word count: ~14,000 total (help)
pairings: harry styles/louis tomlinson
disclaimer: own nothing/know nothing/obviously. completely fictionalised.
summary: the roaring twenties descend. harry styles is hollywood's newest darling; louis tomlinson is perpetually by his side.
a/n: oh man. so. basically louis sometimes looks like he belongs in old hollywood (ahem ahem, just to name two) and the this flawlessly tagged post appened and here we are. lord help me.
in terms of the films/plays mentioned, the following are the only ones actually from the period: exiles, nosferatu, the jazz singer, a night in venice. lillian gish, buster keaton, hoot gibson, sam taylor, gloria swanson, rudolph valentino and harold lloyd are all real actors/directors from the '20s. every other character and film is fiction.
title from the smiths' hand in glove.
(also there is no sex in this. sorry, or something. i was going for classy, refined, roaring twenties and i thought rutting against a wall would kill the vibe a little. so yeah, if you're looking for smut this is not the fic for you.)
Part Two Timestamps
It is 1918.
New York has returned to its default setting; spring – deep greens slowly replace the browning leaves, the air gets warmer, heavier and snow trickles into the grates lining the streets. People start to appear again, not just hurriedly moving along the sidewalk from building to building to escape the cold, but properly, soaking in the sun that threads it’s way through the city. War rages on in Europe, of course, America is there is full force now, but for the residents of Manhattan the days are blessedly long and warm once again.
Harry Styles arrives back at NYU to continue his first semester of law, bag slung over his shoulder, curly hair all over the place in the spring breeze.
He crosses the main quad already running late to his lecture; he doesn’t mind though, because he was in a meeting and he’s almost a shoe in for the lead in the University production of Exiles. Law isn’t his dream, not really; he wants to act so act he does.
It’s as he’s considering just going back to his dorm and skipping class altogether that he sees Louis Tomlinson for the first time. And there, right in that moment, the divide is drawn, a thick black mark in his life; before Louis, after Louis. Not that he knows that right now of course, no, all he knows now is that there are two awfully blue eyes blinking at him with a smile.
“Got a light?”
Harry snaps his head up and is hit for he first time in his life with the kind of beauty that makes your breath hitch and your eyes open that bit wider, just to look. The boy in front of him smiles brightly, cigarette hanging out of his mouth lazily as he waits for Harry’s answer. His skin is bright and tan and his hair falls over his face in a choppy fringe and Harry thinks, oh. He has a white sweater knotted around his shoulders, soft blue of his shirt bringing out his eyes, and he blinks at Harry with a warm smile.
“You alright?” he asks, and he stares at Harry with a touch of concern at the younger boy’s apparent lack of an ability to communicate.
Harry snaps himself out of it with a small laugh, returns the boy’s smile slowly and drops a hand nonchalantly to his pocket, pulling out his lighter.
“Yeah, sure,” he says, and before he knows what he’s doing he cups his hand around the boy’s cigarette and lights the flame between them.
The boy smiles appreciatively and takes a long drag, eyes still trained on Harry with an inquisitive smile.
“Louis Tomlinson,” he says, extending a toned arm and delicate hand, shirt rolled halfway up his forearm. He ashes his cigarette onto the ground as Harry returns the gesture and they shake hands, Louis’ skin impossibly warm and soft.
“Harry,” he says, a little shyly, “Harry Styles.”
Louis considers him for a long moment, small smile still playing across his lips and Harry’s chest seems to shrink, or swell, or both.
“So are you busy right now, Harry, Harry Styles?” he asks, and Harry considers the lines he has to run and the lecture he has to attend and the dorm he should probably tidy, not to mention the letters he should write home. Then he considers the blue eyes in front of him, and they are far more appealing.
“Not at all,” he grins back. Louis gives a delighted smile and they spend the afternoon in a bar in Greenwich Village, just across the road from campus, smoking and drinking and talking about the French film showing at the theatre on Christopher Street this month, and Harry thinks, oh.
And so an afternoon becomes a week, which becomes a month, which becomes a semester, and Harry and Louis become something of a package, a two-for-one deal. Louis is older than Harry, in the penultimate year of his architecture degree, and his hands might be small but he draws more deftly than anyone Harry’s ever seen. And he’s clever and he’s funny and Harry wants to be around him all the time. He wants to watch the way he puts pencil to paper and the way he talks, he wants to see the way he flicks his hair off his face and the way his eyes crinkle up when he laughs, the way he bites his lip and his tongue brushes over his lips when he’s concentrating. He wants to hear the way his tone becomes serious when he talks about the war, wants to hear it lighten when Harry rolls his eyes and says, for God’s sake, Lou, can we talk about the new Lillian Gish film instead, and Louis inevitably says yes because not even Harry misses the way his face softens when he catches his eye. He wants to stare at Louis’ chiseled cheekbones and the way he fills out a suit better than anyone he knows even though he’s slight and delicate, and Harry hasn’t stopped thinking oh since he met him.
