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Dreaming of You

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It snowed again.

It snowed again (a lot) and Louis works at one o’clock, so this means that he is now going to have to get ready faster and leave earlier, allotting for ample time to drive through treacherous ice and sludgy snow. Since the tires on his car have about as much traction as silk, he’s going to need to be extra cautious.

So. In short. The day is already marvelous.

“Best leave soon, pup,” Louis’ mother calls as she cuts the crusts off of two cheese sandwiches for his sisters.

The sound of cartoons blasts in from the other room and the air smells of cookies, smells warm. Louis wants to stay, never wants to go to work again.

“Yeah. Just gotta get dressed,” he mumbles, finishing off his tea, the liquid now lukewarm as it slips down his throat, signaling the end of his freedom.

His mum casts him one small sympathetic smile as he dumps his cup in the sink, the sound loud and jarring against the tranquil atmosphere. His eyes glaze past hers in a half-hearted returned smile before he strides out of the room and up the stairs, taking them one by one because life pulls him down and moving is hard. He enters his room, his work clothes still on the floor in a heap.

He picks up the black polo distastefully, surveying it in the mid-morning light trickling through his closed curtains. With a sigh, he begins getting dressed, before noting his journal, still lying amidst the swirled blankets of his bed, opened to the page he last scribbled in before he fell asleep.

With a smirk, he picks it up, surveying the blurry words, his polo still dangling from his fingertips. Grabbing the nearby pen and clicking it into life, he pauses before he jots down, on the fresh page, ‘Day 4’, before shutting it with a snap and pulling on his trousers.

**

“Thank fuck,” Louis grins, upon immediately spotting Niall, Zayn, and Liam as he steps into the Starbucks building.

Christmas has come at last!

“TOMMO!” Niall roars happily, hopping around with an ice bucket. He’s clearly had too much espresso (he’s a fucking beast when it comes to caffeine, makes Liam looks like a lightweight—he typically has eight shots in his trenta iced coffee plus eight pumps of frapp roast plus chai) as his cheeks are rosier than usual, his eyes brighter, and his hair is mussed and almost twinkling with pent-up energy. He’s also got a timer clipped to the collar of his apron so, praise, he’s Customer Support for the day.

Yes yes yes. Two thumbs up for the Starbucks Gods.

“Well, look who it is!” Liam beams immediately after, stuffing scones into a pastry bag. His headset is on and it appears… Ah, yes, it appears that he’s at the drive thru window.

Excellent, excellent. Four thumbs up now.

“The one and only,” Louis grins cheekily in response as Zayn smirks at him from the work station. His sleeves are rolled up, hands splayed on the counter, and he looks to be in deep thought.

Yet. There is literally nothing in front of him. The counter is clean, yielding nothing but the smooth polish of its surface.

“Zayn?” Louis questions, ambling up to him, eyes sliding curiously to the bar. (Jen’s there, looking frazzled and frizzy and sticky with syrups and steam.) “Alright?”

“I’m high as fuck,” Zayn mutters calmly, as if commenting on the time, and Louis nearly bursts out laughing.

“Christ. You closing tonight?”

Zayn drags pinkened, sleepy eyes over to him, offers up a half-smile. “’Course. Karaoke tonight, remember?”

Louis rolls his eyes. “How could I forget. Seriously though, you’ve fucked yourself over. You’re not going to get anything done in that state. We’ll be here till midnight.”

Zayn merely shrugs, clearly lost to his inner haze. Employee of the month, he is.

Louis chuckles. “Good chat, Superior, good chat.” And then he walks to the backroom, deposits his belongings, slides on his odorous apron (it smells like old cheese, ew) and clocks in, patting the bump in his apron that he knows to be his journal.

He’s a bit lost inside of himself as he makes his way onto the floor and over to the bar, staring out the windows at the chunks of falling snow and the cars creeping along cautiously. It’s a cozy day, a fuzzy day, even. And he just feels so tired. Whether it be from his uninspiring life, his lack of vitamin D, or a creeping depression that has somehow secretly bested him, he knows not.

But he feels tired and he feels uninspired and the snow just gently falls.

He’s still lost as Jen greets him at the bar, hands him her headset with all the gusto of one who just wants to get the fuck out of here, and gives him a rundown of what all needs to be done.

“I’m pulling your shots for your Doubleshot,” she says, and her left eye is twitching. She looks exhausted.

“Busy day, love?” he asks, a bit hesitantly.

“Only in the morning,” she assures, casting a glance towards the near-empty café. “Since the snow’s picked up, it’s been pretty slow. You should be fine for the rest of the day.”

“Good.”

She smiles before patting his bum and nearly jogging off the floor afterwards, which makes him squeak.

“Oi!” he shouts, but he’s smiling, and the fumes of fresh espresso are tickling his nose, his body beginning to awake, the drifting sounds of Niall’s singing and Liam’s pretty little sentences filling his eardrums.

He’s adjusting his headpiece as Niall trots by and smacks his arse (why must everyone constantly be treating it as their own personal bouncy ball?) (not that Louis minds, of course) (kind of loves the attention, of course), and he slowly turning around, ready to pinch the boy in retaliation, but.

He gets distracted.

Because of fucking course, there, at the handoff plane, stands Harry.

Standing there all neat and patient with his hands folded atop the green granite, small smile in place, eyes hooked on Louis. Almost like he’s waiting for Louis to notice him or acknowledge him or… Whatever.

“Henry?” Louis inquires, blinking his surprise.

School. School’s in session. Isn’t he supposed to be teaching?

Harry beams. “Barnabus!” he greets in reply and his casual acknowledgment of their newfound nicknames tugs at Louis’ lips. He’s got a large, brown knit sweater on, his black scarf wound extra tight around his neck today, and he looks proper bundled and cozy, soft and smooth and clear.

“Well, well, well. What are you doing here?” Louis asks, raising an eyebrow at Harry’s large frame, haloed by white, blinding light and snow gleaming from the windows. “Don’t you have minds to mould? Bunking off, are we?” His voice is teasing, probably could be misconstrued as flirtatious.

People say Louis’ a flirt. Louis says Louis’ sociable.

“Snow day,” Harry offers simply, the words curved into a grin. “Have the day off.”

