Chapter 1: December 1st
There are two very large nutcrackers on the shoulder-high partitions around the circulation department.
Harry wants to make a joke. He wants to make a joke so very badly. Nutcrackers. He’s holding himself back. He’s a professional. He’s at work. He’s-
“Harry, I can see the gears turning in your head and if you make even one joke about the nutcrackers where the patrons can hear I will put you in charge of blue bins for the next week.”
Harry pouts. “Zayn,” he whines. “It’s not my fault! They’re a meter high! The nuts those nutcrackers-”
Harry slaps a hand over his mouth and slinks back to his position at the Help Desk. There are no patrons around, it’s one in the afternoon on a Friday! All the kids are still in school and the elderly are probably taking a mid-afternoon nap or something. It’s deserted and he’s only been at work for ten minutes and he’s already growing restless.
Andrea, bless her heart, is at the Self-Help desk. She gives him a happy little wave, which he returns. Niall is in the back, and Harry can hear him fumbling about and dropping something.
Normally Harry starts in the back - a room deceptively at the front of the library with walls that only reach about ten feet up so all sound travels freely (as any librarian who’s gossiped about patrons just a bit too loudly has unfortunately found out). It’s a nice relaxing way to start work because starting in the back means that for the first hour all that you do is check in books that have been shoved through the slot by hyperactive toddlers (and other patrons who are generally a little more gentle), and books from other libraries that have been delivered in the blue bins. You don’t have to talk to anybody and it’s blissfully quiet.
Now that it’s officially December, A.K.A. Christmas Month, the blue bins tower above everyone in the room: an intimidating monster filled with book after book of winter leisure reading reserved by the loyal patrons of Hillsyde Library.
Checking in blue bins is an exceedingly boring task, and Harry’s gotten good at claiming his position in the back first so that he can spend the rest of the day at the much more relaxing Help Desk and Self-Help Desk (where he stands so that patrons who don’t understand how computers work can forget their PIN seven different times before asking him for assistance).
Today, however, Harry’s best friend and coworker Niall has done the unheard-of and arrived at work on time. It’s some sort of record, Harry is pretty sure. Niall is always five minutes late. Ten, if his cat has gotten out again. Fifteen if his dog has gotten out as well.
And so Niall claimed the back first, and Harry has gotten stuck up at the Help Desk instead. He doesn’t like his routine interrupted. It’s… unsettling.
“Come on, Zayn,” Harry says. “You know they’re funny. They’re nutcrackers-”
“Harry. The nutcrackers are going to be up for another thirty days, give or take. Pace yourself.”
Harry flops dramatically onto his chair in a huff. The chair bounces down about two feet under his sudden weight and he finds himself chin-level with the keyboard of his computer.
It’s one of those days.
“Meeting time!” Zayn calls through the Circ department at four on the dot. “Meeting time! Mini-meeting in the back, quick before a patron notices we’re missing and try to steal all our Patterson books!”
“Again,” Harry hears Andrea mutter as they all congregate into the back room (beside the mountain of blue bins that doesn’t seem to have gotten any smaller).
Harry grins at her. Andrea, dear sweet Andrea, is in her mid-fifties and the feistiest woman Harry has ever met. She refuses to dye her grey hair because “I’m not ashamed of who I am, young Harry,” and her cat Dewey is also her most important person. “Dewey is to be respected, loved, and given shots for her insulin twice a day. She’s older than you are, young Harry, and I don’t think she intends on passing away first.”
Harry’s always worried a bit when she says things like that, but he brushes them off and tries to remind himself that Dewey probably doesn’t know he exists and probably doesn’t plan to maim or kill Harry.
(He’s turned down her requests to cat-sit because of that very fear though).
“Alright crew,” Zayn says. “Christmas season is upon us.”
“We know,” Harry says. “The nutcrackers-”
“Unfortunately,” Zayn continues. “We’re also going to be undergoing a fire alarm upgrade this month.”
“So… bring earplugs?” Niall hazards. He looks tired. Harry frowns. Niall never looks tired. Harry didn’t even think Niall could get tired.
“Well, maybe at a later date,” Zayn says. “But the word is, we’re getting a completely new system installed. Hopefully one that doesn’t go off whenever anyone tries to exit through the side door. But it’s looking like that’ll take close to a month, and while the alarm system is down, we’re going to have firemen here whenever we’re open patrolling the library and watching for fires.”
“We’re going to have someone whose job it is to just… look for fire?” Harry asks.
“Yes,” says Zayn. “It’s a Health and Safety thing. So starting tomorrow, we’ll be disabling the current fire alarms and there will be firemen walking through the library. Please be nice to them.”
“What are you trying to say?” Niall says, perking up a little at the chance of an argument. “Are you saying we’re not nice?”
“Yeah,” Harry joins. “We’re perfect gentlemen.”
“Gentle -people,” Andrea tacks on.
Zayn looks up at the skylights above, as if hoping they could offer him strength in this trying time. “You are, by far, the most rowdy shift I have to deal with in my job. And I don’t know how, but the three of you have steadfastly won over every single senior and child who passes through our doors-”
“Yeah, we’re not as good with people our own age,” Harry muses.
“But someday that’s going to get you into trouble. Which means you will get me into trouble. So please don’t, like, flirt with the firemen, or make a fire in the staff lounge because you won’t get caught or something. I want to keep my job through the new year.”
“I make no promises,” Andrea says, pushing her glasses up her nose.
“I doubt they’re even going to be that good looking,” Niall says, and sounds almost forlorn. “Good looking firemen is probably a myth perpetuated by society in order to get you to dial 999 when you need to.”
“Right,” says Zayn. “I’m just, um. Going back to my desk now.”
Harry watches him go before turning back to Niall. “Are you, um, okay?” he asks. Niall’s an odd one but sad didn’t even seem like a word he knew the definition of.
The corners of Niall’s lips turn down. They turn down further. “I-” he takes a deep breath. “I broke up with Rory.”
“No!” shouts Harry at the same time as Andrea.
“Please be quieter,” Zayn calls from the other side of the wall.
“You love Rory!” Harry exclaims, slightly quieter.
“I know,” Niall sniffs. “I do. But- he’s touring the world, and I just- we couldn’t do it. The long distance relationship. I’m not cut out to date a famous, Harry!”
“I wouldn’t really call any golfer a ‘famous’,” Andrea muses.
Harry holds out his arms for a hug which Niall sniffs and walks into. “You’ll be okay,” he says. “We’ll get you a new, better, non-famous man.”
“Or woman,” Andrea adds.
“Or woman,” Harry concedes. “And you can learn a much better sport. Like football, or water polo.”
Niall breaks down and begins to sob into Harry’s shirt. “I- love- golf,” he cries.
“Please,” comes Zayn’s desperate voice.
“Shh, I know you do,” says Harry. “How about tonight you come over to my place and we do something to take your mind off of it. Christmas movies? Elf?”
Niall nods into his shoulder, and Harry can already feel the snot and tears working their way in.
“You’re invited too, of course, Andrea.”
Andrea claps her hands. “Can I bring Dewey?”
It’s not the start of the holiday season that Harry was expecting, but Christmas movies would make it all better, right?
Chapter 2: December 2nd
Every Saturday in December is Holiday Happiness.
This is a fact no one has thought to inform Harry of, apparently. How he learns this is simple; he walks in the door fifteen minutes before the library is due to open, and then nearly jumps out of his skin as a four person choir erupts into a rendition of God Bless Ye Merry Gentlemen directly behind him.
He may or may not let out a few expletives, scuttling to the back room and then standing there while his heart stops jackrabbiting.
“Zayn!” he yells over over the noise of ‘-was born on Christmas day-’ , “What’s happening?”
Zayn pops his head around the doorway, looking haggard. “Holiday Happiness,” he says. “Every Saturday in December?”
Harry stares at him. “Holiday what?”
“Did you not read your e-mail?”
“I never read my e-mail.”
“Right. Of course not.”
Zayn moves all the way into the room, shutting the door behind him (which does nothing for the sound considering the gap between the walls and the ceiling. “Holiday cheer every Saturday until two. This is just going to keep going.”
“Interesting,” says Harry. He’s warming to the idea. Four hours of Christmas music and fun? It sounds like a great idea, actually. “Hey Zayn, what do you call a caroler who-”
“Come on Zayn, please?”
“Harry, today is literally my worst nightmare. Libraries are supposed to be quiet. That;s why I work here. I can’t handle humour today.”
“I feel like saying ‘today’ implies that you will let me tell you a joke tomorrow, but we both know that’s not true,” Harry points out. Still, he relents. Zayn will laugh at a joke eventually.
The carolers move on to Jingle Bell Rock, and Harry peeks around the door at them. They’re wearing outfits that would place them well in a Charles Dickens book.
“I want a cape like that,” Harry muses.
“Don’t try to lie,” says Zayn with a sidelong glance at him. “We both know you have one at home.”
Harry purses his lips. He knows he’s not going to win that argument. Goddamn it, Zayn.
He turns back to the room as Zayn leaves to go back to his desk. In the few minutes he was distracted, Niall was apparently able to sneak in, and has taken his seat, swivelling back and forth in the computer chair. He looks… different.
“Niall. What happened.”
Niall and Andrea had both come over last night (although Andrea had to leave after an hour to give Dewey her insulin). They had watched Elf, followed by The Santa Clause, the Santa Clause 3, and a made-for-tv animation called The Littlest Angel, which Harry had googled on a whim with a vague memory of having watched it as a child.
It was not a good movie, but after the six hours of consuming beer (the pizza hadn’t lasted past hour 2), there were tears shed.
“What?” asks Niall, swivelling around in his chair. “Oh, this?” he runs his fingers through his new brown fringe. “I did it last night after I got home. At least, I think I did. I don’t really remember much.”
They both jump as the carolers begin Here We Come A Caroling on the other side of the wall.
‘I liked the blond,” Harry pouts. “You’ve always been blond.”
“I liked it too,” says Niall sadly. “So did Rory.”
“Oh no,” says Harry. He runs over to the sweets drawer and opens it. “Here, think happy thoughts! Eat chocolate!” he tosses three packs of maltesers to Niall, who manages to catch two of them.
“You would toss me the worst stuff in the drawer,” Niall says, tearing a package open and upending it into his mouth.
“I’m offended by that remark,” says Harry. “Also, I resent that you keep taking the back room, but I understand that you’re struggling so I’m not going to fight you on it.”
Niall cracks a smile. “Thought that was driving you crazy. Lasted a whole day before you said something.”
“It messes up my routine!” Harry whines.
Someone clears their throat in the doorway behind them, and Harry turns to see Zayn, face pained (as usual). “Will someone please cover the help desk?”
“Yes fine,” Harry huffs. Niall smiles a little wider though, so at least he’s getting joy from Harry’s pain.
It’s true that today really does seem to be Zayn’s worst nightmare. The carolers seem to be performing in sets every half hour, and every time a new set appears, Zayn sinks lower in his chair. There’s a bottle of paracetamol on the desk next to him. He’s resolutely acting like he’s working but Harry hasn’t seen him actually do anything since his shift started.
Harry, on the other hand, is feeling more and more empowered the longer the music goes on. He feels like he’s chugged two energy drinks. The carolers take requests and Harry has to physically restrain himself from calling out his favourites every time. The children in the audience should take priority, he reminds himself. Even if it does mean Jingle Bells is sung about every ten minutes.
Andrea seems happy, but not any more or less than usual. It’s almost like she hasn’t noticed the music. When Harry goes to switch places with her and take over at the Self-Help Desk, she doesn’t so much as blink when the carolers transition from the harmonious Carol of the Bells to the gravelly opening of Fairytale of New York.
It’s while he’s standing at the Self-Help Desk and trying to subtly snapchat the performances that he’s approached by a man in uniform.
Specifically, a hot man in uniform.
Specifically a hot man in a fireman uniform.
“Hello,” says Hot Man. “I just wanted to, ah, introduce myself. I’m Liam, I’m one of the firemen that will be here this month.”
The fireman, Liam, doesn’t seem to know what to do with his hands. He puts them behind his back, then puts one out as if to shake Harry’s hand, and then drops it to his side. So he has one hand behind his back and one dangling. Harry adjusts him in his mind from Hot Fireman to Awkward Liam.
“Hey,” Harry says. “I’m Harry. I’m here most days.” He puts out a hand to shake, and Liam lifts his hand again only to realise it’s the wrong hand. He puts out his other hand, so that Harry’s only got one hand out and Liam has two, and then just… awkwardly grasps Harry’s hand for a moment. Harry deserves an oscar for the straight face he’s keeping. The carolers in the background are singing Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer. There’s a lot happening.
“Right,” says Liam. “Well. Pleasure to be working with you. I’ll just, um, keep walking, then. Fires to watch out for and all.”
“Have fun,” Harry says as Liam begins to walk away. Liam looks back, and looks very confused, for a moment.
“Okay,” he says.
Harry wants to cry from the laughter he’s holding in. Liam is possibly one of the most good looking men he’s ever seen in person, but they’ve only interacted for thirty seconds and Harry can also say Liam is definitely the most awkward. Incredible.
Glancing over at the Help Desk, he’s shocked to find Zayn, looking more awake than he has all day, staring in the direction that Liam went. Harry’s not sure Zayn has ever looked that interested in anything.
Well that’s certainly interesting…
Chapter 3: December 3rd
The library on a Sunday always a bit quiet, a bit subdued after the chaos of a Saturday. This is especially true, evidently, if the Saturday involved Holiday Happiness and five hours of carolers popping up in every corner of the library.
No, Sunday is much quieter. Or, it would be if it weren’t for the fact that the fire alarms have been going off every ten minutes.
Finally, finally Harry had managed to get to the library before Niall and claim his rightful spot back. Then, as fate would have it, the first fire alarm went off at 1:07, a mere seven minutes after they opened.
(Technically, it’s about twenty minutes after the first patron came in, but a family had forced their ways through the front door and then claimed they didn’t speak any English (they did. Harry spoke to them multiple times a week when they would go over their 200 book family limit) and continued to the Youth Department. Some battles just aren’t worth fighting.
Either way, Harry has now spent the majority of two hours cradling his poor ears as he tries to get work done through the din of fire alarms.
Zayn had explained to him that apparently when dismantling the fire alarms, each of them had a precaution where they would go off automatically when disconnected. While Harry admits there might be some logic to this idea, he wishes with everything in him that they would simply wait until the library was closed to try this.
That being said, at least it gave him the chance to think through his game plan.
Yesterday, after Liam had introduced himself, Harry had watched him walk by a few more times throughout the day. The library isn’t a big place, just a ground floor and a basement, and it surely couldn’t take too long to check the whole building for a fire.
Every time Liam walked by, he would (awkwardly) wave at Harry. Each time he waved at Harry, Harry would (cheerfully) wave back and then look back at the supervisor’s desk and see if Zayn was watching.
And Zayn was always watching.
There’s a wall about five feet around the supervisor area, so Zayn clearly had to put at least a little bit of effort into this. How he knew when Liam was walking by, Harry had no idea. But he always knew.
So what was the story? Did Zayn and Liam know each other? Why was Zayn so interested?
Harry had asked Niall, who had said “Maybe they were scorned lovers in a former life,” which sounded a little unrealistic and Harry chalked that up to Niall’s poor broken heart.
He had asked Andrea, who said “Maybe he owes Liam money. Does Zayn gamble?” which technically Harry didn’t know the answer to, but the idea of anybody losing a game of cards to Liam seemed somewhat laughable. Liam seemed like the type of person to give you his shoes if you asked.
(Harry considered asking).
So today, after having slept on it, Harry has decided to commence with plan See Zayn and Liam Interact.
(It’s not a brilliant title for a plan, or even that interesting of a plan, but Harry works in a library for God’s sake and he has to get his entertainment somewhere).
Though the constant fire alarm is beginning to give Harry an alarming headache (haha, get it? He should tell that one to Zayn), he perseveres. The goal is to get Liam and Zayn together and talking to see what happens.
The first time Liam walks by, he waves (awkwardly) and Harry tries to motion him over. Liam, from the other side of the lobby, furrows his brows in confusion and then makes the same finger-wiggling signal back at him. Then, looking down at his hand, he makes a face of understanding and turns the motion into air-guitar.
Harry looks back in time to see Zayn duck below the partition. When he looks toward Liam again, he finds him gone.
And the fire alarms go off again.
The second time Liam walks by, he’s got a small, crying child in his arms. This is an especially confusing thing to witness, as both Liam and the child look very lost, but a moment later a woman comes from the opposite side of the library and scoops the child into her own arms, then from what Harry can hear she seems to be profusely thanking him.
So. Liam the fireman also may specialize in helping lost children. Good to know.
The third time Harry sees Liam, it’s because Liam is approaching his spot at the Help Desk. Sensing the opportunity, Harry pulls up a random patron’s account on his computer and turns around. “Zayn?” he asks, trying to sound pitiful and like he needs help (ridiculous; he always knows what he’s doing and when he doesn’t he’s excellent at faking it). “Zayn, will you help me charge this patron for a replacement library card?”
Zayn’s sigh can be heard throughout the library. He gets up from his desk and makes his way over, just as Liam gets to the other side of the Help Desk.
“Hello Liam,” Harry says brightly. He can feel Zayn bristle beside him. “Zayn would love to help you with whatever you need, I just need to, um, pop to the back for a minute. Bye!”
He jumps out of his chair without waiting for either of them to say anything, and scurries to the back, where he stands just on the other side of the wall and peeks around. It’s not a good hiding spot, but Liam and Zayn seem to be oblivious.
“Um,” Liam stutters. “I was just wondering if, um, I heard the library loans out phone chargers?”
Zayn, his back to Harry, sounds cold as a cement slab. “Do you have a library card?”
“Well, I don’t- I’m not usually from this area,” Liam stutters out. “I generally go to, um, Sproutbrough Library? So would that card-”
“Their card won’t work here,” Zayn says, and his voice is so cold and hard that even Harry feels like he’s being reprimanded.
Suddenly, Niall appears beside him. “Hey, what’re we hiding from?”
“Shh! We’re spying on Zayn,” Harry whispers back. Niall makes a zipper motion to his lips. Harry is momentarily distracted by his (sad, not blond) brown hair, and then he focuses back in on Liam and Zayn.
“Can I, um, can I get a card?” Liam is asking, looking plaintive. He has nice, big puppy dog eyes. Harry would just give him the phone charger. And his heart.
“Don’t you think that’s a little inappropriate while you’re working?” Zayn asks, voice clipped. Sometimes Zayn talks about sneaking on the roof to smoke while he’s supposed to be writing reports, since when does he care?
“Right, sorry, I’ll just-” Liam motions behind him, and Zayn doesn’t say anything so he just, sort of, crabwalks sideways away from the Help Desk before full-on booking it to another corner of the library.
“That went well,” says Niall thoughtfully.
“Yes I’d like to change my theory,” Andrea says from next to Niall. When she appeared there, Harry hasn’t the slightest. “I think Liam must be the one to owe Zayn money.”
Harry’s almost inclined to agree. He straightens up and makes his way back to the Help Desk.
“We don’t charge for replacement library cards,” Zayn says.
“I know that,” Harry says dismissively. He knows everything. “What on earth did you just do to him? It’s like you crushed his soul.”
For just a split second, Harry thinks Zayn looks stricken, and then he’s back to his usual facade of mild disappointment. “I was just explaining how the library works,” he says. “We can’t just be doing whatever patrons want all the time.”
He walks away before Harry has the chance to respond, which is probably good because Harry is rather at a loss for words.
The whole point of a library is to do what the patrons want, he thinks. What is going on with Zayn?
