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That Sounds Fake But Okay

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“I can’t believe I agreed to write this. I’m such an idiot!”

Harry leans forward in his chair with every intention of banging his forehead on his desk dramatically, but thinks better of it at the last second and opts for a few soft taps instead. No sense having a literal headache to go along with his metaphorical one.

Liam is leaning over the top of their shared cubicle wall (which could hardly be called a wall, by the way, it barely comes up to his chest), eating a sandwich and lazily scrolling on his phone. He doesn’t look nearly as sympathetic as Harry thinks he should.

“I don’t see what the big deal is,” Liam says, still not looking up from his phone. “I mean, it is your job after all. It’s not like I love every story that comes across my desk, either.”

Harry snorts. Easy for Liam to say. They’re both three months out of grad school, and Liam already has his dream job. After interning here at New York Weekly last year, they’d both been offered staff positions and accepted. Only, Liam is assigned to the political desk which is exactly where he wants to be, and Harry—well, Harry is stuck writing gossip articles about one vapid celebrity after another. It’s a far cry from the serious journalistic work he wishes he were doing.

“Excuse me, Liam,” Harry retorts. “Reporting on a city council measure you disagree with is definitely not the same as having to come up with 500 words on Louis Tomlinson’s latest fling. Ugh.” He wrinkles his nose in disdain. Harry could come up with 500 words about almost anything in his sleep, but when it comes to some of the drivel he’s faced with, it feels more like 100,000.

Liam finally looks up at Harry but remains unfazed. “Grin and bear it, Styles. One day this will all be a memory. You’ll be interviewing the Dalai Lama or crafting long-winded, pretentious literary fiction before you know it. You just gotta put your time in.”

Harry sighs. He knows Liam is right. Success comes from hard work, and it doesn’t happen overnight. He’s barely out of journalism school, and most of his classmates would have given their right arms for an opportunity—any opportunity—at New York Weekly. And, it’s not like all of his assignments have been bad. He attended the premiere of the latest Avengers movie (he prefers rom-com, but whatever), and he also had the chance to meet Stevie Nicks (Stevie Nicks!) when a senior writer let him tag along to an industry party. Plus, he can get free tickets to almost any concert or event in the city. Not that he really has anyone except for Liam to take with him.

Of course, at the exact moment Harry starts thinking about his empty social calendar, Ben walks by, looking like he just stepped out of a J. Crew catalog and smelling like expensive aftershave. Liam smirks as he watches Harry’s eyes trail after him.

“What?”

“Nothing.”

“Not nothing. You were smirking.”

“I was in no way smirking.”

“You were definitely smirking. Stop smirking.”

“I’m just saying. You should try actually talking to him instead of drooling over him every time he walks past your desk.”

“I do not drool! That’s simply offensive, Liam.” Harry frowns. “And what do I have to talk to him about, anyway?”

“Oh, I don’t know. I mean, you work at the same magazine, you live in the same city, you’re both hot. You like sports, he’s a sportswriter…”

“Liam! I like sports, but I don’t know sports. What if I said something stupid?”

Liam just rolls his eyes. “You couldn’t sound any stupider than you look when you stare at him with those puppy dog eyes.”

“Thank you. Your support is appreciated as always.” Harry groans and returns his forehead gently to the desk.

“Come on, Haz, I’ll buy you lunch,” Liam offers as a gesture of peace.

“But I just watched you eat a sandwich.”

“Harry, please. There’s always room for dessert.”

---

Louis is awake, but not awake awake. He’s got this little thing where he likes to take stock of the situation before opening his eyes.

Where am I?  He can smell the lavender detergent on the sheets. This is definitely his own bed. That’s always positive.

Does anything hurt? His head, but just a little. Good. Not in the mood for a hangover today.

Am I alone? Nope. He hears breathing on the other side of the bed. He thinks it’s…shit, he’s pretty sure his name is Nate. Or maybe Nick. It starts with an “N” for sure.

Most importantly, can I go back to sleep? He doesn’t see any reason why not.

Just as Louis is drifting back into a delicious state of unconsciousness, the door flies open, filling his bedroom with a vibrant energy that he normally loves, but not first thing in the morning.

“Good morning, sunshine!” Niall’s voice is far too loud for this ungodly hour. “Ooh, or should I say sunshines?”

“Yes, Niall,” Louis grumbles. “I have a guest. So why don’t you be a dear and come back in another hour or two?” He still hasn’t opened his eyes.

“No can do,” Niall answers. He’s close to the bed now. He’s setting something down on the nightstand. A cup, a plate. Louis’ tea is here. Morning tea is a non-negotiable requirement if he’s expected to act like a half-decent member of the human race. He still isn’t going to open his eyes, though.

“You have a meeting with the Sams at 10:00," Niall continues. "And after that you’re shooting the toothpaste commercial.”

“Toothpaste commercial? What the hell?” Louis' headache starts to dance around behind his eyes.

“Yeah,” Niall continues cheerfully. He’s unwrapping something. It smells like bacon. Okay, fine, Louis will open his eyes if bacon is involved. “The toothpaste commercial. It’s been on your schedule for weeks.”

“Niall, please explain why I, an Academy Award nominated actor, an A- list celebrity, a disgustingly rich and good-looking bastard, would stump for a toothpaste brand? Aren’t the Sams supposed to be protecting my high-class image?”

“I’m not sure doing a toothpaste commercial could hurt your image any more than the last time you screamed profanities at the paparazzi and I had to stop you from flashing them your ass,” Niall answers as Louis sits up and grabs the mug of tea. Nate or Nick is just starting to stir. “And anyway, it’ll only be seen in Japan.”

“Oh, Japan. Doesn’t Clooney do advertisements for Japan?”

“Yeah, and he actually has an Oscar. So, no fuckin’ complaints out of you.”

Louis nearly chokes on his Earl Grey, then throws a biscuit at Niall’s head. He’s honestly the most disrespectful personal assistant imaginable. He should be fired immediately. But, it would be hard to find a replacement who could make Louis’ tea just right, or procure top-quality weed when they’re in L.A. (he has a weird relationship with Justin Bieber that Louis doesn’t particularly want to know the details of), or convince Louis to get out of his perfectly warm and comfortable bed to fulfill his various contractual obligations. All right, Niall can stay for now.

Nate or Nick is now fully awake and looking at Louis and Niall with the appropriate amount of awkwardness for the situation.

“D’ya want some bacon?” Niall asks, as if the presence of a stranger in Louis' bed is as ordinary an occurrence as the sunrise. And, for Niall, it kind of is. For Nate or Nick, however, waking up next to a famous actor and receiving a casual offer of breakfast meat from a blond Irishman he’s never laid eyes on before is clearly out of the norm.

“Um, I…um, no,” Nate or Nick stutters, obviously trying to decide if he should move from the bed or not. “I should really go…”

“Great! I’ll order you a ride!” Niall cuts in agreeably, grabbing his phone out of his back pocket. He has an entire roster of discreet drivers who can be available on a moment’s notice. He can get Nate or Nick dressed, downstairs, out the back door of the building, and on with his life in less than 10 minutes. And that’s exactly what he does.

By the time Niall returns to the bedroom, Louis has finished his breakfast, taken a shower, and is pulling on a sweater and jeans.