“He’s been here all morning,” Liam suddenly smirks, sidling up out of nowhere. “Being a proper teacher. Grading papers and the like.”

Louis raises one brow. “Grading papers?” he repeats. “You have a rare and precious gift like a snow day and you’ve chosen to grade papers? Not, say, go sledding? Or have a snow fight? Or stay at home and watch shitty movies all day while you eat cheese? Henry. You’re an embarrassment to mankind, to society. The Snow Gods do not approve.” He says all this as Liam swats him, hisses for him to “Shut up shut up, be nice!”

“Cheese?” Harry questions completely unbothered, laughing lightly, face scrunching. “Why cheese?”

“Why not cheese?” Niall asks, randomly clomping over with a bin of espresso beans. “You got a problem with cheese?”

“Depends on the cheese.”

“You’re a bastard,” Niall says simply in response, causing Louis to burst out laughing and Liam to squawk in horror. “All cheeses are created equal.”

But Harry’s smile never falters, his shoulders loose and relaxed, his fluffy curls spun together like hay atop his head. “You’ve clearly never had Limburger, then,” he replies, before picking up one of his clumsy hands and waving it in greeting, all child-like and uncoordinated. “Hi,” he sings, and Louis quirks an eyebrow at the spectacle as Harry’s grin widens and potentially fucking sparkles. “I’m Harry. Nice to meet you! I come here every day.”

God, Harry is just an enormous dope, isn’t he? A bright little sunflower-y dope. Cute little thing that he is.

Cute.

Louis bites his cheek at the thought.

Niall scrunches his face at Harry, surveying him properly before placing his hands on his thin hips, brow furrowed. “You do not. I’d know you.”

“He does, actually. He’s a recent addition to our store,” Louis explains as Liam opens his mouth as well, clearly excited at the prospect of knowing things. Things about Harry. Oo la la.

“He’s just moved here. Comes in every night after school. He’s a teacher. For English.” Liam says each word like he’s proud, like he’s showing off his new toy.

Which, Louis supposes, he kind of is.

“Oh, yeah?” Niall responds, and his face immediately lights up in delight, simple as that.

Niall is the king of employee-to-customer repertoire. He knows everybody, everybody loves him, and oftentimes people will specifically request him when they come through the drive thru. He’s like the star of Starbucks. (Hah.) Put the surliest, quietest, gruffest person in front of Niall Horan and he will befriend them in less than four minutes, probably have a friend request on Facebook, and a scheduled lunch date. It’s a fact.

“Well, good to meet you, mate,” Niall continues, all jovial and smooth. “The name’s Niall. And it’s Harry, right?” Harry nods, taking Niall’s extended hand to shake heartily, straining over the handoff plane. “Harry’s a good, strong name. Good lad. I’ve read Harry Potter.”

“You have not,” Louis interjects, rolling his eyes. “You watched the movies. And got piss drunk halfway through every one.”

A sated, wistful expression overcomes Niall’s features as he gazes off, recalling a distant time. “That was some excellent whiskey,” he reminisces, undeterred, before emitting a low whistle. Then, without transition, he turns around, barreling away with a bounce to his step. “Let me know if you need anything, Hazza!” And he actually clicks his heels.

Louis laughs at the nickname, laughs at the entire situation because it’s so Niall.

“He’s nice,” Harry comments once he’s gone, eyes gliding from Niall’s retreating figure, back to Louis.

“He’s Niall,” Louis corrects. “There’s no other word to describe that boy.”

“Smelly,” Liam reckons thoughtfully. “Smelly would work.”

“And loud,” Louis offers, just to be fair. “Though, I suppose I’m not one to talk, eh?” He smirks.

Harry just stares in response, grinning so painfully. Honestly, it looks like his grin will split him in two, all while watching Louis. Which. Seems a bit random and uncalled for, even if it does pool a flattered warmth in Louis’ innards.

Is he laughing at him? Is there something on his face? Louis almost instinctively moves to swipe a hand over his chin (is there mocha or milk dribbled there?) before stopping himself, instead squaring himself up to Harry, quirking an eyebrow.

“What? What’s that big smile for? Why are you smiling like that?” he interrogates, trying to keep his own grin at bay (Harry’s smiles are like yawns—they’re contagious and infectious and irritating), feeling Liam’s presence at his side.

Harry immediately turns pink, his smile freezing. “Oh,” he says, blinking rapidly, his mouth contorting into forced indifference. “I didn’t realize—I was—“ And, dear lord, is he flustered?

Louis just stares, completely befuddled.

“Do you need a refill or anything, Harry?” Liam’s voice suddenly clips then, and Harry’s still floundering and Louis’ still confused.

Did he miss something?

“No, no, I think I’ll just, like, sit down,” Harry rushes in a mumble before bumbling away purposefully, his head slightly bent.

? What the hell?

With wide eyes and an unexpected feeling of disappointment, Louis turns to Liam, whose face is impassive, arms folded over his chest. He’s not looking at Louis, instead opting to stare out the wall of windows with unreadable eyes.

“Was it something I said?” Louis asks, lost.

Why did Harry leave? Does Louis look like trash today? Is he unbearable to look at? Is it his breath? Was he being mean?

Liam merely shrugs before walking away, leaving Louis alone with only the bright, industrial espresso machines for company and absolutely no drinks to make.

How utterly boring.

So if he keeps casting glances towards the handoff plane with some distant, barely-there hope of finding a certain presence…well.

Obviously, it’s only in hopes for Liam.

**

Within the next few hours, business becomes slower and slower until they’re just completely barren of customers, save for, of course, Harry. But he’s studiously working in his corner, his laptop alighting his face as his fingers tap purposefully on the keys, his giant headphones stuffed over his ears (such a dope), and so, basically, it feels like nobody’s in the store—especially since Niall and his infinite volume clocked out about a half an hour ago.

It’s sort of amazing.

“Well, we’ve got everything done,” Zayn announces through a yawn, stretching cat-like, his bones clicking into place, eyes slit with glittering contentment. He’s such a fucking stud, with his apron tied loosely around him, his shirt pushed up to his elbows. His hair disheveled and raven. Louis hates him. He also likes to stare at him. “So we’ll probably get out of here early. Head to karaoke earlier than planned.”

