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Before We Ever Wrote a Song

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Wilmington, North Carolina. September 2005.

Chad Michael Murray is in the coffee shop.

Harry knows as soon as Chad walks in the door because he hears Louis' sharp intake of breath and a clatter to the floor. Out of the corner of his eye, Harry sees Louis fiddle with his hair, fingers running through his soft brown fringe as he tries to fix it, the mop he had just been using now lies uselessly at his feet.  

Moments later, Harry feels Louis' heat right by his side, pressing close as he tries to get in front of the register. 

"Chad!" Louis calls once his hair has been sufficiently settled and he has hip checked Harry to the side. 

"Hey, Louis," Chad greets. "How's it going, man?"

“Great!” Louis chirps, batting his long eyelashes. “Much better now that you’re here. You know you’re my favorite customer.”

Chad throws back his head and laughs, and Harry can’t help but scowl. Louis chuckles quietly in response, and Harry’s scowl deepens.

“I’m only your favorite because I’m the only person whose order you remember,” Chad teases.

“I remember the orders of all the cute boys,” Louis replies easily, flicking his fringe out of his eyes.

Harry hardly hears Chad's reply, too busy turning away from the register so that he doesn't have to watch Louis charm the famous actor. And anyways, Harry’s clearly not needed. The shop isn’t that busy, so no one will notice if he isn’t at the front. There are much more important things to do – like restocking the paper napkin holders. Yes, that’s much more important. 

With only a small pout on his lips, Harry heads into the supply closet. It's dark in the closet, and Harry can't be bothered to turn on the light. Maybe he'll just stand here until Chad leaves. It's not like Louis needs his help anyways – he always insists on making Chad's drink himself. 

A sharp burst of laughter breaks through the closed door, Louis' laugh high and soft, sparkling and delighted. 

Harry sighs, leaning his forehead against a stack of boxes. 

Harry’s been working at Wilmington Studios Coffeehouse for six months now, and it's been one of the coolest experiences of his young life. Not every seventeen year old works on the lot of one of the country's biggest film studios, serving coffee to some of Hollywood's most popular stars. He’s met so many interesting people, from A-list celebrities to the crewmen and women who make all the magic happen. And to top it off, the studios are only a short drive to the beach, so whenever Harry doesn't have to work late, he spends his afternoons relaxing by the water, turning his pasty skin into a charming, burned hue. 

So yeah, Harry loves his job. 

It's just that hiding in the supply closet is starting to become the norm. It's not Harry's fault; it's not that Harry wants to spend his shift hidden in the dank cupboard where it smells too strongly of stale coffee beans.

Harry just can't be around Louis when he's flirting outrageously with Chad Michael Murray. So what if he's the star of one of the country's most popular shows? Harry's seen an episode or two and it's not that great. Sure, the drama is exciting and all the actors are attractive and it’s shot in his hometown, but still. Not that great. Certainly not great enough for Louis to fall over himself every time Chad enters the coffee shop. 

Harry doesn’t want to watch the over-the-top spectacle, which is why he usually retreats.

And besides, it hurts to see the boy he’s in love with flirting with someone else.

Harry met Louis during his first week of work, and was instantly charmed by him. It was impossible not to fall into Louis’ orbit with his high pitched voice, witty jokes, soft wrists, and crinkle eyed smile. Louis always made Harry laugh even during the dullest shifts, keeping him entertained with jokes or ridiculous backstories about various customers.

Harry always worked with Louis on Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings, and he quickly learned to look forward to those shifts. He would always fix his unruly curls extra carefully those days and make sure he smelled nice before going into work. Anything to make Louis notice him.

Because as soon as Harry met him, he was struck by how impossibly cool Louis was. Louis had moved to the States for college (or uni, as Louis always insists on calling it despite Harry’s eye rolls), but it means that he’s British and he has the most gorgeous accent that always makes Harry weak at the knees when Louis calls him “love” or “babe.” Also, Louis is older and in his second year at UNC Wilmington and he’s studying drama and he plays intramural soccer (“It’s football,” Louis always adamantly argues. “The rest of the world calls it football. What the fuck even is soccer?”), which are all the coolest things Harry can think of.

Harry and Louis became fast friends. Louis always laughs fondly at Harry’s bad puns, and Harry is always a willing audience and/or accomplice to Louis’ many pranks on the other baristas or rude customers. Harry may follow Louis around a bit like a lost puppy, but Louis must be a dog lover.

Every time Louis as much as looks Harry’s way, Harry can feel his heart swell up in his chest so that he can hardly breathe.

So of course Harry fell in love with Louis. It would be impossible not to. In fact, Harry is unsure how people could ever meet Louis and not fall in love with him. Harry fell fast and easy in between one of Louis’ jokes about the names of the new featured coffee blend and the kindness and enthusiasm he always shows to kids whenever they come on tours of the set.

Harry loves Louis easily as breathing, so it hurts when Harry sees Louis flirting so outrageously with someone else.

It hurts because Harry wants Louis to batting his eyelashes at him, fixing his fringe with delicate fingers for him. It hurts because Harry wants Louis to laugh at his jokes in that bright and flirtatious way that he does whenever he’s talking to Chad. It hurts because no matter what Harry and Louis are doing beforehand, whether they’re making drinks for other customers or seeing who can throw the most packs of sugar into a coffee cup on the other side of the counter, as soon as Chad walks through the door, all of Louis’ attention goes straight from Harry to Chad Michael Murray.

When Louis pays attention to Harry, Harry feels like he’s basking in the sun. He is elated and special, his mood as bright as Louis’ cheeky grins and high-pitched laughter. But when Louis switches all his attention to Chad instead, Harry feels as if he was jerked from the middle of a warm summer’s day to a freezing winter’s night. He is left alone without sunlight when Louis chooses to shine his rays on someone else.

So Harry would really just rather stay in the supply closet. The darkness isn’t so bad when it’s self-imposed.

But the darkness is suddenly taken away from him as the door is yanked open, light spilling inside and Louis crying out, “Hazza!” Harry jumps in surprise, and Louis fixes him with a funny expression, cocking his head to the side. “What are you doing in the supply closet in the dark?”

“Was gonna refill the paper napkin holders,” Harry mumbles, shuffling his feet as he grabs the box of paper napkins.

“Okay,” Louis drags out the first syllable in clear disbelief. “I was just going to grab some of the sugar packs as well. We’re running low.” Louis steps into the closet also, and that’s too much for Harry. He can’t be expected to stay in a tight, dark, crowded space with Louis and not lose his mind.

Harry shoves his way out, slightly more aggressively than necessary, with Louis hot on his heels.

“What’s gotten into you?” Louis asks, voice curious yet cautious as they approach the front counter. Harry is pleased to see that Chad is gone. He must have taken his coffee and left. Good. “You always seem to get into a strop whenever Chad comes around.”

Harry shrugs in response, lest he make a rude comment about how surprised he is that Louis even has time to notice his mood when Chad is around. Instead, he stalks over to the tray of paper napkins and starts to restock. “Just don’t get what’s so great about him,” Harry grumbles petulantly, purposefully not looking over at Louis as he appears at Harry’s side, refilling the sugar bowl. “Don’t get why everyone has to fall over him all the time. One Tree Hill isn’t even that good of a show.”

Louis gasps in horror, and Harry looks up at him, lips still pursed in a pout. A delicate hand is across Louis’ heart, his lips parted in shock. “Not that great of a show?!” Louis exclaims dramatically. “Harry – surely we can’t be talking about the same thing! Did you not see this past season?”

Harry makes a noncommittal noise and continues to aggressively refill the paper napkin holder.

“The season finale was so good!” Louis continues. “I’ve been dying to know what happens! It ended with Dan – that’s Chad’s character Lucas’ dad – unconscious in a burning building, and then Lucas kissed Brooke and confessed feelings for her, but then she leaves without saying anything back!” Louis gives Harry a pained look, as if the wait for the new season is actual agony for him. But then Louis flicks his fringe out of his eyes, and a satisfied smirk appears on his pink lips. “Chad’s been teasing me about the new season, and I’m just so excited. I think it’s going to be really good.”

“Surprised he has time to film anything,” Harry huffs, “since he always seems to be in here instead of on set.”

Louis snorts, and Harry chances another glance at him. Louis smiles smugly as he says, “Well, my barista charm is inescapable.”

Harry looks away, unable to help the scowl forming on his lips. He is all too aware of how inescapable Louis’ charm is, but he would very much like Chad Michael Murray to escape so that Harry is the only one trapped.

