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PART I

“All live to die, and rise to fall.”

-Edward II, Christopher Marlowe

 

This had not been Louis's year.

Looking around the waiting room at the other actors (some familiar, some not), Louis has the strange sensation of déja vu. He’s been in rooms like this more times than he’d care to count in the past few months with nothing to show for it.

Louis shakes his head ruefully. Auditioning. The sick and terrible constant in every actor’s life had (unfortunately) been much more present in Louis's life as of late. One of his professors at LAMDA had lived by the words, “You learn more about yourself as an actor in auditions than you ever do on stage.” Louis thinks that’s a load of bullshit. The only thing he’s learned from this experience is that he never should have left his beloved Royal Shakespeare Company. (Adam had said he’d regret his decision. Louis hated proving him right.) But Louis is going to make it on his own. He can do it.

Louis watches some of the other actors' eyes follow the latest reject as he exits. He watches their tight jaws and their jittery hands and wants to laugh. The thing is that Louis doesn’t hate auditioning because of nerves, like some actors do. He just can't stand the tediousness of it. The repetitiveness of it. Hence the déja vu.

It’s times like this that he almost regrets that day in early June when his mum had dragged his eleven-year-old self to see his first play. It had been A Midsummer Night's Dream put on by a local company in Manchester. When Louis's mum tells the story now, she laughs because she had only hoped to make Louis be quiet for a while; little did she realize just how taken he'd be by the whole thing. She jokes that it was the most well-behaved she'd ever seen her son, and Louis just rolls his eyes in response. (But how could he not have been taken with it? The costumes, the lights, the performers. It was the closest thing he’d ever found to magic.)

He wonders absently if his mum ever regrets taking him to that show. After all, it hadn't been a year later that Louis’s dad had left, and Louis’s mum was suddenly a single mother of five with her only hope for future additional income resting on the shoulders of a boy who only wanted to be a stage actor. Louis doesn’t know if he’ll ever stop trying to make it up to her.

Louis is broken from his thoughts when another actor emerges from the hallway leading to the audition room. The guy quickly collects his belongings and avoids eye contact with anyone. (It hadn't gone well, then.) Louis tries and fails to muster any sympathy because the simple fact is that that guy's failure only increases his chances. And he needs this job.

One of the other guys locks eyes with him and they both nod in acknowledgment. Louis only knows him from the worst version of Coriolanus he has ever had the displeasure of witnessing. Assessing the rest of the room, full of his competition, Louis tries not to feel like this is an unfair matchup. He had been a leading actor in the RSC right out of LAMDA, for fuck's sake. If anything gives you the right to an ego as an actor, it’s a resume like that.

But that resume has been blank for months, despite sitting in rooms just like this, filled with inferior competition, so something has to change, and soon.

Louis isn't used to being desperate. And it really doesn’t suit him.

“Louis Tomlinson?”

Louis looks up at the young man who had called his name and rises from his seat, headshot and resume in hand. The guy he starts to walk towards reminds Louis of an overeager labrador puppy, but with a clipboard (probably an intern or assistant).

“Hi there! Mr. Cowell will see you now.”

Louis just nods in response and follows him into the hallway, not feeling up to the normal small talk. Of course, the other guy doesn’t take the hint.

“I’m Liam, by the way. Stage Manager." (So not an intern, then.) "I’m a huge fan of yours, actually. I saw the RSC’s As You Like It, and your Touchstone was fantastic! You really brought an interesting, modern twist to a traditional character, which is why Simon is interested in you for–” He cuts himself off abruptly before smiling over at Louis sheepishly. “I should probably shut up now.” (Yeah, probably.)

They reach the room by the time Liam finishes talking (thank god), so Louis just nods his thanks as Liam opens the door and says, “Okay. When you get in there, just wait for me to sit down before giving your slate. We want your name, age, and the role you’ll be reading for.” He gives Louis a thumbs up and a dopey grin. “Good luck! I’m rooting for you.”

(Well, at least somebody is.)

Louis steels himself and steps into the small room. He makes his way over to stand on the X in the middle of the room, facing two men sitting at a table. The older man Louis knows to be Simon Cowell, renowned West End director and winner of multiple Olivier Awards (and owner of millions of skintight black and white t-shirts). He had taken a hiatus during the past two years to raise his newborn baby, and the theatre world was aflutter with speculation about what he’d pick for his first project. Louis doubts even those closest to Cowell would have guessed that he’d choose to do a modern staging of Marlowe’s Edward II (à la Doran's Hamlet, starring David Tennant), the story of a king who was considered weak by his kin and countrymen, controlled by his basest passions, and paid a tragic price for forsaking the governance of his country. The whole affair is as indulgently dramatic as the original title (The Troublesome Reign and Lamentable Death of Edward the Second, King of England, with the Tragical Fall of Proud Mortimer) would suggest.

Louis scoffs internally. He certainly had reached a low point in his career if he's considering a Marlowe play. But he wants this one. He wants this job under this director. This could be the role that puts him back where he belongs.

The young man sitting next to Cowell is all dark skin and thoughtful eyes, scribbling something on a legal pad (and too beautiful to be fair). He doesn’t seem to even notice that Louis has entered the room (which, rude).

The door opens and closes, admitting Liam carrying two water bottles that he quickly sets down in front of Cowell and the other man before settling in the seat to Cowell's left, mumbling apologies. Cowell merely nods at him before turning to face Louis. The attention makes Louis straighten his spine and raise his chin. He’s ready for this. This is what he’s good at.

“Good afternoon. I’m Louis Tomlinson, twenty-seven, and I’ll be reading for the role of Edward the Second.”

And off he goes. He decided on a piece from Richard III, since it was also about a vilified king. The parallels were easy to draw.

“Look, what is done cannot be now amended:

Men shall deal unadvisedly sometimes,

Which after hours give leisure to repent.”

It hadn’t been Louis’s favorite monologue in the portfolio he put together when he was still at school; he had always preferred Shakespeare’s comedies. But now these words ring true for him. Identifying with a man trying to right his wrongs is as easy as breathing.

That has always been the draw for Louis - losing himself in a character. It’s what he’s always found so powerful and moving about Shakespeare’s works. The ability to share a common experience of a man who lived long ago through the words of another man who lived less long ago. Acting helps Louis feel connected. That’s the best way he’s ever thought to describe it.

“And she shall be sole victress, Caesar's Caesar."

As he finishes, he lets the air sit in the room for a moment (no one gets into this business without being a bit of a drama queen) before looking back to the men sitting in front of him.

Liam looks at him with stars in his eyes, the beautiful specimen has straightened in his seat, and Cowell looks like he's trying to suppress a smile.

"Thank you, Louis. Can I call you, Louis?" Cowell starts shuffling through the resumes and headshots in front of him without waiting for an answer. When he finds what appears to be Louis’s resume, his eyes dart back and forth across it. Louis could recite what he’s reading by heart (Kate, Taming of the Shrew, RSC; Ariel, The Tempest, RSC; Edgar, King Lear, RSC; Touchstone, As You Like It, RSC; Puck, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, LAMDA -- the list goes on). When Cowell looks back up, there’s a challenge in his eyes.

"It's been a while since your last role. What have you been doing?"

Louis plasters on a grin. "Oh, you know how the RSC can be. Too restrictive. I wanted to get out and see the world a little bit. Sow my oats. But I haven't come across a project that excited me yet." (Lie. Lie. More lies.)

Cowell leans back in his chair, probably aware that Louis is lying through his teeth but seemingly enjoying the ruse in spite of it.

"What do you think of the little project we've got going here, then?"

"Well, I don't know too much about it, but the idea of bastardizing Marlowe sounds like a good one."

Cowell throws back his head and laughs. "I suppose you can take the boy out of the RSC, but you can't take the RSC out of the boy."

Louis smiles thinly. "Maybe."

Cowell turns to the alien-robot next to him, who is observing Louis with a frankly alarming amount of focus. "Zayn. Do you need to see anything else?"

“Actually…” the Michelangelo model looks to Cowell, unsure. “Do you think it would be alright for him to read the monologue?”

Simon shrugs and gestures for Louis to approach. “This is my assistant director, Zayn Malik.”

Zayn looks ups from sorting through the pages in front of him and says, “Hey, nice to meet you, man. Is this cool with you? I just feel like we’d all get a better sense of who Edward is supposed to be-”

“Yeah, sure. No problem.” Luckily, Louis is an actor, and therefore able to keep his voice and expression composed. But he knows how big it is to be asked to read from the play in an initial audition. He’s buzzing.

Zayn hands over a piece of the script that he’s quickly marked with where Louis should start and stop. “Okay. So this is near the end of the play, after Edward’s been captured and almost everything has been taken from him. Everything but his crown, which has been the source of all his despair, so he-”

“That’s enough, Zayn. Let’s see how Mr. Tomlinson interprets it.” Simon is watching him with interest, and Louis doesn’t want to disappoint.

“Would you mind if I read through it once?”

“Not at all.”

Louis nods his thanks and then turns his attention to the script. He reads through it quickly at first, mainly looking for punctuation and words to stress. But as he reads, his eyes begin to slow. The emotion in this monologue is nothing like what Louis is used to in his comedies. The amount of bitterness and desperation Edwards feels could fill pages. Louis wants to do it justice.

When he reaches the hastily scrawled Stop, he allows his eyes to drift back up and read the first few lines again. Then, he closes his eyes.

“Okay. I’m ready.”

“Whenever you want to start.”

A deep breath. He opens his eyes to look at the page, but makes sure he looks up to the front for the important bits. The words come to him like it’s second nature, and if he stumbles on one or two words, who cares? That’s to be expected in a cold read. His stomach swoops as it always does in these moments; the rush of blood in his ears, the tingling in his toes, it all adds up to the thrill of performing. It’s a drug, and he likes being addicted.

“But tell me, must I now resign my crown,

To make usurping Mortimer a king?”

Again, a silence stretches in the room after Louis finishes, but this time it’s unintentional. When he finally shakes himself out of the moment, his eyes go immediately to Zayn. His head is bowed, so much so that at first Louis can’t read his expression. (Is he asleep?!) But then, he raises his head, and his eyes twinkle with something like mirth.

"So, is this project 'exciting' enough for you, Louis?" Louis almost jumps. (How could he forget about Cowell!?) He looks helplessly amused by the whole thing, and Louis can’t really tell if that’s good or bad.

"It's certainly something, Mr. Cowell. I'd be an idiot to not want to be a part of it."

Cowell nods and passes his notes to Liam, who smiles at Louis. "Good. You'll hear from my office soon."

"Thank you." He raises his hand and wiggles his fingers towards the three of them with his most mischievous grin. "See you soon."

As Louis walks out the door, he hears Zayn chuckle. "Cheeky."

Maybe this is it. Maybe this is the break that he’d been hoping for.

Maybe this year won’t be so bad after all.

 

-H-

 

This had kind of been Harry’s year.

His hands are shoved into the pockets of his jeans, and he’s rocked back on his heels so they dig into the dirt a bit. He can feel blades of grass clinging to his ankles with the dew that’s making the lawn glitter under the fairy lights that’ve been strung up behind the warehouse. But he’s too busy smiling at what the girl in front of him is saying to do much about it, and he’s not that bothered anyway.

He’s just finished the first performance of the last week of shows in one hell of a run with some of his favorite people in the world. Not just finished, strictly speaking, since tonight’s cycle of “Sigh No More” had ended almost two hours ago. As per usual, Harry’s one of the last cast members still out here.  

Working with one of the most innovative theatre companies in the country has a lot of perks: He’s never been bored in a role; he has a huge amount of creative freedom; he gets to work on service-oriented projects more often than he would in mainstream theatre; and he’s surrounded by the kind of people who’ve never said anything about his fashion choices. Even when he went through his clip-on pirate earring phase. Even when he shows up at work at least twice a week (read: every day) in that hibiscus-patterned headscarf his sister claims looks like it was ripped off some tacky retiree tourist in Hawaii.

But sometimes Harry thinks maybe the best part of his job is getting to speak with the people who come to their performances.  

He just genuinely enjoys being around people. Staying late had always been his thing, back when he was just another vaguely familiar cast member milling about after a show, making conversation with audience members while they waited to speak with lead actors. He likes learning people’s quirks, hearing their speech patterns, seeing what they wear. He wants to know how many cats they have, or which Indian takeout place is their favorite, or why they think they’d rather go to the beach than stay home for Christmas this year.

The only difference between then and now is that now he feels obligated to stay late, instead of just doing it for fun. Because now he’s got his own queue of people waiting to speak with him. Because apparently, people have started coming to the shows he’s in specifically to see him perform.

It’s massive, it’s absurd, that of all the wonderful things on offer in theatre these days – let alone in experimental theatre, let alone in the shows he’s lucky enough to be a part of – people decide what to see based on whether or not he’s in the cast. He should be used to it by now, he guesses, since it’s been like this for a few months, but Jes is still making fun of him for the expression he makes whenever someone says they came to see him (“Honestly H, you couldn’t look more stupidly confused and happy if you tried, it’s like watching Bambi discover snow for the first time, it’s like you forget that you act for a living, I’m embarrassed for you”).

So. Staying extra late is his thing now. He’s lucky if he makes it back to wherever he’s staying by 3AM, but he’s beyond thrilled to be in a position where he has to stay that late just to make sure he speaks to everyone who’s there for him.

As far as Harry’s concerned, it’s a win-win situation. He loves people, and now people love him back, and the least he can do is make himself available to them.

But as wonderful and incredible as it is to be recognized, he also thinks there’s something beautiful in speaking with people who had no idea what they were getting themselves into when they bought tickets. With the rising recognition had come a whole slew of people who want to talk about him specifically - what he intends to do next, which directors he’d never work with, how closely theatre today matches with Brecht’s vision - and while he doesn’t mind talking about himself, sometimes it’s a relief talking to people who don’t expect anything from him.

That's how he feels while talking to the girl in front of him now. She can’t be more than fifteen, and keeps bouncing up on her toes as she talks. Maggie – he’s pretty sure she introduced herself as Maggie, anyway – had spent the first five minutes of their conversation in a violent tirade about how much she hates English literature, and how she only came to the show because she was desperate for extra credit.

Harry had taken a moment to appreciate the kind of English teacher who sees a cast of six actors largely improvising the enactment of various pivotal relationships from Shakespeare’s works - complete with moments of modern dance and partial nudity - and decides to reward students who attend with extra credit.

Maggie must really hate Shakespeare, because she’s still going. “-too stuffy for me, all those haths and thous, can’t follow what he’s saying for the life of me. Why couldn’t he just stick to plain English like a normal person?”

Harry feels a pang in his chest at that. When he first graduated uni, he’d fancied himself a bit of revolutionary. In his defense, so did almost everyone who spent four years at Guildhall, but so many of them ended up doing classic theatre.

Harry, on the other hand, hadn't been interested in doing what had already been done. He didn’t want to start out as the zillionth incarnation of a well-known character, trying to fill the shoes of all the brilliant actors who came before him. He wanted to do something new, and he’d have stomped a trail in glitterboots if that’s what it took to make his own path.

So he decided to do experimental theatre. Once Harry decides on something, he commits, so three years later he can safely say that he’s done experimental theatre.

He’s filled his resume with such roles as “Marcel the Marketing Guy,” which required dressing in uncomfortably-high corduroys and bottle-framed glasses while trying to corral audience members into pop groups (part of an installation on the music industry); “Brick’s Lamp,” which required staying perfectly still and yelling loudly at passing audience members (part of a project about the inescapable pervasiveness of pop culture); “The Tree of Life,” which required spending hours at a time with twigs in his hair, contorting himself into tree-related yoga poses and whispering to audience members about their future exclusively in Sylvia Plath quotes (a project meant to inspire people to question their complacency with the mundane); and “Ariel the Merman,” which required wearing a shell bra and fake tail (part of a performance highlighting the prevalence of sexism in fairy tale narratives). At the time, Nick, his creative director, had claimed the costume choice was meant to defy gender norms. Harry suspects Nick just thought he’d make a pretty mermaid.

So yeah, he’s spent his entire career thus far being about as experimental as it gets, and he’s absolutely loved it.

But sometimes – and he only lets himself think about it sometimes, because he knows he’s made somewhat of a name for himself in this scene, he knows how lucky he is, and he would never take that for granted – he misses the classics. It sits like an itch deep under his skin, an itch he knows he shouldn’t try to scratch, but is there nonetheless.

The same thing that drove him to experimental theatre is what’s driving him back to classic theatre. He feels guilty for the compulsion, he really does, but he also feels like he’s maybe exhausted that side of himself, at least for now. He doesn’t think he brings the same energy to these roles as he did when he first started, and he expects better of himself. He wants to do something new.

Before, he thought the challenge was to make his own path. Now, he sees a different challenge - to take an old path and make it exciting.

And underneath all that, beneath the restlessness and desire to be better and the itch that sits way under his skin, there is a small, small part of himself – the nine-year-old boy in him who first fell in love with theatre at a park performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and swore he’d make it to the stage one day – who can’t forget what got him here in the first place. That part of himself, however small, won’t believe he’s really living his dream until he makes it in classic theatre.

Revolutionary he may be, but he knows the truth – he’s a loyalist at heart.

“This was pretty cool though, you know? The performance, I mean. I think I might join my school’s drama club, if we can do something like this. Bet I could get the club president to agree to it, Ryan’s a right pushover.”

He shakes his hair out of his eyes and pushes it back off his face. Maggie’s grinning at him expectantly, and Harry grins back, beams even, dimples out in full force and the itch temporarily forgotten, because this is his Best Case Scenario. If he can shepherd even one lost sheep into a love for theatre, he’s doing his job right, regardless of his ambitions.

“Glad to hear it,” Harry says. “Obviously I’m biased, but I really think you should. Might as well, you know? S’nothing quite like the theatre.”

“Could you sign my program, maybe? Ryan’ll be easier to deal with if I get the plan sanctioned by an Actual Actor,” Harry can hear the air quotes when she uses the term. “He’s snooty like that.”

Harry hunches over, balancing ridiculously on one leg so he can bear down on his other thigh to scrawl a quick note to this Ryan person, complete with a heart and smiley face, because he figures being nice about it can’t hurt. Just as he’s straightening up to hand the program back to Maggie, a girl appears at her side and takes her hand, kissing her on the cheek before trying to tug her away. “Babe, we’ve gotta go, we’re gonna miss curfew, and you’ve been babbling for like ten minutes.”

Maggie rolls her eyes but smiles automatically, like she can’t help it, and sticks her other hand out for Harry to shake. “Guess we’d better get going then. It was great meeting you, thanks for the note.”

Harry takes it, and says, “It was lovely to meet you, Maggie. I hope drama club works out for you. Come back and see me sometime so I can hear about it, yeah?”

The girl drags Maggie away, and Harry can hear them immediately start bickering as they go. He smiles after them – he’s a sucker for young love, so sue him – and is startled to hear someone clear their throat directly behind him. He whips around, an apology already trying to make its way out of his throat before realizes who’s spoken.

Simon Cowell, one of the most renowned directors in the business, the loyalist of loyalists, in all his v-necked and spikey-haired glory, is eying Harry critically with his arms crossed over his chest. “Hello, Harry. Is it alright if I call you Harry?”

Harry has been called charming on more than one occasion. Harry has maintained professional composure, even in a shell bra. Especially in a shell bra. If there were ever a time for professional composure, it would be now. Harry needs to get his shit together and he needs to do it now.

Harry opens his mouth to respond, and makes some sort of squeaking sound instead. Brilliant.

Luckily Simon doesn’t seem to require a coherent response from him, and continues on without bothering to introduce himself. "I’ve got a project I’d like to talk to you about, but I really must be going. Walk me back to my car?”

Harry looks around for Jes or Matt or anyone who can confirm that this is actually happening, that Simon Cowell is actually addressing him. But his castmates must have already cleared out, because the only people left on the lawn are either those he doesn’t recognize or those he’s already spoken with. So he takes a breath, coughs into his fist, and turns back to Simon with what he hopes is self-assured smile. “Yeah, f’course. It’d be my pleasure.”

 

-L-

 

"Um, hello. My name is Frederick Basse, and I'll be reading for the role of, um, Gaveston."

Louis is impressed with himself for resisting the urge to roll his eyes dramatically. (He obviously has iron clad self-control.) He can already tell that this scrawny, uptight kid will be just another in a long line of disappointing reads today. And Louis is getting fed up.

He shoots a look toward the front of the room, searching for some sympathy or commiseration, but all he finds is Liam looking as pleasant as ever, Zayn scribbling (doodling) on his legal pad, and Simon's face set in its usual impassive expression. (Fuckers.) They only had to sit there and tune out the bullshit; Louis had to actually try to act with these amateurs.

But then, Louis can’t complain too much, since he had officially signed his contract this morning and would therefore be paid accordingly for his work today. Still, all these bad reads were really putting a damper on what was supposed to be his day of victory. (He’d called his mum and everything.)

Zayn has helped to make the day somewhat less boring, but over the past few reads, there’s been fewer little doodles or words that he's surreptitiously shared with Louis via his legal pad. And if Zayn doesn’t stop openly laughing at Louis’s pain between reads, he might stab him with his own pen even if they are friends now.

They’d met for lunch after Simon had officially offered him the role, and they had gotten on like a house on fire. (Besides their love of theatre, they share a mischievous streak that had resulted in them being thrown out of the restaurant, laughing like mad men.) Zayn had even shared all the juicy gossip surrounding the production, much to Louis’s delight.

But Louis had been appalled to hear that Simon hadn't done any preliminary rounds of auditions for the role because he was adamant that "the most important thing is that our Gaveston has chemistry with our Edward" (which, he appreciated, all things considered, but come on). This mindset had resulted in two-plus hours of Louis basically coaching kids fresh out of acting school through this farce of an audition.

But Louis, as ever, is a Consummate Professional.

"Hello there, Frederick. I'm Louis. I'll be reading Edward."

The kid turns to Louis as if noticing he’s there for the first time (which, rude) and proceeds to drop his jaw and do a rather hilarious impression of a fish. (Louis does not laugh. Iron-clad self control.)

"Alright then. Whenever you're ready." Simon commands from the front.

This kid almost drops all of his papers in his rush to prepare, and Louis almost feels sorry for how obviously overwhelmed he is. That quickly changes when the kid gives him no warning before jumping into the scene, eyes glued to the script. (Had this kid ever taken an auditioning class?)

Luckily for the kid, Louis has the scene memorized by this point and is easily able to pick it up. They struggle through the lines, and Louis thinks absently that if anything could suck the joy out of acting, it’s moments like this.

Finally, Simon takes pity on him and ends the torture by raising his hand. Because the kid’s eyes are still glued to the page, Louis has to kick him in the shin to get him to stop. (A task that he takes no pleasure in whatsoever, Consummate Professional that he is.)

"That's enough. Thank you. You may see yourself out." (Oof. The worst kind of dismissal.)

The kid looks so relieved that it’s over, Louis has to wonder what drove him to audition in the first place. If he'd had this kind of opportunity at his age...Well, he wouldn't allow himself to fuck it up, that's for sure.

When the door has closed behind the kid, Louis lets out an audible sigh. "Alright, Cowell. How much more of this are you going to force me to endure?"

"You didn't like the last one?" Simon keeps a straight face, but Louis knows he’s laughing at him. (The bastard.)

"No. I fucking did not. He didn't look at me once the whole fucking read!"

"Maybe he was just intimidated by the great Louis Tomlinson."

"Well, if he's so intimidated by me that he can't do his fucking job then maybe he's not a good choice."

"That was our twelfth read of the day. We have four more. But don't worry, I saved the best for last."

"You better not be joking, Cowell, or your Edward might just die an early death."

Simon just chuckles and waves for Liam to go get the next victim. Louis occupies himself by rolling his shoulder and shaking out his hands, trying to keep his energy up, until his eyes land on Zayn.

"Hey Malik."

Zayn doesn’t deign to look up from his pad. “What?”

“I’m bored. Entertain me!”

“You’re a pest, Tomlinson.”

“You love me. Don’t lie.”

At that moment, Liam returns with the next victim, but Louis hardly spares them a glance. Probably just another incompetent youth anyways. (Louis is starting to think Simon has a fetish for transforming young, impressionable boys into stars.)

Zayn glances up at him with a dramatic eye roll, “It’s not that bad. Don’t lie.”

“It is! But I have to go act now. Thanks for nothing.”

“My pleasure.” And then Zayn’s back at scribbling whatever it was on his legal pad. Louis wants to press the issue and annoy Zayn until he breaks, but he knows it’s time for him to do his job again.

He turns to where he hears Simon talking to the newcomer, but only finds Liam in his field of vision, holding out a water bottle and an energy bar with a smile. (Liam’s got the biggest mother-hen instinct he’s ever come across. Louis supposes it’s what makes him such a sought after stage manager.)

Louis grabs the goods, “Ahhh! Sustenance! Cheers, mate!”

Liam just rubs the back of his neck, “No problem, Louis. I know this hasn’t been the best day, but Simon’s excited about this next one.”

Louis finally decides to check out the new guy talking to Simon. He can only see the guy’s profile, but he looks slightly older than the past couple actors, though not by very much. He’s tall and has his curly brown hair tied up in what appears to be a headscarf. (Louis was not prepared to judge, since up until auditioning for this part he had been sporting the beginnings of a mullet.)

Louis doesn’t recognize him from anything, but then, he hadn’t recognized any of the actors Simon had recruited to audition. He steels himself internally for another horrendous read (Consummate Professional) and turns to Liam. “Wish me luck."

Liam pats him on the shoulder and goes to his seat just as Simon’s conversation with the actor is winding down. Simon turns his attention to Louis.

“Harry, this is our Edward, Louis Tomlinson. He’ll be reading with you today.”

The actor turns towards Louis with a smile on his face, and Louis watches as a dimple appears in his cheek (fuck). His eyes dart from the dimple to the ridiculously unfair green eyes that flash at him with recognition. (Okay, so this new guy’s hot. So what? He’ll probably be terrible to act with. Calm the fuck down, Tomlinson, and do your job.)

