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The Sound of Love Astounds Me Every Time It Calls

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LOUIS

“Thank you so much, Mr. Tomlinson. We are immensely grateful that you agreed to fill in on such short notice! So, just to recap: We expect you at the award presentation on the 20th of August, and the two-week tutoring holiday for the winner will start on the 21st. All the travel and accommodation costs will be covered by us, of course. You are not required to contribute to the selection process, but we will of course send you the shortlist as soon as it is published, which will be in three days’ time. If you feel strongly in favour of or against specific candidates’ work, you are welcome to contact us and we will do our best to incorporate your wishes.“

Louis made an affirmative sound, even though he was sure he would never even open this shortlist. He had no desire to even read the stories, let alone bother to communicate his feelings and thoughts about them.

“All right? Do you have any questions for the time being, Mr. Tomlinson?“

“No, thank you. That all sounds fine.“

“Very well, we will be in contact very soon with the final contract.“

“Thank you. Good-bye.“

“Good-bye, Mr. Tomlinson, thank you once again for your cooperation.“

Letting out a deep sigh, Louis pulled the phone away from his ear and pressed the end-call button. He was positive he wouldn’t enjoy this in the least.

x x x

HARRY

It was unreasonable being nervous. Useless. A complete waste of time. Harry was telling himself this while he debated with himself whether to wear the black or the dark blue dress trousers. Not that it mattered.

You’re not going to win, so you won’t even be called on the stage. Nobody will care whether your pants are black or blue. Most people probably wouldn’t even care even if you were to be called up. But you’re not going to anyway.

Harry took the black trousers from their hanger, trying to quiet down his racing thoughts. He had never been invited to an award presentation. Where he might even win something, that is.

“You’re not going to, though, are you?“ Harry told himself. One half of Harry was repeatedly arguing “you haven’t been shortlisted for no reason at all, you might well have a chance to win“, while the other, louder half was screaming “do you really think your story might be good enough? You do remember reading all the other stories, don’t you?“

Letting out a deep sigh, Harry pulled his trousers on and buttoned them up. He was hopeful that he would enjoy the night anyway, whatever the outcome.

x x x

 

LOUIS

“If you’d please take a seat here, right next to our competitors, Mr. Tomlinson,“ the lady showing him into the ceremony hall said, indicating a vacant seat right at the aisle. The seat next to his was already occupied by a woman who looked to be in her sixties and was busily rummaging around in her purse, too busy to even look up when Louis sat down.

“Thanks, I’m sure I’ll find my way around on my own now,“ Louis said as the lady was already about to start talking again, probably planning to go through the schedule with Louis another time too many.

“But Mr. -“

“No, please, I’m sure. I know the whole schedule by heart, I mean, how could I not after having it recited to me a thousand times? I’m not daft.“

“Of course not, but-“

“Exactly, so please, if you value my intelligence and your job, leave me to myself now.“

Apparently indeed fearing possibly losing her job if she bothered him anymore, the lady made for a hasty departure.

“Now now, young man, is that how you want to speak to a nice lady showing you your seat?“ the woman next to Louis reprimanded him, shaking her head dismissively.

Louis turned around to her, giving her an incredulous look. Who was she to meddle with his business like that? He hadn’t even been that rude, had he? It was to expected that he would feel fed up and sick of it after having been given “a quick final run-through“ for the twelfth time, right?

“Well, I guess you can still hope that you actually win tonight so that you can spend the next two weeks teaching me some much-needed manners,“ Louis said flippantly before turning away from the appalled look she was giving him.

x x x

HARRY

It could all be nothing but a dream, a very pleasing, detailed one, too.

“Please welcome our winner on stage with a huge round of applause. Let’s hear it for Harry Styles with Fiona’s Garden Party!“ the presenter on the stage proclaimed.

For a moment, Harry could do nothing but glance around himself, turning his head left and right to make sure all of this was actually real. Was it really his name the presenter had just called out? Could it really be him? Nobody else was moving, just clapping, so it probably had to be him, right?

Hesitatingly, Harry stood up. The presenter was motioning for him to climb the stage. Yep. This was indeed real. The presenter made a show of shaking Harry’s hand up and down enthusiastically, almost furiously.

“Congratulations, congratulations,“ he repeated. Harry just smiled, overwhelmed and not quite sure what to say or do. A moment after the presenter had let go of his hands, he found a small trophy thrust into them.

It felt sort of ridiculous to Harry. Being called onto the stage while everyone applauded loudly, being given a trophy as if he had won an Oscar instead of a writing competition. It felt weird and unreal. It was a rather renowned competition, but still, this didn’t quite justify all the fuss, in Harry’s opinion.

“Thank you, thank you so much,“ he finally found his words to say, a wide smile spreading on his face, showing all of its radiant beauty. “I never would have expected this.“

“Oh, with such a magnificent story I’m sure you must have!“ the presenter argued. “Maybe you would like to read the first few pages to us, so that we can get a first impression? I’m sure everybody will be incredibly intrigued to hear a part of the winner story.“

“Of course, gladly,“ Harry agreed. All the short-listed competitors had been informed to come prepared to read the first few pages of their work, so this request didn’t come as a surprise to Harry.

“This is a copy of the fantastic story we are talking about,“ the presenter went on, almost cutting Harry off. Harry saw with curiosity that he had seemingly produced a copy of Harry’s book out of thin air. He handed it to Harry, guiding him farther in the middle of the stage, where a table, a chair and a microphone were set up.

“Are there any final words you want us to take with us on the way before we jump right into the story?“ the presenter asked and pushed his microphone right in front of Harry’s mouth again.

Harry wanted to say “no, not really, let the story do the talking“, but the presenter pressed the microphone so insistently to his mouth that he thought better of it.

“I want to ask you to listen not only with open ears, but also an open heart. I know it’s impossible for us adults, but I still want to ask you to try and listen with the open hearts of children, which are always so eager to accept new stories into them and keep them there. I’m sure every single one of you has at least one childhood story, a bedtime story that used to be your favourite, or a fairy tale your grandmother used to tell you again and again whenever you didn’t stop begging her to, that has stayed with you even until today. I’m not claiming that my story has this potential, not at all, but still, listen to it like children do, giving every story the chance to become their new favourite without judging it right away.“

“So beautifully said!“ the presenter exclaimed, clapping his hands to make the audience join in. Harry couldn’t help but think about how he found him hideous and pretentious when he sat down to read. He could tell right away that the presenter wasn’t even planning to keep to Harry’s request in the slightest. He probably would have said his pre-planned “So beautifully said!“ even if Harry had said that he had made up the whole story while smoking weed and didn’t remember a damn thing about the story itself. Which of course wasn’t true, but Harry couldn’t help but imagine the scenario anyway.

x x x

LOUIS

 

How fucking pretentious. This was the only recurring thought Louis had while he listened to Harry’s little speech and his reading. It was so clear, he thought, that this guy hadn’t really seen the world yet. He obviously still believed that everything was sunshine and friendship all over, just like in his stupid little story. Louis was glad he had shed this naive mindset years ago. The world was a cruel, unjust place, which sweet young Harry would have to find out soon enough, Louis thought bitterly. It was no use writing sweet, sappy happily-ever-after stories, he wouldn’t be able to keep the harsh reality away from him forever.

After only a few sentences, Louis’ mind began to wander and he made an actual effort to keep Harry’s words out. He didn’t feel like hearing about rainbows and glitter; he just wanted this ceremony to end, to get those two weeks over with, and to get the promised money out of it.

He also wouldn’t mind if he got a good fuck out of it, to be honest. Louis had to admit to himself that while he found Harry pretentious and overly naive, he was really fucking fit. Like good lord, Louis would ravish him if they met in a club, given half the chance. He was incredibly attractive, his curly hair shiny and luscious, his lips pink and plump, moving with the words Louis was paying no attention to, his hands, long slim fingers with more rings on them than Louis could count at first glance pushing back his hair.

Louis wouldn’t have questioned him being cast as a model, or maybe a porn star, but as he saw it, this guy didn’t have what it took to be a good writer. He had incredible looks, undoubtedly, but the story, although he wasn’t really listening, seemed dull and repetitive. Something that had been done a thousand times before by lots and lots of writers, something that Louis had read in drafts and manuscripts by wannabe authors time and time again. He probably would remain just an amateur wannabe author who won a competition once. So what.

Louis sighed a bit too loudly, causing the lady next to him to shoot him a strict look, which Louis only rolled his eyes at.

Well, what had he expected? He would spend two weeks with a wannabe author, or, as the organizers had worded it “a promising newcomer“. Sure.

x x x

HARRY

“Papa, read to me? Pleeeease?“ Monica begged, throwing the book she had just dug out of their travel bag into Harry’s lap alongside her favourite plushie before she proceeded to climb onto the train seat next to Harry.

“Of course, love,“ Harry said, shooting a quick glance out of the window. They had gotten on the train just a few minutes ago, and after a few minutes of gazing upon the moving landscape in awe, Monica had become bored by it. He had been told that his tutor would meet him on the train, but not until about half an hour after Harry boarded, so Harry figured there was still more than enough time for a story.

“Lap, papa, lap,“ Monica squealed, making grabby hands at her dad, demanding to be lifted into his lap.

“Sure, sure,“ Harry agreed, returning his full attention to her and picking her up from the seat next to his.

“Little I-Am-Me it is?“ Harry asked, opening the book Monica had chosen. Monica nodded. It was one of her favourite books, and Harry didn’t mind that he had to read it to her every few days because, in all honesty, he was quite fond of it too. There was nothing wrong with teaching a child from early on that being oneself, and oneself only, was more important than fitting in with any category. And the drawings for Monica to look at were pretty.

Monica hugged her plushie, a rather battered, patched-up elephant, close to herself and snuggled against Harry’s chest as he began to read.

Engrossed in reading to his daughter, Harry didn’t notice that a few train stations had already passed. The first thing that managed to avert his attention from Monica and the story he almost knew by heart already was a loud bang and obnoxious cursing.

“Fucking hell, shit, fuck this,“ he heard a man curse angrily in a loud voice. Harry couldn’t help but look up to see what was happening, while Monica, usually overly curious and extroverted, tried to hide in her father’s shoulder. She wiggled around so much that Harry dropped the book, but he didn’t really notice.

The rude, curse-throwing man had apparently hit his toe on the oversized suitcase he had been carrying. Now it was lying on the floor, thrown over and abandoned while its owner was hopping around on one foot and rubbing his other one comically.

Harry threw the man a condescending look and kept rubbing Monica’s back reassuringly. Her small hands still knotted in Harry’s shirt, the little girl timidly peeked at the man who was still muttering curses under his breath.

“It’s okay, Mon, it’s fine,“ Harry murmured softly.

“He isn’t a nice man,“ Monica complained, mumbling into Harry’s shirt before raising her large eyes to Harry’s face.

“Cursing like that really isn’t nice, no,“ Harry agreed, still petting at his daughter’s back softly. He shot the man one last look, before turning his attention away from him again to concentrate on Monica again.

But - wait. When Harry got a chance to look at the man properly, who was now staring right back at him, he couldn’t help but let out a breath of admiration. The man had a truly god-like appearance, and if he hadn’t just exhibited so little tact, Harry was sure that his mouth would be watering as he raked his eyes across the man’s body. Scratch that, his mouth was watering anyway. He had brown, soft-looking hair that was swept to the side in a fringe, dainty features but with clearly defined cheekbones, piercing blue eyes, and - Harry was sure that he had seen him before. He looked like he might have featured in one of his teenage wet dreams and hopped right out of it to haunt Harry.

Jerked out of his thoughts by Monica pulling at his sleeve, Harry noticed that the man was still staring at him. He raised an eyebrow at him.

“I’m sorry if that’s too forward, but I think I know you,“ the man said in response to Harry’s eyebrow-raising. “You’re Harry Styles, if I’m not mistaken.“

“Er, yeah, I am, yeah,“ Harry mumbled confusedly. To make matters worse, his sex dreams’ protagonist had started talking, and fuck it if his voice wasn’t the smoothest and softest Harry had ever heard, but still with an edge to it that made Harry perk up even more. “Should I know you, too?“

“I’m Louis Tomlinson,“ the man said with such abundant confidence as if the name alone should ring a bell with Harry. Which it very much did after a few seconds of frantic searching in Harry’s still paralyzed brain.

