Actions

Work Header

Be My Little Good Luck Charm

Chapter Text

When Louis accepted a position at Sky Sports, he imagined himself one day commentating on World Cup football for ESPN alongside Ian Darke.  Or if not the World Cup, at least the Premiere League.  Maybe some tennis on the side -- Nadal’s fit, sue him, plus Louis could really see himself hitting it off with Mary Carillo.  What he did not imagine was sitting in a cramped booth in the middle of Wisconsin, droning on about fucking golf, of all things.  Least sexy sport.

“It’s another beautiful day here at Whistling Straits, as we bring you the first round of the 2014 PGA Championship.”  

“If by beautiful you mean as windy as a donkey’s arse, then yes.  That is accurate.”  Louis dazzles the camera with his very best smile.

He’s only known his co-commentator, Liam Payne, for about twenty minutes, and already he’s getting used to that pained look.  The one that says Please, just be professional.  Please, Louis, no extra fun.

Well, Liam’s just going to have to deal with it because if Louis knows one thing about himself it’s that sometimes he is physically unable to keep his mouth shut.  It’s always been a bad habit of his to just say whatever he’s thinking, and maybe he should have thought a little harder about that before he decided to make a living on national TV.

“... And we’ll be right back with all the exciting action after this short break.”  Liam throws it to commercial and turns in their tiny booth, heaving a sigh as he stares at Louis.

“You have to stop doing that.”

“What?”  Louis feigns innocence, fixing his fringe.  They’re overlooking the 18th green, and it really is frightfully windy.

“Making with the cheeky comments,” Liam explains.  “This isn’t giggly housewives watching.  Our demographic is 50-year-old men, they don’t want to see a...”

Louis narrows his eyes.  “What?”  His voice can be absolutely acidic when he wants it to be, and he has a pretty good idea what Liam was about to say.  He crosses his arms and waits.

“... Er -- nothing.”  Liam looks properly abashed, searching for forgiveness with brown puppy-dog eyes that Louis suspects would go over quite well with the housewives.

“Look,” Louis sighs, clapping Liam on the shoulder in an overly familiar way.  Liam, to his credit, doesn’t flinch.  “This is my first time working with you, so I’m going to take pity and tell you right now how it’s going to work:  You’re going to say smart, insightful things about club lengths and green grooming techniques, and I’m going to make fun of you.  Mercilessly.  Forget everything you learned at the network, because we’re doing this the Tommo way.”

“The Tommo way,” Liam replies, weakly.

Louis squeezes his shoulder.  “Good man.”

They come back from commercial.  Louis’s fringe is perfect, and if Liam looks a bit shell-shocked, no one seems to notice.

“Right,” he says, shuffling his papers in front of him and clearing his throat.  “Where were we?”

“I believe you promised me some exciting action, Mr. Payne.”  Louis’s voice is light, and he throws in a wink at the camera for good measure.

Liam’s neck flushes slightly, but he manages not to stutter as he says (in a very professional announcer-y tone that almost makes Louis roll his eyes), “Let’s see how Mickelson approaches this tricky par 4.”

And they’re off.  It’s maybe not the worst day of commentating Louis’s had to endure…  that particular title would have to go to his first day on the professional darts circuit, when he got stuck with an 80-year-old, white-haired homophobe.  Luckily he was quite slow on the uptake, and Louis had slipped enough subversive, snarky potshots into his commentary to both satisfy his own sense of justice and, surprisingly enough, build a bit of a following online.  Because people watch youtube clips of dart tournaments, apparently.  Who knew?  Ratings had gone up, and Louis had been promoted.

To golf.

“Least sexy sport,” he mutters under his breath, as he watches Steve Stricker squat to line up a birdie putt.

“Oh, this is interesting,” Liam says, after Steve knocks it in.  Some intern has just shoved a paper across their incommodious little leg-cramp-factory of a desk.  “As you probably know, if you follow professional golf, this is the first year that the PGA Championship has invited leading amateurs to compete alongside the pros.” 

Louis tries not to read over Liam’s shoulder.  He fails of course, openly peering at the thin slip of paper and getting a subtle elbow to the ribs from Liam.

“We’ve just been told -- thank you for that, Louis --”  (Louis huffs in indignation because he did not just pinch Liam’s bum in retaliation.  He did not.  He will deny it forever, in the most strenuous possible terms.)  “We’ve just been told that one of these amateur invitees is on track to shoot an impressive 65 today, if he can par the last hole.  Shall we see how he does?”

“I say yes.”  Louis nods gravely, mocking Liam’s overly serious demeanor.  “That sounds like some uncommonly exciting act…”

And then his voice dies.  Louis’s voice dies.  Because the picture on his monitor has switched over to the camera feed from the 18th tee, just over the hill from where Louis is sitting in the broadcast tower, and oh.

“Oh,” says Louis.  “That’s, er…  That’s… him, then?”

Liam shoots Louis a puzzled glance before picking up the thread of the commentary.  “Harry Styles, says here he’s from Holmes Chapel in Cheshire, currently attending Manchester University on a golf scholarship.  Set to graduate this winter, after which, he has told reporters, he either wants to join the Pro Tour or open a bakery.”

“Open a… what?”

Louis is really floundering now and this is bad.  Oh, this is bad.  Because Harry Styles is standing in front of the tee, staring with fierce concentration at his pink golf ball.  (Wait, is this kid really using a pink…?  Louis blinks.  He is.)  His back is broad in his fitted black shirt, curls peeking out from an old-fashioned newsboy cap.  Louis’s eyes travel down his never-ending, lithely muscled torso to a black belt, and black trousers which… god, do nothing but accentuate his pert arse, and Louis swears that the weird, pleated style of golf pant everyone seems to be so fond of has never, ever looked better on anyone than at this moment, on that arse.

And then Harry swings.  Louis’s mouth goes dry as he watches the muscles in his forearms tense, big hands steady on the 4-wood -- Christ, a 4-wood on a 500 yard par 4?  This kid must be strong, and that realization does… things to Louis.  In his stomach region.

Butterfly things.

Harry brings the club back, stunning green eyes focused on the ball.  His bottom lip has disappeared under his teeth, a nervous habit that would make him look childish if it weren’t for his very manly jawline.  Louis isn’t sure whether he’ll ever breathe again.  A moment…  Harry’s back muscles ripple under his shirt…

And then he pulls the trigger with a loud THWACK! and his ridiculous pink ball is sailing high over the fairway, landing perfectly about 180 yards from the pin.

“Lovely shot,” Liam says, and was Louis complaining about Liam earlier?  Because Louis’s brain is currently made out of styrofoam packing peanuts, he feels like he’s just been sucker punched in the gut, and absolutely no one has noticed because Liam is chatting away quite merrily with himself about how this hole got the better of Dustin Johnson back in 2010 when he suffered a bogey and was assessed a further two-stroke penalty for grounding his club, and thank God for Liam Payne.  Louis plans to get him a fruit basket.

Now then.  He is a professional.  He can recover.  He can appreciate Harry Styles’s approach shot and maybe even, like, say something about it.

“Quite exciting, for a British golfer to be making a splash like this,” and holy shit his voice sounds normal, not high and too tight like Louis thought it would.  He is so, so good at his job.  He deserves a medal.  Or a Peabody.  Or a blowjo--.

His brain needs to fucking quit it.

“... on a roll, he could probably make a push for a top ten spot at the end of the weekend, which would be remarkable for an amateur.”

Louis tries not to look directly at the tall, dark form that has just appeared at the top of the ridge, walking down toward the bright spot of pink nestled in short green grass.  “Yes, he seems quite the cheeky little upstart,” Louis replies, and finally he’s getting some of that Tommo rhythm back.  “Let’s see how he does with his second shot.”

He puts it eight feet from the pin, is what he does, and the stands erupt in appreciative claps and whistles that go beyond the normal polite smattering of applause.  Louis wonders if they know who they’re cheering for, yet.  He examines Harry more closely as he makes his way up to the green.  His eyes are bright with excitement, and Louis notices a sweet dimple in his cheek as he grins, waving at the crowd and doing funny faces in the direction of a little girl standing with her parents in the long grass behind the ropes.  Louis feels an odd tug at his heart.  The kid strides like a panther, all sex one moment as he takes a serious preliminary look at his lie on the green and all bashful, innocent smiles the next as he accidentally trips over his own feet.  His caddy helps him up, a short, friendly-looking kid with a shock of artificially-blond hair and Ray-Bans.  Probably a mate from the uni golf team, doing his friend a favor for a lark.  But he is currently standing with his arm casually around Harry’s waist, and so Louis decides he must hate him.

“It’s not too tough an angle, Liam, I don’t think,” he says.

“No, from this position all he needs to do is hit it straight up the rise and make sure he’s got enough speed on the ball.”

“Yes, speed.  Terribly important when handling balls.  In fact, Liam, did you know I went to college for speedy ball-handling?” Louis asks, schooling his expression so as not to let even a spark of amusement cross his face.  “Have to say, though, I’ve never been one to hit straight.”

Liam coughs.

Then Harry sinks his putt, and the blond kid jumps on him and they fall down in an adorable tangle of limbs as the crowd roars.  With the birdie it’s a 64 opening round, more than enough to make Harry the first-place amateur going into Friday and tying him with Adam Scott for the tournament lead -- almost unheard of for an unknown.  Louis can’t help letting out a bit of a celebratory cheer, giving Liam a high-five in the booth as the cameras zoom in on Harry’s sparkling face.

Louis feels a tap on his shoulder, and is informed that he’ll be doing a live interview with Harry in a few moments outside the clubhouse.

“Shit,” Louis mutters.  He takes a deep breath.  “I mean, okay.”

Liam glances at him with a distinctly amused expression.  “Good luck with that,” he says, and maybe he isn’t quite as oblivious as Louis had previously thought.  Definitely not, as he is now making kissy noises while Louis tries to extricate himself from their torture-device-slash-desk.

“You do not deserve fruit,” Louis snaps, pointing a stern finger at Liam.

“I also do not know what you are on about.  So.”

Louis sticks out his tongue.

He climbs down from the broadcast booth, trying to control the shakiness in his limbs.  At the bottom, he takes a moment to look himself over.  He has on light wash jeans and a gray cable-knit sweater over a white dress shirt with the collar buttoned up to his neck.  Quite dashing.  His hair is… ugh, it’s fine, whatever.  He’s always bothering about his fringe, fussing over it, and it never looks quite right…  But it’s windy, so neither does anyone else’s.  A production assistant hands him a microphone and leads him over to the clubhouse, where an interview station has been set up, blue electrical tape Xs on the ground and big studio lights in front of the rustic-looking stone siding.

Harry’s waiting shyly for him.  His bottom lip is sucked under his teeth again.

“Hello,” says Louis.

Harry grins at him, visibly flushing through wind-reddened cheeks as he fumbles a bit, pulling off his glove so he can shake Louis’s hand.  He has a firm grip.  His palm is warm and slightly sweaty from the glove, and the breath in Louis’s chest stills as he feels a tingle of electricity dance up his arm.

“Hiiiii.”

God, this kid is charming.  Louis can already tell he’s going to be national news, not only because he’s doing so well in the tournament, but because he’s a charisma genius.  The British public is going to fall at his feet.

So he’d better not fuck up this interview.  He should maybe start things off by introducing himself.  “I’m Louis Tomlinson, from Sky Sports.”

“Harry Styles.  From Cheshire.”  He says it slowly, but with a low-burning confidence that Louis knows is going to result in endorsements and a fan club of teenage girls.

“Ever done this before?” Louis asks, as a makeup person flutters around him and the camerapeople get set up.

“Golf?” Harry replies.  “Yeah, once or twice.”

Louis rolls his eyes, mortified, as Harry grins down at him.  This is not how things are supposed to work.  Louis teases people.  Louis is the teaser!  He can’t stop himself from frowning a bit in frustration.

And wow, Harry really doesn’t have the stomach for teasing, because he’s already apologizing.  “Sorry, sorry, erm… Yeah, I was interviewed once, for the local news back in Cheshire, when I was like, fourteen.  For juggling club.”

Louis’s laugh bursts out of his mouth in an entirely uncontrolled manner, and he has to cover his face with the back of his hand in order to stifle his giggling.  “Juggling club?  First I hear your big dream is to open a bakery, and now juggling club.”

Harry just shrugs, feet together and slightly pigeon-toed in scuffed cleats, hands clasped behind his back like a five-year-old girl in her favorite party dress.

“You’re a quirky one, Harry Styles.”

Louis tries to keep his eyes on Harry’s face so as not to give him a blatant once-over.  He has been very deliberately not noticing the size of the bulge in the front of his stupid pleated golf slacks.  Maybe it’s an optical illusion.  Or maybe Harry just has a huge --

“We’re on in ten.”

The camerawoman gives him a thumbs up and Louis waits to be counted in.  “In five, four, three…”

“And we’re back in the clubhouse with Harry Styles, who’s just shot a 64 on opening day here at the PGA Championship.  Quite an impressive showing for an amateur.  Can I just offer my personal heartfelt congratulations, young Harold, for doing it all so suavely and with a pink golf ball.”

Harry, who had been looking nervously down at his feet, lifts his face and grins at Louis.  “It’s just Harry, actually,” he says, and his voice has gone soft and lovely as he looks at Louis, eyes shining.  “And yeah, it’s my lucky ball.”  He brings it out of his pocket and holds it up for the camera.

“But why pink, Harold?” asks Louis, ignoring Harry’s protest about his name.  “Not just any pink, mind.  Neon pink.  The color of Barbies.”

Harry’s surprised laugh sounds like a dying goose and is utterly delightful.  He smacks a hand over his mouth after a single, loud HA! and Louis does not feel proud that he made that happen.  He refuses to feel proud of anything so ridiculous.  He throws a sly wink at Harry instead.

“Um,” says Harry.  “It’s actually, my sister bought it for me.  So.”

Louis can actually hear the women falling back in England.

“That’s lovely, Harry.  You also seem to have broken the amateur course record, and are currently tied for the lead in the tournament.”

Harry shrugs.  “Oopsie.”

“You’re an absolute menace, Styles.”

And now Harry’s looking at Louis like he’s going to eat him up, and Louis must be imagining that, it must be the lights or the excitement of having just done well in the first round of his first major tournament and being interviewed on national TV.  He asks Harry a few more Actual Questions about Actual Golf, and they banter pleasantly back and forth.  They have good chemistry, weirdly good chemistry, and Louis’s surprised and honestly a bit relieved because he thought he was maybe going to act crush-embarrassing around this one.  Thank God he hadn’t met Harry as a teenager, Louis thinks, and thank God there weren’t cameras around then, or he would have been a bit too loud all the time, obnoxiously trying to keep Harry’s attention on him at all costs.  A proper little show-off.

“Good luck tomorrow, Harry,” Louis says at the end of the interview, and shakes his hand again.  Feels the warm buzz in his arm and a tightness in his chest.  “Britain will be supporting you.”

“I hope so.”  Harry looks unsure.

“‘Course they will!” Louis boasts, and oh no, he might be regressing into teenager-with-a-crush-Louis, because all of a sudden he’s squishing Harry’s cheeks and pointing his face at the camera.  “Who wouldn’t support ya?  With them dimples and curly locks.  Right heartbreaker, you are.  Even Adam Scott’s mum’ll be rooting for you, one hundred percent.”

Harry giggles helplessly until Louis releases him.  “You’ll be great tomorrow,” he whispers, just in case Harry needs more reassurance.

“Thanks,” Harry says, red-bitten lips caught between his teeth again, “for a lovely interview.”

And then they’re done.  Louis has some wrap-up to do, and Harry has to sign his card and turn it in.  He sees the blond-haired caddy come up and clap Harry on the back, crowing something about “victory pints.”  He’s definitely a uni kid.  And extremely Irish.  Louis watches them disappear through the clubhouse doors with an odd sense of longing.

He shrugs it off and goes back to work.

 

*

 

The rest of the day goes smoothly, and Liam is even loosening up a bit.  It apparently helps that he’s obsessed with Louis’s little whatever-it-is for Harry Styles -- seems quite proud he’d cottoned onto it, in fact, and keeps bringing it up during commercial breaks.

“Look,” he whispers, as he replays the tape of Louis’s interview.  “Right… there.”

“What?”  Louis is exasperated.  (He thinks Liam, through sheer persistence, might rate fond exasperation by the end of the week, but they’re not there yet.)

“Hearts,” says Liam, voice full of self-satisfaction.  “Rainbows.  Sparkles.  Love beams.  Shooting out of your eyes at Harry.”

“No there aren’t.”  Louis leans forward to examine his expression on the monitor.  He does have a rather soft look on his face, but it doesn’t mean anything.  He’s just proud of British sports.

"I’m proud of British sports,” he says.  “That is a patriotic look.”

“You want to marry him.”

Oh God, Liam is twelve.

“I want no such thing."

“You’d like to have his babies.”

Louis glares.

“Okay.  You’d like him to have your babies?”

Louis flicks Liam behind the ear, where it hurts.

“Owww.”

“I hate you.  Now will you please help me up from behind this wretched desk already, I think my joints are frozen.”  He holds his hands out and pouts, and Liam pulls him easily to a standing position.  “I bet Jim Nantz isn’t made to feel like a sardine.”

“Will you stop complaining if I tell you that there’s a cocktail hour for all the amateurs at the American Club Resort this evening?”

Louis pauses a moment to consider.

“Yes I will.  Also, you are coming with.”

“Me?  But…”

Louis presses a stubborn finger to Liam’s lips and does his best to look menacing.  “Tommo way,” he says.

Liam sighs heavily.  “Tommo way.”

“Good man.”

There are only a few more housekeeping duties for them to see to before they’re officially off the clock.  Louis heads back to his cheap hotel to wash the makeup off his face and change into something a bit less light denim-y for the cocktail party.  The American Club Resort is the fancy place where all the golfers stay during the tournament (probably Jim Nantz, too, Louis gripes), and he suspects that formal is the way to go.  Wants to make a good impression, anyhow.

He settles on a white dress shirt with cool black edging around the collar, some black braces and skin-tight black trousers that fit nicely through the bum.  Which is brilliant, really.

Even though Harry Styles is probably straight.  And there it is, the thought that Louis always tries to suppress whenever he gets a crush on someone he doesn’t know.  He’s usually able to ride high on the giddy daydreams for a few hours before reality comes crashing down around him, and it looks like his time is up.  He’s definitely straight, of course he is.  Nine out of ten people are.

Louis screams internally.  Why must his life be so frustrating?  Why is he going to this stupid cocktail hour anyway?  It’s the initial Harry-being-straight thought that overwhelms him, brings up all his latent insecurities and sends him spiraling.  And while he's at it, why is he stuck commentating on golf and not footie?  He really should be back in England on the football coverage team.  He'd be good at the footie.  He'd smash it.  Louis gives himself a sad look in the mirror and throws his hands listlessly up in the air.  “Goooooaaaal.”  It’s not very convincing.

He sighs and rolls up his pant legs to show a little ankle -- he’s a sexy Victorian, he is -- and slips into dress shoes that hurt his feet but look awesome.

Liam’s waiting for him in the lobby.  Louis slots his arm through the crook of the taller man’s elbow as they wait for a cab.  He’s been testing Liam all day after that first awkward interaction, waiting for him to show another sign of homophobia, but so far, nothing.  It’s a nice surprise, to be honest.

“I’m an idiot,” he confesses, and Liam puts on a serious face.  It’s alarmingly similar to the Please, Louis, I’m literally begging you, no more laddy hijinx face from this morning, only this time it says Yes you are an idiot, but I’m here to listen to you ramble.

Louis thinks maybe Liam has made his way back into his fruit basket-giving good graces.

“Why are you an idiot?” he asks.

“Oh, this Harry thing.  He’s probably straight, don’t you think?”

“You never know.”

Liam opens the door for him, and Louis slips into the back of the cab.  “I’m probably getting my hopes up for nothing.  Honestly, who gets a silly crush at my age?  How embarrassing.  Not that I got anywhere with my gradeschool crushes either, because all of them were straight…”

Wow, Louis really is rambling.

“First off, you can’t be more than twenty-four.  Graduating uni and holding down an adult job doesn’t automatically make you ancient.  Second… off,” and Louis just wants to pat Liam on the head now, before he confuses himself, “people get crushes at any age.  It’s okay.  I think you should just talk to him.”

“Yeah?”  Louis hates being this vulnerable with anyone, but those stupid puppy-dog eyes are drawing it out of him.

“Sure.  Just go up and talk.  If he’s not interested in you that way, he’ll let you know.”

“Maybe he thinks I’m straight,” says Louis haughtily.  “What about that?”

Liam raises his eyebrows in an expression that’s so skeptical, it’s almost pained.

“Oh, shut up.”

The American is all dark wood and smoky interiors, heavy and masculine and very Old Boys’ Club.  Louis slinks into the restaurant, fixing his fringe one last time in the mirror behind the bar as Liam volunteers to get them both drinks.  The TVs are replaying the day’s coverage with the sound muted, and Louis spots his own face glowing down from one of the corners.  He skims the crowd briefly -- no sign of Styles or his Irish caddy.  He slips into small talk with some of the other amateurs, and tries to keep his mind on the conversation.

Which isn’t hard, actually, because all anyone’s talking about is Harry.

“He was doing great to start,” says a short, stocky South African sipping neat brandy in a casually sophisticated way that Louis has never been able to pull off, due to the stuff tasting absolutely horrid.  “But then he hit the back nine and all of a sudden, birdie, birdie, birdie.  Four in a row.”

“Incredible,” a skinny American chimes in.  “Just unreal.  He was hitting greens left and right, like...” he lowers his voice, unsure whether to make the comparison, “... almost like a young Tiger Woods.”

Louis can hear the envy in their voices, but it’s fighting with the respect in their eyes.  Harry could tip the balance either way, he knows, depending on how he treats his peers tonight.  He has no doubt that respect will win out.  He suspects that Harry Styles could charm a snake out of its skin.

A spontaneous ovation goes up around the bar, signaling Harry’s arrival.  He looks amazing in a pale blue dress shirt with a matching bowtie and loooong dark blue jeans, cool suede boots that are scuffed like his golf cleats.  He’s ditched the newsboy cap and styled his curly hair up into a sort-of quiff, kind of rock’n’roll, and it works for him.  Louis tries to simultaneously snatch the fruity cocktail Liam has correctly ordered out of his hand and hide behind him at the same time.  Not because he is a coward, but because when Harry first sees him he wants to be fully engaged in fascinating conversation with a terribly attractive person, not part of a fawning crowd.

