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Keep on Dreaming, This is Hollywood

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“Are you quite finished?”

Louis juggles his phone from palm to palm and taps his foot. He’s only partially playing up his impatience for the benefit of the stylist and her assistant. Zayn’s probably fully dressed behind the curtain and twirling the front of his quiff with his fingers in the full length mirror, taking his sweet bloody time to annoy Louis on purpose. As always.

“Keep your trousers on, this tie is so damn skinny I can barely tie it.”

“If it’s just your tie left come out here and I’ll do it.”

Zayn shoves through the curtain, shirt untucked and tie hanging loose around his neck. Louis rolls his eyes and grabs an end in each hand, tugging Zayn closer.

“You’re impossible, you know that right?”

Zayn’s tongue sticks out between his teeth as he smiles, and Louis flicks his eyes up to his hair before he arches an eyebrow. It’s definitely been twirled a few times, Louis knew it. Zayn at least has the good grace to look repentant, and starts tucking his shirt tails in.

“California makes you cranky.” Zayn looks down his nose at where Louis’s hands are working, deftly tying a knot in the tie that really is ridiculously skinny. It hadn’t looked that skinny on the rack.

“You make me cranky,” Louis mutters, stepping away to look Zayn over. The suit fits like a dream, it was a good thing they’d flown in a few days early for a final fitting. (Louis will tell himself this repeatedly when he gets the charge for the extra large bouquet of roses plus expedited shipping that he’d sent Eleanor for her birthday, which he is missing because they flew in early.) The colour sets off Zayn’s skin tone perfectly, and the lapels aren’t too wide, which means he won’t complain about how narrow his shoulders look in the red carpet photos.

Zayn rolls his neck and tugs at his collar, grimacing. “Are you trying to choke me?”

“Just enough to make it hard for you to talk, thus making it impossible for you to complain.”

“Ooh, someone’s in a mood, aren’t they?” Zayn plucks at the knot of the tie, craning his head away from it like he can escape. He glances at the stylist, who holds up her hands, knowing better than to get involved.

Louis rubs a hand over his face. “Sorry. The tie isn’t working, you’re right, it’s too skinny.” He unties it and tosses it at the stylist, who flaps her hands at the assistant, and they both flee from the room.

“Is it Eleanor?”

Louis picks his phone up again and checks to see if she’s called. She hasn’t.

“Call her again, she can’t stay mad at you forever. You’re my manager, did she think you were going to let me fly out for this awards show without you?”

“Can I leave you with the ladies, will you be okay?”

Zayn grins. “At least they won’t try to choke me with my tie.”

Louis ducks out into the shop, and waves off the advances of the sales girls. He tucks himself into a doorway marked “employees only” and scrolls through his contact list.

Eleanor picks up on the third ring, but doesn’t say hello.

“Happy birthday,” Louis says, tentative, and he can hear her exhale through her nose on the other end. She’s still angry. He can feel the frustration bubbling up again, fueled by the lingering jet lag, and he tries to tamp it down. “Did you get the flowers?”

“Yes. They’re lovely. Not really doing the trick, however.”

“Come on, El, it’s my job, what do you want me to do? I wanted to fly you out for the show and you said no. What else do you want?”

“I can’t just break all my birthday plans because you felt guilty and offered to let me tag along. I have a life, too. I can’t always be at your beck and call.”

Louis pinches the bridge of his nose and tries to take a deep, calming breath. It doesn’t work. They’ve had this conversation so many times, and Louis is already tired of it. “I’m not asking you to be at my beck and call, Eleanor, I’m just asking for a little understanding.”

“I don’t think I can give you that anymore.”

Louis’ spine goes ramrod straight against the door jamb. “Then we have a bigger problem than me missing your birthday.”

“Maybe we do, but I have a dinner to get to, and we shouldn’t do this over the phone.”

“Not sure why not,” Louis says, his voice gone cold. “It’s pretty clear that you don’t want what I have to offer. Have a lovely birthday, Eleanor.”

Eleanor’s voice is equally cold when she says, “Have a nice life, Louis.” She hangs up.

Louis doesn’t feel sad, really. He’s used to things ending in a similar fashion. His work has always been more important than his relationships. Eleanor wasn’t the first and she won’t be the last.

When he comes back into the room Zayn has a burnt orange vest on under his chocolate brown suit, and no tie at all. Three heads turn towards Louis (Zayn’s crestfallen, the stylist’s hopeful, the assistant’s blank) and Louis can’t take it. “Get rid of that vest,” he grits out. “Find him a tie. I’m taking the rental car and going back to the hotel. I’ll call a driver for you. I’ll speak to you later.” The last he directs at Zayn before turning on his heel and leaving.

Zayn follows him out, shucking his jacket and the hideous vest. “You alright, mate?”

Louis jams the keys into the door of the rental car, a stupidly expensive Ferrari Spider convertible that Zayn had insisted on. “I’m fine. Get back inside and finish up.”

“Why don’t you wait for me, you know you’re awful at driving manual, and if we ruin the transmission on this - “

Louis cuts him off. “I’m not awful at driving manual and whatever, if I do ruin it, I’ll pay for it.” He angles into the driver’s seat and shuts the door against further protests, and after a beat Zayn follows Louis’s command and goes back inside.

*****

Harry hits the snooze button on his alarm clock twice. It had been a long night, his last customer had been a little rough with him, and Harry had been exhausted when he tumbled into his own bed. He figures he can forgive himself for sleeping in.

It’s not like he has anywhere to be.

He turns the hot plate on and reaches for the kettle. It was a thrift store housewarming gift from one of the guys, its sky blue enamel chipped. The mug he takes out of the dish drainer is chipped too, but Harry’s been using it long enough that he knows how to angle it so it doesn’t cut his lip.

He can’t have that. His lips are one of his biggest draws.

Niall’s already out, his bed rumpled and empty, half his blanket dragging on the floor. Harry straightens it up while the water heats, then does his own bed. The studio flat is small, and not meant for two people. Harry barely has to walk three steps to get from Niall’s bed to his own. It doesn’t take much for the space to get cluttered, and Harry tries to keep it neat.

The kettle whistles and Harry flicks the switch on the hot plate, then unplugs it for good measure.

He drinks his tea on the fire escape, watching the street light on the corner flicker. Their building is old, half flats and half motel where you can rent the rooms by the hour. Niall and Harry’s flat is a “deluxe”, meaning they have a kitchenette and their own bathroom. And the plaster walls are only crumbling slightly.

The people watching is good on their block, though. They’re on a bus line, and the stop down the street is usually occupied by at least one person interesting enough to entertain Harry while he finishes his tea. Today is no different, a man in dirty cargos ranting loudly about dreams.

“Welcome to Hollywood! Everybody comes to Hollywood’s got a dream,” he calls. “What’s your dream?” People walking by on the sidewalk give him a wide berth.

Harry wonders what that man’s dream was, why he came to Hollywood. Harry knows his own, why he left the UK for Los Angeles, and it wasn’t to share a tiny flat with an Irishman.

It definitely wasn’t to work the streets either.

Harry sighs, slurping the rest of his tea, and ducks back into the flat to get dressed before starting the long walk to his corner.

Niall’s lounging against the side of their favorite street vendor’s cart, khakis slung low on his hips and the armhole of his tank top stretched sideways to show off one tiny brown nipple. He’s sweet-talking the woman flipping hot dogs on the grill - scamming for freebies, Harry’s sure - his smile blinding.

Harry can hear his exaggerated brogue halfway down the block.

“Ah, come on love, you can spare one, surely,” Niall says, crossing his bare forearms on the glass and fluttering his eyelashes. The grill lady rolls her eyes, but Harry knows she’ll save something for Niall before she closes up for the night.

“Harry!” Niall sees him coming and shoves away from the cart, grabbing Harry up in a hug that feels like it’s going to crush his ribs. Niall always acts like he hasn’t seen people in ages, even if he just rolled out of bed in their shared flat mere hours ago.

“Slow night?” Harry asks, slanting a look at the hot dog vendor, and Niall shrugs, his shoulders round and pale under the straps of his shirt.

“The usual. Haven’t picked anyone up yet, but it’s early. People still at dinner, not out roaming the streets yet. You know how it is.”

Harry looks up and down the block, nodding.

“You came down late.” Niall lifts his hat off his head, brushes his hair back with his fingers, shoves the hat back on. He spends a full minute tilting the brim just so. Harry could never pull off that look, but with Niall’s impish eyes and boyish figure it works. Harry sticks to his skin tight jeans with the strategic slashes and holes, and the scoop neck tee shirts that put his collar bones on display.

“Had a bit of a lie in, long night.”

Niall leans back against the brick of the building behind him, one knee bent, canting his hips out towards the street. Harry leans a shoulder against the wall next to him, getting into his practiced slouch. “Yeah, you rolled in pretty late. Good one?”

Harry shrugs and pouts at a passerby, but they studiously ignore him. He feels tired, more attuned to the reality of what they’re doing than he usually is. He blames the lunatic spouting off about dreams earlier. Has him thinking about the notebook full of lyrics he’d brought with him from England, the stack of demo CDs he’d recorded in his bathroom back home, now moldering in a shoebox under his sagging twin bed.

“You alright, mate?” Niall asks, and Harry tries to blank his expression, clear his head.

“Just tired,” Harry says, shaking his hair out and shoving curls off his forehead.

“Well perk up, there’s a beaut rolling down the street.”

Harry turns to follow the hitch of Niall’s chin, and sees a sleek silver sports car creeping towards them. It’s a Ferrari Spider, convertible, and Harry’s jaw drops to the ground. He’s always had a thing for cars, and this one is definitely a “beaut”.

“That’s a Ferrari Spider,” he says, watching it roll closer by inches.

“Yeah, what’s that worth?”

“250 grand, at least.”

Niall whistles, then shoves at Harry’s shoulder. “Take it. You look like you need cheering up. Those fancy types always go for you over me.”

“You sure?”

Niall shrugs and pushes again. “I’m hungry anyway. Gonna see if Jules over there is gonna give me a sausage or not.” Niall waggles his eyebrows. “Go give that one yours.”

“Nice one,” Harry says flatly. “Stay out of trouble.”

“You too.”

Harry straightens up, tossing his hair and sauntering towards the car. He can barely see the driver through the windscreen, they’ve got their head ducked down. As Harry gets closer the car jolts forward with a grinding of gears that makes Harry wince, and then dies.

*****

“Son of a bitch.” Louis drops his forehead to the steering wheel as the car shudders to a halt. Zayn was right, Louis is awful at driving stick.

“Having trouble?”

Louis jerks his head up and turns towards the passenger side so fast his neck twinges. There’s a guy leaning against the car, one arm laid along the rolled down window, riotous head of curly hair limned in a blue halo from the neon sign behind him. His face is shadowed, but Louis can see his eyes glinting and the flash of his teeth as he grins.

“Just a bit.”

“Seems like more than a bit,” the guy says, his voice deep and gravelly and slow. Louis can feel it rubbing over his frayed nerves like a balm. He’s British (Northern, Louis thinks, maybe Cheshire) and his accent on top of the hour Louis had just spent in LA traffic makes him long for home. Not that London traffic is any better some days.

“Yeah, well, apparently I can’t drive this bloody car,” Louis says, jerking the gear stick into neutral. “And I had to get off the highway because all the starting and stopping was grating on my nerves, and I’m still miles from my hotel.”

The guy leans lower over the door, and the already low neck of his shirt gapes open further, the necklaces around his neck swinging out into the car. The pendants catch the streetlights and reflect them, a small silver one in the shape of a paper plane making pinpoints of light dance up Louis’s bare arm. “If you need directions I’m more than willing to help. For a small fee, of course.”

“I have a GPS, thanks,” Louis says, and flicks the screen suspended from the windscreen. “What I need is an automatic transmission.”

“I can drive stick.”

The innuendo is so thick Louis practically chokes on it. He arches his eyebrows as he gives the guy a once over. “What makes you think I’m going to let a total stranger drive a $250,000 car, especially when it’s a rental? Not to mention how totally stupid it would be for me to let you into the car at all. For all I know you’re an ax murderer. Or a rapist.”

The guy laughs at that, and it’s low, throaty. “I’m not an ax murderer.”

“You’re still a stranger and possible rapist.”

“My name is Harry,” he says, stretching his arm across the seat and offering his hand. Louis looks at it in surprise before reaching out to shake, and Harry holds on. “And I’m not a rapist.” He grins. “No one ever says no.”

Louis’s mouth twitches. Harry is cocky. Even if it is an act, a come-on probably practiced in front of a mirror and engineered to make the most money possible (because Louis has no doubt what Harry is, and it’s not a random good Samaritan). Louis tugs his fingers out of Harry’s grasp and considers his options. He can either say no and make his way back to the hotel in fits and starts, or he can let Harry drive and keep his phone in his hand in case Harry takes them somewhere Louis doesn’t want to go.

Harry licks his lips and smirks, and Louis can see him doing the maths in his head. Louis is a potential customer, with a cashmere jumper and an expensive watch that are either bait or insurance. Louis hopes they’re bait, and the lure of good pay will keep him safe. He nods once, and reaches for the door handle.

“Don’t make me regret this,” he says as he and Harry pass each other in front of the car. Harry trails his fingers over Louis’s shoulder and grins.

The car practically purrs when Harry shifts it smoothly into gear, and Louis glares at the dashboard, muttering under his breath, making Harry laugh again. The windows are still open, the evening breeze whipping Harry’s curls around his face, and Louis feels like an extra in a commercial or something equally ridiculous. He crosses his arms over his chest and scowls.

“Where’d you learn to drive like this?” he asks, because knowing how to handle a Ferrari and being a hooker in Los Angeles are kind of disparate traits for one person.

“Worked in a garage back home, one of the mechanics taught me. We specialized in luxury cars. But I’ve never driven a Ferrari. It handles beautifully.” Harry slants a glance at Louis. “It’s rather sexy.”

“Yeah, well. When it’s not making that lovely metal-on-metal sound I guess it is quite nice.” Louis can’t be too mad when Harry grins and taps his fingers on the steering wheel; they’ve gone farther in the past few minutes than Louis had managed in thirty.

“Where is ‘back home’ then?” Louis asks, because he wants to know if he’s right about his accent. Harry tilts his head from side to side, considering.

“Holmes Chapel. You?”

“Doncaster. I’m a northerner as well.”

“I could tell,” Harry says, and shifts again as the light turns green. Louis gives a delicate snort.

“You’re not the only one figuring things out about people. I knew you were from Cheshire the moment you opened your mouth.” Harry purses that mouth in Louis’s direction, and Louis rolls his eyes. “I also know what you are.”

“Oh yeah. What am I?” His tone is light, flirting again.

“A prostitute.” He stares at the side of Harry’s head, challenging.

“Figured me out. Good on you. Gonna turn me in?” Harry smirks in his direction, looking up at Louis through his eyelashes.

“No.” As long as Harry gets Louis back to his hotel in one piece, he’s plenty happy to let Harry get on with his business.

“Gonna make me an offer then?” Harry asks, his eyes on the road again. Louis’s heart stutters in his chest.

His first thought is that it’s tempting, thinking of taking Harry up to his room after the day he’s had. A little uncomplicated rebound sex to take his mind off of Eleanor probably moving out of his flat as they drove, and the likely stressful week he had ahead of him in LA. His second thought is that he’s crazy, because paying for sex is not his style. Not to mention he hasn’t been with a man in years.

“You have arrived at your destination,” the GPS trills just as they pull up to the valet at the Beverly Wilshire, and Louis breathes out in relief.

Harry whistles, looking up at the hotel.

“We have an event here,” Louis says, though he’s not sure why he’s making excuses. It’s not as if he’d be staying in a Motel 6 otherwise. He’s saved from having to explain by the valet opening his door, and he turns his back to angle out of the car.

Louis accepts the ticket from the valet and Harry just stands there on the sidewalk, shoulders hunched, looking out of place and awkward with his feet turned in and the tips of his fingers jammed in his pocket.

“Thanks for the ride,” Louis says, the valet peeling out onto the street behind them.

“Yeah, no problem. My pleasure, actually, that car made my week.” Harry smiles, and it’s not the flirtatious look from earlier but something more hesitant and unsure. Louis brushes his hands down the front of his jumper and tries to be nice.

“I can pay for a taxi,” he says, and Harry’s shoulders droop.

“I’m good,” Harry says. “I haven’t sat on this bus stop yet, and I’ve been meaning to. Sort of a thing of mine, see, visiting all the bus stops in the greater metropolitan area.”

Louis huffs a laugh but doesn’t say anything, and Harry flops his arms down at his sides.

“Have a good night,” Harry says, and turns away.

Louis watches him perch on the back of the bus stop bench, elbows on his knees, and then looks up at the hotel. He should go in, do some work, go to sleep. He has a full day of meetings the next day that are going to require all of his energy and patience. But the line of Harry’s back draws his eyes, knobs of his spine visible through the too thin shirt, and Louis is coiled so tight with tension and sudden want that he thinks he might just burst out of his skin.

Harry turns his head as Louis comes up behind him, and Louis can see the hope in his eyes.

“How much?” Louis asks, his eyes darting up and down the pavement, nervous.

“For you?” Harry grins and reaches out to touch the sleeve of Louis’s jumper, rubbing the softness with the tips of his fingers. “$200. For an hour.”

Louis bites his lip, and Harry watches, and Louis feels a curl of warmth in his stomach. He clears his throat.

“Would you like to come up to my room?”

Harry nods and climbs down from the bench. “I really would.”

*****

The inside of the hotel is even nicer than the outside of the hotel, and Harry feels more out of place than he ever has before. He pulls the neckline of his shirt up to his collar bones and tries not to think about the city grime he’s tracking all over the shiny marble floors.

“You’re rather twitchy,” Louis says, touching his palm to the small of Harry’s back to guide him around the concierge desk, nodding to the uniformed man behind it. Harry sees the man’s eyes go wide though he’s well mannered enough to keep the rest of his expression blank.

“Not exactly used to places this … “ Harry trails off, distracted by the chandeliers.

“Fancy?”

Harry catches Louis’s eyes and rolls his own. “Clean.”

The elevator is all gleaming brass and wood paneling, and Louis has to slide in his key card to press the highest numbered button on the panel. Harry whistles through his teeth.

The doors open to a short hallway with ornate double doors at each end, and Louis leads Harry to the set on the left, swinging them open. Harry gapes.

The room is huge, bigger even than Harry expected, and decorated like a show house. Harry had gotten used to rooms that were more function than form - bed, toilet, no frills. This room is all form, carved wood tables and a velvet sofa, a wingback chair that is so curvy it’s almost sexy. Harry makes his way around the perimeter of the room, skimming his hand over the crystal bases of the lamps and the smooth lacquer of the sideboard, his feet sinking into the plush pile of the rug.

Louis had gone to the desk immediately, opening the laptop that sat there and hunching over to look at the screen. One hand clicks on the touchpad while the other empties his pockets of mobile phone, wallet, loose change. There is a set of French doors behind him, and Harry goes over to investigate.

“There’s a balcony?”

Louis glances up. “Hm? Oh, yes, there must be.”