“The roads aren’t too bad, are they? I don’t want to drive if the roads are bad,” Liam says worriedly, staring out at the expanse of windows as he sips on a whipped cream-loaded frappuccino—which is a dire mistake. Liam is lactose intolerant. Yet, for reasons beyond Louis, he insists upon ignoring the fact and has decided that drinking milk-based coffees and cream drinks is a beneficial life choice.

It’s partly Louis’ fault though—he’d mistakenly made the thing and so he unthinkingly offered it to Liam rather than dumping it out. And, of course, Liam took it with a grin that Louis, at the time, hadn’t understood.

Unfortunate.

“I’ll drive you, Payno,” Louis offers easily, hauling out the last of the cleaned dishes. “Provided you don’t shit your pants in my car.” He gives a pointed look to the frappuccino and Liam throws him a glare, hollowed cheeks inhaling the beverage at an alarming speed. “You have to come, though. I’m restless and bored and want to get pissed. Besides, you promised you’d sing The Lion King. A promise is a promise.”

At that, Liam’s frown lines turn into elation, a laugh escaping. “Okay, yes, fine, I forgot. I’ll go—so long as you’re still my backup singer?”

Louis sends him a look. “Honestly? You think I’d back out? I’m a man of my word. Proper honorable.”

There’s a pause then, as Zayn surveys the pastry case for something to munch on and Louis’ carefully stacking plates, before Liam sidles up to them both, throwing his now-empty cup away and nibbling on his lip.

“Hey,” he says, quiet and low.

Both heads turn to stare at him inquisitively.

“What if I invite Harry?”

A small feeling, almost like a flick, presses into Louis’ stomach.

“Yeah,” he finds himself saying, before Zayn can respond. “Yeah, you really should, though.” A brief pause. “I mean. Now’s your chance, innit?” he adds.

Zayn nods, returning back to his pastry examination. “Yeah, go on,” he agrees, selecting a pain au chocolat. “I like him. He’s a mate.”

Liam’s body nearly bursts into sparkles at the words and his grin is just as offensively cheerful.

Louis distinctly does not have the urge to smile.

“Okay. Wish me luck!” he nearly squeals (because that was all the encouragement he needed, apparently) and scuttles out into the café, traipsing to the corner where Louis can see Harry’s bowed frame in the reflection of the window, where he can see the glow of his laptop and make out the enormous headphones disassembling his curls. Fluffy little curls.

“Alright?”

Louis jumps, turning to Zayn who’s now looking at him, a bit of chocolate on his chin, his cheeks filled with croissant. And either Louis’ mistaken or there’s mirth in Zayn’s goddamn eyes, a smirk dabbing at his lips.

Louis is never mistaken.

And Zayn is a little fucker.

“Yeah, I’m alright. Thank you for enquiring,” Louis clips briskly before sauntering off, determining to wash the sinks for the third time that night.

**

Of course, Harry agrees to go. Of course.

And, yeah, it’s totally partially Louis’ fault because he absolutely encouraged Liam to ask Harry in the first place.

And, yeah, he absolutely warmed a bit to the idea himself—if for the mere fact it’d be fun to make fun of Harry trying to sing, the little pretentious fucker that he is. It was a golden opportunity to have a laugh at another’s expense, okay?

But the prospect seems less amusing now, just more troublesome and annoying or…something. And Louis regrets his encouragement.

“Don’t you have school in the morning, though? Need a proper night’s sleep?” he accuses before he can stop himself, and Harry’s eyebrows rise as Liam sends forth a bitter, withering glare Louis’ way.

Oops. Whatever.

Harry shrugs from the handoff plane, sliding his hands into his pockets. His tiny, snug pockets. His large, clomping hands. “Doesn’t mean I can’t have a social life.”

“Doesn’t it, though?” Louis smirks, and Harry chuckles as Liam’s glare intensifies.

“You have a point, Barney,” Harry concedes but his words are so smiley as he grins, burrowing his chin into his scarf.

It’s.

It’s.

It’s just. It’s kind of cute. That’s all.

It’s weird.

“Barney?” Louis repeats, feeling pleased and oddly charmed, and fuck, now his words are smiley. “You can’t give a nickname a nickname!”

“Oh, can’t I? Because I believe I just did.” Smile. Every word curled into a verbal smile.

“Ohhhh, big words from a little man!”

“I’m not the little one in this equation.”

“Alright, Professor Harry-Henry-or-whatever-it-is-you-call-yourself,” Louis then bristles, voice shrill, and Harry’s teeth are revealed as his lips pull back to an impossibly wider degree, his smile radiant. Dimple, dimple, dimple. Lips, lips, lips. Dope. “I would seriously consider your next words if you value your hair or your well-being.”

“Oh no—not my hair!” Harry squawks, clutching it in his hands in an exaggerated move of fear, and Louis can’t help but laugh at his expression, all wide-eyed and cartoon-like.

It’s cute. Okay? It’s cute.

Liam’s boy is cute.

Liam’s boy.

“Oh, so it’s your hair you’re concerned about, not your well-being? Well,” Louis chuckles, tilting his head as he observes him, wondering if Harry’s soul is made of chai or espresso or brewed coffee, “good to know that your priorities are in order.”

Harry’s grin is toothy, it’s dimply, and it’s trimmed in rouges and curls. “Well-being is subjective. But good hair? That’s—“

“That’s never up for debate,” Louis concludes, and he might’ve just unwittingly finished Harry’s sentence given the way his expression just opens with delight, his eyes catching all the lights in the room, maybe some stars peaking through the windows, too.

A short, inexplicably significant pause descends upon them as they share suppressed smiles and locked eyes.

Then suddenly there’s the jarring, scratchy noise of someone clearing their throat and, oops. There’s Liam. Clean dairy pitchers in hand. He may or may not be glaring.

“So. Harry,” he says, immediately setting down the stack and waltzing forward, not-so-subtly bumping Louis out of the way. “What do you plan on singing tonight?”

And. Okay. Louis can take a hint.

He picks up the pitchers Liam set down, walks them over to the cabinet and lines them up, organizes them properly as they clink against each other, chewing the inside of his lip. It’s not like he feels a creeping guilt inside of him. Or anything like that. Why would he feel guilty? Nah.

