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 stifled a yawn behind his hand and tried to blink the sleepy haze from his eyes, widening them round in an attempt to focus on the cards Liam was carefully arranging on the table.
He’d already spent the better part of the previous night watching the buzzy fluorescent lights of the villa’s production office cast deep shadows across Liam’s face, scrunched up in consternation as they watched clip after clip on the room’s small screen, analyzing every facial expression until the sight of his own stupid dimple made Harry want to cringe and avoiding each other’s eyes at all costs.
“We were just…talking in there,” Harry had said to fill the awkward silence that had descended thickly around Liam and himself as they’d made the long walk through the set after leaving Louis’ room earlier that night.
“There really aren’t words to express how badly I don’t want to know,” Liam had said quickly, eyeing Harry’s puffy red lips for the briefest moment before blushing and fixing his gaze firmly ahead.
Overall, it hadn’t been the most comfortable evening Harry had ever spent in his life.
When he’d finally been freed to go back to his room for a few elusiven hours of sleep, his head had been spinning with notes and pointers and constructive criticism about his performance – none of which had made any sort of impression on a brain still saturated with the memory of Louis all over, from angel-boned shoulder blades to tippy toes.
The tiny, moany gasp that had escaped Louis’ mouth in the instant before his lips had found Harry’s was playing on repeat in Harry’s head and it made listening to Liam give him tips about his posture a little difficult.
This morning, though, Liam’s constant careful demeanor was slipping in the tension, and Harry was really trying his best to listen. He didn’t want to ruffle feathers with Liam if he didn’t have to, but it was only his third rose ceremony and somehow they were already blurring together in his mind.
“No, Harry, that’s Jordan,” Liam huffed in frustration for what must have been the tenth time, dropping the headshot on the table. “Honestly. You said you didn’t want the teleprompter, but that’s not going to be possible if you can’t keep them straight.”
“I’m sorry!” Harry tugged on the ends of his hair absently and squinted at the face on the card. “It’s just…there’s a lot of blondes, Liam!”
“So get rid of one, then! I already told you we’re not thrilled with your choice.”
Harry, in a rare show of initiative, had insisted pretty quickly that Linzi be the one to go. He told Liam it was because they didn’t hit it off well and he didn’t feel any chemistry.
This was all true, but it didn’t factor into his decision nearly as much as the traumatizing memory of being cornered by her wide hips and scary-looking tongue ring.
Not that he minded wide hips, of course. Wide hips could be nice. Wide hips and thick thighs in pasted-on pastel material, stretched deliciously, with rolled up hems and dainty ankle bones…
It occurred to him belatedly that Liam was speaking to him.
“Come again?” Harry said.
Liam sighed like he knew hardships beyond his years. “Read me the names. Again.”
Harry bit his lip and stared back at the faces all lined up on the table, trying not to think about how much it resembled a front page story about a sorority house massacre.
He could do this. Probably.
He made it through another twenty minutes of coaching before he was shepherded off to wardrobe by a couple of harried-looking interns, and he let himself be buttoned into a tuxedo while Niall chatted up the blushing production assistant and force-fed Harry a bagel.
“It’s too early for tuxedos,” Harry said, pretending he was pouting over his sartorial woes and not the fact that he hadn’t seen Louis yet that morning.
“Must be really hard to be you,” Niall deadpanned, winking at the giggling assistant as she fixed on Harry’s cufflinks. “They should do a telethon to raise money. ‘Popstar in need. For just five cents a day, you can help keep Harry Styles in designer hair conditioner and save him from poorly-fitted formalwear. Harry needs you.’”
Harry stuck his tongue out at Niall and Niall scrunched up his face in response, winking at the girl one more time.
She smiled and bit her lip as she straightened Harry’s tie and declared him fit for film, and Harry saw her slip a piece of paper scrawled with a number into Niall’s palm before she walked away.
Harry marveled after her and wondered vaguely if Niall would be down to trade jobs. Harry could never make winking look that cool.
He was just about to ask Niall if it was hard to work one of those cameras when Liam appeared at his elbow to drag him into his place on the terrace outside, reciting a mantra of blocking and notes as they went.
“Make eye contact as much as possible. And use names. And say something different to everybody – that’s a note the producers gave me. Repetition is not good. But make sure you devote equal time all around. And—”
“Oh, relax, would you? He’s going to do just fine!” Louis crowed from the huddle of people waiting behind the cameras and Harry’s breath caught.