“There must be? You mean you haven’t been out there yet?”

“Don’t really have time. I’m here to work, not lounge around my hotel all day.”

“Then why do you have this gigantic suite?”

Louis’s eyebrows arch. “Because it’s the best.”

Harry finds the lock for the doors and opens them. The balcony is almost a deck, built onto the floor beneath them, with a stone wall just short of chest height surrounding it. There are plants and a wrought iron table with two chairs. The view of the city is breathtaking, the lights sparkling as far as the eye could see. “You really should come see this,” Harry calls back, folding his arms on top of the wall and leaning out into the night sky.

“I’ve got a ton of emails, just give me a minute.”

Harry pushes away from the wall and goes back into the room, leaning a hip against the edge of the desk. “That minute is going to cost you about $3.50, and you really want to spend it checking email?”

“This one is worth $3.50.”

The minute goes by, and then the one after that, and Harry picks trinkets up off the tables and puts them back down, turning a ceramic bowl over in his hands and examining it.

“Your fidgeting is distracting me,” Louis says, eyes still trained on his computer screen.

“Your work is distracting you,” Harry retorts, and smirks when Louis lifts his head, squinting his eyes.

“My work is what pays me, which allows me to pay you.”

“Touche.” Harry crosses the room, catching the way Louis’s gaze slides down his body before going back to the computer, and drops into the computer chair, swiveling until he can bracket his legs around Louis’s. “What is your work, anyway? You said you have an event here?”

Louis shuffles his feet in the small space Harry’s left for him between his calves, and rolls his shoulders. He seems uncomfortable, and Harry’s had his share of uneasy customers. Usually he tries to soothe them, but he feels like pushing this one’s buttons. Louis is so put together, so polished; Harry wants to take him apart, tarnish him.

“An awards show. One of my artists is nominated.”

“Wait, you’re here for that music thing?” Harry whistles, and slides his ankle up Louis’s calf. “So you’re some big shot producer or something?”

“Manager,” Louis says, and looks down at Harry’s feet, then up at Harry before looking pointedly back at his computer screen.

“It’s been ten minutes,” Harry says, and pouts.

“Are you in a rush? Hot date later?”

“Time is money.”

Louis crosses his arms and Harry lets his knees splay a little wider, slouching down further in the desk chair. He knows his shirt is riding up, can feel cool air on the skin of his stomach, and Louis makes a show of not looking down.

“Maybe I don’t want to rush,” Louis says, and his look is challenging.

“I don’t do overtime for free.”

“Obviously. How much for the whole night?”

Harry blinks. He doesn’t do sleepovers. He’d rather wake up alone than with a trick, but he’s tempted. He could ask for anything, he thinks, he feels like Louis would pay anything. He bites his lower lip, does some quick maths in his head. “A grand.”

Louis doesn’t even flinch. “Deal. Now I can finish my work. Why don’t you order some room service, make yourself comfortable?” He steps neatly out from between Harry’s legs and goes back to his email.

Harry’s mind races as he presses the button on the phone for room service, and he ends up ordering a strange combination of foods while he makes lists of the things he could do with a thousand dollars. He could catch up on rent. He could treat Niall to a real meal, something heartier than a hot dog or a slice of pizza or a kebab from a street vendor. A real, sit down dinner, somewhere with fabric table cloths and waiters that wear aprons. They could order glasses of wine and an appetizer, even.

He’s still fantasizing when there’s a knock on the door, and he’s startled out of a vision of him and Niall drinking champagne straight out of the bottle. Louis doesn’t look like he’s leaving the desk anytime soon so Harry lets the bellhop in and signs the slip with some scribbles and a flourish.

The rolling cart is covered in plates with shiny silver lids, and Harry uncovers breaded mushrooms and a fancy flatbread pizza with arugula and a balsamic drizzle and an enormous slice of chocolate cake.

He spreads everything out on the glass coffee table, shoving aside glossy magazines made for tourists, and ogles the giant flat screen mounted on the wall. The remote control is smooth and cool in his hand, and he flicks through every channel with wide eyes before coming upon an episode of Friends. It had been his favorite show, and he hadn’t seen an episode since he left the UK.

It turns out to be a marathon, and Harry settles in with his feast and the laughter of the studio audience. The pizza is amazing, the spiciness of the arugula offset perfectly by the sweet tartness of the balsamic, and the mushrooms aren’t breaded too heavily. Joey is doing lunges in layers of Chandler’s clothes, and Harry laughs so hard his eyes water.

He’s licking cake frosting off his fingers when Louis perches on the chaise across the table. Harry grins at him, feeling looser and freer than he has in ages. He’s full and warm and something that is the closest to happy he’s been in a long time, and he wants to bring Louis into the little bubble he’s created there in the hotel.

“Are you hungry?” he asks, and circles his hand over the leftover slices of pizza, the few mushrooms left on the plate. The cake is nothing but crumbs now, but Harry doesn’t feel guilty about it.

Louis shakes his head, and his expression is different from before, less closed off. He looks more relaxed, his hair ruffled like he’d run his hands through it, his feet bare. His mouth quirks and he leans against the arm of the lounge, his gaze dropping from Harry’s eyes to his mouth.

Harry feels his bubble burst. Louis was done working, and now it’s Harry’s turn to get to work. He bids Rachel and Monica a silent goodbye as he presses the mute button, and struggles with himself to get back into the game. He has a customer to please, and he’d received enough perks already.

He slides off the sofa to his knees and shuffles forwards until he can cup his hands around Louis’s calves. He licks his lips as he slides his hands up, palms rucking up the fabric stretched taut over Louis’s thighs.

“What do you want?” he asks, fitting the vee of his hands around Louis’s hips. Louis lifts one shoulder and blows out a shaky breath.

“Not my area of expertise.”

Harry tilts his head. “You’re too good looking to be a virgin. Never been with a guy?”

“I have been, but not since uni. And only a couple.”

Harry presses his lips together and nudges his fingers under the hem of Louis’s jumper. “What did you like back then?”

Louis bites his lip, and his cheeks flush. He’s beautiful, but Harry pushes that thought from his head. “You could,” he starts, and then wavers. His eyes skim Harry’s mouth again, then drop to his own lap.

“Oh,” Harry says, and grins. “Yeah.”

He starts to bunch up the bottom of Louis’s jumper, but frets about the cashmere. Louis takes it out of his hands and holds it in a fist, and Harry traces the whitened skin over his knuckles with his tongue, earning a gasp from Louis. The gasp cuts off abruptly when Harry opens his trousers and presses his mouth to the fabric of Louis’s boxers, right over his cock.

Louis doesn’t make a lot of noise while Harry sucks him off, only letting out a breathy moan when Harry takes him deep into his throat and swallows around him. Harry wants to coax more sounds out of him, would love to hear him shout, curse a little maybe, and backs off, nudging the waistband of his boxers further down and pressing a finger against the soft skin behind his balls.

Harry can feel the muscles in Louis’s thigh clench under his other hand and moves his finger back further, skating over Louis’s hole.

Louis’s entire body goes still and Harry thinks he stops breathing. Harry slides his mouth down the length of him, hollowing his cheeks and sucking, rubbing just slightly with his fingertip.

A shudder goes through Louis when Harry pulls up and twists his tongue around the head of Louis’s cock, and Harry feels a tug at his hair before Louis cries out sharply and comes in Harry’s mouth.

Harry sits back on his heels, and takes in the sight of Louis, cashmere still bunched in one fist, head thrown back against the arm of the chaise, trousers open but not off, cock softening. Harry’s achingly hard in his jeans, but he’s not counting on any reciprocation.

Louis takes a deep breath and sits up, tucking himself back into his boxers but not zipping up. His hair is disheveled, sticking up at the back like he’d been tossing his head against the lounge, and Harry can’t help but grin, feeling smug.

“I’m going to shower,” Louis says, and his voice is rough. “Unless you’d like to first?”

Harry thinks about the giant shower stall and jerking off on the fancy marble tile and nods, wincing slightly as he gets to his feet, joints creaking.

He washes his hair with the hotel shampoo, and wraps his fingers around his cock as the suds rinse out. It only takes a few minutes of tight, quick stroking and he comes hard, splashing against the wall in stripes that get washed away seconds later. He cocoons himself in the fluffy hotel bathrobe on the back of the door and comes out into the room to find Louis back at his computer.

Harry drops onto the bed, running his hands over the sheets and stretching his legs out under the thick, fluffy duvet, and he falls asleep to the sound of Louis’s fingers clacking on his keyboard.

*****

Louis stays up far too late, working while Harry snuffles into the pillows, ignoring the spread of dark curls on the bleached white pillowcases and the bright pink of Harry’s lips, parted slightly around sounds that weren’t quite snores but came close. He’s almost childlike in sleep, certainly more innocent looking than when he’d been leaning into Louis’s car or negotiating a rate for blowjobs.

He can’t bring himself to climb into to bed with Harry, knowing that no matter how much of the king sized mattress was empty between them Louis would be up all night, worried about falling asleep and rolling over to tangle their limbs together.

He spends a few fitful hours on the sofa instead, face mashed into the cushions, trying to calm his mind long enough to doze off.

He gives up when the sun starts filtering in through the French doors, patches of gold creeping across the carpet, and orders room service from the phone in the bathroom, door shut so he doesn’t have to whisper, feeling ridiculous for taking the extra care to not wake up Harry.

Harry stirs when the room service arrives, Louis can hear grumbling and the rustle of sheets from the bedroom as he signs the slip and rolls the cart into the room. He’s sat at the dining table reading the paper when Harry emerges, hands pressed to the top of his head, a pillow crease in his cheek.

Louis can’t help but laugh, even as Harry tries to flatten his hair it puffs up even more, stuck up on one side like a ski jump. He looks disoriented and sleepy (and adorable, but Louis is resolutely not thinking about that) and like he kind of wants to throw himself on the platter of eggs and bacon on the edge of the table.

“Is my hair that bad?” Harry asks, and his voice is sleep rough, gravelly. Louis snaps his paper straight, ducking back behind it.

“It is rather ridiculous.” Louis says, as his mobile goes off next to him, buzzing against the table. He reaches it for it, swipes the screen, reads the message from Zayn assuring Louis that he’s awake. He taps out a quick response with this thumbs and sighs. He should get up and get ready.

“You’re probably busy,” Harry says, “I’ll get dressed and head out.”

“Nonsense. I ordered breakfast for two, you may as well stay and eat.”

Harry’s curled up in a chair with a croissant in his hands before Louis is even done speaking.

“How did you sleep?” Louis asks, and decides to pour himself another cup of tea. He can make small talk with Harry while he drinks it, and then he’ll definitely get up and get ready.

“I slept well, thanks. That bed is amazing. Like sleeping on a cloud.” Harry stretches his spine and Louis can hear it pop. “Did you sleep at all?”

“I slept on the sofa for a few hours. I don’t sleep much.”

“Too busy?” Harry asks, and Louis can hear a hint of teasing. Harry’s eyebrows bounce up and down and he pops a grape in his mouth.

“Usually, yes.” As if on cue Louis’s phone chirps, and he grimaces at it. “Especially this week. We flew in early so we’d have time to get ready, and suddenly we have meetings and fittings and promo left and right.” He folds his paper irritably and drops it on top of his phone, glaring down at it. “I loathe promo.”

Harry grins, and Louis glugs down the remains of his tea, pushes to his feet.

He leaves Harry to the rest of the breakfast, and stares at his own ridiculous hair in the mirror, fuzzed up in the front where he’d rubbed it against the cushions as he’d tossed and turned. It takes forever to flatten it out properly across his forehead, and he ends up burning his ear with the blow dryer. He pulls on a pair of trousers and buttons his shirt to his neck, and then grumbles down at the haphazard pile of shoes spilling out of his suitcase. He hears Harry shuffle up behind him, and looks over his shoulder.

“I always pack too many shoes,” Louis says, digging his bare toes into the carpet. Harry is propped against the door jamb, lapels of the bathrobe framing the swallow tattoos under his collar bones, a mug of tea held close to his face, steam curling around his grin.

Harry nudges his foot against a black boot. Louis squints at Harry, then down at the shoe before bending down to scoop it up along with its mate. He catches Harry watching, and feels a flush creep into his cheeks.

“I have a meeting,” Louis says, focusing on pulling the boots on without tipping over. “You’re welcome to stay and finish breakfast, or have another cup of tea, before you head home.”

“I’d love a bath.”

Louis looks up, surprised. “A bath?”

“That bath is sinful. It’s practically a swimming pool. And they give you bubbles, and some sort of salts even.”

Louis laughs, still surprised. “Alright, a bath it is then.”

Harry practically skips into the bathroom, and soon there’s a lavender scented fog seeping through the cracked open door.

Louis retrieves his phone from under the USA Today, and sighs at the three missed calls from the label and the text from Zayn saying he still needed a few minutes. He can feel his shoulders tensing, creeping closer to his ears with every voice mail he plays back. Halfway through the last one he hears a blast of noise from the bathroom and totally misses the end of the message.

He goes to replay the voicemail but the sound comes from the bathroom again, and he creeps closer to the door to figure out what it is.

“The sun goes down, the stars come out, and all that counts, is here and now.”

Louis can hear the track playing on the bathroom television, but the voice singing along is louder, echoing around the tiled room, and definitely not coming from the speakers. Louis peeks in, and it’s Harry, singing along at the top of his lungs, head tilted back against the side of the bath, hair plastered to his head. He shimmies his shoulders against the porcelain and sings, “My universe will never be the same, I’m glad you came. I’m glad you came.”

Louis can’t stop the snort of amusement and Harry jerks, his eyes flying open. Louis pushes the door open and smirks, and Harry reaches out a wet, sudsy hand to slap at the remote, muting the TV.

“Um,” he says, sliding lower until his chin is brushing the bubbles on the surface. “You don’t believe in knocking?”

“It’s nothing I haven’t seen. Though it is quite a bit I haven’t heard.” Louis’s smirk is now a full-on grin, and Harry pouts.

“Ha bloody ha.”

“At least you have a good voice. You could be the sixth member of The Wanted.”

“As if,” Harry scoffs, but he smiles, a genuine smile totally unlike the practiced, coy one he’d used on Louis before. “I always wanted to be a singer, actually. Tried out for the X Factor once, back home. I was sixteen. My voice hadn’t finished changing, they sent me home.”

The corner of the bath near Harry’s feet is dry, and Louis perches on it. Harry’s arms come out of the water and skim the mountains of bubbles, flattening them over the surface of the water so there are no gaps. Louis hadn’t thought about Harry being naked under all the suds until just then, and he thinks Harry must be the only modest male prostitute in the entire city.

“Did you ever try again? Or try something else?”

Harry lifts a shoulder, bubbles sliding down his biceps as he shrugs it out of the water. “That’s why I came here. I write songs too, and I’d recorded a bunch of demos, silly little things that I recorded in the loo at my mum’s house in Holmes Chapel. I even had fancy labels designed for the discs.” He sighs, the gust of breath sending suds skittering over the surface of the bath. “Didn’t get very far here, got turned away from so many record label offices I lost count, ended up on the streets. Classic Hollywood sob story, yeah?”

Louis watches him with narrowed eyes, his mind whirring. A songwriter. Harry writes songs, or wrote songs, either way, he could come in handy.

“I’m not angling,” Harry says.

“I believe you,” Louis replies, and they’re quiet, staring at each other for a moment. “Do you have plans today? For the rest of the week for that matter?”

“No,” Harry says, drawing the word out in confusion.

“I have a business proposition.”

“Proposition?” Harry asks, and Louis can’t blame him for the skepticism. Louis is feeling skeptical himself. His heart is racing in his chest. He’s not sure what he’s offering or why, but he thinks having Harry around this week may be beneficial, in more than one way.

“Yes. My client and I are meeting with some people about the album he’ll be recording soon, and we’re not quite seeing eye to eye on the material. Songwriters, backing vocalists, things like that. He’s been very successful in his current genre but he wants to branch out, do something ‘more real’,” Louis does finger quotes and Harry grins, tongue in cheek. “It’s bound to be an incredibly frustrating week for me, and I could use some,” he hesitates.

“Stress relief?” Harry offers, his tone cheeky. Louis feels a hot curl of anticipation at the base of his spine.

“That,” Louis says, tipping his head. “Even just company would be nice. Especially if that company were musically inclined and also inclined to be on my side.”

Harry cottons on, and his mouth seems to droop. “Ah.”

“I would, of course, compensate you appropriately. And you could stay here. You’d also have opportunities to meet people that may be able to help you if you’d still like to pursue a career in the industry.” Louis knows he’s dangling a carrot and feels slightly guilty when Harry’s eyes narrow at him.

“How long?”

Louis’s phone chirps, and he looks down at it. He’s definitely late for his meeting. “Until Monday. That includes the awards show Sunday night, which you may attend with me.”

“You’d take a male date to an awards show?” Harry asks. It’s an unconventional offer, Louis knows, but he can’t bring himself to care. He found awards shows mostly dull affairs, and it would nice to have someone to talk to while Zayn sat closer to the stage with his girlfriend on his arm.

“We wouldn’t be holding hands and taking pap photos, Harry, you could be an employee for all anyone knows. You basically would be an employee.” Louis’s phone chirps again and he checks it, sighing. “Are you interested or not, I really have to run.”

“What is ‘appropriate compensation’?” Harry makes his own finger quotes.

“If one night was one thousand, than five nights would be five thousand.”

“Ah, but you want days too.” Harry bites his lips, then blurts, “Ten thousand.”

Louis almost laughs, but he doesn’t joke about money. “Six.”

“Seventy five hundred.”

“Deal,” Louis says, and Harry just blinks at him, then sucks in a huge breath and slides under the water.

Louis can’t help but laugh, watching Harry’s knees rise up out of the bubbles as he kicks his feet against the bottom of the bath. “Is that a yes,” Louis yells, about to reach down and drag him back up to the surface. Harry pops up, spitting sudsy water and swiping at his face with his hands.

“Is that a yes?” Louis repeats, and tosses a towel at his face. Harry blots his eyes and nods.

“Yes. That is a definite yes.”

“Great. Get out of the bath. I have a meeting and you have to shop.” Louis turns his back but doesn’t leave, and he hears Harry get to his feet with a rush of water.

“I have to what now?” Harry asks.

“You have to shop. We’ll be going out to dinner, possibly a party or two, and I’d like you to wear something nice. Something slightly more formal than your tee shirt from yesterday, something that doesn’t show quite so much … “ Louis looks back over his shoulder at Harry, who crosses his arms over his chest. “So much nipple.”

Harry sticks out his tongue but follows Louis from the bathroom. “What am I supposed to wear? A suit?”

“That won’t be necessary for tonight. A nice pair of jeans, a pair of boots maybe. A blazer, definitely.” Louis rakes his eyes over Harry’s shoulders and down his torso, and Harry skims his fingers over the towel at his waist, teasing.

Louis rolls his eyes, but he’s half-tempted to yank the towel off of Harry’s hips. He distracts himself with his wallet, pulling out a stack of bills and shoving them into Harry’s hands.

