Harry Styles is here again.
It shouldn’t matter, Louis thinks, Harry Styles has been spending seven hours a day in the coffee shop for the past eight weeks, tapping out some masterpiece of an album, Louis assumes, but Louis can’t help the way his heart flutters every time Harry Styles walks in.
Not that anything happens except for Louis making in Harry’s overly complicated coffee order, and, sometimes, when a customer is being particularly difficult, or Louis’s manager is somehow more obnoxious than usual, Harry will look up from his laptop and they’ll meet eyes. Harry’s eyes are green. Which, Louis thinks, is not breaking news to the millions of One Direction fans around the world, but they’re green and every time he sees them, they’re filled with warm empathy, or, other times, amusement.
Harry is third in line, and Louis is practically bouncing up and down with the anticipation of serving a celebrity coffee, (Louis needs to get a more interesting life), when his least favorite co-worker stomps in from the backroom.
“Louis,” she draws out, sounding thoroughly annoyed, “Sarah’s in the backroom.” He hears the unsaid words, “late, again,” and almost punches Katherine in the face. “She’s asking for you.” Katherine looks out at the line of people waiting for coffee, and catches sight of Harry Styles. She makes eyes at him. He doesn’t look up from his phone. “I’ll cover for you up here…I guess. But you owe me.”
“Okay,” Louis isn’t listening. He stopped listening after the word Sarah, and pushes past her to the backroom as fast as possible.
Sarah is Louis’s favorite co-worker. The admittedly unlikely pair had become fast friends; bonding over a shared love of poorly made reality TV shows, and pop-punk music. Their friendship was simple, which Louis could say about nothing else in his essentially miserable life, except for one glaring complication. Sarah’s current boyfriend – Clint.
Or, Louis swallows the bile rising in his throat when he sees the cheap ring on Sarah’s finger, Sarah’s current fiancé. Somehow, this asshole of an Alpha had convinced this hilarious, charming, gorgeous, Omega, that at nineteen – nineteen! – her best years were behind her and that she was never going to find anything better, so why not get hitched?
The bruise of Sarah’s jaw has been covered with makeup, and most people wouldn’t notice except, but Louis knows where to look.
“I swear to god, if you defend him I am going to kill you.”
Sarah holds up her hands defensively, and uses the back of her wrist to wipe the tears off her cheekbone. She catches sight of the ring of her finger and pulls it off. She throws it halfheartedly (but still with impeccable aim), and it lands in the garbage can with a plop.
“I’m leaving him.” Louis’s whole demeanor softens. Sarah has never said this before. He pulls her closer and sits down with her half on top of him.
“He just – I just – we-” she takes a deep breath, “I thought I was pregnant – I’m not,” she cuts Louis off before he can begin to lecture her about unprotected sex (especially with an asshole like Clint), “but I thought I was, and I just started thinking about this diary I kept when I was twelve. I stole it from a friend at a sleepover party, and I never really kept up with it or anything, but I made a list of everything I wanted to have one day. I wanted a man to raise children with who was nothing like my father, and Louis- ” Sarah, pauses, breathless at her own revelation, “Clint is exactly like my father. I don’t want to put my kids through what I went through.”
Louis hugs her, because he has no words to express how proud he is.
“I packed up all of my stuff and left,” Sarah says, after a moment. “I just didn’t know where else to go.”
“You can stay with me,” Louis’s throat is tight, “you’re off today, right?” At her nod, Louis digs around his pants pocket for his house key. “Here, go make yourself at home. I get off at four, we can go get dinner.”
“Louis, you only have a one-bedroom.”
“I have a couch. I’ll help you find something better,” Louis promises, “but in the meantime…”
“Thank you.” And Sarah is crying again, and Louis is, too, although he hates to cry, because Betas and Alphas are not supposed to cry. He pushes the thought out of his mind for now, and tries to remember if there is any incriminating evidence in his apartment.