Louis doesn’t seem to be averse to his company, either. He’s forever telling Harry to meet him at this bar or that restaurant, to come downtown or uptown or anywhere; wherever he is, he wants Harry there too. Whether it’s next to him at dinner or accompanying him to a party, he’s only at ease when Harry’s there.
They talk about everything, from college to the war (what kind of aspiring movie star wants to be at war, hmm? Louis asks him jokingly one night, and Harry laughs like he’s told the funniest joke in the world) to politics to art and it seems only natural, then, that they call in a favour and swap roommates and come to be living out of each other’s pockets.
November 11 hits and joy rips through the streets; it’s victory and it’s never tasted sweeter. Flags are hung and anthems are shouted and people plunge themselves into a euphoric patriotism; it’s like the world has come to a standstill to savour these few days of elation. They keep the wireless on all day, the beautiful, messy montage of tears and news and overwhelming, aching relief, from the most well trained soldier to the youngest child, all anyone can feel is relief.
(Louis is a self-proclaimed pacifist, rolls his eyes as the President addresses the nation later than night and says about time. Harry laughs and shakes his head, tells him to lighten up and hang a goddamned flag, which of course only encourages him further.)
New York grows cold at that, as though it’s been holding out for the end of the war and now the celebrations are done it can retreat back into it’s usual late-fall cold snap. Louis tries poking around at the fireplace a bit but it doesn’t do much good so more often than not they end up on the couch under piles of blankets drinking cheap whiskey in university sweaters to warm them up.
And Harry doesn’t know what this is, but then again he doesn’t much mind; because sometimes he doesn’t even need a drink to warm him up, Louis’ laugh is enough. And that’s all he cares about, really.
It’s New Year’s Eve and they’ve come back from Winter Break early, back on campus, and their friends have gone out but they’ve decided to stay in. Louis cracks open another bottle of champagne and tops Harry’s glass up, and it’s 11:56 and snow falls quietly over the main quadrangle.
“So, that’s 1918 then,” Louis says thoughtfully and Harry smiles sleepily from underneath his hair, nodding.
“Guess so,” he says, “it’s been a good one.”
Louis catches his eye and bites his lip and Harry already has that smile catalogued, right next to the way Louis looks when his coffee isn’t strong enough and the way he runs a hand through his hair when he’s tired.
“Sure has, Hazza,” he says, and he stands, gesturing with a nod of his head for Harry to come join him at the window.
They look down over campus and people are running across the grass, shrieking in delight as they scoop up the snow and throw each other to the ground, shivering wildly. Louis hums with laughter as someone lets out an excited woop, and in the distance they can hear fireworks going off around the city.
The people on the quad shout drunkenly, ten, nine, eight, and Harry leans his head on Louis’ shoulder, slides an arm around his waist, and he feels Louis turn to look down at him fondly. Louis’ pulse is racing, Harry can feel it, but he can’t imagine why. He’s got one hand leaning on the side of window, steadying him, but with the other he puts a shaky finger underneath Harry’s chin, so gentle and apprehensive and as Harry looks up he can see a look of utter fear in his eyes.
So Harry smiles, (because he’s wanted to do this for a while and now Louis does too and everything is falling effortlessly into place), stands up properly, and after a long, frozen second brushes his lips over Louis’. Louis tastes like whisky and leftover Christmas candy and Harry feels everything grind to a halt around him. He leans back after a lingering moment and Louis is smiling, dazed and quiet and giggly. He brings a hand up to Harry’s neck and brushes the skin below his hair, tangles his hand in a few loose curls before pressing his forehead to Harry’s gingerly.
“Hi,” he breathes sheepishly, with a smile.
Harry murmurs a Happy New Year, but he looks more like Christmas.
It is 1919.
Harry does nothing but act from January to June. University productions, plays off-off-off Broadway, theatres downtown; whatever he can get his hands on. He rarely goes to class and Louis gives him a despairing lecture every now and then but his protests are halfhearted at best; he’s seen Harry act and he’s wonderful. It doesn’t matter how good Harry might be at law; he’ll always be better at this.
His sojourn into the theatre culminates in a terse expulsion from law school in August, just as Louis finishes his final exams. Louis laughs uproariously as he tells him that he’s no longer exactly a student at NYU, rolls his eyes affectionately before saying, conversationally, “so, nothing holding us here, then. What do you say we pack up and go to LA?”
So, they do.
Everything is tinged with the warm glow of the Californian sun from the moment they arrive. Louis gets a job as an architect straight away, he came with glowing college recommendations, and Harry drifts from audition to audition, landing nothing. His face scrunches up as he says he feels bad, not having a job, but Louis smiles and shrugs and kisses him on the cheek as he stirs milk into Harry’s coffee.
“Be living off your movie star millions before you know it, may as well make myself useful now.”
Turns out, he’s right.
It is 1920.
The new decade brings fresh resolve and Harry decides that he’s going to give himself a chance, so he hires an agent. His name is Niall and he’s blonde and tanned and brash and he’s all very Hollywood, Harry decides.