Chapter 4: December 4th
No animals were harmed in the making of this chapter
One of the nice things about having days off during the week is that the shops aren’t crowded, and the traffic after about nine a.m. is a breeze.
One of the less nice things about having days off during the week is that, well, you can only really hang out with other people who also have their days off during the week. Which means Niall. Harry and Niall hang out a lot on their days off, because everyone else is working.
Not that there’s anything wrong with hanging out with Niall, especially because Harry considers it his chief responsibility at the moment to comfort the poor heart-broken lad. Today they’ve made plans to put up Christmas decorations (which, Harry has been more or less fully decked out in Christmas gear for a week but he’ll certainly take the opportunity to force the holiday cheer on Niall’s flat), but Niall has a penchant for not waking up until noon when he’s not working (and, often, when he is working), so Harry’s had the morning to himself, and he’s spent it sipping hot chocolate and carefully stringing up Christmas lights around the windows of his flat for maximum visibility of people walking by on the street below.
He’s quite proud of the way it looks by the time noon rolls around. He had to run to the shops to get a few replacement strands because the first set he hung up weren’t secure enough to stay and ended up falling to the street below and promptly getting run over by cars but, the best laid plans and all that. He’s gone for classy, traditional white lights but picked up some colourful ones for Niall’s place. Last year halfway through the month Niall’s dog Sparky had waged war on the lights and managed to chomp through a good number of strands, so they have to start fresh this year. They have to start fresh most years, really.
He’s just taking a break for lunch when his Carol of the Bells starts playing from his pocket. That’ll be Niall, then. For some reason, he’s never gotten the hang of simply texting like a normal person.
“Hey Ni,” Harry says, putting the phone to his ear as he waits for his soup to heat up.
“Harry,” comes Niall’s panicked voice from the other end. “Something’s happened to Parsnip! I think she’s hurt!”
“Okay,” Harry says, turning off the hob and going to grab his keys from the dish next to the door. “On a scale of ‘fell asleep against the bathroom window and the pane popped out again’ to ‘picked a fight with the neighbor’s poodle again’, what are we saying?”
“I don’t know! She was fine a minute ago, but I just walked into the kitchen and she’s covered in blood!”
“Right,” says Harry, attempting to project calm as he descends the stairs. For Niall’s sake. “Well, I’m literally out the door now. Ring the vet, I know you have them on speed dial. Tell them we’ll be on our way.”
He hangs up, dropping heavily into the driver’s seat of his car. Niall’s animals are… a handful at the best of time. Parsnip is supposed to be an indoor cat, but has made it her mission to live life to the fullest apparently, and has gotten into more accidents through trying to escape than anyone else - animal or human - Harry has ever known.
It’s a short drive to Niall’s, and one that Harry knows instinctively because, since he doesn’t have a car, Harry ends up driving him pretty much everywhere.
He pulls up and jumps out, not bothering to knock when he gets up to Niall’s door.
“How is she?” he calls when he’s inside, going toward the kitchen. “Figure out what happened?”
“No!” Niall yells back. “She isn’t moving! I’m afraid to touch her!”
Harry rounds the corner into the kitchen to find Niall crouched over Parsnip, who is lying stretched out right in the middle of the kitchen floor. Her ginger coat does seem to be crusted in something red. It certainly could be blood…
“Niall,” says Harry. “Is that spag bol on the stove?”
“Now is not the time to be thinking about food, Harry!” Niall looks at him with wild eyes.
“I think Parsnip would disagree,” Harry says. Parsnip has a habit of taking naps directly in the center of the kitchen floor. Harry nudges her with his foot. She makes a grumbly sound and stretches, popping her claws out.
She smears chunky tomato pasta sauce on the floor as she does.
“I think she might just need a bath,” Harry says. The whole kitchen smells like pasta sauce.
Parsnip yawns and flicks her tail.
Niall bursts into tears.
“Whoa, okay, up we come,” Harry says, pulling him up and leading him by the arm into the living room. “You’re fine, Parsnip is fine, we’re all fine here.”
Sparky, ever good with the timing, seems to have finally awoken from the commotion. He comes bounding out from Niall’s room, clad today in a terrible clashing colourful outfit, and sits himself on Niall’s feet, licking at his knees.
“See? Even Sparky’s fine,” Harry says. Sparky would be a bit more reassuring if he would like faces like any other dog instead of knees.
“I just-” Niall hiccups. “Rory would have thought of this stuff! I don’t know how to check if- if it’s blood or spag bol!”
“Smelling it might be a good start,” Harry says thoughtfully. “That’s okay, though! This can be a time of learning! And self-discovery! We can teach you how to put away your leftovers from the night before, while we’re at it. You didn’t season the sauce or anything, did you?” he asks as an afterthought, thinking about how cats really shouldn’t have garlic.
Niall frowns. “You’re supposed to season it?”
“Good lad,” Harry says. “That’s my Niall.”
They cuddle for a few more minutes while Sparky continues to sit at their feet - for a whippet he’s a little on the large size, and the custom outfits Niall has made for him really draw the eye. Today he’s got an orange, magenta and teal full-body monstrosity complete with turtleneck.
“Sparky looks snazzy today,” Harry notes.
“Thanks,” says Niall, reaching out a hand to Sparky. Sparky licks his knee. “I’ve ordered a red and green one for Christmas but it’s not here yet.”
“Of course you have,” says Harry. “Speaking of which, I’ve left your Christmas lights at my house. You ready to decorate yet?”
Niall nods. “Maybe Parsnip should get a bath first,” he says.
Harry grimaces. It’s probably true, but he’s not looking forward to the claws.
After a full day of decorating (in which Sparky only managed to chew through one set of lights, and Parsnip only escapes twice), Harry and Niall - in need of a break - end up at the pub down the road.
Unsurprisingly, they know Niall by name.
“I like the decorations you’ve done,” Niall says to the woman at the bar.
“Thanks!” she says. “What do you think of the giant nutcrackers outside the door? They’re new!”
“I think-” Harry starts.
“Very impressive,” Niall cuts in. “Need an outfit like the one they’re wearing for Sparky.”
She laughs. Sparky clearly comes here often.
“We’ve got a new server tonight,” the woman says, almost apologetically. “Go easy on him, he’s still getting his pub-legs.”
“Is that… like sea legs?” Harry asks.
“Yeah, except I think he might be more coordinated on a boat,” she says, glancing around conspiratorially. “He certainly can’t be any worse.”
Harry thinks she must be exaggerating. The new server is probably just a bit of a klutz because he’s new, he can’t possibly be that bad.
Ten minutes later, sitting at a booth near the back of the pub, they realise he really is that bad.
“Is that the third drink he’s spilled?” Harry asks, gobsmacked as he watches this apparent new person trip over his own feet again on his way to a table.
“Might be the fourth,” Niall says. Niall smells like beer. There is beer all down his legs. It wasn’t even a beer meant for him.
The server is an American. He’s incredibly tall. That might be where the problem comes in. It takes too long for the his thoughts to reach his feet, and by then he’s tripped over himself again.
“Hi, sorry about your wait!” the server says, coming up to them with two drinks and a heaping plate of chips. “I’m Shawn, I’m a bit new. Still learning.” He flashes them a grin. He’s charming, at least.
“No, uh, problem,” Niall says. “We don’t- we don’t mind.” Harry looks over to find Niall is staring their clumsy server, Shawn, directly in the eyes. Niall isn’t blinking.
Harry kicks him in an attempt to break him out of the trance.
“Yeah, no problem,” Harry says. “We’re getting our chips eventually, that’s all that matters.”
“That’s a good way to look at it,” Shawn says with a laugh. “You guys are all hilarious, I keep getting confused when you call these ‘chips’.”
Niall laughs. Loudly. Uncomfortably loudly. Harry kicks him again.
“Hilarious!” Niall says. “That’s us!”
He laughs again.
Niall might be broken.
“Right,” Harry says.
“Oh, yeah, here you are,” Shawn says. He puts the beers on the table without spilling either of them. It’s impressive.
He then manages to knock the tray out of his hands and spill the chips all over all three of them.
“Damn,” says Shawn.
“You’re beautiful,” says Niall.
“Goddamn it,” says Harry, kicking Niall again.
Chapter 5: December 5th
It’s getting colder outside, which is great because Harry loves cosy mornings wrapped in a blanket sipping coffee sweetened with hot chocolate mix, but not as great because if Harry turns the heat in his car further than the second notch, the car starts to smell like petrol.
So it’s getting colder outside and he’s driving a little fast, maybe. The library is warm and inviting and the heat in the car is trained on his feet because he stepped in a puddle (why can’t it be snow) and his feet are cold and wet. He’s early enough that there’s no way Niall is going to beat him - which Harry knows for sure because he’s just passed Niall walking by.
So it’s getting colder outside, he’s driving a little fast, and he’s thinking about getting his rightful spot back in the library, and maybe he’s not paying the most attention as he takes the turn into the library parking lot. The world comes back into sharp focus very fast, however, when he finds himself swerving and slamming on his brakes with a screech to avoid the man halfway through the pedestrian crosswalk.
He manages to swerve around and keep going, rather than slam to a complete halt. Shit shit shit. He didn’t hit him, so technically he hasn’t done anything wrong, right? Tentatively, he glances in his rearview mirror, expecting some yelling, angry looks, perhaps a number of rude hand gestures. Instead, the man is standing at the other corner, one hand splayed across his chest like he’s an eighty year old woman who’s had a fright. It’s… really cute. Harry doesn’t recognise the man, but more importantly he really hopes the man can’t recognize him.
Parking in the back of the lot, he sits in his car long enough to quell his pounding heart, the adrenalin from almost running someone over still pounding through his veins for a good few minutes.
When he finally calms down enough to walk into work without acting like a convict on the loose, Niall has already made it in and is sitting with a satisfied smirk in Harry’s rightful spot in the back.
“I almost killed someone for that spot,” Harry says under his breath.
He walks out to the front and takes his not normal seat at the Help Desk (he will not let it become his normal seat!), logging into the computer and waiting for it to load. Niall sure is acting very chipper for how sloshed he was by the end of last night. It was impressive, really, just how much Niall had managed to drink at the pub considering how much of it never made it to the table. Harry sincerely worries that their new friend Shawn is going to get fired within the week with how much he must be costing them.
He also worries that if Shawn does get fired, he’ll be moved in with Niall before the month is up.
By the end of last night Niall probably had rings of bruises around his shins from the amount of times Harry tried to shut him up. When Shawn wasn’t around Harry tried to confront him a couple times, saying reasonable things like “I thought you were heartbroken? You love Rory!” and “Are you just trying to go for a rebound?” because, and this may be a little selfish, Harry loved having Rory around! He had been an integral part of their friend group before he went on tour golfing, and it sort of hurt to see Niall trying to replace him mere days after the break-up.
Each time Niall had brushed him off (literally, removing Harry’s feet from his lap under the table), and changed the subject or simply pouted into his drink. It wasn’t until they were leaving (at closing time, being forcibly kicked out) that Niall slurred drunkenly as they climbed into the car, “Always gon’ love Roro. But Shawn is m’ Christm’s angel from th’ holy Jesus f’r me to love.”
He passed out pretty soon after that and Harry had to carry slash drag him into his flat when they got back. He then had to go out and grab Parsnip who had escaped, and then force his way back into the house past Sparky’s insistent knee-licking. By the time all of that was settled, and Harry had grabbed Niall’s bottle of paracetamol from the kitchen to put by his head for when he woke up, Niall had gained enough consciousness to grab Harry’s arm as he tried to leave and say, “Harry, I love two men. ‘Nd you’re number three.”
Harry really hadn’t been sure how to take that, but he assumed it meant he wasn’t planning on using Shawn as a rebound. Time would tell.
He’s been up at the Help Desk for about half an hour when someone in a fireman uniform who is not Liam comes up to him.
This man, this not-Liam man, is probably the most attractive man Harry has ever seen. Did he say the other day that Liam was hot? That was a lie. No one could hold a candle to this perfect human specimen right in front of him. He’s got soft chestnut coloured hair that Harry would like to run his hands through, a bit of stubble that defines the set of his jaw, the cutest button nose Harry has ever seen, and the curve of his neck… This man cannot possibly be a mere human. Perhaps this Christmas is the second coming of Christ, because this man is compact perfection.
“Hello,” Perfection says when he reaches the counter.
Harry squeaks, and tries to cover it up with a cough.
“I’m Louis,” says Perfection. He sticks his hand out and… shit, is this what Liam felt like? What hand does Harry use? Which is the right one?
He waves instead. Perfection-named-Louis laughs lightly and lowers his hand.
“Right, I’m sure working at a library you get loads of germs. Won’t try to pass those around, then. Just wanted to let you know I’m doing some of these shifts for the next month, think you met my friend Liam? He’s been here the last few days.”
“Awkward Liam,” Harry says, because forming words is suddenly a struggle. Oh no.
Louis laughs harder though, thank Christ. “That’s Liam! Love him, but the lad does know how to make a fool of himself. Anyway! I’ll let you get back to whatever you’re doing -”
(Harry has been browsing Weheartit for pictures of cats)
“-Just wanted to introduce meself! Had one hell of a walk in today, almost got run over in a crosswalk. Watch out when you leave, there’s some crazy drivers around here.”
He waves, twiddling his fingers, and walks off.
Harry is frozen.
He almost ran over Louis in the parking lot. That’s surely a crime against humanity.
He also might never have the ability to form a coherent sentence around the most perfect human being he’s ever seen. This might also become an issue.
Andrea takes the moment to walk over from the Self-Help desk. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” she says cheerfully. Any spirits you need me to exorcise? Dewey is great at doing that.”
Chapter 6: December 6th
“Snazzy Jazzy is out of commission,” Zayn says by way of introduction when Harry walks in.
“Oh no,” says Harry.
“We’re making a sign,” says Zayn. “Well. Andrea is making a sign. She’s the only one with any artistic ability here. But if you see any seniors trying to climb onto poor Jazzy, go for immediate intervention.”
“Right,” says Harry. Somehow today he’s arrived after both Niall and Andrea, which means he’s at the Self Help Desk to start. Nothing in life makes sense anymore.
Snazzy Jazzy is one of the two motorized scooters the library keeps for people with impaired mobility to use. The other one, Swaggy (short for Swagtron Electric 500) has always been a bit on the faulty side, and has been known to put on a sudden burst of speed, which is frankly a bit dangerous when the senior patrons without the best reflexes are using them. Jazzy has always been the preferred scooter, with only Swaggy left… Well, Harry hopes Jazzy gets fixed before their rogue scooter ends up running over a foot. Or a child.
The scooters are by the door behind the Self Help Desk, and Harry has already had to dissuade two seniors from trying to climb on Jazzy when Andrea finally arrives with the sign. Snazzy Jazzy is out of commission until further notice, it reads, and she’s clearly taken her time to illustrate it at the bottom - a sad face with an ice pack and a thermometer.
“Personally I think we should just let people try to use the scooter and figure out for themselves that it doesn’t work,” Andrea says. “They’re supposed to come ask us before they borrow them anyway. It’s just rude to take a scooter without asking first.”
Andrea has a bit of a vengeful streak in her, Harry has learned over the last year of working together. Whenever she’s helping a patron who is known for “misplacing” the books they have out, she tends to make little comments about “it’s too bad some people insist on keeping books out past their due dates. Oh, but I’m sure you would never do anything like that! I’m just talking about other people.”
Zayn has stopped trying to call her out on it because most of those patrons leave so chastised that they come back to return everything within the week.
Having affixed the sign to Jazzy’s chair doesn’t seem to actually dissuade seniors much from trying to use it. No one seems to bother reading signs much around here.
He spends the hour and twenty minutes at the desk feeling jittery and fidgety. It takes him a bit to figure out why before he remembers; Louis. Suddenly he’s on high alert. Which fireman is it today? Is it Liam, who would probably be hiding from Zayn? Or is it Louis, who is clearly an angel sent from heaven just for Harry to gaze at and then awkwardly hide from because he will otherwise lose the ability to speak?
When the time comes to switch and Andrea comes to take over the Self Help Desk, Harry hasn’t seen either fireman and has stopped three more people from trying to use Jazzy, and he’s about ready to just sit in the quiet with the blue bins.
He’s only been in the back for ten minutes when Zayn enters the room. “I- we need to go,” he says.
“We do?” Harry asks, bewildered.
“Yes,” says Zayn. “We need to um. Go get prizes for the holiday party next week. For the games.” He looks around, like only just recognizing where they are. “You’re not busy back here, right?”
Harry looks at the stacks upon stacks of blue bins. “Nope.” he says. “Let’s go!”
They end up at a nearby secondhand shop, looking for “prizes” for the official staff Christmas party. Harry’s still not sure quite why, or why the sudden rush, but he loves the chance to peruse some kitschy knick knacks.
“What about this?” he asks, holding up a purse with reindeer antlers sticking out the sides. It’s garish.
“Maybe something… gender-neutral,” Zayn says, which isn’t a no.
They’re just sort of wandering through, and Harry stops in front of the selection of stuffed animals. That’s when he sees-
“I love it,” says Harry, picking up a stuffed animal that he absolutely cannot just leave here. “I must have it.”
“We’re here for giveaway items for the staff Christmas party,” Zayn tries to remind him. He already looks tired. “You can’t put that in the giveaway.”
“Of course not,” Harry says. “I can’t let him go home with someone else.”
“May I remind you that all you have in your pocket are two ten pound notes from Admin? You can’t spend Library money on that.”
“I can,” Harry says resolutely. This… creature cannot remain at the secondhand shop. It’s too… Something. Harry needs it. “It’ll be a Christmas decoration.”
“Harry. It’s a rainbow stuffed bear with bondage gear.”
“New mascot then.”
“Bookie the Bookworm is not leaving.”
“I’ll buy him a santa outfit,” Harry says resolutely, looking through the other stuffed animals for a Santa he can steal the clothes from. There has to be one.
“Think of the children.”
“We’ll keep him in the back. He can raise the Circulation staff morale.”
“I…” Zayn raises a hand to his face, massaging his temple. “Fine.”
“Here, I’ve found a costume- really?” clutches the bear to his chest. “Yes! Thank you, Zayn! You won’t regret this.”
“I’m already regretting this,” Zayn says. “But Niall’s been so mopey since Rory left and Andrea’s cat has diabetes, I suppose I can justify some cheering up for the department. Look,” he eyes Harry sternly. “No one from Admin ever finds out about this, agreed?”
“Agreed!” Harry crows, stripping the suit off of a Santa as Zayn looks on, scandalized.
They buy some mismatched mugs for the giveaway, and a nice three-wick candle that Zayn said Harry couldn’t pick if he won because “that would be cheating, you already got the dumb bear”.
Harry is unsure why he’s so drawn to the bear. He’s a little bedraggled like he was put through a washing machine, and has some stains around the mouth, but he’s got rainbow fur and a thick black moustache that seems to have been glued on, and - as Zayn rightly points out - what appears to be bondage gear and collar. It calls to him, though.
When they get back to the library, Harry climbs up on top of the counter in the back (“health and safety, Harry!”) and puts the rainbow bondage bear, santa outfit and all, on top of the cabinet right in the middle of the room.
“I feel… uncomfortable yet comforted,” Niall tells him when he wanders back from the Help Desk. “Like, Santa’s sent an elf to watch over us, but instead of an elf he’s a bear with a moustache and… is that a studded collar?”
“He’s our Christmas cheer,” says Harry with a serious look on his face.
Andrea walks in, smiles brightly at the bear, smiles at the boys, and walks back out.