Louis plasters his professional smile on his face and offers his hand to the guy. “Hi. Nice to meet you.” (Good job.)

The guy takes Louis’s hand in one of his monstrous ones (seriously, monstrous) and says, “Hiiii. Um. I’m Harry,” in a low drawl that Louis did not expect to come out of that mouth (pink and pert). Louis forces his eyes up from the guy’s (Harry’s) mouth and is confronted by those very green eyes staring back at him. (Oh.)

Simon clears his throat, and Louis drops Harry’s hand after an indecent amount of time for a professional handshake. (Okay. He needs to get his shit together.) He turns to Simon to wait for instruction, but catches Zayn’s smirk and assessing stare instead. He refrains from directing a rude hand gesture towards him.

“Okay boys, let’s get to it then,” Simon gestures for them to get comfortable while he takes his seat. Louis just stands there, already fully prepared, and watches Harry grip the pages of dialogue until his knuckles are white. Louis’s about to say something reassuring to the poor guy when Harry closes his eyes and takes a deep breath.

As he breathes out, his posture settles into something completely different, and Louis can tell at once that it’s not how he'd usually hold himself. Then he lowers the pages in his hand to his side like it wouldn’t matter if he didn’t have them at all, and Louis can feel adrenaline start to pump through his veins, making his fingertips tingle. (Maybe this wouldn’t be as terrible as he thought.)

“Whenever you’re ready.” Simon’s voice is distant from the front of the room because they’ve already locked eyes, and Harry’s gaze has changed from the comfortable affability of earlier into something sharper and more desperate. Something sparks behind his eyes, and suddenly, he’s a breath away from Louis (which, almost gives him a heart attack) and whispering in his ear, “Can I touch you?” (Ummm, what?)

“Ummm, what?”

“Can I touch you?” Harry says more insistently. And, oh. Right, then. So this one had taken some auditioning classes.

“Yes, of course.”

Harry flashes him a quick grin before dropping back a step and schooling his face back into that fierce expression. (Louis’s instincts scream at him to grab Harry and pull him back in, but he's a Consummate Professional.)  

And then, Harry starts,

"My Lord, I hear it whispered everywhere

That I am banished and must fly the land."

Louis is surprised (but also not) that they fall into a rhythm so quickly. Louis had been playing the petulant king during all the other reads, but something in what Harry is doing brings out something much more sincere and frightened from his performance.

When he reaches the line, "Rend not my heart with thy too piercing words: Thou from this land, I from myself am banished," he turns away from Harry, unable to look into those big, pleading eyes any longer.

Suddenly, Harry is crowding in behind him, arms wrapping around his torso and mouth close to his ear to say,

"To go from hence grieves not poor Gaveston;

But to forsake you, in whose gracious looks

The blessedness of Gaveston remains;

For nowhere else seeks he felicity."

As he speaks Harry turns him around slowly and cradles his face in his hands. Tears spring to Louis's eyes unbidden, and yes, this is what acting should be, a give and take. A challenge that they both win.

The rest of the scene passes in a blur of exchanged looks and touches. Louis might cry (but he will not confirm or deny it). By the time Louis says the last line of the scene, he has Harry's hand firmly grasped in his and is headed toward the door like they're actually trying to run away together.

The sound of clapping breaks him out of the moment. When he turns to find the source, he sees Liam looking a little sheepish and clasping his hands firmly in front of him, as if they’re unruly children. (Louis can't blame him. He feels a little bit like clapping himself.) He resists the urge to look back at Harry and instead turns his gaze to Simon. Surely, he saw what Louis felt?

But Simon's face is stoic, and Louis doesn't know what to think. It has to be Harry. That was obvious, right? He looks beseechingly at Zayn, whose legal pad had been forgotten. They lock eyes, and Louis can see that at least Zayn agrees with him.

Harry's hand tightens around his, reminding Louis that they’re still locked together. He loosens his grip as he turns back to Harry, but Harry doesn't let go. When Louis looks at his face, he notes the tight jaw and thin lips. (Harry's nervous.) Louis squeezes Harry's hand twice in reassurance. When Harry looks at him, Louis tries to convey how good he thought that was, how good he thought Harry was. Harry softens a bit and nods.

That's when Simon finally chooses to speak up, "Nice work, both of you. Harry, we’ll be in touch.”

Louis darts a disbelieving gaze at Simon while Harry tenses next to him and responds, “Thank you for the opportunity, Mr. Cowell.” Then he turns to Louis and squeezes his hand, “It was nice meeting you.” Then, he lets go and starts for the door.

(No! This was not how this was supposed to go!)

When the door closes behind Harry, Louis rounds on Simon. “That is bullshit! He was a thousand times better than anyone who auditioned today. If you don’t cast him,” (Louis knew his mouth was working faster than his brain, and that he was bound to say something he’d regret, but fuck it) “I don’t know if I could work on this project with anyone else.” (Well, shit.)

Louis had gotten himself into tight spots before (hence his departure from the RSC), but never had he so royally put his foot in it. Liam is looking at Louis with nothing short of astonishment, and Zayn is shaking his head with a hand over his face.

But Louis isn't going to back down now. He believes in what he said. And strange as it is, he believes in Harry, enough to put his own career on the line. So, instead of backpedaling, he raises his chin in defiance and stares Simon right in the eyes for several tense moments.

Simon finally breaks his gaze to shake his head. “You always assume the worst, Tomlinson. I’m going to break you of that habit.”

Louis doesn’t know how to respond to that.

“Huh?” (Real articulate.)

“I agree with you that Harry will do wonderfully in this role. I could’ve cast him based on your interactions alone. Seeing the read was more of a convention than a necessity.”

Louis still didn’t understand. “So...you are going to cast him, then?”

“Most likely, yes.”

“So then, why did you dismiss him like that?”

“To see how you would react. Now, I know he’s the right choice”

And, oh. Louis is getting real tired of Simon’s bullshit. But there's something that bugs him even more.

“Can I go let him know? It’s terrible to walk out of an audition like that.”

Simon just shoos him away, “Yes, yes. Go and tell him, but he’ll still receive the official offer from my office at some point tomorrow.”

Louis doesn’t wait around for Simon to change his mind. He’s out in the hallway in a second, looking around frantically for Harry. Instead he sees the actors he’s supposed to read with next (which, sucks), so he asks, “Hey, did you see where the last guy who came out went?”

One of the guys looks up, “I think he went to the bathroom.”

“Cheers, mate.”

When Louis pushes open the door to the bathroom, a big body runs right into him and the door.

“Oops,” Harry mutters as he hastily fixes his headscarf.

“Hi,” Louis looks up at him, half-inside the bathroom, and can’t help but smile. They’re going to do big things together.

 

Part II

“What greater blisse can hap to Gaveston,

Then live and be the favorit of a king?”

-Edward II, Christopher Marlowe

 

-H-

 

When Harry had arrived at the studio this morning, he felt like he might shake out of his skin with nerves. He’d woken at 5AM in a cold sweat, just as he had before auditioning for Guilford, and then at the beginnings of each step in the production process, from table reads to rehearsals to opening nights, for almost all the major productions he’d participated in since. It’d been a while, though; almost two years, long enough that he’d thought he’d broken himself of the habit.

It wasn’t that he doubted his abilities. He knows he’s a good actor. But... Maybe he’s only good at a certain type of acting. He hadn’t touched the classics since uni, except in loose reinterpretations. Maybe he was only ever meant to do experimental theatre. He had just made it in the scene, and he loved it. He had been happy.

Simon might have been willing to take him on, but Simon was borderline unreasonable on a good day. No one else in mainstream theatre would take him seriously; they’d think he’s too young, or that his resume’s too obscure. He’d show up at the studio in a few hours and as soon as he opened his mouth everyone would feel sorry for him for thinking he could do this in the first place, and someone would tell Simon to reconsider his casting decision for the good of the show. Or worse, they’d just quietly let him ruin Simon’s comeback because they were too kind to say anything.

He had spent several minutes with his eyes squeezed shut against the orange strips of light stretching through the blinds on his window, listening to the thrumming of his ceiling fan, imagining a number of worst case scenarios, before he’d given up on sleep and rolled out of bed.

He’d tried blasting Ke$ha on an extra-long run. When that hadn’t worked, he’d cut his usual fifteen-minute shower in half to light his favorite candles and meditate. When that hadn’t worked, he’d foregone his usual cup of coffee to brew the mug of green tea he’s been clutching like a lifeline since he’d settled in the deserted conference room an hour early. He’s got all his limbs pressed carefully together in the chair, like the more compact he is the better he’ll be able to contain his growing panic.

By the time other cast members start trickling in, he’s been struggling to breathe evenly under the linoleum lights for the better part of that hour. He manages to smile at those who’re awake enough to look his way, but everyone seems to know each other, and they’re too busy catching up to pay much attention to him. That works for Harry.

His knuckles are white around his mug and he can’t make himself loosen his grip without feeling like he’ll lose control of his forced sense of calm. He puts all his focus into breathing and smiling, because if he loses it before the read through even starts he might have to quit acting altogether out of shame.

But then Louis walks in. “‘The fuck are all of you doing here, I’m fifteen minutes early for fuck’s sake!”

Harry looks up from his tea, and his insides twist up a bit, because Louis Tomlinson, Literal Actual Babe of the RSC, is standing there looking disgruntled in sweatpants and beanie. The urge to make the obvious joke is stronger than his panic-induced nausea. He fixes a wobbly smile on his face and says, “Don’t worry, Louis, the party don’t start till you walk in.”

Louis turns to see who’s spoken, and when he catches sight of Harry, his face changes to an expression of gleeful delight. “You’re absolutely right, Harold.” He flings his messenger bag down on the floor at Harry’s feet and folds himself into the seat next to him, looking around at everyone else in the room. “You’d all do well to remember that.”

It’s a bit nerve-wracking, honestly, because Louis is an established, well-known actor, and the last time Harry saw him was in the loo outside auditions, when Louis was telling him that he’d gotten the role. Harry hadn’t known what to say at the time – the whiplash between Simon’s emotionless dismissal and Louis bursting into the bathroom was a bit too much for him to process. He’d just grinned like an idiot and thanked Louis as many times as he could before Louis winked at him and said he’d see him soon.

Seeing Louis now, when Harry’s trying to make himself smaller in a room full of people he’s sure he’ll let down, Harry is afraid Louis will realize the mistake that’s been made in casting him. But when Louis looks over at him again, his whole face seems to soften. Harry guesses it’s because Louis can spot his nerves and feels bad for him.

It’s humiliating really, but he can’t help but feel grateful when Louis scoots his chair closer to Harry’s. He’s greeted with no more than an “Alright, Harry?” before Louis launches into a rant directed at the room at large about the plague of London traffic, and for some reason the tightness in his chest loosens with every word.

By the time Simon enters the room at 8 o’clock on the dot, Louis has stretched out so that his arm is a warm weight around Harry’s shoulders as he and the girl across from them – Harry assumes she’s their Queen Isabella, because Louis refuses to address her as anything other than “your highness” – compare notes on working with famed director Louis Walsh. Harry’s too busy watching the way Louis’s eyes shine to keep a death grip on his tea.

The chatter around the table quiets when Simon enters the room. Harry wants to squirm away, but he feels like he’s being pinned to his seat from Simon’s look alone. Louis had retracted his arm when he realized the read through was about to start, and Harry finds himself missing the warmth.

Simon hasn’t spoken yet - presumably pausing for dramatic effect - so Harry glances instinctively at Louis in the beat of silence. Their eyes meet. Harry sees the corner of Louis’s mouth quirk up before Louis retrains his attention on Simon, so Harry steels himself and follows Louis’s lead.

“Hello everyone. Welcome to our first table read. Thank you for deciding to be a part of this production. Obviously all of you are aware I have a lot on the line here, and some of you do too.”

Simon pauses again to meet the eyes of each person gathered around the table. Harry swallows and goes to start squeezing the life out of his mug again, but just then Louis’s arm is back and he’s squeezing Harry’s shoulder, and Harry’s too stunned with the contact to follow through.

“I know some of you are nervous, but I wouldn’t have asked you to be here if I didn’t think this could work. You’re all relatively young, but so was I when I directed my first award-winning play. My head is saying it’s a risk, but my heart is saying you’re all worth a shot. In casting this show, I’ve gone with my heart. I’m so impressed with each and every one of you, and I mean that. I know you can do this. Prove me right. Make me proud. Let’s make Marlowe relevant again, shall we?”

Everyone laughs at that, and Harry can feel the tension in the room dissipate a bit. He feels Louis grinning at him before he sees it, and the tension in his chest loosens just a little more. Louis seems to want him here, and that might be enough to get him through this table read, if nothing else.

As Simon moves back to his chair in the corner of the room, Zayn moves forward to take his place, and Harry’s eyes drift down to his script. It's already dog-eared and covered in scribbles and highlighter from preemptive note-taking.

He closes his eyes, listens for Zayn’s instructions, tries to will the remaining nausea down. He only opens them again when he hears the go-ahead, and immediately turns to train his focus on Louis.

Louis’s already looking back at him, hands clasped in front of him on the table. As soon as Louis has Harry’s attention, he nods almost imperceptibly and makes a small thumbs up. Harry’s beginning the opening lines of the play before he has the chance to second-guess himself again.

 

~x~

 

By the time Zayn ends the read through, Harry is exhausted. Calling his role(s) emotionally draining is beyond an understatement. When Harry had originally auditioned for Edward II, it was for the part of Gaveston, the king’s exiled favorite, eventually assassinated by Edward’s usurpers for corrupting the king.

But when Simon’s office had contacted him to offer a place in the show, he’d been informed that he’d been double-cast for Gaveston and Lightborn, which meant he’d also be playing the king’s assassin. Harry had to admit it was an inspired move: it connected the metaphorical and literal parts of Edward’s downfall, and allowed them to do some cool things with the concepts of love and lust, since Gaveston and Lightborn inspired both in Edward.  

That didn’t make playing the roles any less difficult. But somehow Louis made it easy, or at least easier, for him to do his job. Harry responds instinctively to Louis. Sometimes Louis had only to shift his tone or the set of his shoulders, and Harry would find himself reading a scene in a way that completely contradicted the notes he’d painstakingly cramped into the margins of his script.

The best part is that he trusts Louis can read him well enough to do the same. Those runs, where they’re too busy following each other to follow the script, always ended up being the best version of a scene. It’s only the first day and Simon is already calling them his dream team.

About an hour into the read, Harry had given up on pretending that he was going to do anything other than watch Louis. Louis’s too settled into Edward for Harry to see much of him while they’re actually reading scenes – Louis can go from a full-on crinkly-eyed grin while dodging something Liam throws at him to desperately clutching at Eleanor in the half a beat it takes for Simon to call them back to work – but by the end of the day, Harry knows a few things.

For example: He knows that Louis takes his tea with milk but no sugar. He knows that when Louis’s fingers twitch during a read, he’s probably  suppressing the urge to fix his fringe. He knows that when Louis is startled into a laugh, he covers his mouth with the back of his hand, like he's trying to force it back in. He knows that Louis is perfectly comfortable straddling the line between respectful and insubordinate when dealing with Simon, all with a smile on his face. He knows that Louis will glance down to fiddle with his shirt before looking up at him through his lashes if Harry moves into his space unexpectedly to deliver some of their more intense lines.

Harry refuses to let himself feel weird about the mental notes he's taking. Louis is a professional that he’s admired in the past and can learn from now. For all intents and purposes, he’s Harry’s love interest. Harry’s basically paid to watch him this closely, for goddsakes. This casting choice was made for a reason. They have chemistry, just like they’re supposed to. It’s not weird.

Louis is just...he’s kind of great. He’s the kind of person you sit back and admire what he’s like. Harry’s had chemistry with other actors before, of course he has, especially since the theatre he’s used to is so much more dependent on the interaction between actors than on a set script. But it’s never been quite like this.

Harry can’t figure out if Louis is just that good at what he does - it is his job to have chemistry with Harry, after all - or if it’s something about Louis himself that allows them to work so well together. It’s a bit troubling, if he’s honest, because Harry has been down this road before.

Harry gets attached to cast members during productions. It's easy to become infatuated with someone when you spend everyday together for weeks at a time. But then everyone goes their separate ways, and maybe the next time you're at the same audition you'll smile at each other from across the room, or maybe you'll meet up for coffee every once and a while if you're lucky. But it's not the same.

Losing that closeness used to be hard for him to deal with, but Harry has a system now.

It’s like that summer during grade school when he, his mum, and Gems trekked across the continent to sightsee for three weeks. They stopped in cities for a few days at a time, did absolutely everything there was to do there because they knew their time was limited. For each place they visited, Harry would learn some of its quirks and secrets, fall a little bit in love with where he was. And just when he’d gotten settled, they’d move on. The first week of the trip had been hard, because he spent so much time missing the places they had to leave behind.

But then it occurred to him that in each new place, there were a whole new set of things that made it special. If he let himself be nostalgic about the places he’d been, he’d never be able to appreciate anywhere else. He’d enjoyed the trip much more after he figured that out.

So Harry lets himself get infatuated with people, then lets himself move on. He sometimes gets a little reckless with himself, because he’ll take what he can get when it’s offered, and sometimes that makes things hard when it’s not there anymore. But he’s gotten a lot better at letting go when it’s time to move on.

From this table read alone, Harry knows he's going to get attached to Louis. That’s the easy part - he’s good at falling in love. As for the rest of it...it’s not so easy. But he’s learned how to deal, just like he did on that trip. For all the people he’d been infatuated with, none of them had felt like home. He’s content to get attached and let go until someone does.

As much as Harry watches Louis, he also learns about some of other people sitting around the table. Niall Horan, possibly one of the most popular TV personalities in the UK, is downright fucking scary as their lead villain, despite the fact that by the end of the first break he’d laughed loudly at all of Harry’s fruit puns and invited everyone, including Simon, to his flat for a “Fuck Yeah We Survived a Week of Cowell” cast party the following Saturday. He seems to know everyone in the room, and Harry can’t tell if he actually does know everyone in the room or if Niall simply doesn’t consider anyone a stranger.

Harry learns that Eleanor Calder, who’d earned critical acclaim for her role in one of the BBC’s more recent historical dramas, is actually a sweetheart, despite how intimidating she is in her immaculately-matched outfit and flawless makeup. She delivers her lines quietly, is almost lovingly cruel in the way she says each word when she’s plotting the hostile takeover of the kingdom.

But she flashes Harry a small smile and wordlessly hands him an extra pen when he drops his but is too afraid of disturbing anyone’s concentration to dive under the table to grab it. He’s meant to hate her character, but the way Louis and Eleanor play off each other, he almost believes Edward and Isabella might have been happy together if they didn’t have a country to run. And, you know. If Edward wasn't gay.

Liam and Zayn aren’t sitting at the table, strictly speaking, but they hover in the background. Harry sometimes feels Liam as a warm presence over his shoulder, silently dropping scrawled-on post-it notes from Simon or Zayn onto his script if they have something to say but can’t be bothered to interrupt a scene. At every break, Liam makes a point of complimenting each of them on something he thinks they did well in the last few scenes.

Zayn’s a bit more distant. He’s inhumanly good-looking, and when he isn’t giving instructions, he’s hyper-focused on his moleskin. It usually takes him a few minutes to reemerge from whatever cocoon he’s wrapped himself in once breaks are called. But he smiles a bit and roll his eyes at Louis’s antics, and thanks Liam when Liam brings him things, so Harry can tell he’s not cold or aloof, just reserved.

Another thing he notices is a girl who quietly enters the room and moves towards Simon. Her hair is a light shade of lilac, held back off her face with what looks to be measuring tape, so Harry concludes that she must be doing something with costumes.

She has to pass behind Liam and Zayn to get to Simon, and Harry sees Zayn move to scoot his chair in without looking up from his moleskin. But when the girl brushes her hand over his shoulder in a silent apology for making him move, Zayn looks up from his notes for the first time since the last break and proceeds to do a literal, actual double-take. Harry hadn’t been aware humans actually did that in in real life, but then, Zayn’s probably too pretty to be human anyway. Figures.

Harry files this information away for later and refocuses his attention on Niall, who’s spitting his lines venemously at Louis. As interesting as that interaction was, he doesn’t have time to think about anything that isn’t his job. Which, of course, requires watching Louis. (Or something like that. Right.)  

So yeah, by the end of the day he’s absolutely fucking exhausted, but he’s also really happy with the work they’ve done. He likes the script and he likes the people he’s working with, and so far no one has tried to kick him out for being a fraud. For the first time since he got the role, he feels like rehearsal on Monday might go well.

 

-L-

 

Louis is seriously concerned that Simon Cowell might actually be insane.

He surreptitiously looks around at the rest of the cast through his spread legs, blood pounding in his face from staying upside down for too long. Apparently he’d signed himself up for the loony bin when he agreed to play this role, because not a single one of his cast members seem bothered by the fact that they’ve now spent close to an hour building a “human machine” as some sort of warm-up/bonding exercise.

This is exactly the sort of silliness that he had looked forward to avoiding after uni. Granted, the professors at LAMDA had never lowered themselves to this sort of exercise, but Louis had done his fair share of improv warm ups. (He’d rather forget the time he was forced to play a game show host obsessed with carrots.)

But never in his life as a professional actor had been forced to degrade himself by sticking his arse in the air with his head between his legs and arms outstretched to play some sort of “lever” in this infernal “machine.” The only plus side he could see in the situation is that Harry had tagged himself into a position right behind Louis’s perfectly displayed arse (and if there was anything Louis was more proud of than his acting skills, it was his arse).

The thing about Harry is that Louis can’t figure him out. There's something that draws Louis to him, but he honestly has no idea why he's attracted to a poorly dressed, pseudo-hipster. One minute Harry’s like a kid in a candy store, and the next he’s so serious that his face ages years.

But Louis loves a challenge, and Harry Styles most definitely fits in that category. And sure, part of the allure might be that Louis knows he shouldn’t pursue another member of the production. (Had he learned nothing?) But Louis has never been good with things he couldn’t have.

When he peers up at Harry from in between his legs, Harry’s gaze is most definitely fixated on Louis, which makes Louis’s spine tingle (or maybe that’s the loss of blood flow). Harry does not seem the least bit perturbed about how long this exercise has lasted, though, and if Louis could he’d shake that dazed and content look right off of his stupid (gorgeous) face.

He cranes his neck to see if he can find Niall, and when he does, he’s even more disappointed. Of course, Niall thinks this game is a right laugh. (Somehow he managed to score a position sitting on Gerard’s back with his feet propped in Eleanor’s arms, the little shit.) He’d get no help from that corner.

He briefly considers just standing up and walking out, but he knows that as much as he wants to, he can’t. He’s the title character of this cast. He can’t set a bad example. (And even though he may come off as a diva, he really isn’t one.)

Just as he resigns himself to a stiff back and maybe a burst blood vessel or two, Simon calls out, “Wonderful work! All of you. Did you feel how connected you were? A machine working as one towards a larger purpose. That is what we are.”

As Louis tries to straighten his back, he wishes he could point out the fact that they should be working towards the larger purpose of actually staging the play. But he holds his tongue.

“Okay, everyone. Take fifteen. Then we’ll start blocking from the beginning." Liam looks as chipper as ever as he walks through the actors milling about, handkerchief swinging merrily from the back pocket of his trousers.

Louis had been waiting for just the right moment to tease him about his ridiculous accessory. (His own unhealthy obsession with braces when he was in uni has no bearing on this situation whatsoever.) He’s just about to strike when Harry approaches him, scuffling his feet like he does. (Louis refuses to find it adorable.)

“Hello, Harold! What can I do for you? Need an extra lever?”

Harry dimples up (beautifully) and shakes his head. “Nah, was just going to ask if your back's alright. You were holding that pose for a long time.”

(Don’t make it dirty. Don’t make it dirty.)

“Oh, I’m right as rain, Harold. I’m pretty flexible.” And because Louis is a terrible, terrible man, he adds a wink for good measure. He finds it hard to muster much guilt, though, since Harry flushes prettily and licks his lips. (Well, then.)

“You seem, uh. Bendy,” Harry mumbles in that low drawl, and shit, Louis can feel a tightness in his trackies that should not be there on the first day of staging rehearsals. (Louis should know better, honestly.)

“So you got all your lines memorized, yet?" Not the most subtle transition, but Louis works with what he has.

Harry looks momentarily like a confused kitten, as if his brain isn’t working fast enough to keep up with such an abrupt topic change. Once he clicks back in, though, he starts shifting from foot to foot. “I think so? Almost. S’a little weird for me, since I’ve been doing stuff with pretty much no script for the past few years. My memorization’s out of practice.”

Before he’s really decided to, Louis finds himself saying, “Well, if you ever need some help, just let me know. Memorization’s my specialty. After years at the RSC, I better be.”

Harry’s eyes shine (like a fucking Disney princess). “Ahhh, right. You are the young star of the RSC, ‘m sure your memorization skills are second to none.”

“You’re right, peasant. I am the king of memorization.” Louis puffs up his chest and looks down his nose, but then Harry’s giggling and he can’t help but join.

“Did you like it?” Harry asks when they’d finished.

“Like what?” Louis messes with his fringe.

“The RSC. I always wondered what that’d be like, you know. Because, like, Shakespeare’s the ultimate. I mean, he’s, like, the reason I wanted to act when I was in grade school, but my school only did, like, Grimm’s Fairytales. Not the real ones, y’know, ‘cause those are way too violent. But, um. Anyway, I got to be the Golden Goose, which was fun, I guess-” Louis leans against the wall and makes himself comfortable. He might be here for a while before Harry gets to his point. (It should annoy him, but he’s kind of just fascinated.)

“-the costume was a bit constricting, though, and I was going through my ‘no clothes’ phase, which caused lots of problems. Told my mum that if we’d just done Midsummer Night’s Dream like I asked, it would’ve been fine, ‘cause Puck doesn’t wear that much.”