It is midday on a mild June day when he walks in with the document that will change Harry’s life. (Harry doesn’t know that then, of course, all he knows is that Niall has an awfully loud voice when one has a hangover.)
“Harry,” he barks through the corridor as he walks in late for their weekly meeting, cigarette ashing on the carpet, “I’ve got a script for you to read, I think you’ll like it.”
Harry takes the thick wad of paper from his hands and brushes his fingers over the front page.
The Strong Look
A Film By Nicholas Grimshaw
He takes it home and reads it with Louis and they decide together, yeah, this should be Harry’s first role.
He gets to the final two, another young, early twenties, good looking young guy is his competition, and if he wasn’t the loveliest person on the planet Harry would probably hate him. His name is Liam Payne and he’s good, he’s just, well, he’s not as good as Harry.
They leave the audition together and Liam looks up at Harry with guileless brown eyes and says, you deserve it, I really hope you get it, and Harry smiles and they get a drink. Liam orders a Coca-Cola and honestly, Harry thinks he might be from another, albeit charming and wonderful, planet.
(He tells Louis about him at home that night, over dinner. Louis just raises his eyebrows skeptically, points emphatically with a fork and tells Harry to invite him over next time they throw a party; that he won’t be so lovely and doe-eyed after a few of Louis’ signature cocktails. Harry tells him to shut up and asks if it would be at all possible for him to stop trying to corrupt everyone they know. Louis doesn’t dignify that with a response.)
Harry aces his final audition and the beaming director – call me Nick, please – tells him to be at Studio 23 the next week, bright and early.
Harry rushes home and Louis is standing at the door waiting. He’s tapping his fingers anxiously, looking all nervous and tense when Harry walks in, but he doesn’t have time to open his mouth before Harry jumps into his arms and grins into his shoulder, I got it I got it I got it.
Louis laughs and spins him round till he’s dizzy, plants a kiss on his cheek that makes Harry want to melt, before taking a bottle of champagne from the fridge and letting him drink straight from it.
“I’m so proud of you, I knew you’d get it, darling,” he murmurs later that night, running a hand through Harry’s hair, and Harry thinks, oh.
Filming begins, along with it Harry’s career.
It is 1921.
The Strong Look premieres at the Egyptian in February and Harry is buzzing all day, waiting, waiting, waiting. He bounces around the apartment and tries on his tuxedo three times and talks and talks and talks and Louis’ heart pulls a little, because he’s so happy and excited and that’s all Louis wants to see for the rest of his life.
They get dressed that afternoon and Harry laughs as Louis struggles with his bowtie, padding across the room and tucking his hands under Louis’ collar, smoothing the band down and straightening it up.
“God, look at you,” Harry says despairingly, “d’you always have to look so good? I’ve never fit a tux that well in my life.”
Louis smiles, eyebrows raised as he crosses the room to go to the bathroom.
“Lucky you’ve got me to lift your image then, hmm?” he teases, and Harry rolls his eyes and turns back to the mirror to try and sort out his hair.
They arrive and there are so many cameras; Harry’s a little shocked. He knows Nick’s famous, that he already has one acclaimed film under his belt, but it still takes him by surprise. It fills him up though, the thought of those lights and that sound, it’s the sound he’s dreamed of for years and now it’s here, his. He feels Louis tense next to him in the car, though, and he turns to look at him.
“Everything alright?” he asks, and Louis nods brightly (stoically, because this isn’t his scene at all), and the door opens to the chaos of the street. The red carpet lies out like an open invitation and he sees Harry’s eyes light up.
“Go get ‘em, tiger,” he murmurs, and Harry laughs delightedly as he steps out into the evening air.
Harry emerges from the softly puttering car and he can’t help the smile that crosses his face, the warmth that fills him as he feels the cameras hit his face, sees his name up in lights –
Introducing HARRY STYLES in THE STRONG LOOK
The crowd call to him, cameras in his face, and he grins as he makes his way slowly down the carpet, stops for photos, because this is all he’s ever wanted.
He turns back after a minute, searches for Louis in the crowd, and there he is. He looks a little unsure, of where to go, of where he can go, so Harry darts back through the people milling around and makes his way back to him.
“C’mon,” he says, leaning in and speaking into his ear so Louis can hear him over the crowd. Louis looks dubious so he smiles and gives a little nod, “come with me.”
So Louis does.
Harry drinks it in, the flashing lights and the ladies laughing and talking as they walk. He blinks slowly at the shouting, at all the reporters cramming through and trying to throw a question at him, or his co-star Perrie, or at Nick. Because events like this are still relatively new; premieres have really only happened since last year and the air of excitement and apprehension hangs in the air; shiny and bright and fresh.
