Actions

Work Header

Saved Tonight

Work Text:

Saved Tonight

It’s fate, probably. Destiny. Harry is a firm believer in such things; he has been since he was nineteen years old and saw the pilot episode of the revolutionary, genre-bending, critically acclaimed (yet tragically short-lived) cult TV series Saved Tonight and was thus forever changed.

He’s twenty-three now, and although his Saved Tonight obsession has cooled off enough that he can hold conversations without bringing it up at least twice, he has still been changed indelibly by his love for it; it’s still the work of art that has altered him most essentially. Harry is a boy and he’s gay and he’s right-handed and he’s a Londoner, but none of these qualifiers feels as true or as accurate as being a Saved Tonight fan (or, as they call themselves, superhumans after the genetically altered protagonists in the show, but that is beside the point, Harry knows). It’s, like…ST is the lens through which Harry has grown to see the world, and the ST lens places weight on love and hope and fate and destiny as concepts because they’re themes in the show, see.

So, when Harry sees the name Louis Tomlinson in looping chicken-scratch on the list of emergency contacts his dog-sitting client left pinned to the fridge between two blown-glass vegetable magnets, he knows this is meant to happen.

He stares, reading and rereading it, dripping onto the kitchen floor because it’s raining outside and he forgot his umbrella, and he can’t be bothered to dry off when the universe has just given him Louis Tomlinson’s number. Louis Tomlinson, the notoriously elusive, mysterious, reclusive writer and showrunner of Saved Tonight. Louis Tomlinson, the person responsible for creating Harry’s most favorite thing in the entire world. Louis Tomlinson, Harry’s hero.

Maisy, the dog Harry is watching for the next two weeks, nudges up against his shin, whining. Then she licks his pant leg, clearly unused to being ignored. “Sorry, girl,” Harry murmurs, unshouldering his backpack onto the kitchen table and bending to pat her head. She’s one of those small dogs with giant ears, little and needy, and as soon as Harry touches her, she starts scratching at his leg, begging to be picked up. He sighs and does as he’s told, scooping Maisy into his arms, tucking her against the frantic thud of his heart. “Louis Tomlinson,” he says to the empty kitchen, five syllables he’s uttered countless times before, Louis Tomlinson, the creator, you know, says he planned a whole four seasons, so the finale feels rushed because he was trying to wrap it up given network constraints. Still brilliant, though. Or, Louis Tomlinson has never attended an ST con, at least not that we know of, but I have my suspicions, I’ve seen some panel members in full costume who know way too much about the production of the series, so some superhumans think he went to a few, back in 2013, at least, in secret cosplay. Never confirmed, but you know. Possible.

It feels so strange to say it now, though, to murmur his name because it’s written on a sheet of stationery paper pinned to the fridge, not because Harry’s going on and on about it to someone who probably doesn’t care. It’s surreal.

He scratches Maisy’s head as he explores the farmhouse he’s house-sitting for the next fortnight, a nice sprawling thing that belongs to one of his mum’s old co-workers. Harry is between jobs, newly out of uni and aimless in that young, hopeful sort of way, so taking house-sitting and dog-walking gigs is a good way to make extra money while he saves up for the next, largely unplanned, chapter of his life. Or, at least, that’s what it was before it became fate and destiny. “Louis Tomlinson,” he repeats, shaking his head because, seriously, what the fuck, what are the chances? He didn’t even know Louis lived in the UK anymore; there were all sorts of rumors he’d moved to LA to write bigger shows under a pseudonym. “Maisy, did you know your literal next-door neighbor is my literal savior?” he asks, taking the stairs two at a time to check out the master bedroom.

He peers out the bay window opposite the bed when he gets there, squinting through the haze of rain droplets collected on the pane at the house to the left, where Louis Tomlinson supposedly lives. It’s a modest house, quaint in that distinctively northern way, with a collection of weird, farmers-market-type wind chimes hanging from the porch awning and a broken fence around the back perimeter. Smoke is coming from the chimney, so someone’s home.

Harry wonders what Louis is doing inside right now, if he’s sitting by the fire reading or doing a crossword puzzle, if he’s drinking tea. He wonders if Louis Tomlinson is old or a middle-aged man, if he has a husband, if he has kids or ten cats or an African grey parrot, like Harry’s favorite ST character has an African grey parrot. He sighs wistfully, shivering because this is…this is insane. There was a period of time in Harry’s life when he would have raced right over to that house in the rain and knocked on the door to fall to his knees and profess his endless gratitude and adoration, probably dissolving into a puddle of tears at the end of an emotional and ill-articulated speech, if he’s honest. But now…now he’s a little older. He knows better than to show up on strangers’ doorsteps and cry, even if he loves them unconditionally. Even if they changed his life.

“Maisy,” he says very seriously, holding her up like Simba. Her legs pinwheel in the air and she looks very disgruntled, so he sets her gently back down on the ground. “M’gonna change out of these wet clothes and then…and then…,” he trails off, gaze flicking back to the house, its tendril of chimney smoke rising and curling like effervescence, like magic. “Then m’gonna bake something really delicious in your mum’s kitchen,” he announces, because fresh biscuits never hurt introductions.

—-

Louis is on his way to the kitchen to brew himself a second cup of coffee when Muffit perks up, cocking her head before launching out of her bed by the fire and racing to the door to bark. It’s her there’s a stranger here, I have to trick him into thinking I’m anything other than a marshmallow! bark instead of her every squirrel deserves to die! bark, so Louis grimaces because the last thing he wants to deal with on a Saturday morning is Unicef or the Girl Guides or an Avon Lady. It’s the weekend, and he wants to sit in his joggers and get some writing done today, so talking to anyone save for Muffit (who doesn’t talk back, thank god) will throw a serious wrench in his very carefully constructed plans.

The knock happens again.

He freezes, standing silently with his hand clamped on the handle of his electric kettle, afraid to move in case he makes a sound that will reveal to the stranger outside that someone other than a dog lives in this house. Muffit keeps at it, though, giant banner of a tail wagging fiercely, and there’s only so much incessant barking Louis can take before he goes mad. He lets it go on for another thirty seconds or so, but whoever is outside knocks again and starts a whole new flurry of barking, so Louis gives up, rolling his eyes and yelling, “For god’s sake, Muffit, stop! Go to your crate, girl. Go.”

Muffit looks guilty and slinks off to her crate, woofing quietly under her breath before Louis latches it since he hates pulling her overenthusiastic self off of disgruntled guests. Then he stomps over to the door, huffing. He doesn’t want to buy an eyeshadow set, thank you very much, and, no, he will never accept Jesus Christ as his personal lord and savior, and he’s about to tell the person knocking some version of this when he throws the door open, but instead he’s promptly silenced because…well. It’s not an Avon Lady.

There’s a boy on his doorstep, and although there are many, many things to notice about this boy, the first thing Louis consciously resisters is that he has the brightest fucking eyes he’s ever seen on a person. He looks like one of those big, glittery-eyed cartoon characters, like Bambi looking all starry-eyed at Faline for the first time, amazed and dewy and entirely, improbably, animated. Twitterpated. Louis blinks, and this boy blinks back, tears welling up on his lower lid, and the deepest, most absurd dimples carve into his cheeks, and Louis thinks about how bad it is to even think the word twitterpated when you’re staring at a strange boy you’ve never seen before. A strange boy who very well could be, like…seventeen. He looks young, or maybe it’s just because he looks like a cartoon deer with his stupidly long legs, feet pigeon-toed into too-large wellingtons on Louis’s porch. He also looks gorgeous. “Can I help you?” he manages to snap once he gets his breath back.

“Are you…are you…Louis Tomlinson?” the boy asks breathlessly, eyes somehow getting even wider and greener than the very wide green nonsense they already are, and Louis is almost offended. He doesn’t know why this kid knows his name, he doesn’t know why he’s here, and he doesn’t know why he’s so pretty. None of it makes sense.

I am,” Louis ventures, narrowing his eyes.”And you are…?”

“Oh! Oh,” the boy says, splaying a hand over his chest like he’s just realized he’s being rude and is suddenly flooded with regret. Louis notices that his voice is really quite low, for a deer. “I’m Harry Styles. And I’m looking for Louis Tomlinson…for you. And it, like, it only just occurred to me there could be more than one person named Louis Tomlinson, in the world, because maybe you’re not….,” he trails off, cocking his head, eyes narrowing in scrutiny before he blurts, “you’re a lot younger than I thought you’d be?”

It dawns on Louis what’s happening. This boy is a crazed fan. This boy is a fucking Saved Tonight kid, one of those pathetic, obsessed teenagers who latched onto a two-season, network-censored, pet project Louis wrote when he was twenty-one that subsequently ruined his career in television and, therefore, his life. Louis hates ST fans. He hates them because they remind him of a time when he used to believe in things, in art and in hope and in fate. In love. All the shit he now knows is bullshit. He hates this boy, no matter how pretty or how much like a deer he looks. “I’m not Louis Tomlinson,” he snaps, slamming the door in that pretty, expectant face.

Heart pounding, he spins on his heel to go march into the kitchen and finish preparing his tea so that he can self-deprecatingly drink it and lament his inevitable future of unending loneliness when that boy…Harry Styles, what a ridiculous name… starts rapping his knuckles against the door again. “But you said you were!” his voice comes out muffled from the other side of the oak, desperate and strangled. “I don’t mean any disrespect, Mr. Tomlinson, like, none at all, m’so sorry if I came off as invasive or weird, M’not, I just…m’house-sitting for Gloria next door, and I wanted to…please, just lemme talk to you for a second.”

Louis sighs, chest feeling tight with anxiety, with feelings he doesn’t like to think about anymore. It’s so…strange, every time he meets someone who adores him for the art he created when he was a different person, and he hates butting up against that adoration with bitterness. He hates being disappointing, and that’s why he lives with his dog in the middle of nowhere, to avoid running into people in his target audience. His home is his refuge, but now Harry fucking Styles is at his home. He grits his teeth, composing himself because Gloria is a very lovely neighbor, and he doesn’t want to tell her that her house burnt down or Maisy starved because he refused to talk to her house-sitter since he was a fan. Louis takes a deep breath and heads back to the door, flinging it open with possibly more force than necessary. “You know Gloria?” he snaps, popping his hip out and crossing his arms, leaning in the door frame. “You look pretty young yourself, actually. I didn’t think she was the type to hire a high schooler to watch her precious Papillon.”

Harry, who is standing very dejectedly on the porch when Louis lays eyes upon him again, perks up considerably, like a time-lapsed video of a flower getting sunlight. His dimple pops out as he says, “I’m twenty-three. Also, I have a tattoo on my stomach of a butterfly, from the Dustin Hoffman movie Papillon. I didn’t know that was Maisy’s nickname! Now I love her even more.”

Louis stares. This kid is endearingly weird and…twenty-three. That’s not an unacceptable age to be twitterpated by. “It’s not her nickname, it’s her breed. They’re French,” Louis sighs. “Do you want something or…?” He makes an expectant face, flattening his lips into a line and raising his eyebrows.

Harry takes a deep, rattling breath, his eyes getting misty again, and fuck, no, Louis does not want to watch another sad kid cry over Saved Tonight. He’s seen enough of that, and then some, to last a lifetime. “You know, never mind, you’re clearly a competent house-sitter, Gloria’s house is still standing, and I have a lot of work to get done, so I think it’s best if you just go back, Bambi. And only contact me again if you have a real, honest-to-god emergency.”

“Bambi?!” Harry says, grasping at his heart again, pulling on his own sweatshirt strings with his free hand like Louis calling him something other than his name is the most delightful thing that’s ever happened to him, which is infuriating because Louis only did it to avoid using his real name. Keep it nice and impersonal, or whatever. He rolls his eyes, just as Harry thrusts a tupperware at his chest.

“Please, take these,” he says, nudging the tupperware against Louis’s arm when he doesn’t accept it. “They’re biscuits. M’a really good baker, I worked in a bakery before I went to uni. Promise, they’re delicious. They’re a sign of my…my eternal gratitude.”

Louis reluctantly takes the biscuits, as he is reluctantly charmed. Harry Styles is annoyingly charming, with his silly floral headscarf failing to keep his unruly chestnut curls out of his face. The wind frees a few tendrils anyway and they billow about his dimpled cheeks, and Louis is irritated by them; he’s irritated by how badly he wants to tuck them behind Harry’s ear. “Gratitude?” he snarks, curling his lip. “For a shit series I threw together when I was a kid, for a deadline? Because I was broke and needed to pay rent? Let me be absolutely honest with you here. Saved Tonight is garbage. It wasn’t good enough to stay on the air two years ago, and it wouldn’t even get picked up today. It was two seasons of scripts I wrote when I was stupid and naive and pissed out of my mind half the time. It’s not revolutionary or anything, it wasn’t Star Trek, it wasn’t valuable, so I suggest you move on to more quality television.”

Harry shakes his head, looking relatively unfazed for a boy who’s just had his favorite show insulted by its creator. “You don’t understand,” he says, carefully, slowly, like he’s talking to a child. Louis would get insulted if he wasn’t already insulted by this whole exchange. “I don’t care how much you hate it now or how stupid or young or naive you think you were when you wrote it…Saved Tonight saved my life. So no matter what, it will always be valuable. To me, I guess.”

Louis really should be slamming the door again, he should be steering Harry Styles back to Gloria’s house and refusing his gifted biscuits, but he just…hasn’t yet. His heart is aching in a strange, dull way, a faraway pain like a phantom limb, the nerve endings from an otherwise severed arm. He’s been told this before, that ST saved lives, changed lives. He’s not sure why Bambi Harry Styles telling him the same thing feels like it’s the first time.

The thing is, Louis doesn’t want to remember that his art has the capability to move people anymore. Thinking he could save sad, lonely, queer kids like himself from a world that told them they didn’t exist was the motivation that drove Saved Tonight, its heart, its thesis. And it got him nowhere. Broke and booted off the network. Silenced. Treated like he didn’t exist. He sighs deeply, rubbing at the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger. “Your life must have truly been a mess before, Bambi, for that atrocity to have saved it.”

“You know,” Harry says, putting his hands on his hips and cocking his head, smiling in a sage, complacent way like he knows something. It makes Louis shiver. “You have this whole thing, this cold, bitter, ‘I hate my fans’ thing. But you’re still talking to me. And you wrote ST, I know how you really are, I know. You can’t fool me into thinking you’re not a romantic.”

Fuck,” Louis says, totally done with this now, done with this stupid boy and his stupid dimples and his stupid taste in television. “You do not know me, pal, you know nothing about me save for the teleplays I wrote a lifetime ago,” he spits out fiercely. He’s about to resentfully grab Harry’s sweatshirt sleeve and sign it condescendingly before slamming the door in his face when Harry bites his lip, going pink in his cheeks, and fuck, Louis is paralyzed again, mouth hanging open incredulously because he's supposed to be angry, goddamnit, but Harry Styles is blushing, and he’s so, so pretty it’s unreal.

“You…you were twenty-one when you wrote it. That just sunk in, really, for me in this moment, I think, and…god. That makes it even more brilliant than I thought,” Harry starts to gush, cupping his own hot face in his hands and squeezing, looking so positively overwhelmed with fannish glee that Louis is worried he’s going to explode.

“Oh, god, please don’t cry,” Louis begs. “I don’t want to see you cry over ST.”

“I can’t help it, I want…god,” Harry gasps, eyes welling up, and fuck, it’s too much, those eyes are so green, and Louis hasn’t properly dated in years, and the grindr options have been deplorable since he moved this far north. “I have a million questions and a million things I want from you, which is so ridiculous, and I know, truly, that you owe me nothing,” Harry spills out, wiping his thumbs under his eyes and collecting tears, dabbing them with his sleeves. “So, I’m gonna leave, really. I didn’t mean to disturb or overwhelm you or overstep any boundaries, I just… before I leave, I really, really just want to thank you.”

“You already did,” Louis reminds him, but his voice is weak, reedy. There’s a boy crying on his porch about the queer love story he believed in until he couldn’t believe in it anymore, and maybe if you once believed in fate, in destiny, you never really stop, because Louis is hurting right now. Hurting for himself at twenty-one, hurting for Harry Styles. He wants to hug him twice as much as he wants to punch him, and that’s a lot. He wants to ask, Do you know me, really? Could you show me the part of myself I’ve lost? Could you remind me why it was so important for all my characters to fall in love, for all of them to save and be saved, in the end? He inhales raggedly, about to tell Harry he should just go, when Harry starts mumbling.

“I know, but I want to do it again, it’s not enough, really, to do it just once,” he murmurs stiffly, smiling through his tears, wet and huge, just like his eyes. “So, thank you, so sincerely and from the bottom of my heart, Louis Tomlinson, for writing Saved Tonight. I wouldn’t here here if it weren’t for you, so. Yeah. I’m sorry if this is the most awkward day of your life. Um. Enjoy the biscuits and goodbye.”

“Um, goodbye?” Louis says, standing there in his doorway holding a tupperware of biscuits, bewildered, watching Harry Styles turn awkwardly on his heel and leave.

When Louis shuts the door behind him, he tries to pretend his hands aren’t shaking. Muffit looks balefully up at him after he lets her out of her crate, whining in her throat as if to say, Why did you let him leave before I got to lick all over his face? It was so cute. Those dimples.

“I know,” Louis sighs, rubbing her ears with his palms, hating himself in too many ways to name. “I know, girl.”

The he sits down in his favorite armchair and eats an entire tupperware’s worth of shockingly delicious biscuits.

—-

Harry gets drunk at three in the afternoon to combat the paralyzing waves of mortification that keep crashing over him as he recalls in painfully vivid detail everything that happened regarding Louis Tomlinson this morning. Louis Tomlinson, creator of Saved Tonight. Louis Tomlinson, shockingly young and unjustly attractive creator of Saved Tonight. It’s not enough that he’s a brilliant artist and literal genius, he’s also fucking beautiful, the kind of beautiful that, like…ends wars and launches ships and stuff. Harry groans and pours himself another glass of red wine to drown in.

“Maisy, I’m a fool,” he groans. “A creepy, weird stalker fool, and I should be put in jail.”

Maisy, who is unamused, whimpers from the floor.

It’s only just begun to sink in, the horrible thing Harry’s done. He went to Louis Tomlinson’s house and told him ST saved his life. He, like, actually, seriously went to his home and brought him biscuits and cried on his porch. Who does that? What made Harry think Louis Tomlinson, famously private and reclusive Louis Tomlinson, would want a fan at his actual house? Harry buries his head in his hands and wishes he could apologize, wishes he could erase everything that happened today and start over again. Run into Louis out in the wild, perhaps, at Tesco or while he was walking the dog, somewhere normal and neutral. Then he would have just thought Louis was a regular hot guy and hit on him accordingly, instead of crying on his doorstep and bullying him into taking his baked goods. They could have interacted normally, without the weird, tear-inducing power dynamic that made this whole morning so disastrously inappropriate.

