Title: Agony and Ecstasy
Pairing: Harry Styles/Louis Tomlinson
Disclaimer: everything is fiction
Warnings: Slightly gratuitous smut scene, joke about self-harm?
Summary: Louis is a struggling writer. Harry is an artist. Louis hates artists because of reasons. (AU; ~10,000 words)
A/N: Nervous but excited to get back to posting on lj. The working title for this was 'something about Louis' life being a trainwreck idfk', and somehow this whole story fell out of me in less than a week. Lots of little canon things, like Harry's tattoos are worked into this, and it's a little simpler than my usual writing style so here's hoping I come back with a bang.
Louis gets maudlin at around two in the morning.
Well, Louis is always a bit maudlin. It's just that early in the morning it's hidden by sleepy grumpiness, and from the hours of noon until midnight he carefully covers it up with quick wit and self-deprecating humor.
But every night, like clockwork, two am strikes and like a lonely old woman at a bar sipping her fifth gin and tonic, Louis Tomlinson gets moany and weepy and not-even-drunk dials his best friend.
"Zayn. Zayn, nobody is ever going to love me."
"Louis, you realize that I'm in the next room. You could just get up and talk to me."
"But that would require getting up. I'm impaired by own my misery. I can't stand. I'm staring into an emotional void."
"That would be a good band name."
Louis huffs impatiently into the receiver. "Are you even taking me seriously? My life could be on the line here. I could be on the verge of blasting linkin park and slitting my ankles."
"Except you hate the sight of blood," Zayn counters.
Louis frowns. "Mixing drugs containing acetaminophen and alcohol?"
"We ran out of Tylenol yesterday."
"Making some truly hideous art...?"
"You don't draw or paint. In fact, I think you said the other day that art is pretentious, incomprehensible bullshit."
"No, I said Jason Pollock's art is pretentious bullshit. Keep up with me, Zayney."
There's a groan and the sound of footsteps as Zayn wanders out of his bedroom to find Louis sprawled on the floor, face-down in the carpet.
"Tell me what brought this...revelation on," Zayn says and sits down next to Louis on the floor.
Louis shrugs and keeps his face buried in his arms. The phone is still lying by his ear as if he was talking on it.
"Just a thought I had. A thought I often have."
"Oh, Louis." Zayn cards his fingers through Louis' hair, and Louis makes a little, pleased groan. Being petted is the only good part of these little spells he has. "You're very wonderful and loveable and you'll find someone who'd be delighted to put up with your angry rants against the art institution."
"It's all shit," Louis re-iterates.
They both know he's only saying it because his last boyfriend was an artist. He's never really recovered from the whole mess, and now Louis holds a grudge against anyone who's ever held a paint brush. It's tragic, really. Another tragic facet to his tragic life.
Louis is a trainwreck.
Zayn tugs at the collar of Louis' shirt. "Come on, come to bed before you start weeping and drinking gin."
"I don't drink gin. Tastes like pine trees, who wants to drink trees?" Louis grumbles, but obliges and follows Zayn off to his room.
That night, like most nights, Zayn cuddles Louis until he drifts off to sleep, and Louis tries to pretend he's in the arms of a lover instead of his overly obliging best friend.
And in the morning, it's all still shit.
Every day, Louis Tomlinson rolls out of bed somewhere near eleven in the morning, pulls on whatever doesn't smell dirty off his floor, and wanders down to the hole in the wall coffee shop next door to their flat. He sits in the corner booth near the window and a boy with messy brown hair and too many oversized jumpers brings him a black coffee and the pastry of the day. And Louis pulls out a notebook and attempts to write.
Then somewhere around four in the afternoon it all goes to shit (naturally) and if it's not a Tuesday, he goes home. If it is a Tuesday, he goes to the therapist, where he avoids talking about the things that really trouble him (love and loving and his unlovability). And the therapist scratches down some notes, tells him to think happy thoughts, and sends him on his way.
It's been this way for the past six months.
He supposes the whole thing is a huge waste of money. Dropping out of university because you can't bring yourself to go to classes, moving in with your best friend, and spending every day sitting on your arse and doing absolutely nothing would probably be a blessing to most people (he knows his uni friends would have jumped at the chance to spend life in eternal laze). But to Louis it's just frustrating, not being able to bring himself to follow a set schedule and have any semblance of a real life, and leaves him with too much time to sit and think about things that got him into this situation in the first place.
In order to avoid thinking, he writes.
He writes a lot about the guy who serves him coffee, actually. Which Louis supposes is probably a little creepy, but what the guy doesn't know doesn't have to hurt him.
Sometimes Mr Hipster Jumpers is a con artist, trying to smuggle art. Others, he's the star of a romantic comedy he doesn't even know about. On the rare occasion, he's dying and he knows it and he has to sort out what little time remains in his life. His visage is the star of a thousand stories, a thousand little tales scribbled into Louis' notebook, never to be finished.
Louis never finishes anything.
But today he's got his pen in his hand and he's going to start another one; another story he knows he won't conclude, one he'll leave to rot in the margins of a dog-eared moleskine he stole from Zayn's closet.
Today, he decides, Mr Curly Brown Hair will be a prisoner.
"Erm...excuse me...?" Louis gnaws at his lower lip and tries to get Mr Too Many Bracelets' attention. "Do you have a pen I could borrow? I was halfway through a sentence and mine gave up on me. Guess it knows my writing is rubbish, but."
He shrugs and lets the sentence die on his lips.
It's only his fourth time talking to the waiter (barista? Louis doesn't know what the kids call them these days). After three days straight of the same order at the same time, the guy had figured out that he was going to be one of those customers with a habit and just had Louis' order hot and ready when he walked in the door. Louis always left his payment on the table in exact change, and never the two did speak. Until now, at least.
Beautiful Barista looks up from the counter where it looked like he was taking notes on a napkin himself. "Yeah mate, no problem."