“You’ll need a suit for the awards show, and something to change into for the after party. Maybe buy multiple blazers. And a few nice shirts. Dark jeans, please. Or trousers if you prefer, it’s up to you.” Louis pats his pockets, checking to make sure he has his valet ticket. He shoulders his bag and heads for the door. “I’ll be back later tonight.”

He’s halfway out the door when Harry blurts, “I would’ve stayed for five thousand.”

Louis pauses, lets the door click shut. He turns and strides forward, crowding Harry against the wall. He’s shorter by an inch or two, but he can be imposing when he wants to be. “I would’ve paid ten.” He lets the backs of his fingers brush against Harry’s damp abs as he backs away, and he’s out the door before Harry can recover.

*****

The room spreads out in front of Harry, empty and inviting, like a luxury playground. Harry wants to roll around on the plush carpet, jump up and down on the bed like a child. He considers getting back in the bath and letting his fingers and toes get pruney, but he’s got a handful of cash and a whole day ahead of him and the more he thinks about it the more he wants to shop.

He digs through his jeans from the day before, the holes that he had liked, or at least appreciated for the way they gave glimpses of the skin beneath, now making him wince. He wonders if people see him on the street and just know, know what he spends his hours doing.

He shakes the thought from his head and pulls out his mobile, a pre-paid flip phone, nothing like Louis’s fancy iPhone, and opens it, dialing Niall’s number.

“‘Lo?” comes the sleepy voice on the other end, the accent thick with sleep. Harry flops across the bed, hanging his wet head off the edge of the mattress.

“Morning,” Harry says, and he can hear rustling on the other end.

“Where are you?” Niall sounds slightly panicked, and Harry bets he’s flailing out of his covers right now, looking over at Harry’s empty bed. “Are you in trouble?”

“I’m fine, settle down.”

Niall sighs, and the rustling on the other end stops. “Where are you then?”

“You’ll never guess.”

“And I ain’t going to, either. It’s bloody early, you cunt. Just tell me.”

Harry grins, digging his toes into the down of the duvet. “The Beverly Wilshire.”

“Fuck off, you’re taking the piss.”

“I promise I’m not. The guy I left with last night, the one in the Ferrari? He asked me to stay the night.”

“I hope you made him pay for it.”

Harry laughs, rolling his eyes. Niall starts chewing on the other end, though Harry has no idea what he could be eating. Their cupboards, and their fridge, were sadly empty last time he’d checked. “Of course I did. A full thousand. And get this, he wants to pay me to stay the week with him.”

“What?” Niall screeches, and Harry can picture his face, his mouth hanging open, probably still full of food. It’s a gross image, but a familiar one, and Harry feels a wave of affection.

“He’s in town for that fancy awards show, and he wants me to come to some events with him. Said I could maybe meet some music people. He gave me money to buy clothes. And Niall, he’s going to pay me so well.”

“How well?”

“Are you sitting down?”

“Of course I’m sitting down, Harry. Spit it out.”

Niall sounds exasperated, either at Harry dragging it out or at Harry for assuming he’d be doing anything other than sitting. He’s probably lying in bed, if Harry knows him at all, because he spends most of his time at their flat lying in bed. He sleeps more than any human being Harry has ever met in his life, not that Harry can blame him.

“Seven thousand five hundred dollars,” Harry says, and braces himself.

Niall shouts down the phone, a string of curses that are half English, half Irish, and Harry just laughs. “Holy fuck, Harry,” Niall says when he’s calmed down slightly. “Holy fucking fuck.”

“That about sums it up. I still haven’t quite wrapped my head around it. Can you imagine what holding that much cash will feel like?” Harry pictures it in his head, a stack of bills so big he has to use two hands to hold it, and his chest feels tight. He’s debating asking for it in small bills so he can spread it around on the floor and swim in it like Scrooge McDuck, or asking for it in hundreds so he can feel like a mobster, when Niall pipes up on the other end.

“You didn’t ask for it upfront?”

“No, I didn’t. But he paid for last night, and gave me shopping money. He’s good for it, don’t be paranoid.”

“Stick around this place long enough, pal, and you’ll be right here with me.”

“I’m going to leave some money at the front desk for you, for groceries and whatnot. Can you swing by and get it?”

“Mate, for grocery money I would crawl to Beverly Hills on my hands and knees.”

After he hangs up with Niall Harry does jump on the bed, but only once. He loads a plate with fruit and two more croissants and carries that and a cup of tea out onto the balcony. He looks out at the blue sky, clouds scudding along, the bustle of the city below him, and pulls the pastries apart with his fingers.

He styles his hair with his fingers, resisting the urge to go through the toiletry bag on the sink. He’s sure Louis has some designer styling products tucked away inside, but he doesn’t feel right going through someone’s personal property.

Once he’s dressed he stares at himself in the mirror, and sticks out his tongue. “My nipples don’t show,” he grumbles at his reflection, hitching the shirt up so more of his collarbones are covered.

The lobby of the hotel is mostly quiet, classical music playing softly overhead, a lone bellhop pushing a luggage cart with a man in a dark suit following, phone pressed to his ear. There’s a couple at the front desk checking in, but the concierge is free, typing away on her computer at the end of the counter.

“Excuse me,” Harry says, his voice coming out oddly formal, making him feel awkward. She smiles at him, kindly enough, but it’s not the same sycophantic smile he’s seen the employees give the other guests. He smiles back, but it’s an obviously fake smile, and her eyes squint a little. “May I leave something with you? I have a friend coming in to pick it up.”

“Are you a guest here?” she asks, and her voice is syrup-sweet. It’s not patronizing, but it’s close.

“I’m a guest of a guest here,” Harry says, his spine straightening. If it’s going to be an issue he can just bus over to his place, give Niall the money in person. He doesn’t want to, it’s a long ride, but he will.

“Let me check with the manager.” She picks up the phone and presses a button, and Harry props his elbows on the counter, sighing. “Mr. Payne? I have a person at the desk who wants to leave something here for a friend to pick up, but he’s not a guest.”

“I’m staying with a guest,” Harry says again, and the concierge purses her mouth.

“He says he’s staying with a guest here,” she says. After a pause where Harry assumes Mr. Payne the manager is speaking she nods. “Thank you, Mr. Payne.” She sets the phone down and holds out her hand for the envelope. “He says it’s alright.”

“Thanks ever so,” Harry says, hoping the sarcasm is clear, and presses the envelope into her palm. “His name is Niall Horan, it’s written there on the envelope.”

She nods, and Harry turns on his heel, shaking the irritation from his shoulders. He has shopping to do.

He’s only walked down Rodeo Drive once, when he first got to the city and still felt like sightseeing. He had paused in front of every window with eyes big as saucers staring back from his reflection, peeking in on all the well dressed people spending more than he had in his entire bank account on scarves and shoes and handbags, never mind actual clothing. He’d chosen all the items he’d buy for himself once he was rich and famous, not caring that by then they’d be out of season.

Now he’s walking down Rodeo with money in his pocket, and he has no idea how far the cash will get him, but he still feels a tingle in his fingertips when he presses them against the bulge in his pocket.

He does a lap first, up one side of the street and down the other, dodging women in clacking high heels and tourists pressing their faces to the glass like he’d once done, even a group of paparazzi outside the Louis Vuitton store, waiting for whatever celebrity was inside to finish shopping. A jacket in the window of Canali catches his eyes, and he takes a deep breath before pulling open the door.

The air conditioning is on high, and Harry feels goosebumps prickle up on his skin as he stares around the store. There are very few actual clothes in the store, more wide open space than anything. It’s weird, sparse, totally unlike the crammed tight secondhand stores or cluttered discount shops that Harry’s used to. There are a few mannequins in the store, headless ones, wearing pressed pants and starched shirts.

Harry sees one wearing the jacket from the window and heads over, rubbing his hands up and down his arms. He fingers the cuff of the jacket sleeve, peeking inside for a price tag. He checks inside the jacket as well, and then looks around the store to see if the jacket is hanging on a rack anywhere. He catches the eye of a sales person, coming across the store towards him.

“May I help you?” he asks, looking down his nose. His nametag reads “George”.

“Actually, George, you may,” Harry says, ignoring the disdain in George’s voice. “How much is this jacket?”

George looks Harry over, and it’s not the kind of hot up-and-down that he usually gets from men, it’s more like George is cataloguing all the things wrong with Harry, from his beat up shoes to his ripped jeans to his threadbare shirt. Harry tosses his hair and stares him down.

“It’s rather expensive,” George says, his voice nasal and grating down Harry’s spine.

“Try me.”

“Are you sure you wouldn’t rather look for a jacket elsewhere? There’s a mall nearby that you might try. Or a Goodwill, perhaps.”

Harry bristles, his skin flushing. He’s not cold anymore, that’s for sure. “Look, George,” he says, putting as much scorn into his tone as he possibly can, “I like this jacket. Maybe you just tell me how much it is and let me decide if it’s too expensive.”

“I don’t think we have your size,” George says, and Harry bares his teeth, seething.

“You don’t know my size.”

“I’m trained to know everyone’s size on sight, and you’re not exactly hiding your frame.”

Harry wants to punch this man more than he’s ever wanted to punch anyone in his entire life. “I think the one on the mannequin would fit me,” he grits out between his teeth.

“I don’t think so. Your shoulders are a little too narrow for this one. Again, the mall may have a wider variety of sizes.” George glances back at the desk where another salesperson, another snooty looking man in a suit, is watching with one hand on the telephone. “We’d rather not get security involved, sir.”

Harry glares from George to the man behind the counter, his blood rushing in his ears. George looks nonplussed, and Harry spins around and stalks out of the store.

The air outside is warm, humid, and he feels lightheaded from anger and a little bit of shame. The shame takes root in his gut, and blossoms when a woman wearing what looks like her weight in diamonds lowers her Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses to give him a look.

He ducks his head as walks back down the street, hands shoved in his pockets, his anger fading to humiliation before he reaches the corner.

He wants to get through the hotel lobby and back up to the room as quickly as he can, and then he wants to crawl into the big bed and pull the duvet over his head and never come out ever again. Halfway to the elevator someone catches him by the elbow.

It’s a man in a suit, and if Harry never sees another man in a suit for the rest of his life it will be too soon.

“May I speak to you for a moment?” the man asks. He’s smiling, his voice pleasant, but Harry gets defensive nonetheless.

“I’ve had a shitty day, so if you don’t mind I’d like to go up to my room.” Harry yanks his arm away, and catches the glint of the man’s name badge pinned to his lapel. It reads Liam Payne, Hotel Manager. Of course it does.

“I’m sorry to hear that, but I really would just like a moment of your time.”

Harry crosses his arms and scowls, but doesn’t walk away.

“You said your room, but the concierge told me you aren’t a guest here.”

Harry rolls his eyes, throwing up his hands in exasperation. “Like I told your concierge, who has a fairly bad attitude for someone in customer service, by the way, I’m staying with one of your guests. In his room. Top floor.”

Liam’s eyebrows lift just a fraction, but he’s still smiling. He’s young, only a few years older than Harry if he had to guess. Harry would say he was cute if he wasn’t currently bothering him.

“I see. Extra guests are supposed to be listed on the room, which is why I wanted to talk to you. But if you’re a guest on an executive floor I suppose I can let it pass. Those floors can only be booked by Diamond VIPs, and we can make exceptions for them. If I could just see your key card.”

Harry digs it out of his pocket, dropping several fifty dollar bills on the floor. Liam bends down to retrieve them, and this time his eyebrows raise more than a fraction.

“My friend, your Diamond VIP, he sent me to buy clothes, but the salespeople were incredibly rude to me. Kind of like your concierge.” Harry flashes his key card at Liam and takes the money back, stuffing it all back in his pocket.

“I apologize for my concierge, I’ll speak to her immediately. As far as clothes go,” Liam chews his lip and then his face brightens. “I think I have a solution. I know a personal shopper at Barney’s, his name is Josh. I’ll give him a call and tell him that I’m sending you over.”

Harry tilts his head, assessing. Liam is smiling like he’s just solved all the world’s problems, and Harry likes him, despite the suit. “Thanks. That’s nice of you.”

“Well,” Liam says, taking Harry’s arm again and steering him back towards the lobby. “Having you dressed a little more, uh,” he hesitates.

“Conservatively?” Harry supplies, and Liam nods, relieved.

“Yes. That would be in my best interests as well. Win-win.”

*****

Louis’s meetings go about as well as he had predicted.

They’re almost a full half hour late for the first one, but the label people still make them wait. Zayn is tucked into a hoodie, frowning, looking for all the world like he’s going to go back to sleep right there in his armchair. Louis jiggles his knee, impatient, and flicks through a magazine, ad after ad blurring together as he turns the pages.

Louis is seething by the time they’re called in, and goes through the greetings and the idle small talk with clenched teeth.

Zayn only gets more sullen as they get down to business, winding the strings of his hoodie around his fingers, absently touching the pack of cigarettes Louis could see peeking out his pocket.

“We were hoping Zayn could record something a little more his style for the second album,” Louis says, but he’s not actually hopeful. The label has been pretty clear what they want from Zayn, and it’s not anywhere close to what he wants at all.

“Zayn is under a contract,” one of the execs says, and Zayn stiffens in his seat. If there’s one thing he hates, Louis knows, it’s being spoken about like he’s not in the room.

“I know that,” Zayn says, lips curling up in a sneer, and Louis reaches out a placating hand.

“Then you know that your second album will be written by our songwriters, recorded by our engineers, mixed and produced by people we choose, as per that contract.” Louis forgets the name of the woman speaking, all the label people tend to blend together, until they’re just an army of well-dressed robots.

“I know that, too, yeah,” Zayn says, and pushes up straighter in his seat. “What I don’t know is why I can’t work with the songwriters, write some of the stuff myself.”

Louis pinches the bridge of his nose, a headache blooming behind his eyes.

“You’ll still have input,” the female executive says, trying and failing to make a sympathetic face. “Just like you did on the last album.”

“Input,” Zayn scoffs.

“Our songwriters are the best in the business,” one of the other label people pipes up, and Louis sees Zayn roll his eyes. “If you’re not happy with them … “

“No, no, we are,” Louis says, and stands, pulling Zayn to his feet. “If you could just give us a minute.”

“Input my arse,” Zayn spits as Louis drags him out into the hallway, shoving at random doors until he finds an empty conference room. “I changed a few words in a few songs and they put my name in the credits. That’s not input, that’s bullshit.”

“It’s just one more album, Zayn. It’s not as if they write crap, you liked the last album just fine. And so did everyone else. That would be why it’s nominated for awards.”

“It’s not that it’s bad, Louis, it’s just that it’s not really me.”

“Well, you can make an album that’s ‘you’ next time. Let’s just get this one recorded first.”

“It’s not just the recording, and you know it. It’s recording, and then promo, and then a tour. It’s singing songs a thousand times that I just don’t care that much about.”

Louis presses his fingers against his eyelids. “You may not care about them but they make you money. One album in the grand scheme of things is not that big of a deal.”

“It’s a big deal to me, Louis. It’s my art.”

“It’s your job,” Louis says, and they stare at each other like a standoff, pistols at dawn. Louis knows he’s the quickest draw, but it’s not Zayn he wants to shoot.

“It’s your job,” Zayn says, and there’s disappointment in his tone. “It’s more than that to me.”

“I know.” Louis sighs. “Look, let’s meet with the songwriters, see what they have. If you hate absolutely everything, I may have a trick up my sleeve.” Actually, Louis thinks, I’m the trick, and what I have up my sleeve is a hooker. He rolls his eyes at himself as he leads Zayn out of the conference room and back into their meeting.

Louis tries to loosen Zayn up afterwards by letting him choose their lunch spot, and even tells him he can have a drink with his meal if he’d like, something they rarely indulge in when they’re between meetings. Zayn pushes the drink list away with a frown and orders tea, and Louis’s head gives a sharp throb.

The meeting with the songwriters is actually worse than the meeting with the label executives. They play demo after demo for Zayn, and some of them are really good, great even, songs that Zayn would love if he weren’t in such a snit. Louis tries his best to get him into the process, nodding his head and even breaking out some of his favorite dance moves. Louis is an awful dancer, and his exaggerated dances are usually enough to have Zayn doubled over with laughter, but his mouth barely twitches when Louis starts wiggling around the room.

The songwriters’ faces are getting redder and redder as they sing song after song, one of them strumming so hard on his guitar he breaks a string. They take a break, and Louis follows Zayn out to the courtyard, rolling his shoulders as Zayn sprawls on a bench and lights a cigarette.

“Zayn,” he starts, and Zayn blows smoke at him, petulant.

“Oh come on, you’re being ridiculous,” he says, waving his hand in the air. “They played you at least three songs that you would’ve jumped at before. You’re being difficult just for the sake of being difficult, and it’s extremely counter-productive. You don’t have a choice, you have to record their songs, so get over it and choose.”

Zayn slumps, his cigarette dangling from his fingers. “You don’t get it, Louis. It may be about money to you but this is my life. Music is my life. And yeah, I know it sounds dramatic but it’s true. And I know that I signed a contract and that I agreed to use their songs, but I didn’t know beforehand how wrong a fit their songs would be. It’s just not the music I want to make, and it’s really hard forcing myself to do something that I’m not going to be proud of in the end.”

Louis feels bad, he does. Zayn’s the first client he’s had that has also felt like his friend. They’d met years ago when Zayn was still gigging in shitty clubs around London, singing at open mics with karaoke versions of popular songs playing behind him, backing vocals and all. Louis had been an intern at the UK branch of a major label back then, and was always out scouring for an artist that could get him noticed by the higher-ups in the office.

Zayn had caught his attention from the moment he opened his mouth, even if his ad libs and riffs were a little rough around the edges. Louis had always had a great ear, and he just knew that this guy had the stuff to make it big.

He’d approached him after a particularly good set, thoroughly impressed with Zayn’s rendition of “Let Me Love You”, and offered Zayn a business card. It wasn’t his, it was his boss’s, and Zayn had called him Simon for weeks before Louis finally corrected him.

Zayn blew the bigwigs away at his first meeting, and the contract had been signed the next day. Louis was promoted and assigned to Zayn, and the rest, as they say, was history.

He had known back then that Zayn could be a star, but he could’ve never imagined the things they’d get to experience together in the years since the dodgy clubs and poorly attended open mics.

He also couldn’t have imagined it would stop being fun so fast.

Louis thinks of Harry, belting out pop songs in the bath with bubbles cascading down his shoulders.

“Zayn, I may have someone who can help you,” Louis says, and Zayn looks up at him through a cloud of smoke, wary. “He’s a songwriter. Maybe if you have someone with experience on your side you can get more leverage, more input.”

Zayn sighs, smoke furling out of his mouth. “It’s a start.”

*****

Barney’s is huge and bright, floors spotless and gleaming in the fluorescent lights, and Harry feels as out of his depth here as he does in the lobby of the Beverly Wilshire.

He rides the escalator up to the men’s department, and follows the sign for personal shopping. It’s a curved desk tucked in a corner of a section full of crisp suits, and there’s a stocky guy with sandy brown hair behind it, flipping through a ring of fabric swatches. He glances up when Harry approaches, and smiles.

