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Like Candy In My Veins

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Louis was grading final papers at 10:00 on the last Friday night of the semester, when he got the text that could potentially ruin his entire Christmas.

Correction. Louis was grading final papers at 10:00 on the last Friday night of the semester, when he got the text that could potentially ruin his entire life.

He glanced up to look at where his phone lay on the coffee table, saw that the text was from Lottie, and decided it could wait a few minutes. He finished grading the atrocity of a paper in his hands, writing a big red ‘62’ at the top with a sigh, before reaching out to grab his phone.

Just heard from mom. She’ll probably call you soon. Change of Christmas plans! One of the dance teams for that Christmas morning parade in NYC backed out last minute. The twins team is going in their place. Mom and Dan are taking Ernie and Doris with them so looks like it’ll just be you me and Fizzy this year.  

That wouldn’t be too bad. Louis would have liked to see his whole family, but he’d have fun hanging with Lottie and Fizzy too. They were finally at the age where the three of them could go out and have some real fun.

Two additional texts came in as he read the first one.

Talking to Fizzy now. We’re coming to you! Call you tomorrow to plan.

Can’t wait to meet Harry ;)

Louis swallowed and read over the last text again before tossing his phone away from him, a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach.

“Fuck,” he muttered to himself, running his hands over his face. Fuck fuck fuck. He was fucked.

His phone lit up once more from it’s new place on the floor. This time it was his mother calling, so he bent over to retrieve it with a sigh.

“Hello?” He answered, and half listened to his mom as she filled him in on the new Christmas plans with more detail, making non-committal humming sounds while internally freaking out over the fact that his sisters wanted to meet his boyfriend. His fake boyfriend. Who he’d been lying to his family about for months.

He was so, so fucked.

-----

It probably wasn’t the best idea Louis ever had, but he was getting desperate. His family was driving him nuts, and when Lottie brought up the fact that he was single for the seventeen hundredth time when he was home for her birthday in August, he finally cracked.  

“Listen Lou,” Lottie said. It was after midnight and they’d both snuck downstairs for leftover cake after everyone else had gone to bed. “I know you’ve said you want us to lay off on the boyfriend thing, but Em knows this really great Alpha who-”

“No,” Louis said, immediately cutting her off as soon as he could tell where this conversation was going.

He refused to let his family set him up on any more dates. The last guy they set him up with turned out to be straight. Louis still isn’t sure how that even happened, but his mom swears she thought the guy was ‘at least bisexual’.

Getting no homo’d at the end of the night when Louis leaned in for a kiss was one of the most embarrassing experiences of his life. After that, he vowed that his family would never be allowed to set him up with anyone ever again.

“Louis,” Lottie whined, licking icing off of her fingers. “C’mon, we’re just looking out for you. You haven’t dated anyone since college. Mom’s really worried that you’ll never end up mating.”

Louis rolled his eyes. He wasn’t the fucking 40 year old virgin for Christ’s sake. He was only twenty-eight, and he did just fine for himself. He’d just started a new job and recently moved to a new town. Mating was the last thing on his mind.

He knew his family though, and they wouldn’t be satisfied until he was in a happy, committed relationship with someone, ready to settle down with a mate, a handful of babies, and a white picket fence.

“Actually,” he said to Lottie, a light bulb going off in his head. “You don’t have to worry, Lotts. I’ve uh- I’ve kind of recently started seeing someone. An Alpha.”

Lottie narrowed her eyes. Louis could practically feel her skepticism. “You have, have you?”

Louis nodded, quite pleased with himself for coming up with this one. It’s not like his family would ever have to know either way, and this would get them off his back throughout the upcoming holidays. And then all could be forgotten as soon as the new year started. Flawless. Foolproof. He was a genius.

“What’s his name?” Lottie asked, tilting her head to the side with a smirk. She clearly didn’t believe him in the slightest. Well, Louis wasn’t bothered. His acting skills could always use some brushing up.

“Um,” he hesitated, eyes darting to the TV, where ABC Family or Freezone or whatever the hell they were calling it now, was doing another one of their Harry Potter weekend specials. “Harry.”

“Harry,” Lottie snorted, seemingly following his thought process. “The savior of the wizarding world is your boyfriend.”

Louis scoffed, brain working fast. “Not Harry Potter. His uh… his last name is… Styles.”

Hey, if he was going to have a fake boyfriend it might as well be someone he knew. He wouldn’t have to keep making stuff up.

Well, he’d still be making stuff up, but at least he could base his fake boyfriend off of an actual person. That was sure to be easier, right? It made perfect sense in his mind.

“Harry Styles,” Lottie said, still sounding unconvinced. “...Is that just the name of some porn star you like?”