“Oh, come on, Hazza,” Louis suddenly exclaims, dropping the sugar packs. Harry turns to Louis, surprised, just as Louis’ fingers poke at either side of Harry’s mouth, pulling his lips into a smile. “What’s got you so glum? Come on, where’s that world famous dimple?” Louis taps at Harry’s cheek a couple of times. “I’m not going to leave you alone until you give me a smile.” He raises an eyebrow at Harry expectantly. “You know half the people on this lot only buy coffee so that they can see your sunny smile.” Tap, tap, tap against his dimple. “Please, Hazza?”

With Louis’ wide, hopeful eyes watching him, and the insistent tapping at his cheek, Harry is unable to help the genuine smile that breaks across his face. He ducks his head bashfully, almost as if to hide the dimple now etched into his cheek, but of course Louis notices.

“A-ha! There it is!” Louis exclaims triumphantly. “There’s the Harry we all know and love!” He pokes his finger into Harry’s dimple, Louis grinning back just as brightly. “Now, no more being grumpy today,” Louis declares, but then he pauses, a thoughtful expression on his face. “Or, if you’re going to be grumpy, you have to tell me why so that I can go take out whoever made you that way.” Louis’ expression turns devilish, teasing. “I make an excellent hitman.”

Harry snorts, wondering if Louis really would take out Chad Michael Murray for him. The possibility is very tempting.

But then the bell chimes at the front door, and Harry and Louis have to dash back behind the counter so that they can actually do their jobs.   

It’s not until they’re finishing up their shift two hours later, tugging off their aprons and fetching their keys from the backroom, that Louis brings the subject up again.

“If you’ve never actually watched the show, you’re always welcome to come over and watch it with me,” Louis suggests.

“What?” Harry freezes, eyes wide and mouth agape. Surely Louis didn’t just invite him over to hang out? Harry’s heart begins hammering in his chest, his hands shaking slightly as he puts his car keys in his pocket as he struggles to remain cool.

Louis shrugs. “My housemates and I have the boxsets, and I’m always up for a One Tree Hill marathon.” He glances over at Harry, and his expression is playful. “And besides, I refuse to be friends with anyone who doesn’t appreciate the greatness that is One Tree Hill. So, I’m afraid you’re obligated to join me, if you want to continue to be my friend.”

Harry huffs a laugh, hoping Louis doesn’t see the blush forming high on his cheeks. He can feel himself grinning stupidly, having to look at the ground so as to not blind Louis with the force of his smile. “Well, I suppose I have to accept then.” He glances up at Louis, smiling even wider when he sees how pleased Louis looks. “But only because of friendship obligation.”

Louis barks a laugh, covering his mouth delicately with the back of his hand. Louis’ eyes crinkle at the corners, and Harry feels so light he’s surprised he’s not flying. “I appreciate your sacrifice.”

As they walk to their cars, they make plans for Friday night. It’s only Wednesday, and Harry simultaneously feels like that’s much too far away and also not enough time to mentally and emotionally prepare at all. An evening alone with Louis, outside of work, hanging out just the two of them. Harry doesn’t even care that they’ll be watching the TV show starring his arch nemesis; instead, he feels like he could sing.

As Louis calls farewell and with a promise to see him on Friday, Harry almost doesn’t hate Chad Michael Murray. In fact, Harry may even owe him one.

 

“Cookies!” Louis exclaims in lieu of a greeting when Harry arrives at Louis’ house on Friday evening.

Louis lives in a small house right on the edges of UNC Wilmington’s campus, the neighborhood full of college students. It was only a ten minute drive from Harry’s house, but he feels like he’s in a whole new world. Specifically, Louis’ world.

“Yeah,” Harry says as Louis takes the cookies from him. “I baked them myself. Double chocolate chunk.”

“My favorite!” Louis exclaims, ushering him inside.

Harry grins, following Louis through the front door. “I know. I always see you stealing bits off the ones in the display case.”

“Oi!” Louis exclaims in mock offense. “Someone needs to eat the burnt edges, or else we’d never sell them. Really, I’m just doing my duty as barista.”

Harry honks a laugh, Louis smiling right back at him.

“Well, come in, come in,” Louis says, leading Harry down the hall into the living room. “You need a proper tour, since it’s your first time here and all.”

The living room is about what Harry would expect from a college student, but it’s still comfortable and homey. The furniture is mismatched and sparse and looks well worn. A string of lights twinkle above the window, and there are posters for bands and British soccer teams on the walls. A TV is in the corner with a stack of DVDs next to it, two sofas and an easy chair framing the room.

“I like it,” Harry declares, and Louis grins in response.

“Good,” Louis’ tone is smug.

Louis leads him through the rest of the house. The small, semi-clean kitchen connects to the living room, so Louis places the cookies on the counter before leading Harry upstairs.

Harry’s heart flips and his stomach churns as he tries not to imagine them in slightly different circumstances: Harry following Louis upstairs after a night out, hands hot on each other’s skin, mouths wet against the other’s, unable to separate long enough to walk the short distance up the steps because their need, their want is just too great. Louis would push him up against the beige wall, the bannister digging into Harry’s back, before Louis would drop to his knees right there on the steps and…

Harry shakes his head violently, trying to rid his mind of all thoughts that involve Louis on his knees and Harry against a wall before his cock has a chance to get any bright ideas.

It doesn’t get any better when Louis flings open the first door and exclaims, “And here’s my room!”

Louis’ bedroom is a place Harry never actually imagined he would visit. If he ever thought of it, it was always in abstract terms. A bed with crisp, white sheets to hide away in, too distracted by the warm boy against him to pay attention to the color of the walls.

But now Louis’ room is very much real in front of him, and Harry can’t help but think it’s perfectly Louis.

It’s small but incredibly cozy. Louis has a twin sized bed with a light blue comforter, pillows of all shapes and sizes strewn all over the bed. Just like in the living room, posters of Greenday, Oasis, and Manchester United decorate the walls. There’s also a more personal touch: framed pictures of who Harry can only assume is Louis’ family are even more prominent than the colorful posters. Harry’s heard Louis talk ad nauseum about his sisters and his mom, so seeing the pictures, Harry is finally able to put faces with the names and stories. There are countless pictures of Louis making silly faces with his sisters and standing next to a beautiful woman that Harry easily identifies as Louis’ mom.

“What do you think?” Louis asks, plopping down on the corner of his bed with such force that he bounces a bit.

Harry turns from the photo he had been looking at – Louis squashed under a dog pile of his four sisters, all of them grinning like mad – to face Louis. Louis almost looks nervous to hear Harry’s response, hands twitching in his lap.

Harry smiles at him. “I love it.” He gestures towards the photos. “These are your sisters?”

Louis nods, hopping off the bed to come stand next to Harry. “Lottie, Fizzy, Phoebe, and Daisy,” he points at each sister as he says their name. “Miss them like crazy, especially since I didn’t go home this summer. But Christmas is only three months away, right? I’ll see them then.”

“Good,” Harry says. “You seem really close.”

Louis nods. “Definitely. I mean, it’s like all siblings, isn’t it? They drive me crazy when we’re all together, but the second we’re apart, I just want to see them again. I never thought I would miss going to ballet recitals or lacrosse matches, but here we are.”

Harry chuckles. “I know how you feel. My sister Gemma is in Winston-Salem for school, and I cried for hours the day she left. But I guess it makes it that much more special when she does visit.”

Louis nods. “Yeah exactly. When I go home now, I really value the time with them. I won’t spend hours watching TV or locked in my room or something, because I know I can do that when I get back to Wilmington. So I spend every moment I can with them.”

“That’s really nice, Lou,” Harry says quietly, giving Louis a small smile. “I bet they love having you as a big brother.”

Louis grins. “I mean, I don’t think it’s too much of an exaggeration to say that they practically worship me.”

Harry snorts, rolling his eyes as Louis laughs.

They head back downstairs, but not before Louis points out the other rooms on the floor. “That’s Niall’s and Liam’s room. They share because they were roommates last year and get on really well. They get a bigger room than mine though, so it’s not a bad deal for them. And that room is the bathroom, but there’s also a half bath downstairs if you need to use it.”

Harry settles down on the couch, as Louis brings over the cookies and two cans of soda. “I also have popcorn if you want some later,” Louis tells him as he pops the DVD into the player. They’re starting with season one, because even though Harry’s seen a couple of episodes, he’s never watched them in order, which Louis insists is necessary.

Once the DVD is queued up, Louis plops down next to Harry on the sofa. Louis drags a massive throw blanket off the back of the sofa, draping it over his lap.

As Louis arranges the blanket, he looks up at Harry, long eyelashes brushing his cheekbones as he blinks. “Want to share?”

Harry’s usually on this side of too warm, but he’s not going to turn down an opportunity to snuggle under a blanket with Louis, warm and pressed against one another.