“You must be Harry,” he says, coming around the desk and holding out his hand. “I’m Josh. Liam said you’d be right over.”

“I gotta tell you Josh, I’ve had a shitty experience with a salesperson today, but you don’t seem like a jerk, so it is very nice to meet you.”

Josh laughs, his eyes crinkling up, and Harry thinks he’s kind of cute. “I promise I am not a jerk. Now Liam said you are a special guest and you’re in need of some new clothes. Formal or casual?”

Harry shrugs, sticking his hands in his pockets. “A little of both, I guess. I was told to get blazers, and dark jeans, and maybe a pair of boots. And a suit, I’m going to that awards show this week, so I need something for that.”

Josh nods, and looks Harry over. It’s not the kind of look Harry’s used to, it’s not appreciative or disgusted, it’s just appraising. Harry still squirms, and Josh reaches out a hand. “Don’t worry, I’m just getting an idea of your size. Why don’t we set you up in a room, and I’ll bring you some things to try on.”

Josh leads Harry into a room bigger than any fitting room Harry has ever seen. There’s a wide leather sofa and mirrors everywhere. Josh brings him tea, and Harry sits and sips while Josh carries in armloads of clothes, filling a rack and then lining up shoes underneath.

Harry tries on so many blazers his arms get sore, but he leaves Barney’s slightly shell shocked, and grinning, garment bags slung over one arm and a shoebox in a carrier bag hanging from the other, and it’s more clothing than he’s bought the entire time he’s lived in LA.

Liam is in the lobby when Harry returns, talking to a small group of bellhops. Harry loiters at the edge of the conversation until Liam catches his eye and grins.

“Harry, your shopping trip was successful then?”

“Thanks to you. I didn’t even know blazers came in that many different shapes. And you should see the boots I got, they’re suede. They cost more than my rent. I feel a little gross about it, actually, but they’re beautiful and I love them. D’you wanna see?”

Liam laughs, and drapes his arm over Harry’s shoulder, walking him towards the elevator. “I’m sure they’re great. I’m glad Josh was able to help you. He’s a great guy, that one. I was actually in a band with him when I was younger.”

Harry stops, mouth dropping open. “A band?”

Liam nods. “We were called Status Single. We were not very good.”

“I cannot picture you in a band.”

“I was the lead singer. That’s part of why we didn’t work. They wanted to be Green Day and my voice is too Boyz II Men.” Liam winks just as the elevator doors open. “Have a nice evening, Harry.”

Harry can hear the phone inside the room ringing through the door, and he struggles with his bags as he digs in his pocket for the key card, then dumps them on a chair as soon as he gets the door open, and launches himself at the phone.

“Hello?”

“Why are you out of breath?” Louis’s voice is amused, and Harry can hear traffic in the background.

Harry grins and drops into a chair. “I just got in from shopping, I had to run for the phone.”

“I see. Listen, I’m about to go back into a meeting but I wanted to tell you that we’re having dinner with my client tonight, so you should be ready in the lobby at 7:30.”

“Where are we going? I didn’t get a suit yet, so I hope it isn’t anywhere too fancy.”

“You didn’t get a suit? Why not?”

“It’s a long story, I’ll tell you later. Do I need it?”

“No, no, it’s fine. Zayn hates fancy dinners anyway. There will be cameras, though, so wear something nice. See you in the lobby at 7:30.”

Louis hangs up before Harry can respond.

*****

Louis’s head feels like it’s being excavated by angry men with chisels by the time the meeting with the songwriters is over, and they’re no closer to having any tracks for an album. Zayn is quiet on the other side of the car, hoodie pulled back up and phone in his hands, scrolling through Twitter. He’d agreed to meet with Harry, but he’d refused to speak throughout the rest of the meeting, and everyone had left it feeling dejected and exhausted.

Louis plans to order a pint glass full of vodka with maybe two ice cubes in it when they get to dinner, and then he’s going to drown himself in it.

Zayn resists going up to his room to change, but Louis shoves at him until he complies, grumbling. Louis looks around the lobby for Harry, but doesn’t see him. He strides towards the front desk, his nerves jangling. Zayn cannot see Harry coming out of Louis’s room, that is something Louis will not be able to explain away. As it is he had a hard time explaining why they were meeting Harry at the hotel and not at the restaurant.

“Excuse me,” he says, and the man behind the counter turns to him with a smile.

“May I help you?”

“Yes, I’d like to dial up to my room, please.” Louis gives him the room number.

“Oh, Mr. Tomlinson,” the man says, and Louis’s heart squeezes. He’s got mere seconds before Zayn gets off the elevator, and he needs to make sure Harry stays in the room. “If you’re looking for your friend,” the man puts a delicate emphasis on the word, “he’s in the bar waiting.”

Louis breathes out a sigh of relief. “Thank you, uh,” he glances down briefly at the man’s name tag.

“Liam Payne, sir, hotel manager.”

“Ah. Thank you, Mr. Payne.” He turns away before Mr. Payne can ask any more questions.

The hotel bar isn’t crowded, and Louis spots Harry’s curls above the heads of the other patrons easily. He’s leaning against the bar, flirting with the pretty barmaid if her face is anything to judge by, and Louis shoulders through a throng of girls in shimmery dresses to wedge up next to him.

“Harry,” he says, and Harry turns to him, eyes wide, laughing. The bartender trails away, looking disappointed.

“You’re late,” Harry says, and his mouth quirks up in a grin. His hair is swept back from his forehead and he’s wearing a charcoal grey blazer with a white pocket square and a white shirt underneath, the top button undone so that the collar frames his throat. Louis’s mouth goes dry and Harry’s mouth slides into a smirk. “Don’t worry, I forgive you.”

Louis swallows, his throat clicking, and drags his eyes away from Harry’s smirk. “I didn’t apologize.”

“Maybe not with words, but your face did the talking for you.”

Louis huffs, flustered, and backs away from the bar. “Let’s go,” he says, though not as authoritatively as he’d hoped, and turns away, knowing Harry will follow.

Zayn is waiting in the lobby, shoes propped on a glass table, security guard hovering over his shoulder. Louis tries to keep a casual distance between himself and Harry, but Harry keeps shifting over to brush their shoulders together, and they end up crossing the room in an odd zig-zag pattern. Zayn’s eyebrows have practically crawled off of his forehead by the time they reach him, and Louis is on edge.

“Harry, this is my client, Zayn Malik. Zayn, this is Harry, the songwriter I was telling you about earlier.”

“I’m a big fan,” Harry says, and holds out his hand for Zayn to shake.

Zayn takes Harry’s hand, shooting Louis a look before smiling at Harry. “That’s nice to hear, thanks. This is my guard, Paul.”

Harry shakes Paul’s hand as well, leaving Paul with a faintly amused grin, and they all troop outside where Louis calls for a car.

“Harry, how do you know Louis?” Zayn asks when they’re settled into the car, his eyes sharp as he leans over Louis.

Harry glances from Zayn to Louis and back and tosses his hair, a gesture that Louis already finds familiar. “Oh, uh, I … I wrote a song. For one of his other clients.”

Louis presses his lips together.

“One of his other clients? Louis doesn’t have any other clients.”

“Well, not right now, no,” Louis fills in, and Harry nods frantically.

“Right, right, I meant before you. His client before you.”

“I was his first client,” Zayn says, and he’s boring holes into the side of Louis’s head with his eyes. Louis thinks his brain might actually explode.

“I worked with them when I was an intern,” Louis says, and Harry exhales in a rush.

“I see. What was this other client’s name?”

Louis looks at Harry, and Harry chews his lip, then brightens. “It was a band. Status Single.”

“Never heard of them,” Zayn says. Louis shrugs, and smiles helplessly.

“They didn’t make it very far. Not because my song was bad, best song on the album, if I do say so myself. And not because Louis was a bad manager,” Harry scrambles to say, patting Louis on the knee. Louis flinches away, alarmed. “Their guitar player had a coke problem, sad story, and they broke up before their first tour even started.”

Louis turns his head away from Zayn, mouths “what?” at Harry. Harry shakes his head, looking pleased, and Zayn sits back in his seat.

“That’s a shame,” he says, and there’s no way he bought that story, but it’s enough to stop his line of questioning for the moment.

There are paps outside the restaurant, and Harry’s eyes go wide. Zayn gets out of the car first, and he grins at the camera flashes, peeking out from under his eyelashes, secure in the crook of his guard’s elbow. Louis gets a hand around Harry’s wrist and feels the pulse racing under his fingers. “Status Single?” he says, leaning close to Harry’s ear.

“Sorry,” Harry says, grimacing, his eyes wide as he takes in the crowd.

“Don’t worry, just duck your head and walk fast,” Louis says, and slides out of the car.

Harry blinks like mad as they’re led to their table, and Zayn chuckles, sympathetic. “You get used to it,” he says.

“To being practically blind?” Harry asks, and feels around for his chair, his hands fluttering, making Zayn laugh. Louis grins, and his headache fades just a little.

Dinner goes fairly smoothly, Louis heading off Zayn’s more pointed questions. When he and Harry start talking about music Louis stops worrying; Zayn’s too invested in that conversation to let his sleuthing get in the way. Louis tunes them out, nursing his second drink and massaging his temples. He clicks around on his phone for a while, checking Twitter, his email, reading predictions about the awards, while Paul glares at anyone who approaches the table that isn’t wearing the restaurant’s uniform.

Zayn is cheered up enough after dinner to want to go out, and Louis has the car drop him and Paul at a bar in West Hollywood, dropping his head back against the seat as soon as the door closes behind them.

“That went well, don’t you think?”

Louis hums, and presses a thumb to his temple.

“Headache?” Louis hears the squeak of the leather seat as Harry slides across it, and then he’s pressed up against Louis’s side. “Anything I can do to help?”

Louis turns his head, and Harry’s face is so close Louis can see each individual eyelash around his bright green eyes. “Knock me out?” he says, and Harry makes a sympathetic sound in his throat.

“That bad, huh? Well,” he says, and inches even closer to Louis on the seat, turning slightly so his knee digs into Louis’s thigh. He tucks his face up under Louis’s jaw, brushing his nose up against Louis’s earlobe. “I only know one remedy for a headache that bad, and it’s not being unconscious.”

Louis snorts, but he angles his head to allow more room for Harry when he starts mouthing at Louis’s skin.

“I’m serious. As soon as we get back to the hotel we’re going to get you upstairs, and you’re going to let Dr. Styles take care of you.”

“Doctor, really?” Louis shakes his head slightly, but his skin is prickling up under Harry’s lips, and he’s already half-hard in his pants.

“Just shut up and go with it.”

Louis isn’t used to being “doctored”, but it’s nice letting Harry kiss down the length of his neck, chin nudging the collar of his shirt aside so he can get at more skin. It’s almost too nice, making Louis’s limbs feel heavy, his blood too hot. Louis thinks he could used to the feeling, and that is dangerous.

When they climb out of the car Harry tries to slide his arm around Louis’s waist, and Louis pulls away. Harry pouts a little, and Louis wants to lean forward and sink his teeth into Harry’s bottom lip.

“You go on up to the room, I’m just going to swing by the bar.”

“I can come with,” Harry starts, and Louis holds up a hand. He needs to collect himself, and he can’t do that with Harry looking at him like he’s dessert.

“I won’t be long,” Louis says, and Harry looks hurt, but he goes.

*****

Harry turns on the TV and finds more reruns, but he can’t quite get into them. He’s worried about Louis.

The day had obviously been stressful, and Harry had gleaned a little information on why at dinner. There were problems with Zayn and the label, Zayn wanting something the opposite of what he was contracted to do. The label wanted him to make their music, Zayn wanted to make his own, but he was bound to make the record the way the label wanted it made. Louis hadn’t come right out and said it, but it was obvious that he wanted Harry to help in some way. He hoped Louis didn’t want him to change Zayn’s mind, because Harry didn’t see that happening at all.

Over the course of dinner, Harry realized he and Zayn shared a bit of the same musical taste, and they’d gotten along great, but Zayn was dead set on creating his own kind of music, and Harry didn’t want to help stand in his way. He understands, too well, where Zayn is coming from.

Another episode of Friends starts as Harry is getting undressed and he realizes it’s been almost an hour and Louis hasn’t come back to the room. He rebuttons his trousers and finds a pair of the hotel slippers, padding out to the elevator in his undershirt.

The bar is almost empty when Harry peeks in and sees the barmaid from earlier is washing dishes and the servers are stacking chairs onto the tables so they can sweep underneath. There’s one couple settling their bill, and they are oblivious to Harry as they pass by tangled up together and giggling.

Harry doesn’t see Louis. He wonders if he passed him on the elevators, and is just about to leave when he hears the plinking of piano keys in the corner.

“Louis?”

The plinking stops and Louis looks up, blinking. “Harry, how long have I been down here?”

“Almost an hour, I was getting worried.” Harry crosses his forearms on the top of the piano and looks down at Louis. He looks better, less pinched around the eyes. “I didn’t know you played.”

“Learned when I was a kid. I thought I’d be a concert pianist. At my first performance in college I passed out in the wings from stage fright.” Louis exhales sharply through his nose, his mouth quirking up.

“Play me something,” Harry asks, and Louis looks up at him, lips still curved up in the corner. Harry feels something squeeze in his chest, and he reaches out to touch the fall of hair across Louis’s forehead, brushing over it like he’s going to tuck it behind Louis’s ear. Louis tilts into the touch, his cheek nudging into Harry’s palm.

“I wouldn’t know what to play,” Louis says, the corner of his mouth brushing against the base of Harry’s thumb.

Harry presses against Louis’s temple, massaging a little, and Louis makes a pleased sound in the back of his throat.

“How’s your head?”

Louis shrugs and tilts into Harry’s touch a little more. The air around them feels thicker, and Harry almost forgets that there are other people in the room. Louis reaches out and curves a hand around Harry’s hip, pulls him across the piano keys with a jangle of discordant notes until he’s between the bench and the piano, Louis’s knees bracketing his legs. He’s suddenly very glad he always has condoms in his pockets.

Louis lays his palms against Harry’s stomach, and Harry can’t seem to draw a full breath. Louis drags his hands upwards, pulling Harry’s undershirt along until it’s untucked, and then slides his hands underneath it and around to the small of Harry’s back. He leans forward and presses his forehead against Harry’s stomach, and stays there.

Harry has trained himself not to get emotional with customers because it never ends well. But this moment feels so fragile Harry’s heart actually aches. Louis doesn’t feel like a customer in that moment, he feels like a lover.

Harry doesn’t move, just lets Louis take whatever comfort he needs, and when Louis finally lifts his head and looks up at Harry he doesn’t look tired anymore, or tense. He looks sexy as hell, intent and heavy-lidded, and Harry’s nerve endings spark.

“Could we have a moment,” Louis says over his shoulder, and Harry hears the staff of the bar leave in a rush. Louis doesn’t take his eyes off him and Harry resists the urge to fidget.

“I can’t believe they actually left,” Harry says, slightly breathless, and Louis lifts a shoulder.

His hands are slipping up Harry’s back, fingers bumping over the knobs of Harry’s spine, and Harry raises his arms so Louis can stand and lift the undershirt off of him. Louis’s hips press up against Harry’s, and he knocks against the piano keys again.

He plants a foot on the bench behind Louis and boosts himself up until he’s sitting on top of the piano, knocking the lid down over the keys so he can rest his heels there. Louis stands between his thighs, hands now curving over his bare shoulders, sliding down to cover his swallow tattoos, fingers splayed out over their tail feathers.

“You have a lot of tattoos,” Louis says.

“I have a lot of stories.” Louis looks up at him, and Harry can see the question forming, so he presses his fingers against Louis’s mouth, slipping two fingers inside when Louis’s lips part, letting Louis’s tongue slide between them.

Harry gets a condom out of his pocket and sets it next to his hip, Louis’s eyes hot on him, before lying back on the piano, stretched out, hoping Louis will join him. Instead Louis drags his palms down his chest, over his stomach, to his fly, unbuttoning and unzipping his trousers and pulling them down and off.

The air is cold on his bare skin, and he’s never felt more exposed, laid out on a piano in the bar of the Beverly Wilshire, Louis sucking bruising kisses up the insides of his thighs. He can’t remember the last time he’d felt this sexy, either, and his cock is straining against his pants when Louis’s mouth reaches it, shapes itself around the curve of it.

Harry’s hips buck up under the warmth and the wetness of Louis’s mouth, and Louis holds him down with both hands, mouthing at the head of his cock through the cotton. Harry already feels wound too tight, panting, his shoulders sliding against the lacquered lid of the piano.

Louis actually pulls the waistband of Harry’s pants down with his teeth, and in all of his hours spent in bed with men nothing has ever been hotter. Harry reaches down and shoves at them with his hands, then kicks them off. He has one second to remind himself to grab them before he hears the condom packet rip, and all rational though flies out of his head as Louis rolls the condom onto him and swallowing him down.

Harry knows Louis isn’t a professional, but he sucks cock like he’s being paid to do it. His mouth is hot and tight, lips stretched taut around Harry’s dick, and his eyelashes flutter prettily over his cheeks when he takes Harry into the back of his throat. Harry can feel Louis’s throat constrict around him, and he wants to fist his hands in Louis’s hair and pull, fuck up into his mouth and come down his throat. But Louis is still holding Harry’s hips down with his hands, hard enough to bruise, and obviously wants to be in control. Harry lets him, but he can’t resist getting his fingers into Louis’s fringe and mussing it up a little.

Louis looks up at Harry, his eyes wet in the corners and his pupils blown wide, and Harry whimpers, his balls drawing up tight. He tugs a little on Louis’s hair to warn him he’s close, but Louis slides his mouth down and sucks as Harry comes, his back arching up off the piano.

*****

Louis wakes up the next morning with a mouthful of curls, his arm full of warm, naked body. Falling asleep next to Harry was not nearly the most alarming thing Louis had done the night before (Harry had straddled the bench and laughed at him as he polished smudges from the piano lid with his sleeve), but waking up next to Harry is the scariest thing he’s done all week.

Harry startles when Louis tries to shift out from under the covers, and clamps a hand around Louis’s hip.

“Where’re y’goin’?” he mumbles, mouth half obscured by his pillow, one eye slitting open just enough for a sliver of green to show through.

“Bathroom,” Louis whispers, and tucks his hands against his chest to keep from reaching out to smooth Harry’s hair away from his forehead.

He stares at himself in the mirror for a long moment, berating himself for getting too attached, for feeling too fond. He had wanted company, no strings attached, but every moment he spent with Harry he felt a thread between them, hooking over his ribs and knotting together.

“You’re paying him,” Louis says to his reflection, lips curling back from his teeth. Harry was treating him the way he was because he was being paid to do so, no other reason. So Louis would enjoy the attention for the week, give him his money, and go back to London without a single glance backwards.

Harry was sitting up, scrubbing at his eyes when Louis comes out of the bathroom, and he grins when Louis sits on the edge of the mattress, his hip just barely nudging Harry’s thigh.

“More meetings today?” Harry asks, shaking his hair out and sweeping his fringe aside.

