Summary: Harry Styles isn’t thrilled about the idea of letting women compete for his love and Louis Tomlinson’s not quite sure how he wound up hosting a trashy reality show. And when the producers tell Harry he can have his pick of anybody there, the host of the show probably isn’t who they have in mind.
* * *
Harry stirred slightly from his sleep and blinked blearily around at the room. For the briefest instant he’d nearly expected to wake up in his own bed back in London, surrounded by familiar sheets and the frameless posters that his sister was always saying were much too young for him, with his entire reality TV disaster of a life proving to have been nothing more than a strange dream. No such luck. As his surroundings swam into focus in the hazy light that filtered in through the shades, it was clear that he was anywhere but home.
The room was spacious and airy, with high ceilings and wide bay windows at the foot of the bed that had offered a lovely view of the garden in the brief moments before Harry had yanked the curtains shut to collapse on the mattress last night. The bed was pillowy soft and his feet sank into the plush carpet, but the furnishing dripped with stereotypical masculinity that didn’t suit him at all. Rich mahogany headboard. Steel-colored sheets. Sharp-angled furniture with too much chrome. It was all so calculated and contrived; a far-cry from his room at his flat, where he could burrow deep into his duvet (which was certainly not pink no matter what Zayn said – the girl at the store had called it “berry” and there was nothing girly about berry), and stare at the glowing stars that he’d stuck stupidly to the ceiling when he’d first moved into the place at sixteen, and know that he belonged exactly there.
Even though Liam had reassured him again and again as he’d shown him to the suite last night that no cameras would ever come in here, living in this room still felt like a performance.
The knock at the door came again, a little louder, and Harry begrudgingly swung his legs out of bed. Surely Liam was here to lead him around like it was a big chore as usual. He should have known Liam was the early riser type. He probably ate a lot of vegetables too. And flossed every day. He seemed like the type.
It wasn’t even terribly early if he was being honest, but Harry was still cranky and groggy. Every joint in him ached from lack of sleep.
Not that he hadn’t tried to sleep. No, after he’d been stripped of his microphone and dismissed from Bachelor duty for the night, Harry had immediately stomped back to his suite on the heels of a beleaguered-looking-as-usual Liam, trying not to feel too much like a cranky puppy and not altogether succeeding. Once Liam had left him at the door with only two miniature lectures and a halfhearted attempt at an inspiring speech, Harry had strewn his clothes around the sitting room of the posh suite and trudged straight into its massive bathroom for a scalding hot shower and one of the wilder wanks of his life.
Basically, Harry had been frustrated. With his teeth piercing his bottom lip and his hand working roughly over his cock and his forehead pressed hard against the tiled wall of the shower, he’d grunted loudly as he came fast against the wall and still felt irritable as ever. Because the chemical stink of too-red roses still lingered in his nose, and the feedback buzz of his headpiece still lingered in his ear, and as much as he was trying to pretend it wasn’t an issue, the feeling of Louis’ eyes on him still lingered on his skin making every inch of him crawl and jump and twitch with feelings he couldn’t name.
This, really, was the cause of his frustration: LouisLouisLouis. Louis, who teased and prodded him and stood too close with his perfect mean laugh and his body that simply wasn’t logical. Louis, who was everything Harry was here to stop wanting and whom he wanted with a fervor that bordered on desperation. Louis, who seemed very much like he might want Harry back.
That especially was most confusing of all. Louis had never been known as being anything close to into guys. Louis had a string of model ex-girlfriends and a famously lewd sense of humor…and apparently a habit for flirting shamelessly with very male pop star Harry Styles. And so Harry had lain awake for hours, caught in that uncomfortable twilight between sleep and wakefulness, tossing and turning with a mind full of small hands wrapped loosely around the elongated shape of a microphone like they were all-too familiar and the tiny tanned triangle of skin between the bottom of a button-down and the waistband of too-tight trousers.
Harry had nearly reached the door of the suite when he remembered just how naked he was. He stopped to forage through one of his unopened suitcases where they’d been placed against the wall for him and the knock resumed, louder than ever, rattling the door in its frame.
“Liam, would you calm down! I’m coming!” He tugged a pair of track pants over his long legs and trudged toward the door.
The voice that answered him made him trip over one of his in-turned feet in surprise. “How very dare you! M’name’s not Liam and I do not like to be kept waiting.”
Harry swallowed the lump in his throat and reached for the handle.
Of course it would be Louis coming to wake him up in the morning when his hair probably looked awful and his voice was going to be even more embarrassingly slow than usual andhe definitely didn’t have a shirt on.
