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(That's Just) The Way I Am

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Harry was having a pretty good Wednesday, if anyone asked him. Not that anyone had. Most of his friends had left town, ready to party for the summer now that they’d all graduated, ready to move on to either their professional degrees or the positions waiting for them with their various family businesses. Harry, however, was happy to remain in New York City and enjoy some relaxation before buckling down for his MBA at Columbia. He enjoyed a good time and all, but his friends often took partying as seriously as Harry did his studies.

Looking out the window of the cafe, Harry’s eyes glazed over a little as he considered the four years of hard work he’d finally completed and felt a sense of pleasure fill his chest. He’d fought hard for the opportunity to study on the East Coast. His family was one of the big names in Silicon Valley, thanks to his dad’s hard work with his upstart business back in the 1980s. Harry had always known he’d join the board and that there was a position waiting for him so he would be ready to take over when it was time for his dad to retire.

He didn’t want to spend his entire life in California though. Knowing most of his future revolved around the business that would tie him to northern California for the foreseeable future, he wanted to take the chance to explore life on his own for college and had finally gotten approval to attend NYU. The agreement was that as long as Harry studied Business Administration for his undergrad and ended with his Masters in the same and attended a top ten school for those degrees he had those six years of his life to spend where he liked.

Well, the first four were done, and Harry would be damned if he didn’t enjoy himself for the last two while he was at Columbia. After all, it was probably the closest to freedom he’d truly be able to experience.

Harry sipped on his white mocha and enjoyed the feeling of the sun coming through the window, warming his skin. Yes. Today was definitely a good day.

The calm that filled Harry dissipated when his phone began to buzz across the table beside the overstuffed armchair he had fallen into earlier. Seeing a photo of his mother, her blonde hair cut in the severe bob she’d favored for the last year or two, made his stomach tighten. She never called unless there was bad news and his father had decided she was the best person to break it to Harry.

“Hello, mother. It’s quite early at home. Is everything okay?”

Cynthia sighed. “Harry. Your father requires you to come home this weekend to sign some paperwork.”

Harry snorted. “Sure he does. Just have him send it over. There’s not a reason for him to have me actually fly back to California just for some paperwork.”

The silence that followed his statement was almost deafening.

Leaning forward in his chair, Harry’s brows furrowed in concern. “What’s going on. You aren’t telling me everything.”

Still not getting an answer, there was some static on the line as well as some tense whispers heard before a door slammed and his mother returned to the line.

Exhaustion seeping into her tone, his mother said, “Your father has moved up the announcement.”

Harry’s heart dropped so far down he wasn’t sure it could even be described as being in his stomach. “How far?” he asked, cautious to not let his anger and fear leak into his voice.

“The timing makes sense, with Richard retiring at the end of the year, you know. That’s the position your father always had in mind for you, and your masters focus being on finance is perfect, really. The announcement can be tied into Richard’s retirement now, but you will be needed to be seen physically near headquarters. Really show you’re interested and taking the family business seriously. You are quite young to be the CFO, but it’s not entirely unheard of and-”

“Mom,” Harry said firmly, cutting off her babbling that was just giving him a headache. So much for a good day. “The announcement was meant to be made in December of next year with me taking more frequent trips back during my last semester of school and then fully taking over a position after graduation. How much is he moving it up?”

Clearing her throat, Cynthia said, “It’s happening next week.”

“Like fuck it is,” Harry cried, having to nod an apology to the mother sitting with her toddler nearby. Regaining control of his voice, Harry said, “Why the hell is the announcement happening so much earlier than expected? The real reason. We both know the board could drag out deliberations on the new official CFO announcement for at least six months and Richard isn’t retiring until next June, isn’t that right? Why now?”

“Your father has already notified the press. The paperwork you need to sign this coming weekend will be taken care of immediately before the conference.”

Rolling his eyes, Harry said, “He didn’t even bother to tell you why, did he? He just stuck you with the dirty work like he always does.”

Cynthia remained quiet, just as he thought she would.

“Right. Well I’ll let you know once I’ve got my flight details confirmed. It doesn’t seem I have much choice in this either.”

“I am sorry, Harry. I know how much you were looking forward to Columbia.”

Harry let out a bitter laugh. “Yeah.”

“If you’re dating anyone, now might be a good time to get them acquainted with the family as well, you know. Short weekend trip and all that.”

“Yeah right.” Harry scoffed.

There was no way Harry would want to bring anyone out for an introductory trip like this. The fighting between himself and his father was sure to be be worse than usual and father still hadn’t accepted Harry’s pansexual identity. No matter who Harry might bring home, he would be due for a weekend of awkward tension.

“Just saying they’re welcome to join you if there is anyone.”

“Yeah,” Harry said with a sigh. “Thanks, Mother. I’ll email you the details shortly.”

He hung up and slapped the phone down on the table.

Harry wasn’t dating anyone at the moment at least, so that was one less thing to worry about. Though, at this point, he almost wished he were dating a man just so he could incense his father.

The door jingled, pulling Harry’s attention away from the window and to the man who had just walked into the cafe.

Now that was exactly who Harry should try bringing home. His dad would have a fucking heart attack. The man was dressed in ratty black skinny jeans and what was obviously a self cut tank top that used to be a Stone Roses t-shirt. His black chucks had holes in the canvas, indicating exactly how old they were, and his maroon beanie wasn’t in much better shape.

The more Harry studied the man’s smoky eyeliner rimmed eyes and the lipstick he had swiped on to match his hat, the more Harry started hatching an idea. What if Harry really did bring this man home? If not this guy, then there had to be someone out there that was willing to take an all expenses paid trip to San Francisco for a weekend. They’d be able to sneak away for at least a few hours to see some sites or whatever. It wouldn’t all be lying and tension while surrounded by his awful father.

Harry was staring at the lip piercing the man kept prodding with his tongue as he spoke animatedly with the barista when the man’s voice rose so Harry could hear what he was saying.

“Yeah, well I’ve got exactly twelve hours to get out of the apartment now. It fucking sucks, Zayn. He was so quick to move on to the next guy that he broke up with me and didn’t even give me time to find another place to live!”

Interested and somewhat invested in the conversation now, Harry leaned to his left in an attempt to nonchalantly listen.

“You know you can come stay on the couch with us for awhile if you need to. It’ll be tight and you’ll have zero privacy, but that’s nothing new in this city.”

“I appreciate it. You know I don’t have a lot to bring with me so I won’t take up much space and will get out of your hair as soon as I find a new place to live. Your landlord won’t mind a fifth person in the apartment, will he?”

Harry found himself fixated on the ring that looped around the left side of the man’s bottom lip. Harry wasn’t usually into piercings, but there was something really appealing about the thin line of metal that accentuated the man’s words.

“Hey,” punk man said, snapping his fingers in front of Harry’s face. They were painted black with pink glitter and chipped. It was cute and exactly something that would make his dad turn a bright fuchsia. Harry blinked and looked up at the man’s eyes. They were bright blue and glinting coldly at him. “It’s rude to stare, even if someone is the most gorgeous man you’ve ever seen.”

Harry’s eyes popped open in embarrassment, but he covered it quickly with a smirk. He took in the tattoos on the man’s arms before saying, “I actually was hoping you might be able to help me.”

The man rolled his eyes. “Yeah, I’m not really interested in helping straight boys realize they like dick. Been there, done that, and I’m over it thanks.”

Harry scrunched his nose. “Uh, no. Definitely already know I’m not straight, but thanks for that. Do you happen to be free for the weekend?”

The man stared at Harry, a look of utter bewilderment on his face. “What? The entire weekend?”

Harry shrugged, taking a casual sip of his mocha. “Yeah. We’d probably leave Friday morning and be back by Monday night.”

“Sure we would,” the man said with a scoff.

“Lou, your tea is ready.”

Punk man, Lou apparently, turned back to the barista and took his tea before walking over to Harry. He fell into the seat across from Harry and dropped his skateboard and grubby backpack, studying Harry’s face over the rim of his cup.

“This isn’t a yes. It’s probably a no, but I’m curious. Who are you? Why me? Where are you going? What’s the catch?”

Smiling in such a way that he knew displayed his dimples, Harry introduced himself. Giving his name and what essentially sounded like a dating profile version of himself before briefly explaining his family’s expectations for him.

“So,” Harry said, setting his cup down on the table. “I’m going home to California. Bay area. The catch is my father’s a dick and, for some reason, my mother loves him, so she always takes his side over anyone else’s, even her own. I’d want you there as my pseudo boyfriend, mainly to piss him off.” Lou snorted but kept quiet just like he had for the rest of Harry’s spiel, so he continued. “I came out as pan while still in high school and he refuses to acknowledge it. Add in the fact you aren’t from a family they approve of, and you’re just the shock factor I think I need.”

Lou looked incredibly unimpressed. “That’s kind of last minute to ask someone to fly across the country for a fake boyfriend.”

Harry shifted in his seat. He didn’t want to get into his full family background with this guy, especially since he already said he was probably going to say no, but he had to give something.

“Let’s just say we had a plan for how my life was going to go and he just shot it to hell. All of the changes start this weekend.”

Sighing, Lou set his tea down on the table and leaned forward, his hand outstretched. Harry looked at his palm before looking back at Lou. He didn’t want a handshake, Harry was quite sure, but what he did want Harry couldn’t guess.

“Oh my God, rich boys are dumb as fuck. Hand me your phone, you idiot.”

Hope was growing in Harry’s chest, but he wasn’t sure he should let it just yet. He handed his phone over and asked, “So is that a yes?”

Lou shrugged. “It’s a let me think about it, but I have to get to work. My name’s Louis, now you’ve got my number. My shift is until nine tonight. Text me after that and I’ll have your answer.”

Louis handed the phone back to Harry and stood up.

“It’s not a yes,” Louis reiterated.

Harry’s smile grew bigger. “I think it is.”

“Whatever.” Louis grabbed his things and waved at Zayn, then he was gone.

Harry stared at the contact in his phone. Louis Tomlinson. Alright then.