“Mmm,” Louis hums his ascent, “and I’m just thrilled at the prospect. You, on the other hand, get to enjoy a leisurely day of shopping, because you still need a suit for the awards show.”

“Leisurely, sure,” Harry scoffs, and wrinkles his nose. He should’ve gotten a suit from Josh, but he’d been so overwhelmed already. The last thing he wants to do is go back out onto Rodeo, though. He wonders if Liam could make another call.

“Did you not enjoy shopping the other day?”

“Not particularly. The first place I tried the salesperson was incredibly rude.”

“Rude?”

Harry shrugs, picks at the duvet. “He threatened to call security on me.”

“He did not,” Louis scoffs. “What a bastard. Where was this?”

Louis sounds so affronted on Harry’s behalf, his chest puffing up, that Harry wants to wrap his arms around Louis’s waist and kiss him. But kissing is not allowed, so instead Harry slides a hand around Louis’s thigh and squeezes.

“It doesn’t matter. I’ve got more appropriate clothes to wear out now so maybe the salespeople will be nicer to me.”

Louis is squinting down at him with that calculating look, the one Harry already knows means he’s formulating a plan. He pulls his phone out of his pocket and taps at the screen, typing out a text or an email, Harry’s not sure. When he’s done he drops the phone in his lap and brushes his hands together, says, “There.”

“There, what?”

“I’ve canceled my morning meeting.”

“Why’d you do that?” Harry asks, and lets Louis tug him up from the mattress.

“Because it was a useless, stupid meeting anyway, and I’m going to take you shopping.”

“You’re going to … why?”

Louis grabs the jeans and shirt Harry had worn to dinner the night before and shoves them at Harry’s chest, nudging him towards the bathroom. “Get dressed. I’m taking you because I want to make sure that you don’t have to deal with any nasty arsehole salespeople. And since I have the platinum AmEx, I have the power.”

“What power?” Harry watches Louis yank trousers on over his pants, pulling another gorgeous, soft-looking jumper over his head, and resists the urge to reach out and smooth his ruffled fringe.

“The power to make salespeople kiss my ass, basically. And by proxy, yours.”

Harry rolls his eyes and turns away to wash up. “Cocky,” he mutters, and Louis laughs behind him.

“You love it,” he calls as Harry kicks the bathroom door shut behind him. He isn’t wrong.

Louis drags him into the first menswear shop they pass on Rodeo Drive, and they loiter near a display of polos until a salesperson approaches them, already simpering.

“May I help you?” he asks, and Louis barely glances at him, chin tipped up and looking down his nose even though the man is nearly a head taller.

“You can help my friend,” Louis says, and tugs Harry forward by his elbow. “He’s in need of a suit. Maybe two. And some other things, perhaps. But he’s had some very poor experiences with salespeople this week and I’m hoping we won’t have the same issue here, especially since we’re planning on spending quite a bit of money today.”

The salesman’s eyes bug out just slightly, and he puts on an ingratiating smile that makes Harry want to laugh. He coughs into his fist and Louis shoots him a look.

“We would love to help you and your friend, sir. I’m sure we can show him an excellent shopping experience.”

The salesman, Jon, is a bit over the top after that, bringing Harry and Louis tea and practically tucking them into the sofa at the back of the store. He calls over two other salespeople, women with nails like talons and smiles so big Harry thinks he could count all of their teeth. They bring him suit after suit and Louis finds something wrong with each one, but the smiles never droop.

“That’s a bow tie,” Louis says, scrunching his nose at the offending article of clothing as it dangles from the saleswoman’s sharp-nailed fingers.

“Well, yes. They’re becoming quite fashionable,” she says, and Harry plucks it out of her hand.

“I like it,” he says, and holds it up to his neck to check his reflection in the mirror.

“You also like that plaid suit they brought out earlier.”

Harry smirks at Louis in the mirror. “I did. It was different.”

“Different meaning ugly.”

“Different meaning not like every suit I’ve seen walking through the lobby of your hotel.”

Louis rolls his eyes, but returns Harry’s grin in the mirror. Truth is he’s having fun shopping with Harry, bickering over how many buttons a jacket should have or whether one can wear brown shoes with black trousers. He misses spending hours in the shops trying on every article of clothing in the store. It feels so normal.

Cue his phone vibrating in his pocket, and he clenches his jaw as he pulls it out and checks the screen.

“Louis?” Harry’s face in the mirror is concerned and Louis un-grits his teeth.

“It’s Zayn. I have to go.”

“But I haven’t got a suit yet.”

“Stay. Shop. They have my card, you’ll be fine.” Louis presses up behind Harry, reaching around him to snatch the bow tie. “No plaid,” he says, and smirks when Harry’s reflection sticks its tongue out.

*****

Harry worries that the salespeople will drop their act once Louis breezes out of the store, but they continue to cater to him as if he’s the rich, powerful one, and Harry lets them fawn, enjoying the attention.

He feels like he’s in a dressing room movie montage, shrugging in and out of suit coat after suit coat, unzipping and rezipping more pairs of trousers than he has in all his nights of hooking.

The pile of things he wants to buy is slowly becoming a small mountain. Skinny black trousers and grey waistcoats, a light blue suit that Louis had proclaimed “not even fit for an 80s movie prom scene” that Harry loves, a burgundy blazer. He loves trying each style on with a different shirt - a black henley under one, a crisp white button down under another. Jon brings him dress shirts without collars, or that have little sticky-up collars that are starched so stiff they scratch his neck, but they look so sharp he loves them anyway. He chooses pocket squares in silk and linen, and even one with a lace edge that looks a little like a frilly pair of panties.

And bow ties. He doesn’t care what Louis says, he loves them. Or maybe he loves them more because Louis didn’t. He thinks they make him look boyish, innocent, something he hasn’t felt in so long he can barely remember. He picks out three, and then adds a large, floppy one to the pile as a joke.

Standing in front of the mirror in slim grey trousers with a crease down the front, all buttoned up in a black shirt with a black blazer over the top, he hardly recognizes himself. The clothes feel natural on him, not confining like he’s heard suits can feel. Even the scratchy collars felt right, like that’s just how dressing up was supposed to be. Part and parcel of the experience. No one would look down their nose at him while he was dressed like this.

When the pile of clothes threatens to topple, Harry calls it a day. He has no idea how long he’s been in the shop, but his stomach is rumbling and he has no idea how he’s going to get all of his purchases back to the hotel.

The saleswomen pack everything in tissue paper and boxes and garment bags, and Harry’s eyes nearly bulge out of their sockets when he sees the total on the receipt.

“Your friend is rather generous,” one of them says, and Harry can tell she’s eager to know what kind of “friends” he and Louis are. She’s an older women, salt and pepper hair twisted back from her face tightly, glasses perched on her nose. Harry gives her a wink, curves his mouth into a smirk.

“I’ve earned it,” he says, and she titters behind him as he loads his arms and saunters out of the shop.

The windows of Rodeo Drive are sparkling in the afternoon sun, and the sidewalks are crowded with shoppers. Harry can’t believe how different he feels standing there now, his hands clutched tightly around thousands of dollars worth of clothing, dressed in a pair of jeans that were only days old instead of years, and shoes with no scuffs. He smiles at a pair of women walking by and they actually smile back.

He gets an idea.

Canali is a block down, and as Harry strides towards it he hopes that George is working.

He is, brushing lint from a mannequins shirt when Harry shoulders the door open and turns sideways to get himself and his bags through.

“Hey there,” Harry says, and George looks up, smiling. The smile slides off his face when he sees Harry standing there, and Harry opens his arms, brandishing his garment bags like a weapon. “I can’t stay and chat, I’m being crushed under the weight of all this clothing, but I just wanted to stop by and say hi.”

George’s mouth is gaping open, his eyes wide.

“Too bad you were such a twat yesterday, or you could’ve helped me spend all this money.” Harry blows out an exaggerated breath, brushing a curl out of his eyes with his wrist. “It was an absolutely disgusting amount of money, George. Disgusting.”

George’s face gets pinched but he still has nothing to say.

“Ah well, your loss. Maybe the salespeople down the street will take you out to lunch to make up for it. Bye,” Harry sings over his shoulder as he leaves, and he chances a peek back through the window as he passes by. George is pressing a hand over his heart and looks like he might actually cry.

It is glorious.

Harry lugs everything back to the hotel, chucking his chin at Liam, standing behind the desk with a phone pressed to his ear. He drops everything onto the bed and then immediately starts unpacking things, running the lapels of the suit coats and blazers through his fingers, rubbing the silk pocket square against his cheek.

He wants to lay everything out on the bed and roll around on it, possibly naked. But he doesn’t want to wrinkle anything.

It takes him hours to put everything away properly, and he straightens the rows of shirts, folded up neatly in their plastic packaging, in the drawer three times before he’s satisfied. He leaves out the big, floppy bow tie, and flops out on the bed with the room service menu, considering his options.

Louis calls in the evening to let Harry know his meeting’s are officially done for the day, ask him how the rest of his shopping excursion went.

“It was great. I can’t wait to show you everything. Have you eaten?”

“No, I’ll just order something when I get back to the room. I’ll see you in a bit.”

Harry hangs up and then dials room service.

The table is set by the time Louis arrives, food laid out and candles (which Harry had begged room service to find for him) lit. When Harry hears the key card in the lock he gets into position at the table, perched on the chair facing the door with his legs stretched out in front him, ankles crossed.

He’s wearing nothing but the floppy bow tie, and when Louis comes inside he stops cold, taking in the scene.

“Hi,” Harry says, and fingers one end of the bow tie. “How was your day?”

Louis’s eyes rake up the length of his body and Harry feels the gaze like a touch, ghosting over his skin and leaving goosebumps in its wake. “I knew you’d buy a bow tie,” is what he says, letting his messenger bag drop to the floor and toeing off his shoes.

“I didn’t buy a bow tie,” Harry says, and lets his knees fall open as Louis walks towards him, whipping his jumper up over his head. “I bought four.”

Louis nestles into the vee of Harry’s legs and tucks the fingers of one hand between the bow tie and Harry’s throat, and tugs. “I might be changing my mind about them, actually.”

“Yeah? They look good on me, don’t they?”

Louis smirks, and gives a sharp pull. “Nah, just think it’ll come in handy.”

*****

It’s been a long time since Louis’s gotten so sweaty during sex, which says a lot about his previous relationships.

Harry drags him into the bath, propping Louis up between his legs. Louis lolls back against Harry’s chest, too languid from the very thorough blowjob he’d just received, and self-satisfied about the one he’d given in return, to protest. He actually feels quite comfortable leaning back against Harry, he’s slightly broader than Louis, so his arms fit easily around Louis’s shoulders, and Louis lets his arms float in the water, fingertips brushing against Harry’s shins.

“I didn’t know oral sex could be so athletic,” Louis says, watching Harry’s hands as they pour bath gel onto a flannel and lather it up.

“You’ve been missing out, then.” Harry starts to drag the towel along Louis’s chest, laughing against his ear when he brushes over Louis’s nipple and Louis draws in a sharp breath.

“Yes, well. Having a string of girlfriends that I have zero chemistry with did not make for a very fulfilling sex life.”

Louis can practically hear Harry frowning behind him, and he’s glad he can’t see Harry’s face. He’s feeling loose and open, safe in the warm bath with a warm body behind him. Safer still because Harry can’t look into his eyes.

“Why be with them if there’s no chemistry?” There’s no judgment in Harry’s tone, only curiosity, and Louis finds he actually wants to talk about it.

“I suppose they looked good on paper. Gorgeous socialites with nothing better to do than hang off my arm and smile winningly at cameras.”

“Arm candy,” Harry teases, but he squeezes his thighs around Louis’s and brings the flannel up to rub over the back of his neck.

“Basically, yeah. They weren’t challenging, which made it easier to focus on my work.”

“Why have a girlfriend at all, then? Wouldn’t it be even easier to focus on your work if you were single?”

“Ah,” Louis says. “Maybe for someone who isn’t terrified of being alone.”

Harry presses his soapy fingers into Louis’s neck, massaging.

“No need to comfort me, I’ve mostly gotten used to my own company, being on the road so often.” Louis presses his head back into Harry’s sternum, trapping his hands between them. “I’m single right now, and I’m just fine.”

“Louis, you’re in the bath with a male prostitute.”

Louis looks back over his shoulder at Harry, and Harry grins down at him, darts forward to peck him on the temple, and goes back to washing.

“Tell me about your family,” Harry says, swirling the towel down over Louis’s abdomen.

“My family,” Louis says, his abs drawing tight as Harry releases the flannel and lets his bare hand skim across Louis’s stomach. “They still live in Doncaster.”

“They being … “

“My mum. Her boyfriend. Four sisters.”

“Four sisters!”

“Yeah, all younger. I had an interesting childhood.”

“I can only imagine. How many times did you end up with your hair in curlers and lipstick on?”

Louis barks out a surprised laugh, and he can feel the smile Harry presses against his hair. “A fair few,” he says, and shivers as Harry’s hands slide over his thighs.

“Yeah, my sister liked to make me up, too. My mum has a hilarious picture of me with a lopsided ponytail and blue eyeshadow on my cheeks.”

“How old were you?”

“This was just last year, actually,” Harry says, deadpan, and Louis laughs again. “I was four. Gemma used to make me wear mum’s bras around the house. Or her shoes. Nearly broke my ankle in a pair of stilettos once.”

Louis hums, sympathetic. “I never had to do that, thankfully. But I’ve endured far too many tea parties for one man.”

Harry starts scooping up water and dumping it over Louis’s shoulders, rinsing him off. Louis wants Harry to switch with him, let Louis scrub him clean. Or maybe get him dirty again, Louis can’t decide. Harry’s hands are resting over Louis’s hipbones and they’re distracting.

“You didn’t mention a dad.”

Louis’s interest drops right off a cliff, and he goes totally still in the water. Harry’s hands lift off him and then wrap around his chest, bringing Harry’s mouth close to Louis’s ear.

“Sorry, sensitive subject?”

Louis shrugs, and Harry rubs his chin against the top of Louis’s shoulder. “Used to be. Haven’t talked about him in so long it’s not much of a subject at all. He left when I was young, I didn’t see him again. My mum remarried and then that one left, too.”

Harry’s quiet for a long time, nuzzling his cheek into Louis’s neck like a cat. Louis relaxes again, but Harry tightens his arms so Louis can’t slide down farther into the water. “Abandonment issues and trust issues,” he finally says, light and teasing. “No wonder you picked up a hooker.”

“Classic case,” Louis says, and pries Harry’s arms away from him. “What about you? You mentioned a sister and a mum, but no dad.”

“Yeah, similar situation. I’ve got daddy issues too. No wonder I became a hooker.”

Louis snorts, and twists his upper body so Harry can see his eye roll. “You definitely wouldn’t have made it as a comedian.”

“You think I’m hilarious.”

“I think you’re in need of a wash.”

“Because I’m so dirty?” Harry leers, and Louis shoves at his chest, the heel of his hand skidding over damp skin.

“You are absolutely ridiculous, switch with me and I’ll scrub you down.”

“Sounds hot.”

“Do I have to rinse your mouth out as well?” Louis asks, and splashes more than necessary as they rearrange themselves in the bath, getting water in Harry’s eyes.

They drain a little of the water out and refill it with hot, and Harry leans forward so Louis can wash his back. When Louis drags his terry cloth covered knuckles over the small of Harry’s back he grunts and jerks away.

“What’s wrong?”

“Just sore,” Harry says, reaching back to rub at the spot. “Always am.”

“You should see a chiropractor, or get a massage.”

“This job doesn’t exactly come with a health plan.”

Louis presses lightly alongside Harry’s spine with both of his thumbs, and the sound that comes out of Harry’s mouth is obscene. “I could give you a massage.”

Harry looks back over his shoulder, and Louis wants to slide under the water away from his gaze. “Yeah?”

Louis shrugs, and grabs the flannel again to scrub at Harry’s shoulder blades. “Yeah.”

“That would be really nice, Louis. Thanks.”

Louis shrugs again, and keeps scrubbing.

*****

Harry stares down at the bottles and tubes spread out over the countertop, no idea where to even begin.

“Do you actually use all this stuff?” He picks up something labeled “eye serum” that is covered in directions written in French, unscrews the cap and dabs some onto his finger. It smells like roses but looks like come, but he dabs it under his eyes anyway.

“Not every day, but yes.” Louis comes up behind him, and Harry watches him tuck in his shirt in the mirror.

“You’re kind of high maintenance, aren’t you?” Harry asks, and Louis’s hand shoots out lightning quick, pinching Harry’s side. “Ouch, leave off, you totally are.”

“Yeah, well, it shouldn’t have taken you emptying out my cosmetics bag to realize that, young Harold.”

Harry snorts, and squirts primer into the palm of his hand. Louis mimes a few quick strokes of his fingers along his cheekbones, and Harry starts smoothing the primer onto his skin. “What is this priming me for?”

“Foundation, if you wanted any. Though your skin is quite nice as is. Tiny pores, arsehole.”

Harry grins over his shoulder. “Are you honestly jealous of my pores? And do you really wear makeup?”

“Everyone does if they’re going to be photographed. No sense in having oneself look washed out and blotchy in pap photos. We’ll get you made up all pretty for the red carpet Sunday night.” Louis pats his palm against Harry’s cheek. “You can forego the foundation for the concert tonight, though. We’ll be snuck in the back way.”

“That’s how I like it,” Harry says, and Louis’s cheek patting turns into his hand covering Harry’s face and shoving him away.

“Your puns are so bad, I’m embarrassed for you.”

Harry sticks his tongue in his cheek and keeps sorting through the products in front of him.

“There’s some stuff in there that might help you with your hair, curly. Tame the beast, so to speak.”

Harry opens his mouth and Louis shoves his fingers in his ears, yelping. “Don’t even, I don’t want to hear it. Finish getting dressed or we’ll be late.”

The concert is across town, and Zayn drives them all there in the Ferrari. Louis offers Paul the front seat and squeezes into what passes as a backseat with Harry. He says it’s because Paul is too big for the back seat, but Harry can read the lie in the way Louis tucks himself against Harry’s side but won’t actually look at him. Harry lays his arm along the top of the seats, making a show of giving them more room, but curling his hand over Louis’s shoulder.

The headliner is on Zayn’s label, and are basically auditioning to be his supporting act for the second album’s tour. They’re a girl group called Little Mix, and they’re all dolled up in showy outfits and false eyelashes, and Harry basically thinks they are the most adorable things he’s ever seen.

They hang with them backstage, listening to their vocal warm-ups, while the opening act goes on. Louis is chatting with their manager, and Harry and Zayn monopolize the comfier of the two sofas in the room.

“They’re good. Great harmonies,” Harry says as the girls trill away. Zayn seems mesmerized, but he nods. “Easy on the eyes too, eh?”

Zayn tears his gaze away from them and turns to Harry, sheepish. “Not bad, I suppose.”

“Sure,” Harry says, grinning. “Wouldn’t be too much of a hardship to have them on tour with you.”

Zayn’s mouth goes taut, and a muscle in his jaw jumps. “Guess not.”

