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Don't Unplug Me Or Shut Me Down

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Louis hates his job. 

 

Okay, so that's not exactly true. The pay's nice and the hours are flexible and his boss loves him and his apartment's just a five-minute bike ride away.

It makes some use of his electrical engineering degree, even if he's not exactly assembling circuits or computer chips like he'd envisioned himself doing straight out of college in some cushy job.

It doesn't bother him too much, though, because when there's no one in the store--which is most of the time, really--he gets to tinker around with the spare parts kept in the back. Hilariously enough, half the "broken" iPods and PSPs sitting on the shelves really only need to be reset or cleaned out, so Louis carefully replaces their screens and updates their software and sets them out for resale. Simon lets him keep 70% of the profits from everything he sells, and that's pretty much how Louis earns his Christmas spending money. 

He's this close to having a brand-new laptop, too, one he's spent months building in his spare time. All he really needs to find is a spare CD drive that's not too fucked up--he'll be damned if he's gonna walk around with a laptop without one, to be perfectly honest, because they're pretty much still a complete necessity, regardless of whatever those pretentious hipster dicks who're shelling out thousands for the new, lighter, sans-CD drive MacBook Pro believe. Louis seriously hopes their decision comes back to bite them in the ass. Hard. 

 

The store itself is also pretty beautiful. It's a subtle kind of beauty, sure, and not one everyone would really understand, but Louis absolutely adores the cramped aisles of the shop, how the shelves are spilling over with fixed-up secondhand items for resale and spare parts for cheap prices. 

The help desk sits at the back, so Louis has a clear view of everything, including the occasional dumbass shoplifter that he can literally take down with his BB gun--he's got a deathly aim, and Simon is all for it, police be damned. 

He has a nice little setup, and Zayn, the kid who works half-shifts once in a while, never messes with any of his stuff, so Louis appreciates that.

 

There's also the junkies, as Louis calls them, the guys--and occasional girl--who love the store just as much as Louis does and stop by every so often to look for a spare part for their own projects. 

Sometimes they'll stay and chat, and it's nice to be able to talk to someone without having to dumb down his diction. 

He's even gotten a few numbers, a couple guys who stop by and give him a wink every month as they rattle on about how they're augmenting their hard drives or building a battle bot and a really sweet girl named Eleanor who'd blushed as she'd handed him her number months ago. She insisted it was for tutoring, since she'd needed help with her circuits homework, but Louis had seen the way her eyes had shone and still hasn't found a way to let her down nicely whenever she decides to visit, which has been alarmingly more frequent recently, if Louis thinks about it--her circuits class finished a whole semester ago.

 

So, truthfully, Louis loves his job.

It's actually the help desk customers that he loathes. 

 

It's like no one--no one--seems to know how to work any piece of technology anymore, which is so unbearably pathetic, considering the fact that every other teenage idiot out there has an iPhone. 

Louis will cut anyone over 40 some slack, but otherwise, he's pretty ruthless when it comes to judgements. His own grandmother can set up her DVD player by herself, so why can't everyone else?

 

Louis is in a pissy mood by the end of his shift on Monday, and he's about to step out from behind his desk to close up shop when the front door bell rings and he lets out a long sigh. 

He's had two different moms come in with juice-stained smartphones and Aiden and Matt--the two guys who flirt with him every time they visit--apparently decided to stop by at the same time today, leading to what Louis could describe as nothing else but love at first sight, to be honest. 

So Louis is cranky and lonely and horny and he doesn't have the patience for another stupid customer, no matter how annoyed Simon will be, and he shouts a "We're closed!" over his shoulder as he turns his back to the front of the store to stuff his things into his messenger bag.

 

"Oh." He hears a voice say, a particularly deep, male voice, to be exact, and suddenly Louis is a lot more interested in customer service than before. "Sorry. It's just--I'm not that free tomorrow?"

Wow, uh, okay, of course Louis can help, because this six-foot-tall green-eyed silky-haired tattooed Greek god of a boy has suddenly made this night a lot more interesting. 

"Yeah, okay." Louis says, trying to not look as desperate as he is. "What's your problem?"

The boy smiles and fuck, he's got dimples, and Louis so done with the world because some higher power decided that boys like this should exist and ultimately ruin his life. 

 

"I think I got a virus on my laptop?" The boy says, and drops his backpack into the counter to pull out his computer. 

Louis has to bite his tongue, hard, when he sees that it's a shiny new MacBook Pro, just like the ones he was mentally rebuking earlier, and pastes on a smile, his heart slowly sinking as he realizes that this guy has probably zero technological prowess. 

He sighs again, because of course this kid's too good to be true, and nods, taking the laptop and wincing at how unnaturally light it is. 

"Does it turn on?" He asks, pushing the power button anyways.

"Uh, yeah. But then, after I log in, nothing loads?"

Louis hums understandingly in response, looking up at the boy when the login screen pops up. 

"Password?" He asks, raising an eyebrow. 

The boy blushes, surprisingly, and bites his lip, which really shouldn't be as attractive as it is. "Um," he starts, fingers pushing back his hair, "I can type it in?"