Chapter 7: December 7th
I don’t think you saw yesterday because you were in the back
Nialler: Zayn went crazy again
Harry-bo: and you wait until TODAY to tell me??
that fireman was here again
Nialler: the awk one
yeah so I don’t even know what he came up to the counter to say
Nialler: I had asked Zayn to cover for me bc I needed a drink. got back just in time to hear Zayn tell him that he should “get back to work because his whole job is to make sure the library doesn’t burn down” and if he fails at that Zayn would personally come after him
no fucking way
Harry-bo: what the fuuuuuuck
Harry lays in bed, scrolling through social media on his phone. He’s planned Christmas shopping for today, or at least Christmas window shopping, because he’s not all too sure what to get for most people on his list.
Some years he’s practically done with Christmas shopping at this point in the month. This year though, he’s been short on funds and hoping that he’d suddenly mysteriously find himself a thousand or so richer so that he can afford what he really wants to get for gifts.
Mum, Robyn, Gemma… Niall, Zayn I guess… Compiling a mental list in his head of everyone to be keeping an eye out for presents for, Harry is (for what feels like the thousandth time) struck by how terribly single he is. This time last year he was dating Logan still, and had probably bought half a comic book store in preparation for exchanging presents with him.
Of course, that had all gone south the week before Christmas when Logan had broke it off.
Fuck Logan. Who even is Logan? Who does he think he is?
This is why Scott Mills talks on the radio every year about Christmas break up deadline day, so that people don’t go out and be assholes and break hearts during the Christmas season, forever tainting the holiday for the person dumped.
No matter, though. Harry is trying his hardest to make this the best Christmas he can possibly have, boyfriend or no, and fuck anyone who gets in his way.
Since he doesn’t have work to get to today, he lounges in bed a while longer, turning on the Christmas Pop playlist and then skipping every other song because, ew no he doesn’t want to listen to Justin Bieber.
By the time he’s ready to leave the house and go on the Christmas hunt, he suddenly finds to his dismay that he must have left his coat at the library the day before.
So that’s how he finds himself on the way to the library, with a scarf wrapped around his neck and no coat, on his day off. Which, honestly, isn’t that unusual for him (it’s a nice place to hang out, okay?) but his coworkers always give him a look like he’s a little crazy for it.
“Cold cold cold cold,” he chants as he jumps into his car. “Shit shit shit cold cold,” he chants as he waits for the car to warm up enough for the heating to start working. “Cold cold cold shit cold,” he chants (quieter, because there are little kids around) as he runs to the front doors of the library.
“Harry!” cheers Steve from behind the Help Desk when Harry rounds the corner. Steve and Bebe work the desks the two days a week that Harry, Niall and Andrea have off. Harry doesn’t see them often, but does get reminders that they’ve been there from time to time, like the clementines that Steve eats during his shift - generally four or five in every bin - and the post-it note doodles that Bebe leaves on the computers (some more than mildly inappropriate).
“Steve!” Harry says. “Left my coat here yesterday. It’s freezing outside!”
“Is it?” says Steve thoughtfully. “I didn’t notice.”
Steve is in short sleeves.
Harry chooses not to comment on that. “Anyway, I’m just gonna pop into the back and grab it. Everything going well today so far?”
Steve shrugs, the happy smile staying on his face. “Can’t complain. Had to put all the holds back on the shelf after a toddler pulled everything off shelves ‘M’ through ‘Z’, but that just makes the day more interesting, right?”
“Sure,” says Harry. “Whatever makes you happy.”
He waves to Bebe in the back as he grabs his coat (she’s got a post-it on her lap that she’s trying to act like she wasn’t just drawing on, as if Harry would mind), and when Harry walks back to the front he sees, to his surprise and delight, Liam the fireman speaking with Steve.
Liam seems a little jumpy, really. “I was hoping I could, um, sign up for a library card?” he’s saying, eyes shifting nervously over their department. If he didn’t seem so inherently incapable of such a thing, Harry would assume he’s a drug dealer.
Liam jumps when Harry walks into view, as Steve is explaining about needed an ID or driver’s license.
“Hi Liam!” Harry says cheerfully, donning his coat. “Getting a library card?”
“Um, yes?” Liam squeaks, sounding very much like he’s not so sure.
Harry leans on the counter next to Steve. “If you’ve got a driver’s license, our pal Steve here would love to help you out, isn’t that right?”
Steve nods, looking perky.
“Right, yeah, sure, um,” Liam slaps several of his pockets - right breast, left breast, bum - before pulling a wallet out of his right side pocket. “I just, um, Zayn’s not here today, is he?”
“Nope,” Harry says, and Liam visibly relaxes. He puts his ID on the table and Steve takes it to sign him up.
“I- I mean,” Liam stutters. “Just wondering, you know. Not that-”
“He seems to really hate you,” Harry says conversationally. “I mean. Did you let his house burn down or something? Andrea thinks you might be blackmailing him.”
“Blackmailing-” Liam yelps. “No! I don’t know why- does he really hate me, do you think?”
Harry shrugs. “I mean. He doesn’t seem to be your biggest fan. You don’t have any idea why? Did you know him before last week?”
Liam shakes his head. “No! But I’d like it if, um. I mean. If he maybe didn’t hate me so much?”
How could Harry have ever thought this man was hot? Well, no strike that. Liam is hot. He’s just also like a giant puppy, one who clearly needs to be protected from mean ol’ Zayn.
“Well listen, Liam,” Harry says. “I’m on your side, and I’m going to make it my mission to figure out what’s going on with you and Zayn, okay?”
Liam nods, a pout on his face.
Steve hands him back his driver’s license. “Wallet sized card, or keychain size?”
“Um,” says Liam. Uncertainty clouds his eyes again. Harry figures it’s a good time to make his escape.
“Bye guys! Have fun watching for fires!”
Oh, maybe he shouldn’t have said that last part so loud.
It’s still freezing outside, but at least with a coat it doesn’t bite quite as much. And as Harry gets in his car, mentally mapping out the Christmas window shopping plan of action, it starts to snow. Not the premium, high quality show that gives you warm fuzzies in your heart and a desire to drink gallons of hot chocolate exactly, but the kind of snow that melts halfway to the ground and can only be seen as you stare really determinately around you.
That’s good enough for Harry, though. He flips his speakers on and turns up I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas. Christmas cheer on a day like today is a necessity.
Chapter 8: December 8th
Sometimes Harry thinks about asking Niall if they should get a flat together. Maybe between them they’d be able to afford a decent place, where the drawers in the kitchen cabinets are on rollers and not just slabs of wood stuck in holes of a similar size.
Then on days like today, when Niall texts Harry to tell Zayn that he’ll be late because Sparky ran out the front door when he opened it and Parsnip apparently chewed a hole in the bathroom curtain, that Harry is rather glad that he’s never asked Niall to do any such thing.
What that also means, is that Harry has finally finally reclaimed his position starting in the back, with the blue bins and the peace.
When he first gets settled in, he sits in the chair next to the drop and begins scanning in the pictures books and audiobooks that have been shoved through the slot in the three minutes it’s taken his computer to boot up. Andrea is out at the Help Desk, and the Self Help is unmanned until Niall shows up (which could be quite a while, judging by the phone call) (why can’t Niall just text like a normal human).
After a bit, he starts to feel like someone’s watching him. It’s a little disconcerting, considering he’s clearly in this room alone. After glancing around the room for what’s probably the twelfth time he remembers - the rainbow bondage bear on the cabinets. Glancing up and seeing the bear just where he left it, a slow grin spreads across his face. What a good Circulation mascot.
He gets up and climbs onto his knees onto the the countertop long enough reach up and retrieve Rainbow Bondage Bear (he needs a shorter name than that), and is just climbing down as the door opens.
“Health and safety, Harry, please.” Zayn sighs. “There are security cameras around, and if Admin catches you doing this I’m the one who gets put in another staff meeting.”
“So glad to hear you care, Zaynie,” Harry says, hopping backwards onto the floor. He wobbles a little on the landing and stumbles backwards into the Non-Fiction cart, but rights himself and tries to act like it was all on purpose. “So what can I do for you, today?”
“Have you seen Niall?” Zayn asks, looking dubiously at the bear in Harry’s arms. “I could give him a call but generally I find you already know where he is.”
“Oh yeah,” Harry says. “He’s late. Pet problems, you know.”
“Right,” Zayn says. “Somehow, I’m not in the least bit surprised. He’s on his way then?”
“Something like that…” Harry actually has no idea if Niall has even found Sparky yet, but he doesn’t mention that part. “Say, Zayn… I happened to stop in yesterday and ran into your favourite fireman… Liam?”
Harry was not at all prepared for the way Zayn pales at the name.
“I, um, don’t have a favourite fireman,” Zayn says, suddenly very interested in examining his nails. “Now, I have to get back to my desk to finished timesheets-”
“Timesheets aren’t due until Saturday,” Harry says, jumping around Zayn and planting himself in the doorway that leads out of the back. “Come on, something’s going on with you and I want to know what it is.”
“Nothing is going on,” Zayn growls with a force Harry wasn’t expecting. He shoulders past Harry and tries to duck around to where his desk is. “Tell Niall if he’s more than fifteen minutes late I’m taking it out of his timesheet!” he calls over his shoulder.
“We’re not done yet!” Harry yells back at him, even though they’re not more than ten feet from each other. He turns away and sees Andrea waving at him from the Help Desk with her usual chipper expression and, on the other side of the desk, is the angel himself Louis the fireman.
“Harry!” Andrea calls. “Have you met Louis? He broke up with his boyfriend back in August! A real dick, he says!”
Harry blanches. His eyes go wide. Andrea, why? Louis’s face seems to have morphed into a laugh that he’s struggling to hide.
“Hi,” Harry squeaks. “Um-” What should he do? Go up to the Help Desk? Make a run for the back? Maybe he should vomit, that would distract them and he could hide under Zayn’s desk. Until the library closes.
“Hello Harry!” Louis calls. His face has been distorted into the cutest and most heavenly smile, his lips pinched together in a ‘v’ shape to keep the laugh from bubbling out. Not that Harry can tell that’s what Louis is trying not to do, but he can totally tell. He feels like he’s known Louis for ten years but also he’s only met the man once before. And almost run over him. So there’s that.
“Nice bear!” Louis calls, and that’s when Harry looks down to realise he’s still got Rainbow Bondage Bear in his hand. Oh no. RBB is their mascot. But RBB is also wearing a lot of bondage gear under his Santa outfit that Harry isn’t sure whether Louis can see or not. He can definitely see the studded collar.
“Um- Oops, I- shi-” Harry gives up on words. He turns and bolts for the back room. He takes refuge behind the blue bins, clutching RBB to his chest like the two of them have both seen a ghost.
(The way RBB is dressed, Harry actually worries about what he’s seen. Maybe Harry should get him dry cleaned).
It’s that moment that Niall finally walks in the door. “My spot!” Harry squeaks, pointing to the chair and computer that he’s already logged in on. “You don’t get it!” Something in his brain is malfunctioning after seeing Louis. He sounds like a toddler. This is bad.
“Okaaaaay weirdo,” Niall says, hanging up his coat. He’s got a water bottle in one hand and a smoothie in the other. That can only mean one thing.
“You went out drinking again last night, didn’t you?” Harry says suspiciously. “To that pub Shawn works at.”
“Sorry, I can’t hear you!” Niall says, leaving the room at a faster clip than most hungover people could manage. “I’m at the Self Help Desk, not the back! Too bad!”
And Harry is alone again.
When his heartbeat has finally stopped threatening to launch his heart out of his chest (that would not be a good Christmas miracle), he walks back over to his desk and carefully sets RBB next to his monitor, where he can watch over Harry’s work and not be seen by patrons or firemen. The books to check in have piled up so much they’re beginning to topple onto the floor. He has work to do.
As he works, he mulls over the newest information of the day. Louis the fireman is apparently not straight. And apparently (hopefully? Maybe?) single. It would be a Christmas miracle, if only a magical Christmas elf would come bless Harry with the ability to speak around him.
Chapter 9: December 9th
The second Saturday in December is the second day of Holiday Happiness.
The first day of Holiday Happiness was just hours after hours of carolers. The second day, much to Harry’s delight and his coworkers’ dismay, is hours of every single school choir in the area singing every single Christmas song they know.
“This is horrible,” says Zayn. “Bring the carolers back.”
“Shush” says Harry, “They might hear you!” There’s a group of ten-year-olds singing Jingle Bell Rock at the front of the room. There’s way more parents than there are chairs set up for them, and for some reason those parents too late to grab a seat have decided to stand directly in front of the Help Desk to video their children’s performances. Harry has retreated from the desk a little, choosing to stay further away from the row of butts resting against his desk. At least a few people have definitely been farting.
Jingle Bell Rock is followed by Deck the Halls, and then Think of Me from Phantom of the Opera , which seems like an odd choice but is made up for in how none of the children seem to know more than half the words.
Harry has been snapchatting most of it to his sister. He’s hoping this will encourage her to have children. She’s not responding. Harry wants nieces and nephews to spoil, damn it.
“Any idea which fireman is here today?” Harry asks brightly. He’s leaning over the side of the wall of Zayn’s desk. Zayn cannot escape him.
“No idea,” Zayn says smoothly. “Doesn’t matter to me anyway, as long as the library doesn’t catch on fire.”
“Aww, there’s that Christmas cheer,” Harry says, reaching over the side of the barrier and pressing the buttons on the side of Zayn’s monitor. Zayn slaps his hand away.
“Anyway, I just wanted to let you know someone has turned in a car seat that was left in the parking lot.”
“A… car seat?” Zayn asks, finally looking up from whatever dull report he’s probably writing. “Like, a child’s car seat?”
“Yeah,” Harry glances over at where they’ve attempted to store it among the empty carts. “I dunno how someone leaves without one but…” He peters off. He doesn’t really have an explanation to offer up. It’s weird. “Anyway. We’ve got a car seat here. Just so you know.”
For some reason Harry feels antsy today, and it’s not just because the new choir of six year olds have stepped up and started a rendition of Silent Night that has been slowly speeding up. He wants it to snow, wants to be able to sit at his desk and watch thick flakes cover the ground outside the floor to ceiling windows on the opposite side of the lobby. He wants to don a scarf and thick jumper and empty three hot cocoa packets into his cup of hot water and really enjoy the season, and he especially should be enjoying today, with all these kids that know at least most of the lyrics to the Christmas songs they’re singing.
But he’s in a funk.
Maybe it’s because he’s single during the most magical month of the year, the one made for cuddling and holding hands for warmth and buying presents for just the right someone… Goddamn, that’s probably it. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with being single, and Harry’s certainly been single long enough to come to terms with that, but he just rather wants more.
Even Andrea, who has been sneaking over from the Self Help Desk all morning to show him pictures of Dewey in her new Christmas sweater (who does not look pleased about it) hasn’t been able to lift Harry’s mood.
When Niall comes out from the back for them to rotate positions, Harry listlessly moves over to the Self Help Desk. He tries his hardest to enjoy the secondary school choir that are actually doing a pretty good job of Silent Night and God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, although he’s killed his battery on his phone so he can’t risk snapchatting any more of them.
It might just be one of those days, he supposes. Niall does make it marginally better, because from back at the Self Help Desk Harry has a great view of the exaggerated facial expressions every time one of the parents (who are still steadfastly blocking the Help Desk) has clearly, ahem, let one loose.
When they rotate spots again and Harry is back in the back (the blue bins as towering as ever), he checks first that he’s alone before going over to RBB, pulling him down from above the cabinet, and giving him a right squeeze.
It really helps.
He puts RBB on the counter next to him again, and glances over as he scans in titles ( Holiday in Handcuffs, Holiday Murder, Snowdogs, Dunkirk, My FIrst Football…) . RBB remains a stoic but comforting presence.
The other thing that finally really improves his mood comes just half an hour before closing, when he’s startled out of his routine by the sound of a phone ringing.
Niall has left his cell phone back here.
Harry picks it up and reads the caller ID - Shawnie. They’ve barely known each other a week, how does Niall already have his number and a nickname?
Still, no time like the present. Harry swipes the green answer button.
“Niall’s phone, Not-Niall speaking.”
“Um… This isn’t Niall?”
The voice on the other side of the phone has the telltale American accent.
“Hey Shawn,” Harry says brightly. “Niall can’t come to the phone right now, can I take a message?”
“Is this… Harry?”
Harry blinks. “You know my name?”
“Yeah man, Niall talks about you like all the time. Hey actually! Can you tell me what to get Niall for Christmas? You do celebrate Christmas in England, right?”
They’ve known each other a week.
“Um.” Harry racks his brain, trying to think of any ideas that he hasn’t already written down to buy for Niall himself. Best friend privileges and all that. “Cat toys are always a good idea.”
“Oh yeah, for… Plum? Radish? Oh man. Oh no. Please don’t tell Niall I forgot his cat’s name. Oh God.”
For a minute Harry wants to scold Shawn for forgetting such an important part of Niall’s life, and then takes a step back and remembers. A week. Jesus. “Parsnip. Or dog toys. Dog outfits, more like. He loves dog outfits.”
“For Sparky! Perfect! I know a guy!”
Of course you do, Harry thinks. “Anyway, now that we’ve got that out of the way. Why were you calling?”
“Yeah, I just wanted to let Niall know my work is having a staff Christmas party today and I have a plus-one, so I was hoping he’d go with me… Is that a horrible idea?”
Harry thinks back to Niall’s love confession twenty minutes into knowing Shawn. “I’ll pass on the message,” he says. “I think he’ll be there.”
“Great!” says Shawn. He sounds so happy. Harry wants a boyfriend, damn it.
“I have to go now, Niall’s off work in half an hour, you can call back then.”
“Okay, thanks! Bye Harry!”
Harry hangs up and puts the phone down. He means to go out to the Help Desk to tell Niall, but gets distracted at the door when he sees Awkward Liam the fireman among the crowd watching the choir. Except Liam isn’t watching the choir. Liam is staring at Zayn, who is standing at the Help Desk with Niall talking about something.
He doesn’t look like an animal afraid of being eaten alive. He actually looks sort of… Lovestruck.
Chapter 10: December 10th
Harry lets himself have a special treat on the way to work on Sunday. He deserves it, he tells himself. Snickerdoodle hot chocolate sounds like some hot fresh liquid Christmas.
As he leaves the drive-through, he confirms. It tastes like liquid Christmas.
Even with the few minutes that it takes him out of his way to grab his drink, Harry still arrives for work before Niall and claims his rightful spot in the back. It’s shaping up to be an excellent day. The blue bins are lower than most days because they don’t get book deliveries on Sundays, and RBB is watching over-
RBB is not watching over the back room.
Harry scans the tops of the cabinets around the room. There is no rainbow fur in sight. Where is RBB?
There’s no way Niall arrived after Harry and managed to grab RBB from the top of the shelf without him noticing, and Andrea wouldn’t… Right?
Harry glances over at the Self Help Desk where Andrea is happily chatting with a man in a language that doesn’t sound like English. It might not be. Surely Andrea wouldn’t have…
Harry gets up and makes his way out toward the Help Desk, but stops short when he sees that Niall has already been waylaid by an elderly gentleman. He ducks behind the partition of the supervisor’s desk and makes a shushing noise at Zayn. He recognizes this customer and it doesn’t look good for poor Niall.
“It’s saying it’s going to delete my account. I need to call my boss.”
“You really don’t, sir. Just delete the e-mail, it’s spam.”
“I don’t… What is spam?”
Harry watches as Niall rubs his temple. “Someone is trying to hack into your account. They’re not who they say they are.”
“I need to call my boss!”
“I can’t really let you use the library phone for this-”
“I clicked on the link and it didn’t work!” the man points at his e-mail print-out again. “This says they will delete my account! I didn’t request that!”
“Yes, I- you clicked the link?” Niall is, at this point, desperately looking for a way out. He keeps looking back in the direction of the desk Harry is hiding behind. “If you clicked the link, you’re going to need to go into settings and change your password.”