“Oh my God, I’m so sorry!“ Harry exclaimed, making to stand up, which wasn’t easy, as he had to dislodge a heavily complaining Monica from his lap first. “I hope you can excuse me, Mr. Tomlinson,“ Harry said, grasping Louis’ hand and shaking it enthusiastically.

Everything was a blur to Harry, his thoughts filled with “oh my God, I’m such an idiot“ and “how will I survive being tutored by this man for two weeks?“ and “he looks so much better than in the black and white photos in the back of his books“.

It took a few seconds too long until Harry realized that he had been shaking Louis’ hand quite a bit too long to count as commonly socially acceptable. He let go of Louis as fast as possible, running his hand through his hair awkwardly.

“Papaaaa, the story, Papaaa,“ Monica demanded Harry’s attention again, tugging at his pullover’s hem impatiently, stepping on Harry’s shoe with her little feet and leaving a dirty imprint. Kids, Harry sighed internally, but had to smile anyway.

“Oh yeah, that’s my little one, Monica,“ Harry said to Louis, while hoisting Monica up on his hip. She really was getting a bit heavy for him, especially seeing as he had a bad back anyway. And she was indeed going to be five soon and seemed to be taking after Harry in terms of height. How time had started running and never stopped to let him breathe for even a moment, Harry thought.

 

x x x

LOUIS

It was unfair. Louis couldn’t find any other words. Life was getting back at him. Karma maybe, or God, or some demon spirits he had hurt somewhere along the way. He didn’t know what exactly, but something or somebody really wanted to get him good.

He had stepped on the train determined to hate every minute of his trip, the whole two weeks he was forced to spend with wannabe author Harry Styles on his tail. Wannabe author Harry Styles, who was even more attractive up close, wearing a knitted jumper that should look hideous on any other person, who was so terribly awkward but at the same time strangely endearing, and who, worst of all, had a little daughter on his hip. Louis was only human after all; how was he expected to hate a devoted father?

After a somewhat awkward train ride which Louis spent staring into his newspaper, while Harry continued reading to his daughter, they arrived at their destination - quite literally at the end of the world, Louis thought. During the whole ride, Louis hadn’t managed to read and understand even one full sentence in his newspaper and only kept turning over pages and folding and then re-folding his newspaper to keep up pretences.

Once, his phone went off, announcing a call, which made Harry look up at him for a moment before he refocused on the story and his daughter. It was Liam. Annoyed, Louis rejected the call, forcefully pressing the red hang-up symbol. His day was already terrible enough; he really didn’t need to be reminded that his editor was still chasing him, trying to get Louis to talk to him.

Occasionally, when he couldn’t help it, he sneaked a peak at Harry, who had his daughter pulled close to him, his chin resting on top of her head. The little girl wiggled around a bit, and kept putting her hands on the pictures excitedly, making Harry struggle to keep reading. All in all, though, she was quite well-behaved, Louis thought. Worst of all, however, was Harry. Louis felt ready to scream with how goddamn slowHarry was reading. It was fun to listen to all the different voices he was doing for each character, but his reading speed was tedious. Louis felt the urge to tell him to “either quit reading altogether or read at an acceptable speed, fucking hell“, but bit back his comments for Monica’s sake. She seemed to indeed enjoy the story and the way Harry was taking all of forever to read it to her. And, well, Louis couldn’t deny that he had a soft spot for children, which was hard to be avoided with six younger siblings.

In the end, Louis just stuck to rolling his eyes a lot and shuffling and rustling his newspaper in what he hoped came across as an annoyed manner. Sometimes he even bothered to send Harry some pointed looks, but quickly realized that all this attention was wasted, as Harry didn’t as much as look up once to catch Louis’ eye.

Finally, though, they had arrived, and were now standing on the platform, trying to orientate themselves. There wasn’t much around to be seen; the station consisted of nothing but a single platform and a small run-down station hall next to it.

“Oh, do you think that’s our taxi?“ Harry asked, pointing at the car. Louis just shrugged his shoulders and mumbled a “maybe“. As they were getting getting off the train, Harry had tried to make some small-talk with Louis but had soon given up when he only received unenthused one-syllable answers or simple nods.

It had been nothing more than maybe two or three hours so far, but Louis was already fed up. Fed up with kind, weirdly endearing Harry, fed up with his little daughter, fed up with this whole journey and mentoring thing that wasn’t going his way at all. He wanted to hate Harry, all right, and so he would, perfect looks, strange kindness, and little daughter be damned! Louis was unstoppable, always had been, and this man certainly would not break him. As always, everything would eventually go the Tommo Way.

x x x

 

HARRY

After having arrived at the hotel - which, wow, never in his whole life had Harry imagined that he’d ever be staying at such a nice place - Harry didn’t see Louis again until the next morning. In the afternoon, he had taken Monica for a stroll around the huge garden, until she had finally persuaded him to take her swimming in the luxurious, almost empty outside pool area. Although it had been incredibly pleasant, Harry couldn’t help but feel a small pang of guilt. Wasn’t he here to actually work, to improve his writing, to learn? That was the whole point, right? However, he soothed his worries with the knowledge that the makeshift schedule he had been sent stated that the first day would only be used for settling in and getting to know the area. And each other — but well, there were still almost two weeks of time for that bit.

x x x

 

LOUIS

After having arrived at the hotel - which, well, was exactly like the ones Louis used to stay at when he had been at the height of his fame - Louis saw Harry only once again until the next morning. The makeshift schedule he had been e-mailed with the somewhat passive-aggressive comment “subject to change BY THE MENTOR“ was still folded into his laptop bag. He didn’t even want to know what had been scheduled for tomorrow; he only knew that today was “getting to know each other, the hotel, and the surrounding area“. He hadn’t even bothered to read any further. He already deserved some credit for at least printing it out, right?!

While strolling around the hotel aimlessly, Louis had spied Harry and his little daughter from a small sun terrace he had considered for a bit of sunbathing. Louis had watched the two for a minute, splashing about happily in the pool, being ridiculous and so full of life and pure delight that Louis had to look away as if he had been blinded by the sun. Also, it was super creepy to spy on a man and his little daughter. Absolutely not something Louis would ever allow himself to do. Shaking his head to get rid of the remnant images in his head, Louis went back inside with a deep sigh.

x x x

 

HARRY

“Good morning, Lo- no, wait wait, Mon, you can’t eat it like that,“ Harry greeted Louis in the morning. Well, or at least he intended to, before he refocused on his daughter, who was making a huge mess of her breakfast as per usual.

“Good morning,“ Louis answered, a smile forced onto his face against his will. How could anyone be grumpy, even if it was still about four hours too early, if faced with radiant Harry Styles having to prevent his impatient daughter from taking a bite out of a damn kiwi?

“One should think you’d get a little better at eating now that you’re almost five, shouldn’t they?“ Harry said to Monica, stroking her curly hair out of her face fondly to avoid any bigger messes than strictly necessary. As always, some more stubborn curls had escaped the hair tie Harry had tried to tame her hair with.

“Take a seat?“ Harry asked. “Or are you gonna eat standing up?“

“Er, no, no, of course not,“ Louis mumbled, quickly pulling out the chair opposite of Harry.

“So, what’s the schedule for today?“ Harry asked conversationally when he noticed an awkward silence about to spread between them. Harry did, in fact, know the schedule by heart, which wasn’t surprising given how often he had pulled it out to read over it once more and marvel at the chance he had gotten to experience something so special.

“Oh, ermm,“ Louis said, shoving a big bite of toast into his mouth, probably in an attempt to stall for time, Harry suspected. Harry just waited patiently and continued cutting up a banana and the kiwi his daughter had previously tried to bite into.

“Well, we’ll start with the mentoring process,“ Louis finally stated confidently. “What exact time does it say again in the schedule?“

Harry couldn’t oversee that Louis quite obviously didn’t have a single clue what the schedule said, which only served to confirm his assumptions: Louis didn’t care much about this holiday nor about Harry’s personal development, presumably.

Producing his own, already somewhat worn, schedule from his bag, Harry announced, “It says we start at ten, which is just about good, in my opinion. It must be almost nine right now, which leaves us enough time to finish breakfast, and for me to rush back to my room to gather my things and also drop Mon off at daycare. Ten would work just fine for me.“

Louis only nodded, seeming a bit flattened by Harry’s organisation skills. It seemed more like Harry was the one leading and planning this mentoring process than Louis.

“Oh, daycare?“ was the only response Louis mumbled, stuffing some more toast into his mouth so he’d have an excuse not to contribute more to the conversation.

“Sure,“ Harry said, putting the cut-up pieces of banana and kiwi onto Monica’s plate, who started jabbing at the pieces with her spoon excitedly. “This is a luxury hotel, of course they offer daycare.“

“No, I meant, I didn’t think you’d actually want to leave her in daycare, I guess.“

“Why not?“ Harry frowned, before he laughed. “I wouldn’t get a single sentence onto paper with this one sitting on my lap and tormenting me, would I, hm, Mon?“

Monica chose this exact moment to scream, “Papa, can we go swim again today? I wanna swim, papa.“ In all of her excitement, she accidentally also sent her plate flying high, pieces of banana and kiwi landing all around Harry and Louis. One piece even managed to magically find its way into Harry’s coffee cup, where it shot up a small fountain of coffee.

“Yeah, that’s exactly what I meant,“ Harry sighed, accepting a wad of napkins Louis was offering to him.

 

LOUIS

Louis had no clue what he was doing. He had thought that he had gotten pretty good at faking things and making them up as he went over the years, but apparently he had been wrong all along. Harry Styles, author wannabe, was about to prove him wrong. Drastically.

“What’s the plan for today?“ was what a much too chipper Harry greeted him with when he walked into the seminar room that had been designated to be their study room. “Your home base, so to speak“, the employee giving them a quick tour of the hotel had said. “You can spread out wherever else you see fit, though - the garden, the pool, the sun terrace, the tea pavilion, wherever really. This, however, is where you will have all the quiet and privacy you could ask for.“

“The plan is,“ Louis had said, stalling for time by closing the door behind him with much more care than strictly necessary. “Erm, the plan is - like, to write.“

Despite obviously trying to stifle it, Harry burst out in loud laughter that even managed to force a grin out of Louis against his will. He felt physically unable to look at such pure joy and amusement without having to share it, even though it was actually at his own expense. It didn’t quite feel like it, though.

“Yeah, believe it or not, we’re going to write,“ Louis said, taking a seat next to Harry, who had already been fully settled in when Louis had entered the room.

“Sounds exciting,“ Harry teased. “Anything else you have in store?“

“Nope,“ Louis answered equally sassily. If Harry thought it appropriate to tease him, he better be prepared for Louis treating him the very same way. “Only lots of words, sentences, paragraphs, and pages.“

“Okay then, fine with me,“ Harry agreed, a smile still stuck to his lips, his dimples still taunting Louis, but his tone of voice was much more serious. “Let’s get started. We are here to work, after all!“

“True,“ Louis mumbled, pulling his laptop from his bag and opening it. Harry just kept watching him quietly, waiting attentively for what was to come. When Louis only resumed booting up his laptop and pressing keys without paying much attention to Harry, Harry tentatively cleared his throat. “Erm, so? What should I do?“

Louis looked back up at him in disbelief. “Well, unpack your writing materials, grab some pencils, your laptop, ink and parchment, a wax tablet if you must, whatever, and get started with writing?! What else do you think we’re going to do? Ice-skate? Paraglide? Have a campfire? This is a writing workshop, right? Or did I miss something and it’s actually an adventure camp?“

 

HARRY

Harry had been to plenty of writing workshops. He had attended them at irregular intervals since he was a child, eager to get his hands on a pen and form his own characters out of nothing but words. He had frequented them when he felt like he was drowning in frustration with his own writing, when he had felt like doing a genre change, to get in touch with new ideas, new concepts, new people. Harry knew how writing workshops typically went.

Thiswas not it. Never in a professional writing workshop had the instructor rushed, no, more like thrown, the participants into a task like Louis just had done. Even worse, he hadn’t even been given an explicit task to work on! There hadn’t been any lead-in stage, no theory explained, no warm-up task, no guidance whatsoever. It felt as if Louis didn’t even care what Harry wrote, or, in fact, whether he wrote at all.