“You gotta be more careful, Lou,” Niall says with an uncharacteristically serious note to his voice. “I can’t guarantee they’ll sign the NDAs after the fact.”

Louis looks up suddenly. “You couldn’t get him to sign?”

“Of course I got him to fucking sign. That’s not my point. I’m just saying you need to be smarter. Maybe one of these days I can’t work my morning magic and cover your ass, you know?”  

“My ass always welcomes your morning magic, Niall,” Louis jokes while patting Niall’s cheek, but he knows his friend is right. He has been a little reckless lately, but he’s just been so busy and stressed. It’s not like he has time for actual dating, and he doesn’t want that anyway. His career has finally kicked into high gear, and the last thing he needs is to be tied down. So yeah, he’s had a few one-night stands in the past month or so (definitely no more than four, he thinks), but he’s just letting off some steam. It’s no big deal.  

Thirty minutes later, Louis and Niall are entering the New York offices of Louis’ management company. They breeze right past the administrative assistant at his desk and into Sam Clifton’s office.

“Good morning, Louis. Niall,” Sam nods at them in acknowledgement and takes a sip of coffee, clicking out of whatever he was viewing on his desktop screen.

The boys flop unceremoniously onto Sam’s expansive leather sofa just as Sam Clayton walks in. That’s right, Louis’ managers are Sam Clifton and Sam Clayton—the Sams. They’re not too hard to keep sorted, though. Sam Clifton is a 55-year-old man with graying hair and wire-rimmed glasses, whereas Sam Clayton is a 29-year-old blonde with nice boobs and perfect teeth. Louis guesses she’s smoking hot, if one were into that sort of thing. Which Niall certainly is.

“Good morning, Sammie,” Niall says in a voice so sugary Louis wants to vomit. “You’re looking especially lovely today.”

“Okay, for the last time, don’t call me Sammie,” she responds, giving Niall a stern look that doesn’t quite reach her eyes. “I’ve got another meeting in fifteen, so we need to make this fast.”

She settles into an armchair angled between the couch and Sam Clifton’s desk, opens a folder on her lap and starts looking through some papers.

Sam Clifton clears his throat and starts talking. “We just wanted to meet with you in person, Louis, to let you know we’d like to start a new PR push for you. Your press mentions are up almost 50 percent over the past two months, which is great, but we’d like to increase that even more ahead of your next movie premiere.”

Louis shrugs, ambivalent. He knows how the game is played. They’ll probably have him become an ambassador for some charity or show up at a few high-profile industry events over the next few weeks, maybe the Met Gala. It was hardly worth getting him out of bed for.

“You’ve been single ever since you came out,” Sam Clayton continues, looking up at Louis from the papers in her lap. “Your ‘playboy’ reputation has worked for a while, but it’s time to link you to someone more seriously. You know, for longer than a week. And preferably someone at your same level of recognition.”

Niall immediately starts laughing while Louis just gapes at the Sams. This is not what he was expecting. They’ve done plenty to boost his notoriety over the past few years. Partying in Vegas, hanging out with Hollywood elite, an appearance on Inside the Actors Studio, etc. But they’ve never pushed him on the dating thing.

“What? Why?” Louis asks when he regains his voice. “That hardly seems necessary.”

“Don’t be naïve, Louis,” Sam Clayton chides. “The number one thing the public wants to know is who their favorite celebs are dating. Just being out isn’t good enough anymore. We need to create some buzz around you right now, and this is the quickest and best way to do it.”

Louis looks at Sam Clifton, who is leaning back in his desk chair with his hands laced behind his head. He simply nods in agreement with his partner. No help there. He turns to Niall, whose face is still red from laughing.

“Wait! Did you know about this?” Louis demands.

“No! I swear I didn’t,” Niall answers, shaking his head. “But you have to agree they have a point. And, I wouldn’t mind a vacation from NDA duty.”

Louis stares daggers through Niall at that, but Sam Clifton cuts in quickly. “It’s not like we don’t know, Louis. We get copies of everything. Listen, it’ll only be for a couple months, tops. Then, after the premiere, you can break it off, and we’ll get more press from that as well. It’s not going to kill you. It’ll be beneficial for everyone involved.”

Louis draws in a slow breath and runs his hands through the shaggy brown fringe he’s been growing out between films. There’s probably no getting out of this, he realizes. The Sams can be pretty persuasive, and he wouldn’t put it past them to push this thing even without his cooperation.

“Fine, fine. Who am I meant to be romancing?”

“Cam Richards.”

“Cam Richards! You can’t be serious,” scoffs Louis.

“I’m quite serious,” Sam Clayton assures him. “His new single is in the Billboard Top 10, and he’s getting ready to kick off a world tour this summer. He’s single, you’re single. It’s the perfect opportunity. His people have already agreed to it.”

Louis can’t deny that Cam Richards is a good-looking, talented guy. But he’s not Louis’ type at all. He seems way too high-maintenance. This could get interesting.

“Well, I guess I’m not an Academy Award nominated actor for nothing,” he concedes. Everyone else groans.

“Second time today, and it’s only 10:30,” Niall crows. “Impressive! But not as impressive as you look in that red dress, Sam.”

“Save it,” Sam Clayton responds with a roll of her eyes as she stands up. “Louis, thank you for being agreeable on this. We’ve reached out to our contacts at New York Weekly, and there should be some press rumors circulating by the end of the week. Cam is coming into town on Sunday, so we can set up some pap photos for Monday or Tuesday. Niall, I’ll be in touch with you about it.”

“You know I live for your calls,” Niall answers, and Sam “accidentally” whacks him on the head with her folder as she walks behind the sofa on her way out of the office.

“Well,” Louis says, sort of to Niall, sort of to Sam Clifton, and sort of to himself. “Here goes nothing.”

---

 It’s late, almost 10:00 p.m. Everyone has left the office, except Harry, the cleaning crew, and the overnight security guard. He’s staring at his computer screen and mulling over what his editor, Jeff, told him in their afternoon meeting.

“This will be the first whisper of a major push linking Louis Tomlinson and Cam Richards,” he’d said.  “Tomlinson’s people are giving us the exclusive, so we can’t screw this up. Just set the stage for some pap photos we’ll be getting next week. They’ve given us leeway on this one, so make it juicy but believable. If you deliver on this, I’ll give you the bigger story, too.”

When Harry first started interning at New York Weekly, he’d been shocked at how fabricated so many of the celebrity articles were. He’d never really paid much attention to gossip-type news and had no clue that so much of it was concocted strictly for PR purposes. He’s not a fan of it—at all. Harry believes that true journalism should be about truth, justice, and making the world a better place. It’s just one more reason he can’t wait to pay his dues and move on to something more respectable.  

Okay. Juicy but believable. Juicy but believable. Come on, Styles, you can do this. Jeff is trusting you with a pretty important assignment here. This isn’t that hard.

“Oh, hey, didn’t realize you were still here.”

Harry lets out an embarrassing yelp and almost jumps out of his seat when he hears Ben’s voice behind him, causing Ben to jump back in surprise as well.

“I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to scare you!”

Harry’s face flushes a dozen shades of pink and red at once. “No, no, it’s okay, I just didn’t know anyone else was still around.”

Ben runs his hand through his hair and yawns. Harry doesn’t know how he manages to look so perfectly disheveled and beautiful at the same time. He has to shake his head a little to keep from openly staring.