“Uhm,” he hears Harry say, and his voice sounds confused at the sudden shift in atmosphere. Louis can practically hear his questioning gaze as it flicks over to him. “I’m not sure. Something…happy.”

“Happy?” Liam giggles coquettishly and he sounds like a right loon. He never laughs like that. That’s not his usual laugh. “I’m going to sing Disney,” he continues and his voice is dripping with hearts. “Lion King. You’re welcome to sing it with me, if you like?”

And Louis almost bumps his head as he shoots up because fuck, did he just get kicked out of Lion King? Has he been ousted?

“I thought—“ he begins to protest, eyebrows furrowed, and Harry’s gaze skitters over to him immediately, but Liam plows on, completely undeterred.

“I used to sing in school, actually. Studied music and voice. It’s sort of a hobby of mine.” He’s batting his eyelashes. He’s actually doing that.

Bloody show off. Wait, no--shit. 

Another flash of guilt streaks through Louis.

“As did I. Before English,” Harry says and, oh. Interesting. “Lots of musicals.”

“Lots,” Liam agrees, and they exchange a smile. Which is nice.

“I hate musicals,” Louis mutters, shutting the cabinet with a thud. “Except Moulin Rouge. Is that a musical? Ewan McGregor’s fit.”

Immediately, Harry brightens.n“I love that movie! And the music!”

Louis nods, swiping a hand across the smooth, steel counter before him, catching stray espresso beans in his palm. “Brilliant music. Even I can admit that one.”

“My favorite song is—oh, shit. What’s it called. That one song they sing…”

“Oh, of course,” Louis says flatly. “That one song they sing. That was really emotionally charged.”

“Stop,” Harry laughs before gazing back into space, trying to recall. He’s snapping his fingers, as if to speed up the thinking process, and Louis watches the clicks, almost hears the whirring of his brain. “By Elton John…?” he offers, glancing at Louis again.

Ah.

Louis knows exactly which song he’s talking about. Because Louis fucking loves that song, used to sing it alone in his room when he was younger and pretended he was dancing in the night sky, and yes, okay, Harry loves it too. Everybody loves that song. Clearly. Obviously. No big deal there.

Your Song,” Louis clarifies, and Harry jabs a pointer finger in his face, alight with triumph.

“That one!” he confirms. He continues to stare at Louis, eyes regaining normal size, and Louis’ smile wakes into life. The barrier between bar and counter separates them.

And Liam. He separates them, too. Liam, who is currently staring between them a little murderously. Or maybe it’s Louis’ imagination.

But it’s definitely not Louis’ imagination when Harry opens his mouth and out comes:

Myyy gift is myy sooong!”

All the while as he stands on the other side of the handoff plane, acting as natural as can be, the sweeping sound of his voice resonating.

And Louis stares.

Because Harry just sang. To Louis.

The café’s empty, thankfully, but still, Harry just sang and Liam almost gets whiplash with how fast he looks at him, taken aback because people don’t fucking do that, they don’t just start singing to strangers. (Because Louis is basically a stranger to Harry. Basically. Might as well be.)

And as luck would have it, it’s also at that exact time that Zayn decides to emerge from his den in the backroom, clipboard in hand, making his way to check the temperatures of the fridges. He startles the minute Harry’s voice is heard, stops to stare at the spectacle with ‘what the fuck’ eyes.

And he startles even more when Harry continues to sing—yes, continues—since he is seemingly oblivious as to how society works. (You don’t sing to people, you just do not.)

And this one’s for you,” Harry continues, completely unabashedly, and oh, did Louis mention that he’s singing? Like they’re in High School fucking Musical?

“And you can tell everybody that this is your song.

It may be quite simple, but now that it’s done.”

He’s still singing. In Starbucks. Without an ounce of shame.

But it only gets worse.

Because.

Well.

Somehow…

Somehow Louis finds himself singing back.

It’s out of amusement. It’s amusing. Louis always sings at work—he does, he’s known for it. He sings with his partners and he sings “Mirrors” with Liam and he sings over the headset and he sings as he scrubs dishes and whenever a customer quotes a lyric and Louis just sings a lot, alright? So. This isn’t terribly out of the ordinary for him, nor is it uncharacteristic.

(Now, has he ever sung with a customer? No. But there’s a first for everything, isn’t there.)

“I hope you don’t mind,” he immediately joins, and fuck. His voice is so light next to Harry’s thunderous baritone and they create a natural harmony and, okay, they’re doing this. No big deal.

“I hope you don’t mind.”

They never break eye contact, their voices gaining a bit of volume. Their lips are touched with smiles, Harry’s increasing with every word Louis sings just as unabashedly.

“That I put down in wooooords.”

God, their voices. Harry’s voice. What is even happening?

There’s a beat then, a sweet, simple pause where even the greasy espresso beans strain to listen, waiting expectantly, before two sets of lips open as one, still locked in a gaze, in a grin.

“How wonderful life is now you’re in the wooooorrrrld.”

And the song ends.

The air, previously warm and unassuming, is suddenly heavy and calm at the same time, the lights seeming to shine upon only Louis and only Harry and everybody else? Everything else? Is in shadow.

Louis feels weird. His smile fades a bit, his gusto quieting, his fingertips buzzing. All the while as he stares at Harry.

Then Harry smiles, sweet and warm and honey, and the intensity breaks apart a bit, ripples back into reality. “I love that song,” he says, but his voice is devastatingly soft, almost as soft as his expression.

It feels like a fucking movie.

Does this stuff actually happen? Because it just happened. It happened and it happened between Louis and Harry and Liam loves Harry and Liam is Louis’ best friend.

“So do I,” Louis croaks. He’s got his hand limply clutching the steam wand, just for something to do, something to hold onto.

And they continue to stare at each other.

“Wow,” Zayn suddenly drawls, eyebrows raised as he breaks their weird little bubble. There’s definitely a smirk staining his lips but thankfully he keeps silent, sauntering away without even touching the fridges, their temperatures long forgotten. The keys on his belt jingle with his every step.

Liam awkwardly clears his throat. Liam.

Louis’ actually afraid to look at him.