“No,” Louis said, crossing his arms over his chest. He was annoyed now. Why was it so hard for his family to believe that he could actually be dating someone? Honestly, fuck them for thinking he would be eternally single and couldn’t find a date himself. Just because he hadn’t dated anyone since college… that didn’t mean anything.

“It’s the name of the guy I’ve been seeing. And he’s not a pornstar or a wizard. He’s a baker.”

It probably should have concerned him how easily he was lying to his sister, and Lottie still seemed suspicious, but she didn’t press the issue any longer. Instead, she started asking questions about him, and Louis found himself weaving this story about himself and Harry Styles.

He was a damn good actor, if he did say so himself. His theatre kids didn’t know how lucky they were to have him as a teacher.

Lottie couldn’t even tell from his stories that Louis and Harry actually hated each other.

-----

It all started with a parking space.

No. Actually, it all started with Harry Styles being an entitled, self-centered Alpha prick. But for all intents and purposes, it started with a parking space.

Louis was new in town, having just taken a job at the local high school as the new theatre arts teacher, as well as opening his own record store in the town square. He was on top of the world. Louis had dreamt of owning his own record store since he was a teenager, and he loved mentoring kids. He couldn’t believe he was getting to do both things at once.

It was early July and Louis had been in town for a little over two weeks. His time was split between going to teacher orientation at the high school and setting up the store with Ashton, the beta he’d hired on a whim after Ashton struck up a conversation with him when they ran into each other on the street in front of the store.

The store’s grand opening was next week. Louis and Ashton were taking inventory of a new shipment of CD’s when the front door opened and the overwhelmingly beautiful scent of an Alpha infiltrated the entire place. Louis almost whined. The scent was fresh and earthy, like the smell after a rainstorm and freshly cut grass, but with that underlying warm musky smell that belonged to all Alphas. And maybe a hint of freshly baked bread. He hadn’t been hit with an Alpha’s scent that smelled that good in a long time.

He looked up from his checklist, and when he saw who the scent belonged to, he almost whined again. The guy was gorgeous, with these stupidly long and toned legs, trapped in the tightest pair of black ripped jeans possible, and broad shoulders. He was wearing an old, ratty Rolling Stones shirt with a pair of sunglasses hanging from the neck. Another pair of sunglasses sat perched on the top of his head, where his brown hair was cut short on the sides but slightly longer and floppier on top.

“Sorry, man,” Louis said after making a mental note to compose himself and not run across the room and jump the guy. “We don’t open for a few more days.”

The Alpha swept his gaze up Louis’ body before meeting his eyes and smiling. Louis had the feeling this guy could get just about anything he wanted with a smile.

“Oh, I know,” he said, voice deep and rough. Louis’ stomach did a backwards flip. “I just stopped by to talk to you about where you’ve been parking.”

Louis lifted an eyebrow in question, willing him to continue.

“My name’s Harry, by the way. I own the bakery next door,” he explained, stopping a few feet away from Louis.

Harry was the only person who worked on their side of the square whom Louis had not yet met. He’d met Harry’s employees, but had been told that the big boss was on vacation with his family when he inquired. Louis had definitely not been expecting this guy when he pictured the mysterious bakery owner, but he tried to hide his surprise.  

“Nice to meet you,” he said, although he wasn’t so sure it was nice to meet him, if Harry was already going to pester Louis about parking. “I’m Louis.”

“Hey Harry!” Ashton said, poking his head out from behind one of the piles of boxes. They clearly already knew each other and Louis wondered when he’d finally get used to the close community of the small town.

“Hey Ashton,” Harry acknowledged him before turning back to Louis. “I just came in here to introduce myself and ask you to move your car.”

Louis lifted his other eyebrow. “And I need to move my car, because…”

“Because you’re in my spot,” Harry said simply, a pleasant look on his face. He clearly expected Louis to jump at the chance to move his car for him.

“I didn’t think the spots in the back were reserved.” Louis said instead, already starting to get annoyed. He hated Alphas who thought they owned everything, that acted like they were God’s gift to the world and expected everyone to submit and bow to their every whim. It was twenty first century, for crying out loud. That kind of behavior was archaic and boring.

“They aren’t technically reserved,” Harry cocked his hip in a flirty way, and Louis decided right then and there that he was not going to move his fucking car. Just because he was an Alpha didn’t mean this guy could waltz in here, turn the charm on little omega Louis, and get him to do whatever he wanted.

“But I park there every day,” Harry continued. “I’ve always parked there. It’s the closest non handicap space to the bakery back door and I’m always bringing ingredients and equipment in and out.”

“It’s the closest space to my back door too,” Louis crossed his arms in front of his chest. “I don’t understand why you should get dibs. I’ve been parking there every day for the past two weeks.”