Louis was in his tuxedo as well, ready for post-ceremony interviews perhaps a little earlier than he had to be, and Harry tried not to wonder if it was because Louis wanted to watch him. He also tried not to drool at how absolutely stunning he looked, his tan throat emerging from the crisp white of his shirt collar and the bottoms of his pants still stupidly rolled up. (“Duh, Styles, because the camera never sees my feet anyway,” he’d said on the occasion when Harry had asked him why he did this, even though that didn’t answer the question at all.)
Liam shot him the baby-bear equivalent of a death glare, but he cut off his litany just the same. “Alright, well, just…do your best,” he finished lamely before walking away and leaving Harry on his little X of tape as the line of dressed-up women took their places in front of him.
Louis’ face was whited out under the glare of the lights as the camera rolled, but Harry knew he was there.
The ceremony got into full-swing and Harry felt almost as if he were watching someone else. The whole thing was so formulaic as to be hopelessly mundane, and it felt over in an instant. Nothing was different except that Harry was Linzi-less, and for the life of him, he couldn’t seem to make it matter.
Still, Harry did do his best, and while it probably wouldn’t win him any Emmys, it certainly got the job done with a minimum of mumbling and blushing on his part. And hey, progress is progress, right?
Harry had no idea if he’d met Liam’s standards.
But he couldn’t find it in himself to be bothered when Louis was strolling over with a pretty little smile on his face.
“Hi,” Louis said simply.
Harry could feel himself blush. “Hi.”
They smiled at each other bashfully for a bit. This was the closest they’d been, the first time they’d really seen each other, since the night before and the kisskisskiss, and Harry felt mostly fluttery and faint. It was like his body had been hibernating since the last time it had been wrapped up in Louis’ and being near him again was the springtime sun.
After a long moment had passed, Niall cleared his throat pointedly, and they both looked away quickly, broken from a reverie.
“Sorry, erm, hey Nialler,” Louis said quickly.
Niall just chuckled through the widest, merriest, shit-eatin’-est grin Harry had ever seen. “Look, if I’m interrupting something…”
“Oi, just get your camera ready, you wank,” Louis snapped, but Harry thought he looked a little too pleased to mean it.
Niall shot him an exaggerated wink, but he swung his camera up onto his shoulder dutifully all the same.
Harry thought faintly that it might be the best he’d done in an interview yet because for the first time, he didn’t worry about the questions or the cameras or the constant need to validate himself somehow in this circus of a show.
He just let Louis’ words wash over him and his own fell from his lips just as easily, and when Niall declared it a wrap, Harry felt lighter than he had in a while.
“Harry! I thought that went fantastically!”
Harry started. He hadn’t even heard Liam creep up beside him. “What?” he stammered.
Liam clapped him on the shoulder and beamed at him proudly. “Today’s ceremony! And the interview! See? I knew you’d get the hang of things.”
Harry met Louis’ mirthful eyes before responding, “Er, yeah, Liam, I really think your advice helped a lot. I’m feeling so much better. Really.”
Liam’s eyebrows met happily over his eyes as he squeezed Harry’s shoulder proudly and placed his other on Louis’. “Really excellent job today guys. Truly. Excellent. Harry, you have a little break now, and then I’ll see you in wardrobe in about an hour?”
Harry nodded and Liam gave him one last smile before leaving him with some comment about definitely telling his bosses how well today was going and gosh, he just knew Harry had it in him.
He left them in a silence more charged than before, and then Louis said, “So an hour, huh?”
Niall audibly smacked a broad hand to his face and muttered something that sounded an awful lot like “Bloody hell,” and with something like an impish grin, Louis grabbed three of Harry’s long fingers and pulled him after him out the stage doors and into the hallway in the back.
“Come along, Styles,” he said over his shoulder in a loud, professional voice as he ran down the hall, never letting go of Harry’s hand. “Important business to attend to. Vital matters that require your attention.”
Harry couldn’t stop laughing as he tripped after Louis’ bare ankles, ducking around spare camera equipment and trying not to bounce off corners, and he nearly missed it when Louis ducked into a doorway and tugged Harry inside after him.
“Well hello,” Harry chuckled when Louis had snapped the door shut behind them and slammed Harry’s body up against it. They were in Louis’ dressing room, the same place Harry had first seen Louis.