 

*~~***~~*

 

“This is a huge mistake,” Louis repeated for probably the millionth time since he’d thrown himself down on the couch on top of Niall and Shawn. “Why did I agree to this? He could be a fucking serial killer! Or a rapist! You know how rich boys are. And he had that creepy ass stare down pat.”

Niall patted Louis’ ankles while Shawn continued running his fingers through Louis’ probably greasy hair. Shawn might be Louis’ current favorite person.

“He’s got a lot of your personal information now too, since he had to book the flight for you,” Shawn said.

Nevermind. Shawn definitely wasn’t Louis’ favorite person.

“Fuck off, I hate you.” Louis groaned and sat up a bit. “Thanks for letting me crash here until I can find a new place.”

Louis hated the idea of sleeping on the couch, but at least he would have a few days in a nice bed during the trip to California with Harry. Hopefully by the time he got back he’d have a new place lined up. If he survived.

“I think you’re crazy for saying yes, but at least you’ll get a chance to see California. That’ll be cool.”

Louis chuckled and stood up to stretch. “Yeah. Maybe I’ll get inspiration for what to do with my life while I’m out there. I’m almost done with this degree after all, and still no leads as to where to go from here.”

Niall and Shawn moved back towards each other to resume the cuddle they were in the middle of when Louis interrupted earlier. Once they were situated again, Niall looked up at Louis. “Well, keep getting the grants and scholarships you’ve pulled together for your undergrad and previous two masters degrees and you could just be a professional student.”

“Yeah, that’s the dream.” Louis started doing the dishes. When he was nervous or stressed, he cleaned. Pete used to complain about it, but Louis had a feeling no one in this apartment would have such negative feelings. “I could work as a tattoo artist to pay for food and rent while getting as many professional degrees as possible for the rest of time. I dunno. Maybe I should just suck it up and go for that doctorate in microbiology I was considering last year. It’s just as interesting as anything else.”

“Okay, why are we talking about how smart you are instead of your insane acceptance of a last minute trip to California as the fake boyfriend of a Harry Styles?”

“Who’s going to California with Harry Styles?” Liam asked as he and Zayn walked in the door.

“Shit, the Harry you were talking to at the cafe was Harry Styles?” Zayn asked, eyes wide.

Louis held his wet hands over the sink and looked over his shoulder to watch everyone as he answered. “Who doesn’t want to talk about how smart I am? And Li, I’m going to California with Harry Styles, and yes, Zayn. He’s the same Harry. Should I know him or something?”

Zayn and Liam were having one of their conversations with only their eyes. It was annoying. Mostly because it was so cute and it happened all the time, but still annoying. Louis hated when they did it, but he supposed that was what happened when two people had known each other and been dating for as long as they had.

“You’ve heard of Style Technologies, right?” Liam finally asked as Zayn carried a couple of bags to the loft that acted as their room.

“The software company that does all the programming for those tax and budget apps?”

“Yeah, exactly. It’s a play on their last name. Styles. Harry’s pretty well known in the accounting world because of the work he’s already done while just in his undergrad. He’s going to take over the company one day and apparently you are gonna go on a weekend getaway with him.” Pausing his information dump, Liam pouted a little like he did when something didn’t make sense. “Why are you going away for the weekend with him? I didn’t even know you knew him.”

Louis turned back to the dishes and started scrubbing at the pan Niall had burnt dinner in earlier that evening. “We met today, I’m gonna be his fake boyfriend. He’s paying for the whole trip and everything, I just have to act like I like him whenever his parents are around.”

“You met him today and are going across the country for a weekend to pretend to be his boyfriend?” Liam finally asked, sounding shocked. “And you knew about this and didn’t tell me during our entire date?”

At least now Zayn was getting the full force of Liam’s attention instead of Louis. Maybe he could help soothe Liam’s protective instincts.

“I mean, at least with him being kind of famous I don’t have to worry about him being a serial killer, right?” Louis pointed out. That was one worry down.

“So what’s the plan?” Shawn asked. “Like, when are you leaving, what’s happening while you’re there, all that?”

Louis placed another plate in the drying rack and kept scrubbing. “He’s going to send me the flight details once he has them and apparently will be picking me up. He’s going to list the types of events I need to plan to dress for and everything else I’m assuming we’ll go over on the plane.” Now that Louis knew he could glean some information by doing so, he might give a try at googling information about Style Technologies and Harry’s family.

“What about work?” Zayn asked.

“I already had Friday and Saturday off because of that thing I was supposed to join Pete for. It wasn’t hard to get Sunday or Monday covered since it’s near the end of the month and everyone needs money for rent.” Louis started draining the sink and picked up a towel to dry his hands. “I’ll work a few doubles next week to make up for it. It’ll be fine.”

The questions finally seemed to be slowing down and Louis was grateful. He was tired and wanted to read up on Harry as much as he could before getting some sleep. He’d have to dig through his boxed up shit to find the clothes to pack for the trip and that wouldn’t be fun in addition to his ten hour shift tomorrow.

Luckily, most everyone else also had an early day tomorrow so they went to their respective spaces leaving Louis the couch for himself.

“Night, Lou,” Niall and Shawn called from their room.

“Goodnight, Shawn and Niall,” Liam sang.

“Goodnight, Jim-Bob,” Louis said back. “Goodnight, Mary Ellen. Goodnight, Ben.”

Everyone else grumbled back about never understanding what he was talking about and Louis pouted. The Waltons should absolutely be common knowledge as a TV classic.

Louis tucked himself under the sheet he didn’t really need considering how warm the apartment had gotten that day and pulled up Chrome on his phone. Time to do some research.

 

*~~***~~*

 

Harry sat in the back of the Uber and looked over at Louis. He was dozing off, head resting against the window, and Harry couldn’t help but think he looked incredibly soft. When he’d first met Louis, the man seemed all edges to match his sharp tongue. But in his cut off sweatshorts and oversized hoodie, not even the smudged eyeliner or what appeared to be a newly pierced eyebrow could make him seem anything but cuddly.

Cuddly and soft wasn’t what Harry was looking for to shock his dad, but Louis was still male and even his lower legs had some tattoos to show off, so Harry couldn’t complain. Also, now that Louis wasn’t wearing a beanie, Harry saw a rod going through the cartilage at the top of Louis’ ears. Yes, the makeup, piercings, and tattoos would do just the job for now.

“So what’s the schedule like?” Louis asked. His voice was rough from disuse, which made sense. It was near six in the morning and he hadn’t even said hello when he’d climbed in, just nodded and curled up as small as he could in the seat after buckling up. That had been twenty minutes ago.

“Well, the flight is something like six and a half hours, and then it’ll be a bit of a drive from the airport to my parents’ house.” Harry sent an apologetic smile to Louis. “We’ll still get there around lunchtime, though. Today will mostly be you meeting my parents and getting settled and adjusted. I think my dad said the press conference and paperwork and shit is tomorrow around lunchtime so most of tomorrow will be company related and you’ll likely be bored with my mom at home. No offense, but my dad won’t want you near the conference.”

Louis shrugged. “Didn’t think he would. The whole point of me being your quote unquote boyfriend is that I’m not what he wants for you, right?. Keep going.”

Harry sighed. “Yeah, exactly. So anyway, after all of that, I’ll probably want to go out and have a stiff drink, so I thought we could get away for a so-called date or something Saturday night. Sunday, I’m not sure, but I’ll probably be trying to avoid my dad or annoy him, so possibly you and I being cuddly around the house or something. Then we’ll leave Monday morning.”

“Sounds easy enough.”

Harry snorted. “Act cozy with people you’ve hardly met before often? While in high-stress family situations? Cause I’m not sure about you, but that doesn’t sound easy to me.”

Louis rolled his eyes and kicked one of his legs out. It barely hit Harry, but Louis didn’t seem bothered. “Life is all about adapting to various situations and reading people. It’ll be fine.”

“Is that a skill of yours, then?” Harry asked, truly curious. “Reading people?”

Louis studied Harry’s face before he slid across the backseat and got up in Harry’s personal space.

“I’ve studied a lot of science for my schooling and some of them were the so called soft sciences, such as body language and psychology. I’m not perfect at it, but most people are easily readable, like you.”

Harry couldn’t help but let his head fall to the side as Louis started nosing at Harry’s neck. Everywhere the man touched, the feeling of his hand gently skating up his arm and the tip of his nose dragging up beneath Harry’s ear, had a rush of goosebumps and a feeling of electricity thrumming beneath his skin.

“I think I have a pretty good handle on what makes you tick, what you want, and how to sell that we’re together,” Louis said with a smirk. “Give me thirty minutes with your mom and dad and yeah, I’m confident I can play it right so they love me against their will.”

Harry tried to pull himself together as Louis’ breath left puffs of warmth against his jawline, making Harry crave the feel of his soft lips against the skin there.

“The point isn’t to have them love you, though,” Harry gritted out. “It’s to piss off my dad.”

Louis hummed. “Yes, but wouldn’t that be the best attack? Make him even more angry because he likes your boyfriend when he so clearly wants the opposite?”

The warmth that had spread across Harry’s side and chest was gone as quickly as it had come when Louis moved back to the other side of the car.

Harry cleared his throat and pulled at the neckline of his shirt. “Uh, yeah. True. Okay, fair.”

Louis gave him a smirk and then pulled the hood of his sweatshirt over his hair, resting his head against the window once more.

“Glad you came around.”

Harry rubbed his clammy hands against his thighs. Damn, if that’s what Louis could do to him in under a minute in the back of a car, Harry wasn’t sure he was ready for the rest of the weekend. All the same, it was too late to turn back now.

 

*~~***~~*

 

Louis peeked at the seats surrounding them and was pleased that everyone was either asleep or on their computers. He wasn’t sure how Harry would feel about the other rich ass business people overhearing them as they detailed how much physical affection they should put into their show for his parents, pet names, everything Louis figured they should probably have prepared going into it.

“Harry.” Louis poked at Harry’s arm. Harry had put in his earbuds before the plane had even taken off, which was fine. Louis had been more than content to finish reading the latest research regarding brain chemicals and how different varieties of depression responded to different classes of medication. It was a lengthy detailed report, and not inside his specialty, but one of great interest to him all the same. He hadn’t found the time to finish it before now.