“I hope you were joking because if you genuinely forgot my name I’m going to throw a fit,” Louis declared loudly as soon as the door was open. He pushed past Harry and slipped daintily onto one of the couches nearest the door, gazing up at Harry reproachfully.
“I didn’t forget your name! Liam is that bloke from my agency,” Harry said, and he was really proud of himself for making actual words because fuck Louis looked good in the morning.
He was already dressed for the day in a pale blue short-sleeved shirt buttoned all the way up and light khaki trousers that hugged every inch of his solid legs. His hair was swept back from his face and his eyes looked a little too bright, like he’d woken them up before they were ready.
“Oh, the little nervous fellow?” Louis piped cheerfully. “The one who always reminds me of a puppy?”
Harry nodded and shut the door to the suite, meandering over to hesitate near the other end of the couch Louis was occupying. Louis rolled his eyes and nudged the back of Harry’s knee with his Toms-covered toe, making him buckle his legs and fall back onto the couch.
“So, dear Harold, how did you feel about your first rose ceremony?” Louis asked loudly in his presenter voice. “You scampered off last night before I got a chance to talk to you about it.”
“I did not scamper,” Harry grumbled softly, but at Louis’ raised eyebrows he fell silent.
Louis waited for Harry to meet his eyes sheepishly before continuing. “You most certainly did scamper. Ran right off like a frightened bunny. It was hopelessly endearing. You know, the girls don’t actually have cooties.”
Harry giggled involuntarily and immediately winced at the sound. “Erm, yeah. I thought it went pretty well.”
Louis settled back a little deeper into his cushion. “Bullshit.”
“That’s such bullshit! You were miserable up there! It was all over your face.”
“I was not miserable—”
“You were. You’re pretty easy to read, Harry Styles.”
Harry opened his mouth to respond but bit his lip instead. Pretty easy to read was exactly what he didn’t need to be if he was going to pull this off. Pretty easy to read was exactly what he didn’t need to be if he was going to be around Louis and act like a normal human being.
Louis watched him flounder for only a moment before putting him out of his misery. He reached over to pat Harry on the leg and his voice was the softest and most sincere Harry had ever heard it. “Listen. The first one’s always hard. Hell, they’re all hard. It’s hard to look someone in the eyes and disappoint them like that, no matter what kind of person they are. But it will get a little easier as time goes on and it becomes clearer to you what you want, okay? And the fact that you were so cut up about it actually is endearing. I’ve seen the footage and I did some of my narration this morning, and you come across really compassionate and just generally lovely. The people at home are going to love you when this airs, so don’t worry so much, okay?”
His blue eyes were kind and his brow bent earnestly like Harry had never seen it, and the heat from his palm radiated into the skin of Harry’s leg through the thin material of his trackies. He tried to find something wonderfully eloquent to say because he wanted Louis to somehow understand just how reassuring his words were. Already some of the knotted tension that had been present in his abdomen since he’d arrived at this place was beginning to dissipate. But still, there was the matter of Louis’ hand on his leg, and all he managed was a “Yeah. Yeah, alright.”
Louis smiled and squeezed his leg briefly before pulling his hand away. “Good. Now! Onto business.” All the bite and pomp were back in his voice now, but Harry hadn’t lost the glimpse he’d seen past Louis’ eyes. “We’ve got another big big big day today.”
Fantastic. Harry groaned and fell back against the couch cushions and Louis laughed at him.
“Come on, it’s not going to be so bad. It’s your first group date, and group dates are the best because they’re oodles of fun and because I get a lot of screentime!”
“You get a lot of screentime? You’re coming on my date?”
“But of course, young Harry. I am the master of your love-hunt. I run the show. Naturally, I shall be accompanying you on your group dates to give instructions and conduct interviews and just generally steal scenes because let’s face it, I’m marvelous.”
His tone was joking but Harry’s subconscious couldn’t help but agree. “So what is this date, then?” he asked, folding his long fingers over his stomach and kicking his right leg up to rest on the coffee table. His left knee was millimeters from Louis’, and that shouldn’t have made his skin tingle the way it did, as if a spark could jump the distance and touch him.
Louis grinned, making his eyes pucker into wrinkled half-moons. In all his years of seeing him on TV, Harry had never noticed the little puddles of skin that gathered beneath his eyes when he smiled, like his face had to squish to fit such a grin, and he found himself wanting to fun his fingers over them to see if they were soft.
He immediately banished that thought from his mind because wow Harry that’s really fucking creepy, but Louis tipped his head and a shadow fell across their creases and it made something in Harry’s stomach tug a little.