Louis clicked the lock and pushed down on Harry’s shoulders so he slid down against the door a little until his face was just below Louis’ eye level. “Hi,” Louis said softly, eyes crinkled up into little crescents and smile stretched too wide.
Harry sucked his bottom lip between his teeth to stop the giggles that threatened to escape. “You said I had important business?” His voice came out even lower and dopier than usual but he couldn’t seem to mind.
“Oh, yes. Very big stuff.” Louis’ placed his hands on the door on either side of Harry’s face and his blue eyes flicked from one green to the other. “Kiss me,” he said, his voice raspy and just the littlest bit raw, and Harry had neither the time nor the energy to make a quip in return when Louis’ mouth was just inches away.
Harry surged forward and swallowed the smile right off Louis’ lips.
“Mmm,” Louis hummed softly, letting Harry’s tongue between his teeth and pressing their stomachs together contentedly.
Harry wrapped his arms tight around Louis’ waist, feeling the pull of the muscles in the boy’s back as he sighed into Harry’s mouth. He pushed back up to his full height and felt Louis’ neck tip back to follow. Harry licked deep into Louis’ mouth, losing himself in the slip of their tongues and the heat of Louis’ body against him and the tiniest gnash of their teeth. The kiss had begun languidly but was growing intoxicating, the rhythm of their mouths together increasing with Harry’s heart rate.
“Wait, wait,” Louis whispered with his lips against the corner of Harry’s mouth as Harry shucked off the boy’s tuxedo jacket to join his own on the floor, but Harry just shook his head and pulled him back in, sucking Louis’ tongue into his mouth gently.
For a moment, Louis let himself be lost, tangling his fingers into Harry’s hair and scratching at his scalp in a way that sent tingles all down Harry’s neck. He moaned softly around Harry’s tongue for a moment before pulling away suddenly. “No, wait!” he chuckled curtly. “We really do need to talk.”
Harry’s face drooped into a pout because talking was the last thing he wanted to be doing and Louis laughed at him breathlessly, leading him by the hand to the sofa on the opposite wall and kicking his bare feet up into Harry’s lap.
Harry chuckled and adjusted his body to accommodate Louis’ feet. They smelled pretty terrible and somehow it was pretty wonderful. “Okay, what do we need to talk about?” His heart felt very big from kisses and, though he didn’t want to admit it, a little nervous. As Louis-drunk as he’d been the last two days, there had still been the littlest lingering worry that Louis was going to change his mind again. That this was all just a game. That Harry wasn’t what Louis wanted at all.
The older boy – and could he really be older, as small and pretty and brilliantly childish as he was? – narrowed his eyes at Harry carefully and hunched over to rest his elbows on the couch between his legs. (Flexible, the stubbornly horny teenager in Harry thought.)
For a long moment, Louis merely stared at him as if expecting the layers of Harry to peel away under the force of his scrutiny and reveal some unknown secret inside. Just when Harry was starting to feel far too exposed under the beam of harsh blue, Louis sat up, crossed his arms over his chest, and asked, “Are you gay?”
Harry snorted. Out of all the things he’d expected from Louis today, that certainly was not one. “I’m something like that,” he said jovially, feeling one half of his mouth quirk up in a smile.
Louis only raised his eyebrows. He withdrew his feet quickly and slunk catlike over to straddle Harry’s lap, hovering over his body and peering into his eyes suspiciously.
Harry blinked up at him in mild surprise. Harry was all slow movements and careful words and clumsy, too-long limbs, and Louis was fast and sure.
“Lou, what?” he chuckled nervously.
Louis let one eyebrow jump. “Do you like girls?”
“Some of ‘em, yeah.”
Louis nodded thoughtfully. Then, “Do you like boys?”
Harry snorted again for the second time in as many minutes. He pushed his hips up and pressed his groin against Louis, half-hard against his thigh.
Louis smirked a little in spite of himself. “Okay, so you like boys. Why are you on this show?”
Louis flicked him on the cheek and pointed a stern finger at him. “Be serious. Why are you on this show?”
Harry exhaled slowly through his nose. “I’m on this show because I got papped kissing a boy,” he said slowly, staring determinedly at a point on the wall just behind Louis’ left ear, “and my agent decided it was time for me to find a nice girl, preferably in the most public way possible.”