Louis nods, “Completely understandable, really. Midsummer has always had a special place in my heart. I saw it at a park in Manchester when I was young, and it’s what made me want to be an actor.”

Harry’s eyes widen, and wow. That’s - a little frightening actually. “Really? The same thing happened to me! Well, like, the seeing Midsummer in a park in Manchester bit. I must’ve been...nine or ten? It was before the Golden Goose incident in any case.”

(Woah. That’s weird.)

“Weird. Maybe we were at the same park! Must have been something in the air if it made actors of both of us.”

Harry nods enthusiastically. “D’you remember when Puck came out into the audience and threw flower petals? I kept a handful on my dressing table until Gems threw them away when she was cleaning one day. Didn’t talk to her for a week.”

“Yeah! I kept some petals, too. How bizarre.”

“Must be fate.” Harry dimples up, and Louis resists the urge to agree.

“I always wanted to do Shakespeare ‘cause of that show. Must’ve been nice to it for a living.” Harry leans on the wall next to Louis and bumps their shoulders together. “Why’d you leave?”

Louis shrugs. “A guy.” That little crease Harry gets between his brows that he when he’s confused appears, so Louis plows on. “Well, kind of. I was dating someone in the company, and then he got promoted to artistic director. You know how people can be. They said I would get leads because of our relationship.”

“That’s shit.” Harry looks offended on his behalf, and Louis loves him a little bit for it.

“Even if it wasn’t, I knew that if I stayed, my casting would always be questioned. So I left.”

A pause. “What about the guy?”

For a second, Louis isn’t sure what he’s referring to. “Oh! Adam. Yeah. He told me I’d regret leaving, and before I got this job, he was right. But now it’s time to prove the lot of them wrong.”

“So you aren’t still dating, then?”

“Nah. He was a good enough guy, and we still talk from time to time. But he didn’t support my decision, so I didn’t really see a reason for us to stay together.”

He looks up and realizes that he and Harry’s sides are now pressed together from shoulder-to-foot, their faces close enough that Louis can feel Harry’s breath on his cheek. (Jesus.)

“Um. Believe me, I learned my lesson about in-cast dating during a production. Rarely leads to anything good.”

He can’t take his eyes off of Harry’s collarbone. (This was getting embarrassing.)

He’s about to try to steer the conversation back to safer waters when Niall comes bounding over and pulls Harry away from the wall to jump onto his back, and Harry lifts him like he weighs nothing, totally unfazed (fuck).

One thing that Louis’s picked up about Niall is that he's very physically affectionate with everyone, even people he hardly knows, and no one seems to mind. It’s extraordinary. (Even if Louis does selfishly - stupidly - wish he’d keep his hands off Harry.)

“Help! Hide me!” Niall screams and clutches tighter onto Harry. It’s then that Louis notices a handkerchief tied around Niall’s head.

“Aww, Niall! I wanted to steal that,” Louis pouts, because losing a chance to pick on Liam is like losing the lottery; it’s likely to happen, but it’s still disappointing.

“Well, help and hide me then, ya’cunt!”

Louis sniffs, “I do not respond to such vulgarities.”

Harry lets out a violent snort of laughter that scares Niall enough that he jumps off of Harry’s back just as Liam enters the room with a water bottle in hand and murder in his eyes.

“Fuck. Thanks for nothing.” Niall turns and leaps away, past Zayn, who’s coming from the opposite direction.

“Come back here, Horan! I need that!” Liam shouts, zooming past Zayn as well.

“Vat’s happenin’?”

“The usual, Zayn. I’ve come to the conclusion that everyone involved with this show is a complete nutcase.”

Zayn runs a hand through his quiff, “I’d have to agree with you there. I don’t understand how things can already be behind schedule on the first day.”

Louis claps him on the shoulder, “Maybe you should talk to your man Cowell, since it was his ‘exercise’ that put us an hours behind.”

“Oh, no! But I loved the exercise. There was so much energy and, like, I really felt like we all bonded a lot more-” Harry looks so sickeningly sincere, Louis can’t help but take pity on him.

“Yeah, I suppose, but I love staging a show we only have two weeks more to work on.”

At that, Harry turns pale and nods in agreement, “Yeah, I s’pose you’re right.”

“You should just accept it now, young Harold. I am always right.”

Zayn rolls his eyes, “I’ll try to see if I can talk to him about it, but he seems really set on doing an exercise every morning. Part of his ‘vision,’ I guess.”

Louis groans. “I don’t envy your job, mate.”

“Thanks, arsehole. Now, you might want to get some water or something before we start because I think Simon’s gonna try to get the first three acts blocked today.”

Louis glances at the clock. He only has five minutes before they start. “Shit. Yeah. I’ll be right back,” he glances at Harry, “You coming?”

 

~x~

 

Blocking rehearsals went as smoothly as could be expected. Which means, not nearly smoothly enough. But they survived because for as much smoke Simon blew out of his ass, he did seem to know what he was talking about when it came to choosing the right people for this production.

It’s funny how when you’re in a play, people you hardly know become as close as family in a matter of days. A big dysfunctional family. Louis puts it down to one of the magics of theatre.

Throughout the week he’d become close enough with his fellow actors and the designers who’d been traipsing in and out of rehearsals to know everyone’s home towns, number of siblings, and greatest fears. (Okay. Maybe not the last one, but they’re still pretty fucking close.)

For example, Liam is a brilliant stage manager (even if he had little panic attacks every so often when they got too far behind schedule), and he keeps all of them on task without being too overbearing, which allows them room to play and settle into their characters. But he also is surprisingly insecure because he was bullied as a child. (Louis honestly has no idea how he got Liam to tell him that. Ah, the magic of theatre.)

As for his fellow actors, Eleanor is stunning and downright chilling as Queen Isabella, Niall is surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly) terrifying as Louis’s main rival, and Harry- well, Harry is Harry. (Whatever that means.)

Just the other day, Harry had shown up with yellow polish on his nails and when Louis couldn’t help but comment, Harry had only smiled and shrugged. “I was babysitting for my friend, Lou, and Lux takes right after her mum, wanting to doll me up all the time.”

Louis raised a brow, and Niall grabbed Harry’s hand to examine it. “She did a pretty good job, I’d say. How old is she?”

“She’s only three. I cleaned up the edges a bit when she was done,” Harry said with absolutely no shame.

“I used to do the same with my sisters,” Louis examined his fingers for phantom polish. “Because you don’t want them to think you didn’t like it when they see you’ve taken it off.”

Harry beamed, “Exactly!”

Niall just looked between them and shakes his head. “Okay, you saps. I’m off to lunch. Ready, Gerrard?”

On the other side of the room, Gerrard looked up from where he was already eating lunch, confused. “Huh?”

“Come on, G. I’ll treat ‘ya!”

And off Niall skipped, a still confused Gerrard in his wake. Louis had watched them go with a rueful shake of his head before turning back to Harry, who was watching him with curiosity.

“How many sisters do have?”

“Four. All younger. Do you have any?”

Harry nodded, “One older. I used to follow her around everywhere.”

Louis had smiled because he could totally see a little duckling Harry Styles.

“I always wanted a bunch of siblings. I bet that was nice.” Harry continued.

Louis messed with his fringe, “I guess, but not all the time. It was hard to be my own person with so many people around all the time.”

They’d gone to lunch after that, and Louis had told Harry stuff about his family that he didn’t really share; stuff about his dad leaving, and being the only boy in the house, and coming out, and debt, and his mum. And Harry just listened and said the right things when prompted (“All any mum wants is for their kids to be happy.”), and Louis was completely charmed.

It’s around this time that Louis, Zayn, Niall, Liam, and Harry form their own little group within the cast. Right before lunch break on one of their busier days, when everyone had left late the night before and gotten in early that day, Louis had gone in search of a better crown for Edward because the one that the costume designer, Perrie, had picked just wasn’t doing it for him.

Louis knew for a fact that there was a giant costume closet somewhere in the basement of the building. It hadn’t taken much convincing to get Harry to go with him.

“Just in case there’s a Phantom of the Studio living down there, you can distract it while I run away. You’ve got that whole curly-haired bright-eyed look going on, and that headscarf is basically a ribbon. You’re a dead ringer for Christine, you can’t expect me to pass that up when my own safety is at stake.”

Harry had rolled his eyes but he couldn’t hide his dimple at the compliment (Of course the idiot took it as a compliment), and he hadn’t put up a fight when Louis took his wrist and marched him away from his conversation with Gerard.

Liam had caught up with them as he was leaving a meeting.

“Wait, Harry, I need to talk to you about your entrance in Act Three, we had to change the lighting for–”

Louis hadn’t slowed down or loosened his grip on Harry, and he made sure to use his most steely, determined, ‘you-will-deeply-regret-it-if-you-try-and-stop-me’ voice for good measure.

“Not now Liam, we’re on an important mission, you can talk to H after.”

Liam had blinked at them once before trailing behind them, relaying the information to Harry as they walked. (Apparently that tone didn’t work on Liam. Huh.)

Niall and Zayn must’ve heard the commotion they were making in the hallway, because they popped out of the break room as the three of them passed.

“Are we all going to lunch then?”

Niall was already holding what looked like an entire box full of take-out, but he followed after them anyway without waiting for an answer.

“Niall. Niall, where are you taking our food. Niall.”

So that’s how all five of them had ended up in the maze of hallways under the studio, after forcing an uncooperative and unsettlingly creaky door open.

That’s also how they ended up locked down there, because Niall’s arms were too full of food that Zayn was too busy trying to take from him, and Louis’s arms were too full of Harry, and Harry was too busy earnestly listening to Liam listing stage directions, for any of them to remember it might be a good idea to prop the door open.

They hadn’t realized anything was wrong until Niall had gotten up in a huff to get utensils, which apparently their takeout people had forgotten (rude).

But Louis was grateful for Niall’s giant box of food (turned out to be Japanese takeout) because it was lunch break and no one was likely to be back for at least another forty-five minutes, if not longer. They spread everything out and had a picnic of sorts on the floor, and Niall had only grumbled about having to share his food under his breath once or twice (a sign of how much he loved them).

Zayn and Liam and Niall had formed a semi-circle around the food, while Louis took the only chair in the room (he’s the lead and the lead’s a king, it’s only right for him to have a throne), and Harry leaned against his legs on the floor with his curly hair in easy reaching distance from Louis’s wandering hands. (And so what if Louis took advantage of that?)

Apparently they’d ordered an inordinate amount of miso, though, and Niall had thrown a fit about not having any spoons to eat it with.

Zayn had crinkled his eyebrows in confusion. “No, I’m pretty sure you drink it.”

Niall looked at him skeptically before sticking his fingers in it and trying to scoop it out.

Zayn shook his head, alarmed. “Ya drink it! Yadrinkit yadrinkit yadrinkit.”

Niall sighed, but took the Styrofoam cup of soup and took a sip. “Nah mate, it’s soup, you need a spoon. S’a shame. Guess I’ll stick to sushi, then.”

Eventually, Perrie came by to grab something from the room and let them out. But by that time, Louis had found the perfect crown, Harry had found a big pink bow to put in his hair, Liam had loosened up enough to joke around with them, Niall had settled his head in Zayn’s lap, and the five of them had formed a bond over sushi and bursting bladders.

Poor Perrie had nearly been run over by the lot of them (minus Zayn, who had shuffled around her, avoiding eye contact) in their rush to get to the nearest bathroom.

The day after their little adventure, they had finished staging the show, and Simon started pushing them all further and further into their characters with suggestions like, “What is death to Gaveston?” and “What would Edward do if he wasn’t king?” Accordingly, rehearsals have become more and more exhausting. Louis feels like if he closes his eyes, he might not be conscious again for another ten hours.

Edward is turning out to be quite a lot to handle. Louis doesn’t want him to be the useless homosexual that original portrayals cast him as, but he also doesn’t want to trivialize his struggles. Walking that line between strong and weak is really worrying him, and he’s constantly checking in with Simon too make sure he isn’t tilting Edward too much one way or another.

Luckily, they’re rapidly approaching the end of Saturday’s rehearsal before their day off, and Simon has opted to work Act Five scene three, which means Louis gets a break. Or he’s supposed to, but Perrie has come to have him try on his costume pieces so she can make any necessary adjustments tomorrow. He loves her to bits with her lilac hair and brilliant sense of humor, but after the week he’s had, it really isn’t his fault he’s giving her a hard time.

“Louis, for fuck’s sake! Stay still unless you want a pin to your precious arse!” Perrie says around the pins in her mouth, glaring at Louis from her stool at his feet.

Louis does feel (slightly) bad about making her job harder, “Sorry, Pez, but I’m exhausted.”

“And you think I’m not?!” She exclaims as she continues to pin the hem of his trousers, “Malik keeps breathing down my neck about ‘color palettes’ and all this shit, having me re-do perfectly good designs for no reason, and then saying he liked the first one better! I swear if he says anything to me about these trousers, I’ll-”

“Ouch! Bloody hell, Pez! Watch where you stick those things!”

Perrie quickly draws back and rolls the leg up to see if there’s any damage, “Sorry! Sorry, Lou! I’m just,” she drops the leg back down, apparently deeming Louis’s wound minor (it hurt like hell, though), “I realize how lucky I am to be costuming this, you know? Like, at most companies, it would be years before I got to head my own show, and I was so excited-am so excited.

But Malik just keeps coming ‘round with more and more things for me to do or fix or change completely, and every time he comes in, I feel a little more like I don’t deserve to be here - Which I do, for the record,” she shoots him a look of steely determination with those big, blue eyes of hers, “I’m fucking awesome. But I’m getting tired of someone making me feel like I’m not.”

Well, shit. Louis had no idea this was going on. Not like there’s any way he could, since he’s almost always on stage at this point, but what the fuck does Zayn think he’s doing?

“Do you want me to talk to him about it? Because I’ll totally knock some sense into him.”

Perrie laughs and shakes her head as she begins to pin the hem again, “Nah. I’m a big girl. I can take care of myself. It’s stupid, honestly.”

“It sounds like he’s being a dick.”

“He kind of is, yeah,” Perrie giggles, “But I can handle him.”

Louis is about to protest some more when Harry pokes his head into the room with a hand over his eyes.

“Anyone indecent?”

“Always.”

“Come on in, Harry. He’s just teasing,” Perrie finishes the hem and stands up to survey her work as Harry ambles into the room. He stops next to Perrie and mimics the way she looks Louis up and down. Louis squirms.

“Nice work, Perrie.” (Louis preens a little bit. So what?)

“Thank you, Haz. By the way, can you try on your Lightborn t-shirt for me real quick?”

Harry shrugs, “Yeah, no problem.”

Perrie grabs a shirt from the rack that looks like an old distressed Ramones t-shirt and hands it to Harry. But Harry is already stripping off his flannel and (Wow. Okay.) Louis is now wide awake. (Holy tattoos.) But just as quick as the flannel is off, the t-shirt is on, and that’s not much better for Louis, to be honest.

Perrie is an evil genius. Of course, the man sent to tempt Edward to death would be dressed in a sinful Ramones tee. Louis desperately hopes she’s done fitting these pants, because otherwise she’ll need to be worried about how uncomfortably tight they suddenly are. Or she’ll just laugh at him.

Anyways…. “So, Harold. What brings you here?”

“Oh, right,” Harry blinks, as Perrie fusses over the way the t-shirt lays on Harry’s shoulders (Oh, to be the glove on that hand…), “Are you guys going to Niall’s tonight?”

Louis tilts his head, “Ummm, no. Why?”

Harry deflates. “Oh, it’s just. He’s throwing that little end-of-the-week, yay-we-did-it sort of thing at his flat after rehearsal, remember? And I just thought it’d be nice if, like, everyone was there?” the awkward shuffle, “You know, for cast bonding reasons.”

Louis has totally forgotten and is about to say as much when Perrie, who’s still behind Harry’s shoulder, rolls her eyes so hard he’s surprised they don’t pop out, “Right. Cast bonding, I see.”

Harry quickly turns, only to receive a slap from Perrie for moving without permission. “I didn’t mean you weren’t invited, Pez. By cast I meant-”

“Oh, I know what you meant, sweetie.” She turns him back around to face Louis and wink at him over Harry’s shoulder. (Which, what?)

“I guess I can go.” Louis gives in (as if it was ever a question), and Harry’s entire face brightens, “But I probably won’t stay long. I’m bloody exhausted, H.”

“Yeah, I’ll swing by, too. I definitely need a drink, and rich TV star better be paying.”

Harry claps his hands together like a five-year-old who just won a beauty pageant. Louis tries and fails to understand why he's so fucking endeared.

 

-H-

 

Harry is drunk. Harry is very, very drunk. He didn't mean to be, because this is his first social outing with his cast and he doesn’t want to come off as unprofessional, but holy shit whatever the fuck Niall put in that punch was definitely alcoholic even though it hadn’t tasted like it, because right now he’s on Niall’s living room table, grinding onto the broom he’s using as a mic stand and crooning a mash-up of “Do I Wanna Know” and “212.”

Niall’s living room is dimly lit, but when Harry had first come in, house plant in hand, he’d been sober enough to notice an entire wall of floor-to-ceiling windows and the outlines of framed art and signed movie posters arranged across the remaining three walls. There were long couches gathered around a glass coffee table in front of a stone fireplace, and Harry remembers thinking it was a little more modern and..tasteful? than he would’ve expected from Niall.

He sort of imagined Niall’s place would be more like a glorified pillow fort. A really fancy, really expensive, Irish flag-patterned pillow fort, filled with guitars and pinball machines. Not like an ad out of a Martha Stewart magazine.

But soon after walking in, Niall had traded the plant for a fishbowl full of..something..and yelled “Drink up, ya fucker!” before being called back into the maze of bodies that filled the entire first floor of Niall’s place, and that was the last chance Harry had to think about Niall’s home decor.

Harry had almost immediately found people he knew from either his current cast or previous projects - apparently everyone he knew also knew Niall - and spent the rest of the night getting steadily drunker on whatever the hell Niall had put into that fishbowl, which somehow kept refilling? Niall had given him a magical fishbowl with a magical drink in it. Or his friends were topping it off when he wasn’t looking, that was also likely. But also magic.

So, yes. He’s on Niall’s living room table, and the whole room’s a bit shiny, and also a bit spinny, and he’s belting out “What's your dick like homie, what're you into, huh?” when Louis walks in. Suddenly everything gets a whole lot brighter but also a whole lot more centered, because his whole focus is on Louis.

Until then Harry'd made a point of seeking eye contact with each and every person gathered around the makeshift stage, because he’s pretty sure they’re the ones who volunteered him for karaoke in the first place and they needed to own up to what they’d done, and also because he has exactly no shame.

But as soon as Louis appears Harry zeroes in and sings only at him, even though he’s dropped the sultry pout he’d been going for because he’s grinning too widely to get the words out properly, because Louis is here and Harry’d missed him. He figures no one’d blame him anyway, because Louis’s wearing a white scoopneck that’s basically see through so Harry can see the ink looping across his collarbones, which - no fair, tattoo-revealing shirts are his thing, Louis shouldn’t use his own move against him - and black jeans that were probably spraypainted on.

When Louis sees Harry with the broom he almost doubles over laughing, his eyes crinkling into slits and pointy teeth glinting in the disco lights Niall had hit as soon as they brought out karaoke Apparently he has them specifically installed before every party for “ambiance reasons.”

Harry finishes his song and bows with a flourish. When he looks up again, Louis’s there to help him off the table. “Are you quite finished?”

Harry pouts at him, tries to poke him in the chest but actually ends up poking him in the neck instead because he’d miscalculated how much shorter Louis is. “Hey.” He draws out the word, poking Louis again for emphasis. “You should be thanking me, that was a stunning performance.” He looks around for someone to back him up. Luckily Niall barrels into them just then and throws an arm around each of their shoulders.

Except that’s unlucky, because now he’s not leaning on Louis, and he liked leaning on Louis, Louis was all warm and sturdy. But he has his honor to defend, so he fixes Louis with a challenging look and makes do with leaning into Niall. “Niall, tell Louis I was brilliant. M’proper karaoke popstar material.”

“You were brilliant, you’re proper popstar material” Niall agrees easily. “Now get that bony arse of yours into the kitchen, a bunch of my mates just showed up and when I said you were here they all lit up like a bunch of fuckin Christmas trees, I swear to god. You’d think you’re the one who provided the free booze.”

Harry smirks at him. “I brought a house plant, though, didja tell ‘em I brought a house plant? S’a bit better than booze, f’you think about it. It’s like. A gift that keeps on giving, 'cause it’s pretty to look at but it also makes oxygen. Because photosynthesis.”

Niall looks unimpressed. “Big words from the drunk popstar.”

Louis’s just looking at him blankly. “…you…brought a house plant. To a cast party.”

Harry nods seriously. “S’rude to come to a party without a gift, Lou.”

Niall rolls his eyes and shoves Harry away from him. “Friends. Kitchen. Go.”

Harry brightens up when he hears the word “Friends” and immediately stumbles off in the direction he hopes the kitchen is in. But then he feels a warm hand on the small of his back, and suddenly Louis is steering him toward a different hallway than the one he’d started down.

“Wrong way, Harold.”

Harry beams down at him. “Thanks Lewis.”

Louis snorts, but he’s also smiling at him, so Harry’ll take it. “Let’s go see those friends of yours, yeah?”

 

-L-

 

Louis’s not gonna lie. His Harry Situation is getting out of hand. But who can blame him really? Harry’s button up is almost completely unbuttoned at this point, allowing Louis to look his fill (who the fuck gets a butterfly tattooed there?), and he had walked in on Harry grinding on that wood (or broomstick in this case). The whole thing was a 180 degree turnaround from his conversation with Zayn and the slight chill of the outdoor porch.

Despite Perrie telling him not to, Louis had to stick his nose in because he had to get down to the bottom of why dear, sweet, reserved Zayn was being such a dick to brilliant, beautiful, funny Perrie. (He might be a little tipsy. Who’s to know?)

When he confronted Zayn rather more aggressively than he’d meant to, Zayn caved almost immediately (which may or may not have had something to do with the joint he had been smoking), confessing his love for their resident costume designer and his unhealthy obsession with the way she wore her tape measure around her head. When Louis tried to laugh about it, Zayn only got more sullen and started muttering some really depressing poetry to himself. When Louis suggested actually talking to Perrie like a normal person, Zayn ran for the bathroom.

For all that Zayn is a beautiful genius, he could really be a dumbass sometimes.

Harry stumbles into Louis’s side as they turn the corner to the kitchen, and all thoughts of Zayn and Perrie and the adorable children they would have are pushed out by Harry, Harry, Harry. Louis grabs his elbow to steady him just as a loud roar of greetings comes from the other side of the kitchen.

Suddenly, Harry is smiling his wide, goonish, “I love everyone” smile and ambling forward to greet his adoring fans. Louis tries not to be  jealous of the way they all hug Harry close and get into the personal space that Louis’s come to think of as his space. (He fails.)

The group seems to consist of people from every entertainment field imaginable, and most are people Louis’s seen in tabloids for some reason or another. There’s Caroline Flack and Olly Murs, hosts of that show after X-Factor; Nick Grimshaw from BBC Radio 1; Ed Sheeran, famous singer-songwriting rumored to be dating Ellie Goulding; James Corden, who’s currently enjoying a successful run as the star of a West End comedy; and weirdly enough, Zach Braff. (What the hell?)

These were entertainment A-Listers, and they all really did light up like fucking Christmas trees at the sight of Harry. Louis wants to be surprised, but anyone who spent a minute alone with Harry would be able to understand the draw. And seeing as Louis has spent almost every waking minute around Harry this past week, he thinks he can safely say he understands the draw better than most.

He’s drawn out of his thoughts by Harry loudly saying, “Oh, guys. I want you to meet Louis Tomlinson, the love of my life.” Louis’s heart skips a beat.

“In the show, of course.” Harry winks, and the crowd draws Louis in before he can really regain his footing.

“Hi,” and because he can’t resist, “So how do you all know Harry?”

For the next forty-five minutes, he regrets asking that question, as each and every one of these people recounts their ‘how I met Harry’ stories. Harry adds commentary and laughter to each one, and Louis feels like he's seeing Harry in his natural habitat for the first time. It’s fascinating. He just has this way of making everyone feel totally at ease, flirting and charming everyone into eating out of the palm of his hand. Like a venus fly trap or something.

Louis feels like he’s been tricked. He thought he was special, but it seems that Harry acts this way with everyone. (He’s allowed to be pouty and drunk right now, ok?)

The neverending stream of stories finally comes to an end when Niall waltzes into the room with one of the most beautiful women Louis has ever seen pressed into his side, giggling at something he said.

“What’re you tossers still doing in here? There’s a party going on out there.”

Niall is larger than life normally, but when he’s had a few...he’s in a decibel system all his own.

“Don’t worry about us, Nialler. We’re having a right laugh in here, right?” James throws his arms around Olly and Ed, who both murmur their agreement.

Nick, who Louis has realized is even more of a diva than he is, leans back against the counter like it’s his flat and asks, “So, Niall, who’s the lucky lady?”

The ‘lucky lady’ had gone to the fridge to grab two more beers for herself and Niall, handing one to him with a kiss on the cheek before fitting herself into his side.

“You guys don’t know Babs?! She’s my lady love! My other half! The pizza to my french fry!”

Babs pushes Niall away and wrinkles her nose, “Ugh, babe. Stop being such a cheeseball,” she turns to the rest of them, “I’m Barbara, his girlfriend, not his pizza.”

Niall pouts, “But you’re the best pizza, though! You know, the kind with extra cheese in the crust and lots of different toppings...I’m hungry.”

Barbara rolls her eyes and shakes her head, “You’re ridiculous.” She gives him two quick kisses on his nose and lips before drawing away with her beer in hand, “I’m going out to talk with Perrie.”

Niall smiles dazzlingly and pulls her in for another, slower kiss. “I love you.”