“Yeah, I had to finish up my article on the new stadium proposal,” Ben explains. “I missed dinner, so I was thinking about going down the street to that diner? You know the one with the ridiculous chili-cheese fries? You could come with me…if you’re done here, that is.”

Oh shit oh shit oh shit. Dinner with Ben? Alone? To be honest, Harry can’t believe Ben even remembers his name. He doesn’t know whether to say yes or to crawl under his desk and hide. He glances at the blank document on his computer screen. He has written exactly 0 out of 500 juicy but believable words about Louis Tomlinson and Cam Richards, and his deadline is at 7:00 a.m.

But….it’s dinner…with Ben. Harry has had a crush on him since he first saw him last year- even though he’d probably die before admitting that to Liam or anyone else. And it’s only 500 words. He can have dinner at the diner, then come in early and fire it off before Jeff even arrives at the office. It’ll be fine. He does his best writing in the mornings, anyway.

“Sure, sounds good. I’m starving, actually. Let me just…” Harry clicks out of all his open tabs and sets the computer to hibernate. “Yeah, let’s go. Chili-cheese fries sound amazing.”

Looking back, Harry will say this was where he made his first mistake.

---

“Niall! Get me one of the Sams on the phone immediately!” Louis demands, rifling through his drawers for his favorite pair of athletic shorts. He needs to get to the gym to work off some anger before he punches someone.

“Sounds serious,” Niall answers, not looking concerned in the least. He has his phone in his hand but doesn’t appear to be dialing.

“Why aren’t you dialing?”

“Because I’m in the middle of an attack.”

“Stop playing Clash of Clans and dial the fucking office, Niall!”

“Mmmhmm. Almost done…yes! Haha, I completely destroyed their village! Sayonara, motherfuckers! Okay, who am I supposed to be calling again?”

Louis snaps up from where he’s been bending over his bottom dresser drawer. Niall’s not sure what’s wilder—his hair or the look in his eyes.

“Niall. My reputation is being destroyed in the press and you’re over here playing video games against 12-year-olds. I need to talk to the Sams right now!”

Niall finally complies with the request, walking out of the room while he dials the phone and leaving Louis to pull on his shorts and tank top in a huff. He never should have agreed to this stunt. He hasn’t even been in the same room as Cam Richards yet, and he’s already regretting this decision. The online edition of this week’s New York Weekly went live half an hour ago, and the blurb about Louis and Cam is completely outrageous.

Niall returns with the phone. “You’re on speaker with Sam Clifton.”

“Sam!”

“I’m here, Louis.”

“Have you read the New York Weekly article yet?”

“I have. I actually read it before it went to press.”

“Are you joking?! How could you let this happen? It’s utterly ridiculous!”

“Louis, calm down. This is how these things work.”

There are very few things Louis hates more than being told to calm down. It’s almost like an engraved invitation to get him ramped up even more. “Sam. This article makes me look like a complete sappy idiot,” he explains in the most level tone of voice he can manage. “It says, and I quote, ‘Insiders report that Tomlinson has been smitten with Richards for quite some time. He even went so far as to have his people call Richards’ people to ask for an introduction. After a romantic first date, Tomlinson sent Richards an enormous bouquet of irises to congratulate him on his Billboard Top 10 hit.’ Are you listening to this bullshit, Sam?”

Sam makes a noise on the other end of the line, and Louis could swear he’s stifling a laugh.

“I’m glad one of us thinks this is funny!” Louis is beyond exasperated. “This article makes me look like some sort of lovesick teenager! I would never beg Cam Richards—or anyone else for that matter—for a date. And I would never send anyone a bouquet of irises! I would send peonies. Maybe even roses. But irises, please!”

Now Sam Clifton is actually laughing out loud. “Listen, Louis, I’m sorry you’re not happy with the article, but it’s simply meant to be an initial link between you and Cam. If you want, I can ask the editor to have Cam falling at your feet by next week. We had to start somewhere. I think it actually makes you look quite romantic. This is good press—way better than the time you flipped off Donald Trump on the red carpet at the Golden Globes.”

Louis is scowling so hard he thinks Sam might be able to hear it through the phone. “His hair makes me very angry, Sam. You know that. You also know I’m not romantic and this article is shit. I’m not happy about this.”

“I know. Just hang in there. This is good for your image, I promise.”

Louis just frowns at the phone and hangs up, tossing it on to the bed.

“Niall!” he barks. “Get the car, we’re heading to the gym.”

---

Harry isn’t feeling as festive and chatty as everyone else at the bar tonight. He takes a long sip from his frosty glass of Kolsch and tries to focus on the conversation that’s happening between Liam and the new intern Sophia. They’re discussing circulation numbers and how well the magazine has been doing lately, especially online.

It’s true. New York Weekly’s market share is through the roof, with readership at an all-time high. Harry’s article about Louis Tomlinson was just published a few hours ago, and it already has several thousand hits and climbing.

Harry cringes inwardly when the thought of the article enters his mind. The thing was, he’d really enjoyed his dinner with Ben the night before. They’d sat in the ripped leather booth at the diner, eating greasy comfort food and talking until almost 2:00 a.m. After that, Harry had been too keyed up to sleep, so he’d stumbled into the office around 6:00 and dashed off his 500 words just in time for the deadline. So much for doing his best writing in the mornings.

If Harry’s being honest with himself, the article is pretty damn bad. It’s cheesy as hell and maybe, just maybe, partially based on a fantasy he had about receiving a comically large bouquet of flowers from Ben as a congrats on a big promotion out of the gossip section. Jeff had come in looking extremely distracted and had barely given Harry’s work a quick once-over before approving it for print. Harry thought it was strange considering how important he’d made the assignment out to be.

“Haz, what do you think?”

Harry snaps back to the present and finds Liam looking at him expectantly, as if he’d been in on the conversation all along and should now be prepared to add his own insight.

“Yeah, great,” is all he can muster as Liam eyes him with confusion. It clearly isn’t an appropriate answer to whatever the question was.

Harry shifts his weight from the bar stool to his feet and digs into his back pocket for his wallet. He lays a few bills on the table and tells Liam he’ll see him at home later. They’re kind of roommates in that their studio apartments are adjacent to each other. And in that they might have cut an illegal opening into their shared wall.

“You okay?” Liam asks, concerned.

“Yeah, just dead on my feet. Didn’t sleep at all last night.”

“Oh, yeah. Late-night dinner,” Liam says with wink. Harry has only given him the basics, hasn’t had time for a full rundown of the date yet. Not that it was a date, of course. He glares at Liam to prevent him from taking the discussion any further in front of Sophia. The last thing he wants is to be the subject of any office gossip. He feels enough like a high-school girl today as it is.

As Harry exits the bar, he pulls out his phone to check his emails and texts. A moment later, he’s completely frozen in the middle of the sidewalk, staring at the screen as hordes of unfeeling New Yorkers rush by him on either side. Uh oh.

---

An hour earlier.

The gym was no help. Louis returns to his apartment feeling more agitated than ever about the ridiculous New York Weekly article. Niall has already fucked off to God knows where, so Louis is left alone with no plans to speak of for the evening. This is supposed to be his “down time” between films but he doesn’t really know how to enjoy it. Well, he does, but he’s supposed to be taking a break from all that so he can fake-date someone he’s never even met.