"Well, I mean, sure." Louis says, shrugging. "But it's the end of the day and I'm probably gonna have to work on this tomorrow so you might as well just give me your password so that I can log in the next time by myself, yeah?"

The boy still looks a bit apprehensive so Louis sighs yet again and pulls out a form from underneath the desk. 

 

"Here." He says, placing it in front of the guy. "This is a contract...of sorts. It states that as long as your computer is under the possession of Cowell's, we won't touch anything unnecessary on your hard drive or give away any of your information. Unless you've got something, like, super illegal going on. And you don't look like the type to be exchanging emails with a drug lord, to be honest, so you should be fine."

"Yeah." The boy says, skimming the paper. "Yeah okay. God. Fuck, I'm gonna kill Niall." 

Louis raises his eyebrow again, and the boy shakes his head. "Niall's my best friend. And roommate. He made up the password, and I just never changed it. Fuck. Okay."

Louis hovers his fingers over the keyboard, looking at the guy expectantly. 

"Lowercase i. Lowercase l-u-v. Lowercase c. Capital O. Lowercase c-k-z."

Louis stares at the guy for a second and then types the password in. It hits him right before he presses Enter and he smirks as he looks up at the blushing boy. 

"I love cocks?"

"Please," the boy begs, squeezing his eyes shut. "Can we not talk about this?"

Louis shrugs but keeps smiling. "Customer-technician confidentiality, sure."

 

He watches as the desktop loads, some black-and-white unfocused picture of a tall, skinny guy with a cigarette hanging from his mouth, and almost rolls his eyes. He clicks around a bit, but even Finder's not loading and none of the desktop icons are visible. 

"Yeah." Louis says, nodding, and offers the kid a sad smile. "I'll do some more digging tomorrow, but you've definitely got a virus, sorry. I'm gonna have to reset your hard drive. Do you have your files backed up?"

The boy nods enthusiastically. "Yeah, I'm a photography major, so I obsessively back up everything. Guess it came in handy this time, huh?"

"It comes in handy all the time." Louis corrects, and then pulls out another form. "All right. Name?"

"Harry Styles?"

"Are you asking me or telling me?"

The boy--Harry, hmm, that's a cute name, Louis supposes--smiles, and clears his throat. "My name's Harry Styles."

"Cool. Okay, fill out the rest of this form: phone number, address, et cetera. I should have this fixed by Wednesday, will you be free then?"

"Yeah! No classes on Wednesday."

"Ah. Okay. I'll give you a call then."

"Cool. Uh...so..."

"That's it." Louis says, smirking. "Your laptop's gonna be under lock and key. Store's got an alarm system. You're all set."

"Right." Harry says, smiling. "Thanks, uh...?"

"Louis."

"Louis. Cool. So...uh, yeah, see ya!" Harry says, offering up a small wave before he somewhat stumbles his way out the door. 

 

Louis just sits there for a moment and blinks a couple times, shaking his head before he grabs a sticky note. 

password: iluvcOckz, he writes out, sticking the paper to the laptop screen, and he doesn't stop chuckling until he gets home. 

 

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Louis has almost forgotten about Harry's laptop till he sits behind the front desk the next day and suddenly remembers everything. He goes back to the safe and pulls it out, examining it a bit closer. 

It looked new yesterday, but upon closer examination, Louis can make out telltale signs of wear-and-tear and he has to give Harry props for not treating his laptop like it would break if he jostled it a bit. 

 

He powers it up again and snickers as he types in the password--god, he's such a fucking child--and gets to the desktop once more. 

This time, Louis manages to get the terminal to open, and is able to type in a few lines of code to get Harry's folders up in Finder. 

Nothing looks too weird, until Louis checks the most recently used files and sees a folder named with a random order of numbers and letters. He clicks open the file path and follows it back up to Harry's downloads, and his jaw drops. 

 

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When Louis had called Harry, he'd said that he'd be able to stop by midday on Wednesday, but it was a bit too close to the end of his shift than Louis'd prefer. This was his case, and there was no way he was letting Zayn confront Harry about what he'd found. 

Thankfully, Harry walks in at around 11:45, and Louis immediately sits alert, drumming the counter with his fingertips, Harry's laptop in front of him.

 

"Louis!" Harry cries, smiling, as he walks up to the desk. He's sans backpack today, dressed in an incredibly, unnecessarily thin white t-shirt and tight black pants. Louis' mouth goes dry but he clears his throat and gives Harry an obvious once-over as he comes closer. 

"How often do you masturbate?" Louis asks after a minute, leaning back in his chair. 

Harry chokes on air, coughing hard for a few seconds before looking at Louis aghast, cheeks pink. "What?"

"You can tell me. We all do it. C'mon."

Harry pauses, flustered, and stutters a bit, eyes avoiding Louis' gaze. 

"Um..." he starts, crossing his arms over his chest. "I don't know, a few times a week, the normal amount?" He says, looking a bit worried. 

"There's nothing wrong with it, y'know." Louis says, tapping Harry's laptop. "It's perfectly healthy."

"Uh...yeah, I'm aware."

"Just, y'know, be a bit more careful next time. Avoid the seedy sites. Invest in a monthly membership."