“Settings? What is settings?”
“It’ll be on your e-mail page, in the corner-”
“I need to call my boss!”
Niall gives up. He lets the man call his boss.
The man’s boss hangs up on him.
By the time the man moves on, Niall looks like he’s seen death. The life has drained from his face. Harry comes out from behind Zayn’s desk (where is Zayn, come to think of it?) and pats Niall on the back. “Happy Sunday! The full moon was last week, you know.”
Niall shudders a sigh. “Nothing like a man who doesn’t understand settings to start out a Sunday morning.”
“Speaking of things that disrupt our mornings…” Harry wonders just how many books have been returned while he was watching Niall talk that he has now failed to check back in. “Any idea where RBB is?”
“Who?” asks Niall, eyebrows furrowing. “Our baby?”
“No!” Harry snorts. “The bear? In the back? In the Santa outfit?”
“Oh!” says Niall. “You mean the creepy rainbow one with the moustache? No. No idea.” He shrugs.
Harry frowns. “You’re sure?”
“Absolutely,” says Niall. “Listen, I was at a party until late last night and I’ll be real, I’m not entirely sure I’m not still drunk. Shawn may walk like he’s had four beers, but that boy could make an Irishman proud the way he holds his alcohol.”
“That’s the scariest and weirdest thing you’ve said yet,” Harry says. “What time did you get home?”
Niall scrunches his face up. “Four?” he says, sounding very uncertain. “I didn’t actually… sleep, I don’t think. I drank three protein smoothies and two energy drinks.”
“You might die soon,” Harry says. “You haven’t gone on a binge like that since we were in university.”
“I might,” Niall says. “And everything that I’m doing and saying right now is an act, so I’m going to need you to leave or else I might vomit on your shoes. I’m counting on since it’s a Sunday no one will be here.”
Harry glances at the parade of small children coming by for the afternoon Christmas story time. “Good luck with that,” he says.
He returns to the back (ah, there’s the precarious pile of books shoved through the return slot that he needs to check in) and stops short - there, on the desk in front of his computer, is RBB.
What the fuck.
Is RBB alive?
Harry’s almost afraid to return to his desk. Maybe RBB will become animate and try to gnosh upon him, like a real bear would. What a terrifying and absurd thought.
He approaches with caution, but the bear doesn’t move. He reaches out and pats the bear on the head, fast like a cat initiating a fight. The bear still does not move.
Okay, so RBB may not be alive, but Harry still doesn’t entirely trust him.
He gingerly moves RBB to the side so that he’s between the monitor and his barcode scanner. Sitting down in his chair, Harry begins the process of checking in the books, keeping one eye on RBB in case of suspicious activity.
RBB commits no suspicious activity.
Harry still doesn’t trust him.
When they rotate positions and Harry comes out to sit at the Help Desk, he finds Zayn sitting at his desk like normal.
“Where were you earlier?” Harry asks, suspicious.
“I ran for it when I saw that patron with his e-mail print out coming,” Zayn says dismissively. “I wasn’t going to stay around for that, and feel zero remorse about throwing Niall to the dogs.”
Well. That’s a logical explanation. “So you don’t know what happened to RBB?” Harry asks, just to be sure.
“Your bear?” Zayn raises his eyebrows. “No, has something happened? Has Admin said something?”
“Nope, nothing at all,” Harry says. The only thing Zayn cares about is being left alone by Admin. He’s not going to risk RBB getting in the middle of that.
He exits the conversation quickly, claiming that a patron needs him at the Help Desk (heck, that might even be true, he wasn’t paying attention).
He glances back at the Self Help Desk in time to see Niall nodding off at the computer (which, that was expected), and sneaks his phone out to send a few snaps of him. Why doesn’t he have Shawn on SnapChat yet?
When he turns back to the lobby at large, he finds two different moms with their arms full of children waiting for his help. The first one wants books on dinosaurs, and the second one needs to sign up for a library card. By the time she’s signed up, there’s three more people behind her. He helps a man reserve a book on philosophy, gives a woman directions to the audiobooks section, and-
The last person in line is Louis. The fireman.
Harry feels the panic welling up. It would not be appropriate to hide under the desk. Nope. He can’t do that if Louis has already seen him. That would be bad.
“Hey!” says Louis. “What’s up?”
Harry, eyes wide, glances above them. There is only ceiling. Shit, that wasn’t what Louis was saying. “Hi,” he squeaks.
Louis laughs. It’s a wonderful sound that must surely breathe fairies into existence. “You’re hilarious, Andrea was right.”
“Oh yeah,” Harry chokes out. “You… talked to Andrea.”
“Several times, actually,” Louis says. “She’s pretty cool.” He’s leaning on the desk now. Harry wonders how many fires he’s put out. How many kittens he’s saved from trees.
“Anyway,” Louis continues. Harry attempts to pay attention and not just fixate on his eyelashes. “I hear that you have phone chargers here.” He leans in conspiratorially. Harry follows suit. Their faces are very close together. Louis has the smallest crinkles at his eyes and Harry wants to kiss them.
“I was just wondering if… I could borrow one even though I don’t have a library card?”
Louis flashes a grin.
Harry nods. Harry would agree to anything.
“Sure thing, um, what- type? Phone?” This is much closer to full sentences than the last time he met Louis. This is going well.
“iPhone,” Louis says, holding up a massive phone.
“Right,” Harry says. He nods again. He needs to stop that. “One second.”
The chargers are in pouches stored in a drawer behind the supervisor desk. Harry jumps over to them and pulls out three chargers at random, finding the one labeled iPhone and shoving the rest back in the drawer.
“Here,” Harry says, pushing it across the desk. “Please don’t steal. Or, um, tell Zayn.”
Louis laughs again. “No problem,” he winks. “If you don’t tell I wont tell!”
He wanders off with the charger in hand. Harry lets out a breath when he’s gone, and then almost jumps out of his skin when Andrea, appearing out of nowhere, speaks from right behind him.
“He borrowed a phone charger an hour ago,” she says. “I don’t think his phone loses power that quickly.”
Chapter 11: December 11th
Zaynie Brainy: Staff holiday party! 5pm at the Dizzy Dorsal
Who is this
Harry-Bo: How did u get this number
Zaynie Brainy: Haz I know for a fact that you have me listed in your phone as Zayn the Mayn
Harry-Bo: Shows what u kno. I changed that months ago
Nialler: Who picks out these restaurants anyway? Why can’t we go to a pub like normal people?
Dizzy Dorsal is a gastropub, so it is still technically a pub…
Zaynie Brainy: Anyway it was Steve
Nialler: Goddamn it Steve
A-O-Kay-oki: Awww fuck yes Dizzy Dorsal is the BEST! You guys are gonna love it, they have this prawn tequila that is to DIE for
Bae-Be: Steve this is why nobody talks to us
Apparently the library stopped doing library-wide staff parties a few years ago after the entire Media department waged war on Adult services over an argument about who had rightful claim to the audiobooks section.
Harry is told that there were no clear winners in that war, only casualties and a truce agreement that all of the Great Courses audiobooks would be kept in Media even while all the other audiobooks are on the opposite side of the library.
The Dizzy Dorsal is small, with a barrow beer garden in the back (that it’s much too cold to use) and window gardens where they grow the herbs that they season their meals with. Harry wonders if their meals get more bland the further into winter they get.
They have to park pretty far down the street, and the wind nips at Harry’s poor, uncovered ears as he and Niall make a run for the invitingly warm windows of the so-called “gastropub” (which Harry thinks sounds like some sort of intestinal illness but what does he know?)
The wind howls through the door as it shuts behind them, but as soon as it closes with a heavy thunk, the fireplace in the center of the room and the obscene amount of Christmas decorations warm Harry’s heart and soul.
Most everyone else are already sitting along a table in the back. Andrea waves to them excitedly and Harry’s rather sad to find that she’s at the opposite end of the table from the two free seats left. He really wants to experience drunk Andrea first-hand. It seems like it would be a magical thing to experience.
“Harry! Niall!” yells Steve, waving his arms high in the air even as they sit down directly next to him. “So glad you could make it! Here, try my drink!”
He holds up his glass to them - it’s huge, full of a pink liquid and what looks like shrimp hanging all around the edge.
“I, um, I’m good,” Harry says.
Niall, on the other hand, grabs it and takes a large swig. “That tastes horrible, mate.”
Steve shrugs. “To each their own.”
Bebe rolls her eyes.
“I thought it was quite good,” Andrea says.
As the night goes on, Harry has to admit that the Dizzy Dorsal does have quite good beer. And by quite good he means cheap and plentiful.
He’s limited himself to a drink an hour, but that doesn’t mean that he can’t buy drinks for everyone else . Tipsy Andrea has already told a number of unbelievable stories about the time she was apparently in the WRAF, and Bebe, who is on her fourth colourful drink, has tried to kiss Steve four times (Steve has yet to even notice) and then declared her undying love for their waitress.
She also got the waitress’s number and address so. There’s that.
Niall, of course, has been showing pictures of Sparky and Parsnip to anyone who will give him the time of day but there’s nothing particularly unusual about that.
However, Harry’s most difficult goal of the evening is Zayn. He knows for a fact that Zayn will spill his deepest darkest secrets given enough liquid courage, and that’s exactly what he wants tonight. He also knows exactly how to get him there.
“We should sing Christmas carols,” Harry says. Christmas music has been playing on low the whole evening, the sound of Wrap Myself in Paper just barely heard above the chatter of a roomful of people who are on the right side of tipsy.
“Ooh, yes” says Niall. “I vote Santa Baby.”
Zayn sighs. He takes a drink.
“What about the Michael Buble version?” Steve says. “Santa Buddy?” He’s had three prawn tequilas that Harry is pretty sure at this point is just prawns and tequila. He wonders how Steve is still conscious.
“No one cares about Bubble’s heteronormative bullshit,” Bebe says. “I vote Carol of the Bells.”
Harry watches as Zayn empties his bottle.
“That song has words?” Niall asks, frowning.
Although no one can quite remember all the words to any of the songs they sing, Harry is impressed by how nice of singing voices they all have - especially Andrea. The longer they sing, the most the rest of the pub empties out and the more Zayn downs. By the time they’ve progressed from traditional Christmas songs to more modern ones like Christmas Shoes (which Niall refuses to sing “on principle”), Harry notices Zayn starting to lay his head on the table and figures they’ve reached the magic number.
He switches spots with Steve (who stumbles only a little, is that man human?) and sits down next to Zayn, putting his hand on his back. “You okay?”
Zayn sniffs. He honest to god sniffles. Harry starts to wonder if he’s just that affected by Christmas Shoes still, but then Zayn, head still in his arms, moans, “He’s just so cute, it’s not fair.”
“Not fair?” Harry asks, feigning innocence although he does have some idea. The chorus of Winter Wonderland continues to be sung around them.
“The- the fireman, Harry! He’s beautiful and I want to lick his hair.”
“Um,” says Harry. “Well that last part is a bit weird but what you get up to in the bedroom is your own business I suppose.”
Zayn’s head pops up, eyes wide. “You think he’d sleep with me?” He asks, eyes wide.
“I mean,” Harry hedges. “We are talking about Liam here, aren’t we? Because it does seem sort of like you hate him…”
Zayn’s face crumples. “I knooooow,” he sobs, head dropping back into his arms. “This is why I can’t like people, Harry! I don’t know how to act! I get all mean! It’s not on purpose!”
“Okay so, to be clear, you don’t hate him?” Harry asks.
“No,” Zayn sniffles into the table. “He’s the cutest fireman and he’s got chubby cheeks.”
Harry frowns. That’s not what he would have jumped to when describing Liam but he can sort of see it. “I mean. I guess we could start by… not yelling at him?”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to do,” Zayn says. “But that means I can’t talk to him at all.”
“Right,” Harry says. “Okay. We’re gonna talk more about this. Don’t worry, Zaynie. I don’t think you’ve lost your chance.”
“Shut up,” Zayn says. “Only Liam is allowed to call me Zaynie.”
Harry purses his lips to keep from laughing. “Has Liam ever done that?”
“Okay. We’ll work on that too.”
Chapter 12: December 12th
“I need to talk to you,” Niall says first thing on Tuesday morning.
“That’s a bad sign,” says Harry.
“So,” Niall pulls up a rolling chair to where Harry is sitting in the back.
“Did you just leave the Help Desk empty?”
“Yes. Pay attention.”
“So Shawn wants to be a part of the Nativity.”
“He what?” says Harry, finally looking up from the books he’s scanning. “The one Saint Stephens puts on every year?”
“Yeah,” Niall’s lips quirk into a smile. “He says they don’t have them where he’s from in America, they only have big plastic displays. He says he wants to ‘really experience true British life’.”
Niall is grinning like a loon now.
Harry wants to slap him.
“You’re in too deep,” he says.
“Your mum’s in too deep.”
“Also, does he realise that this ‘great British tradition’ he wants a part in is generally for, like, children?”
“I’m honestly not sure,” says Niall. “But Saint Stephens doesn’t have an age restriction on their website.”
“It probably doesn’t occur to them that they would need one,” Harry points out.
“But okay, Shawn wants to be the third lobster at the birth of Jesus. Why do you need to tell me?”
“Well…” Niall hedges. “I need your help. You’re close to Zayn, right?”
Zayn has been avoiding Harry since his drunken confession last night.
“Sure,” says Harry.
“We need to convince him to hold the Nativity here,” says Niall.
Harry snorts. “Yeah, best of luck with that.”
That would involve Zayn talking with someone in Admin. There’s nothing Zayn hates more than talking to Admin.
“Come on,” Niall begs, draping himself across the cart Harry is loading books onto. “Apparently Saint Stephens has had some sort of problem with their pipes and so they’ve closed off a lot of the church to do repairs and they’re talking about not even having the Nativity, which would be fine but all the other ones in town you have to have signed up to be in months ago.”
“You probably also have to be, like, seven.”
“I’ll owe you,” Niall tries.
“You owe me for so many thing already. Just ask Zayn yourself!”
“I’m pretty sure Zayn doesn’t like me. I run late too many days.”
“I’m actually starting to think Zayn doesn’t hate nearly as many people as we think he does,” Harry says, thinking of the night before.
“Then you should convince him!” Niall whines. “Come oooooon, Harry! Think of Shawn in a nativity play. He’d be so happy. I’d be so happy!”
“I’ve met him once,” Harry points out. “He spilled beer on me.”
“Fine,” Niall says, getting up and walking toward the Help Desk.“If you want to ruin a poor American’s dream of performing in a British tradition then be my guest.”
“It’s a weird dream!” Harry shouts after him. “Just make him pop Christmas crackers like everybody else!”
“Hey Zayn, what does one nutcracker say to the other?”
“I can and will have you fired.”
“No, I’m pretty sure that’s not it.”
Harry can’t stand Niall being mad at him. Or ‘disappointed’, as Niall calls it.
“You’re playing Snake on your computer screen. I didn’t even think you could play that game on something other than an ancient Nokia.”
“I’m winning, too. If this isn’t about a patron catching on fire, I don’t need to hear about it.”
Harry rests his arms on the partition bordering the the supervisor’s desk. “I think you’re just embarrassed about last night,” he says, and he watches with glee as Zayn’s ears turn red. “And the good news is, I’m not here to talk about that! Now, don’t get me wrong, we will be talking about it, and very soon, but I’m actually here right now on behalf of Niall.”
“What?” Zayn looks up. “Is he not here yet? Your shift started over an hour ago.”
“No, dear Zaynie, he did in fact arrive on time, and if you weren’t hiding from me I think you would have already known that.”
“Wasn’t hiding,” Zayn mumbles. He might be sulking now. He looks like he’s sulking.
Harry desperately wants to call him out on this fact, but he forces himself to stick to the matter at hand. “So Niall wants a favour.”
“Why isn’t Niall here, then?”
“Because he thinks you hate him,” Harry says.
Zayn’s head snaps up. Harry can hear the tiny explosion on his phone game as his snake implodes. “I don’t hate him!”
“Yeah,” says Harry. “I know. And don’t worry Zaynie, we’re going to work on that.”
“Please stop calling me Zaynie.”
“Won’t. But you know what would make Niall the happiest little Irishman you’ve ever seen? Booking the lobby for Saint Stephens’ Christmas Nativity.”
“Um,” says Zayn. “Does Niall have a little sibling I don’t know about?”
“Not that I’m aware of,” says Harry.
“Does Niall have some major religious affiliation I’ve missed?”
“I’d imagine not.”
“Then…” Zayn trails off. “Why?”
“His boyfriend,” Harry says. Is Shawn even his boyfriend? Have they had a DTR yet? He hasn’t the slightest. “He’s American. He wants to be in the Nativity because it’s a ‘British tradition’.”
“Getting drunk on a nightly basis is also a ‘British tradition’, has he tried that?”
“You know, I think he has,” Harry says thoughtfully.
“Anyway my instinct is to say no,” says Zayn.
“Please, Zaynie,” Harry clasps his hands. “This is how you make friends! I think you need more of those.”
“I have plenty of friends!”
“Yes, and Niall is one of them! And if you host the Nativity here then Shawn will be too!”
“Who is Shawn?”
He puts his hands to his temples.
He ignores the incoming call on his desk phone.
“Why isn’t Saint Stephens hosting it?”
“Water damage, I hear.”
Harry waits in silence for another moment. This feels momentous. Like that time in A Christmas Carol where Scrooge decides to give away all his money.
“I’ll… Think about it,” says Zayn. “Please tell Niall I don’t hate him. But also that he needs to show up for work on time more often. But that I still won’t hate him if he’s late once in a while.”
“Will do!” Harry crows. “Thank you, Zaynie!”
“Please stop calling me that.”
“Hey Zaynie. You want to hear a nice Christmas joke?”
“If you don’t get back to the Help Desk in the next five seconds, I’m going to make you stay until all the blue bins are unloaded.”
Harry turns around. Oh. There is a rather long line at the Help Desk. “ Mull over that question!” he says over his shoulder to Zayn as he returns to his desk. “And there’s no need to whine about it!”
Get it? Mulled wine?
Yeah okay, not one of his best.
Chapter 13: December 13th
There are candy canes everywhere.
Harry’s given Niall a ride to work today, because although Niall literally has a five minute walk from his flat to the library, both Parsnip and Sparky had asked this morning and Niall had called him from the Tesco’s halfway across town, where he had finally cornered both of them in the produce section (it’s a good thing everyone in town can recognize Sparky’s designer outfits and know who to contact).
So they’re both a few minutes late, and there are candy canes everywhere.
They’re hung along the walls, slung across countertops, hanging on all the Christmas trees in the entrance way. It’s like entering a weird, sugary, probably soon-to-be-sticky winter wonderland.
“Can I eat these?” Niall asks, reaching up to a row of mini candy canes above the entrance to the Circulation Department.
“I’d like to see someone try to stop you,” Harry says, pushing the door open and ushering Niall in as he attempts to jump and grab one.
Zayn is in the back, crouching between the two nonfiction cards and shifting through the books. “No one is allowed to eat them.”
“That’s like taking candy from a baby,” Niall says, pouting.
“Except you’re not a baby,” Harry says. “You’re Irish.”
“This is a weird sticking point for you somehow,” Niall muses.
Zayn stands up, a stack of quilting books in his hands. “They’re for a scavenger hunt in the Youth Department later,” he says. “I emailed the list of things for them to find in case anyone asks. It ends at seven, so any time after that you can - carefully - eat as much as you want. Within reason.”
Harry and Niall watch him leave and then turn to each other.
“That was cryptic as fuck,” says Harry.
“Yeah,” says Niall. “I’m not going to be careful eating candy canes. What does he take me for, an amateur?”