The counter is close enough that he could have just leaned over it and handed Louis the pen, but instead he comes around and stands next to his table. Close to Louis. Too close for comfort.
"You're always writing," he remarks.
Louis shuts his notebook faster than the speed of light and looks him up and down in search of a nametag. Six months of coming here and he had no idea what this kid's name was.
"Harry," he says. Louis' eyes snap back up to his face. "You're looking for a name tag, right? I don't wear mine. I don't like how the pin messes up the knit on my jumpers."
Harry. Harry's voice is deeper and rougher than Louis' remembers. Not that hearing him say 'what'll you be having today?' three times is very memorable anyways.
"Don't you get in trouble for that?" Louis asks.
Harry spreads his arms and looks around the room. "See anyone here to yell at me?"
The shop is empty except for the two of them. It usually is.
Louis twirls the pen between his fingers. He's got this itch to get back to writing, but he's conveniently forgotten how he was going to finish the sentence he'd started and well...Harry is the first non-Zayn, non-therapist person he's talked to in two weeks, and something makes him want to chat him up. Impress him.
"I'm not interrupting, am I? You looked like you were in the zone there, a minute ago," Harry asks.
"No, no! Actually, I sort of just lost my train of thought."
"I know how that feels."
"Do you write?" Louis asks hopefully.
Harry shakes his head. "Artist."
Oh. And there goes that pesky little urge to try to charm his barista.
Harry leans back against the glass case that holds the pastries, all long limbs and ill-fitted clothing. His jumper is too big and his pants are too tight, and he's got more bracelets on his wrist than a candy kid at a rave. But it works for him, he has style. Louis wishes he had style.
"So are you published?" Harry folds his arms over his waist conversationally. "You spend an awful lot of time here."
"I, erm." Louis flinches at his own hesitation. "I just have a lot of free time? It's quite boring, really."
Inside, Louis kicks himself for making his life sound so lackluster. Not that he wants to impress Harry. He's an artist. Louis hates artists.
Harry shrugs. "You might as well just work here. Another hour and you'd be here for a full shift."
Louis can't tell if he's kidding or not.
"Dunno if I'm responsible enough to hold the job down, mate. Being a crazy writer and all," Louis jokes.
"Doesn't really matter. If you haven't noticed, noon to five isn't exactly our peak hours."
The doorbell jingles as an old woman walks in. Harry turns to go back behind the counter.
"Just think about it, if you're ever bored and want something to do."
Louis goes back to his notebook. Today, Mr Tigh- no, Harry, today Harry will be a salesman.
The next day, Louis rolls out of bed (like always), and goes to the coffee shop (like always). But today he waves away the coffee and the croissant Harry has ready for him, asks for an apron, and wanders behind the counter instead.
Harry doesn't question him, though if the grin on his face is anything to go by, he's more than a bit pleased to have Louis take him up on the job offer. He shows Louis around all the different machines, promises to get a label maker so that he doesn't have to memorize what everything is for and where everything goes, and shows him how to log into the till under Harry's account (Louis insists that he doesn't need to make him an account just yet, he wants a trial week to make sure he's committed to this).
For the next five hours, they don't talk much.
Sometimes Louis tends towards oversharing, but others he clams up until he's felt out his partner. Harry doesn't seem to mind. He mostly putters around in the back, fiddling with the music in the shop and using the backs of napkins to sketch god only knows what.
And Louis stands at the counter, scribbling away in his notebook (today, Harry is the savior of the world in a time of apocalypse). When he gets stuck, or gets sick of his plot, he puts the pen down, shuts the notebook, and goes to wash mugs or reads the drink recipe book under the counter.
He feels a little sad when five rolls around and it's time for him to go home, but he has plans to eat pizza for dinner with Zayn and Pizza Thursday is a ritual he refuses to break. It's all that keeps him remembering what day of the week it is.
Harry doesn't ask if he's coming in as a customer or as a worker tomorrow. He just waves Louis goodbye when he walks out, and tells him he hopes he had a nice day.
When Louis comes back the next day, it's clear that Harry has assumed he'll be coming back as a worker and has labeled everything accordingly.
He's in the process of applying a label that says 'window' to the windowsill behind the counter, and is looking very smug about it.
"Oh, I'm sorry, it appears I've come to the label-maker factory test room by mistake," Louis says and pretends to walk back to the door.
Harry laughs and grabs another sticky label from the edge of the counter, where he has several printed and stuck on by a corner for future application.
"I was just being helpful to you," he says. He's sticking a label to Louis' chest. "Liam's going to have a coronary when he comes in."
Louis glances down at it and arches a brow. "In case I forget my name? Do I look that unhinged, Harold?"
Harry shrugs. "You complained about me not having a nametag and I couldn't find the blank ones."
"Where's the label maker?"
Louis finds it on the counter. It's a shiny thing, looks rather expensive- Harry probably used the store funds to purchase it. Louis pushes a few buttons, typing in 'dick' and hitting print, then sticking the completed label to Harry's chest.
"There. Now you have a nametag too." Louis grins.
Harry reads it and full on cackles, head tilted back and mouth wide open. The sight of him leaves Louis torn between laughing himself and feeling his breath catch in his throat. He's too pretty, really, this kid is.
Harry peels the label off and applies it to his groin instead.
Louis makes a poor attempt at not laughing; winding up making a horrible giggle-snort from behind clenched teeth."I see you're the type to take a literal approach to things," he says.
"Can't pass up a good penis joke." Harry grins and goes behind the counter to make them each a mug of coffee.
Louis wanders off to find his apron and tie it around his waist. Harry never wears his, but Louis kind of likes his apron. It makes him feel more like he's doing something official at the shop, rather than just being some weirdo who feels entitled to play with the espresso machine when Harry's fiddling with his iPod.