"Did I like...forget to delete my Internet history or something?"

"Um, no..." Louis says, confused. "I'm talking about your downloads."

"Downloads? Of what?"

"Harry, there were twenty gigabytes of corrupted gay porn on your hard drive."

"Gay--what?!"

"I mean, I'm sure the actual porn wasn't corrupted, the files were. Unless you're, like, into some really weird shit or whatever. But you don't really seem like that type of guy..."

Harry stills. "Niall." He says, his jaw clenched. 

"Pardon?"

"Niall did this. Fuck, I am going to murder his sorry ass. Look," Harry says, leaning on the counter. "I'd never download gay porn."

"...okay."

"I mean, shit, all right, I've downloaded gay porn before, obviously, but not twenty gigs!"

Louis just stares at Harry, his eyebrow raised.

"Like, there's nothing wrong with gay porn, right?" Harry continues, and he's rambling now, and Louis is enjoying this way too much. "It's great! I love it!"

"Good for you." Louis says coolly, and Harry flushes a deeper red. 

"I mean. Like. I'm gay, so." 

"Ah. Congrats?"

"...thanks."

Harry stops talking, his face still bright red, and he's looking everywhere but Louis.

Louis exhales and is about to speak but Harry beats him to the chase. 

"So...how about you?" He asks, and Louis' brow furrows. 

"What about me?"

"Are you...?" Harry says, and he looks so embarrassed that Louis can't even bring himself to be snarky about this and he smirks, nodding. 

"Yep. Hundred percent."

"Oh. Yeah, okay, cool." Harry says, and he visibly relaxes. The two of them just awkwardly stare at each other for a while until the bell over the front door rings and Louis shakes himself out of his stupor. 

 

"So. Your computer." He says, and Harry snaps back to attention. 

"Yeah, shit. Sorry."

"I was able to manually delete each file, which took a while, mind you, but let me clean out the virus without emptying your drive. So you shouldn't need to restore any files."

"Awesome!"

Louis chuckles. "Yeah, pretty awesome. So is this going to be cash or credit? Hey, Zayn." Louis says, nodding to the other boy, who's just waved at him. 

Harry turns around at the mention of Zayn's name and his face lights up. "Zayn?" He says, and suddenly the two of them are hugging like old friends and Louis is extremely confused. 

"You two...know each other?" He asks, then scolds himself for asking a question with such a stupidly obvious answer. 

"Yeah! Zayn's modeled for me before!" Harry says, slapping Zayn on the back. 

"You model?" Louis says to Zayn, although a part of him isn't surprised, because the boy's absolutely gorgeous, there's no denying it. 

Zayn shrugs. "A bit, on the side. I haven't in a while, really, since I got this job." He says, smiling. 

"He's got the golden ratio, this one." Harry says, pinching Zayn's cheeks until Zayn is swatting him away and rubbing at his sore face, scowling. "Look! He's beautiful even when he's pissed!"

"Fuck off, Harry." Zayn retorts, flipping Harry off as he walks through the Employees Only door and makes his way behind the counter. "And get lost."

Harry smirks and then sticks his tongue out, pulling out his wallet and handing Louis his credit card. 

"I'm surprised you didn't recognize him." Harry says, looking at Louis. "He's my desktop."

Louis thinks back to the blurry smoking figure and, wow, it's so obvious now, how did he miss that?

"Huh." Louis says, swiping the card and handing it back.

"You all set, Lou?" Zayn asks, and Louis nods. 

"Yeah, just gotta grab my bag."

"Where're you headed?" Harry enquires, leaning up on his elbows.

He looks like a little cherub and Louis can't help but smile as he speaks. "I'm going down Jackson."

"Oh, poo." Harry declares, and Louis chuckles. "I'm the other way."

"Well, I'm sure you'll see me the next time Niall fucks with your laptop."

Harry grins, his dimples so deep that Louis wants to do tequila shots out of them--fuck, that's a new low--and winks, grabbing his computer and walking backwards out of the shop.

"Let's hope!" He shouts, and Louis just sighs sadly once he's gone. 

 

"I know that face." Zayn announces, smirking at Louis as he stands next to him behind the desk. "That's the I'm-in-love-with-Harry face."

"I'm not in love with him! I barely even know him!" Louis cries, grabbing his bag and hopping over the desk. 

"The first step is denial!" Zayn calls, and Louis can hear him laughing as he races out the door. 

 

By the time Liam comes home, Louis is lying face-down on the coach, groaning into a pillow. 

"Tough day?" Liam asks, leaning down to ruffle Louis' hair. 

"Cute boy." Louis answers. "Cute, perfect boy. Who I'm head over heels about. And I just met."

"Ah. That's life, I suppose."

"Shut up. You've had the same girlfriend since ninth grade. You don't suppose jack shit."

"Do you suppose he likes you?"

"He's way too beautiful to lower his standards for me."

"Hey." Liam says, poking Louis' cheek until he turns to look up at Liam. "You're too tough on yourself."