“Tactics,” he whispers.

“What?”

“Act like I’ve just said something hilarious, please,” Louis orders.

Liam frowns.  “Or at least something that made sense.”

“I’m going to have to pretend that was a compliment.”  Louis smiles and flutters his eyelashes.  “Liam, please.  I do not have the looks and charm of a young Frank Sinatra, you’re just saying that.”

“I wasn’t, actually.  But do go on.”

By the time Harry gets around to them, they’re talking about actual things.  Important things.  Like how Man U is the greatest team in the history of organized sports, and how irredeemably, criminally ugly the Wolverhampton Wanderers’ orange kit is.

“They’re not so bad,” grumbles Liam.  Poor boy has to defend them.

“No, you’re right,” Louis says, nodding sympathetically.  “They’re really good for if you have to cross the street late at night.  Or in case you want to attend a fancy dress party as a traffic cone.”

He hears Harry’s laughter-squawk from behind his left shoulder, and tries not to smile too hard.  He bites his lip and turns around, holding up his cocktail.  “Cheers, mate.”

Harry clinks his glass.  He’s drinking a pint of something dark (Louis suspects the influence of the Irishman), and his eyes are already a little glazed.  “Cheers yourself.”

“Me?  What did I do?”

Harry’s mumbled answer is lost as the aforementioned Irishman swoops down on the group, loudly drunk and stringing together some rather creative, amiable-sounding curse words as he inquires after the craic, but Louis swears he hears something that sounds a lot like “fit your bum into those trousers.”

He can’t be sure.

That’s how he and Liam are introduced to Niall Horan, who is indeed another member of Harry’s uni golf team.  “No talent at all,” he assures them in a thick brogue.  “And can’t be arsed to improve meself.  It’s just a laugh, like, hangin’ with the lads.  Playin’ a nine or two on a Saturday.”  He slings an arm up around Harry’s neck and digs a finger into the dimple in his cheek.  “Harry here’s the future of the sport.  Fuckin’ genius, he is.  I told everybody.”

“I’m sure you did,” Louis grins.  Now that he’s actually seen them interact, despite the handsiness, he can tell there’s nothing between them but friendship.  In fact, the idea’s almost laughable.  He decides not to hate Niall.

“I like you,” he says, poking Niall in the shoulder as Harry glances between them.  “How did you get your hair to be that color?”

“Ghosts,” says Niall.

Louis laughs.  The second cocktail is starting to affect him; his brain has gone pleasantly fuzzy around the edges.

“Maybe no more for you,” says Liam, and snatches his unfinished Sex on the Beach away.

“Unhand my drink,” demands Louis, “or I may have to divorce you.”

“Oh,” says Harry, face falling imperceptibly.  “Are you…?”

Louis realizes at this point that he has an arm draped around Liam’s waist for social comfort purposes.  He pulls it away and scoffs.  “Not even a tiny bit.”

Harry visibly relaxes, and Louis isn’t too tipsy to wonder what that means.  He smiles what he hopes is a casual-yet-charming-and-definitely-interested-if-Harry-wants-to-read-it-that-way-but-if-not-then-Louis-still-totally-has-plausible-deniability sort of smile.  Harry returns it, and Louis thinks maybe breathing’s overrated.  It’s just, Harry’s tall and fit and charming, and his words drip out of his candy-colored mouth like molasses, and he loves his sister and Louis’s already so gone.  He wants to climb Harry like a tree, he wants to explore every square inch of that unbelievably long torso with his tongue, and other places, definitely other places...

But perhaps he shouldn’t be fantasizing in that vein at the moment.  His trousers are tight enough as it is.  Liam excuses himself to the loo and Niall wanders off in another direction, looking determined to make as many new friends as possible.

Louis’s got Harry all to himself.

“So did I do okay today?” he asks.

“At the golf?  Yeah, Curly, I think you did fine.”

And this is good, now they’re even on the teasing.  Better than good, because Harry’s blushing and trying to bite back a smile.

“At the interview,” he clarifies.  “Can’t remember what I said; thought it might have been shit.”

“Everybody talks some shit in interviews,” Louis assures him.  “You were perfect, mate.  The viewers are going to eat you up.”

“Sounds a bit violent.”

“Well,” Louis shrugs, as though he has vast experience with the industry, “it is.  Look, I bet something’s already trending about you on twitter.”

He pulls out his phone and punches in the code on the lock screen.  Unfortunately he’d forgotten to change his background from the pic he’d taken the week before of Zayn fast asleep on his couch after some party, curly cartoon villain moustache and the words I THINK PENISES ARE BEST scrawled across his face with a Sharpie.  Louis had planned to taunt him with the picture forever, send it to all his potential girlfriends.  Now it just seems… weird and childish.

“Me best mate,” he explains, somewhat lamely, pulling up the twitter app.  “We prank each other.”

Harry’s eyes are hard to read.

“Ha!” Louis says triumphantly.  “See, I told you.”  #Stylesstyle is trending worldwide, and Louis taps the hashtag to pull up some of the tweets.

@teedrightoff  Watched the Olympics on TV.  Won every event.  Oopsie.  #Stylesstyle

@linksfan64  Joined local ice hockey league.  Won the Stanley Cup.  Oopsie.  #Stylesstyle

@girlgeniaaaz  Just want to let everyone know I’m brushing my teeth with a neon pink toothbrush.  #Stylesstyle

Harry’s face lights up.  “I’m promoting good dental hygiene!” he crows, clearly delighted.  Because of course that would make him happy.  Louis coughs, scrolling quickly past a tweet that says something about “Get a fuckin room already will ya boys #Tommowantsit #Stylesstyle,” down to a link to a gif someone’s made of Niall jumping on Harry after his birdie putt on the eighteenth.  It’s incredibly endearing, and has over 15,000 retweets.

He quits the twitter app and Harry’s pawing at Louis’s phone now, claiming he needs it to send a text to his mum because he forgot to bring a charge adapter for the American outlets, and his has already died.  “Come on Louiiiis,” he pouts.  “Sharing is caring.”  Louis surrenders it reluctantly.  He’s not positive his last internet search wasn’t something porny, and has absolutely no idea if he’s deleted that last batch of embarrassing selfies yet.

He decides that the best defense is a good offense.  “Behave yourself, Harold.  No downloading pictures of naked ladies off the internet.”

Harry giggles as his giant monster fingers tap at the touchscreen, and Niall wanders up to them again.  This time he slings an arm around both of them, and his breath smells of beer.

“Important question, Tommo,” he says, squeezing Louis’s shoulder.  “Opinion poll.  I’m askin’ everyone.”

“Shoot.”

“Which celebrity…”  Niall pauses for effect.  “... would you most like to do it with?”

“Chad Michael Murray.”

It's out before he can stop it.  Maybe it's the alcohol, or maybe he just feels oddly comfortable around these people already, because although CMM has been the true answer to that question ever since Louis watched the first season of One Tree Hill as a sexually frustrated teenager, he would usually have the wit to say Leonardo DiCaprio (and it wouldn’t be a total lie, Leo’s a close second) and oh bugger everything because now Harry’s laughing at him.  His shoulders are shaking so hard he’s having trouble typing.

“Chad!  Michael!  Murray!!”

He’s wiping at his eyes, gasping out each syllable like it’s his last breath, almost doubled over.  Niall’s not much better.  If he weren’t supporting himself on Louis’s arm, he would probably be on the floor.

“He’s not just an actor, you know!” Louis frowns.  Now that he’s in this situation, he will defend Chad to the death.  “He’s also a graphic novelist.  Everlast has four stars on Goodreads!”

Harry looks like he’s almost going to pass out at this new information.

“Ooooh, Chad Michael!” Niall coos, hooking his chin on Louis’s shoulder and giggling hysterically as he flutters his eyelashes.  “I love your graphic novel!  I imagine you reading it aloud to me every night!”

Louis wonders if it’s possible to die of embarrassment.  “It’s just Chad,” he mutters quietly.  “Not Chad Michael.  Just Chad.”

Harry’s making strangled cat noises, hiccoughing with laughter.  “Just Chad.  Oh my God.  Louis.  I really want to hug you.”

Louis has no idea what’s going on, but he accepts the hug and tries to sound sardonic and not curious as he huffs into Harry’s hair (which is soft and curly and smells like apples and Louis did not sign up for this), “I’d like to hear your answer, quirky boy.”

“Oh, Niall already knows.”

“Yeah,” Niall ruffles up Harry’s hair and punches him in the arm.  “Aaron Rodgers all the way for our boy golfer.”

Of course Harry would have a cool American sports answer.  Louis’s so indignant that he almost misses the most pertinent piece of information there.  A second later it hits him and a supernova of hope explodes in his chest.  It quickly collapses into a black hole of pain and disappointment, though, because Aaron Rodgers must be at least 6 foot 2.  And he’s like, big.  Solid.  Rugged.

“Oh, hmm?” Louis says, praying to whatever deity is in charge of gay infatuations that he’s not showing any of this on his face.  “What’s so special about Aaron Rodgers, then?  Bet he’s never written a graphic novel.”

“Haz prefers his men a bit older,” Niall grins, waggling his eyebrows.

“I’ll tell Kate Beckinsale you said that,” Harry retorts.  Then he shrugs, glances at Louis and adds, “I think blue eyes are nice.”

Harry’s face is so open and lovely, and Louis’s brain has just shut down.  “Oh,” is all he can say.  “Good.”  He would like to shoot himself, please.

Harry pushes Louis’s phone back into his hands, thanks him, and then says he needs to get back to his room, get some rest before tomorrow.  Louis smiles and offers him a limp wave goodbye, trying to ignore all of the emotions that are currently fighting a war around his internal organs.  Harry heads for the elevators with Niall in tow, almost tripping up the short flight of stairs out of the bar.  He glances back, once, with bright eyes that flash like the green on the eighteenth.

*

 

Liam may be slightly boring, but he’s also a solid, reliable presence, which is just what Louis needs right now.  Interest in the PGA Championship usually starts off relatively small on Thursday and steadily ticks up to the big final round on Sunday.  But this year, Harry’s a major story.  Lots of extra newspeople are on hand on Friday morning, and an alarming amount of teenage girls in tank tops and shorts have shown up, clutching camera phones and holding handmade signs.  The footage of him clowning around with the child on the sidelines yesterday has gone viral, as has his fist pump and primal roar after he sank his birdie putt.  Louis watches the tape again, a sudden stab of arousal piercing his gut.

“I need tea.”

Liam hands him tea.  Good tea.  Good Liam.

“Good Liam,” says Louis, and pats him on the head.

“Not actually a dog, though.”

Louis frowns, and blows ripples into the surface of the hot, black liquid.  “I shall use you as a service animal.  I’ll even get you a little vest, you can accompany me to restaurants.”

Before the round starts for the day, Louis and Liam crawl up into the tiny broadcast booth -- which seems even smaller above the unexpected crowds, and go on the air for a “Breakfast at the PGA” segment, during which they talk about all the top golfers, the weather forecast, the conditions on the course, and make predictions about what might happen over the course of the day.

“It’s incredible how many people have turned out on this fine Friday morning,” Liam says.  His eyes hold just a hint of mischief as he adds, “I reckon it’s that Styles kid’s fault, don’t you, Tommo?  You met him yesterday.”

“I did,” Louis nods, completely professional.  “I’ll tell you what, I’m not surprised at the response.  He’s on a whole new level of charming.”

Just then he feels his phone vibrate on his thigh.  As Liam turns the conversation to the hole locations on the back nine, Louis dips his head down to sneak a peek at it.

New text message from:

Chad Michael Murray

Louis nearly chokes on his tea, eyes wide.  For a moment his brain is nothing but a tickertape of ohmygodohmygodohmygodohmygod…  He takes quick, shallow breaths as he taps the button to receive the text, and reads:

gotcha!  ha ha

It’s Harry.  Of course it is.  He must have programmed his own number into Louis’s phone yesterday under the fake name.  Louis swallows slowly, feels his face flush, his heart pounding in his temples as he tries to get a grip and respond normally to whatever Liam’s just said.  Another text comes in and he doesn’t want to glance down at his phone, but he physically can’t help himself.

Chad Michael Murray: watching you live in the clubhouse.  your face was PRICELESS, niall’s dying.

Two more follow in quick succession:

Chad Michael Murray: wait… i think he’s dead.

Chad Michael Murray: rip niall, killed by belly laughs.

Louis manages to tap out a quick bastard before Liam realizes what he’s up to.  Luckily his eyes are cast down, frowning gravely as he reads something from a sheet of paper that’s just been handed to him by an intern.

“And finally, we’re so pleased that so many new fans have made the effort to come out and enjoy the PGA Championship, but I’ve been asked to pass on the message that part of the land near the golf course is a snake habitat.  There are signs that clearly indicate that all spectators should stay on the pathway.  We don’t want anyone to get hurt, so remember: if you see a sign that says Snake Habitat, turn around.”

“Maybe they’re here to practice Parseltongue and not to watch golf, Liam, did you ever think of that?”

Liam rolls his eyes good-naturedly, and they finally cut to commercial.

“Couldn’t just let it pass without comment, could you?  What if someone doesn’t take the warning seriously now?”

“Look.”  Louis holds up the conversation on his phone, making his lower lip shake pitifully.  “Harry’s mean.”

It vibrates in his palm, and they both read the newest message.

Chad Michael Murray: solid potter reference, I’m impressed xx

“Ooooh,” coos Liam, “he’s doing xs already?”

Louis allows him to peer over his shoulder as he composes a response.

Louis Tomlinson: yer a wanker, harry

Liam’s face drops.  “You didn’t do any xs.”

“I thought you were more concerned about snakes,” he says, indignantly.  “And no, no xs for the Tommo.  Just pure revenge.”

The first round is about to start, and Harry has to warm up.  Louis can see him on one of the live feeds, taking his turn on the practice putting green outside the clubhouse.  There are spectators crowding the thin rope barriers, girls shouting at him and giggling to each other behind brightly painted fingernails.  Harry waves and nods at them, cherubic smile a breath of fresh air.  His curls are tamed by a black headband today, and it’s slightly odd, slightly feminine… but as usual, he’s making it work.  As soon as Niall hands him his putter, he’s all business, lining up shots and testing the speed of the grass.  His furrowed brow makes Louis’s mouth go dry.

“Least sexy sport,” he whispers, stubbornly.  He takes out his phone and types a message.

Just as Harry’s about to try for a meticulously-read 18-footer, Louis presses send.  He sees Harry pause, one of his big, tanned hands drifting toward the rectangle in his back pocket.  He hesitates for a moment, then slips out his phone and takes a look.

Louis Tomlinson: omg aaron rodgers is here ! he’s watching u putt!!!

Harry’s mouth drops open, a visible shock runs through his body.  His wide green eyes dart up and he glances through the crowd.  Louis cackles in triumph, and maybe Harry can hear it all the way across the clubhouse because at that moment he bites his lip, reddens, and starts typing out a response.

Chad Michael Murray: that was not nice

Louis Tomlinson: sorry my bad not aaron jsut jim furyk xxxxxxxx need to get my vision checked xx

Okay, so maybe the Tommo does resort to xs on occasion, but only when extremely cute, sinfully leggy men are involved.  And Harry seems to glow when Louis teases him.  Louis bites back a grin as Harry turns to face the camera, holds up his phone, sticks out his tongue and hands it to Niall.  Then he hunches over his putt and sends it straight in.

The crowd cheers.

Louis’s heart expands.

 

*

 

Sky Sports wants to broadcast Harry’s every move, so Louis spends most of the rest of his day ogling him and trying to cram as much innuendo as possible into every single one of his comments.  Liam acts mildly scandalized, but Louis swears he’s setting him up now and then, deliberately talking about strokes and swinging.

Harry almost chips it in for a birdie from a sand trap on the 5th.  “Ah,” says Louis regretfully.  “Teases going in, but in the end he’s only just rimmed the hole.  Gosh, I hate when that happens.”

Liam facepalms.

“And he steps up to tap it in, no problem,” Louis continues, unruffled.  “Look how gently he strokes that pink ball.”

“His mum is probably watching this, you know,” Liam hisses under his breath.  Louis only grins wider.

“A lovely par, and handsome leading amateur Harry Styles remains just one back of our tournament leader, Adam Scott.  Let’s see if he can come from behind, ladies and gentlemen.  Stay with us.”

“You are absurd,” Liam breathes through his hands, as they cut to commercial.

Louis shuffles the papers in front of them nonchalantly.  “It’s this desk, Liam, it’s going to give me a hernia.”

As the day goes on, the crowds around Harry only get bigger.  He has the natural charisma of a performer, and the ability of an elite athlete.  Throw in the curls and the dimples, the way his shirt hangs off the broad planes of his back, and you’ve got a phenomenon.

Harry makes golf seem like an adventure rather than a tired old exercise for doctors and posh retirees.  Simply put, it’s a pleasure watching him play.  Louis learns about Harry’s game along with the viewers at home -- Sky had no scouting reports on him before he was invited to the PGA, no cheat sheet for Louis and Liam to reference or résumé for them to pore over.  (Not that Louis has forgotten about juggling club.)  He hits low, booming drives that set him up perfectly for approach shots when they land on the fairway, but get him into trouble sometimes when he slices them right with a little hitch in his swing.  Getting to the green is one thing -- once Harry’s on it, no one can touch him.  He’s made more one-putts in the last two days than anyone else in the field, pro or am.  He seems to have a special talent for reading greens, a delicate touch with those large, expressive hands.  Louis watches them grip the putter, steady yet soft, and he feels his chest start to constrict.  He knows he’s going to think about them tonight in his hotel room -- Harry’s hands -- he’s going to think about how warm they’d be wrapped around his cock, palms slightly chapped, so big that they could move along his shaft from base to tip with only half a tug.

How good they’d be.

“Harry’s got great touch,” says Liam, and Louis starts.  He has one of those panicked moments in which he’s sure the people around him are reading his mind.

“Yeah,” he replies, weakly.  He swallows around the rough lump of want in his throat.  “Really good.”

Harry’s game has another little quirk.  Whenever he sinks a particularly difficult putt, he leans down to pluck his lucky pink ball out of the hole, tosses it in the air once and gives it a kiss.  Then he slides it into his pocket, where it stays until he walks to the next tee.  The whole world has decided it’s adorable.

The moment Harry crests the ridge on 18 and comes in sight of the broadcast booth is the best part of Louis’s day.  He’s still one back of Adam Scott, though they’ve traded the lead on and off over the course of the afternoon, and ahead of third-place Phil Mickelson by a healthy four strokes.  He’s proved he’s not a Thursday fluke.  The relaxed swing in his step and the grin on his face convey both relief and pride.  He waves to the crowd, stops to chat with fans and sign autographs as the pair ahead of him finishes up on the green.

“It’s quite an accomplishment for any amateur just to make the cut at a Major, and Harry Styles, the pride of Holmes Chapel, Cheshire, is set to do much more than that.  Louis, do you reckon he could make a run for the title?”

Louis actually stops to seriously consider the question for a moment, bites down the cheeky retort his brain had automatically supplied him with.  Harry’s standing to the side of the green now, peering up at the booth, teeth flashing as he smiles, rippling his fingers in a shy little wave.

“Well, Liam.  I know everyone wants him to do well.  England needs a Cinderella story like this, and God knows we all love an underdog.  Most analysts would probably play the Devil’s advocate, remind us of the overwhelming odds against him in a field stacked with this much talent, pull out figures and statistics and say things like, the last time an amateur won a major tournament was in 1933, when golf was a very different sport.  But you know what?  I’m speaking from my gut here…  I think he’s got something special.  I think he can hang with the pros.  Give them a run for their money.”

Louis must have let some emotion creep into his voice or something, because Liam is staring at him.  Even the interns have stopped bustling around behind them.  Everything goes quiet for a moment.  Harry steps up to his ball, and without even a practice stroke sinks a 13-foot putt for another birdie and -- because Adam had just seconds before tapped in for bogey -- the outright lead.

The crowd goes ballistic.

And there’s no way Louis’s getting anywhere near Harry for an interview today, not with CBS and ESPN monopolizing him as soon as he steps off the green.  He tries not to feel too irritated, tries to be happy for Harry, both because of his potentially historic performance and the international spotlight that comes with it.  He mostly succeeds.

It’s not that he begrudges Harry anything.  It’s just, that weird teenager-with-a-crush inside Louis wants to be all that Harry’s thinking about.  He doesn’t want to have to share him with Jim Nantz and Tom Rinaldi.

Really, all he wants to do is talk to him again.

He stares at his silent phone.

After he and Liam finish up and Louis tells the cramped desk to go bugger itself one last time, they share a cab back to their hotel and end up eating vending machine food and leftover continental breakfast muffins in the lobby.  Louis can’t be arsed to go into town for dinner, and Liam’s just happy to have company.  They talk more footie, and compare music tastes -- Liam’s more into hip-hop and rap; Louis’s a top 40 boy through and through, but they end up doing an impromptu version of “Wannabe” that doesn’t sound horrible.  Two of the janitors even clap for them.

“You good?” Liam asks, noticing that Louis is staring at his phone again.

“Grand.”  Louis can only give him a wan smile.

“I talked to our bosses back in London while we were on break earlier.  They think you’re an insane person, but apparently you’ve been pulling in the numbers with your shameless cheek.  So keep up the good work, and all that.”

“Hey, what can I say.  The Tommo way is the best way.”

“To the Tommo way.”

They clink their plastic cups of orange juice and Louis decides to head up to bed.  There’s another Breakfast at the PGA scheduled for tomorrow, which means he has to be up at the arse crack of dawn.  He says goodnight to Liam and rides the elevator up to the third floor by himself.  Lets himself into his lonely room and flops down on the bed, shirt riding up over his tummy.

And this is more what he thought this week would be like.  Only more HBO and less pining.

As he stares at the ceiling, he brings his hand up to graze lazily along the bare patch of golden skin at his waist.  His mind snaps to Harry like a magnet, the long lines of his body and the strength in his arms as he powers a shot onto the green.  His face is all fierce concentration in Louis’s memory… hard, furrowed brows and intense focus in his eyes.  Louis imagines that focus directed at him.  Imagines what Harry would do to his body, how those hands, those ridiculous, gigantic warm hands would feel on his chest, running down the dip of his spine to grip his bum…

Louis closes his eyes.  He’s already hard when he reaches into his pants and takes his own cock in hand, squeezing a few drops of precum out of the tip to help with lubrication.  He wanks purposefully as he pictures Harry’s full, red lips on his neck, sucking a bruise into the sensitive skin just over his pulse point.  He wants Harry’s mouth on him more than he’s ever wanted anything in his life, God, and his own hand is getting desperate now, twisting a little on the downstroke as he imagines rutting up against Harry’s solid frame.