“The group dates are theoretically for you to get to know the girls on an individual level, so we’ve split them into two groups and you’ll see one group today and one tomorrow, and then you’ll send a few of the girls home the next day,” Louis said, his voice fast as always and lilting like his jumpy hands where they rested on his knees. “Of course, we’re trying to make some good TV here, so the dates’ll usually be funny or sexy or over-the-top somehow to keep people watching.”
Harry’s heart sank a little. “So for today’s date, we’ll be doing…?”
“Photo shoots recreating famous love scenes!” Louis crowed happily, and he laughed loud and high at the look of horror that seized Harry’s face. “Don’t look at me like that! This is one of my favorite dates! I picked it just for you!”
“Why would you do that?” Harry asked loudly, pressing his hands over his face. “I hate photo shoots! I have to do them all the time and I’ve never been good at them.”
“I love them,” Louis said rather wistfully. Harry peeked at him between his fingers. “I think they’re such a thrill. I wish I got to do more to be honest. But I’m usually the one critiquing other people on theirs.”
“You can do the ones today if you like,” Harry said without thinking. “You can pose with all these girls and I’ll just watch.”
When Louis didn’t respond right away, Harry let his hands fall away from his face to look at him. Louis was considering Harry carefully, looking at him in that way that he was wont to do that made Harry feel so incredibly exposed. “What is your deal?” Louis finally asked, but there was no malice in his voice.
Harry blinked. “My deal?”
“Like, what do you want? Why are you here? I’ve hosted this show for years and every single guy I’ve had has eaten the whole thing up – the girls, the theatricality of it all, the power trip. You don’t seem to want to be here at all.”
Harry swallowed thickly. “I do,” he lied, hoping his words didn’t sound as pathetically transparent to Louis as they did to his own ears. “I want this.”
No part of Louis looked convinced, but he only looked at Harry a little longer before tucking a leg up underneath himself and continuing. “Well, in that case, show me what you’ve got for this photo shoot today.” He leaned a little closer, settling on his knee and invading Harry’s space just enough to make him start to sweat. “If you’re gonna do this, I need you to be enthusiastic. You know…look convincing.” Somehow his hand had found its way to the armrest behind Harry’s back. His whole body loomed over him now, suspended catlike on his haunch and his lightly bent wrist. “I can’t have you ruining my show.”
Harry’s mouth fell open and clamped shut several times before he managed to actually make a sound. “Louis,” is what he finally croaked, hoping it would be sufficient.
Louis’ grin cut a little deeper up the sides of his angular face.
“Come on, Harry,” he muttered. “Convince me.” He was way too close now and Harry had to go slightly cross-eyed to watch Louis’ lips move.
“Well what do you want to see?” Harry asked, his voice about an octave lower than usual, and he was genuinely shocked that he managed to say anything at all.
Louis laughed so lightly that Harry felt it on his face more than he actually heard it. “You know. Show me your sexy pouty face.” He paused. “Show me your best moves.”
Harry wasn’t sure exactly what came over him. Normally he was good at being brash and engaging in banter with the best of them, but in his limited interactions with Louis thus far he’d always been reduced to a quivering mess. But he was jumpy, and he was frustrated, and Louis was teasing him so mercilessly, and some unknown bravery coursed through him because, well…two could play at this game.
So without thinking, he gripped Louis by the back of the thigh and flipped him suddenly onto his back, throwing himself around so he hovered over Louis instead, propped on one knee with his hands on either side Louis’ face. Louis’ entire body was small enough to fit lengthwise on the couch that Harry had to contort his gangly legs to inhabit and he found he liked that more than he should.
“How’s this?” he purred softly, quirking an eyebrow at Louis and relishing the rarely seen shock that registered on his face.
Louis’ eyes were perfect circles, the shock of blue in the center ringed completely by white, and his jaw hung loosely, in such stark contrast to his usually tense mouth. “It’s a start,” he said finally, his voice high and unreadable. He propped up on his elbows and Harry retreated just enough to keep their chests a few inches apart.
For close to a minute they just stared at one another. Some small part of Harry was panicking at the proximity and at the completely inexcusable line he was crossing. Some part of him felt like they wouldn’t be able to go back, like their relationship had been gently slipping over the thin ice that separated them from complete unprofessionalism and Harry had just driven a pick right through it. But most of his mind could focus only on the heat of Louis’ thigh where it pressed against the outside of his own and the scratch of Louis’ button on his bare stomach when he shifted slightly below him.
When Louis finally spoke, the bravado had wormed its way back into his voice. “I still just don’t understand what you want,” he said, and it sounded like a challenge.