It might be the wine’s fault, but Harry decides that he owes Louis an apology and that the only way he can possibly go about it without invading Louis’s privacy any further is to text him using the number Gloria provided, even though that seems like another violated boundary. He keeps drinking until he feels reckless and brave enough to make a bad decision, and then he copies the number off the emergency contact list and hammers out a drunkenly inarticulate albeit sincere text: Louis this is harry, glories house sitter. i wanted to apologize 4 this morning :( i now relilizee that wat i did was totally and comooetely out od line and i should have thought more about how it might make you feel instead of being selfish. i won’y bother you again and i;m really so so sorry. i hope you jave a really good night. love, harry.

He hits send and downs the last of his wine. Then he drags Maisy into his lap and busies himself with petting her. She’s very soft and very pleased with the attention, so he’s feeling slightly better about everything when the phone vibrates on the table, making him flinch. Shit. It didn’t even occur to him that Louis might text back, but of course he might! That’s the kind of thing people do when you text them. Harry imagines some rightfully barbed response, like, don’t even text me, just leave me the fuck alone because that’s what he deserves, after all, for thinking Louis owes him anything just because he loves his work. He inhales raggedly, staring at his phone with bleary eyes before picking it up and struggling with his lockscreen for entirely too long, heart pounding in his chest.

He peers at the text through his fingers, terrified to read.

harry, I’m the one who should be apologizing to you. I’m afraid I was terribly rude, I’ve never been very good at receiving compliments. You were sweet and respectful and I’m a bitter old man who apparently can’t just say thank you. for that i’m sorry. let me know if you need anything while you’re at Gloria’s and I hope you also have a good night, and a good afternoon until then.

Harry reads it a full three times, numb with awe, before the second text comes. ps, thanks for the biscuits, they’re ace!!!! :) that bakery taught you well.

Harry….can’t…he can’t believe it. Louis is being nice. Louis Tomlinson, creator of ST, is not only texting him (they are texting, he and the creator of ST, texting like tinder matches or new friends) but texting him nicely, after he fucked up so royally this morning. This might be even more surreal than standing on his porch and smelling the cigarette and woodsmoke and apple cider scent of his house, which had been extremely surreal. Harry is so thrilled that he texts back without thinking ur not an old man :(

His phone buzzes almost immediately, as if Louis was waiting. Harry’s gaze flicks to the window, where he can see that tendril of telling smoke winding from the chimney, and he aches in a distant, aimless way as he reads the next text just bitter, then? and i’m thirty one btw, you nubile whippersnapper

23 isn’t a shipper snapper! he fires back, wondering what flirting looks like when you’re texting someone you already kind of love, someone who’s already changed you, shaped you. It all feels really weird. He sends another text, in case he sounds too presumptuous. i’m still sorry, by the way. i never wanted to ve like one of those crazy stalkers. i alwaays hated that. u were just next door to me and it seemed magical, like i had to show u how important u are to me. anyway. i;m glad u liked the biscuitss, they were white chocolate cranbetrry. also 31 isn’t old!!!!! i dated a 30 year old guy wen i was 20.

Harry immediately regrets including the bit about his (only slightly embellished) dating history. Louis Tomlinson does not need to know these things about him, but wine makes his fingers clumsy, and the text has already been sent, so. He tries to pour himself another glass, but the bottle is empty, which makes him sad.

god. i hope he was good to you and not an absolute twat like he sounds, based on the fact he was dating a 20 year old. i love cranberries Louis sends back.

Harry groans into his arm, no longer sad even though Louis apparently does not think highly of dating younger boys. He’s not sad because Louis Tomlinson is texting him still, Louis Tomlinson who loves cranberries, apparently. Harry can’t believe any of this is happening, but he’s so fucking glad Louis doesn’t hate him, doesn’t think he’s a stalker. He’s trying in vain to find the sobriety within himself to text back something coherent and not, like…dreadfully transparent when Louis Tomlinson (creator of ST) texts him would you mind joining me for dinner tonight? I really feel like such a shit for how i treated you. i’ll cook but i’ll bring it over to gloria’s so you don’t have to leave maisy.

Harry stares, and stares, and stares. He must have died, that’s it. That’s the only explanation for this maddening and astounding turn of events, the only thing that would possibly warrant Louis Tomlinson asking him if he would mind joining him for dinner. He’s sweating at the mere thought when Louis adds are you a vegetarian?

That is a question Harry can answer. no i eat everything!!!! he types back quickly. and omg thank you so much. i promise i won’t be weird and ask you about ST the whole time ill b good :) rlly. wat time? His hands shake as he hits send.

you can ask me about ST a little. just don’t cry, bambi :) Louis sends back, followed by does 8 work?

Harry takes a deep breath and scans the house in a mild panic, glad he hasn’t been here long enough to really spread out and settle in and make it messy. Or leave any of his ST shirts tossed over the back of a chair or something. If Louis comes over at 8, that gives him four hours and some change to sober up and stew in anxiety while he waits. He thinks he’ll survive, and if he doesn’t, well. Death will save him from another potentially awkward interaction with Louis.

He throws his wine bottle away in the recycling bin under Gloria’s sink and texts back 8 is perfect. see u then! before sinking onto the kitchen floor in a mess of tremulous, overwhelmed limbs to catch his breath.

—-

Louis is a decent enough cook (he might have spent his first few years alone living off cheese on toast and muesli, but he’s figured out how to work a stove since then), but his kitchen is too empty to make a dinner for two on this particular evening, and he doesn’t want to waste energy or creativity on a twenty-three-year-old ST fan, so he orders takeaway instead. It seems lazy, and it is, but Louis doesn’t care if Harry thinks he’s a bad date because he is, and this isn’t a date, anyway. He’s not sure what it is, really, but he’s going to make himself follow through on it because he was terribly rude.

However, as Louis lets Muffit out so that she can streak across the driveway and lead the way to Gloria’s farmhouse, he starts to doubt himself, starts to question his motives. He feels ridiculous, walking with his takeaway containers of curry, like some weird, misguided, washed-up celebrity having dinner with a fan to stroke his ego or something. Even though he knows it’s not that, it’s not his ego that needs stroking.

Which brings him to his next source of insecurity: he knows on a horrible gut level that he would not be doing this if he wasn’t attracted to Harry. If this wasn’t some cute boy who he slammed a door on or if this was a girl, he wouldn't be bringing apology curry, not by a long shot. He doesn’t have expectations or ulterior motives, exactly, it’s more that he just….feels worse about how he acted because Harry is the sort of boy he would date, in an alternate universe where Louis actually dated and where gangly, Bambi-legged boys with beautiful smiles and voices like molasses wanted to date him back. He’s the sort of boy he could fall in love with, in an alternate universe where he believed in love (the Saved Tonight universe perhaps, where even superhuman creatures with monstrous shape-shifting powers found love, were saved by love, but there’s a reason Louis hates his fans, isn’t there).

Muffit makes it there first and stands at Gloria’s door, sniffing it fiercely with her tail buffeting the air. Louis shivers, his fingers getting numb from having been exposed to the air for so long. He’s quite flushed and pink by the time he rings the doorbell, which sets Gloria’s dog off, which sets Muffit off. Consequently, Harry opens the door to a cacophony of barking.

He looks endearingly flustered, which is good because he also looks agonizingly hot, and Louis would have been caught off guard by it if Harry wasn’t also nearly toppling over in the midst of Muffit and Maisy’s wild, enthusiastic greeting. “Oh, yeah, not sure if Gloria mentioned it to you, but our dogs are quite in love,” Louis explains, shouldering his way in and trying not to look at Harry, who had been wearing a hoodie, leggings, and wellies at his house this morning but was now wearing artfully ripped skinny jeans and some silky cream-colored shirt unbuttoned down to his bellybutton, which is fucking obscene and unfair because it’s showing off his fucking butterfly tattoo, and Louis shouldn’t have to deal with that shit.

Harry nearly falls down as Muffit barrels past him, klutzy and cute, eyes wide. “Are they?! What’s yours’ name?”

“Muffit,” Louis sighs, tugging his jacket off and hanging it on the coat rack. “Like muffin but with a T. By the way, I’m a dreadful cook, to be honest, so I brought takeaway instead. Got, like, six things, so you’re bound to want something.”

“It smells amazing,” Harry says, taking it from Louis, brushing his cold fingers with his own broad, warm palms, and Jesus Louis is just staring at that fucking butterfly, the way it shifts on his abdominals as Harry twists to grab the containers. “I love curry.”

“Good,” Louis says curtly. “I would ask for the grand tour, but I probably know this house better than you do, so…” he trails off, because Harry is just gone, stumbling awkwardly down the hallway to drop the takeaway off in the kitchen, wobbling like a baby deer taking his first steps, and Louis isn’t sure if he’s drunk, or if that’s just the way he walks. He follows him, raising an eyebrow and trying very hard not to notice the other tattoos on his arms, visible through the partially sheer fabric. “Are you alright, mate?” he asks. “You didn’t have to dress up. I certainly didn’t.”

“I know,” Harry says, sliding the containers onto the counter before collapsing onto a chair at the kitchen table. “And m’sorry if I’m being a terrible host, it’s just that, like, well. I’m nervous, honestly,” he admits, eyes flicking up to Louis, and there’s a blush staining his cheeks, making his eyes look even more unworldly bright. “Like…no matter how nice or polite you’re being, you’re still the writer of my favorite thing ever, so I’m still just gonna act…starstruck, I guess, for a minute, until I get my bearings. And I was an idiot his morning so—”

Louis waves a hand in the air as if to dispel Harry’s insecurities, even though his own heart is pounding, mind crowded with a multitude of hectic anxieties. I’m nervous, too, he wants to say, but that is far too vulnerable a thing to admit, and on top of that, he, unlike Harry, doesn’t have anything to be nervous about. Not technically. “Please, let’s just forget about this morning. Seems like neither of us were on our best behavior, right? We can pretend this is our first, official introduction!” Louis says, offering his hand for Harry to shake, trying hard to hold it steady. “I’m Louis Tomlinson, and this is my dog Muffit, who is named after a robot from a classic sci-fi series because I’m a huge nerd,” he says.

“Pleasure to meet you, Louis,” Harry says after a moment, eyes twinkling as he takes Louis’s hand and shakes it firmly. He has a wonderful, solid grip, big lovely hands and broad knuckles; his skin is warm, and Louis feels electric with it as they shake hands, slow and deliberate, eyes locked. “M’name is Harry. I’m Gloria’s house-sitter, and I’m also a huge, huge nerd.”

“Harry,” Louis says hoarsely, dropping Harry’s hand and brushing his palm on the front of his jeans, stunned by the simmering tingle still in it. What the fuck. “S’nice name.”

At that moment, Muffit and Maisy come tearing in, panting hard like they’ve been racing all over the house in absolute, doggish-joy for the last few minutes because they probably have. “What sci-fi series?” Harry blurts, reaching over and petting Muffit on the back. “And is she a Papillon, too? She looks like a bigger version of Maisy.”

“No, she’s some kind of mutt…Aussie shepherd, collie, great Pyrenees, maybe…m’not sure. Just lots of giant, long-haired, sheddy-type dogs, unfortunately. And the name is from Battlestar Galactica…the original, dreadful one. From the ‘70s.”

“You know so much about dog breeds,” Harry muses, threading his fingers through the scruff of hair on Muffit’s neck and tugging gently. “I like dogs a lot, but I don’t know anything about, like…the kinds of dogs there are. I know about parrots, though, because—”

Then he cuts himself off abruptly, eyes flicking up to Louis, wide with horror. Louis stares, not sure exactly what Harry said that would—oh. Carmella, one of the superhumans in ST, is a parrot enthusiast, and Harry probably entertained a pet interest in parrots because ST fans are fucking weird and do shit like that. He raises an eyebrow, looking at Harry in what he hopes is an only affectionately judgy manner. “Carmella, is she your favorite?” he asks, and Harry turns so red.

“Yes,” he mumbles. “I mean…sort of. She’s the one I, like, relate to the most, and she’s the most fun to watch, has some of the very best lines and story arcs. But I also love…love…Marcus. Like, I have the biggest fucking crush on Marcus,” Harry explains, shaking his head and laughing at himself. “I sound ridiculous. It’s just…it’s just that he goes through so much. He takes on so much and struggles with such a complex self-hatred but ultimately overcomes it because he gives himself over to love and just…I don’t know. It’s beautiful. He’s beautiful,” Harry explains, eyes going soft and bright all at once, glowing like the moon, and Louis gets kind of silent as he watches him flicker to life. All while talking about his show, a character he modeled after his own pain, in some ways. It’s…surreal, to say the least.

Louis inhales raggedly and says, “Carmella was…hm. I didn’t write her as interesting as she became. Holly, the actress? She’s really the reason Carmella became such a badass, if I’m honest. Holly is, uh, Holly is really talented. And then Marcus. Well. Marcus is sort of an idiot, but I’m glad someone sees his merits.”

“I love him,” Harry says evenly, firmly, without hesitation. And Louis’s heart stops for a moment because, truly, it sounds more like I love you than any I love you in the whole of his history has ever sounded. “I know he’s not the main character or that he doesn’t start out as one…but as Daniel falls in love with him, I really think he sort of takes his place as the protagonist. We, the audience, see the universe of the show through Dan’s eyes, and Marcus becomes Dan’s whole word, you know, so…,” Harry trails off, shaking his head. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to, like...launch right into this. I really do see you as a human, you know, and not just—”

“The creator of the superhumans?” Louis interjects, trying for sarcasm but failing as his throat is too tight and breathless and fuck, maybe he doesn’t hate the fans after all, maybe he’s just never spoken to one who really truly got what he was doing. It’s like…it’s like Harry is reciting the notes scrawled desperately and purely into the margins of Louis’s old spiral-bound ST notebook. It’s like Harry, this whole time, was Louis’s intended audience, even if he didn’t know him. Or maybe Louis is just lonely and Harry showed up in his life wearing ripped skinny jeans and a shirt unbuttoned halfway down his lovely chest. Maybe Louis doesn’t know a fucking thing about love anymore, despite having written the queer, sci-fi superhero subgenre’s ode to it.

“Yeah,” Harry says, nodding, still so flushed, “that.” Then, he shakes his head and stands, swaying still, like just being in the same room as Louis fucks with his balance. “Do you, erm, want some water? Or wine? I have wine.”

“I’d love a beer; Gloria won’t mind if we help ourselves. If she gives you a hard time, you’re welcome to blame me and Muffit,” Louis says, popping open the fridge and pursing his lips as he scans Gloria’s selection. He can feel Harry’s eyes on his back, tracing the bent curve of his spine, sweeping lower, all the way down his legs to where he’s standing in beat-up Vans, rooted to the floor. It’s as if Harry is checking to see if he’s real or actually a hologram.

“Okay,” Harry says faintly, that low and too-sweet voice, and Louis grits his teeth. He needs a beer, and he needs one stat.

Harry loosens up a little bit after alcohol and curry, which they eat sitting at the kitchen table, informal and relaxed, Louis’s feet kicked up on one of the chairs, the dogs lying spread out on the tile beneath them. He learns Harry is from London, a quirky city boy with his quirky city fashion. I have a leopard-print shirt in the same fabric, they're the nicest things I own, he tells Louis, fondly smoothing his fingers over the collar while they talk. Super expensive, some designer I can’t remember the name of…anyway, my ex, the older one you gave me a hard time about? They were a gift from him. He liked to dress me. Louis might have choked on his beer at that, imagining some older, clearly rich man buying pretty things for twenty-year-old Harry to wear. The mere idea unsettles him for reasons he can’t name, but he says, well, he had good taste, clearly, anyway, which is flirting, and Louis shouldn't be flirting with a fan, but here he is. Listening to Harry go on about the posh bakery he worked at, learned how to use gluten-free flour and everything, that stuff is weird, let me tell you, telling Louis about his sister, his mum, how he used to sing in secondary school but sort of stopped after some boy he liked (but didn’t know he liked) told him he sounded like a goat.

He’s funny, Harry Styles, whether or not he means to be. Open and unapologetically dorky in a way that makes Louis feel like he must have had a very supportive family growing up, that his mum and his sister he clearly loves so much loved him right back, encouraged his slow, meandering way of speaking, his stories that don’t really go anywhere but are interesting all the same, perhaps simply because he believes they’re interesting. There’s an honesty to Harry Styles, something childish and real, and Louis likes him, is drawn to his easy, awkward charm, so much so that he keeps forgetting the circumstances that led them both here, the fact that he’s an ST fan, that he knows about parrots because Carmella is his favorite character.

“So…,” Harry says, crossing his arms and leaning forward, so that his hair tumbles over his shoulder in a messy tousle. It had still been damp from the shower when Louis first arrived, but it has since dried into a fluffy, unsettled mess, something impossibly soft. Louis aches to touch it, make a fist in it and pull Harry across the table, watch the crystal green of his eyes reduce to thin rings as his pupils blow out. Louis thinks he could blow this boy’s pupils out, if he were allowed to, if he lived in a universe where things like that could happen, the universe of his own TV show.

He sighs. “So?”

“So, you know a lot about me, now. Where I worked and my favorite desserts and my family and stuff…but I don’t know anything about you. As you reminded me earlier today. You know, how me knowing the show doesn’t mean I know you? I get that, now. I really do. Still, since you’re over for dinner, I’d like to know you, if that’s okay.”

Louis smiles a flat-lipped smile. It’s funny, this whole thing, because maybe he’s been wrong. Maybe the reason why he’s always pushed his fans away, out of his life, is not because they think they know him but don’t, but because they do know him more than he wants them to, more than he’d care to admit. Or, at least, the ones like Harry do. The ones who recognized ST was a love story between Daniel and Marcus more than it was anything else, even with the network censorship Louis was constantly at odds with, the execs who wanted it to be written off as a brotherly bond, despite everything Louis did to make it accessible, digestible, family-friendly. A queer love story like any love story, where no one died and they got their happy ending, despite being monsters, despite living in a monstrous world. Louis sighs, spinning his half-empty beer bottle on the table, fingers damp with condensation. “I think that’s okay,” he says after a moment, flicking his eyes up to Harry. “It’s not, like…it’s not like I’m a real recluse or anything, not like the forums speculate. You know, I only bought a house in the north, no Siberian shacks or Amazonian river boats or anything. I have friends, plenty of them. Just…people like Gloria. They know I used to write television, but they don’t know what or when or the details. It’s kind of easier that way, to keep this life separate from whatever I was doing then.”