Harry’s throat is a bit dry as he nods.

Louis grins, throwing part of the blanket over Harry’s lap before snuggling into his side. And suddenly Harry is very happy that he agreed, because he’s going to need something to hide his teenage body’s natural response to having the boy of his dreams pressed up against him, so warm and close.

“Now, are you ready to have your life changed for the better? To have your eyes opened and your heart transformed?” Louis asks, putting on a voice like a Southern gospel preacher.

Harry laughs. “You can try.” He nudges Louis’ side, relishing Louis’ indignant squawk.

“Challenge accepted.”

Then Louis presses play, and the piano intro of the theme song fills the room.

After three episodes, six cookies a piece, and a bowl of popcorn shared between the two of them, Harry can maybe admit that One Tree Hill isn’t horrible.

“I still don’t think it’s the best thing ever,” Harry defends loudly over Louis’ celebratory cheering, fists pumping into the air, “but it’s not awful.”

“Nope, nope, nope!” Louis exclaims, clapping happily. “You like it! Don’t try to hide it from me, Hazza! I can tell. You kept gasping anytime something dramatic happened – don’t think I didn’t notice!”

“Whatever,” Harry grumbles, but it’s all good natured, a smile forming on his lips before he even finishes speaking.

Louis laughs, grinning as bright and satisfied as a Cheshire cat. “Now maybe you can understand why Chad Michael Murray is a god among men.”

Harry rolls his eyes. “I think the other guy is cuter. Nathan. And I’ve seen the actor come into the shop before, and he’s always really nice.”

“Yeah, James,” Louis says easily as if they’re great friends. “He’s pretty cool, but a bit quieter. Chad’s a lot funnier.”

“But isn’t he so much older than you?” Harry points out, tone only a little sour.

“Excuse you!” Louis exclaims, eyebrows raised in shock, but his tone is teasing. “I am an adult, as is he! He’s twenty-four, and I’m nineteen and that’s not that big of an age gap, thank you very much!”

Harry fights the urge to point out that seventeen and nineteen is a much smaller age gap than nineteen and twenty-four.

“Besides, I’ve always had a bit of a thing for older men,” Louis continues breezily, unaware how Harry’s heart plummets at the comment. “When I was growing up, David Beckham and John Travolta were essentially the cause of my sexual awakening.” He smirks. “I don’t know how anyone could watch John Travolta in those leather trousers in Grease and not become as gay as a rainbow.”

Harry can’t help but giggle, despite his mood’s downturn at Louis’ mention of older men. “I remember watching the movie and I couldn’t stop staring at John Travolta, and my sister couldn’t stop staring at Olivia Newton-John. My mom always teases us that that’s how she knew we were both gay.”

Louis laughs loudly at that, throwing his head back as if his laughter is just so great that he can’t stay upright. “See what I mean?” Louis says between giggles, hand covering his mouth. “Grease changes people for the better.”

“Exactly,” Harry agrees. “But I don’t think One Tree Hill is quite to that caliber yet.”

Louis quirks an eyebrow. “Well, you’re just challenging me again, and I accept. The only way to convince you is to keep watching as many episodes as possible until you have been changed.”

Harry groans, rolling his eyes, but his stomach leaps. He will happily continue to watch One Tree Hill as long as it means he can spend time with Louis, hearing his laughter as Harry insists the show’s not that great, sharing a bowl of popcorn so that their hands brush idly over the kernels, and being pressed so close that Harry can smell a whiff of Louis’ cologne, faint but intoxicating.

“Fine,” Harry agrees, faking exasperation as if his heart isn’t skipping and his hands aren’t shaking at the mere thought of spending more time with Louis outside of work.

“Good,” Louis replies, smiling smugly. “Now, I think we have time for one more episode before you said you needed to be home. Shall we…?”

 

The next morning, Harry has barely made it through the door of the coffeehouse before Louis is at his side.

“Morning, Hazza!” Louis chirps, smile bright despite the early hour. He already has his apron on, the deep grey of the material making Louis’ eyes look like the ocean during a storm, mysterious yet enticing. “How’s the world’s newest One Tree Hill fan doing this morning?”

“I wouldn’t know,” Harry replies, fighting a smile, “as I would at best consider myself a casual viewer.”

Louis lets out a huff of annoyance, stomping his foot childishly. “Pretend all you want, but I know you enjoyed the show.”

Harry laughs as he heads to the back, dropping off his keys and putting on his apron. “I definitely had a fun evening, I’ll give you that.”

When Harry turns to glance at Louis, his heart flips. Louis looks almost bashful, grinning brightly as he looks at the ground. “Good,” Louis replies, but his voice is quiet, pleased. He looks back up at Harry, and his grin is full of excitement. “Well, I don’t know what your plans are tomorrow, but I love a lazy Sunday afternoon. You could totally come over and watch more, if you want.”

Harry’s brain whirs wildly, body suddenly thrumming with so much excitement he can hardly respond. “Y-yeah I’d love that. I usually do homework on Sundays, but I can do a bit tonight and then some tomorrow morning.”

“Homework on a Saturday night?” Louis teases.

Harry shrugs. “I don’t mind, since it’s all in the name of a good cause, right?”

Louis chuckles, eyes crinkling at the corners. “The best cause. And besides, I have some homework to do, too. So this will give me good motivation to get it all done before you come over, right?”

“Exactly,” Harry agrees. “Good motivation for us both.” He wrinkles his nose. “Although that means I’ll need to tackle that Calculus homework I’ve been putting off. Gross.”

Louis laughs. “You’re going to love uni, babe. I haven’t had to think about maths since sixth form.” But then Louis makes a face. “Although I’ve been putting off my paper on twentieth century playwrights, so maybe it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.”

Harry giggles in response. “Guess not. Good thing you have some motivation now.”

Louis’ expression softens at Harry’s words, eyes turning fond. Harry’s heart leaps in his chest as Louis says, “An afternoon binging my favorite TV show with my favorite curly-headed lad? Yeah, I’d say that’s the best motivation there is.”

Harry doesn’t stop smiling for the rest of his shift.

 

And so Harry and Louis fall into a routine.

Every Friday night and Sunday afternoon, they meet up to binge One Tree Hill. Harry always brings some kind of snack that he makes himself – sometimes cupcakes, sometimes mango and strawberry smoothies that he loves making with Anne. Louis loves the snacks, always moaning obscenely in pleasure at the first bite of cupcake or sip of smoothie.

“Always so delicious,” Louis says, crumbs tumbling out of his mouth. “You make such better cookies than the ones the coffeehouse sells. Hell, I bet if you became their full time baker, they’d start making more money in one day than they usually do in a week!”

Harry smiles bashfully and resolves to always bring Louis sweet things if it meant he will keep saying sweet things.

Harry always looks forward to his days with Louis. Sometimes Louis’ roommates Niall and Liam will be there, and they’re funny and nice. Niall is an avid One Tree Hill fan as well, while Liam pretends that he doesn’t like it, preferring to study while the others watch episodes. But Harry always sees Liam peering up from his textbook anytime something dramatic happens, his eyes equally wide as he waits to find out what happens next.

Harry always enjoys it when Niall and Liam join them, but he enjoys it even more when it’s just him and Louis. When Louis can focus all his attention on Harry.

If Harry had fallen for Louis during shifts at the coffeehouse, while they’re both on the clock and in unflattering work uniforms, it’s nothing compared to how completely gone Harry feels when he has Louis to himself. At work, Louis is always the brightest presence, charming all the customers and making all the baristas laugh. But when they’re snuggled up on Louis’ couch, just the two of them in their private cocoon, Harry sees a different side of Louis.

Harry hears Louis’ voice catch when he talks about his family, about how hard his mom works to give him and his sisters the best life. Harry hears about Louis’ fear of moving to a new country, despite how amazing the opportunity is for him. How even though Louis has been living in North Carolina for over a year now, he still sometimes feels like he doesn’t quite belong.

In turn, Harry shares his secrets and fears while they’re snuggled up under a pile of blankets. Because Harry feels safe when he’s wrapped up in Louis – as if nothing could ever hurt him as long as Louis is by his side. So Harry tells Louis about how much his parents’ split hurt him as a child, and how he still doesn’t really like talking to his dad. Harry shares how he’s not really sure what he wants to study in college yet, how he thinks law would be really cool, but he also thinks real estate could be fun, especially with all the houses always being built along the beachfront.

Louis always listens with rapt attention, comforting Harry when his emotions become too great, and reassuring him when he expresses his fears.