Harry sighed, rubbing his temples with his fingers. Louis probably didn’t care at all. When Harry shot Louis a tentative look, careful not to be caught, he got stuck on Louis’ stern, almost grim, expression. His eyebrows were knit together, a frown on his forehead, his teeth biting his lower lip. His fingers were at work hastily, tapping keys in rapid succession. Immediately, Harry found himself deeply impressed with Louis’ sheer productivity. Well, he had of course checked Louis’ biography and googled him extensively. Harry knew that Louis had a good 30 book titles to his name, which was even more impressing given his age. Louis was, as Wikipedia had informed Harry easily, only 32, which made him about four years older than Harry. And he had been extremely prolific so far, starting from just barely 20 when he got his first book published. In the most recent years, though, there had seemed to be a gap in Louis’ biography, but maybe Wikipedia just hadn’t stayed up to date, or maybe Louis was working on a longer piece? If the speed he was currently tapping away at was anything to go by, Harry thought that it might well be a trilogy or something wholly epic like the Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings series.

LOUIS

Good to know, Louis thought to himself, good to know that he hadn’t lost it completely those last few years when he had grown more and more secluded. Good to know that he could still easily fool people into thinking he was writing at a hellish speed when he truly was just hitting random keys. Even though Harry had very obviously been trying to be sly, Louis had still seen him shoot him a look. That much he was sure about. He also hadn’t missed Harry’s surprised and maybe slightly impressed eyebrow raise before he returned to his own notepad laid out in front of him. While keeping up his rapid typing, he raised his head ever so slightly, peeping over the top of his laptop screen. The tip of Harry’s tongue was peeking out between his lips, but he wasn’t writing, only doodling; drawing circles on his paper, larger circles around them, which led into a bunch of spirals, which then became flowers, which then…

In some strange way, it satisfied Louis that Harry was little more productive than he himself was. In another way, he felt a bit guilty. He should be helping Harry along, after all, but how was he supposed to do that if he couldn’t even help himself?

After a while, Louis let up with his furious tapping away on the keys and decided to go stretch his legs. He couldn’t help a snort when his laptop warned him that he was about to close out of a document he had put text in. But what kind of text, Louis snorted. Very valuable text, like dako sadiofd jaagji Harry fadjiofhdi dont know what to write jfdiaosndak imijdkdm how can i survive these two weeks gair heiwehu absolutely nope aoddjap.

 

He slapped his laptop shut with a bit too much force, tearing Harry out of his doodling and his dreamy, distant look.

“I just need to stretch my legs a bit,“ Louis said dismissively before heading out of the room. Most of all, he needed air. He felt as if he was suffocating in the seminar room. As soon as he found himself out in the open on the terrace leading into the garden, Louis felt a bit better, but still antsy and constrained. For a moment, he wished he hadn’t given up smoking many years ago so he’d have something to busy his hands with, something to help him calm down. To this day, he could still hear his editor Liam say, “I doubt that the parents will like it when they take their kids to meet their favourite author and have you sign their books and whatnot and you stink of smoke. That’s not the image you want, right?“

When Louis heard footsteps behind himself getting closer, he was jerked out of his thoughts. Suddenly, the footsteps stopped.

“Sorry, I just…“ a voice behind Louis said. And of course, of fuckingcourse, it had to be Harry’s deep, slow drawl. This time with an insecure tinge to it, though, that Louis hadn’t quite heard before.

Reluctantly, Louis turned around to look at his unbidden guest, the very man he was trying to get a break from. How could anybody stand to spend more than maybe an hour together with this doodle-drawing, stories-reading, kiwi-eating man without being weirdly annoyed while also somewhat enticed and attracted?

Louis didn’t reply, nor did Harry finish his sentence. Instead, they only ended up staring at each other, and Louis couldn’t help the urge to ogle Harry and check him out. He was fit, okay? All brown curls, long gangly legs, green eyes, probably wearing more rings than he had fingers, the top few buttons of his shirt undone. Louis was in fact only mortal after all, and it wouldn’t get past a bit of looking him up and down anyway, so where was the harm?

“So… how’s your writing going?“ Harry asked Louis, trying to break the awkward silence between them.

For a while, Louis didn’t say anything. Harry’s words hung thick in the air like a cloud and Louis was almost waiting for Harry to add more and cloud the situation even more, but he didn’t. He only kept watching Louis quietly. What was he to say? I actually haven’t written anything substantial in about three years? You know, I haven’t written even one proper sentence today? Everything has gone to hell years ago and I’ve just lost the skill? How about any of that?

“As usual,“ Louis finally said quietly, shrugging his shoulders. And well, that was actually the truth, wasn’t it? It was going as usual, which meant not at all.

Harry just let out some vaguely approving sounds and shrugged his shoulders. “So, which age are you currently writing for? Or what’s the genre? Or…“ Harry tried to keep the conversation going. Or start it at all, much rather.

“Uhhh… I normally write for like ages eight to ten. I don’t know why, just feels the best to me, although I’ve written about everything from toddler age to early teens. But eight to ten is the most special to me, you know? We underestimate those kids a lot, I feel. They can already understand so much, they want challenges. You?“

“That’s… very profound. I’m writing for four-year-olds right now, but my reason is much more mundane than yours. I started writing for Mon, and as she keeps growing, my writing does, too. I already see myself writing for pre-teens, for teens, for young adults. I hope she’ll still love my stories then and not think that I’m embarrassing, though,“ Harry laughed awkwardly, running his hand through his curls.

Louis couldn’t take his eyes off Harry’s pinking cheeks as he shared those details about himself - lovely ones, Louis couldn’t help but think. He was so fixated on Harry’s intense green eyes and his red cheeks that he almost missed the strip of skin that showed itself when Harry lifted his arm to run his hand through his hair. Louis almost - but only almost- wished that he had indeed missed it, because now he felt significantly hotter than before. From seeing a goddamn tiny strip of skin, combined with a soft-looking little pouch on Harry’s belly, and of course those goddamn green eyes, long slim fingers, weird tattoos, and… This had to stop. They were talking about children’s books, why could he not hold it together for ten minutes?

“Oh, but that’s… that’s actually very sweet and a good reason,“ Louis finally squeezed out.

“Oh, erm, thanks! So, what are we going to do this afternoon? What’s the schedule? We’re writing until 4 p.m., right? And break is from 12 to 1 p.m, isn’t it?“

“It is, yeah. You’re right,“ Louis agreed. He didn’t have a clue about the schedule but judging by how eager Harry was, Louis was certain that he had inhaled their pre-given schedule and memorized it to the last detail. “Oh and about the plans, well, eh, I think you’ll just have to wait to be surprised.“

 

HARRY

Harry was indeed surprised by the plans. Especially since - once again - there were none. Or at least close to none, to do Louis justice properly. Once, he asked Harry to do a brainstorming activity and the other time he gave Harry a few questions to ask himself concerning the protagonists he was writing about. However, to Harry’s annoyance, there still was no real guidance from Louis. Dictating a few questions wasn’t enough to satisfy Harry, especially if they never compared and discussed their answers later on. Harry himself was still mainly stuck with his writing, whereas Louis was writing page after page, which understandably didn’t lift Harry’s mood in the least.

Upon returning from lunch break, Harry finally had enough when Louis only responded with a shrug to Harry’s questions about his further plans.

“Now listen, I get that planning writing lessons and teaching them isn’t what you’re used to,“ Harry confronted Louis, getting quite a bit closer than was commonly socially acceptable. He deserved to be treated better by Louis. It wasn’t like he was demanding perfectly thought-through lessons from Louis, he just wanted a bit of structure and guidance. Was that too much to ask? For heaven’s sake, he had won that prize by competing against others, he had deserved to be taught properly! He was taking days off from work right now to attend Louis’ non-lessons, holidays he would otherwise be spending at the beach or in the mountains with Monica.

“I’m here to learn, I want to learn, I want to improve my writing, I want to learn some writing and literature theory!“ Harry complained, getting a bit louder than he had planned. Louis, however, didn’t look frightened in the least, but just kept fixing Harry with an intense stare and a somewhat stunned and curious expression. This only served to rile Harry up even more - Louis was supposed to be shocked by Harry’s outburst so he would become aware of his faulty ways and eventually change them. “What you’re doing isn’t helping! Saying “now just write“ is no use to me, while you just keep on happily writing page after page! Fucking teachme! That’s what you’re paid for, right? Have you never been to any writing seminars or workshops? Honestly, I can think of a dozen workshops taught by non-professionals that were way superior to your pitiful version of teaching!“

“Oh really?“ Louis just countered calmly. His voice was perfectly even and controlled, but Harry didn’t miss how his eyes darkened and his mouth drew tighter. Harry on the other hand had his fists clenched, his face getting red and his brows drawn together. “Why didn’t you stay with those workshops, then? And why don’t you know everything yet anyways if they were so good, huh? Maybe you want to teach me?“

“Oh for heaven’s sake!“ Harry exclaimed, for a moment covering his eyes with his hands. “Don’t you think that you, as an actual professional, can teach me, an amateur, anything? Well, isn’t that just incompetence at its finest?“

“Well since you’re calling yourself an amateur, did those seminars not teach you anything relevant after all? I honestly think you’re only making up all those amazing, glittering, fantastic seminars to get me riled up,“ Louis fired back, who was in fact, slowly but surely getting riled up. Both of them were pretty much in the other’s face already, their eyes squinted, faces red, practically breathing into each other’s face harshly.

“Oh you can believe that they taught me a lot,“ Harry argued, “but not necessarily about writing theory or children’s literature. That’s not what you expect workshops about crime stories, travel literature and gay erotica to do!“

For a few seconds, none of them made even a single sound or move, until slowly, Louis raised one eyebrow and chuckled, “Gay erotica?“ When he spoke, Harry finally realized how uncomfortably close they were standing, as he could almost feel Louis’ words on his skin and Louis’ breath fanning over his lips. That was, decidedly, too much. Still, although Harry was sure that Louis had to feel the same, they did not move.

“Gay erotica, huh?“ Louis chuckled again, stepping even closer instead of away from Harry. “I didn’t take you to be the kind to write erotica, I have to admit. All smiles and glitter, happy, sappy children’s books, yes, but apparently gay erotica is more your thing, no?“

“No, I mean, I was just trying it out, but like, why not, hell, can’t I have more layers than the one that happily writes children’s books in rhymes?“ Harry replied. He felt his cheeks pinking, but this time not from anger and annoyance. His every cell still felt acutely aware of the fact that Louis was standing to close too him, that he could just… no, he could most definitely not, even if this very second the thought seemed tempting.

“Sure, sure you can, just watch out that you don’t mix those two genres,“ Louis kept on teasing.

Harry just hid his face in his head and groaned, but not entirely in displeasure. “Would you just stop,“ he mumbled, shaking his head, even though he couldn’t help a small smile.

“Well since that workshop was so good, right, you have to tell me how that instructor did it. I mean, which methods does one use when teaching people how to write gay erotica? A pat on the bum every time something goes wrong and a kiss for every new page or…?“ Louis couldn’t help but tease Harry even further to see his reactions. When Harry only made some strange noise between a whine and a sigh, Louis tacked on, “I bet you liked that a lot, didn’t you?“

Noo,“ Harry groaned. “No, I mean, why not, but no, like…“ Finally, he just gave up explaining before he’d manoeuvre himself even further into it. Even as it was now, his cheeks were surely bright red, he was fiddling with all the rings on his fingers and brushing back his hair nervously. Perfect. That he wouldn’t be averse to receiving a pat on the bum or a kiss from him was exactly the very last thing he could possibly want Louis to know.

LOUIS

For Louis, it was time to pull out all the stops. The next day, he was already in their seminar room when Harry arrived punctual as ever. The surprise was evident on Harry’s face. Before today, Louis had made a show of arriving at least five minutes later than their scheduled starting time. It was childish, he had to admit, to show his reluctance this way, but on the other hand, he did indeed have an inclination to running a bit late.

“What’s happened?“ Harry asked, checking his watch to see if maybe he was late this time. He wasn’t. He was perfectly punctual, even though Mon had put up a bit of a struggle when he had dropped her at daycare.