Harry huffed. “I’ve been on vacation so it’s been free, but I always park there.”

“Well I park there now,” Louis shrugged and turned his attention back to his checklist. He was done with this conversation.

Ashton, who’d watched this entire exchange, muttered something under his breath that sounded a lot like ‘shut the fuck down’. Louis glared at him and Ashton turned back to his work with an amused smile on his face.

“You’re really not going to move your car,” Harry said, more a statement than a question, but he still managed to sound incredulous.

“First come first serve,” Louis shrugged, looking up to meet Harry’s intense, green eyes again. “Finders keepers and all that.”

“Oh, my God,” Harry said, but then he threw his arms up in exasperation, turned around and left. Louis watched him go, admiring his ass and the sway of his hips, before remembering he hated this guy now and scowling.

“That was brutal,” Ashton said as soon as the door closed behind Harry.

Louis smirked. “He hit a nerve.”

-----

“I’m dead,” Louis announced, dramatically collapsing onto a bar stool in front of Niall on Saturday night.

He’d woken up in a good mood after sleeping in late that morning, until he remembered his conversation with Lottie the night before, and then his mood plummeted right into the floor. Lottie and Fizzy called him around lunchtime to discuss Christmas, and he lied through his teeth, saying he couldn’t wait for them to meet Harry and that he was more than happy to host the festivities this year.

After they hung up, he worked himself into a panic for the remainder of the afternoon and evening until it was late enough for him to meet Liam for a drink at Niall’s pub. On the short walk from his apartment complex to the bar a few blocks down, Louis formulated a plan. He needed an Alpha to pretend to be his boyfriend. Liam was an Alpha. Liam could be his Alpha boyfriend.

Liam was already at the pub when Louis arrived, sitting in their usual spot and chatting with Niall from across the bar, and he startled when Louis flailed into the seat next to him.

“You look alive to me, mate,” Niall said, grabbing a glass from beneath the bar and turning to the tap to fill it.

“I’m going to die,” Louis amended. He didn’t have time for technicalities.  

Niall and Liam ignored him, continuing their previous conversation as Niall placed a stout in front of Louis.

Louis only half listened as they discussed the pros and cons of electing Chrissy Teigen as the next president, before he got impatient with his so called friends’ lack of concern for his impending death.

“Does nobody care that I’m dying?” he asked loudly.

Liam rolled his eyes, but obliged him. “Why are you dying, Louis?” He asked the question slowly, in the kind of tone one would use to talk to a very small child.

“I don’t appreciate your tone, Liam,” Louis said, and turned to Niall instead. “Ask me why I’m dying.”

Niall just looked at him, and Louis figured that was as good as he was going to get.

“I need Liam to be my pretend boyfriend for Christmas,” Louis announced, slapping his hands down on the surface of the bar.

“Uh,” Liam nearly choked on the pretzel he’d just popped into his mouth. “No?”

“Liam, it’s an emergency life or death situation.”

Niall rubbed his temples. “I don’t understand this conversation.”

Louis sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose, and then decided to just go for it and told them an abridged version everything. “Okay. Long story short, I’m sick of my family pitying me and always trying to set me up on dates, so I told them I have a boyfriend. Well, actually I told them that Harry is my boyfriend, but they don’t know what he looks like, so when they come up here for Christmas I’m gonna need Liam to pretend to be Harry.”

Liam and Niall blinked at him, both looking reasonably confused.

“Wait,” Niall said after a moment. “I thought you hated Harry,”

“I do hate Harry,” Louis agreed, always pleased that his hatred for Harry was common knowledge.

Liam squinted his eyes. “Yeah... Why is it that you hate Harry again? I always forget the reason.”

Louis huffed. They’d been through this, but it didn’t help Louis’ case that his hatred of Harry was based purely off of a bad first impression and the unwillingness to give him a second chance. Plus, literally every other person on the planet loved Harry. Which was also reason enough to hate Harry, in Louis’ opinion.

“Because he’s the definition of an offensive, self-centered Alpha who has no regard for how his actions affect other people. And he’s too… quirky. And like, obnoxiously hipster.”

Niall just looked at him. “You literally own a record store. Also, Harry’s not like that at all. It’s like I’ve told you before- I think you just keep catching him on bad days.”

“Owning a record store does not make one hipster,” Louis scoffed, waving his hand in a dismissal of the following comment. “Anyway, that’s not important. Liam, will you be my boyfriend or not?”

“Sorry bro,” Liam made an apologetic face. “I have plans with Zayn for the holidays.”

Oh, right. Zayn.