“Well, I guess you’ll have no trouble singing tonight then, will you?” Liam laughs brightly, but it’s fake and it’s forced and Louis’ insides suddenly feel tight as he rips his gaze away from Harry, grabbing a rag to clean anything and everything in reaching distance.

He’s got to fix this, he’s got to.

“You guys should sing a duet,” he instantly blurts, insides twisted up and ears ringing a bit. His voice sounds odd, even to himself. His cheeks feel taught.

He can feel Harry’s quizzical, slightly hurt gaze then, hears the question in his voice when he says, “Uh, yeah... Maybe.”

“Definitely,” Liam assures, and Louis hears his smile and his hope and Louis feels like complete and utter shit.

“Well. We best get back to work,” he chirps, scrubbing at syrup stains with clumsy fingers. He’s so fucking uncomfortable. What the fuck just happened? Oh, yes—he sang a love song with Harry. In the middle of Starbucks. Oh, yes. Obviously. “Got plenty to do. Until later, Professor.” He sounds normal now, his joviality returning as he regains feeling in his fingertips, the world feeling more like reality and less like film.

“Until later, Pupil,” Harry teases right back, his confusion being replaced with warmth once again.

And Louis can’t help but mock glare at that, snapping out of his remaining reverie to snark out a protesting, “Hey!”

Harry giggles, delighted, before bumbling away, hands deep in his pockets and his smile filling up every corner of the room. He looks mostly undeterred by what just went down, calm and perhaps a bit dazed. Looks more delighted though, maybe a bit punch-drunk.

Which is just excellent.

“Well,” Liam says, and his voice sounds distant and echoey as Louis stares hard at the counter, rubbing at a caramel stain with his thumb. “I guess you two have officially bonded.”

He doesn’t know what that’s supposed to mean.

“I guess,” Louis shrugs. But he doesn’t look up. “He’s a bit of an odd duck, though.”

A pause.

And it’s a heavy pause, neither of them really moving or looking at each other.

So Louis finds his voice.

“But you have my blessing,” he continues, focusing on that caramel stain. “To, like, marry him, or whatever.” He paints a grin on his face now as he looks up, meets Liam’s wary eye with a twinkle. “Any man who sings Elton John in my Starbucks is fit for my Liam.”

Why does it feel like he’s swallowed a watermelon?

Liam beams his relief at that, claps his hands excitedly because that’s all it takes for any concern to wash away. “Oh, brilliant,” he gushes, and everything returns to normal just like that, the tension dissipating easily as he begins to relate his favorite things about Harry and all the things he’s planned for their wedding, over the headset.

And it’s like nothing at all just happened.

Louis half-smiles through it all, a very real sense of dread beginning to creep upon him. Because it’s not as if he’s unhappy or unsupportive for Liam, or anything. It’s not as if he genuinely fancies Harry. Not really. Because how could he? He barely knows him.

It's just that there are two words currently echoing inside of him, two words that are bouncing around his skull and stomach. And they’re replaying over and over, replaying in time to Liam’s words as he begins naming his and Harry’s unborn children.

Oh no.

**

It’s eight o’clock when he gets off of work finally, clocking out and winding the strings around his folded up apron, his journal tucked into the pocket of his jeans. He’s decided to bring it to karaoke, lest something amusing or inspiring happens—he’s been a bit lacking in luster lately. It can’t hurt to try, right?

He’s tired, a bit crabby. Doesn’t feel like talking much, having heard enough Harry bullshit from Liam, which… Which is just weird because is Liam seriously not at all bothered by the fact that Harry sang to Louis? Really?

Because Louis is kind of bothered.

Luckily though, after their Disney moment, Harry hadn’t come up to the counter again, had instead remained in his seat, bent over his paperwork and tapping a pen against his thigh. Occasionally he’d bring the pen to his lips and chew. (No, Louis had not been looking at his reflection through the window. No. That would just be silly and ill-fitting, not to mention creepy. And out of character. And. And Louis is a liar.)

Anyway. Whatever.

All that matters is that Louis is off of work and Louis is free.

Relieved at the space and the silence—he’s not sure how he’s going to survive the rest of the night, to be quite frank—he emerges from the backroom and is just deciding whether or not to go straight to Niall’s now, when Zayn suddenly appears, chalk markers in hand.

“I’ve got to count tills, bro. Draw this week’s promo, yeah?” he sort-of asks, already shoving the markers into Louis’ hands.

Because, see, Louis is the store’s resident “artist”—for the mere fact that he enjoys drawing and writing and doing any such artistic activities. He enjoys doing them here even more so because it makes him feel like his life is a little bit more creative and a little bit more expressive and it feels nice and reassuring. Plus, it’s fun. And Louis’ been told he’s good at it. So, whenever Zayn doesn’t have the time or is just too lazy, Louis gets to design the menu board. Like now.

“Anything you say, Superior,” he agrees with a salute and a wry smile before Zayn flicks him and walks away.

He’s just about to search for a table to work at—the café has filled up by now, all their nightly regulars taking up all the spaces with their laptops and bookbags and jackets—when he hears Liam laugh, then Harry, and his head snaps up, surprised.

Liam’s on bar, making one steamed beverage or another, looking as if he’s just won the lottery as Harry chats with him, standing idly at the handoff plane, a large smile on his face as he talks, using his hands and gestures, eyes earnest.

Louis’ only ever seen Harry talk to him like that.

Not that that's...a thing.

He tries not to eavesdrop too much as he sidles up to the till, deciding that he does want a beverage after all, the menu board still in his hands and bumping against his knees.

The minute Harry catches sight of him, locks eyes from across the way, he stutters in his speech a bit, before continuing with a smile that keeps pushing at his lips, bright eyes repeatedly flicking back to him.

It makes Louis smile a tiny, tiny bit.

“So, like, when he asked everybody what they enjoyed most out of it, I was the only one who mentioned the students, you know?” Harry continues, smooth, raspy, slow.

And, ah, okay. He’s talking about his job.

“And my professor even asked me what it was that affected me so much and I explained that, like, it’s not just about teaching them, is it?”

Louis perks his eyebrow the exact moment Liam asks, “How do you mean?” as he pours the steamed milk, a blush in his cheeks.

Harry looks at Louis as he explains.