“I’m a model teacher, didn’t you know?“ Louis smirked, raising one eyebrow at Harry and putting one hand on his hip. He felt as if he was overdoing it a bit, but this was the way it had to be. “I can’t fall short of your erotica-writing class now, can I?“ he teased, enjoying the blush that inevitably appeared on Harry’s cheeks. He loved how easy it was to fluster Harry and make him walk the brink of uncomfortable and attracted.

“So how about we get started, or would you prefer just staring at me the whole day?“ Louis asked, purposefully making his voice drip with sass. If Harry wanted action, he would damn well get more than he could have asked for.

“Erm, no, yeah, let’s get started,“ Harry agreed distractedly. Louis rejoiced internally how well all of his plans were working out so far. Pulling out the dark red shirt that he knew put his collarbones and his It is what it istattoo on full display had obviously evoked the desired effect. Squeezing into the slightly too tight jeans that left nothing about his arse to the imagination had been a good choice after all, and Louis couldn’t help but praise himself.

“Great! How about we start with some theory. Here is a very interesting article about narrators, focalizers, perspectives, all of that. So first, please read through it carefully and watch out what the difference between a narrator and a focalizer is and what different types there are, because afterwards I will ask you to re-narrate a story using these concepts.“

Louis was immensely satisfied to see Harry’s jaw visibly drop. If he could get this reaction out of Harry that easily, he would gladly spend all his following nights awake planning lessons and digging up all his old materials about narration theory, creative writing and literature history. After all, he didn’t work his ass off to get his Master’s degree in Creative Writing and Literature Theory just to have it gather dust in the cupboard, right? If need be, he could well put it to use in order to surprise and impress Harry.

“Was I unclear about anything?“ Louis asked pointedly, towering over Harry’s desk when Harry was just looking back and forth between Louis and the several-page article in front of him.

“Oh, uh no!“ Harry hurried to assure Louis, scrambling to get his hands on his pink highlighter and his pen, which had cats and colourful dots printed all over it. This guy, Louis couldn’t help but think, would eventually be the death of him.

Time went by fast, much faster than it had when Louis had just been killing time by angrily tapping away at his keyboard trying to force ideas to flow. Louis had forgotten how much more enjoyable this kind of working was, but he still found himself pleasantly surprised with how smoothly everything was running.

“Now, let’s look a bit closer at unreliable narrators, I think that’s a very interesting and layered narration technique, and also not quite easy,“ Louis suggested, setting down some papers in front of Harry. “So first, read this text and think about what makes this narrator unreliable while you go through it, then there are some questions here at the bottom for you to answer, then… let’s see, this table here is quite tricky, but give it a try. After that, we’ll try out this technique ourselves. You’ve got, say, 30 minutes?“

Harry was watching Louis with his mouth slightly open, his eyes wide, and Louis loved it, he enjoyed Harry’s constant attention and eager attentiveness more than he cared to admit. “Is that too much for you?“ Louis teased when Harry didn’t get to work right away. “Are you afraid that I’ll give you a pat on the bum if you don’t do it correctly, like in your favourite erotica-writing classes?“

It apparently took Harry a second to process Louis’ comments, before he scrambled to mumble, “oh, no, well, erm, they didn’t do that there, I already told you!“

“No? Really? They didn’t?“ Louis replied, pretending to be shocked. “So, wait, they did even more? That’s it? My… methods are too tame for you?“ Louis could hardly suppress the laughter bubbling up inside him, as Harry was so obviously changing between annoyed, shocked and aroused within seconds.

“No, Louis, they didn’t. Argh, you’re such a menace. Rest assured that I know you’d love to touch my arse, but I bet I’ll do well on your little exercise anyway.“

Okay, so. That was new. Apparently Louis had managed to elicit Harry’s cocky, sassy side, and to say he enjoyed it was an understatement. After all, it proved that he could still make words do exactly what he wanted, even though he wasn’t quite using them to produce children’s literature and make characters come to life right now. And apart from that, Harry was incredibly hot when he was looking seconds away from reaching across the table to grab Louis.

“How can you be so sure when I’m the one assessing your performance? It’s rather obviously me who holds the whip hand. Quite literally, I’d say.“

“Well, let’s make a deal, then. While I’m working, you fill in the answers you want to hear and we can compare them with mine later on, so there’ll be no cheating. If I get less than, say, 80% correct, you win and you can slap my arse - the way they didn’tin that workshop.“

“Okay, right, sounds great,“ Louis agreed. “But where’s the deal in that? I get to slap your arse and you get to be slapped? Way to be kinky.“

“No,“ Harry groaned. “Although, I mean, you shouldn’t knock it til you try it, right? But if I win, I get a kiss from you. Just on the cheek or whatever you want.“

“That’s all?“ Louis asked, while Harry nodded. “Great, then. Deal, I’d say!“

HARRY

Harry’s head was spinning. He had just negotiated with his mentor to receive a kiss if he did well and a slap on the bum if he didn’t. Worst of all, however, was that Harry indeed wanted it, which now left him mulling things over and his mind running in circles while he should actually work on the task Louis had set for him. This was the exact thing he had wanted all along, right? He was learning things, Louis was finally teaching him for real, and it was amazing. Now that Louis was behaving somewhat amiably towards him - though still with abundant teasing - his feelings were throwing him into a vortex of confusion.

“Trouble concentrating, huh?“ Louis said offhandedly, only glancing up from his own sheet for a second, but Harry couldn’t miss the smirk that was audible in his voice.

Harry just huffed out a breath instead of giving a proper answer, before he started to read the same sentence he had already read four times once again.

“How about I help you with that?“ Louis asked quietly, and only a moment later he was behind Harry. “Don’t jump, this won’t hurt, but if you want me to stop, just say so.“

“Er… what…?“ Harry only managed to say before he noticed Louis reaching out to touch Harry’s ears, massaging them gently.

“That helps when it seems like you just can’t stay focused anymore, don’t ask me why exactly,“ Louis shrugged, rubbing Harry’s ear lobes. “And also the front is good, at least for me,“ Louis added, switching to Harry’s forehead to smooth over the slight wrinkles.

Only a minute later, it was all over. Louis was back in his seat, scribbling on his paper, and Harry couldn’t help but wonder whether he had nodded off and only dreamed it. But still, he felt as if he could still feel the ghost of Louis’ touch on his forehead, his ears, his shoulders that Louis had decided to pay some attention to as well to help Harry relax.

In terms of concentrating, Louis’ touches had had the exact opposite effect. Sure, he was extremely alert now, but far from focusing on his work, even though he was determined to do well on his assignment. He really wanted that kiss, because as those few innocent touches had established even further, Harry was hungering for Louis’ touch, willing to take whatever he could get. Holy hell, Harry couldn’t help but think and shake his head at himself, how had he ever gotten this desperate?

“Aaand that’s a wrap, time’s up,“ Louis announced, pointing at the clock when Harry only looked at him in surprise. Time was indeed up and he had hardly gotten anything done at all.

“Wait, I… I mean, I haven’t…“ Harry stammered, glancing back and forth between Louis and his handouts that were still mainly blank.

“You haven’t finished?“ Louis completed Harry’s sentence, who in return only managed a small nod. “Doesn’t matter, let’s just compare what you have already gotten done.“

Quite embarrassingly, they were done very quickly. The few answers that Harry did have were almost entirely correct, but he hadn’t even managed to go through half of all the tasks.

“Well, if that is indeed all,“ Louis proclaimed, “then I think it’s obvious that I’ve won!“

“I don’t think all that workload was doable in thirty minutes at all,“ Harry argued. “And you distracted me, that was unfair. I should have been given more time!“

“I was trying to help you,“ Louis replied, the smirk Harry hated and loved so much at the same time still plastered on his face. “And about the workload, you probably should have had a look at the material before agreeing to everything blindly.“

Harry sighed theatrically. “Oh well then! Let’s get it over with?“ he added, defiantly sticking his tongue out to Louis.

“I mean, Harry, like…“ Louis suddenly got quieter, apparently reconsidering their deal when Harry was already getting out of his chair to wiggle his arse practically in Louis’ face. “You know that you totally don’t need to do this, right? It was all just in good fun, and that I’m your mentor doesn’t mean anything, yeah?“

Harry could only laugh. “You suddenly don’t want to slap my bum anymore when it’s almost in your face?“ he joked, before he turned more serious. “Honestly, though, Lou, I appreciate you checking with me, but it’s fine. Although I’d still like my kiss, but I guess I’ll just do better next time and negotiate for a more generous timeframe.“

“Good plan, I’ll be looking forward to that,“ Louis laughed before he slapped his palm flat against Harry’s bum.

LOUIS“Hey, Lou, I have a favour to ask.“ Harry turned to Louis during their lunch break while they were both busy making themselves sandwiches. Lunch consisted of sandwiches and soup every day, which could be taken from the dining hall in self-service.

At that exact moment, Louis’ phone went off with a call. Although Louis was pretty sure that it could only be one person, he signalled for Harry to wait for a moment and fished his phone out of his pocket. “Liam Editor“ the display announced. As Louis had expected. Determinedly, but with a sigh nonetheless, Louis rejected the call. He was certainly not ready to have this conversation.

“Okay, sorry, what is it?“ Louis said, shoving his phone back into his pocket and returning his attention to Harry.

“Can we start our afternoon session a bit later today? I mean, I know that you don’t really care about the schedule a lot anyway, but do you mind? I know it’s a bit stupid to ask, especially since we’ve finally gotten around to working so well this morning.“

Louis couldn’t help but smirk at how flushed Harry was getting just from thinking about what had happened this morning. Saying that Louis was satisfied was an understatement. “Sure we can, but why, actually? I thought you love clear schedules so much.“

Harry huffed out a small laugh, but at the same time seemed somewhat worried to Louis, who just waited for Harry to elaborate, should he want to.

“It’s nothing serious,“ Harry assured Louis, keeping an eye on Monica, who was rummaging through the hotel’s toy box in the dining hall. “It’s just that Mon is getting impatient and a bit moody because I’ve had so little time to do things with her, so I thought it’d be nice if we could start a little later so that I can have some time with her, just go for a walk, take her swimming, play in the garden, something like that. You can also join us if you want.“

“Sure, absolutely!“ Louis responded.

“Great, how does a day at the pool sound to you? Mon loves water and I’m trying to teach her to swim. Let’s meet by the pool around two?“ Harry suggested excitedly.

“I … erm, I thought,“ Louis stammered. That was not what he had meant. He had only wanted to say that it was fine to start later.

“Oh don’t you like swimming? We could do something else, like-“ Harry started, but was interrupted by Louis.

“No, no it’s fine, at two by the pool sounds great.“ Oh well, he could just as well take the chance that had been offered to him.

x x x

 

“First in the pool wins!“ Harry shouted when Louis was walking towards him and Monica, carrying a towel, wearing sunglasses, flip flops and swimming trunks.

Before Louis could protest that it was irresponsible to run while poolside - especially with children present - Harry was ridding himself of his clothes faster than he could keep track of. Just a few seconds later, a loud splashtold Louis that Harry had won. A smaller one followed suit, as Monica, who had already been in just her bikini and her floaties, jumped into Harry’s open arms.

As fast as he could, Louis shucked off his clothes and jumped in the pool as well, maybe a bit more careful than Harry.

“I win,“ Harry proclaimed, holding Monica in his arms. In response, Louis stuck out his tongue to Harry and tried to splash him with water, but it didn’t even reach close to Harry, who just started giggling even more.

Using all of her four-year-old charm, Monica quickly roped Harry - and just minutes later also Louis, who had first insisted that just the two of them play - into a game of water ball with improvised child-friendly rules that were mainly made up by Monica in her favour.

“The teaching her to swim thing didn’t quite work out, did it?“ Louis laughed when they were getting out of the water again. Water was pooling around their feet, Harry’s hair clung to his head and drops ran down his smooth skin, which looked so enticing to Louis that he had to forcibly turn his head away before he began tracing the drop’s trails with his fingers.

“Who can resist her, honestly,“ Harry sighed, brushing wet hair from his forehead.

“I wonder who she got that from…“ Louis joked.

Harry was apparently speechless, as Louis did not get any reply and he did not dare look at Harry again before he was at least a little less wet if he couldn’t hope for Harry to be a bit more clothed.