Louis scowls. "He's a photography student. He works with gorgeous models and probably breaks hearts with his smile. I'm a nerd. I earn my money fixing broken crap, and for some stupid reason, I like it. He wears short skirts, I wear t-shirts, he's cheer captain and I'm on the bleachers, et cetera, et cetera." Louis sighs. "I swear, the coolest thing I've ever done is wear contacts."

"Yeah, pity." Liam says, standing up and smirking. "You look better with glasses."

Louis throws pillows at him until Liam runs into the kitchen.

"Ice cream?" He asks, and Louis screams his frustration into the couch as an answer. 

 

"Here's the thing," Louis says, his words a bit slurred. Liam had added a bit of whiskey to his ice cream to help, but Louis had added a lot more, and now, two and a half bowls later, he's having trouble sitting up straight. "I'm pathetic."

"Right." Liam says, flipping through TV channels. "You've mentioned that a few times."

"I'm a loser. I always have been."

"You're not that lame, Louis."

"Oh yeah? Give me an example of how not-lame I am, Lee-yum."

"Well," Liam says, pausing and pursing his lips. "You were on the soccer team."

"Yeah, but I wasn't friends with any of the boys. Everyone hated me."

"Fine." Liam says, frowning. Then his face lights up. "I got it! You're not a virgin."

"Augh!" Louis exclaims, throwing himself back against the sofa and frowning when Liam grabs his tipping bowl. "I'm pretty sure even that was a mistake. It was really dark and then it was like, whoops, there's your penis! Whoops, there's my ass! Whoops, there it goes!"

"You're really weird." Liam says, cocking his head, but he's smiling, so Louis just sticks his tongue out in response. "And don't worry. I'm sure you won't see this Harry kid again."

Louis grunts at him in approval.

 

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Of course, as fate would have it, Harry turns out to be one of the biggest goddamn klutzes Louis has ever met; he shows up the on Friday with his iPod, pouting. 

"My screen cracked." He says, sliding it over to Louis. "Can you fix it?"

Louis sighs. "You sure you can't just deal with it? It's gonna be at least a hundred bucks."

"Perfect!" Harry cries, slamming his hand down onto the counter so hard that Louis jumps a bit. "I wasn't planning on paying a penny less."

Louis rolls his eyes and takes the iPod, dropping it into a plastic bag. "I'm gonna have to work on this during Zayn's shift on Wednesday. That cool?"

"Yeah, yeah, totally."

"Good." Louis says, and then sits and looks at Harry, who's just watching him intently. "Is there something on my face or..?"

"No! I mean." Harry pauses, hesitating. "Well…okay, don't take this the wrong way, but you have, like, really nice cheekbones."

Louis lets out a loud laugh and then looks back at Harry. "Wait, you're serious?"

Harry nods and cocks his head, studying Louis. "Hey, um, I know this is kind of weird, but are you free this weekend?"

Louis freezes. "Uh, why?"

"I'd, uh, like to photograph you? If you're okay with it?"

Louis just stares at Harry, blinking a few times. "You're serious?"

"Why do you keep asking me that?" Harry says, chuckling. 

Louis smiles weakly back, but his heart is thudding ridiculously fast in his chest. Is this a date? Fuck. "Um. Well, I work Saturday, but I'm free Sunday? If that's okay?"

"Yeah, perfect. How about...noon? We could meet here, walk down to the park. Is that cool?"

Louis nods slowly, and Harry does that stupid fucking tequila-dimple-smile again. 

"Awesome, Louis. I'll see ya!" He says, biting his lip and waving as he walks out of the store. 

 

"He wants to shoot me!" Louis cries when he gets home, slamming the door closed behind him, loudly. He hears a yelp and then a crash in the kitchen and turns to see Liam looking forlornly at a broken mug on the floor, a puddle of tea all around him. 

"It's nice to see you too, Louis."

"Did you hear me?"

"Well," Liam answers, sopping up the liquid with some paper towels, "if it's some sort of weird kink of his, I'd stay away. It sounds dangerous."

"Liam. Don't joke around. Is this a date?"

"I don't know. What're you doing?"

"I have no idea. He said to meet him at Cowell's at noon on Sunday. Then we're going to the park, I think."

Liam shrugs. "Sure, sounds like a date, I guess."

"Fuck!" Louis shouts, running into his room. "What the hell am I going to wear?"

 

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Louis spends all day Saturday pacing around the apartment, and Liam gets so frustrated that he literally locks Louis out until midnight. 

Louis wakes up at six am on Sunday, which is a new personal best, and drinks four cups of tea before Liam wraps him in a big hug. 

"Relax," he says, and Louis sighs, snuggling into him. "It'll be fine."

 

Louis spends two hours just staring at his closet before he picks out a pair of denim skinny jeans and a loose white shirt. He slips on a pair of Toms and, after some consideration, grabs his old soccer ball from the back of his closet. If they're going to go to the park, he might as well bring something to keep him from being so damn jumpy. 

 

He reaches Cowell's just before noon and sighs, trying to relax. He can feel the sun right above him and he closes his eyes, leaning back against the building. 

Louis doesn't hear Harry until he's right next to him, whispering a soft "Boo!" in his ear and making him jump at least a foot in the air. 

"Jesus Christ, Harry!" Louis cries, his hand over his racing heart. 