Louis always forgot about Zayn, even though he was the reason Liam refused to sleep with Louis when they first met, despite Louis’ best efforts to the contrary. Zayn was Liam’s boyfriend who went to grad school out of town and Louis wasn’t entirely sure even actually existed. He’d never met the guy, and now that Louis knew how this fake boyfriend thing worked, he was starting to believe in Zayn’s existence less and less.

“Why don’t you ask me to be your pretend boyfriend?” Niall said, sounding offended, and Louis couldn’t tell if he was joking or not.

“You’re not an Alpha. And besides, my sisters would never believe that,” Louis said apologetically. Niall would probably end up hitting on Lottie and Fizzy and would completely blow Louis’ cover. He was far too straight. Although, he did have that weird obsession with that one golfer...

“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?” Niall asked, slamming his fist down on the bar indignantly.

Louis ignored him and reached over to clutch Liam’s arm. “I’m so screwed, Liam. Tell me what to do. Christmas is in eight days. ” His sisters would arrive in six.

“Uh, tell the truth?” Liam said, as if this was obvious. “You shouldn’t be lying to your family.”

Louis was about to retort that Liam didn’t know his family, and he’d probably lie to them too if he did know them, when Niall cut in.

“Or,” Niall said, leaning forward like he was about to tell a really big secret. “You could just ask the actual Harry to pretend to be your boyfriend. I know he’s staying here for Christmas. Told me last week that it’s too busy at the bakery around this time of year for him to leave.”

Louis blinked at him. “That is a fucking terrible idea, Niall,”

Niall sputtered. “Well, it’s better than your idea! Have Liam pretend to be Harry? Yep, totally foolproof, Tommo!”

Louis was offended. Liam could totally pretend to be Harry. He was a good liar, but he looked so innocent all the time that nobody would ever guess he was anything but 100% honest with pure intentions.  

“Okay,” Louis pressed on. “But as if I’d ever be able to convince Harry to pretend to be my boyfriend. No sane person would ever do that, and especially not Harry. He doesn’t even like me.”

Liam and Niall exchanged a look across the bar and Louis raised his eyebrows at their unspoken communication. They were always making faces at each other when Louis brought up Harry, for God knows what reason.

“It wouldn’t hurt to ask,” Niall finally said after he and Liam stopped talking with their eyes.

Louis wanted to argue, because it absolutely could hurt to ask, but he decided to just leave it for now. Niall and Liam knew Harry better than he did. Maybe Harry pretended to be people's’ boyfriends all the time. Louis wouldn’t know. He tried his best not to know anything about Harry, which was easier said than done since he had a knack for showing up in Louis’ life at every possible turn.

-----

On the evening after what Louis dubbed The Parking Space Incident, he learned that not only was Harry his work neighbor, but he was his apartment neighbor as well.

Louis hadn’t been in town long enough to have met all of his neighbors yet, but he knew a nice beta couple lived across from him, and an elderly man with a handful of small dogs lived next door. The complex was pretty quiet, and Louis was pleased with his lease so far. At least until he came home late that evening to a massive leak in the ceiling of his bathroom.

There was still unpacking to be done, boxes were scattered everywhere in places they didn’t belong, and the leak was conveniently right above a box of books Louis would need for school. They were sure to be water damaged. Louis huffed in annoyance, but hoped everything was okay upstairs.

Concerned for the tenant above him, he left his apartment and headed up the stairs to knock on the door to the apartment above him to see if everything was alright. His mouth dropped open slightly when Harry answered the door.

“Louis from the record store!” Harry exclaimed in surprise, looking confused but not necessarily displeased to see him. “What’s up?” He leaned on the side of the doorframe and crossed his arms over his chest. Everything about him screamed of easy confidence.

“Uh,” Louis blinked dumbly. Again, he was hit with the overwhelming desire to bury his face in Harry’s neck and had to suppress a whine. Harry had a nice neck. Louis could see one of his veins when Harry turned his head just the right way. He wanted to kiss it, run his tongue and nose over the skin until he found the pulse point.

Jesus, he needed to get a grip. How could someone’s mere presence be that intoxicating? Louis blamed it on his stupid omega hormones and his upcoming heat. He was always more sensitive to Alphas in the weeks leading up to a heat. That had to be it.

“Sorry,” Louis croaked. “I just moved in below you. My ceiling was leaking, so I wanted to make sure everything was okay up here.”

“Shit,” Harry’s eyes widened and he groaned, glancing behind him into the apartment before looking back to Louis. “I didn’t think it was that bad.”

“Didn’t think what was that bad?”

“I started running a bath and forgot about it,” Harry explained, laughing at himself like that wasn’t a totally careless and stupid thing to do. “Completely flooded my bathroom. I’m so sorry. I didn’t realize it had leaked through.”

“And you didn’t think to check?” Louis asked incredulously.

Harry shrugged. “Nobody’s ever lived below me before.”