Harry Styles waves Louis down when he steps out from the backroom. He takes notice of Louis’s tear-stained face, and Louis tries to find judgment in Harry’s eyes. He doesn’t. All he sees is warm, clear, empathy.
“Do you think you could remake this…please?” Harry tacks on at the end, as if he’s not used to asking. It strikes Louis that he probably isn’t. “Your coworker…uh…”
“Katherine,” Louis supplies.
“Right, well, she doesn’t make it as well as you do.”
“She doesn’t do anything as well as I do,” Louis says, before he can help it, and Harry nearly chokes on a bark of laughter. “Yeah, I’ll remake it for you. No problem.” He takes the cup of coffee, and begins to walk away. In eight weeks, it is the first real conversation he’s had with Harry Styles.
After work, Louis is running to catch the bus to his apartment, thinking vaguely of the half-empty bottle of suppressants sitting behind a rolled up tube of toothpaste in his second bathroom drawer. He hopes Sarah hasn’t found it. He hopes Sarah hasn’t realized the vague scent of omega lingering in his apartment, or, if she has, thinks he’s bedded an omega very recently. He thinks about the unlabeled bottle of scent neutralizer sitting on the edge of the bathtub. Louis made a mistake letting Sarah move in with him. This is why he’s never allowed anyone to get this close to him. He has to keep his secret, as, it’s the only thing he has, really.
“You’re lucky you’re not an omega, boy,” Louis is pinned against the wall of his foster family’s kitchen. The walls were yellow, once, but now they’ve faded to a dingy grey. Louis’s foster father is whispering in his ear, almost biting, breath stinking of cigarettes and stale alcohol. “I’d have you right here and right now,” he strokes Louis’s cheek almost lovingly before landing a punch to Louis’s stomach. “Alas,” Louis’s breath hitches. “We can’t always get want we want.” Louis’s foster father lets go and Louis scrambles upstairs.
Louis spends his first – and only – heat locked in the bedroom of his foster home, pretending he has the flu. The very next day, he spends every cent he’s ever earned on suppressants from the drug dealer in the back of his world history class.
Now, nearly nine years later, Louis still takes the blue speckled pills everyday. He’s been free of his foster father for years now, but there is a familiarity in pretending to be a beta. It’s all Louis has ever known, and he’s afraid he won’t know who he is anymore if he stops taking the rules that stop his heats and regulate his entire life.
Louis Tomlinson is a beta.
Sarah hasn’t found the bottle of suppressants, or noticed the scent neutralizer, and she doesn’t comment on the scent of omega as Louis walks through the door. Instead, she is busy with a magazine, sprawled out on his lumpy couch.
“I’m reading about your boy.” Sarah says, “I figured I should brush up on my pop culture, so when you finally get the balls to ask him out, we’ll have something to talk about.”
She flashes the magazine cover, and Louis recognizes the famous Alpha on the cover, and the headline title – “A Look at Harry’s Solo Career”. He wants to smack himself. He’s been so worried about Sarah finding about the secret about his secondary gender that he forgot about his other, even more incriminating secret. The stash of tabloids hidden in an old Cheez-its box sitting in the back of his pantry, all featuring stories about Harry Styles or One Direction. He started collecting them, almost obsessively, about a week after Harry started frequenting the coffee shop.
“I didn’t know the rest of the band were bonded,” Sarah looks contemplative, “I wonder if Styles felt left out,” she pushes dark hair behind her shoulder and says the word that’s been on the tip of Louis’s tongue for eight weeks, “lonely.” Maybe he did. Maybe lonely people really do find each other. God, Louis hopes so.
“You know what,” Louis says, voice only shaking slightly, “let’s go somewhere nice. To celebrate.”
“What’s the occasion?”
“You’re being fucking liberated.”
The restaurant eight blocks from Louis’s house is hardly fancy, but they have unstained tablecloths, and food with names Louis can’t pronounce, and it is a million times better than eating Chinese takeout alone in his underwear.