“I really need a nap,“ Harry sighed sleepily. “Would you mind? If you could just have an eye on Mon, please, it’ll only be 15 minutes. Wake me up if she’s too much of a hassle.“

Before Louis could give an elaborate answer, Harry had spread out on a sun bed and was dozing off. Louis snorted. Good thing for Harry that he loved kids and having lots of younger siblings had taught him how to handle them.

“C’mon, love, how about we go down there to the sandbox? Your Papa needs a bit of rest,“ Louis said to Monica, kneeling down next to her where she was playing with some matchbox cars, not only too close to a sleeping Harry but also too close to the water for Louis’ liking.

“Can we make a sandcastle? Papa said you’re very cree- crei - crative,“ Monica said, her eyes lighting up. She took Louis’ hand eagerly to be led to the sandbox.

“Really? Did he say that I’m creative?“ Louis asked.

“Yes! He said you write a lot! And if I’m good he’ll read me some of your stories! My Papa says your stories are good, he likes them.“

HARRY

Seeing Louis and Monica peacefully playing in the sandbox together, “baking“ cakes out of sand, which Louis was allowed to decorate with a few daisies on top, had Harry feeling all sorts of things. It was probably just the delicious, urgently needed nap he had just had and the refreshing time in the fresh air and in the water.

“Look, Papa, I made cakes for you, Louis put flowers on them. When I grow up, I’ll be a baker like you!“ Monica shouted excitedly, trying to put one cake on her little shovel to give it to Harry.

“Mhhh, that’s so delicious, is this apple cake? Chocolate? I think I taste a bit of cinnamon,“ Harry said, pretending to taste the cake Monica was still holding out to him.

He certainly did not miss the giant indulgent grin plastered on Louis face, looking like it wasn’t about to leave in the next few hours.

“Louis said this one is chocolate and the flower is marzipan,“ Monica explained, giggling when Harry pretended to eat more of her cake.

It took way more time to get Monica back into daycare, since Louis had a hard time letting go of her and understandably enough, Monica put up quite a bit of a fight. After such a great afternoon with her father and Louis, daycare didn’t seem all that appealing anymore.

“Harry, I hate to be the moralizer,“ Louis confronted Harry when they were on their way back to the seminar room after dropping Monica off. All of this seemed blissfully domestic.

Harry shot Louis an expectant look. “Yeah, but?“

“You forgot to put new sunscreen on Monica after swimming! I totally get that this can happen, but you know that you should be a little bit more careful, don’t you? Like, you know how bad sunburns are, especially for children!“

“Shit, I really did forget that!“ Harry exclaimed, slapping one hand against his forehead. “Goddamn, sometimes I’m just such a shit father. Did you do it for her then? You know you could’ve woken me up.“

Louis nodded. “I did, but hey, you’re not a shit father at all, you’re raising such a wonderful girl all on your own and mistakes happen.“

“Thanks for that, Lou,“ Harry sighed. “That means a lot, thanks. It’s really not that easy sometimes, though I wouldn’t change it for the world. I love Mon with all my heart, and I adore kids in general, but sometimes I can’t help but think that I’d be more of the fun parent if I had the chance. But since it’s just me, I try to be the responsible parent as much as possible, Mon needs and deserves that, of course.“

“Yeah, I can understand that,“ Louis answered when Harry left his last thought hanging in the air.

“Thanks for stepping in as the responsible parent this time,“ he finally whispered. “I appreciate it and a lot of the time I need the help.“

“No problem. I mean, I have seven younger siblings, so kids are nothing new to me, and I love them dearly, so I did not mind at all. Plus, Mon is just a sweetheart.“

“Believe me, she’s not as soon as you say the words ’brush’ or ’comb’,“ Harry laughed. “But most of the time she is, yes. I have never made a better decision than taking her when her mother said she wouldn’t. Imagine if we had really given Mon up for adoption, I wouldn’t even want to imagine that,“ Harry said, feeling a cold shiver running down his back from just thinking about it, thinking about how different his life would be right now.

“Are you still seeing her mother? Is she…?“ Louis asked carefully.

“No, not at all, I haven’t heard anything from her in years. She was never interested in Mon, nor in me. Nor was I interested in her, to be quite honest. I was trying to pretend to be straight a bit too much at that time, but since Mon came out of that, I’ll take it as a good thing.“

“Oh, I understand,“ Louis mumbled thoughtfully.

“Honestly, I can’t wait until she’s old enough to try and set me up with her teachers, her sports instructors, her best friend’s dad, whatever,“ Harry chuckled. “It’s going to be fun, don’t you think?“

 

LOUIS

Louis did not think it was fun to imagine Harry going out with anybody. Or to be precise, anybody but him.

Those were the thoughts on Louis’ mind while he was sitting on the closed lid of the toilet, waiting for his phone to dial his best friend’s number and for him to pick up.

“Louis! It’s been so long! I was getting worried that productivity has swallowed you whole!“ Steve greeted Louis enthusiastically.

“Hey Steve, it’s much less productivity that’s swallowed me to be honest,“ Louis admitted. “Though that’s been improving too, weirdly enough.“

“So what’s the matter? You sound kind of down, is it… wait, is it because of that Harry Styles kid you whined to me about for three hours before you left? Too gorgeous, has a small child, weird but you dig it?“

“That’s him,“ Louis agreed with a sigh. “To a T.“

“Does that mean stone cold, heartless, fierce teddybear Louis Tomlinson can finally admit to liking someone again?“ Steve asked excitedly. “Hell, Louis, it’s been time for that forever.“

“No, Steve, you don’t understand,“ Louis whined. “He’s toogood, you see? He’s so kind-hearted and he’s got a funny laugh and fuck it if he isn’t also gorgeous as hell. And, Steve, why does he have to have an adorable daughter, and like, I’m so afraid of hurting their little family and of hurting Monica, and of hurting Harry, and of… also of hurting myself of course,“ Louis rambled right on.

“Can I just say something really quick, Louis?“ Steve asked, before he proceeded without waiting for Louis’ answer. “Since I’ve known you, you were “dead ready“, as you weird Brits would say, to commit, you were basically overdue already back then. No, listen, let me talk, do you want a husband?“

“Yes of course, but…“ Louis answered, but was cut off by Steve.

“Do you want kids?“

“More than anything, sure, but…“

“Do you want a steady home and all of this gross domesticity?“

“Yes, goddamn it, Steve, of course, but I can’t…“

“Just one more thing, Louis. See, you want a home, kids, a husband. The works. And you’re seeing all that at once in Harry and that scares you, sure it does. A lot is at stake, isn’t it? But honestly, you just gotta let it develop, allow yourself to fall, Louis. Isn’t that what you want?“

“It is! But what if I mess it up, what if everything goes to hell, what if he secretly hates me!“

“Then you shrug it off and move on but I’m certainly not listening to you whine about missing out on Harry Styles for five years. Call me again when you’ve got a date with him, Louis. Bye!“

 

HARRY

“And then Bebe let us draw on really large paper and she knows so many games and she said tomorrow we can…“

Harry’s attention was suddenly drawn away from Monica’s excited babbling about her daycare teacher. There was a little white and mint green card sitting beside his seat at their usual table, and it was clearly addressed to Mr. Harry Styles in somewhat scrawly handwriting that someone had obviously tried hard to make more presentable.

“What’s that, Papa?“ Monica asked, who had immediately noticed Harry’s attention wandering off somewhere else. “Is it the menu? What are we having tonight? Can I have alphabet soup, Papa? Or pudding? I want pudding, please, Papa, please?“

“Erm… no, I think it isn’t,“ Harry replied, reading through the text inside the card.

Dear Harry,

I’d like to invite you to a special writing experience. Good writing needs some changing up of routines, learning in new environments, and most of all, lots of practice. And we still have some time to make up for, don’t we? I therefore propose that you come meet me at 8 this evening at the pavilion. Bring your writing materials, preferably some hunger (I heard they make some mean chicken), and dress nicely. xx

 

Louis

 

PS: Babysitter after you’ve put Monica to bed is arranged- Bebe has agreed to stay until 12. Here’s her phone number: 0750 3837 791.

“What is it then, Papaaa, I’m hungry,“ Monica kept complaining.

“It’s Louis, he wants to meet me tonight. Is it okay for you if Bebe is there while you sleep? Can Papa sneak out for a few hours? I’ll go to bed with you and I’ll be there in the morning, promise.“

“If you read me a story,“ Monica replied after some contemplation.

“Oh darling I always do, don’t I? You’ll get your story tonight too, of course,“ Harry assured her, stroking over her hair, which was equally unruly as his.

“Can I have twostories?“ Monica tried to negotiate, and Harry laughed. “You can, love.“

LOUIS

Louis wondered whether he had made it clear enough that this was a date in disguise. If Harry had ever set foot in the hotel’s pavilion, he definitely had to know, Louis thought, taking in the scenery once more. There weren’t more than ten small tables in the pavilion, with spotless white tablecloths, silver cutlery placed neatly in front of Louis. Servers in fine evening attire were scurrying around between the tables, ready to anticipate their guests’ every wish. The pavilion’s outer walls were covered in rose bushes, free spaces between the rose arches letting in the evening air of a warm, sunny day. Soft lights adorned the ceiling and there was a candle flickering in front of Louis. Everything was screaming dateand romancewith all its might.

If only Harry would come. It was already five past eight and Harry had only been late once during their writing week. Louis tried to reason with himself that Harry was a more than decent person; he surely would have told Louis if he couldn’t come. But what if something had happened to him on short notice? What if he didn’t know where the pavilion was? What if he had offended Harry somehow with this offer? What if he…

“God, Louis, I’m so sorry I’m late!“ Suddenly there he was, and Louis felt a heavy weight lift from his chest as he was torn from his doubts and worries. He was keeping his voice low and soft, as the atmosphere required and Louis wanted to get up to greet him, and preferably kiss his hand or bow or greet him in some other old-fashioned way.

In the end, they ended up doing some weird mixture of hugging and shaking hands that led to a bit of embarrassed giggling and red faces, feeling like nervous teenagers on their first date again.

“Take a seat?“ Louis asked quietly after they had spent a moment that had probably been a tad too long staring at each other and looking the other up and down. Harry had apparently taken Louis’ advice to “dress nicely“ very serious. He looked more gorgeous than ever, which Louis had not thought to be manageable. He was wearing a proper dress suit which was a dark purple, and worst of all, with goddamn glitter on it. Louis wanted to carefully run his hand over the material to feel its texture. And of course he wanted his hands all over Harry, but what else was new. Harry’s hair was styled to look a little less wild and unruly than usual, which Louis missed a bit, and his smile was spreading to his eyes, which caught the low soft lights’ shine.

“Thanks for inviting me here,“ Harry said when they had both taken a seat. “It’s so lovely here, it’s like living in a fairy tale. And of course sorry again for being late, Mon put up quite a fight when I was about to put her to bed and I just couldn’t leave her with Bebe while she was still so upset.“

“Of course, love, I understand that. Although I have to admit I was a bit worried that you’d stand me up,“ Louis joked. Harry didn’t have to know that his worries and his anxiety had in fact gotten the better of him for a minute.

“D’you really think I’d miss out on the chance of having a proper fancy dinner with you?“ Harry joked, but Louis swore that he could see some sincerity in Harry’s eyes. Or maybe he just wished for it to be there.

“No, definitely not, and to be honest, I have to admit that I bribed you with the location and the food and all that.“

“True, and it’s actually a lesson, isn’t it? At least that’s the belief under which I was lured here,“ Harry teased, his dimples on full display. Louis wanted to kiss him and fit his thumbs into Harry’s dimples while cradling his face softly. God, he couldn’t remember ever wanting anything more.

When Louis was just about to reply that he hadn’t only done it in pretence, someone cleared their throat behind him. “Excuse me, gentlemen, I am very sorry if I am intruding. I wanted to enquire if you were ready to order,“ a waiter asked them, dressed to the nines just like his colleagues. He even gave a slight bow as he addressed them. “On our menu today we have double-smoked salmon with horseradish creme, mushroom risotto with peas, pasta with lamb ragù, and chicken wrapped in parma ham with a side of home-made mash.“

Harry and Louis exchanged a look, before Harry spoke. “I was told the chicken is excellent, so I will take that advice. So, the chicken, please…“ The waiter nodded. “Make that two, please,“ Harry added when Louis smiled wide and nodded to him.

“I’ve heard a lot about the wines that are served here. Maybe you could recommend some wine to pair with the chicken?“ Louis asked.