And for Harry it’s a sensory overload, there are lights and there are cameras flashing slowly and with the intensity of the sun, right in his face, there are people shouting and the cool night air blowing idly through his hair. But the only thing that really makes him stop, the only thing that makes his mind blank out, is Louis. Because in the midst of Hollywood and the realization that this, right here, is his dream, Louis is still the most eye-catching, most beautiful person he can see. He stands behind Harry, invariably a few paces away, smiling quietly at the ground as Harry has his picture taken or speaks to a reporter. He’s just on the fringe of the tornado that’s surrounding Harry, hands quietly in his pockets or raking through his hair, and Harry can’t quite drag his eyes off him the whole time. He sees Louis flinch as the cameras go off and for the rest of their trip down the carpet he tries to block them out for Louis as best he can, distract him as a whole bunch go off just near the door by turning and showing him something on the street, or vice versa.
The last shot of Harry of the evening is taken as he walks up the stairs and into the theatre, one hand on Louis’ back and the other pointing at something out of shot, laughing and staring right at those bright blue eyes and razor sharp jaw line.
The premiere itself doesn’t last long; the film runs for about an hour and a half including intermission and the crowd adores it. Harry smiles, dimpled and pretty the whole way through because he’s on screen at the Egyptian in a feature film that people have dressed up and paid good money to come and see. People congratulate him as they file out; but Louis brushes a hand over his fingers as the credits roll and that means more than all the words in the world.
Champagne flows thick and fast at the after party, all shrieks and giggles and huge skirts brushing past him, the big band playing ceaselessly and lavishly set tables. Harry smiles, charmingly overwhelmed, taking it all in. Swing dancers are performing as they walk in to much applause, and Harry spends a long moment watching the colours of their costumes swirl into one, the music becoming louder and more frantic much to the delight of the gathered audience. Louis keeps Harry in his line of sight, quiet smile playing across his lips as people go up to Harry in droves and tell him how wonderful he was, what a natural he is, how impressive that was for his first ever feature. Harry doesn’t quite know what to say as he shakes their hands, and they all find it delightfully naïve.
Harry and Louis talk quietly as the dances continue, the youngest people by far to not join in the festivities, but, well. They don’t mind so much, it’s okay, and Louis is in the middle of telling Harry not to look now but three tables over Buster Keaton is talking to Gloria Swanson and Jesus Harry I think I’m going to pass out they’re laughing together when they hear a voice behind them.
“Well hello hello,” Nick says dryly (he has quite a distinctive voice, Harry just knows it’s him), “how are you, film star? Enjoying this little gathering, then?”
Harry laughs as he and Louis stand, flicks his eyes round the gold trimmed walls and huge ice sculpture in the middle of this ‘little gathering’ and pulls Nick in for a hug, clinks glasses with him as a hello.
“It’s lovely,” he says, and he’s all bright eyed and quietly shocked, “thank you. For everything, just, thank you.”
Nick smiles fondly and orders him another drink, laughing warmly before fixing them both with a knowing look.
“Now, film star,” he says looking at Harry before turning to Louis and giving him a once over, “Dashing young man who should’ve been a film star,” (Louis blushes, so he’s a little vain, sue him), “tonight, you need to make me look spectacular. Go and mingle, flash your depressingly youthful smiles, charm the life out of them. I’ll see you for a toast later, Harry Styles, don’t leave before then.” He winks at them both conspiratorially before standing up and his eyes flick over their heads to a woman across the room.
“Oh!” he calls, “Oh, Annie, wait…” and with a quick goodbye he’s off laughing and talking and just generally filling his role as world famous director Nicholas Grimshaw.
And the procession continues; actors and producers and old Hollywood favourites arrive in a constant stream at their table and Louis wonders, vaguely, if Harry will ever come down from the high of this evening.
“Harry! Darling!” calls the amazingly shrill Perrie Edwards moments later, long eyelashes fanning down as she greets him, “God, wasn’t it brilliant? I thought we were brilliant. You were absolutely spectacular!”
Harry laughs and kisses her on the cheek, holds her hand as she does a twirl, feathers in her hair coming loose as she finishes off her glass of champagne.
“You were far and away the best, my dear,” he says graciously, and she rolls her eyes affectionately with a smile. At that moment, her long-time beau strides over, wearing a three-piece gray suit with hair swept to the side, and slides a hand around her waist. His name is Zayn Malik; he’s an awfully big name in Hollywood, has written the scores for some of the best films of the decade so far. He’s an absolute magician, can turn the simplest of scenes into a sweeping story all of their own, and he’s in high demand. Music is arguably the most important element of what they do; without dialogue it’s all they have to make people feel and understand and connect. Zayn never puts a note wrong, can conjure up a mood with a few lines of notation and Harry marvels at that. Harry’s fond of them both, actually, they’re utterly lovely, and Zayn gives him a smile and a congratulations as they shake hands.
“Oh, Zayn, darling, hi,” she says with a smile, “you remember Harry, of course?”
Zayn smiles, says a proper hello, and Harry sees him smile over at Louis, too, and give a little wave of recognition, share the obligatory their lives are crazy, why do we tag along look.
Harry appreciates that more than Zayn could possibly know.