“Yeah...” Louis said, starting to notice a trend in Harry’s actions. “Just like nobody’s ever parked in your space before.”

“Exactly!” Harry said. And then he winked, like they already some kind of irritating inside joke. Louis was half turned on and half pissed off.  

“You’re going to call maintenance on this one,” Louis spat, poking his finger at Harry’s chest. “Since this is your fault. And then you’re going to stop inconveniencing me with your self-absorbed nonsense!”

Harry bit his lip and looked about two seconds away from laughing. Louis almost wished he would so he could slap the look off of Harry’s frustratingly pretty face, but instead Harry raised his hands in surrender.

“You’re right. I’m sorry. I’ll call maintenance.”

“Good,” Louis said, and then he spun around and went back downstairs to his apartment.  

 

The night that Louis finally decided once and for all that he hated Harry Styles, was also the night he met Liam and Niall. It was a few weeks later, the night before Louis planned to go back home and surprise Lottie for her birthday. Louis was getting ready for the upcoming semester- putting the finishing touches on his lesson plans for the weeks ahead, and Harry was having a party. A fucking loud party. And Louis couldn’t concentrate.

Eventually he gave up on his work and decided to go outside for a smoke. He went to grab the pack from his bedside table, but forgot it was empty, so with a sigh he grabbed his car keys and left to see if he had an extra pack in his glove compartment.  He left his apartment, glaring at the stairs up towards Harry’s, and walked down to his car.

Sure enough, he found a pack hidden underneath his umbrella and car insurance. He retrieved the pack of cigarettes from his glove compartment and lit up, leaning against the side of his car as he inhaled and blew out the smoke.

“Can I bum one?”

Louis turned to the side and ran his eyes up and down the approaching Alpha’s body, appreciating the broad shoulders and muscular arms that were shown off by a sleeveless tank and the dusting of scruff on his kind looking face. Louis discreetly sniffed the air, and appreciated the Alpha’s warm and inviting smell too- not as lovely as Harry’s- but still pleasant, with undertones of sandalwood and citrus.

“Sure,” Louis held the pack out to him and clicked the lighter when the guy leaned into it.

“I’m Liam,” The Alpha introduced himself, tilting his head up and exhaling a stream of smoke.

“Louis,” Louis held out his hand for Liam to shake. “You live in the building?”

Liam shook his head. “Nope. Here for a friend’s party. Stepped out for a smoke and realized I was out of cigarettes, so thanks.” He wiggled the gifted cigarette between his fingers. “I needed it.”

“You’re friends with Harry?” Louis asked, already judging this guy for his life choices.

Liam chuckled. “Everyone’s friends with Harry. You know him? Surprised I haven’t met you before.”

Louis shook his head. “Just moved here a couple of months ago. We aren’t friends. Just neighbors. I live below him.”

“Oh,” Liam said, eyes lighting up. “You’re Louis!

Louis didn’t know what that was supposed to mean, but he didn’t like that Harry had clearly talked about him with his friends.  

“I guess,” he said, not sure if he should take responsibility for being himself or not. He didn’t know what Liam had heard about him.

“If you aren’t doing anything, you should come up,” Liam told him, his smile warm and his eyes kind. “Meet some people since you’re still new in town, get your feet wet.”

Louis wanted to do absolutely nothing that involved spending time with Harry, but he liked the idea of hanging out with Liam. The guy seemed nice, and apart from Ashton, Louis hadn’t really made any friends since his move. Parties were great places to meet people, and he missed social interaction. Despite his distaste for Harry, he found that he kind of did want to go.

He shrugged, noncommittally. “I don’t know.”

“Harry won’t mind,” Liam assured him. “If he even notices. He was pretty drunk when I left. And I need a beer pong partner.”

Well, Louis would never say no to a game of beer pong.

“Alright,” he agreed, and Liam led him up to Harry’s apartment after they finished their cigarettes.

They entered the apartment to dim lights, loud chatter and louder music. Louis found that the apartment’s layout looked almost exactly like his, except unlike Louis’ apartment, Harry had decorated with weird art that hung on the walls, velvet couches and a shag rug. Of course he had.

Liam introduced Louis around to a few people as they made their way to the kitchen, where a game of beer pong was ending. Louis noticed that Liam’s name was next in line on the piece of paper taped to the refrigerator. They stood off to the side and watched as Harry and his partner, a guy with bleached blonde hair and an Irish accent, shouted in triumph as the guy tossed the ball into the last of the opposing team’s cups.

Harry looked ridiculous, in a loud, patterned Hawaiian style shirt and skinny jeans, but before Louis could interpret his fashion choices for longer than a moment, the Irish guy ran up to him and Liam with a huge grin on his face.