At that moment, his phone buzzes.  Louis sucks in a heated breath, and reaches into his pocket with his left hand.  He sits up, stabbing at the lockscreen.

New text message from:

Chad Michael Murray

watching sky sports replay in my hotel rm.  liked your commentary today… does chad know how naughty you are? ;)

All it takes is reading the word “naughty” and Louis’s shooting across his stomach.  He gasps, shudders.  Lets his body recover for a moment and wipes his hand on his shirt before typing back.

Louis Tomlinson: naughty, what ? no idea what ur on about ...  u must be a terrible pervert, mate! x

He falls back on the bed again, head spinning, body suffused with hazy post-orgasm warmth.  He’s confused and horny and desperately in need of any sort of clarity at the moment; he still has a job to do, thanks, and with Harry front and center it’s going to be tough not to get distracted.

“Shit.  Bastard.  Prick.  Arse.”

All Louis really knows is that he’s well and truly fucked.

Chapter Text

When Louis first set foot on the grounds of Whistling Straits on Thursday morning, it was all quiet sand traps and clipped fairways, rough that turned into calm bluffs and pale, windswept grass as far as the eye could see.  People had filed in slowly, volunteers and gray-haired spectators along footpaths like sluggish blood stirring the veins of the golf course…  Then Harry happened.  His boyish charm swamped Twitter, animated looping gifs on Tumblr, and inspired breathless status updates on Facebook.  The world took note.  Friday was a circus, media outlets spilling out of the press stands and setting up camp on the hills, girls crowding the practice green.  Long, buzzing lines in the merchandise tents.  Raucous cheers instead of polite golf claps whenever Harry sank a putt.  Fast food litter.  Scent of promise in the air.

And still, Louis didn’t know what he was in for.

Because if Friday was a circus, Saturday is a Jay-Z concert.  There are people everywhere, cameras everywhere.  Harry’s jumped off social media onto the front pages of Google News and USA Today, right next to Obama’s latest budget battle with Congress.  The course is a hornet’s nest of noise and press and not-quite-contained mania.  Louis barely manages to shove his way up to the broadcast booth, flashing his press pass, accidentally elbowing teenagers and fast-talking ad execs, fresh off their red-eyes from New York, sniffing around trying to see if this kid is the real deal, how he talks, how he holds himself… could he sell Subway sandwiches?  Rolex watches?  What’s the market?

And fuck if it doesn’t feel a little like a violation.  Because what Harry is trying to do shouldn’t be tainted by what other people can gain by it.  He’s trying to win a golf tournament.  Make history.  Not fuel high school daydreams or sell newspapers.  Louis frowns as he mounts the steep stairs to the booth and tries to convince himself that he isn’t reacting this way because deep down, he doesn’t want to share Harry with the rest of the world.  It’s just, some part of him feels like he discovered him.  He noticed how special he was right away, before the girls on Twitter, before the pundits on SportsCenter.  He found him.

Which is ridiculous, it’s not like Harry’s some buried treasure.  He was always there, existing.  Playing golf at uni.  Niall has more of a claim on him that Louis does.

“Liam, help, my brain is going rogue.”

“Stop right there.”  Liam looks alarmed, and holds up a Diana Ross hand.  “I don’t need to hear about your weird sex fantasies.”

Louis could sit down, open up a little and tell him what’s on his mind, but they aren’t close friends yet.  Right now it’s easier to joke.

“Does that include toys?  No casual butt plug chat over breakfast?  Shame.”

Liam flushes -- poor boy, thinks Louis, butt plugs are a little advanced for him -- but resolutely clears his throat and shuffles his papers together while Louis attempts to fold his body in behind their desk.  The air is chill, despite the crowds and the chatter drifting up from below.  It’s still early morning.  Ominous clouds have started to roll in, wind picking up across Lake Michigan.  Louis can already tell that today will bring the first real test of the golfers’ ability to play in adverse conditions, and he hasn’t even checked the weather report that’s sitting neatly paperclipped in front of him.  He clutches his black tea, leeching warmth from the paper cup, and wonders where Harry is right now.  Wonders if he’s worried about the wind.

“Relax,” Liam says, going over notes on hole locations.  “He’s probably not even awake yet.  He’s in the final pair with Adam Scott; they don’t tee off until 2:15.”

Louis lets out an exasperated sigh.  “Am I accidentally saying everything I think out loud?”

“Your face talks, mate.”

Smug isn’t a good look on Liam, Louis decides.  He wants to know when he started to get fond of his stiff, buttoned-up co-anchor, wants to time travel back to that moment and slap himself.  Then again… it’s nice, maybe, sort of having a friend.  A friend other than Zayn bloody Malik, that is.  Louis allows himself three seconds of pining for his best mate before he gets down to work.

“Is the weather going to improve?” he asks, and Liam is smirking again, and can’t Louis just ask a casual question?  No, apparently not.

“By 2:15, you mean.  We’ll have to see.  Looks like heavy cloud cover the whole day; we’ll be lucky if it just sprinkles and doesn’t storm.”

“Great.  Was actually just inquiring for work-related reasons.”

“I believe you.”  He clearly doesn’t.  “By the way…”

Makeup and hair have stopped buzzing around the two of them now; it’s five minutes to air and the big lights flicker on in the booth.  Louis’s almost blinded for a moment.  Cameras are at their marks and production assistants are running around behind them, making sure everything in shot looks okay.

“I caught a cab back to the American last night.  After you went up to your room.”

Louis fish-mouths for a second.  “You didn’t.”

“I did.”  And oh dear, Liam looks pleased.

“Why?”

“Meeting a journo friend of mine, not important,” he waves it away, and Louis makes a heavily underscored mental note to bring that up again later, because something in Liam’s face is saying lady journo friend.  “The point is, I was walking through the bar and I happened to overhear Harry and Niall talking over some pints.”

Louis gasps theatrically.  “You eavesdropped!”

“I overheard.”

“Eavesdropped.  On my future husband.  For shame, Liam.”

Liam’s eyes light up.  “Future…?  Awww, Lou, and I thought you just wanted in his pants.”

“Shut it.  And tell me everything you heard immediately.”

“Do you want me to shut it or do you want me to -- ”

“Spill!  Quickly, Payne.  Or I’ll make you tell me on the air.”

Liam’s chuckling.  “Okay, okay, don’t have a strop.  Harry was sitting at the bar, staring at his phone.  Niall nudged his arm and asked him something.”

“Something?”

“I couldn’t hear.”

Louis smacks him on the head, eyes wide.

“Why have you done that?” asks Liam, crossly, rubbing the site of the injury.

“If you’re going to eavesdrop, learn how to do it properly!”

“That’s it, I’m not telling you the rest.”

Louis groans and slumps down across the desk, cheek smudging his player reports with makeup.  He’s tired and he couldn’t sleep last night because his brain was a whirlwind of harryharryharry and it’s cold and his stomach is empty except for a stolen slice of Liam’s orange and a few sips of tea and, just, God.  “Don’t be such a tease, Payno.”

Liam grins.  “Well, so Niall asked him something, and then I heard Harry say, and I swear these were his exact words, ‘that fit guy from Sky Sports.’  And then I had to keep walking or I would have seemed creepy.”  Liam looks so proud of himself, Louis wants to smack him again.

“That’s it?!”

Liam’s face falls.  “I thought you’d be pumped.”

Louis lazily waves one of his arms around, indicating Liam’s nice hair and his stupid rugged chin and his torso area.  “He could have been talking about you!”

“Don’t think he was, mate.”

“Well…”  Louis frowns, and remembers Harry’s comment about blue eyes (not that he’s been replaying that soundbite in his head for the last 12 hours or anything).  “... Maybe.  I guess.  I mean, anything’s possible.”  He de-slumps, manages to collect enough energy in his body to haul himself back up to a respectable sitting position.  He absently peels a sticky note off his forehead, thinking hard.  “But if he were describing me, wouldn’t he be more likely to say ‘that cheeky bastard from Sky Sports’ or ‘the camp one from Sky Sports?’”

Liam just smiles softly at him.  “No.”

“Oh.”

“We’re on the air in five, four, three…”

Louis feels a little out of his mind.  His lips are forming words and (hopefully) coherent sentences, he’s nodding thoughtfully in Liam’s direction as they discuss the prospect of thunderstorms and dutifully rehash Adam Scott’s notorious collapse at the 2013 Players Championship in almost identical conditions to these.  No one knows how Harry is going to deal with the weather, or if the record-breaking crowds will stick around in the light rain that’s beginning to drizzle as the first players tee off.  Louis forces himself to say his name, breezily, as though he’s just another golfer who might benefit from Adam’s weakness in the wind.

“If Harry Styles can hang with the weather, this could be a golden opportunity for him to open up a solid lead.  We could be going into Sunday at the PGA with an amateur up by three, four strokes.”

Harry Styles.

The syllables sound hollow, like ringing nothingness.  They’re under his skin already.

The thing is, Louis’s not normally so self-conscious.  He knows he’s better than average looking; he’s familiar with the feel of appreciative eyes on his compact, deliciously-curved body at the club.  He’s not sure what it is about Harry that throws him… maybe it has something to do with how Louis doesn’t usually try to pull internationally famous athletes.  (Athletes?  Harry’s arms…  Fine, yes, Louis concedes, golfers do count as athletes.  Fuck.)  Harry’s just so disarming, is the thing, and he’s tall and Louis can imagine curling up into him and never wanting to leave.  He also has this terrible habit of switching back and forth between adorable-bashful-cupcake and hot-intensely-focused-adult man that Louis finds confusingly erotic.

Louis has to remind himself that he’s only met Harry twice.  The first time he assaulted him and pinched his cheeks on national TV.  The second, he revealed himself as the sort of person who graffitis his best friend’s face with penis jokes while he’s sleeping and then documents it.

It’s certainly not a given that Harry’s into him.

During a commercial break, Louis’s phone buzzes.

Chad Michael Murray: oddly, yours is the first face i’ve seen this morning.  hiiiii.

Louis almost laughs in relief.  The thought of Harry in the abstract may terrify him a little, but Harry himself is just… easy.  Like breathing.

Louis Tomlinson: hi yourself.  barely made it to work on time thru massive zombie-like hordes of ppl looking for u.  ur a bit famous , did u know?

Chad Michael Murray: hope you weren’t injured.  golf fans can be very aggressive.

Louis palms his phone, because they’re back from the ad break and he has to say something useful.  He and Liam are fielding twitter questions about the weather and the leading golfers when he feels it buzz again against his slightly sweaty skin.

Chad Michael Murray: bet you can’t fit the word banana into your next answer.

Before Louis has time to wonder why banana, Liam is reading out the tweet.

“Here’s a question from @ilovegolf95.  He or she asks, ‘What is the hardest hole on the course today, in your opinion?’  Louis, what would you tell them?”

“Well…”  Louis wraps his hands around his tea and tries to look like he’s considering the question seriously, instead of strategizing about fruit.  After a moment, he says, “There’s an argument to be made for the par-three 7, with that wall of wind coming off the lake, but honestly, I don’t know how the answer to this question can be anything but 18.  It’s brutal under normal conditions, and today I just don’t see anyone getting in under par.”

“No more birdies from Harry Styles?” Liam asks.

Louis shakes his head.  “Well, bar a miracle…  The course officials have chosen an absolutely diabolical hole placement, right up at the front, just begging for players to leave it short.  It’s so hard to get it up and down from that little grassy hollow there, almost like it’s guarding the green.  I’m telling you Liam, this hole is bananas.  B-A-N-A-N-A-S.”

He doesn’t know how he’s able to maintain a straight face, but he does.

“There you go, @ilovegolf95.  Direct from the Tommo.  And, apparently, Gwen Stefani.”

Louis nods intelligently.

Chad Michael Murray: brilliant!! xx do another.  oooh.  do play-doh.

Luckily the next question is something to do with how far balls are going to carry against the wind, and Louis is able to slip the phrase “might as well be trying to drive lumps of Play-Doh off the tee” into a colorful and rather hyperbolic metaphor.  Liam only raises his eyebrows slightly.  Louis gets another text just as they go to commercial.

Chad Michael Murray: p.s. i’m definitely birdie-ing 18 again today

Louis Tomlinson: bet u can’t

Chad Michael Murray: if you say ‘i fancy harry styles’ on air, i’ll birdie it

Louis feels a single hopeful butterfly flutter around his empty stomach, and suddenly he has to concentrate on swallowing.  Because this is flirting, this is.

Louis Tomlinson: just said no one was going 2 , my professional reputation is at stake now !!

Chad Michael Murray: so if i birdie it, i’ll take you to dinner tonight at the american as compensation.  fair?

A shock rips through Louis’s body as he reads the text, his fingers starting to tremble on the touchscreen.  That was flirting; this is a date.  A date.  And all of a sudden his brain is screaming, fireworks exploding in his chest.  He takes a deep breath and smiles at the camera as they come back from the break.

“We’ve got time for one more question, don’t we, Liam?  Before we head down to join the golfers who are currently on the course.”

Liam nods, and the screen behind them displays the next approved tweet.

Liam reads it out. “Okay, it looks like @pebblebeach-rn-haha-jk wants to know, ‘Who’s going to lead the clubhouse at the end of the day?’  This is a tough one.  I have to go Phil Mickelson.  He’s currently sat in third, but he’s excellent in weather like this.  I think he can make a comeback.  Tommo?”  He looks at Louis expectantly.

Louis’s still a bit shell-shocked in his prim navy button-down.  Stupid Harry Styles and his ridiculous foreplay, unexpected and sudden and utterly charming, just like the rest of him.  But he’s got his opening, so Louis clears his throat and says, “I fancy… Harry Styles.”  And the thing is, he can’t swear it wouldn’t be his honest answer.

“That’s got to be at least 10 to 1 against.  Bit of a gambler, eh?”

Louis just shrugs, and looks straight into the camera.  “I mean what I said.”

The corners of Liam’s mouth twitch up as he handles the segue into actual golf coverage, mirth dancing in his brown eyes.  Louis feels an odd thrill through his limbs.  The thought of Harry sitting on the bed in his hotel room watching Louis on TV, torso bare and sheets and blankets in a messy pile behind him, crackles over his skin like static.  Inevitable questions about boxers or briefs (or, heaven help him... neither?) follow, but Louis pushes them to the back of his mind as he settles into the rhythm of commentary.  Working with Liam is getting easier, more instinctual.  They’re starting to play off each other well, with Liam as the literal straight man to Louis’s trademark cheeky banter.

It helps that the 2014 PGA Championship is turning into high sports drama.  The players are dropping like flies in the wind, and the weather is only getting worse as the final pairs get set to tee off.  Louis’s so busy cataloguing all the bogeys that he only catches a glimpse of Harry on the practice green.  His hair’s in a headband like the day before, and this time he’s chosen a lavender shirt.

Louis notices a tattoo on his wrist as he squats over a putt, his face an open book on which faint lines of worry are written.  The sun comes out for a brief moment, then passes back behind the clouds.  Louis shivers -- if anyone’s face could draw the sun today, it’s Harry’s.  He wonders what he’s thinking.  He wonders what the tattoo says.

And there’s Liam’s I told you so look again, because as soon as Phil Mickelson tees off, it’s clear that he’s taken his game to another level.  He’s hitting fairways when others are landing in the rough, making hellish putts and Louis’s stomach is sinking because he is a professional golfer who has won five majors in a long, distinguished career, and all Harry’s done is quietly play uni golf for Manchester.  Even if he’s physically on point, there’s no way he’s mentally prepared for this kind of ferocious competition.

“And now Harry Styles, boy wonder, is set to tee off.”  Louis fights to keep the frayed nerves out of his voice.  It’s not the first time in his life he’s had major sports-related anxiety (hello, 2006 World Cup quarterfinals and goodbye, England on penalty kicks), but it is the first time he’s personally known one of the athletes involved.  He feels an overwhelming sense of doom as Harry steps up to the tee.

“Your horse, remember, Louis,” Liam is saying.  “You’ve predicted he’ll be in the lead after today’s round.”

“More of a My Little Pony than a proper horse,” Louis responds automatically, “what with those lovely pastels he’s wearing.”

Liam actually chuckles, and just as Harry pulls his driver back to swing, he says, “Let’s see if Louis can ride Harry Styles to victory.”

Louis’s mouth actually drops open, and he almost misses Harry’s tee shot.  “Liam!” he hisses, as Harry hooks it left into some deep rough, and shit shit shit, that’s possibly the worst lie he’s had all week.

“What?” Liam winks, actually winks at him, and whispers back, “The Tommo way.  ‘S how we do things around here; get used to it.”

Louis buries his head in his hands.  He’s worried about Harry.  He’s overly serious about the golf.  In fact, he’s pretty sure he’s just become Liam, and oh God no, he’s too young for that.  Far too young.  He fights the urge to peek through his fingers as Harry lines up his second shot -- lucky pink ball lands on the green, just barely, but Louis has confidence that Harry can two-putt it in for par.  Meanwhile, it looks like Adam Scott’s about to suffer another bogey.

“And Phil Mickelson is doing brilliantly further down the course,” Liam points out.  “Let’s go over to 2 and see if he can sink this five-footer for birdie.”

He does.

“Wham bam, thank you ma’am,” Louis says, and he prays that his partiality isn’t shot through every word.

Afternoon stretches on into early evening, and the gusting wind off Lake Michigan dismantles the golfers one by one.  The leaderboard is a mass of black numbers; Adam Scott quickly and predictably puts himself out of the running with a double bogey on 3.  It’s a serious slide in momentum that he just can’t recover from.  Harry manages to get himself into and out of trouble time and time again, scraping together a mostly-decent round.  He fights to remain at even par for the day, corona of hair whipping around his head as he struggles through the slanting rain.  Louis thinks he looks a bit like a lion.  He’s putting in a noble effort (absolutely remarkable when the rest of the field is doing so poorly) but by the time he reaches the end of the back nine, he’s posted a few bogeys, on track to shoot a 73.  Phil Mickelson, meanwhile, pars 18 to shoot 68 and goes into the clubhouse leading Harry by one stroke.

“And there it is, Mickelson finishing strong.  Looks like your prediction’s going to hold, Liam,” says Louis, voice feeling a bit raw for the first time.  He’s thankful for the dab of honey in his current cup of tea.

“Not unless yours does, too,” Liam answers, with a flutter of his hands.  He’s leaning forward to look at Harry in the monitor.

“Mine?”

“This morning you said that, bar a miracle, no one had a chance of posting a birdie on 18.  And no one has, yet.”

Louis purses his lips, raising his eyebrows as he checks the sheet of scores.  “So they haven’t.  I’m apparently quite smart.”  He remains nonchalant, but feels his heart start to tattoo a rhumba beat against his ribcage.

Liam snorts.  “Before your head gets too big, let’s see what Harry can do.  He’s birdied this hole twice in two days, remember.”

“Ah, yes, but that was before Tropical Storm Enid decided to drop by and sneeze on us.”  They both watch as Harry steps up to the tee.  Louis’s picking at the seam in his trousers, a nervous habit he developed somewhere around the line.  He schools his expression, knowing he has to remain impassive for the television audience.  Under the desk, the muscles in his wrist flinch.

“Nai-- er, his caddy’s just handed him a five wood,” says Louis.  “That means he’s decided to lay it up and go for the long second shot to try and carry the green.”

“Different approach from Thursday and Friday, when he depended on his big-yardage drives to give him a little head start on these long par fours.”

“Yes,” nods Louis, and he’s almost in physical pain from the tension as Harry re-settles himself in a wide stance, preparing to bring his club back.  “But smart, in this weather.  He doesn’t want to risk a bad lie.”

The drive is good.  It’s a lot shorter than Phil’s had been, but it lands right in the center of the fairway.  Louis barely swallows a cheer, licks his lips instead and takes another sip of tea as Harry walks down the sodden path to his ball.  The second shot is all-important.  Harry has to shoot for the hole if he’s going to make a birdie, but he can’t leave it short or he’ll end up in the Sarlaac Pit, which is what Louis’s taken to calling the grassy hollow below the green -- no one seems to be able to chip out of it with anything close to precision.  Besides, Harry’s game is strongest when he’s putting.

Come on, Harry, Louis thinks.  Don’t be a hero.  Just make par.  You’ll go in one behind Mickelson, and you’ll have a real chance tomorrow.

Niall selects a club for Harry.  It’s one of his longer irons, perfect for hitting the safe slope at the back of the green.  That would set Harry up nicely for a two-putt par.  Harry shakes his head.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Louis mutters.  Harry’s really going to do this.  He’s really going to put his tournament life at risk in order to birdie an impossible hole.

In order to take Louis to dinner.

While Niall and Harry have a discussion down on the fairway in front of them, Sky Sports goes to commercial and Louis jams his hand into his pocket, fisting his phone and hurriedly bringing up their conversation from this morning.  His shoulders are tense as he hunches over the desk, typing out a reply.

Louis Tomlinson: dontb an idiot harry !!! use the 4 iron!

He sees Harry frowning at Niall as he slides a 7 iron out of his bag, and remembers that texting is no use because players are prohibited from having phones out on the course.  All he can do is watch as Liam welcomes viewers back from the break and Harry settles himself into a determined stance over his pink ball, firmly gripping the 7 iron in his big hands.

“Well, that’s a risky club selection,” Liam muses, glance flickering to Louis.  “Surely he should put it on the back of the green and go for par.  Any idea what he’s thinking, Tommo?”

“No,” Louis lies.

It feels like the entire world is watching a train wreck in slow motion as Harry brings the club back to swing.  Just then, there’s a break in the wind.  Harry chops down confidently, divot flying as his ball shoots out of its lie.  Louis holds his breath and prays.  Everyone follows the tiny spot of pink as it sails through the air… and a collective gasp goes up when it lands on the front of the green and comes to rest three inches from the hole.

“Oh my goodness,” Liam breathes.  “Listen to them.”