They sip at their coffee and pick at an overly buttery croissant in silence. Louis notices that Harry sticks his tongue out whenever he eats, like he's a giraffe and he's got to capture his food with it before it reaches his lips lest it run away. It makes Louis like him a little, which is something Louis doesn't want to do. But goddamn is that face endearing.
"So. You're an artist, right? Do you like Jason Pollock?" Louis blurts out.
Harry wrinkles his nose. "It's Jackson Pollock," he corrects.
Louis feels offended at the correction and also a little relieved because it makes him like Harry less.
"Anyways," Harry continues, "no. Anyone can splatter paint on a canvas and call it a day. I've known toddlers who can do Pollock reproductions; they just can't sell them for a million pounds."
Louis grins in spite of himself. "That's what I was always telling Ben, but he was all," he begins, and puts on a pompous face and posh accent, "Noooo, Pollock is god, how can you not see the emotion in that red splatter in the upper quadrant of Canvas of Crap Number 47?"
"Was he an art school student?"
Harry nods sagely. "Art school students. No helping the lot of them."
"You're telling me."
Louis snatches the last bit of croissant off the plate just as Harry reaches for it.
"So what kind of art do you do?" he asks and tries to ignore Harry's pouting over his lost scrap of croissant.
"I try all sorts of stuff. Uhm, I really like Tracey Emin," Harry says and pulls out his phone when Louis gives him a blank expression. "See? It's all kind of sexual but..."
He sounds all hesitant about telling Louis, like he's on the verge of going on a rant about something he truly loves but is holding himself back; like he's worried Louis won't like it.
His background is a photo of neon lights, bent to form words. 'Oh Christ, I wanted you to fuck me, and then I became greedy, I wanted you to love me' it reads. Against his better judgment, Louis likes it.
"That's quite interesting, actually," he says.
Harry's face lights up.
They spend the rest of the day scrolling through photos on Harry's phone, images of art that feature neon lights and beds and wobbly drawings of naked women, and Harry explains what he loves about every single one of them.
Louis doesn't write anything, but he does go home with a strange itch to get a neon sign for his room.
Louis stands in the kitchen that evening and watches Zayn clean out of the fridge.
"God, do we even have anything edible in here?" Zayn grumbles and pulls a shriveled apple out of the produce drawer.
"Yes, we have this yogurt I bought yesterday. Which I'm going to eat now." Louis snatches the plastic cup before Zayn can trash it.
Louis imagines that if he was at an American university and living in a frat, this is what the fridge would look like. All tupperwares and takeout boxes of leftover food, and expired products, and ninety-percent empty soda bottles. There's a reason he eats lunch at the coffee shop.
Zayn grabs a tupperware and peers into it. "Is this yours?"
"What's in it?"
"A half-eaten Big Mac and..." Zayn squints. "Are those Nandos chips?"
"Yeah, that's mine then."
"Did you actually go to two fast-food restaurants for takeout and then finish neither?"
Louis stares at Zayn like that's the most natural idea in the world. "I don't like how McDonalds handles their potato-products. They're like cardboard. And nandos was on the way home anyways."
"I can't decide if that's the height of laze or pickiness..." Zayn throws the entire tupperware into the garbage without opening it.
Louis leans back against their messy little dining table and tries to lick the yogurt out of the container so he doesn't have to wash a spoon.
"Zayn, I have a problem."
"Yeah, a problem with eating half of your junk food and then leaving it in the fridge to rot."
Louis bristles at his words. "Hey, that curry in there is yours!"
"No, it was yours and you decided you didn't want the kind with chicken in it and gave it to me."
"Oh. Anyways, my problem."
Zayn rolls his eyes at the way Louis has his tongue shoved into the container of yogurt and goes to get him a spoon. "Lay it on me." He hands Louis one from their collection of plastic take-out spoons.
"Thanks, babe." Louis licks some yogurt off his chin. "I've met someone."
"And?" Zayn asks. "What's the problem?"
"He's an artist." Louis says the word with as much of a face of comic disgust he can manage.
"Oh no. He might as well have herpes," Zayn says with an equally dramatic gasp.
"Come on Zayn, take me seriously!"
"Louis, you're never serious. Even when you are serious, you make sure to sound like you aren't, so forgive me if I've built up a tolerance to this sort of thing," Zayn says. Louis makes faces at him, the kind one makes behind their mother's back after she's been bossy. "But really, what's wrong with him being an artist? Besides your insane grudge against them."
Louis tosses his empty yogurt cup into the trash before Zayn ties it off to take down in the morning. "You're heartless, Zayn. Heartless and useless. I might as well talk to Tina about this, at least she'd just sit there and take notes instead of mocking me."
"You're such a drama queen."
"Better to be queen of something than a failure at everything else."
Louis waves like royalty for no particular reason as he walks out of the kitchen.
Louis doesn't mention Harry when he visits Tina, his therapist, that week though.
He doesn't really need to talk about it.
It's not artists that he hates, not really (well, he does hate the mention of Pollock and the smell of turpentine, but that's a whole other issue). Louis doesn't really hate anything except himself, and that's only when he's at his lowest lows.
What he has a grudge against is the fact that Harry is a person, and people have all of these issues and flaws and sometimes they cheat on you with other people and send you into spirals of misery over thinking you aren't good enough to date anyone.
The problem is that Harry has a pulse, a beautiful face, an enticing laugh, and Louis can't help but let his walls down around him and indulge him even though he barely knows him.
The problem is that Harry might break his heart.
It's three weeks into the whole working thing when Louis finally tells Harry to put him on the payroll properly. It means he's got to commit to rules and schedules, but maybe it's time to start getting his life together and taking care of himself again. Paying his own bills instead of ringing his mum for money once a month would be nice.