Before they’d ever hung out outside of work, Harry knew he was in love with Louis. It was impossible for him not to be. But after spending time by themselves, whether that be binging America’s most popular teen drama or sharing some of their most personal secrets, Harry knows what he felt then is nothing compared to what he feels now.

Before, his love was a bit more abstract. Harry knew Louis was the brightest light, and that Harry was just a flower soaking in all of the sun’s rays. He was helpless to love Louis, as if it was a fate made inevitable the second they met. Now, Harry loves Louis because he knows how well they go together. How Louis teases him just the right amount so that Harry knows it’s out of fondness and not out of mockery. How Louis always listens when Harry shares something private, and how he always has the right words to say to lift Harry’s spirits.

Harry loves Louis for himself, more and more each hour they spend together.

But Harry has no idea how Louis feels about him.

He’d always assumed that Louis was too cool for him – too mature and worldly to even glance in Harry’s direction. But Louis always seems happy to spend time with Harry, even turning down other offers from friends to keep their Friday night and Sunday afternoon tradition.

It’s about the third week since they fell into their pattern that Harry and Louis are curled up on the sofa, halfway through their first episode of the evening. It’s a Friday night, and Louis had said Niall and Liam were upstairs, but Harry hadn’t thought too much about it until they both come downstairs, dressed to go out.

“Where are you off to?” Harry asks curiously as Niall grabs beer from the fridge.

“A party at our friend Steve’s,” Liam explains, checking his hair in the hall mirror. “Sure you don’t want to come, Tommo? You too, Harry. You’d be welcome.”

“Nah,” Louis says, dragging a lazy hand through the air. “Got my boy and my show; I’m good.”

“Me too,” Harry says, feeling slightly warm. “But thank you.”

“Suit yourself,” Niall says with a shrug.

They call farewell before disappearing out the door.

Harry fiddles idly with the hem of the blanket before turning to look up at Louis. “Lou,” he begins slowly. “I’m not, like, keeping you from your friends, am I? If you want to go to parties or something, I understand. You don’t have to watch the show with me, just because you feel obligated or something –”

“Shush you,” Louis says with a shake of his head. Louis untangles Harry’s hand from the blanket, twining their fingers together and giving his hand a squeeze. “There’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.”

Harry’s eyes widen, heart thundering in his chest.

“Now be quiet,” Louis says playfully, smiling fondly. “There’s a good bit coming up.”

So Harry doesn’t say anything else, content to curl into Louis’ side as the drama plays out on the screen.

 

Harry has been watching One Tree Hill for about a month and is over halfway through the second season the next time Chad visits the coffeehouse.

It’s their Wednesday shift, and Harry is restocking the muffins when he hears the unmistakable gasp of excitement from Louis.

Harry can’t help the swoop of disappointment he feels in his stomach as he watches Louis fix his fringe, fingers light and wrists soft.

Harry had hoped – perhaps foolishly – that since Chad hadn’t been in the coffeehouse for a while, that maybe Louis’ obsession with him had gone away. As Louis calls a greeting to Chad, his voice high and flirtatious, Harry can’t help but pout. Apparently not.

But just as Harry is about to head to his self-imposed exile in the supply closet, he hears Louis call his name.

Harry turns to Louis, surprised, to find Louis gesturing towards him excitedly. “Hazza, come here!”

Confusion wrinkles Harry’s brow, but he will always come when Louis calls, so he feels his feet moving to Louis’ side.

“Harry here is the world’s newest One Tree Hill fan,” Louis announces proudly, giving Harry a playful nudge. “I’ve been watching it with him, and we’re almost all caught up. Our next episode is Keith and Jules’ wedding.”

Chad smiles. “That’s a good one. I’m glad you’re enjoying the show, Harry.”

“Yeah, it’s good,” Harry mumbles awkwardly, blushing. He’s never really paid Chad Michael Murray that much attention before, but now that he’s a fan of the show (although he’d never admit that to Louis), he can’t help but feel a little star struck. “I’m really rooting for Lucas. I hope he can get everything together.”

“Well,” Chad grins, expression filled with mirth, “he’s still got a ways to go. But I guess you’ll have to watch the next season to find out.”

“You’re such a cruel tease,” Louis complains, making Chad laugh.

“New episodes are next week,” Chad points out. “Won’t have to wait too much longer.”

“Can’t wait!” Louis chirps.

“Yeah, me neither,” Harry agrees, smiling slightly when Chad flashes him a grin.

Louis makes Chad his coffee, the three of them chatting idly until it’s ready.

“Thanks,” Chad calls, waving at Harry and Louis as he heads out the door. “Let me know what you think of the new season when you watch it!”

“Will do!” Harry and Louis agree, waving as Chad disappears.

Harry has barely dropped his hand when he feels Louis’ elbow nudge into his ribs.

“See,” Louis teases, eyes sparkling with mirth. “He’s not that bad.”

Harry huffs a laugh, rolling his eyes in lieu of response. Out of principle, he disappears to the supply closet to fetch some more coffee stirrers, the sound of Louis’ laughter following him the whole way.

 

Harry is just finishing up his Saturday morning shift, wiping down the front counter while Louis checks inventory in the back, when the bell chimes.

The afternoon staff is in the backroom preparing for the switch, and Harry is just about to call for them, unwilling to deal with more customers when he should be leaving, when he realizes it’s Chad.

“Hey, Harry,” Chad greets, offering him a friendly smile. “How are you?”

“Good,” Harry replies, smiling shyly in return. “Just finishing up the shift, so you know, that’s always nice. How are you?”

“I’m good, man,” Chad chuckles. “Or as good as I can be on a Saturday shoot. Would much rather be at the beach or something – take advantage of the last little bit of good weather.”

Harry nods. It’s the first week of October, so while it’s become too cool to swim, it’s still sunny enough to lie out on the warm sand. “Yeah, I think I might do that with the rest of my afternoon,” Harry muses. “Would be nice.”

“Yeah,” Chad agrees, “but actually, I was going to ask. Saturdays are always a bit of a slow day on set, and I’m not needed for another hour or so. Since you and Louis are such big fans of the show, I was going to ask if you wanted a tour of the set?”

“A tour?” Harry gasps, eyes widening. Despite working on a film studio for over seven months now, Harry hasn’t actually visited any of the sets. He’s always wondered about them, but has never had an opportunity. And now Chad is offering him a chance to visit – and not just that, but visit the set for the show that he has grown to love despite the fact he will never tell Louis (even though he definitely knows).

“Yeah,” Chad agrees like it’s no big deal. “We can’t go where they’re filming, obviously, but I can show you around a couple of the other sets. Thought it’d be nice.”

“Um, yeah,” Harry nods his head furiously. “I’d love that, and I know Louis would too.”

“What would I love?” comes Louis’ voice, raspy and perfect. Harry turns to see Louis coming out of the backroom, a light jacket over his work uniform and his keys in hand. Louis grins when he sees Chad, flicking his fringe out of his eyes.

“Hey, man,” Chad says. “I was just telling Harry how it’s a bit of a slow day on set, so I wanted to see if you both would want a tour.”

Any exterior of coolness or flirtatiousness slides right off of Louis’ face. His eyes go wide, a smile breaking across his face as an excited squeal escapes his lips. “Really?” Louis gasps, hands clasping together. “You want to take me and Harry on a tour of the One Tree Hill set?!”

“Yeah,” Chad replies, chuckling at Louis’ excited reaction. “What do you say?”

“Yes!” Louis exclaims, not even pretending to debate. “Obviously yes.”

Chad laughs, and Harry grins at seeing Louis so thrilled.

“What about you, Harry?” Chad asks. “Or is the beach calling your name?”

“Oh please, Hazza,” Louis’ heat is suddenly surrounding Harry, body pressed warm to his side, arms wrapped around his waist. “You have to come! This is a once in a lifetime opportunity! Please, please, please! You'll love it, I promise! If not, I’ll buy you ice cream afterwards from that little shop down the road that you love so much.”

Harry can’t help but grin, dimple curving in his cheek. “Well, I don’t know…” Harry pretends to deliberate. Louis sticks out his lip in an exaggerated pout, and Harry bursts into deep, shaking laughter. “Well, I’d already told Chad I’d be up for the tour, but I’ll never say no to ice cream.”

Louis gasps in shock, arms dropping from Harry’s waist as both Harry and Chad laugh. “That was mean,” Louis declares, but his eyes glint in amusement. “Just for that, you’re buying me ice cream.”

Harry’s stomach flips, a new smile appearing on his lips. “It’s a deal.”

After asking Louis and Chad to wait a minute, Harry practically skips to the backroom to pick up his keys and jacket. He tells the afternoon staff farewell, waving goodbye a little too enthusiastically, before joining Louis and Chad again at the front.