He had moved on to the book his grandma had recommended hours ago and completed reading that as well. Considering he thought they were flying over Nevada, they were getting close to the destination and should probably get the conversation out of the way now.

Harry still wasn’t drawn out of himself until Louis leaned over and licked his ear.

Slapping his hand against his ear, Harry turned towards Louis incredibly quickly with pure shock on his face. “What the fuck? Why’d you you do that?” he asked, as he ripped his earbuds out. “Did you seriously lick my ear?”

Louis shrugged. “I’ve tasted better. Yours is too much like hairspray at the moment. And I needed to get your attention somehow. Do what you gotta do.”

Harry blinked at Louis and just shook his head. “What’s up?”

Turning in his seat so he was facing Harry, Louis looped one of his legs over Harry’s and gave him a smile. “We need to talk about this kinda stuff,” he said, waving down at where they were touching. “How much is too much, though? What is the norm for you in relationships that they’ll be able to recognize, all that fun stuff.”

“Oh,” Harry said, blinking. “Yeah, okay. I hadn’t really considered thinking about the details.”

“Really?” Louis asked, shocked. “You’re the one who came up with this plan, and you didn’t think about what we would actually have to do?”

“Didn’t really get past introducing you to my father, his reaction to it, and then everything I was going to have to do for signing paperwork and the press conference.” Harry shrugged. “Honestly, that last part has been what’s been going through my mind for the most part.”

Louis softened a little. That made sense. It was a big change, from what Louis had gleaned in their previous discussions. “Okay, that’s fair. But this is something we have to determine. We can’t go too hard and make it unbelievable, but we also want to do enough to sell it to them, right?”

“Yeah. It’s going to be our family driver picking us up from the airport too, and I’m pretty close to him, so it’s going to have to be something that we do from the moment we get off the plane.”

“Okay, see, this is good information to have,” Louis said. He shoved the sleeves of his hoodie up his arms and reached for Harry’s hand, pulling it over into his lap. He played with Harry’s hands a little as he talked. “So what’s the general idea of how we met and when?”

As they discussed the background of their supposed relationship, Louis continued to get more into Harry’s space to see his reaction. Luckily, Harry seemed to be fairly at ease with Louis physically and didn’t really tense up with anything Louis was doing. That would make things much more natural in front of his parents, if they remembered to keep it up.

“Okay, so how much cuddling in front of your parents?”

By now Louis had both legs in Harry’s lap where one of his hands gripped Louis’ ankle and the other was massaging the skin just above his knee. Louis was having a harder time not getting distracted by Harry’s large, warm hands than he wanted to admit. He focused instead on scraping his fingernails gently against Harry’s scalp where the hair was cut short in the back as he continued.

“Have you been all over your partners when you’ve brought them home before? This is my first time meeting them and we’ve been together for over six months, so it’s kind of a big thing, but we’re not quite out of the clingy stage of a newer, more serious relationship, right?”

Harry scrunched his nose and appeared to be closely studying the spider web tattoo on Louis’ shin.

“I’ve never really brought anyone home before,” he said, softly. “Never wanted to make anyone go through that. Plus never had anyone serious enough for all that.”

Louis scooted closer so he could lean his chin on Harry’s shoulder. Harry smelled of mint and aftershave, and it made him pause and think about how a man who seemed so put together, so on top of the world, really was quite vulnerable still. Not only that, but he was allowing Louis to see that side of him.

“Well. We’re gonna blow their minds then, aren’t we?” Louis said with a smile. Just like in the car, goosebumps immediately popped up where his breath hit Harry’s neck.

Harry squeezed Louis’ knee. “Yeah. So. I think maybe we can mostly stick with hand holding as we’re walking around, you know. Cuddling like this can be for if we’re actually hanging around the house or something, but mostly stick with the perfunctory things. Kiss goodbye or whatever if they’re around. That sound good?”

Louis turned his head to lean on Harry’s shoulder. For being such a lean guy, he was somehow still soft and nice to snuggle with. “Yeah. Sounds good.”

“You’re into this, aren’t you?” Harry said, chuckling. “The whole...physical contact thing?”

“My grandma used to say that I was like a koala every day after school. I couldn’t get enough physical affection. Never really ended, if I’m honest. It’s one of the complaints Pete, my ex, always had about me.”

Louis squeezed his eyes shut. That was enough background information that Harry didn’t ask for. This was just a weekend thing and then he and Harry would never see each other again, so Louis needed to be careful with oversharing.

“Well that can definitely come in handy for us, so don’t hold back.”

Louis allowed a small smile to cross his lips. “Alright.”

Maybe this weekend wouldn’t be so bad after all.

 

*~~***~~*

 

Harry might have had a tighter grip on Louis’ hand than strictly necessary, but they were almost to his parents’ house. Arriving meant that it was real. The weekend was going to change what Harry thought had been a done deal for him with regards to the next couple of years. He was going to have to start taking over responsibilities in the next three months before fully transitioning to CFO once his masters had been obtained. The degree would likely have to be done online now. Columbia had several options available to him still so he had to just decide which accelerated course would be best for him and meet his needs, but the two years to focus on the degree without any work responsibilities had been ripped from Harry and he was scared shitless about the sudden change.

“You alright?” Louis asked softly, scooting even closer to Harry than he already had been. “It’s just your parents that are gonna be there when we get back, right?”

Harry nodded but still kept his eyes aimed out the window. “Yeah. Well. My parents and the household staff.”

Louis snorted. “Right. The staff. Are they going to be all lined up outside to welcome the car as it drives up, like they do for the royals in old movies and shit?”

Harry stayed quiet. His dad had the staff line the front hall, not the driveway, but Louis’ guess was closer than Harry felt comfortable with.

“Oh shit,” Louis whispered as he leaned his head on Harry’s shoulder. “I was joking! Oh my God, I didn’t even realize…” Louis couldn’t even finish his sentence, he was too busy laughing now.

Harry couldn’t help but smile a little.

“Oh my God. Like I know about your family and their situation and shit, but I guess I’d not fully accounted for what all that could potentially mean.”

Louis’ voice had been getting louder as he grew more amused. Thankfully he was being careful with how he worded things so Harry didn’t think Carl was picking up on the subtext, but Harry still looked at his driver for a moment. Carl was still watching the road, a smirk on his face, so Harry took that as a good sign.

“It’s not a big staff or anything. Just like, two or three people.”

Harry finally allowed himself to look at Louis, whose eyes were squinted closed with amusement. It showed off the rose gold eye shadow he was wearing, and Harry was surprised he hadn’t noticed it earlier. It was just natural enough to look like he wasn’t wearing anything unless he looked closely.

“Fuck. Only the one percent talk like that,” Louis said once he’d finally stopped laughing. “Okay, so what are their names. I’ve already met the wonderful Carl and I know enough about your mom and dad, but I know nothing about the other staff and that’s just not right.”

“What?” Harry asked, confused why Louis wanted more details on the staff that he’d known for most of his life. “You’re literally going to just say hi to them and then they’ll go back to doing their jobs.”

Louis was no longer amused. He pulled back, dropped Harry’s hand, and punched him on the arm. Hard.

“Fuck,” Harry cursed, rubbing where Louis had gotten him. “That hurt, God.”

“Good,” Louis said, eyes sending him daggers. “It was meant to. How dare you talk about people that way? Everyone is worth meeting and knowing about. Now tell me about the household staff. You’re going to be leaving me at your house tomorrow while you do all the business shit anyway, and I can guarantee you they’re going to enjoy my presence more than your mom is, so I think it’s best I learn, don’t you?”

Harry studied Louis’ face, and he seemed serious. Harry supposed it made sense; he would be leaving Louis at home and his mom was likely going to take to the surprise of Louis about as well as his dad.

“Okay, fine. So there’s only three outside of Carl, really. There’s Martha, she’s the cook, Linda, she’s the housekeeper, and then Lloyd, the butler I guess you’d call him.”

“You have a fucking butler? This is insane,” Louis said, shaking his head. “What do they do all day? I’m assuming your mom and dad don’t need them all the time?”

“Well,” Harry said, scrunching his nose. Having to explain all of this was making him keenly aware of just how ridiculous his parents’ lifestyle really was. How ridiculous his lifestyle was. He’d never really thought much of it, since all of his peers growing up had similar situations and, in many ways, his was actually quite modest. “Lloyd is the one with the most hours. Once the meals and shopping is taken care of, Martha can go, and Linda is only there for the cleaning and organizing purposes unless there’s a special project. But Lloyd is just kind of there for whatever the family needs.”

“Whatever the family needs,” Louis mocked. He tongued at his lip ring, which Harry hadn’t seen him do at all until now. He wondered if it was a nervous tick or something he did when he was thinking. “Can’t believe I could marry into this shit. Your dad’s gonna want me to scrub up and have me put to work.” Louis gasped, his hand going to his chest. “Am I going to have to wear a uniform and call you Mr. Styles?”

“Oh my God, that’s enough. I hate you.” Harry swatted at Louis’ chest before wrapping his arm around his shoulders and pulling him in close to him again. Something about having Louis beside him was soothing and helped him feel like he had at least someone in his corner.

“No you don’t, you love me,” Louis sing sang.

Harry hummed in response and let Louis cuddle into him further. He snuck another look up front and saw Carl smiling widely at him in the rearview mirror. When they met eyes, Carl nodded in approval, and Harry’s chest felt a little warm.

Which was ridiculous. Louis wasn’t actually his boyfriend. But at least they’d convinced one person already. Hopefully the rest would be just as easy.

The car pulled up to the gate in front of the house and Louis squeaked.

“This isn’t a fucking house!” He cried, leaning over Harry to see it better out of the window. “It isn’t even a mansion. It’s like an entire fucking complex. No wonder poor Linda is here every day. It probably takes her an entire month just to clean the entire place!”

Harry nuzzled down into his hair and took a whiff of Louis’ fruity shampoo. It wasn’t creepy. It wasn’t. At least, that’s what Harry was going to keep telling himself.