“And what are you doing now? Do you…are you still writing?”

Louis raises an eyebrow. “Yes, but not teleplays. I ghostwrite, mostly. A number of things, memoirs for actors, travel guides for the UK. Kind of boring, honestly, and I’m sure you were expecting glamour, but…it’s not like that.”

“I bet they’re beautiful,” Harry says earnestly, as if travel guides even have the ability to be beautiful. “Everything you’ve ever written…. I’ll read all about, like, guided tours through the catacombs, honestly, if you’ve written it. Just…the way your mind works,” Harry explains eyes wet and shiny with his face split into one of those huge, brilliant smiles, and Louis thinks that most people stop smiling like that once they grow up a little, once they lose the magic of childhood, of wonder. Like, Harry probably still believes in Santa Claus or something. “You know, you lay down stories really brilliantly. The way you think ST is going to be about good versus evil, all the superhero tropes, men fighting monsters…and it gets flipped totally on its head. The monsters are the human ones, the superhuman ones, and it all ends up being about love….it’s just so brilliant. I’m sure you can make the most boring subjects really, really lovely.”

Louis snorts, shaking his head. “I promise, there’s not an ounce of myself in the shit I write now. Anyway, I’m not…I don’t write conceptual things anymore, really,” he explains, and he should stop at that, stop putting himself into anything, even conversations with Harry Styles. Harry Styles who probably leaves milk and biscuits out on Christmas Eve, carrots for the reindeer. Still, Louis just keeps talking, eyes fixed on the rim of his beer bottle, face feeling hot with spice, with alcohol, with the childlike wonder of Harry Styles’s Christmas smile bearing down on him like the sun. “Like…at this point in my life, I don’t want to write things with themes. It’s too… too exhausting, to write screenplays or books or whatever that’s supposed to mean something and then watch people put their dirty hands all over it. Networks and all the money-grubbers in publishing, in television. Writing isn’t. Like. It’s not pure anymore. Travel is travel: you go to the place and visit the tourist attractions and drink tea and eat haggis or whatever. Can’t write anything subjective into that, but fiction…it’s…you can’t put any of yourself into it; if you do, you'll be disappointed. Someone will ruin it,” Louis admits. And he feels like he’s at confession or something, spilling the truth here onto the table in his neighbor’s kitchen, across takeaway boxes of curry, before Harry Styles, who is nodding very solemnly.

Louis licks his lips, flattens them out. He’s about to say something again, murder the silence with a joke to dissipate whatever tight, loaded tension is stretching between them, but Harry beats him to the punch. “Do you write, just for yourself, ever? Things that are subjective? Things with themes?”

It’s a very personal question, and Louis is caught quite off guard. He sputters a little, eyes wide as he chokes out, “Well, yeah. Of course. You never really stop writing, when you write. Like that.”

Harry stares at him, pretty mouth open in the softest, most glorious part, and god, he really has the loveliest lips and that’s probably why all of this is happening, why Louis is having dinner with a fan and crying about how the network ruined his art. Harry closes the aforementioned and highly problematic mouth, tonguing distractingly at the corner of his lips, sort of lit up in an impossible way. “You…you do,” he says breathlessly. “You still…fuck. You’re still writing. Do you have—are you—wait, have you written things in the ST universe?” he finally spits out, looking like, regardless of the answer, he’s gonna burst into tears when he hears it.

Louis points at him firmly. “I told you, no crying, Harold.”

Harry smiles enormously, so huge and cheesy and Disney, cheeks visibly aching with the strain of it. “Not crying,” he says through grit teeth. “Just…overwhelmed. Happy. I know you, like…had ideas, for a season three, but they got shoved into the end of season two or scrapped when it got canceled. But I didn’t know…have you…written? A season three?”

Louis scoffs, tracing the wood grain of the kitchen table. “It’s not organized like that, exactly, but I have plenty of story arcs sort of plotted, outlined. And then character stuff fleshed out, so, yeah, theoretically, there’s enough material for a few seasons of teleplay if I formatted it like that.”

Harry dissolves into a puddle on the table. That’s the only way Louis knows how to describe it. His pretty self just kind of turns into a liquid and spills out, hair and Bambi limbs all over everything. “M’not crying,” Harry whimpers, though his voice is suspiciously muffled and tearful. “Pinky promise,” he says, holding out his hand.

Louis knows better than to link fingers with Harry Styles. “It doesn't matter,” he says, downing the rest of his beer. “Any of it. No network would ever pick up something like that now, and I’m well over it at this point, too…it’s just kind of, for fun. You know, keeping up with characters like friends.”

Harry snaps up, narrowing his eyes. “But they’re my friends, too. Me’n all the other fans, we love them, too. S’like, it’s not just me whose had their life changed by that show, Louis, you could…you could make so many people so fucking happy, if you just…I don’t know. Wrote that stuff out. Self-published it in, like…a book, or even collaborated with an artist or something, did a comic…like…”

Louis waves his hands in the air, cutting Harry off before he gets more excited, gets anymore terrible ideas. “No, m’not gonna. Saved Tonight is over, I’m a decade older, and it’s just…run its course, like. I’m doing something else.”

Harry sighs. “I know you don’t owe it to us to do anything with the stuff you’ve written, you don’t owe any fan anything. But you…maybe you owe yourself closure. After all, the network made you wrap up something that wasn’t finished. And they made you sort of, like, sanitize Marcus and Daniel’s relationship, not to mention Laura and Beverly, who, like, had a thing, had a love story going that you had to dead end because there was some gay panic going on behind the scenes. That’s not fair, that wasn’t what you were doing, and it was, like, frankly disrespectful to the amazing things you were doing,” he says frantically, gesturing with those big hands, eyes red-rimmed, and Louis just watches him go on and on, bewildered.

He swallows thickly. “Maybe. I mean, it was disappointing. To have my work edited like that. But…Harry, that’s television. That’s just the industry, and I made my peace with that a long time ago,” he sighs. And he’s lying, lying through his fucking teeth, but his voice sounds even enough, so Harry believes him, taking a deep breath and sagging into his seat, shirt popping open completely as he shifts. He has stomach tattoos, too, beneath the butterfly. How unfair.

“Okay,” he says resolutely. “I’m sorry if I’m, like…pushing. I don’t mean to.”

“It’s okay,” Louis lies again. “You kept those tears locked up pretty valiantly, which is all I asked. So. Shall we move on to smoother sailing?”

Harry smiles, bright and wobbly and innocent, and, oh, Louis would kiss this boy, if everything was different. If he was different. If Harry would kiss him back for any other reason save for him writing his favorite show. “Smooth sailing is good,” Harry mumbles, shaking hair out of his eyes and tucking it back behind his ear deliberately. “Can always talk about the weather. Or catacombs and haggis.”

“We should walk the dogs,” Louis says, nudging Muffit with his foot. “She’s old and lazy and doesn’t get out as much; Maisy will give her something to run about.”

Harry’s eyes get wide. “But it’s dark, and we’re, like…in the woods,” he says.

Louis makes a face, raising his brows. “Um, what kind of house-sitter are you, London Boy? I have a torch. And there’s a nice trail that follows the stream out back. Only one side is lined in trees, so the moon lights the path. Come on, let’s put those Bambi legs to use.”

“Moonlight, how romantic,” Harry says, standing up and sloughing off his shirt, and fuck, Louis looks away sharply, offended by the broad, effortlessly muscled cut of Harry’s shoulders. He must go to the gym or something because that’s not from baking.

“Are you going to put on a more practical shirt?” he asks, grabbing his jacket.

Harry comes back in a black Calvin Klein pullover and a sheepskin coat, still looking stupidly, attractively posh. “Okay. I’m ready, oh, mountain man, for you to show me the way.”

Louis holds out his arm, then, sort of as a joke, but Harry, the dear (deer?), takes it. And, well, Louis will take it, too.

—-

It’s cold outside, like, horribly cold, and that’s why Harry keeps drifting closer to Louis. Why their shoulders keep bumping, why he keeps turning his face away from the night. It has nothing at all to do with how magnetically smart Louis is or how good he smells (cigarettes and cologne and laundry detergent, something citrusy, like he uses a lemon aftershave, which makes Harry think of margaritas as his mouth waters). Harry keeps getting closer; he can’t really help it. He wonders what exactly Louis Tomlinson would do if he acted on any of his wildly inappropriate whims, turning his face and burying it in the skin of Louis’s neck, opening his mouth so that his tongue can be scoured raw on chestnut stubble. He thinks Louis would probably hit him in the stomach, so he doesn’t even entertain the notion for very long, just sighs wistfully, trying to leech Louis’s warmth without being creepy about it, which is impossible because Harry is, just by default, creepy.

They walk together quietly, boots crunching on the road as the dogs tear ahead of them, chasing each other and crashing through the brush, snuffling in the darkness. “S’crazy that they don’t need leashes here. In London, everyone uses leashes,” Harry says through chattering teeth. He keeps getting nervous that the dogs are going to run away, and he’ll be fired from his dog-sitting job for losing his ward, but Louis just laughs at him.

“That’s because there are cars in London, silly Bambi,” he says, and his breath is a visible thing, a white plume in the air. Harry wants to touch it. “Here, they can be actual dogs. Run around and bark and roll in nasty things, like they’re supposed to.”

Harry is so focused on squinting ahead of himself, watching Maisy dart in and out of the beam of Louis’s torch that he trips on something, nearly catapulting to the ground on his face.

Louis stops, grabs his arm, steadies him. “My god, you’re a disaster waiting to happen. Does Gloria know you’re so woefully helpless with nature?” he asks, wheezing with laughter. His eyes are all scrunched up at the sides, genuinely mirthful with his long lashes sweeping his cheek, and Harry’s heart is pounding, his mouth is dry. He would have the most massive and horrible crush on Gloria’s neighbor under any circumstance, and he’s had the most massive and horrible crush on the writer of ST since he was nineteen, so the fact that they’re the same person seems like such a deliberate thing, the universe going for his throat mercilessly.

“Heeeey,” he murmurs, righting himself as Louis’s hand remains on his elbow, warm even through sheepskin. “I’m highly qualified. I have family in Cheshire, spent lots of time up there as a kid, doing, like, kid things. Catching toads and digging holes.”

“Holes and toads, the extent of Harry Styles’s rural house-sitting resume qualifications,” Louis says, clucking his tongue. He shakes his fringe out of his eyes, but it falls right back; they’re still standing very close, and Harry, Harry could reach out and touch that soft wing of hair with his cold, trembling fingers if he wanted to. He thinks he might even be able to get away with it.

“Are you really thirty-one?” he breathes, not really meaning to. It comes out too soft, shaking like the rest of him. “I mean, you don't look it. You have one of those, like, ageless Peter Pan type of faces.”

Louis scoffs. “Must be good genes. I certainly don’t take care of myself, anyway,” he says, fingers finally falling away from Harry’s arm as they start along the path again.

Harry is offended. The writer of ST should take very good care of himself in case some network contacts him years from now and tells him they want to put the show back on the air. A man as lovely as Louis Tomlinson should take very good care of himself because he’s lovely and funny, and his dog needs him. Louis is the type of person who deserves all the self-love and care in the world, and the fact he’s not getting it is, like, deeply upsetting, so Harry pouts. “That’s terrible. You should...you should take epsom salt baths and vitamins and, like…eat well. It would be a terrific loss to the world if you had a heart attack at forty.”

Snorting, Louis shakes his head, hip-checking Harry like a reprimand. “Harry, no one would even notice if I had a heart attack at forty, except for, like…Gloria and Muffit and my family. It certainly wouldn’t be a great loss. I’m not Gene Roddenberry.”

“I would notice! I’d be gutted!” Harry explains, rounding on Louis because, really, does he actually believe ST is some forgotten, two-season throwaway show? Does he think he’s not a valuable, influential artist in the industry? That he doesn’t matter? Harry’s heart is racing, there are so many things he wants to say, well-articulated, mature, intellectual things about ST’s contributions to queer representation in television, but what ends up coming out is, “Like, Louis. People love you. I love you.”

Louis raises his elegant eyebrows, face looking sharp in the stark illumination of the torch.. Harry’s mouth hangs open, horrified at himself, as Louis mocks, “Oh, you love me, do you? Consider that, then. The people who love me only really love the idea of me, an idea they fabricated on something I wrote, and that’s not…real love. That’s admiration. Idol worship. Or something.”

His voice is cutting, and Harry can’t breathe. “That’s not what I meant,” he says weakly, hanging his head. “Anyway, I’ve met you, and we’ve hung out all night, doesn’t that count for something?” There’s more he wants to say, but he manages to keep the flood at bay. I don’t just love the idea of you, he thinks desperately, teeth in his cheek. I love the actual you I just met, even though we’ve only known each other for a day, and you slammed a door in my face, twice. “You’re wonderful no matter what you’ve written,” he adds eventually, and if this is a seduction technique, it’s a very bad one. Harry is feeling very clumsy and very stupid.

“I suspect you’re flattering me, Harry Styles,” Louis says, sounding more tired than irritated at this point, “because you want me to turn my shitty notes about Marcus and Daniel being cute together and the whole government infiltration storyline into an even shittier fan-illustrated comic—-“

Harry’s heart leaps up into his throat. “The government infiltration storyline??!! Does Laura run for office? Does she…oh, god. Marcus and Daniel being cute together? I swear all I want is a whole comic of them, like, doing laundry together, Louis, please, write a season three. Pitch it to Netflix. It’s been two years, and people are still interested, people still go to cons. Just…it’s not just me,” he spills, stomach tied in knots because seriously, what the fuck, there’s more ST to digest, things that have happened or will happen to his favorite characters, and they’re all just sitting there, untapped, in Louis Tomlinson’s genius brain. Right there. Harry wants to, like, crack him open so he can see inside.

But perhaps even more horrifying is that he also wants to be his boyfriend. He wants to sit across from him at the kitchen table with his feet in his lap and listen to Louis run ideas by him, his hair rucked up from sleep while he thumbs through his notebook and says, What do you think about Marley and Laura forming an alliance?They have a common cause even if they’re coming from different sides of the superhuman war, sort of a Professor X and Magneto thing? and Harry would lean over and kiss the corner of his mouth and say, sounds perfect, babe, I love it. The more allies, the better, as long as they take down the oppressors. You’re brilliant, and I love you. He wants to, like…help Louis proofread teleplay drafts. He wants to make him tea while he writes furiously on his laptop. He wants to be the very best cheerleader and editor and boyfriend and best friend in the world. He wants it so badly he’s gone silent, staring off into the darkness, so he jumps when Louis speaks.

“I…I know. I know there are people who want to know what happens. But it’s been so long, I’ve changed so much, and I honestly don’t even feel like I could adequately deliver. I feel like I’m so disconnected from those characters and that whole mindset, that universe where love actually defeats evil…I don’t think I believe that anymore. So I don’t think I could sell it.”

A light goes off in Harry’s brain, and he might hear angels singing, somewhere in the distance. “I…I think you could,” he says carefully, hatching a plan. If Louis doesn’t believe in love anymore, he will change his mind. He’ll bring meaning back to love. He’ll show Louis that love saves. He’s not sure how, not yet, but baking is probably going to come in handy, baking and cranberries and his nice shirts, the ones that button up even though he mostly buttons them down. He inhales raggedly, wringing his hands together because he wouldn’t feel like this was something he could do if there wasn’t a mutual energy being exchanged between their bodies, if Louis wasn’t nudging up against him as they walked, if Louis didn’t look stricken when they held eye contact for any prolonged period of time. It’s not an assumption, it’s destiny. Fate. Harry knows it.

“It doesn’t matter. Even if I don’t sell it, you guys will probably still eat it up. You’re so desperate for more of the show that even if it’s terrible, you’ll like it…do you know how weird and frustrating that is, for an artist?” Louis says eventually.

“More frustrating than writing travel guides?” Harry asks, mind still positively whirring with manic energy, with bad ideas, with likely ill-fated, biscuit-related plans.

Louis laughs, but it’s small and sad. “Yes, Harold. Travel guides are tedious, but they aren’t frustrating. Haggis is very zen.” He says it with conviction, and maybe it’s wishful thinking, but Harry is not convinced.

Louis suggests they turn around to head back, and as he calls the dogs, Harry trips spectacularly, again, so Louis catches him, again. And as he heaves him up by the arm and guides Harry by the small of his back for a good three minutes in loaded silence, his hand lingers, and lingers, and Harry plots madly, feeling like the moon is so huge he can do anything tonight, and he will.

—-

After a fitful night of half-sleep haunted by Harry Styles’s too-pretty eyes and too-low voice, Louis slides out of bed at an ungodly hour to garden, sighing heavily in self-pity. He has morning wood, and he can’t stop replaying the weird, awkward goodbye hug he shared last night with Harry, who is, like, not the tallest and most solid person in the world, not by a long shot, but it somehow felt like hugging the tallest and most solid person in the world, and Louis had ached afterward. He hadn’t wanted to let go. He’s still thinking about it.

He needs, like…dirt under his nails. He needs to tenderly transplant his baby tomatoes from their pots inside into the actual garden; he thinks they’re ready. He needs to do something calming and methodical and not wank in the shower thinking about Harry’s massive mouth, his smooth, bitable skin.

Louis pulls on work gloves and a beanie, makes himself a thermos full of tea, and sulks out to his garden with Muffit, trying hard to remind himself of all the reasons why it’s a #BadIdea to be attracted to a fan. “There’s, like, an implicit power dynamic,” he tells her, ruffling the fur on the back of her neck. “He only likes me and flirts like that because of ST. Has nothing to do with me. Would never work.”

Muffit looks up at him with skeptical eyes, as if she’s saying, but there’s no harm in just thinking about him. He’s cute and there was real tension there last night; Maisy and I saw it, it was embarrassing.

“Shut up,” Louis tells her, even though she didn’t technically say anything. “It was not.”

There’s a snapping sound somewhere to Louis’s left, beyond the horizon line of his property, and he jumps, knees popping as he stands to scan for an intruder. His heart slides up into his throat when he sees who it is, blood icing over because no one, no one at all, should look sexy in oversized hunter wellies.

Harry Styles stumbles over to him, grinning in that huge, maddening way. “Hello and good morning,” he pants, dimpled cheeks flushed in the cold. Louis wonders briefly and self-destructively what it would be like to actually have Harry, to be the person he comes home to after work, to smile back at him and fold him up in a hug, to nuzzle into his hair and say, How was your day, babe? Ugh. He shakes his head, hating how cruel his imagination is, providing him with impossible scenarios to feel cold about later.

