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Play the Part (Win his Heart)

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Come Dine with Me is one of those programmes that everyone has seen. Everyone admits to having watched it, even if some of them say so with disdain. It’s a classic of modern British television.

And finally, finally, Louis is getting his chance.

It’s night three of four. Four nights. Four dinner parties. One winner of very little money because the only reason they’re able to produce so many episodes is because it costs almost nothing to make. But it’s not about the prize money! It’s about hosting the best dinner party ever.

And Louis is going to win.

On night one of the competition, they went to the house of a man named Liam. Liam is tall and looks like he could bench-press a horse. Personality-wise, it also seems like the sort of thing he would do in his free time.

Louis had arrived early in order to scope out the competition. He met Liam. He met Liam’s dog Loki. He met Liam’s dog Watson. He met two other dogs whose names are entirely inconsequential because Liam talked for ten minutes about how he doesn’t instagram them in order to not “expose them”, whatever that means. As far as Louis can tell, Liam isn’t famous and his dogs wouldn’t be particularly ‘exposed’. But whatever. They were cute, even if Louis was pretty sure Watson could crush him to death just by sitting on him.

Liam had just been pouring a bottle of champagne into wine glasses for the two of them when the next guest showed up. The next guest had been loud, Irish, and excitable. He became delighted when introduced to Louis and Liam. He became jubilant when Liam introduced him to his dogs. He became downright passionate when he found out that the brand of champagne Liam was pouring into yet another wine glass was from Ireland.

Louis found him to be a bit much.

Still, nothing prepared him for the last guest, who had arrived a moment later, by the name of Harry Styles.

The thing is, Louis entered this competition to win. He was determined to show everyone how charming he was, how delicious of a dinner he could cook, and how wonderful of a dinner party he could throw. Harry Styles would throw it all off track.

He had walked into the entrance hall when Liam had opened the door, and promptly tripped - landing face down on the carpet and being swarmed by dogs.

“Dogs!” he had exclaimed in a deep voice, still face down. “How welcoming! Wherever did you rent them?”

“Um.” Liam had looked confused. “I don’t rent my dogs.”

“Ah,” Harry had said, sitting up. “Lovely. Do love a good dog. Don’t really understand how they work, of course. More of a cat person myself.”

And well, nothing else Harry could have possibly said would have won over Louis more than that statement, probably. A cat person. In London.

The problem was that Harry was incredibly good looking, with an incredibly sexy voice, a love of cats, and a fashion sense that made Louis want to take his clothes off immediately.

(Was that because he looked sexy in his outfit? Or because his outfit was so hideous that Louis wanted it off of his beautifully sculpted body? The world would never know).

When Harry did eventually extricate himself from the floor and the dogs, he flashed a dimpled grin that would have had Louis swooning, if not for the fact that he was direct competition. He complimented Liam on his choice of wallpaper. He complimented Niall on his (hideous) newsboy cap. Then he turned to Louis, and, well. His gaze lingered. He drew his gaze from Louis’s feet to his face in a slow manner that Louis was sure was deliberate, and said, in a voice as thick as organic honey and with a wide, toothy grin;

“Your fly’s undone.”

It was in that moment that Louis declared that he positively refused to lose to anyone by the name of Harry Styles, and that this was clearly a declaration of war, and if he had to he was perfectly prepared to snog Harry Styles’s face off, providing the situation required it.

Overall, Liam had made a perfectly average meal, thank the lord. It was good, but it wasn’t anywhere near Louis’s abilities. His conversational topics also focused around his dogs, and they played a game of “guess which dog chewed this shoe!”, which Louis lost horribly. Niall had grumbled about how his housemates apparently kept begging him to let them get a dog, and Harry somehow managed to guess every single slipper correctly. The best (and worst) part of the evening came when Harry had finished his first glass of wine. It turned out with every glass, another button on Harry’s shirt came undone. He had two glasses. He also had a dusting of chest hair. Louis was infuriated at Harry’s amazing distraction techniques. He was also infuriated at just how sexy Harry’s small amount of chest hair was.