“Shall we?” Louis says, hooking his arm with Harry’s.

Chad leads Harry and Louis through the backlot, weaving in and out of other actors and crewmembers bustling about. Harry and Louis follow with wide eyes and bated breath as they listen to each story Chad tells, sharing anecdotes from set and pointing out different filming locations.

As they head inside one of the large, white buildings, Chad announces, “Now, here’s one set you may recognize.”

Harry gasps audibly as he steps inside, halting in his tracks.

There before him is a place he has seen so many times, he practically knows it like he knows his childhood home.

“Karen’s Café!” Harry and Louis exclaim simultaneously.

“Yeah,” Chad chuckles, gesturing for them to follow him. Harry forces his feet to unfreeze, but even as he begins walking, he does so slowly, taking in every sight.

Harry immediately recognizes the large, circular countertop, coffee machines bright and shiny behind it. He recognizes the bar stools of all different sizes, and the lights hanging down from the ceiling, filling the set with a gentle ambience. Each white table is pristine, sunflowers at the center of each. Harry can practically hear the chatter of other customers in the café, and he half expects Karen or Haley to appear behind the counter, calling greetings and taking orders.

“This is amazing,” Harry breathes, running his fingertips lightly over the countertop. “It looks exactly like how it does in the show!”

Harry turns to Chad and Louis, Louis gawking at his surroundings just as much as Harry is.

“This is wicked,” Louis agrees, voice breathless.

Chad grins, smug. “I’m glad you both like it.”

Harry nods. “Love it.”

“Can I go behind the counter?” Louis asks, voice hopeful.

“Sure,” Chad agrees easily. He and Harry slide into chairs at the counter, elbows resting against the cool surface.

Louis walks behind the counter, and immediately starts fiddling with everything. Nothing actually works, which is probably a good thing, but Louis still presses all the buttons and pulls all the levers.

When he turns back to Harry and Chad, his eyes go wide in surprise. “Oh, I didn’t know I had customers!” Louis exclaims in an over-the-top Southern accent, grabbing a notepad from the counter. “And such cute ones at that! Whatever you want – it’s on the house.”

“Well, if that’s the case,” Chad grins, leaning forward as he easily slips into character, “I’ll have one of everything on the menu.”

Louis grins, batting his eyelashes exaggeratedly. “Sure thing, cutie.” Then he turns to Harry. “And what about you, love? What can I get for that sweet, curly head of yours?”

Harry stutters, words getting lost on his tongue as he smiles bashfully. Unlike Chad, famous actor of a major TV show, and unlike Louis, who has been doing musical theatre since he was seven years old, Harry has never had any training as an actor. He can’t slip into the flirty, over-the-top roles that Louis and Chad so easily affected, so he tucks a curl behind his ear nervously as he says, “Your favorite thing on the menu.”

Louis smiles at him, his cheeks going slightly pink. Harry’s heart stutters in his chest, hoping it’s not just a trick of the lighting.

Louis pretends to make their drinks and food, wrestling dramatically with all the machines and pretending to catch the kitchen on fire with his cooking. Harry and Chad are in stitches at Louis’ antics which only seems to encourage him.

When they eventually receive their “food” (empty plates), Louis announces, “I’ve changed my mind. That was way too much work, and I’ve decided you both aren’t that cute. That’ll be a hundred dollars each.”

“What?” Chad gasps in outrage, still in character. “You can’t charge me a hundred dollars!”

“You ordered one of everything on the menu,” Louis snaps back, raising his eyebrow in challenge. “That’s at least a hundred dollars.”

“What about me, though?” Harry asks, putting on a bashful persona. “All I had was a grilled cheese sandwich. Surely I don’t owe you a hundred dollars.” He bats his eyelashes exaggeratedly in an embarrassing attempt to echo Louis’ movement that always makes Harry weak at the knees.  

“Hmm,” Louis pretends to think about it, tapping his chin. “Alright, Curly. You don’t owe me anything. But only because I can never resist a man with dimples.”

Harry preens, completely forgetting the aloof and flirty character he was trying to play while Chad grumbles, pretending to pull out his wallet.

After they leave Karen’s Café, Chad takes them around to some of the other sets. Harry recognizes the classrooms from Tree Hill High and the living room in Lucas’ house. They run into some other actors and crew that Chad introduces them to.

They run into James Lafferty, the actor who plays Nathan, while they’re touring the living room. James and Louis, knowing each other from the coffeehouse, immediately begin chatting away, settling in comfortably on the sofa.

Harry decides to leave Louis to it, instead wandering around the set and checking out all the different props. He’s in the corner, looking out the window – which looks out onto a backdrop painted like the outdoors – when he feels someone appear at his side. Harry turns, expecting it to be Louis, but is surprised to find that it’s Chad.

“So what do you think?” Chad asks, smiling. “You enjoy the tour?”

“Love it,” Harry agrees, nodding adamantly. “It’s so nice of you to show us around the set. This is, like, one of the coolest thing I’ve ever done. And I know Louis loves it. I think this is the happiest I’ve ever seen him.”

“No worries, man,” Chad agrees easily. But then he lifts an eyebrow at Harry, watching him curiously. “But speaking of Louis, I gotta ask. What’s going on with you two?”

Harry frowns, brow wrinkling. “What do you mean?”

Chad chuckles. “Are you two dating?”

Harry inhales sharply, expression contorting to one of surprise. “What – no,” Harry splutters, cheeks heating. “Why would you – how could you even think that –?”

“Really?” Chad asks in disbelief. “I thought you two were, like, a sure thing.”

Harry shakes his head, heart sinking in his chest. He wants to tell Chad how much he wants him and Louis to be a sure thing, but in fact, that is very much not the case.

“No,” Harry says, unable to keep the despair out of his voice. “It’s not like that between us.”

“Are you sure? Because the way he is around you…”Chad chuckles, trailing off.

“What do you mean?” Harry asks, a slightly nervous edge to his tone. “How is he around me?”

Chad shrugs. “Like you’re the only person in the room, and like he isn’t happy until he knows he has all of your attention.”

Harry’s blush deepens, and he looks at the ground lest he tell Chad how impossible that is because Louis always has all of his attention.  “Don’t know what you’re talking about,” Harry mumbles, scuffing his shoes against the wooden floorboards.

“Alright, alright,” Chad says. When Harry glances up, Chad is holding his hands up in defeat. “Just thought I’d ask.”

Harry nods, glad Chad is letting it go.

Without another word, they head back over to the couch where Louis and James are. As soon as Louis sees Harry walking towards him, Louis sits up straighter, his smile blinding. “Hazza, where did you go?” Louis demands, tugging Harry down so that they’re pressed together on the sofa. Louis nuzzles into Harry’s side, arms looped together. “I missed you.”

Harry’s heart stutters, and he sincerely hopes Louis can’t feel it. Usually, those words would come across as playful and joking, sometimes borderline patronizing, to Harry’s ears. But with Chad’s words buzzing around Harry’s brain, he suddenly hears them in a slightly different tone. They sound soft, fond, and almost genuine. As if, even though Harry was only on the other side of the room, Louis genuinely did miss him.

“Missed you too,” Harry mumbles, pushing back into Louis’ embrace so that they’re tucked close together, not a sliver of space between them.

Then Harry turns his attention back to Louis’ and James’ conversation, ignoring Chad’s knowing looks.

 

“What are your plans after work?” Louis demands as soon as Harry steps in the door of the coffeehouse the following Saturday morning.

“Good morning to you, too, Lou,” Harry chuckles, hands buried in his pockets.

Louis rolls his eyes with a huff, but Harry can see a hint of a smile on his lips. “Good morning, Hazza,” he replies, before his tone quickly turns sarcastic. “How are you on this gorgeous autumn morning? And my, what a fetching hat.” He tugs at Harry’s beanie playfully, and it’s Harry turn to roll his eyes.

“Now that that’s out of the way,” Louis continues. “Do you have any plans after work?”

“No,” Harry shakes his head. “Was just going to go home and do some homework. Maybe play with my cat.”

“Perfect!” Louis chirps. “Because I have something wonderful planned and I want you to come along with me.”

“Really?” Harry perks up, grinning. “What do you have planned?”

Louis shakes his head, placing his fingers at his lips and pretending to zip them. “It’s a surprise, but I promise it’ll be fun!”

“Okay,” Harry nods. As Louis’ face blooms into a bright smile at Harry’s acceptance, Harry is helpless not to smile back, butterflies churning in his stomach. He’s not usually one for surprises, but he thinks he’d follow Louis right into the Atlantic Ocean if he asked. A post-work surprise should be manageable.