Perrie gives a happy shout as the brass section of her favourite song starts up on and she drags Zayn to the middle of the room with a bye, darling! thrown over her shoulder at Harry. Zayn gives Harry a hasty goodbye and congratulations as he goes, before twirling Perrie round and dipping her ridiculously; her laugh can be heard ringing through the whole room.
“Lovely girl, isn’t she?” says a voice in his ear moments later and Harry turns with a smile, humming his agreement as Louis stands next to him, hands in pockets, “never know your luck, Harry, might land one like her one day.”
Harry rolls his eyes and Louis laughs, lets his thumb stroke the back of Harry’s hand briefly.
“I don’t want a girl like her,” he says simply, shrugging, taking the champagne glass out of Louis’ hand with a smile and finishing off its contents, “I just want you.”
Louis smiles at his feet, lips pressed together sheepishly, and it’s brighter than all the lights in Hollywood.
(Harry falls into bed at 2am while Louis blearily makes coffee, and he’s flushed and dizzy and he’s sure it’s been the best night of his life.)
The rest of the year passes much the same way. From that night on, everything is ramped up tenfold; the job offers pouring in (it really was a brilliant debut, he’s forever indebted to Nick for that), the hours he works, the people who recognise him, the parties and events they start getting invited to; begged to make an appearance at.
Harry Styles is Hollywood’s newest darling; Louis Tomlinson is perpetually by his side.
They spend a week at Buster’s place in Palm Springs, get invited by Nick to a turn-of-the-century themed yacht party in San Francisco. Harry stars in a glittering short in August and his second feature is released in October; it’s called The Sky and The Moon and it’s not received quite as well as The Strong Look but it’s brilliant and crowds go and see it by the thousands. He meets so many wonderfully sophisticated people, people who’ve produced films in France or lived for six months studying music at Oxford, and he’s swept away by it all; the refined beauty of this whole world.
The best part, though – and Louis blushes furiously and tells him to shut up when he says this – the best part is that he comes home to the boy with the blue eyes every single night.
It is 1922.
It is the best year of his career, but Harry doesn’t know that, not yet.
He stars in no less than three features in one calendar year and Hollywood sparkles for him; his name is mounted in big red letters above every second cinema in the city. He gets stopped in the street by people who shake his hand eagerly and women in bars throw themselves at him, give him a wink and a wave and ask him just where he got that hair from, because it’s lovely, or words to that effect. Harry is perfectly charming and patient and ends up becoming quite good friends with many of them, because that’s just the type of person he is.
(Louis, surprisingly, doesn’t mind, if only because he kind of likes the way the attention makes Harry squirm.)
And they’re not sure when it happened, but Harry is famous. At least in the circles they run in, he is a household name, and he’s getting close to it within the general community too. His films are released in April, and July, and September, and with each one more people learn his name, more people fall in love with his good looks and long slow blinks and open, youthful face. He’s written up as drama’s answer to Buster, or the Hoot Gibson of cinematic class, and Louis makes sure to keep all the little articles and reviews and write ups in a small drawer in the basement (unless they’re negative; he throws those ones straight out.)
Fame and notoriety come, so too do the questions. They’re only to be expected, because people notice the gorgeous young man with the chiseled features and expensive clothes who walks the carpet whenever Harry’s around. And, well, it’s Hollywood, and murmurs spread quickly and the bolder reporters ask him up front if he’s single or otherwise in a relationship, but Harry never lets it get a hold of him. He smiles and gives a coy wink, which is either interpreted as him hiding a ladyfriend from the public or hinting that he’d like one. And when people ask who Louis is, why he’s here, Harry just laughs and says something along the lines of well, he’s very dear to me, why wouldn’t I drag him along? or I just like making other people suffer through the heat of a tuxedo, and he garners a few unsteady smiles but it keeps them at bay.
For now, it is enough, and he shines brighter with every light cast his way.
It is 1923.
Hollywood blooms, Harry’s career along with it. He films a feature – one of Nick’s again, it’s called Ever The Loveliest Lady – in New York and it’s magical. He’d never imagined doing this job outside of LA, and it’s absolutely magnificent. Louis comes, of course, catches up with all his friends from college and beforehand who he hasn’t seen since they rather recklessly packed up and left four years ago. When Harry has a few hours off, he goes down to the lot and waits for him to get changed, and then they comb the streets together. They go to all the places they wouldn’t have dreamed of as college students; have lunch at the Waldorf and shop on Madison Avenue, see Nosferatu over and over, find themselves in a gorgeous bar in Tribeca one afternoon and they don’t want to leave so they stay the night.
The film premieres in New York months later, they’ve been back in LA since then and when they return it feels achingly like home. Because LA is wonderful, it’s bright and sunny and moves so quickly, but Harry will never know it as intimately as he knows Manhattan.
It’s nice to be home, Louis says the afternoon of the premiere, and Harry laughs and kisses him softly, because, oh.