“Well, for me, the most important thing about being a teacher is making sure that the kids feel loved. You know? And I know I only have them for a given amount of time per day before they’re off on their own, but it still matters. Like, before they can start acquiring all this new information and working on all these projects and things, I want them to understand their own value and understand that I genuinely care about them. I want them to know each of them are appreciated individually and that I’ll never judge them or hate them or anything. Like. I just want these kids to know that I care and that I support them. That’s what any person needs, I think. And that’s what matters to me, that’s why I love what I do.” He smiles a bit, blinking away from Louis (who’s currently got something that feels akin to a planet in his throat and a balloon in his stomach because who the fuck is this ‘Human of the Year’ and is Louis on a reality show right now?) and looking down at his hands. They’re skimming the counter again in wide designs—he does that a lot. “I even started tearing up a bit as I was telling my class about my kids,” he says with an embarrassed laugh, cheeks pinkening. “I just get really, like, emotional.”

“You cried?” Louis hears himself splutter in disbelief, unable to stop himself, and Liam starts and looks over at him (clearly only just now realizing his presence) and Harry looks up, hair soft as it travels across his cheek in tumbles.

“Yeah,” he says with a shrug. “Nothing to be ashamed about.”

“Sure,” Louis scoffs, rolling his eyes, but he feels a tender press to his heart, a spread of affection filling his torso like a drop of ink penetrating a glass of water. Which he shall never speak of. “You’re quite a sensie, Henry,” he says instead. “Quite a sensie.”

“Sensie?” he questions, brow furrowing.

“Sensitive creature.”

“Oh. Well, yeah. I am,” he agrees amiably, smiling crookedly. He looks as if he were pleased with himself. “I bruise easily—I’m like a peach.”

“Great big fuzzy peach,” Louis accidentally says out loud (and, maybe, a bit fondly) as Liam coos, soppy eyes once again on Harry.

“Your skin’s as soft as a peach’s,” he purrs, and for just one brief moment, Louis feels an uncharacteristic flash of irritation.

But then, thankfully, sense plows back into him and he brushes it away (because what the fuck?) and he hoists the menu board up, deciding that he just really needs to get this done so he can leave this goddamn place and go to Niall’s, maybe smoke a bit. Fuck getting a drink, fuck conversation—he just needs to do this and leave. Adios. Au revoir.

So he departs from the till, turns around to search for a spot and.

Of course, since this is how the world has decided to work, there is but one, singular, empty table in the building. One. And where is it?

Right next to Harry’s table. In the corner.

Oh fucking well. The world can fuck itself. Louis isn’t fazed.

Determinedly, he stalks to it, ignoring Harry’s gaze as it follows him.

“Are you going to sit with me?” he asks, still standing at the handoff plane with those long flamingo legs of his and, fuck, he sounds hopeful and surprised and, fuck, it’s sweet. It’s very sweet.

Louis hates sweets. He’s always had oversensitive teeth and they’ve given him more cavities than he deserves. So he’s not suddenly going to be on board with sweet. Louis hates sweet.

“I’m going to sit next to you,” he clarifies, dropping the board onto the surface of the table.

“Oi, is that the menu board? I wanted to do that. You always get to,” Liam frowns.

At that, Louis sighs, long-suffering, another flash of irritation whirring through his body because he's tired and worn and nothing is making sense.

“We know, Liam,” he says, irritable, uncapping the marker. "Next one, yeah? Zayn only asked me because I'm off and you've got to make drinks since you're still working. Next time, promise." He glances at the sample drawing, taped to the corner of the board, and gives it a single onceover before unsticking it, crumpling it, and stuffing it in his pocket.

Immediately, he sets to work.

It’s not long before he feels a presence over his shoulder.

“I like that,” Harry rumbles, somewhere around his ear and no no no. No, Louis does not support such close proximity, especially from Harry, from this stranger. This stranger that his best friend is in lust with.

“Er. Thanks,” he says, shuffling away as he continues drawing a croissant. (They’re hard little fucks to draw. Who knew?)

“Were you an artist?” Harry asks after a moment, still too close, but he doesn’t move any closer, allowing Louis to ease away. He smells nice, though. Like soft cologne and warm blankets.

Which is entirely inconvenient.

“Pffft,” Louis scoffs, shading in the croissant, eyes focused, tongue occasionally darting to wet his lips. “Not even.” He pauses, considering the words as he reviews his work. “Though, I did have big dreams in secondary school—as one does.” He smiles wryly, turning to Harry who has now stepped to the side a bit, shoulder to shoulder with him.

Well. Not exactly shoulder to shoulder. Harry is, after all, the Jolly Green Giant.

“I took a mess of art classes and thought I created the world before I realized I loved writing more," Louis continues. "Those were the actual worlds I wanted to create—worlds in literature and in the mind. You know? Sort of internal? I was shit at art—I thought I felt it and understood it, but I didn’t. It wasn’t until I started writing scenes and stories that I sort of…” he drifts off, looking down at the drying streaks of marker, feeling Harry’s intense stare. He shrugs, a bit self-consciously. “I sort of really felt it. Connected with it in a way I hadn’t with anything else before. As ridiculous as that sounds,” he adds in an undertone.

But Harry’s already shaking his head fervently.

“No. No, I understand you. I also wanted to become an artist in secondary school.” Of course. At this point, Louis’ not even surprised. “But I chose poetry instead. Because I felt it, too.” Harry swallows, eyes never blinking, his expression soft and open. “I get it.”

Of course.

Louis refuses to smile, is absolutely affronted at his own body when he catches his reflection in the windows and finds that he already is.

“Professor Poet Styles,” he teases before writing the final words on the board, their milky ink spilling out smoothly with each glide.

They both watch the ink dry, Louis’ resistance at Harry’s proximity lessening, finding himself growing accustomed to his warmth and the way his body ever so gently sways. Growing accustomed to his soft, sweet smell.

He’s like chamomile tea.

“Do you ever feel like—“ Harry stops, seeming to rethink his words. His gaze is still on the board, his expression odd.

Louis turns, watches his profile for a moment, before nudging him gently. “What?” he prompts.

Harry blinks a few more times—soft, slow blinks—before seeming to decide, opening his mouth again.

“Do you ever feel like you have so many options of what to do? That, like, you were given so many abilities and, like, opportunities? And you feel like you’re decent at a lot of things but you’re only just that? Decent?”