“No shit!” he exclaimed, taking Louis’ face in his hands and staring deeply into his eyes, as if Louis’s face held all of the answers to the universe. “Are you…” He paused for what Louis could only assume was dramatic effect. “Zayn?”

“Uh…”

Liam laughed. “No, you idiot. I told you Zayn’s in Pakistan visiting his extended family for the month. This is Harry’s neighbor, Louis.”

“Oh, right,” the guy said, looking sad that Louis was not whoever the hell Zayn was for a small second, before getting over that and introducing himself.

“Well, I’m Niall. It’s nice to meet you, even if you aren’t Zayn.”

“It’s nice to meet you t-”

“LOUIS!”

Louis was cut off by a very inebriated Harry, who stumbled over to him with a drink in his hand. Louis wrinkled his nose and took a step back. Harry looked like he could spill his drink on someone at any moment.

“What are you doing here?” Harry slurred, holding onto Niall to keep his balance. “Did I invite you? I remember thinking I should, but I don’t remember actually doing it. I should have though. I’m very sorry if I didn’t, which I don’t think I did.”

He babbled on about invitations and apologies for a few more seconds before Liam intervened.

“I invited him, Harry,” he said, while Louis blinked at Harry in amusement. Amusement that lasted for all of about five seconds before Harry’s face turned green and he promptly bent over and threw up all over Louis’ shoes.

Niall started laughing uncomfortably while Louis replayed the scene in his head in slow motion before he lost it.

“Are you fucking kidding me?!” he shouted, causing several people nearby to look over at him, but he didn’t care. These were his favorite pair of Adidas sneakers.

Harry groaned and hung his head in shame, mumbling more apologies. Niall patted him on the back comfortingly while Louis seethed, wanting to run out the door but staying put so as not to cause a bigger mess.

“Um,” Liam winced. “When I said you should get your feet wet, I promise this isn’t what I had in mind.”

-----

Louis waited three more days before breaking and finally deciding to just bite the bullet and ask Harry to pretend to be his boyfriend- having exhausted all other options. He’d actually looked up escorts on Craigslist , before deciding he’d rather not be murdered. He couldn’t believe he’d ever be this desperate, but here he was, about to go ask the most annoying person in the world to pretend to be his boyfriend for Christmas. Louis was starting to wonder if he should start seeing a therapist. How did he end up in these situations?

Ashton raised his eyebrows when Louis told him he was going to get some tea from the bakery on Wednesday morning, but seemed to think better of asking him why, and asked Louis to grab him a scone while he was there instead.

Harry was standing behind the counter when Louis walked in, the little bell tinkling above the door. His hair was pushed out of his face by a head band and he was wearing a purple polka dotted apron as he hummed along to the Christmas music playing softly over the speakers and arranged thumb drop cookies on a tray. His scent hit Louis as soon as he entered the shop, stronger to him than the yummy scents of the bakery, and he hated how good Harry always smelled.

“Be with you in just a sec,” Harry said without looking up from his work.

Louis nodded even though Harry wasn’t looking at him, and looked at the shop around him instead. He hadn’t been to the bakery in ages, tried not to come in at all if he could help it--and the space was just as annoying as ever. There were puns everywhere, as if the name of the bakery itself (Cake A Diem) wasn’t annoying enough. There was a gluten free section in the front case labeled “Off the Wheaten Path,” as well as a big black pot full of individually wrapped brownies labeled “Pot Brownies” by the cash register. Fucking ridiculous .

Harry finally looked up to greet Louis, with a smile that faltered upon seeing who it was that had entered the shop.

“Hey,” he said cautiously, like he was worried Louis was about to ransack the place or something.

“Hey,” Louis tried for a smile. “Can I get a tea to go?”

Harry nodded slowly, distrustful of the this situation, and reached for the kettle on the back counter. “What kind would you like? I’ve got Earl Gray, Mint, Chamomile...”

“Earl Gray is good,” Louis told him, rocking awkwardly back and forth on the balls of his feet. He was stalling. He didn’t even know where to begin.

“Are you the only one here?” he asked, realizing that Cara and Kendall, the girls who usually manned the store while Harry worked in the back, were nowhere to be seen.

“Cara’s at the store,” Harry told him. “We’re almost out of eggs. And Kendall already went home for Christmas.”

Louis nodded, sad that he’d missed them. He liked Kendall and Cara. They often came into the record store to browse during their breaks from the bakery and were the only reason Louis ever ventured into the shop on days when he was feeling brave.

Harry handed Louis his tea and Louis took a deep breath, deciding just to dive right in.

“Look, I have a really weird favor to ask,” he said, cradling the tea in his hands, fully prepared to use it as a weapon if need be.

Harry nodded for him to continue.