“Certainly,“ the waiter confirmed. “Would the gentlemen like me to present a few bottles so you may make a choice?“

“That’d be lovely, thank you,“ Louis agreed, before he turned his full attention back to Harry, and the waiter hurried away.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been to a place that’s this degree of fancy, I have to admit,“ Harry said. “It’s proper posh.“

“I have to say it’s not quite where I go every night either, so don’t expect me to treat you to this every night from now on,“ Louis teased.

They spent their meal in much the same manner, teasing each other, chattering on and on and laughing at the other’s bad jokes. Louis just couldn’t comprehend how they had arrived at this point. Throughout the meal, Harry continued to steal from Louis’ plate even though he had the exact same meal on his, claiming that it was simply more convenient for his long arms. He was just overall a terrible menace and Louis couldn’t remember ever having enjoyed a meal more.

However, they weren’t only here for fun, but also for business, even if Louis had almost forgotten about all of that by looking at Harry’s tongue running over his lips and at his cheeks that were pinking from the bottle of wine they were sharing.

“Was asking me to bring my writing stuff just a means to lure me here, though?“ Harry asked, a little glint in his eye that told Louis he would be fine with either.

“Pfff, no, of course not! I really meant that and I hope you followed all of my advice, not just the one to dress nicely, which, by the way, I appreciate a lot.“

“Thanks,“ replied Harry, bringing his hands up to his cheeks in a bashful gesture. “I love dressing nicely and a bit extravagantly.“

“Oh really?“ Louis joked, raking his eyes over the creme-pink frilly blouse Harry was wearing under his dress jacket, the glittery shimmer on his well-tailored suit, the many rings on his fingers. “But please don’t think that this was criticism! You look so fabulous I don’t know what to do with myself. I feel dead boring and basic compared to you.“

“Are you kidding?“ Harry shot back, his eyes going comically large. “You’ve got the proper tailor-sewn suit, mine is just tacky next to yours. It’s just the glitter that’s distracting you.“

“Maybe, but you’re living your fashion, mine is just… clothes,“ Louis argued. “I mean, sometimes I enjoy dressing more fancy, but I think you can see that it is not my favourite streetwear.“

“Hmm, well, if you feel like that, but I can assure you that you look absolutely perfect,“ Harry defended Louis’ looks, nervously twisting the rings on his fingers and leaning towards Louis with a smile.

“Thanks, love,“ Louis laughed. “Lovely to have established that we both like the other’s clothes, but I fear we went off on a tangent here a bit. Are you up for a bit of writing?“

“Sure, always,“ Harry nodded enthusiastically, mirroring Louis’ smirk.

“Great, we’ll practise setting the scene, setting the mood, and what could be better than this lovely scenery around us? First, to get us started, I want you to write down everything you see and what it makes you feel. Does it feel warm, soft, romantic, or does it feel uncomfortable, stiff, etcetera? Yeah? It doesn’t have to be a coherent paragraph if you’d rather have bullet points or something, just get it down on the paper in whichever format.“

Harry nodded and set off to work, as did Louis himself. He couldn’t quite explain why, but writing with, or even just next to, Harry was making him feel so much more inspired and eager to actually produce words.

After this exercise, which was followed by two other short ones, Louis felt tired enough to curl up and sleep on the spot. The feeling, however, was a warm and cosy one, like being cuddled to sleep with the other’s lips pressed to one’s own forehead.

“I think we can call it day after that. You’ve done great,“ Louis praised Harry, rubbing his eyes sleepily.

“Or a night, rather,“ Harry said brightly. “But I was actually hoping for a treat… You said I was doing well?“

Louis suddenly felt much more awake, he knew their… arrangements very well, even if they hadn’t kept to them after that one time. Mostly, they just joked about them. If Harry did well, he got a kiss. Was Harry suggesting that he wanted a kiss from Louis? Louis’ sluggishly working brain started to kick-start from that thought.

“Dessert, maybe?“ Harry said, making huge round puppy eyes at Louis. “I’m craving something sweet.“

For a few seconds, Louis just stared at Harry. He had been getting his hopes up for nothing. Nothing at all. Harry just wanted plain old dessert. And dessert he would get. Louis had to admit that he deserved it. He had asked so nicely, worked diligently, and given Louis a full evening of eye candy and, even more importantly, in depth talking and lighthearted banter.

Helpless to deny him, Louis waved down their waiter and let Harry order whatever his heart desired, while he himself allowed himself a last long enamored glance at Harry, who was too busy asking for extra vanilla sauce to notice. Fuck, it was probably time for Louis to admit that he was head over heels helplessly in love with this beautiful, intelligent, single father, frilly-blouse-wearing, silly human.

It all got even worse when Harry’s dessert - chocolate mousse with strawberries and extra vanilla sauce - arrived and Louis had to watch Harry lick his spoon and quite literally roll his eyes and moan with how good it tasted. Did Harry know what he was doing to Louis? Did he want him to break out in a sweat like that?

“C’mon, you gotta try it, it’s heavenly,“ Harry said, picking up a strawberry with his fork and holding it out towards Louis, who obediently opened his mouth and waited for Harry to delicately place the strawberry on his tongue.

Without thinking a lot about it, Louis stole the fork from Harry, who handed it over willingly. Louis took a bite himself, and had to second Harry’s opinion on the chocolate mousse, before he picked up a strawberry, lathered it in vanilla sauce, and held it out to Harry. For a second, Harry looked surprised, before he opened his mouth, sticking out his tongue way too far to be considered publicly appropriate in Louis’ opinion.

“Even better that way,“ Harry grinned, taking the fork back out of Louis’ hand, which was easy to do as Louis was too fixated on Harry to notice.

For a while, they just kept passing the fork between them, taking turns feeding the other bits of chocolate mousse. If it had been anybody else, if it had been any other time, if it had been any other moment at all, Louis would have cringed at the sappiness, at the kitschy romance. All of this was too much out of a fairy tale. But right this moment, in the pavilion, with Harry most importantly, Louis wanted to bathe in the romance and the sappiness, coat his skin with it as if he were applying lotion, rub it in and smell like it all over. Maybe, after all, he was a much bigger sap and hopeless romantic than he would ever want to admit.

“You said that I’d been good, right?“ Harry asked innocently after a while, during which they had been content with mostly giggling and passing the fork around. “I’m still craving something sweet,“ Harry said, looking down at the almost finished dessert between them. “Some other kind of bedtime candy, what about you?“ he went on, licking his lips, leaning even closer to Louis, his free hand reaching for Louis’.

“I… I am…“ Louis stammered, mirroring Harry’s movements subconsciously, his mind running a mile a minute, more awake than he could ever remember being. He was reading this whole situation wrong. So much was happening. Did Harry really want this? It was late, both of them were out of their minds with light-heartedness, laughter, sugar, wine, and each other. This was too much, he couldn’t have Harry; Harry couldn’t want him. He probably didn’t know what he was doing anymore.

Still, Louis let himself be pulled forward by Harry, towards Harry’s pink plush lips. This was his one goal that he craved to reach more than anything. There was just a split second left before their lips would touch, right now, this moment… Louis felt home, felt safety for a second before he snapped. He jerked away before the kiss could deepen, before he could really comprehend the pressure of Harry’s lips against his own, before they could start moving or deepen the kiss.

“I have to… I can’t, I…“ Louis stammered, completely out of his mind. He stood up so abruptly that he knocked his chair over, which fell with a loud bang, making the only other couple that was left direct their glance towards them in a second. Harry was just staring at him with wide eyes, frozen to the spot.

Without another word, Louis hurried out of the pavilion, only stopping for a second to shout his room number at the nearest waiter to tell them to charge the bill to his room.

HARRY

Harry considered simply not showing up to his and Louis’ writing session the next day. He had felt so certain that he had read Louis’ signs correctly - that yesterday had been a date and their writing exercises just a tool to enhance the mood, maybe something done under pretence. He had been so sure that Louis wanted the same as him, but he had so painfully obviously been gravely mistaken. He never wanted to show his face again, and seriously considered dropping out of the mentoring program or at least playing sick today to avoid having to face Louis.

“What do you think, Mon, should we take a long walk today? Explore a bit?“ Harry pondered, pulling a shirt over Monica’s head, who was resisting her father’s attempts with all her strength. Apparently she was taking after Harry in the desire to be naked at all times, if at all possible.

“No shirt,“ Monica was wailing, struggling to get out of Harry’s grip. With a sigh, Harry let her get away.

“You have to wear a shirt, Mon,“ Harry sighed. “I’m wearing one too, see? You can choose which one you want, though. Would you rather have the one with the dinosaurs? Or the yellow one with the dots?“

“No shirt,“ Mon kept insisting, turning away from her father with her arms crossed in front of her body.

“Why not, love?“ Harry sighed, dropping the shirt he was trying to dress Monica with on his knees.

“NO, no shirt,“ Monica kept screaming angrily, which wasn’t really an explanation as for why she was so opposed to wearing a shirt.

Harry sighed, running his hand through his hair. If they didn’t manage to find some compromise soon, Monica would - unknowingly - decide on his behalf whether he would see Louis at breakfast or for their writing session to start.

It soon became clear that they wouldn’t be making the writing session, much less breakfast of course. Harry couldn’t say that he was really disappointed. Rather, he was relieved that the decision was no longer his, as he had to give Mon time to calm down.

LOUIS

Louis was unwell. Everything had gone to shit. Hehad made everything go to shit. Why couldn’t he one single time in his goddamn time do the right thing, which, incidentally, was also the thing he wanted most of all? How bloody difficult could that be? Very difficult, apparently.

Louis sighed and rolled over in bed. He had to get up and face this mess, even if he had much rather sleep for an eternity and never wake up again or bury his head in the sand so he would never have to face this earth again.

Groaning and letting his face fall into his hands, he got up unwillingly. Maybe, after all, something could still be fixed. Maybe he could tell Harry that he had just gotten scared, even if it sounded stupid. How could one get scared of the thing one wanted most when it was quite literally presented to one on a silver plate?

Before he could overthink everything, Louis had already dialed Steve’s number.

“How was the date?“ Steve asked instead of a greeting.

Just from hearing that, Louis wanted to hang up and curl up into a ball and cry. “A disaster,“ he finally squeezed out. His throat felt so tight, and not only from having only woken up a few minutes ago.

“Oh I’m sorry to hear that, Lou. What exactly happened? And does that means that he’s just a douche or were you the douche?“

“I’m the stupidest fucking man on the planet, Steve,“ Louis whined. “Someone come bury me alive, I don’t want any of this misery.“

“Now now,“ Steve said. “That’s well a bit overdramatic, don’t you think? You sound like you stepped right out of a Greek tragedy.“

“That’s exactly the level of tragic I’m going for,“ Louis said. “Maybe I should switch to writing drama.“

“So what’s the rundown on what exactly happened?“ Steve asked.

“We had a date - per your recommendation, I might add, so I think it’s safe to say it’s entirely your fault - and after dessert, or, like, kinda during, I don’t know, Steve, it’s just a blur, we were just about to kiss, and fuck me if I want anything more than that, but…“

“But?“

“Just like that, I ran off. Just literally fled the scene right then. Steve, I just ran off! I’m so goddamn stupid, can you see now why I need you to bury me alive at your earliest convenience? Preferably within the hour?!“

“That’s indeed… a shit thing to do.“

“Thanks for all the encouragement,“ Louis replied sarcastically.

“No, really. Go own up to that nonsense you pulled, explain yourself, and if he’s worth it, he’ll eventually understand and you can snog the shit out of him as you should have yesterday.“

Louis sighed unhappily. What Steve was telling him was true, but the truth was harsh and unforgiving. “Thanks. I’ll report back when any snogging has happened.“

HARRY

After bribing her with the promise to go swimming later today, three bedtime stories, and ice cream after dinner, Monica was finally standing in front of Harry, this time fully dressed. She was bouncing about with anticipation of all the things she had gotten Harry to promise, while Harry was quite literally wiping sweat off his brow after all this struggle.

“I’m hungry, Papaaaa,“ Mon complained, tugging at Harry’s hand. “Want breakfast.“

“Yeah, sure, let’s go then,“ Harry said. He took a glance at his watch to make sure that they would still be served and refrained from making any comment about how they could have had breakfast about an hour ago if Monica hadn’t thrown a tantrum.