He steps out of the car and the sounds rushes at him, fills his ears and he thinks he knows, in that second, what it feels like to be on top of the world. He glances out to the crowd and smiles, raises a hand in a wave and the cameras turn and bang, bang, bang, bang, long, laborious flashes follow one after the other, puffs of smoke emanating from the cameras dotted round the periphery of the red carpet. The stretch up to the cinema is filled with people he knows, beautiful young stars; the type who came up out of obscurity just after the war, like him. He sees his co-star, Taylor, give a lovely laugh for the camera, blonde hair done up high with a huge black feather running through and complementing the thick black kohl in rings around her eyes, folds and folds of pastel pink billowing around her. (Taylor and Harry are something of Nick’s protégés, he’d nearly cried when he realised he had a film to cast them both in.)
Taylor laughs as Nick plants a kiss on her cheek for the cameras, bats her eyes playfully at the last photographer before being ushered inside, and now it is Harry’s turn. The street is damp from the rain, smells like the city, rubber and smoke and damp humidity and just New York, swinging and beautiful once again. 1923; his heart clenches because Manhattan is Louis and eighteen and college and before all of this, and it makes him feel so wonderfully young. The crowd is loud, thick New York accents intermingling with the refined voices of Hollywood, all angling to see him walk the carpet, go inside. A pretty blonde girl winks from the sidelines and blows him a kiss, and he smiles back, much to her delight.
Then he turns, and there is Louis.
His breath catches as he sees him, standing just behind, as always, talking amiably to the driver. He’s not one for the spotlight, though he’ll go anywhere for Harry, and that only makes him more wonderful, somehow. He’s always there. Always just on the edge of every shot, following, smiling quietly as Harry waves and talks and shakes hands. He always looks so beautiful, Harry thinks; he shines. He shined that day on the quad and he shines today, worlds apart united for Harry by his presence. His hair is pushed back tonight; it sits high and compliments his chiseled cheekbones and bright tanned skin; glinting, warm blue eyes. His tuxedos always fit him perfectly, tonight his jacket is cut low to show his crisply pressed shirt and bowtie, immaculately polished shoes. He’s twice the movie star Harry will ever be, Harry always thinks that, because he may have boyish good looks but they’ll fade. Louis will be beautiful, classically handsome, forever.
His eyes crinkle gently as he catches Harry watching him and he nods to the red carpet; reminds him he has a job to do. Harry doesn’t want to go without him though, so Louis sidles up to him quietly and places a hand on the small of his back, murmurs in his ear.
“Go get ‘em, tiger.”
Harry feels his eyelashes brush his cheeks as he blinks slowly, smiles, settles back into Louis’ touch for a brief moment before he straightens up and walks a few steps. He gives the crowd a Hello, New York! and laughs as he sees Louis roll his eyes. The crowd roars. As usual, he has the urge to take Louis’ hand. As usual, of course, he doesn’t, so settles on throwing glances his way every few seconds, catching the way the flashes of the cameras bounce off his face and cast long shadows, make him blink rapidly and laugh quietly.
The cameras try and make him turn but he can’t quite draw his gaze from Louis, biting his lip softly, urging Harry along.
Harry returns from New York and he is famous. Which, of course, is when the trouble starts.
They don’t notice it, not straight away. Niall puts the sudden lack of scripts coming in for Harry down to an odd sort of stalling of creativity; maybe the studios are shifting their writers around, or something. But scripts are still coming in for Liam and his other clients, and the ones addressed to Harry remain mysteriously elusive.
So the enquiries start. Niall is nothing if not a shrewd agent; he knows where to place a delicate question, where to call in a favour.
And of course, he should’ve known. Should’ve known that letting them roam free in New York for all those months was a bad idea, because Harry is famous now, watched, speculated about. And trotting around with Louis day in day out, staying for an off-the-cuff night out in beautiful hotels uptown; that doesn’t sit well with directors and producers and studios and least of all the moguls who finance this whole ludicrous town. Not at all well. And so directors are quietly asked not to audition Harry. Studios executives are told by their benefactors that there are certain people who they do not want their money linked to, and for this reason the following people should not be hired. Harry makes those sorts of lists now, a lot.
But Harry is lucky to have Niall by his side, he couldn’t ask for anyone better. Niall never asks questions, doesn’t see it as his place. He regards Harry as his most talented client and sees both of them as dear friends and he’s not too bothered about how they see each other. He knows how Harry wants to do this, and if that’s going to cost him roles than so be it. Niall can be gruff but he can also be bubbly and lovely. He grins at Harry fondly with an affectionate roll of his eyes as Harry says he’s taking Louis to every premiere and event and party, makes the call that yes, Harry will be taking a plus one, no, she won’t need a stylist for the evening, it’s Louis, what’s new, piss off, I said he’s taking Louis, he’s the star of this fuckin’ town, he’ll take whoever he damn well pleases, he could take President Coolidge himself for all we care and you still get him a nice tux and a good car, understand?
Words to that effect; that’s why Harry’s lucky to have him.