He's still got his days when he's not able to drag himself out of bed and calls in sick, which Harry lets him get away with every time, but on the whole he feels more chipper. He's got some sort of a purpose, even if it's just getting himself next door to re-label all the things Liam (mysterious evening-shift worker Liam who he has yet to meet. Louis likes to imagine he's about forty-five and has a handle-bar mustache) unlabeled the night before.
Harry is still too pretty, and Louis still isn't able to complete anything he writes, but it's good. They've decided that Tuesdays and Thursdays are productive days where they work on their individual 'crafts', and the other days of the week are just five hours of mindless banter.
It's all working out rather well. Louis feels close to what he assumes most people would call 'happy'.
He's curled up in his usual booth, apron on and notebook out while Harry stands at the counter and sketches. Or, rather, attempts to sketch. Every few minutes he groans, wads up his paper, and throws it out. It's not really conductive to Louis' creative process (whatever that is).
When Harry throws a waded up piece of paper across the room, Louis shuts his notebook and looks up.
"Is this performance art?" he teases.
Harry puts his elbows on the counter and runs his hands over his face; pulling at his lower eyelids and making him look funny for a second. "It's nothing."
"Is everything alright?"
Harry keeps his face in his hands and shrugs. "It's...it's fine. I'm alright, just a rough day."
"Come over here. Talk to Dr. Tomlinson about it."
Harry peers out from between his fingers at him, giving him a suspicious look before he gives up and does as he's told. Louis grins to himself and assumes as professional an air as possible; sitting up straight and getting out his notebook like he's going to take notes on Harry's problems. He's a little disappointed he left his glasses at home that morning. Would have made him look more official, he thinks.
"What do you know about therapy?" Harry asks as he slumps into the seat across from him.
"Plenty. I go once a week."
If Harry's surprised by the admission, he doesn't do anything to show it, which comes as a relief to Louis. Being some level of certifiably mental isn't one of his proud points.
"So what happened?" Louis asks.
It takes a moment of Harry hem-hawing around and gnawing at his lip before he'll say anything. "I broke up with someone this morning. That's all."
Louis feels a strange twist in his gut. "I didn't know you were dating."
"It was..." Harry gestures vaguely, searching for words. "It wasn't serious? Like, we were friends to start with and it was going to just be casual. He's a bit older than me and a bit too much like me, so we both kind of knew it wouldn't work out and then..."
Louis nods sympathetically.
"I guess I just started to like someone else, and I didn't want to feel like I was cheating on him. Emotionally, or something. It's dumb, right?" Harry asks. He won't look at Louis' face.
"No," Louis says. "No, I think that's really noble. Nothing's worse than being cheated on."
"I just didn't want him to get to the point where he was too attached, but I think he already was. He looked so hurt." Harry sighs and runs his hands over his face again.
It breaks Louis' heart to see him like this. It breaks for Harry being sad, and, selfishly, for Harry liking someone else. Some stranger who doesn't even know- Louis feels a little jealous of that person, whoever they are.
"You still did the right thing," Louis says. Harry grunts at him and he grabs his hands, pulling them off his face and holding onto them so he can't hide anymore. "No, look. Ben cheated on me. He told me he just had to be with another artist because I could never understand his work, and he cheated on me, and he fucked up my life. So you did the right thing."
Harry looks Louis in the eye at the mention of his ex. "He sounds like a real shit."
Louis shrugs. "We dated for like...two years? He was my first proper boyfriend and he went and fucked it all up. Fucked me up in the process."
He's never really talked about this. Well, he sort of talked about it to Zayn, in between bouts of sobbing and declaring all artists to be pricks. And he's vaguely told his therapist, since, you know, the whole thing is a component to his life unraveling and Louis quitting everything and walking away from it all.
But Louis is never just serious. He's never talked about it seriously and sincerely.
"I don't think you're fucked up," Harry says with an amount of sincerity that makes Louis' face go red.
"Harry, I lie on the floor of my living room every night and phone my flatmate who's in the next room to cry about my life. Stone sober," Louis says with a hollow laugh. "I got so stressed and depressed over the breakup that I dropped out of uni and wound up moving in with my best friend and living off my mum's savings. I'm not really the picture of having it all together."
"But you're trying to get it together, right?" Harry asks. "That's more than what some people do. Some people give up."
"Well, there's nothing to do but keep trying, is there?"
Louis almost wishes Zayn were there. Louis could prove that he can be serious when he wants to be.
Harry doesn't say anything back, and that's when Louis realizes he's still holding his hands, fingers laced and all like he's having a romantic moment, not confessing his painful little secrets. His cheeks flush deeper as he looks down at them and notices that for the first time, Harry isn't wearing his bracelets.
"This must really be tearing you up," Louis says, waving one of Harry's hands at him before he lets go. "You forgot all of your fancy, eclectic artist accessories."
Harry laughs and runs his hand over his bare wrist. "I left some of them at Nick's. Didn't have the heart to go back for them today."
"Least you've still got your tattoo, keeps it nice and decorated."
Louis' never actually seen the tattoos before, not in all his time at the coffee shop. Harry's sleeves only reach past his elbows, and so Louis can only see the ones near his wrist -assuming there's more- but there's a few black doodles littered there. A padlock; a shamrock; a quote about 'I can't change...'
"What are they for?" Louis asks, peering at them.
Harry looks at his own arm. "All kinds of things. Most represent things that have gone on in my life."
"Like?" Louis can't help but ask. He's a petulant, curious child at heart.
Harry grins and lightly kicks at Louis' shins under the table. "Like things I'll tell you later. Have to keep some stories to myself so I can keep you entertained."
Louis makes a face like he's terribly disappointed by the answer, but he uncaps his pen and grabs Harry's hand again. Harry sits there patiently, only giving him a quizzical look as Louis doodles on the back of his hand, in the space between his thumb and forefinger.
"A butterfly?" he asks Louis as the drawing takes shape.