After taking a shower, Louis decides that if he can’t go down to Hell’s Kitchen and pull tonight, he might as well treat himself to some top-notch porn, so he settles down on the bed with his iPad and a bottle of lube. The entire eastern wall of Louis’ bedroom is composed of nothing but floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Central Park. He loves the classic Manhattan view; it’s one of the main reasons he purchased the property. With the click of a remote, he can darken the glass so that he can see out but no one else can see in.

Louis leans back against the pillows, one hand already down the front of his pants, the fingers of the other sliding across the screen of his iPad to unlock it. Great. The fucking New York Weekly article is still up on the screen. Who wrote this shit, anyway? Louis scrolls to the top of the page. Harry Styles. Never heard of him. There’s a link to his Twitter account under the byline. Don’t click it, Louis. He clicks it. Harry Styles has 356 followers. Pathetic. His bio is a quote from the Dalai Lama. “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” Seriously? How lame is this kid? Louis clicks on Harry’s profile picture. Okay, he’s got nice curly dark hair, but his goofy face ruins it, to be honest. He looks like some kind of self-satisfied frog. Why is his mouth so big? Why are his lips so full? Louis can’t let him get away with looking so fucking goofy. He clicks on the icon to compose a new tweet and opens a browser tab to google “Dalai Lama quotes.”

@Harry_Styles “In the practice of tolerance one’s enemy is the best teacher” Thanks for upping my bullshit tolerance with your inane article

Exactly 140 characters. Goddammit, Louis loves it when that happens. He clicks the “tweet” button but still doesn’t feel satisfied.

@Harry_Styles Maybe next time try checking your facts before you print any more ridiculous hearsay about me

Louis closes out of Twitter as his notifications start to go crazy. He has nearly 50 million followers, so he never even attempts to keep up. He just needed to spout off, and now he feels a bit better knowing that he just ruined some low-level hack journalist’s evening. He may be committed to going along with this stunt, but he’s at least going to demand some respect. The Sams aren’t going to be happy. This is definitely strike three against what they’d agreed upon in terms of Louis’ use of his Twitter account—strike four, too, if you count the follow-up tweet. But, Louis can’t be fucked to care at the moment. He’s made his feelings clear, and he can deal with the Sams tomorrow.

Right now, he just needs a good wank and a good night’s sleep, even though it’s barely 8:00 p.m. He heads right for one of his go-to videos. It’s nothing too hard-core—Louis actually isn’t into that. It’s more…artistic. It’s shot in black and white, the lighting is really excellent (in Louis’ professional opinion), and it features D’Angelo’s “How Does It Feel” in the background rather than your typical cheesy synthetic porn music. But at the end of the day, it’s still just two dudes fucking, and that’s all Louis really needs at the moment. After a couple of minutes, he drops the iPad and uses his free hand to push his shorts all the way down to his knees. This isn’t a long, luxurious wank. This is fast and dirty and needy. Louis comes with his lips parted but completely silent, at the exact same time as the guys in the video. So, maybe he’s watched this particular one a few too many times. It’s a classic, though.

He wipes himself off with his T-shirt, tosses it on the floor, turns out the light, and falls promptly to sleep. Tension relieved.

---

Liam snatches Harry’s phone out of his hand, throws it in his top desk drawer, and locks it before Harry can even react.

“Hey!” Harry protests.

“Stop looking at it,” Liam responds. “You’ve been looking at it all day. You’re just driving yourself crazy.”

Harry lets out a long, slow breath, trying to calm his nerves. Liam is just trying to help. Ever since Louis Tomlinson’s tweets last night, Harry’s Twitter notifications have been going crazy. He’s also gotten dozens of emails and texts. Sure, Harry has dreamed about publishing an article that creates a lot of buzz, but not like this. It’s so embarrassing, and the reaction has been 95-percent negative. Louis has fans—a lot of fans—and they seem to have nothing better to do than to jump to his defense in the form of bullying Harry as much as possible. There are even five new Harry Styles parody Twitter accounts that have cropped up overnight. Liam’s personal favorite is @Carrie_Styles, a Sex and the City themed one that includes a photo-shopped profile picture of Harry’s face with Sarah Jessica Parker’s hair. His sister Gemma is retweeting all of it. Harry could not be more humiliated.

A soft “ding” sounds from the speakers connected to Harry’s computer. It’s a calendar reminder that he has a meeting with Jeff in five minutes. He feels sick to his stomach.

“You look like shit,” Liam offers helpfully.

“Thank you. I appreciate the encouragement.”

Liam just shrugs. “I don’t know why you’re worried. Jeff approved the article before it went live.”

“But I’m the one who wrote it,” Harry whines. “It’s still my ass on the line.” Liam’s a journalist, too; he should understand this. Maybe he’d feel differently if someone had tweeted “Fave for Liam Payne; retweet for this moldy sock” and had only received three favorites like Harry had. And one of them was his mom, so really only two actually count. 

Harry stands up and trudges toward Jeff’s office with all the enthusiasm of someone marching to his own death. He actually thinks that death might be preferable to getting demoted to writing horoscopes or blind items.

As he rounds the corner in front of Jeff’s office, Harry runs into Ben—quite literally—knocking them both back a half step. Great. Now his loss of dignity can really be complete.

“Oh hey, Harry,” Ben says, looking like he’d rather be anywhere else in the world at this very moment. Harry can’t blame him.

“Hey,” Harry replies lamely, and they just stare at each other awkwardly for a few seconds before Ben excuses himself and heads back toward the “pit” where all the staff writers’ cubicles are located. So, not only is Harry’s career on its way down the toilet, it looks like his potential dating life might be, too. Not that it was a date, of course.

When Harry turns, he finds Jeff staring at him through the glass with an unreadable expression on his face. He motions for him to come in, and Harry obeys, slumping down in the chair facing Jeff’s desk. “I assume this is about the article.”

“It is,” Jeff responds, and Harry still can’t decipher his boss’s mood.

“Harry, I know you’re taking a lot of heat on social media, but you just have to let it roll off your back. We’re doing exactly what Tomlinson’s PR team asked us to do. He’s just a twat, that’s all.”

Okay, this isn’t what Harry was expecting to hear. I mean, clearly Louis Tomlinson is a twat, but Harry can’t believe Jeff’s so ready to dismiss this shitstorm as no big deal.

“So you’re not mad about the negative attention?”

Jeff chuckles. “Harry, there’s no such thing as negative attention. We’re here to sell stories and get hits on our web site. I know it isn’t fun for you, but it’s just part of the job. Try to shake it off. I’m going to need you on this story going forward.”

Noooooooooooo. The last thing Harry wants is to ever have to write another word about Louis Tomlinson. But, he’s too new at this job. He can’t beg off an assignment, any assignment, really, let alone a gold-star assignment involving an A-list celebrity. He’s stuck. But at least his boss isn’t mad at him.

“Well, thanks for the support. I’m getting harassed so hard, though—do you think maybe I should just lock or delete my Twitter?” Harry asks.

“Hell, no!” Jeff responds quickly, shaking his head. “People love a good Twitter feud. Keeps ‘em engaged. You need to tweet a response.”

“What?!” No way. There’s no way Harry wants to invite more abuse on himself.

But Jeff is just nodding encouragingly. “Yeah! Just don’t go for the jugular. Tease him back, but try to keep it light-hearted. Our readers will eat that shit up.”