“Morning, Harry. Did I forget something at Gloria’s last night, or…?” he pulls his work gloves off and shoves them into the pocket of his hoodie, crossing his arms defensively because he’s not ready for another hug, but Harry is just coming at him, tripping across the grass. Muffit is thrilled, bounding up to him and whining in excitement.

“Hi, girl,” Harry murmurs, bending down to love her up, smiling as his hair tumbles out of its loose headscarf, and Louis just watches, wondering if Gloria could maybe come back from her vacation earlier so he won’t have to resist this boy for a whole two weeks. “You didn’t forget anything,” Harry says, flicking his gaze to Louis. “I just wanted to hang out. Are you busy? Oh, I also brought you something,” he unshoulders his backpack and pulls out another tupperware, and Louis’s mouth starts watering, fucking Pavlovian response to what he now knows to be unfairly delicious baked goods.

“I’m working today, I have a job, you know, writing travel guides is an actual job…,” Louis starts, trailing off because Harry is cracking open the top of the tupperware to reveal…a lopsided half of a coconut cake? “Is that…is that coconut?”

“Mmmhm,” Harry says. “Like, an excessively coconutty coconut cake. Coconut sugar and coconut flour and coconut oil and coconut flakes on top….the icing is kind of vanilla coconut, but s’really good. Oh! It’s also gluten free! By mistake, not design,” he offers it to Louis, who is a mere mortal and takes it with a prickling of heat behind his eyelids.

“How did you know I love coconut cake? It’s, like…my favorite thing in the world,” Louis confesses, and Harry’s smile is so huge, it’s like watching an explosion, and Louis is a little terrified he’s falling in love or something, which is impossible because no one, not even characters in ST, fall in love in two days.

“Well,” Harry says, rolling onto the balls of his feet cutely, chewing his lower lip. “Your only bio, ever, the one on IMDB, which I assume you wrote? Right when the show aired, it had, like, a list of little random facts that didn’t really reveal anything: Louis Tomlinson is from Sheffield, doesn’t trust horses, and will do anything for a slice of good coconut cake?”

“I’m not from Sheffield, that was a lie, but horses are terrifying, and I am a slut for coconut cake,” Louis sighs dramatically, unable to resist opening up the tupperware and dipping his finger into the fluffy icing and sucking it off. Harry might be watching, he’s not sure because he’s not looking up. This whole exchange is…manipulative. And confusing. “I can’t believe you remember that! It was up for, like, seven months or something before I made them take everything down.”

“I remember everything about ST,” Harry says. “Anyway, I stayed up until, like, 4 am baking that, so I hope it’s good.”

Louis can already tell it’s good; the frosting alone is heavenly, and he’s feeling a little weak in the knees, but he manages a nonchalant, “I hope so, too, for your sake. The only thing worse than no coconut cake is subpar coconut cake.”

Harry snorts, and it turns into a squawking laugh. Louis loves it, loves how willfully dorky and unconcerned with appearances Harry can be, even for all his designer pullovers and tattoos and absurd belief that dogs must be on leashes lest they run away. He’s a paradox, and Louis wants to put a dollop of icing on his dimple and lick it out. It’s bad and inconvenient, but it’s already well out of Louis’s control.

“I worked really hard on it, and I’m an above-average baker, so I suspect it will be an above-average cake,” Harry explains, shoving his hands in his pockets and swaying while Muffit weaves through his legs. “So, I understand you have to work, but surely you aren’t working all day? As in, you’d have time to walk the dogs with me? Or have some tea? I don’t have friends up here, so, s’just me and Maisy. I’d love the company.”

Louis can’t stop getting his fingers in the cake and sucking them off. It’s just so good. Harry Styles is the type of boy you put a ring on. Even then, he forces himself to narrow his eyes at Harry and ask suspiciously, “Are you…going to bother me until I agree to, like, write a season three teleplay or summat? Because it’s not going to happen, no matter how magical this cake may or may not be.”

Harry feigns innocence. It’s so obviously feigned that Louis almost laughs at him and his comically wide, Who, me? eyes all green and glittering and horrible. “No! Also, I’m not bothering you, I baked you your favorite cake: I’m bribing you. It’s different.” He bursts into laughter then, covering his mouth with his hands, clearly caught. Louis can’t help it, he grins back, shaking his head.

“Ugh, if you must bribe me for my company, I suppose I can spare some time,” Louis says, rolling his eyes dramatically and fluttering his lashes. Harry cracks up at him, and that feels good, making this boy laugh,joking about the weird, half-unspoken dynamic between them, the knowledge that Louis wrote something Harry wants more of. He inhales raggedly, looking down at the cake in his hands, a little smushed and white and utterly delectable. “I was just about to garden, actually. If you want to bring Maisy over, she and Muffit could run around for a bit. How are you with a trowel, London Boy?”

Harry bites his lip, “Spectacular with a trowel, I am. Truly,” he wrings his hands for a bit in front of him before that insane, too-bright smile splits across his face, and he’s laughing again, shaking his head and shaking with the force of his hysterics. “Erm, what’s a trowel?” he manages to get out.

“God, you’re terrible, can’t even get a joke out,” Louis chides. “Here, go get the dog. I’m gonna put this cake away so I don’t eat the entire thing right now and grab you some extra large, giant-size work gloves for your giant hands. It’s an actual travesty you’ve never gardened before, with hands like that,” Louis sighs, a little disgusted at himself and his lack of self-control when it comes to bringing up Harry’s hand size of all the suggestive things.

“Don’t refrigerate it,” Harry says, pointing to the tupperware, brows arched in warning. “I’ll be back.” Then he takes off, wellies squelching grossly, but endearingly, in the mud.

Louis kneads his temples as Harry leaves, wondering why on earth he keeps letting this boy needle his way under his skin.

—-

Harry comes back with Maisy in tow and biscotti stuffed in his mouth for breakfast. He mostly made the batch for himself (though he did decide to put cranberries in the batter, in case Louis wanted some), but he’s totally thrilled by the stricken face Louis makes when he looks up from his gardening and sees Harry.

“There must be talent scouts who look for that sort of thing,” he says conversationally, brushing soil off his gloves by rubbing his palms together, and somehow Louis makes leather gardening gloves and dirt look pretty, it’s unreal. “Being able to fit fifteen sticks of biscotti in a single hand. I’m not even sure what your fingers are doing, but it’s—”

“Thup-uam!” Harry announces, spewing crumbs because he still has a biscotti in his mouth. He transfers his thermos of tea to a spot between his thighs to free up a hand, which he then uses to remove said biscotti and clarify, “Superhuman!”

Louis looks like he’s suffering. “How many things did you bake? Did you sleep? Also, do you realize that no matter how much coconut or how many cranberries you throw at me, whatever rubbish notes I have won’t suddenly become interesting or cohesive or even decent as a teleplay?”

“I don’t believe you,” Harry says cheerfully, choosing not to tell Louis that he baked exactly three different things and prepared ingredients and dough for another two, and that he certainly did not sleep (how could one sleep when they were plotting the seduction/inspiration of the century?!). “I firmly believe you’re sitting on the next brilliant thing in television, Louis Tomlinson. Biscotti?”

He offers it to Louis, who wrinkles his forehead, raising an eyebrow skeptically. “That was just in your mouth, mate.”

“Oh,” Harry says, holding out his other hand. “Well, there are more where that came from. Cranberry almond!”

Louis sighs deeply and moves to take off his work gloves so that he can receive the biscotti in a sanitary fashion, but Harry sees an opportunity and steps closer, ordering, “Open up.”

And, shockingly, Louis does. Mostly in an affronted, offended way, mouth falling open in disgruntled shock, but Harry doesn’t care; he’s standing, and Louis is on his knees in a muddy garden, wearing blue jeans and a beanie and looking irresistible, and Harry is on a mission. So many lines have already been crossed that he can’t keep up with himself. He delicately puts a biscotti in Louis’s open, sneering mouth. “There you go.”

Louis crunches down reflexively, and the remaining biscotti crumbles into pieces, crumbs raining down into his garden, all over his blue jeans. His eyes are wide and shocked and pretty, and Harry thinks that any guy who looks this cute and impish at thirty is doing something right, is capable of revolutionizing television not once but twice. Louis chews and swallows the mouthful he has, then glares up at Harry, nose scrunched up. “You’re an absolute menace, you just tried to choke me with a biscotti! Should I start calling you Misery or something?”

Harry gingerly climbs down onto his knees beside Louis, picking up bits of biscotti and feeding them to Muffit, who is sniffing the crime scene curiously. “But I’m not going to break your legs, I’m going to feed you baked goods. Kill you with kindness.”

“Murder all the same, Bambi,” Louis sighs, dropping a pair of weathered leather gloves in Harry’s lap. “Here, try these. I’m going to teach you what dirt is. Hope you’re not too concerned about that Calvin Klein.”

The next hour passes by so quickly that Harry doesn’t even realize it. Louis is a very good teacher, going on about tomatoes and fertilizer and trowels, showing Harry how to gently dig plants, complete with all their roots, out of the little clay pots from his house and ease them into the new holes he digs into the garden bed. It’s calming, repetitive work, but Louis’s voice is also really soft and soothing, his hands brushing up against Harry’s, guiding his wrists, so much maddeningly idle touch. Harry loves how small his hands are, small but strong, and he keeps fantasizing about getting in Louis’s bed, Louis holding him down in it, pinning his wrists to the mattress, tying them to the headboard.

They transplant the tomatoes, but they also talk, this time about Muffit’s origin story, how Louis used to hate dogs and fancy himself a cat person until he found Muffit under his car one night, cold and dirty and barely four months old. “I didn’t know shit about dogs, I figured I’d take her in from the storm, get her all clean, and bring her to the shelter in the morning so she could find a proper home, but…it just wasn’t what happened. One night turned into two, and two nights turned into a week, and before I knew it, I’d spent like 200 quid on a bed and a crate and really nice food and, like, a gazillion toys. And now here I am, cannot even imagine living without her.”

Harry listens, rapt, watching the lovely half-moon of Louis’s lashes sweep his cheek, the crinkles beside his eyes getting all soft and lovely as he talks about Muffit. “I want so many dogs when I have my own place,” he confesses. “Dogs and cats and, like, babies. I just love taking care of everyone, making sure people are warm and fed and feel loved and stuff? It’s part of why’m a baker, s’like, the easiest way to make someone really happy. Bake them their favorite cake.”

Louis looks surprised, then, glancing up from his tomatoes with wide eyes, so crystal blue they’re almost grey, were it not for the warmth making them a shade bluer than the sky, than the fog. “You want kids?” he asks, seeming genuinely surprised.

“Of course,” Harry says softly, grabbing a biscotti from his jacket, which he spread out on the ground to keep the food and his thermos from getting dirty. “You don’t?”

“No, it’s not that…just…you’re so young,” Louis says, voice getting clipped and distant as he cuts his eyes away from Harry, off to the horizon line. “I didn’t know what I wanted at twenty-three. That was before Muffit, and I could barely take care of m’self…just. Hm. I don’t know.”

“Are you telling me I’m special and unique, Louis Tomlinson?” Harry asks brightly, crunching biscotti.

Louis makes a skeptical face, rolling his eyes. “No. I’m telling you that you’re weird and that you should not have children right now. Give me one of those,” he says, jutting his chin toward the remaining two biscotti. He leaves his gloves on, and Harry is thrilled to notice this, to put it in his mouth with much flourish, holding it so Louis can take bites without it falling apart.

“Are we real mates now? I’m feeding you, I feel like that counts as a marker to true friendship,” Harry announces.

“Sure, we can be real mates, if that makes you feel better. Just know that I don’t write seasons of long-dead television shows for my mates, either,” Louis mumbles through a mouthful of crumbs.

Harry pouts. “Even if they’re really gently transplanting your tomato plants, in spite of never having gardened in their entire life?”

Louis laughs quietly, almost to himself. Then he shakes his head, smiling at his lap, and god, Harry wants him to look up, wants him to look into his eyes because he thinks he’d be able to see something in them, if Louis would just let him see. He feels like he’s touched a nerve, like this isn’t normal for Louis, like he’s not used to having people take care of him, not used to being told he’s brilliant, that he can write anything or do anything and it will be truly wonderful, and having Harry here with him and telling him these things is melting some of the ice that’s formed over the old Saved Tonight wound. Harry hopes so, anyway, and not just because he wants to know what secrets are being kept from him in those notebooks. He mostly hopes so because he wants to unlock the Louis puzzle for himself, because no matter what Louis has written, no matter what he will write, Harry would like to know him. To kiss him. It seems less and less far fetched and absurd each second that Louis stays staring at his lap.

“What are you shaking your head at?” Harry asks gently, inching his hand closer to Louis’s, which is braced against the earth, thumb and forefinger spread to accommodate the stem of the most recently planted tomato.

Louis’s gaze flashes over to him, just for a second, and it hurts, how steely it is, how hot. Harry’s stomach drops, and he’s prepared for something wildly different than what Louis does say, which is, “The fact you’ve never fucking gardened before. All the horrible rumors I’ve heard about posh London boys are true,” he jokes.

The tension dissipates, and Harry snatches his hand back. It’s fine, he can wait. He takes a deep breath, “You know what other rumors are true?” he asks.

“Oh, do tell,” Louis murmurs, making a face.

“The ones about how the writer of ST is a recluse because he’s ashamed of his work. I’d heard it before but never believed it. But here…here you are.”

It might have been too much. Louis’s gaze flicks up to him, wild and electric and…hurt? angry? Regardless his eyes are flashing, and there’s a hardness to them that Harry can’t read, and he’s about to reel back and apologize when Louis snaps, “That’s not why I ran at first. Initially, I took all my shit off the Internet and refused interviews and con appearance because I was fucking floored by how popular the show got, and I was not ready for that type of exposure. Talking about something like ST, somethings as queer as ST, in front of all those kids?! It was terrifying. I was in my twenties, and it was a pet project I didn’t think would even get picked up after the pilot. And suddenly I had a cult following?! Harry…I wasn’t even out.”

Harry stares, silenced for once in his life. Louis’s cheeks are flushed, his wrist still poised limply in front of him following a series of sharp gesticulations, and Harry doesn’t know what to say, especially since all he wants to do is curl his fingers around Louis’s wrist, pull him close, and kiss him. Smooth over the chapped skin at the corners with his tongue, tell him, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, if I ever scared you, sorry if I’m scaring you now. “I…you weren’t?” he finally makes himself ask.

“No,” Louis says, stabbing the trowel into the ground and fiercely, clumsily digging a new hole. “I mean, to my friends and my mum and sisters, but not at work, not in the industry. But everything changed, you know. I was being hailed at this gay icon in television and literally hadn’t even told me Nan about it…it was insane. Overwhelming. I obviously thought the best way to go was the privacy route, to avoid talking about something I didn’t have the right words for yet. Hence the recluse thing.”

Harry is still stunned silent, chewing on the inside of his cheek and feeling…well, horrible, really. He knew he was trying to get a reaction out of Louis when he said what he said, but he hadn’t thought it through properly, and now he feels so guilty, inadvertently forcing Louis to address something potentially traumatic from his past. “Oh, Louis…I’m so sorry. This whole time I thought you, like…I don’t know. I didn’t know.”

“I know you didn’t,” Louis says, shrugging. “I made it so that most people knew very little about me and about my life or the network struggle. Just so you know now, I wasn’t a hero or anything. I was very scared and very inexperienced.”

“Thank you for telling me,” Harry says gently, reaching out and touching Louis’s wrist. He flinches away, and Harry feels even worse. “I…just so you know, since we’re mates now…I hadn’t seen a gay romance on television that wasn’t queerbaiting or where one or both people didn’t die tragically until I saw ST, and that…it was really huge for me. It felt like it changed everything, and it made me feel like I had a future, you know, a shot at happiness and survival, just like everyone else. So I decided to come out.”

“You came out because of ST?” Louis asks, surprised. There’s dirt clinging to his forearm, the skin exposed between his rolled up sleeves and the cuffs of his gloves, and Harry wants badly to reach and brush it away.

Instead, he inhales evenly, and says, “Yeah, basically.”

“Hm,” Louis replies, shaking his head again, flattening his lips into a line thoughtfully. “Well. I suppose that’s two of us.”

A silence stretches between them, and Harry’s heart clenches in response, like a fist closing tight around something precious, desperate to keep it safe, protected. He swallows shakily. “And you think you’re not important or influential or…or brilliant,” he says breathlessly, unable to stop himself.

Thank god, Louis Tomlinson smiles, and it reaches his eyes. “You’re still not getting a season three, Misery Bambi.”

“We’ll see,” Harry says cheekily. Then he takes a tomato plant and gently shovels it out of the pot, so careful to keep the little pale white roots and their clinging dirt clods intact as he places it tenderly into the hole Louis dug.

—-

It starts raining, so they frantically gather jackets and the remaining biscotti, shouting to the dogs over the resounding crash of thunder. “I…do you have to work? Should I go back?” Harry asks, clutching a struggling, disgruntled, and very wet Maisy, rivulets of rainwater coursing down his face. His hair is getting drenched, and he looks like a drowned rat. Louis has at least shrugged off his denim jacket and is using it as a sort of makeshift umbrella, but Harry is just standing there, drippy and pitiful. Louis knows better, but he shakes his head anyway, narrowing his eyes incredulously.

“Are you mad?! My house is just right there, come on. You’re getting soaked,” he says, reaching for Harry’s elbow and dragging him up to the porch. “My god, go get by the fire, is there no rain in London, or something?” he teases, watching Harry toe off his wellies, which squeak grossly as they fall beside the door. Harry just kind of stands in the foyer, dripping into a puddle on the floor in his socks, eyes wide and stunned. “Are you okay?” Louis asks, arching an eyebrow.

“I’m in your house,” Harry says, chewing his lip, cheeks flushed and shiny from the rain. “You have posters,” he says then, pointing to a promotional poster the studio made for the first season of ST, one that never really got sold or distributed or anything. It’s hanging in a cheap frame by the coat rack, and Louis most definitely forgot it was there.

“Oh…yeah. I have a few things, collectibles. Figured I’d save them to sell online for the big bucks if I ever needed, like, emergency cash. You lot are very dedicated, you know,” he says, awkwardly, eyes flicking up and down Harry’s body. His clothes are clinging to him like a second skin, black leggings hugging his thighs, pullover heavy with rainwater. Louis wants to push him up against the wall, sneak his hands under wet fabric to feel skin, cold and slick. He wants to peel those leggings down, drop to his knees and scour his thighs up with his beard. It’s rude, really, that the same boy who shoved a biscotti into his mouth not once but twice is soaking wet in his house right now. All of it is rude. “You’re making a lake on my floor, love,” Louis sighs, rubbing the bridge of his nose because really.