He convinces Harry not to get too worried about the lack of roles coming his way, assures him things will settle down after the hype over Ever The Loveliest Lady dies away. Harry nods quietly and presses his lips together, and Niall launches into his old rhetoric of Harry, a quarter of this industry are completely behind you, I promise that’s more than enough, and besides, Grimshaw’ll be casting you till the day you die, don’t worry.
So Harry nods and tries not to care.
It is 1924.
Harry gets asked to meet Nick in March, four months after the premiere in Manhattan. They’re back in LA now, and Niall tells him to look sharp and present himself properly, there could potentially be a job here and Harry could do with one. Harry rolls his eyes and says lightly, when do I ever not look sharp? Niall makes him make a pot of coffee for that.
Harry steps into the hotel on Sunshine Boulevard on a Friday afternoon. The sun shines brilliantly for early spring; makes the green marble of the lobby sparkling and warm as it trickles through the big windows and touches the grand chandelier in the middle of the room. He smiles at the concierge before turning to go to the bar, looking fresh and young and smart, wearing a nice coat and pressed shirt. He looks good, even if he does say so himself.
Nick, on the other hand, does not. Amidst the hazy fog of smoke and the soft noise of chattering and clinking glasses, Harry sees him, hunched at the bar, melancholy. Nick looks tired and stressed and his face breaks into a relieved, pinched smile as he sees Harry.
“Thanks so much for coming,” he says listlessly as Harry slips into a seat, orders a gin and tonic.
“No problem, really,” he says, but his brow furrows in concern as he sees the look on Nick’s face, sees the pained expression that seems a world away from those few wild nights in New York. He takes a sip of his drink, waits for Nick to speak, but he doesn’t.
“Is, umm, is everything okay?” he ventures.
Nick laughs ruefully, and takes a sip of his martini. He has a waistcoat on, inexplicably, and he fiddles with the hem of it as he speaks.
“I’m not sure,” he muses, “I’m not sure.”
Harry watches him carefully, unsure of what to say. In the corner of the room, an old man tinkers on the piano; Harry thinks vaguely it sounds like a soundtrack. Nick pulls out a cigarette, lights up and takes a long, slow drag before beginning.
“Financers have pulled out my next film,” Nick says quietly, detached, bringing Harry back, “just like that. They loved it, and then New York happened, and that’s it. Nothing.”
Harry feels his stomach twist uncomfortably. Because he’s willing to let his own career suffer because of his private life; he wasn’t betting on it affecting the people associated with him. Nick looks utterly shattered, staring vaguely off into the distance. Harry closes his eyes, bites his lip, tries not to think you’ve fucked up everything he’s worked for.
“Nick,” he says slowly, “Nick, I’m so, so sorry.” His voice is leaden with guilt, and Nick snaps his eyes up from where his gaze is blankly pointed, registering the look of abject horror on Harry’s face.
“Oh, God, no,” he says hurriedly, “no, no, no, not because of you, Harry. No, umm.” He stirs his drink idly, biting his lip and flicking his eyes around the crowded bar. He looks away briefly, before locking eyes with Harry with a measured, meaningful look.
“No, it’s, umm, it’s me. You know.”
And, oh, okay. Harry nods quietly. He understands.
“You of all people know how word gets around this town, I imagine, after a few drinks and unsubtle hands here and there,” he says dryly, and Harry nods with a knowing smile, “that Liam or whatever he’s called getting all your God-given roles.”
Harry laughs at that, shrugs it off; they’re not here to talk about him.
“It happens,” he settles on saying, which probably isn’t the most eloquent expression, but, well. He’s not even sure why he’s here.
“The thing is,” Nick starts slowly, and he’s sombre again, “the thing is, is that I’m not sure how many more roles I’ll have to offer you.” The slightly pained look returns to his face. “It’s, well, it’s not looking spectacular right now. New York was a little crazier than I expected, and,” he gestures emphatically, pausing to find the words, “guards were dropped, shall we say. And so the studios…they aren’t my biggest fan right now.”
Harry swallows, hard. He knows what this means. He feels slightly sick.
“Right,” he says, pulling himself together, “but Nick, please, don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine. Niall’s got about a million scripts on his desk.” He tries to smile, but it feels forced, and Nick knows him well enough to see it. “One of ‘em’ll throw me a bone.”
Nick laughs, bites his lip a moment after.
“I really am so sorry,” he says quietly, “I know it’s been a hard few months. And you’re a talent, film star. A real fucking talent. We could use more of you. I’m sorry for you, more than anything; I mean, anyone can point a camera. But you, you’re something, Harry Styles.”
Harry takes the compliment with a forced grin, settles in with another drink and they talk for hours.
It’s as they’re picking their coats up from the lobby of the hotel, sun almost completely set, that Harry looks at him seriously, wanting Nick to know he means this.
“Whatever your movies are gonna be paying from now on, wherever you’re making them,” he says shyly, “I know they’ll still be brilliant. I’d still like to do them, if you’ll have me.”