Harry chats with Jeff for a few more minutes, but his mind is racing the entire time. He has to escalate this thing with Louis Tomlinson? How is he possibly going to do that? Snarkiness isn’t his main specialty. He doesn’t want to be engaged in an online fight with a celebrity. He wants to be writing a profile on a young person who is building wells in Africa, or rounding up news from the latest United Nations session. Anything but this. Maybe he should have just joined the Peace Corps like he’d thought about doing. But he knows he’s a good writer (despite his latest article), and he always thought he could use his talent to make a difference. 

When Harry returns to his desk, there are two things waiting for him. First, a curious Liam wanting to know how the meeting went. And second, an email from Ben wanting to know if he’s free to grab lunch. After their awkward exchange a little earlier, this comes as a bit of a surprise, but Harry isn’t going to question it. Maybe this day can be salvaged after all.

“Liam, give me my phone.”

“Are you sure?”

“I’m positive. I’m really okay. I’m not going to obsess over it anymore.” 

Liam unlocks his drawer and tosses Harry his phone. He opens his Twitter app before he can change his mind.

@Louis_Tomlinson Thanks for all the new followers! The Dalai Lama would want us to be friends though. Also, he thinks you & Cam are adorable

140 characters exactly. Damn, this day is looking up. Harry turns his phone off and leaves it on his desk when he goes to tell Ben he’d love to get lunch.

---

Louis, we’ve talked about tweeting without my approval.

Louis stares down at the text from Sam Clayton. He knew it would be coming.

Did we ever talk about OKing idiotic articles about me without MY approval?

Two minutes pass.

I approved the article. I know what I’m doing. Don’t make me lock you out of your own Twitter account.

I’m not afraid to start @Louis_Tomlinson2

Don’t tweet that writer again unless you say something nice. I mean it.

But have you seen how big his fucking mouth is? He could fit a softball in there.

Louis. Find something productive to do and stop sabotaging your own PR effort. You’re meeting up with Cam tomorrow afternoon, and tomorrow night is the fundraiser for the Ali Forney Center.

Louis decides to ignore Sam’s last text. He certainly doesn’t have anything nice to say to Harry Styles, but it’s okay because he’s already won. And the mention of the fundraising dinner makes him smile. Supporting LGBTQ+ youth is something he’s seriously passionate about. He knows that a night to forget about himself and his own ego is probably exactly what he needs right now, even though he’s loathe to admit it.

He’s feeling all warm and fuzzy inside when he happens to glance down at his phone again to see a text from Niall with a screenshot from Twitter. Excuse me? Harry Styles is @’ing him? Before he can even fully open the text, Louis is already fuming. How dare this no-name journalist try to get the last word in! Louis always gets the last word. He gasps when he reads the tweet. No respect whatsoever. Apparently, Harry Styles is a slow learner.  It’s time for another lesson.

---

Harry returns from his lunch with Ben on cloud nine. It feels like they’re really connecting even though it’s only been two dates. Not dates, though. Meals. Just meals. Eaten together. While joking and talking and looking at Ben’s ridiculously gorgeous face. Ben had wanted to go all the way downtown to eat, which took forever, but Harry didn’t question it. The longer the train ride, the more time he got to spend sitting close enough to Ben to smell him. Not creepily smelling him, of course. Just. Enjoying his classy taste in cologne.

He turns his phone back on and checks his Twitter notifications. They’re blowing up, of course. A lot of hate from Louis Tomlinson fans, more than a few people cheering him on for his cheeky tweet, and a few hundred new followers. Hopefully, this is the last of it until he’s forced to write another article. He’s too happy after lunch to worry about any of it right now. Like too happy. He tries sifting through his emails but he can’t concentrate. All he can think about is how long it’s been since he’s gotten laid. And, he’s a 24-year-old guy, he can’t help it if his mind gets stuck on thoughts of sex and if a few minutes later he’s half-hard while sitting at his desk.

There’s a unisex bathroom at the end of the hall. If he can just make it there without looking too conspicuous…Harry walks down the hall as casually as possible and locks himself inside. Why is the thought of getting off at work so hot? If only he weren’t getting off alone. He leans back against the door and unbuttons his shirt all the way, pushing it completely open and exposing his hard pecks and abs and the butterfly tattoo with its wings spreading out to the inner edges of his almost imperceptible love handles. Then he undoes his belt and zipper, pushing his pants and boxer briefs just low enough to get his cock out. Harry can’t help it. He turns himself on.

He’s moaning quietly before he even gets a good grip on himself, so hard that he’s already leaking everywhere. He strokes himself slowly with his right hand while bringing his left hand up to run across his chest, brushing over both nipples lightly. All his weight is on his shoulder blades as he leans against the door with his hips jutting forward and his cock sticking out obscenely. Oh God, he gasps while imagining how this would be even hotter if he had lube and could get a couple fingers up his ass, or better yet, if he had a particular co-worker on his knees in front of him. This will just have to do for now.

It doesn’t take long before the thought of his co-workers walking down the hall just inches away from him and the sight of his own throbbing dick in his hand pushes Harry over the edge. He bites his lower lip and watches himself come all over his butterfly tattoo and up to the middle of his chest. It’s not the best he’s ever felt, but in terms of solo office-bathroom orgasms, it’s pretty damn good. He wets a paper towel in the sink to wipe himself off, and as he’s throwing it away, he notices the tip of a used condom peeking out from underneath the trash in the bottom of the bin. So, someone fucked in the office bathroom—nice. Harry tucks himself back in his pants, zips them, buckles his belt, and buttons his shirt. He regrets nothing.

Harry feels relaxed and almost sleepy when he returns to his cubicle, stopping short several feet away and not believing his eyes. There’s an absolutely massive bouquet of flowers sitting in the center of his desk. It’s so big that Harry can’t even see his computer. Half the light from the window is blocked. He thinks Liam might be standing behind it, but he can’t tell for sure. It’s that big. What the fuck?

There’s a small crowd of co-workers standing around gawking at the bluish-purple monstrosity that has overtaken Harry’s entire workspace. All eyes turn to him as he approaches his desk.

“Nice flowers, Styles,” remarks Zach, one of Liam’s fellow political correspondents.

Sophia is gazing at the blooms in wonder. “Harry, who are they from? These are the most gorgeous irises I’ve ever seen!”

Fuck. Irises. Harry thinks he knows who the bouquet is from. There’s a card wedged in the middle of the green stalks, and he doesn’t want to open it, but he does, of course.

Promised my manager I wouldn’t tweet you again. Didn’t say anything about Instagram.  –LT

Perfect. Harry shoves the card into his top desk drawer and whips out his phone to look up Louis’ Instagram account. Dear God. He’s screenshotted and posted every humiliating photo manip of Harry from Twitter. There’s even a collage of Harry as each member of that British boyband, Princes & Rogues. Harry hates those guys. This is truly humiliating. Louis has millions of Instagram followers. Some of the photos have over 50,000 likes already. Is this what happens when spoiled movie stars get bored?

Without thinking much, Harry switches to the Twitter app and fires off a retaliatory tweet.

Rumor has it @Louis_Tomlinson & @Cam_Richards recently shared a romantic picnic under the stars. Louis even baked cookies for the occasion!

Dammit. Out of room. He’ll have to double tweet.