“I’m so sorry,” Harry says quickly, pulling his sweatshirt over his head and revealing those fucking stomach tattoos, and no, Louis will not get a hard on in his own fucking home. He spins on his heel, hiding his face.

“Jesus Christ, Harry, go do that in the bathroom, please,” he says, voice coming out as a hiss through his teeth. “Shower, if you need to. I’ll leave some dry clothes outside the door and put the electric kettle on for tea, okay? Just. Please. Stop dripping on the floor.”

Harry shrinks away a little, crossing his arms. “Right, sorry,” he mumbles in that stupidly low voice. “Um, bathroom?”

“Down the hall and to your left,” Louis grinds out, eyes still locked on his own muddy shoes, stomach tied up in tight, outraged little knots because he's feeling very victimized right now. He’s probably receiving some very bad karma for getting in a fight with his publisher last week; there has to be a reason why the universe decided to make it rain on Harry Styles while simultaneously weakening Louis’s resolve so much he invited him in afterward.

As Louis puts on the kettle, breath tight and heart rabbiting in his throat, he tries to regroup. He listens to the sound of his own shower squeaking on, desperately reminding himself he should not be thinking about what Harry looks like getting into that shower. He should not be thinking about how nice it would be to be his boyfriend, to lather up his hair and lovingly tease him about his bony ankles. (They’re very bony; Louis noticed them through Harry’s socks.) What he should be thinking about is the very alarming fact that it’s getting harder and harder for him to remember why kissing Harry Styles isn’t a good idea. Power dynamics, he reminds himself as he stomps off to his bedroom to change and grab his loose joggers and a tee shirt for Harry to wear. He’s a fan, and that’s weird. He only likes you because you wrote ST. Otherwise, you’d just be the pervy neighbor in his thirties, fantasizing about him in the shower. He’s a fan, and that changes everything.

Except it doesn’t feel like that anymore, like Harry is just a fan, even when he gets silent and teary-eyed over limited edition posters. Harry knows things about him now, knows his dog, has used his shampoo. Are we proper mates, now? he’d asked, and Louis wonders, too, carefully folding the spare clothes and setting them down beside the bathroom door. Can you ever even be proper mates with someone who’s obsessed with your art?

He brews two cups of Yorkshire and cards a hand through his rain-damp hair, admonishing himself for even wishing he knew Harry well enough to prepare his tea properly. He’s toweling off Maisy and Muffit when Harry comes out, pigeon-toed and awkward in a plume of steam, bony ankles clearly visible, jutting out from Louis’s too-short joggers, which he cuffed somewhere around his shins. Louis’s mouth dries up, his stomach drops. He’s too old for this shit, but Harry makes him feel young again, which is a dangerous, dangerous thing.

He stops staring at his ankles and notices with a pang of affectionate irritation that Harry has twisted his hair up into Louis’s towel. “I see you helped yourself to my stuff,” he says crisply, gesturing to the towel.

Harry looks at him wide-eyed. “There was only one, and you were mad about the dripping. I thought it would be, like, less annoying if I…,” he trails off when Louis grins at him, shaking his head because the way Harry talks, so slow but so urgent all the same, makes him smile. He can’t help it.

“S’fine, I’ll just wash it. Needed to be washed anyway. Feeling warmer?” he asks. “I made tea, by the way, and I have sugar and milk if you want to ruin it.”

“Black is perfect,” Harry murmurs, Louis’s shirt straining against his chest as he reaches for it. It’s an old, grey tee shirt with the sleeves cut out, and it hangs loosely off Louis but the arm holes cling to Harry’s biceps, and for the first time, Louis realizes how built Harry is, solid and well-muscled and very tattooed, for such a young kid, for a goddamned baker. “Thank you for the clothes,” Harry says, as if he just noticed where Louis was looking, how Louis was looking.

He cuts his gaze self-consciously to the floor. “Thank you for the coconut cake,” he answers, their fingers brushing as Harry gingerly takes the teacup. “I don’t think I thanked you for it properly, this morning. I was overwhelmed by your gratitude.”

Harry smiles, shrugging. “I’m still overwhelmed by my gratitude.” It comes out easy and sweet, but it makes Louis lock up all the same. Power dynamics, he thinks. He’s a fan. You can’t forget he’s a fan, it colors every interaction you will ever have with him, he will never see you as a real person. You will always be falling from a pedestal. “ Hey,” Louis says, gesturing toward the living room where the fire is starting to die. “Do you know how to stoke a fire?”

Harry looks at him like he’s crazy. “I only just learned about trowels this morning, can’t you tell I’m, like, hopeless? S’awful, I feel really pathetic, like I can’t take care of you properly at all,” Harry sighs, and that phrase take care of you sends a flicker of heat down Louis’s spine, a terrible longing. POWER DYNAMICS, he internally screams to himself. HARRY STYLES IS A FAN.

“You really are quite pitiful, probably have central heating in your fancy London flat, right?” Louis teases, grabbing the coconut cake tupperware and dragging it across the counter. “You can stick to what you’re good at, how about that? Cut us some slices, the plates are in the cupboard above the sink. I’ll go fix the fire, and you can meet me out in the living room.”

Harry beams. “Okay,” he says, tonguing the corner of his mouth, such a lovely pink thing. “By the way, thank you for the ST mug. I’ve never seen this one before, and I love it.”

“You can have it,” Louis says, flicking his hand through the air in exasperation. “Was a gift and I hate it. Word of advice: if any of your friends ever make it unexpectedly big on telly or in the movies or whatever, do not buy them all their own merch. Their mums and their mum’s mums will be doing it, and then they’ll end up with a whole kitchen full of the same mug. I’m always trying to pawn those off on people.”

Then Harry does a very horrible thing. He turns, reaches out, and places both of his big, shower-damp hands on Louis’s shoulders. They’re heavy and so fucking warm; Louis wants to push up into the heat of them, he wants those hands everywhere, under his clothes, fisting in his hair, in his sheets. “Thank you, Louis, I love it,” Harry says very seriously, squeezing before he lets go. “I’m, like, so happy right now, you have no idea,” He says, face open and earnest.

Louis can’t make his voice work, so he just nods. Power dynamics, he thinks on repeat as he lays out a layer of kindling onto the still-warm embers in the wood stove, chewing on his own tongue so fiercely it hurts. He’s a fan, he hammers home as he shoves a log in on top of the now smoldering kindling.

The words kind of lose their meaning, though, and have become nothing but a mess of disjointed syllables by the time the fire ignites again.

—-

Never in a million years would Harry have thought his house-sitting gig in Doncaster would result in him lounging on Louis Tomlinson’s couch, wearing Louis Tomlinson’s clothes, and eating coconut cake while he warmed his feet on Louis Tomlinson’s dog. It was insane and surreal, and what was more insane and surreal than the situation itself was how right it felt. How easy it was to sit here with him and joke about Star Wars, to make fun of Anakin Skywalker and rank their favorite movies on different criteria. Louis seemed so relaxed and natural now, barefoot and curled up on his corner of the couch, laughing with his mouth full, like coconut cake had been the key all along to unlocking his secrets, his softness.

Harry feels like he’s dreaming, and he doesn’t ever want to wake up. In fact, he’s not entirely sure he hasn’t knocked out here on Louis’s couch (the exhaustion of manically baking all night is starting to set in): after all, his eyes are droopy, the fire is blazing, and everything feels so good, Louis’s house is so nice, his shampoo smells so fruity. Harry blinks, and watches Louis shovel another forkful of cake into his mouth, making a noise that’s suspiciously close to a moan. “Truly, Harry, you have a future in baking. This is spectacular.”

“You’ve said that, like, three times, and you like Iron Man 3, so I don’t know if I can trust you,” Harry says through a yawn, propping his feet up on the couch between him and Louis without thinking. It’s a presumptuous thing to do, putting your feet up at someone else's house, but Louis doesn’t seem to notice, just smiles at him with his eyes crinkled up, laughing a laugh like fucking sunshine, and Harry is falling so swiftly, so hard. He laughs back, even though he’s not sure what they’re laughing at.

“So,” Louis starts, eyes dropping to his lap, his cutely crossed legs. He picks some lint off his track pants and takes a deliberate sip of tea before asking, “Can I ask you about coming out?”

Harry doesn’t expect it, so his stomach kind of drops, his eyes getting wide. “Of course, you can ask me anything,” he answers honestly. “What do you want to know?”

“Just…I don’t know. How old were you? Who did you tell? Does everyone in your life know, like, extended relatives and the old ladies you bake with, or do you still have to keep coming out, over and over again? Because, see, I’m thirty-one. I’m basically ancient, and I feel like I’ve come out a hundred times, honestly, “ he says, sighing, looking for all the world like Peter Pan, and Harry is offended.

“You aren’t ancient, shut up,” he says, jabbing Louis’s thigh with his toes.

Louis grabs his ankle. “I’m much older than you,” he chides, squeezing, and Harry feels like he’s going to die, even though this scenario is so delightful, Louis Tomlinson touching his skin and giving him a hard time. Proper mates, he thinks, proper mates who are flirting.

He grins. “You’re not, really. But anyway, to answer your questions, yes, I feel like m’constantly coming out. Like, over and over again. I did it for the first time when I was fifteen, to my sister. She said she already knew, which was sort of comforting. And then right after that, like, the next year, I told my mum n’step dad. But I didn’t tell my friends until I was, like, nineteen and in uni, and it wasn’t until then that I felt like I was proper out, you know? But even then, it didn’t t really stop. Every new person you meet, they make assumptions about you, and you’re like, ‘Oh, should I tell them, does it even matter…?’ You know. Every conversation has the, like, potential for a reveal. It’s exhausting,” Harry carries on for awhile, surprised by the rapt, interested way Louis is looking at him, lips pursed, knuckles rubbing idly at his stubble. It’s strange, having this conversation about sexuality with someone who was so deeply influential for Harry in regards to negotiating that part of his identity. Like, Louis doesn’t even know how much strength and comfort he drew from ST, how important it was for him, how different coming out would have been without it. Harry wants to tell Louis, but he’s too tired, he’s too comfortable. He doesn’t want to ruin it.

“Good for you, Harry,” Louis says lightly. “I was older when I started telling people, much older. Fifteen is so young.”

“Psh,” Harry sighs, finishing off the last of his tea and setting the empty mug, his mug, down on Louis’s coffee table and admiring it dreamily. “My sister found my porn history, I had to tell her.”

Louis snorts fondly, making a face. Then he loosens up, muscles in his jaw going slack and contemplative for a moment before he speaks. “I basically come out every time someone finds out I wrote ST,” Louis admits. “The show…it has a reputation. People know why it got kicked off the air, so whenever it comes out that I’m responsible for writing it, people just know and ask me about being gay, like it’s public knowledge. It’s really unsettling,” he says, tracing the rim of his mug with his index finger. It’s an idle, dainty movement, and Harry wants it in his mouth, wants to suck the taste of Yorkshire and rainwater from Louis’s skin, wants so many things that his body is aching with it.

As they share cake and watch the fire flicker and lick the sides of the wood stove, Harry wonders for the first time in a concrete, serious way if he’s actually destined to fall in love with Louis Tomlinson, fashioned for him from dust. If he was fated to meet him, yes, but also to be with him. His heart flutters in his chest, thudding so hard against the inside of his ribs that he hurts. He feels frantic, thrilled, like he’s running out of time, like he only has so many more days to remind Louis why he wrote a story about love.

“I kind of come out every time someone finds out I’m a huge ST fan, for the same reasons,” he says. “To a lesser degree, I’m sure…but yeah. People know it has a huge gay following, so when they see all my posters and action figures and stuff, they know. It’s actually kind of nice, sometimes, like it saves me from having to tell them myself, and it’s a really nice thing to bring up when I’m meeting someone new and I want to know if they’re gay…like a code, you know?”

Louis is smiling so warmly, the lines by his eyes so bunched and squinty and fond, and Harry thinks that if you’re going to get old and have any lines in your face, smile lines are the very best sort to have, happiness etched permanently into your skin. He’s imagining what it would be like to kiss the crinkles at Louis’s temples when Louis raises his eyebrows condescendingly and says, “You have action figures?”

“Oh, yes,” Harry assures him, poking out his tongue before yawning again. “The whole official season one set and then a bunch of fan-made, hand-painted ones from season two. They’re in a glass case and everything.”

“Oh, my god, they’re not,” Louis groans, putting his face in his hands.

“No, okay, there’s no glass case, but I do have action figures,” he says, chuckling and holding up his index finger to show that he is, indeed, being very serious. “I kiss my Marcus one every night before I—”

“I hate ST fans,” Louis shrieks, standing up in a fit of laughter and grabbing Harry’s cake plate from the table, disappearing into the kitchen. “I hate them so much I’m going to singlehandedly destroy the rest of this cake. No one can stop me.”

Harry closes his eyes and buries his face in Louis’s couch, inhaling from it. Cigarettes and wet dog and woodsmoke and cologne and spices. Harry wants to cry; he’s exhausted, and he’s imagining plucking white Muffit hairs from all his jackets, how he’d need to buy a truckload of lint rollers if he ever lived with Louis, but he wouldn’t even care, he wants to all the same. Louis comes back and finds him in this incriminating position, eyes wet and overwhelmed, face buried in the cushions. “So, forgive me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the point of house-sitting to, like….be at the house?” he asks.

Harry looks up at him, pouting. “She called it dog-sitting, actually, and the dog is right here,” he explains, pointing to Maisy, who’s curled up right in front of the fire like the warmth-seeking little demon that she is. Louis is right, though, he might be neglecting his house-sitting duties to some extent, but it just feels so good to be here, and he’s so sleepy, and Gloria gave him those emergency contacts for a reason, like, she wanted him to hang out with Louis. It’s fate, destiny, and he can’t be expected to fight its sway.

Louis peers out his curtains, “Well, it’s still coming down pretty heavy out there, so no use in starting to sit the house now. You can stay until it lets up, but then I truly need to get some work done.”

“You can get it down now,” Harry murmurs, nuzzling the couch. “I’m falling asleep, was up all night baking for you, think I can crash here as a reward?” Louis lets out a long-suffering sigh and stares at the ceiling for a moment, but Harry has been hanging out with him long enough to notice when he’s actually exasperated, and now doesn’t seem like one of those times. “Please?” Harry asks.

“If you snore, I’m kicking you out in the rain,” Louis tells him, but Harry is already out.

—-

Louis sits down at his kitchen table with his laptop to work, but it makes his skin itch to be in a different room than the one Harry is sleeping in, sprawled out on his couch, pretty mouth parted slightly. It’s weird how much Louis likes having Harry in his house. In his clothes, sleeping in front of his fire like a dog, loose and unconcerned as he dreams. Louis usually protects his home, prefers attending dinner parties rather than hosting them so he can guard his space, but Harry just…sort of invaded it, like he was meant to be there. Louis is reminded of Muffit all those years ago, mud-caked and too young to fend for herself, worming her way into his home and his heart even though she was a dog, and Louis knew jack shit about dogs.

Harry rolls over, huffing quietly in his sleep, and Louis’s heart clenches because he wants to see. He wants to look up from his work and know Harry is still there, Bambi legs gathered awkwardly and too long for Louis’s joggers, arms crossed over his chest, hair curling around his face as it dries, fluttering in time with his exhalations.

His skin would be warm if Louis touched him, brushed his knuckles across the soft curve of his cheek, down to his jaw where his stubble is growing in, fine and light. Louis shakes his head, tugging on a fistful of his own hair because he needs to focus on writing instead of fantasizing about touching Harry Styles in his sleep like a fucking pervert. This whole thing is making him crazy; he’s been too chronically lonely the last few years to endure someone as charming and persistent as Harry showing up on his doorstep, telling him he’s brilliant and meaning it. It’s not good for him; wanting something too bright and young for his world isn’t good for him.

He ends up bringing his laptop into the living room, sitting in one of the leather recliners by the fire, close enough that he could reach out with his toes and brush Harry’s arm if he pointed them, if he tried. Instead, he keeps his legs curled under himself as he opens up the document he’s working on, something about affordable spas in Wales. He sighs and tries to remember what he was saying about them, scans the spreadsheets he made comparing cost vs luxury features vs quality vs location. It’s all so….dreadfully boring, though, and he keeps losing his train of thought, thinking about how it felt to write creatively, how bright and reflective Harry’s pupils get when he talks about ST. I did that, Louis thinks, letting himself sneak a glance at Harry, the flicker of his eyelids over the soft, secret tremor of his eyes. Harry is so much more interesting than all the spas in Wales, even when he’s drooling on Louis’s couch.

Louis should work. He should stop thinking about how much more comfortable Harry would look in his bed, less cramped, endless limbs spread out on his flannel sheets. Louis should work.

He doesn’t work. In fact, Louis isn’t exactly sure how this happens, but he ends up minimizing the Welsh spa guide in favor of opening up a folder entitled ST shit, which has been sitting on his desktop, hidden behind a bunch of thumbnails, all photos of Muffit and his garden transferred from his old phone, which bit the dust a few years ago. It makes him a little sick to his stomach to even see the folder again; it’s like an ex-boyfriend, something that hurts him because he still has feelings for it, no matter how much he wants to let it all go.

Peering through his fingers and cringing, he doubleclicks it anyway, scrolling through the list of files it contains. Marcus family history outline, Carmella stuff, superhuman lore, season 3 outline, season 4 outline, finale notes, Daniel/Marcus stuff, epigenetic articles, genetic engineering, science stuff, Valerie/Carmella family stuff. There’s a lot, background information on almost every character, rough outlines for imagined, unaired episodes, research on the sci-fi side of the show. It’s a disorganized heap of typos and dead-end ideas, but it’s still certainly enough raw material to construct a plot from, if he really tried, if it didn’t make his chest tight and anxious to even think about.

Still, he chews on his lips until they’re a little raw and reads through some of it. Imagines what it might be like to dust these plot lines off and have someone else scan them and give him an honest, objective opinion. His editor, maybe, or his room mate Liam from uni, or…or maybe he doesn’t want honesty, objectivity. Maybe he wants someone like Harry. Someone who would be excited about the content no matter how dreadful or overly sentimental or raw it might be, someone who would tell him it was good, build him up, and convince him his writing is worth reading, again. Louis inhales shakily, stealing another glance at Harry over the top of his computer, thinking about how misty-eyed he’d be if he knew this folder existed, how deep his dimple would get if he were allowed to look at it.