Barbara slaps his bum as she walks out. “You better!”

Niall turns to the fridge with a goofy look on his face, but before he can open it, Nick raises his voice, “Oooo, Niall! Is that Victoria Secret model you’re rumored to’ve been dating? Nice catch, I thought the tabloids were just stirring their usual shit.” (What a gossip.) Louis wrinkles his nose, but still leans in to hear Niall’s response.

Niall laughs his full belly laugh and begins looking through his fridge, “Yeah, I know. I’m surprised, too. It’s about the only thing tabloids have ever gotten right, but I don’t mind. I mean, she’s the greatest girl ever. Why wouldn’t I want the world to know that she chose a shithead like me?”

Louis just nods along because as much as Niall is a massive goofball and doesn’t seem the type to date super hot supermodels, him and Barbara make a weird kind of sense.

“You’re a lucky man, Horan.”

Niall raises his beer as if to toast, “Don’t I know it, Tomlinson.”

Louis darts a look over to Harry, who is trying and failing to take a selfie with Zach, and can’t help but feel a bit of longing swirl in his gut.

He’s always been the relationship type. Dating around had never been his thing, but after Adam, he hasn’t even tried to find a new relationship. And he misses it. He misses waking up with someone beside him and coming home to someone and sharing clothes and having days in where he doesn’t see anyone but that person. And fuck if he isn’t already imagining all those things with Harry.

This has gone too far too fast, and Louis is losing control over it.

He needs another drink.

 

-H-

 

Somehow Harry ended up making everyone waffles, because Niall and Caroline were hungry, and Harry’s ace at making waffles, and Niall surprisingly had all the ingredients, so like. Why not.

He and Louis were the only ones left in Niall’s massive kitchen, since Harry demanded full reign of the room and made everyone eat elsewhere. He’d told Louis he didn’t have to stay, but Louis had dismissed him with a snort. “Someone’s gotta make sure you don’t blow the kitchen up or chop a finger off. Think you might’ve missed the preschool class on keeping control of your limbs. That punch Niall made is pretty fucking miraculous, but not enough to gift you with basic motor skills, I’m afraid.”

Harry felt his face start to flush, more at the endearment than the teasing. He’s found that being teased is an unfortunate side effect of being..erm...himself. He’d sort of had to learn to get used to teasing. Learned to like it a bit, even. He likes it when Louis teases him. Maybe his face is flushing because of the endearment and also because of the teasing.

But before that train of thought could get any further, Louis had inserted himself between Harry and the knife drawer, volunteering to chop up strawberries with a quick “Why don’t you just stick to mixing batter, H?”

Now, Louis is perched on the counter across from him, happily licking at the spoon Harry had used. “Hope your waffles are better than this batter, popstar.”

Harry’s busy staring at Louis’s mouth so it takes him maybe a few seconds too long to focus back on what Louis’s saying to him. “M’not a popstar,” he mumbles, shooting a glare at Louis from his post at the waffle iron. “And waffle batter’s not like cake batter, it’s not good to eat. Everyone knows that.”

Louis’s smirking. Maybe Harry’d been staring longer than a few seconds. Time’s flowing weird for him right now, it’s not his fault. “Oh, but you are. Weren’t you the one who insisted you were brilliant? Proper karaoke popstar material?”

Harry rolls his eyes and lifts the top of the waffle iron up, poking at it with a fork to make sure it’s fluffy and golden enough for Louis to eat. It’s a bit difficult, because Louis had insisted he wear oven mitts, since apparently he can’t be trusted to operate something as simple as a waffle iron without burning himself. But still. Louis may be a bit of a twat, but he doesn’t deserve to eat a waffle that is anything less than fluffy as a cloud and as golden as he is. Because Louis is golden like the sun. Or something. “Shut up and take your waffle, you ungrateful swine.” Good one. Nailed it.

He’s about to start making one for himself when Caroline pops back into the kitchen. She drops her plate and cutlery in the sink and then drapes herself across Harry’s back. “Thank you for the waffles, darling. They were fabulous, as usual.” She presses a quick kiss to the side of his neck and slaps him on the bum, throwing a wink at Louis before heading back into the living room.

Harry’s preening a bit at the compliment. He turns to fix Louis with a smug look, but Louis’s stabbing at his waffle a bit violently instead of looking at him. Which is...no. That’s not right, Louis should always be looking at him. “See? Caroline likes my waffles, Lou.”

“Oh, I bet she does,” Louis says, a bit nonsensically if Harry’s honest. He’s still glaring at his waffle. Harry goes to take off his oven mitts, about to do something drastic, like go smear batter on his nose or something, but then Olly walks into the kitchen, Niall close behind him.

Olly puts his dish in the sink and goes for a fist bump. “These might be better than your omelettes, Haz. I’m impressed.”

Niall shoves himself in between them to throw his arms around Harry’s neck. “These waffles are the CRAIC, Harry! Forget acting, I’m gonna hire you, you can just stay in this kitchen and make me waffles forever.” He pulls away and smacks a kiss right on Harry’s mouth.

Harry makes a surprised “uumph!” sound, giggling and wiping at his lips with the back of his hand while making a huge fuss of trying to push Niall off him. But then Olly's whining “No fair I wanna kiss Harry!” and planting a sloppy one on his cheek.

Harry is absolutely not complaining about this. Three kisses in one night, Harry loves kisses.

“Oi, Horan, Murs, go back to your girlfriends, some of us are trying to eat in here.”

Niall grins over at Louis. “Aw, don’t like us kissing your boy, boo?”

When Harry looks up to glance between Niall and Louis, Louis looks like he’s blushing a bit. Which. Alright. Maybe it’s a trick of the light, Harry’s still pretty tipsy, and everything’s still bright and Louis's still brightest, so. Maybe not.

Louis swings his legs off from where they were resting against Niall’s cupboards and kicks them back, a bit harder than he’d done the last few minutes. He throws Niall an imperious look and talks over his indignant squawk of “Oi, watch the cabinets!” to say “Only thing I don’t like here is that no one’s recognizing the vital role I’ve played in making these waffles. I’m the one making sure Curly over there doesn’t burn your place down.”

So of course Olly and Niall both rush over and each press a disgustingly sloppy kiss to Louis’s cheeks before heading back out to the party, Niall yelling, “Don’t stay cooped up in here by yourselves all night, dream team, there’s a fucking party out here!” at them over his shoulder as he goes.

Louis huffs and lifts his shirt up to wipe the slobber off his face, muttering something that sounds like “bloody wankers” to himself. But Harry can’t be sure because he’s too busy staring at Louis’s slight tummy to pay attention, and he has to go busy himself with scraping batter out of the bowl before he does something stupid like try to bite Louis’s stomach. Shit. Alcohol is bad.

He looks up again when he hears Louis address him.

“They’re not wrong. You do make some pretty excellent waffles, love.”

And somehow, more than all the other compliments and kisses he’s gotten all night, that’s what makes Harry turn bright pink and have to look down at his scuffed up boots, because he can’t deal with the way Louis’s looking at him. He can feel himself dimpling in a pleased smile and he knows he probably looks like an idiot, but he can’t quite bring himself to care.

Then he hears Louis hop off the counter, and suddenly he’s in Harry’s space, lined up with him toe to toe, hand gentle on Harry’s face as he tilts his chin up to make Harry look him in the eye. Harry’s breath hitches, because even though they’ve been pretty physical with each other in rehearsals, it’s been a while since he’s had Louis this close, and probably no one is able to breathe with Louis’s blueblueblue sparkly eyes and pinkpinkpink pretty mouth and his cute lil upturned nose and his light layer of stubble so close to them. People have probably actually died from this before. Probably.

Louis’s smiling at him, and there’s an expression like fondness on his face when he leans in and presses a quick, dry kiss to Harry’s mouth. “Thank you for the waffles, Harry.”

And then Louis’s gone, and Harry’s left standing in the kitchen with his oven-mitted hands dangling uselessly at his sides, blinking at the space Louis was in just moments ago, still trying very hard to catch his breath.

 

-L-

 

Louis takes in a deep breath of fresh air as he steps out onto the street. The air is slightly nippy despite being the beginning of June, so he wraps his arms a bit tighter around his middle, already regretting his decision to walk off the alcohol. Since his flat is only a few streets down from Niall’s in Camden, it had seemed like a good plan.

Just as he’s about to set off, he hears a shout from above, “Hey! Louis!”

He looks up to see Niall leaning over his balcony, hands cupped around his mouth like he needed the extra amplification.

“What?”

“Can you take Harry home with you? Or at least take a cab with him? He’s pissed, and Babs and I both have gigs early tomorrow morning.”

Just Louis’s luck. It serves him right for being one of the last people to leave the party, but he’d had a hard time extracting himself from the couch with Harry cuddled up close to him.

From said position, Louis had watched Zayn make an idiot of himself trying to apologize to Perrie, who - being the lovely, gracious lady that she was - had made him sing her a song on the neglected karaoke machine. Louis’d laughed so hard he’d nearly upended Harry when Zayn started belting out Perrie’s choice of “Man, I Feel Like A Woman.” After that, people recognized that the night could only get worse from there, and even Gerrard managed to pull himself away from the open bar and find himself a cab.

Louis had finally managed to make his escape when Harry had gotten up to use the toilet. (Which hadn’t gone very well, obviously.)

Louis briefly debates just saying no, since he seriously doubts Niall would turn Harry onto the street. But who is he kidding? Just the thought of Harry defenseless and alone has Louis’s skin crawling.

“Sure. Can you bring him down or do you need me to come up?”

Before Niall can respond, a long arm reaches over the balcony followed by a lolling head with long, flopping curls no longer tied back by a scarf.

“Louiiiisssss,” Harry whines, voice gone more gravelly than usual from alcohol and overuse, “Louiiiisss. Take me home.” And then as an afterthought, “Please.”

Harry’s head drops limply to the balcony, and Niall (uncaring bastard that he is) starts laughing.

Louis sighs, “I’ll come get him, then.”

 

~x~

 

By the time he says his second round of goodbyes and hauls Harry into the cab, it’s almost 3:30AM. Louis groans when he thinks of all the missed sleep, but when he looks over at Harry, curled up against the opposite car door and snuffling in his sleep, he can’t bring himself to regret it.

He looks back out at the dark and silent streets, pressing his forehead into the cool glass. God, he is so fucked. He knows it’s a terrible idea to bring Harry back to his place. But what was he supposed to do? By the time he’d gotten Harry outside, he was too far gone to give Louis an address.

Louis sighs, breath fogging up the glass. He can do this. Harry will sleep in his bed, and he’ll sleep on the couch. Tomorrow, the first thing he’ll do when Harry leaves is wash his sheets, so there will be no lingering ‘Harry’ smell. Then he’ll go back to sleep and forget this ever happened. All for the sake of professionalism.

Louis is a Consummate Professional.

 

PART III

“Thou from this land, I from myself am banish'd.”

-Edward II, Christopher Marlowe

 

-H-

 

When Harry blinks awake on the Sunday after Niall’s party, he finds himself in an unfamiliar bed that somehow smells familiar. He’s got his arms wrapped around a pillow and his legs all tangled up in the sheets, so it takes him a second to extricate himself and sit up to look blearily around the room. He scrubs a hand over his face and looks to the bedside table, hoping for a clock to tell him the time. He sees that it’s nearing 8AM, but also that his phone is plugged in next to a glass of water and what looks like two paracetamols.

Faint morning light is streaming in from the windows to his right, enough for Harry to make out blue walls, a row of filled bookshelves to his left, and a criss-crossing of photographs spread over the wall directly across from him. That’s when he realizes he must be at Louis’s flat. It’s early enough that he doesn’t bother pretending he’s not slightly pleased about this, in spite of the fact that he can already feel himself flushing at the multitude of things he’d probably done to embarrass himself while Louis was doing his best to make sure he got home safe.

Waking up in someone else’s place isn’t unusual for Harry, in and of itself. In addition to the occasional one-night stand, Harry hates living alone. He spends plenty of nights crashing at friends’ flats, prefers a lumpy couch in a loud living room to the comfy bed in the echoing walls of his own place. When he’d arrived at Niall’s last night he’d planned on going back to his own place, because he hasn’t been sleeping well at all since they started this project and he desperately needs any rest he can get. But he’s not especially bothered; he probably got the same amount of sleep here as he would’ve gotten at home.

The events of last night are slowly coming back to him – he remembers karaoke, and making waffles. And Louis kissing him because of waffles. If he was sleepy before, that wakes him right up, because fuck, Louis definitely kissed him last night. Granted, he’s pretty sure Niall and Olly did too, and he’s definitely sure that everyone was drunk at the time, but still. That’s - That’s definitely something worth remembering, even if maybe Louis doesn’t, even if he himself has no idea what to do with that information. Because he wants Louis to kiss him again, if Louis ever gets the inclination. He really, really wants Louis to kiss him again.

But there’s a good chance Louis doesn’t remember it happening, and there’s an equally good chance Louis only did it because he was drunk, so. Harry’s not going to push it.  

He looks down at himself and realizes he’s just in his pants, which makes him groan at himself because he knows for a fact that he’s not coordinated enough to strip while drunk, which means Louis had to help him. Great. He peers over the side of his bed in search of his clothes and finds that they’ve been dumped unceremoniously on the floor at the foot the bed. His nose crinkles in distaste when he sees how they’re covered in punch stains, but as he goes to slide off the bed and get dressed his eyes catch on the propped-open door of the closet.

He really probably shouldn’t take Louis’s clothes. That’s probably not on. But then, his clothes are so gross, and there’s a whole stack of clean clothes just sitting there, like after the effort of folding them Louis couldn’t be bothered to put them away properly. Surely Louis wouldn’t mind if he borrowed some things, just until tomorrow? He could wash them at his place and give them back to Louis in the morning, good as new.  

So that’s how he ends up sneaking out of Louis’s room, his cellphone and last night’s clothes bundled closely to his chest, dressed in trackies that barely reach the tops of his ankles and a worn footie shirt that stretches tightly across his shoulders. He’d already made Louis’s bed and he’s planning on putting his water glass in the sink, then sneaking out to catch an early tube, because he figures he’s been enough of a burden on Louis in the last twenty-four hours. He can go home, take a shower, make more notes on his script.

But when he turns away from the sink, he catches sight of Louis curled into himself on the couch, and just like the night before, Harry feels the world shift and recenter itself around Louis. His hair’s all over the place, his mouth is parted in sleep, and the blanket he’d thrown over himself must’ve slid off him at some point during the night. It’s maybe the most peaceful Harry’s ever seen him.

Usually Louis’s thrumming with energy, eyes sparkling with mischief on breaks or filled with anguish during rehearsals. Harry’s seen the soft side of Louis before – when Zayn stress smokes his way through three cigarettes in single break and Louis has to go get him, for example, or when Louis sees his mum as an incoming call on his phone. It’s directed at Harry almost nonstop when Harry’s playing Gaveston, and sometimes he thinks Louis’s looked at him that way even when he’s not in character.

But there’s something almost…unguarded, about the way Louis looks right now, when he’s sleeping. Like he’s safe. It makes Harry want to hit a mute button on the rest of the world, just so he can be sure Louis stays undisturbed like this for as long as he needs.

After a moment of indecision, Harry dumps his dirty clothes next to the door to Louis’s room, then tiptoes to where Louis is on the couch as quietly as he can and rearranges the blanket. He checks Louis’s fridge, sees that it’s basically empty, and decides to make a quick run to M&S. The least he can do is make Louis a thank you breakfast for his trouble. He’ll just make breakfast and leave, before Louis has a chance to kick him out, because by now he’s learned not to overstay his welcome. Once he's made breakfast, he'll go home.

 

~x~

 

An hour later, he’s back in Louis’s flat, trying to chop up the meat for fajitas as quietly as possible because somehow Louis had slept through him stumbling back into his flat with an armful of groceries. Rooting through Louis’s kitchen for cooking supplies hadn’t taken nearly as long as he’d thought it would – he hadn’t needed to get anything out of Louis’s un-run dishwasher, because anything more complicated than bowls, plates, forks, and spoons looks as if it hasn’t been used more than twice, and certainly not in the last week or so.

It’s only after Harry has cut the beef into strips, arranged a spread of sour cream, homemade guacamole, cheese, and salsa in bowls across the counter, and is preparing saucepans that hears a scratchy “Haz?” from the direction of the couch.

He jumps a bit, but recovers quickly enough that he doesn’t drop anything for once. He glances over his shoulder and grins, can’t really help himself, because Louis is sitting up, cocooned in his blanket and rubbing at his eyes like he can rub the tired out of his body. “Jesus, Lou, y’scared me.”

Harry turns back to the stove so he can tug the kettle off and pour hot water over the Yorkshire teabag he’d found in one of Louis’s cabinets (possibly the only well-stocked cabinet in the kitchen), but he still hears Louis scoff at him.

“You’re the one making yourself at home in my kitchen, wearing my clothes, without so much as a ‘by your leave.’ I think I’m the one meant to be scared here.”

Harry huffs, but turns to lean against the counter while he waits for Louis’s tea to steep. He’s cradling his own to-go cup of Starbucks, his first morning coffee in over a week. After the first read through he’d made the switch to green tea a permanent part of his morning routine, afraid starting a day with caffeine would only exacerbate his nerves. Usually after a few hours with his cast – with Louis, if he’s being honest with himself – he settles enough have a cup or two during afternoon breaks. Which is maybe not the best thing for him to do, since he can’t sleep at night, but that’s why he needs caffeine in the first place.

But today’s a day off and Louis is here already, so. He’s pretty sure he can have his morning coffee.

“How’re you even functioning right now, anyway? Just a few hours ago I had to drag your drunk arse back here ‘cause you were too gone to remember anything but the word ‘please,’ you posh weirdo.”

Harry raises an eyebrow but chooses not to suggest better ways he could be ‘too gone to remember anything but the word please.’ If Louis were awake enough to realize what he’d said, he probably would’ve made a joke about it. But it’s too early in Harry’s day for this, so he falls back on his usual strategy and says something stupid. “S’all the yoga I do. Didn’t y’know? If you do yoga enough s’impossible to get a hangover. You should come with me next time I go.”

Louis rolls his eyes. “As if I’d do anything but stare at that tiny bum of yours in yoga pants anyway.” A beat later he rushes forward, words tripping over themselves to get out of his mouth, like he’s just realized what he’s said and he doesn’t want to give Harry a chance to do the same. “Don’t much like your hippie crowd anyway. You go with Grimshaw and them, don’t you? I’ll stay in and sleep, thanks. Maybe go get a few teeth yanked out at the dentist for good measure.”

Harry’s stomach clenches at the mental image of Louis doing downward dog, but he’d just put down his coffee to measure out the perfect amount of milk into Louis’s tea, and he’s too focused to put much effort into a response. “Spoilsport,” he says absently, recapping the milk and starting toward the living room, mug in hand. “Drink your tea. I’m making fajitas.”

Their fingers tangle as he passes the tea to Louis, and Harry lets himself linger a few beats longer than strictly necessary to take in the warmth he always feels at Louis’s touch, taken with the fact that he feels it even when he’s already holding a mug full of hot tea. He glances up at Louis’s face to find he’s already watching him with an unreadable expression, and jolts his hand back like he’s been burnt. “When you’re finished you can make yourself useful and chop bell peppers, yeah?”

Louis’s face scrunches up adorably. It’s probably meant to show his displeasure at the suggestion, but it’s too cute for Harry to take him seriously. “I never help in the kitchen, Harold. Pretty sure I don’t own most of the stuff you’re using. Did you rob old Mrs. Belford next door? The old bat probably deserves it, if I’m being honest with you, but don’t think I won’t throw you under the bus if she comes looking for you. That woman wields a rolling pin like a bayonet and I’m not interested in getting cooked into one of her meat pies.”

Harry’s already halfway back to the kitchen, but he shoots Louis a look over his shoulder to point out, “Last night you were pretty adamant about cutting up the strawberries, if I remember correctly.”

It’s the first time either of them has brought up the kitchen, and it takes more effort than Harry should probably need to keep his back and shoulders from tensing up. He forces himself to finish adjusting the burner, not wanting to chance a look back at Louis.

“That was different, you were drunk-” Louis says dismissively.

Harry feels himself relax - Louis either doesn’t remember the kiss or he’s not gonna be weird about it, and Harry will take either of those.

“-Wasn’t about to let you near anything pointy.”

Harry rolls his eyes and tries not to smile to himself, but it’s such a typical Louis move. Louis would be instinctively reckless with himself in the name of protecting everyone around him. “M’pretty sure you weren’t exactly sober either, Lou.”

He hears Louis shuffle into the kitchen, and when he looks up from dishing beef into the saucepan he sees that Louis’s holding his mug with one hand and keeping his blanket wrapped around him like a cloak with the other.

“But it’s a numbers game, innit? If I get hurt, we lose Edward. If you get hurt, we lose Gaveston and Lightborn.” Louis pauses to take a sip of his tea, and when he continues, it’s in a considering tone, as if the idea’s coming to him at the same rate the words are leaving his mouth. “Actually, if you get hurt we lose all three, ‘cause no way in hell I’m working with whichever poor sod Simon chose as your understudy from those sorry excuses of auditions. Simon knows it too, I told him I wasn’t gonna work with anyone but you about ten seconds after you left your audition. Didn’t even let him finish holding auditions actually, threw a proper strop over it and everything.”

Harry almost drops the wooden spoon he’d been using to push beef around the pan. Louis says it like it’s a given, like it was a foregone conclusion that Harry was the best choice for the show. Harry had assumed he was the last to audition, since Louis had cornered him in the loo only a few minutes after his had ended. But apparently Louis had specifically asked for him. Hadn’t bothered to audition anyone else because he was so sure of Harry.

He swallows thickly, waits too long before saying anything. The only sound in the room is the sizzling of meat on the pan, although Harry can’t be sure if it’s the meat or his brain sizzling out of existence. “It was the curls, wasn’t it.” He knows his voice comes out a bit tight, but Louis doesn’t call him on it.

“Right you are, Curly.” Harry feels Louis come up behind him, and when he turns around Louis’s in his space again, just like he’d been the night before. He’s looking up at Harry, mouth tilted in a smirk like it is when he gets away with something he wasn’t sure he’d actually be able to pull off. But his eyes are crinkled up at the corners with his smile, a combination of soft and unguarded that Harry doesn’t think he’s seen directed at anyone before. He reaches up to pull at one of the curls over Harry’s ear. “Never could resist curls.”

Louis backs away again to return to his tea, and Harry lets out a breath he didn’t realize he was holding. That’s when Louis seems to notice the bowls Harry had set out earlier. “So you’re actually making fajitas, then? You realize it’s not even ten yet.”

Harry shrugs, grinning at Louis brightly over his shoulder as he takes the meat off the burner. “We had waffles for dinner, figured we could do fajitas for breakfast.”

“I’d hardly call those waffles dinner, H, it was two in the morning.”

“Help me chop the vegetables or you’re not getting any.”

 

~x~

 

The rest of the day passes quickly.

Harry had meant to leave right after breakfast, he really had. But Louis insisted he wash his clothes from the night before, because apparently he pegged Harry a clothes thief and couldn’t possibly allow him to get away with it. But when Harry had gone to put them in the wash and seen the massive pile of dirty clothes next to the washer, he figured it couldn’t hurt to do a load or two while he was there, since he was already doing his. So Harry spent the better part of the morning alternating between cleaning and folding Louis’s laundry, playing rounds of FIFA with Louis in between cycles.

Then they’d ordered takeout for lunch, but they made the mistake of starting a Bond marathon that was on TV while they ate. And then they couldn’t stop watching because Casino Royale wasn’t on till later and Harry insisted on Louis watching because he hadn’t seen it yet and it was Daniel Craig, Guildhall’s finest, which resulted in a heated discussion about who’s drama school was better. Harry let Louis think he had won for the sake of the afternoon, but he knew in his heart that Guildhall would beat LAMDA any day.

By the time the marathon had ended, it was getting close to when they’d need to go to sleep anyway, and Louis claimed he was too lazy to walk Harry to the tube. So they huddled up in Louis’s bed with mugs of tea to discuss how they thought the move to the theatre in the West End would go, and for the first time since the project had started, Harry falls asleep easily, letting the lilt of Louis’s voice lull him to sleep.

 

-L-

 

“Lou, can you put some water to boil on the hob? I need to piss, but then I’ll start dinner.”

Harry scampers off towards Louis’s toilet like it’s his own, and Louis wonders at how this is his life now. Ever since Louis had brought Harry home on Sunday, he was like the lovable stray that you couldn’t seem to get rid of. Louis isn’t complaining exactly, but he is starting to wonder if Harry even has his own flat. If he does, he hasn’t been back to it since Saturday. It is now Friday.

They’ve fallen into a pattern: breakfast in the morning (which Harry makes while Louis gets a few more minutes of sleep), ride the tube to the theatre together (sharing a set of headphones so that Harry can introduce Louis to a bunch of unknown bands with weird names), rehearsal (Louis decides to ignore the looks that Zayn kept sending him under arched brows when Harry shows up in the same clothes two days in a row. And if Louis lets Harry borrow a t-shirt the next day, who’s to know?), tube ride home (Louis’s turn to pick the music), dinner (which Harry makes while Louis dicks around), and sleep (after the first night that they fall asleep talking in Louis’s bed, they give up all pretenses of one of them sleeping on the couch).

But they are not in a relationship.

(Louis thinks.)

There’s no kissing - not since the (stupid) kiss in Niall’s kitchen, and neither of them had brought it up since. There’s touching, but that’s only because they’re both physically affectionate people. Right?

The whole thing is throwing Louis’s world for a loop because it all happened so fast. For two people who have only really know each other for a week, Louis knows he’s enjoying having Harry around 24/7 more than is probably normal.

Harry, on the other hand, has so effortlessly fit himself into every nook and cranny of Louis’s life and seems totally unfazed by the rapid change in their relationship. Louis isn’t sure if it’s because he can’t tell the difference, or if it’s because this is something Harry does all the time.