“Shut up. It’s not that big.”

Louis slowly looked at Harry. “Harold. I grew up in New York City where my grandma and I were lucky we could afford a shithole apartment of our own. My room as a teenager was the living room because once rent was hiked we couldn’t afford a two bedroom, alright? This is fucking huge.”

“Well when you put it that way,” Harry grumbled.

Louis patted his cheek and said, “That’s right, darling. I thought you were used to me always being right by now.”

Louis’ face was right in front of Harry’s and so close, he was somewhat tempted to lean forwards and kiss him. As it was, though, they’d determined kisses would only be in front of others for when they were saying goodbye or good luck or something, so he held back. He couldn’t lie to himself and say he wasn’t tempted, though.

Harry was pulled out of that line of thought when Louis pinched his cheek. “Well, let’s go meet the parents, you curly haired cutie.”

“Okay, that’s a bit over the top,” Harry mumbled as he opened the door. Louis forced himself out first, climbing over Harry and shoving his butt right in Harry’s face as he made sure not to fall out. “Impatient, are we?”

“Nah, I’m a very patient person,” Louis said with a wink. “Just excited.”

“Wish I was,” Harry said under his breath. Once he was free to climb out himself, he headed to the back where Louis was already helping Carl pull the bags out of the trunk.

“Good luck you two,” Carl said once he closed the trunk. “Think you’ll need me tonight?”

Harry shook his head. “No, thanks. If we decide we need out of the house, I’ll go ahead and drive us.”

Carl’s eyebrows rose and he asked delicately, “Sure you won’t need a driver for your chosen activities?”

Harry blushed, knowing Carl was the reason he’d arrived home safely while beyond drunk and occasionally high many times during his teenage years. “We might need such services tomorrow, but I don’t want to go into the signing hung over and jet lagged. Thanks for the offer, though.”

Carl nodded, gave Louis a fist bump, and then drove away, leaving the two of them with their bags in front of Harry’s parents’ house. Taking a deep breath, Harry nodded to himself then looked at Louis.

“Ready?”

Louis smirked and looked at Harry. “Not in the slightest, but let’s get it over with, yeah?”

Making sure he had a good grip on his roller suitcase, Harry led the way towards the front door, which opened before they’d reached it.

“Harry!” Cynthia said sounding cheerful before she froze and took in Louis’ presence beside Harry. “And...boy?” she added on in such a way that made it sound like a question.

“Well, yes. He’s more of a man than a boy, but all the same, mom, this is my boyfriend, Louis. Louis, this is my mom, Cynthia.”

Cynthia gave Harry a shocked look before pasting on one of her incredibly plastic and fake smiles and holding out a hand.

“What a surprise but still a pleasure, Lewis,” she said as Louis gripped and tried to shake her limp hand. His mom was the worst with that and Harry hated it, but nothing he said would ever get her to improve her handshake and give a better first impression.

Blowing air out of his nose in frustration, Harry asked, “So can we come inside? Or should I have booked a hotel for our stay?”

Sending a glare Harry’s way as she moved to the side, Cynthia said, “Of course you can. Your father sends his apologies for not being here to welcome you, but he had to tie up some loose ends at work so he will be here as soon as he’s able.”

Harry believed that as much as his mom obviously did. His father wouldn’t return home until well past midnight and not for the first time Harry wondered who the other woman was. She must be pretty damn important if she kept him from even being home to welcome Harry back for the first time since Christmas.

“Very nice to meet you. You have a beautiful home,” Louis said as he looked around in awe. Louis must have caught sight of the three people standing in the hall, because he immediately addressed them. “Oh! You must be Lloyd, Linda, and Martha. It is so nice to meet all of you.”

Louis rushed over and offered them handshakes of their own. Lloyd looked at Harry with wide, surprised eyes as Louis began chatting with the women. Harry couldn’t do anything but shrug.

“You didn’t warn me that you were bringing anyone, much less someone like that,”  Cynthia hissed at Harry. She was obviously trying to keep her voice down, but it still echoed clearly through the hall, and Harry saw Louis’ stance stiffen a little as their chatter died in the wake of the statement. This was the reaction he’d been searching for, but he also had hoped they’d keep it a bit more hidden. Louis didn’t deserve to be treated like that.

“Mother,” Harry said back, before taking her arm and dragging her into his father’s library. Through closed teeth he forced out, “May I speak with you for a moment in private?” Harry shot an apologetic look in Louis’ direction before closing the door behind them.

As soon as the doors were closed, Harry spun around and he spit out, “Since when have you been so rude?”

“Oh please, Harry,” she said as she rolled her eyes and waved her perfectly manicured hand between them. “When I said you could bring your partner home with you, you know perfectly well I didn’t meant someone like him.”

Harry took a steadying breath. Had his mother always been so horrifically callous? He knew his father had been, but he’d always seen his mother as the appeaser, the one who would tread the line between his father and the rest of the world. He’d kept his time at home short and to the point during the past four years and the status quo had never been questioned during those trips. Maybe now he was going to see not only his father’s true colors but also his mother’s.

It left a bad taste in his mouth and a sinking feeling in his belly. No one liked their image of their parents to be worsened.

“Well,” Harry said, voice coming out cold and crisp in his anger. “Too late now, I guess you’re just going to have to deal with him for the weekend. He made the trip with me and he’s staying for the duration.”

“I suppose. Do you trust him to sleep in your room with you or should we have Linda prepare one of the spare rooms and make sure all valuables are clear from it?”

Harry shook his head in dismay and stormed from the room, only saying over his shoulder, “He’ll be staying with me, obviously.”

Slamming the door behind him, Harry looked up and saw Lloyd watching him with sadness etched into the lines on his face. He’d been looking at Harry that way for years. Harry had always thought it was just sadness for having a house so large that was also too empty and cold for a child, but now he wondered if it was more than that.

“C’mon, Lou,” Harry said. “Let’s get our shit to my room.”

Once ensconced in Harry’s room, Louis dropped his bags and began looking at the photos on the walls. They were mostly awkward family photos, too stiff to ever look natural, but there was the occasional picture Harry had taken at the wharf with his friends or of the redwoods.

Preferring to make himself busy, Harry took his bag to the bed and began unpacking.

“I’m sorry for my mother,” he said softly. “I knew you’d be a shock, but I didn’t expect her to be like that.”

Louis hummed. “It’s what I signed on for, isn’t it?”

“No,” Harry said as he shoved his pajama pants into the drawer more forcefully than some old, soft flannel required. “You didn’t agree to come and be attacked or treated like you’re lesser. You just came to help me piss off my father.”

Arms wrapped around Harry’s midsection and Harry tensed. He wasn’t expecting anything from Louis now, other than maybe some anger. Harry deserved it, really. They weren’t dating, they hardly even knew each other, and here Louis was getting treated like garbage thanks to his mother, the one who was supposed to be more understanding. Harry was now a bit worried how his father would take the news.

Harry studied Louis’ hands as he slowly allowed himself to relax into Louis’ grip. He had the palms of his hands against Harry’s stomach and was squeezing Harry the perfect amount for him to feel safe and secure without worrying about his ability to breathe. How did Louis know how to hug someone so perfectly? Louis’ nails were also newly painted. Still black, like before, but without the glitter, like he’d put some thought and effort into making sure he was presentable.

“Are you going to be okay this weekend?” Louis asked softly, and the heartfelt question made tears well up in Harry’s eyes.

Blinking furiously in an attempt to clear them, Harry gripped Louis’ hands in his, unsure of what else to do. He felt untethered, and he wasn’t used to that feeling. If anything, his entire life had been mapped out from the time he was young. Maybe that was why this was hitting him so hard. Because he felt like the future was suddenly far closer than what it had appeared in the side mirrors.

“Yeah,” Harry said, sounding a little croaky. He cleared his throat and tried again. “Yeah. Course. You?”

Louis ignored his question. “You’ve never even brought a boy home, isn’t that right?”

“I’ve never brought anyone home.”

Harry could feel Louis nod his head before he hooked his chin over Harry’s shoulder.

“This has to be just as hard for you as it is for me, is all I’m saying. We’re in this together. I might not be a part of the whole business aspect of it, but everything else I am. Okay?”

Harry nodded his head, unable to say anything else. Louis squeezed Harry a little more, gave him a soft kiss on his shoulder, and then pulled away.

“Okay. So. Now that the mushy stuff is done, where should I put my shit?”

Harry choked out a laugh and turned around to look at Louis. There was something so incongruent and yet perfect about the soft, punk man standing in Harry’s childhood bedroom.

“Do you want to unpack your clothes? I could make room in the drawers and closet.”

Louis scrunched his face up at Harry in confusion. “What? No. We’re only here for a few days. If I unpack I’ll lose something and never get it back ever again because Linda will be ordered to burn it so it doesn’t desecrate the house.” Louis rolled his eyes and stuck his tongue out at Harry, making him laugh. “I just wanted to know where I should put my bags so we don’t leave them in front of the door or whatever.”

“Using big words there, mister,” Harry teased.

“Well I am a college man, what other kinds of words do you expect me to use?” Louis shot back.

Shaking his head, Harry just said, “You can put them on the window seat if you want. Easier to dig around in them. But, if you want, there really is plenty of room for you to hang up or put away your clothes.”

“I’m sure you’ve got more than enough room in this place. After all, this is the Styles Compound.”

“Fuck off,” Harry said, with a laugh. He was glad things were starting to feel relaxed with them again. Harry desperately needed it.

“So are we going to talk about sleeping arrangements now or when the time comes?” Louis said after a moment of quiet.

Harry turned to the bed. “It’s a queen size bed. I’m fine with sharing if you don’t mind.”

Louis stayed quiet, so Harry looked to see if he’d heard. Louis was watching Harry, a glint in his eye.

“What is that for?” Harry asked, already worried. Louis’ eyes were practically glowing they were so bright with whatever he was thinking

“Hmm. We’ll have to be sure to leave the bed mussed just enough so the staff, and therefore your parents, know we shared the bed.”