“I’m calling the elevator!“ Monica shouted excitedly, running towards the elevator and pressing the button repeatedly. Harry wanted to protest and say that they could easily walk down to the breakfast room on the ground floor from their third-floor room, but felt that it was better not to risk another tantrum so soon.

When the doors opened, Monica was quick to jump inside, while Harry remained frozen to the spot. Could he still turn around and convince Monica to take the stairs with him? Probably not. The elevator was already rather full. At the back, there was a cleaning lady with a cleaning cart taking up most of the space. What bothered Harry far more, though, was that staring right back at him from inside the elevator car was Louis. He looked ruffled and tired. His hair was untidy, he was unshaved, there were dark circles under his eyes.

“Louis! Louis, Papa promised me ice cream after dinner, do you like ice cream?“ Monica started babbling away right away, grasping Louis’ hand to draw his attention away from Harry.

“Ouch.“ The elevator doors had started to close while Harry was still standing in between them, indecisive whether to enter as well or drag Monica back out. Seeing that he hardly had any other choice, he stepped inside.

“I… erm… hi,“ Louis mumbled, quickly diverting his eyes to look at the floor. They had to stand uncomfortably close together due to there being too little space for three adults, one child, and one cleaning cart. Their inadvertent proximity would have been uncomfortable for strangers, even fairly good acquaintances, and much worse for… Well, what even were they? The only people for whom standing this close together was acceptable, Harry could not help but think, were people who were about to start kissing. He, for one, certainly would not try that again, though. That much was for sure.

Breakfast was so extremely uncomfortable, with silence hanging between them that was only interrupted by Monica’s lively babbling, that Harry considered moving away from their usual table to sit somewhere else, away from Louis. Neither of them addressed the other, not even to ask to be passed the salt, nor did they do as much as look at each other.

When they were about to be finished with breakfast and Harry couldn’t bear it anymore, he stood up and announced that he had to drop Monica off at daycare. The silence felt as if it had slung itself around his chest, pulling tighter with each minute that passed.

As soon as this was done - this time without much trouble from Monica’s side - Harry once again didn’t know how to proceed. He didn’t think that he could bear to write with Louis or even just be in his presence today. Eventually, after some contemplation, he decided to return to the breakfast room and tell Louis. He needed the day off, and possibly also the rest of his mentoring holiday.

The second Harry was back in the breakfast room and standing in front of Louis, who apparently hadn’t moved at all, he took a deep breath and looked up at him.

“Louis, I can’t…“ Harry said, when Louis at the very same time said, “Harry, I have to…“

For an awkward moment, they both stopped, just staring at each other before Louis continued. “Can we maybe talk this out somewhere else? In the seminar room, maybe? You don’t have to talk to me, of course, you don’t owe me that. You don’t owe me anything! But I’d be very happy if you’d give me that chance.“

It all came out in one enormous rush that Harry almost couldn’t follow. All the while, Louis kept twisting his hands, his eyes darting around in panic, and he looked like he was in terrible pain. This, Harry decided, wasn’t just some performance from Louis, this was very much real, which was crucial to Harry’s decision.

“Yes, okay. I’ll listen to what you have to say if it’ll give you peace.“

“Thanks,“ Louis sighed, and Harry saw a wave of relief wash over his face before the worry took over again.

While he walked them to the seminar room, Louis kept glancing back at Harry, who was following a few steps behind him, as if to check that he was still there, that he wasn’t making a run for it. Like Louis had yesterday, Harry thought not without bitterness. If everything had gone according to Harry’s plan, they would be snogging right now instead of having serious talks.

“I’m sorry, I’m sosorry, I’m the biggest douche around. You can’t imagine, Harry, I’m so sorry. I didn’t want that, and you deserve somebody way better than me, somebody who will fucking kiss you back. You deserve somebody who is kind, gentle, funny, and beautiful. God, Harry, you have no idea, you’re so perfect and I’m just… I’m just Louis, who runs away when he finally gets to kiss the man he wants. I’m a fuck-up, Harry, a total fuck-up. I wasn’t writing a single word in all those first writing sessions, I was hitting random keys for hours, I was so stuck, and I think I partly still am, I’m a romantic who’s so scared that I run away when I can finally have what I want. I’m so scared to hurt you even more, to hurt Mon - Harry, you’ve got a proper little family! - and I’m also scared of getting myself hurt. Harry, you don’t want me, believe me.“ In one huge rush that was difficult to keep up with, it all burst out of Louis. It felt like some dam had broken and everything that he had been bottling up since their mentoring program had started was flooding them, inundating them.

For a minute, Harry just kept looking at Louis attentively. He was running through hundreds of emotions at the same time, through sadness, relief, anger, love, gratefulness, despair, and all the way back again. Louis wasn’t moving as he had been during his outburst, as if only words could not have been enough to get rid of all the movement and emotion that was stuck inside him.

“Thank you, Louis,“ Harry finally said in as gentle and calm a voice as he could manage. It was all a bit much to process. “I still want you, though,“ he heard himself say despite himself, but before he could regret having said it and wanting to take it back, he felt deep in himself that it was true. He still wanted Louis despite everything he had just laid out before him. “No, please listen,“ he said when Louis was about to open his mouth to object. “You’re funny, you’re so kind, you make my heart grow about five sizes when I see you interacting with Mon. She adores you so much, don’t you know? You’ve got a gentle soul, I just know, even if you try to play fierce and rough. That’s just you trying to protect yourself, isn’t it? And really, do you think I’m only sunshine and flowers, Louis? Everybody has dark sides too. We can work on the trust thing together, if you just want to. I know for sure that I want to.“

“But I’ll hurt you, Harry, haven’t you been listening? I want it so much - a home, a husband, a family, all that sappy domesticity - but I am so afraid of losing it again and hurting the people I love along the way,“ Louis argued.

“Then so be it,“ Harry replied, shrugging his shoulders. “There’s no guarantee in life not to get hurt or hurt other people, but if you’re not willing to give it a try and take some risk, you will never know. And that does hurt too, doesn’t it?“

“But aren’t you afraid?“ Louis asked incredulously. “That I’ll hurt Mon, that I’ll tear your family apart, that…“

“Shush, no,“ Harry said. “You will never hurt Mon on purpose, I can see that in the way you watch her with so much adoration. You just couldn’t. And if it happened inadvertently, well, as I said, then so be it. I think we’re on this earth to find love and take some risks to do so, even if we end up taking a dead-end street every other time.“

“I just… I’m just so overwhelmed with how you can still want me. I had already given up everything, I was literally ready to pack my bags.“

Harry moved in a bit closer, careful not to scare Louis. They would have to move carefully and slowly, and Harry was more than willing to do so. “Can I touch you? Can I take your hands?“ Harry asked softly.

“Yes, please,“ Louis agreed, and Harry saw tears gathering in Louis’ eyes.

“We can move as slowly as you want,“ Harry promised, taking Louis’ hand in his, careful to keep his grip light so that Louis would not feel restricted and panic again. “If it takes a year until you’re ready to kiss me, then so be it. I might die from pining, of course, but I’d gladly bear that burden,“ Harry said, the tone of his voice light and joking, but he still meant it. He could well wait for someone like Louis.

“That’s the problem,“ Louis laughed, leaning his face into Harry’s shoulder and mumbling into Harry’s shirt. “I want everything right now immediately, that’s why I’m scared. I don’t know moderation, what’s that?!“

Harry laughed, leaning closer as well so that their heads were touching. “I’ll make sure to hold you back. Just please don’t run away again and let’s talk it out instead, yeah?“

“Yes, please,“ Louis sighed, wrapping his arms firmly around Harry and pulling him closer.

For a few minutes, nothing else mattered. They simply stayed standing there, leaning into each, breathing in sync, Harry with his face pressed to Louis’ head and Louis with his arms slung tight around Harry’s middle. Harry could swear that he could hear Louis’ heartbeat, his breathing, his quiet, satisfied sighs every now and then. This was everything he could ever want.

Without warning, in a movement that was too quick to follow for Harry’s love-drunk, sluggish thinking, Louis turned his head to press a quick kiss to Harry’s cheek. Before Harry could properly process it, Louis’ touch was already gone again, and nothing more than a slight echo was left. In wonder and incredulity, Harry could not help but run his fingertips over the spot Louis had kissed, as if this could make his touch come back.

Louis smiled and chuckled upon seeing Harry’s reaction. “Let’s get writing?“

LOUIS

Louis couldn’t remember ever having had a harder time concentrating. Harry seemed in a similar state. Whenever Louis would look up from his paper, where an unfinished sentence was staring at him mockingly, it would take only seconds for Harry to look up as well, heaving out a sigh. For a few short moments, they would watch each other, smiling shyly, before returning to their respective notepads.

Now that he didn’t feel like he had to hide so much anymore, Louis had switched to writing on paper, like Harry did. Somehow, it felt like some raw, uninhibited energy was returning to him. Writing on paper evoked memories of 16-year-old Louis, hidden away in his room, writing, writing, writing. Writing about everything that was troubling his soul or lifting it up to new heights. He had loved writing so dearly. Now, he felt like some parts of this energy and excitement were returning. They hadn’t quite settled into his heart yet and kept slipping from Louis’ grasp when he tried to capture them with force, but slowly, gently, they were making a home inside him again.

Louis could remember how elated he had felt when he had started to switch from writing on paper to writing on his very own, brand new laptop. He had been on top of the world. He couldn’t pinpoint it, but somewhere along the way, this elated feeling had given way to associations of pressure to perform, coldness, and jadedness.

Looking at Harry, Louis saw some of his old energy. In this very moment, what he wished for most was not that the raw, unbounded enthusiasm for writing would return to him, but that this same energy would never run away from Harry.

“Can I ask you something?“ Harry finally asked shyly.

“Sure! I’m your mentor after all, you should ask all you want!“ Louis encouraged him, meeting Harry’s eyes across the table and putting down his notepad.

“It’s not quite writing advice, though,“ Harry said. “But rather something personal…“

“Go on.“

“What happened? As in, what happened in your life? You said you were stuck with your writing, and partly you said you still are? Why? You’ve been the big smiling face of children’s literature for years, so what happened?“

Louis took a few moments to gather his thoughts and choose his words.

“I’m sorry if that’s too much, or bad memories, or… you don’t need to answer! You don’t owe me anything!“ Harry hurried to reassure Louis when he saw him hesitating.

“Shush, I do want to tell you, I’m just thinking, love. It’s not that deep, it seems way too superficial and simple.“

Harry just nodded and waited for Louis to continue.

“I think the biggest part,“ Louis said, “was just that I got sick of the very genre. Especially in my earlier works - I don’t know how familiar you are with those - everything is overly sweet, I’m literally talking cotton-candy sweet, the happiest endings you’ve ever seen, everyone loves everyone. And God, did I love my job back then! I was rising to something like a bit of fame, I was living in great hotels, quite similar ones to this here, I had money for the first time in my life… And I was making children happy, that was the biggest reward. I read my own books to children, who would listen with huge eyes and a smile or concentrated faces.“

“That sounds great. What changed that?“

“A few bad things happened in my life, like, my mom died, suddenly it was only my step-dad and my siblings left. We are still an amazing family, but my mom was the heart of our family, everything evolved around her. Then Zayn, my boyfriend from back then, left me. I was so late on the works I had contracts for that my publisher chucked me out. You know, that even happens to Louis Tomlinson.“

“Oh, I’m so sorry!“ Harry said, raising a hand to his mouth. “That all sounds so terrible, I’m so sorry that you had to go through that, love.“

“It’s all right,“ Louis sighed. “It’s history. I felt like I just couldn’t possibly write sappy stories like “and they lived happily ever after“ anymore. I still have some problems with that, I guess. During the worst times, I hated my old cotton-candy-sweet books with such a passion, I was so angry at myself, that I threw them all away. I hated my naivety. Anyway, things were going downhill for a while, but then everything seemed to be finally getting better again. I found a new publisher, the one I’m still at. My new editor and I became friends, and we still are.“

“Even though you keep avoiding his calls?“ Harry asked.

“You… uh, you noticed?“ Louis asked completely surprised and somewhat in shock.