Neither explanation is particularly comforting.

The thing is that Harry makes Louis so happy. Like, happier than he has any right to be during this brutal rehearsal schedule, and Louis is starting to lose his grip on what’s real and not real.

Just this morning he’d woken up spooning Harry, and in his half asleep daze, he had wrapped his arm around Harry’s torso to pull him snug against his front. When he had fully woken up and realized what he’d done, he’d scrambled out of bed, waking Harry and almost killing himself when he fell in a tangle of sheets.

In moments like that, it’s getting harder for Louis to remind himself that they are, in fact, just ‘bros.’ He’s worried that at some point in the not too distant future, he’ll make a mistake and just kiss Harry when he leans in close to whisper in his ear or dimples up so beautifully that Louis’s crazed with the need to mark him. (Deep breath.)

Because for all that Harry was a baby deer in human form, he was also unfairly sexual.

Just yesterday, he’d done this thing with his fingers around his mouth and - well, Louis hasn’t been so on edge since he was a teenager. (And pulling himself off in the shower wasn’t doing the trick.)

Self control had never been Louis’s strong suit, and he was now being put to the test in the cruelest way imaginable. Because regardless of what Harry feels (or, more likely, doesn’t feel), Louis knows where this kind of relationship leads. There’s a reason so many Hollywood love-interests end up dating in real life.

The draw is undeniable: You spend almost every waking minute together, you get to know the other person inside and out, and on top of that, it’s your job to love the other person.

Louis’s felt this before with some of his co-stars, and occasionally, he’d succumbed to the physical need for closeness (especially during his uni years). But then his relationship with Adam had happened, and it was different - more intense somehow.

They’d moved in with each other pretty quickly, and they’d been all in each others business in no time. It was why Louis couldn’t really blame the members of the company who accused them of potentially playing favorites.

But as quickly as they had caught fire, they burned out. With the new stresses of his artistic director job and lack of rehearsal time together, their relationship had found a natural endpoint.

So Louis had sworn off production relationships. He realized he was lucky with Adam; he could have just as easily been irreparably hurt by their break-up, and he didn’t think it was worth the risk of playing with fire twice.

Louis wonders, though, if he’ll ever be able to want a normal relationship after Adam. Because the kind of relationship they had shared was addictive - being so wrapped up in another person, knowing them inside and out.

Louis is smart enough to see that that sort of relationship is unhealthy, but he already sees himself getting to that place with Harry. They’re standing at the threshold, waiting for one of them to push the one way or the other, and Louis doesn’t know which way he wants them to fall.

As he sets the pan of water on the stove, lost in his thoughts, he startles when he feels Harry sidle up behind him. He must’ve really been in his head because Harry doesn’t exactly move silently. And now Harry’s everywhere (goddamn giant), hands bracketing either side of him and pressed up against Louis’s back.

“Thanks for doing that, Lou,” Harry drops a kiss to the crown of his head, and Louis closes his eyes because he needs to breathe. Then, Harry’s out of his space as quick as he was in it, moving around the kitchen to collect ingredients.

It’s yet another reminder of how much Harry has taken over because Louis hardly ever used his kitchen except for the microwave and the odd pot of ramen, but within a day of Harry being there, it was like food had magically appeared in his cabinets all according to some bizarre organizational system that only Harry understands.

Louis needs to get out of here.

He texts Zayn while Harry messes with the pasta, and within a second, Zayn texts back (sure. meet at spitalfields? x.)

He sends back confirmation, and goes to grab his wallet and keys.

“Hey, Harry?”

Harry doesn’t even glance up from where he’s carefully dicing an onion, “Yeah?”

“I gotta go out and meet Zayn about something. We’ll probably eat something, so don’t worry about making any for me,” Louis adjusts his fringe even though he knows that Harry knows it’s his tell.

Harry looks up from the cutting board, and Louis has to look away because he knows he’ll give in and stay (and he can’t goddammit).

“Oh, okay. Well then I’ll. Ummm,” Harry hesitates and shuffles his feet, getting ominously close to the knife he’d laid on the edge of the counter, “I’ll just save you some in case then? Maybe you can have it for lunch tomorrow?”

“Sure. Sure. Sounds good. I gotta go,” Louis hates himself a little for the crestfallen expression on Harry’s face, but he has to remove himself from this situation right now or he’s going to do something he’ll regret (like tell Harry that he’s never met anyone who made him want to be better person like Harry did). And that’s what he was trying to do. Be a better person.

A person who can walk away.

 

~x~

 

Zayn turns out to be the perfect person to call in this situation because he doesn’t ask questions, he just greets Louis with a one armed hug and tugs him into a pub for food and pints. He stays mostly quiet, letting Louis work up to what he needs to say. It isn’t until the food comes and Louis’s face crumbles because he starts thinking about Harry alone in his flat with the dinner he made for the two of them, that Zayn finally asks the question, “So, what’s up, man?”

Louis takes a second to collect his errant emotions, “It’s about Harry.”

Zayn makes a valiant attempt not to roll his eyes, “I guessed that, but what about him?”

“He’s everywhere all the time and I like it but it’s hard because I want to be with him but I know that'd be a bad idea and I’m so stupid for even letting it get to this point but I couldn’t help it because have you seen him? He’s perfect and gorgeous and sweet and he makes me breakfast and I think I might be a bit in love with him, but I can’t fuck things up between us because we have a show to put on and this is what I’ve been working for ever since I had to leave the RSC and if I mess it up like this, I think I’ll hate myself forever,” Louis takes a deep breath and raises his face from where’d buried it in his hands to look at Zayn. “Help?”

Zayn shakes his head, “Woah, I had no idea that you were making this that complicated.”

“It is complicated!”

“It isn’t really, though. It’s obvious to everyone with eyes that Harry thinks you’re the actual sun and you think he hung the stars. Whatever else you’re worried about doesn’t matter in the face of that.”

Louis gapes in disbelief, “You’re the assistant director! You’re the one who’s supposed to tell me not to do the crazy thing that could fuck up the chemistry of the show!”

“How do you think it’s going to fuck things up? He’s your love interest for christ sakes! Being in a relationship might actually help that!”

“But-"

“No, Lou. I’m not going to watch you make a classic, stupid rom-com mistake that causes everyone more pain than necessary. You’re over thinking this. You and Harry are great together. You should tell him how you feel and live happily ever after.”

Zayn stabs his fork into his shepherd's pie a bit too enthusiastically. Louis’s eyes narrow.

“This wouldn’t have anything to do with a certain lilac-haired costume designer, would it?”

“What?! No!” Zayn flushed and blustered.

Louis, despite his current emotional crisis, couldn’t resist teasing Zayn when he was like this, “Are you sure you aren’t self-prescribing? Is there something you need to tell Perrie, Zayn?”

Zayn sets down his fork, “This isn’t about me.”

“Let’s make it about you, then! I’m generous like that.”

“Lou-”

“Come on, Zayn. You have to realize that there’s a difference in the way she treats you ever since you came clean and stopped acting like a twat. She might even tolerate you now,” Zayn scowls and stabs his pie again, “You should ask her on a date. The worst she can do is say no.”

“Yeah, and then I’m the asshole superior who tried to get it in with a female employee. You know how word spreads throughout the theatre world. How many people would turn me away with something like that on my record?”

Louis rolls his eyes, “Oh come on, Zayn. You’re being dramatic-“

I’m being dramatic?”

“Perrie’d never spread something like that even if she did say no. She really does know that you’re the decent sort now.”

Zayn leans back and crosses his arms, “I don’t know. Maybe. But is it worth the risk?”

“You tell me,” Louis also leans back in his chair and pushes away his barely touched minced pie and chips (which was not nearly as good as the chicken parma and side of mash Harry had helped him make yesterday). They sit there absorbed in their own thoughts for a moment.

“Zayn?”

“Mmm?”

Louis scratches his tummy, “I know you’re convinced that Harry feels the same as I do-”

“Because he does.”

“But he looks at everyone like they’re someone special, doesn’t he? I mean, he seems to love everyone, so how can I be sure that he cares about me more than the rest?” (And that’s his biggest worry. What if he’s read this entire situation wrong? What if he makes and arse of himself and in the process makes Harry uncomfortable?)

Zayn actually pauses to think about that. (See? Louis has a point!)

“It’s different with you, though,” Zayn swirls his drink and looks into its depths as if he could find the way to word his thoughts at the bottom of the glass, “It’s like - it’s like you guys orbit each other. Like, you both do your separate thing in rehearsals, but it’s obvious that you’re always aware of each other, even from across the room.”

Louis takes a gulp of his drink. He’d never thought about how he and Harry interacted when it wasn’t just the two of them and overwhelming physical closeness, but he realizes Zayn might be partially right - at least about him. He was always aware of Harry, and as this week had progressed, he had become more and more aware of Harry’s needs, going so far as to fetch Harry a banana before he took his break.

But that was just him. (Maybe.)

“Look, man. There will always be reasons for you to not take risks. But if you don’t take risks, how will you ever get what you want out of life? What do you want, Louis?”

“Getting deep on me, Malik,” Zayn just rolls his eyes in response, “Okay. Um. Personally or professionally?”

“Both, I guess. Since you seem to think they overlap.”

Louis taps his fingers on the table. “Personally, I want a boyfriend who has nothing to with acting but is incredibly understanding and supportive.” (Half-lie.) “Someone with a good sense of humor and a big dick.” (True.)

“Professionally, I want to be the best. I want people to know my name. I want to make it worth it.” (Definitely true.)

“And being famous is the only way to make it worth it? Wouldn’t the boyfriend with the big dick make your life just as good?” Zayn says pointedly.

He knows what Zayn’s getting at, but what he doesn’t get (and what Louis doesn’t feel inclined to explain) is that being a successful actor is the only way he can see that could make up for his choice of career to his mum.

She had sacrificed so much so that Louis could pursue his passion, sending him to an expensive school (even with his scholarship LAMDA had been way out of their price range) and supporting him as he went through those first few months of auditions before the RSC had come along. He had only just begun paying her back when he walked away from his steady job to maintain his pride.

He needed to do better this time. For her. It couldn’t just be about him and what he wanted.

“Yes,” he answers simply because he’s spilled enough of his shit on Zayn for one day.

Zayn looks disappointed in him, but whatever. He can fuck right off.

He’s struck with a sudden incapacitating need for Harry, so much so that it feels like a punch to the gut. Harry would make things better. Louis didn’t even have to tell Harry any of these problems for him to make them better. He could just be there and everything would be easier.

Louis digs his fingernails into his palms. (Get a grip, Tomlinson.)

“Look, thanks for meeting me, Zayn. I really appreciate it.”

Zayn waves a hand, “No worries, man. Just-” And this is the best thing about Zayn because as beautiful and reserved as he is, he cares more deeply about the people around him than Louis would have ever thought. “Just do what’s best for you, Lou.”

Louis gets up and hugs Zayn, even though it’s terribly awkward with him sitting and Louis standing, “I’ll try.”

 

~x~

 

As much as Louis wants to, he does not go home when he and Zayn part ways. Instead, he walks around all the little streets and alleyways around Spitalfields, allowing himself to just get lost and enjoy the warm June air.

He swirls the problem over and over again in his mind. Zayn had made some good points, and if Louis’s being totally honest with himself, he wants to listen to Zayn and tell Harry how he feels because as much as he had protested, he has a feeling that Harry wouldn’t turn him down. Louis imagines a life with Harry that isn’t that much different from this past week, and the thought makes Louis smile.

He knows if he goes home now (to Harry), he won’t be able to make an objective decision. So he calls Liam. Liam will totally let him crash at his place.

As expected, Liam welcomes him with open arms and a comfy couch fully stocked with blankets. He doesn’t ask Louis any questions about his excuse (a party in the flat above his) and tells him to get a good night’s rest since they’re starting tech rehearsals tomorrow.

Liam turns out the lights at 10PM on the dot, and Louis lays staring up at the ceiling for the better part of two hours wishing he had Harry’s now familiar warmth to his right.

When he wakes the next morning and reaches for Harry before conscious thought reminds him where he is, Louis feels terrible. Like genuinely awful. For a second, he worries that he’s coming down with something because that is the the absolute last thing he needs right before tech week. But when he sits up, it’s not the usual symptoms of a cold. No scratchy throat or runny nose. No. It had nothing to do with any of that.

He can hear Liam banging around in the kitchen (probably with his very specific cereal), but he ignores him to check his phone. No messages. Louis feels his heart squeeze because he knows Harry is already up and making breakfast (for one).

And that’s when he makes his decision. It may be an emotional one, and it may blow up in his face; but he has to give it a try. Harry is worth it.

Louis can’t wipe the smile off his face the entire time it takes him to get ready for the day. He can’t wait to get to Harry, and when Liam comments on him acting more jittery and strange than usual, Louis just pinches his nipple in retaliation and laughs as he double over in pain.

He’s going to tell Harry, and if he feels the same way Louis does, they’ll make this work.

 

-H-

 

Harry had been uneasy when Louis left the night before. But Louis had said he’d be right back, and it was bad enough that Harry hadn’t been able to bring himself to go back to his own flat since last Sunday. He had no right to feel uneasy at Louis leaving to meet up with Zayn – at Louis leaving for any reason, for that matter – even if Harry had been making Louis’s favorite spaghetti.

Zayn was probably having another Perrie-related crisis. Louis had taken a bit of hands-on approach to steering that particular relationship, and Harry was a hundred percent behind him, because Zayn and Perrie were some of the loveliest people he knew, and they deserved to be happy together.

He’d pushed it from his mind and made enough for two even though Louis told him not to, and packed up Louis’s leftovers just like he said he would. Then he’d settled in on the couch to read one of Louis’s old textbooks he’d pulled out for Harry earlier that week. It was for one of those classes where his professor had assigned his own book and they’d been forced to read pages upon pages of pretentious, masturbatory essays on the innovations he’d made in modern theatre.

Harry amused himself with scribbling notes and penises in the margins, even though he secretly thought a lot of what this guy wrote was actually interesting. At least if Louis ever opened it again, Harry’d hopefully left him something to laugh at.

Two and a half hours later, Harry found himself stretching into a yawn. Louis still hadn’t come home yet. Harry fought down the urge to send him a worried text; it was only just after 10:30, but this was usually around the time they started getting ready for bed because they had such early mornings at the theatre.

Louis was probably fine, he was a grown man and he could handle himself. Louis said he’d be back. He and Zayn probably put on FIFA and lost track of time or something.

Harry closed his pen in the textbook to mark his page, leaving it on the coffee table to go make their nightly cups of tea because Louis would probably still want his even if he got in late. He stuck a post-it note on the mug he left for Louis on the counter – Hi Lou made your tea I’ve already gone to bed sorry if it’s cold just zap it in the microwave, you do know how to use one of those right?? :) Xxx Haz – before taking his own to bed.

It was actually great that Louis wasn’t home, because that meant he could brush his teeth without getting elbowed in the ribs while trying to share a sink, so. All the better for him.

After tossing and turning for almost forty-five minutes, he found himself rolling onto the left side of the bed - Louis’s side - and wrapping himself around Louis’s pillow. He only had a few moments to wonder at the fact that all it took was the faint smell of Louis’s shampoo left on the pillow for him to settle down before he drifted off to sleep.

It's now 4AM, and Louis still isn’t home. Harry’d woken himself up reciting lines from the play, and instinctively reached for Louis. He hadn’t woken up in the middle of the night like this for most of the past week, but when it had happened, he’d always just cuddled into Louis a bit more and fallen back asleep. The one night it was really bad, when he’d been shaking so hard he’d woken Louis accidentally, Louis had pulled Harry against his chest, carded his fingers through his hair while soothingly whispering memorized monologues in his ear until Harry had fallen back asleep.

But it’s 4AM and Louis still isn’t here. Harry pads out into the living room, just in case Louis decided to sleep on the couch for some reason, but he’s not there, and the tea Harry’d made for him last night is still sitting untouched on the counter. He checks his phone, but there’s no text, so either Louis’s phone is dead, he forgot to tell Harry he wasn’t coming back, or he didn’t feel like Harry needed to know in the first place. Harry tries very hard to ignore how badly he wants it to be the first of those options.

He can’t figure out why he feels more panicked than usual, but he puts it down to the fact that they’re starting tech rehearsals soon, and he’d always been pretty bad right before moving to a new stage of production. Plus, he’d gotten used to having someone around to comfort him when he’s gotten like this lately. Even if it had only been a week, it was enough time to make it harder for Harry to deal with alone. But it’s not Louis’s responsibility to put up with his shit, and he doesn’t want it to be Louis’s responsibility anyway.

A tiny part of himself is worried that if Louis left without saying anything, it’s because he’s sick of having Harry around and Louis is too polite to say so. It’s happened before, with the people who’ve taken Harry in for a while, friends and lovers alike. He’s good at fitting himself into other people’s spaces, but he doesn’t want to take up too much. Sometimes they get sick of him. Harry tries to be aware enough to take a hint, slip back out of their lives as easily as he slipped in.

The thing is, Harry hadn’t meant to stay with Louis for as long as he has. He meant to put space between them a long time ago, even just a little bit, because he doesn’t want to have to slip out of Louis’s life. He feels like he’s reverted back to the Harry who first auditioned for Guildhall, anxious and clingy in a way he’d thought he’d shaken off, and it’s frustrating beyond belief.

But the fact of the matter is that Harry is anxious about being in this show, and clinging to Louis makes him feel better. When he’s with Louis, he doesn’t have the capacity to pay attention to the knot of anxiety in his chest, because Louis has his full attention.

Every time Harry gets close to suggesting he go back to his own flat for the night instead of back to Louis’s place, the thought of being alone in his half empty apartment, with nothing to stop him from second-guessing himself and replaying endless loops of every mistake he’d made that day is enough for the thought to die in his throat. He keeps bargaining with himself – he’ll go back tomorrow, stay just one more night, this is the last time, really – but. Just being with Louis makes everything better. Harry doesn’t know how, but he isn’t willing to give it up.

And Louis isn’t the type to lead him on. Louis would say something if Harry bothered him. It’s okay. They’re okay.

He doesn’t have his trainers, so he can’t even go for a run to distract himself. He tries meditating for an hour, but he’s too restless to sit still for long, so he just gives up and decides he’ll expend his energy on cleaning everything in Louis’s flat. He’s pretty sure Louis has never observed spring cleaning and he feels like it’s something he should do for someone he’s crashed with for a week. He washes dishes, vacuums, scrubs down countertops, dusts furniture, rearranges video games, even goes so far as to strip the bed and wash the sheets, reciting his lines all the while.

After two hours of cleaning and a shower, he still has time to kill before he has to leave for the theatre. He makes Louis’s favorite breakfast sandwich, just in case he comes home before going to work – surely he’ll need a change of clothes, if nothing else?

He stalls an extra ten minutes, until he actually can’t wait anymore or he’ll miss the last tube that’ll get him to work on time. He leaves the dishes to dry in the rack and wraps Louis’s sandwich up to bring to the theatre, in case he didn’t get breakfast. The last thing he does is dump Louis’s untouched tea from the night before, crumpling the post-it note and tossing it into the bin before he leaves.

 

~x~

 

He bumps into Liam almost as soon as he gets in. He’s feeling off, because in addition to lack of sleep he’s dealing with the fact that at least twice on the tube ride here he’d turned to say something to Louis about the music he had on shuffle, only to realize Louis wasn’t there. And he feels guilty for feeling off, because he has no right to. So he pastes on a smile for Liam while trying to balance his mug and Louis’s breakfast sandwich in one hand, because he refuses to take any of this out on anyone.

“Hey, Li. Seen Louis around?”

Liam grins at him. “Hazza! Louis kipped at mine last night, actually. Something about a party above his flat? Said he couldn’t stand it anymore. He’s in a weirdly good mood though. Think he’s in the break room now, if you’re looking for him.”

And that. Well. Crashing at Liam’s because ‘he couldn’t stand it anymore’ is definitely a good reason. Louis had a good reason, at least.

He tries to keep his face composed, doesn’t want Liam to know the way he’d felt his heart sink lower with every word, like his chest was hollowing itself out to make room for all the things those words meant. “Oh. Well. I picked this up for him, could you get it to him if you see him? I’ve got to – um, I need – I have to go. Perrie. Fittings. So, just, yeah, just give it to him, okay? Thanks.”

He excuses himself with a mumbled apology, headed for the back alley so he can take a walk and pull himself together before he has to face Louis.

He’s trying to remember what he could’ve done to tip Louis over the edge, make having him around so bad that Louis felt like he needed to leave and not even say where he was going. Last night hadn’t been any different than any other night, except that he’d kissed the top of Louis’s head to say thank you at one point. But it’d only been a moment, and that’s just how they were, weren’t they?

Or maybe they weren’t. They were so in tune with each other by now, so comfortably settled in each other’s orbit, that Harry hadn’t thought twice about it. Maybe it had been too much. Harry had worried about this on the very first day, after all – he couldn’t tell if they worked so well together because of something between himself and Louis, as people, or because they had such great chemistry as himself and Louis, as actors. Over the past week he’d come to attribute it to something innate between them, something just for them, not an audience. But they were cast in these roles for a reason. They were meant to have chemistry. Louis was a professional. Louis had seen that; Harry hadn’t.

He shakes his hair out in habitual way, and when he glances down, he catches a glimpse of the t-shirt he’s wearing and realizes it’s one of Louis’s from a uni production of Midsummer Night’s Dream. God, he’s so stupid.

He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. He can do this. He’ll just move on like he’s trained himself to do. It’s not like he’d expected anything different.

Louis might have understood their relationship sooner, but now Harry understands it too. He has an acting degree, just like Louis does. He’s going to go out, and he’s going to do his job, and he’s not going to let Louis realize how much this has thrown him off, because it’s no one’s fault but his own that he got confused.

 

~x~

 

Harry had somehow managed to avoid Louis for most of the morning, except for when they’d passed each other while going in to see Pez for fittings. When Louis saw him his entire face brightened, and he’d run his fingers over the back of Harry’s hand as he brushed past him, whispered a quick “Morning, Haz” before running after Zayn. Harry’d done his best to smile normally, but his whole body had tensed up when he’d seen Louis. He didn’t think Louis noticed though, so that was good.

Except this afternoon they’re doing the entirety of Act Five, and there’ll be no way to avoid him then. He’s most worried about scene five, when Lightborn kills Edward, because as intimate as the original text is, their adaptation of it is even more so. They’ve almost perfected the scene by now, and no one’s expecting it to take very long, because it’s really more a formality to make sure the staging works correctly. They only have a few days left before dress rehearsals, and this is maybe one of the most important scenes in the entire play. Harry can’t afford to mess it up.  

He’s in a corner of the break room now, head buried in his arms, trying to breathe through his rising panic. He hears Niall come in but he doesn’t think Niall sees him yet, and he doesn’t bother looking up.

“Yeah, babe. I know.” A pause. “No, you’re right. I’m overreacting. It’s gonna be fine.” Another pause, and this time, Harry can hear Niall smiling into the phone. “I love you, too. M’sorry for calling you while you’re at work, I know you’re busy-” Niall must’ve been cut off, because he’s quiet again before he barks out a laugh. “Alright, alright! Jesus, woman, haven’t heard a threat that graphic since I was back in Ireland. Won’t say sorry again, promise.” Another pause. “Yeah, we’ll skype tonight. Love you so much, Babs.”

The phone call must have ended, because a second later he feels Niall put both hands on his shoulders. “Didn’t see you there, Harry. Y’alright?”

Harry pulls himself out of the cover of his arms to blink up at Niall, and sees that he’s crouched in front of him, a look of concern on his usually cheerful face. “Yeah, m’fine. Sorry.”

Niall doesn’t look like he believes him. “Y’don’t look alright, mate. What’s going on?”

Harry sighs. “Nothing, just. Nerves, y’know.” Technically, that’s true; Niall can take from that what he wants.

Niall nods, rubs at the back of his neck with one hand. “Yeah man, I do. Didja hear what I was saying to Babs just then?”

Harry flushes a bit, feeling guilty for eavesdropping, but he nods anyway because there’s no point in denying it. “Sorry.”

Niall shrugs. “It’s fine.” He straightens up and holds out his hands for Harry to take so Harry can stand up too. Harry takes them, staying quiet to let Niall continue. “I’ve been a bit…stressed…about the show, the past few days. It’s like - I’ve been doing TV for such a long time, but that’s not the same thing as acting, y’know? And there are so many people who don’t think I can do this. And there are others saying that I was just cast as a publicity stunt to boost ticket sales. Usually I don’t listen to that kinda shit, but sometimes it gets to you.”

Harry rushes to reassure him, because Niall’s the perfect choice for this role and no one has any right trying to tell him otherwise, but Niall laughs a bit self-deprecatingly before he can say anything. “I don’t know. I just get too much in my own head sometimes. But whenever that happens, I call Babs, and she brings me ‘round straight away. Doesn’t take shit from anyone, that girl.”

Niall’s entire face is glowing, and it looks like someone turned on the goddamn teletubby sun. Harry can almost feel the secondhand love radiating off of him. “Anyway, point is, usually I’m the one who doesn’t take shit from anyone, and I’m definitely not gonna take it from you. You’re gonna be great, Haz. We all know it. You and Louis work so well together. Anyone else might’ve lost it at this point, playing these two roles. But you’ve done so well. Zayn and Li and Louis and I all believe in you. Everyone in this cast does.”

Harry feels himself tearing up for the second time that day, so he launches himself at Niall and pulls him into a crushing hug, because he doesn’t know what else to do.

Niall rubs at his back comfortingly. “You don’t need to worry so much, okay? Some nerves are good, but you don’t need so many that it causes you to hole up in the break room. Next time come find me, yeah? I’ll be your Babs.”

Harry laughs a bit wetly, he’ll admit, but Niall just squeezes him more tightly for a second before shoving him off again. “Now, I think you’re needed on stage, ya twat. Go get ‘em.”