Sarah is wearing a soft cotton dress that’s blue and brings out her eyes. Louis’s never seen her in a dress before, but she looks even more beautiful, if that’s possible. Louis is in his usual black skinny jeans, but he’s paired them with a button down shirt that Sarah says makes him look snazzy. Sarah is the type of person who can use words like snazzy and get away with it.
The hostess gives them a booth tucked away in the back corner of the restaurant, and sitting two tables away all by himself is the one and only Harry Styles. That word flits itself back into Louis’s mind – lonely.
His attention is brought back to Sarah as she tells a joke, and Louis can’t help the sharp laughter that escapes at the punch line. Harry looks up at the noise, and smiles when he recognizes Louis. He gets up and starts walking to their table, and Louis is suddenly hyper aware of all the exits surrounding him. Just in case he says something stupid and needs and immediate getaway.
“Hey,” Harry smells like freshly roasted coffee beans, which usually would make Louis feel vaguely ill, spending the last four years working in a coffee shop and all, but instead it puts a warm feeling in Louis’s chest, bubbling up inside of and threatening to spill out of his mouth. Louis swallows harshly.
“Hi,” his feigned nonchalance comes off as apathetic, and Louis winces.
“Am I,” Harry looks from Louis to Sarah, “uh, am I interrupting something?”
Louis fish mouths for a moment, and it’s silent except the loud guffaws coming from Sarah’s mouth.
“God no,” Sarah takes a breath, and smiles up at Harry, “he’s all yours, tiger, I promise,” Louis slams his foot against hers underneath the table, “Ow, what the fuck, Louis?”
Harry grins at her and turns to Louis. “Mind if I join you two?”
Of course he doesn’t mind.
Harry tells them all of the superficial facts about his life that Louis already knows because he took a “Would Harry Styles Date You Quiz” in the back of a Seventeen Magazine. (He received a resounding, yes! Harry Styles is your soul mate because he answered mostly Cs). He doesn’t mention this; neither does Sarah, for which Louis is eternally grateful, because he knows she saw it stuffed in the pile of gossip magazines.
“Alright,” Sarah says, effectively cutting Harry’s way too detailed description of mint chocolate chip ice cream (his favorite), “tell us something we don’t know already. We both took the quiz in the back of Seventeen Magazine.” Louis flushes and sends Sarah what he hopes is a very powerful side eye. “Don’t worry,” she smiles at him, unfazed by his glare, “I got mostly Bs – ‘Sorry – you’re just not his type’.”
Harry laughs, and for one horrific second Louis thinks he’s going to ask what Louis scored on the quiz. “I remember that quiz,” he says, instead. “The whole band took it when it came out. I got mostly Bs too, which is weird, but I guess I don’t want to date myself,” he laughs.
“What’d everyone else get?”
“Niall and Liam got mostly As, ‘Flip a coin, it’s 50/50 whether or not Harry would have you,’ and Zayn got mostly Cs, which was weird because he was the one who-” Harry’s face falls and he cuts himself off, and Sarah has to stomp on Louis’s foot to stop him from asking about it.
“Hey,” she says, “tonight we are celebrating because I finally dumped my asshole ex.” Harry laughs and proceeds to tell a story about his fake relationship with Taylor Swift.
It’s almost three hours later, and the restaurant is closing. Sarah has darted to the bathroom, and Louis catches Harry’s eyes.
“You know,” Harry says, “I’ve been working up the nerve to ask you out.”
Louis laughs, “Me too.”
“You’re the only reason I come to the coffee shop, really. I can’t get any work done there. You’re just so…distracting,” it could be construed as an insult, but Louis sees the warm compliment in Harry’s eyes.
“Well, we should go out sometime,” Harry grins.
“What’s your number?”
That night, like he too often does, Louis dreams of his foster father. He’s found Louis’s suppressants, and taunts him before dumping them all out into the toilet.
“I always knew you were an omega boy,” the scent of stale alcohol and cigarettes is inescapable, “now I can finally have my way with you.”