Surprised, Louis straightens, considers the words seriously before Harry shakes his head, curls bouncing as he sends a rueful, apologetic smile Louis’ way.

“No, I’m sorry. I sound like a tit. I’m sorry, never mind.”

“No,” Louis argues, thoughtful. “I get what you mean. Like. You’ve sort of got the tools to be good at a handful of things and you’ve got to choose just one but you’re not sure you’re going to choose the right one? Sort of like, you’re going to spend your life being mediocre if you pick the wrong thing or you’re going to spend it being as good as you can be if you somehow make the right decision?”

Which, hello: welcome to Louis’ life.

“Yes, exactly!” Harry says, instantly brighter. He smiles balefully. “You’re better at saying things than I am.”

“Well, I’m the one who writes the over-descriptive prose,” he jokes, capping the marker. “You’re the one who writes elusive poetry.”

Harry's cheeks push against his eyes, his lashes fanned over soft green. He's standing very close. “Together we could create something truly special.”

“Or truly terrible," Louis counters, ignoring his pulse. It has no right to speed up like that. No right at all. "In summary, we're just a bunch of my long-winded sentences and your incomprehensible sentiments." He pauses. "We're like the beatnicks but, somehow, still more useful.”

Harry bursts into laughter, composure loosening like elastic bands. “That is probably the most frighteningly accurate thing you’ve ever said,” he chuckles, and he looks so happy and carefree. How can a person always manage to look so happy?

It makes Louis feel happy, like he's filled with gurgling vanilla syrup and warm milk. “And I’ve been known to be very accurate,” he remarks, his smile widening as Harry continues to titter, limbs softly brushing against Louis.

A pause descends over them then—one of those peaceful, comfortable ones that are becoming commonplace—and they both observe Louis’ work, a smile on Harry’s lips.

“You’re really good. That looks incredible,” he muses, soft.

“You’re a liar and you’re trash,” Louis responds seamlessly, just as soft.

Harry bursts into a laugh again, composure slipping once more. “I’m genuinely not lying!” he protests, but it doesn’t stop him from giggling, shoving playfully at Louis with hands that are surprisingly gentle, given their size. “I wouldn’t even know how to draw a croissant anymore. And you’ve even shaded the thing. Little artiste that you are.”

Alright, so. Harry’s flirting. Harry is clearly flirting. He’s looking down at Louis with fondness and a smugly teasing eye and he’s totally flirting, his hands slow to slide down Louis' arm, fingertips catching on the sleeve of his shirt.

Oh no.

Oh fucking no.

Louis' pulse is being unruly. So is Harry. 

“You charmer,” he brushes aside, voice less firm than he'd like, and he’s not flirting back, nope. Well. Not intentionally. At least. “Your words are poisoned honey. And my croissant looks like a nappy.”

Another laugh from Harry. He'll laugh clean into the next century at this rate. “It does not,” he protests amidst a breathy smile and fumbling lips that gleam ruby.

“Does too,” Louis protests a bit softer, skin prickling as he fights a smile.

“Stop, Rembrandt.”

“Rembrandt? Really?”

“Really.”

They’re grinning at each other, grinning wildly and standing side by side and the board’s done and Louis should probably go to Niall’s.

“Hey. Do you want to hear my favorite song?” Harry asks suddenly, randomly. He’s still smiling.

Louis should go to Niall’s.

“Depends,” he says instead. “Do you want to hear mine?”

“Yes.”

“Then yes.”

And after a moment’s silence, they both spin around to Harry’s laptop, scuttling to reach his headphones in a race, giggling like idiots.

“Mine first!” Louis shouts with a laugh, because he’s a competitive fuck. A few heads turn towards them, raising their eyebrows. Some of them glare at the noise.

“No, mine first,” Harry whines, but, oh, his smile. There’s nothing but sugar in it. Sweet, raw, real sugar.

Naturally, Harry wins—because he’s Stretch Armstrong with that twenty kilo arm span—but Louis basically let it happen. He smiles triumphantly, pumps a half-hearted victory fist in the air. Such a dope.

Louis’ about to protest and pinch his nose or something but then suddenly there’s a headphone being stuffed over his right ear and his cheek is being pressed against Harry’s cheek and. Oh.

Oh, okay. They’re both going to listen to the headphones together. As one. Sharing the headphones.

That’s fine.

That’s great, even.

So Louis doesn’t comment as his surprise calms him down a bit and he especially doesn’t comment on Harry’s sudden burning blush or his quivering hands as he opens up his iTunes.

Instead, he listens and pretends that what is happening to him right now doesn’t feel like a fucking romcom.

He listens to Harry’s favorite song and he closes his eyes and he pretends.

**

When Starbucks finally closes, Louis and Harry gather up Harry’s things, chatting amiably and chuckling intermittently.

Somehow, Louis never left for Niall’s, instead getting caught by Harry for the past two hours—from listening to each other’s favorite songs to very embarrassingly quizzing each other on classics and literature and, at one point, Harry even shyly showing Louis some of his poetry.

Which was, of course, brilliant.

But Harry was blushing furiously and kept stuttering, so Louis let him off the hook and praised him sincerely before Harry panic-changed the subject and Google’d his favorite Emily Dickinson poem, thrusting the screen in Louis’ face, demanding him to read it out loud. Which Louis did, if only to ease Harry’s burning flesh (it might sear off in a few days if he keeps his blushing frequency up) and because Harry’s eyes gain a milky quality to them whenever Louis speaks and it’s sort of flattering and nice and odd and wonderful.

Harry is flattering and nice and odd and wonderful.

They shared a mug of lukewarm black coffee betwixt them and Louis’ feet hurt from standing (he never left Harry’s side somehow) and Harry kept sniffling because he said his nose always runs when the weather’s cold and they brushed limbs a lot and laughed a lot and made fun of each others’ laughs and Louis sort of completely forgot about a lot of things.

Like Liam, for instance.

Who worked resiliently, never once speaking to either of them. Whether it was because he was genuinely engaged elsewhere or whether he was fucking furious, Louis was not sure.

Either way though… Louis is going straight to hell.