It wasn’t the exact pep talk Harry needed just now, and not exactly the person he’d have wanted it from just yesterday, but it was one he needed nonetheless. Harry takes a moment to thank whatever deity thought the earth was good enough to deserve a Niall Horan. “Love you, Ni. And thank you. You’re gonna be great, too. You know that, right?"

Niall shoves at him again. “Yeah, yeah. You're making me blush. Now, get outta here, ya soppy fucker.”

Harry laughs again and leaves for the stage. Maybe this wouldn’t be as bad as he thought.

 

~x~

 

Harry was very, very wrong. The second he'd walked onstage, Louis’d caught sight of him and come straight over, smiling like Christmas has come early.  

“Harry, hey.” He sounds a bit breathless, and Harry has to swallow and force himself not to react. “Been meaning to talk to you all day, where’ve you been?”

Harry tries to laugh it off. “Oh, you know. Around. So much to do, you know how it is the week before a show.”

Louis looks at him oddly. “Yeah, I do. Um.” He pauses for a second, then pushes forward, smiling a bit. “I just wanted to say sorry for not coming back to the flat last night. Ended up at Liam's till late, I'll explain later. Know you haven't been sleeping well since the show started, didn't want to disturb you by stumbling in at 3AM. You know I can't be quiet for the life of me."

“That’s alright.” Harry tries his best to keep his tone neutral, aims his best reassuring smile at Louis, tries not to let himself feel the sting at Louis lying directly to his face. He’s trying to save Harry’s feelings, after all. Probably their performance, too. Louis wouldn’t want to hurt Harry, however sick of him he might be, and he wouldn’t risk their performance either. “Hardly noticed you were gone. I’m glad you had a good time.”

A furrow of worry appears between Louis’s eyebrows as he studies Harry. “Oh…okay," he says slowly, “Are you alright? What’s going on, are you feeling ok? Because-” But before he can finish, Zayn calls for everyone to take their places, and they’re starting Act Five.

By the time they get to scene four, neither of them have missed a line, and no one has messed up badly enough for Simon to stop them. And Louis - well, Louis is more on point than usual, which is saying something. Watching him, Harry can feel fear pumping through his veins like poison as he waits to enter the scene. He’s just going to have to power through and get it over with. He can do this. Maybe.

They make it to scene five and Harry’s cross downstage to where Louis is languishing in prison. He steels himself as Louis says, “Who’s there? What light is that? Wherefore com’st thou?”

“To comfort you and bring you joyful news,” Harry replies, striding across the stage to put himself in Louis’s space. And already, he knows he’s off. His voice comes out stilted and unnatural.

“Small comfort finds poor Edward in thy looks. Villain, I know thou com’st to murder me.” Louis turns away from him, rueful and anguished at once, the picture of a king clinging to the final shreds of his dignity.

“To murder you, my most gracious lord?” Harry hesitates a fraction longer than usual before carefully placing his hand on Louis’s shoulder. “Far is it from my heart to do you harm.”

They go on this way, Louis describing the tortures he’s endured in prison while Harry pushes himself closer and closer to Louis, until he’s pressed almost entirely, tortuously against his back, and he’s saying “O, speak no more, my lord; this breaks my heart.”

He doesn’t let himself take in any of Louis’s warmth, backs away the second the line is out and crosses to the bed that, by the magic of theatre and techies, seems to appear at his command. “Lie on this bed, and rest yourself a while.”

Louis turns back around to face Harry, the mask of a proud king still in place. “These looks of thine can harbor nought but death. I see my tragedy written in thy brows.” With each word, Louis allows that mask to slip a little more, like the brilliant actor he is, until he’s saying “Yet stay a while, forebear thy bloody hand…”

Harry won’t meet his eyes as Louis continues in the short monologue, even though he’s meant to. “What means your highness to mistrust me thus?”

He barely has the words out before Louis’s striking back. “What means thou to dissemble me thus?”

Harry moves forward again, hands out in front of him placatingly. “These hands were never stained with innocent blood, Nor shall they now be tainted with a king’s.” It’s a boldfaced lie on Lightborn’s part, and Harry delivers it more harshly than tenderly, as he usually would.

Louis’s eyes narrow slightly, but he keeps going. “Forgive my thought for having such a thought…” Harry tunes him out again, a cardinal sin in acting, but whatever, until he hears, “But every joint shakes as I give it thee. O, if thou harbour’st murder in thy heart, Let this gift change thy mind, and save thy soul.”

Louis hands move to take Harry’s, and he sounds more desperate than he ever has while delivering these lines. “Know that I am a king: oh, at that name I feel a hell of grief! Where is my crown? Gone, gone, and do I remain alive?”

Harry closes his eyes against the onslaught of the memory of him and Louis discussing the implications of Gaveston being Edward’s crown. “You’re overwatched, my lord; lie down and rest.” Harry stiffly tugs him toward the air mattress, moving backwards until he’s lying against the bed, waiting for Louis to join him.

Louis shakes his head, looking more and more a lost child with each passing moment. “But the grief keeps me waking. I should sleep; For not these ten days have eyelids closed. Now as I speak they fall, and yet with fear Open again. O wherefore sits thou here?” He suddenly crawls onto the mattress and curls himself against Harry’s side, clutching at Harry’s Ramones tee.

Harry shakes his head, trying to get this right. Lightborn is Louis’s assassin, not his lover. He knows he’s let the emotions of this scene go swerving down the wrong track. Still, he lets his fingers comb through Louis’s hair when he says quietly, “If you mistrust me, I’ll be gone, my lord.”

Louis shakes his head again, curling even closer. “No, no, for if thou mean’st to murder me, Thou wilt return again; and therefore stay.”

Harry can feel a few tears escape against his closed eyes, waiting out the deliberate pause. He wills his voice not to shake when he says, “He sleeps,” and moves to take the rope he’s meant to strangle Louis with.

“O, let me not die yet.” Louis reaches out and grabs his hand, brushes a kiss over Harry's knuckles before saying “Stay, O stay a while!”

Harry stills, his entire body tensing. Louis had never done that before. Louis’s not supposed to do that. And Harry can’t do this. He really, really can’t do this. He tries anyway. “How now, my lord?”

Louis continues on like nothing’s happened, his voice growing fainter with each word. “Something still buzzeth in mine ears And tells me if I sleep I never wake. This fear is that which makes me tremble thus; And therefore tell me, wherefore art thou come?"

Harry’s next line is “To rid thee of thy life.” He knows that’s what he’s supposed to say, he knows he’s supposed to reach for the rope, straddle Louis, and loop the rope around his neck to kill him. But he can’t make himself move. His throat is closing up. Louis is too close, he’s just way too close, and Harry’s not getting any closer, he can’t do that right now.

He shoves Louis off him, rolls off the bed. “Sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m not feeling well, I have to – I’m sorry, I just– ” He doesn’t meet anyone’s eyes, keeps his head bowed as he hurries off stage. He hears Liam call for a break with a loud “Erm, I think that’s it for now, everyone. We’ll pick up here later, yeah? Let’s do scene six.”

He only has a few minutes to himself, huddled on the floor of a stall in the men’s room to think about what a failure he is as an actor - how unprofessional that just was - when he hears someone come in after him. His stomach flips at the thought of it being Louis, because he absolutely cannot handle that right now. He can’t look a talented actor like Louis in the face after the stunt he just pulled. He couldn’t stand the thought of proving Louis wrong about him.

“Harry, you in here?” He takes a steady breath, grateful it’s Liam and not Louis who’s been sent to lecture him.

“Yeah, m’here.” He tries not to sniffle around his words, but he knows his voice is wobbly. “M’sorry, Li, I know I shouldn’t have left, I just really don’t feel well, must’ve ate something funny for lunch, I’m sure I’ll be fine in a minute, I don’t think-”

Liam cuts him off before he can continue, his voice soothing. “Harry, no, it’s alright. Don’t apologize. We’ve all had sick days before, we just want you to get better. Simon’s dismissed you for the day, and I’ve just called you a cab.”

Harry nods before he remembers that Liam can’t see him. “Thanks, Liam.” He says it quietly, but he hopes Liam can hear him. He’s just unlocking the stall when he hears the door open again, and this time he knows it’s Louis.

“Harry, are you- oh.” He sounds frantic with worry, and when Harry manages to glance up, he doesn’t look much better. “There you are, I’ve been looking everywhere for you.” Louis looks like he’s about to try to pull him into a hug, and on any other day that would be a comfort Harry’d want, but now he flinches back.

Something like hurt flashes across Louis’s face, but it’s gone just as quickly as it appeared. “You alright, love? I could tell you were off during the scene, but I didn’t realize-”

Harry has to look away again at the term of endearment, and the confirmation of his failure as an actor. Stupid. “M’fine, just not feeling well. Thanks for coming to check on me. Liam’s called a cab, so I’m just gonna –”

Louis breathes a sigh of relief. “Oh, good. Okay. That’s good. Tell them to take you to my place, yeah? I’m sure Simon won’t mind if I skip out early, since I’m dead in the rest of the scenes anyway. I don’t want you by yourself if you’re sick. I’ll make some soup, or like, order it, I guess. You probably don’t want me cooking for you.” Harry looks up again and sees that Louis’s smiling at Harry hopefully, like the only thing he wants in the world is for Harry to let Louis take care of him.

And the thing is, Harry wants to. He wants to go home with Louis, let Louis fuss over him, curl up against him and hold on until he falls asleep. He wants that more than anything. But it’s not fair to take advantage of Louis’s kindness.

If Harry was a problem for Louis before, he’ll be even worse when he’s dealing with…whatever this is. It doesn’t occur to him to call it heartbreak, because it’s only been three weeks of knowing Louis, one week of living with him. He’s never felt this way when people got tired of him before and he has no idea what to call it, but being around Louis will only make it worse anyway. He just needs some time and space to reassess the situation, figure out how to approach this now.

He carefully doesn’t look anywhere near Louis as he passes him on the way toward the door. When he pushes it open he sees Liam, who stops wringing his hands worriedly to pull Harry into his side and lead him away.

“S’alright, Louis. I’ll be okay. Thanks for the offer, but m’just gonna head back to my place, yeah? See you tomorrow.”  

The bathroom door echoes with finality as it swings shut behind him.

 

PART IV

“The griefs of private men are soon allayed;

  But not of Kings.”

-Edward II, Christopher Marlowe

 

-L-

 

Opening night had snuck up on Louis like it always did, and Louis has the sinking feeling that he is not ready. Yeah, he has his lines and blocking down pat, and yeah, he is fucking good at this role, but as the makeup team leaves his dressing room without the usual banter from Jade and Leigh-Anne, he looks in his dressing room mirror and feels the weight of the last week hang around him like something physical.

Tech week had been an utter nightmare, and not for the usual reasons.

The night that Harry’d left practice feeling ill, Louis had worried himself sick, but he reasoned that of course Harry would want to be in his own bed when he wasn’t feeling well. He tried calling Harry on Sunday, and when there was no answer, Louis made up his mind to bring Harry some soup - but then he realized that he had no idea where Harry lived.

And well, that made him pause. Because here he was, ready to jump into something with someone that he (maybe) hardly knew.

So, he didn’t try to contact Harry for the rest of Sunday.

On Monday, he knew immediately that something was off. Whenever he was around Harry, he’d still act like Harry, but he’d be all over either Niall or Liam or anyone who wasn’t Louis, really.

He had no idea what had brought on this sudden change, but as much as it bothered Louis, he was starting to realize that it wasn’t his place to be bothered. As far as Louis knew, Harry simply viewed him as a co-worker that he’d become friendly with (even if that felt completely wrong).

So he backed off and gave Harry his space.

It should make Louis happy; Harry had made his decision for him. Now, he could focus on being the best Edward he could be and work towards his original goal with no strings attached. It was for the best.

But as the week progressed, the challenges of tech week started to take their toll. Louis and Harry’s scenes were passable at best. They could hardly look at each other and when they touched, the both stiffened and shied away.

Louis felt horrible because he knew how anxious Harry had been about the show, and to even think that he now might be contributing to Harry’s problem made him feel sick to his stomach. He still wasn’t sure what he did, but now, he was pretty sure it had something to do with his obvious desire for Harry. And Harry wasn’t interested and uncomfortable around him because of it.

It was Louis’s worst case scenario brought to life.

Louis knew it was bad, but it became a thousand times worse when Simon had halted them in the middle of a scene and told them to “walk with him” the day before opening.

They went to the back alley of the theatre where the trucks that had loaded in the sets and lights were still parked, Harry on Simon’s left and Louis on his right. They walked for almost three minutes in complete silence before Louis couldn’t take it anymore.

“Look, Simon. I know we’re fucking up, and I don’t want to make excuses. We’ll be better. We can sort it out.”

He’d glanced at Harry’s profile past Simon, and Harry had looked like he was about to cry. (That’s not what he should be focusing on.)

Before he had time to be annoyed, Simon had stopped walking, and they awkwardly halted a step or two in front of him.

“You know why I chose you boys?”

Harry had looked like he wanted to disappear, so Louis answered, “Because we were the best for the roles?”

Simon didn’t smirk or smile or laugh like he usually would, and that’s when Louis fully understands how seriously he’d fucked up. Again.

“I picked you,” Simon said slowly, letting every word pierce Louis’s pride in equal measure, “Because I felt something when I heard the two of you read together. Something rare in our business. It’s rare because that feeling doesn’t always work when it comes down to it, so I knew I was taking a risk. But I thought - I hoped - that the two of you could be professionals.”

And, wow. That had hurt.

“Fix it. Whatever it is - whatever happened, fix it.”

And then Simon had gone back into the theatre without a second glance.

Louis was so wrapped up in feeling like complete and other shit for a moment that he had forgotten he was standing with another person. But that moment of blissful selfishness was rudely interrupted by a choked sob. Harry.

Louis turned immediately, trying simultaneously to comfort and shield Harry with his body. He wanted to tell Harry it wasn’t his fault. It was Louis’s problem, and he’d fix it. But before he could say anything, Harry had backed away from him and started saying things that Louis didn’t really follow.

“I’m so sorry, Louis. You put yourself out there to get me this role, and I proved you and Simon and everyone wrong. I’ll do better, I promise.”

“Hey. Hey! No, it’s not- "

Harry shook his head, “I ruined things, I know. I’m sorry. I tried to give you space, but it just made me - I just - I’m sorry that I fucked everything up.”

And then Harry had pushed past him and into the theatre before Louis could manage to get anything past his dry throat.

The rest of the day had gone better, but before he left that night, Simon gave him a look that spoke of pain to come if he didn’t figure himself out.

Louis laughs ruefully at his reflection in the mirror. He still doesn’t understand what Harry meant by half of the things he said, and he has no idea how to sort out his own tangled web of issues. All he knows is that he’s got about an hour before the curtain rises to figure it out or everything he’s done will be for mediocre reviews instead of the brilliant ones he knows this production deserves.

“Louis?”

Louis snaps out of his morose train of thought and finds Liam’s eyes in the mirror. His headset is slung around his neck, and if Louis thought he looked tired, he’s nothing in comparison to Liam.

The trials of this week had pushed them all to the brink - Zayn and Liam more than most. With the constant changing of light and sound queues, Liam’s Bible, which held the secrets of the technical plot for the entire show, had grown to an alarming five-inch binder that still seemed to be overflowing. And Zayn had just about lost it earlier in the week when the crew couldn’t get a set change right and wasted about an hour and a half of union time towards the end of the day. It had taken half a pack of cigarettes and a visit from Perrie to calm him down a bit. It had become a bit of a ritual that no one acknowledged for fear of setting Zayn off again.

So seeing panic on Liam’s face was nothing out of the ordinary, really.

“Yeah?” Louis turns in his chair to face, Liam who is, of course, clutching his Bible under his arm.

“You haven’t seen Harry around, have you? It’s an hour to curtain, and I can’t find him anywhere.”

Louis turns back to the mirror and starts messing with his fringe. “Haven’t seen him. Maybe ask Niall.”

“I tried, but he’s too busy throwing up in the bathroom to see anyone right now.” Louis can hear the barely concealed panic in Liam’s voice, and he wants to offer to help look but… “Well, if you do see him, tell him to come find me immediately. Please.”

Louis nods, and Liam scurries out to turn the whole theatre upside down, most likely looking for Harry.

Louis lets out a breath and slides down in his chair. He starts going over his monologues in his head to calm himself down and focus his energy.

Harry is not his problem. It’s all going to be fine. Adam would’ve said that he needs to focus on his own performance. (And fuck, that’s the last thing he needs to be thinking about.)

After about two minutes, he gives up. He knows this play backwards by now and no amount of recitation is going to take his mind off where Harry could be and Simon’s disappointed scowl.

He jumps out of his seat and heads towards the wardrobe room, knowing that Harry liked to go there to chat with Perrie about weird style choices and whatever else they had in common. It takes him less than a minute to get there (he might have run, so what?), and he throws open the door.

“Hey, Pez! You in here? Have you seen Harry?”

His question is accompanied by a loud crash as a rack topples over, followed by a shout, so Louis jumps into action.

“Shit! Pez! You alright?”

As he dives through the clothes to help her up, he comes across an arm that most definitely does not belong to her. Louis scrabbles back and tries to make sense of the scene. Slowly, Zayn emerges from the pile of clothes, blushing bright red, before helping Perrie sit up beside him. She rubs the back of her head in annoyance.

“What the fuck do you want, Lou?”

The whole scene from Perrie’s scowl to Zayn’s blush to the piles of clothes surrounding them has Louis laughing his first all-out belly laugh in what feels like ages.

“Oh shut it, you fucker. What did you lot think I was doing to keep him calm, teaching him meditation? And it’s not like you and Harry didn’t roll in the hay, so to speak.”

And just like that, the laughter fades from his body, and Zayn is placing a hand on Perrie’s wrist and shaking his head. She looks back and forth between them, and her mouth forms a little ‘o.’

“Wait. Seriously?”

Louis nods.

“Everyone thought that you were fucking for sure, though.”

“Well, we weren’t,” And if it comes out more bitter than Louis had intended, he didn’t have the energy to care.

Perrie looks at a loss for words, so Zayn steps up. “What did you come to ask about?”

And now it was just embarrassing. “Liam’s looking for Harry. Can’t find him anywhere. I thought he might be here.”

Perrie shakes her head, “He hasn’t been by.”

Louis clears his throat and gets up, “Okay. Well, I’ll just get going then.”

He heads to the door, but turns back at the last second to find Zayn and Perrie’s heads ducked close together, whispering, and manages a smile. “And guys?”

They look up, eyes wide (god, they’d have beautiful babies). “Congratulations on the sex, but if I find any of Zayn’s jizz on my costumes, I will not be pleased.”

He leaves them sputtering with a smirk on his face.

He has to find Harry, and they are going to fix whatever it is that’s wrong between them before the curtain rises tonight or Louis is not a Consummate Professional.

 

~x~

 

Louis finally finds Harry with a tip from Gerrard, about twenty-seven minutes to spare, and only twelve before Liam calls them to places for the top of the show. He’ll just have to make this quick.

“What brings you up here on this lovely night?”

Harry startles where he’s standing at the edges of the roof, looking out on the fading sunlight and flickering streetlights of the West End streets surrounding them. Of course, Harry’d be up on the fucking roof.

When he turns, the sunlight halos his curls in a way that is most unfair since Louis is trying to focus. But after the initial rush of attraction, he notices the purple bags under Harry’s eyes that have taken up permanent residence on his face over the course of the week. It had been hard to watch Harry start looking more and more haggard, knowing that he was probably having nightmares about the play again, but it hadn’t been his place to intervene. Not anymore, anyway.

When he realizes who’s joined him, Harry’s eyes start to dart around, and if Louis didn’t know better, he’d think that Harry was contemplating jumping off the roof.

“Louis?”

“Harry. Do you have any idea of what time it is?”

Harry blinks, “Um. Like, seven, maybe?”

Louis closes his eyes and wills down his frustration. “It’s past 7:30, Harry. People have been looking for you everywhere.”

Harry’s eyes widen, and he pulls his phone from his pocket, which must have at least five billion missed calls from Liam at this point.

Louis hears Harry breathe out a curse as he starts toward the door, but Louis blocks his way.

“Wait,” Harry looks at him like he’s crazy, and maybe he is, but this feels pretty fucking important (theatre always starts fashionably late anyway), “Before you go down there, I think we need to talk.”

Louis takes a deep breath and puts his hand on Harry’s shoulder, “Obviously something’s different between us now. I don’t know what happened. I wish you’d tell me, but I’ll respect it if you don’t want to. I’m sorry if it’s my fault. But we both have a job to do, and I’m not about to let us fuck it up.”

Harry finally meets his eyes, and Louis continues. “Whatever happened is in the past, alright? I think you’re - incredible,” (Keep it together, Louis), “And we have something onstage together if we can get our heads out of our arses. It was easy before, and it can be again.”

Louis pulls his hand away (Harry doesn’t protest), “We don’t have to be friends, but I’d like to if we can. Even if you can’t - we can still work together, yeah?”

Harry shakes his head, and Louis’s heart drops to his feet.

“No,” at the sound of Harry’s voice, Louis has to close his eyes. He can’t watch Harry reject him both personally and professionally. Not now.

“We can still be friends.”

(Wait. What?)

Louis opens his eyes to find the corner of Harry’s mouth turned up. (No dimple, but it’s a start.)

Harry is twisting his fingers together when he asks, “You really think I can do this?”

Louis can’t help but put his hand over Harry’s to get him to look him in the eye. “Are you questioning my impeccable judgment, right now? You were my choice, Harold. You’re going to be brilliant.”

The moment that follows seems to stretch for ages before Louis has the strength to move his hand and say, “If we actually get you onstage on time, that is.”

“Fuck!” Harry’s eyes are wide once more, but he’s grinning. And then they’re racing down the stairs together straight into Liam, who just about beats Harry to death with his Bible.

Jade and Leigh-Anne do Harry’s make-up and hair while they walk to the wings of the stage, and Perrie appears with Harry’s first costume, whacking him upside the head a few times for good measure. And Louis is by his side the whole time, laughing as the adrenaline fizzes beneath his skin.

Niall shows up five minutes before curtain, pale but jumping around with excitement. When Louis asked him if he was alright, Niall just shrugged and said he’d always had a violent set of butterflies when it came to stage fright and laughs it off.

Then, Simon is there giving the whole cast a last minute pep-talk, and before he heads to his seat in the audience, he gives Louis an approving nod.

There’s a saying that a terrible last dress rehearsal makes for a great opening night. Louis has never felt that’s more true than when he takes his bow that night with Harry on one side, Niall on the other, Liam backstage, and Zayn in the audience.

He had done it. (No.)

They had done it.

 

-H-

 

To call the show a success might be a bit of an understatement, and everyone at the cast party knows it, even if the first reviews aren’t out till tomorrow.

When he took a bow on stage, knowing that they’d done their best performance yet, it felt like he could actually breathe easy for the first time since the project started. Almost as soon as they were offstage, Louis had thrown himself into Harry’s arms.

Harry just had time to hear “So proud of you, Haz, knew you’d smash it” whisper-shouted in his ear before everyone else had jumped on top of them, until they were a giant pile of limbs on the ground, too busy laughing and clutching at each other to worry about dirtying their costumes.

And now they’re at Simon’s mansion for the after party, mostly sticking to themselves despite the fact that hundreds of people are there specifically for them. Liam is walking around in a daze and keeps clenching his hands around an invisible Bible, like he’s not used to being without it. Eleanor keeps making everyone cocktails, immaculate as ever while she laughs at the rest of them getting smashed on whatever the hell she’s putting in their drinks. Zayn and Perrie haven’t let go of each other’s hands for the entire night, and Harry’s pretty sure that the moment they got here Niall and Barbara snuck off for a quickie in one of Simon’s spare bathrooms.

Harry’s found himself a spot nearby to chat with any and everyone who wants to. If it so happens that he’s kitty-corner to Louis’s own train of admirers, he’s just making it easier for people to find the true star of the show.

In between conversations, Harry tries to take the night in and commit it to memory. Harry still doesn’t quite believe that he made it through the show. The whole thing had gone by in a blur. Just a few hours ago, he’s been certain that he was going to fuck the whole thing up, that Simon would be ridiculed for picking such an inexperienced actor for the role, that Louis would look at him with disappointment in his eyes. All had been recurring nightmares of the past week, nearly driving him to his wit’s end.

Nights had been awful. At first he’d returned to his own apartment out of spite, because even though he knew he wouldn’t get any sleep there, he was furious at himself for letting things get this bad again, to have not done anything to stop it when he saw it coming.

He needed to learn to deal with his nerves by himself.

But after two nights, he’d ended up couch surfing again, staying with Nick or the Teasdales or anyone who was around, because that had worked before. He knew that Zayn or Niall or Liam would’ve taken him in, but he didn’t want to disturb them when they were probably just as stressed about the play as he was. Except that it didn’t work this time, because apparently no one was as all-consumingly distracting as Louis.

So he’d returned to his flat and resigned himself to getting an hour or so of sleep at a time, whenever he managed to doze off while watching nature documentaries, or whatever else came up in the middle of the night.

Days were even worse. He showed up to tech rehearsals earlier and stayed later than everyone else, eyes red and scratchy, clutching endless mugs of coffee whenever he wasn’t needed on stage, purple bags under his eyes getting deeper with each passing day. He’d tried to act as he normally would, said good morning to everyone when they came in, thanked them and wished them good night at the end of each rehearsal. He tried to keep up with Eleanor’s banter, flick post-it notes at Liam with Niall, and make sure Zayn had caffeine within arm’s reach at all times because somehow Zayn was more stressed than everyone else combined.

But there was nothing he could do about how he responded to Louis. He tried his best, but if before they’d been experts on silent communication, now it was like they were speaking completely different languages.

The whole thing was completely absurd, and Harry felt like an idiot for not handling it better. But he guesses since it took them almost no time at all to build something together, it makes sense that it’d take even less time for it to crash and burn.