"For rebirth and metamorphosis. You're supposed to be an artist, Hazza, how do you not know these things?" Louis asks and rolls his eyes in exasperation.
"You pulled that explanation out of your arse."
"I-" Louis begins to speak but stops himself and frowns. "There's no way to make a comeback to that without incidentally making a poo joke, I think."
Harry giggles. Harry tends to laugh at everything Louis says.
"Maybe I'll get this deep and meaningful butterfly tattooed on."
"You should. One of a kind art by Louis Tomlinson, the first and last art piece he'll ever do," Louis says.
Harry leaves the butterfly on his hand all day, taking special care not to wash it off, and eventually finishes his sketch. When Louis sneaks a peek at it, he notices it features something that vaguely resembles a cocoon.
When Louis gets home that evening, the first thing he does is cocoon himself in Zayn's bed, blankets pulled up around his face while he waits for his roommate to get home. And when Zayn does, he doesn't say a thing about Louis' weird behavior- he's too used to it after three years of dealing with him.
"Zayn, I have a new problem," Louis finally says.
Zayn grunts in response. He's sitting on the floor at the side of the bed, laptop on his knees while he watches a movie.
"Harry was in a relationship."
"He broke up with him because he apparently has feelings for someone else." Louis tries not to sound too whiny about it, but he can hear the pout in his own voice.
"So?" Zayn shrugs. "That someone could be you."
Louis tsks at him. "I could never be that lucky. Do you think that if I don't get out of bed tomorrow, he won't notice I didn't come in and he won't call me about and I'll never have to deal with things again? Do you think I could just live in my bed?"
"Sure, it'd be a great performance art piece," Zayn says.
Louis flicks the back of his head.
"Hey!" Zayn glances over his shoulder to scowl at him. "Seriously, why don't you just ask him who he likes?"
"Because listen, mate," Zayn continues, "this is gonna sound harsh but if you run around thinking nobody could ever care about you then...I dunno, it just doesn't ever work out good when people act like that."
"The movies say otherwise," Louis huffs. "Never Been Kissed. Drew Barrymore doesn't think she'll ever get snogged but the fit teacher makes it happen."
"Yeah, well, you don't need some geek to chic makeover like she did, and you've already snogged plenty of people."
Louis perks up. "Are you saying you think I'm fit, Zayney?"
"I-" Zayn frowns. "You are king of changing the subject and avoiding problems, aren't you?"
"Tough job but someone's gotta do it."
"Well, I've got an even tougher job for you."
"Leave it to me!" Louis crows.
"Let me watch my fucking movie."
Louis tugs hard at Zayn's ear for that, but rolls himself up in the blankets and leaves him alone for the rest of the evening.
Louis goes back the next day, though, and the day after that. He decides that drawing on Harry should be a thing, so he's sort of obligated to go in, lest Harry spend his day deprived of new doodles on his body. At some point in the day, Louis will climb up onto the counter (which he's sure is some kind of health code violation), grab one of Harry's big, warm hands and hold onto it while he draws.
"What are you drawing?" Harry asks, bemused.
"A surprise." Louis' got his tongue poking out of the corner of his mouth as he very carefully draws on Harry's bare wrist.
"Is it another butterfly?"
"Is it...a flower?"
"What is this, twenty questions?" Louis says with a huff of mock impatience.
"Ooh." Harry smiles and Louis' heart flutters in his chest. "No. But let's do that anyways," he suggests.
Louis pauses his drawing to collect himself before his lines go all squiggly. "Fine. Only if you go first," he says.
Harry purses his lips thoughtfully -his disgustingly pretty, full, pink lips- and Louis has to force himself to concentrate on the cat he's attempting to draw on the back of Harry's hand. It's gross, really, the way knowing that Harry probably likes someone else only makes Louis more attracted to him by the day.
"What's your favorite food?" Harry finally asks him.
"Getting to the hard-hitting, controversial questions first, I see," Louis teases and Harry lightly punches him in the shoulder with a disgusting (cute) giggle. "Anything home-cooked? I don't know, I can't cook, Zayn can't cook, it's awful really. I'm shocked I haven't wasted away from eating nothing but microwave dinners and fast-food chips."
"I like to cook."
"Well, then if you ever feel like taking on a poor, starving charity case..." Louis winks at Harry to make him giggle again. "Favorite movie?"
"Love Actually," Harry says. "No, wait, the Notebook."
"Sappy. I like it."
"Uhm...okay, snog, marry, avoid: Susan Boyle, Mary Berry, Rupaul."
"I appreciate how you've given me two women and a drag queen for this."
"Gotta keep it challenging."
Louis is coloring his cat in very, very carefully. "Snog Rupaul, I guess. Marry Mary because she can cook...avoid Susan Boyle," he decides and hesitates a moment before posing his question. "How's the thing going with the person you have feelings for?"
Harry tenses. "Well, erm, I haven't really said anything to them. I don't know how they feel about me."
"How will you know if you don't ask?" Funny thing for Louis to be saying. Ironic, really. "Besides, you'll be fine. You're a catch. You cook, make coffee, and you're a hipster, what's not to love?"
"I am -not- a hipster," Harry insists.
"What are we listening to right now? Cage the Dog?"
"Cage the Elephant, thank you very much."
Louis puts the finishing touch on his drawing and hops off the counter top. "Ladies and gentlemen, I rest my case," he says to the empty coffee shop and goes to grab his notebook.
The next day is Thursday, which means it's productive day. Which means Louis should be writing, just like Harry is standing at the counter with a sketchbook out, working out some design for some kind of installation piece he was telling Louis about the evening before, but Louis can't write.
When he gets upset with life and frustrated with his situation, things either go one of two ways; he either curls up in bed feeling like sadness is sand in his veins, weighing him down and trapping him in a cycle of head-pounding misery, or he ratchets up his level of sarcasm and obnoxiousness to eleven and aggravates everyone around him until he feels like he's buried his troubles deep enough inside him to forget about them for now.