Harry nearly laughed. “But what do you want?” he asked.
Louis chuckled. “I learned a long time ago that to succeed in this business, it’s better to keep quiet about certain things that I want. But…what’s the line?” he spoke slowly, almost Harry-slowly, and the pauses between his words stretched painfully. “Oh, yes. ‘You’re going to be bad for business, I can tell.’”
Louis smiled, and Harry bit his lip, and fuck they were definitely in too deep.
The moment stretched just a second too long, and did he imagine the way Louis’ face seemed to move closer to his?, but before anyone could do anything there was a pounding at the door and “Harry, are you up? We’ve got a schedule to cover!”, and Harry sprang away from the couch like shrapnel.
“Coming,” he squeaked, nearly tripping over his feet in his haste to tear open the door.
Liam stood on the other side, looking at Harry’s agitated face in confusion. “Ehm…morning, Harry,” he said, his forehead creasing in concern.
Harry tried to stop his fingers from jumping at his sides, and why was he breathing so hard?
Louis appeared near his elbow and bumped him aside with his hip so he could slip past Liam into the hall. “Well, I’ll see you later then, gents,” he said lightly, giving Harry one last smirk.
Louis retreated down the hallway, and Harry could have been imagining things, but he could have sworn he heard him mutter something like “Damn puppy.”
“Um…I thought we could talk about today’s plans?” Liam said cautiously.
Harry nodded absently. “Yeah, sounds good,” he said, stepping aside to let Liam in, and his eyes followed Louis’ back (definitely not his bum) as it left.
Louis reached the end of the hallway and he threw a wink back at Harry as he rounded the corner, failing to conceal the last ghost of his smirk.
Oh, yes. They were definitely in too deep.
* * *
If Harry had worried that this date would be hopelessly awkward, he still hadn’t worried enough. From the moment the girls turned up outside on the terrace, dolled up in ridiculous costumes and eyeing him with near manic excitement, he’d felt bumbling and small as he was dragged around like a ragdoll and made to pose sensually with these complete strangers while a loudmouthed photographer barked directions at him.
The area surrounding the villa, which he was truly getting to appreciate for the first time, was gorgeous, with blooming flowers surrounding them and a fantastic breeze off the lake to the rear of the villa. Still, it did little to assuage Harry’s mood. Despite the encouraging comments muttered through his headset about what “great footage” they were getting and the too-cheerful thumbs up Liam flashed him every chance he got, Harry felt entirely assured that he was buggering up the whole arrangement. He liked to fancy himself confident and sexy and funny and all of those other wonderful things people called him, but these traits all seemed to have left him now that he really needed them to succeed. Now that he was supposed to be the sex object he’d always been told he was, he couldn’t seem to find his bag of tricks anywhere.
Louis, of course, was in fine form. He strolled around the set making charmingly cheesy remarks, eliciting laughter from the spectating girls and staring far too hungrily at Harry any time the cameras weren’t looking.
“All right, ladies! Next up, we’ve got the lovely Cara, and based on that dress I’m guessing we’ll be doing Moulin Rouge?”
Harry tried to contain a groan. Cara, a pale, dainty girl with cropped blonde hair, got shyly to her feet while the other girls giggled and clapped and Brandi wolf-whistled encouragingly. She seemed perfectly nice enough, but already Harry could tell she felt as uncomfortable as he did, and that wasn’t going to make for a pleasant few minutes.
Harry took her hand and led her up the stairs to where the lights and the camera were waiting. Truth be told, Moulin Rouge wasn’t the worst choice yet; he had already been through what was perhaps the most awkward Titanic reenactment of all time against the terrace railing and had had to convince a very adamant Louis not to turn the hose on him to simulate The Notebook.
“Here you are, handsome,” Louis said loudly, stuffing a top hat onto Harry’s head as he passed, and Harry just glared at him.
He followed Cara to their tape mark on the terrace under the beam of the lights, and Louis could barely contain giggles behind his palm as Harry awkwardly bumbled over where to place his hands on her body. They stood tensely together as the photographer snapped away and Harry chastised himself silently for how truly terrible he was turning out to be at all of this. He’d been in enough photo shoots over the course of his career that this really shouldn’t be a problem; he’d even done several with women before, pretty models who invaded his space and latched around his body while he tried to smolder for the cameras.
But these girls weren’t models. These were real girls who were hoping to make him fall in love with them, and that was a lot of very weird pressure to inject into an interaction with someone you’d just met.
(He tried to convince himself that these, and not Louis’ mischievously wandering eyes or the way he strained against his clothing when he sat on his haunches amongst the girls, were the reasons for how painful this experience was proving.)