By the time Simon intervened, Harry was so exhausted - from not sleeping and from trying to navigate between the intimacy their characters are supposed to have and the careful distance they maintained offstage - that he’d been afraid he was on the verge of an actual breakdown.

But things had gotten better, because they had to. Talking to Louis right before going on for opening night was probably the best thing that could’ve happened, despite the fact that Harry almost would’ve rather climbed down the building than face him at the time.

Knowing that Louis wanted to be friends had been a huge relief. Knowing that Louis still believed in him, despite how badly he’d been fucking up, was even better. A tiny part of Harry couldn’t be sure Louis didn’t lie just to save their performance. He’d never explained why he’d gone to Liam’s, and he’d never questioned Harry’s decision to move back to his own flat, so he might really be sick of Harry and hiding it. But Louis had seemed so sincere that Harry couldn’t help but believe him.

And when they’d gone on for opening night, some kind of switch had flipped in Harry’s brain, and he had been able to channel everything he’d felt since starting this project – the fear, the doubt, all his tangled emotions about Louis – into Gaveston and Lightborn, without letting it get to him.

When they’d made eye contact onstage, Louis’s eyes had sparked just that little bit more, for the first time in a week. Harry felt something loosen in his chest, along with a swooping thrill at having that look directed at him again, and they’d fallen back into their orbit like they’d never been knocked out of it in the first place.

Now, Harry’s too delirious and relieved to force himself to look away from Louis, even as he politely converses with the small flock of curious people that surround him. Louis’s caught Harry staring once or twice, but each time they’ve just smiled at each other like idiots for a few seconds until the person Louis’s speaking with pulls his attention away.

At that moment, someone taps his shoulder, and Harry turns to find an older woman he recognizes from the many photos of her in Louis’s flat. She’s beautiful, practically glowing with what Harry knows is pride for her son.

“Mrs. Tomlinson! S’lovely to meet you. I’ve heard so much about you from Louis.” He leans in to kiss her cheek, trying not to think of all the private family drama Louis had shared over the course of the production.

When he pulls back, she smiles so much like Louis that it catches him off guard.

“Oh, call me Jay. I just wanted to break away from Louis for a bit to tell you how wonderful you were. Truly remarkable.”

Harry smiles at her and rocks back on his heels. “Not as brilliant as Louis, but thank you.”

“That’s no sort of attitude to have, young man! You’ve got to believe in your abilities or they won’t be able to take you anywhere.” Her eyes are kind when she says it but her tone brokers no argument, and Harry’s not going to give her one.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Is your mother around? I’d love to have someone to talk with about our terribly talented sons.”

Harry shakes his head, “She’s actually out of the country at the moment, but she’ll be coming first thing when she gets back.”

Jay flattens an invisible wrinkle in her skirt. “Well then, I guess I’ll just have to wander up to strangers and shamelessly brag about my son. Lovely talking with you, Harry.”

She wanders off with a smile and a wave, and Harry watches her go with a strange fondness in his chest. The amount of pride she has for Louis could probably seen from space, and it makes him want to shake Louis and hug him at the same time, tell him he never has to worry because Louis could never be a disappointment to his mom.

When he turns back towards Louis, Harry finds that the queue in front of him seems to take up half the room now. Harry finds that he’s smiling again, because this is where Louis belongs, on the receiving end of any and every form of praise.

Everyone in the cast had delivered their best – Niall had been particularly good – but everyone here knows that this show wouldn’t have worked without Louis. His performance had been stunning. No other word for it.

And he’s stunning now, too, grinning like a madman but keeping it together enough to thank the people who congratulate him. He hasn’t even bothered to laugh off anyone’s praise, just accepts it for what it is. Reviews haven’t come out yet, but there’s no doubt in Harry’s mind that Louis has just made his comeback.

 

~x~

 

Harry comes into work the next day to find that his dressing room has been wallpapered with clipped-out reviews of Simon Cowell’s Edward II from what appears to be every publication in London.

Random lines are highlighted on many of the articles, sometimes entire passages at a time. When Harry looks closer he realizes they’re all the parts that specifically praise his performance.

When he asks around to find out who to thank, he gets a hearty “Not me, mate, but I still love ya!” from Niall, a shrug from Zayn, and an unconvincing “No idea” from Liam.

 

~x~

 

It’s the Friday of the second week of their run, and Harry is about to be ferried onto the set of yet another morning talk show. Simon had intentionally put off doing promo until after the first performance, so up until then the most they’d done were the photoshoots for the usual billboards, posters, and brochures.

Louis had tried to ask about it once, and Simon had lifted a single eyebrow and sighed the sigh of the world-weary. “It’s a Cowell production, I don’t need promotion to sell tickets. We won’t be calling to set up interviews; they’ll call us once the first reviews are published.” And then they’d been dismissed with a nod toward the door.                      

Simon had been right, as per usual. For all that Simon had been anti-PR this time last week, he’d had them going nonstop since Tuesday, had apparently spent the weekend finalizing a schedule for press appearances that barely left them a moment to breathe. If they weren’t on stage, they were on the phone with a news outlet to give a quote, or in the car on the way to an interview, or actually at an interview.

Sometimes Niall or Eleanor came with them, since they’re both media favorites, but more often than not it was just Louis and Harry and whatever handlers and PR people were sent with them that day. Spending so much time alone with Louis hadn’t been as bad as Harry had worried it would be, what with their tenuous new friendship. Interviews together probably would’ve been easier in the earlier days of the project, sure. Now they’re cautious with each other in a way they hadn’t been before, more polite than familiar.

But as far as Harry knows, none of their interviewers could tell anything was off. Something about being interviewed together brings out some of that familiarity, like they can’t resist showing off how close they are. It’s…nice. Even if it only happens during fifteen minute interviews.

Someone must’ve said something about Simon calling them the dream team in one of the first interviews, because that’s basically their official media title now.

Today, it’s just Louis and Harry - “The Dream Team.”

They’re being interviewed by two hosts, a pretty, dark woman and a middle-aged Irishman who’re actually close even off camera, if the way they’re gossiping with each other as makeup artists flurry around them is any indication.

Harry shakes their hands when he’s pushed on set to perform introductions, settling for dimpling at the makeup artists so as not to interrupt their work.

“Hello, m’Harry, s’nice to meet you. Thanks so much for having us.”

He feels it when Louis slides in next to him. “I’m Louis, the other half of this interview. Lovely to meet you both. What’ve you got for us?” Louis’s smiling winningly, even though Harry knows he’d much rather be in bed than here. He’s probably about ready to collapse after the two weeks he’s had.

As Mandy, one of the hosts, launches into a run through of what they want to cover in the interview, Harry inches a little closer to Louis in solidarity and because he’s trying to will some of his energy into Louis. Once they get through the interview he can work on convincing Louis to take a nap before the show tonight.

He sees the corner of Louis’s mouth turn up the slightest amount and counts it as a win. When he instinctively ducks his head, he sees that one of Louis’s fists, the one closest to Harry’s thigh, is curled into a loose thumbs-up. Harry’s entire body flushes with warmth.

The Irishman, Owen, must notice some of their exchange because he not-so-subtly elbows at his co-host. But she doesn’t dignify him with a response, simply finishes her summary and asks if they have any questions.

When they sit down on the couches to do the actual interview, Harry presses closer to Louis, and stays there. Owen makes a jab about there being a lot more couch to fill up, but it’s worth it.

 

~x~

 

Walking out the stage door after a show is probably Harry’s favorite bit of the night. It reminds him of the hours he had spent after shows just a few months ago. But of course, here in the West End, things were done differently.

Their press tour seemed to have been successful since they were sold out through the next month and were estimated to sell out the rest of their shows soon. It’s something Harry can’t fully grasp until he walks out into the warm night air and sees people waiting behind barricades, scripts and sharpies in hand.

Along with the moniker “Dream Team,” he and Louis appear to have picked up a hoard of fangirls as well. So every night, Harry stays for as long as security allows to sign programs and smile for pictures. It’s the least he can do, and like always, he’s more than happy to do it.

A month into the show, he’s still getting used to their growing number of fans, so he doesn’t anticipate seeing a familiar face. It takes him a moment to place the teenage girl in front of him now, but as soon as she hands him a brochure he’s struck with recognition. He feels a grin split his face, and moves to hug her over the barricade.

“Maggie! S’lovely to see you again. How goes drama club?”

She looks taken aback that he’d remembered her, but quickly recovers and smiles back with matching enthusiasm.

“I only joined a few weeks from the end of term, but it’s pretty brilliant. And Ryan said we could work on doing a piece like the one you did in the spring.” Maggie stops abruptly and says, “You were fantastic by the way. I didn’t know if I would like this since it was different from what you did before, but I loved it! I didn’t know that old time writers wrote about gays.”

Harry knows he could spend all night talking about this, but just as he opens his mouth to start a long-winded ramble about representation and erasure and Marlowe, screams start up from the crowd around him. He darts his head around, looking for some kind of danger, but all he finds is Louis, who’s just come out the door.

He can’t help it that his smile slips into something smaller and more private at the sight of him. Louis is glowing, as he always does under attention and praise.

“You and him were particularly good together.”

He whips his head back around, and oh, right. Maggie is still here, smirking at him now. Oops.

Harry nods, always eager to talk about how great Louis is. “Yeah, Louis is incredible. Hold on, actually. Let me get him over here.”

And okay. Maybe he’s using this girl as an excuse to be close to Louis again tonight, but being on stage with him isn’t enough. So he runs over, grabs Louis, apologizes to the girls he’d been talking to, and drags him back over to Maggie. It isn’t until later that he realizes how easily Louis went with him.

“Maggie, this is Louis. Louis, Maggie.”

Harry beams as they shake hands and start to talk about the show. It’s then that he notices the same girl who’d been with Maggie last time hovering right behind her shoulder, mouth tugged up in her own small smile, the affection plain on her face as she watches their conversation.

“Oh! I’ve been so rude! I completely ignored your girlfriend, Maggie.”

They all turn to look at him. Maggie’s girlfriend’s eyes are almost comically wide, and Maggie’s flushing red. Harry hadn’t taken her for the blushing type.

“Kasey’s not my girlfriend. We’re, um. We’re just really good friends.” Maggie stutters through a protest, voice growing softer with each word. The other girl looks away at that, arms crossed over her chest like she’s trying to hug herself.

Harry tries not to let the surprise show on his face. He’s normally good at reading people, and from their interactions last time he’d been sure they were together, taken it as a given. He turns to Louis to fix the awkwardness, but Louis’s watching Maggie and Kacey, something like wistfulness or sadness on his face - Harry can’t place the expression. Apparently he’s having an off night.

He tears his eyes away from Louis to retrain his attention on the girls. “Sorry, I shouldn’t have assumed, that was wrong of me. It’s nice that you two are such close friends, though.”

And it is. Friends are great.

Louis picks up his conversation with Maggie again, and Harry watches him talk. Louis and he were friends now, too. Maybe they could be like Maggie and Kasey, maybe he could have that closeness with Louis without pushing him away.

Harry thinks it would be nice.

 

~x~

 

About halfway through the run, Simon had them come in that morning to do minor touch ups to keep the show fresh. They still have the afternoon free before the night show, which means most everyone will probably go home for a bit before coming back for the performances.

Theatre schedules are demanding. They do at least one show every night but Monday, with matinees and night shows on weekends, for three months straight. Harry’s exhausted, but it’s a different exhaustion from what he’d felt during tech week. Now that he’s gotten the first month over with, he knows he can handle the rest. He’s back to focusing on how he can make improvements instead of fixating on every mistake, which means he actually falls asleep at night. Each show is a little easier than the last, and he and Louis are comfortable enough that they’ve started changing up how they play certain scenes if they feel like it, following each other’s leads like they used to.

They’re friends. Sometimes Harry will go to touch Louis and have to physically pull himself back, and sometimes Louis still tiptoes around Harry, approaches him carefully like he’s afraid Harry’ll bolt if Louis so much as looks at him the wrong way. But they are friends, and that’s why they’ve flattened themselves against either side of the break room door, fruit in hand, waiting for Liam to walk in. He’s due any second now – Eleanor just texted them to confirm he’d left the meeting to get her a water.

Harry’s not exactly sure why they’re here, but Louis had taken one look at the platters of fruit Harry’d painstakingly washed and cut up for everyone, and said, “How kind of you to prepare ammunition for me, Harold.”

So here they are. Louis is wearing his best manic grin, his fringe hanging across his face because he’s got one handful of mushed banana he’s determined to rub into Liam’s quiff, and one hand pressed to his mouth. As soon as they hear Liam’s footsteps, Louis moves away from the door and crouches a bit so he can get a running start.

Harry has a second to tighten his hold on a handful of strawberries before Liam’s striding in. Eleanor must’ve convinced him to drop the Bible, bless her, because if they’d accidentally stained any part of it Liam might’ve actually killed them.

As soon as Liam’s through the threshold, Louis is leaping onto his back, shoving banana into his hair and yelling at the top of his lungs as he does it. Liam lets out a startled grunt as Louis collides with him, and a shout when he feels banana getting squished into his hair, but somehow he doesn’t manage to throw Louis off him.

Harry runs at them a second later, but instead of targeting Liam he smashes his strawberries into the side of Louis’s face, tripping over himself as he tries to twist away before Louis recovers enough to get him back. Louis’s maniacal laughing cuts off abruptly, and he cranes his head around to gasp at Harry.

“You didn’t.”

But Louis yelling must’ve gotten everyone’s attention, because then Niall appears at the door with a slew of people behind him. “Guys what’s–” It only takes him a moment to realize what’s going on. “Having a food fight without me? Fuck that.” And then Niall’s diving around Liam and Louis to get at the platter on the table.

It pretty much dissolves into chaos after that – Harry didn’t realize he’d brought enough fruit for the entire room to be covered in it, but apparently he had. About two minutes in, Eleanor, Louis, and Zayn had formed some kind of unholy alliance, and they’d shown no mercy. The story is best told by the haunted look on Gerard’s banana and peach covered face.

Everyone’s sticky, all their clothes are probably ruined, and Harry doesn’t remember the last time he had this much fun.  

Just when he thinks it’s all over, he feels someone crash into him. Suddenly he’s pinned to the floor, Louis smirking over him triumphantly from where he’s somehow managed to straddle Harry’s chest.

“Payback time, Harry.”

So that’s how Harry gets a banana facial. He’s giggling and shrieking at the same time, trying to buck Louis off but not really trying, because Louis is steady enough that he’s able to get banana all over Harry’s face and rub it in for good measure.

When they finally go still, breathless from laughing, Louis’s fonding down at him – that’s what Niall’s started calling it, because apparently Louis makes that face so often it warrants its own verb – hair matted with fruit, the remnants of Harry’s strawberries smeared across one cheek. Harry thinks it might be the best thing he’s ever seen.  

Harry keeps his eyes locked with Louis's as his hands move to Louis’s hips, just for a second. He feels the warmth from touching him, just as he always does. Louis’s eyes go soft, but after a moment he pushes off Harry to look do some sort of elaborate victory handshake with Eleanor and Zayn.

“Think it’s safe to say we won, yeah?”

It takes them almost an hour to clean up what they can, but Niall’s got a cleanup crew on speed dial, because of course he does, so at least the theatre janitors don’t have to deal with it. Harry makes a mental note to leave them flowers or gift cards or something, just as a blanket apology for having to put up with them in general. But even when he’s stuck on the tube, covered in drying fruit while people give him weird looks, he can’t stop smiling.

 

~x~

 

Harry is very, very drunk. Again. They’re not at Niall’s place for once, but Louis’s favorite pub near The Globe. They’ve just hit the two month mark on their run, and Liam had insisted the five of them go out and celebrate together.

Harry’s noticed that like the rest of them, Liam’s much less uptight than he’d been before the run started. Louis had told him the other day that apparently Liam was a regular at some club called the Funky Buddha. Harry had thought it was a joke at first, but then Louis had shown him the pictures and Harry had laughed even more.

Harry is currently slumped a bit down the bench, snuggled securely into Louis’s side. A pink umbrella from one of Louis’s fancy cocktails is tucked over his ear, and every once in a while Louis will lift his hand from where it’s resting on his shoulder like it belongs there to twist at it absently. Every ten minutes or so the umbrella will get too tangled in his curls for Louis to twist anymore, so Louis will gently card through the knots to extract it before starting the process all over again.

It’s been like this for more than an hour now, ever since Louis pulled Harry into him, and Harry’s only barely suppressing the urge to just climb into Louis’s lap already. He’s too sleepy and comfortable to pay much attention to the heated discussion they’re having around him, but he’s pretty sure Zayn started it. Something to do with who has the best hair. He pays a bit more attention whenever Louis speaks up.

“You’re hair’s boring, though, Li, ever since you got it buzzed.”

“S’not my fault, someone went and smushed banana all in it. Shaving it was the only way to get it all out.”

Harry can hear Zayn’s snort and Niall’s delighted giggle. He can’t see Louis’s face, but he can perfectly imagine the expression he’s making - one part petulant and one part pleased with himself.  

“Besides, Harry’s hair is way more boring than mine. He only ever wears it in a headscarf ‘cause it’s too long to do anything else with it.”

Harry cracks an eye open at the mention of his name, but he’s too slow to defend himself. He doesn’t think he’d get a chance to even if he were sober, with how quickly Louis strikes back.

“I don’t quite like your tone, Liam. Stop it with your tings, man, at my boy.” Louis is also very, very drunk.

It’s cool. They’re drunk together. Harry likes doing things together with Louis. It’s his favorite thing, doing things together with Louis. But as drunk as they both are, when Harry’s stomach swoops at Louis calling him his boy, he’s positive it has nothing to do with all the alcohol he’s had tonight.

And like. The thing is, Harry’s feelings for Louis had always been there, but they’re a lot clearer now that they’re not tangled up with his anxiety about the play. It’s been two months, and maybe they aren’t what they were before. But right now, when he’s very, very drunk, Harry thinks being closer to Louis would be worth the risk of Louis pushing him away. Right now, when he’s curled up into Louis, Harry feels like he’ll never want to leave. He can’t imagine ever being able to let go.

 

~x~

 

Harry’s up on the roof again, leaning against the brick wall in between the matinee and night shows. They’ve been doing this for almost two and a half months now, and with only a few weeks left of the run, he knows that he needs to start sorting out his next project.

He has options. His email is full of audition requests sent by his agent because apparently there are so many of them that now she has to screen them before he looks at a script. Some are from experimental theatre groups, but a surprising number are for more mainstream work - even some TV shows and movies.

His agent tells him he’s ‘made it,’ but he doesn’t really know how to comprehend what that means. At her urging - and because he knows he has to - he’s already gone to a few auditions, either on his Mondays off or before night shows on weekdays. He’s not expecting to get offered every part he auditions for, but he knows at least a few of them went well, and he still has a few more lined up before the run ends. Sometime soon he’s going to have to choose where to go from here, how best to use this momentum to keep his career moving in the right direction. It’s a daunting prospect.

Hence the solitary roof-sitting.

It’s just gone dark out, even though it’s still early – Harry feels like afternoons in London are always short. Harry pulls his coat more tightly around him to combat the slight chill that’s settled in the air since they hit September. Drivers are starting to use their headlights and neon signs starting to flash on when Harry hears the door to the roof swing open and then shut again.

He doesn’t have to turn to know who it is, and a moment later, Louis is sitting next to him. He wordlessly hands over a mug of tea and then shoves his hands in his pockets as he takes in the view.

“You pick a nice spot to brood in, Haz.”

Harry huffs out a laugh around his sip of tea. “Why thanks, Lewis.”

“What’s it this time? Not enough birds come to your window to help dress you this morning? Sense a kitten up a tree somewhere?”

Harry grins over at him. “Am I meant to be princess or a superhero?”

Louis grins back. “You’re both. A princess superhero. A superhero princess. I’m not bothered either way.”

Harry thinks about it before he settles on “I’ll be a superhero princess, I think.”

Louis hums but doesn’t say anything, and they’re quiet for a minute, admiring how London looks like it’s flickering to life as all the lights turn on, before Louis rearranges himself so he’s sitting cross-legged in front of Harry.

“So are you going to tell me what you’re thinking about? It looks a little painful.”

Hey,” Harry draws out the word and pouts, like he knows Louis expects him to.

Louis chuckles and leans forward to press a finger right to the furrow between Harry’s eyebrows. “If you don’t stop thinking, you’ll get all wrinkly, and then no one will want you and I’ll be stuck comforting you in your pre-mature old age.”

Harry feels a familiar swooping in his stomach, because even if it’s accidental and hypothetical, Louis’s implying he’ll still be in Harry’s life after their run ends. Harry would do almost anything to keep Louis at this point.

He tries to keep pouting with Louis’s finger pressed into his skin, but it’s hard to do while Louis’s touching him, and he can’t help the dimple he knows is giving him away.

“Come on, H. Spill.”

Harry huffs, and Louis rearranges himself back against the wall while Harry takes a moment to collect his thoughts. They’re pressed against each other, shoulder to shoulder and where their legs are stretched in front of them, their height difference more obvious than ever. Harry takes another moment to admire the way they look together before speaking.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do after this is over.”

Louis nods in sympathy. “Thought that might be it. You’re bound to have plenty of offers with the reviews you’ve been getting.”  

Harry shrugs and carefully places his tea on the ground next to him. “I only have like, two official ones. Still have a few auditions to do. S’a lot to think about. Don’t wanna be too hasty, y’know?”

“Forget princess superhero. I’ve changed my mind, you’re an ent.”

He can hear the smirk in Louis’s voice, but he rolls his eyes and lets the reference pass because he knows Louis would ignore any protests anyway.

“Don’t stress too much about this, alright?” Louis has softened his voice a shade, just enough to put it in his range of Soothing Harry tones, but not enough for Harry to feel like he’s being coddled. “You’re gonna be fantastic in whatever you choose. Any show would be lucky to have you in its cast.”

Harry doesn’t meet Louis’s eyes, but he knows Louis is watching him as he pulls at a loose string on his coat. “I dunno, Lou. You know how rough this was for me. And like, I think I’m fine now, I don’t think I’ll freak out again, but like.” He clears his throat, moves his eyes to the horizon. Louis doesn’t interrupt him. “I don’t wanna make the wrong choice and have all this be for nothing.”

Then he feels Louis move his arm to tangle their fingers together, and Harry is startled into turning to look at him. Louis doesn’t say anything until he has Harry’s eyes on his. “Hey. No. I really don’t think there’s such a thing as a wrong choice for you right now, but even if it doesn’t work out the way you want it to, this wouldn’t be for nothing.”

Harry glances down at their hands before looking back up at Louis, suddenly aware of what a contradiction Louis is right now. He’s in rumpled trackies and a hoodie, and Harry knows if Louis wasn’t up here lecturing him, he’d be sleepsoft and curled into a corner somewhere trying to get some much-needed and even more deserved sleep. But he is here, guiding Harry, and as he speaks the lines of his face are hard and serious in a way they usually aren’t, like he wants Harry to know he means every word.

Again, Louis waits to speak until Harry’s looking back at him. “You’ve got a Niall now, and a Zayn and a Liam, and they’ve got you. That’s something.”

He smiles a bit crooked, but his eyes fond as ever when he continues. “And I’ve got a Harry, and you’ve got a Louis. That’s something too.”

Harry doesn’t say anything for a minute or two. He breaks eye contact to pick up his tea again, has to take several sips to loosen the tightening in his throat. When he finally thinks he can speak again, all he can manage is a “Thanks for the tea, Lou.” He hopes Louis hears what he means.

“Anytime, popstar.” Suddenly they’re not holding hands anymore, and Louis is jumping to his feet. He turns and beams down at Harry for a moment before offering his hand again to pull him up. “Speaking of, we’ve got people to tend to. Zayn and Perrie’ve taken over the break room, and we need to kick them out before they eat all our food or have sex on the table.”

Louis’s hand is warm on the small of his back as he steers him back inside.

 

PART V

“I can no longer keep me from my lord.”

-Edward II, Christopher Marlowe

 

-L-

 

“Mum! Just tell me what I should do!”

Louis’s been on the phone for over an hour, and he’s starting to lose his patience.

As any production wound down, it was like the end of an era. And with any end there had to be a beginning; for actors, it meant once again subjecting themselves to the sick and terrible constant in every actor’s life - auditioning.

When Louis had been with the RSC, he hadn’t really had to stress too much. Sure, he worried about which role they’d choose to cast him in for their next show, but he hadn’t had to make any decisions about which shows to audition for or which projects to pick if he was offered more than one at a time.

Now, with more offers than he can comprehend rolling in, it’s becoming evident that Louis is not equipped to handle this situation. The decisions are too big. Especially with the latest offer from none other than James Corden to join him in his new production on Broadway. Fucking Broadway!

Louis’s always dreamed big, but he never even considered the idea that he would get work overseas. In the theatre capital of the world. (Fuck. He needs his mum’s help.)

“Boo Bear, I told you. It has to be what you want to do. Don’t worry about us.”

His mum is being completely reasonable, and Louis does not appreciate it.

He knocks his head into his dressing room mirror repeatedly. They’d just finished their last Sunday matinee show, and Louis had stuck around to wallow a bit.

“Please, mum. Like, it’s a great opportunity, yeah? And James seems like a good sort. I’d probably enjoy working with him. But it’s all the way across the bloody ocean! And it’s a six month contract. I’ve never done a show that long before! What if I get bored and homesick and lonely?”

He hears his mum sigh on the other end, and he is briefly annoyed because he is making good, well thought-out, professional points.

“Darling, is there something else going on? Something to do with that lovely Harry? Is he the reason you don’t want to go?”

And, woah. He did not ask his mum to psychoanalyze his problems.

“What? No! This has nothing to do with Harry and everything to do with you and the girls. I don’t think I could stand being away for so long.”

“Alright! Alright, I’m sorry. I just thought – well anyway, if you really don’t think you’ll like it, Boo Bear, then don’t take the job.”