Harry slides his phone out of his back pocket and taps through to his work email. What kind of scavenger hunt involves thousands of candy canes?
The attachment from Zayn’s email loads and they scan through the list. “This is… actually pretty intense, and also sounds like a health and safety nightmare. A grape flavoured candy cane… star anise flavour.. Lick one into a sword shape? A secret plastic candy cane? Jalapeno flavour? These sound horrible.”
“You mean amazing?” Niall says, grabbing his phone and reading down the list. “The prize is an Elf on the Shelf reindeer? Why isn’t the prize candy canes?”
“I think the parents might appreciate not being sent home with a bag of peppermint flavoured sugar.”
Niall shrugs. “More for me, I suppose.”
Harry is really not at all sure where the library gets the budget for scavenger hunts like this. Sitting at the Help Desk an hour later, he admires the way the entire lobby is strung floor-to-ceiling with candy canes. There are large ones, mini ones, ornate ones, ones that look old enough they could have been crafted by Santa himself.
Harry spends a minute googling Santa - apparently he lived in the 4th century. Okay, maybe the candy canes aren’t that old.
The scavenger hunt is set to start at three, and seeing the impatient eyes of children all around the library as they scan the walls, surveying the sugary kingdom they’re about to ransack, Harry is glad that his phone is fully charged. Yes, he’s absolutely about to send video evidence of this to his sister.
He’s so caught up in the decorations, trying to guess which one is what flavour (there’s apparently a handful that are mashed potato flavour, and Harry desperately wants to know what makes those different from regular potato flavour), that he doesn’t notice at first the person approaching the Help Desk.
“Hello… Harry,” says Louis. The fireman. Louis the hot fireman.
“Hi,” squeaks Harry. Louis knows Harry’s name? “You know my name?”
Louis looks concerned for a moment. “It’s- uh. Your nametag.”
“Um,” says Harry. “Of course. Silly me.”
Louis smiles again. His smile is like the sun. Or one of those suns in other universes that burn a beautiful rose gold instead of regular yellow.
“Silly you,” Louis says, and he sounds like he’s teasing Harry now and honestly Harry is perfectly okay with that.
“So, um, help? Can I?” Harry’s getting better at the words thing but a slip-up every now and then is understandable. He clears his throat. “Do you need anything?”
“I do, actually,” says Louis.
Anything, thinks Harry. Take me.
“I was hoping you could tell me where to find a book.”
Ooh! Harry’s a library assistant! That’s his job!
“Right,” says Harry, opening up the program on his computer. “What’s the title?”
“The Complete Idiot’s Guide for Dummies.”
Harry types it in. He looks at what he’s just typed in. “The… Are you sure?”
Louis laughs. “I am,” he says.
“But this…” Harry hits the search button. Oh. It’s a real book. “Um. Okay, well this is a thing I definitely didn’t know existed and I’m still not entirely sure what it is, but we do have it on the shelf.”
“It’s for my roommate,” Louis says. “I want to see how long it takes him to figure out it’s not actually a guide on anything.”
Harry looks at the front cover on the web page. “It does have the phrase ‘This is a parody you idiot’, fairly large on the front cover,” he points out.
Louis smiles and there are crinkles by his eyes that Harry thinks fairies must sprinkle magic dust on while he sleeps. “He gets really flustered when he’s confused, I think it’ll still take him a while.” he shrugs. “He needs to lighten up, he’s been completely pining after this guy for almost two weeks now but the guy won’t give him the time of day. I’m just trying to offer a distract him.”
That’s sweet, Harry thinks.
I want to have your babies, Harry thinks. By adoption or through surrogacy of course.
Although if Louis asked, Harry might be willing to steal a baby. If it came to that.
“Your roommate sounds like a lucky guy then,” Harry says. He writes down the call number of the book and hands it over to Louis.
“I like to think so,” Louis says. “I filled the sink with live lobsters last week and he said that was, and I quote, ‘not the good sort of distraction, Lou’.”
Louis’s loumate calls him Lou, is all Harry gets out of that story. I want to call him Lou too.
“Well, I’ll see you around, I’m sure,” Louis says. He sticks the paper in his back pocket and waves at Harry. “Bye, Library Harry!”
Harry waves back. He considers changing his nametag to read Library Harry.
When he goes to leave at the end of the day, after all the candy canes have been decimated and there’s some sort of society being formed in the Media department from discarded ones stuck together into igloo-like dwellings, he almost misses the fact that RBB has obtained a large candy cane of his own. It’s rainbow, and Harry doesn’t remember seeing any others like it.
Chapter 14: December 14th
There’s a new email from Admin when Harry gets to work.
The Hillsyde Library is please to announce that we will this year be home to Saint Stephens Nativity! Join us on the 18th of December at 6pm for light refreshments and Christmas cheer. All library workers and their family members are welcome to attend.
“I… can’t believe he actually did it,” Niall says in awe.
Harry smiles. He feels like he’s somehow got blackmail on Zayn in the form of I know you’re a nice person.
“My god-daughter is going to be in the play this year,” Andrea says, coming up to join them. “It’s so nice, that we’re hosting it here. Saint Stephens found black mold in their basement, they’re actually going to be closed until well into January at this rate.”
“Oh dear,” says Niall. “Shawn has been practicing there, do you think he’s alright?”
“He’s probably fine,” Harry says. “I’m more interested in the fact that you have a god-daughter?” He turns to Andrea. “I never heard about this! I want pictures.”
He wants to send pictures to his sister. She might be close to giving in at this point.
“I’ve got eleven, actually,” Andrea informs him. She pulls out her phone. “Brittany, Susette, Tabby, Addy, India, KK, Bri, Jacky, Lisa, Keri, Molly…” She flips through the pictures in rapid order. “I did a bit of volunteer work a few years back. It means I always get Christmas cards!”
Harry stares. Andrea has become his life goals. He wants eleven god-daughters. No, he wants twelve! He will someday surpass Andrea and become the rightful- something. Hm.
“I’m going to go tell Zayn thanks,” Niall says. “Maybe I should buy him something as a thank you. Like… coffee? Does Zayn drink coffee? Does Zayn drink anything?”
“He does enjoy a good beer,” Harry says.
“I’m not sure I’m allowed to give Zayn beer at work,” Niall muses. “Maybe wine, though. Librarians like wine.”
Niall might be missing the point.
The phone in the back starts going off, so Harry has to go do his actual job (although he’s determined to crack the mystery that is Andrea someday). He manages to get it by the third ring (official library policy, you know). “Hillsyde Library Circulation Department. This is Harry, what can I do for you?”
“No,” says the caller.
They hang up.
“Okay,” says Harry to the dead phone. He puts it back down. He’s had worse phone calls.
He spends the next hour checking in the books from the blue bins (which engulfs the back room today, there’s enough to build a walled fortress). He’s got RBB with him, but he may or may not have stolen RBB’s candy cane and eaten it himself. It gave him a sugar rush and was rainbow-ly delicious. When it’s time to rotate positions, he logs into the Help Desk computer and then pops his head over the partition to see Zayn.
“I heard you were helpful,” he sing-songs.
“Please go back to the Help Desk,” says Zayn.
“No!” Harry hangs his long arms over the side of the partition and dangles them menacingly above Zayn, dropping imaginary confetti. “Look at you! Being nice! Being kind! Getting into the Christmas spirit!”
“I took the eighteenth off work,” Zayn informs him.
“Fair enough,” says Harry. “Still counts, though!”
He turns back to his desk and sits down, aimlessly scrolling through Pinterest. There are a few candy canes still hanging up in various parts of the lobby that he can see, a couple of them so high up that there’s no way any child could have gotten to them in the first place. He wonders who hung them that high. Or how.
Then, out of the corner of his eye, he sees Awkward Liam. Awkward Liam, come to think of it, could probably reach many of those candy canes.
“Liam!” Harry shouts. Liam startles. He jumps. He looks around wildly before finding Harry waving at him.
“Hello,” says Liam, walking over. “Are you okay? Is there a fire?”
“Pretty sure if there were a fire, you would be the one to spot the signs,” Harry says.
Liam frowns. He purses his lips. “I think… everyone should be able to spot the signs of a fire,” he says, more to himself than Harry. “There would be smoke. And fire.”
“Yes that’s true,” Harry says, trying to match Liam’s level of serious. “You’re absolutely right. Everyone should be able to spot the signs of a fire.”
Liam nods, still serious.
Harry also nods.
This conversation is not going anywhere fast.
“So,” says Harry. He thinks Zayn might be listening right now. The (five foot) walls are very thin. “Did you hear about the Nativity next week? Are you coming?”
“Yes,” says Liam. “Of course I am. Someone has to be watching for fires.”
“Right,” says Harry. “But are you going to watch it? I know a friend of a friend who is in it, I think it’s going to be… something special.”
Liam’s face brightens up. “Oh yes, actually my roommate has two little siblings who are in it! One of them is a wise man and one of them is the star! Quite big parts, he’s very proud.”
Harry smiles wide. He wonders what Shawn is. He really does hope Shawn is a lobster. “That’s great! I can’t wait to see them in it!”
Liam nods, a genuine smile in his face that makes his cheeks round and adorable. He really is rather like a puppy. “Yeah! That’s why I’m working that night, actually, because he was supposed to be working but he wanted to be in the audience.”
Suddenly Liam frowns and looks uncertainty behind Harry - where Zayn’s desk is. “I actually should, um, get back to work.”
Harry glances behind him. He wonders if Liam caught Zayn snooping. “You know,” he whispers conspiratorially. “He’s not as mean as he looks, Zayn isn’t. He’s a big softy, I promise.”
Liam looks uncertain.
Harry tries to look reassuring. “Really. I promise. He just gets loud when he’s nervous.”
Liam tentatively smiles. “My roommate does that sometimes too.”
Harry laughs. “I think I’d like to meet this person sometimes.”
“Oh!” Liam says. “Speaking of which!” He opens his bulky fireman coat and draws something out of the inside. “Could you tell me what this is about? He gave it to me yesterday and I can’t figure it out but I’m afraid to ask him.”
Harry looks at the book that Liam has handed over to him.
The Complete Idiot’s Guide for Dummies.
Chapter 15: December 15th
“Harry, please stop sending me snapchats of every child you see.”
Harry looks up from his monitor - he’s been spending all morning reading feel-good Christmas news articles. “Gems! You didn’t tell me you were coming by today!”
Gemma leans her forearms on the counter. “Every time I text you I get a good fifteen stock photos of babies as a reply. I thought this would save me having to wade through all of those. Wanted to talk about our plans for Christmas this year.”
“Do these plans involve everyone sleeping over at Mum and Dad’s on Christmas Eve and then waking you up with a marshmallow gun? Because that’s what I personally am hoping for.”
“Well…” Gemma pulls a face. “That’s the thing, actually. Eustace just surprised me with a trip to Paris-”
“We’re all going to Paris?” Harry asks, eyes wide. “I mean, I’d have to call off of work-”
“No, dummy. Eustace and I are going to Paris. We’re going to come back Christmas day so we can spend the afternoon with family, so we were talking to Mum about moving our family time to mid afternoon.”
Harry’s face falls. “Gem, you can’t just- you can’t just break Christmas tradition like that! That’s the whole point of tradition! It’s to be unbroken!”
Gemma then has to stand aside for a minute as a patron comes up to the desk for help checking out her books. She has eighty eight pounds in fines. She doesn’t end up checking out the books.
“Harry, I love you and I promise we can do our dumb Christmas traditions next near, but this is mine and Eustace’s first Christmas together and I think it’s very sweet of him to set up this vacation.”
“Did you accost me with this information at work so that I couldn’t fight you on it?” Harry asks suspiciously.
“Absolutely,” Gemma says. “And speaking of which, I’ll be on my way. Don’t complain too much to Mum, I told her she could have the morning just for the two of them, so that you won’t go and try to just have Christmas without me.”
“This is war,” Harry calls after her as she leaves. He turns back to his desk only to see an old woman looking at him very nervously. “Marshmallow war,” he clarifies. “Only sugar, no pain.”
“Neil,” Harry moans. “Please help me. I’m sad.”
“I know you are,” Niall confirms, patting him on the head. “Have a good day Mrs. Soussy,” he says to the woman passing by the Help Desk on the way out the door. “You only have to be at work another hour and then you can go home and wallow with a nice Christmas movie, okay?”
“How did this happen?” Harry asks, head on the desk. “I was supposed to spend all month comforting you! You’re the one who just got out of a relationship! But now suddenly you’re in a brand new puppy love relationship, Zayn has a hot awkward fireman, and all I’m doing is pining after a guy I almost ran over!”
“You what.” says Niall.
“Whatever. He’s fine. I wish I had run him over, at least then I’d probably have his number.”
“This is not a good line of thinking, Harry.”
“I want snickerdoodle hot chocolate.”
“We can get you some snickerdoodle hot chocolate.”
“Tell Shawn that I hate him because he loves you almost as much as I do.”
“Noted. I’m not going to tell him that, but noted.”
“I don’t want to accidentally scare him off! We’re going to a panto this weekend.”
“Panto!” Harry finally looks up. “Why the fuck didn’t he want to do a panto! That’s a much more reasonable British tradition than the Nativity. H wouldn’t be a meter taller than the rest of the cast.”
Niall shrugs. “I don’t think he knew what it was. I think he’s still got sort of the wrong idea. He might come out of this very traumatised.”
“Would serve him right,” Harry mutters, propping his face in his hands. “Taking away my best friend…”
“He’s not taking you away.” Niall rolls his eyes. “Besides - he can’t drive.”
“Nope,” Niall grins. “You’re irreplaceable.”
Well that… That actually makes Harry feel a lot better. “Good,” he says. “Make sure that doesn’t change.”
He spends the rest of his shift still somewhat brooding over the loss of his Christmas tradition, but he perks up a little each time he sees a certain fireman walk by. Today is apparently Louis’s day, and he’s terribly good at patrolling the library, if Harry does say so himself. Standing back at the Self Help Desk also means that he gets an excellent view of Louis without having to worry about interacting with him and saying something dumb accidentally. Something like “Hey did you know I almost ran over you once?”. Yeah, he’s happier back here.
Plus, Louis’s bum looks excellent in that uniform. He wonders if firemen are supposed to have trousers that tight. Not that he’s complaining. He just doesn’t remember Liam’s being that… complementary.
Liam. Louis’s roommate. How is it fair that two of the most beautiful men live together? Well at least, maybe when Liam and Zayn fall in love, Harry will be invited to the wedding and he’ll get to stare at Louis in a suit.
At one point he sees Louis come up to the Help Desk to talk with Andrea. He’s just far enough away that he can’t tell what they’re talking about but damn does he consider sneaking forward…
But he doesn’t, because he is a professional.
He’s just about ready to go home at the end of the day - coat already on and everything - when Andrea comes up to him. “Harry, we got about thirty letters addressed to Santa - and this one to Satan - shoved through the book slot about an hour ago. Will you drop them in the mail on your way out?”
“Sure thing,” Harry says, taking them with a frown. “But - why me? Aren’t you going that way too?”
“Oh I’m actually staying past close tonight,” Andrea says. “I heard the Nativity needs props help - there was a lot of damage on what’s been pulled out of the Saint Stephens basement - so I’ll be staying to help make new pieces.”
“Wow,” says Harry. “That’s really nice of you. Will Dewey be okay?”
“Oh yes,” says Andrea. “Dewey is actually in the Reference Department in the basement right now. She’s very good at hiding.”
“Right,” says Harry. “Yes. Of course. Well, I just have to, um. Deliver these.”
“Thank you, Harry!” Andrea says with a wave. “Maybe next time you can meet Dewey!”
Harry is rather worried sometimes that Dewey is an ancient deity in the body of a cat.
Outside, it’s started snowing. It’s the light kind that disappears as soon as it reaches the ground, but it’s still nice. Harry starts humming Here we come a-caroling under his breath as he makes his way through the parking lot. The post box is in front of the primary school just on the other side of the road, with a confusing traffic pattern that makes it much more sensible to walk over rather than try to drive up.
It’s dark, and the snow makes itself visible only in the headlights of cars driving by and the lamp posts along the way. Harry can see his breath and for a moment he’s a child again, pretending he’s smoking a cigar as he walks.
Love and joy come to you
And to you good Christmas too
His shoes tap quietly along the pavement as he makes his way up to the post box. There’s something lodged in the hole that the mail is supposed to go through, and for a moment Harry is afraid it’s a squirrel, but he gets his phone out of his pocket and with fingers quivering from cold manages to switch the light on.
It’s small, furry and rainbow. Probably not alive then. Harry pulls it out carefully and finds that it’s a bear. A rainbow bear. Like RBB but significantly smaller, and with a card of some kind tied around its waist. Harry flips the card over and sees it’s for the coffeeshop down the road, and someone has inscribed something under it in terribly messy handwriting -
For a snickerdoodle hot chocolate.
Harry stares a moment. Andrea...? No, but he didn’t tell her about the hot chocolate, he told Niall.
And Niall is still at work, filling in for someone on the late crew. Harry surely would have noticed…
The bear has a tiny pair of sunglasses. He’s precious. He’s freezing.
Harry sticks the bear and the card in his coat pocket. He shoves the letters to Santa in the slot. He hurries back to his car where it’s warm and then-
Well, he drives to the coffee shop and orders a snickerdoodle hot chocolate. The card contains exactly the right amount.
Chapter 16: December 16th
Harry is wearing candy cane socks.
Well, technically they’re just pink and white striped socks. But clearly they’re meant to be candy cane socks. He feels festive wearing them.
It’s the perfect day to wear them too, because today is Saturday; another day of Holiday Happiness at the library. Today is the day that Santa is here - a day many children have clearly been looking forward to, judging by the number of parents and children milling about waiting for Santa to come back from his tea break.
(The Santa that’s here today looks entirely convincing, and is just as jovial a Santa as anyone would wish for, but he does insist on a lot of tea breaks).
Mrs. Clause is supposed to show up after lunch and give a demonstration on no-bake cookies in the Youth Department. There’s also been rumours of one of the reindeers showing up before the end of the day, but even Zayn won’t confirm that one.
Harry is, if he’s honest, a little exhausted. He stayed up late online shopping because it hit him very suddenly how close to Christmas it was, and the hot cocoa with candy cane stirrer he mixed up for himself only gave him a sugary rush that lasted longer into the night than he thought possible.
So if he’s sort of zoning out at his desk, even with all the excitement around him, he doesn’t think anyone can really blame him.
There is a very small, rainbow bear under the desk to his left. He’s been carrying this tiny bear around him since the start of his shift. The bear feels important, somehow. And if not important, well, at least he’s soft and cute and Harry has grown very attached to him over the last twelve hours.
Harry has helped four patrons so far today who have forgotten their library cards. He’s helped two sign up for new cards, and he’s informed probably between thirty and fifty that, yes, that giant display and line of children is because Santa is here today. Yes, it is free to talk to Santa. No, he has not given thought to the rampant consumerism and capitalism that they are letting into their establishment by allowing Santa in.
Yes, Santa does take a lot of tea breaks.
When Santa does reappear, Harry has a perfect view of him - he’s directly at the other end of the lobby - and the giant cheer that amasses from the waiting children and parents (as happens every time he reappears) does wake Harry up a little.
What really manages to wake him up, though, is moments later when Louis - you know, the fireman - pops up literally into view in front of his desk.
“Fu- airy lights!” Harry shouts.
“Librarian Harry!” Louis shouts.
“Fireman Louis!” Harry shouts back, altogether caught off guard and confused.
“I need a place to hide!” Louis says, leaning onto the counter. “Quick! Can I hide under your counter?”