Overall, Louis rated Liam a six. He figured it was a safe number.

The second night, they all met at Niall’s house. Walking in, Louis noticed just how clean and orderly everything was. It was so neat that he became suspicious. Did Niall have a maid service? It seemed ridiculous for someone to keep their house so clean on a regular basis. Where would he put his dirty socks? The laundry basket?

Liam showed up second and seemed to be rather disappointed Niall had no dogs. Harry, once again, showed up last. He brought a large bottle of elderflower cider as a thank-you. Louis thought it was an incredibly tacky and faux-posh thing to bring, but was really too distracted by the outfit he had on. A full three piece suit embroidered head-to-toe with pictures of cats. As far as Louis could tell they were all different. There was an especially fluffy and angry-looking one on his breast pocket that Louis stared at much longer than was appropriate. When he finally tore his eyes away from the cat (and it was definitely the cat, and not the perfect-sexy cut of Harry’s suit), he realised to his utter mortification that Harry had been staring at him the entire time too.

Harry didn’t stop when he was found out. Instead, he smirked, raising one eyebrow. Louis hated him. He was ready to fight him. Maybe he should slip something into his food. An aphrodisiac. No. Poison. That’s what he meant. Poison.

Niall gave them a tour of his home, and his room was just as clean as the downstairs. He had a bathroom with walls made of concrete (pretentious, much?) and a walk-in closet that Harry swooned over as soon as the door was open.

Liam bemoaned that it was the perfect place for a dog bed.

Louis only stared in fascination as Harry ran his fingers lovingly over Niall’s hanging shirts.

On the way back downstairs Louis hung back a bit and creaked open one of the two closed doors that Niall didn’t show them through. He creaked it open silently and was vindicated to find that it was stuffed with a mountain of clothes, books and dirty dishes. Even Niall couldn’t keep as clean a house as he was pretending. Good.

Niall’s dinner had been bland. It had all the fixings of something fancy and delicious, but somehow he had managed to put his chicken and carrots in the oven without seasoning them. He spoke about politics in foreign countries all evening and although Harry seemed to know everything he was talking about, Louis found himself just as lost as Liam (which was disconcerting, because Liam seemed to often be lost).

Still, Louis was determined to continue to make a good impression so that everyone would think kindly of him when it came to rating at the end of his night, and so he laughed when he thought Niall was telling jokes and rolled his eyes whenever Harry said, well, anything. Harry didn’t seem to take offence, at any rate, just got more animated and excitable. They moved on from American politics to Canadian politics to Canadian food, and that’s where Harry really got going. Louis had never heard of poutine before but he even forgot to keep rolling his eyes as Harry got more and more animated about, well, something. A moose. A flag. Some actor. He got so into whatever he was saying that he managed to knock his wine glass into his own lap, which meant he never finished his wine, so he never un-did any buttons on his suit and somehow the suit was only improved by the maroon coloring. The embroidered cats only seemed to come more alive. Louis, remembering they were in competition, half-heartedly scowled. Harry Styles would not hypnotise him like this!

In the end, he rated Niall a seven. At least his dinner was good after Louis added half a salt shaker to it.

So here Louis is, day three of Come Dine with Me is his time to shine. He’s had his dishes planned out for months, and when the camera crews arrive he’s got himself all set up and ready. The house looks perfect (but not too perfect, like Niall’s), and he’s even lit a three-wick candle (which definitely has nothing to do with the fact that Harry was talking the day before about how much he loves three-wick candles).

He flirts a little with the camera crew to try to get them on his side. He does little flourishes as he throws spices together. He’s going for a traditional pub lunch of yorkshire puddings and gravy, and a dessert of mini berry trifles. He’s done enough yorkshire puddings over the years to know that if he doesn’t whisk long enough to get all the lumps out, they end up weirdly soggy. He spent years with batter on the walls thanks to how bad he was at whisking, but he likes to think that he’s more or less a professional now. He wiggles his bum a little for the camera as he does it. Just because.