“Are you not looking forward to touring?”

“It’s not that, exactly. I love the road, especially with Louis and Paul and the rest of the crew. They’re all great, we have a good laugh. It’s just,” he glances over towards Louis, drops his voice, scoots closer to Harry on the sofa. “It’s just singing the same songs over and over can be tedious, you know, especially when you’re not 100% in love with them.”

“Ah, that.” Harry looks up to see Louis watching them with narrowed eyes, and grins at him until he turns back to the other manager. “Y’know, Louis had mentioned me maybe helping out with that. Going with you to a meeting or something? Since I’m a songwriter and all.” It feels ridiculous to say it even if it’s technically true, because why his cheap spiral notebooks full of shitty lyrics would give him any power over actual paid songwriters he’ll never know.

“What kind of songs do you write?” Zayn asks.

“Pop, I guess? Could be R&B if someone with a better voice sang them. I’m too gravelly, too ‘rocky’.” He uses finger quotes because he’d never thought of himself that way but he’d heard it from label after label. “But I love classic R&B, I try to write in that style as often as I can.”

Zayn’s eyebrows have jumped up his forehead, and his eyes look brighter than they have since he first laid them on Little Mix. “Really? I’d love to hear some of it. That’s exactly the kind of stuff I want to be recording. I’m so over the whole dance thing, man.”

“I don’t blame you.” Harry had listened to some of Zayn’s first album, and while it wasn’t bad, it wasn’t his cup of tea, so to speak. “I’ve got some demo CDs, I could get you one if you’d like to hear it?”

“Yeah, that’d be great!”

They huddle in the shadows of a stack of speakers stage right while Little Mix run out on stage in shoes that Harry thinks no one should be running in, let alone jumping around and dancing. They handle them just fine, navigating equipment cords and mic stands with ease, leaning over the monitors to touch the hands of the people in the front row. They’re brilliant, beautiful voices and catchy beats and all smiles, and Harry takes Zayn on in a silly dance competition that has them both breathless with laughter, while Paul looks on with an indulgent smile.

Louis, however, is scowling, and after the show he drags Zayn off somewhere while Little Mix bounce around on a post-performance high, kissing everyone in sight and leaving smears of lip gloss on both of Harry’s cheeks.

Zayn comes back and the girls jump on him immediately, and he’s got a stunned look on his face that makes Harry laugh, until he sees Louis’s stormy glance from across the room.

“What are you so grumpy about?” Harry crosses over to him and Louis’s eyes skitter away, his arms folded over his chest.

“Nothing,” Louis says, and Harry scoffs, unconvinced.

“C’mon, what is it? Jealous of my dance skills?” Harry gives a little shimmy next to him, bumping their shoulders together. Louis clenches his jaw and shifts away, and Harry looks over to Zayn to see if he can get a little assistance.

Zayn is watching them, but he looks away quickly when his eyes meet Harry’s, and he looks oddly guilty.

Harry goes cold all over and his stomach rolls. “Did you tell him about me?”

Now Louis looks guilty, but he re-folds his arms tighter over his chest.

“You did, didn’t you.” It’s not a question, and Louis slants a look at Harry.

“I just didn’t want him to get any ideas,” Louis says, and Harry feels like he’s just gone over a giant drop in a roller coaster car, his stomach falling away from him, breath sucked right out of his lungs.

“I see,” he says, and his voice is quavery, but cold enough to freeze water, and Louis flinches, but only barely.

Harry tries to catch his breath but his lungs don’t want to expand properly, and he presses a hand to his chest, right over the ache that’s blooming there. “I’m going to get a taxi,” he says, and turns to leave.

Louis doesn’t follow.

The taxi ride back to the hotel is torture, and Harry spends it working himself up into a rage fueled by hurt and disappointment. He crashes the door to the room open and stomps in, heading straight for the closet. He’d saved some of the carrier bags from his shopping trips, and he starts shoving things into them, jeans and pants and shirts all crumpled up together. The hotel laundry has a few things, but Louis can keep them. They can be souvenirs of the time he picked up the hooker on Hollywood Boulevard.

Harry laughs at himself, a wet, ugly sound, and swipes a hand across his face, feeling the wet of tears. He sniffs, and starts yanking garment bags off the rod.

The door opens as he’s filling up a second bag, and Harry stands up so fast his back cracks, standing ramrod straight in the bedroom when Louis comes in, his face he so hot he thinks it must be steaming in the cool air of the room.

They spend a solid minute in a staredown, and Harry pants like he’s run a marathon, fists balled at his sides. Louis backs down first, eyes moving over the haphazardly packed bags and the pile of suits on their hangers.

“You’re leaving,” he says, and Harry curls his lip in a sneer. He thinks it’s pretty damn obvious that that’s exactly what he’s doing. “I haven’t paid you.”

Harry hadn’t even thought of the money, in all his anger and hurt and sadness he can’t think of taking it, but he watches Louis go over to the nightstand, pull out an envelope, count out a stack of bills and drop them on the bed.

“Thank you,” he says, formal and devoid of any emotion, and then he goes into the bathroom and locks the door.

Harry feels a sob welling up in his chest and presses his fist against his mouth, swallowing it down. He folds the garment bags over his arm and grabs the handles of the bags and doesn’t look back at the money as he leaves the room.

He waits for the elevator, his chest hollow, and his night stretches out in his mind - the taxi ride home, unpacking his beautiful new clothes in his tiny, shabby flat. He can’t even think about going back out on the streets with Niall, picking up johns, sleeping with them. Just the idea makes him shudder.

The elevator dings just as he hears the room door snick open, and Louis pads across the carpeting and puts an arm across the elevator, blocking Harry’s way.

“Don’t go,” he says, and his voice is so soft, so earnest, that Harry can feel his shoulders slumping, the fight bleeding out of him. “Please.”

“Why shouldn’t I?”

Louis’s shakes his head. “I don’t know why you shouldn’t, but I know I don’t want you to go.” The elevator doors slide closed and Louis drops his arm, tucks his hands into his pockets. “You didn’t take the money.”

Harry lets the bags fall to the floor and looks Louis straight in the eyes. “You made me feel like a hooker tonight, Louis. I know that I’m a prostitute, but this is the first time that I’ve ever felt so cheap. Taking the money would’ve been worse, somehow.”

“I’m sorry. I realize what I did was wrong, and I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

“That’s a very efficient apology,” Harry says, and Louis laughs ruefully. “Why did you do it?”

Louis scratches his head and looks so uncomfortable that Harry wants to take the question back, accept his apology. But he sticks it out, because he genuinely wants to know.

“I was jealous,” Louis says, pausing between each word, and then wincing.

“Jealous?” Harry asks.

“Yes, jealous. Don’t look so shocked.”

“Jealous of who, though? Of what?”

“Of Zayn,” Louis says, and Harry frowns. “You looked like you were getting awfully cosy on that sofa and I didn’t like it.”

“Are you kidding me? We were talking about music. And anyway, he’s totally got a thing for Perrie from Little Mix.”

“He does?” Louis asks. Harry ignores him.

“You are a twat.”

Louis’s eyebrows jump, but he agrees. “I am.”

“You may be paying me, but I am not your property. I’m allowed to talk to people, Louis, to men. Any man I want. And it doesn’t mean I’m going to jump into bed with them.”

“I know that, I do. It was low, and I’m so sorry.”

Harry chews his lip. Louis had been a shit, but Harry can’t help feeling flattered that he’d been that jealous. He holds the garment bags out to Louis, who breathes a sigh of relief and drapes them over his arm. Harry picks up the bags and follows him back into the room.

*****

Somehow Harry convinces him to blow off all of his meetings to spend the day with him. It wasn’t hard, if Louis is perfectly honest, all Harry had to do was ask.

“Spend the day with me?” He’d just woken up, curled around Louis with his face pressed against Louis’s neck, and murmured it right into Louis’s ear.

Louis hadn’t even considered saying no.

Harry shoves clothes at him, jeans and a hoodie he’d brought along for the fitness room but hadn’t bothered using yet, and he ties his trainers on while Harry finger-combs his curls into submission.

“C’mon, c’mon, I’m dying for a cuppa,” Harry says, bumping his hip against Louis’s while Louis is fixing his own hair, and Louis stops altogether, making a show of rubbing pomade into each strand and then tweaking pieces one by one until Harry pinches his side.

“None of that, young Harold,” Louis says, his cheeks warming when Harry grumbles at him.

“High maintenance,” he says, but his look is fond when Louis meets his eyes in the mirror.

Harry drags him onto the bus, because he says he’s missed the atmosphere. Louis is tempted to lay newspaper on the dingy seat, but Harry tugs him down, loops his arm through Louis’s, and tucks a laugh into his neck when the woman sat in front of them starts yelling into her mobile, fighting with whom Louis assumes is her boyfriend.

They get tea at a tiny cafe, a dollar a cup, and it’s scorching hot but delicious. Harry hums when he takes his first sip, eyes closed and mouth turned up. “Just like home,” he says, and waits with raised eyebrows for Louis to proclaim his own love for the tea.

“Yes, it’s very good,” is all he says, and grins when Harry scowls at him.

Harry makes Louis walk for miles, rambling through neighborhoods that appear to be crumbling around them, and Louis wonders if Harry lives somewhere like this, on a street littered with crumpled crisp packets and discarded junk mail, buildings sagging, lawns wilting, pavements cracked and bumpy. Harry looks at home here, not because his appearance fits in - he’s wearing a new pair of jeans that fit him like they’re painted on, not a hole or worn spot in sight, and his scuff-free suede boots - but because he seems comfortable, not fidgeting like he wants to crawl out of his skin.

They’re quiet as they walk but Louis wants to ask him so many questions, find out whether this is his neighborhood, ask him how it all started, the whole being a prostitute thing. There’s a disconnect in Louis’s mind between not getting picked up by a label and standing on a street corner waiting to be picked up by a man and paid for sex, and he wants to understand, wants to understand Harry.

“I want to show you something,” Harry says, after they’ve been walking for nearly an hour, the streets quiet and empty in the thin midmorning sunlight.

“What is it?”

“It’s a music store.”

“Okay,” Louis says. Harry has his hands shoved into pockets that don’t look big enough for hands as large as Harry’s, and his knuckles strain against the denim. An image flashes through Louis’s mind of something else straining against the denim and Louis drags his eyes up to Harry’s, his throat suddenly dry. He has no idea why Harry’s so twitchy about a music store, but he doesn’t want to throw him off by leering at him, so he nods, and Harry grins.

The music store is on a block of storefronts that have seen better days, their signs peeling and the windows streaked, grates rolled back from the doors. A bell tinkles over the door when Harry pushes it open, and a grey-haired man behind the counter looks up at them over his glasses, sees Harry, and smiles.

“You missed your friend yesterday,” the man says, and Harry shuffles his feet, sheepish.

“Been kind of busy,” he says, and the man looks him over, narrows his eyes. Louis wants to put his arm around Harry, tug him close, glare. But the mans seems to know Harry, likes him even, so Louis just stands there with his arms crossed.

“Here to play?” the man asks, and Harry nods. The man hitches his chin towards a doorway in the back. “Go on then.”

Harry beams over his shoulder at Louis, and Louis feels it like a blow to the head, reeling a little before following Harry as he practically skips into the backroom.

It’s lined with instruments, guitars hanging on the walls, keyboards and percussion instruments littering the floor. Harry makes a beeline for the far wall, reaching out and lifting down a guitar before cradling it like a baby, and Louis waits for him to start cooing. He doesn’t, slinging the strap over his shoulder and turning, but he’s stroking the neck of it as he does, and Louis furrows his eyebrows.

“This is Don,” Harry says, and laughs when Louis frowns even further. “Henley. The Eagles? Niall named it. His is over there, Glenn.”

Louis knows that Niall is Harry’s roommate and … colleague, and that he’s a musician as well.

“I didn’t know you played guitar.”

“Well yeah. I learned a little bit back home, enough to play for myself when I recorded my songs, and Niall’s been teaching me more here.”

“Here, as in this shop?”

“Yeah,” Harry kicks at the worn out carpeting under his boots, and strums a few notes on the guitar. “Niall had to sell his guitar when he came out here, so we come here and they let us play. They don’t do a lot of business. Mostly repairs and keyboards, I guess.”

“Will you play me something?” Louis asks, and Harry smiles, wide and open, laughing a little.

“That’s why I brought you here,” he says, and Louis grins back.

There are a couple of drum thrones that they grab and line up, Louis facing Harry, watching as he twists the tuning knobs with his long fingers. He plucks a couple of strings, listens, and then looks up at Louis from under his eyelashes.

“Um,” he says, and chews his lip, bouncing his knee.

“Don’t get all shy on me now, Styles. Give me a show.”

Harry ducks his head, tucks the guitar close against his chest, and plays.

Louis doesn’t recognize the melody, and when Harry starts to sing he thinks, oh, because he’s pretty sure it’s one of Harry’s songs. It’s nothing he knows, at least, and Harry sings it like he wrote it, like he’s lived it, his voice deep and a little raspy. He’s good, even if he hits a bad chord now and then, and his voice has the potential to be great.

Beyond that the song is, well, it’s beautiful. He’s singing about home, and love, and all the things that everyone sings about, but the words are different, more poignant.

Or maybe Louis is just that far gone.

He feels like he’s drowning, or better, like he’s breaking the surface after nearly drowning, and he wants to start gulping in air but he’s a little afraid that he’ll choke, all the emotion he’d been trying to tamp down the past few days filling up his throat until he’s almost gasping with it, and he coughs into his fist and hopes that Harry doesn’t look up, because if he does the jig is up.

He doesn’t, he just keeps playing, and Louis gathers his composure before the last note fades into the air and Harry peeks up at him, nose scrunched.

Louis thinks about jumping up, giving a dramatic standing ovation, clapping until his hands are sore, his normal drama and bluster thing to cover up what’s really going on in his head, but Harry deserves better than that so he smiles, clenching his teeth until he swallow all the ridiculous words on the tip of his tongue, and then unclenches to say, “That was beautiful Harry.”

“Yeah, you liked it?”

“I loved it. It’s disgusting that you couldn’t sell that.”

Harry stands, lifting the strap off his shoulder and hanging the guitar back on the wall. “Never tried that one. That one’s newer.”

“Well you should. You should try that one.”

Harry shrugs, and brushes his fingers against the guitar again before turning. “I might, we’ll see.”

Louis watches him shift around, pressing one foot to the top of the other, hands in his back pockets so his soft plaid shirt stretches across his neck, blowing at his fringe where it’s hanging in his eyes and wants to give him everything in the whole world.

He’ll start with that day.

“What’s next,” he asks, and Harry tilts his head, considering.

“I really get to choose again?”

“Whatever you want,” Louis says, and means it. Harry’s eyes are soft, and his smile is small, curling, making Louis’s skin prickle.

Harry takes him to his favorite record store, and fills Louis’s arms with dusty albums. He’s horrified when Louis tells him he doesn’t have a record player, and makes him promise to buy one, then forces him to buy a couple of albums right away, to start his collection. Harry carries the bag, swinging it between them, looking smug, and Louis wants to go back and buy the whole store.

They get lunch from a cart, and Louis eats the dodgy looking sausage because it makes Harry smile, and silently hopes that he doesn’t end up with ebola or salmonella or some other food-borne virus. It’s tasty, at least, and he does get to watch Harry eat three of them, licking his fingers afterwards like he’s just had a gourmet meal.

There’s a park in an area of the city that is so painfully hipster Louis cringes, and they sprawl on the grass with all the disillusioned youth wearing cardigans and black-framed glasses reading yellowing volumes of poetry to each other.

“Tell me about Niall,” Louis says, running his fingers through the blades of grass instead of reaching over and pushing them through Harry’s curls, and Harry reaches up to frame his hands around a cloud, like he’s molding it into shape, before letting them drop to his sides.

“What do you want to know?”

“How did you meet?”

“He thought I was picking him up,” Harry says, and laughs. Louis rolls over onto his side and traces Harry’s profile with his eyes, the slope of his nose and his full lips backed by the blue sky.

“I was out at a bar, drinking away my last dollars and drowning my sorrows, wondering how in the hell I was going to stay in the city when I was broke. I’d been staying at a hostel, rented a room from a mean old lady with an even meaner cat before that, and had no idea what I was going to do next. Niall wedged up next to me at the bar to get a drink, and I smiled at him. He went into his whole act, asked if I was looking for a date” Harry chuckles, twirling a leaf between his fingers. “I told him no, of course. After he got his drink he asked me what was wrong and I kind of unloaded on him. Surprised he stuck around that, actually, but he’s a good lad.”

“He got you into … ” Louis waves a hand in the air, and Harry looks over, corner of his mouth tucked into his cheek.

“Hooking? Yeah. Tried to talk me out of it, but I was feeling rebellious. I thought I could handle it, for the money.”

Louis waits, watches Harry rumple his hair away from his forehead, drag in a breath so deep his stomach bulges and it whooshes as he exhales.

“After the first time I went home and took the hottest shower I could, scrubbed my skin until I bled. It was not a good night.”

Louis slides his hand over the grass, blades tickling the inside of his wrist, and tucks two fingers into the belt loop just under Harry’s hip bone, his thumb pressing lightly into the hollow there.

“Got easier after that,” Harry says, and his voice is rough.

They lay there like that for a while, until Harry brushes the tip of his index finger against the corners of his eyes and sits up, dislodging Louis’s hand.

Harry takes Louis to a tiny Indian place for dinner and they eat lamb vindaloo so spicy Louis feels sweat break out on his forehead, and Harry fans himself with the paper napkin.

They go up to the observatory when it gets dark, and stand amongst the crowds of tourists looking out over the city.

“You can’t see the Hollywood sign,” Louis says, and hears people around him grumbling about the same thing.

“They stopped lighting it up,” Harry says, and shows him on the pamphlet the section about energy conservation. “I’m glad.”

“Hippie,” Louis scoffs, and Harry flashes a brief grin, but goes serious again.

“Not because of that. I like being up here looking out over the city without the giant reminder that this is a place where people’s dreams come true, especially when mine are still hiding under my bed.”

Louis has no response to that, other than to slide his arm around Harry’s waist and let him lean on his shoulder.

*****

Harry stares at himself in the bathroom for a long time, his hair air drying into fluffy curls around his face. He’d scrubbed himself clean of city grime as soon as they’d gotten back to the room, more aware of the grit after days spent mostly in the plush hotel. He’s an odd mixture of content and restless, still buzzing from the day spent with Louis, but itching for something more.

He pictures Louis’s face in the music store, the way he’d looked when Harry had finished his song, and his heart thumps in his chest. He hadn’t played that song for anyone but Niall, and he desperately wanted Louis to like it. It was a song he’d written after coming to LA, about feeling displaced and wanting to find his way, and the words, the meaning behind them, were immeasurably important to Harry.

It was also the only song he’d talked to Zayn about at the concert, because he thought it would resonate with him. It was the only song on the CD he’d asked Niall to drop off at the front desk of the hotel, with a note to call Zayn’s room as soon as it arrived.