Because he’s evil and he’s a traitor and he’s probably going to end up in the final circle of Dante’s Hell, being chewed on by Satan, right alongside Brutus and Judas.

“Want to, like, get some food while we wait for them to finish up here?” Harry asks after clearing his throat, his entire stance and expression hesitant and hopeful as he takes the stack of papers Louis’ currently holding out for him.

Oh.

Oh no.

Oh no oh no oh no oh no oh no.

This is the opposite of good. This is the opposite because LIAM and KINSHIP and TRUST and LOYALTY and it’s the opposite of good because Louis’ insides spark to life at the question, his immediate instinct screaming a ‘YES!’ and, nope.

No, Louis is not going to let himself get chewed on by Satan. He’s got to squash whatever’s going on between them while he still can.

“Er,” he begins, clearing his throat. There’s a low, heavy feeling inside of him. Is that guilt? Discomfort? Misery? Regret? What is that? “Actually, I think I’ll just stay here. Not very hungry,” he lies.

A wave of disappointment visibly crashes over Harry.

“Oh,” he says, and it’s the exact sound of a baby raccoon being crushed by a tree. “Okay. Well. I guess I’ll just...” He drifts off, clearly not knowing what to say or where to go. Because it’s not as if Louis can text him when they get there—he hasn’t got Harry’s number.

Oh shit. That is not a good idea. Harry’s number.

But Louis is weak and never does what he should, so it comes as no surprise when he opens his big mouth and says happily:

“Give us your number, then. I’ll text you when we get to Niall’s. We’ll meet there then walk to the pub, yeah?”

At the words ‘number’ and ‘text you’, Harry beams brilliantly again, his crushed expression evaporating instantly as he practically sways on the spot and jesus fuck, if that’s not flattering, then Louis doesn’t know what is. He’s warmed by it, charmed, and he’s handing his phone over to Harry with the instructions, “Enter your number. Enter your name. I expect to be impressed.”

“Impressed?” Harry questions, eyebrows furrowing in amusement. 

Louis rolls his eyes impatiently. “I mean like, don’t be the boring sort that just puts his name and his number and doesn’t add a bit of flare. I want flare, boy, I want flare.”

Harry laughs at that as he takes the phone, tapping out his number diligently before pausing with an impish grin, eyes sweeping the room in thought.

Pleased, Louis smiles as he watches him.

Harry’s eyes narrow then, only briefly, before a wide smirk suddenly fills his face and he taps away again, causing Louis’ intrigue to prickle. He hands it back with a grin, with the home screen on.

Louis quirks an eyebrow at that (because just how the fuck is he supposed to find Harry’s number now?) and Harry immediately says, as if reading his thoughts, “Got to find it now. I expect you will. And I expect you’ll be impressed.”

Ah. Good boy.

A matched smirk is made and Louis nods, examining the phone in his hand, weighing it in his palm.

“I see. Well.” He looks up, twitching his cheeks into neutrality as Harry unabashedly grins like a newborn dinosaur. He holds up the phone, taps it once. “I’ll be contacting you shortly, Professor. Until then? Drive safe.”

Harry smiles, nods, and then Zayn’s jingling keys are coming closer and his smoky voice is mumbling an, “Alright, get on with it. Out you go.” He pauses as Harry begins shuffling forwards reluctantly. “Unless you’d like to stay, mate? Makes no difference to me.”

Stay?

Harry stay? Stay so he can talk to Louis more and flirt more and make more references that Louis always gets?

No thank you.

“He’ll distract you, Zayn,” Louis says hurriedly, before Harry can take him up on the offer, and Harry blinks owlishly at him before he closes his mouth and shakes his head, more to himself than anything.

“You sure?” Zayn asks, glancing from Louis to Harry.

Harry’s giving Louis a look—is it exasperated? Fond? Sad?—as he narrows his eyes a bit and smiles small before adjusting his shoulder bag and stepping back.

“Yeah. I’m going to drop my things off at my flat. I’ll see you at Niall’s,” he says amiably and Louis feels rushing relief as he exhales through his teeth. “Bye,” he sings, waving goodbye as he exits backwards, feet nearly stumbling over themselves. Zayn’s following him, getting his keys out to lock the door behind him. Harry’s eyes find Louis' over Zayn’s shoulder. As they always seem to. “Text me,” he says, still waving.

“If I can find you,” Louis retorts, and recoils when he realizes he’s waving back enthusiastically. Shit fuck. Stop.

He plays it cool though, drops his previously-waving hand to sift through his hair, and if Harry notices his self-reprimand, he makes no notice, instead focusing on never walking forwards ever again, apparently.

At last, Zayn ushers him out, practically has to push him out, shouting farewells before locking the door and bounding back inside, winking at Louis as he sidles past him.

“Now let’s get the fuck out of here as fast as we can,” he breathes, and leaves to join Liam in the backroom. (Louis still hasn’t seen Liam. Worrying. He’s definitely going to be chewed on by Satan.)

It’s then that Louis pulls out his phone, immediately pulling up his contacts and typing in the search bar.

Harry

No results. Good. He passed the test.

Styles

No results.

Well shit. Maybe he actually got a bit clever with it.

Professor

No results.

He thinks only a moment longer before the obvious dawns on him and he types in ‘Henry’ with a victorious smile, feels even more victorious when a name appears—and then promptly feels the smile fall from his face as his heart jumps in his mouth and his insides fall out of his bum.

‘Lord Henry’ it says.

Which, yeah. ‘Henry’ is what Louis jokingly calls him.

But ‘Lord Henry’?

That’s the name of Louis’ favorite character in Dorian Gray. And Harry obviously did it on purpose (intelligent little fucker) since he read the book, loves the book, knows exactly how Louis feels about Oscar and that book and that’s why he was so smug and smiley and—

He expected Louis to be impressed and, well, dammit, he is. He’s really fucking impressed.

So Louis sits down in one of the leather chairs hidden from view of the windows, never exiting from the screen on his phone, and waits as Zayn and Liam rush to close, his thumb hovering over the ‘Send Message’ button.

Before he does though, before he texts him, he slides his journal out from his pocket.

He opens it to ‘Day 4’.

He writes ‘Lord Henry’s made a space for himself.’

And then he continues to stare at his phone, wondering just how the rest of this night is going to go.