Louis wakes up in a cold sweat.
He gets up to pace, like he always does, and, before he can stop himself, sends Harry a text.
This isn’t a booty call, sorry, I know that made it sound like one.
It’s not even a minute before his phone pings with a reply.
Don’t worry I didn’t think it was a booty call. Yes, I’m up. Are you okay?
Wanna talk about it?
Tell me something, Louis texts, before he can stop himself, that no one else knows about you.
There’s a lull in Harry’s texting and Louis wonders if he’s overstepped a boundary, and he’s about to formulate an apology when his phone pings again.
The only song I’ve finished is about you.
For the album I’m trying to write.
Which probably comes off as super creepy, but I spend all day in that coffee shop and you’re right there and it’s so easy to write about you.
Share it? Louis is not offended. He’s been collecting tabloids, after all.
Just the chorus. No verses until the third date, at least.
I wanna hold you / My skies are turning black / (Feels like a heart attack) / And I'd do anything you ask / I wanna hold you bad
Louis wants to know how it would sound out loud, instead of written down, but the thought makes his heart skip, so he pushes it to the back of his mine.
Well I guess I should share that I may have a collection of gossip rags about you.
They text all night. Louis forgets about his bad dream.
Louis’s only been on one date before, and that was with Todd Bradley, who once snuck into the girls’ locker room and threw all of their gym clothes in the trash can. Todd picked Louis up in his father’s van; then asked for a blowjob ten minutes later. Louis punched him in the face, and jumped out of the van while it was still moving.
Their first date is Saturday evening. Harry shows up at Louis’s door with a bouquet of roses. No one’s ever brought Louis flowers before. Harry takes him to the fancy movie theatre - with leather seats – that Louis always wants to go to, but can’t because their tickets go for seventeen dollars a pop.
They see the new Spider-Man, and Harry mixes M&Ms and popcorn, which Louis has never tried before, but he does now, and really likes it. He figures he’ll like anything as long as Harry is there. Harry talks during the movie (Sarah talks through movies too, but it’s much more fucking endearing when Harry does it), critiquing everything from the acting to the set design.
“I’ll bet you’d know a lot about set design, huh? Mr. hot-shot actor over here.” Harry lets out a loud laugh, and the row of people in front of them turns to glare. Louis cuts Harry off with a sharp jab in the elbow.
“Hey,” Harry whispers, poking Louis in the cheek, “did you see Dunkirk, then?” He asks, earnestly.
Louis thinks about a firecracker blowing up like a bomb, leaving third degree burns up and down his foster brother’s arms, his foster father slamming his fists into the wall over and over again, like gunshots, the screams of pain from another deflowered omega, like a wounded soldier with no chance of recovery.
“No,” Louis feels guilty, “war movies aren’t really my thing.”
Harry is too tactful to look offended, or maybe he hears the pain in Louis’s voice, because he rubs Louis’s back as he says, “that’s okay. They’re not for everyone.”
Louis still feels guilty after the movie, so he offers to buy ice cream. Harry takes him to a place by the theatre, and orders mint chocolate chip. Louis gets a milkshake, and they walk down the streets of London together, holding sticky ice cream hands and sharing stories. When they reach Louis’s flat, Harry kisses him, and Louis thinks of a line from Sarah’s favorite Taylor Swift song.
It’s the first kiss; it’s really something. It’s fearless.
Sarah is waiting up for him, even though it’s nearly midnight. She hands him a cup of his favorite tea.
“Spill,” she says.
They’ve been dating for two months now, so Harry doesn’t come to the coffee shop anymore. He says he really only came there to see Louis, and now he sees Louis regularly. Plus, he really needs to finish writing this album. Sarah has moved into an apartment with three girls, looking for another roommate. Louis is happy for her, but he misses having someone else in the apartment.
Even with Harry, Louis thinks he’ll probably always be lonely.