Harry cackles, doubling over, and Louis can't help but smile as well after a minute, especially after taking in how positively delicious Harry looks in the sunlight. 

Fuck, when did he start using such cannibalistic adjectives?

 

"You ready?" Harry asks, and Louis pushes off the wall to join him. They walk slowly, stopping every few minutes when Harry silently pauses and raises his camera to either snap a picture of the scenery or of Louis, though he seems to be leaning more towards the latter. 

Louis doesn't really mind, though he can't get himself to stop blushing every time Harry smirks at him after snapping a picture. 

"You photograph really well." He says after a while, when they've finally reached the park. "You're lucky."

"I tend to avoid cameras." Louis says, without really thinking, and then bites his tongue.

"Well," Harry says, walking in front of him and taking a picture, "you're not avoiding mine."

Louis can't help but blush immensely at that, and Harry laughs loudly and snaps one, two, three pictures in a row before Louis flips him off. 

Harry gets a shot of that, too.

 

Louis runs away from him, sticking his tongue out, and makes his way to the grass, dropping his soccer ball and dribbling it for a little bit. 

Harry just stares at him for a second, then aims and clicks away furiously, running right next to Louis as he lifts the ball and bounces it off his knees, his head, his chest. 

Louis doesn't stop until he can feel his hair sticking to his forehead, and he looks over to see Harry collapsed on the ground, groaning. 

"You're ridiculous." Harry states, and Louis chuckles.

"Yeah, ridiculously awesome." He retorts, grinning as Harry rolls his eyes and smiles. 

"Well I'm ridiculously starving." Harry declares, but spreads himself out on the grass. He looks like an elongated starfish, but so ridiculously adorable that Louis wants to kiss him so bad, right then and there. 

Shit. Louis stands upright. This isn't a date. Harry's not for kissing. Off-limits. 

"Er," Louis starts, motioning to the sidewalk. "Why don't we get something to eat?"

Harry whines but rolls himself over and stands up, stretching himself out, and Louis has to divert his gaze to keep himself from jumping the other boy. 

 

Half an hour later, they're sitting on a park bench, a pizza split between the two of them. 

"So." Harry says, after a few minutes of silent chewing. "You played soccer in high school or something?"

"Yep." Louis confirms, nodding. "Didn't get along with my actual team, though. I really only played because I love the game."

"Seriously?"

Louis shrugged. "I played sports, but I wasn't, like, a jock or anything. I was that nerdy kid that really knew how to kick a ball. It kept me from getting bullied, though, so it wasn't that bad."

Harry hums in understanding, leaning forward on his elbows. "I know how you feel."

Louis looks up at him and snorts. "Are you joking?"

"What is that supposed to mean?"

"Harry, look at you. There's no way you weren't one of the popular kids."

Harry smirks. "Not even close."

"You're lying."

"I was the skinny, clumsy photography nerd who everyone tried to bribe just to get their photos in the yearbook. Shunned by most of the populace for the majority of high school."

"And look at you now."

Harry sighs and shrugs. "Not too different, to be honest."

"How so?"

"I mean, I still can't really tell when people actually want to be friends with me or when they just want their photo taken."

Louis crumples up his napkin and bites his lip. "Would this be a bad time to tell you that I'm an aspiring model?"

Harry's face falls, then his brow furrows, and he opens his mouth but only sighs. 

"I can't tell if you're joking or not." He says after a minute. 

"Harry, please." Louis chuckles, motioning to himself. "Look at me. Is there anything about me that says "model" to you?"

Harry shrugs and nods. "Yeah, sure. Like I said before, you're practically unnaturally photogenic."

Louis just looks at him for a minute, then shakes his head. "You shrug a lot." He says, and gets back to work on his pizza. 

Harry just shrugs and winks, and Louis doesn't stop smiling for the rest of the day.

 

"How was your date?" Liam asks as Louis floats through the front door, spreading himself over the sofa. 

"It wasn't a date." Louis replies. 

"Right. How was your not-date?"

"Perfect."

 

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It's Wednesday, and Louis hasn't seen Harry in two whole days, which is practically a new record by now. He felt like he should've sent a text after their outing--it was not a date, there's no way--but he just groaned in disappointment after figuring out that he didn't have Harry's number. 

And he still doesn't. Well, technically, it's on the form Harry filled out a while back. Louis could dig that up. Except that, no, that'd be wrong. And weird. Goddamn it. 

 

He's been working on fixing the screen for a couple hours when Harry slinks into the store, somehow making his way right next to Louis where he sits watching, entranced. 

"I can see you, y'know." Louis says after a while, and Harry grins. 

"Yeah. Whatcha doing?"

"Fixing your shit. Now shut up."

Harry pouts but sits patiently for another hour or so until Louis finishes up. 

"Okay, done."

"Yay!" Harry cries, with jazz hands and a girly voice, and Louis wants so badly to punch him in the shoulder. 

So he does, and Harry pouts again, his expression shifting into a smile as Louis rolls his eyes and walks over to the register. 

"Card." Louis orders, and Harry dutifully hands it over before hopping onto the counter. "Y'know, I could get fired if you keep acting like you own the place."