Harry feels guilt crawl up his spine, spreading a flush of shame over his cheeks. He had made the call in the taxi, when he was still so mad at Louis he could’ve spit, and he wishes he would’ve told Louis about it in the music store, but Louis’s eyes had been so warm, his face so open, he hadn’t wanted to ruin the moment.

He’ll tell him now, make it right. They’ve come so far in the past couple of days, and Louis has, despite Harry’s best efforts, become important to Harry. He doesn’t want any secrets between them.

He rearranges his hair, shoving his fringe off his face, and squares his shoulders, then swings the door open and goes out into the bedroom.

Louis is asleep on top of the covers, in his tee shirt and jeans, feet bare.

He’s gorgeous, and Harry takes a moment to just look, spending long seconds on each feature of his face, gazing at him the way he’s stopped himself from doing while Louis was awake. His forehead is smooth under the fall of his hair, no frown lines to be seen, and his hands are curled loosely on his thighs, palms up, relaxed.

Harry shuffles closer, feet silent in the deep pile of the carpet, and slowly lowers himself to sit next to Louis’s hip on the bed. He wishes he could undress him without waking him, tuck him under the covers, make him comfortable and let him sleep.

Louis stirs, shifting slightly on the mattress, his mouth opening around a sleepy sound that makes Harry’s chest feel like it’s going to crack open. He stares at Louis’s mouth, his slightly chapped lower lip, and wants. Forget the rules, he thinks, and leans in.

The first touch is so soft that even Harry can barely feel it. He’s nervous, feeling skittish, half-wanting Louis to wake up and half-hoping he’ll sleep right through it. Harry keeps his eyes open as his mouth skims over Louis’s, just an impression of warmth and breath fanning over his face, and watches, but Louis’s eyelashes don’t even twitch.

The second touch is a little harder, but still just a gentle skim, Harry sliding Louis’s lower lip between his own. It still hits him like a truck, slamming into his rib cage so hard he actually reels back a little, eyes wide.

Louis hasn’t moved, and Harry thinks he can dare another kiss, a little more this time, wants it so bad he can feel it thrumming in his veins. He scoots up, moves forward, tilts his head, and presses his mouth to Louis’s.

Louis comes awake with a gasp, and Harry jolts backwards, pushing against the mattress with his hand to scramble away. He’s forming an apology, planning an excuse, and escape, when Louis reaches out to grab his wrist.

The moments hangs suspended, and Harry’s skin feels too tight, stretched out over his screaming nerves, his muscles stretched taut with the need to flee. Then Louis surges forward, nearly knocking Harry over, and kisses him.

This is a kiss, Harry thinks. No hesitation, no question, just mouths sliding together and electricity sparking up his spine. It’s the first real kiss Harry’s had since he came to Los Angeles, and, he thinks, maybe ever in his life. Louis’s hands are cupping his jaw, fingertips just brushing his hair, his ear lobes, thumbs over his cheekbones. Louis angles Harry’s head where he wants it, tilting it this way and that so he can nip at Harry’s lips, lick at the corners of his mouth.

Harry lets Louis in, gasps when their tongues curl together, overwhelmed by the heat and the slick slide of them, It’s so intimate, so new for Harry after so many emotionless encounters, that Harry feels breathless from it.

Louis is tender with him, lowering his hands to Harry’s shoulders to press him gently back into the mattress. He pulls back just long enough to strip out of his clothes, and he watches Harry every moment, eyelids heavy and face so serious Harry feels a lump in his throat.

Harry unties his bathrobe and lets Louis push it off of his arms, rearranging Harry on top of it with his head pointed towards the foot of the bed, spreading his limbs out so that Louis can settle between his legs, the hair trailing down from his navel brushing over Harry’s already hard, leaking cock.

“I want,” Louis says, and his voice is hoarse. Harry can feel it scrape along his nerves, making him feel like he’s burning from the inside out. Louis doesn’t finish his sentence, but he does drag his fingers up Harry’s thigh until they’re resting behind his balls, pressing just enough to make Harry shift restlessly underneath them. They haven’t gone that far yet, and though Harry’s had more partners than he can (or wants to) count he feels a thrill at the thought of having Louis inside him.

“Yeah,” Harry says, and reaches out to touch Louis’s face, tucking his fingers under his jaw and pulling a little, until Louis follows the motion and bends down for another kiss.

Harry gets distracted by it, by the noises Louis makes in the back of the throat when Harry sucks his bottom lip in, bites at it. By the way that Louis moves against him, little rolls of his hips that drag his cock against Harry’s skin.

“I have,” Harry says, breaking away from the kiss, panting. Louis’s eyes glint, and his lower lip is red where Harry bit it. “I have lube,” he says, dragging his eyes away from Louis’s mouth. “A packet of it, in my old jeans.”

“Don’t move,” Louis says, and drops a kiss on Harry’s mouth before he pushes off the bed.

He bends over to pull Harry’s old jeans out of the drawer, and Harry’s palms sweat at the sight of him, the curve of his arse and thighs, the way he’s spread out as he bends. He knows that Louis is going to take him first, but he has a feeling he’ll get a turn before this week … before this thing is over.

Louis comes back with the lube and a condom and spreads himself out over Harry again, covering as much as he can of Harry’s body with his own. “Do you want this?” Louis asks, and Harry opens his mouth to tell him he wants whatever Louis wants, because that’s what he’s supposed to say. But this isn’t about a hooker and a customer, this is about Harry and Louis, and Harry wants so badly he can barely form the words.

“Yes,” is all he can manage, and then Louis is slicking up his fingers and sliding one inside.

It been less than a week since Harry’s been with someone, but the sensation still feels new. Little shocks of pleasure are radiating out from where Louis’s fingertip is pressing inside him, and Harry rocks back onto it, already desperate for more.

Louis works up to three fingers slowly, and it’s still far less than Harry has taken in the past, but it feels better than anything has before, and Harry’s writhing against it now, gasping and clenching his hands in the terry cloth of the bathrobe.

“Louis,” he says, almost a whine, and Louis looks up from where he’s been watching his fingers.

“What do you want, Harry? What do you need, I want to give you that.”

“Kiss me,” Harry says, and Louis leans up to comply, sealing his mouth over Harry’s as he pumps his fingers in and out of Harry’s hole.

Harry digs the heels of his hands into Louis’s sides, fingers lining up along his ribcage, holding on while Louis kisses him, until he needs more, and pulls back to tell Louis so.

Louis looks wrecked, his hair damp and his face almost pained, and he’s flushed from his forehead to his chest. He dips his head to mouth at Harry’s nipples as he slides his fingers out of Harry, and Harry can hear him opening the condom, his mouth stuttering across Harry’s skin as he rolls it on.

He’s still trailing hot, open-mouthed kisses across Harry’s chest, and Harry can feel the rumble of Louis’s groan all the way through him as he pushes in, all the way to the hilt, and goes totally, completely still.

Harry’s breath sounds harsh in the otherwise quiet room, and he palms Louis’s shoulder blades, wanting him to move but not wanting to rush him.

Louis takes another moment to pant against Harry, before pulling back, almost out, and then sliding back in. He starts out slowly, long thrusts making waves of sensation roll over Harry, squeezing his heart until he thinks it might burst. Louis kisses him slowly, too, one hand in the crook of Harry’s knee, keeping his leg bent up and out, and one cradling Harry’s face, making him feel safe, loved.

Louis speeds up in increments, pushing Harry’s knee further out until it’s almost touching the mattress, and slamming his hips into Harry’s. Harry’s close, from the change in rhythm and the friction of his cock between their bellies, and he reaches down to finish himself off.

Louis knocks his hand away and wraps his own fingers around Harry’s cock, matching the slide of his fist to the thrusts of his hips. Harry tosses his head against the bed, drawing up tight right before he comes, crying out against Louis’s mouth. Louis shudders over him a moment later, and then drops down, his face tucked under Harry’s jaw.

Harry feels wrung out, his arms flung out to his sides, breath slowly evening out. Louis is boneless against his chest, shimmying a little until he pulls out, groaning as he pushes up on trembling arms to remove the condom and tie it off. He flops over the side of the bed to get rid of it, and then shoves at Harry until he rolls off the bathrobe. Louis cleans them both of with the robe, the terry cloth rubbing over Harry’s sensitized skin and making him wince away.

Louis manhandles him back up the bed, nudging at Harry’s calves with his feet until they both have their heads on the pillows, and throws his arm over Harry, pulling him back into Louis’s chest. He sighs against the back of Harry’s neck, and Harry relaxes against him, the squeezing sensation in his heart back in full force.

Harry listens to Louis’s breaths slow and deepen, his arm going lax around Harry’s waist, twining his fingers through Louis’s and bringing them up to his mouth.

When he’s sure Louis is asleep, he whispers, “I love you” into the heavy, still air of the hotel room, and closes his eyes to sleep.

*****

Everything becomes totally, stupidly clear to Louis as he lays awake, keeping his breathing slow and even, Harry’s “I love you” echoing in his ears. As soon as Harry is making that sleepy snuffling noise that he does, Louis slips out from under the duvet and pulls on his pants, padding over to the laptop.

He spends an hour setting everything up and then gets back into bed, plastering himself to Harry’s back and finally drifting off to sleep.

Louis wakes up alone, panics when he flails his arm out to feel the cold sheets on the other side of of the bed, but calms when he hears the newspaper rustle out in the room.

Harry is wearing one of Louis’s jumpers over his pants, and a pair of the hotel slippers, his hair wrapped up in a towel. He’s got a piece of toast slathered with jam in one hand and a cup of tea in the other, his legs crossed on the chair and the paper spread out in front of him.

Louis is struck dumb in the doorway, his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth, and when Harry looks up and sees him, smile spreading across his face, Louis feels like he’s been punched in the gut.

“Good morning,” Harry says, and waves his cup in a circle over the table. “I have food. Thought you might be hungry this morning.”

HIs tone is cheeky, and he tilts his face up to Louis when Louis comes near the table, clearly hoping for a kiss. Louis can barely look at him, he’s so keyed up, let alone kiss him, because he knows full well he won’t stop there, and he wants to get things settled before they go any further.

“Come back to London with me,” Louis says, lowering himself to an empty chair without looking away from Harry’s face. Harry’s eyes go comically wide, and his tea cup clatters to the table.

“I,” he starts, and then laughs brightly, blinking. Louis can’t even look at him, he looks so happy, and reaches for the tea carafe with shaking hands.

“I’ve got everything all set up,” Louis says, and he can picture it perfectly. The flat that he chose for Harry, just a few blocks from his own, nice but not too large. Fully furnished, of course, and short term lease because Louis is sure that Harry will spend most of his time at Louis’s. He’ll get Harry meetings with music people there, maybe set up some gigs if he wants to perform. “Flat, car, possible jobs. The jobs are only possible of course because I sent out the emails very late, or very early UK time, and haven’t checked my messages yet this morning,” he trails off, watching Harry’s smile slide right off of his face. “What?”

“You’ve set me up with a flat? A car?”

“Well, yes. You’ll need those things. Unless,” Louis licks his lips, unsure. It would be fast, but if Harry really wants it … “Unless you wanted to move in with me right away?”

Harry laughs, but it’s not the bright laugh from before, this one is short, derisive. “No, Louis, I don’t want to move in with you right away.”

“Oh.” Louis goes back over the last few minutes, trying to catch up with what’s going on. He feels suddenly lost, and cold all over. Where he’d felt kicked earlier at Harry’s smile he now feels bruised and sick. “Then you’ll have a flat. I found one fully furnished, in my area of the city. I figured a car would be nice, though if you prefer public transport, that’s - “

“Louis,” Harry cuts him off, and his voice is flat, making dread congeal in Louis’s stomach.

Louis takes a sip of tea but doesn’t look up to meet Harry’s eyes, and he hears Harry sigh. “I can get you more opportunities there, Harry. To sell your songs, or perform them, whatever you want.” He looks up, watches Harry unwind his towel, ruffle his hair. “I’m trying to give you what you want.”

“This isn’t what I want, Louis. It’s what you want.”

Harry gets up, trailing his damp towel, and heads towards the bathroom. Louis watches him go, the dejected slump of his shoulders making Louis think of him hunched over on the bus stop that first night in his low cut tee shirt.

“I don’t understand,” Louis says, following Harry, watching him strip out of Louis’s jumper and pull on a tee shirt, shoving his arms through the sleeves of a plaid shirt.

“I don’t want to be given anything, Louis. I want to earn it. And not by being a good lay, but by being a good songwriter.” Harry’s voice is sharp, cutting, but he looks more hurt than he does angry, and Louis feels so tangled up inside he doesn’t know how to pluck one particular thought out of the jumble.

“It’s a great offer, especially for someone like me,” Harry continues, and Louis opens his mouth to admonish him for the put-down, but Harry slashes a hand through the air, cutting him off. “It is. But I don’t want offers meant for someone like me. I want offers meant for someone who has a talent that isn’t executed in the bedroom. I want to make it big, sure, but on my songwriting skills, not my sexual prowess.”

“It’s not about that,” Louis says, and reaches out to stop Harry from dragging his bags out of the closet again. Harry’s going to leave, he’s going to pack and walk out again, and it’s going to hurt way more this time than it had the last, because now Louis knows that Harry loves him, and he’s almost certain he feels that same in return.

“You may not think it is,” Harry says, and gently tugs away from Louis’s grip, “but it is.”

Harry starts taking things off of hangers and folding them, placing them in the bags. Louis watches, each shirt like a dagger lodging in between his ribs. “I don’t know how else to do this,” he says, and means it.

“I know. I don’t either.”

Louis’s phone buzzes on the nightstand, the noise cutting right into the tension that has thickened between them, and Louis goes to answer it, not knowing what else to do.

It’s Zayn, chewing him out about leaving him to deal with the label people the day before, and reminding him that they have a meeting to go over red carpet interview scripts, he’s waiting downstairs, Louis better not be late to this one or he’ll get nut punched so badly he’ll never have kids, direct quote. Louis lets him rant and then promises he’ll be there, hanging up and scrubbing a hand over his face.

“I have to go,” he says, and Harry doesn’t even pause in his packing.

“So do I.”

“You won’t even come to the awards show? There will people there, I can introduce you … “

“I can’t,” Harry says, and goes to the chest of drawers, scooping jeans and trousers out and dropping them into a bag.

Louis gets the envelope out of the nightstand, turns to hand it to Harry. Harry blinks down at it, and his lashes are wet. Louis feels a catch in his throat and wants to wrap Harry in his arms, drag him down to the mattress, kiss him until he can’t even think about leaving. Instead he places the envelope in Harry’s turned up palm, lets his fingers linger on the inside of Harry’s wrist, then grabs the nearest set of clothes and leaves, limbs leaden.

He dresses in jerky, robotic movements as he crosses the room, sliding his feet into trainers before he slips out the door.

He presses the button to call the elevator with a numb finger, stares blankly at the doors until they open. His mind is carefully empty as he rides down to the lobby, and he barely sees any of the people he passes.

“Mr. Tomlinson,” someone says, and Louis stops, not looking up. “Good morning,” the person says, shiny black shoes coming into his line of vision.

“Morning,” Louis mumbles, then shakes himself, and lifts his head. “Mr. Payne, good morning,” He says, and clears the ragged sound out of his throat.

“Please, sir, call me Liam.” Louis nods, and Liam ducks his head, watching Louis closely. “Is everything alright sir?”

“Yes, yes, everything’s fine.”

“And your guest?” Liam asks, a little too casually. Louis’s gaze sharpens, and Liam grins, boyish.

“My guest will be leaving today,” Louis says, watches as Liam’s grin fades, replaced with something that would be calculating on a man less puppy-like.

“That’s too bad. The awards show is tonight, isn’t it?”

“Was there something I could help you with?”

Liam shakes his head, takes a step back. “No, no. Just wanted to say good morning.”

Louis sidesteps him, looking around for Zayn.

“Do make sure your client received his package, though, Mr. Tomlinson?” Liam calls at his back, and Louis swivels around.

“Package?”

“Yes, something left for him yesterday by a Mr. Niall Horan. Cheery lad, that one. A little brash, but otherwise lovely. I called up to Mr. Malik’s room, but I was called away before I could assure he received it, and I was told it was urgent.”

Louis is taken aback at the mention of Niall’s name, and he wonders what one Earth Niall could be leaving for Zayn. It would have to be something from Harry, but what?

“I’ll make sure,” Louis says, and turns again to leave.

“I appreciate it,” Liam calls, as Louis catches sight of Zayn across the lobby. “Have a nice day!”

*****

Harry finishes packing in a stupor, then lugs all of his things down to the lobby. He stands under one of the chandeliers, taking in the gleaming marble and crystal and wood, all the important people rushing about in suits, remembering walking through it for the first time in his torn up jeans, hunching inside of his shirt. He feels comfortable here now, more at home than he ever would have thought, and he’s going to miss it.

Liam is across the lobby, and he catches Harry’s eye, waves him over.

“You’re leaving,” he says, and Harry nods. Liam presses his lips together.

“Thanks for everything,” Harry says, and sets down one bag to hold out his hand for a shake. Liam hugs him instead, catching Harry off guard, and Harry pats him on the back, a lump in his throat. Saying goodbye to Louis broke his heart, saying goodbye to this place was just stomping on the pieces.

“You’ll be okay, yeah?” Liam asks, keeping a warm hand on Harry’s shoulder.

“Yeah. I’m just going to call a taxi.”

“I’ll call one for you,” Liam says, and leads him to the desk. Liam makes the call, scribbling on a card while he talks to the dispatcher. He hands it over to Harry, and it’s Liam’s business card, with a number scrawled on the back of it. “All my numbers,” he says, shrugging, looking suddenly young in his fancy suit. “In case you ever need anything.”

Harry grins, and hopes it as sincere as he feels, and pockets the card. “Maybe I can talk you into getting your band back together.”

Liam laughs, his head thrown back, and shakes his head. “God, no, please, we were awful.”

Harry leaves him like that, smiling open mouthed with his eyes crinkled at the corners, and goes outside to wait for his taxi.

As soon as he opens the door to the flat he’s got an arm full of Niall, clinging to him like some sort of spider monkey. Harry drops half of his stuff to keep hold of him, and Niall’s hair tickles his neck.

“Get off, you loon,” Harry says, but he’s laughing, and he feels better already. The flat smells like tea and Niall, warm and homey in a way he’d never noticed before.

“I missed you, arse,” Niall says, but he pulls back. He hauls Harry and his things inside and shoves the door shut, then basically shoves Harry down onto the bed and forces tea on him, plopping down beside him and throwing his leg over Harry’s lap.

“Tell me,” he says, and his eyes are knowing over his mug.

“I left early,” Harry starts, and Niall jostles him with his leg.

“I know that, you told me you wouldn’t be home until tomorrow, tell me why.”

Harry picks at the chip in his mug with his thumbnail, hanging his head so his hair will cover his face like a curtain. Niall reaches out to tuck it behind his ear and keep it there, and when Harry glances at him sidelong he looks sad, sympathetic already, and the dam bursts.

He tells Niall everything, about their day wandering the city together, playing Louis his song, about the night before, plowing forward when Niall makes a disapproving noise over Harry kissing Louis on the mouth.