Harry’s eyes grow wide. “Um. Yes? I-”
And Louis is already diving around the side of the desk, crouching - in full fireman garb - about a foot from where Harry’s sitting.
Louis puts his finger to his lips and Harry’s mouth snaps shut. Louis - beautiful, feathery haired Louis - is grinning so wide his eyes are all squinty.
A moment later, two girls come running up to the Help Desk. They must be twins, they’re terribly similar, with straight brown hair and matching red snowflake-patterned jumpers.
“Have you seen a fireman?” asks one.
“He’s our brother,” clarifies the other.
“He’s being mean,” says the first.
“He stole her phone,” says the second.
“And he said if we catch him he’ll buy us Starbucks.”
“Which he always says, but never does.”
“He’s quite mean, really.”
“But we almost caught him earlier.”
“Then we lost him when Santa reappeared.”
Harry’s neck is beginning to hurt from snapping back and forth between the two girls. “What’s he look like?” he asks, trying to buy himself time. Harry is, notoriously, a horrible liar. This will probably not work in Louis’s favour.
“Like us,” say both girls in unison.
“But a boy, obviously.”
“And a beard.”
“And a fireman’s uniform.”
“He shouldn’t be too hard to spot.”
“So you haven’t seen him?”
“Because if you haven’t we really should keep looking.”
“He could be all the way in the basement by now.”
“I’d suggest the nonfiction section,” Harry says. “No one ever goes there, it’s pretty secluded.”
The girls look at each other. They take a moment to whisper among themselves before turning back to Harry.
“We think you’re lying,” the one says.
“We think he’s under your desk,” says the other.
“It seems very immoral for a librarian to lie.”
“You shouldn’t make a habit of it.”
“You’re not even particularly good at it.”
“Hey,” argues Harry. “I didn’t even lie! I just suggested somewhere else!”
They both give him unimpressed looks.
Harry gulps. He feels like he’s about to be eaten alive.
“Alright girls, you can lay off the third degree,” Louis says and Harry looks over at him. He had very specifically been not looking over at Louis in order to not instantly give away his location.
Louis stands and stretches. “I suppose I can give your phone back. But on one condition - you have to buy me Starbucks.”
The girls turn their unimpressed stares upon Louis. He does not seem nearly as bothered as Harry was.
The girl on the left holds out her hand. “Give it over or I’ll tell Mum you lost Ernest for almost an hour earlier.”
“She’ll never believe you,” Louis says. “I’m the angel.”
“I have snapchat evidence,” says the girl on the right.
Louis frowns. “Fine,” he says, fishing a phone out of his pocket and handing it over. “But only because I’m the nicest older brother you have.”
They both roll their eyes. In tandem. It’s quite creepy.
Louis stands behind the desk until they’ve walked away. Harry can feel when Louis turns his gaze on him. He can sense his ears growing red.
“It wasn’t the most convincing act I’ve ever seen,” Louis says.
“I’m bad at lying, okay?” Harry pouts. “I wasn’t prepared! You have to give me advanced notice!”
“Sure,” Louis says, and then he laughs. “The next time I’m hiding from my sisters, I’ll be sure to give you advanced notice before I crawl behind your desk.”
“… Good,” is all Harry can think to say. His mind has gone blank again. Oh fuck.
“Anyway,” says Louis. “My family is all here today to see Santa. He does take an awful lot of tea breaks, doesn’t he?”
“He really does,” Harry says. “I’m starting to think at least half those tea breaks have to be pee breaks, with the amount that he’s taking.”
“Oh, Librarian Harry,” Louis says. “I like your innocent soul.”
He gives Harry a pat on the head and Harry all but melts.
“You, um, no fires today?” Harry asks, seeking desperately to keep the conversation going.
“None yet,” Louis says. “It’s almost rather boring around here.”
“Boring?” asks Harry. “The lack of mortal danger is boring?”
Louis smiles. “What is life without a little excitement?” He turns to gaze across the lobby. “In fact, I think my little siblings are near the front of the line, so I shall now put myself in mortal danger by braving a crowd of little ‘uns impatiently waiting to tell a strange man what they want for Christmas.”
“Go forth and conquer,” Harry says, and then cringes at his own words. But Louis, bless his heart, only laughs.
“I shall,” he says. “Wish me luck and wave me off like I’m going off to war, will you?”
Harry looks around for a box of tissues and grabs one, waving it back and forth just a bit as Louis makes his way back to the other side of the desk. When he’s gone - lost in the crowd, because he’s shorter than most of the parents - Harry stuffs the tissue into the trash and puts his head in his hands, the adrenalin of interacting with Louis leaving his system and the feeling of mortification replacing it, his face growing terribly red.
He’s often equal parts awkward and embarrassing, but then again Louis never seemed weirded out by him. On the contrary, Louis has been rather encouraging of Harry’s weirdness over the last week or so.
It’s overwhelming, to say the least. Seeing as how Louis is the most perfect man Harry has ever met, and is certainly not human. Angel, or fae, or some sort of merman with a curse, Harry’s not sure. But not human.
About ten minutes later when Andrea walks up to the desk, which means it’s time for Harry to move to the Self-Help Desk, he reaches down to find the baby rainbow bear gone.
He doesn’t find the bear again until another hour later when he walks into the back and sees him on top of the cabinet - leaning against RBB.
Chapter 17: December 17th
Today is Sunday. The Lord’s day. The day for sleeping in and relaxing and playing some Christmas movies in the background while lounging about the house in special Christmas pajamas with Niall (because they were on sale, okay? And Harry’s not going to give up on a chance to get matching outfits for him and his best mate, that would be a crime).
But no. Even though today is Sunday, that is not the sort of Sunday that he’s going to get to have, because even though he has the day off (which almost never happens on a weekend), there is a problem.
The Nativity is tomorrow.
The Nativity is tomorrow and Niall, who is in love with a certain dumb American, has enlisted everybody in to help. The full extent of this everybody includes, but is not limited to, Harry, Zayn (after Harry convinced him this is what friends do for each other, Zaynie), Andrea, Niall’s mates Bressie and Sean (who is… loud), and Steve’s mum.
Steve has to actually work in Circulation today, but his mum is apparently well keen to help. Mrs. Aoki is a gem.
(Speaking of which, Gemma is not here to help. Harry tried to lure her with pictures of the children here for their last minute fittings, but to no avail. Rude).
They’ve barricaded themselves in the Friends Theatre - the room on the lower floor with rows of seating circling around a stage. It’s a really impressive space, considering the library itself is so small it doesn’t even boast a coffee shop (much to Harry’s constant chagrin on days he’s too late to grab a caffeinated beverage on the way in).
They’re making, more or less, all new props. The ones from St Stephens smelled… musty. Harry’s been on manger duty all afternoon, because so far all the hay he’s been attempting to glue into the wooden crate has flaked apart and just made a mess on the floor. It might help if they had a type of glue other than the fifty pack of children’s glue sticks that Zayn commandeered from Youth.
Andrea has put herself in charge of the backdrop. It’s looking rather like Starry Night, at this point. She apparently can do wonders with glitter and paint.
Mrs. Aoki is touching up costumes. She’s got to have some sort of magic in her blood, the way she’s transforming old bath robes and walking sticks from the park into something actively recognizable as shepherds robes and crooks. Harry spies, among the pile of costumes, something very large and purple, and a couple somethings that are very large and red. He’s still holding out for Shawn in a lobster costume.
Niall is taking up the middle of the stage with Bressie and Sean. Zayn was trying to work with them originally but now has more taken to just sitting back and yelling at them to be careful once in a while.
“NIALL,” says Sean. “LOOK HOW FAST THIS NAIL GUN WORKS.”
“Sean!” shouts Bressie. “Aim the nail gun at the wood,”
“That’s sick!” says Niall with a laugh as most of the nails land in the roof of the stable they’re building. “It makes it look old and shit, that’s realistic!”
“I KNOW, THAT’S WHAT I THOUGHT!” Sean says. “HEY, IT’S ALREADY RUN OUT.”
“That’s because they’re mostly in the ceiling now,” Zayn sighs from his seat on the audience area. “And I’m not giving you three any more. Use a hammer like normal people.”
“BUT THAT’S NO FUN,” argues Sean.
“Yeah Zayn, that’s no fun!” Niall pouts. “Ooh, Sean check it out, it stands on its own now!”
“Only because I’m holding it,” Bressie points out. “It’s only got two legs.”
“ANYONE GOT AN EXTRA HAMMER?” Sean asks. “NO WAIT, I NEED A SAW.”
“I should really go check in with Andrea,” Zayn says, vacating his spot before Sean can start specifically asking him for things.
All things considered, Harry’s manger is coming along considerably better than the stable the three of them are constructing, but he’s good with watching the disaster take place. It might not be a very usable stable, but at least it’ll have heart.
They’re working in fairly low lighting, because the stage lights heat up the room quite quickly, so when someone cracks open the door everyone notices the beam of light cast right through the middle of everything. Harry turns and sees an inherently awkward face peeking around the door.
“Liam!” calls Harry. “Come in!”
Zayn, at the back of the stage holding Andrea’s ladder, freezes. Harry sees it. He smiles.
“Oh, um.” Liam awkwardly shuffles around the door. “I was just, you know. Checking for fire.”
“Find anything?” asks Andrea brightly.
“Not yet,” says Liam. “Um, I should probably…”
“No, come in!” Harry calls, motioning him over. This seems like an excellent opportunity. “Actually, we could use your help! Zayn needs assistance with something, don’t you Zayn?”
If looks could kill, Harry would be dead on the ground with a thousand porcupine needles through his chest. As it is, Harry just smiles sweetly as Zayn gives him equal parts glower and pleading eyes.
“You- you do?” Liam asks, looking very uncertain as he glances toward Zayn.
Zayn pauses. For a minute Harry thinks he might yell at Liam again. That would be unfortunate, probably. But instead he jerkily nods. “Yeah I, um. Need help holding this ladder? Health and Safety.” That’s actually a very Zayn thing to want help with. Good job, Zayn!
“Sure, I can do that! I’m good at holding stuff!” Liam says, finally venturing all the way into the room and letting the doors swing shut behind him.
“Welcome to the crew, Liam!” Niall calls as Liam picks his way through the benches toward the stage. He for some reason has opted to climb over rows of benches instead of walking down the stairs. Well, at least the path he chose was the most direct.
“YEAH, HI LIAM!” Sean adds in.
“Um, hello,” Liam awkwardly waves back. It’s a sort of royal wave, where he doesn’t move his arm, just his hand. Oh Liam.
When he gets to where Zayn is holding the ladder for Andrea, they sort of dance around each other for a moment, and Harry is legitimately concerned that whatever this weird mating dance of theirs is will actually be Andrea’s downfall, but the two of them work it out, Zayn holding one side of the ladder while Liam holds the other.
They don’t say anything.
Zayn’s face is bright red. He’s looking away.
Liam’s face is certainly pink. He’s looking at his shoes.
“Good work boys,” says Andrea. “Now I actually need to move the ladder about five meters that way.”
Liam stays for another two hours. Luckily for them, Harry thinks, the library does not catch on fire in the two hours that Liam is with them. In all honesty, their little group is probably much more of a fire hazard than anything else going on in the library at the moment.
The sets that they end up with are, while not the most stunning of creations, recognizable for what they are. There are two giant paper mache camels on wheels that were rescued out of Saint Stephens that look loads more realistic than everything else but, overall, the effect is nice. It’s been made with a lot of love. And a lot of desire for Niall’s boyfriend to have a good time. Although if Harry thinks about that too much he starts to question things.
By the end of the day though, Liam and Zayn are basically talking to each other. Awkwardly. About topics that no one really cares about, like the correct amount of pasta for a serving and why tumbler lids aren’t universal in size.
Really though, for Awkward Liam and “Stop That, Absolutely Not” Zayn, it’s a pretty good place to be.
Chapter 18: December 18th
The Nativity is scheduled to happen after Harry gets off work, but the whole day seems to have been put aside for people setting up the stage and last minute outfit fittings.
After apparently a lot of confusing updates from Admin, who couldn’t decide whether it should be hosted in the theatre in the lower level or in the lobby, it’s been decided to be held in the theatre. Considering the amount of times they’ve started moving the props upstairs, and downstairs again, and upstairs, and downstairs again… Harry wouldn’t be surprised if Admin sends another email soon saying they’ve changed their mind.
Sitting at the Help Desk, every couple of minutes he sees a child run by in full (or partial) costume. It looks like there’s going to be an angel choir of the younger children, and there are a lot of small children with crooked halos running about. Many of them have clearly never been to the library before, the way they gaze in wonder at the shelves four times their own height.
“Where’s Shawn?” Harry asks when Niall at one point when he’s delivering some reserved books.
“Been down in the theatre since he got here,” Niall says. “Had some major costume adjustments.”
“By that do you mean the costume is for a child and he’s above the average height?” Harry clarifies.
“Shush,” says Niall.
It’s more traffic than the library generally gets on a Tuesday afternoon, and as it progresses into evening the crowds only increase.
“This is horrible,” Zayn says at one point. “This is literally the opposite of what a library should be used for. There’s so much noise I can’t hear myself think.”
“It’s only one day,” Harry reasons. “I’m pretty sure Holiday Happiness has been worse than this.”
“Yes,” says Zayn. “That was horrible too. Everything is horrible. I spent two years in Graduate Studies to get my library degree. This is not what I signed up for.”
“And tomorrow you can go back to the unnervingly quiet library you love,” Harry says, going for a ‘disarming smile’ to help Zayn feel better.
Zayn glares at him.
Zayn clearly does not feel better.
Five minutes before the end of shift, Niall is practically vibrating with excitement.
“I can’t believe I’m about to see my boyfriend perform!” he says. “Like a real actor!”
“I think you’re severely misjudging what tonight has in store,” Harry says.
“I’ve helped him practice,” Niall says proudly.
“Practice what? Walking on and off a stage? He can’t possibly have lines.”
“Well for your information,” Niall says. “You’re wrong.”
“What I’m hearing you say is that he has one line.”
“And he’s very good at it.”
It’s crowded; every spot is filled in the theatre and Harry is glad they went down to grab seats directly after their shift because he wouldn’t want to have to be among the more agitated mums and dads standing up along the back wall.
“Niall,” says Harry. “If you don’t stop bouncing your leg I will dislocate it for you.”
“I can’t help it!” Niall says. “I’m nervous!”
“Why am I even here again?” Zayn asks.
“Because we are all loving and supporting Niall’s boyfriend,” Harry says.
“Right,” says Zayn. “As soon as the star appears on stage, I’m sneaking out of here.”
“You wouldn’t dare.”
“Watch me. Except don’t. Because I’ll be leaving.”
“That didn’t sound like a cool comeback at all.”
“The two of you need to shush, it’s starting!”
Shawn is not a lobster.
If you had asked Harry yesterday, he would say that there is nothing he would rather see Shawn up there on stage as besides a lobster. Now, though, he knows he was wrong to think that.
Shawn is a church mouse.
He has large round ears and obtrusive whiskers and a monk’s habit with a tail dragging behind him. The second he comes on stage, Niall lights up like a firefly. Harry feels like he stops breathing. If he starts breathing, he will laugh. He cannot allow himself to breathe ever again.
He may have even passed out from lack of oxygen, if it weren’t for the fact that a second later someone else walks onto the stage from the other side. A small child with curly red hair in a gaudy silver star outfit with matching star shaped glasses. She waves at the audience, and in the room that is deathly silent save for dramatic piano music being played over the loudspeakers, one voice emerges from the crowd;
“You’re doing amazing, baby!”
And Harry recognizes that voice. He turns around and sees - right in the middle of the audience, the lone figure standing up with a professional grade camera in his hands - Louis. The fireman.
“Atchoo!” shouts the girl on stage.
“Go on, baby! Say your line, you can do it!”
Oh god. Louis is now officially the most embarrassing person in this room. He is more embarrassing than Shawn, who is playing a giant church mouse. He is more embarrassing than Niall, who forced them all to come here tonight.
Harry wants nothing more to go over to Louis and kiss him on the mouth.
That’s a horrible realization considering the next second he can hear Louis yelling, “Look at the camera, Doris!” followed by the sounds of someone whacking him on the shoulder and telling him to be quiet.
The Nativity, for the most part, follows the same storyline as every Nativity play ever to be performed. That being said, enough children forget their lines or miss their cues or in general just walk off stage in the middle of speaking that it adds a bit of unique charm. When they’re all clapping at the end of the performance, and everyone including the yorkshire terrier who played baby Jesus are taking their bows, Harry turns to whisper something to Zayn only to realise he isn’t there.
Well, he did say he was going to disappear during the performance.
Afterwards, there’s biscuits and tea served by the volunteers of Saint Stephens, and Harry and Niall are able to locate Shawn (not too difficult - he’s still wearing the mouse ears) talking to one of the lobsters.
“You did such a good job!” Shawn is telling the girl as they approach. He’s crouched down because she’s only about half his height.
“Thank you,” she tells him. “You were okay.”
Harry inhales his biscuit and begins coughing.
Shawn just smiles.
“You were amazing,” Niall tells him, handing him a chocolate biscuit and then kissing him on the mouth.
“Ewwwww,” says the lobster. “You can’t kiss in the library.”
“Can too,” says Niall.
“Come on,” Harry tries to corral them away “We should get some fresh air.”
Is he secretly hoping if they keep moving he’ll be able to find Louis? Absolutely. Unashamedly.
They end up in the hallway outside of the theatre, no Louis in sight unfortunately.
“How do you feel?” asks Niall. “Was it everything you imagined?”
“Oh yeah,” says Shawn. “It was great! I had no idea there are church mice in the bible! And lobsters! And an octopus!”
Harry eats his biscuits. He does not say anything.
The next second a large gaggle of people come out of the theatre, their voices filling the hallway. Harry recognizes immediately the twins from a few days ago, followed by two older girls, holding the hands of a wise man (still wearing his crown) between them, and - lo and behold - Louis, the star balanced on his hip and sucking her thumb.
They’re all chattering away excitedly, and this is the first time Harry notices that Louis isn’t in his uniform - he’s wearing a maroon jumper over a plaid collared shirt. He looks cozy. Harry is in love. Harry feels he has always been in love. He thinks he will always be in love.
He should find out Louis’s last name.
He doesn’t have time to interject into their conversation as they’re turning and filing up the stairs immediately next to the door. He thinks for a second Louis hasn’t even noticed them, but just before he disappears around the corner, he fixes Harry with a bright smile and waves with his free hand.
Harry waves back.
Harry is in love.
“You look like an idiot,” says Niall.
“You built a stable for your boyfriend,” says Harry.
“Babe!” says Shawn. “You built the stable? I didn’t know!”
They kiss again.
Harry is grossed out.
He doesn’t go up the stairs, because it feels like it would be weird to bump into Louis again so soon, but instead he takes a gamble and turns down the staff hallway, thinking he’ll stop in the break room and grab a drink out of the refrigerator. He’s always accidentally leaving drinks here.
He doesn’t think about it - because it’s almost 9pm, no one should be in the breakroom at all - before opening the door and walking in.
A moment later he wishes he’d knocked.
There is a Zayn and there is a Liam. They are on the couch. They are tangled together. There is tongue action. There are wandering hands under shirts.
He makes a swift exit.
It took them long enough, but also gross.
Chapter 19: December 19th
Harry-bo: I know you’re not actually sick
Harry-bo: You’re embarrassed, aren’t you?
Zaynie Brainy: Fuck off
But the library is so lonely without you! :(
Harry-bo: What if we have a supervisor emergency?
Zaynie Brainy: Andrea knows what she’s doing
Harry-bo: WHAT IF SHE DISAPPEARS, ZAYNIE? WHO DO WE TURN TO THEN?