Nick laughs, and for the first time all day it’s genuine.
“It’d be an honour, Harold,” he says, and Harry snorts at the nickname.
Harry walks the short distance home after that and he feels numb, cold all over. Because once he lets it sink in, he realizes that he’s in quite big trouble. Nick is the only person left who offers him anything resembling job security; a place in this ever-growing empire that seems to move faster and faster every month. And if Nick’s fading, then he is too. It’s simple as that.
He opens the front door quietly, hangs his coat and walks inside and sees Louis sitting on the couch, jazz record playing quietly in the background. He’s drinking tea and his glasses are halfway down his nose as he reads the paper, and Harry can’t help but smile. He’s so beautiful; Harry will never stop thinking that.
“’Bout time, I was beginning to think you’d wandered off into the night and left me here,” Louis says dryly, not looking up. Harry laughs, but it sounds empty, and Louis’ head snaps up immediately.
“What’s wrong?” he asks quietly, and suddenly his voice is full of concern and warmth and Harry realizes, in that moment, how achingly well they know each other, can read each other. Louis’ brow furrows as Harry walks over and flicks the needle of the gramophone up, plunging the room into silence and running a hand through his hair. Louis doesn’t move though, lets him pace the room a couple of times before standing still again. He fiddles with his hair, bites his lip, agitated, because he doesn’t know where to begin.
“Sorry,” he starts, because Louis is obviously trying to be patient but he’s looking at Harry like he’s afraid he’ll snap in two.
“No, no, it’s okay,” he says soothingly, “what happened, Hazza?”
Harry looks at him for a long moment and then with a deep breath launches into it, tells him about Nick and his financers and his future and how he doubts Niall can find something for him, and what if this is it and what if it’s over, and he kind of says more than he wants to, but, well. Louis sometimes (always) has that effect on him; kind eyes make him relax enough to let him in completely.
He finishes with a “and…and I don’t know Lou, I just don’t fucking know anymore” and Louis waits a beat, making sure he’s finished, before he stands up.
“Oh, darling,” he murmurs, and he stills a pacing, anxious Harry, pulls him into his chest and cradles his head in his hands. Harry might be taller than him but sometimes he seems so tiny, so small and fragile, and Louis is scared they’ll break him. Harry hums tiredly into Louis’ chest, wraps his arms around his waist and lets his shoulders drop, finally, lets himself release all the uncertainty he’s built up for hours.
They stand there for a long moment until Louis shifts, moves back a little so Harry has no choice but to lift his head and lock eyes with him.
“You’re going to be so great,” he says quietly, and Harry laughs and rolls his eyes but Louis stops him, puts a hand to his face and lets his thumb brush over Harry’s lips.
“No, I mean it, Harry, you’re going to be so great. It’s not going to fall through; we won’t let it. I promise,” he says, and to Harry it sounds like gospel, because he can’t help but believe it when Louis says it, assured smile and fond blue eyes. He curls a hand around Harry’s hip, runs his soft, warm fingers into the skin he finds there and Harry feels himself go boneless and lightheaded, because when Louis touches him like that it feels like falling.
“I love you,” Louis says softly, and he presses a kiss to Harry’s parted lips, “I’ll love you no matter what.”
And Harry’s world might be exploding into a million beautiful pieces at that but he thinks he could hear a pin drop; he daren’t breathe because these moments are the ones he needs to remember, the ones he wants on replay in his head for the rest of his life.
“I love you too,” he says quietly – always quiet, because they have to be, quietness is the one necessity in all of this – but it feels so, so loud.
Weeks pass, nothing comes through. Not a single script is sent to him, although Niall gives him all the ones sent for Liam, anyway. He reads through them and they’re either awful, or directed and produced by people who studiously avoid his gaze at every event they find themselves at together, or are so clearly going to go to Liam that he doesn’t even bother.
He mopes around Niall’s office more and more, sees the others walk in and out and thinks, how did this happen.
“Listen,” Niall says, and he points at Harry, who’s slumped glumly on his desk one Wednesday afternoon, “none of that anymore. It’s going to be fine, Harry, you’re a fucking star.”
Harry doesn’t move, just looks at him emptily. “Niall, everything I do is with Nick. No one else is gonna hire me, because—“
“Enough,” he snaps firmly, before his tone drops into warmth “I don’t care about any of that. You’re a wonderful actor, that’s all there is to it. Something will come through. Now for the love of God stop feeling sorry for yourself and pick up one of those goddamned scripts, you’re not getting any work if you sit there moaning all day.”
Harry grins, and takes the top one from the pile; there’s nothing like a bit of tough love.
He manages to get two jobs, small roles that only take a couple of weeks to shoot, but it’s work nonetheless. Louis tells him he’s the best one in both of them, even though he had a mask on during most of The One Who Ran and was on screen for barely ten minutes of Green Light. Louis brushes it off as detail.
The nervousness in the pit of Harry’s stomach settles, a little, although it’s still there. He has one film in the pipeline, and he prays it’s enough.