Louis sighs and messes with his fringe. “But it is the kind of job I want. It’s high profile, big salary. Just the type of job to prove to –“

Louis Tomlinson!

He unconsciously straightens at his mum’s tone.

“You do not have to prove anything to anyone! I raised you better than that. You need to stop worrying about other people and worry about what’s best for you instead.”

And alright. She has a point. But with Edward II,he’d gotten himself on lists like “up-and-comers to watch,” and he wanted to live up to the potential that people saw in him. (And if it had the added bonus of rubbing it in the faces of those who doubted him in the RSC, then all the better.)

“Sorry, mum. I’m just stressed. You’d think with this many options it would make my life easier. Instead, I’m second-guessing everything I want.”

His mum chuckles down the line, and it fill his stomach with warmth. “Never second guess your feelings, Louis. Do what makes you happy.”

“I love you, mum.” Seriously. His mum was the best.

“I love you, too, baby. Now, I’ve got to go pick up the twins from their footie practice. I’ll talk to you later.”

“Okay. Bye, mum.”

“Bye, sweetie.”

Louis sinks down in his chair and brings his phone to rest in his lap. He tilts his head back to look up into the fluorescent light in the ceiling and goes over the one argument he hadn’t shared with his mum.

The Broadway gig would pay off his student loans and then some. He hadn’t brought it up with her because it always upset her when he worried about their financial problems, but how could he not? How could he not take an opportunity that would finally rid him of the guilt he’s been harboring for years?

But his mum wasn’t wrong. His hesitation did have something to do with Harry. Well not just Harry, exactly. All the boys. They had become so much apart of his everyday life, that life without them would seem…less, somehow.

And he did have other options. Options for other shows in the West End for the upcoming season. Jobs that meant he would be able to keep his apartment and stay with his friends.

But then, if he did stay, who’s to say that he’d ever get over his feelings for Harry?

It was something that had been eating him up from the inside for the past month, because as much as he had tried to see Harry as just a friend, it didn’t stop him from wanting things he couldn’t have. Harry had made his stance on the whole thing very clear. As soon as they had agreed to be friends, most of the weirdness surrounding Harry had stopped. He looked like he was sleeping again and he smiled a lot more, and how could Louis ruin that?

So Louis kept his feelings to himself, trying his best to only let them out in short bursts during his scenes with Gaveston onstage.

Part of the draw of the Broadway job is that it could be his escape. If he stays, he could never stop being friends with Harry, and if he’s around, he’ll never stop wanting him.

Louis groans and scrubs a hand across his face. This is why he’s bad at making decisions.

Louis’s phone buzzes, and speak of the devil, it’s Zayn asking if he’d like to have lunch with him and Perrie. Louis rolls his eyes because the two are practically joined at the hip these days. He can’t blame them though, since Perrie is leaving for her new job in Italy soon. Zayn had been sulky around everyone but Perrie for days after Perrie told him. It was a huge opportunity for her to make a name as a costume designer (some show with fantastical elements and big costume pieces, Louis hadn’t really listened to the details), and Zayn had encouraged her to take it. But he wasn’t looking forward to missing her.

Louis sends a quick text in confirmation and heads out of the theatre towards the rooftop bar by St. Paul’s that had become their habitual in-between shows eatery. Louis particularly likes the place because there’s a clear view of the Globe, which allows him to brag about his performances there while everyone else rolls their eyes and protests loudly.

When he arrives, he gives Pezza a kiss on the cheek and Zayn’s hair a ruffle before seating himself across from them.

“Where are the rest of the boys?”

“Niall is with Barbara since she leaves tonight for a week-long shoot, Liam is in a meeting with Simon, and – babe, do you know where Harry is?”

Zayn shrugs in response to Perrie’s question, “Dunno. Maybe he’s babysitting Lux again.”

They all hum in response, and Louis tries not to smile as he remembers the last time Lux had come to the theatre, when they’d played hide-and-seek in the curtains. (Harry had been particularly endearing that day.)

He must fail to hold in his fond because Perrie and Zayn share a Look. This Look has become a much too frequent occurrence in their little group if you ask Louis, because it only happens when his friends catch him thinking about or looking at Harry. He hates pity, and he hates that he’s so obvious.

So it’s not his fault that he sounds a little harsh when he asks, “What?

Perrie looks at Zayn, and they must say something using their couple telepathy because suddenly she’s looking at her watch and standing up.

“Oh, would you look at the time! I need to get back to the theatre to finish patching up Gerrard’s trousers. How he manages to rip them at least once a week, I’ll never know.”

She drops a quick kiss to Zayn’s lips, and then she’s gone.

Louis narrows his eyes at Zayn, who stares back at him innocently.

“This is all a set-up, isn’t it?”

“How else were we supposed to get you to talk about it?”

It being?”

“Cut the crap, Lou. Harry. What are you going to do about him?” Zayn sounds truly exasperated, and Louis would like to remind him that Louis is the one who’s had to live it. Not all of them are lucky enough to find manic pixie dream costume designers who share their weird sense of humor and beautiful facial features.

Louis plays with his silverware like a petulant child. “There’s nothing to do, Zayn.”

“Bullshit.”

“And even if there was, the show is ending, and everyone will be moving on anyways.” (Liar.)

Zayn sees right through him. “Do you really believe that?”

“I don’t know!” Louis lets his silverware clatter on his plate, drawing stares from the other patrons.

Zayn softens and reaches out for Louis’s hand. “Lou. Please explain to me what’s going on. I feel like I’ve completely missed something here.”

“After the last time I talked to you, I was ready to tell Harry how I felt.” Louis focuses on their clasped hands. It’s easier. “But he must’ve, like, sensed it because that same day he suddenly was so distant and didn’t even want to be in the same room as me. It was only after I talked to him on opening night and offered to be friends that things went back to normal.”

Louis laughs ruefully. “He couldn’t have been more clear about how he feels if he put on a sign that said ‘I am in no way interested in dating Louis Tomlinson. Thanks for asking.’”

“I don’t think-” Zayn wrinkles his nose, but Louis cuts him off.

“Look, I know that since you’re with Perrie now, you think that every romance should work out, but the world isn’t like that. Harry and I aren’t you and Perrie. I’m not going to force unwanted feelings on the poor boy and cause him to have another meltdown, alright? It was difficult enough to watch the first time.”

Louis starts folding his napkin in his lap. “I’ll probably take the Corden offer, so I won’t have to see him every day, and I’ll be able to properly get over whatever this is. Then I can come back, and we can continue to be mates. It’s what’s best for everyone.”

“It’s not what’s best for you.” And Zayn looks truly saddened by the fact.

Louis shrugs. “I’m still young. I have plenty of time to make other selfish choices.”

“Bro.”

“I know you just want to help, Z, but really, I’m fine with this. Or I will be. Promise.”

“Harry’s an idiot if he really doesn’t want to be with you.”

Louis’s smile stretches thin across his face, but if he practices enough, eventually it might be real.

“I know, right? I’m a total catch!”

Zayn laughs like the good sport that he is, and they spend the rest of lunch discussing the fact that Gerrard kept ripping his trousers as an excuse to see Perrie.

If a sewing kit and a threatening note appeared at Gerrard’s station the next day, Louis’s sure they have nothing to do with it.

 

~x~

 

Closing night sneaks up on him.

He’d obviously been preparing, what with him officially accepting James’s offer and making sure to arrange another party at Niall’s for a ‘four to the floor stompa’ (a phrase that Liam would never live down).

But the actual act of bowing for the last time catches him off guard, and suddenly, he’s trying to swallow down the lump in his throat. Then Harry’s there, pressing a hand to the small of Louis’s back as they bow as a cast for the last time.

Louis knows how fortunate he is to have been a part of this production, this cast, this moment, and wonders if he’ll ever find something this magical again in his life.

Then, Harry draws his attention by squeezing him to his side, and when Louis looks up at this man, green eyes sparkling and dimple deeper than ever, Louis feels he already has.

He wonders if this kind of magic is something that can really last, or if it’s like the petals that Louis and Harry had both tried to keep from that fateful production of Midsummer - something transient.

He’s resigned himself to letting go of Harry, and he will. But he’ll allow this one last moment when he hugs Harry to him, presses his nose into the space behind Harry’s ear and just breathes.

The hours following the show are a mess of tears and goodbyes and alcohol (thanks to Niall), but at the end of the night it’s just the five boys sitting out on Niall’s porch - even though it’s way too cold to be doing such things in October.

They’ve been quiet for a few minutes now, either because they’d had too much to drink or they didn’t know what to say.

Finally, Liam says, “I just want you guys to know that I feel like I have four younger brothers thanks to this show, and I hope we can stay this way. I wouldn’t want it to change just because we aren’t working together anymore.”

“Here, here!” Niall raises his Guinness to toast, and the rest follow laughing to break the serious moment that had settled around them.

“I’m expecting visits from all of you fuckers while I’m in New York, just so you know.” Louis tries to say casually, but it probably comes out a bit more desperate than he intended because suddenly he has a lap full of Niall and Harry, saying things like “Of course, Lou” and “Always,” while their drinks slosh everywhere.

“Ugh! Get off, shitheads! You’re making my jeans smell like beer!”

“Not all of us can drink refined cocktails all night like you, Lou.” Zayn says from his seat a safe distance away, and fuck him very much.

“Fuck you very much.” Louis accompanies it with a rude hand gesture, and a very intoxicated Harry nearly pisses himself laughing at that.

Niall falls onto his side, which spurs another peal of laughter from the whole group, and as Louis looks around at his boys, he knows he’ll keep this at least

 

-H-

 

Simon Cowell’s three-month run of Edward II is over. It’s been almost two weeks. His next project wasn’t for another month, so the morning after the last cast party Harry had driven back to Cheshire to recuperate with his family.

He felt like he hadn’t spoken to his mum in ages – and it was kind of true, since she’d been out of the country up until the last month of shows. They’d spent almost an entire day just catching up with one another, Harry telling stories about the play and his mum showing him pictures of places she’d been. It had been exactly what he’d needed after the four months he’d had.

He’d been talking to Louis, Niall, Zayn, and Liam nearly every day still, and as much as they’d spoken about staying together at the final cast party, Harry had been surprised to find they’d meant it.

Niall had texted him almost as soon as he’d left the party to say he missed him. Zayn had called him during the drive to Cheshire to whine some more about how much he hated helping Perrie pack for Italy, but how amazing it was that he had the opportunity to learn so much more about her while they did it. Liam went so far as to forward him a timetable for weekly skype dates, bi-weekly when their schedules allowed it.

Louis hadn’t texted him until teatime of Harry’s first afternoon in Cheshire – I just woke up and I’ve no idea what I’m meant to do with myself now Xxx. His mum had taken one look at his face when he’d seen the text and said, “It’s that Louis boy, isn’t it? Tell him I say hello.”

They’ve basically been texting non-stop since then. Harry’s pretty sure he hasn’t put down his phone for more than two minutes at a time, even sleeps with his hand curled around it just in case Louis texts him at night. They’re not always saying anything important, really.

Mostly it’s commentary on whatever junk television Louis’s watching and blurry pictures of everything Harry wishes Louis were there to see in person. Sometimes it’s just Harry relaying entire conversations between Louis and his mum. Sometimes it’s Louis sending lists of films for Harry to watch. Sometimes it’s Harry sending instructions for recipes he thinks Louis is capable of making on his own.

Harry’d gotten a drunk text from Louis after he’d been gone for about a week –  Miss u sooos muchHaz Xxxxxxxxxxx . He’d stared at it for what was probably longer than strictly necessary, could recite each typo by heart if someone put a gun to his head and asked him to, but luckily no one was likely to do that, so.

The one thing they don’t text about is Louis’s impending move to New York. Harry doesn’t even like thinking about it, and Louis hasn’t brought it up, and as far as Harry knows it’s not happening in the immediate future, so Harry’s content to pretend it’s not happening at all until such a time when he can’t anymore.

Now Harry’s driving back to London, taking advantage of the early afternoon lull in traffic. His phone is irritatingly silent and still in his lap. He’s itching to check for a text from Louis, because he hasn’t heard from him in almost a day. He even lets himself call once, reasoning that the fact that it’s unsafe to text and drive at the same time is a good excuse to do so, but it goes straight to voicemail.

After half an hour of restlessly flipping through radio stations, he gives up and calls Niall, because he’d said he would during his drive home anyway. It takes only three rings for Niall to pick up.

“What’s the craic, Harry?”

Harry tells Niall about being home, and listens as Niall tells him about Barbara’s latest show, then about golfing with Bressie, then about Liam’s adventures at the Funky Buddha, and then about how unbearable Zayn’s being over Perrie moving. As he listens to Niall talk, Harry’s struck with how much he misses his boys, every single one of them. He’s so filled with affection and gratitude he could burst.

It’s not until Niall asks if he’s spoken with Louis lately that he remembers he hasn’t.

“Oh, um. I dunno, hold on a sec.” He pulls his phone away from his face to do a quick check for missed notifications, and feels his heart drop a bit when he sees he doesn’t have any. “M’back. Haven’t talked to him since yesterday.”

There’s a beat-long pause at the end of the line, and Harry almost pulls his phone away again to check to see if he’s lost service, but then Niall hums.

“Makes sense, he’s probably so busy packing, what with how his flight got bumped back and all.”

Harry thinks he hears a flurry of voices on the other end of the line, but he can’t be sure because suddenly his entire body is buzzing with adrenaline.

“Sorry, what?” Maybe he’d misheard.

Niall sounds confused. “Yeah, didn’t he tell you? Flight changed yesterday, something to do with weather? I dunno. We all already said goodbye to him yesterday cause m’ pretty sure it goes out tonight. Thought he would’ve called you to say goodbye.”

Harry glances in his rearview mirror and moves into the fast lane, putting slightly more pressure on the accelerator than he usually would.

“No, he didn’t say anything about that.” He hopes Niall can’t hear the edge of hysteria to his voice. “He can’t be moving tonight, what about all his stuff?”

“Dunno mate. Pretty sure his mum’s gonna send it. Or Liam. Same thing, really.”

Harry can hear Niall laughing at his own joke, but cuts him off. “I’m still an hour out, will he still be there?”

“You’d better head straight there, then. He’s probably still packing his overnight, you know how he does everything last-minute, so mayb—.”

Harry hangs up without another word, then immediately calls Zayn in the off chance that Niall’s having him on. But he doesn’t pick up, and that only makes Harry panic more, because if Louis were to ask someone to help him pack it’d probably be Zayn. He calls Liam, and Liam confirms it. His voice sounds a bit off, but Harry puts it down to Liam feeling torn up over Louis leaving. Harry can sympathize.

He spends the rest of the drive into London divided between praying to any deity listening that Louis will still be at his flat and trying to figure out what the hell he’s going to say once he gets there.

 

~x~

 

His parallel park job in front of Louis’s complex is not his proudest achievement, but Harry can’t be bothered to feel any guilt at whoever he’s inconveniencing by taking up a spot and a half. He practically sprints all the way to Louis’s flat, too preoccupied with the prospect of Louis already having left for the airport to think about the last time he’d been here. He makes it up the four flights of stairs and nearly barrels straight into Louis’s door instead of knocking like a normal person, but manages to turn himself at the last minute to fall against the wall next to the door instead.

Harry only gives himself a moment or two to catch his breath, not bothering to adjust his headscarf and instead impatiently shoving his hair back out of his eyes before knocking, trying to keep the rapts polite.

But when ten full seconds pass without a response, Harry knocks more urgently, closer to banging than knocking, if he’s honest. He’s pulling out his phone to try calling again when he hears movement behind the door.

“M’coming, m’coming, hold on a sec, will you?”

A second later the door opens to reveal a sleepsoft Louis, in trackies and the footie tshirt Harry’d worn the first time he stayed over, hair all over the place. He obviously didn’t check the peephole before opening the door, because his eyes widen from where they were nearly crinkled shut with sleep, and lets out a raspy “Haz, what–?” right before Harry throws himself at him, pulling Louis into the tightest hug he can manage without toppling them both over.

Louis just holds him for a moment without saying anything, his face pressed into the crook of Harry’s neck and his arms tight around Harry’s waist. When Louis tries to pull back, Harry shakes his head, knows Louis can feel him do it and feels Louis huff a laugh against his collarbone in response.

Louis lets it go on for almost a minute before he tries to pull away again, and this time Harry lets him.

“Hazza, what’re you doing here? Thought you weren’t meant to be back with us till tomorrow.” He pulls Harry in and closes the door behind him.

Harry takes a steadying breath. “I. Um.”  Takes another. “Were you gonna tell me you were leaving for New York today? Or were you just gonna call once you landed? Or were you gonna call at all?”

A series of emotions flicker across Louis’s face, too fast for Harry to catch, before he settles on confusion. “What’re you talking about, Harry?” He says it slowly, eyes flickering back and forth as he searches Harry’s face. “I’m not leaving for another two weeks, I thought Liam put it down in the google calendar?”

Harry blinks at him, trying to process Louis’s words as relief courses through him. “Li set up a google calendar?” He asks faintly, because that’s the easiest thing to respond to at the moment.

Louis rolls his eyes, but he’s smiling a bit. “Check your email, it’s color-coordinated and everything.” He watches Harry for a moment before he speaks again, and he sounds almost hesitant when he does. “Why’d you think I’d leave without saying goodbye, let alone without telling you?”

Harry tears his gaze away from Louis for the first time since he’d reentered Louis’s flat, and is confronted with being in Louis’s flat for the first time in months. It looks almost exactly as he remembers – even the textbook he’d been reading the last night he was here is still on the coffee table, open to one of the pages he’d scribbled on.

“Niall said you were leaving tonight.”

Louis seems to consider that a moment before he says, “That doesn’t answer my question.”

Harry shifts his weight from one foot to another. “I just.” He pauses to figure out how to phrase what he wants to say, and Louis lets him take his time. “I guess. I just thought maybe you forgot. Or that you didn’t think it was important for you to tell me.”

Louis still hasn’t said anything. Harry coughs into his fist once before chancing a look at Louis. Apparently that’s what Louis’d been waiting for, because he moves forward into Harry’s space, slotting his thumbs into the crooks of Harry’s elbows, his grip gentle around Harry’s biceps.

“You mean, you thought you were so unimportant that I’d forget or not tell you at all.” Harry knows Louis has made his voice carefully even, because it comes out almost monotone.

Harry’s heart is hammering in his chest, both at having Louis this close and at being asked such a direct question. He has to look away again, but he gives Louis a fraction of a nod, because he’s already in this deep and he can’t see the point in denying it now.

“Harry. Look at me.”

It takes Harry a second to look up again, but when he does, his breath catches in his throat. Louis’s looking at him more intensely than he ever has, onstage or off.

“I need you to listen very carefully to what I’m saying.” He waits for Harry to nod again before he continues. “You are important to me. You are one of the most important people in my life. I would never leave the country without telling you.” A corner of his mouth tugs up in a rueful smile. “You’re probably the first person I’d tell, honestly. I’m pretty sure I told you I’d accepted the part in Corden’s project before I told my own mother. And besides, it’s not like I’m not coming back. I wouldn’t have permanently disappeared on you.”

Harry stares at him blankly. “But...”

Louis shakes his head. “You’re not listening.”

Harry wants to take a step back, but can’t bring himself to, and he realizes he’ll be stuck torturously close to Louis for this conversation. “You left though. You went to Liam’s ‘cause you couldn’t stand it, he said so, he said–”

Louis cuts him off, looking stricken. “What the fuck, Harry.”

Harry presses on, more insistent this time, because he knows he’s right about this. “He said you had to stay at his place for the night because of a party above your flat, that you couldn’t stand being here anymore and had to leave. I was here, Lou, I know there wasn’t a party.” It’s maybe the fastest he’s ever spoken. He has to rush to get the words out before he loses his nerve. “You just needed to get away from me and were too nice to tell me to leave. So you left instead.”

Worse than having to say it aloud is seeing the flash of recognition on Louis’s face when Harry says it, confirmation of the truth of what he’s saying. Harry feels his heart drop to his stomach. He looks away, moves to put some space between them, but Louis tightens his grip.

“Harry, no. That’s not what happened. Listen to me.” Harry stills, closes his eyes for a moment to try to regain his bearings. When he opens them, it’s to find Louis looking up at him, hesitant for the first time.

“I didn’t leave because I couldn’t stand you. That’s not what happened. It’s just –” Louis cuts himself off, looking frustrated with himself. “I needed a second to think, you know? Everything happened so fast. I loved having you here – in my life in general – so much, and it’d only been what? Two weeks? After Adam, I was so determined to not be involved with someone in the show, but you had me questioning everything–” Louis cuts himself off again, eyes widening like he’d revealed too much. “I. I had to breathe, for a second. Figure out what to do. I should’ve explained what happened, and I’m sorry. I was going to explain myself the next day, but you got sick, remember? And then you were avoiding me, and I didn’t know what to do. You were so worked up over the play, I figured you didn’t need any added stress in your life.”  

Harry furrows his eyebrows at that, because he assumed he’d been far more transparent than that. “I wasn’t sick, Lou. I thought you couldn’t stand being around me anymore. Thought I’d made everything up in my head, that like. Whatever was between us was just for the stage, or something. Thought I’d misread everything.” He says it quietly, because it still stings. He can’t quite bring himself to believe what Louis’s saying just yet, and even if it’s all true, it doesn’t change the fact that he’d been hurting over this for months.

But. Maybe Louis has been hurting too. That makes Harry look up – the thought that maybe even though putting some space in between them had probably been a good idea, putting that much space between them, that suddenly, after how close they’d been, maybe hadn’t been.

Louis’s gone completely still, jaw clenched tight. Harry hates the thought of Louis in pain, so the thought of Louis being in pain because of him is almost unbearable.

And just. Fuck it. Absolutely fuck it.

Harry pulls Louis into him, grateful that Louis doesn’t fight him so he can rest his head on top of Louis’s as he starts talking. “Lou. No one makes me laugh like you do. You make fun of me, but you don’t let anyone else do it. Y’give the best hugs in the entire world. When m’not being a shithead, just being in the same room with you makes everything better. This is different, right? This is special. I mean. I tried to move on for basically the entire time we were in the show together and somehow now I’m in way deeper than I was the entire time, even though the show is finished.”

Louis chuckles a bit wetly into Harry’s neck. “I don’t think the show has any part in how we feel. Or at least how I feel. About you.”

Harry’s heart is in his throat. “How’s that?”

Louis pushes away from Harry slightly, so he can look him in the eyes. And that’s when Harry sees all the same fear and frustration he’s been feeling for months reflected back at him, but more overwhelmingly, he sees an emotion he’s wants so badly to put a label on.

“I love you, you absolute moron.”

And then Louis is pushing Harry back into the door and surging up on his tip toes to seal their mouths together in a kiss.

It takes Harry a second to adjust, because this is nothing like the chaste kiss they’d shared in Niall’s kitchen. It’s long overdue and filled with pent-up emotion, and Harry naturally lets Louis lead him. Lets him lick into his mouth like he has all day to do it and slide his hands up to tangle in Harry’s hair, dislodging his headscarf.

When they take a moment to breathe, Harry breathes an “I love you, too, just so we’re clear” into Louis’s mouth, and tries not smile so he can kiss like he’s playing for keeps, because he is.

 

~x~

 

Several hours later, Louis is pillowed up against Harry’s chest and very, very gloriously, but also very, very distractingly naked. As much as Harry never wants to think about or do anything that doesn’t include his mouth on Louis’s perfect golden skin, they both need a bit of time to recharge.

So instead, Harry occupies himself by running his fingers up and down the knobs Louis’s spine, taking time to appreciate the soft hair at the nape of Louis’s neck when his hand sweeps up and the swell of Louis’s arse when it moves back down. Louis just hums into Harry’s sternum in response, lets Harry pet him in silence for a few minutes, until he props his fist there instead so he can rest his chin on it and lock eyes with Harry.

“You said it was Niall who told you I was leaving today?”

Harry can’t trust his voice, so he just nods instead. Louis narrows his eyes and hisses, “That genius little fucker,” before rolling out of Harry’s space, which is cause for great protest and flailing. Louis rolls right back, through, phone in hand.

Niall must pick up pretty fast because suddenly Louis’s growling, “Niall, you little shit!”

Harry pokes Louis until he puts the phone on speaker. “-neither of you idiots were doing anything, thought it was time for drastic action. Did it work?”

Louis rolls his eyes. “I don’t know, Harry? Do you think Niall’s meddling worked?”

“Hiiiiii,” Harry can’t keep the dumb smile off his face, and he doesn’t want to.

“The fuck? You shitheads! What’s going on?” Harry hears a commotion of more voices on the other end, can make out Liam’s worried, “We didn’t make it worse, did we?” and Harry’s heart swells even more. Really, his heart is too full at this point, it’s potentially problematic.

Louis ignores Niall’s questions in favor of his own. “Are you all there? Were all of you in on this?”

Niall must switch his phone to speaker at that, because suddenly they can hear the voices of Liam, Zayn, Perrie, and Babs much more clearly as they fight over one another on the line.

“I’m gonna take that as a yes.”

“I didn’t know about it!” Zayn protests over the others.

“Well then, I guess I won’t send you a ‘thank you’ fruit basket.” Louis is enjoying this way too much, but Harry kind of loves it. Kind of loves him.

He can’t stop himself from saying, “I love you,” right next to the phone, and Louis shoots him a half-exasperated, half-fond look for ruining his game. The other end of the line goes silent.

And then, “Oh my god! I knew it! You all owe me 20 quid!”

“Wait, that actually worked?”

“Ugh, gross, are you fuckers calling us from bed?”

And lots of squealing.

But Louis hadn’t taken his eyes off of Harry, and he doesn’t bother saying anything before he hangs up, tossing his phone towards the foot of the bed before straddling Harry’s hips and leaning down to whisper directly against Harry’s mouth, because that’s a thing he gets to do offstage now, too. “I love you, too.”