“I know it was stupid, okay, you don’t have to tell me.”

“We’ve talked about this, Harry,” Niall says, and his voice is gentle but Harry can’t deal with Niall chiding him right now.

“I love him,” Harry says, to shut him up, and it works. Niall’s jaw snaps shut so quick Harry can hear his teeth clack together. He waits for a lecture, for Niall to tell him how stupid he is for thinking that when he and Louis have spent less than a week together, how ridiculous it is to fall for a customer.

Instead Niall sets down his mug, reaches forward to take Harry’s out of his hands and put that one the floor as well, then wraps Harry up in a hug so tight his ribs creak. He doesn’t say anything, just curves himself around Harry and snuggles into him, and Harry feels a rush of affection for Niall, rubbing his cheek on the top of his head, basking in the comfort, before continuing.

He tells Niall about Louis’s offer while Niall sort of pets his hair, and Niall’s hand goes still on the nape of his neck.

“He offered you a flat?” Niall says, and leans back far enough for Harry to see his wide eyes.

“Yeah, and a car. And gigs, possibly.”

“And you said no?” Niall scoots away and punches Harry in the arm, not too hard, but hard enough for Harry to yelp. “You tit.”

Harry rubs at the spot and frowns, and Niall gets their tea from the floor and presses Harry’s mug into his hand.

“You know you’re not happy here, Harry, I can see it plain as day. You were never cut out for this.”

“Is anyone really cut out for this?” Harry asks, and Niall shrugs.

“Some better than others.”

“Like you?”

“Like me,” Niall says. “It’s not like I love being a hooker, but it doesn’t drag on me the way it does on you. So why not go to London?”

“Because I’d be a hooker there, too. Only with one customer, and a nicer flat.” Niall makes a protesting noise, and Harry pats his knee. “I’m sure I wouldn’t make better friends there.”

“Damn right.”

“You get what I’m saying though. I’d be a kept man. And as nice as that sometimes sounds, it’s no different from what I’m doing here.”

“But your music,” Niall says. “If he can help you sell your songs, you’d make your own money eventually.”

“Because of him. Because of his connections.”

“You don’t know that. Your songs are good.”

“I’d always wonder though.”

The flat is quiet, save the noise of the traffic and people outside, while they finish their tea. It’s going to take a while to get over Louis, if he can at all, but being in his flat surrounded by his things, Niall warm and comforting at his side, he feels better than he has all morning.

“I dropped your stuff off for Zayn,” Niall says eventually. “Maybe he’ll like your song, make you a millionaire.”

“Maybe. And then he’ll hire you to play guitar for him, and we can all go to London.”

Niall flops back on Harry’s bed, arms spread wide. “That’d be amazing, wouldn’t it? London wouldn’t be able to handle the two of us.”

“I think London would handle me just fine,” Harry says, sprawling out next to Niall and digging his fingers in his side to make him squirm. “It’s you London would have to worry about.”

Niall grins, and pumps one fist in the air, lets it fall lazily to his chest. “You gonna be okay?”

Harry blows out a breath, and waggles a hand side to side. “I think so?”

“You gonna come out tonight, get your mind off things?”

Harry looks up at the ceiling, thinks about picking up a trick, having to touch someone else’s skin, and shudders. He’s got an envelope full of money tucked at the bottom of one of his bags, he can take the night off. “Nah. I think I’ll just sleep.”

Niall reaches over, taps the back of his hand against Harry’s chest, and shoves up off the bed. “Not now you won’t. Get your bony arse off that bed and buy me breakfast. Actually, show me all your fancy new shit. Can’t believe the pair of jeans you got right now, did someone sew you into them? Got anything to fit me? We can go to brunch, even!”

Niall rambles on as he digs through Harry’s bags, and Harry can’t help but grin, sliding off the mattress to join him on the floor.

*****

Zayn drives to the meeting, and he’s got a stubborn set to his jaw as they get in the car that puts Louis on edge, or more on edge than he already is. He doesn’t want to go to this meeting, doesn’t want to come back to an empty hotel room, doesn’t want to do anything that means Harry is really gone.

“What’s crawled up your arse,” Louis grumbles, buckling his seatbelt, and Zayn scoffs.

“Like you can talk.”

Louis’s eyebrows shoot up, and he splutters a little, searching for a way to say nothing’s been up his arse without giving himself away totally when Zayn shoots him a horrified look.

“Not what I meant, Louis.”

The tension in the car seems to dissipate a little, and Louis settles back in his seat. It cracks and dissolves a moment later when Zayn bursts out laughing.

“Your face, god,” he says, hiccuping a little as he sucks in breath. Louis cranes his neck so he can look imploringly into the backseat at Paul, who just shrugs and goes back to his phone. Probably playing Angry Birds or something, the wanker.

“I guess laughing, even if it is at my expense, is a good sign.” Louis reaches for the radio, but Zayn knocks his hands away.

“I want to play you something,” he says, and fumbles with a CD while they’re stopped at a light. He slides the disc into the slot, and there’s a weird sort of echo of static or something, like a tape player clicking on almost, and then a guitar starts playing.

Louis’s heart stops. The music continues, and then someone starts singing, and it’s Harry. It’s Harry’s song, the one he played Louis in the music store. The guitar sounds better, less hesitant, but the voice is raspy and deep and pitch perfect, and Louis debates yanking his door open and rolling out into traffic.

“How,” he says, gripping the door handle, his knuckles white.

Zayn glances over at him, and he looks apprehensive, and Louis might actually be sick in this Ferrari.

“His friend, Niall, dropped it off for me.”

Louis stares at the speakers, his stomach flipping over and over while Harry sings. His voice fills the car, fills Louis’s head, crawls into all the little nooks and crannies of Louis’s body, pressing at him until he can’t breathe.

“I want it, Lou,” Zayn says, not noticing how Louis is having an absolute fucking mental breakdown in the passenger seat. “I want to record this song.”

The music stops, and the weird echo fades out a few seconds later, but Louis’s ears are ringing, his blood rushing in his head.

“I asked him to come to London,” Louis says, and Zayn’s hand falters on the gear shift, the car grinding before it accelerates.

“What?”

“I told him I’d get him a flat, a car, gigs.” Louis peels his fingers away from the door handle and flexes them to get the blood flowing. He looks up at Zayn, who gapes at him until he has to glance back at the road.

“That was pretty stupid of you,” Zayn says, and Louis gives a hysterical sounding bark of laughter.

“Yeah, apparently.”

“He said no?”

“He said no. He left. He’s not coming tonight.”

They pull into the label’s parking garage and Zayn finds a spot, slots in, and turns off the engine. “I’m sorry.”

Louis shrugs, touches the dashboard, his palm over the speaker. “It’s a good song.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.” Louis meets Zayn’s wide, hopeful eyes and nods. “Let’s do it.”

“Don’t fuck with me, Louis.”

“I’m not, let’s do it. Let’s go up there and tell them to stuff their contract. I’ve looked at it, we can get out of it, I’m sure. We’ll find someone else to record it, hell, we can pay them out of pocket if need be.”

Zayn makes a whooping sound and nearly kicks his door open, leaping out of the car. He runs around to open Louis’s and drags him out, into a hug. “Best manager ever,” he shouts in Louis’s ear, and Louis squeezes him, shoves him back.

“You’re lucky I love you,” Louis says, and rolls his eyes at Paul, who smiles fondly as he struggles out of the backseat.

“You love me, or you love the song?”

Louis can tell Zayn doesn’t mean the song, even without his obnoxiously over-exaggerated air quotes.

“Don’t push me, Malik, or I’ll make you record an entire album of country covers.”

Zayn grins, and hooks his arm around Louis’s neck, and they go in to break the news to the label.

*****

Harry’s blazer hangs off of Niall, but Niall looks so pleased with himself, strutting into the diner with a grin on his face, that Harry can’t even take the piss. They eat a gigantic breakfast, Niall crowing triumphantly every time he cleans a plate. He swipes the last of his pancakes through a puddle of syrup and swings the fork up to his mouth, taking the bite and then waving the empty fork through the air.

“I’m going to have to roll you back to the flat,” Harry laughs, and Niall leans back in the booth, rubbing his stomach, content.

He takes Niall to lunch as well, but tells him over burgers so juicy they drip down their arms that they’ll have to grocery shop so they don’t blow through the cash.

They’re both groaning on their beds when Niall’s mobile goes, and he squints at the cracked screen before flipping it open.

“‘Lo,” he says, and then covers the mouthpiece so he can belch in Harry’s direction.

“Thanks for that,” Harry says, and watches Niall’s eyes go wide.

“Uh, yeah, hang on.” Niall puts his hand over the phone again, sitting up. “Harry, it’s for you.”

“What?”

“It’s Zayn Malik,” Niall hisses, holding the phone out and looking panicky.

“The hell? How does he have your number?”

“I put it on the note with your demo disc,” he says, and then shrugs when Harry gapes at him. “What, he’s hot.”

“Oh my god,” Harry says, and reaches out to snatch the phone. “Zayn?”

“Harry.” Zayn’s voice is quiet on the other end, like he doesn’t want anyone else around to hear him. “I have to tell you something.”

If Zayn’s calling to make excuses for Louis, Harry doesn’t want to hear them. He opens his mouth to tell Zayn exactly that when Zayn says, “We want your song.”

Now Harry can’t close his mouth.

“Harry, you there?”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m here. Did you say you want my song?”

Niall jumps to his feet, fists in the air. Harry waves his hand at him to keep him quiet.

“I did. I played it for Louis - “

“So did I - “

“ - and he said we should record it.”

“But your label, did they like it?”

“Doesn’t matter,” Zayn says, and Harry hears someone yelling for Zayn in the background. “Look I gotta go, but listen. I’m leaving my label. Actually just did. It was fucking awesome, you should’ve seen Louis in that meeting. Anyway, I gotta go get ready for the red carpet, but Harry?”

“Yeah.”

“He knows he was stupid. About me, about you, about everything. And I think he’s trying to make it right, as well as he knows how. I picked your song, but he’d pick you. He’s kind of an emotional fuckwit, but I’ve never seen him like this about anyone, so. Just thought you should know.” Someone shouts for Zayn again, Zayn yelling “yeah, coming” back, and Harry’s heart is in his throat.

“Later,” Zayn says, and hangs up, and Harry closes the phone, stares at Niall where he’s still standing, arms up.

“What the fuck,” he asks, raising his eyebrows.

“Zayn wants to record my song.”

“Fuck yeah,” Niall shouts, and throws himself on Harry, knocking him back on the bed. He bounces on Harry a little, yelling nonsense and thumping Harry’s shoulder. “Knew it, you talented bastard,” he says, and actually bites Harry’s arm because he’s a maniac. Harry dumps him off the bed but he just grins up at Harry from the floor.

“What else did he say?” Niall asks, and kicks Harry’s shin. “Your face went through so many expressions I thought your eyes might actually roll out of your head.”

“Zayn was making apologies for Louis.” Niall narrows his eyes and makes a “blah blah blah” gesture with one hand. “They’re leaving their label.”

Niall sits up. “Whoa.”

“Yeah.” Harry stares down at Niall, Zayn’s words rolling through his head. Louis had been an idiot, but his heart was mostly in the right place. And Harry was going to have an international pop star recording his song. “Niall,” Harry says, and Niall pushes to his feet, brushes his hands on his jeans.

“You have a red carpet event to get to,” Niall says, and Harry nods, shoulders sagging in relief.

“I do.”

“Maybe you should start with that mop,” Niall says, and ruffles Harry’s hair.

“Wanna tell me about leaving your phone number for Zayn Malik?” Harry arches his eyebrow.

“You are a gorgeous specimen, Harry, have I told you that. Let’s find you an outfit.”

Niall helps Harry pick out a suit (grey, with a waistcoat, and Harry adds the floppy bow tie, thinking it may be lucky) from the few he’d bought, and Harry stares at himself in the tiny warped mirror over the bathroom sink, fidgeting with his cuffs, his tie, the lapels of his jacket.

“Let’s go get ‘em,” Niall says from behind him, and Harry wolf whistles, turning around to yank at the tie around Niall’s neck.

“Look at you,” Harry says, and Niall preens.

“I know, I’m a hot piece of ass, now can we go?”

Harry calls them a taxi, and uses Niall’s phone to text Zayn that they’re coming, to put them on whatever list means they won’t be stopped on the way in, and not to tell Louis they’re coming. Zayn texts back: Come to valet Paul’ll wait there won’t say a word :)

“Please don’t hit on him,” Harry says, and Niall just smirks.

The red carpet is a flurry of cameras and fans and reporters, the celebrities stopping every few feet to pose and smile and wave and show off their clothes. Niall’s eyes are wide as saucers, and Harry has to drag him out of the taxi and tuck him under his arm as they look around for Zayn.

“Harry,” someone calls, and he turns to see Paul, wearing a black suit and looking quite dapper.

“Paul, hey.” Harry drags Niall over and introduces them. Niall barely talks, staring around at the crowd and breathing oddly. “Sorry about him, he’s nervous.”

“C’mere kid,” Paul says, and puts both his hands on Niall’s shoulders. He towers over Niall, glaring at anyone who gets too close, and Niall seems to calm down.

Paul gets them by security, and the skirt the edge of the carpet, behind the cameras. Niall gapes at all the famous musicians, peering back over Paul’s beefy arms to watch a female pop star blow kisses at the crowd. Harry has tunnel vision, staring down the carpet to where Zayn is doing an interview. Louis is somewhere in the huddle of people in the background, and Harry’s heart pounds in anticipation.

Zayn sees them first, grinning over the interviewer’s shoulder, and leans forward to kiss her cheek, ending the interview. He waves just as Louis breaks through and takes his arm to lead him to the next reporter.

Louis looks up, brows furrowed, and sees Paul standing with Niall in front of him, openly ogling Zayn, then his eyes skip over to Harry.

Harry feels, not for the first time, like he’s run face first into a brick wall. Louis in a suit coat and tie is not something Harry was prepared for, and for a moment he can’t quite catch his breath.

Louis comes towards him, and it’s almost like he’s moving in slow motion. The look on his face is so surprised, and Harry thinks appreciative, and Harry hears Paul say, “Let’s move on down the line, shall we” to Niall before they shuffle off.

“You look great,” Harry says when Louis gets close enough, and Louis reaches out, his hand stopping in the air just before he touches Harry’s neck, drops.

“Me?” Louis laughs, and it’s shaky enough that Harry’s heart clenches. “I am definitely changing my mind about bow ties.”

Harry reaches up to tug on it, and Louis’s eyes follow the motion. He licks his lips, and Harry says, “I want to kiss you.”

“What’s stopping you?”

“You’re an idiot.” Louis laughs, startled, but doesn’t argue. Harry gestures around them. “And cameras.”

Louis bites his lip, rubs his hands on his thighs. Harry opens his mouth to tell him that Zayn is beckoning, standing down the carpet and waving his hand, and Louis’s hand snaps out, latches onto the lapel of Harry’s jacket, hauls him forward.

The kiss is hard and fast, and no one even looks twice.

Zayn’s applauding them down the carpet, and Niall is laughing at Paul, who has his hands over his eyes. Harry is grinning so hard his cheeks might actually crack, and Louis looks flustered, smoothing down nonexistent flyaways in his fringe.

“We still have to talk,” Harry says, and Louis nods, grabs his hand and squeezes.

“I know. We’ll have time. After the show.”

Harry presses his face into Louis’s neck as they walk, whispers in his ear. “I have other plans for after the show.”

Louis gives a full body shudder that makes Harry warm all the way to his toes, and pulls him along harder, like he can make the night go faster if they walk faster.

*****

“Are you quite finished?”

Louis juggles his phone from palm to palm and taps his foot. He’s not exaggerating his impatience in the slightest, watching Zayn re-wind the cord of his earbuds for the third time. The plane is half empty, and they’re the only ones remaining in the first class cabin.

Zayn rolls his eyes and shoulders his carry on bag, and Louis slides out into the aisle.

“California really does make you cranky,” Zayn says as they power walk through the terminal, and Louis scoffs.

“You make me cranky.”

He’s thrilled to be back in Los Angeles, no matter what Zayn thinks about the city effecting Louis’s mood. It had taken them three agonizing months to find a new label, a smaller one that was willing to work with Zayn and a previously unknown songwriter, even agreeing to let Zayn bring Niall in as his guitarist, and Liam as backup vocalist (after Harry used his new gig as bellhop to convince Liam to leave the hotel to work with them). They were going to do the bulk of the recording here and then go back to London for mastering, and Harry, Niall, and Liam were going to fly over then as well, find a place, and stay.

Three months of making these plans, and texting constantly, and watching each other jerk off via Skype after Harry finally agreed to let Louis send him a laptop.

Louis walks faster.

Harry and Niall are waiting in the concourse, standing in the middle of a small crowd of fans holding signs. Niall is holding one corner of a girl’s sign that reads “Mrs. Malik” and bouncing up and down with her, shrieking along with her and laughing. Harry’s smile is huge, blinding, and Louis wishes he could make a scene, wants to leap on him and stick his tongue down his throat, get his hands under that stupid low cut henley, but there are photographers, so he doesn’t.

“Hi,” he says, while Zayn signs autographs and poses for pictures.

Harry’s smiles gets wider, dimpling his cheek, and he pulls Louis in for a hug.

They grin at each other while they wait for their baggage, and when they get into the elevator to go to ground transportation Zayn and Niall avert their eyes so Louis can tug Harry close and kiss him.

Harry knocks over one of Zayn’s suitcases, laughs an “Oops” against Louis’s mouth.

They hold hands while Zayn picks up his rental, and Louis can’t help but roll his eyes when the Ferrari pulls up in front of them.

“What, it’s like tradition now,” he says.

Louis laughs while Niall tries to jam the suitcases into the tiny boot, and Zayn goes to help, jostling him with his hip as they shove at Louis’s bag.

“You couldn’t have gotten a normal car,” Louis says. “With a normal backseat and a normal trunk and an automatic transmission.”

“No way,” Zayn says, and slams the boot shut. “Don’t worry about the backseat, Niall and I will take one for the team.”

“You’re going to sit in the back?” Louis asks.

“He is,” Harry says, and leans forward to press a kiss to Louis’s mouth. “‘Cause I’m going to drive.”

Louis grins against Harry’s lips, and waits for Niall and Zayn to fold themselves into the back before climbing in himself. They roll the windows down and let the warm air wash through the car as they crawl through traffic, crossing the city to meet Liam at the offices of their new label. Harry alternates between shifting gears and pressing his palm against Louis’s thigh, and Niall and Zayn are chattering away in the backseat, Niall’s laugh bright in Louis’s ears.

They stop for a man crossing the street, and he’s talking to himself, gesturing at nothing. Harry’s watching him with a fond look, and even Niall goes quiet. Louis can hear him over the traffic sounds, “Welcome to Hollywood! What’s your dream? Everybody comes here, this is Hollywood, land of dreams. Some dreams come true, some don’t, but keep on dreamin’, this is Hollywood. Always time to dream, so keep on dreamin’.”