Harry comes over to Netflix and chill, and hopefully share some of his music which he claims is about Louis. No one’s ever written Louis a song before. Louis makes sure his suppressants and scent neutralizer are well hidden. He threw away the Cheez-its box of tabloids away last month.
Fifteen minutes in National Treasure, Harry pauses and movie and turns to Louis, nervously.
“Hey, Lou,” he says, with an edge of panic Louis has never heard before. “Can we talk?”
Of course. Nothing good ever fucking lasts, does it?
“Sure,” Louis tries his best to not sound like he’s falling apart inside (he is), “what’s wrong?”
“I just – I have really strong feelings for you Louis, but it can’t – it’ll never work.”
“Why not?” Louis is incredibly calm for someone about to lose one of the only two people who matter to him.
“It’s – I mean, you’re beta and I’m alpha. It just…it’s dangerous. We should quit while we’re ahead. Before either of us gets in too deep.”
“Right. Then why did you go after me in the first place?”
“I didn’t think I would feel this much.” Harry has the decency to look ashamed. Louis feels like he’s been slapped. “I can’t love you and cherish you like I could if you were omega. You can’t give me-”
Louis cuts him off before he can finish. He can’t believe this is the same alpha who wears silk flowered shirts and tells interviewers that he thinks secondary gender shouldn’t matter. “You think just because I’m beta I don’t want to be loved and cherished?”
“Get off of my couch! Get out of my house!” Louis’s teeth are clenched. Harry scrambles off of the couch and out of the door.
Louis calls in sick from work. He lies in bed and cries.
Sarah’s called him fifteen times, leaving increasingly desperate voicemails. He finally picks up.
“Louis,” she says, “thank god.”
“Hey,” his voice sounds hoarse and painfully raw. He’s taken aback at the sound. “Hey, can you come over? I need to tell you something.”
When Sarah gets there he is sitting on the living room floor holding his bottle of suppressants. It’s new, only missing three pills. What a waste, he thinks. He hasn’t put on scent neutralizer since Harry left, three days ago. He hasn’t done anything since Harry left, not really.
“Louis,” Sarah says softly, sitting on the carpet next to him. “What is it?”
“I’m omega,” he says. He’s sobbing. “He left me because I’m beta, but I’m not. I’m omega.”
Sarah doesn’t say anything. If she’s surprised, she doesn’t show it. She just pulls Louis into her lap and rubs circles on his back. “I love you.” She whispers in his ear, again and again.
“So,” Sarah says, after Louis has thoroughly cried himself out, “what are you going to do now?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean,” Sarah reminds herself not to ask any questions, not to judge Louis for anything, because he doesn’t deserve that. “What do you want to do?”
“Be an omega.” Louis whispers. Sarah almost doesn’t catch.
“Alright. I’ll call a doctor. I’ll throw away your suppressants. I’ll do whatever you need me to do.”
Sarah stands over the toilet, watching the pills fall with a satisfying splashing noise. She doesn’t know much about Louis’s foster father, but she knows enough. She’s sure he had something to do with this.
The doctor gives Louis a relatively clean bill of health. The suppressants did minimal damage, which is surprising, since he was on them for nine years. He’s instructed to cut back on alcohol and fast food, and consider a simple work out routine.
“You can run with me in the mornings,” Sarah says brightly. Louis laughs the loudest he has in weeks. Sarah gets up to run at 5am. Louis would rather die.
Louis goes back to work at the coffee shop. He gets hit on by sleazy alphas, but he feels like the weight of the world has been lifted off of his chest. He doesn’t have nightmares about his foster father anymore.
It’s a particularly slow day in the coffee shop, and Sarah is detailing her plan for a weekend trip to Essex, when the unmistakable smell of motor oil fills the nearly empty store.
Clint always over compensates his scent. Louis swears it’s because he has a tiny dick, but Sarah is always tight lipped about how endowed Clint is down there.
“Sarah,” Clint smiles, his teeth are badly stained from too much cheap beer.
He likes Rebel Yell.