He whisks. He bakes. He simmers gravy. He cuts fruit and angel food cake into little cubes. He remembers everything his mum has ever told him about time management, and hopes that when she watches this program she’ll be proud of him.

In the off-time when they’re not recording, he makes friends with one of the camera men - a Logan Thompson - and tries to weasel out of him the scores that Niall and Liam have earned. Logan doesn’t give up any pertinent information but Louis is confident that he’s going to come out on top. After all, he’s making mini berry trifles. Who doesn’t love mini berry trifles?

When it comes time for the guests to start showing up, Louis brings out champagne to give each one as they go through the door. The first person to appear turns out to be Liam, who apologises for being late, claiming that he got lost on the way.

“You’re the first one here,” Louis says with a frown. “You’re definitely not late.”

“That’s odd,” says Liam. “Maybe my clock’s stopped again, that happens from time to time.”

“Ah,” says Louis.

He hands Liam a champagne glass.

Liam asks him where his dogs are.

Some hosts choose to show off their house, especially if they’re proud of something they want to slyly show off upstairs. Louis has chosen not to do this, although he does bemoan the lost opportunity to show off his collection of shirts with subversive messages.

But Melanie would be royally pissed at him.

Melanie spends most of her time under Louis’s bed as it is, hissing and spitting at anyone who comes near. She growls when her dinner is late. She hisses when his feet hit the floor first thing in the morning. The only time she’s truly happy is when Louis ties her special golden string around his ankle and runs around the house for her to chase after, but that’s earned him with enough welts on his ankle that he doesn’t do it too often.

Niall shows up second. He takes a sip of champagne and notes that it’s ‘too spicy’ before setting it back down. Louis isn’t sure what that means. He starts to wonder if it was really an accident that Niall didn’t season his food.

Harry, as is becoming habit for him, shows up last. He’s wearing a suit today that’s an iridescent sort of purple, covered in an intricate design of flowers. Louis finds himself flustered for a moment over the sheer beauty that is Harry Styles. He hates this. It’s so hard to speak to Harry because he looks so hot and all Louis wants to do is jump his bones regardless of the three cameras perched around him.

Fuck Harry Styles, he tells himself on the inside. Hatred will work better than adoration. He can still talk to someone he hates. He just has to learn to hate Harry Styles.

“Champagne?” he asks Harry, picking up the last full flute glass.

Harry smiles. It takes a while, but it takes over his whole face, like some horrible disease, creating craters in his cheeks and making his eyes go all crinkly.

Someone stop him.

“Thank you, Louis,” Harry says, taking the glass. “I love champagne, it reminds me of the Alps in March.”

What the fuck.

“You’ve been to the Alps in March?” Louis asks.

“No,” Harry sighs wistfully. “But this champagne makes me think I should.”

“Right,” says Louis. “Good story. Niall? Liam? Got any stories to match that one?”

They don’t.

Dinner goes off swimmingly, if Louis does say so himself. Sure, Liam burns his mouth on the gravy and then spits it all over Niall’s plate, and Harry asks about whether the eggs from Louis’s yorkshire puddings are from free range happy chicken (Louis has no idea if the chickens are happy or not, and telling Harry that results in the saddest of faces), and Niall, well, he asks for no gravy on his pudding, because he likes the flavour. So. Whatever works for him.

Dessert, of course, should be a hit. Everybody likes mini berry trifles. It’s like, the law. So when Louis presents them, he’s confused by the frown on Liam’s face.

Niall looks pleasantly excited. Louis likes Niall.

Harry mentions his love of strawberries. Louis is supposed to hate Harry but also just for this moment loves Harry.

Liam says, “Are those made with cornbread?”

“What.” says Louis.

“It’s just, that seems like a weird combination? Strawberries and cream and cornbread. I mean, I’ll try anything once, it just doesn’t look that appealing.”

“It’s not-” Louis carefully sets down the glass containers. “Why would I do that, Liam? What has made you come to the conclusion that I have put cornbread in this dessert instead of angelfood cake like literally every other trifle ever made?”