What will these two lovebirds get up to next? Stay tuned for my upcoming articles in @newyorkweekly!

Harry slumps down in his desk chair, contemplating what life choices he’s made that led him to this point, in a social-media fight with one of the most famous people in the world, making up tweets about cookies. Cookies, for fuck’s sake. If Louis is going to send everything Harry lies about to his office, he should have specified chocolate chip. Maybe next time he’ll say Louis bought Cam a Rolex. He wouldn’t mind having one of those. Maybe a Bentley or a yacht, who knows. All Harry’s sure about is that he’s in too deep for a graceful exit now.

---

It’s been a full 24 hours since Harry’s ludicrous tweets about picnics and cookies, and Louis hasn’t fired back yet. He’s really proud of himself, actually. It’s a superb testament to his high level of class and maturity. Also, he hasn’t thought of anything good yet. The Instagram collages were hilarious, but low-brow. His next move needs to strike fear straight into the heart of Harry Styles. He needs to understand who he’s dealing with.

“I know what you’re thinking about,” Niall accuses from the seat facing Louis in the back of the hired car. “Just let it go, for Christ’s sake.”

“You have no idea what I’m thinking about, Niall.” Louis responds in a wounded tone. “I’m just very excited for my date with the one and only Cam Richards.”

Niall snorts. “You don’t give a shit about Cam Richards. Please. You’re trying to think of how to destroy that writer, and all he did was what the Sams asked him to. On your behalf.”

“That’s where you’re wrong, Niall,” Louis argues. “He’s taken it too far. He’s having fun at my expense and trying to humiliate me. For no reason! What a pompous asshole. I’m doing society a favor if I cut him down to size.”

Niall raises an eyebrow and considers making a height joke, but thinks better of it and changes the subject.

“Okay, so Cam is supposed to meet you at the café at 2:30. There’s a window table already reserved for you. You’ll have tea or coffee or whatever. Please do not hide your face with your hands. Please do not cross your eyes or stick out your tongue at the paps. Please do not figure out how to work the ‘jack-off’ motion into the conversation.” Niall lazily makes the corresponding hand movement without looking up from his phone. “Please do smile. Please do make it look as if you’re interested in whatever Cam is saying. Please do walk out together when you’re finished. Go south for one block, and the paps will stop following you there. This should be quick and painless.”

Louis sighs. “Niall, I know you’re just a puppet here. There’s no way you made up those rules. You love it when I work the ‘jack-off’ motion into casual conversation.”

Niall looks at Louis wistfully. “That’s so true. So true. But, I promised Sam I’d keep you in line, and she’s got a nicer ass than you do, so don’t fuck it up for me.”

The two of them look at each other for a moment before bursting into laughter. A full minute later, Louis is still wiping the tears from his eyes. Niall and his jokes. Everyone knows that no one has a nicer ass than Louis Tomlinson.

---

Two hours later.

Louis is sitting at the window table with a cooling cup of Earl Grey and a blueberry scone in front of him. Cam was supposed to arrive 10 minutes ago, but there’s no sign of him yet. Louis checks his phone again and rolls his eyes. Typical musician diva behavior. Louis is always on time. Even if it means moving the blow job from his hotel room to the back of the car on his way to the set, he’s extremely considerate and always makes punctuality a priority. He’s already feeling a bit annoyed with his pretend boyfriend he’s never talked to.

He doesn’t have to look outside to know the photographers are there. He can feel their presence. When he first became famous, he was constantly aware of them. They made him nervous, watchful. It was hard not to look straight into their lenses. But now, he barely registers them. Doing this coffee date and pap walk will be a piece of cake. Except. Cam is now 15 minutes late. Louis’ phone vibrates with a text from Niall.

Don’t change the expression on your face when I tell you this.

Tell me what?

Cam isn’t coming.

Louis suppresses the instinct to roll his eyes again in exasperation. Instead, he simply smiles at his phone as if he’s enjoying what he’s looking at. You know, just a well-known actor, sitting in a coffee shop alone, watching cute cat videos on YouTube.

Why isn’t he coming?

I’ll explain in the car. You need to walk out and come to the car.

What about the paps?

We can’t call them off now. Smile and look happy.

This is fucking ridiculous, Louis types with a huge fake grin on his face.

It’s like 100 steps. It’s nothing. Just get back to the car.

Louis pockets his phone and lays a $50 bill on the table. This is no big deal. He’s done hundreds of pap walks. This one shouldn’t be any different.

But as Louis walks out the door of the coffee shop, something feels different. The camera shutters seem deafening in his ears as he hears the paps calling out his name and their orders for where they want him to look.

“Louis! Louis! Where’s Cam?”

“Louis, are the rumors true about you and Cam Richards? Where is he today?”

“Louis! Over here! Will Cam be with you at the fundraising event tonight?”

Louis tries to smile, but all he can focus on is reaching the car. He gets there as fast as he can without running. After a curt nod and smile toward the paps, he jumps in and slams the door behind him, letting out a long breath in relief. Not only is Niall there, Sam Clifton is, too. Louis doesn’t say anything, just stares at them waiting for an explanation.

“Cam backed out.” Sam cuts right to the chase.

Louis is confused. “You mean backed out of the coffee shop thing or backed out of everything?”

Sam and Niall exchange a look.

“Everything,” Sam answers.

“What?” It’s less of a question from Louis than it is a low growl of annoyance.

Sam rubs his hand over the back of his neck. He’s clearly stressed. Niall is suddenly mute, it seems. 

“He changed his mind,” Sam explains. “Apparently, he wasn’t as willing as his people made it seem. He thinks you’re too…opinionated.”

Louis explodes. “Opinionated? Opinionated?! Hell, yes, I’m opinionated, Sam! Is that something he only learned during the past few days? Jesus Christ!” Louis rubs both of his hands over in face in agitation. “This is so fucked up! Not only have I been made to look like a lovesick moron, but now I’ve been dumped? By a person I’ve never even fucking met?

Sam grimaces. “I know, Louis. It’s total bullshit. I’ve just spent the past hour screaming on the phone. I’ve already alerted half of my contacts in L.A. about what they’ve done. They’ll never be able to set anything up for him again.”

“Oh, that’s comforting,” Louis snorts. “I’m so glad to hear that Cam Richards will have difficulty finding PR boyfriends in the future, but that doesn’t change the fact that I have been screwed over in the here and now.”

Niall finally speaks up. “It’s gonna be okay, Louis. This thing was barely started. It’s just a couple articles, a couple tweets. The Sams can fix it.” Niall looks over at Sam Clifton like he’s hoping that what he’s saying is actually true.

“We’re already on it,” Sam says, but he looks nervous, too. “You’re not going to like this, but we need to run with the idea of you getting dumped.”

“Absolutely not!” Louis is shouting now. “How will that help anything?”

“Sympathy,” Sam states plainly. “Everyone’s been dumped at one time or another. People will identify with what you’re going through, and they’ll root for you to bounce back. Which you will. As soon as we line someone else up.”

“No.” Louis' head is still spinning a bit, but he’s sure about this one thing. “I’m not doing this again. Ever. I never should have agreed to this in the first place.”

Sam looks at Louis carefully. He’s used to handling high-strung clients, but something about Louis’ distress seems deeper than just his ego. Louis is a small person but he looks positively tiny right now, curled up in the leather seat of the town car. “We have to spin it, Louis.”