Louis’s foster father liked Rebel Yell.
“Clint,” Sarah voice is unwavering, but Louis sees the way her hands shake underneath the countertop. “What the fuck do you want?”
“Baby,” Louis grits his teeth at Clint’s sickly sweet tone, “I want you to come home. I want you back. Please, baby. Life isn’t the same without you.”
“No.” Sarah’s voice is stronger now, more definite, and Louis feels himself bursting with pride. Anger flashes in Clint’s eyes, and he reaches out to grab Sarah’s shoulder. She pushes his hand away, ducking behind Louis. Clint’s angry eyes turn to him.
“You convinced her to leave me. You sack of shit.” Louis is pretty sure Clint’s fist breaks his nose. Louis is fifteen again, and being smacked around by his foster father, except this time, for the first time in his entire life, he punches back.
Sarah pours a steaming pot of coffee over Clint’s head.
Clint runs away like the coward he is.
Louis pulls Sarah in for a hug, and together they cry tears of relief. They finally learned how to fight back.
Three days later, Louis is on break, reading a novel that he promised Sarah he would finish one day. There is the sound of pounding footsteps running towards him. Katherine shouts, “hey you can’t go back there,” from the counter, but she sound apathetic at best.
“Louis.” Louis knows that voice. Louis has dreamt about that voice more times than he can count.
“Harry,” this isn’t a dream. He doesn’t know what to say.
“I was walking by here, and there was this scent and I’d never smelled it before, but it was the best thing, so I came inside because I had to find it and Louis it’s – it’s you. Louis you’re omega. Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Because, Harry,” Louis has words now, “it shouldn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what my secondary gender is. You should love me for who I am.”
Harry looks ashamed. “You’re right.”
They get pizza, and Harry tells him about during the very tour, the first year as a band, Niall and Liam and Zayn had this instant connection, and they’d gotten together almost immediately. They’d asked Harry to join, because he’d had a connection too, just not as strong. But Harry was sixteen and said no because he’d never really been in a relationship before. He wasn’t sure.
That first year was really hard for Harry, because Niall and Zayn and Liam went on dates and fell in love, and had sex, loud sex, right where Harry could hear. But they were still friends, and Harry’s connection got stronger.
The next year, he’d changed his mind and wanted in. Niall and Liam had been open to the idea, at first, because they did love Harry, but Zayn talked them out of it. Zayn said that since he’d already changed his mind, Harry might be just as apt to walk right out of their relationship. Harry swore up and down that he’d never do that, but they were all teenagers. None of them really knew what they were doing, and Zayn had a point. Harry let Zayn talk himself out of it.
So the rest of the years as a bad were worse, because any connection they’d had before was now lost due to over complications. Harry wasn’t friends with them anymore. He felt insurmountably alone.
Louis talks of a mother on drugs, and a father who walked out very early on. He talks about bouncing around in foster care, until he turned twelve.
He talked about a heat spent locked alone in a room. He talked about buying illegal drugs during fourth period. He talked about third degree burns and getting punched so hard he felt dizzy.
Louis knows what it’s like to feel insurmountably alone.
Harry asks about his broken nose, and Louis tells him about the encounter with Clint.
Harry pulls Louis into his arms, even though they’re in public and it’s not technically appropriate, and Harry is famous, so anyone from the news media might be watching.
“So,” Louis starts, as Harry walks him back to his flat. “Am I ever going to hear about the song you wrote for me?”
Harry grins. “I thought you’d never ask. Which one do you want to hear first?”
“There’s more than one?”
“Louis, I wrote an entire album of songs about you.”
“Hmm…seems kind of obsessive.”
“You’re into obsessive.”
They kiss, right there in the middle of the street and Louis feels like he might die, he might just float into the sky. There is nothing better than this, he thinks. He pulls out of the kiss, breathless “Maybe you’re right. Maybe I am.”
“Of course I’m right. I’m famous.” Harry pulls Louis back in. It’s good enough logic for him.