Louis loses track of time, a little. He combs through files and makes minor edits, fixing typos and cutting things that don’t make sense, brow furrowed critically because so much of this is rubbish. But then, there’s a good amount that isn’t, a good amount that’s actually salvageable, so he tries to salvage it. Nothing major, but it still feels like a terrific waste of time when he checks his clock and realizes a full hour and a half has passed. Meaning he spent an hour and a half editing years-old files from a show that ruined him, and why? So he could make this boy he met yesterday happy? Give him exactly what he wants so he can leave, go on about his life with new canonical ST, forgetting about Louis the person now that he has Louis the Writer, the ShowRunner? That’s all he wants, after all, why he’s so sweet, why he keeps showing up at Louis’s house, bearing baked goods. Because he wants this, the salvage from Louis’s wreck of notes and outlines, nothing more. No friendship and certainly no relationship. Louis grinds his teeth and shuts his laptop with a decisive snap, hating himself for getting so affected by Harry Fucking Styles and his improbably cute dimples that he had to go touch documents he swore he was done touching, that he had to go mistaking his kindness for anything other than manipulation.

As if Harry could feel Louis silently damning him, he stirs, sitting up blearily with his hair all over the place. Louis clutches his laptop with a white-knuckled grip, stunned because he can’t even muster a shred of genuine dislike for Harry, can’t even hate him for wanting something superficial. Louis bites the inside of his cheek, punishing himself for the primal, stomach-wrenching urge to smooth Harry’s hair away from his sleep-crumpled face, from wanting to tuck it behind his ear. Harry looks so grumpy and confused and perfect, and it’s not good for Louis, it stirs up too many aimless, foolish desires.

“What time is it?” Harry asks, rubbing his eyes with the back of his hand, voice all raspy and thick with disuse.

“Entirely too late for me to be entertaining company,” Louis tells him, and it comes out very clipped. So. He supposes that’s the way he’s going to deal with this mess on his hands, the direction he’s going to run. Because he wants Harry now, wants him purely and recklessly and badly, in his bed and in his arms, and he can’t even remember why it’s a terrible idea, can’t even self-preserve in the face of Harry’s ulterior motives, can’t rely on logic anymore, on rationalization. He has to push him away; it’s the only way to keep him from getting burnt.

His tone must sting because Harry’s eyes flash defensively, and he sits up straight, righting his shoulders. “Of course, m’sorry,” he mumbles, looking around for his shoes, his jacket, his pile of wet clothes still drying by the fire. “That was’like, probably really rude of me. Sleeping so long at your house, I thought…I forgot…,” he shakes his head, rubbing his face with his palms, so flustered, and he looks young with it, like a little boy. Louis aches for him, in spite of himself.

“The rain’s stopped,” Louis tells him, nodding toward the door, feeling distantly disgusted with himself for how easy it is for him to feign irritation, to feign nonchalance. To act as if he doesn’t care, when he’s starting to care so much it scares him. “So you should have a dry walk.”

“Yeah, I’ll go back now,” Harry assures Louis, scooping Maisy up as he toes back into his wellies. “Thanks for letting me nap, though. And for, like…the tea and the shower and everything. I… I had a lot of fun.”

Harry’s face twists into a smile then, but it doesn’t meet his eyes, and Louis almost drops his act just so he can see a real grin on Harry, his white teeth, his lips soft and pink and turned up brilliantly at the corners, all of him glowing. Don’t let me push you away, don’t let me scare you back into the dark, he thinks, but he bites it back, watching Harry shrug on his jacket, eyes fixed on the floor. “M’really sorry if I overstepped any boundaries,” he mutters, and Louis heart just about breaks.

“Harry, you’re fine. Just go, the storm might start up again, and I’ve got a lot of work to do, okay? It’s all okay, though, just…it’s time to go,” Louis says, exhausted.

“Bye, Lou,” Harry says, waving awkwardly as he ducks out of the house, clumsy and stumbling, Maisy stuffed under his arm like a loaf of bread, his face creased from Louis’s couch pillows. He’s…he’s gorgeous, really, so sweet and kind and such a good baker, even if he’s only sweet and kind and baking because he’s a fan. He’s still the nicest fan Louis has ever met and the worst idea he’s ever had, but Louis can’t afford to believe in love or hope or fate or destiny again, he just can’t. He grew up and moved on, and if he was wrong about all of that, well. Then he’s wasted the last five years hiding from a life he could have been living, instead of trudging through, and he doesn’t want to believe that of himself.

Long after Harry leaves, Louis keeps thinking about that crease in his cheek and how it would have felt under his lips, if instead of chasing Harry away he had grabbed his elbow and tugged him into his arms, opening his mouth over the cut of his jaw and telling him to stay, to stay. He keeps peering out the window in spite of himself, and Muffit keeps whining at the door.

He also notices that in in his haste to leave, Harry left the gifted ST mug sitting on the coffee table, a ring of tea staining the bottom like a bad omen. The unrealistic, self-destructive part of Louis he’s never really been able to cut out, no matter how many times he tells himself he’s not an artist or a dreamer anymore, hopes that Harry will come back for it, and they can tell a different story.

He doesn’t, though, and Louis supposes that’s for the best. He opens his computer back up, reading things a past version of himself wrote, the knot in his chest tightening, and tightening.

—-

Naps always make Harry feel disoriented and groggy and horrible, and he’s hoping that’s the reason it felt so weird to leave Louis’s house, the reason he keeps replaying it in his aching head and feeling like he fucked up, like he did something wrong.

He makes a scramble, deciding that eating something not made of sugar should help clear his head, but even after he’s scraped his plate clean and downed a whole three glasses of water, he’s still confused, Louis and his flat-lipped, irritated expression etched into his mind indelibly. They had been so good before he fell asleep; everything had felt soft and warm and syrupy, and he doesn’t think he imagined it, that it was one-sided. He feeds Maisy, chest all itchy and uncomfortable in Louis’s too-tight clothes, where they had felt so cozy and right, before.

Harry, you’re fine, Louis had said. But it doesn’t feel like he’s fine. It feels like he fucked up. He doesn’t want to pour the remaining coconut cake batter into the cupcake tins, he doesn’t even want to preheat the oven. He kind of wants to cry, actually. Harry really loathes naps, they mess him up, make him doubt everything, his baking and his seduction techniques and his former assumption that it was normal and appropriate to nap on Louis Tomlinson’s couch.

He calls his mum, as one does when having a minor crisis. He doesn’t talk to her about Louis (she would most definitely make a Misery joke, and he’s feeling too shitty about himself to imagine for one second he could be pulling a Kathy Bates), so he invents other reasons why he’s confused, why he’s down. It’s lonely up here, it’s been raining a lot, and I have a crush on Gloria’s neighbor who probably thinks I’m really annoying. Because Harry’s mum is his mum and it’s her job, she reassures him, oh, love I’m sure he thinks you’re delightful. I can’t imagine any young man would ever think you’re annoying, and if he does, well, then his loss. Harry tells her about dog breeds and his miraculous coconut cake and how Maisy doesn’t need a leash, isn’t that crazy? and by the time they say goodbye and I love you, he’s feeling substantially better about himself.

He can’t get discouraged, of course, Louis is going to try to push him away before he reels him in. Louis is weird and thinks he’s old and probably hasn’t dated seriously in awhile, if his bachelor pad and devotion to his dog is any indicator. He doesn’t believe in the thesis of his own masterpiece anymore, and why should he, when all it got him was a cult fanbase and a terminated network contract? When he wrote about love but hadn’t found love himself? Harry chews his lip in determination and rolls the snickerdoodle dough out on the counter, getting flour all over Louis’s shirt, which he’s still wearing because it smells so nice and he doesn’t really care that it hardly fits him.

Once the snickerdoodles are in the oven, he pours the cupcakes and lets the batter settle, glaring at them as he grabs his phone, resolutely deciding to text Louis, to put his neck out on the chopping block again because that’s what you do for love, you take risks.the dogs really are in love. maisy is staring out the window in longing. play date tommorow? :)

Louis doesn’t text back for several hours, and Harry is about to give up on ever hearing from him again as he sadly removes the last batch of snickerdoodles when his phone finally buzzes. He nearly burns himself setting the baking sheet down and scrambling for his mobile.

muffit too. pity, they must not know love isn’t real! their little canine hearts are gonna get broken.

Harry reads it, like, seven times. It’s not the most cheerful or optimistic of responses, but it’s a response. He can work with that. omg u know marcus would be horrified to hear you say that!!! love is most definately real, mais/muffit is eternal louis :(

This time, he only has to wait fifteen agonizing minutes for a reply. good thing marcus doesn’t exist is what it says. Harry is disappointed, is about to be the desperate idiot who brings up an unanswered question again when Louis saves him the humiliation by saying, can’t tonight, the dogs are doomed to pine. have a dinner date.

It’s mortifying how hard Harry’s stomach plummets. A dinner date? With, like,…a person? Who isn’t him? Harry’s scalp gets prickly and hot, a gut-wrenching sort of humiliation tightening up his skin, making the blood pound in his ears. It occurs to him that he never asked if Louis had a boyfriend because he just seemed so lonely. Was that all merely a projection, him wanting to read Louis as single, reading his prickly resistance as loneliness rather than being taken, all because he wanted it to be that way? Has he been imagining saving Louis from his loneliness without realizing it was the loneliness itself that was imagined?

He stares at his phone, feeling numb. Louis was probably short with Harry this afternoon because he was ruining his plans to clean his house before his long-distance boyfriend showed up for dinner. Harry feels like an absolute fool, a fan so blinded by want, that he actually, truly thought he was capable of…what? Seducing Louis? Rescuing him from a future doomed to bitter, loveless solitude? What a child.

He doesn’t reply because he doesn’t trust himself not to be dramatic. Instead he pouts, scraping the snickerdoodles from the sheet resentfully and piling them onto the cooling rack, wondering if he could motivate Louis to write with the power of baked goods alone. Since, like, pursuing anything else would be a dead end.

He flops onto the couch and drags Maisy up onto it with him, burying his face in her fur and snuffling pathetically. Whoever Louis’s boyfriend is, he’s terribly lucky. And also terribly undeserving, seeing as he hasn’t managed to convince Louis he’s better than travel guides and ghostwritten biographies, that he’s worth the type of love his characters got to have. Louis is so smart and talented and charming and sexy, he deserves the very best type of love in the world, the most magical love, the kind that saves.

“I could give him that,” he grumbles into a struggling Maisy, who huffs as she escapes his hug, hopping off the couch and shaking herself off. “Better than anyone else, probably.”

If Maisy could roll her eyes at Harry, she’d be rolling her eyes right now. Harry can tell. She trots off to the front door and looks up at it expectantly, as if to say, yours might be taken, but Muffit and I are serious, so can we still go over? Harry rolls over onto his back, groaning. “If you want to interrupt his dinner date, be my guest,” he tells her.

She whimpers, and so does he.

—-

Louis does not get a response from Harry until well into the evening, and when it comes, it doesn’t make him even one ounce less anxious or self-loathing. Hope your date is going well and that your night is nice! is what Harry has to say, as cheerful and polite as ever, but Louis can tell his lie had the desired (or at least partially desired) effect. Harry’s hurt. He, Louis Tomlinson, hurt Harry’s feelings by inventing a fake dinner date, so that he wouldn’t have to test his wavering will in the face of Harry’s unwavering charm another night, and he fucking hates himself for it.

He spends the night checking his phone obsessively, hoping with a frantic sort of desperation that Harry will just…show up at his house again. Call his bluff, demand clarity, grab him by the collar of his shirt, and kiss him. Something. He left that mug here anyway, and Louis really does want him to have it; it was a gift, and it bothers him that it’s sitting in his sink right now, forgotten, or perhaps not forgotten. He doesn’t know. He reluctantly goes to bed at some point, reminding himself firmly that there’s a fucking reason he did all this, that this is what he wants, the path to safety, stability. Still, as he lies under his duvet staring wide-eyed at the water stains on his ceiling plaster, dark like sepia ink spilled on a blank page, he doesn’t feel safe, or stable. It’s hard to feel anything, really, save for the dull sickness of regret, heavy in his gut.

After a night of predictably fitful sleep (if he could even call it that, fitful seems generous, honestly), Louis slides off his mattress too early, solar plexus aching and eyes stinging with exhaustion. He’s trying to sleep in, but Muffit is barking at something, pawing at the door, and there’s probably a cat on the porch, most likely the neighbor’s mean brown tabby who loves to spray all over his welcome mat just to get Muffit all riled up.

He rubs his eyes, hair a wreck as he stumbles to the door and throws it open, grumbling. Muffit streaks out, doing a short victory lap around the garden before launching back to the porch to weave between Harry’s stupidly long legs.

Harry. Harry Styles, who he thought about literally all night, is standing there on his doorstep. And Louis…he wasn't expecting it. He figured after the fake date and the short, polite text, Harry wouldn’t visit him the next morning, bearing gifts, but here he is, flushed from the cold, hair tugged up into a loose bun. He has one hand shoved into the pocket of his jacket and the other offering a tupperware topped with the clothes he borrowed from Louis yesterday, freshly laundered and neatly folded. “I wanted to give these back to you, plus some snickerdoodles, to share with your friend,” he says curtly, eyes wary but bright all the same, spring-green, like granny smith apples and new clover, so improbably, impossibly green. Louis stares, and stares, and Harry stares right back, chewing his lower lip the longer he stands and the longer Louis doesn’t say anything. “I’ll leave, I know you have someone over, I just—“

Louis suddenly remembers how to talk. “Come in,” he says, throwing the door open and standing aside. “Please.”

Harry stays rooted to the mat, eyebrows flying up his forehead in obvious shock. “No, I don’t want to impose…like, you have company, and—”

“No, I don’t,” Louis assures him, sighing. “It’s just me and the dog, please, Harry, come in. Please.”

He sounds desperate and exasperated and weary even to himself, like a man who hasn’t slept, like a man who is only just remembering he once wrote a manifesto on love. He sighs unevenly as Harry crosses the threshold on stiff legs, brandishing the tupperware like a battering ram. “I thought you had a date last night,” he says suspiciously, before worrying his lower lip in his teeth. Louis watches, rapt, brain still fuzzy since he hasn’t had his first cup of tea yet, everything too-bright and soft-edged to be real. Maybe he’s dreaming. Harry follows him into the kitchen, blinking like he’s not sure what’s real, either.

“I did,” Louis says, cocking his head, watching attentively as Harry sets everything down on the counter. “With Muffit. Sundays are always date nights with Muffit, hence her not being able to play with Maisy. We both had prior obligations to each other, you see.”

He delivers it like a joke, but Harry doesn’t laugh. “I see.”

Louis just looks at him, brows raised, eyes wide and guilty because he is so fucking transparent that Harry must know, must be able to see through him and detect that everything he’s doing, every contradictory, clumsy ill-played gambit is all because he likes him. Likes him too much for a fan, too much for a twenty-three-year-old, too much for someone he only met two days and some change ago. “Do you want something to drink?” Louis asks because his mouth is suddenly quite dry, and he would certainly like something to soothe it.

“It’s, like, nine in the morning,” Harry says evenly.

“I meant tea. Or, I don’t know, that Le Crow stuff? I have some in me fridge left over from a party, and it’s absolutely dreadful, actually...seems like something a hip London boy like you would like,” Louis prattles on nervously, putting water in the kettle because if he doesn’t have a cuppa soon, he’s going to do something incredibly stupid. He can feel it.

“La Croix, you mean?” Harry asks, cracking the first smile Louis has seen on him since he arrived. It’s only a small and cautious twist of his lips, but it’s there all the same, so Louis feels a little inspired, a little crazy. He wants to kiss it. “Sure. I’ll take one. Since you have such awful taste,” Harry quips gently.

Louis hands him a can, trying to keep his fingers steady against the cold aluminum as Harry takes it from him. “It says it’s grapefruit, but it tastes like hairspray to me.”

“Do you have a straw?” Harry asks, totally serious. “I can only drink things from cans if I have a straw.”

There is so much room to tease, such childish absurdity packed into that single sentence, because of course Harry Styles can only drink things from a can with a straw, of course he’s strange and quirky and endearing in more ways than Louis can count, can keep up with. He’s frustrated as he rummages through his flatware drawer for the box of straws he knows he has left over from the same party as the La Croix because he should be giving Harry a hard time about this, but he can’t think of a single thing to say that isn’t revealing. He eventually locates the straws and hands one to Harry without looking at him.

“So,” Harry starts after a while, stabbing the straw into his can, popping his hip out as he leans against the counter, eyes fixed on the ground very deliberately. Louis swallows, bracing himself for the worst. “I guess I’ll just get on with it, then,” Harry says, and takes a deep, shuddering breath. “I’m really not sure anymore if you want to be friends or not. I’ll respect your choice if you don’t…just, tell me. And I’ll do whatever you want.”

Whatever you want. It echoes in Louis’s skull. Harry’s low, maple-sweet voice, thick as he swallows, telling him whatever you want. And Louis…he knows what he wants, even if he doesn’t want to want it, even if it’s the worst idea, even if it can’t end well.

He blinks rapidly, but Harry doesn’t go anywhere, doesn't dissipate into nothingness, doesn’t save Louis. Or maybe he does. Harry looks up expectantly with dark and wary eyes, tonguing the air to chase his straw and missing it over and over again, and Louis knows what he wants. He knows it in his bones.

He doesn’t let Harry find his straw. He pushes him up against the counter, one hand on his hip, the other spreading over the side of his face, cupping his cheek, thumbing over fresh stubble. He’s warm and real and close, and Louis can taste his breath, fevered and sparkling with fake citrus, and Louis hates La Croix, but as he pitches forward and dips his tongue into the soft, slack shock of Harry’s mouth, he tastes so fucking good.

Harry is stunned and still for a fleeting, terrifying moment, but in milliseconds it passes, and then he’s kissing back, wet and soft and hungry, a startled gasp snagging between their mouths, his hand pushing up through the still bed-wrecked mess of Louis’s hair. “This is a terrible idea,” Louis says perhaps just one last time, to remind himself, as he pulls away to kiss down Harry’s neck, to nuzzle up into his pulse, to inhale from him.

There’s a soda trapped between their bodies, the refrigerator-cold can pressing up against Louis’s shirt as Harry fumbles with it, freeing his wrist and slamming the can down on the counter before both his hands are all over Louis, dragging down his back, pushing up under his shirt, raking through his hair. “S’not a terrible idea, it’s good, so good,” he mumbles, biting sloppily at Louis’s throat. “Just, like, kiss me, I’ve been wanting—“

And with that, Louis is done fighting this. Harry is so warm and his kisses are devastatingly deep and thorough, and he keeps groaning and shifting his weight along the counter for better leverage, so that he can grind filthily against Louis’s thigh, biting at his lips. They kiss and kiss, only parting to breathe, to suck in dirty, panting breaths between scouring drags of their mouths.

