay. Then, I guess I’ll just go--freshen up.”

“Good thing Christopher Nolan didn’t hear this conversation before he hired you. Would have never let you audition if he’d heard how much trouble you just had speaking.”

“Oh, shut up.”

He wanders into Annie’s guest room that he’s basically taken over. He has a wide array of clothing in the closet and decides on a Hawaiian print shirt left mostly open and a pair of white jeans. Surely, he looks fairly Malibu like this, casually Californian, like he fits in with the area. Oh god, he’s even thinking stupid things now. He and Annie are from L.A. He doesn’t have to try and look like he’s from here.

When he finally emerges from the room, he hears Annie in the shower, so now he’s got some time to kill, which is unfortunate seeing how keyed up he is about meeting the hot neighbor. He paces Annie’s living room for a bit before deciding they need a housewarming gift. He’s in his Range Rover before giving it another thought.

He starts driving first to Wildflour for some fresh made breads, and then he hits up Sea Lily for a sustainable flower arrangement. He quickly chooses one with a multitude of white flowers and greens. He figures he doesn’t know what Louis’ decor is yet, so white is probably the safest option. He carefully straps in the flower arrangement with a seatbelt and heads back to Annie’s.

He finds her waiting in the kitchen with her laptop open, which she promptly shuts closed when he walks in bearing the flowers and bread. “According to Google, he would have preferred KFC and something with Spiderman on it, but let’s go bring him your gifts, you weirdo.”

“Weirdo? Oh god, is this overkill? I need to make a good impression. Here,” he says as he shoves the bread into her arms. “You bring this in and pretend it’s from you. No, wait! Maybe you should bring the flowers in.”

“I’m bringing in neither, so either bring them both or Louis doesn’t get his gifts.”

He scowls at her. “Fine. Traitor.” He takes the bread back.

They walk around the hedges separating the front of their houses and appear at Louis’ front door. Harry thinks he hears music from inside, so at least it appears that Louis is home. He clears his throat and tries to smile as Annie knocks politely with the door knocker. The music stops abruptly, and the door is thrown open. For a second he thinks they’ve somehow managed to go one house down because Niall is standing in the doorway grinning at them.

Niall has his guitar strapped to him, so apparently, they aren’t the only ones being graced by Niall’s musical presence lately. He looks at Annie to share a look with her, but she seems oddly focused on Niall, a frown on her pretty face.

“Come to check out our new neighbour, I see! Well, come in, come in!” Niall gestures them into the house.

Harry’s pretty sure Niall shouldn’t be letting people into his neighbor’s house, but it doesn’t really feel like they have a choice but to come in at this point. He spots Louis on the couch with a leg propped up on a pillow as they walk further into the room. He sees a slight grimace on Louis’ face as he moves his foot to the ground and stands up.

Louis moves towards them his arms outstretched and a bright smile on his face, and for one dumb moment Harry think he’s going to hug him.  But then he realizes his arms are full of bread and flowers.

“Those for me then? Thanks, mate!” Louis says cheerily. Harry’s heart thumps a bit harder at the accent. He obviously knew Louis was British, but to hear his raspy, lilting tone speaking to him with that smile that reaches his eyes, well, it’s a bit much put all together like that.

“Hello.” Fuck. His voice came out about as deep as he’s ever heard himself speak. He can hear Annie giggle a little beside him. He doesn’t look at her. Instead, he looks at Louis’ face, which he can see registers a hint of interest, he thinks as he hands Louis the bread and flowers. “I’m Harry. This is my friend, Annie.”

Annie shoots him a look. He possibly enunciated the word friend a little too much to be subtle. No one has ever accused him of subtlety. Annie shakes Louis’ hand. “Hi, it’s nice to meet you. I live next door, and this one has basically moved into my guest room even though he could live basically anywhere in the world.”

“Heyyyyy, but I’d rather live with you though, Annie!”

“You’d rather hide out with me, you mean. That’s okay, H. Conversation for another day, I suppose.”

Louis looks a bit amused at their interaction before saying, “Well, it’s nice to meet you both. I’m Louis by the way. Not sure if I’m supposed to pretend to not know who you are, but I hate pretenses so I’ll just tell you that I really enjoyed Dunkirk.”

“Oh, uh, thank you!” He says, a bit surprised really. People aren’t usually this forthright with him. “I hear you’re quite an amazing soccer player.”

He would curse himself if he could. Fucking hell, he probably shouldn’t know this. His eyes dart to a row of trophies on the shelves lining one wall. “At least, you must be good at soccer if those trophies are any indicator.”

“Soccer?” Louis scrunches his perfect nose at the word. “Oh mate, the game is called football! I refuse to allow anyone to say the word soccer in my presence.”

Harry grins. “Oh, I know about football. My favorite team is the Packers.”

“Nooooo! I refuse to allow this in my own home!” Louis sets the bread and flowers down on a side table. “Have you ever even watched a real football game? Not a piss poor American version?”

Harry shakes his head and shrugs.

“I insist you watch the next Manchester game. I livestream them all for the most part.”

“Is that an invitation?” Harry asks. Louis looks surprised, and he feels a bit foolish to think this little bit of banter might have been flirtatious.

Before he can run back out the door in embarrassment, Louis says, “Yeah, it is, actually. I’ll let you know when the next one is. I’ll have to look up the Pacific time for the match.”

“Great. I’ll just--uh, give you my number then and you can--text me about it.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, sounds good,” Louis says as he produces a phone from his pocket and unlocks it before handing it to Harry to program his number in, which is when Harry realizes they have an audience. Both Niall and Annie are avidly watching this little proceeding.

“Well, I should probably head out,” Niall says as he heads towards the door. “Gotta go check on my cousins and make sure they haven’t tackled any more of my neighbours.”

“Yeah, I should probably get going myself,” Annie says as she follows Niall. “Nice to meet you, Louis.”

“Thanks for stopping by,” Louis calls out.

Harry wonders if they’re trying to leave him here with Louis, but he’s definitely not prepared for that, so he follows behind Annie. His heart nearly stops when he feels the light touch of Louis’ fingers on his arm. “Thanks for the bread and the flowers.”

Harry nods. “Let me know when you want to watch that soccer game.”

Louis huffs out a small laugh. “Just remember if you use the word soccer in this house, you won’t be rewarded.”

The door closes behind him, and he’s left staring at it, his mouth hanging open. Christ, does he ever want a reward from Louis Tomlinson. He feels a bit dazed as he walks back to Annie’s house, stumbling along behind her.

“Good luck on your date, mate!” Niall screams from two houses down. There’s only a very small chance that Louis doesn’t hear his yell.

He trips up into the house and closes the door behind them.

Did he just ask himself out on a date with Louis Tomlinson? “Did I just ask myself out on a date with Louis Tomlinson?”

“Yep.”