Louis is speechless.  The course has erupted in sound and movement; these can’t be golf fans, they must be football fans…  Harry’s beaming as he walks calmly up to the 18th green to tap in for his third birdie in as many days.  It’s utter pandemonium.  But before he’s swallowed up by the crowd of broadcasters and autograph-seekers, Harry reaches into the hole to retrieve his ball.  Louis watches on his monitor -- Harry deliberately turns to look straight into the Sky Sports camera.  When he kisses the ball, he points into the lens and he bloody winks.

Louis’s proud of himself for not fainting.  A few minutes later his phone buzzes, and he doesn’t even wait for commercial break to duck his head down as Liam’s talking and surreptitiously read under the desk.

Chad Michael Murray: meet me outside the american at 8, o ye of little faith! xx

But first there’s a hastily organized press conference to attend, because there are too many journalists and too few Harry Styleses to go around.  Louis slips in at the back a few minutes late, Liam right behind him.  Harry is sitting behind a table on a raised platform, gazing warily at the microphone that has been placed in front of him.  He’s hunched over, looking a little small, but still smiling.  He’s had time to change into a simple black t-shirt that shows off more tattoos on his left arm.  Louis tries not to drool.

All of the journos are bouncing in their seats, raising their hands high and shouting over each other to get Harry’s attention.

“Yes,” Harry points at a small woman in the front row whose head has just almost been taken off by a large man’s elbow.

“Thank you, Harry,” she begins.

“Of course.  What’s your name?”  Louis rolls his eyes, because obviously Harry would be that polite.  He feels the same warm tug in his chest that he felt on Thursday, when he saw Harry interacting with the little girl on the side of the fairway.  (No one had better bring any puppies or babies around; Louis might have a heart attack.)

“Lisa,” the woman says.  She looks surprised that he’s taken the time to ask.

“Hi Lisa,” Harry replies, and spreads out his arms as if he’s going to hug the room.  “Welcome to my press conference.”

She smiles, clearly pleased that he’s noticed her as a person and not just another writer who wants to pump him for information.  “I’d like to know, Harry, how it feels to be the first amateur in almost a hundred years to have a real shot at winning a major golf tournament.”

Harry grins and shifts around in his seat, looking out at the sea of expectant media.  “Well, there’s only one word to describe how I’m feeling at the moment.”  He pauses for effect, continuing after a moment in a magnanimous voice, “And because you’re all working so hard to take like, proper notes and everything, I’ll spell it out for you.  B-A-N-A-N-A-S.”

Louis ducks, hiding the fond grin that has just taken over his face.

Fifty impatient hands go up.

“Also what I had for breakfast this morning, in case you were wondering.”

About half the hands go back down.  Harry takes more questions, speaking slowly in his resonant baritone, unhurried, just enjoying the experience.  He learns everybody’s name and periodically polls the journalists, asking them random questions to, as he puts it, “return the favor.”  

“Rolling Stones or Beatles?  Rolling Stones fans, raise your hands.  Okay, now Beatles fans, raise your hands.”  He nods, pretending to write down the results in a little notebook.  Everyone chuckles.

Louis’s weirdly proud of him for just being himself, although he suspects Harry is one of those people who would find it difficult not to be himself no matter the situation.  It makes him seem confident and irresistible, but Louis suspects it also means that Harry would make a bad actor, and a worse liar.  As the press conference is winding down, Louis suddenly gets the urge to put up his hand.  He doesn’t think Harry has seen him, all the way at the back, but he gets a surprise when Harry immediately points to him and says, “Sky Sports has a question.  What’s your name?”

“Kevin.”

Harry almost loses it.  He claps a hand over his mouth to stifle a bark of laughter.  It comes out sounding like a cross between a snort and a fart, and when the rest of the room titters at him, he makes a show of hitting himself in the head with his microphone, blushing furiously.

“What have you got to say for yourself, Kevin?” he asks, when everyone has calmed down.  His voice is fake-stern, but he bites his bottom lip and fidgets, waiting for Louis to answer.

“I was just wondering, Mr. Styles, what you were thinking on 18.  Most golfers would have made a safe par…  If you’d done that, you’d still be only one stroke back of Mickelson heading into tomorrow.  So why go for the risky birdie?”

Harry twists his mouth up trying not to smile, and twirls one of his stray curls with a tanned finger.  “Well, Kevin.  I tried to make a birdie because someone bet me I couldn’t.”

Liam’s hand shoots up, almost taking Louis’s eye out.  Harry nods at him and he asks, “Someone special?”

Harry greets this question with a coy smile and says, “Could be.”

Just then, an official steps onto the platform and says that they’re out of time.  Harry waves and poses for a few pictures before stepping through a side door into a back room, and Louis files out with Liam and the rest of the journalists.  He gets a quick yet meaningful nudge to the ribs before Liam disappears into the crowd and he’s left alone to make his way back to the hotel.

*

Louis hops into a cab at 7:55, leaving behind a messy hotel room littered with all the clothes in his (large) suitcase(s).  After much internal debate and a few selfies that he may have sent to Zayn for his opinion, which possibly woke him up at 2 a.m. London time and were definitely responded to with an im sleepin u twat (and then three minutes later go with the blue button down its a classic no one can resist a man in a blue button down whyyyyy r u even asking me this good night be safe luv u xx), Louis has chosen his tightest pair of black jeans, the aforementioned blue button-down, and decided to style his hair into a quiff.

He’s a few minutes late to meet Harry, which means that he’s met with the sight of him waiting in the light rain outside the revolving brass doors of the American, looking so gorgeous in a fucking leopard print shirt that Louis can’t help thinking…  No, best leave that sentence unfinished, as it was going to be a run-on and very rude to boot.

Leopard print.

Moving on.

Louis steps out of the cab gracefully, hoping his top is hanging correctly on his shoulders and that his jeans are accentuating what they’re supposed to accentuate.  Harry just stands on the sidewalk for a moment, looking him up and down like Louis’s the most delicious thing he’s ever seen.

“Hello,” says Louis.  Figures he might as well open with a classic.

“There must be some mistake.”  Louis visibly freezes for a moment before Harry continues, “I’m supposed to meet a Louis Tomlinson here for a dinner date.  But your name is Kevin.”

Louis blushes and grins, fiddling with the hem of his shirt.  “I’m a terrible liar, Harry Styles; can you still love me?”

Harry smiles back at him, soft and sweet.  “We’ll see what we can do.”

He holds out his arm like some sort of bizarre, spotted Prince Charming, and Louis takes it.  He guides Harry through the tricky revolving door, his left hand pressing lightly into the taller man’s shoulder, and then they’re back inside the hotel and walking arm in arm toward the restaurant.  Harry only has to nod at the maître d' and they’re shown to a quiet little out-of-the-way table by scenic glass windows at the back, overlooking the golf course.  Louis doesn’t miss him slipping a few bills into the man’s palm.

“You’re smooth, Styles.  Been planning this long?”  Louis sits down quickly, afraid Harry’s going to pull his chair out for him in front of the entire restaurant.  “Like a heist?  Are you Danny Ocean?  That was a very Danny Ocean move.”  He unfolds his napkin and bunches it in his lap, trying to disguise his nerves by wetting his finger and making his water glass ring.  Because he is an adult.

“Gave my instructions to the staff this morning,” Harry answers.  He sits down and immediately tries to copy Louis’s trick with the water, ridiculous hands clumsy and unable to find the right amount of pressure.  It doesn’t help that he’s distracted, staring at Louis’s petite wrist as it circles gracefully around the rim of the glass.

“What would have happened if you hadn’t birdied 18, though, Daniel?”

Harry shrugs, helplessly charming.  “You’d still have come to dinner with me.”

“I’ll have you know that is completely and unequivocally one hundred percent true.”  Harry grins at Louis so hard that Louis starts giggling, which makes Harry’s shoulders start to shake and soon they’re muffling their laughter in their napkins, trying not to disturb the people around them, and how did this happen?

How is Harry Styles a real person, honestly?

They slip easily into a real conversation as they wait for their food.  Louis tells Harry about why he got into sports journalism (“my number one life goal as a teenager was to get as close to large football playing men as possible”), about his four younger sisters back at home (“Lottie’s getting to that precious, magical age where she dyes her hair black and talks about Nietzsche”), and about Zayn (“best friend forever, total wanker, we have matching tattoos”).  Harry lets Louis talk on and on, looking completely delighted, like it’s an honor to know every single little ridiculous detail.

He tells Louis about his life at uni, describes with love in his voice the shitty apartment he and Niall have been renting for the past two years.  It’s littered with X Box controllers and baking experiments and Harry’s scented candles, and the building is loud and crowded and Louis smiles picturing Harry in the middle of it all.  “There’s this singer somewhere.  She might be in the next apartment block over; I don’t know.  But she’s always practicing opera -- sometimes Celine Dion -- and she’s always singing runs and riffs and warbling at the top of her voice, and once I heard someone from the apartment above mine open their window and shout, ‘Give it a rest!’”

Louis laughs, sipping his water and muttering, “Give it a rest.  That’s a funny phrase.  Give it a rest.”

Harry’s eyes shine.  “Which is slightly hypocritical of whoever lives up there, since they have frequent loud sex in all areas of their apartment.  Like, loud heterosexual sex.  I have to wear earmuffs to study.”  Louis really wants to touch Harry.  His fingers are itching just to reach out across the table and feel his warmth, but he can’t think of a good excuse and it’s becoming distracting.  “Anyway,” Harry continues, with an adorable hand flourish, “One day, the opera lady is really going for it.  She’s singing from the heart, putting her all into the vibrato, and suddenly this other singer responds in a horrible death metal voice.”  Harry pauses, considering.  “Not that you can’t sing death metal from the heart.”

Louis hmms appreciatively, nodding at Harry to go on.  He can feel the edges of his eyes crinkling up in a fond smile.

“And then the opera singer shouts, ‘You’re off key!’”  Harry starts laughing, and Louis starts laughing, and it seems like they’ve been laughing together from almost the very moment they met.  Louis never wants it to end.  “And then I heard them talking through their windows, and now I think they’re dating.  Last week he did a death metal cover of I Wanna Hold Your Hand.”

“That’s fairly incredible.”

Harry shrugs, like life, right? and Louis feels an aching affection for him that settles in behind his sternum, flooding his chest with every beat of his heart and filling his body with raw emotion.  It’s not a familiar feeling.  It’s heady and confusing; his stomach lurches, and maybe this is why they call it falling.  “I myself tend to prefer bands with good keyboardists, like The Fray, or The Script.  I actually went to see The Script in Manchester, on their first UK tour.  God, that’s already five years ago...”

Harry’s mouth drops open.  “At the Apollo?”

Louis nods, taking a sip of his water.  “Yeah.  Why?”

“I was at that concert.”

They stare at each other with something like awe.  Louis wonders for a moment if that’s a story they’ll be telling people for the rest of their lives.

Just then the waiter arrives with their food, and breaks the little bubble of LouisandHarry that seems to naturally form whenever they’re around each other.  As Louis is reaching over his steak to inspect Harry’s plate of “weird vegetarian noodle things,” he catches a glimpse of a familiar profile at one of the tables across the room.

“Oooh!  Hey!” he hisses, unnecessarily poking Harry in the shoulder.  “Look, Liam’s on a date!”  He points to where Liam’s sitting in front of a busty-looking brunette with attractive, dusky Raquel Welch features.  She’s smiling across at him, twirling her fork seductively into a clump of the same noodle things that Harry ordered.

Harry’s eyes widen conspiratorially as he turns to Louis with a dash of mischief in his expression (and if that doesn’t make Louis’s heart beat even harder…).  “What should we send them?  Do they have Brussels sprouts here?”

“What about a Long Island?  Liam’ll be too polite not to drink it, and he’ll get smashed and become hilarious.”

Harry frowns.  “I think that counts as cockblocking.”

Louis snorts, “Opposite, trust me.”

But just as they settle on a plain PBJ with the crusts cut off, accompanied by a handwritten message that reads, Good luck!  Love, Mumsy, the woman holds up a manicured finger and takes a call on her mobile.  Harry and Louis watch silently as her smile turns into a frown.  After a minute she hangs up and immediately gathers her wrap from the back of the chair, apologizing to Liam before leaving a few dollar bills on the table and rushing out the door.  Louis can see Liam’s shoulders slump.  They’d just begun to eat.

“Should we?” asks Harry.

“I think we have to.”  Louis stands and strides over to Liam’s table, feeling a bit like a knight in shining armor.  Harry calls the waiter and arranges for another chair and an extra place setting.  In a matter of minutes Liam is settled in with them, chatting over his shepherd’s pie.

Which is when Niall shows up.

“Now that it’s not a date, right, I figured I could join.”

“You were spying,” frowns Harry.

“Monitoring.”

Harry places his hand over his heart, in a mock-serious fashion.  “I’ve been betrayed.”

“Budge over.  Who’s gonna split a chips wi’ me?”

“Speaking of dates,” Louis says, “classic sportscaster segueing technique there, by the way, everyone be impressed -- Liam, who was that lovely woman you were dining with?  And why did she leave?”

“Segways,” mumbles Niall, digging into Harry’s noodles.  “Love them tings.  I want one of ‘em.”

Liam blushes down to his roots and nearly buries his face in the layer of cheesy mashed potatoes on top of his pie.  “Her name’s Sophia.  She had to leave because she got a call from work.  She’s just a friend.”

“Date,” insists Louis.

Friend.  She wouldn’t even let me pay.”  The poor boy looks totally defeated, his downcast eyes searching for answers in the potatoes.  Louis flings his arm around Liam and gives him a comforting squeeze.  “She’ll be back, mate, never fear.  No one in the world could resist those abs.”

Harry narrows his eyes and whips his head around so fast it almost makes Louis dizzy.  “What abs?”

“I saw him changing shirts yesterday in the broadcast booth.  He’s like Joe Manganiello under there!”

Harry blinks.  “Liam, we’re switching tomorrow.  You play golf.  I’ll commentate.  Louis’s not allowed to be alone with you anymore.”

“Please,” Louis groans, blushing and trying not to look too happy.  God, if Harry’s the jealous type, he is so into that.  Meanwhile, Niall’s whipping out his phone and gleefully typing something into the Google app.  “If you want to go comparin’ Harry’s abs, there’s always that nudie pic he took in our bathroom and accidentally posted online last year.  Tumblr got hold of it yesterday.”

Louis chokes on his drink.  “Excuse me?”  He wastes no time aggressively scooting his chair over to Niall, who’s practically cackling now.

“So much betrayal.”  Harry drops his napkin on his empty plate and shakes his head.  “But I don’t mind,” he continues, graciously, “I’m not ashamed.  In fact, I welcome public critique.”

Niall’s found the picture now.  He taps on it to bring up fullscreen, and Louis’s mouth goes dry.  He whispers, “Nialler, I say this with love.  If you think his abs are the most interesting thing about this picture, you are definitely, definitely not a gay man.”  And wow.  Yup.  The bulge in the front of Harry’s golf slacks had not been an optical illusion after all.  Niall’s dying into his napkin; Liam’s trying to politely ignore the entire conversation.

“Why does this exist?” asks Louis.

Harry groans.  “Let’s just say long distance is a bad idea when you’re young and constantly horny.  And live below loud sex-havers.”  (Even Liam can’t contain a laughter snort.)

Louis makes a show of sighing regretfully as he hands the phone back to Niall, and the rest of dinner flies by in a rush of delicious food and good company.  Everyone exchanges mobile numbers at the end of the night in the lobby.  Niall slips into the bar for one last pint, and Liam steps outside to order a taxi to take them back to their hotel.  Harry just stares at Louis, fingertips ghosting up the sides of his arms.  Louis shivers under his touch.  They’re so close they could almost kiss.

“Well?” asks Louis.  “Are you planning on making any advances?”

Harry smiles softly down at him.  “You have no idea how much I want to mess up that quiff.”  Louis’s heart leaps.  They’ve got all the potential in the world, energy saved up like an avalanche just before the first pebble falls.  “But...”  Harry takes a step back.  “I’ve got kind of a big day tomorrow.”

Louis nods.  “Yes, you do.”  It’s almost painful how much he wants Harry, but he lets him go.  Waves and makes a funny face at him as he steps into the elevator.  Rides back to the hotel.  He can’t help slipping out his phone again.

Louis Tomlinson: in the taxi w liam.  performing further abs investigations.

Chad Michael Murray: not funny!!!

Louis says goodnight to Liam, takes a quick shower and falls into bed, pretty sure he’s not going to be able to go to sleep.  At least, not for a while.  He tries to get his mind off Harry by watching some American TV -- always interesting and slightly exotic; there seems to be a channel entirely devoted to airing Criminal Minds episodes.

Just as he’s settling in and preparing to fully appreciate Matthew Gray Gubler (a three-namer, just like Chad), his phone buzzes again.

Chad Michael Murray: so i think i may have made a mistake.

Speak of the devil.

Louis Tomlinson: oh?

Chad Michael Murray: meet me on the 18th green as soon as you can.  wear work out stuff.

Louis almost launches himself off the bed, tapping out a quick 20 min before he throws on shorts and a beanie and heads out the door.  He realizes somewhat belatedly that he’s forgotten his key card, but he suspects he won’t need it.  At least, he hopes he won’t.

The course at night is a silent sea of manicured fairways and broad slopes, like some sort of alien dreamscape.  Louis stands with his back to the 18th green, face right in the wind that’s still gusting off the lake.  It smells of fresh grasses and a hint of rain and autumn.  It makes him want to live, makes him want to stand and breathe it in forever, makes him miss the scent of London, of Doncaster... and as he looks up at the broad smear of milky stars across the sky, he spreads his arms.  He spins, making the sky spin with him.  And he wonders what’s going to happen in this place tomorrow afternoon.

“The hills are aliiiiive…”

Harry only gets four words out before he’s tackled.  The tackle turns into wrestling, which turns into tickling, and then they’re rolling around together on the wet, freshly cut grass play-fighting and giggling like two crazy idiots.  Louis feels so energized he thinks he could fly, purely happy just from touching Harry and being touched by him, laughter coming fast and strong until his diaphragm feels sore.  Finally they collapse on their backs, arms stretched out and fingers lazily tangled, staring up at the stars.

“I couldn’t…”  Harry has to catch his breath.  “Louis, I couldn’t stop thinking about you.”

Louis squeezes his hand.  “I was worried…”

Harry rolls over, scooting up next to Louis’s body, concern written on his face.  “Worried about what?”

“That you’d think I was nothing but cheek and empty sportscaster patter mixed with gay innuendo.”

Harry smiles down at him, and Louis’s heart might burst with how soft and caring his eyes are.  He takes Louis’s hand properly and brings it up to his mouth, pressing a kiss into his knuckles.  “‘S quite a coincidence,” he murmurs.  Louis inches closer, skin prickling with anticipation.  “Since I happen to like a bit of gay in my end-o.”

“Oh my god.”

Louis shoves him back in the grass and leaps up, running toward the front of the green.  He notices a football that Harry must have brought with him, lying where Louis first tackled him.  Louis catches it on the inside of his right foot, dribbles it back over to Harry as he narrates in a loud, suspiciously Liam-like commentator voice.  They pass back and forth, first on the same team, now on opposing sides.

“And it’s Tomlinson on the break away now.  Look at those moves!”  Harry tries a sliding tackle, which basically means he flops onto the ground foot-first as Louis easily takes the ball around him.  “Oooh, Styles is awful.  He’s got nothing.  It’s just Louis and the keeper now.  The keeper commits, and…”  Louis strikes the ball confidently through the steel supports of the broadcast tower, throws his hands up and drops to his knees.  “GOOOOAAAALLLLL!  The Tommo’s back!”

“Yay!  Time for hugs!”  Louis laughs as Harry’s strong arms surround his waist and lift him easily into the air.  Their bodies press into each other and God, they’re both so ready for this.  He feels a swoop in his gut as Harry’s big hands grip his arse and squeeze; his legs are wrapped around Harry’s torso.  They’re spinning.  When their mouths finally crash together it’s hot and dirty, Louis angling his face down and taking Harry’s head between his hands, fingers sliding up to rake through his curls as he kisses him dizzy.

“Fuck,” breathes Harry, fingernails digging a little deeper into the soft curve of Louis’s bum.  “Wanted this since I first saw you.”  His arms are shaking; he lets him down slowly, aligning their torsos and… other areas.  Louis can feel Harry half-hard against his stomach and resists the urge to grind on him.

“I wanked to you last night,” he whispers, giggles captured by Harry’s mouth, and is this really happening?  He thinks it might be a dream.  “I came all over myself, it was really messy.”  He hears Harry’s breath hitch, and then there are fingers at his waist, rucking up his shirt to splay over the tanned skin just above the band of his boxer briefs.

“Wanked to you this morning,” Harry groans.  “God babe, you look so fucking fit on TV.”  They make out wildly, hands all over and teeth clashing in their eagerness to taste each other.  Harry’s mouth moves down the column of Louis’s throat and begins to suck a love bite into his skin, tongue teasing a blooming bruise that Louis hopes makeup can do a decent job covering tomorrow.  The sensation of Harry’s lips on his neck, Harry kissing him, Harry licking at his collarbones, takes Louis’s breath away.  It’s not long until they’re both fully hard, rutting against each other shamelessly as they stand in the middle of the green, knees weak.

Luckily the security guard is singing as he makes his rounds.

“I came in like a wreeeecking baaaall…” his quavering tenor rises into the night air.  “... I never hit so haaaaard in loooooove…”

Louis moans and melts against Harry’s broad shoulders, heart rabbiting in his chest as they go still in the shadows.  “You do attract the divas, don’t you?”  They try to hold in their laughter, Louis putting a helpful hand over Harry’s mouth and feeling him shiver and go quite still and oh.  There’ll be time to explore that later.

“He’s getting closer, I think.”

“Quick,” Louis hisses, dragging Harry by the wrist over to the steps of the broadcast tower.  “Up in the booth.”

Harry’s eyes go dark with lust.  “I’m gonna get you off on the Sky Sports desk.”

“Jesus Christ, Styles!”  Louis’s about to have a heart attack.  “Just get up there quick before the guard finds us and figures out why we both have massive hard-ons.”

Harry tests the rattletrap scaffolding.  It clangs softly as he tugs on the hollow aluminum railing.  “This doesn’t actually seem structurally sound.”

“Climb.”  Louis pinches him hard in the ass to get him started and Harry looks down over his shoulder to stick his tongue out.  The way his t-shirt falls across his back muscles is going to kill Louis; it’s like everything about Harry, everything about him causes these sharp spikes of arousal that fucking zap through his cock.  Louis steels himself for a moment against the railing, takes a deep breath.  He refuses to come in his pants before Harry even touches him.