Zaynie Brainy: The police, probably
The email Zayn sent earlier in the morning implies that he’s sick. Harry absolutely doesn’t believe him.
“Of course he’s not sick,” says Harry. “He’s embarrassed that I caught him making out with Awkward Liam!”
“Maybe he had too much of the punch,” Niall says. “I think someone spiked it at some point.”
“Wait, I missed spiked punch?”
“Well I mean, you seemed to go over all faint from the shock of seeing Zayn and Liam and ended up leaving pretty early, so. You missed spiked punch and one of the angels throwing up in the hallway.”
“Not sad about missing that part,” Harry points out.
“You should be,” says Niall. “It was hilarious.”
Andrea taps on the doorway to the back and motions to Niall that a line is beginning to form at the Help Desk. Harry is left alone.
He sighs and props his head on his arms. The blue bins tower high behind him and he’s resolutely ignoring them. RBB and smaller bondage bear are perched atop the cabinet keeping watch over all.
Harry spent about fifteen minutes when he got in this morning (before noticing that Zayn was missing) getting on Facebook and trying to locate Louis. He’s never learned his last name, though, and it turns out there’s a lot of people by the name of Louis within the greater city area. Most of them are probably French. Darn French Louies getting in the way.
He assumes it’s Liam’s day to work today since he covered for Louis yesterday. Maybe he can interrogate Liam about whatever went on back there. Liam would probably cave like a cardboard box under a fat cat.
The phone rings and he considers letting it ring through to Zayn until he remembers Zayn is ‘sick’.
“Hillsyde Library Circulation, this is Harry.”
“Yes, I’m a senior. I’m calling to pay my electric bill.”
“This is a library, ma’am. You can’t pay your electric bill.”
“Yes I can,” the caller says. “I’m a senior.”
Harry massages his temple with his free hand. This conversation might take a while.
“Is Liam here?” Harry asks when he walks up to the Help Desk to switch with Niall. “Have you seen him? Can I interrogate him?”
Niall turns to him with the most unnerving look. He might be gleeful or horrified, or something else entirely; Harry’s altogether unsure.
“Liam’s not here,” says Niall.
“Is it Louis, then?” Harry asks, scanning the lobby hopefully.
“Nope,” says Niall. “Apparently Liam called in sick.
“So….” says Harry. “Is it someone else entirely?”
“Yup,” says Niall.
Harry is disappointed. “I’m disappointed,” he says.
“You’re about to be something else,” says Niall.
“That’s cryptic as fuck,” says Harry, before covering his mouth and looking around for any little ears that might have overheard.
Niall gets up and offers his chair. “You’ll see. And then you’ll be sad.”
It’s about ten minutes later when Harry, in fact, does see.
She’s easy to locate because she’s in the uniform. She’s also easy to locate, because she’s on her phone. Speaking very loudly. Walking right past Harry.
“No! Earl said we’d have to got to his mum’s for Christmas but I said absolutely not, I won’t be near that old duck for any longer than an hour.”
She’s practically power walking, speeding past Harry from the Youth Department to the Adult Department, gone in a flash and leaving Harry feeling… confused.
She’s back soon after, but on the far side of the lobby, speed walking the other direction and saying something about he doesn’t want another cat but we need- and I can’t believe you told her she could wear that- and gone again.
Harry looks back at Andrea, to see her take on the situation. Andrea is making origami out of receipts that have been left behind. Harry turns back.
She’s just… She’s circling. Clearly going through Media, Youth, the lobby, Adult, and back to the lobby to Media again. She’s on her phone. She’s loud. Everyone looks up when she enters. It feels like she’s laying a curse upon the library.
Harry wonders if she knows they have a lower level. Or that there are signs everywhere saying to please take phone calls out in the entrance.
He’s starting to jump every time he sees her, like a weird pavlovian response. It’s over an hour of her gossipping about what must be every member of her extended family and children (ages eight and thirteen, apparently) before she finally appears with her phone at her side, walking slower this time.
“I need a charger,” she says. Harry jumps. He had been expecting her to just keep walking, somehow.
“Um,” says Harry. “Sure, do you have a library card?”
“No,” she says. “But I’m a fireman. I’m working.”
“Yeah,” Harry says and maybe there’s a bit of bitterness in his heart for the fact that she is neither Liam nor Louis. “And you’ll need a library card. Everyone who works here has one.”
(Louis never signed up for a card, but she doesn’t need to know that).
She huffs. “I don’t have time for this! I was in the middle of an important call!”
“You’re also at work,” Harry points out. The second the words have left his mouth he realises that he has made a dire mistake. She levels him with a death glare. He is virtually certain she will never, for the rest of her life, forgive him for calling her out like this.
“I’m going to take my break,” she says, voice steely, pulling a carton of cigarettes from her pocket.
She’s out the door before Harry can blink.
Harry turns to Andrea, who is staring out the door the firewoman has just walked out of.
“I don’t think she’s allowed to do that,” Andrea says to Harry.
Harry’s pretty sure she isn’t either.
The whole day continues on like that. Harry watches as the firewoman comes in from her smoke break, apparently having obtained a phone charger from somewhere, and begins power walking again. She speaks loudly, informs the entire library of her problems, and then about fifteen minutes later takes another smoke break. She takes so many smoke breaks. Harry thinks she is a much greater fire danger to the library than anything else inside of it.
Every time she walks by the Help Desk she levels Harry with a glare.
At the end of the day, Harry heaves a sigh as he shrugs on his coat. He has never had such an exhausting day at the library. He feels like the firewoman has wished some ill-will curse upon him.
He resents her, and resents Zayn for being missing, and desperately hopes Louis will be back tomorrow.
He’s feeling so terribly sorry for himself, in fact, that when he finds himself alone in the back right before walking out the door, he climbs up on the counter next to the cabinets and grabs SBB. SBB is small, and soft, and can fit in his pocket.
He takes SBB home and places him gently in his Christmas tree, like a ward against that crazy ill-will-wishing firewoman.
He dreams, that night, that SBB and RBB are writing love letters to one another.
Chapter 20: December 20th
“You cannot escape me,” says Harry.
“I can fire you,” says Zayn.
“You keep saying that. You know I know you can’t do that, right?”
“I can and I will.”
“Come on, Zayn. I know you weren’t sick yesterday. You know you weren’t sick yesterday. I just want you to tell me about Liam.”
“You’re right,” says Zayn, swiveling in his chair to face Harry. “I wasn’t sick.”
“Yes!” Harry fistpumps. “I knew it!”
“But my boyfriend had a migraine from all the wine we drank last night, so he stayed at my house all last night.”
Harry splutters. “Your- boyfriend! What!”
“Harry please,” says Zayn. “This is a library.”
“No!” shouts Harry. “You cannot just drop that on me! Zayn! Zayn did you ask Liam out did Liam ask you out, come on Zayn I need something I’ve been invested in this as long as you have you cannot just leave me in the dark like this come on Zayn this isn’t fair-”
“I swear to God Harry if you don’t stop announcing my love life to the entire library right this second-”
“Hey!” says Niall, popping over the other wall of Zayn’s desk. “I heard you and Liam got your shit together!”
Zayn puts his head in his hands.
“I wonder where you could have heard that. Niall, please don’t say ‘shit’. Please talk quieter. Please get some work done between the two of you.”
“No,” says Harry. “You should have seen this coming. This is not my doing. Oh my gosh, Zayn was there mistletoe?”
“There was no mistletoe,” Zayn says, and then immediately looks pained for admitting to anything. “Fine. I went into the hallway about halfway through the Nativity, and Liam was out there checking the choset for fire-”
“Practical,” says Harry.
“Shut up. Anyway we started talking and I apologised, and then he… confessed some feelings. And then we kissed. The end.”
“Not the end!” Harry says. “You said boyfriend! You said there was wine!”
“Fine!” Zayn snarls. “We went back to my flat afterward and drank wine and watched Snow Dogs because apparently he considers that the best Christmas movie of all time, and then he asked if I would be his boyfriend. The end. Please do some work.”
Niall looks thoughtful. “Is that really a Christmas movie?” he asks.
“Absolutely not, and it’s a horrible movie,” says Zayn frankly.
“Did you tell him that?” asks Harry.
“Smiled. And laughed.”
“You’re perfect for one another,” says Harry.
“Please do some work,” says Zayn, sounding pained.
“Only because I love you, Zaynie,” Harry says. He pushes himself off of the partition and turns back to the Help Desk.
And suddenly it feels like Christmas morning.
“Hey,” says Louis.
Louis, the fireman, is standing at the Help Desk. He’s in his fireman outfit and he’s smiling. At Harry.
“Um,” says Harry. He can feel his ears getting hot. “Yes, hello! Fireman Louis!” His cheeks are also beginning to feel hot. Is he wearing something sexy? Please let him have put on something sexy today.
He looks down and sees that he’s wearing his ugly Christmas sweater with the unicorn cats. Goddamnit.
“Librarian Harry,” Louis says with a laugh. “I heard you’re partial to snickerdoodle hot chocolate, is that true?”
Harry’s eyes grow wide. “I do! I mean. I love. Snickerdoodle. It’s my favourite.”
Louis laughs, and from behind Harry’s monitor he slides two coffee cups. “Surprise!” he says, pushing one toward Harry.
“No drinks in the library,” Zayn calls from his desk. Is Zayn spying on him?
Harry scoffs. “That’s not a rule,” he says. He has no idea if it’s a rule. If it is, it’s not one he’s ever followed. He grabs the drink and takes a sip. It’s literal heaven.
“I hear you met Sunny yesterday,” Louis says.
“Who?” asks Harry, positioning his hands around the drink so that he’s drawing as much warmth from it as possible.
“Sunny - the firefighter who was covering for Liam?”
“Oh,” Harry scrunches his nose. “Her. She, um, doesn’t like me.”
“I heard,” says Louis, laughing. It sounds like how snowbells look, delicate and bright. “For like an hour this morning.”
“Oh dear,” says Harry. He feels bad. But then he doesn’t. “She was an arsehole though.”
“Harry!” shouts Zayn from his desk.
“She generally is,” says Louis, nodding seriously. “It’s why we try not to send her places.”
“I think she might have cursed me,” says Harry, sipping his drink.
“I wouldn’t be surprised,” says Louis.
“She totally would have let the library catch on fire,” says Harry.
“That’s what Liam said too,” says Louis. “He was very upset when he heard she was who covered for him.”
“Well I guess he shouldn’t have been sick, then, should he?” Harry says, and then a thought occurs to him. “Wait! You know Liam! Liam is your roommate!”
“This is true,” Louis says. He’s grinning, like he knows where this is going. He’s Louis, the fireman, he probably does.
“Liam and Zayn,” Harry says.
“They do seem to be an item,” says Louis.
“Do you have details?”
Louis leans close. Harry also leans close. Louis smells amazing. Harry wants to lean a little closer and touch their noses together. He does not do that.
“Well,” says Louis conspiratorially, voice low. “It turns out, I actually haven’t seen Liam since the Nativity.”
“Really?” asks Harry, eyes wide.
Louis nods. “I thought he was dead at first. Liam never leaves the house unless he’s marked it on the calendar first.”
“That makes sense,” says Harry.
“He texted me this morning to ask what you get a librarian for Christmas,” Louis says.
“Incredible,” says Harry.
“If you two don’t stop talking about Liam I’m going to give you both fifty pound fines and send you to collections,” Zayn growls from directly behind Harry.
Louis cackles. “You’re the new boyfriend!” he says, pointing a finger accusingly at Zayn.
Harry sips his drink to hide how wide he’s smiling.
“Well! I know what you’re getting for Christmas,” Louis singsongs, looking smug. “Also, you can’t give me a fine, I don’t have an account!” And with that he skips off, escaping from under Zayn’s vicious glare.
Harry turns around and smiles at Zayn.
Zayn continues to glare at Harry.
Harry just smiles wider.
Zayn eventually retreats back to his desk.
Harry nurses the snickerdoodle hot chocolate for another hour, well after he’s moved from Help Desk to Self Help Desk It’s a gift from Louis. Someone told Louis that Harry loves snickerdoodle hot chocolate.
Harry looks suspiciously over through the door to the back at SBB, sitting in RBB’s arms on the cabinet.
He sips his drink again and looks back to his computer monitor. The article on the screen reads How To Tell a Man You Barely Know that You Love Him.
It’s not a terribly helpful article.
Chapter 21: December 21st
Hark how the bells
Sweet silver bells
All seem to say
Throw cares away
Christmas is here
Bringing good cheer
To young and old
Meek and the bold
Oh how they-
“You let the phone ring for as long as possible so that you can hear whatever Christmas carol you’ve set my ringtone as, don’t you?”
“You can prove nothing.”
“That’s a yes. Will you give me a ride? I need to go grab another present for Shawn, I just thought of something else he needs.”
“I’m pretty sure you’ve bought him like, twelve Christmas presents so far.”
“What’s your point?”
“I… okay. Yeah. Sure. Pick you up after lunch?”
Harry knocks on the door of Niall’s flat, and, predictably, as soon as the door is cracked open, Parsnip is out like a flash.
“Shit!” says a voice inside, and Harry realises that it is, in fact, not Niall opening the door.
“Hey Shawn,” says Harry.
“Hey Harry! I always do that,” Shawn says, drawing the door all the way open. “Niall’s trying to get Sparky out of the closet, apparently the can opener scares him. I’m just gonna go try to get her back…”
He slips on a pair of shoes and Harry sees him grab a packet of tuna. That’s a good idea to keep by the door, Harry wonders if that was Shawn’s idea.
“I’ll just slip inside,” Harry says. “I’m good with Sparky.”
They switch places and Harry wanders back to Niall’s room, where sure enough he’s crouched in the closet cooing at Sparky.
“Hey Ni,” Harry says. “Is Shawn coming with us to shop for Shawn’s Christmas present? Because somehow that wouldn’t surprise me.”
“Nah,” says Niall. “He dropped his keys on a train platform a few days ago and can’t get into his house, so he’s staying here.”
“Does he know it’s possible to make new keys?” Harry clarifies.
Sparky licks nervously at Niall’s knees. He’s wearing a red and silver jumper, it must be new.
“So what is this new Christmas present he just had to have?” Harry asks, falling back onto his arse next to Niall on the floor.
“I was thinking a key to this flat.”
The mall is, expectedly, terribly crowded. There’s so many Christmas decorations the whole place seems to sparkle, and every store that they walk past is blaring a different Christmas song.
Harry loves it.
“What if I get Gemma a giftcard to a baby store?” he asks Niall.
“Is she pregnant.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Is she trying to get pregnant?”
“I have no clue.”
“Maybe next Christmas.”
They pass a pet store and Harry grabs a hold of Niall’s arm to keep him from swerving in - every time Niall ends up in a pet store they’re inside for at least an hour and Niall ends up with at least three more sweaters for Sparky.
They pass a tea store on the opposite side and Harry thinks of the snickerdoodle hot chocolate Louis shared with him. What if he got Louis a Christmas present? Something in return for the hot chocolate? He wishes he had sneaked a look at whatever Louis had been drinking.
“Harry,” whispers Niall into his ear as he’s considering presents. “Harry!”
“What?” Harry turns and looks where Niall is pointing and a slow smile spreads over his face.
Because there, walking hand-in-hand toward them, are Liam and Zayn.
“Oh my god,” says Harry.
“Yeah,” says Niall.
“Oh my god,” says Harry.
Zayn spots them first, and a mortified expression forming on his face.
Liam spots them second and he looks confused for a moment, before smiling and raising his hand - the one that is clasping Zayn’s, and waves.
They look ridiculous and Zayn looks further embarrassed, but he doesn’t let go of Liam’s hand.
This must be true love.
“Hello!” Harry calls as they meet in the middle, stepping to the side of the walkway so the masses can stream past them.
“Hey!” says Liam. “Fancy meeting you guys here!”
“Yeah!” says Niall. “I didn’t think Zayn ever willingly went out in public!”
“I don’t,” says Zayn, glowering.
Liam laughs. He bumps his shoulder with Zayn. Zayn glowers a little less.
“You two are disgusting,” Harry says.
“Oh no,” says Liam. “I’m sorry. Did I spill food on my shirt during lunch?” He looks down at himself.
“No, that’s not what I-” Harry looks to Zayn for help.
“He means he’s jealous of us,” Zayn says to Liam. “Because he’s desperately single and sad.”
“Hey!” says Harry.
“It’s sort of true,” says Niall.
“Okay,” says Harry. “We’re going to go to the key store so Niall can give his boyfriend a key. You guys are adorable. I’m not lonely. Goodbye!”
He steers Niall away and around them, trying to keep the pout off of his face.
“Don’t worry,” Niall tells him. “You’ll get yourself a hot fireman too eventually.”
They marathon movies at Niall’s house all afternoon; Harry, Niall and Shawn all sharing the couch. Parsnip sleeps on the back of the couch, growling at anyone who jostles her. Sparky has wormed his way under their legs and licks at their ankles when they move.
Harry’s been scrolling through his phone since about halfway through The Santa Clause 2, and a new email has just popped up on his work account. He taps on the notice and scans down the email, slowing as he reads it.
The testing of the new fire alarm system finished this morning, and we are proud to announce that Hillsyde Library has a completely new, up-to-code, working fire alarm and sprinkler system! Attached below is the manual for what to happen if the fire alarm goes off on accident (as has already happened this morning when someone from the circulation department brewed coffee under the alarm control panel), and how to turn the sprinklers on and off in case of emergency.
Harry stares at the email. He blinks. He stares again, his eyes scanning the text as one thought continually goes through his mind.
No more firemen at the library. No more fireman Louis.
He’s gone, and Harry never even got his last name.
Chapter 22: December 22nd
He puts his head down on his desk and whines.
“Stop that,” says Niall. “It’s depressing.”
“I’ll show you depressing,” mutters Harry.
“You’re in the back,” Niall says. “There are books piling up next to you. You should check them in.”
“Don’t tell me to do my job,” Harry groans. “You have a boyfriend. An American boyfriend who lives with you. I don’t even have a cat.”
“Yeah I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that,” Niall says.
Harry looks up. “Don’t tell me. You broke up with him? No. He broke up with you? No, clearly not. He’s not real, is he? He’s a group hallucination?”
“All of those are ridiculous,” says Niall. “No, absolutely not. It’s just… You know Shawn isn’t, like, actually American, right?”
“What?” asks Harry, looking up. “Of course he is, he’s not British, I’ve heard him try to attempt an accent.”
“Yeah that was pretty terrible,” Niall concedes. “But he’s not American. He’s Canadian.”
“He’s Canadian?” Harry feels shocked. Betrayed, somehow. “What, like Justin Bieber?”
Niall snorts. “Don’t tell him you said that. More like, Celine Dion? Neil Young?”
Harry stares at him. “Neil Young is Canadian?”
“Oh Harry,” says Niall.
“My whole life is a lie.”
It’s spitting down rain when it should be snowing. The big windows at the other end of the lobby, directly in Harry’s line of sight, are so grey and gloomy and downright depressing that Harry is starting to believe he has some sort of mind control over the weather. Or perhaps he’s actually starring in a movie he’s unaware of and the weather has been curated to match his mood.
Either way, he’s at the Help Desk now and continuing to mope. Dumb winter. Dumb Christmas.
He turns to see Andrea waving him over from Self Help. Sighing dramatically, Harry gets up and wanders over.
“Harry,” says Andrea. “I have a problem.”
“Do you also have no love of your life this holiday season?” Harry asks,
“Oh no, I have a wonderful significant other, they just live in Canada most of the year,” Andrea says with a wave of her hand.
“Why does everybody live in Canada?” Harry moans, putting his face in his hands.