“Alright, I guess that’ll do,” the photographer finally barked, and Cara only smiled at him halfheartedly before scurrying away in her preposterous red dress to hide her face in another girl’s shoulder. “Next!”
“This one should be fun,” Louis enunciated into his microphone, peering familiarly into the camera and only sparing a tiny glance in Harry’s direction. “For this one, we’ve got Krystal, who’ll be recreating the famous balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet! Krystal has already made her way inside, so I’ll have the Bachelor join me on the other side of the terrace near the balcony.”
The cameras cut away as lights were shuffled around the side of the house, and Louis caught up to Harry. “You doing alright?” he asked, and his tone was completely sincere although his eyes were doing a poor job at hiding their amusement.
“You are a very cruel man,” Harry deadpanned as Louis snatched the hat back off his head and positioned him at the base of the balcony.
Louis just grinned. “I think you could learn to enjoy it,” he whispered, and the strangled noise that Harry made in response was lost in Louis’ ensuing yell. “Alright, let’s do this! Ladies and gentleman, the lovely Krystal is ready for her close-up.”
I think you could learn to enjoy it. Harry bit the inside of his cheek, hard.
If he’d wondered what would happen when he tried to play Louis’ game right back at him, the answer was clear now: he’d probably lose.
“Not sexy!” the photographer shouted at Harry after a few minutes of gazing up at Krystal’s exaggerated swoon on the story above him. “I’m not buying it!”
“Are you serious?” Harry muttered a little too loudly, trying to rearrange his face into a more convincing shape. Think sexy, he told himself. Think true love.
“You look constipated, mate,” Niall told him earnestly, and Harry swore softly.
He returned to his efforts with renewed gusto and the photographer sighed audibly. Harry hated this. He hated the once-familiar but now-daunting feeling of everybody counting on him to perform, and he hated this girl for fluttering her eyelashes so pitifully artificially at him, and he hated the way Louis was dripping with smugness over the effect that he had on Harry, and most of all he hated that he couldn’t hate Louis for it at all.
“Hold on, hold on,” Louis finally called, springing to his feet and walking to Harry’s side quickly. “Harry. Come on now. You can totally do this.”
“I’m not sure that you’re right about that,” Harry said honestly.
“Nor am I,” Niall chuckled, and Louis shot him a look.
“Nialler, please, give us a moment?” he intoned dryly, and Niall merely giggled before retreating toward the snack table. Louis rolled his eyes and continued, “Harry. Listen to me. You’re doing just fine. You’re just too caught up in your head.”
Harry bit his lip. “I’m not good at this sort of thing. I’m really not. I’m supposed to be sexy or confident or something, but when I’m trying like this it just doesn’t happen.”
Louis’ eyes flickered between Harry’s own, upturned slightly from their vantage point just below, and he tilted his head to the side just a little. Seeming to come to some kind of conclusion, he grasped Harry’s shoulder and hauled up on tiptoes to whisper in his ear away from the camera’s eyes. “Don’t listen to the photographer. Don’t listen to Niall. Quit trying so hard and just let it come naturally. I don’t know where this delusion about you not being sexy is coming from, because you look like sex on legs right now and every person here is drooling to fuck you, but get over it. You’re Harry Styles. Just look at the damn girl and it’ll be plenty sexy.”
He stepped away, a challenging sort of set to his eyebrows, and Harry repressed the pull in his stomach at the contact of Louis’ hand still on his shoulder.
“Every person here?” Harry said in spite of himself, grinning rather cheekily because he just couldn’t resist, and Louis rolled his eyes.
“Ugh, so cocky,” he whined loudly, giving Harry a shove toward the wall. He shouted, “Come on, people, I think the princess is over himself now. Let’s get this show on the road.”
He pranced back to his perch just off-screen and shook his head at Harry in mock disappointment, but Harry didn’t miss the way he smiled begrudgingly and glanced at the ground when Harry met his eyes.
The rest of the photo shoots went entirely more smoothly, and if Harry was a little blushy and bumbling at times, it certainly wasn’t because of the attention of the girls, but of the guy shouting funny remarks in between them.
“There it is!” the photographer shouted at him during the latter half of his Romeo and Juliet shoot. “Now you’ve got it! Now you look like you’re thinking about fucking somebody!”
And Harry had to swallow a laugh, because the poor guy had no idea just how right he was.
Louis, on the other hand, didn’t swallow his laugh at all.
* * *
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Author’s Note: Completely depressed because of the disgraceful Badgers loss today. Cheer me up and/or let me know what you guys thought of the chapter? Love you all :)