“Oh my God, Louis,” Harry said, throwing one of his polo shirts at him. “They know I’m not celibate and we’re already sharing the room. Isn’t that enough?”

Louis shrugged. “Fine. Suit yourself.” Then he turned back to his bags on the window. “I’m gonna take a shower.”

Harry nodded and watched as Louis took some things to the en suite. He had a feeling that wasn’t the end of it, but he’d take what he could get.

 

*~~***~~*

 

“I’m not sure I should leave you here like we were originally planning,” Harry said as he finished tying an incredibly boring tie.

Louis kept quiet as he kicked his legs as he sat on the messy bed. He’d convinced Harry that morning to leave it unmade and show the pillows on both sides of the bed had been used and he considered it a win.

“I can feel you judging me,” Harry muttered. “Do I really look that bad?”

Harry didn’t look bad, was the issue. He looked great. Louis just felt like Harry was so much better than all the other rich pricks he knew and that should be able to extend to how he dressed.

“I think we should go shopping after this,” Louis said. “You look great, but you deserve better clothes.”

Harry frowned down at the suit. “My tailor highly recommended this one. I thought it looked good.”

Sighing, Louis got up and walked over to Harry. “It does and you wear it well. But you deserve more interesting clothes that don’t make you look like every other rich fuck out there.”

Louis lifted Harry’s tie off his chest for a closer look, realized it was just printed silk stripes, and dropped it in disgust.

“So what are your thoughts on coming with me?”

Louis pursed his lips and turned around, acting like he was studying the view out of Harry’s bedroom window instead of Harry’s reflection in the glass.

“Why do you want me there?” Louis asked. “I didn’t even own any clothes that are remotely close to what would be required for something like this. I really don’t mind staying with Martha.”

“Martha has weekends off outside of special occasions,” Harry answered. “That’s why you didn’t see her at breakfast. It’s only Lloyd here today. But I’m nervous about my mother. I don’t want her being unnecessarily cruel to you while I’m gone. Plus, you’d get to meet my father as well.” Harry paused before tacking on a quiet, “Finally.”

Harry’s dad hadn’t returned home last night as his mother had said he would. Based on Harry’s reaction, that wasn’t really a new behavior. Louis had decided not to say anything and instead remained silent outside of when a question was directed towards him over dinner and then cuddled up to Harry as they watched a movie in bed that night.

They’d woken up wrapped up in each other’s arms and awkward situations in their pants, but had blustered through it and ignored the fact it had ever happened.

“Do you want me there?” Louis asked as he turned around to see Harry’s face clearly. If Harry wanted him there, he’d go, even if he felt ridiculously out of place. Hell, he already felt that way. What was a change in location?

Harry squished up his nose and turned to Louis. “I know I don’t know you well, but I would like you to come with me. Be in the room for the signing of the contracts and stuff.”

Louis nodded. “Okay,” he said as he started digging in his bags for something other than cut off shorts. “I’ll come with you then.”

An hour later they were in the car with Carl, heading towards the office building. Louis had pulled together his nicest pair of black skinny jeans and his solid red scoop neck shirt. It was more along the lines of what he would wear if he wanted to go to a club, but he couldn’t deny it would give a better impression than a ratty band shirt and jean shorts.

It hadn’t hurt when Harry had a hard time taking his eyes off of Louis too.

Rolling his eyes at himself, Louis took their linked hands and guided Harry’s arm so it was sitting around his shoulders.

Looking down with curiosity in his eyes, Louis just shrugged.

“Can’t a man want a snuggle with his boyfriend?” Louis smirked as Harry’s hand twitched a little at the title. They’d not really explicitly said it out loud, but everything had been implied.

“You always want a snuggle,” Harry teased, and Louis stiffened. His tone was different, and he’d said it as he pulled Louis closer, but it sounded an awful lot like some of the things Pete had said, as he’d hurled cruel words towards Louis for simply wanting to be close. “Hey, no,” Harry murmured, nuzzling into Louis’ hair. “I didn’t mean anything bad by that. It’s okay to want cuddles. I’m happy to give them, especially to you.”

Louis tried to relax, he really did, but it was hard when he was already nervous about how Harry’s dad would react to him. He’d been sure not to put on as much makeup, but he had almost permanent smudges of eyeliner to go with his tattoos and piercings that were on display. That was the whole point of all of this, but things had been a bit more than Louis had anticipated with Harry’s mom yesterday. He felt he was justified in being nervous.

“Lou, look at me.”

Louis looked up from where he’d been studying his already chipping nails in his lap and found Harry already watching him closely. Harry lifted his free hand to Louis’ cheek and leaned his forehead against Louis’. It was incredibly intimate, and Louis wished his chest wasn’t about to burst simply from the action.

“You should get every piece of affection anyone has inside of them. You deserve it all, okay?”

Louis closed his eyes and nodded slowly, careful not to break the physical connection between them.

“I know you don’t believe me, but that’s okay for now,” Harry whispered before leaning forward. Louis could feel his breath on his lips when Harry whispered, “Is this okay?”

Nodding once more, Louis waited and soon Harry had touched his lips gently against Louis’.

Louis could hardly do anything more than purse his lips to do his own part in the innocent peck, he was so affected. It was so tender, so simple, and yet still so powerful.

It was also short.

It made Louis want to lean forward to connect their lips again, but that wasn’t part of the agreement. Of course, neither was the kiss Harry had just offered, but Louis wasn’t going to complain about it.

The rest of the car ride was quiet, the two of them sat close and constantly touching each other. Louis hoped Harry was comforted by it as much as Louis was. That alone had Louis feeling a little flummoxed. This was fake. It was all for show, but it was starting to not feel like that. It was entirely too soon for Louis to feel so connected to someone as he did to Harry, but here he was, feeling soothed because Harry was near. Harry also seemed to respond well when Louis had tried to ease his worries in similar ways earlier that day and last night, but he was constantly being reminded how much he didn’t know about Harry.

Google and twenty-four hours only told him so much. Which was exactly why these feelings Louis thought he was feeling had to be just as much a part of their acting as everything else. Right?

Sooner than Louis was ready for, the car stopped and Harry was easing himself away from Louis and towards the door.

“Thank you, Carl,” Harry said. “If you could be back at three I would appreciate it, but we might not be ready to leave yet at that time. You know how it is.”

“Of course, Harry. Good luck in there.”

Harry took a deep breath and nodded, and Louis realized he should do the same instead of just holding his breath and turning blue.

“Ready for the wolves?” Harry asked, making eye contact.

Louis pasted on a smile and said, “Let’s do it.”

The building looked much like any other on the block, but Louis probably wasn’t one to judge. Everything he’d seen of California in movies and on TV just looked like a more spread out and less interesting version of New York. That was essentially how he felt now.

Harry nodded to the security men as they walked through metal detectors and made their way to the elevators.

“So first will be the signing of the documents,” Harry explained as he pressed a button then turned back to Louis, reaching for his hand. Louis was glad. He was more nervous than he’d expected, though he was trying to show otherwise, and having Harry’s hand in his helped him feel more grounded. “It will likely just be me, my father, and some of the company lawyers for that part. Then we’ll go to one of the conference rooms and that’s where the press conference will be held. You’re fine to be in the room with us the entire time.”

“How big is this press conference exactly?” Louis asked, looking down and fiddling with the hem of his shirt.

The issue with the red scoop neck was that he had bought it years ago when he’d been younger and thinner. Now the fabric constantly seemed to cling to the tiny bit of belly he was a little self conscious of. He didn’t mind for clubbing - he knew he’d be able to pull and that the small amount of tummy he had wasn’t anything to be ashamed of - but when he already felt like he was on display and someone Harry’s father wasn’t going to like anyway? He felt like it was just another tick in a column marked unworthy.

Unworthy of what? Money? The lavish lifestyle he was pretending he had a right to for the weekend? Harry? Louis wasn’t sure which. Maybe it was even all of them. But when had he even started to care about any of that anyway?

“It’s quite small, really,” Harry said, as the elevator dinged and the doors opened for them. “I’m not sure how large, but these things never have more than maybe ten or twelve representatives from various outlets that actually care about this kind of thing. That’s enough to get the official word out and go from there.”

“It’s about time you arrived,” a nasal voice rang out across the space Louis was trying to take in. “Never were very punctual, were you?”

Louis saw Harry’s jaw flex before he turned to look at the man Louis could only assume was his father.

For being such a tall and wiry man, his voice sounded reedy and thin. He looked somewhat imposing in his suit and shiny shoes, but otherwise Louis was actually quite underwhelmed after everything he’d built up the man to be in his mind.

“Who’s this?”

Louis could feel the disdain coming off of Harry’s father in waves, but at least that finally got Harry speaking instead of just walking towards him slowly.

Squeezing Louis’ hand a bit, Harry gestured towards Louis and said, “This is my boyfriend, Louis. Louis, this is my father, Martin Styles.”

“Boyfriend? God, Harry. I thought that was a phase.”

“Well, it wasn’t, Father,” Harry replied back through a clenched jaw. Louis scooted closer to Harry and looked over at him. The movement helped him loosen his shoulders and stand a little freer. Good.

Martin shook his head and, without bothering to even say hello or do anything else to acknowledge Louis’ presence, he walked towards the room to their right that had three men in suits sitting around a large table with several stacks of paper sitting in front of them.

“Harry, you remember John, Dave, and Tom.”

Harry nodded and Louis stood back, allowing Harry to take over now. He wasn’t really supposed to be here, so he felt like he should probably just meld into the background. Just as he was about to sit in one of the chairs lining the edge of the room rather than at the table, Harry turned around and took a step closer to Louis. He reached out for Louis’ arm and gently rubbed it.

“Please come sit with me,” Harry whispered. “I’d feel better having you beside me.”

Louis studied his eyes, and it looked like he really meant it. He shot a quick glance over at Martin, who was already sat at the table, staring at the opposite wall.

“Yeah, alright,” Louis said with a smile.

“Thanks,” Harry muttered as he moved his hand to the small of Louis’ back and guided him to the table. Harry then moved closer to Louis and began to pull out the chair Louis had assumed he would be sitting in.