Somehow they make it up into the booth before the guard sees them.  They hide and watch from the shadows as he picks up the football, Miley Cyrus dying on his lips, and looks around for a moment before shrugging and walking on.

“Shit, that was Niall’s,” breathes Harry.  “He didn’t believe me that they have football in America, so he brought it for ‘educational purposes.’  Like spices from the Orient, he said.”

“I’ll buy him a new one, but I’m going to fucking die if you don’t kiss me right now.”

Harry smirks.  “Bossy…”  He leans in and takes Louis by the back of the neck, kissing him deeply and so thoroughly that Louis feels a little lightheaded.  When they finally part, Louis takes a good look at Harry, his flushed cheeks and slightly swollen lips.

“You’re beautiful.”

It’s one of those things.  Those thoughts that just seem to slip out of his mouth sometimes, without any filter to stop them.  Meanwhile, Harry’s looking at him like he’s a brand-new bicycle on Christmas morning.  He hauls Louis up and forces him down across the desk, pressing his shoulders into the wood as he straddles him.  Louis can feel the crack of Harry’s bum as he rocks on the outline of Louis’s cock, huge erection visibly straining the front of his mesh shorts.

“Shit,” Louis moans, tugging the hem of Harry’s shirt up until he peels it off and throws it in a corner.  “You’re going to make this short and sweet if you don’t stop that.”

Harry grinds down one last time, hard, like a promise.  Louis shudders, groaning, and then Harry’s helping him peel off his shorts, panting breath hot on his waistline until he palms him through his boxer briefs.  His hand is better than Louis could have imagined, thumb running over soft cotton, tracing the outline of his trapped, leaking cock.  Louis thrusts up helplessly, arching his back as Harry strokes him.  He’s going to explode, soon.

“Don’t tease.”  It’s meant to be a command, but it comes out sounding desperate.

Harry shoots him a devilish grin, yanks down his pants and wraps his hand around Louis’s throbbing shaft.  Louis’s eyes roll back in his head as he surrenders himself fully to the sensation.  Harry’s touch is warm and right; he’s staring at Louis’s cock as he works on it, mouth slightly open in awe, like it’s some kind of glorious artistic masterwork.  "Louis," he breathes, voice reverent.

This is by far the best handjob Louis has ever received, and he hasn’t even come yet.

“Not gonna last,” he breathes, biting his bottom lip and arching up into one of Harry’s languid strokes.  “Want your mouth.”

He captures Harry with one hand, threading his fingers up through the soft curls and tugging his head down.  Harry goes easily.  He’s so fucking eager, and Louis’s never going to get over this.  He’s not.  When Harry’s lips part over the head of his shaft, Louis sees stars.  He gasps, moaning as Harry sucks him down.  His mouth is everything Louis thought it would be, plush and wet and so good for him.  Harry takes all that Louis can give, even letting him move a little.  God.  Louis feels white heat pooling in his groin and barely manages to warn Harry before he’s spilling into his mouth and down his throat, sloppily pulling out and smearing come all over Harry’s lips and jaw.

“Jesus fuck, Styles.”

He breathes and warm static ripples through his body, a heady mix of endorphins and relief and yes, yes…  But Harry’s whimpering as he traps Louis’s hands about his head and leans down to kiss his mouth, not bothering to wipe his face first and shit, Louis can taste himself.  Harry ruts against Louis, still so hard in his shorts, so hard.  Louis works his right hand free and plunges it into Harry’s pants, fisting his cock and getting him off with a few rough jerks.  Harry seizes as he comes, letting out a low moan and spurting all over Louis’s hand and wrist.

They lie there on the desk for a few minutes, breathing together.  Louis keeps his hand around Harry’s dick until his erection goes down.

“Shit,” Harry breathes.  “You better come back to my hotel room with me, Louis Tomlinson.”

Louis lets out a breathy laugh.  “You think I’m finished with you?  Any boy who gives that kind of head deserves more than a couple of lame tugs.”

Harry presses a kiss to Louis’s sweaty temple.  “They were the best tugs.”

“Oh, give it a rest.”

Harry barks out a laugh and pulls Louis into a messy hug.  “Hey, you want to hear something weird?”

Louis smiles into Harry’s bare chest, tracing his v-lines with his fingers.  “What?”

“I was so nervous about tonight, I forgot to be nervous about tomorrow.”

As they’re sneaking back into the hotel a few minutes later, Louis has a moment to wonder exactly what that means.  He thinks it might mean they have a future together.  He hopes it does.

Chapter Text

Harry’s wrist tattoo says “I can’t change.”  There’s a clover just above it, and a 99 pence that looks as though someone has scrawled it on his skin in biro.  Louis’s fingers lightly trace the veins in Harry’s arms up to the black heart on his shoulder, over more words that look like song lyrics.  Three nails.  Something in a different language.  He wonders what they all mean -- something tells him that they are for people, these tattoos, the people that Harry loves and wants to keep near him.  For a fleeting moment, Louis’s heart aches with jealousy for everyone who has gotten to be near this wonderful man, for everyone who has a permanent place in his life.

But Louis is here now.  He’s lying naked in Harry’s bed in the weak sunlight of early morning, gazing at the curls tousled across his forehead and imagining what it would be like to wake up like this every day.  To the lingering smell of sex and a warm, lanky boy.  He thinks it would be pretty tremendous.

Louis only allows himself a few minutes of daydreaming though, as he watches Harry sleep.  Breakfast at the PGA is waiting for him; he has to get back to his hotel to beg for a new key card, take a quick shower and change, maybe even grab a bite of something on his way to the course.  In a particularly generous moment, he wonders if Liam likes donuts.

Before he leaves, Louis slides Harry’s phone out of the back pocket of a pair of discarded jeans and replaces his usual wake-up Marimba with a freshly downloaded mp3 of Wrecking Ball.  Then he dashes off a quick note on the thin pad of hotel paper -- Next time I expect nude juggling -- folds it, and places it artfully in Harry’s sex-mussed curls.  After a moment’s hesitation, he writes something on a second piece of paper and stuffs it deep into the recesses of Harry’s golf bag.  He dresses quickly and tiptoes out of the room.

*

He arrives in the Sky Sports booth with two dozen donuts and a smile on his face. Liam is immediately suspicious.

“What are these for?” he asks, as he bites cautiously into a cruller.

“Do they have to be for anything?” Louis replies innocently.  “Maybe I like my co-workers, Liam.  Maybe we’ve bonded.  Maybe my affection for them has chosen to manifest itself in the form of sugary treats.”

Liam is silent, studying him.

Louis takes his seat and closes his eyes as Lou from Hair and Makeup starts to brush powder over his cheekbones.  He tries not to doze off, which only reminds him of why he didn’t get enough sleep to begin with, and that sends his mind spiraling into a deep morass of pornographic memories from Harry’s entryway… and his bed… and up against his window.  Louis kneeling to suck purple bruises into Harry’s thighs, his wet finger circling Harry’s hole.  Harry’s erection brushing softly against Louis’s cheekbone.  Harry moaning, threading his fingers through Louis’s fringe.  Everything felt so natural -- even the inevitable awkward moment when Louis’s balls had hit Harry in the nose, or when Harry couldn’t find the lube at first, or Harry’s barking laughter when Louis tried to seductively rip the condom wrapper open with his teeth and failed.  Louis shivers.  It’s frankly a little alarming how sexually compatible they are.

Louis doesn’t realize he’s smiling until Lou breezes off in a cloud of hairspray and powdered sugar, and he opens his eyes to see Liam staring at him.

“What?”

Liam’s eyes narrow.  “You’re smiling.”

“Am I not allowed?  Sorry, Officer Payne of the Facial Expressions Oversight Bureau, won’t happen again.”

“You’re not complaining about the desk…”  Liam frowns.  Then his eyes widen in horror.  “Oh my god you had sex on this desk.”

“I --” Louis’s about to lie.

“You’re about to lie; don’t lie.”

“Well…”  Louis clears his throat, smile tugging at his lips.  He shrugs.  “We wiped it off.”

Liam groans and slouches back in his seat, face in his hands.  When he finally glances up at Louis, his expression is pained.  “Why?”

Louis leans in and puts a comforting arm around Liam’s shoulder.  “Oh, honey.  To torture you.”

Liam looks like he wants to die.  Instead he draws Louis into a tight hug and whispers, “Congratulations on the sex, you terrible person.”

Louis might have to keep him.

They start the morning’s coverage with sugar fizzing in their veins, and Louis finds himself glancing down at his phone during every commercial break.  He doesn’t know what he’s expecting exactly -- a text, a goofy selfie, but something.  He tries not to dwell, tries to throw himself into the twitter questions and the analysis, let his signature spontaneous humor lighten the broadcast.  The twitter response is amazing.  Liam keeps referring to Harry as “your boy Styles,” which Louis tries not to look too happy about.  He decides he can either blush quietly or make it into a joke (Let’s take a moment to laugh about how we all know which option he’ll choose.  Ha ha ha.  Good.), so for the rest of the broadcast it’s “my hero Harry Styles,” or “my favorite human, Harry Styles,” and once even “Harry Styles, Paragon of Manliness.”  The viewers are loving it; and #LarryStylinsonatthePGA is starting to trend.  Louis wonders if he’s being too obvious.

Suddenly it’s 11 a.m.  Surely Harry must be awake by now and on his way to the driving range to warm up.  Louis checks his phone, but he hasn’t missed any texts.  He tries not to be disappointed -- it’s a pretty big day for Harry, after all, and his head belongs firmly in the game.  But doubts crowd in anyway…  Was Louis’s note too flippant?  Should he have woken Harry before he left?  Maybe with a kiss on the forehead and a whispered ‘good morning?’  But it’s only been a few hours… is he overthinking everything?

Maybe Harry hasn’t found the second note yet.

“Stupid rogue brain,” Louis mutters.

Somehow he gets through lunch without looking at his phone once.  Which is efficient of him, since there’s still nothing there by the time he and Liam go back on the air at 1 p.m.  They spend the next hour covering players in the later pairs, who technically still have a chance to win.  But everyone knows it’s just marking time.  The world is waiting for Harry and Phil, untested rookie versus seasoned pro.  Louis swallows hard when he catches sight of Harry on his monitor for the first time -- he’s gone for pastels again, but the anxious expression on his face doesn’t reflect the cheerful color of his shirt.

Louis’s heart drops into his stomach.  He feels useless, trapped.  He watches despondently as Niall comes up to Harry and hugs him, rubbing his arms and giving him a pep talk that Louis can’t hear.  Harry nods along, but the expression on his face doesn’t change.

It’s not a contest.

From the moment Harry tees off, Phil is better.  He strokes through the ball with a confident swing, smiling and basking in the attention of the spectators.  His first approach shot drops in for a semi-miraculous eagle, and from then on the outcome is never in doubt.  Harry acquits himself well, but Louis can tell he’s struggling.  Meanwhile Phil is brilliant, showing everybody why he’s one of the all time greats, and his fans are in a festival mood.  Harry’s lagging by two shots… then three.  His face falls further and further with each hole.  It’s honestly one of the most excruciating rounds of golf Louis has ever watched -- and that’s saying something, considering how bored he used to get with the sport before Harry showed up.

“Pick on someone your own size, Phil,” Louis complains at one point early in the back nine, when Phil breezes onto the green to tap in for birdie while Harry’s in the middle of a frustrating three-put.  Luckily, Sky Sports viewers are in on the “joke” at this point, and Liam follows up with a comment on Mickelson’s unimpeachable nice-guy image.  Not to mention the strength of his short game.

“I think you’re obsessed, mate.” Louis quips, and Liam can only respond with one of his expressive looks -- this one says Well I’ve yet to suck his dick, you impossible hypocrite (of whom I am inexplicably fond).

There’s a rich sort of ache in Louis’s heart when they crest the ridge on 18.  Harry waves to the crowd, enjoying his last moments in the spotlight as a competitor at the PGA.  He makes birdie, just as he’s done every day of the tournament.  When he tosses his lucky ball in the air and kisses it, there are tears gleaming in his eyes.  He gets a standing ovation from the crowd in the bleachers.

When all is said and done, he’s come in fourth.  It’s the highest finish at a major tournament by an amateur since Jack Nicklaus finished fourth at the U.S. Open in 1961, and the first top ten finish by an amateur at a major in over forty years.  The networks and ad execs are still gushing; no one has a bad word to say about his performance.  He’ll go home famous and beloved, with the weight of the world’s expectations on his shoulders and nearly $400,000 in his pocket -- not too shabby for a uni student.

Louis just wants to see him.

He pulls off his microphone and races down the rickety stairs of the broadcast booth.  Harry’s right there, walking into the clubhouse with Niall by his side, not twenty yards away, but there are crowds and there are ropes in between, and Louis may be athletic but he is also small, goddammit.  He sees a flash of pink, a strong hand shaking out chocolate curls, a few words to ESPN and then Harry’s in the clubhouse.  Louis bites his lip, sick to his stomach and torn.  He has a press pass; he could get into the locker room, but will Harry even want to see him?  Louis stands still for a moment, letting people file around him.  He doesn’t know what to do.

He goes to Harry.

“Fuck it, fuck it…”  Louis shoves his way to the clubhouse, elbowing people left and right.  “Sorry,” he calls over his shoulder, belatedly, before slipping into the peaceful white-walled, oak beam interior.  He follows bundled lines of cable to a row of cameras set up outside the door to the locker room, talking heads holding large microphones and chattering over each other about the result.  He flashes his pass, and then he’s inside.

For a moment he’s blinded by the sight of professional golfers in various stages of undress -- he did not need to see Jason Dufner shirtless, thank you very much -- and then he spots him, sitting alone on a bench in the back corner.  Elbows on his knees and fingers through his hair.  Louis almost runs to him.  He brushes his knuckles softly over Harry’s bare shoulder, and he looks up, green eyes startled.

“Hello,” says Louis.

He barely has time to register Harry’s face before he’s being pulled down into a crushing hug.  Louis stiffens for a moment, then relaxes, breathing in the scent of grass and sweat on Harry’s neck.  It’s been less than a day, but he’s already missed being wrapped up in Harry’s arms.  His heart almost breaks with relief.

“You did so well,” he whispers.  “I’m so proud of you.”

Harry sniffs, and chokes out a wet laugh.  “Thanks.  I’m fine, I really…  I really am fine.”  He pulls away from Louis, discreetly wiping his eyes with the back of his hand.  “It’s just…”  He chuckles again, shaking his head and allowing the faint hint of a smile to play across his face.  “I thought I could win.”

“It’s okay,” Louis says, rubbing his knee.  “You always have nude juggling to fall back on.”

This time Harry laughs for real, that hoarse, squawking outburst of happiness Louis’s grown so fond of.  “Thank you for that.”

They’re silent for a moment or two as Harry regains his composure.  Louis sits supportively by his side, massaging little circles into the small of his back, wondering how to ask him about his round without being rude, or making him sad.

“I tried to block you out,” Harry says, finally.  He stares up at the ceiling, then meets Louis’s eyes with a rueful smile.  “That’s why I didn’t text.  I wanted to really focus on my game.  Like, get in the zone.  I figured if I started talking to you I’d just be completely distracted thinking about your ass and your fucking thighs all day...”

“It’s okay,” Louis replies, Harry’s confession causing a weird flutter in his chest.  He’s nervous, so his words come out in a clipped rush, swarming in the air like gnats.  “You don’t have to explain.  I feel a bit guilty for last night, thought I had messed up your sleep cycle or given you a sprain, or left too early, or maybe my notes were stupid or something; maybe waking up to Marimba is the top secret, completely bizarre key to your success and just, I was worried I’d somehow thrown you off --”

“No.”  Harry shakes his head forcefully and pulls one of Louis’s tiny hands into his lap, covering it with both of his own.  “No, you didn’t.  Last night was…”  Harry takes a steadying breath.  “Don’t think that.”  

“So what happened?”  Louis immediately regrets asking, but like so many things he says, it just slips out.  Harry doesn’t look annoyed, though.

“I don’t know, I tensed up.  All that pressure.  My swing felt really forced, up until 18 when I knew I had absolutely no chance of winning.”

“You were still brilliant.  This whole week.  I’ve never seen an amateur with so much promise.”

“In all your long years of commentating?” Harry teases.  Louis grins and pinches one of his nipples in retaliation.  It turns into a minor play-scuffle on the bench until Harry grabs both of Louis’s wrists in one of his big hands (and oh, does that send shivers down Louis’s spine) and asks, “Wait, did you say notes?  Plural?”

Louis nods.

“I only encountered the one.”

Louis gestures with his captured wrists to Harry’s golf bag, leaning up against one of the lockers.  “Top zippered pocket.  Right under that ridiculous banana-shaped headcover.”

Harry shrugs.  “They wouldn’t let me have a penis-shaped one.”

Louis smiles as Harry unzips the pocket and pulls out the folded note.  He looks away, biting his lip as Harry reads it.  He remembers exactly what he’d written:  No matter what happens, you’re my winner.  There’s a quiet moment as Harry holds the paper in his lap.  Louis can’t bring himself to look at his face.

So he’s caught a bit off guard when Harry pulls him in by the front of his shirt.

“Oomph!” Louis grunts into his mouth.

Harry kisses him fiercely, warm hands all over his torso and Louis’s head is spinning, he’s dizzy from the soft feel of Harry’s lips and fuck, this is definitely the best he’s ever had.  The part of his brain that isn’t struggling not to faint registers some whispering off to the side.  He can tell people are looking at them curiously, but he can’t quite bring himself to care.

When they break apart, breathless, Harry asks, “This isn’t over, right?”

Louis beams at him.  “I’ve heard Manchester is absolutely lovely in the fall.”

*

“Not to mention it’s always been a life goal of mine to hear a death metal cover of My Heart Will Go On.”

It’s Christmas Eve, and they’re in Harry’s kitchen putting the finishing touches on Louis’s birthday cake.  Which is to say that Harry’s carefully squeezing artistic curlicues of frosting out of a piping bag, while Louis sits on the counter anti-helping, reaching out every so often to pinch Harry’s arse.  (“It’s officially not my fault that this writing is all -- ow, Louis -- weird and jagged and looks like the Purple Rain font.”)  The demon-voice currently growling out a guttural “NEAR, FAR, WHEREVER YOU AAAAAAAGGGHHHHH” is loud enough to penetrate the frost-encrusted windows, but Louis and Harry just smile at each other soppily.

It’s been a bloody fantastic four months.  Louis wasted no time after the tournament driving up to Manchester from London with an overnight bag 50% full of condoms and lube, and was there every weekend of Harry’s final uni semester.  They mostly used these weekends to lie in the bath with Harry’s scented candles, give each other massages and get revenge on Harry’s loud, sex-having neighbors from upstairs, but one Friday afternoon in late October Harry had taken Louis home to the tiny village of Holmes Chapel, where he blushingly introduced him to his family.

“Well well well,” said Gemma, the first to open the door.  “If it isn’t Captain Unsubtle and the Paragon of Manliness.”

Louis groaned and buried his face in his hands.  “Hi Gemma, lovely to meet you.”

She drew him into a friendly hug, laughing and whispering, “I knew the second I saw you on TV that you were going to be a serious problem for him.  Before he came out he was obsessed with Frankie Sandford.”

Louis almost choked, and the first time Anne saw him he was chasing after her son with his arms outstretched like Frankenstein’s monster, shouting “We’re so close to the edge of desire!  Feel so hot, hot, got that fire!”

Basically, he was a hit.

Now he’s wrapping his arms around Harry’s torso, licking a hot stripe up his neck and paying no attention whatsoever to the frosting he’s smudging everywhere.  Harry sets down the piping bag with a huff.

“This is for you, you know.”

“Mmm,” Louis smiles happily into his boyfriend’s back.  He can feel his cock start to respond -- he can’t help it; he’s freeballing in sweats and just the thought of his dick slowly filling up as he presses it against Harry’s body is enough to drive him crazy.  Soon he’s rutting lazily against Harry’s arse, planting a hand between his shoulder blades like he’s going to bend him over the table.

“I was going to write HAPPY BIRTHDAY BOO BEAR on it, but if you don’t stop that immediately I’m going to have to turn around and ravish you, and our friends are going to be served a cake that just says HAPPY BIRTHDAY BOOB.”

Louis picks up the pace of his thrusting, wiggling a few fingers into the waistband of Harry’s tight jeans.  “Sounds perfect.”

Harry rolls his eyes, but he can’t keep the grin off his face.  He moves to turn around, but Louis pins him in place with strong arms, grinding purposefully against the firm curve of his arse and emitting low moans.  He feels Harry shudder beneath him, his body going slack and pliant.

“Pull down your trousers and your pants,” Louis whispers.

Harry immediately does as he’s told, peeling off his jeans to reveal his own thickening erection.  He arches his back and grinds down on the soft cotton outline of Louis’s cock, groaning deep in his throat and biting his bottom lip.  He slowly lets it slide out from under his teeth, slick with spit and as ripe as a cherry and fuck, sometimes Louis thinks Harry should have been a porn star.

“Now move my cake out of the way,” Louis commands, making sure a little steel creeps into his voice.  He tries not to laugh at the flicker of relief that passes over Harry’s features as he places a plastic cover over the cake stand and pushes it to the far end of the table.

Louis brings Harry’s arms around behind his back, pinning his wrists together and holding them in place as he drops to his knees.  He can hear Harry’s sharp intake of breath -- he wasn’t expecting that.  Louis nuzzles Harry’s thighs apart with his nose, inhaling the intimate scent of his boyfriend.  It never fails to get him rock hard.

“I’m going to take my hand off your wrists now, but you’re going to leave them there,” he says.  “You’re not going to be allowed to touch yourself.”  His voice is very firm.  “And you’re not allowed to come until I tell you to.”

Harry shivers, a tiny moan escaping his lips as he nods.  Louis starts licking up his right thigh, leaving a hot, wet trail as he works his way north.  He pauses for a moment and draws back to appreciate Harry’s bum.  He takes a cheek in each hand and squeezes appreciatively, murmuring, “Good boy.  Such a beautiful arse.”  Harry’s fingers twitch where he’s holding them still, wrists together at the small of his back.  Louis knows he’s teasing, knows Harry loves it.