“You haven’t answered the question,” Liam says.

“It’s definitely not cornbread,” Louis says.

“‘S like that analogy about the zebra,” Harry says dreamily as he takes a bite.

“It’s like what?”

“You know,” Harry waves the hand with the spoon in it. “The zebra. You hear barking and you should assume dog, but you assume zebra.”

“Hoofbeats,” says Niall. “It’s hoofbeats, not barking.”

“Is it? Could have sworn it was barking.”

“What? I don’t hear anything.”

“Liam, please just eat the trifle.”

Louis plans to end the night with a singing competition. He’s put up a fake microphone, borrowed from his sisters, and has his computer queued up for karaoke.

Niall and Liam dive right in, with very different songs picked. Niall picks something Louis has never heard of, but it sounds very American and very country and he sort of shakes his hips to it, which means Louis has to work hard not to laugh. Or at least, not when he’s looking. Liam, to Louis’s horror, picks I Get the Bag by Gucci Mane. Louis loses all focus on the competition prize and throws politeness out the window, choosing instead to snapchat Liam’s whole performance and immediately send the whole three minutes to everyone on his contacts list. Liam’s actually really good, for what it’s worth, but he’s doing hip hop karaoke with a pink microphone in Louis’s living room and a homemade youtube video with the lyrics in bright pink and yellow in the background. It’s a sight.

Thankfully, Liam seems to be rather proud that Louis has chosen to record his whole performance, and asks if Louis will send it to him. Louis won’t, but he says he will.

Then Harry steps up to the mic. He turns to the computer and bends down to type and Louis gets the perfect view of Harry’s bum (which isn’t the biggest, but it’s just the right amount of visible in his yet again perfectly-fitting suit). He’s already got his two top buttons on his shirt undone thanks to the wine at dinner, and when he stands up after pressing play, Louis doesn’t initially recognize the music that starts up.

Then he does.

Because Harry Fucking Styles should by no means be allowed to sing a song like Bang Bang. Not when Louis is supposed to win this competition. Harry Fucking Styles should not be allowed to sing any song by Jessie J, Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj. Absolutely not. Fuck fucking no.

Harry Fucking Styles also should not be allowed to dance like he is currently doing, in Louis’s living room, swaying and tipping just a bit and running fingers through his hair and grinding on the stand of Louis’s sisters’ pink toy microphone. While keeping eye contact with Louis. It’s obscene. He should be arrested. He can’t win if he’s been arrested, right?

Louis shifts uncomfortably. If any of the camera crew focuses their lenses on him he’s not at all too sure how the state of his trousers will look on Channel 4, and he might have to blackmail his new friend Logan Thompson to get rid of the evidence. That would be bad. He may be less likely to win if that happens.

The song ends and Liam, at least, erupts into claps and cheers. Thank goodness for Liam. Louis thinks briefly he should have given him a higher score. Niall seems to have been rather shaken by the performance but he claps too. Harry comes over and plops down on the couch next to Louis, grazing their thighs ever so slightly, and says, “Do love a good bit of karaoke. What are you going to sing then?”

Louis doesn’t think he can sing much of anything after that performance. He can’t even properly form words thanks to Harry Styles. His thigh burns where it touches Harry’s. Eventually he says that he’s got a light cold and it would be bad for him to strain his voice.

(The problem in his trousers would be just a bit too evident if he decided to perform much of anything at the moment).

While Niall did briefly complain about Louis having a cold and possibly contaminating their food, when his three guests left Louis looked back over the course of the evening and counted it a success. He figured he did well. His food was definitely delicious, and the karaoke, while in hindsight maybe not the best idea, was definitely enjoyed by everyone.

He goes to bed with high hopes.

On the last day, Louis arrives at Harry’s house just a bit earlier than he needs to. He knocks on the door and admires the many plants on the front step. These plants, unlike his own, are still alive. They smell quite nice.

Harry Styles opens the door, which makes sense as it is his house, and Louis is both surprised and pleased to find that he’s shirtless.