“Oh,” Louis muttered as he started trying to figure out which seat exactly was meant to be his when Harry grabbed his arm and began guiding him into the chair.

“Just because it’s a business meeting doesn’t mean I can’t be a gentleman,” Harry teased into Louis’ ear.

Louis wished his blush wasn’t burning quite so bright as it was.

“Thanks,” Louis whispered.

The meeting got started and everything was going fine, which meant Louis was bored out of his mind.

Louis tried not to fidget, but there was only so much he could do. It didn’t seem appropriate to pull out his phone, so he decided to think about the fact he was going to be graduating again in December. He’d been considering taking time away from school to go into research, MIT of all places had expressed interest so he knew he would have possibilities available if that was the route he chose to take, but that wasn’t where he was passionate. He’d be just like Harry, going into a job he was good at while he didn’t care about it much. Was that the kind of life he wanted to live? Hell, was that the kind of life Harry wanted to live? It felt like they both deserved more, but Louis already knew that it was rare in life for people to get what they deserved.

Harry occasionally checked in with Louis with a soft touch to his knee or a nudge of his elbow, and every one was accompanied by a smile and sometimes a ridiculous waggle of his eyebrows. The man was a menace and he knew it well.

The time dragged by, and soon Harry was once again leading Louis with a hand on his back down to where the press conference would be held.

“So, Lenny, was it?” Martin asked as they waited for the elevator.

“Louis,” Harry corrected.

“Right, Louis,” Martin said in such a way that Louis knew the slip up was intentional. “What is it you do, Louis?”

Louis smiled. “During my breaks in school I work as a tattoo artist.”

The weight of Harry’s gaze on Louis was what pressed him to continue. He was originally going to leave it as it was for maximum effect, but Louis realized Harry also didn’t know this side to him. They’d been so focused on the weekend, they hadn’t needed to know much about Louis.

“I’m currently attending Columbia and am getting my second masters degree,” Louis explained as they stepped onto the elevator, Harry still glued to his side. “I’ll finish in December, since I’m on an accelerated course. My original intention was to get my undergrad through to my doctorate all in Psychology. I really enjoyed the subject and felt I could help a lot of people as a counselor or social worker, but as time went on I realized wanted to continue with something closer to biology or chemistry. I ended up double majoring in Chemistry and Psychology and went on to get my first masters in Organic Chemistry as well. I’ve now moved on to Microbiology, which is what has recently held most of my interest, and am considering whether I will go into research or continue on with my doctorate in the same field.”

As Louis spoke, Martin’s mouth pursed more and more in obvious frustration. He obviously hadn’t anticipated Louis having anything more to say for himself than just the tattoo artist attending school. Louis felt a glow of pride in his chest for really surprising him.

“And what schools have you attended?” Martin asked, sounding even more pinched in his frustration. “I’m sure Harry was a hard one for you to keep up with, being an NYU man and soon to be Columbia as well.”

“Oh yes, well I attended Penn for my undergrad on full scholarship with my graduate degrees at Harvard and Columbia. Harry’s incredibly smart, but I do try to keep up,” Louis said, leaning into Harry and giving him a sugary sweet smile.

Harry, for his part, was looking at Louis in awe. Louis hadn’t quite expected that reaction, but he’d take it and the rich, caramel-like feeling it created inside his belly.

“You’re so far beyond me,” Harry said, squeezing Louis. “It’s me who is trying to keep up with you.”

“Okay, that’s disgustingly over the top,” Louis said, trying to pull away, but Harry held him tucked to his side with an arm around Louis’ waist as they walked towards the conference room.

“You didn’t tell me any of that,” Harry whispered in Louis’ ear, soft enough the others around them wouldn’t be able to hear.

Louis smirked and tilted his head up to reply in similar fashion. “You never asked and it didn’t really come up.”

Harry shook his head, his entire face scrunching up but still not hiding the warmth in his eyes. “You’re quite the surprise, Louis Tomlinson.”

Louis hummed. “Gotta keep a man like you on your toes.”

Harry stiffened as they walked into the room, and he immediately pulled away from Louis, nodding towards some chairs along the back of the room. Louis smiled, gave him a thumbs up, then began walking towards the chairs.

“Fuck, why did I give him a thumbs up?” Louis muttered to himself. “I’m not in some cheesy nineties rom-com.”

Louis settled into his seat, and waited for the press conference to begin.

 

*~~***~~*

 

Harry needed to get out of the building. He needed to get out of the suit. Everything went exactly as planned, and now Harry’s future was completely different to what he’d thought it would be two days ago. Fucking fuckity fuck fuck fuck.

“Haz,” Louis said from slightly behind him. “I can’t keep up with your long legs. You’ve gotta either let go of me or move a little slower, yeah?”

It was then that Harry realized how quickly he’d been power walking towards where he knew Carl would be waiting for them.

“I’m sorry. I just really need to get someplace that’s not here for a second to breathe.”

“Harry!” Martin called from behind them.

Stopping immediately, Harry felt Louis tug on his arm a bit since he’d continued to move at the fast pace Harry had been going in moments before.

“Sorry,” he muttered, still looking forward instead of turning around to face his father.

“When I call your name, you look at me and answer, son.”

Harry closed his eyes and counted to ten before dropping Louis’ hand and slowly turning towards his father.

“Yes? How can I help you?”

“You’re riding with me back home. Carl can take Lewis back to the house.”

“No,” Harry said immediately.

Martin had already started to walk towards where his own driver was waiting, but he paused mid-step when Harry spoke.

Looking over his shoulder, Martin asked, “I’m sorry, what did you say? Because it sounded a lot like ‘no’.”

“Yeah, you heard me,” Harry said, walking towards his father. He had so much rage and frustration and sadness built up inside of him, that he couldn’t hold it back any longer. He needed the drive home with Louis so he could recompose himself before talking about whatever the hell his father had gotten into his head needed to be discussed at this moment. “No. I flew across the fucking country yesterday to come and sign those papers up there and then immediately after made the announcement about how you fucking screwed over your own son and acted happy about it, all for you. I’m tired, I’m stressed, and I’m going to have a quiet ride home with my boyfriend to relax a little after all that. Then I can chat with you about whatever it is you wanted to discuss away from Louis.”

Martin’s face had turned a deep red, almost bordering on puce. Spit flew from his mouth as he said, “I am your father. You don’t talk to me like that.”

Harry raised his arms and walked backwards towards Louis. “I’m a fucking adult and the soon-to-be CFO of our company. If I don’t talk to you like this, then who the hell will?”

Then Harry turned around, wrapped his arm around Louis’ waist, and (more mindful of his speed this time) continued his walk out to Carl.

Once they’d climbed into the car, Louis turned to Harry immediately. “You don’t have to come with me if that’s not what you want. I just don’t want you to feel like you have to for me.”

Harry let out what was likely a hysterical laugh as he dragged his hands down his face. The stress from the past several hours was finally seeping out of him as Carl pulled out into the street, and Harry felt the anxiety that had been building all day thrumming beneath his skin.

“Yeah, I did that for me, but thanks for thinking I’m selfless enough to stand up to my father for you.”

Ripping off his tie, Harry threw it to the other side of the seat and unbuttoned a few of the buttons of his shirt. It didn’t feel like enough, though. Everything still felt too tight, so he started toeing off his shoes and then removed his jacket.

Once those layers had all been deposited on the other side of the bench seat, Harry leaned back again and turned his head to find Louis watching him with concern.

“Are you okay?” Louis asked quietly.

Harry snorted. “Not really, but I’ll be fine.”

Instead of moving into Harry’s space and demanding a cuddle like Harry was expecting, Louis reached out and guided Harry by the shoulders to lay down on the seat. Once he’d moved some things around and shifted Harry’s jacket, tie, and shoes to the front seat, Louis maneuvered Harry’s head into his lap where he started massaging his forehead and scalp.

It felt heavenly.

“Oh, God,” Harry groaned. “Are you a masseuse too?”

Louis snickered. “No. I’m not a man of that many talents. This is just what I used to have to do for my grandma when she wasn’t feeling well.”

“Well it feels great,” Harry said as he allowed himself to relax for the first time all day.

Harry opened his eyes and saw Louis smiling down at him. “Honey, we’re home,” he sang, and Harry sat up confused. Apparently he had dozed off, because they were outside his parents’ house already.

“Wow, sorry I slept the whole drive,” Harry said, rubbing his eyes before reaching for his shoes.

“It’s okay. You needed it.”

Harry couldn’t help but agree. He felt incredibly rejuvenated now that he’d had that nap. Maybe not quite ready to face his father, who was already standing on the porch, watching the car.

“How’d he beat us back?” Harry asked, confused. “We definitely left before he did.”

“I...might have asked Carl to take the long way home once I realized you were asleep,” Louis said, blushing a little. “I wanted to buy you a little more time before you had to wake up and get back to reality.”

Heart beating so hard he felt like Louis could probably hear it, Harry was so touched. “Smart, sassy, and sweet,” Harry muttered. “Maybe I’ll just call you my sweet creature.”

“Oh my God, you keep taking these nice moments and putting them just the other side of too sweet,” Louis said as he pretended to hurl on the floor of the car. Harry allowed him to push at his shoulders when Louis said, “That’s it, I can’t handle it anymore. I’m gagging on the sugar. Get out of here.”

Laughing at his theatrics, Harry opened the door and said, “Anything for you, Sweet Creature.”

“Bleeeeehhhhh,” Louis said loudly. “Get inside, talk with your dad. I’m gonna talk to Carl about the shopping plans I have in mind for you once you’re done.”

Harry nodded and steeled himself internally before walking towards the door. His father had left it open, but he’d apparently already moved to his study because he was no longer watching the car.

Closing the study door behind him, Harry could feel the weight of his father’s frustration as he slowly walked to the chair in front of his imposing oak desk and sat himself down.

“Harry, what the hell do you think you’re doing?”

Blinking, Harry tried to school his face to not give anything away. “What do you mean, Father?”