“You’re going to think I’m fucking crazy,” Louis shook his head at himself. He couldn’t believe he was about to do this. “But long story short, my family wouldn’t stop nagging me about getting a boyfriend, so I kind of told them that I’m seeing someone when I was home a few months ago.”

Harry continued to look at him blankly, like he didn’t know why Louis was telling him this. To be fair, Louis didn’t know why he was telling him this either.

“The thing is…” Louis took a deep breath. “I don’t actually have a boyfriend, so I made one up.” He reached up to fix his fringe. “Well, kind of. I didn’t really make up a person. I told them I’m dating you.”

Harry’s eyebrows shot up at that, and Louis laughed uncomfortably. “And now my sisters are coming in town and they want to meet my boyfriend, and basically I’m totally screwed.”

He let that simmer as he talked himself into the next bit.

"Um..." Harry said slowly after a moment. "Okay. That's... this is... Let me get this straight." He lifted up a hand and swallowed. "You told your family that you have a boyfriend... and my name was the first one you thought of?"

"Harry Potter was on TV, alright? It wasn't that much of a stretch." Louis pinched the bridge of his nose. He couldn’t believe he was explaining himself to Harry fucking Styles . He couldn’t believe he was stooping this low. "Forget it. I'm sorry I even thought about bringing you into this."

Harry snorted. "What? Did you want me to pretend to be your boyfriend or something?"

Louis grimaced at him and Harry abruptly stopped laughing, comprehension dawning across his face. "Wait--are you serious?"

"Honestly, just forget it," Louis waved his hand dismissively, as if he was batting away a fly. "It was stupid of me to even consider asking you to play along. Do you know which type of scone Ashton usually gets? I told him I’d bring one back."

Harry blinked at the sudden subject change but nodded, walking over to the section of the pastry case labeled "The Rolling Scones". Louis sighed and refrained from making a snide comment about the name, while Harry grabbed an orange cranberry scone and warmed it up before sliding it into a brown paper bag.

"I'll, um," Harry shook his head slightly as he rung Louis up at the cash register. "I'll play along."

Louis nearly choked on his own spit. What?!

"For real?" He was almost scared to double check, worried Harry was either trolling him or would change his mind. "... Why? "

Harry bit his lip and cocked his head. "Why not?"

He was even weirder than Louis originally thought. Louis could think of a hundred reasons why not, but he decided to just accept this positive turn of events and didn’t press the issue.

“Alright,” he said. “Well, thanks. You’re kind of saving my life here.”

“Sure,” Harry smiled. He had a nice smile. Slightly crooked. “So what do you need me to do?”

Louis hadn’t thought this far ahead. He didn’t expect Harry to agree, so he hadn’t planned past the asking-him-to-be-his-fake-boyfriend part. They definitely needed some kind of plan though. His sisters were far too perceptive for them to get by with just winging it.

“Um.” He took a sip of his tea to stall, right as the door opened behind them and an elderly beta couple walked in, bundled up in their warmest clothes even though it wasn’t that cold outside. They were having a pleasant winter so far.

“How about we meet up tonight?” Harry said, already half turning his attention to the new customers, who were intently perusing the cakes in the pastry case. “We can talk more about this then.”

“Yeah, sounds good.” Louis nodded, then he remembered they didn’t have a way of contacting each other. “Do you need my number?”

Harry shook his head. “I know where you live.” He winked at him. Louis’ stomach betrayed him and did some kind of stupid fluttery thing.

 

Later that night, Louis was tidying up the apartment for Lottie and Fizzy’s arrival while a freezer lasagna cooked in the oven, when a knock sounded on his door. He took a deep breath to prepare himself for whatever nonsense was about to go down, and reminded himself that he needed to play nice, before opening the door.

Harry greeted him with a timid smile and a cardboard box.

"What is that?" Louis asked, tone probably a bit too accusatory considering Harry was going to be doing him a massive favor over the next several days.

Harry wordlessly pushed past him into the apartment and Louis watched on as he surveyed the place and nodded to himself.

"Same floor plan as mine," Harry told him, and started pulling random items out of the box.

"What are you doing?" Louis asked, because it didn’t seem like Harry was going to tell him any time soon, and Louis could already tell his stupidly delicious Alpha scent was going to start stinking up the place the longer he was here.

"Saving your ass," Harry answered cryptically, and Louis had to bite back an annoyed retort. Was a straightforward answer too much to ask?

Louis rolled his eyes instead and followed behind Harry as he emptied the box around the apartment. First, he took out a pair of his signature suede boots and lined them up with Louis' by the front door. Then, he moved to the living room and placed a half burned pumpkin pie scented candle on Louis' coffee table, as well as a dog eared copy of Pulp by Charles Bukowski. He made his way to the kitchen next, and slid a saran wrapped loaf of some kind of sweet bread onto the counter before heading to the bathroom, where he put an extra toothbrush in the rinse cup next to Louis'.