Then he spreads him open and begins to lick around the sensitive pink bud of Harry’s arsehole.  It’s not long before Harry’s mewling like a kitten, gasping and shuddering as Louis fucks into him with his tongue.  He’s still loose from the night before -- Louis’s been having a lot of fun topping recently, inspired to play “schoolmaster” by the sight of Harry buried in textbooks and stacks of notes while studying for final exams -- and Louis opens him up expertly, scissoring in with spit-slicked fingers.

“Do you like that?” he growls, roughly, standing again and doing his best to tower over his much-taller boyfriend.  “Mmm, you like taking my fingers, don’t you...”  He knows Harry loves it when he’s dominant, knows that he finds the idea of an older man ordering him around and using his body to be intensely erotic.  Louis can see the effect it’s having on him now, the obscene red flush to his cheeks and his huge, untouched cock fully hard and leaking pre-come against his stomach.

“Yes,” Harry gasps.  “Can I… uhn… more, please?”

Louis grunts his approval and adds a third finger.  He takes his time with Harry, careful not to injure him, while making sure that Harry can feel his urgency.  It’s sweet and a little bit rough.  When Harry’s ready for him, Louis bends him over the table and slicks up his own dick with a bit of extra virgin olive oil that happens to be convenient (spare him the puns; now is not the time).  He places a light hand on Harry’s wrists to help him fight the temptation to touch himself.

“What do you say?” he asks.

Harry licks his lips, a shiver of anticipation running through him.  “Please can I have your cock?”

Louis responds by pressing slowly into Harry’s entrance.  Harry moans through the burn, and Louis waits until he’s adjusted before he thrusts in hard, pinning Harry’s thighs to the table with one smooth stroke.  He stills for a moment.  Then pulls out and pushes in again, angling for Harry’s prostate.  God, his boy feels good.  Harry whines as Louis gets into a rhythm, fucking back onto Louis’s cock with an eagerness that has Louis catching his breath and trying not to come too soon.

“Fuck, oh, Louis,” Harry gasps, when Louis finds his spot.  He loves the noises Harry makes when he’s got him spread out and bent over like this, loves chasing his own orgasm as Harry gets all worked up and ready to explode from just his cock.

Louis lifts his hand from where it had rested on Harry’s crossed wrists and spreads it out over the smooth expanse of Harry’s lower back.  He pushes his oil-slick palm slowly up Harry’s spine as he thrusts in again and again, hitting Harry’s prostate with every rough stroke.  Harry’s moaning now, completely blissed out.  He gasps when Louis’s fingers reach the back of his neck, gooseflesh rising on his skin.  Louis reaches around and traces Harry’s mouth, reveling in the plush wetness of his lips, feeling the sweet drag of Harry sucking at his fingers.

His breathing is ragged; Louis’s starting to lose his rhythm now, his thrusts becoming more and more desperate.  He’s close.  He pulls his fingers out of Harry’s mouth with a wet pop and brings them down to wrap around the thick base of Harry’s cock.  Harry cries out with the sensation, stutters, unsure whether to rock back and take even more of Louis’s length or to thrust up into his hand.  Louis bites into Harry’s shoulder, tugging him off with practiced finesse.

“I… oh.  Shit, I need to come.”  Harry’s almost crying with it.

“Not yet, baby,” Louis breathes.  “Wait for me.”

Harry throws his head back over Louis’s shoulder, leaning into him as Louis takes him apart.  A couple more thrusts and Louis’s finishing in hot spurts, dick twitching as he sinks deep into Harry’s arse one last time.  “Yeah, god Harry, so good for me,” he breathes.  He gives Harry’s cock a few more pumps before he pulls out and spins him around, digging his thumbs into Harry’s hips as he drops once again to his knees.

“Now,” he says, and takes Harry down.  Less than a second later he feels Harry spilling into his mouth and down his throat, his large, warm hand tugging feebly at Louis’s hair.

Harry shudders and groans as his body floods with the high of release.  He sags back against the table, all languid sex.  “Oh my god,” he breathes, shakily.  “Louis.”

Louis just wipes his mouth and leans in to kiss Harry’s nose.  Then he leads Harry to the shower and cleans him up thoroughly, making sure that none of the olive oil is left to irritate him later.  They hear the singers start up again, another romantic ballad, and make out lazily under the steamy spray to the gravelly strains of “THERE WERE NIGHTS OF ENDLESS PLEASHUUUUUUUGGGH, IT WAS MORE THAN ANY LAAAAAWS ALLAAAAAGGHHH.”

“Baby, baby,” croons Harry, softly.  Louis nips at his neck and sinks, giggling, into his arms.

*

Later, when the table has been wiped down with bleach and Louis has changed into his holiday-appropriate pumpkin colored jumper, Harry breezes into the living room shirtless and says, “I love you,” so casually Louis almost doesn’t hear it.  Louis turns to stare, mouth slightly open.  “And it’s the best sex of my life.”

Harry’s smiling.  Louis grins at him like a maniac, feeling heat flush his neck and cheeks.  He’s a little dizzy and short of breath, and it’s been four fucking months but Harry can still do that to him.  “I love you, too.”

“You’re sure about our decision, then?”  Harry pads up to him with bare feet, places his hands on Louis’s hips to steady him.

“Of course I am.”

“We’ll tell the boys tonight?”

Louis nods, swallowing thickly as he rises onto the tips of his toes to give Harry another kiss.  But Harry pulls away, waggling his eyebrows at Louis’s pout as he strolls around the back of the couch singing one of the cheesy show tunes Louis pretends to hate.  “People.  People who need... people.  Are the luckiest -- ”

“Stop it, you four-boobed freak.”

Harry just grins, suavely taking a seat on the messy couch as he continues to serenade Louis.  “Lovers.  Are very special… peopleeeee.”

“You think you’re Barbra, but you’re really Debbie Gibson.”

That shuts Harry up.  He stops in the middle of an ornate run and gasps, clutching his chest.  “I’m Barbra!”

“Debbie.”

Then Niall’s leaning on the buzzer, loudly asking through the tinny intercom if he’s allowed to come in yet, is the party ready and are they done with their freaky sex games.  Harry slinks off to his bedroom to finish dressing after a swat on the bum from Louis (“Cover your shame, Harold!”), and he shouts through the speaker at Niall to come on up, a warm feeling blooming in his chest.  Niall thumps up the stairs and strolls into the kitchen, two grocery bags cradled like precious heirlooms in either arm.

“Happy b-day, mate!”

“Happy Christmas,” Louis grins.

He helps Niall set out the fajita fixings -- “family fajitas” have become Louis’s favorite dish; he loves how Harry will just cheerfully make him a lovingly-crafted fajita at the drop of a hat, while Louis can’t be bothered to boil water for pasta half the time.  Harry had offered to prepare something fancier for his birthday dinner, but Louis just resolutely shook his head and demanded family fajitas.  (Niall, A+ friend and surprisingly observant bloke, had noticed Louis starting to scope out Harry’s arse during the cake decorating and had promptly volunteered to go to the store and pick up the ingredients.  He will now valiantly ignore any smears of frosting he finds in odd places around the kitchen.)

Harry wanders back into the living room just as Louis and Niall finish shoving all the extra crap they’d cleared off the couch and the floor into the coat closet.  It’s a messy pile of books and clothes and a pair of boxer briefs that Louis are sure can’t be his (though they are Topman, hmm), and it takes both of them shoving with their shoulders (“On three this time, Niall; do leprechauns not teach their young how to count?”) to successfully pack all of it inside.

Harry leans on the door jamb, shaking his head.  “Pathetic.”

Louis makes a show of dusting off his hands.  “Job done!  Apartment clean!  Just in time…”  Someone else is punching the buzzer over and over in a short, staccato rhythm.

“Birthday party admittance only, annoying twats not welcome.”

Zayn’s soft voice drifts up through the intercom.  “I was spellin’ out ‘happy birthday’ in Morse code, bebs.”

“Lies.”

“Come on, Louis, get Pez and me off this stoop.  Me nuts are frostbitten.”  Louis can hear Harry giggling from the kitchen, where he’s puttering about with the gas range.  He feels a weird anticipatory thrill at the thought of showing off his boyfriend to his best friend, and vice versa.

“I think I read something about that in Cosmo Sex Tips.”

“Wanker.”

“Double wanker.”

“I love you.”

“Password accepted.”  Louis buzzes them up.

Zayn slouches into the apartment a minute later, bequiffed and looking every inch the Bradford bad boy.  He’s got Perrie, his newest girlfriend, on his elbow -- she’s bubbly and purple-haired and seems quite quick-witted; Louis likes her -- along with a thin, giftwrapped box under his other arm that Louis will ogle greedily and without shame.  Louis takes their coats, realizes he can’t put them in the closet and passes them off to Niall instead, kisses Perrie on the cheek with a bright, “hello, darling,” and claps Zayn on the back in greeting.

“Hiiii,” Harry calls from the kitchen, in his charming, lazy voice.  “I’m Harry.”

“Zayn Malik,” Zayn answers, drifting toward the delicious aroma of spiced meat as Louis fusses about fetching everybody a beer.  “I’m the one who had the penis scribble on his ‘ead.”

Harry wipes a hand on the frilly apron he’s chosen to wear and extends it to Zayn with a wink.  “I remember.”

“Zayn, Harry; Harry, Zayn,” gestures Louis, theatrically.  “Niall, Perrie; Perrie, Niall; Harry, Perrie; Perrie, Harry; Perrie, Zayn…”

“We’ve met,” she says, slyly.

“Er, did I miss anyone?”

“Everybody, this is Sophia.”  And Liam’s suddenly in the doorway, beaming as he unwraps a comfortable-looking knit scarf from around his neck.  Sophia is peeking into the apartment, shy smile on her face.  “Hello, everybody.”

Louis’s so glad for Liam, he really is.  They’ve kept up their friendship in the months since they worked together at the PGA, and they’re scheduled to co-commentate on multiple golf tournaments again next year, including all four majors.  Louis would never have predicted that he’d become as close to Liam as he has (especially considering how they started off), but it’s been a very pleasant surprise.  And anyway, his other prediction has borne out -- in the end, Sophia had been powerless to resist the abs.  Liam’s been smiling ear-to-ear for two straight months.

The entire group begins to chat together pleasantly in the kitchen, keeping Harry company as he sautés peppers and onions for the fajitas.  Louis flits from one person to the next, receiving birthday wishes and catching up on gossip from all his different circles.  Every few minutes he drifts back to Harry’s side, placing a hand on his waist and whispering commentary softly into his ear.  (He may deliberately let his lips brush against Harry’s jaw once or twice.)

“Is no one going to mention that these two absolute embarrassments are wearing the same jumper in different colors?”

Louis turns around and promptly smacks Zayn on the shoulder.  Harry just grins, slipping a strong arm around Louis and tucking him protectively into his side, spatula in his other hand ready to flick sauce on Zayn if he retaliates.  It’s true, Louis notices for the first time; Harry’s wearing the navy blue version of Louis’s pumpkin jumper under his apron.

“We like matching,” Harry says.

Louis nods.  “Yes we do.  And we’re not even ashamed, look at us.”  They proceed to stare at each other lovingly for a few seconds, and Louis gets a sudden flash of Harry blushing and biting his lip in their first interview back on that long-ago Thursday in August.

Niall could not be more fond as he rolls his eyes, and Zayn just starts chuckling into his beer and shaking his head.  “Lost causes.”

“Dinner’s ready.  Could you set the table, love?”

Louis gives Harry a quick peck and runs off to busy himself with plates and silverware.  Soon they’re all seated around the table (with Niall squished over to one side, good-naturedly balancing his plate on his knees because there’s no room), talking and laughing like old friends.  Louis loves this, loves reveling in the people he’s brought together.  He takes credit for the way Perrie’s dying at something Niall’s just said, and the excitement in Liam’s eyes as he responds to a comment Zayn has just made about the DC Comics reboot.  Everyone makes sure to compliment Harry on his fajitas, and on his graduation from uni the week before.  The way Harry’s chest puffs out a little as he says “Thanks!” makes Louis so proud he could almost burst.

When Harry brings the cake over, Niall’s still working on his third fajita and Zayn is telling the whole table about his Art History students’ field trip to the British Museum the week before.

“One of their assignments was to spend some time in front of a statue -- Menelaus supporting the body of Patroclus, a Roman copy of a no longer extant Greek bronze -- anyway,” Louis can see Zayn visibly restrain himself from deluging them with unnecessary information about Classical sculpture, “they have to write a little essay about it, but they also have to sketch it.  The idea being to get them to think about musculature and details and blah blah blah…”

Louis doesn’t hesitate to throw a balled-up napkin at Zayn’s forehead.  “Is this going anywhere, or?”

“Oi!”  Zayn frowns, tossing it back.  “The thing is, Patroclus has a rather sizable wang.”

“You’ve re-captured my interest.”

“And most of the male students, like, will not draw it.  Even though it’s part of the assignment.  They’ll go the Ken doll route, or they’ll sketch ridiculous fig leaf things…”  Zayn tries to frown like a proper teacher, but he can’t help giggling.  “And from all the women I’m getting these anatomically precise, lovingly-rendered wangs.”

“Have you tried writing DON’T FORGET THE PENIS on the assignment sheet in large, underscored letters?” asks Louis.

Zayn shakes his head.  “No, I have not.  I’m telling you, it’s no picnic marking someone off and then having to explain it’s because they’ve not drawn a wang.”

The entire table erupts into howls of laughter as Harry cuts the cake.

“And it’s their last chance,” Zayn adds, accepting a rather smudgy wedge of red velvet and licking some incidental frosting off his thumb.  “Next semester all we’ve got is like, medieval Christian mosaics and The Last Supper.”

“You should require everyone who didn’t draw the peen on this assignment to add one to The Last Supper,” Harry suggests, with a cheeky grin.

“Yeah, babe, that’d be good,” Perrie nudges him.  “Preferably over Judas’s head.”

“Just floating in the air,” Niall mumbles, through his cake crumb goatee.

“A miraculous God peen.”

Everybody’s shoulders are shaking with laughter; most of the guests are on their third beer of the evening and Louis’s already twisting the cap off his fourth.  He’s very pleasantly buzzed.  If they take shots after dinner, he’ll probably end up hanging off Harry and aggressively shouting “Best birthday ever!” to anyone who crosses his path.

“If you’ve all quite finished,” Louis starts, through residual giggles, as he clinks a greasy fork against the neck of his beer in an attempt to be sophisticated, “Harry actually has some news.”

Heads turn politely toward the end of the table, where Harry has just served himself a slice of cake.  His chin snaps up and he looks a bit like a deer caught in the headlights for a moment before Louis smiles and nods at him encouragingly.  They’re ready to tell everyone.  It’s the right time; Louis feels it in his bones.

Harry blows out a breath and straightens his shoulders.  “Right.  Well…”  Louis tries not to be too endeared by the way he always takes a few seconds to build up steam when he starts talking.  “You all know that I came into a sizable chunk of money last August.”  Harry can’t help smiling across the table at Louis, love shining in his eyes as he thinks about how they first met.  Then he clears his throat and continues.  “So I’ve decided to take my PGA winnings and fulfill a lifelong dream of mine...”

He pauses for effect.

“... which is to open a bakery.  It’ll be called Juggling Styles.  I’ll personally juggle everyone’s muffins before serving them.  Like a table show!”

There’s silence for a beat, and then Liam jumps in.  “Well, Harry, that sounds nice.”

“Small business is very important to the economy,” offers Perrie.

“It’s definitely a unique idea,” Sophia adds.

Louis tries not to snort into his napkin.  He’s pretty sure Niall is also trying not to laugh.

“Just kidding,” Harry grins.  “Actually, I’ve been invited to join the PGA tour.  And after the holidays I’m moving down to London to live with Louis; we’re getting a flat together in Notting Hill.”

“Oh thank god,” mutters Liam as everyone else cheers, reaching out to clap Louis and Harry on the back and congratulate them.

“Notting Hill, eh?” Zayn raises an eyebrow in Louis’s direction because he knows.  He knows.

“No,” Louis cuts him off before he can say anything else.  “It’s not because we love the movie…”  Zayn coughs and raises his eyebrow higher, and Louis sighs. “... but also yes, it’s definitely because we both really love the movie.”

“Well I think it’s great,” Perrie says, popping one last bite of red cake into her mouth.  “But when the frick are we going to sing?”

Harry takes this as his cue to break into an enthusiastic chorus of the birthday song, shouting “Happy Birth-day dear Boo Bear!” loudly enough to rival Death Metal Celine.

Louis almost dies smiling.

*

Later, after all the presents have been unwrapped and Niall has retired to his room down the hall and the rest of their guests have buggered off to other Christmas-related festivities, Harry and Louis fall into bed together with searching hands and hungry mouths.  They’re too beer-drowsy and fucked out from earlier to do much more than a bit of lazy tonguing and crotch palming, Harry eventually curling around Louis’s body with a warm huff across his cheek and a kiss pressed into the sensitive skin just below his ear.

“I love you,” he says.

“Love you too, sweetheart,” Louis answers.

“I can’t wait until next year, when I’ll be a real professional golfer and you’ll be up in your booth with Liam, commenting on my form.”

“I always comment on your form.”  Louis can feel Harry smiling against the back of his head.

“It’ll be so great,” Harry whispers.  “I figure I’ll come out sometime in early spring, before the Masters.  Maybe Liam could do the interview with both of us… I’ll have to talk to that PR guy about it… What, babe?”

Louis’s body has stiffened.  Harry’s words are ringing in his brain; he’s trying to make sense of them through the alcohol haze, and this is not good, this is not good.

“Come out?” he echoes, weakly.

“Well, yeah.  Of course.”  Harry frowns as Louis turns around in bed to face him, as though becoming the first openly gay golfer on the pro tour is nothing more than an incidental detail, something to be scheduled in between practices and sponsor brunches, and he’s confused as to why Louis would have a problem with it.

“You can’t come out.”

“What?”  Harry’s brows knit together; he’s getting that stormy, concentrated look on his face and shit shit Louis isn’t ready to have this conversation.  He’d already been slightly worried about the rumors that had sprung up after Harry kissed him in the locker room at the PGA -- luckily, there had been no cameras, and the whiff of gay scandal had remained only that, a whiff.

“I mean -- fuck, that’s not what I meant.  It’s just…  I’m not comfortable with it.”  Louis cringes as he says the words.  He knows how they sound.

“You’re not comfortable with it?  You’re out at work!”

Louis scoffs.  “To Liam, and like three other people.  None of the higher ups at Sky know.  If you come out, I’ll be outed with you.  And not just to my bosses.  Nationally.  To the nation.”

“Well, I’m not going to lie.”

Louis doesn’t like the way Harry is pulling away from him.  It’s just a few inches, and his hand is still on Louis’s waist, but it’s tense; it feels like a dead weight…

“You don’t have to like, lie.  Just don’t tell the whole truth.  Say you’re seeing someone but that you’d prefer to keep your private life private.”

“But…”  Harry sputters, eyes narrowing as he tries to wrap his head around what he’s hearing.  “Why?  Like, you’ve always been so open about who you are, why…  This is such a great opportunity.  I’m going to be so fucking proud to say that I’m gay and that you’re my boyfriend.”

Louis feels short of breath now, minor panic setting in that’s not helped by the residual alcohol clouding his brain.  “I’m proud of you too,” he squeaks.  “It’s not about that.”

“Then what is it about, Lou?”  Harry’s eyes are searching his face, like he really wants to understand, like Louis’s feelings are entirely, hopelessly unintelligible to him and fuck, why doesn’t he just get it right away?  Why can’t he see the problem?

Louis swallows hard.  “People don’t want a gay sport commentator, Harry.  Probably not for golf, definitely not for footie.”

Harry’s expression craters.  His bottom lip is quivering and Louis can tell he’s trying not to cry.  “Oh…”

Louis cups a hand on Harry’s jaw, rubs his thumb across his boyfriend’s cheek.  “Babe, it’s not like I was never planning on coming out.  I was just thinking that I would get to where I want to be, first.  Let people get used to me, and in a few years a lot more might change… and…”  He shrugs.  “I didn’t have definite plans, to be honest.”

Harry looks like all of his Christmas presents have just been taken away from him.  He draws a shuddering breath and rolls over onto his back, shaking off Louis’s touch.  “I don’t know what to say.”

It’s their first major disagreement, and Louis feels a sick ball of nausea spinning in the pit of his stomach.  He’s begun to take for granted how completely compatible they are in every area of life; to suddenly not see eye-to-eye, to have Harry react to his thoughts and feelings as though he’s some complete alien -- and for him to have the same reaction to Harry, in return -- is deeply unsettling.  He feels his chest start to constrict, tries to breathe through it.  Harry’s not looking at him.

“I just…” he starts, thickly.  “Coming out would mean a lot of extra attention and pressure.  Not to mention a loss of endorsement money --”

“That’s what you’re worried about?”  Harry rounds on him like the cracking of a whip, and Louis flinches.  “Endorsement money?”

“No!  Well…”  Louis stammers.  “I just -- I just, I mean, in the future…  Our future.  You know.  If we decide…”  He can’t really finish that sentence because yes, he’s thought about it (of fucking course he’s thought about it) but it’s way too soon, and maybe he’s ruining everything right now anyway.

“What about the kids in the present?” Harry asks.  “The ones who are bullied in school for being gay?  What about them?”

Tears are leaking from the corners of Louis’s eyes, now, and he fights to say the next thing.  “I don’t think it’s wrong for me to be thinking about the practicalities, Harry.”

“Well,” Harry snaps, and suddenly he’s speaking faster and far more decisively than Louis has ever heard him.  “I was personally planning to make money off my talent and hard work, not off pretending to be straight.  It’s a shame my boyfriend doesn’t believe I’m good enough to do that.”

“God, no, that’s not -- ”  Louis’s mouth is open, but he can’t find the words.  He reaches out for Harry again, placing a tentative hand on his chest.

“I believe in you, Louis.”  It’s like a punch straight to the gut.

“I believe in you, too,” Louis insists.  “I do, Harry, so much.  But I’m not ready yet.  I’m just not ready yet, like you are.  We don’t have to decide right now, I mean…”

Harry’s silent for a moment, and Louis can feel his heart beating fast under his burning skin.  It’s a cop out, he knows that, but if it means that they can rewind the last ten minutes, that things can go back to how they were before Harry started this conversation…  And it’s his birthday.  Louis blinks.  He’d almost forgotten.

“Yeah,” Harry sighs, at last.  “It’s fine.  We’ll talk about it later.”  Louis can hear the tightness in his voice, the indication that it’s not fine, that it’s not going to be fine.