He didn’t mean for it to sound sad, but it did. And when Louis tipped Harry’s chin back with his finger to meet his eyes and answered him, he probably didn’t mean it to sound hopeful, but it did. “But,” he breathed softly, “you don’t want to find a girl?”
Harry bit back a smile. “No.”
“What do you want?” Louis’ eyes looked a little fragile, set as they were in the hard lines of his face, and Harry started to realize that maybe, just a little bit, Louis was scared about this too.
But really, he oughtn’t to be scared at all. “You, mostly,” he said honestly.
And he could tell Louis wasn’t trying to look relieved, but he felt the tension in the boy’s hips relax just slightly. “Good,” he said, and his smile returned. “Because if I’m being honest, you’re well fit, and you’re way less of a wanker than the usual twats they send me on this show, and frankly I kind of can’t stop thinking about getting your stupid long legs wrapped around my face.”
Harry choked a little, sputtering for something to say, and Louis merely smiled a little smugly. Eventually, Harry gave up on talking and just decided to kiss him because it seemed to be the only thing he remembered how to do.
Before he reached his lips, though, Louis pressed one finger against Harry’s mouth to make him pause. “If we’re gonna do this,” he said, “it’s not gonna be like a big thing, alright?”
Harry nodded, obedient, wide-eyed, thinking oh of course and it’s not like I think about you every minute and I totally haven’t already mentally picked out our wedding china or anything, and said, “Yeah, alright.”
“And. No one can know.”
Harry raised his eyebrows. “Clearly!”
Louis poked him in the chest and rumpled his forehead crossly. “No, you don’t get it! No one can know. Ever. It’s different for me. You’re the big pop star. You’ve gotten into enough sex scandals and everybody only loves you more.”
“Almost none of those scandals have ever been true,” Harry grumbled.
Louis perked up in interest. “Caroline?”
“Okay, that one was true.”
“Good God, definitely not.”
Louis nodded, looking satisfied. “Good man. No, but really. It’s okay to be the pop star that fucks around. It’s not okay to be the B-list TV host who gets fucked around.”
His words were glib, but Harry knew the worry was real, and they clenched something in his gut. So he gripped Louis by the hips and leaned up to kiss gently under his jaw. “I’m not gonna fuck you around,” he whispered, and he felt rather than heard Louis’ breath catch in response.
“I’d like you to a little,” Louis murmured, the column of his throat buzzing against Harry’s lips, and then Louis had Harry on his back and they didn’t say much at all.
They kissed, and they kissed, and any words Harry might have had were lost in the spread of Louis’ palms or trickled out the cracks in Harry’s own smile.
They kissed until Harry could taste and feel and smell nothing but Louis, but time moved too fast, as time is wont to do, and eventually Louis peeled himself away from Harry’s needy mouth and bright eyes. “You’ve got to be getting to wardrobe, love,” he said. “I’ll meet you there in a bit. Wouldn’t want people getting suspicious.”
Harry nodded and kissed him a few more times before Louis finally shoved him off the couch laughing. Harry grinned bashfully at him and clambered to his feet, shuffling shyly toward the door. He paused when his hand was on the doorknob and looked back at Louis, the one flutter of doubt in his heart pushing the words out of his mouth before he could stop them. “You’re not gonna freak out on me again, are you?”
Louis got to his feet slowly. “No, I’m not.”
Harry squeezed his eyes shut. “Louis.”
When Louis spoke again, his voice was much closer. “Harry. I like you. Probably too much. And I got scared. But I think…I’ve decided that you’re worth it.”
Harry timidly opened on eye, then the other, to find Louis grinning at him fondly. Harry smiled back. “So we’re doing this?”
Louis took Harry’s face in his hands and feigned thoughtfulness. “Looks like we’re doing this,” he finally decreed.
Harry smiled and nodded and took a step to leave, but not before Louis could catch him in one last kiss.
And later, in wardrobe, Louis didn’t stop making eyes at Harry the whole time he was being primped and dressed up in a brand new outfit for a brand new game. And when it was time to head out to the car that was set to take him away to whatever shit show of a date he’d gotten roped into today, he couldn’t even be too bothered. Because before Louis got into the limo to take his seat amongst the girls, he brushed past Harry’s ear with his lips and whispered, “Keep that pretty smile for the cameras, love.”
And Harry didn’t really stop smiling for the rest of the day.
* * *
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Author’s Note: Thanks for being patient while I was dying from midterms! As always, I’d love to know what you think. :)