“Oh you know damn well what I mean,” Martin yelled, slamming his hand on the desk. “You act as if taking on the CFO position - the one we spoke about you taking years ago, the one you agreed to - is the equivalent of becoming a martyr! And then in addition to being ungrateful and rude, you have the audacity to bring home someone like that and parade them around in front of not only your mother and the staff but also the media and company higher ups?”

Harry focused on his breathing and then said, as lackadaisical as he possibly could in an attempt to hide his emotions, “I don’t see how any of this should affect you when you can’t even be bothered to come home the night I return to California because you’re too busy with your side piece.”

“Enough!” Martin shouted, voice going high and rough as he stood up. Everything in Martin’s stance and expression sent off waves of utter contempt. “How dare you speak to me in such a manner! I am your father!”

“Only in title,” Harry yelled back. “What the fuck have you ever done to show me love? The only time in my entire life you’ve even acted somewhat proud was when I told you my plans to gear my focus on the CFO position! You ignored me entirely when I came out as pansexual. You are barely home when I come to visit. You can’t even bring yourself to be the one to call and tell me to come home, you pawn that off on Mother who knows very well the moment you leave this house you’ve forgotten us for your other life.”

“You go out there and send that boy home, Harry,” Martin said. His voice was low and threatening now, and chills ran through Harry’s blood when he heard it. His father often got loud, but he didn’t go quiet unless he was near his breaking point. “He’s a tattoo artist for fuck’s sake, and don’t think I didn’t have my assistants doing research. He was a scholarship kid, which was the only way he was able to attend college in the first place. He’s an orphan from some shithole public school that only has a graduation rate of fifty-seven percent. He is not good enough to shine your shoes, much less try to be a partner to someone like you.”

Harry’s temper had been high since his father started yelling, but now Harry lost it. “Yeah, that’s right.” Breathing heavily, he started saying everything he knew his father was thinking, spewing the kind of vitriol his father was known for. “He’s from a poor family and works at a shitty job. Wears clothes with holes in them and makeup helps himself feel better about how fucked up his life is. I only decided to bring him home to show you how much I like slumming it, just like you. That and he was an easy target, because I could see just how fucking desperate he was from the moment I laid eyes on him.”

Harry ached saying such harsh words about Louis when he knew they weren’t true. Chest heaving, Harry felt like he’d just run a marathon. His heart was rabbiting within him from the stress of the argument, and it wasn’t even over yet. Harry waited for Martin’s response and knew he had to end this soon.

Martin glared at Harry and after a pause said, “Then why did you even-”

“Because I love him!” Harry yelled at the top of his lungs. “I didn’t really mean any of that shit I just said, I was just telling you what you wanted to hear. Louis is beautiful and smart and caring and affectionate in ways I only experienced from Martha growing up. Of course I was drawn to him. Of course I wanted to share that incredible person with the people in my life that are supposed to be the most supportive of me. I never should have brought him here, but I was selfish. I needed him, and because he’s wonderful, he knew that and came with me.”

Harry stood up, feeling shaky with the things he’d just said. The words felt real, and he needed to figure out how much of what he had just said was because he was so entrenched in the role of loving boyfriend and how much was because he truly cared for Louis.

First, though, he needed to leave the room and argument with his head held high.

“I’m done,” Harry said, sounding far more calm than he felt. “I’ve done everything you required of me for the weekend, and we’ll be leaving tomorrow, not Monday.”

“You can’t do that,” Martin blustered. “I have meetings and a dinner party with the board of directors tomorrow to officially introduce you as the upcoming CFO.”

“Too fucking bad. You’ll just have to give them my apologies,” Harry said. When he got to the door, he saw that he’d apparently not latched the door when he’d come in and it was sitting open a crack. That was fine, it aided his quick escape.

He couldn’t bring himself to go upstairs just yet. He needed to be out of the house. A walk on the grounds he’d always use as his safe haven as a child was exactly what he required. Harry stormed about the path behind the house that led to the flower garden, and it was there that Harry used what he’d learned from his meditation guide in high school.

Focusing on breathing in the fresh, clean air and blowing out the bad energy, Harry felt soothed enough after around fifteen minutes to return to the house.

When he got to the driveway, Harry noticed Carl was no longer waiting by the car. He wondered if Louis had told Carl to postpone the shopping until Harry could handle it. God, Harry hoped so. He was not in the mood to be around anyone but Louis at the moment.

When had that happened? Harry had shouted at his father that he loved Louis, and at first he’d thought it was just because he was so ensconced in the act of being boyfriends and lovers. As he’d stared at the roses in the garden, doing his breathing exercises, Harry had come to realize that while it might not truly be love yet, the past day or so with Louis had definitely caused real feelings to develop.

If given a chance, they could very well become love. Harry needed to see Louis.

He raced up the stairs, waving off Lloyd who was yelling after him.

“Harry! I have a message for you!”

Figuring it was just a message from his father, Harry said, “Not now, Lloyd. I’ll be back in a bit; I need to see Louis.” He rushed to his room and burst into it saying, “Louis, oh my God. That was the worst…” Harry’s words trailed off as he looked around.

Louis wasn’t in Harry’s room. He wasn’t in the bathroom. It was then Harry noticed his bags were gone from the window seat as well.

No. He couldn’t be gone, could he? Why would he have left without any explanation?

Wait. Maybe he had left one, but perhaps he’d texted it. Harry had turned his phone off once they’d arrived at the office building and forgotten to turn it back on again. As he powered on the phone, he had one single text message come through, and it was from Louis.

Louis: Don’t ever reach out to me again. I hope the trip did everything you wanted it to.

“Fuck,” Harry sighed.

 

*~~***~~*

 

Louis swiped his sweater paw beneath his eyes and came back with a black smudge on it. Fucking eyeliner. He curled a little further into himself as he rode the subway home.

Well. His temporary home since he didn’t even have his own at this point. Fantastic.

How fucked up his life is ran through Louis’ head in Harry’s slow speech pattern. Louis hadn’t thought he could be hurt that badly anymore. It was true, he’d lost his parents at a young age and had been raised by his grandma. He’d had a rough life at a shitty school, but thanks to supportive teachers, his grandma, and his friends, he’d still been able to achieve everything he had so far.

Since high school though, he’d still had a slew of bad relationships. Money troubles. Lived in ratty clothes and, just like Harry said, tried to cover it up with makeup. And piercings. And tattoos. Louis liked those things. He didn’t think of them as a mask for the world. He thought they were beautiful.

They didn’t feel beautiful at the moment. Especially with his eyeliner streaming down his face like the fucked up mess he was.

Harry’s words had felt like a knife. They hurt so much more than even the breakup with Pete had. Why? Louis had only known Harry for a couple days. It was ridiculous. It obviously showed that once again Louis hadn’t protected himself as he obviously should have.

Damn it. He knew from the moment he saw Harry sitting in Zayn’s cafe that he was a fuck boy. He should learn to trust his first instincts more.

The train started to slow for Louis’ stop, so he grabbed his bags and got off. At least it was late enough there wasn’t a lot of foot traffic.

Louis climbed the stairs out of the subway station and walked the few blocks to where Zayn and Liam were waiting for him outside their apartment, smoking.

“Lou, what happened?” Liam asked as he rushed up to Louis and wrapped him in a full body hug.

Louis’ breath caught and he suddenly was incredibly close to tears. It had snuck up so fast, he wasn’t able to push them aside, they nearly bowled him over.

Choking out a sob, Louis just said, “He was a conceited, rich, cruel man. I helped him do what he needed and then left as soon as it had worked.”

Zayn’s brows were furrowed, but that was all Louis could see of him through his tears in the darkness.

“Was it all that horrible?” Zayn asked carefully. “He always seemed nice enough when he came into the cafe.”

“No, that’s what made it so bad,” Louis whined. He knew he wasn’t making sense, but he couldn’t help it. “He was so lovely and I thought he was genuine and I was starting to get feelings, but then I learned he was putting on a facade for me as well as his family the entire time and it just hurt so bad and he’s awful and I had to get away as fast as I could. Sorry it’s so late.”

Louis took a deep breath, clenched his eyes shut, and slowly blew it out. He was glad neither one felt the need to respond. Louis didn’t really have much more to say.

Finally feeling like he could pull away from Liam, Louis once again wiped beneath his eyes, picked up his bags, and nodded towards the door.

“Come on, let’s go on up.”

Louis was relieved when he entered their tiny apartment again. He felt comfortable in his surroundings for the first time since leaving Saturday.

“Shawn and Niall are already in bed,” Zayn whispered. “We’ll see you in the morning, okay? Get some rest.”

Louis nodded and accepted another hug from each of them before they climbed up to the loft. Dropping his bags in the corner, Louis didn’t even bother getting undressed or brushing his teeth. He just grabbed the sheet, wrapped it around himself, and dropped to the couch.

It was an uneasy sleep that took him, and he woke up feeling even more tired the next day. Luckily, Niall didn’t have to work like the rest of them did, so he was more than willing to sit on the couch and snuggle Louis while they binge watched Harry Potter all day.

They’d just finished watching the fourth movie when there was a knock on the door.

Louis hummed and continued to watch the credits roll, not caring who was there, until he heard Niall’s voice go cold and ask, “What are you doing here?”

“Please, just let me talk to Louis?”

Shit. It was Harry. But it was Sunday evening, he wasn’t supposed to be back until tomorrow night. Louis checked his phone and saw his message to Harry before blocking his number had been delivered, so he knew Louis didn’t want to see him after running away like a coward. Why was he here?

“I don’t know what happened, but you can just turn right around and-”

“Niall,” Louis interrupted, feeling exhausted and sad and cold. It had to be around a hundred degrees in the apartment thanks to summer rearing its head in the city early, but Louis still felt like he needed blankets heaped on top of him while his body healed his hurting heart. “It’s okay. Let him in.”

Niall’s head whipped around and he looked at Louis in shock. “But, I thought…”

“I know. But I want to hear what he has to say.”

Niall watched Louis and he could read Niall’s every thought on his face. Do you want me to stay? Will you be okay?