But for their entire four hour shift, Harry can’t help but wonder what Louis has planned. Louis, of course, is no help. He alternates between being an absolute menace – trying to stack as many cups as possible onto Harry’s head without them falling over and terrorizing the customers – to being subdued and quiet, watching Harry shyly when he thinks Harry can’t see him. When Harry tries to engage him in discussion about the new season of One Tree Hill, Louis alternates between being overly enthusiastic and awkwardly evasive.  Harry doesn’t know what any of it means, but by the time their shift finishes at noon, he’s ready to find out.

“So what do you have planned for us?” Harry asks as they hang up their aprons.

Louis exhales a small laugh, but there’s something off about it. When Louis speaks, there’s an undercurrent of shakiness to his voice, like he has to force the words out. “You would think you’ve never heard of a surprise before.”

“They must only have them in England,” Harry teases, nudging Louis in the ribs.

But instead of a witty retort, Louis’ answering laugh is a bit stilted, hands shaking slightly as he picks up his keys.

“Well, you won’t have to wait much longer,” Louis replies, ducking his head as he steps out of the backroom. Harry’s face contorts to one of confusion as he follows Louis out.

They head out of the shop, waving goodbyes to the afternoon staff. The air outside is crisp, wind light yet still cutting through Harry’s jacket. The cool breeze feels nice on his skin after so many hours of working in such confining quarters.

Harry begins walking towards the parking lot, but Louis grabs him by the elbow. Harry turns around, eyebrows raised at Louis in confusion.

Louis gives him a soft smile, and Harry catches a glimpse of mischief in his eyes. “We don’t need our cars. We’re not going anywhere.”

“What –?” Harry asks, stumbling along as Louis leads him farther into the lot. Harry follows into step beside him, their arms brushing as they walk.

“Everything we need is right here,” Louis says, nodding towards one of the buildings.

“The One Tree Hill set?” Harry asks, confusion thickening.

Louis doesn’t reply, but Harry can see a smirk on his face.

When they arrive at the front entrance, Harry stops. “Lou, we can’t just go in there.”

“Why not?” Louis asks in challenge.

“We don’t have any authorization!” Harry exclaims, as if it’s obvious. “We can’t just waltz onto any set we like.”

“Ah, but we’re not waltzing onto any set we like,” Louis points out. “Just one specific set.”

“But they might be filming –”

“They’re not.”

“How do you know?”

“I just do. Any other objections?”

Harry pauses, glancing around the lot. It’s practically deserted, not a soul in sight. It had even been slow at the coffeehouse that morning; not many people seem to be on set today.

“How are we supposed to get in?” Harry asks. “We can’t just break in.”

“We’re not,” Louis replies. His hand plunges into his front jean pocket, and he pulls out a set of keys that Harry knows don’t go to his Toyota Corolla.

“You stole the keys!” Harry gasps, eyes widening in horror. “Louis! We can get in major trouble for this!”

Louis barks out a laugh, sticking the key in the door and twisting the lock. “Hazza, would you please relax? I didn’t steal the keys. We’re not going to get into trouble. Everything’s fine.”

“I’m sure the judge will believe us,” Harry mutters under his breath as the door clicks.

With one last chuckle, Louis pushes the door open.

The darkness fills each corner of the set, creating an open, yet oppressive, night. When Harry and Louis visited the set last week, it had been filled with light and noise: cast and crew chatting, cameras whirring, and lights buzzing. Now, the set holds an echoing silence, unusual and uncomfortable.

“Lou…?” Harry says nervously.

“Where’s the damn light?” Harry hears from his side, Louis shuffling in the darkness. “He said it would be right – ah! Here it is!”

Suddenly, the space is flooded with light. The giant, overhead lights buzz to life. The empty cave of a set becomes a familiar, homey living room.

Harry’s eyes blink into focus at the sudden rush of light. He recognizes the set for the living room in Lucas’ home, especially since he and Louis only visited it last week with Chad. Harry doesn’t understand why Louis would have brought him here. Nothing about it is different…

But then Harry’s eyes fall on the couch and the coffee table next to it. His mouth becomes dry as sandpaper and his heart beats an erratic rhythm as he takes in the sight before him.

Draped over the couch is a red checkered blanket, corners tucked neatly into the cushions. And sitting proudly atop the coffee table is a wooden picnic basket.

Harry turns to Louis, heart in his throat and eyes wide.

“Lou?” he croaks, knees buckling together.

“Do you wanna have a picnic with me?” Louis asks in a rush, fiddling nervously with his fringe. “I know we’re not outside so it’s not technically a picnic, but I made sandwiches and I have fruit, and I just –” Louis’ hands fall away from his face, and he stands up a bit straighter, looking Harry in the eye. A mixture of determination and hopefulness dances in his blue eyes. “I really like you, Harry. And I want to take you on a date.”

The words rattle around in Harry’s head, but they make no sense. He and Louis speak the same language, but Harry can’t understand the meaning behind his words.

“You like me?” Harry asks in disbelief.

It’s impossible, of course it is. Clearly this is just another one of Louis’ pranks. Harry thinks of all the times he’s had to watch Louis flirt with Chad, all the times he’s been brushed aside in favor of the older, more attractive man. He had been so positive that his feelings were one-sided, that there was no chance of reciprocation.

But, bafflingly, amazingly, Louis nods. “Yeah, Haz,” he says on a laugh, voice small. He takes a tentative step towards Harry, palms spread in front of him. “I care about you more than I even have words for.”

The change in verb to something so much stronger forces a tiny, helpless noise out of Harry. “But what about Chad?”

Louis’ eyebrows shoot towards his hairline, his steps halting. Clearly, whatever he was expecting Harry to say, it wasn’t that. Louis fish mouths at him for a moment before exclaiming, “What?”

“You’re always flirting with Chad!” Harry protests petulantly, fixing his eyes on the ground to hide his embarrassment. “Every time he comes into the coffee shop, you’re just all over him. You never pay any attention to me whenever he’s around. I thought you had a crush on him.” Harry’s words trail off in a mumble.

Louis’ sharp laugh surprises Harry. He jerks his head up to see Louis giggling, hiding his smile behind the back of his hand. Harry’s frown only deepens, which makes Louis recover himself. “I’m sorry, Hazza,” Louis says between chuckles. “It’s just – Chad’s married!”

Harry feels his jaw hit the floor like an exaggerated Disney character. “What?”

“Yeah,” Louis explains, still laughing. “He’s married to Sophia Bush.”

“He’s married to Brooke?!” Harry gasps, referring to Sophia’s character. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

Louis shrugs. “I dunno, it’s celebrity gossip. It’s not exactly private information. I just sort of assumed you knew.”

Harry shakes his head, and Louis’ laughter leaves him as he sees that Harry is telling the truth. “I don’t really keep up with celebrity gossip,” Harry mumbles. Then he demands, “How come he doesn’t wear a ring?”

“Because his character isn’t married,” Louis explains, tone patient. He takes a tentative step towards Harry. “He doesn’t wear his ring when he’s working. He probably takes it off at the beginning of the day and puts it back on at the end of the day.”

“Oh,” Harry’s shoulders sag, cheeks flaming with embarrassment.

“Yeah,” Louis nods, taking another step closer to Harry. “Geez, I really cocked this one up, didn’t I?” Louis says on a self-deprecating laugh. “I can’t believe you thought I was paying attention to Chad because I was interested in him.”

“Why were you then?” Harry asks.

Louis rolls his eyes, but his smile is fond. “The same reason I do pretty much everything else that I do. To impress you.”

Harry’s whole body trembles, heart leading the race as it feels like it’s about to ricochet right out of his chest. “What?”

“Yeah,” Louis huffs another laugh. “It sounds so stupid now, but I dunno. I just thought that if I seemed like I was friends with a bunch of cool, famous actors, that you might think that I was cool.”

Harry’s brain whirs as it processes Louis’ words, body still trembling as it pieces together everything he has confessed.

With a slightly shaking hand, Harry reaches out to Louis, closing the remaining distance between them. He slips his hand into Louis’, giving it a gentle squeeze. When their eyes meet, Louis’ are full of wonder and hope.

“Lou,” Harry chuckles, unable to believe that this is happening. “I’ve always thought you were cool. Basically from the moment I met you. You’re the coolest person I know.”

“Really?” Louis gasps, eyes wide, body swaying closer to Harry’s.

Harry just nods. Then in a quiet voice, he confesses, “I didn’t think I was cool enough for you to ever feel the same way about me that I felt about you.”

They’re close enough now that Harry can hear Louis swallow noisily. “And how do you feel about me?”

Harry smiles, shyness quickly replaced by confidence as he hears Louis’ breathing stutter. “I care about you more than I even have words for.”