With the way his foot is tapping and his mind is insisting that he make a mess of that big patch of skin left exposed by Harry’s half-buttoned plaid shirt, he's guessing that today will be the latter option.
Louis shuts his notebook and wanders across the room, sliding up onto the counter next to Harry's sketchbook. "How's it going?"
"Gooood," Harry says, dragging out the sounds of the word. "How about you?"
"Pitiful. I'm a sham of a writer, an utter failure. I should burn my notebook," Louis says.
Harry shuts his sketchbook and slides it under the counter, like he can tell Louis isn't going to leave him alone. "I'm sure you're much better than you think."
Louis scoots over so his knees bracket Harry's skinny thighs and grabs the collar of his shirt to hold it open. "I never finish anything I write. Have I told you that?" he asks as he begins to doodle on Harry's chest.
Harry raises a brow, but doesn't say anything about the location Louis has chosen to draw on. He's always stuck to hands and arms before (and, once, Harry's face, but that was more the accidental result of a playful slap-fight). Chest is new. Chest is intimate. Chest makes Louis' heart flutter a little.
"I never finish half the things I start, either," Harry says. "What are you drawing?"
"I'm giving you a hipster chest-piece." Harry rolls his eyes. "I'm writing my favorite quote, actually. Or kind of a bastardized version. Can't really fit a whole paragraph on here without you taking your shirt off."
"I could do that." Harry grins and settles his hands on the counter on either side of Louis' hips, resting his weight on them while he patiently waits for Louis to finishing drawing. He's too indulgent of Louis, really.
"Are you quite finished? I'm trying to work, here," Louis says mock-seriously. He's pretty sure the suggestion has made his cheeks go all red and embarrassing.
Louis carefully draws each letter, cramping them together a little so they all fit in the space between the sides of Harry's shirt and adding a little flourish to some of them. When he's done he caps the pen and, holding Harry's shirt open, blows on the ink. Harry strains to look down and read it.
"Love is either agony or ecstasy," Louis reads off to him before he can ask. "It should say something about 'sometimes both at once' at the end, but your chest is too skinny and insub-"
Louis doesn't get to finish his sentence because Harry's lips are covering his. Or, well, his lips and his teeth and a little bit of his chin since he was mid-sentence when Harry leaned in and Louis didn't have time to register it, much less close his mouth. But nevertheless there's a sudden spark that sends warmth from Louis' lips down into the tips of his toes and he hardly gets a chance to kiss back before Harry pulls away.
Harry looks like more of a deer in the headlights than Louis thinks he does himself. It's cute, seeing him nervous and breathless, lower-lip caught between his teeth in anxiety.
"It's you," Harry mumbles. Louis furrows his brows at him in confusion. "You're the one I have feelings for."
"Maybe we should try that again?" Louis says. "The whole kissing thing."
Harry nods and lets Louis pull him in by the collar of his shirt. It's a bit awkward at first- their noses bump as they try to figure out the best way their lips slot together. Louis' lips are thin and Harry winds up kissing the dip between his nose and upper-lip more than his actual mouth for a second, but then everything clicks and Louis is left gripping Harry's shirt until his knuckles go pale.
One kiss turns into two and then three, and then Louis is sighing against Harry's mouth. It's a little intense for having just decided they like each other, yeah, but it's been so long since Louis has kissed someone he feels affection for that he just can't stop now that he's started. And Harry is so pliant, tilting his head more when Louis does and parting his lips when Louis parts his.
It's only when Harry's tongue brushes hotly against Louis' that both of them pull away to look at each other. Louis feels like he probably looks like he's run a marathon, red cheeked and panting, and he can feel a million insecurities rising to the surface but for now he doesn't care.
"Are you sure about this?" Louis asks. "Because I hate artists. You know that."
"I'm sure we'll find a way to make it work."
Louis doesn't tell Zayn what happened when he gets home. He just curls up on the couch with a pillow in his arms, staring at the wall.
"Is this is a good catatonic state you're in, or a bad one?" Zayn asks while he tries to rustle up something for them to eat for dinner. They really ought to learn how to use a stove.
Louis cuddles his pillow closer. "I spent the whole day making-out with Harry in the coffee shop."
"You don't sound too happy about it."
Louis wants to make a face but Zayn isn't in the room. Stupid Zayn is never around when Louis wants to sass him the most. It's a dreadful issue in his life.
"I am happy, I just...I'm nervous?" Louis frowns. "He's so good, and I'm so...me, and I don't want to mess it up before it even begins, you know? Me and my stupid...issues." He doesn't say the word. He doesn't like it, being labeled something that essentially means 'perpetually sad'.
There's the sound of a microwave door being slammed, and Zayn makes his way back out into the living room.
"Louis, you'll be fine. You act like you're feeling better lately, yeah?" Zayn says. "And if he's the one that fucks it up, I'll just have to rip his dick off, won't I?"
"And freeze-dry it? Just think, you could have a trophy room full of the dicks of the men who have wronged me," Louis suggests.
"You are so fucking weird."
"You love me, Zayney."
"Yeah, yeah. Come eat, will you?"
Louis follows him into the kitchen and tells him all of the gross details of Harry's kissing technique while they eat, just to see if Zayn will gag or taunt him. Zayn never does.
Their first 'date' isn't really an official date at all.
Harry winds up inviting Louis and Zayn out to have drinks with the coffee shop's evening staff, Liam and Niall. Niall is bleach-blonde and too cheerful for his own good, and Liam isn't a forty-five year old man with a handle-bar mustache (much to Louis' disappointment). In reality, he's got sandy brown hair and is a bit overly polite at first, but he and Zayn hit it off once Liam mentions the label maker debacle. Louis thinks he should be offended when they start trading stories of his and Harry's childish antics, but he can't bring himself to be; not when he's got a pretty boy's arm around his waist and a pint in front of him.