“Okay,” he whispers.  He snuggles into Harry’s side, running his knuckles up and down Harry’s warm bicep.  They lie that way for a while, syncing their breathing to each other.  Five minutes later, neither of them is asleep.

“Are we okay?” Louis asks, so timidly that the words are almost lost, blurred against the skin of Harry’s shoulder.

“‘Course,” Harry says, and the confidence in his voice calms some of the anxious gut-wringing Louis has been experiencing for the past quarter of an hour.  Harry presses a kiss into Louis’s fringe, and finally relaxes a little, snuggling him closer.  “Of course we’re okay.  Happy birthday.”

Louis waits until Harry’s breathing evens out before he allows himself to drift.  Everything’s fine.  He and Harry are in love, and they’re moving in together.  Moving forward.  Starting a life.  Everything else is of minor concern, not worth fretting over.

They’ll talk about it later.

Chapter Text

It’s New Year’s Eve, and Louis is kissing Harry under the glow of multicolored Christmas lights somewhere in London.  Everyone around them is cheering for midnight -- sweaty bodies, vision and thought blurred by alcohol, happy, spinning -- but Louis reads the planes of Harry’s still face washed in red/blue/yellow/green/red/blue…  Harry smiles softly and whispers, “I can’t believe I’m going to live here.”

Louis tucks himself into Harry’s side.  “Believe it, babe.”

“It’s just…  Holmes Chapel is so small?  Everybody knows me, there.  They know what I’m like.”

They stare out the window of this flat (Louis’s already forgotten whose it is) at the lights of the city, the streets that lead to a thousand other parties, a thousand other couples.

Louis squeezes Harry’s waist.  “I know what you’re like.”

Auld Lang Syne starts up; Louis vaguely thinks he hears Niall’s voice in the crowd and now everyone around them is either singing or snogging.  Louis hugs Harry fiercely, arms like a vise around his shoulders and fingers digging into his back, suddenly needing to hold onto him.  As though he’s going to be lost in London.  As though he’ll lose himself the first chance he gets.

It’s not okay.  It’s not going to be okay.

(They’ll talk about it later.)

*

It’s the morning after their first night in the Notting Hill flat, and Louis is waking up to this:

“Louis Tomlinson, you’ve just shagged a proper television star,” Harry winks, voice thick and syrupy as he rolls over, bathed in a patch of warm sunlight.  He stretches and yawns -- Harry is rather feline, Louis thinks, not for the first time.  Practically purring.  “What are you going to do next?”

Harry had filmed an episode of A League Of Their Own ages ago, right after the PGA.  It had finally aired the night before.  They’d watched it together while eating macaroni, surrounded by unpacked boxes, and afterward Louis had essentially dragged Harry upstairs and forced himself on his dick.  (Twice.  Doing all the work.)

“Shag a film star, I expect,” Louis answers with a shrug.  They both laugh, wrapped lazily in clean white sheets.  “Kidding.  It’s honestly still a bit surreal to me that I get to see you naked.”

And yes, Louis has just accidentally quoted the movie Notting Hill in Notting Hill, which (again, Louis will insist again) was definitely not the reason they’d moved to this part of London, except for how it definitely was.  Louis groans when he sees Harry’s face light up with glee.

“What is it with men and breasts?” he asks, and of course he’s cast himself as Julia Roberts.  “How can you be so interested in them?”

Louis rolls his eyes, but he plays along because this is exactly the sort of thing that makes him love Harry the most.  “I really couldn’t say…”

“Everybody in the world’s got them!  They’re for milk!  Something something Meat Loaf!  What’s all the fuss about?”

Louis snorts and scoots up in bed, curling his fingers around Harry’s sheet.  “Let me just check one more time, that there are really four.”  Harry grins as Louis whips off the superfluous bedding and immediately goes down on him.

When Harry’s hands are brushing through Louis’s hair, when he’s moaning his name, Louis flashes back to a moment from the A League of Their Own episode.  It’s the bit where James Corden asks rapid-fire questions and the contestants have to answer as quickly as possible to rack up points.  Louis doesn’t know why his brain has decided to remember it now, but James said, “Name three things a person would lie about,” and Harry had immediately answered, “Sexuality,” and Louis doesn’t know why he’s thinking about this when he should be concentrating on giving Harry the best blowjob of all time.

Maybe he’ll figure it out later.

*

It’s the first of February and Louis is trying to wrap Harry’s birthday present, but he has slivers of sellotape stuck to most of his fingertips and he’s accidentally kicked the ribbon causing it to roll away and unspool across the floor (it can just fuck off, then, Louis thinks) and this ridiculous item is the weirdest shape and now he’s torn the paper, obviously, beheading a whole row of pink butterflies that look exactly like Harry’s newest tattoo.  This is supposed to be a good birthday.  The best birthday, because Louis is planning the party and he spent weeks picking out the present and Louis is so terrible at everything; he doesn’t know why he thought he could pull this off.  No way is Harry going to appreciate butterfly murder.  He drops the half-wrapped disaster thing in disgust and sits in the middle of the rug, hugging his knees to his chest like a baby.

His phone buzzes.

Mum:  just checking in.  happy birthday to harry.  give that boy a kiss from me!  xx -mum

She always signs her texts, as though Louis wouldn’t know who they were from, otherwise.  He drops his phone on the floor next to the butterfly abattoir, wrist hanging listlessly.

“Is that a cheesehead?”

Louis stiffens in alarm.  He hadn’t even heard the front door open.

“No!  Go away!”

He tries to hide it behind his back, but Harry is in his lap immediately, smothering him with his snow-sodden wool trench coat that Louis always says makes him look like a time traveling parson from the 1800s (“Do you need help using that ATM, Harold?  It’s advanced technology!  Here, this is called a mobile phone but don’t worry, it is not the Devil’s magic.”) and of course he’s unable to refrain from tickling Louis as he reaches around with his stupid unfair long arms and yanks the present away.

“An authentic Green Bay Packers cheesehead.”  Harry grins like a contented cat and pops it on his curls, flyaway wrapping paper and all.  “This is my favorite.”

“Happy birthday.  Now you can properly seduce Aaron Rodgers.”

And if Louis were a psychologist he might be able to tell himself why he bought Harry a birthday present that comes with a punchline that makes him feel insecure.  (Or why he hired a stripper for later, as a joke.)

“I’d like to properly seduce you, please.”  Harry’s shrugging off his coat, cheeks red and wind-bitten from the cold London air, and every close-mouthed peck feels like frostbite.  He squares himself with his hands on Louis’s hips, grinds down into his lap.  Oh, thinks Louis, gasping as their cocks align under the restrictive layers of fabric, that’s never going to get old.

Louis takes Harry’s face and kisses him thoroughly, tongue seeking warmth and comfort.  It gets dirty rather quickly, teeth and sloppy noises and many different, confusing kinds of need.  Louis stops for a moment, shoves Harry away as they both take a steadying breath.

“That one’s from me mum.”

Harry pinches his arse, muttering something about Louis being a sick bastard and “how is Jay, actually?  Has Daisy gotten over her cold?” while buffeting him about the ears with the foam cheesehead as Louis collapses in a loose-limbed pile of breathy laughter.  Soon the present is lying forgotten under the coffee table and Harry is removing Louis’s hard-on from his pants, Louis sucking in his breath as Harry takes him down.  He lets a soft sob escape, some weird effect of Harry’s personality and Harry’s body and this acute togetherness that won’t last because Harry’s probably going to give up on him soon (where did that thought come from?) and Harry’s warmth and his mouth, God, his mouth...

“Something wrong, babe?”

Louis doesn’t want to answer.  He wants to lose himself in the burn, rough stubble and gasping thrusts.  He wants to ignore the big issues, until…  Well, he doesn’t have definite plans.

“Talk later.  Come on, fuck me.”

*

It’s April 10th, and Harry misses the cut at the Masters.  Louis can try to make excuses for him, or he can tell Sky Sports viewers the truth, which is that Harry played 36 holes of bad golf.  The lights are bright.  The cameras are all focused on Louis.  He has to say something.

“The truth is…”  Louis fights with his voice as Liam stares sympathetically at him from across the desk.  He’s a bloody idiot for never once imagining that he’d be put in this position; he tries not to think about Gemma and Anne watching back in Cheshire.  “The truth is, Harry Styles is the same talented kid we all fell in love with last August.  He still has the raw… ability… but...”  It’s so hard to force the words out, even though Louis knows that it’s his job; he has to say them; it’s his job.  “His swing is inconsistent.  He’s emphasizing control, but sacrificing power -- relying on mechanics when he should be relying on feel.  He’s overthinking every putt.  To be honest, Liam, he’s not playing with the same fire.”

It’s the truth, but Louis doesn’t know why.  He feels like throwing up.

He doesn’t go to the locker room.  He doesn’t want to see the disappointment on Harry’s face, and he doesn’t want to hear the self-flagellation.  Golf is an individual sport, which makes it too easy for Harry to put himself down.  Louis doesn’t think he can take that right now, and Harry probably doesn’t want to see him anyway, after what he’s just said.

Louis Tomlinson: sorry babe, they’re making me stay to film some promos xxxxxxx

Chad Michael Murray: i’m fine.  catch up with you at the hotel later.

*

It’s July 18th, the night before the last round of the Open Championship, and Harry is three strokes off the lead.

“I hate this.”  Harry throws the newspaper down in disgust and rakes his hands through his hair, stalking from one side of the room to the other.  Louis can practically see the anxiety seeping from his pores.

“But it’s all good things,” Louis protests, consciously remaining chipper as he picks up the discarded headline.  It says STYLES SET FOR COMEBACK AT CARNOUSTIE in black, 30-point boldface letters.  “You’re doing so well, love.  Look, they quoted me saying that you’re my favorite to win.  Then I made a very rude comment about your lucky pink ball.  Ha.”

Harry flops onto the bed, intoning in a low, colorless voice: “Styles has shown flashes of brilliance since his miracle top-ten finish at the PGA Championship last summer, but he’s yet to string together 72 holes of solid golf in his first year on the pro tour.  Can he deliver on Sunday, or will he suffer yet another disappointing collapse?”

“Okay, well that wasn’t me,” says Louis, smudging his fingers with newsprint as he flips through the article.  “I’m pretty sure that was Peter Alliss.”

“Only my childhood hero, then.”

Louis sniffs.  “You have terrible taste in heroes, Styles.  Peter Alliss is a wanker and a pessimist.”

“He’s the Voice of British Golf.”

“How very dare you?  Dead to me!  He’s dead to me!”  Louis is being dramatic on purpose, because normally Harry would laugh at him.  He’s not laughing.

Louis is worried about Harry.  His game is improving with every round, but his mood is disintegrating.  He’s quicker, more precise, prowling over the shaggy, windswept course like a panther spoiling for a fight.  “Practically feral,” Louis had said earlier in the day, when Harry had genuinely -- no joke -- growled in triumph after sinking a long par putt.  He’s fired up again, but this time it’s coming from a dark place.  There’s a weird violence in his swing, something fierce.  He’s playing like a desperate, cornered animal.  Louis doesn’t like it.

“It’s unfair.  If I hadn’t done so well at the PGA, they’d all be calling me a ‘bright young talent’ right now, instead of expecting the fucking world.  It’s like they want me to fail.”

“No one wants you to fail, babe.”  Louis tosses the newspaper onto the floor of the hotel room and drapes himself over Harry.  Christ, his whole body is tense.

“They’re saying I’m going to choke.”

Louis spreads his palm on Harry’s back, feeling his breaths, making sure that he’s not going to hyperventilate.  He whispers into his ear.

“They expect a lot, yes.  But it’s because you showed them what you can do.”

He sees Harry relax just a touch, feels whatever is straining at Harry loosen its grip for a moment.  Louis doesn’t understand this.  He has no idea where the pressure coming from, and it almost frightens him.  He stares sadly at the purple hollows under Harry’s eyes, and can’t figure out how to ask.

Instead he continues to rub Harry’s back, rambling aimlessly about how proud he is, how Niall’s going to be there for him on the course tomorrow, how K. J. Choi and Bubba Watson are both chumps, and Harry is definitely going to come from behind and beat them, no problem, how Zayn and Perrie drove up yesterday, how Anne, Robin and Gemma are going to be following him every step of the way, how proud Louis is, how proud…

“I’m about 85% certain I had an orgasm while talking about your putting stroke today,” he murmurs.  “Kept going on and on about how tight it is.”  Harry chuckles, and Louis brightens.  “Okay, maybe not an orgasm, but definitely a semi…  Too bad they didn’t ask me about your bum,” he adds, after a thoughtful pause.

“What would you have said?”

“Literally the exact same thing.”  Louis’s nose is about an inch from Harry’s now, and they’re both fighting back smiles.

“British sports broadcasting at its finest,” Harry teases.

“I am basically a classic.”

Harry sighs, and rolls over onto his back.  The worry is still there.  Louis thought he had lifted it for a moment, but whatever dark thing has possession of Harry hasn’t gone anywhere, and it’s slowly strangling him.  Louis is frantic to stop it.

“It’s actually a terrible shame,” he says, resorting to his usual strategy, “that nobody ever asks me about your bum, as I have written sonnets about it.  And some raps.  I’ve got 99 problems and twelve of them are Harry Styles’s bum in golf slacks.”  Louis snickers to himself, watching Harry’s face closely for any sign of amusement.

Instead, Harry’s eyebrows knit together.  “It is a shame,” he agrees.  His voice is low, thoughtful.  Not teasing.

Louis isn’t sure what to say.

Harry takes a deep breath and sits up.  He stares down into his lap, fidgeting with a waxy paper bracelet that he hasn’t bothered to take off yet from some club he and Louis had gone to a couple weeks before, and says, carefully, “Tomorrow I’m going to give an interview after my round.”

“Yeah.  Hopefully not to Peter Alliss, that pruny old bastard.”

“Louis, I want to come out.  In the interview.”

“Oh.”

Louis tries to stifle the familiar sense of panic, but this time it’s very close to the surface.  Why Harry has decided to bring this up right now of all possible times is beyond him.  It’s almost midnight.  Harry’s 54 holes into a major tournament -- the only one played on British soil, by the way, which means the national press is breathing down his neck -- and he’s already falling apart emotionally.

“Babe,”  Louis places a tentative hand on Harry’s thigh, rubbing nervous circles.  “Do you think maybe we should get some rest?  Talk about this later?”

Harry thrusts Louis’s hand away and stands up.  He turns around and fixes Louis with a dark glare, a flash of anger in his green eyes along with months’ worth of curdled frustration.  “No, we’re not going to talk about this later.  You always want to talk later.  I want to talk now.”

“But…”

“I’m so stupid.”  Harry huffs a broken laugh, and runs his hand through his hair again.  “So stupid.”  

“Haz, don’t…”

Harry goes to the wall, starts to trace the fleur-de-lis pattern on the wallpaper with his thumbnail.  His fingers are shaking.  “This whole year I’ve been thinking to myself, if you do well enough…  if you make enough money, he’ll feel safer and maybe he’ll, like, want you enough to to think that you’re worth coming out for.  I’m so fucking in love with you, Louis.”  

The last thing comes out a weak whimper.  Louis can’t answer.  He feels paralyzed, like he’s had the wind knocked out of him, and the only thing he can do is stare at Harry with his mouth open.

“I’ve been busting my ass and trying to change my swing so that I can get better.  Like a fucking idiot, because all I can think about all the time is you.  Because I want so much with you, Louis.”  Harry’s voice cracks, and he turns away from the wall to slump against it, shoulders bowed.  He starts to pick at the frayed edges of his bracelet again, shredding it into tiny pieces.  “I want so much with you that I can’t have, until we come out.  And then, this week -- ”  he takes a shuddering breath “ -- I kind of thought, maybe if I win a major.  Maybe if I can win the British Open, maybe then.  God, it’s such nonsense.  Such Disney fairytale bullshit.”

“Harry.”  Louis’s voice sounds like it’s coming from someone else, like this is a scene in a movie that he’s watching.  (The scene where they break up, the back of his mind is screaming, but he won’t listen.  He won’t listen.)  His throat is dry.  He’s totally numb, can’t even feel himself breathing as he pushes himself up off the mattress and walks toward Harry with tentative steps.

“I’m asking you,” Harry says, voice wavering, “to please do the interview with me.  And to please come out with me.”  His eyes are brimming with tears and what Louis guesses is Harry’s last shred of guarded hope.

“I’m -- I’m sorry.”  Louis watches a wave of confusion wash over Harry’s face, like he’s started speaking in a foreign language, or suddenly decided to recite a recipe for steak and kidney pie.  Harry understands so much about him, but he never understands this.  Louis swallows thickly.  “I can’t tell you that I’m ready when I’m not.  And you winning or not winning isn’t going to change anything.”

Harry nods.  He licks his lips and nods again, stiffly, eyes darting into the corners of the room.  To the ceiling, and everywhere Louis isn’t.  “Okay,” he whispers.  “Okay.”

“I’m sorry.”

Harry turns around, absently grabbing his toothbrush from the vanity and stuffing it into the front pocket of his jeans.  “I’m going to…  Niall…” he mumbles, and a second later the door is shutting gently and Louis is alone.

*

Louis doesn’t remember falling asleep, but when he wakes up his cheeks are wet and his throat is scratchy.  He’s lying across the duvet, still fully dressed.  He cracks his eyes open.  Wan light is creeping through the blinds; his phone alarm is blasting Shaggy and oh right, everything hurts.  The numbness from the night before has worn off; he’s like a patient coming down from pain meds after major surgery because now his whole body is aching.  What part of me did they cut out?

Then he’s up and running to the bathroom, emptying the contents of his stomach.  He slides down and rests his forehead against the cool porcelain.

“Harry.”

He’s not there.  He’s with Niall.  He might not be coming back.

Louis spends a good five minutes sitting by the toilet, letting the vomit rot in his mouth before he vaguely remembers that he has to dress himself and go to work.  He forces himself to stand up and brush his teeth, staring at his reflection in the dim mirror.  There’s no Harry in the shower.  There’s no Harry still asleep in the other room.  There’s definitely no Harry flicking toothpaste at him and singing the Brush-a Brush-a Brush-a song from Grease.

Louis puts on the first clothes he pulls out of his suitcase, a mismatched jumper and chinos.  It doesn’t matter.  He doesn’t care.  He ends up wandering from the hotel out to the course and arriving at the Sky Sports broadcast booth twenty minutes early, because he’s forgotten to take a shower.

It’s only when he sees Liam that he snaps back to some semblance of himself.

“Mor-niiiing!” Liam calls, face hidden for the moment behind some sort of extravagantly large floral arrangement.  Then…  “Oh,” he says, setting down the vase of brightly colored Asiatic lilies on the (thankfully roomy and as yet un-sex-christened) sports desk.

“Didn’t sleep well,” Louis explains.

“Ah,” Liam nods, and then winks cheekily because Louis has trained him well.  “Stayed up too late giving Harry a good-luck rogering?”

Louis smiles wanly.  “Something like that.”

“I know you’re nervous, but he’s going to do fine.  He’s been playing like a man possessed.”  Liam awkwardly shoves the flowers in Louis’s direction.  “Erm, these are sort of a pre-congratulations.  From me and Sophia.  Because we know he can do it.”

“Thanks, man.”

They share a slightly awkward hug.  Louis tries his best to look excited and grateful for the flowers, but he knows Harry has no chance today.  Not after Louis rejected him the night before, chewed on his soul and spat it out and then stomped on it right in front of him, sent a wildebeest stampede over it like the worst boyfriend of all time and utter fucking hell, why hadn’t he just lied?  Why hadn’t he just fucking lied?  Just made Harry a teensy empty promise and let him believe in Disney fairytale bullshit for one more day?  It hadn’t even occurred to Louis -- he’s always been honest with Harry.  But God damn everything, it really would have been better to lie, this time.  At least Harry would still have a shot at a major title and Louis is so selfish, God.  He is so selfish.

“I’m a terrible boyfriend,” Louis murmurs quietly.  Was a terrible boyfriend, his brain autocorrects.

Lou sighs down at him, shaking her head when she sees the bags under his eyes and the state of his hair.  Louis sits back and lets her work her magic, barely able to make friendly chit-chat with Liam.  Interns and production assistants bustle around the desk, checking light levels and getting everything ready for the day.  Camera operators are shouting, priming their equipment.  Carnoustie is waking up.  Louis barely notices.  A cup of strong tea miraculously appears in his hands.

“Ready to turn it on?” Liam asks, with forty-five seconds to air.

“Turn what on?” Louis stares at him blankly and Christ, he is so out of it.

“The Tommo.  You know.  That thing where you’re on camera, and suddenly your voice gets louder and you become ten percent more of a bastard.”  Louis can tell that Liam is putting his reticent mood down to nerves, and he’s not wrong.  He’s trying to get Louis to smile, obviously worried about the broadcast.

Well, Louis shakes his head, blinking his eyes.  He is a professional.  (And that’s the whole point, isn’t it?  Louis wants to be a footie commentator.  That’s why he can’t…  Shit.)

“And we’re on in five, four, three...”  Louis watches the director silently count them in.  He pastes on a big, fake smile, because he can do this.  He will do this.

“Hello, England!  And welcome to the best morning of the year, Sunday morning at the Open Championship.  We’re set for a smashing finish here at Carnoustie Golf Links on the -- I won’t say lovely, not today in this wind, be fair…”  

Liam chuckles at him and shrugs.  “Hostile?”

“… we’re going to go with uninviting east coast of Scotland.  That’s diplomatic enough, isn’t it, Liam?  We’ve had a lovely week of weather leading up to this point in the competition, but today there’s going to be very little sun and a heck of a lot of wind.”

“I think that’s why the yanks call it ‘Car-nasty,’ Tommo.”  Liam is smiling, clearly relieved that Louis is on form.

“Can’t imagine why,” Louis shrugs, knowing that the viewers at home are currently being treated to a scenic shot of the angry North Sea thrashing Carnoustie’s coastline.

“Now, let’s talk leaderboard.  K.J. Choi is sitting at three under par.  Bubba Watson just behind at two under.  Your favorite Harry Styles…”  Louis can’t help it, he flinches when Liam says his name, and Liam hesitates for a split second.

Louis collects himself and smiles broadly.  “Most wonderful human, Harry Styles.  I’m aware of him.  Do go on.”

Liam laughs.  “Britain’s hope Harry Styles is even on the tournament, with the rest of the field nipping at his heels.  Now, I think that’s a testament to the difficulty of this course, don’t you?  Last year at Royal Liverpool we were seeing scores of seven, eight under.”