That's when Louis finally got it. Harry was making it seem like he often stayed over, like a part of him existed in Louis' space. It was actually... really smart.

Harry finished by throwing a Green Bay packers hoodie over the back of the chair in Louis' bedroom, and Louis wondered if he should be angry with him for invading his privacy without asking first... but he was too grateful that Harry thought of this at all.  Louis never would have thought of this himself, and he realized now that they were going to have to put some actual effort into this to make it believable.

"Okay," Harry said, nodding to himself. "Now, where's your phone?"

"Uh," Louis patted at his pockets before remembering he left it in the kitchen with a timer set for the lasagna.

He gestured for Harry to follow and grabbed his phone off the counter and handed it to him, wondering what he was going to do with it.

"Right," Harry said, "Come on then. Smile."

He saddled up next to Louis, put his arm around him and counted to three. Louis smiled, and at the last second, Harry turned his head and kissed him on the cheek. Louis’ skin tingled, the shock starting where Harry’s lips touched his skin and shooting throughout his entire body. What the fuck?

"There," Harry turned the phone so Louis could look at the screen. "That's your new lock screen." He typed away at the phone some more. “I’m putting in my number too.”

“Have you done this before or something?” Louis asked, moving a few steps away from him since his body decided to have a mind of it’s own when they were in close proximity. It felt like Harry had thought of everything.

Harry chuckled. “No, but my mind wanders a lot when I knead at work, and I thought this might be a good idea.”

“Thanks,” Louis said cautiously.

“So, is there anything I should know about your sisters before I meet them?” Harry asked, leaning back against the kitchen counter.

“Like what?” Louis asked.

“You know,” Harry rolled his eyes and put a hand on his hip. “Like, their names . Are they older or younger than you? Are they omegas like you? Betas? Alphas?  Do you have any more siblings? Why aren’t you spending the holidays with your parents?”

Louis pursed his lips at Harry’s sassy tone and incessant and intrusive questioning. They were all things Harry would know if he was really Louis’ boyfriend though, so he sighed and answered.

“Lottie and Felicite,” he told him. “Lottie’s twenty-two and Fizzy’s nineteen. They’re both in college. Lottie’s a beta, but Fizzy’s an omega.” Harry groaned and scrunched up his face. Louis furrowed his eyebrows in confusion at that, but Harry didn’t explain that reaction, so he continued. “We’ve got four other younger siblings, two sets of twins, but they’re going to New York with our mom and stepdad. Our younger sisters are dancing in a Christmas Day parade.”

Harry raised his eyebrows, seemingly impressed. “Big family. But if one of your sisters is an omega, she’s probably going to notice and think it’s weird that my scent isn’t anywhere in your apartment.”

Shit, Louis hadn’t even thought of that. If he and Harry were actually dating, Harry’s scent would be everywhere. Not only because he’d spend more time with Louis, but also because Alphas were extremely territorial of their Omega partners or mates, and Harry definitely would have scent marked the place if they were as serious as Louis led his family to believe.  

“That’s a good point,” Louis admitted with a groan. “Her nose isn’t as good as an Alpha’s, but she would definitely notice.” He hadn’t even considered Fizzy being the problem here. She wasn’t nearly as skeptical as Lottie, but this could definitely blow his cover.

“Should I… do you want me to like, scent mark a few things?” Harry asked hesitantly, looking at Louis like he thought he might start yelling at such a suggestion. Two days ago, Louis probably would have.

Louis knew it would be sexually frustrating as hell to live surrounded in an Alpha’s scent-- Harry’s scent--for the next few days, especially since he wouldn’t be able to do anything about it. But he also knew letting Harry scent mark his apartment would be necessary if he really wanted to sell this thing.

“I won’t mark the whole place,” Harry continued before Louis could answer, tone reassuring. “Just things that would start holding my scent over time anyway, like the couch or the rug in the bathroom.”

“My bedroom,” Louis muttered, more to himself than to Harry, but Harry heard him anyway with his stupid Alpha ears.

“What?”

“You’ll have to mark my bedroom,” Louis explained, face heating up in embarrassment despite himself. “Your scent would definitely be in there.”

“Yeah,” Harry cleared his throat. “I, uh… suppose it would.”

The timer went off on Louis’ phone, signalling that his lasagna was ready. He turned the timer off and nodded towards the rest of the apartment with a sigh.

“Do your worst.”

Harry nodded and walked out of the kitchen, running his palm along the counter on his way.

Louis cursed inwardly, Harry’s scent already wafting through the room and permeating his senses. It was going to be a long week.