"I feel like a fifth wheel with all the couples here," Niall jokes, and all four of them go red for different reasons.
"Oi, Nialler, you're more than welcome to get in between me and Harry here," Louis offers. Harry pinches his side and he giggles.
Louis has a niggling feeling that they're all going to wind up friends. It's a nice thought. Maybe he'll feel less like he's in some kind of parasitic relationship with Zayn in which he's sucking up his flatmate's life with his codependent antics. Maybe Zayn will get a boyfriend and stop going around looking all intense all the time. Maybe Louis will finally learn how to do a proper Irish accent.
Harry nudges Louis' side gently, pulling him out of his daydreams about being able to add 'ability to perform in accents' to his acting resume.
"Yeah, babe?" Louis asks and takes a sip of his beer.
"You want to get out of here? It's getting kind of late and there was something I was meaning to show you," Harry says.
Louis glances down at Harry's lap and wiggles his eyebrows at him. "Oooh, show away, big boy."
Harry rolls his eyes and gently guides him out of the booth. The other guys cat-call and tease them as they leave, Zayn cracking a joke about not bothering to leave the door unlocked and the lights on, but it just makes them both smile and laugh instead of getting embarrassed.
Louis' got butterflies in his stomach the whole time they walk down the street. He's got Harry's arm around his shoulders and he's snuggled into his side, and yeah, Louis has missed this. There's still that shadow of doubt at the back of his mind telling him he's going to screw everything up and wind up on Zayn's bedroom floor, miserable all over again, but right now it's drowned out by thoughts of Harry's warmth and the teasing remarks he wants to make when he sees Harry's hands shake as he's unlocking the door to his flat.
"Sorry for the mess. I tried to clean up but ah, there's not really many places for it all to go," Harry says as they step inside.
"It can't be that-" Louis begins, but pauses when he sees the state of the place. "-bad."
It's a studio apartment. Or, well, what he assumes was a studio apartment before an art supply store moved in. The whole place is spotlessly clean, but the amount of clutter makes Louis afraid to hang his jacket for fear he'd be putting it on a half-finished piece and not an actual coat hook.
"You know, Harry, when the classifieds say 'studio' they mean one room flat. Not an actual studio you can trash with your evil art supplies," Louis teases and settles for wadding up his jacket and setting it on the floor.
Harry makes a face at Louis and guides him around a stack of canvases. "Not all of us are made of best friends who have money."
"How do you find the bathroom at night without shattering some precious new piece?" Louis continues to rib him. "Where do you even sleep? On a canvas? That's real art, that."
Harry pushes a toolbox aside on a long, paint spattered table. "I sleep up there," he says, too pre-occupied to play word games with Louis.
Louis glances up. He hadn't noticed how the ceiling by the door had been terribly low, but now that he's in the middle of the room he notices that there's a loft above the tiny kitchenette at the door, where a bed seem to be.
"Ooh, like bunk beds."
"Kind of, yeah. Here. I found it." Harry pulls out a long canvas that's covered in a sheet and holds it out to Louis.
"I hope this is an artsy painting of your bits," Louis jokes and pulls out the canvas.
Under the sheet is a rough outline of a man holding a pen, the words 'Love is Agony and Ecstasy' scrawled across the canvas. The style reminds Louis of the Tracey Emin drawings he and Harry had bonded over weeks ago, and looking at it makes his eyes prickle and burn a little.
"I did it the other day. I liked the quote," Harry says and shrugs, hands in his pockets. "You can take it home with you. If you want."
"Ben never gave me his work. Of course, Ben only painted Pollack splatters, but," Louis blurts out. "Why am I talking about him? Why am I not talking about how amazing this is? Harry, you're..."
When Louis looks up, Harry's grinning from ear to ear. Louis cradles the canvas to his chest.
"You know, if I wasn't so afraid of breaking you or something that's in here I'd throw you down on the floor and ravish you right here," Louis says.
Harry laughs and holds out his arm like an old-fashioned gentleman. "Shall we head upstairs?"
"Why thank you, sir," Louis says with a great deal of bravado.
Secretly, though, he's dying a little on the inside from nerves as he follows Harry up the little ladder and heaves himself into the loft. He tried the one-night stand thing after his big, miserable breakup, but going to bed with someone he wasn't attracted to was like a more troublesome, awkward form of masturbation. But on the upside, there were less risks, less worry about if the person he's totally into is going to be less into him when they see his slight tummy or the scar on his thigh from playing football.
Louis has butterflies in his stomach and a knot in his throat as he settles Harry's canvas against the wall and sits down on the bed. All that's up in the loft is a big mattress covered in pillows and blankets. Louis thinks he could find it positively cozy if he wasn't so anxious about the fact that Harry's hands are probably going to go down his pants soon.
Harry leans out dangerously over the edge to pull the string on the ceiling light, leaving them in darkness while he fumbles around for another switch in the loft. He finds whatever he's looking for, turning on a string of Christmas lights zigzagged across the ceiling over the bed, and Louis squints at the sudden change of lighting.
"Little Hipster Artist Harry, and his little hipster Christmas lights above his bed," Louis teases.
Harry settles down onto the bed next to him, close enough that their legs are touching. "Shut uuup. My sister had lights over her bed like this. It reminds me of home," he says.
Harry smiles at him. "Just like you."
His words and the look in his eyes are so sincere that Louis squirms and covers his face to try to hide how hot it feels. He's probably twenty shades of unattractive red in this lighting.
Harry gently pries his hands off his face though and catches him in a kiss before he can whine more. They've got this kissing thing down, Louis thinks. This time there's no awkward lips on his chin or teeth clicking together, just mouths slotting together and moving softly while Harry presses him down against the sheets.