Louis has already sucked a cluster of dark, red-dappled marks onto Harry’s neck before he even realizes he’s doing it. It’s just that he wants to taste his skin, he wants to pull it past his teeth and bite down, and he can’t stop, not with Harry shivering against him like this, murmuring his name with his head thrown back, like this is a prayer. “God,” Louis murmurs against him, kissing back up to his terrible, bitten mouth. “I haven’t fucking slept since I met you, Harry. “

It feels like a confession, and Harry gasps like it is one. “Take me to bed,” he says then, sliding his hands down to Louis’s ass and under the waistband of his joggers, gripping him tight, mauling him, pulling him apart, and spreading him. It’s fucking wonderful to be touched like that, with so much intent, so much hunger, and Louis is beside himself with it, panting into Harry’s plush lips as he kisses him, and kisses him, and kisses him.

“Okay,” he murmurs, grabbing Harry by the hips and hefting him off the counter before walking him backward toward his bedroom, still fucking stunned by the heat of his skin, the labored, uneven catch of his breath. Harry takes his hair down from its bun and it tumbles around his shoulders, smelling fresh and herbal like some natural hippie shampoo, and Louis doesn’t even pause to roll his eyes at that, he just buries his face in it, stopping to back Harry up against the wall in the hallway and kiss him some more.

Harry goes wherever he puts him. He’s pliant and easy and molten against Louis’s body, in Louis’s searching hands, and he wants to slow down and really pick him apart, but it all just feels too good to stop, to breathe, and Harry is right there with him, tugging his shirt up over his head and spreading broad, hot palms over his pectorals. “You have tattoos!” he says, delighted, biting his lip as he looks down at Louis’s chest from beneath the hazy half-mast of his lashes, momentarily slow with awe before bending and fixing his swollen mouth to the sharp cut of Louis’s collarbones. “I wanna see m’all, m’gonna bite every one of them,” he says, just a low scraping rumble against Louis’s skin, low and hot and dirty, and Louis wants him so badly, wants him in his bed, so he grips his shoulders tight and steers him the remaining few feet to his room.

He pushes Harry onto his rumpled sheets, and he goes easily, kicking his boots off before collapsing on the bed in a lovely, clumsy mess of limbs, his mouth so red and wide as he lies on his back, panting. Louis climbs on top of him, pushing his shirt up and kissing up the laurels on his stomach, getting his teeth into skin, making Harry squirm. “What do you like?” he asks in a broken voice. He can’t stop touching, palming greedily over Harry’s abs, which flicker and tighten under his touch, so perfect and searingly hot to the touch.

Harry laughs helplessly, throwing his head back, spots of color on his cheeks. “I like to be used,” he says, raw and honest while he smiles up at Louis with bright eyes, and Louis’s stomach plummets, his already hard cock twitches in his joggers. “Tell me what you like. Use me for it.”

“Christ, Harry,” Louis growls, fixing his mouth to the marks he’s already made on Harry’s neck, sucking hard with his teeth in it, making Harry cry out. He can feel the hard, burning line of Harry’s cock through his jeans, pressing into his thigh as he knocks Harry’s legs apart to look at him. “Are you sure? You’re not saying what you think I want to hear?”

“Fuck, no,” Harry says, all hoarse and strangled, eyes blown wide with pupil. “I want, just want to make you feel good. That’ll make me feel good, I like…” he trails off, sliding his hand up Louis’s neck to cup his face, thumb digging into the hollow beneath his cheekbone. “You are so fucking fit,” he breathes then, shaking his head like he can’t believe it, and it’s absurd because Harry…Harry is the fittest boy Louis has ever seen, let alone had spread out like this in his bed, begging to be used. And Louis hasn’t had something like this in a long, long time, someone so willing and pretty and young and hungry. He’s used to being the plaything to older, bigger men, he’s always been the pretty, eager thing in their bed. Harry makes him feel wild and dizzy with power, with desire. The softness of Harry's skin and the heat of his body is something Louis could get lost in, consumed by. He coughs out an awed, disbelieving laugh before catching Harry’s mouth in his, tonguing his teeth apart and fucking his lips with his tongue.

You’re so fit I don’t know what to do with you first,” he breathes into Harry’s open mouth, flicking his tongue over the peak of his lips, moved by the way he squirms, bucks up against him, so fucking responsive. He grinds solidly against Harry’s thigh, letting him feel how hard he is for him. “You’ve been driving me mad, this whole time.”

“God, please,” Harry says mindlessly, getting his hands between the shift of their bodies clumsily, trying to get a grip on Louis through his joggers. “Lemme see you.”

Louis nods, lifting his hips and tugging his joggers down his thighs, tucking the waistband under his balls so his cock is out. It’s heavy and steel-hard and wet at the tip, flexing just from Harry looking at him, craning his neck up off Louis’s bed to stare and bite his lip and whimper, low and thick in his throat. “I want it in my mouth,” he says, ghosting his fingers down Louis’s ribs before digging them into his hip, hard enough to leave bloodless white marks when he lets go, pulling at Louis desperately. “Please.”

“Fuck,” is all Louis can say, overwhelmed as he clambers up onto his knees and straddles Harry’s chest, far enough down that Harry can’t get his lips around the tip of his cock if he tries, and he is trying, chasing him with his tongue like he did with the straw, sloppy and messy and desperate, and it’s the loveliest thing Louis has ever seen in his entire life. He holds Harry down, presses his shoulder firmly into the mattress with a biting grip while he wanks with his other hand, pulling himself slow, teasing. “You sure?” he asks lightly, tugging his foreskin back to expose the wet crown, twitching so hard a bead of pre-cum wells up and drips down onto Harry’s shirt.

“Louis, please,” Harry begs shamelessly, palming up Louis’s flickering quads, tugging on him, trying to get him close. “Haven’t stopped thinking about it, want it so bad, please,” he murmurs, eyes so shot and dark as he licks his lips, getting his mouth so wet, so lovely. “Please.

Louis wanks harder, letting go of Harry’s shoulder so he can brace himself against the bed and shift his weight, his cock inches from Harry’s face so that when he shoots off, it will get on him, paint his face, drip into his mouth, anything

Harry arches his neck up off the bed and mouths wet and messy down Louis’s moving hand, trying to get skin, and before Louis can plan or think or do anything about it, he’s rubbing his cock on Harry’s hollowed cheek, his eyelid, over those plush, perfect lips, and coming, hard and sudden like he hasn’t in years, like he did when when he was twenty and learning how to finger himself for the first time. It’s that new, that exciting, that insane, and his vision whites out, but not before he sees Harry moan in frustrated abandon and reel back, mouth open so that some of Louis’s load lands on his tongue.

He kind of collapses, but Harry follows him, wiggling down the bed under Louis’s weight so he can suck idly at his still-twitching cock, mouth the softest, sweetest thing, hot and silken and so light it’s almost like he’s not there at all, the ghost of a boy. Louis is so sensitive it hurts, but Harry is gentle, nursing and whimpering and shaking because he’s gotten his cock out of his jeans and is jacking himself off as he sucks, shuddering and rocking his hips in time with frantic strokes. Dazed, Louis frees his hand so that he can pet Harry’s hair, trying to catch his breath and endure the nervy overwhelm of Harry’s mouth still working him, wet and drooling and self-indulgent.

Harry pulls off before he comes, letting Louis’s spent cock slip from his mouth before he buries his face in his thighs, crying out as he loses himself in hot ribbons all over his fist, some of it landing on Louis’s calf, the back of his knee. “Jesus, Harry, so perfect,” he murmurs without even meaning to, fingers tangled in his hair. “Look at you.”

Half-crying, Harry goes limp, gasping against Louis’s skin as he slides his sticky hand up the back of his thigh, trembling. “Next time, let me suck it,” he pleads, brushing gentle knuckles over Louis’s cock, making him flinch in in oversensitivity. “I wanna suck you for ages, make you feel so good.”

“You’re a dream,” Louis whispers, sure now. Because this can’t be real, Harry can’t really be here under him, tracing swirling, idle patterns on his ribs, soft and content and awed. “A dream boy. Dream Bambi.”

Harry laughs, the reverberation rattling through Louis and making him laugh, too, in spite of himself. “I love your smile,” he says, touching Harry’s face, thumbing over his cheeks, round and dimpled and faintly damp with sweat, tears, spit. He’s still floating on the strength of his orgasm, buzzing and wrung out and ruined, too amazed by this whole thing to worry about it.

Harry turns into him, kissing his waist with swollen lips. “You make me smile a lot,” he says gently, lashes fluttering against skin, tickling. “So that’s good.”

Louis touches his dimple and feels like he’s falling.

—-

Even though he doesn’t want him to, Harry figures he should probably get Louis to move. He’s a bit heavier and broader than Louis but the dead weight is making him wheeze, so with with some difficulty and regret, he wiggles out from under him, snuggling up against his ribcage as soon as he’s in a position to, rolling Louis’s limp body onto his back and throwing his arm around his waist, burying his face in his underarm to inhale the laundry and sleep and sex-sweat smell of him greedily. He’s half-worried Louis is going to pull some type of you’re too young, I’ve made a terrible mistake disappearing act and vault off the bed once the orgasm high wears off, and Harry really doesn’t want that at all, so he holds onto him tightly, dragging him closer, nuzzling skin. You have to stay, he thinks, tightening his grip. This is fate. Destiny.

At least for now, Louis lets him, sighs a lot and combs his fingers gently through his hair, separating the curls at his temple, nudging his knuckles tenderly up against his scalp. Everything is quiet and soft, and Harry can’t believe that he’s here, that this morning he woke up certain that Louis had a boyfriend he’d failed to mention, certain that dropping off his clothes and baked goods would be the end of their friendship, and he'd never get to see him again. But now he’s in his bed, tucked into his side, the taste of his come still bitter and salty and perfect on his tongue. He can hardly believe it, but he’s not complaining; his whole body is buzzing, limbs heavy with a dazed sort of euphoria, the outside world fading into insignificant half-reality around them. “I feel so lucky,” he murmurs into Louis’s skin, the words spilling out before he realizes he’s thinking aloud.

Louis snorts, hooking his leg over Harry’s and dragging him closer, slotting their bodies together so neatly, like things fashioned to fit. “Why, because you shagged the writer of your favorite series? Big celebrity fling?” he jokes, turning and shifting down the bed a little so his face is hidden in the wreck of Harry’s hair.

“No,” Harry mumbles sleepily, palming up Louis’s chest, awed by the pale stretch of skin over his ribs, all the places he has yet to kiss. “Because I shagged you.

Louis is quiet for a moment, like he’s contemplating this. “Same thing,” he says eventually, though he sounds pleased.

“No, s’not the same thing,” Harry explains, getting his nails in Louis, scratching down his side firmly enough to leave faint pink marks momentarily in his wake, something to prove he was there, that he touched Louis Tomlinson. This is really happening. Louis arches up into it, a pretty gasp getting trapped somewhere beneath them, and Harry’s stomach plummets. Every sound Louis makes is lovely; everything he does stops his heart. “You know, I wanted to kiss you from the second I saw you,” Harry admits quietly, a confession. “I would have in any universe, if you were anyone, like, a telemarketer or a janitor or a garbage truck driver. I wanted to kiss you because you’re fucking fit. Knowing you wrote ST only made it so that I knew you were brilliant, too. Like, immediately.”

“What’s wrong with janitors, Harold?” Louis asks, mock-offended. Harry can feel him smiling, though, the twist of his mouth against his forehead before he kisses him there, tongue sweeping out momentarily to steal salt.

“Nothing. Just. You don’t know what a janitor likes or cares about until you know him, but you know about an artist, a writer…because of what they write,” Harry explains. He nuzzles his way down Louis’s throat, lips getting scoured by his stubble, and it’s so good, so real, it burns in the very best way, and he could fucking do this forever. Spend an eternity curled up with Louis Tomlinson, learning every inch of his skin. He sighs, spreading his palms over his ass, squeezing possessively, so thrilled Louis is letting him.

“You don’t know everything,” Louis whispers, arching his back, fitting himself more firmly into Harry’s hands.

“Thank god,” Harry says. “M’so glad I get to learn to know you, too, that there are so many things left to find out. You’re fascinating, and I want, like, every bit. Want to know everything.”

Louis is quiet again, for too long, maybe, and Harry pulls back so that he can look at him and try to read his expression, his lips flat and contemplative, eyes too blue. Louis cuts his eyes away, letting his gaze fall on Harry’s jeans stuck halfway down his thighs and he makes a face. “You’re still wearing your clothes, love. And they have your jizz all over them. Very classy, very London,” he jokes, and Harry is having none of that. He doesn’t want Louis to squirm away from him, he doesn’t want him to change the subject if they’re talking about knowing. Wanting to be known, wanting to know.

“I would have kissed you, whether or not you wrote ST,” he says again because he’s pretty sure Louis doesn’t believe him. “Would you have kissed me, if I weren’t a fan?” He tilts his head, peers up at Louis, and finds him with his brows arched, mouth parted around a silent oh.

“Are you kidding?” he asks gently. “I would have kissed you…god, Harry. I would have kissed you one hundred times over already. I would have fucked you all over my house, I wouldn’t have been able to stop myself. You being a fan is the only thing that’s kept me from touching you since we took that walk together the first fucking night, and you, like…wore Calvin Klein and heeled boots on a hike, like an absolute tosser. I would have put you up against a tree and snogged you half to death, if you hadn’t been a fan. I thought you could tell.”

Harry listens with his heart in his throat and his stomach knotting itself fiercely. He’s hot all over, voice thick and too-low as he says, “I couldn’t….well. I hoped.”

Louis nods, lips pursed. “But you are a fan. So I waited until you assaulted me with that straw, and I couldn’t stand it anymore.”

“What’s wrong with me being a fan?” Harry asks before he opens his mouth over Louis’s throat, sucking softly, groaning as Louis’s adam’s apple bobs beneath his tongue. “God,” he rasps, moved by the way Louis’s pulse picks up under his lips.

“Too many things to count,” Louis murmurs, voice rumbling through Harry, hoarse and low and hot. “You’re…I don’t know. I can’t really trust that you like me for me, or if you like me for the show, and because of that, I feel…I feel like I have power over you, I don’t know. There’s this idol worship thing and—”

Harry wrenches away, glaring up at Louis with an incredulous look plastered across his face. “I don’t idol worship you, Louis Tomlinson,” he snaps, spreading his palms over Louis’s pecs and pushing him down into the bed, flipping him onto his back. “Even if you literally have the same tattoo as dreamboat Marcus,” he adds, thumbing over the looping It Is What It Is script, which isn’t exactly what Marcus has, but it’s close enough. He cocks his head, and Louis looks up at him, wide-eyed and pink-cheeked and so, so unbelievably sexy it seems impossible that any of this is happening at all.

“Technically, he has my tattoo, as I had it first,” Louis explains, eyes fixed decidedly to Harry’s cock, which is still out of his jeans, chubbed up and thick again because Harry is young and human and lying in Louis Tomlinson’s bed, touching the warm, taut skin of his chest with hungry hands. “You should really take your jeans off, I can’t take you seriously with your absolutely giant willy hanging out like that, my god,” Louis says, blushing so fiercely Harry can feel the heat of it as he cups his face tenderly in his palm, slow with wonder. “You’re like a film star. The naughty sort of film.”

“If you wanted me undressed, you should have undressed me,” Harry says lightly, wiggling out of his jeans and pulling his shirt over his head before flopping back down dramatically beside Louis, arms over his head. He can feel the intent with which Louis is looking at him, the heat of his gaze cutting across his body, and he shivers, licking his lips. He hears Louis’s sharp intake of breath before he feels him, his fingers brushing down his sternum softly, reverently.

“Couldn’t wait,” Louis whispers, breath so warm against Harry’s nipple before he takes it between his teeth, biting down until Harry keens pathetically, twisting up off the mattress and into Louis’s hot, sharp mouth. He sucks pointedly, and it hurts so good, his hands are all over Harry’s hips, his thighs, cupping his twitching cock as he groans. “Jesus Christ,” he murmurs as he pulls away, “Can you…do you have things to do today? Is Maisy at the house because…fuck, Harry, I could spend the whole day just touching you,” he says brokenly, the last syllable getting cut off as he dives in to kiss Harry, deep enough that it steals his breath, makes him dizzy.

Harry has sort of forgotten about Maisy and the house, which is a terrible thing to happen to a dog- and house-sitter, but Louis is so fucking distracting, he’s kissing him so hard, like kissing is breathing, like kisses are air. He bucks his hips up into the heat of Louis’s hand, he sucks Louis’s tongue as he pushes it into his mouth, wondering how on earth kissing can feel so much like fucking, how he can be so blindingly, mindlessly turned on so soon after coming. “Fuck,” he hisses into Louis’s mouth, fists in his hair. “I should go back, should but I don’t want to, just want you,” he says, sliding one hand down the planes of muscle flexing in Louis’s back. “Want so many things with you, want you inside me, want to suck you,” he murmurs, loving the way Louis’s pupils get so dark and huge as he reels back to look at him, loving the way he can feel Louis’s cock twitch against his stomach as they grind together.

Louis gasps, thumbing Harry’s lips apart roughly. “You’ve said that a few times, is that, like, a thing with you? You like sucking cock?” he asks, voice breaking, and god, Harry’s mouth is watering, he needs it so bad, he feels like he’s gonna die. He feels insane, like he went from three to one thousand in two seconds, like Louis flipped a switch, and now he’s just gone for him, desperate and irresponsible, and the world’s worst, most neglectful dog-sitter.

“Fuck, yes, I love it, need it. S’like my favorite thing,” he murmurs, catching Louis’s thumb and sucking it messily into his mouth past the second joint to demonstrate, before pushing a mouthful of saliva out around it, frothy and filthy. “See, can get you so wet, just let me,” he begs, and he watches Louis’s face crumble into something devastated.

“Christ,” he chokes out, shoving his index and middle finger into Harry’s mouth alongside his thumb and pushing deep enough down his throat to make him drool. “Your mouth, Harry, s’the hottest thing I’ve ever seen, you want me to fuck it? You want me to come inside again?”

Harry garbles around his fingers, tongue laving, throat flickering as he fights his gag reflex. He loves sucking cock, and Louis has the prettiest he’s ever seen; he wants the weight of it on his tongue, choking him, he wants it all so badly that his stomach won’t stop dropping. Louis pulls his fingers out in a slick of spit, and Harry begs, “please,” voice an absolute ruin, body limp as Louis peels off him and hikes his legs around his waist, tugging him down the bed.

Blood pounds in his ears as Louis pulls him onto his side by his hair; his heartbeat is deafening, time getting slow and syrupy as Louis drags him down to his cock.