A low, relieved noise escapes Louis’ lips, and then he’s rocking forward on his toes, connecting their lips in a sweet, simple kiss.

Harry’s world explodes in color and sound, bright lights flashing as his eyes slip shut, a swell of violins harmonizing in his ears. Louis fits his body so perfectly against Harry, hands still slotted together, slightly sweaty, but clinging to one another like how a rope holds an anchor. Harry can feel Louis tremble, heartbeats stuttering against each other’s chests as their lips slowly and gently give against one another.

When they pull away to breathe, Harry and Louis press their foreheads together. Louis exhales heavily, sweet breath washing over Harry’s lips. They still tingle, and Harry can’t help but suck them back into his mouth, unwilling for the taste to leave him just yet. Louis’ thumb rubs over his knuckles in soothing strokes.

“You have no idea,” Louis huffs a laugh, voice light and jubilant, “how long I’ve wanted to do that.”

Harry giggles in kind, feeling as if he’s floating up amongst the rafters. “Definitely not as long as I’ve wanted to.”

“Oi,” Louis teases, playfully pinching Harry’s hip with his free hand. He leaves his hand there; Harry’s smile grows. “Don’t make this into a competition. Not when I’m so damn happy.”

“Not as happy as me,” Harry teases, ducking down to hide his smile in Louis’ neck.

Louis laughs along with him, wrapping his arms around Harry’s back to hold him close.

They stand there for a moment, wrapped up in one another, heartrates nowhere near calm, breaths still light and joyful, when Louis whispers, “This whole time?”

Harry’s laughter subsides, expression turning serious. He stands up straight so that he can look Louis in the eyes. There’s only a hint of nervousness in his expression, but Harry still reaches up to cup Louis’ cheek, smoothing his thumb along the ridge of his cheekbone. “Since the moment I met you, you’ve had my heart.”

Louis’ smile is incandescent. His cheeks are round and full, eyes reduced to slits at how hard he’s smiling. Harry makes a silent promise to try to always make Louis smile like that.

“You’ve always had my heart, too,” Louis promises, turning his head to give Harry’s palm a kiss.

They smile at one another, too perfectly happy to move, when Harry’s stomach rudely interrupts them with a noisy gurgle.

Louis immediately bursts out in delighted laughter, Harry’s cheeks flaming in embarrassment but unable to stop smiling in kind.

“It’s not my fault,” Harry weakly protests around his laughter as Louis pulls him towards the picnic. “We always finish at noon and then I go straight home and have lunch.”

“Well, I’ve got just the thing, love,” Louis giggles, and Harry’s heart skips at the pet name. He can definitely hear the fondness in it now. They settle in on the couch, Louis flinging open the picnic basket. He lays out the spread – roast beef sandwiches, apples and strawberries, pretzels, chocolate chip cookies, and two cans of soda. Louis waves his hands grandly over the food, looking smug. “I told you I packed us a hearty lunch.”

“Yes, you did,” Harry concedes, pecking Louis on the cheek, unable to believe he can touch Louis like this now. Not only can he, but Louis apparently wants him too. Harry grins manically to himself as he watches Louis’ cheek turn a pretty, flower petal pink under his attention.

“Stop that, you menace,” Louis chastises, but his voice is breathless. “Or we’ll never eat.”

Harry giggles to himself, plucking a strawberry from the table despite his desire to find out just how many shades of pink he can make Louis turn.

Their banter over lunch is playful yet comfortable. They touch one another shyly, tentatively, yet slowly growing bolder and braver. It’s as if neither one fully believes they’re allowed to get away with gentle hands on knees or light brushes of knuckles against skin, but they don’t want to stop just in case it is all a dream that neither wants to wake up from.

“Wait,” Harry gasps, sandwich frozen halfway to his mouth. “Chad helped you set this up?”

Louis giggles, nodding.

“What? Why? How?”

Louis continues laughing, placing his own sandwich down on the paper plate as he explains. “It was last week during the tour. He came up to me and asked what was going on between us.”

“What?” Harry exclaims. “He asked me the exact same thing!”

Louis’ eyes go wide, pink lips forming into a surprised O. “No way!”

Harry adamantly nods his confirmation.

Louis huffs a laugh. “Well, I’ll be damned. But anyway, he asked me about us and I asked if I was really that obvious about you. To which, of course, he replied that we were both obvious about it. I couldn’t believe it, so I asked if he really thought it was true. When Chad said he did, I told him that I’d wanted so many times to tell you how I felt, but I never had the courage.”

Harry takes Louis’ hand in his, running a reassuring thumb over his knuckles. “I would have always said yes.”

Louis smiles. “Well, I know that now.”

Harry giggles as Louis continues, “So Chad suggested that he help set something up for the two of us, a romantic gesture of sorts. He told me they weren’t filming this Saturday and that he’d give me a key to the set if I wanted to take you on a picnic or something. So I came in this morning before work and set it all up, and I thought it seemed nice. I thought it would be romantic enough to make me brave enough to tell you how I feel.”

“Well, I’m glad you did,” Harry says, giving Louis’ cheek a kiss. “And I guess next time I see Chad, instead of hiding in the supply closet, I’ll actually thank him.”

“I knew you did that on purpose!” Louis exclaims to which Harry rolls his eyes.

From there, their conversation drifts to their own versions of how much they’ve cared for one another from the start.

Louis guffaws in disbelief that Harry didn’t catch that their One Tree Hill marathons were an obvious ploy for them to hang out.

“I’d been looking for some way to suggest for us to hang out outside of work for ages,” Louis laments. “When this came along, it felt like a godsend.”

“I just thought you wanted to watch the show,” Harry giggles, taking a sip from his can of Sprite.

Louis rolls his eyes. “Harry, I like One Tree Hill, but my feelings for you go way beyond those of a TV show. I almost made a move on you so many times.”

“Really?” Harry asks, disbelieving.

“Yeah,” Louis nods. “I couldn’t help it. You would always cuddle into my side and you were so warm and smelled so nice and you would let me stroke your hair. There were so many times I missed entire episodes because I was just trying to work up the nerve to kiss your cheek. Not even your mouth – your cheek!”

Harry laughs, the fizziness from the soda inside of him nothing compared to the butterflies hammering in his chest.

“That’s why I knew you were lying about not liking the show,” Louis continues. “Because you would watch the whole damn episode without noticing that I wasn’t paying a whit of attention to it! That I was too busy focused on you to keep up with the show.”

“Oh, Lou,” Harry grins, light and happy. He snuggles into Louis’ side and kisses his jaw sweetly. “You could’ve kissed me then. I would’ve been so, so happy. You can always kiss me. Whenever you want. I’ll be so happy when you do.”

“Oh, Hazza,” Louis sighs back to him, pressing his lips to Harry’s temple. Then to his cheekbone, his neck. “I’ll never stop kissing you if you say that.”

Their lips come together gently, trading soft kisses as their bodies press close to one another. Harry winds his hands into Louis’ hair, fingers knotting in the soft strands. Bravely, Harry parts his lips, tentatively tracing his tongue along the seam of Louis’ lips.

Louis moans, lips parting so that their tongues meet, wet and messy. Harry groans, able to taste a mixture of strawberries and chocolate on Louis’ tongue. He sucks it greedily into his mouth, savoring the taste and Louis’ delicious whine.

Louis shifts, readjusting them so that they’re no longer pressed awkwardly side-to-side, but guides Harry to lie down on the couch, settling on top of him.

“This okay?” Louis asks, voice breathless. He leans down to nibble at Harry’s bottom lip, tugging on it lightly.

“Perfect,” Harry sighs, hands drifting from Louis’ hair down to his back. His hands run over the contours of Louis’ body, feeling his heat even through his t-shirt. With daring fingers, he tugs at the bottom of Louis’ shirt, pulling it up just enough so that Louis’ lower back is exposed. Harry greedily touches the warm skin, dragging his nails across Louis’ back for the way it makes him shudder, for the way it makes him kiss Harry a little more desperately.

Slowly, Harry’s hips start to thrust up against Louis’ body, solid and firm against him. His cock is hard in his pants, encouraged by Louis’ touch and Louis’ taste and Louis’ feel and Louis’ everything.

Harry shifts ever so slightly, and their hard, clothed cocks rub together. They break their kiss to moan obscenely, Louis pressing his forehead into Harry’s collarbone as he gasps. Louis’ hips rut down against Harry’s wantonly, as if he was holding himself back before when he thought Harry hadn’t noticed. But now that Harry has, it’s as if nothing is holding Louis back.

“Is this okay?” Louis asks again, wet lips dragging across his jaw. “Wanna get off with you. Wanna make you come.”