"Not true!" Zayn says, making his way out of the storeroom with his arms full of spare parts. "Simon loves you too much. Harry, scoot over."

 

The bell over the door chimes and Louis pushes Harry off the counter, cackling as he flails and stumbles onto the ground. 

"Oh! Hi Louis!" A high voice cries, and Louis freezes, his smile fading. He sighs a bit forlornly before turning to face the source of the noise. 

"Hi, El." He says, hoping his tone comes off as brotherly and nothing else. Harry seems to notice, and suddenly straightens himself up and leans on the counter next to Louis, making sure their shoulders touch. Louis bites his lip to keep from smiling.

"I know you don't usually work this late on Wednesdays, but it was the only time I could stop by, and I was hoping I'd get to see you." Eleanor says timidly, blushing a bit, and Louis elbows Harry hard when the other boy quietly snorts. 

"Thanks, hun." Louis replies, smiling, though his head is trying to come up with a million excuses to get her to leave. The last thing he needs is for Harry to watch Eleanor at work. 

"Clock out, Lou, you're not even working anymore!" Zayn says, sorting through all the stuff he'd just dumped on the desk. Louis looks over at him, narrowing his eyes, and Zayn just smirks and winks in response. Louis is so going to murder him. 

"Oh! You're off?" Eleanor says, biting her lip and smiling. "I must have, like, really good timing."

Louis just gives a tight smile and nods in response. He realizes that he's still gripping Harry's card tightly in his hand, so he gives it back, avoiding Harry's amused gaze, and quickly clocks out.

"I was wondering...um, like if you're free, maybe you wanted to get a bite to eat?" Eleanor says, and Louis tenses up, his head buzzing with all the possible reasons he can't go. He's let Eleanor down so many times before that he doesn't even remember which excuses he hasn't used, and he's about to croak out something about Liam being sick when Harry speaks. 

 

"No can do, babe." He says, his voice low enough to get Louis' stomach stirring. "He's busy tonight."

"Oh." Eleanor says, then gives Harry a once-over, her expression sour. "And...who are you?"

"Harry Styles." Harry answers, offering his hand to shake, but Eleanor doesn't take it, and both Louis and Zayn are trying so hard not to laugh right now. 

"Do you work here?"

"Nope."

"Then you're not allowed to be behind the counter."

"It's a special privilege, only awarded to a select few." 

"And what makes you so special?"

"I'm fucking Louis. Duh."

Louis doubles over, coughing intensely, and Zayn has to turn away from Eleanor so she won't be able to see the tears in his eyes from laughing so hard.

It takes an embarrassingly long time for her to get the gist of what Harry's just said, and his eyebrow stays cocked until she figures it out.

"You--Louis?" She exclaims, her voice rising a couple octaves, pointing between them. Zayn shoves Louis over next to Harry, and Louis' still got a few tears in his eyes from his coughing fit, so Harry nods in answer. 

"Phenomenal lay, this one." Harry says, slinging an arm over Louis' shoulders, and Louis face is almost as pink as Eleanor's now. "Takes it like a real man."

Eleanor's still just staring at them, mouth agape, and Louis feels so sorry for her that he's just about to call the whole thing off as a big joke when Harry turns him around and kisses him. 

 

And. Okay. Wow. 

Louis doesn't know if it's a joke or not, but the way Harry's slowly licking into his mouth seems to have a lot of intent behind it and it's making Louis' legs turn to jelly. He can't help but let out a small moan of appreciation and Harry kisses him even harder at the sound.

Even Zayn wolf-whistles, and Louis thinks he can hear the front door slam shut, but Harry doesn't break away until Zayn calls out, "Hey, assholes! The girl's gone."

 

"Shit." Harry says, his tongue darting over his lips, which are suddenly very, very pink. 

Louis just stares at him in response, but his heart's beating way too fast for him to even try to speak right now, so he just gulps and nods. 

"Sorry if that was. Y'know." Harry says, and Louis shakes his head. 

"I've been trying to drop a hint for ages." He squeaks out, and Harry slowly smiles. 

"I'm glad I could help." He smirks, and Louis' stomach drops as he steps back and picks up his iPod. "So, is this all good to go, then?"

Louis hopes he doesn't look as devastated as he feels when he nods furiously. He can feel something bubbling up in his gut and he knows he has to leave before he explodes in tears, so he races over to his bag and out the door to the store. 

It's silent as he speedwalks to the entrance but he can hear Harry call out his name right as he walks outside. He wants to stop, he really does, but what he really doesn't want is to cry in front of Harry, as if he already isn't enough of a loser already.

 

Louis doesn't slam the door this time upon entering his apartment. He closes it softly and takes off his shoes, dropping his bag and silently cuddling into Liam on the couch. 

"Well, that's a refreshing change." Liam quips, smirking, and then his smile disappears as he takes in Louis' runny nose and red eyes. "Shit, Lou. What happened?"

Louis lets out a ragged sigh and blinks back the tears that're threatening to flow. "He kissed me." He says, his voice rough. "He kissed me and it was all for show."

"Louis..." Liam starts, but Louis just shakes his head and buries his face into Liam's shirt. The dam he's created suddenly breaks and he's crying now, soaking through Liam's clothing with tears and snot and God knows what else. 