“Hello,” says Harry. He has a slow smile that makes Louis just want to. Put his hand on Harry’s face. Like, he could just rest his hand on Harry’s face and feel that smile.

Please stop thinking these things, he reminds himself.

“Would you like to come in?” Harry asks, after a beat of silence.

“You’re shirtless,” Louis eventually response.

“That’s true,” Harry affirms. I always cook shirtless. It helps me stay more in tune with my ingredients.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Louis informs him.

“Probably,” Harry says.

Louis does come in, once he remembers how his legs work. Harry styles has leaves tattooed on his stomach. Fuck Harry Styles.

His house is equal parts beautiful and eccentric. There are plants and paintings of cats and old books that look well-read but Louis assumes no one has actually read them.

“You’re a bit early,” Harry says. “Please excuse me, I’m just going to go put on a shirt.”

“Of course,” Louis says. “Make yourself at home.”

Louis is going to lose sleep over that comment later. Fucking Harry Styles is making him so nervous his brain is short circuiting. If he loses this competition he’s going to come back to this house and fill the mail slot with uncooked spaghetti noodles.

Harry appears downstairs again just as another knock sounds. He’s wearing a gold suit that’s rather dazzling, and he opens the door to let Niall and Liam in, stating that dinner will be out of the oven in ten and that he can give them a quick tour of the house.

Louis loves to snoop, but he especially loves to snoop when it comes to the houses of gorgeous men that make him speak like an idiot. Harry has a room devoted to musical instruments. He has a room devoted to books. He has a room devoted bathing - no wait, that’s just his bathroom. That one’s normal.

Niall and Liam seem fairly impressed as well, remarking on the number of cat paintings Harry has hanging up. Apparently he collects cat paintings. One near the top of the stairs reminds Louis of Melanie, and he briefly considers trying to steal it. But Melanie probably wouldn’t actually appreciate it, so he leaves it where it is.

Harry has made them chicken wrapped in parma ham stuffed with mozzarella. He tells them he had a dream about making this meal recently, and he thought it might be a sign. Louis thinks that’s ridiculous, and that it’s an odd meal to choose, but then Harry hands them out to everyone and Louis takes one bite and he finds that it’s absolutely delicious. Damn it. Of course it is. Harry cooked it shirtless, after all.

Harry leads them in a round of trivia facts while they eat, and Louis is pretty sure that every fact Liam gives them is wrong. Many of the facts that Harry gives sound mostly right, and Louis finds that he would trust every word that comes out of Niall’s mouth. His own facts are entirely made-up, but he says them with confidence, and that’s what counts.

Harry’s dessert is a tennis cake, because apparently they have all been transported back to the seventies, and by the time everyone is finished they all have green lips and tongues from the decoration on top. It’s horribly delicious and Louis works hard to refrain from asking for a second piece, lest Harry get a big ego.

Briefly after dinner, they all have to step out and Niall, Liam and Louis all come back in to film their ratings. Louis gives Harry an eight, even as he has a scowl on his face, because he just can’t help it, Harry’s delicious. No. Harry’s food is delicious. Louis’s not just going to lie about that!

When they all come back in, the official serving tray is brought out and Louis gulps. He’s sort of forgotten about this part. It had been his goal for so many years of his life to win this challenge, and then he finally got on the show and he’s been letting Harry Styles distract him from day one! Now he’s no longer at all sure what his chances of winning are.

Harry, being the host of the night, is the one to lift the lid and take out the scroll. He flips his hair before unwrapping it and reading out the names.

Niall gets fourth place, and Louis figures that’s mostly because he didn’t season anything.

Liam gets third place, which means Louis is not in third place, which is good.

Then Harry clears his throat and reads out first place. Rather awkwardly. Because Harry is in first place.

Louis claps, of course, because he’s not rude. And Harry deserves it, because he’s an amazing cook and now that this competition is over Louis can admit unashamedly that he’s sexy as fuck.