Harry feels like this is the moment his entire life has been hurtling toward, the pinnacle of some summit he’s been climbing for the last two days, his fate, his destiny. Louis pulling his foreskin back for him, exposing the head of his cock and pulling Harry down onto it, making a high, lost sound in the back of his throat as Harry swirls his tongue into the slit desperately, tasting what’s his. He slides down as far as he can take it, eyes watering and plush lips brushing Louis’s hand where he grips himself at the base. He can’t breathe and around him there’s nothing but Louis everywhere, his clean, musky smell and the taste of his sweat, searing and salty and perfect. He whimpers and drools, keeping Louis in his mouth as long as he can before he needs to pull off for air, a string of saliva keeping him connected to Louis’s cock, even then. He sucks in a ragged breath before he takes him again, this time shallow but still tight and hot and hungry, and then, he loses time for a little while. Just drowns in what he does best, what he’s wanted and what he’s made for, blowing Louis exactly how he deserves to be blown.

He gets breathless and desperate when he can tell Louis is close, the tense, stilted bucks of his hips, the way his cock flexes in Harry’s mouth. Please, please, he thinks and then Louis curses and loses it, emptying himself with a single rough, abandoned thrust that chokes Harry so hard he’s gagging. He swallows, and his eyes and throat sting, but this is probably the best day of his life, his greatest accomplishment. He slides off, panting, shocked into a quiet, hiccuping gasp as Louis heaves him up to kiss raw.

Louis’s lips are soft and slick, and he kisses him and kisses him, flicking his tongue into his mouth in filthy fucking motions until Harry is close to crying, he’s so hard. “Louis,” is all he can say, cock twitching and leaking between their bodies, pressed into the solidity of Louis’s thigh. “Lou.”

“Shh, Bambi, I got you,” Louis murmurs, making a loose fist around Harry’s cock, pumping it once without any real pressure, just feeling the weight and girth of him, maybe, fingers brushing reverently up the underside. “How’s your cock as good as your mouth?” he asks, voice tattered with awe. “How’re you so gorgeous?”

“Dunno,” Harry says thickly. “Are you gonna make me come?”

“God, yes,” he groans, making a fist around Harry’s cock, tight enough that the intense pleasure of it blinds Harry for a second, forces a pained, animal sound out of him. “In my mouth,” he murmurs, but he’s wrong because Harry shoots off right then, lifting his hips off the bed and fucking the tight ring of Louis’s hand so hard he whites out, head thrown back, mind nothing but static.

Louis lets him go, licking the mess off his stomach and cursing. “Guess we’ll have to go at it again,” he says, kissing the left wing of his butterfly, and Harry’s mind clears around the word fate, before it’s followed shortly by destiny.

—-

They spend hours in bed, and Louis feels like a fucking teenager again. Nineteen and reborn, breathless and touching a boy for the first time, stunned by how fucking good it could be. And Harry…Harry is amazing. It’s not like he didn’t think he would be, he knew from the ripple of tendons flexing in his forearms when he dug holes in Louis’s garden that he’d be good with his hands, it’s just that all of him, every inch of his body, is the stuff of fucking fantasies. He’s sloppy, he’s so eager, but at the same time, he’s practiced, skilled. Laboriously attentive to Louis in a way he can’t ever remember noticing in other lovers, like he’s studying him, like this is his life’s work. Harry is like…an artist. A sex artist. It’s mind-blowing, and Louis can’t believe how devastatingly fucked, how perfectly used his body feels when they finally get out of bed on unsteady legs to venture into the kitchen and eat.

Harry stands leaning against the counter like a fucking vision, wearing nothing but his tee shirt as he rummages through Louis’s drawers for baking supplies. “I could make an accidentally vegan chocolate cake, if you wanted,” he says conversationally, hip popped out, lovely ass jiggling with the motion, and Louis has to touch, has to fit himself to Harry’s back and squeeze him.

“Nutrition before sweets, love,” he murmurs, but after they throw a frozen pizza in the oven, they end up eating the snickerdoodles Harry made anyway, the morning fading into Yorkshire and the smell of the fire as Louis stokes it back to life. It feels so easy, so comfortable, like he could move in with this boy. Like Harry fits so nicely into the spaces and vacancies of his home, like he's meant to be there.

After pizza, they take the dogs for a walk, and Harry borrows one of Louis’s denim jackets, and Louis notices he keeps smelling the sleeve fondly, the spot where Louis keeps his cigarettes when he hikes. And it’s easy, when they’re together, arms linked casually and breath mingling visibly in the cold air before them every time they laugh, to imagine a version of his future when Harry is there. Tucked into his side, petting Muffit by the fire while Louis writes, retells a story he abandoned because he didn’t believe it anymore. But maybe he does, now. Harry makes anything feel possible, even things Louis has spent years telling himself were naive. Maybe ST wasn’t terrible, maybe there is still an audience for it somewhere, maybe the world still does need to hear that love saves, because it does. Maybe he had been right all along.

They reach a lookout point on the trail, and Louis lights a cigarette, nudging Harry in the ribs when he shoots him a disapproving look. “What?! It’s been raining for days, so even if I threw the butt into the woods, it wouldn’t light anything on fire,” he says before taking a long, slow drag. “Anyway, you’re but a mere child, Harold, where do you get off giving me a hard time about fire safety?” He exhales, and Harry leans in, kissing his cheek like it’s the most natural thing in the world, like they’ve been doing this for ages. Louis’s stomach swoops, and again, he feels like he’s nineteen.

“S’not the forest I’m worried about, it’s your lungs. How are you going to write me a season three if you get lung cancer and die?” Harry asks. His tone is playful, but Louis feels scolded anyway, his heart seizing up at the mere mention of a season three, of Harry wanting something more from him than this.

“I thought you didn’t have ulterior motives,” he says, sucking from his cigarette again, and Harry frowns, a line cutting through his brow.

“I’m…m’sorry. I really don’t. You could never write again, and I’d still want this,” he says, linking his fingers with Louis, squeezing him reassuringly. He brings his knuckles up to his face and kisses the back of his hand with those soft, still-swollen lips, and something defensive and cold thaws inside Louis. “If I ever push about that, it’s not…not because I want more ST from you, for myself. It’s because I want it…like, for you. I don’t want you to feel like you don’t deserve to write beautiful things anymore. I don’t know.” Harry’s cheeks are thoroughly pink by the end of it, his eyes cutting to the ground as he tries to disentangle his fingers, but Louis holds fast, pulls him close.

“You know, ST was…it was, like, my baby, basically,” he blurts, watching Harry’s eyes go wide with shock. He takes a drag and chews the inside of his cheek, throat dry and stinging as he continues, because he wants Harry to know, to know the truth, know him. He’s made it this far. “I put everything into it, so much of myself, and when it got canceled and everything fell apart… I abandoned it at least in part because I felt abandoned…by the network, yes, but by ST itself, in a way. Like, it was almost like a break up. I wrote about love saving, and then I wasn’t saved, in the end. I was broke and jobless.”

“Louis,” Harry says gently, snaking an arm around his lower back, drawing their bodies close so that they shudder together in a shared sigh, Harry’s ribcage expanding as Louis’s contracts, meaning filling void, substance in absence. “You don’t ever have to look at it again, if you don’t want to. If it hurts too much, I understand.”

“But, the thing is,” Louis says, inhaling sharply, dropping his cigarette and grinding its remains into the wet earth so he can touch Harry with his other hand, push his hood down and cup the back of his neck where he’s warm and soft, “I want to, I think. I cared about it so much. Care. And like you said, a lot of other people do, too. I…I went to a con once, you know,” he adds in a hush, laughing at himself, the sound of it muffled against Harry’s shoulder. “Contrary to popular belief.”

Harry pulls back dramatically, eyes wide and wet and misty, mouth hanging open. “I knew it,” he says then. “You went the first year, right? In London? In costume. There were rumors…”

“Yeah, I dressed up in Martin’s ensemble, you know, one of those morph suit things so no one knew it was me. It was…it was insane, seeing all those people who loved the series, loved what I had done, what I…believed in, I guess. In love. But at the time, I was so devastated by the cancellation I felt like I was a fraud because I didn’t believe myself anymore. I didn’t let anyone know I was there or go back, ever, because I felt…dunno. Like I let you all down. Did I let you down anyway? I don’t even know anymore.” He wraps his arms around Harry, and they sway together for a quiet moment, the woods still around them, save for the faraway crashing sound of Muffit and Maisy chasing each other through the brush and the occasional chirp of jays in the trees.

Harry rubs his palms over Louis’s back in sure, broad strokes, thumbs notching under his scapulae as he crushes him even closer. “Thank you for telling me all that,” he says after awhile. “I feel lucky…no, honored, even, to know. I take it really seriously, which is why I need you to believe what I’m gonna tell you.”

“Okay,” Louis mutters, turning his face and hiding it in Harry’s neck, skin so fucking warm it feels like sunshine against his lips, a mug of tea left to steep, laundry straight from the dryer. All the warmest and most lovely things, and it makes Louis weak-kneed and shivery. “I’m listening.”

Harry takes a deep breath and says, “I have never, ever felt let down by you. Even when you were just some faceless creator who liked coconut cake and didn’t trust horses, even when I met you and you told me you thought ST was rubbish…I still never felt let down because you wrote the thing that saved me. That saved, like, so many people, and that work of art stands alone, no matter where you are with it now. You didn’t let your fans down, you saved them, and it’s pretty much as simple as that.”

There are tears prickling Louis’s eyes when Harry finishes, stinging and hot as they well up and spill over, and again, he feels like a teenager. Young and scared and falling too hard too fast to save himself. He makes fists in Harry’s jacket, his jacket on Harry, and swallows noisily. “So you’re one of those kids who believes in the whole ‘death of the artist’ thing?” he jokes, pressing a lingering kiss to Harry’s jawline. “That art loses the meaning its creator intended once it’s consumed by the masses?”

“Not necessarily…I just don’t think you really believe anything that different than you did when you wrote ST. I mean, you’re here, aren’t you? Like, trying to let me love you. And that’s what ST is about, really,” he explains, shrugging, squeezing Louis’s hand once more before letting him go. Louis uses his sleeve to wipe his ears, feeling incredibly foolish and incredibly vulnerable, but also incredibly…cared for, maybe, and he hasn’t felt any of those things in a very long time. It’s confusing and overwhelming, but it’s also so good, so wonderful, so absolving. I am trying to let you love me, he thinks of saying, but it’s so much to confess. So much raw truth for something so new and fragile, so he stays silent, instead cupping Harry’s face and kissing him.

“Thank you,” he whispers, their lips ghosting together. “For understanding.”

They kiss until the dogs start whining, until Louis’s mouth is slick and hot, and all he can think about is the stupid brasil! tattoo on Harry’s thigh, which he kissed this morning while he mapped Harry out in constellations of bite marks. Thank you, he thinks as they head back, Harry’s hand in his. For everything.

—-

They part ways after hiking, Louis saying something about work, about moving too quickly, about not wanting to do anything unholy in Gloria’s house, but Harry gets the distinct impression that he doesn’t actually want to leave. He kisses Harry long and slow and deep, cups his face in his hands, and brushes his lips down his neck, across the arch of his brow, over to the shell of his ear, soft, fluttering, barely there kisses. Harry is practically melting by the time Louis lets him go; he stands in the doorway watching him and Muffit trudge across the driveway, the lovely shape of Louis’s retreating back etched into his mind even after he blinks.

He collapses onto Gloria’s couch once he’s back in the house with the door properly locked behind him, grabbing a cushion and squeezing it tight, biting it because he needs somewhere to channel the wild thrill of overwhelm that’s coursing through his teeth. He feels like an idiot schoolboy, and he doesn’t care, kicking the air and making a noise so tinny and high-pitched that Maisy actually huffs out a warning bark at him.

“Oh shh,” he scolds her. “I’m in love, give me a break.”

She hops up onto the couch between his bent knees, sniffing suspiciously, as if to say, I don’t think you can call it love if you’ve known him for less than a week. He nudges her with his foot, offended.

“You can if you’ve been a fan of his writing for years,” he tells her. “Plus, it’s fate, and that changes things.”

Still, the imaginary disapproval of a dog makes him think about things as he sits at the dining room table and idly scans job listings in Yorkshire, just to see what there is. Like, is he absurd for feeling that his life is slotting into place, like the awkward period of time after uni and #trueadulthood finally has a direction? Is he absurd for not even questioning that the sensation of busting elation in his chest is most certainly, without a doubt, the sensation of being in love? Are they moving too fast? Should he not want to move from his stuffy flat in London and immediately set up camp in Louis’s house? Should he be holding back, or is reckless abandon part of his fate, his destiny?

He feels like it is. That even if Louis hurts him, even if Louis decides that this isn’t what he wants, he still wants to throw himself headlong into it. He’s never been in love before, but he’s been obsessed with a TV series about being in love for most of his adult life, so love that hurts has always been something preferable to no love at all, in Harry’s opinion. He wants Louis, he feels perfectly clear-headed about that, but he doesn’t want the massive force of his want to bowl Louis over, to push him further into himself. Louis has only just begun to open up to him, and he doesn’t want to slam that door with a tidal wave of enthusiasm. He closes the craigslist tabs, sighing deeply, folding his hands in front of himself on the table, and thinking, don’t burn so hard you smoke him out of his own house. Just…keep him warm. So he won’t want to leave.

His mobile buzzes, and he jumps, feeling like he was just caught in the act of wanting to marry a guy who’s, like...not ready for marriage. He picks up to see what Louis has to say, a bubble of rash, wild feeling inflating in his throat, choking him as he reads it: I can’t stop thinking about you.

His heart clutches pitifully as he asks, what about me??? ;)

He expects it to be a sex thing, something filthy about his mouth or his body because that’s where his mind goes immediately, the impression he’s used to leaving when he sleeps with men and texts them soon after. Instead, Louis says, your smile. what it feels like to hold you.

Harry is moved. He swoons a little, beaming and chewing his lip as he fires back, really??? just holding me? you’re impossibly sweet

The three dots that indicate Louis is typing appear, then disappear, then reappear again before the the text comes through. is that too much?

Harry’s heart is suddenly pounding, and he wonders if Louis has been sitting and contemplating at his own house, wondering if he wants more of Harry than Harry is willing to give. The mere thought makes his chest hurt, so he figures he can tell Louis that there’s no too much, that he’s in this for the long haul, if Louis wants him. No!!!! no such thing as too much with u. really. He hits send, lip tasting metallic from worrying it between his teeth. Before Louis has a chance to respond, he quickly follows up with what are u up to?

I’ve been writing actually :) it’s scary, and weird, but also not all complete shit so that’s a start.

Harry stares and stares, swallowing thickly and trying not to get too worked up or emotional at the suggestion that Louis is writing something related to ST. He inhales, counts to fifteen, and then manages to text out a shaky I take it you’re not writing travel guides…?!

nope :) Louis texts back. Harry is still trying to remember how to breathe when the second text comes. was looking at an episode that got cut from the early season 2 arc where martin is stuck in the hospital and dan breaks him out? it’s a really visual little bit with lika dream sequence. feel like it could translate well to a sort of stand alone comic. if u knew someone wanted to illustrate it.

Harry knows about twenty-five fan artists in the ST fandom who would willingly sell their left kidney for a chance to illustrate a canonical comic written by Louis Tomlinson himself, and he’s halfway through typing out a list of names when Louis sends another text, and his stomach is immediately caught in a free fall.

you really inspire me. just so you know, Louis says, and it feels world-changing, really, to hear that. Harry feels power-mad, wants to call Louis up so he can hear his sharp intake of breath as he tells him, let me show you how good it can be, please. Let me inspire you in every way, because you’ve inspired me my whole life. To be a better and more honest and open and unapologetically gay, to love fearlessly, to celebrate rather than condemn people for their differences. You are my inspiration, so let me return the favor Louis. Please.

He gathers himself and his thoughts, well aware that this is not the type of thing you tell someone in a text message. He wants Louis to hear such a thing while they’re pressed together, heartbeats only inches away, hands in one another’s hair. He doesn’t want to scare Louis away, he doesn’t want to push too hard, but at the same time he feels like he owes him honesty, openness, fearlessness. If he has Louis and ST to thank for those world views, it seems counterintuitive to keep them hidden, to pretend he’s not as gone for Louis as he is. Gone a thousand times, gone since he was nineteen and he watched the pilot for the most important television show of the last decade. can you come over? he texts, heart thudding so hard his chest is aching with it. Then, in case there’s any confusion as to why, I want you close.

I can, Louis says.

In ten minutes, Louis is on his doorstep, hands shoved into the pockets of his adidas trackies, fringe of chestnut hair poking out from under his beanie, framing his face. He looks surprised to see Harry even though he’s at his house, eyes wide and almost apologetic, and it’s been mere hours, but Harry missed him, is so fucking happy to see him standing there, freshly shaven, young and bright and brilliant. “Hi,” Louis says, breathless, and Harry doesn’t wait a second longer to kiss him.

Louis sighs in relief, surging against Harry and backing him in past the threshold of the house, putting him up against the banister of the stairs, hands pushing up under his shirt. “You make me crazy,” he huffs out into his ear before nipping just below it, making Harry’s skin break out into a wave of gooseflesh. Louis feels so good, steals his breath, steals his balance, and all he can do to anchor himself is grip his shoulders and hold tight. “Absolutely mad, I can’t believe you have me looking at my old ST documents and thinking about writing comics, can’t believe I’m gonna fuck you in my next-door neighbor’s bed, what have you done, Harry,” Louis says brokenly, mouth all over Harry’s throat, his jaw.

“Inspired you, right?” Harry manages to get out amid a wreck of labored breath, the words short and clipped and staccato. “That’s what you said.”

“Yeah,” Louis making fists in Harry’s pullover and hoisting him up so he’s standing, before marching him up the stairs and to the master bedroom. “And I’m gonna tell you all about my ideas…what was supposed to happen in season three, where it was all going, and you’re going to help me…tell me what’s good, what’s worth keeping. Like, from a fan’s perspective. I’ll need a proper editor, too, but I want you, mostly—”

“Yes, Yes, Yes,” Harry tells him, eyes prickling with tears, thumbs digging into the hollows beneath Louis’s collarbones. “Anything you want, Louis, you have it. You have me.”

And Louis smiles so fucking bright then, a brightness Harry has never seen in the real world, a brightness that seems reserved for fantasy, so electric and radiant it hurts to look at, it burns his eyes. A superman brightness, so bright it burns. “You’re hired, then,” Louis jokes, pushing Harry down onto the bed and standing over him, hands on his hips while his gaze cuts over his body, slow, serene, awed. “We start tomorrow.”

And as he kisses him, Harry throws his head back and cedes to the tide, thinking, we start today.