Louis rolled his eyes and nodded to the door with a small smile. As much as he appreciated the gesture, he wanted he and Harry to have some privacy while they spoke. Even if it hurt, Louis had been through worse and would be just fine. He just had too many questions for Harry to turn him away completely when the man had actually made an effort to show up at Louis’ after everything. Louis really hadn’t expected that and it made him even more curious.

Niall pulled the door open further and stepped back, allowing Harry entrance to the apartment.

“I’ll be back in an hour,” Niall said, grabbing his keys off the wall. Before he left, though, he turned to Harry and said, “If anything happens or you hurt Louis any more than you already have, I’m coming for you. The wrath of the Irish will be upon you, and you’ll wish you’d never been born.”

With that, the door slammed shut, and Louis’ head dropped into his hands. “God he’s so embarrassing.”

“He doesn’t really sound Irish?” Harry said in such a way it sounded like a question.

“His parents are, but he was born and raised in Brooklyn. Holds tightly to the Irish heritage, though.”

The relaxed air that had somehow snuck in when Niall left dissipated when Louis remembered why they were in this situation to begin with.

“So, take a seat, I guess.”

Harry nodded and dropped down on the couch. Louis wanted as much space between them as possible, though, so he sat in one of the dining chairs along the other wall.

“I know you said not to reach out to you, and I figured you had my number blocked when my calls went straight to voicemail, but I had to talk to you,” Harry said earnestly. “I had to know why you left.”

Louis scoffed. “I’m sure you know exactly why I left. It was really great hearing you talk about how desperate I was with Lloyd watching on.”

Harry’s eyes widened. “Did you hear the whole argument then?” he asked, voice quiet.

“No,” Louis said, face scrunching in distaste. “Wasn’t really interested in hearing the two of you continue to degrade me. I’d had enough of that for one weekend and figured my presence had already done everything you’d wanted, so I got out of there.”

By now, Harry was leaning forward, arms propped on his knees. “So you didn’t hear what I said next?”

“No, Harry. Do you have a listening comprehension issue I didn’t know about before or something? I just said-”

Harry shook his head and interrupted Louis. “I told my father I didn’t mean any of what I’d just said and that I love you. That was what you missed next.”

“I…” Louis blinked. “You said what?”

“I told him I love you.”

Louis was reeling. “Why the fuck did you tell him that after everything you’d just said?”

“Because,” Harry cried, throwing his arms in the air. “We were having an argument! He wasn’t listening to me, so I said what I had to in order to actually get his attention and then I told him how wrong he was as forcefully as possible.”

“You love me?” Louis asked. Nothing made sense anymore. Louis might be having a seriously messed up dream with the way his weekend had gone. “You’ve known me literal days. How could you love me?”

“Oh my God, you are incredibly dense for being a fucking genius,” Harry complained. “Will you at least move over here to the couch, please? Now that you know I didn’t mean those things, I’d really like to be close to you again.”

Louis warily stood up and made his way over to the couch. Sitting down tentatively on the cushion beside Harry, he said, “Now explain the love thing.”

“Lou,” Harry said, reaching out for Louis’ hand. Louis let him hold it, because even with the ups and downs Harry had thrown him into emotionally the past twenty four hours, Louis still craved his touch. “I’ve opened up to you more in the time we were traveling out there than I think I ever have with anyone. You understood me. You somehow knew exactly what I needed when I needed it.”

Louis had tears filling his eyes, and he was getting frustrated. He didn’t want to have to battle the raccoon eyes again, but if Harry continued the way he was, it seemed like it wouldn’t be able to be helped.

“I didn’t get to know much about you, circumstances made that a little difficult, but I want to. What I learned this weekend is that you are so incredibly smart. And brave. And kind. And fucking gorgeous. I don’t think you realize that last one, but you really are. I already feel like I need you, and that scares me, but when I got back to my room and realized you had left, that scared me more.”

“Oh, God. You’re going to get stupidly cheesy on me again, aren’t you?” Louis said through his tears. “At least grab me a tissue off the table before you make me gag.”

Harry chuckled a little, but did as Louis asked. He gave him the entire box, and then sat down closer to Louis. Louis wiped his nose and beneath his eyes and tossed the tissue to the coffee table.

Looking back up at Harry, Louis waved his hand. “Okay, continue. Get the cheese over with.”

“See?” Harry said, leaning in to rest his forehead against Louis’ as a wide smile grew on his face. “You call me out on my shit, even if I know you like it too.”

“You’re shitting yourself if you think I like how stupidly sweet you are,” Louis teased, but he was smiling too now. Because Harry was right. He did like it.

“Louis,” Harry said, drawing out his name. “I want to do this for real. I want to date you and get to know you and learn everything there is to learn about you. I want to help support you the way you did me this weekend. I want to follow you and see you put your mind to use doing incredible things. I want to meet your grandma. I want to do all of that, because I might not love you yet, but I think I could.”

Louis was a mess. He had tears pouring down his face and his leftover makeup from yesterday caked around his eyes, he was exhausted from lack of sleep, and he desperately needed a shower, but he was so happy he couldn’t stop laughing.

“Damn it, you’ve just turned me into the damsel in distress at the end of a chick flick,” Louis whined as he reluctantly pulled back from Harry to wipe at his face again. “I’ll never forgive you for that. I’m very manly and tough, you know.”

“Oh, I know that too,” Harry said. After a pause, Louis looked up and Harry was biting his lip.

“What?” Louis asked.

“So,” Harry said, shifting around in his seat. “Do those things I just mentioned sound like something you’d be interested in too?”

Heaving a big sigh Louis said, “Oh, I suppose.”

Then, Louis was tackled on his back on the couch. Harry was on top of him, hugging Louis so tight he was having a bit of a hard time breathing.

“I’m so happy right now,” Harry said into Louis’ neck.

“I’d be happier if I could breathe,” Louis said, laughing a little when Harry squawked and fell off the couch. Louis rolled so he could peek over the edge of the cushion where Harry was currently covering his face.

“I’ve made an ass of myself so many times this weekend, I’m kind of hoping I’ll hit my quota and just be done with it.”

Louis kept laughing, and he realized his tears had finally ended. He was finally calming down, which was good considering he now had a bit of a cramp in his stomach, when Harry gasped.

He shot up so fast, that his almost clocked Louis in the forehead with his own. “I never said I’m sorry! Oh my God that was one of the reasons I came over here!”

Harry shifted so he was on his knees and reached up with his hands so he was gently holding Louis’ face. He smoothed away what Louis was sure were tear tracks and Louis tried to contain the shivers his touch evoked.

“I am so fucking sorry. I’m sorry for the way my mother treated you. I’m sorry for the things my father said and did. I’m particularly sorry that you heard me say those awful things about you, even if I didn’t mean them. I know all of that hurt, and I would never wish that on anyone.”

“It’s okay,” Louis said, but Harry quickly smushed an index finger up against Louis’ lips to get him to stop speaking. “Well that’s rude,” Louis said as clearly as he could even with the hindrance.

Smiling a little and eyes glinting, Harry said, “It’s not okay. No one should be treated the way you were this weekend. But I do hope you’ll forgive me and I’ll do the very best I can to avoid those situations in the future.”

Louis nipped at Harry’s finger, making him squeak and lose his balance so he once again fell to his bum on the floor.

“I was trying to say I’m sorry, and that’s how you repay me? By trying to bite my finger?”

Shrugging, Louis said, “It was in the way.”

Harry shook his head and Louis groaned.

“Are you going to kiss me or what, Styles? Because seriously, Niall is going to be back any minute, so we’re not going to have privacy for long.”

It didn’t take long after that for Harry to clamber back onto the couch.

“I’ve been wanting to do this again ever since I first kissed you in the car,” Harry said, leaning close.

“Then what are you waiting for?” Louis teased before finally taking matters into his own hands and bridging the gap between them.

Harry still tasted a little of the peanuts given on the flight, but Louis didn’t mind. Warmth and want flowed through him as the kiss quickly turned dirty and needy. Louis pressed into Harry, tilting his head to get deeper and as he did, he eased himself into Harry’s lap.

Harry groaned as Louis pulled back and began kissing down beneath his ear.

“You almost gave me a heart attack when you teased me like that in the car,” he said, voice deeper and more syrupy than usual. Louis didn’t want to admit to himself how much hearing Harry like that affected him, so he distracted himself with nipping at Harry’s collarbone and kissing it better.

He had just made his way back to Harry’s lips when the front door opened and a loud, “What the fuck,” filled the apartment.

Louis pulled back from Harry, and he could tell his hair was disheveled from Harry’s fingers raking through it. Standing in the doorway, frozen, was Liam.

“Oh,” Louis said, looking down at Harry who was blushing but also looked like he was about to burst in his attempt at holding back his laughter. “Hi, Li. This is Harry. We’re kinda dating now?”

“Hi,” Harry said, waving his hand, but still not able to see Liam since he still hadn’t actually entered the apartment.

Liam blinked, looking back and forth between them, and then shook his head and finally stepped inside. Once the door had shut behind him, Liam said, “Well, I’d say nice to meet you, but I’m not sure how we got to this point and when I left we hated you so…”

Harry grimaced and Louis shrugged.

“Yeah, well. He chased after me, so he can’t be all bad, right?”

“Oh my God, your life is a movie,” Liam said with a laugh. “So we don’t hate Harry?”

Louis laughed and leaned forward to give Harry another kiss, because that was something he could do now. “Yeah. We definitely like Harry.”

“Cool. Nice to meet you man. Please don’t have sex on my couch.”

Louis’ jaw dropped. “Liam!”

“Wanna go back to mine?” Harry asked quietly. “I do kind of have a driver downstairs waiting since I didn’t know if you’d even let me in.”

“Oh thank God,” Louis said before untangling their limbs and getting off his lap. “Let’s please get some privacy.”

“Be safe,” Liam called after them. “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!”

Louis flipped him off and walked out the door hand in hand with Harry.

“Not quite the cheesy ending expected from a rom-com, but I suppose it’ll work, yeah?” Harry asked.

“Close enough,” Louis said with a shrug.