Here in private hands can roam in a way that's impossible in the coffee shop (Louis knows, he tried putting his fingers under Harry's shirt and an old woman chose that exact moment to walk in), and Louis wants to touch every inch of Harry, clothes be damned. He feels along the soft dips behind Harry's ears, fingertips tickling the edge of his jaw. It makes Harry gasp into his mouth, and Louis files that information away for later; for when he can get his lips on his neck.
Harry gets Louis' shirt rucked up in no time and big, gentle hands are splayed over his stomach, feeling him out in return. He doesn't even really get a chance to get self-conscious about his figure and wiggle away- Harry's got his lower lip sucked into his mouth, working at it with his teeth so that it's throbbing and Louis is squirming under him.
And it's just- well, Harry's so warm and lovey and respectful with the way he touches Louis like he might break, and asks before he tries to take off his clothes. For the first time there's nothing to worry about, nothing for Louis' id to get worked up over and make him say stupid, sarcastic things over to try to diffuse his nerves. Their clothes come off, piece by piece, and when Harry accidentally leans too hard on Louis' thigh and makes it fall asleep or their foreheads knock together awkwardly when they try to position themselves, it's fine.
Harry's hips are moving in small, tight circles against Louis'. Everything is skin on skin and clutching hands and soft gasps when he raises his head to look down at Louis with glassy eyes. "What uh, what do you like?" he asks.
Louis squints while he tries to register the meaning of the question. His smart-assed mind has an answer about 'things involving two goats, stirrups, and honey' prepared but he can't bring himself to gasp it out.
"You can fuck me," he says back.
Harry nods and rolls off him in search of the lube, leaving Louis lying there, legs parted and chest heaving while he tries to catch his breath (and, well, hold off from accidentally coming on himself right there).
"Shit." Harry's rummaging through a box beside his bed.
Louis drags himself up off the bed, scooting over to wrap his arms around Harry from behind and mold himself to his back, chin perched on his shoulder. "What's wrong?"
"I can't find fucking...anything. I normally don't have people over for this and I assumed I had condoms and everything when I went to the store the other day," Harry rambles apologetically.
"Shh, it's fine, it's fine," Louis assures him and kisses his back. "You can go to the store in the morning, come back, and fuck me then. Just finish me off now before I die from horniness."
Before Harry can get surly and embarrassed over being unprepared Louis drags him over backwards and spread his legs so Harry can fit between them again, not minding that they're laid out horizontally on the bed. Harry's tall enough that he can barely fit in the space comfortably this way- his feet wind up touching the wall and his knees are bent and splayed so that he can suck a lovebite into Louis' neck. Louis' always loved a tall man though, so the sight of him all folded up just makes him hotter.
"Okay. Yeah, okay," Harry mumbles into his throat as they pick up where they left off, grinding against each other like teenagers.
Louis reaches down between them, intending to get a hand around both of them. His fingers don't quite reach all the way around the both of them, though, and he ends up with most of his grip on Harry, stroking him in time to their sharp, eager thrusts. Harry lets out a low groan when he adds a little twist to the upstroke and Louis squeezes tighter.
Louis' eyes shut tight and his mouth is open but no sound is coming out when he finally loses it. Harry's mouth on his earlobe, and his sharp exhales in his ear, and the movement of their hips, it's all too much and Louis comes with a soft, choked sound. Harry isn't far behind- Louis gets in one, two good twists of his wrist and then his teeth clamp down on Louis' throat so hard it blurs the line between pain and pleasure.
They lay there like that for a few minutes, Louis' legs around Harry's waist and their foreheads touching while they struggle to catch their breath. Louis tilts his chin up, pressing kiss after little kiss to Harry's lips until he opens his eyes and grins down at him.
"Not bad for a warm-up," Harry jokes and nuzzles Louis' cheek before feeling around for something to wipe them up with.
Louis smiles at him, still breathless. "If dry-humping you is that good I'm almost worried about what the morning will be like, to be honest."
Harry cleans them up with his discarded pants and they scramble to get under the blankets and keep warm. Louis winds up with his head on Harry's chest, curled into his side and clinging like a koala as he lies there. He can't sleep though; he never can immediately after good sex.
So Harry finally relents and stretches out his tattooed arm and explains each and every one to Louis, from the star on the underside of his bicep to the little shamrock on his wrist. And Louis falls asleep to the sound of his voice, and the thought that maybe one day he could wind up with a little key somewhere on his body to match the padlock on Harry's arm.
Louis stops sleeping in, on, and around Zayn's bed and slowly starts sleeping at Harry's more until he's practically living there. He even comes to like the clutter, but that's probably more the result of being too afraid to re-organize for fear of disturbing some in-progress work of Harry's. But it's fine, he can handle clutter when he has a beautiful boy making him dinner every night in the tiny kitchenette and eating it with him in the loft before bed (and other fun activities).
Somewhere along the lines Louis quits the coffee shop too, because spending all day and all night with your boyfriend is a little too co-dependent, even for him. He starts doing online courses through his old uni, and picks up a part-time job at the local theatre, and it's all good. His life is close to balanced.
Louis feels like he could legitimately label himself as 'happy'.
"Put on Great British Bakeoff, will you?" Louis asks.
He's sitting up in Harry's bed, notebook open on his lap as he writes and Harry's forehead pressed against his thigh.
Harry glances up at him. "Taking a break?"
"Nope." Louis shakes his head, dots an 'i' and scribbles a period at the end of his sentence. "Finished."
"What's it about?"
Louis closes his notebook and sets it off to the side to fish around in bed for the remote himself. "A couple. It's a little different from the stuff I usually try to write."
"Maybe that's why it worked out this time," Harry suggests and hands him the remote.
"Yeah." Louis slides down to rest his head on the pillows. Harry curls into his side immediately, arm coming to rest across Louis' waist and chin tilted up for the kiss he expects. Louis smiles and pecks his lips. "Maybe it is."