“Absolutely,” Louis nods, wondering how many more times he can endure hearing Harry’s name over the course of the broadcast.  Saying Harry’s name.  And he isn’t even on the monitor yet.  “Carnoustie is definitely the most difficult course in the Open’s rotation; I don't think you’d be able to drum up much controversy on that point.  Memories of the notorious 1999 Open Championship still loom large -- remember?  Paul Lawrie shot a whopping six over par and went on to win in a three-way playoff with Justin Leonard and Jean van de Velde.”

“That was amazing, wasn’t it?” Liam muses.  “I was only six years old, but I clearly remember sitting on my father’s lap watching Jean van de Velde triple-bogey 18.  What a meltdown.”

“Classic Carnoustie drama.”

“Think we’ve got more of the same in store for us today, Tommo?”

“Well,” Louis answers, ignoring the sick swoop in his stomach at the thought of Harry’s distraught face as he’d stumbled out of their hotel room the night before, “I don’t know, Payno, I guess we’ll all just have to wait and see…”  Louis makes a show of twiddling his thumbs, aiming a fat wink at the camera because why not.  He’ll use every trick in the book to distract himself from the guilt that’s clawing desperately at his insides.  “More from Carnoustie, after this short break.”

“There, that wasn’t so bad, was it?” says Liam, pleasantly.  He leans over to rub Louis’s forearm.  “You must be super nervous, but I’m sure everything’s going to turn out brilliant.  I’m really looking forward to seeing Harry play.”

If Louis hadn’t already thrown up his dinner from the night before, he would be doing so now.  He wonders if he should eat something… probably bad for a commentator to faint on camera, but even the thought of food makes him come over nauseous.  He sips his tea in silence.

“And we’re back…”

Louis manages to make it through Twitter questions without shuddering every time Harry’s name comes up.  Everyone and their mother wants to know if he thinks Harry will choke, and he manages to remain neutral on the subject.  Lots of those “on the one hand… but on the other hand” sort of answers he’s always despised, claiming that only clueless sportscasters resort to them.  But he can’t let on he thinks Harry’s got no chance.  Besides being a bit of a giveaway, it feels like a betrayal.

A further betrayal.

“Harry’s got the goods,” he says.  That much is true.  “It remains to be seen whether or not he can cash them in.”

Liam looks at him a bit oddly after that, but shrugs it off, and they move on with the broadcast.  The early pairs get out on the links, and immediately struggle in the high wind.  Louis throws himself into his commentary, grateful for the few hours of respite before he’ll be forced to talk about Harry again.

Ten o’clock.  Eleven o’clock.  Zayn and Perrie are in the crowd somewhere.  Harry’s family must be eating lunch, waiting for Harry to start his warm up.

Louis isn’t prepared for the first time he sees him.  He’s walking out of the clubhouse, white turtleneck layered under a white polo, and Louis’s heart stops because he looks like an angel.

A hint of last night is still on Harry’s face, Louis can see it.  But to most people he will look focused.  Confident.  Louis wonders if he’ll ever start breathing again.

There’s a crowd by the practice green.  Louis catches sight of Gemma in his monitor.  She’s brought a vuvuzela, obviously, because she shares weirdo genes with Harry, and is blowing it right in his ear as he casually sinks a 10-footer.  For a moment, hope blooms in Louis’s chest.

Then it’s time to get back to the players on the course, and Louis’s delicate hope-blossom is crushed out almost immediately because Carnoustie isn’t a practice green.  It’s a fucking horror show, honestly.  It’s the house from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  No Sunday at a major is ever easy, but this year Scotland is intent upon making the proceedings as difficult as possible for the pros.  With every hole, the field is falling further and further behind the three players clustered at the top, which thankfully provides a bit of a buffer for Harry.  Louis is concerned that the press will rip him apart if he doesn’t at least finish in the top five.

Finally it’s 2 p.m., and the second-to-last pair is set to tee off.  Harry watches Hideki Matsuyama drive his ball onto the right side of the fairway.  It’s a decent lie, but Hideki will have a blind second shot, over a mound and a deep bunker to the right of the sunken green.  C’mon Haz, Louis thinks.  Stay left.  You’ll be able to see what you’re aiming at from there.  Harry takes his club from Niall with a subtle good-luck fist bump and steps up to the tee.

Everyone is silent as the course announcer’s voice carries over the wind.  “On the tee from Great Britain…  Harry Styles.”

Louis’s anxiety is like a harpoon in his chest.  He’s breathing pain with each passing second, can barely bring himself to watch as Harry sweeps his driver up behind his head in a beautiful arc.

It’s not until Liam says, “Lovely shot” and Louis hears the crowd clapping that he realizes Harry has hit a booming drive that’s hugged the left side of the fairway perfectly.  He breathes out a soft little sigh, and mentally steels himself for the gauntlet of emotional turmoil he’s about to run.  The broadcast switches feeds to Vijah Singh out on 14, but Louis’s brain is screaming HarryHarryHarry.  His mouth is dry.  His hands are clammy.

Louis wants him to fucking win.

Harry birdies the first hole.  He birdies the second hole.  He’s already tied for the lead by the time he makes par on 4, thanks to Bubba and K. J. both falling into near-immediate difficulties.  Hideki is nowhere.  Liam is babbling excitedly in his ear, and Louis is trying very hard not to cry as he watches the man he’s in love with play the type of once-in-a-lifetime golf everybody knew he was capable of.  Gone is the cerebral element that had been weighing down Harry’s game.  He’s all touch, burning with a dark fire, stubborn look on his face as he marches up the path to the next tee.

“We’re live at Carnoustie, where Harry Styles is mounting an…”  Louis’s voice almost breaks.  He takes a second to breathe, tears pricking at his eyes.  “... an exquisite comeback.”  Normally he would make a joke or slip a cheeky double entendre into his patter, but Louis can’t do that now.  He swallows around the lump in his throat as Harry takes his tee shot on 5 with a fairway wood.  It’s another stunner, right down the middle of the fairway, landing just twenty yards in front of the slender length of Jockie’s Burn that cuts the hole in half.

“It’s almost unheard of for a single player to be having a day like this when the rest of the field is faring so poorly,” Liam observes, and Louis can only nod.  His head is spinning; every synapse he possesses is crackling with energy.  He can win.  He can do it.  My brilliant boy.  “He’s going to have to think hard about his distance, here,” Liam continues, hunching over to stare at Harry in the monitor.  “Rely on his caddy to make the right club selection.”

“That’s right,” says Louis, finally trusting himself to speak.  “That’s a very long green up there, and it functions a bit like a split-level house.  You don’t want to land your ball (pink or otherwise) upstairs when the hole location is downstairs.”

Harry looks confident and comfortable as the wind flaps the sleeves of his shirt.  He sizes up his approach shot, eyes narrowed against the oncoming gale.  He sets his jaw and takes a few practice swings, riffling the grass.  Niall steps back, and Harry squares himself to his ball.  Every shot is like a punch to Louis’s gut, an explosion of fear and anticipation when Harry’s club head strikes the ball, followed by three or four seconds of stomach-churning freefall as Louis watches the tiny pink object fly through the air.  The drop, the roll…

And in this case, the miraculous hole-out.

“What green?” Liam scoffs, as the crowd erupts into absolute pandemonium.  Louis can’t make out Gemma or Anne in the chaos on the side of the fairway, but he knows they’re screaming.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Louis says, unaccustomed gravity weighting his voice.  “Harry Styles has just eagled a par-4 to take the outright lead here at the 2015 Open Championship.”  He lets the cheering spectators tell the rest of the story.

The broadcast doesn’t track Hideki’s second shot, instead showing Harry as he gives Niall a hug and a slap on the back, ripping away the velcro on his glove and readjusting it.  He shakes his head, pulls his Titleist cap up and then down again on his forehead.  He looks a little dazed as he walks up to the green.

“He’s just hit a shot for the ages,” Liam says.

Louis is in awe as he watches Harry double check that his ball is actually in the hole, before tossing it into the air and kissing it in his now familiar gesture of triumph.  There’s a hint of a smile playing on his face -- the first time all day he’s shown any positive emotion.  Louis wants to die.  He wants to die and shout and do a dance in the middle of the green.  He is so proud that it manifests as physical pain, in his chest and his fingers and his buzzing mind and God, he thinks he might burst open.

“Harry Styles is doing it,” he declares, trying like hell not to break down.  “He’s dominating this course.  He’s playing like a demon.”

The momentum from Harry’s eagle carries him through the rest of the front nine.  No one’s watching anybody else, it seems.  There are five thousand people crowding around Harry on the 10th tee, and they move like a clot through the course.  K. J. Choi is now four shots behind Harry, Bubba Watson three.

“Styles has totally reversed his fortunes here today,” Liam intones, in his best serious announcer voice.  Louis has just started to realize that snippets of their commentary are probably going to be replayed over and over again for years if Harry can pull this off, and the thought is almost too much for him to handle.  So he concentrates on Harry.

He concentrates on Harry’s long, straight nose.  The curly ends of his hair peeking out from under the brim of his cap.  The set of his legs and the visible strength in his arms as he brings his driver back.  The microexpressions on his face as he watches his tee shot drop onto the fairway.

“Do you know why this hole is called South America?” asks Louis.  It’s a genuine question, one that happens to float through his mind because it’s the sort of thing he thinks Harry would care about.

“I do, actually,” Liam nods.  “Legend has it a local caddy got a bit tiddly one night and announced that he was leaving Scotland and moving to South America.  He waved a final goodbye to all his friends, burst through the doors of the clubhouse and only made it to this hole before he curled up in a bunker and slept off the whiskey.  So there you go.  South America.”

Louis smiles.  Definitely the sort of story Harry would want to hear.  And for the first time, he allows himself to really hope that he’ll be telling it to Harry later, because they’re going to be okay.  Whatever this is that they’re going through at the moment, they’ll pull through.  They are Louis and Harry.  Ultimately, they’re going to be okay.

“I can’t wait to see what my man-crush Harry Styles is going to do with the rest of this course.”

Harry attacks the back nine, showing no break in his form even as Choi and Watson continue to lag.  Louis’s spirits rise hole by hole.  The crowd goes from deathly quiet to absolutely, ear-splittingly mad with every stroke.  It’s going to happen.  Harry is two strokes ahead with four holes to go.  Three strokes ahead with two holes to go.  He pars 17, easily carrying the cluster of three bunkers to the right of the green on his approach and completing an elegant two-putt.

Now only the eighteenth hole stands between Harry and the Claret Jug.  Louis notes with a thrill that the engraver is already standing by, in keeping with long tradition.  He and Liam attempt the usual banter about which name will be etched into the gleaming silver, but everyone knows.  It’s going to be Harry Styles.

He stands at the tee, a look of utter concentration on his face.  Louis is praying silently, not even in words, just feeling as hard as he can.  Harry brings his driver back one more time.  Louis closes his eyes.

It doesn’t help.  He can hear the sick sound of a poorly hit shot.

“Hooked it,” Liam murmurs.  Louis’s breath catches in his throat.  He opens his eyes just in time to see Harry’s lucky pink ball -- the one he’s used on every single hole this weekend -- curve from right to left and drop with a wet plop into the Barry Burn.

The crowd is hushed.  Louis is panicking.  “He had a three stroke buffer coming in,” he says, a desperate edge to his voice, because all he can think is van de Velde.  Oh God, van de Velde.  “Harry will have to take a one shot penalty for landing in the hazard, but he’s still perfectly capable of bogeying or even parring this hole.  Choi and Watson have both parred 17; they’d be hard pressed to make up two whole strokes.”

“As long as Harry doesn’t make another mistake,” Liam says.  “Remember, that’s his lucky ball gone.”

Louis feels the fine hair on the back of his neck prickle in annoyance.  Yes, Liam, I fucking remember.  He fights to control his expression.

The camera is maintaining a tight shot on Harry’s face as he marches down to the burn that snakes up the left side of the hole.  He’s scanning the water for his ball.  Please don’t take your socks off, Louis begs silently.

A light rain begins to fall.  The crowd is hushed, nervous.  The course officials are holding Choi and Watson’s tee shots until Harry makes his drop and clears the fairway.

“We mentioned the 1999 Open earlier in our broadcast,” Liam says, cutting through the awkward silence.  “I didn’t expect we’d get a replay.”

Louis almost snaps at him, but instead comments on the drop rules for lateral water hazards, making sure the viewers at home understand what they’re seeing.  “He’s being very careful, measuring two club lengths from where his ball crossed the hazard.  Remember, this drop carries a one stroke penalty.  That means the next shot will be his third on this par-4.”

Harry’s rummaging around in his bag for another ball now, his expression unreadable.  Louis thinks he sees a flash of paper in his hand for a second.

“His greatest hope of winning depends on carrying the green -- which won’t be simple -- and then making either a one-putt for par, or two putts for a bogey.  This is some stoppage time drama, folks.  Carnoustie isn’t in the habit of giving away championships.”

They don’t cut to commercial at the usual time, electing instead to stay with the unfolding crisis.  Harry drops his new Titleist unceremoniously, engaging in an animated discussion with Niall before calling for one of his long irons.

“He won’t have much control with that club,” Liam mutters.  His shoulders are tense, eyes glued to the monitor as Harry finally steps up to take the shot.

“Let’s just wait and see,” Louis answers.

Harry’s swing is shaky, but he hits a booming approach.  Louis can see his nerves, white ball wavering in the air as the world holds its breath.  It comes to rest on the far side of the green, nestled in the fringe near the grandstands.

“That’s got to be forty, forty-five feet.  Boy…”  Liam is shaking his head now.  He catches Louis’s eye, but there’s nothing he can possibly express that will make this better.

Now it’s the tense wait as Harry walks up the ridge toward the cameras and the murmuring crowd.  He nods at Hideki to go ahead and hole out, paying attention to the way his ball runs over the tricky contours of the green.

“Getting a free read here, at least,” says Louis.  “Matsuyama was right in his line.”

“For the last eight feet,” Liam adds, darkly.

Louis expects Harry to take a long time.  He expects him to squat behind his ball and then stand to the side for a minute or so, discussing the putt with Niall before squatting again.

But Harry just steps up to the putt.  Louis is watching him out of the front of the broadcast booth now, forty or so yards distant.  What is he doing?

Louis holds his breath.  Just as Harry brings his putter back to stroke the ball, it slips out, like a prayer.  “Come on, sweetheart.”

Harry makes good contact, the ball is rolling, and it takes a few moments for Louis to realize that everyone in the booth is staring at him.  His mic has picked up what he said, and the fervent love in his voice was more than plain.  The ball is rolling.  All of Louis’s co-workers from Liam down to the lowliest intern are in mid-gasp.

The ball is rolling.

“Get in.”

It gets in.

There is a moment of perfect calm, and then everything happens at once.  The crowd explodes in a frenzy of cheering, Gemma’s vuvuzela barely audible over the uproar.  Louis stutters a quick, “I -- I’ve got to…” before jumping up from the Sky Sports desk and racing toward the back of the broadcast booth, desperate to get to the green below.  To get to Harry.  He sees movement out of the corner of his eye -- Liam tackling a production assistant who was trying to rush after him and prevent him from reaching the door.  Louis scrambles down the stairs, not bothering to do anything about his wireless mic pack, nothing on his mind but finding Harry.  He flashes his press pass, shoving people out of the way, vaguely aware of a camera following him.

He can’t keep the grin off his face.  Finally the last line of spectators parts in front of him, and he slips under the thin security rope and onto the green.  He’s walking toward Harry, pace quickening into a jog.  Niall sees him first, taps Harry on the shoulder and tells him to turn around a split second before Louis jumps into his arms, crashing their mouths together.

It’s a messy kiss, and salty from the tears running down Louis’s cheeks.  Both their cheeks.

“Babe?” Harry asks, searching look on his face like he can’t quite believe what he’s seeing.  Louis grins at him, his best grin, the one that crinkles the corners of his eyes.

“I love you so much.”

“I love you, too.  Oh my god.”

They stare at each other like they’re never going to be able to tear their eyes away.  People are yelling at them, cameras are being shoved in their faces.  Fuck, Bubba and K. J. still have to take their second shots.  Harry just snakes his hands under Louis’s bum, hoisting him into the air and carrying him off the green as Louis wraps his legs tightly around Harry’s waist.

“You just kissed me,” Harry says.

Louis can’t help tilting his head back to laugh, overcome with love.  “Very shrewd observation, Styles.”

“I made that putt, and then you kissed me.”

Louis snuggles into Harry’s neck, and he’s never going to let him go, never never.  “Yes I did.  Are you going to put me in your pocket now?” he asks.

Harry squeezes him tighter.  “Don’t think you’d fit.”

“Rude.”  

Louis starts to wiggle, fake-affronted by Harry’s comment, but he’s interrupted.  “I’d like to keep you, though, if you don’t mind.”

“Yes, please.”

Two minutes later Bubba Watson takes the final shot of the Open Championship, and Harry has officially won his first major.  Louis stands proudly at his side as his name is engraved on the Claret Jug, briefly surrendering him to Anne, Robin and Gemma for a family hug before Harry holds his trophy aloft to the cheering crowd.  Louis spots Zayn and Perrie up in the grandstands (Perrie’s purple hair proving very helpful) and blows them a kiss.

By a hastily and enthusiastically reached consensus among the news outlets present, Louis is selected to do Harry’s first post-tournament interview.  CBS and ESPN are setting up cameras around them, as well as Sky Sports.  The Golf Channel.  The BBC.  Everyone wants to carry it.  When they’re counted in, Harry and Louis are both still giddy and breathless.

“Hello, England,” Louis begins, before glancing around to the other cameras and hastily adding, “and hello, world.  I don’t know if you caught the last few minutes of this tournament, or if you’re just tuning in, but I’m definitely going to be fired tomorrow.  I’m probably fired already.”  The crowd laughs, and Louis breaks into a manic grin.  “But what’s important is that I’m here live with your newly-minted Open Champion, Harry Edward Styles, and I’ve never been this proud.”  He pauses, and turns to look up at his boyfriend.  “I could not be more proud of you, Harry.”

More tears well up in Harry’s eyes, and as he wipes them away, Louis’s breath hitches.  The whole world is watching them, and he suddenly has no idea what to say.

“So, um.  You didn’t have your lucky ball.”

Harry coughs wetly, and laughs through clear emotion.  “I had you.”

Louis wants to touch Harry so badly.  He puts a hand on his forearm, slides it down until their fingers tangle together.  Then he clears his throat, and manages to corral his voice into something resembling a professional tone.

“And what did it feel like, sinking that final putt to win the tournament?”

Harry tilts his head, look of thoughtful consideration on his face.  He’s so wonderful, really, always so thoughtful when answering questions.  He pauses for a moment, then nods.

“It felt like taking a good poop.”

“Harry.”

*

Later, when Louis has dragged Harry away from the press and the fans and all the commotion, spread him out on the soft mattress of their hotel room and watched him come apart, panting, in his arms, he whispers, “I want so much with you.  Like you said yesterday.”

Harry rumbles his approval.  He grazes a contented hand through Louis’s hair, thumb brushing over his cheekbones with featherlight touches.

“Glad.”

“Me, too.”

Louis looks down for a moment at the creases in the rumpled sheet, and bites his lip.  “Harry?” he asks.

“I’m here.”  It’s an odd response, but it feels honest.  Harry shifts closer, running his lips softly up Louis’s neck.

“How did you know you could do it?  After you lost your lucky ball.”  Louis closes his eyes, aching under the touch and taste of Harry’s lips.  “I mean that approach shot and that putt, those aren’t the sort of things you do without fully believing that you can do them.”

Harry shrugs.  “When I lost my ball, I found something else.”

“What?”  Louis stares at him with wide blue eyes.  Harry plants a kiss on his forehead and gets out of bed, lamplight glowing on pale skin.  He steps over to his golf bag and pulls something out of the top zippered pocket.  A piece of paper.  Harry flops back down on the mattress and hands it to Louis.  He unfolds it and sees his own handwriting staring back at him.

No matter what happens, you’re my winner.

“Oh.”

“I guess I just remembered to have faith in us,” Harry says, quietly.  “I knew no matter what, we’d be okay.”

And it is okay.  It’s going to be okay.

*

It’s November 23rd, and Louis and Harry are sitting down with Barbara Walters.  Harry’s dramatic win at the British Open and Louis’s on-air reaction had been the sports story of the year; they’d spent months at the center of a whirling storm of publicity, faces splashed across the covers of tabloids and celebrity news websites.  They’d turned down most of the interviewers who wanted to talk primarily about them as a couple and the experience of coming out, preferring to keep Harry’s blossoming career front and center.

But for Barbara, they’d fly to New York and sit next to each other on an uncomfortable couch as she replays the Carnoustie footage.

“You know, I haven’t actually seen this,” Louis muses.

“Never?”  Barbara’s surprised.

“You lived it, babe,” says Harry, squeezing Louis’s thigh and smiling over at him fondly.

He watches as Harry hits his approach shot.  The footage cuts to a few moments before Harry’s putt, and Louis hears himself whisper into the mic.  The emotion in his voice overwhelms him; he looks away.  But then he can’t help it, he has to turn back to Harry.

Their kiss.  (“Sloppy technique,” Harry comments, and Louis pinches him.)  Harry hefting the Claret Jug.  A clip from their post-tournament interview.

“But you weren’t fired,” Barbara interjects.

“No.”  Louis smiles, raising his eyebrows as though he’s still surprised about that.  “In fact, Sky is sending me to all the PGA tournaments next year, so my role’s actually being expanded.  As long as I promise not to sexually assault any more athletes.”

“Of course,” Barbara chuckles.  “And Harry, just a month later you tied Steve Stricker for second place in your return trip to the PGA Championship, a very strong showing.”

Harry nods, clearly pleased with himself.  “Not bad, not bad.”

“It must have been difficult to focus, with all the controversy and attention centered on you two after you came out.”

Louis clears his throat and leans forward, media-trained and prepared to take the more difficult questions.  His hand never leaves Harry’s knee as he says, “It wasn’t easy.  There was a lot of negative press for a while, a lot of criticism.  Anonymous people on the internet calling us rude names, that sort of thing.  But we came through it relatively unscathed.”

“There was an equal amount of love,” Harry says, quietly.  “And support.”

Louis nods.  He turns to gaze into Harry’s eyes.  He thinks he’ll never get tired of what he finds there.

“And do you want to get married, and have children?”