"Fuck." He says, drawing back. "I'm sorry. Let me just--"

"No." Liam orders, and pulls him back in. 

So Louis leans forward again and cries till he falls asleep. 

 

He wakes up in his own bed but doesn't move for the rest of the day. Liam stops by in the morning and gently soothes him, pushing his hair back and kissing him on the forehead. 

"You're too good to me." Louis complains, frowning. "I'm clingy and stupid. Why are you so nice?"

Liam smirks. "You're my best friend, Louis." He answers, standing up and walking over to the bedroom door. He pauses for a second, looking back at Louis, then sighs. "You're really amazing, Lou, I hope you know that. You don't give yourself enough credit." He says quietly, but Louis has to gulp back his tears because fuck if he's going to spend today crying too. 

 

He calls in sick, but Zayn's already taken his shift today, and Louis stops and wonders what he ever did to have such great friends. 

He mopes around the apartment for the rest of the day, polishing off the ice cream and shooting Liam a text to tell him to pick up more. Right as he sends it, he gets a text from Zayn, telling him to check his email. 

 

The email has no subject and there's just a link to someone's Flickr, so Louis opens it up. 

It's a photo album, pictures uploaded earlier that day, and they're all of some guy walking around and playing soccer. 

It takes Louis longer than he'd like to admit to figure out that the guy is him

Once he's hit with the realization that he's on Harry's page and that these are all photos of himself, he clicks open the first one and scrolls through them all, growing angrier and angrier with each photo. 

They're good--of course they're good, Harry took them--but Louis looks terrible, tired and sweaty in some pictures, his smile crooked in others. 

Louis is fuming as he texts Zayn, demanding Harry's number, and he immediately types it in when Zayn texts back.

 

He doesn't realize that he has no idea what to say until Harry picks up. 

"Hello?" His voice drawls, low and smooth, and Louis wants to punch something. 

"You...you can't just upload a whole album of photos online of me without my permission, Harry."

"...Louis?"

"You know I hate photos of myself. Why would you do this?"

"I just thought...you might like them?"

Louis scoffs. "Yeah, of course. Because you're such a brilliant photographer that you can take even charity case Louis Tomlinson out on a date and make him look good."

"...a date?"

Fuck. No. It wasn't a date, it was specifically a not-date, shit.

"Louis?" Harry asks. "Was it a date?"

"Fuck. I have no idea, Harry, you're the one that asked me out." Louis cries, frustrated. "I have no idea about anything concerning you, because one second you're just there and perfect and making me want to claw my eyes out and the next you're telling me that I look nice and then you're kissing me and acting like it doesn't even matter!"

There's a pause as Harry takes a sharp inhale. "Louis, I..."

"But you know what, Harry? It matters to me. Because you're so flawless and ridiculously amazing and I couldn't believe someone like you was even interested in being even friends with me but I guess I was right because all you really was was someone to augment your portfolio, huh?"

"That...that's not true."

"Fuck if it isn't. You know what I think, Harry? I think you got so tired of all these beautiful people using you and you thought you could make yourself feel better by finding someone like me and using them. And good job. I hope you feel fucking fantastic, Harry, I really hope you do."

Louis hangs up the phone and throws it onto his bed, dropping down and screaming into his pillow. 

 

------------

 

Come the next day, Louis can't stand to be cooped up anymore--and he really needs the money--so he trudges out of his apartment feeling like absolute shit and probably looking it too. He makes it to the front of Cowell's before he realizes that he's forgotten to put in his contacts and still has his ratty old glasses sliding down his nose. 

He curses himself as he enters the store and flips on the lights, shuffling behind the desk and resting his head in his arms. 

He doesn't fucking care about the customer that walks in right then, they can shoplift and he won't even pick up his gun, for Pete's sake, but he sits up straight when someone drops something huge and metallic onto the counter. 

 

"That's a toaster." Louis says.

"Yeah." A voice replies, and it's Harry, of course it's Harry, so Louis doesn't look up, instead choosing to stare at the appliance in front of him.

"I wanted to talk." Harry says, a bit breathless. "And I knew you couldn't ignore me if I was a paying customer. And I didn't have anything broken in my place but I didn't want to break something you already fixed and then I saw my toaster and I figured that it's not really broken but you could take a look at it anyway, right?"

"...we don't fix toasters."

"Oh." Harry says, and then fiddles around a bit and slides his phone into Louis' line of vision. An iPhone. Of course. "Here. My phone's broken."

Louis picks it up and turns it around, sighing as a silver logo pops up when he presses the sleep button. 

"It's off, Harry."

"Fuck, Louis, I know, would you please just look at me?" Harry cries, and Louis exhales slowly and glances up. 

 

Harry looks like he hasn't gotten any sleep in the past 24 hours or more and his hair's a mess. His shirt's on inside-out but he still looks flawless, and Louis doesn't even know what to feel anymore. 

"You're not a charity case." Harry starts, locking his gaze with Louis' so that Louis can't look away. "You're...you're a genius. You're smart and talented and I wish I could do half the things you can, Louis."