“Then spin it!” Louis shoots back. “Do whatever you have to do. But I’m not fake dating anyone again, ever. This has been a disaster. I should fire all of you.”

“Hey, what did I do?” complains Niall loudly.

“You let them talk me into it!” Louis fixes Niall with his harshest glare. “And also I hate your hair. Get it cut. You look like a goddamn treasure troll.”  

Niall sucks in his breath sharply. “You don’t mean that. You’re just talking crazy because you’re mad.”

Louis doesn’t answer. He actually does love Niall’s treasure troll hair. Niall’s treasure troll hair makes him feel warm and safe inside. But he’s livid with everyone right now, and they all deserve to suffer.

“Do you want me to cancel your appearance at the fundraiser tonight?” Sam asks.

“No,” Louis answers. As much as he’d like to disappear into his apartment all night and get high and eat pizza and wallow in his own misery, the center means a lot to him and he’s determined not to let anybody down. “No, I’m definitely still going.”

Sam and Niall both become engrossed in tasks on their phones while Louis rests his head against the back of the seat and watches the city go by. Dumped by a guy who’s never even had a #1 hit. Harry Styles should have a field day with this.

---

It’s been a good day, Harry thinks. So far he has not been the victim of any social-media attacks from Louis Tomlinson, and he’s actually working on a story he cares about for once- a round-up of the latest pro-LGBTQ+ actions from young celebrities ahead of the Supreme Court’s upcoming decision on marriage equality. He’s absorbed in his research when Ben stalks by in a cloud of glorious, manly scent without even stopping to say hello. Harry furrows his brow in confusion. Honestly, he’s having trouble figuring out Ben’s moods- one minute, he’s friendly and even a little flirty; the next, he’s ignoring Harry completely. Harry doesn’t have too long to dwell on it, though, because a second later, Jeff is at his desk. 

“Harry! The Tomlinson pap photos are in.”

Harry opens the appropriate program on his computer and starts clicking through the photos.

“Where’s Cam?”

“No show!” Jeff responds with delight.

Harry is confused. “So…we can’t use these, right? Are they rescheduling?”

“Nope.” Jeff is grinning now. Harry still hasn’t caught on.

“He got stood up!” Jeff explains excitedly. “Richards backed out at the last minute, so Tomlinson’s team is just rolling with it. So, now the story is that he’s been dumped and is heartbroken over it.”

“But it’s just a PR stunt. He’s not heartbroken.” Harry clicks on a photo and zooms in on Louis’ face. He’s actually really beautiful. His soft brown hair is growing out, swept over expertly to the side over his crystalline blue eyes. He has about three days’ worth of stubble growing over his jaw and chin and yeah, he’s gorgeous. But he’s supposed to be. He’s a movie star. And a grade-A twat. Harry hates him.

“A PR stunt. Correct,” Jeff says slowly, as if he’s talking to a child. “You know all this. I thought you’d be really happy about this development, though. Imagine all the shit you can make up about the break-up to torture him with!”

“They were never photographed together even once,” Harry muses aloud as he contemplates Louis’ face in the next photo. He sees something there that unsettles him. “They should just bury the story. Let it die on its own.”

“Do yourself a favor and don’t ever go into PR,” Jeff says. “The story has gotten enough attention- thanks to your little feud with Tomlinson- that it’s a waste for them not to try to grab a few more headlines. Everyone loves a good break-up. Misery is the only thing that sells more magazines than love.”

Harry clicks through to the end of the file. It’s full of great shots of Louis- there’s probably no such thing as a bad angle on this man- and he’s smiling in all of them. They look like very ordinary pap photos of a star walking down the sidewalk in New York City. But something about them isn’t right. The smile doesn’t reach Louis’ eyes, which are giving away some flicker of emotion that Harry can’t quite put his finger on. Nervousness? Tension? Sadness? It’s hard to tell, but Harry doesn’t like it. He can’t help but feel he played some part in creating that look.

Jeff’s now giving instructions. “…so, 250-300 words on the break-up by tomorrow morning. Use your imagination, but they want him to look good, so it can’t be his fault. Maybe just go with the angle you were already using- that he was way more into Richards than Richards was into him. We’ll run it with the pics of him leaving the coffee shop alone. Maybe a follow-up next week, I’m waiting to hear.”

Harry sighs. He just wants to be done with this mess.

Jeff clears his throat and changes the subject. “I’m headed out in a couple of hours to the big fundraiser for the Ali Forney Center. Would you like to come along? Expensive food, open bar, lots of beautiful people. You deserve a fun night after the week you’ve had.”

Harry says yes. There’s no way he’s going to pass up free booze right now, even if the Ali Forney Center weren’t an amazing cause he already supports and volunteers at frequently.

“What do I wear though?”

Jeff laughs. “I’m sure you could show up in ripped skinny jeans and a T-shirt and everyone would drool all over you. But, you know, I suggest something a little dressier. Maybe a tie.”

And that’s how Harry finds himself rifling through Liam’s closet an hour later in search of some decent neckwear. Liam’s just lounging on the bed, not helping, his dog Bruce curled up in his lap.

“I wish I were going to some fancy fundraiser tonight,” he grumbles.

“You go to fancy fundraisers all the time,” Harry responds from the back of the closet.

“Yeah, but they’re with stuffy, political types. I never get to meet celebrities.”

Harry wrinkles his nose as he examines a plain skinny black tie. “You don’t want to meet half of them, Liam. It’s like sorting through a bag of dicks.”

“No wonder you like it so much,” Liam says without missing a beat. “And trust me, politicians are just as bad, just in a different way.”

Harry pairs the black tie with a plain white button-up and his nicest black pants and black dress shoes. It’s a little plain, but he doesn’t necessarily want to get noticed tonight. He wants to stuff his face, get a little drunk, take a cab home, and not think about his next 300 words on Louis Tomlinson until daylight.

“How do I look?” he asks Liam, spinning around.

“Like the best damn dick sorter in town.”

Bruce yelps in agreement.

---

Louis is already on his third gin and tonic and the program hasn’t even started yet. He keeps getting disapproving looks from Sam Clayton, looks he is pointedly ignoring. She’s one of the people who got him into this mess over the past week, and he can hardly be blamed for wanting to drown some of his troubles tonight. He’s sat between her and Niall at one of the tables closest to the stage. The meal is delicious—Moroccan quail with porcini risotto—but Louis doesn’t have much of an appetite. As a matter of fact, he’s feeling downright queasy.

It doesn’t seem as if the program will be starting for a few more minutes, so he excuses himself to wander back toward the bar for another drink. When he gets there, he’s still feeling sick, so he leans over the bar and orders a ginger ale instead of another gin and tonic.

“If this weren’t an open bar, I’d buy that for you.”

Louis turns toward the voice on his left and the first thought in his mind is simply damn. Who is this hot guy with the dick-sucking lips sitting here potentially flirting with him? The second thought in his mind is considerably less welcome. Floppy hair, giant frog mouth, stupid-ass smile—it’s Harry fucking Styles.

He quickly steels his face and turns back toward the bartender before speaking. “Fancy meeting you here. I figured you’d be at your office having a grand old time writing captions for today’s photos.”