But. Louis has lost. And he’s embarrassed. So he makes a rather awkwardly quick exit so that he can go home and wallow in bed with Melanie snoring below him. He’s going to binge watch a good show. Like Four in a Bed. Or Love Island.

It occurs to Louis the next day that this means he’s not going to see Harry’s lovely dimples again. That was his last chance. He could have gotten his number. Why didn’t he get his number?

Now he wallows not because he lost Come Dine with Me, but because he wants Harry to come dine with him.

Melanie stays under the bed. She is not particularly comforting but Louis assumes she’s trying her best.

It’s a few days later, and Melanie hasn’t been out from under the bed much lately, so Louis is giving her a special treat today, and tying her special gold string to his ankle. He’s definitely not trying to distract himself from the fact that he didn’t get Harry’s number. Nope. He’s just having fun with his most precious furry baby.

He waggles his foot in front of the bed for only a moment before two fluffy white paws start swiping at the string. He knows better than to put his fingers there, because dear Melanie isn’t too good at knowing when to retract her claws. She means well. Probably.

He’s soon running down the hallway, with fluffy little Melanie close on his heels. Days like this are a workout because if he ever slows down enough for her to catch the string, she tends to get distracted and go straight for his ankles instead, wrapping her limbs around him and going for the ankle-jugular. So he keeps going until either she’s tired out or he can managed to hop onto a high ledge and catch her off-guard. (That ledge generally being the kitchen counter).

Today he’s done two laps around the living room when he hears the bell ding. Probably the postman, he figures, and he runs for the door, opening it just as Melanie catches up. She nabs the string, goes right past it and claws at his ankle. Then, when he jumps and kicks his foot up, she finds a new enemy to attack and goes straight for the ankle of the man standing in the doorway.

Harry.

It turns out Harry is the man standing in the doorway.

And now Harry has a feisty little Melanie wrapped around his ankle, biting at tiny embroidered kittens.

“Shit,” says Louis.

“Hello,” says Harry.

He leans down and strokes down Melanie’s spine. Melanie continues to gnaw. She also starts to pur. Louis wants to put his head in his hands.

“May I come in?” asks Harry.

“Please.” Louis feels at a loss for words. Harry is beautiful even when he’s not being filmed for a show. Incredible.

“You left rather fast the other day,” Harry says, sitting down and stroking Melanie again. She’s followed them into the living room and seems to have decided some sort of vengeance on Harry’s embroidered kittens.

“I lost,” said Louis.

“That’s true,” said Harry. “I think it was probably Niall. He was really rather put off by your cold.”

“I didn’t have a cold,” says Louis.

“I know,” says Harry.

Well. That seems everything that needs said.

Except.

“Can I get your number?” asks Louis, holding out his phone.

“I thought you’d never ask,” Harry says. “I actually rather thought you hated me.”

“I did,” Louis informs him. “You’re perfect, after all.”

“I’m really not,” says Harry. “But thank you. We should have dinner.”

“We should. Will you wear a shirt while you cook it?”

“Of course not. What would be the point in that?”

“I’m going to take pictures of you cooking then,” Louis announces. He wants his intentions to be clear.

“I’m glad,” Harry says.

“Good,” Louis says.

Melanie hops up into Harry’s lap and promptly falls asleep.

“I’m glad you’re a cat person,” Harry says. “And in London! We’re a rare breed.”

“We are,” Louis responds. “I’m glad you’re a cat person too. Melanie doesn’t like laps.”

“Well then I’d better not move for a while,” Harry says, scratching her between the ears. “May we have a pre-date right now? Before the dinner I plan on cooking you later tonight?”

“I don’t see why not,” Louis says. “I’ll get the wine.”

They kiss on both the pre-date and the date. Harry singes his chest hair cooking dinner for Louis shirtless. Louis frames the pictures. They get married relatively soon after. Melanie will only sleep on Harry’s lap but Louis feels better because this means Harry has to regularly repair his trousers thanks to her little claws. His obscene trousers from his obscene suits. Fucking Harry Styles.