Louis shakes his head slowly, but Harry keeps talking. 

"You're amazing. And I would never use someone as special as you, Louis. I didn't know you liked me, you just...you seemed so uninterested when we went out together and I thought you just weren't into me, which I was sad about, of course, but that's why I kissed you, because I really wanted to and I thought that you would just brush it off and smile and not care or something. You kept saying that you weren't good-looking, which is a total lie, and I thought it meant that you didn't want me to keep telling you how gorgeous you are because, fuck, Louis, you're beautiful. And I know I shouldn't have put up those pictures without asking you but I made them private now, and I'm so, so sorry." Harry finishes, inhaling deeply. "Also, you look incredibly hot with glasses on, has anyone ever told you that?"

 

Louis doesn't realize that he's stopped breathing until he's suddenly taking a deep breath when Harry finishes speaking, and his heart's beating like crazy as he looks up at Harry. 

"Why me?" He asks. "You could have anyone, why me?"

"You're…perfect." Harry answers, shrugging.

Louis laughs, his tone dark. "No. No, you're not allowed to say that, not you."

"Louis, I'm not perfect."

"Prove it."

"All right. I…I snore."

"Please."

"I'm pigeontoed."

"It's still cute."

Harry scowls and pauses for a moment. "I have four nipples." He declares, and Louis snorts. 

"Yeah, right."

Harry rolls his eyes and lifts up his shirt and shit, Louis has to drag his eyes off of Harry's mile-long torso to look at where he's pointing. 

"One, two, three, four." Harry says, smirking. "See? I'm a genetic anomaly."

Louis' gaze drops a few inches. "You have a butterfly tattoo."

Harry glances down. "Uh, yeah."

"On your abs."

"Yeah?"

"So close, and yet so far." Louis says after a couple seconds, a small smile on his face.

Harry scoffs. "Out of everything, you pick the tattoo?"

"You're ridiculous. What did your mother think?"

"Excuse you, my mother loved it!" Harry cries, pulling his shirt down, but he's smiling. 

"Strange family." Louis notes. He takes a shaky breath and smiles a bit bigger.

 

Harry's shoulders relax and he breaks out into a huge grin. Louis' stomach flips, just like it always does when he sees Harry's dimples, but this time he reaches out and touches them, rubbing his thumb over the indentations. 

Harry freezes for a second but then turns so his cheek is resting in Louis' palm, and he bites his lip. 

"I have something for you." He says, and pulls out a small flash drive from his pocket. 

Louis raises his eyebrow in question but doesn't move his hand. Harry's leaning halfway over the desk now, and so is Louis, their faces less than a foot apart. 

"Yeah?" He asks, and Harry clears his throat. 

"It's a playlist. For you. Songs that remind me of you? Or that I thought you'd like." Harry blushes a bit. "I was gonna make you a CD, but my laptop doesn't even have a CD drive, like, how stupid is that?"

And that's all it takes for Louis to close the gap between them and pull Harry's face to his. He kisses him hard, nipping Harry's lip, wanting to leave him breathless and flustered. And when Louis pulls back, that's exactly what Harry seems to be, and he has this weird lopsided grin on his face. 

"So stupid." Louis agrees, and smiles when Harry leans in again.

 

------------

 

Harry's bed is soft. And big. And so warm. And Louis doesn't want to get up. 

But he does reluctantly, sighing when he smells pancakes. He winces a bit standing up--it's been a while, and Harry's huge--but pulls on his boxers and Harry's discarded shirt, smiling as he sees how loose it is on his own frame. 

He shuffles over to the kitchen and Harry smirks when he catches sight of him. 

"Nice shirt." He says, and Louis sticks out his tongue before leaning up for a kiss. 

"I'm sore." Louis whines, and Harry bites his lip and giggles when a third voice snorts. 

Louis turns around and sees a blond man cackling over his food at the dining table. His cheeks redden and he buries his face in Harry's shoulder. 

"I hate you." He mumbles, and Harry just laughs and walks Louis over to the table, sliding in a small pillow onto his chair and winking as Louis scowls.

Harry sits down and serves Louis some pancakes. "Louis, Niall. Niall, Louis."

"Yeah, mate, I know his name." Niall answers in a thick Irish accent. "I'm pretty sure the entire apartment complex does, after last night." 

Louis blushes and Harry rolls his eyes and Niall smirks. They eat in silence for a bit after that, though Harry keeps bumping his knee into Louis' under the table, so Louis can't stop smiling. 

 

"So. The infamous Niall." Louis says after a while, breaking the silence. "I've heard a lot about you and your sneaky ways."

Louis smiles and glances over to Harry, who suddenly seems extremely interested in his breakfast. 

"Have ya?" Niall asks, brows raised. 

"Of course. Good job with Harry's laptop password, by the way." Louis replies, smiling as he playfully shoves Harry's shoulder. 

Harry freezes and Niall looks at him, then Louis, then Harry again.

 

"I've never messed with Harry's laptop, mate." Niall says, and then Harry is beet red. "He doesn't let anyone touch it."

Louis stares at Niall curiously for a second, then gasps as it all clicks. 

"Harry!"

 

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