“Sure,“ Harry shrugged his shoulders. “You keep forgetting that I have a four-year-old daughter, which means that I’ve developed the ability to have my eyes everywhere at the same time.“

Louis laughed. “Okay, I see, that makes sense.“ He was somewhat endeared and flattered by Harry paying such close attention to him.

“So everything was moving upwards. Very slowly, I started writing again. I even managed to publish a few books, nothing big, though. They were too bleak and unhappy for most parents, I think. You could say that perhaps I also had something likea “Blue Period“, like Picasso, you know.“

Harry nodded, but didn’t interrupt.

“Anyway, as you know, I’m avoiding his calls and ignoring his e-mails because, as you might know if you’ve been reading up on my biography or my Wikipedia page or whatever beforehand…“ - Harry’s grin told Louis that, yes, he was completely correct with his assumption - “…I haven’t published anything in about four years. Some people still speculate that I might be working on something massive, some young adult trilogy perhaps, when in fact I wasn’t even touching a pencil or opening up a Word document for weeks on end.“

“It’s kinda scary how you can lose your productivity and enthusiasm so entirely,“ Harry commented, rubbing his fingers over his temples, visibly trying to wrap his head around this new information.

“Yeah. I literally went from writing my set twenty pages a day, every day, to not writing a single line in weeks, no, months rather. I pray to whatever deity there is, or maybe I should say to the muses, that you never ever lose it. I hope that there never will be anything that makes you want to stop and become jaded and cynical. You don’t deserve that, but it also wouldn’t fit you,“ Louis added, trying to finish on a lighter note.

“It doesn’t fit you either!“ Harry interjected. “You’re most beautiful when you laugh and joke around, when you’re baking sand-pies with Mon - God, don’t get me started - and when you just let your beautiful personality bloom.“

“Thanks,“ Louis mumbled, and this time it was him who blushed. “You’re so good to me. And I guess now is the time to say sorry for being a dick to you at the start. So, I’m sorry.“

“It’s okay,“ Harry assured him. “That’s history as well. You must have had your reasons, I don’t think you’re that kind of person who hates someone just for the sake of doing it.“

“I think the worst thing about you was that I could see my younger self in you so well. Your enthusiasm and energy is exactly what I used to have, and I was angry that you had it, while I had lost it. Irrevocably so, I thought. You can’t even imagine, Harry, how grateful I am that you helped me rediscover a tiny bit of my prior passion. I had forgotten that writing felt good, and that I enjoyed teaching. But taking that step was nothing pleasant to do, it was harsh and difficult. I’m deeply indebted to you for forcing me to take that first step.“

“I’ve learnt a lot as well,“ Harry said. “And I mean not just things like how to write different kinds of narrators and such, so I’m very grateful as well. Though you obviously get paid and I don’t,“ he joked, sticking out his tongue to Louis.

Their banter continued for a while, before they decided to return to their respective pencils, notepads, characters, and plot lines. Now, however, there were rather more instead of fewer thoughts swirling around in Louis’ brain, things they had said and things he still wanted to say. He still wasn’t getting any writing done and he kept looking up to see Harry watching him already.

“I love the way you write,“ Louis said when their eyes met once again. “And I mean, I do like your style, your characters, your plot development, all that, but that’s not what I mean right now. I love how you ponder on your thoughts and ideas, how you doodle all over your pages, how you tap the end of your pencil against your lips when you’re deep in thought, how you scribble away so furiously when you’ve found something great. I’ve never fallen in love with the way someone writes, but I might have this time.“

For a few seconds, Harry just blushed. Louis was so goddamn much all at once. Harry found himself thinking that yes, Louis might well hurt him, in the sense that he would be ruined forever for anybody else. He could not imagine anybody else constantly sending him tumbling into a whirlwind of feelings.

“Do you want to know what I love about your writing?“ Harry asked. When he got an eager nod from Louis, he continued. “You’re so expressive, I can see every emotion you’re writing about running over your face. You draw your eyebrows together when you’re writing conflict, you’re smiling when you’re writing about love and friendship and the sides of your eyes crinkle, you get that special glint in your eyes when you’re thinking about something mischievous. I love that.“

“Thanks, love. That means a lot,“ Louis replied quietly. He wanted to take a moment to commit all of Harry’s words to memory carefully. He wanted to be able to replay them in this exact way.

“We’re so sappy, aren’t we?“ Louis chuckled after a minute of silence.

“Is it too much?“ Harry asked, worry obvious on his face.

“No! Nono, love, it’s just perfect, I love it! Although I wouldn’t say no to a bit more physical contact, to be quite honest.“

Harry laughed, partly in relief and partly because he was just so hopelessly in love with the ridiculous man who was making grabby hands at him from the opposite side of the table.

“Then let’s change that,“ Harry suggested. He pushed all his writing material to the other side of the table and dragged his chair over to Louis’ right side.

“Much better,“ Louis commented. His soft, satisfied voice reminded Harry of a sleepy kitten getting ready to curl up and take a nap in a sunny, warm spot.

Indeed, Louis let his head rest on Harry’s shoulder while his right hand found Harry’s left. Fingers laced, heads close together, crowding into the other’s space, they stayed there, content in their little bubble.

“I’m afraid we won’t get much writing done like this, though,“ Harry joked.

“No? Well, maybe I won’t, but you’ve got your right hand free, so go ahead and write,“ Louis didn’t miss a beat to reply.

“You really think I could concentrate on a story and fictional characters while having you so close?“

“Well, I’m so sorry that I’m so distracting, Mr. Styles. I’m not doing it on purpose,“ Louis joked, stealing a kiss to the side of Harry’s mouth before Harry got the chance to reply.

Harry looked at him, star-struck. “Is that better?“ Louis asked. There was a mischievous glint in his eyes that Harry had learnt to recognise and love. Their lips were still just centrimetres away from the other’s. Harry could hear the slight tremor in Louis’ voice. They were so close that he could count the tiny freckles on Louis’ cheek; he saw the glint in Louis’ eyes and the little crinkles around them. He was so beautiful Harry felt like crying. And like kissing him, of course.

“That’s a lot better,“ Harry agreed. “Not for the writing, maybe, but it’s perfect.“

Louis chuckled, and Harry could feel Louis’ breath on his skin, fanning over his blushing cheeks.

“You know what would be even more perfect?“ Louis asked.

“Mhh?“ Harry hummed, bringing the hand that wasn’t still laced with Louis’ up to Louis’ face to caress his cheek and run his fingertips over Louis’ freckles.

“If you could kiss me. Want to make up for what we missed thanks to me being a scared idiot.“

“Sure?“ Harry asked, stilling his hand on Louis’ cheek and looking into Louis’ large blue eyes sincerely.

“Never been surer,“ Louis said before he leaned in to show Harry that it was okay. Without hesitating any more, Harry met Louis’ lips midway.

Their kiss was clumsy like two fumbling teenagers. Harry’s lips weren’t fully pressing onto Louis’, but rather to their right corner, as if he had wanted to give him a cheek kiss and in the last second decided to go for the lips instead. They were giggling into each other’s mouths, which kept interrupting the kiss, and their noses bumped together. Still, it was perfect because it was Louis. Harry could not remember ever having had a better kiss. In fact, he felt as if he could remember only very little in this moment in general.

When they broke apart, Louis gave Harry barely enough time to catch his breath before he chased his lips once more, this time more forcefully.

FOUR YEARS LATER

“I’m home,“ Harry shouted when he came in. He set down his bag and started taking off his coat, when he heard the unmistakeable pitter patter of small feet rushing towards him.

“Hii, Papaaa,“ Monica greeted him, wrapping her arms around Harry as high as she could reach. She had grown a lot lately, Harry thought. Just a few weeks ago she had turned eight. His little baby was slowly growing up, he had to recognise, even though she still ran to greet him at the door when he came home after a long day.

“Hello, sweetheart,“ Harry replied, brushing over Monica’s hair. “How has your day been? How was school?“

“Good,“ Monica said, shrugging her shoulders. “Ms Miller called my handwriting pretty today! And we painted with watercolours! I’ll show you!“

While Monica ran off to her room to gather her painting, Harry entered the kitchen.

“Hi honey,“ he said, moving up behind his husband, who was hunched over his computer at the kitchen table, to start massaging his shoulders.

“Hey darling,“ Louis replied. “It’s been eighteen today,“ he announced, not without pride.

“Eighteen, really? That’s impressive, love,“ Harry praised Louis, who was scrolling through his newly written pages of the day as proof for Harry.

“Mhm. I think that means you better get started so you can keep up,“ Louis joked, turning around in his seat and raising his face up at Harry expectantly.

“You’re absolutely right,“ Harry said grinning, pressing a kiss to Louis’ lips without hesitation. “And that was only number one,“ he said smiling when they broke apart.

“Papa, Louis, look what I painted today!“ Monica shouted excitedly and spread her painting out in front of them on the kitchen table, covering Louis’ writing utensils with her large sheet of paper. “This is you, Papa!“ she proclaimed, pointing at one figure that was painted in rather runny water colours.

“Oh, that’s so pretty, darling! Such a pretty purple jumper you painted for me!“ Harry praised her. “So this is Louis, then?“ Harry asked and intentionally pointed at the smaller figure that was definitely Monica herself.

“Nooooo,“ she cried. “It’s me, of course!“

“Heyy, I’m not that short, Harry,“ Louis complained playfully, pinching Harry’s side. “But what’s that, love?“

“That’s a question mark!“ Monica explained, as if it was the most natural thing to have a question mark in a family portrait. “For the baby, of course!“ she explained when the adults did not seem to get it. “I don’t know what the baby will look like, so how can I paint it?!“

“Oh sweetheart, that’s lovely,“ Harry said, hugging Monica close. Louis could see tears gathering in Harry’s eyes, and he had to admit that he himself had a smile plastered to his face that seemed like it would never leave again.

“How about we put that up, hm? What do you think about that, Mon? Should we put it up somewhere?“ Louis asked, looking around to locate potential places.

“Yes!“ she exclaimed excitedly. “In the living room!“

“In the living room? Why not!“ Louis agreed.

“I’m going to look for a good spot,“ she announced before she had grabbed the painting and rushed off again. Much had changed, but certainly not Mon’s energy and liveliness.

“She’ll be such a good big sister, I’m glad she’s so happy with it,“ Louis sighed. He stood up from his seat to wrap Harry in his arms, who had a single tear running down his face.

“Ms Linn called this afternoon, you know, from the adoption office? She said the papers are ready and we can make an appointment next week. Isn’t that great news?“ Louis whispered.

“Absolutely, it’s the best,“ Harry said, smiling through his tears. He felt so overjoyed that he could hardly handle it. Louis just kept holding him close and kissed Harry’s tear-stained cheeks.

“Two“ and “three“ Harry mumbled as he returned Louis’ kisses all over his cheeks. Louis honestly couldn’t deny that his eyes were a bit wet as well. It was just still unbelievable - even after four years - how lucky he was. He had a loving husband with a perfect daughter, who therefore was also his, another family member to be added soon, a beautiful home, all around blissful domesticity. And he was writing again.

He was writing full time, the way he used to, which had the advantage that he could watch Monica in the afternoons. She did keep him from writing, certainly, but he was more than willing to exchange a few pages every day for spending time with Monica. Some weekends, however, they arranged for Monica to stay at a friend’s house overnight so that they could hole up and write together, which truly worked magic a lot of the time.

Although Louis was certain that he had everything it took to succeed, Harry had not given up his daytime job to write full-time. Louis would have been happy to use his resources and his reputation to help Harry get a contract - he wasn’t good friends with his editor Liam for nothing, after all. He was also certain that Harry had the persistence, the talent, and the enthusiasm to make a job out of his writing, but in the end, it had been Harry’s decision, and he had decided against it. Of course, it wasn’t like he couldn’t still change his mind any time. Sometimes Louis wished that he would so that he would get to spend more time at home with Harry. However, he was rather certain that they would only distract each other and end up doing things very much contrary to writing children’s books.

Still, Harry had not given up writing, he just wasn’t doing it to sell his work. His audience consisted almost entirely of Monica and Louis, but they paid him generously with laughter, curiosity and enthusiasm from Monica’s side and praise, kisses and adoration from Louis’.

Everything was so wonderful that Louis could hardly believe it. After all, maybe happily-ever-after’s did exist; Louis, for one, was sure that he had found his.