Harry places his empty glass on the bar and swings around to face Louis. He’s three drinks in himself; otherwise, he might have actually run away when he saw Louis Tomlinson approaching him. How had it not even crossed his mind that he might be here?

“Not due ‘til tomorrow,” he replies, watching Louis slowly sip his drink. Harry’s trying to play it cool, but he’s nervous as hell. First of all, he’s still not quite to the point where he feels comfortable rubbing elbows with A-list celebs. Second of all, this is the first A-list celeb he’s met who already knows who he is and already hates him. Third of all, Louis Tomlinson is hot as fuck in real life. So compact and curvy and pretty. Harry was not expecting that. Well, he wasn’t expecting to ever see him in person at all, certainly not tonight, and certainly not looking so good that Harry seems to have lost control of all his senses. No pap photo or headshot has ever done Louis Tomlinson justice, it seems. Maybe it’s just the alcohol talking. It’s definitely the alcohol talking, Harry reassures himself.

“So what’s it going to be this time?” Louis asks with a bitter chuckle, breaking Harry out of his trance. “Cam found someone younger and hotter? Maybe Zac Efron? Maybe he didn’t like my homemade cookies or my cheesy date nights?”

Harry flushes with embarrassment. Louis is looking straight at him without so much as blinking. Oh God, if he could figure out some way to just make himself disappear, or sink through the floor. His mouth feels frozen and he can’t speak. He’s considering just making a break for it when Louis speaks again, sounding a bit resigned.

“It’s okay, Styles,” he says as he places his empty glass on the bar next to Harry’s. “I get it. It’s your job. We all do what we have to do in this business. You should have a lot of fun with this little plot twist.”

With that, Louis turns and starts walking back toward the main part of the ballroom. Harry can’t believe he doesn’t want to spar a little more, especially since he clearly had Harry on the ropes. He should let him walk away. He really should.

“What do you want it to be?” he calls out before he can really think it through.

Louis stops short and turns around, confused. “What?”

“What do you want it to be? The story? What would you like me to write?”

Louis smirks. “Oh, you’re going to let me decide, then?”

He takes a few steps back toward Harry, who feels a rising panic in his chest. Shit. Why didn’t he just let him walk away?

“Well….I mean, I have some leeway. I’m open to ideas.”

More smirking. “You’re open to ideas. Okay, how about you write that I dumped his ass for Zac Efron? Cam didn’t appreciate my fine taste in floral arrangements or my romantic picnics so I moved on to someone else?” Louis’ words are biting. “Or maybe you could write the truth one time. You could say it was all a PR stunt that got horribly fucked up and now my team’s just trying to save their asses?”

He’s walked all the way back to the bar now and is standing directly in front of Harry. Harry can’t breathe. He thinks he understands that this is Louis’ way of bantering, but there’s something behind it, something that makes Harry’s chest constrict. Louis seems…tired, maybe. Or hurt.

“You know they’d never let me write the truth,” Harry replies in a near whisper, and it’s not the witty comeback Louis was obviously expecting. It’s a soft answer, plaintive, sympathetic.

Louis is enraged. The last thing he needs is Harry Styles feeling sorry for him.

“Fuck off,” he says, just as quietly as Harry had been speaking but with a lot more force. Then he spins on his heel and heads in the opposite direction.

---

Louis spends the next 20 minutes fighting nausea and bidding on items at the silent auction table while the program takes place on the stage. He’ll probably never have time for a trip to St. Lucia, and he has absolutely no use for a collection of rare Chinese vases, but…well, to be honest, he stormed away from Harry in the wrong direction and he doesn’t want to walk past him again to return to his table. Sam and Niall are probably wondering where the hell he is. This is usually one of his favorite events, but after the day he’s had, and running into Harry Styles here, he’s ready to call it a night.

He pulls out his phone to text Niall, but sees that Niall has beat him to it.

Couldn’t find you. Cut out early to get Sam home- she’s not feeling well.

Louis quickly types a response. That makes two of us then. I’m headed out, I’ll get a cab.

He pockets his phone and glances up to see if Harry’s still at bar, thanking his lucky stars when he doesn’t spot him anywhere. He has a clear path to the door, the sidewalk, and a cab ride home so he can fall into bed and forget this day ever happened. He crosses the rear of the ballroom without being stopped by anyone and steps out into the cool night air. As soon as he does, a wave of dizziness hits him and he slumps forward into the brick wall, spilling the contents of his stomach all over the sidewalk.

---

Harry’s back at his table with his fourth cocktail of the evening, trying to enjoy the program, trying to pretend he doesn’t give a shit that Louis Tomlinson told him to “fuck off,” and failing miserably. There’s a knot in his stomach and a tension in his chest that the booze just isn’t taking care of. Jeff has barely said two words to him all night. He’s been glued to his phone and isn’t even paying attention to the program, the program that Harry’s pretty sure would be amazing and compelling if he could just pull his head out of his ass to enjoy it. It’s no use.

“Hey,” he nudges Jeff. “I think I’m going to head out. I’m tired, and I want to get a head start on my article.”

Jeff nods his acknowledgment without looking up from his text conversation. Harry stands up and makes his way to the exit, grateful their table is so close to the back. He’s lost track of Louis’ whereabouts, so he tosses up a quick prayer that he’ll be able to get out the door without running into him again.

“Thanks,” he tells God when he makes it all the way outside without incident.

There’s a retching sound to his left. He can’t be sure, because the person is doubled over and facing away from him, but he thinks it might be…dammit. It’s Louis. It’s Louis and he’s puking everywhere and it’s completely disgusting and also his ass looks amazing sticking straight up in the air like this. How? How is that possible?

Harry points his eyes toward heaven for a moment and revokes his earlier gratitude. Then he takes a tentative step toward Louis, careful to keep his best shoes out of the vomit puddle. Just as he’s reaching a tentative hand out toward Louis’ bent frame, Louis lurches upright violently and backs right into Harry.

Harry puts both hands out to support Louis’ weight, expecting to be yelled at or cursed at, but Louis is so sick he can’t even be fucked to care that it’s Harry he’s run into. He makes a weak attempt to pull away but winds up collapsing even further into Harry’s arms.

“Are you okay?” Harry asks, immediately feeling stupid. Of course Louis isn’t okay. “Do you need to go to the hospital?”

Louis shakes his head, his eyes barely open. “No, I just need…I just need to get home. I’m fine.”

“I don’t think you are,” Harry says as gently as possible. Louis is covered in sweat and his face is completely grey. He’s shaking. “You’re really ill. You better let me take you home.”

“Absolutely not,” Louis can hardly open his mouth to get the words out. “Fuuuuuck….” Instead of finishing the “fuck you,” though, he leans over the curb and throws up again.

Harry’s already hailing a cab. When it stops in front of them, he pushes Louis inside before he has a chance to protest, jumping in next to him and closing the door.

“I’m making sure you get home okay. As soon as I do that, you can tell me to fuck off or push me down the stairs or whatever the hell you want to do. But I’m not leaving you on the sidewalk to die- or get papped like this.”

Louis doesn’t look at Harry, just mumbles his address to the driver, then slumps against the door and closes his eyes.

Harry’s heart is racing. He can’t believe he just pushed an Academy Award nominated actor into a taxi against his will. An Academy Award nominated actor who may or may not even be conscious at the moment.

Looking back, Harry will say this was where he made his second mistake.