“But that’s not my problem,” Andrea says. She leans in a little closer and whispers, “Dewey is missing.”
“Missing from where?” Harry asks, lowering his hands and looking concernedly at Andrea.
“Missing from my bag,” Andrea says, pointing to the purse at her feet. “She’s going to the vet after work and I think she knew it. Generally she sleeps all day, but today she was all restless and disappeared at some point when I was helping a patron with their checkout.”
“Do you… always bring Dewey to work?” Harry asks, looking with concern at the open purse.
“More or less,” Andrea says. “You’d be surprised how many people walk past her without noticing. If you don’t expect to see something, you don’t notice it.” She shrugs. “But either way, she’s got to be somewhere in the library. Will you cover for me while I go looking?”
“I suppose,” Harry sighs. “Since I have no one to come home to at night.”
“That definitely is in no way related,” Andrea informs him. “But I’ll let you hug Dewey when I find her. She’s good at cheering people up.”
She picks up her bag and disappears into the crowds of people in the library looking for last minute holiday books to read.
Harry thinks maybe he should get a cat.
He moves back and forth between the Self Help Desk and the Help Desk for ten minutes covering for Andrea. Zayn at one point pops his head up over the partitions of his desk as Harry paces back and forth.
“Andrea lose Dewey again?”
“This has happened before?” Harry asks.
Zayn shrugs. “I told her as long as she doesn’t get caught it doesn’t matter to me. The kids love Dewey.”
“Am I just blind?” Harry wails.
“I think you should take the afternoon off,” Zayn tells him, looking concerned.
Harry stares at Zayn. “A relationship has changed you,” he says. “Where is your heart of stone?”
Zayn shrugs. “Liam says I’m just prickly,” he says.
“I hate you,” says Harry.
Andrea finds Dewey sleeping on a copier machine on the lower level. When she brings her back upstairs, Harry finally meets the cat that Andrea claims “will outlive him”.
Dewey, it turns out, probably will outlive him. This is because this already supposedly ancient cat looks like a kitten. She’s tiny, with white fur and black tips and big blue eyes that gaze all-knowingly at Harry. She does look immortal.
Harry picks up Dewey from Andrea’s bag and cradles her. She purrs. He cuddles her to his chest.
“Bring me a boyfriend for Christmas,” he whispers to Dewey. “You’re clearly an eternal being so I know you can do it. Bring me my fireman and I’ll give you all the organic cat treats that Parsnip refuses to eat.”
Dewey continues to purr.
Chapter 23: December 23rd - An Intermission
It’s the last day of Holiday Happiness at the library, and Niall is flying high.
There’s not always a fourth Holiday Happiness, but they’ve gotten lucky this year, and the library has its largest charity drive of the year in full force right now.
There are three quartets in the library today; a wind instrument quartet, a brass instrument quartet, and a barbershop quartet. They’ve clearly tried their hardest to spread themselves out among the library, but it’s just not that big of a place and Niall can, very faintly, hear all three groups from his desk if he listens.
That being said, it only does good things for his mood. From the Help Desk, he has a perfect view of the giant pile of presents quickly accumulating in the middle of the room. Over the years, the Hillsyde Library’s Christmas charity drive has only grown larger and now it’s a tradition to amass all the presents on the last day the library is open and create the most startling display of the community’s generosity.
Niall’s seen sections of the pile collapse on three different occasions. It may become sentient soon, he muses.
The library’s put together a committee whose job it is to drive the presents to their various destinations about town after the library closes. It’s about the only time of the year that Niall wishes he owned a car.
That being said, he’s got other plans this evening. Shawn’s texted him to say he’s bringing beer and Christmas pudding home from work. Niall has learned that when Shawn says “pudding”, he means, like, custard. Every time. He seems to be convinced that all British people have custard after every meal. But the pub Shawn works at does have pretty good custard, so Naill hasn’t felt the need to correct him.
So, all in all, things couldn’t get much better for Niall today.
Zayn hates Holiday Happiness as a general rule but, well, today is the one he hates the least. Sure, the barbershop quartet has horrible taste in Christmas songs, and the brass quartet can be heard loud and clear no matter where in the library they are, and the wind quartet is squeaky, but… the charity event is nice. It’s nice enough that he can overlook the other gaudy and terribly loud bits of the day. Not that he would ever tell anyone that.
Of course, his mood is also greatly improved by the fact that Liam likes to text him every ten or fifteen minutes.
Liam isn’t… the best at texting, and Zayn sincerely wonders if he’s so bad at technology that he’s managed to turn autocorrect off, with the amount of weird mistakes he makes.
Liam: Saw a squiral on the way to the fire station today!!!
Im allergic to cats did you know
Liam: oh i said that becuas Louis always has to be the one to resckue cats from trees
Liam: Did yiu know firemen really do that???????? I didn’t
Liam: Well now i do. Becaus I ama firefighter you knw.
Liam: <3<3<3 I hope your day is going very well Z pls eat the curry i left in your frig
Every time Zayn sees the notification pop up on his phone, he feels himself grinning. Then, he quickly looks around to make sure nobody (specifically, Harry) is around. He doesn’t plan on getting teased mercilessly for checking his phone at work for texts from his boyfriend.
(The word still makes his heart flutter a little, but he’s getting used to it).
It’s a good thing I’m not a cat person then
Zayn: And I’ll eat the curry, but I get the feeling I’m going to have to add a lot of spices. You’re not good with spice, are you?
Liam: :( im trying my bset!!!!
Zayn: I know you are. I’m sure it’s delicious
Liam: Louis is texting me
Liam: it’s his day off abd he’s SAD ZAYN how do i make it better
How the hell should I know
Zayn: Sorry that probably sounded mean I don’t mean it
Liam: I know <3<3<3
Zayn: Tell him to get off his arse and go get his man
Liam: Zay n??
Liam: What do you mean his mna does Louis have a man i dont know a ban
Zayn: I’ll tell you when I get home
Liam: !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! <3<3<3<3
“Yes sir, the library is closed tomorrow.”
“But you’re a public institution!”
“That’s true, but we are closed Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.”
“I demand to speak to your superior!”
Andrea transfers the call to Zayn’s supervisor phone. Zayn will, likely, let it go to voicemail and she doesn’t particularly blame him.
She looks down and to her left, where Dewey is asleep inside a blue bin that Andrea has balanced on its side. Dewey, as always, looks quite content, her fluffy tail twitching a little from time to time.
She looks just like she did when Andrea met her; when her great grandmother came over on Andrea’s fourth Christmas, and leaned down on frail legs and told her, “This is Druscilla Agatha Wendy, and she is very old. Keep good care of her and she will keep good care of you.” And thus Dewey had become Andrea’s, until the time when one of Andrea’s godchildren is in need of a companion. But until that time, Dewey will continue to sleep in the blue bins, and watch over the library, and occasionally leave hairballs in Andrea’s shoes.
“I think it’s almost time we cheer Harry up,” Andrea says, reaching out and scratching Dewey’s ear. “A bit of Christmas cheer is on the way.”
Chapter 24: December 24th
Harry’s broken out the mulled wine a bit early.
He’s not wallowing, at this point, he’s not. He’s just… alone on Christmas Eve, with nothing else to do but drink Christmassy alcohol and watch Christmassy movies (Love Actually) and curl up in his softest blankets on the couch and okay, maybe mope a bit.
But Love Actually does make things a bit better.
He had been going through his phone contacts, sending customised Merry Christmas messages to everyone he cares about (none for you, Logan), but at some point tossed it aside when it occurred to him that no one would be responding because they’ll all have their own Christmas festivities. He has a ready meal lasagna in the oven and he’s considering eating some of the Christmas pudding he’s put aside for tomorrow.
On the screen, the scene of the dingy American bar with the four American women plays.
“Fucking Shawn,” Harry mutters, taking a sip. “Fucking Canadian fucking Shawn.”
Somewhere, his phone starts buzzing.
Harry ignores it at first, assuming it’ll be yet another group chat he’s been accidentally added to, by vague relations who know how to send a group text but don’t understand that everyone in the group then gets all the replies.
It keeps buzzing, though. To the point where someone must really be trying to call him, because it stopped for only a moment before starting up again. Harry groans and puts his wine glass down, spotting his phone where it’s slid across the floor only just out of his grasp, and tries to maneuver himself just far enough off the couch to grab it without entirely leaving the comfort of his blankets.
He does not succeed.
He lands, blanketless, on the floor.
Scrabbling at his phone, he squints at the bright screen. It’s the sneaky picture he took of Zayn at the staff holiday party. He slides to answer.
“How did you get my number?”
“We’ve been over this, Harry.”
“What are you even calling me for? Shouldn’t you be calling your boyfriend?”
“Liam is right next to me, that wouldn’t make sense.”
“You’re interrupting Love Actually.” Harry pouts even though Zayn definitely cannot see him. “The Nativity is going to start soon!”
“You and I both know you have that movie memorised,” Zayn says. “You’ve quoted it for entire shifts. But that’s not the point. Liam has some information that I think would interest you.”
“If this is about you licking his hair, I absolutely don’t want to hear it.”
“You’re being rude. Have you been drinking?”
“Right. Okay. Change of plans. I’m going to call you an Uber, and you’re going to get in it. There’s a surprise for you where it leads.”
“You’re planning on murdering me,” says Harry. “And I won’t stand for it! I refuse to be murdered before I open my presents!”
“Shut up. Okay, Liam is ordering the Uber. Ten minutes. I’ll text you when it’s out front.”
The line goes dead and Harry stares at his phone. Zayn is being mean. It’s Christmas! He should have some sympathy. Harry reaches up for his glass and takes another swig of mulled wine.
The Uber driver is a man named Nick, with tall hair and a five o’ clock shadow and a penchant for chatter.
“So your friend is the one who ordered an Uber? But generally I think I should be driving you to your house when you’re drunk, not away from your house. You pregame too hard? Too many prinks?”
“‘M not drunk,” Harry mumbles. He’s just sort of, fuzzy. Around the edges.
“Hey, it’s not any of my business! It’s the holidays! You can get drunk all you want and nobody can judge! Myself, i love a good drink or three. Fancy wines, that’s my ticket. Ooh, and a bit of bubbly. But I’ve got to be on the air early tomorrow, can’t get myself too shwasted.”
“Don’t you mean in the air?” Harry asks. “Like, you’re taking a plane?”
“Nope,” Nick says. “Even Christmas needs a breakfast show. Ah! Here we are.”
Harry looks out the window and it dawns on him where they are. “Zayn wanted me to go to the library?”
“That’s the address he gave me,” says Nick. “Never set foot in one myself.”
Harry frowns. He pulls his coat tighter around him as he opens the door and steps out.
“Best of luck, mate!” calls Nick, rolling down the window as he drives by. “Don’t get yourself murdered! It’s Christmas!”
“It’s not Christmas,” Harry says, mostly to himself. It’s Christmas Eve. If it was Christmas there would be snow and he would be with his family. Bah humbug.
He makes his way up to the front of the library, pulling his red and white scarf around his face to shield him from the wind. The sun’s already set and with the dark has come a major drop in temperature.
He’s only just reached the steps of the library (although what he’s doing here he hasn’t the slightest - the library isn’t open) when his phone buzzes with a text.
Zayn: Liam says he’s in the friendship garden
Harry’s actually rather sure he’s going to get murdered on this point. He should have brought pepper spray. Or mace.
The Friendship Garden was built in the summer, borders the east side of the library and has a number of small, dainty looking chairs and tables and a low hedge running around the outer perimeter. They’d planted three trees around the outside to border the garden, but two of them had withered before the winter came. Now, there’s only a single tree left. It’s been covered in a rainbow of twinkling Christmas lights, and as Harry rounds the corner he sees two people standing just below it.
“Andrea?” asks Harry, speeding up to meet them. “Louis?”
Andrea looks over at him and waves. She has a small bundle cradled in one arm that Harry realises as he gets closer that it’s a cat - Dewey?
Louis looks over, breaking from whatever conversation he was apparently having with Andrea. “Librarian Harry!” He smiles, his eyes getting all crinkley at the edges. Harry can’t help but break out into a smile in return. Things just feel lighter.
“Well, Dewey and I should really get going,” Andrea says. “Thanks again, Louis. It’s always nice to know there are firemen who aren’t allergic to cats and are willing to help an old woman get her cat down from a tree.”
“It’s no problem, Andrea.” Louis says, ducking his head. “To be honest, I was already missing the old library here.”
Andrea laughs. “Libraries can really pull you in like that. Harry,” she looks to him. “It’s odd that you’re wandering around the library on the day that it’s closed and most people are with their family, but I wish you a good one!”
“Um, you too,” Harry says, although Andrea is already walking away with Dewey in her arms.
They stand there in silence for a moment, Harry and Louis, watching Andrea as she disappears around the side of the library.
“Her cat’s a little strange,” Louis says, leaning back against the trunk of the tree. “Felt like she was seeing right inside my soul.”
“Yeah,” agrees Harry. “Andrea says Dewey is going to outlive me.”
“Is that a threat?”
“I don’t think so, but I’m honestly not sure.”
They stand in silence for a moment, awkward and charged, before they both speak up again.
“I wanted to-”
Harry grimaces, motioning for Louis to continue with his though.
“I just, um, I wanted to tell you, Harry, that I’m glad I got to see you again tonight.” Louis says, looking down at his feet.
“Yeah,” says Harry. “You too. I was sort of, um, sad that our fire alarm system got up so fast. Not that i don’t care about fire safety! It’s very important, I just- um.”
Louis laughs, and Harry feels his face grow hot, but not in a bad way.
“Yeah,” says Louis. “I was actually, um, going to ask you this after Christmas because I’m sure you’ve got plenty of holiday things going on tonight with your family, but I was wondering if you’d ever be interested in… a date? With me?”
Harry stares at Louis. Louis looks at his shoes. Harry continues to stare because he is sometimes very bad at social interactions when magical things seem to be happening.
“I-I mean,” Louis stutters after the silence stretches too long. “You can say no! I might be totally off in how you feel about me, my sister tells me all the time to get my head out of my arse and stop thinking so highly of myself, but-”
“Yes,” Harry says. “Sorry. I mean. Yes, of course. A date. With you. And I’m not doing anything at all, my family has abandoned me like the bunch of traitors they are until tomorrow afternoon.”
“Oh- really?” Louis meets Harry’s eyes. “I’m on call for the next few hours but- if you’re not doing anything, it’d be a shame to spend Christmas Eve alone, wouldn’t it?”
Harry steps closer and grabs Louis’s hand. “It absolutely would be,” he says. “Good thing we don’t have to.”
On Christmas morning, in the early hours when the light is only just beginning to creep through the curtains, Harry lets a sleepy grumble escape his mouth as he adjusts his position and burrows under the comforters.
“You’re a bit grumpy in the morning, aren’t you?”
“It’s Christmas,” groans Harry. “Let me sleep.”
It takes a few moments - which could have been seconds or minutes what with how fuzzy Harry’s brain is right now - until Harry remembers that he lives alone and people do not generally talk to him as he tries to sleep. And thus the events of the night before come flooding back to him - namely, Louis.
Louis, who had given Harry his number before he returned to the fire station. Louis, who had texted him right after his shift ended, at 9pm asking if it was still a yes from Harry. Louis, who had appeared at Harry’s door with a homemade snickerdoodle hot chocolate because the coffee shops were all closed this late on Christmas Eve, and who fell so naturally into place in Harry’s home that by midnight they found themselves wrapped in each other, sharing mulled wine flavoured kisses while It’s a Wonderful Life played in the background.
Louis has five sisters, Harry learned, and one brother whom he dotes on especially. He’s been best friends with Liam since they were in kindergarten and Louis punched someone for taking his white crayon. He’s also one sixteenth Belgian.
“It is Christmas,” Louis muses sleepily, and Harry is brought back to reality. Louis is in his bed. They are entwined . Louis is wrapped around him from behind, and Harry takes a minute to admire the toned muscles of his arms around Harry’s stomach. He knows logically that Louis is shorter than him, but right now Harry feels small, in a good way, and Louis seems like the whole world around him.
“When do you have to leave?” Harry asks, wrapping one of his ankles around Louis’s.
“Well since I couldn’t get tomorrow off from work and cant join my family in France until Wednesday… I don’t have to leave until 6am tomorrow.” Louis huffs out a laugh. “But I can get out of your hair as soon as you’d like.”
At the mention of hair, Louis’s hands find their way into Harry’s and start running through his curls. Harry would purr if it were humanly possible. He still attempts it.
“I don’t have anywhere to be until this afternoon because my family is rude, but even then you’re welcome to stay here as long as you’d like, I don’t mind the company.”
Louis snorts. “Well I’ll have to go back home to get more clothes,” he says. “All I have is my uniform here.”
All Louis is wearing right now are some very small boxer briefs.
“I mean, I wouldn’t say you have to,” Harry says, and Louis laughs behind him. It’s a glorious sound.
“I’ll lend you a jumper,” Harry tells him, and Louis only laughs more.
“I’ll drown in one of your jumpers, but thanks for the offer,” Louis says. “With how hard it’s snowing outside though, it might not be a bad choice.
“It’s what?” Finally with incentive to move, Harry props himself up on one arm and looks toward his window.
What he can see of the world outside is white, and thick flakes are falling and sticking to everything.
“That’s beautiful,” Harry breathes.
“It’ll probably be gone by lunchtime,” Louis says.
Harry looks back at him. “Shush,” he says, flipping himself over so that they’re face to face and giving Louis a lazy smile and a chaste kiss on the nose. “This is our white Christmas. It’s a Christmas miracle and calls for more cuddles.”
“I can give those,” Louis says.
They settle in again, wrapped in one another’s arms. Harry closes his eyes and smiles into the pillow. “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas…”
Louis’s hands are in his hair again. “Hark,” he whispers. “I hear a Harold angel sing.”
“Oh no,” giggles Harry. “That’s horrible.”
“I thought you’d like it.”
“I do,” Harry pauses. “Hey Louis.”
“Did you hear the one about the nutcrackers?”
Through a series of coincidences called ‘Harry doesn’t want to detach himself from Louis now that he’s finally got him’, Louis ends up going to Harry’s family Christmas.
They walk through the door of his mum’s house at three in the afternoon, and Harry is greeted by a piece of clothing tossed at his face.
“Love you too Gem,” he says, picking up whatever it is she’s thrown at him. He smooths it out and realises it’s a very, very small pink onesie.
“This isn’t going to fit me,” he says to Gemma.
“You absolute nutter,” Gemma says. “I’m pregnant! And I think it’s because you cursed my birth control into failing or something, so you’re going to be on babysitting duty for the next eighteen years, you hear me?”
Harry’s face lights up.
He feels frozen.
This is a Christmas miracle.
“I think you’ve broken him,” says Louis.
“Good,” says Gemma. “It’ll give me time to interrogate you before he recovers.”
“I’d expect nothing less,” says Louis.
“Baby,” says Harry.
“Yeah, it’ll be a while.”
Louis kisses Harry on the cheek. “Merry Christmas baby, your sister apparently got you the perfect present but I’ll try again next year.”
Honestly, thank you all so, so much for reading this as I wrote it this month. I'm going to miss your daily comments, your freak-outs, your love. I had a vague plan when I started this fic on December 1st, and it looks nothing now like it did back then. It looks much better, though, and I can't believe this has become my second longest fic. I'm honestly so sad to see it ending :')
The title of this fic is from The Perfect Christmas Single by Scott Mills and his Pigs and Blankets. Look it up on YouTube immediately, i really tried to convey the... feeling of that song in this fic
I hope you all have amazing Christmasses, New Years, and whatever else you may be celebrating! I will be spending the next week cat-sitting Dewey.