Harry throws his head back and moans, deep and primal, a noise he never even knew he was capable of making. “Yes, Lou, please,” he groans, hands tugging Louis’ t-shirt up higher. “Want you to make me come.”

“Christ,” Louis swears, ducking down to connect their lips, all heat and electricity. “Take your top off.”

Harry and Louis quickly discard their work shirts, the fabric fluttering carelessly to the ground. With Louis topless above him, Harry’s mouth goes dry. His eyes roam hungrily over every inch of Louis’ tan skin – his faint dusting of chest hair, his pink, hard nipples, and the slight swell of his tummy.

Harry wants to put his mouth on every inch of him.

With the way that Louis is looking back at him, Harry thinks the feeling might be mutual.

“God, you’re so beautiful,” Louis murmurs, voice saturated with awe. “I’ve always wanted to tell you. Every day I saw you. Just wanted to tell you how beautiful you are.”

“Lou,” Harry whines, hips hitching up into Louis’ heat. “Please. I’m so hard. I wanna come –”

Louis groans in response, bringing their lips together in a wet, open-mouthed kiss.

Louis’ fingers dig into Harry’s skin, burning him with each touch. They dance over Harry’s nipples, dig into the softness of his hips, and just barely brush the waistband of Harry’s jeans. Louis’ nails scratch over Harry’s skin in sharp, claw-like strokes, marking Harry with deep, red lines. Harry shivers at each touch, hips humping more and more frantically against Louis’ groin, cocks rubbing together even through so many layers.

“Lou, I’m gonna come –” Harry gasps as Louis sucks a mark into his collarbone, fingers quick and playful on his nipples.

“Yeah?” Louis asks, voice raspy and breathless. “Please, Haz. Come for me. Wanna – wanna see it so much.”

Louis presses their lips together, the kiss sweet and tender in contrast to how desperately Harry is humping Louis’ thigh, but that’s all it takes. With a sharp moan and a deep shudder, stars explode behind Harry’s eyes. His body trembles as it chases its release, his nerve endings dancing throughout his body in ecstasy.

“Hazza, you look so amazing,” Louis gasps, hips working frantically against Harry as he chases his own orgasm. “Ah – so fucking – ah perfect.”

With a sweet, high pitched moan, Louis’ hips stutter, his eyes slipping shut in bliss as he comes. Harry kisses Louis’ jaw lightly as Louis shudders and shakes, body warm and heavy against Harry’s.

They collapse together on the couch, giggling with carefree abandon, legs tangled. Louis rearranges them so that his weight isn’t resting on Harry, but that they’re curled together, his face pressed into Harry’s neck. Harry strokes his hand idly up and down Louis’ back, relishing the simple touch.

“Louis,” Harry breathes into the quiet of the room. “That was – God. That was perfect.”

“Yeah,” Louis giggles. His laughter turns slightly more jubilant a moment later, and Harry twists his face to look at Louis.

“What?” he asks.

Louis covers his mouth with the back of his hand, eyes crinkled in delight. “I suppose when Chad asks me how our date went though, I should probably leave out this little part.”

It takes Harry a moment, but then his eyes bug out of his head as he remembers where they are. That he and Louis just got each other off in the middle of a giant film set, on the couch in the living room of America’s most popular teen drama. Where anyone could walk in at any time.

“Oh my god,” Harry giggles in response, booping his and Louis’ noses together. “I kind of forgot that time and place existed for a moment. Whoops.”

Louis smiles, pressing a soft kiss to Harry’s cheek. “Yeah, babe. Me too.”

Neither one of them feel any rush to leave, however. They ignore the stickiness in their jeans in favor of lazily kissing on the sofa, words sweet and besotted, hands clumsy but tender, and hearts dancing amongst the stars.

 

Two months later.

“Hazza, shh,” Louis shushes, breath a warm stream against Harry’s lips. “You have to be quiet or they’ll hear us.”

Harry giggles, pressing his smile to Louis’ neck before tugging Louis’ collar away and biting at the slightly damp, salty skin.

Louis muffles a moan against Harry’s cheek, hips twitching against Harry’s thigh.

Their lips meet for another wet kiss, hands needy and groans hushed as they share a stolen moment.

Five minutes later, they emerge from the supply closet with red cheeks, mussed hair, and a smug glint in their eyes.

Over the past two months, the supply closet has transformed from Harry’s hideaway to a glorious sanctuary. To a place of lazy kisses when the shop is slow or to a place of frantic, rushed kisses when they only have a five minute break. Harry thinks they’re very discreet, but Louis always rolls his eyes at that. Harry always just shrugs. If his eyes are a little bit glassier and his lips a little bit more swollen after spending time with Louis in the supply closet, well, Harry doesn’t necessarily mind.

They return to their positions behind the counter, a steady stream of customers coming in.

One Tree Hill has finished filming and is currently on a break, so Harry and Louis haven’t seen Chad since shortly after they got together.

Chad had been incredibly smug when he walked into the coffee shop that day, giving Harry and Louis one look before bursting out into raucous laughter.

“Glad you two finally got your heads out of your asses!” Chad had laughed, reaching across the counter to give both Harry and Louis high fives. “What did I tell you, Louis? All it takes is a romantic gesture to give you a bit of confidence.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Louis had said, shyly, smiling at the ground.

Harry beamed proudly, smacking a kiss to Louis’ cheek.

The past two months have been the happiest of Harry’s young life. If he thought life was great as Louis Tomlinson’s friend, it’s something else entirely – something so much greater – to be Louis Tomlinson’s boyfriend.

Louis always brings him little, thoughtful gifts to work, whether that be a flower he saw in the park or a hand written note, ranging from sweet compliments to dirty promises. They keep hanging out like they used to, meeting up every weekend to watch the new episodes of One Tree Hill that Louis always records since it comes on too late for Harry to come over and watch during the week.

Harry and Louis take turns arranging the dates, and each one has Harry falling more and more in love with Louis.

Their first date after the picnic was dinner by the ocean and then a moonlit walk along the beach. It was a chilly night, the wind sharp and relentless, but Harry and Louis just buried close together, trading chapped kisses as they listened to the waves lap in the distance.

They’d barely been dating three weeks when Harry told Louis he loved him. It was something he’d been feeling for months, and he was unable to keep the words inside him any longer. Harry had practically wept with joy when Louis responded with the same words, and they spent the rest of the evening on Louis’ couch, trading tender kisses and whispering those three sweet words over and over again.

Even today after work, Harry and Louis plan to go to the movie theatre. Harry’s not sure what they’re seeing, but he doubts he’ll pay attention anyways.

Harry hums to himself as he wipes down the cappuccino machine, Louis chatting politely with a customer. Their shift is set to finish in ten minutes, and Harry can’t wait to get Louis alone. Hopefully the movie theatre won’t be too crowded and they can get a seat in the back, far away from everyone else. Then they’ll be able to put up the armrests, and Harry will crawl into Louis’ lap and –

Harry is abruptly pulled from his fantasy by the sound of the bell tinkering and Louis’ abrupt silence. Curious, Harry turns around, glancing at Louis.

Louis is slack jawed and wide eyed as he stares at the front door.

“Lou?” Harry asks, brows pinching together.

Louis makes an inaudible noise, unable to look away from the door.

Confused, Harry turns to look at the newcomer, and feels himself freeze in place.

John Travolta is in the coffee shop.

Harry and Louis both fish mouth as he approaches the counter, gait suave and smile confident. He’s in a loose pair of jeans and a button up, famous black hair loose against his forehead. Even in his older age, Harry can definitely admit that he looks good.

And with that thought, Louis’ words from before come rushing back to him. Older men. John Travolta. Sexual awakening.

Harry’s eyes widen in horror as John Travolta approaches the counter.

“Hey boys,” he says, flashing them a smile. “What do you recommend?”

Harry hears Louis’ breath stutter, and he is immediately pulled back to the moment. He remembers the months of agony at watching Louis flirt with Chad, and Harry quickly resolves that history is not about to repeat itself.

“Sorry, Danny Zuko,” Harry announces, voice determined. “He’s mine.”

With that, he grabs Louis’ by the shoulders, twists him around, and lays a sloppy, wet kiss right on his mouth.

Louis gasps in surprise, but he immediately returns it, body melting against Harry’s like butter on a warm summer’s day.

When Harry pulls away with a satisfied smack, Louis’ eyes are a bit glazed over, smile a bit dreamy.

“Well, alright then,” John Travolta laughs. “I’ll just have a black coffee then. To go.”

Harry smiles, deciding to fetch the drink himself so that Louis can have time to talk to his idol. After all, Harry is certain that no matter how many famous actors Louis charms, that boy is his.