title: let’s savour what we’re falling over
word count: ~21,000
disclaimer: own nothing/know nothing/obviously. completely fictionalised.
summary: west wing au (loosely); in other words everyone works in the white house and louis likes getting coffee with the washington post reporter in his briefing room.
a/n: okay. haha. full disclosure, this is both entirely self indulgent and utterly ridiculous. you don’t need to have seen the show or know any politics for it to make sense, though. promise! basically, they’re all very clever and busy and this is louis’ job and that’s it, really.
thanks a million to checkthemargins for reading this over and finding all the accidentally included britishisms for me; you’re an absolute gem. title from young the giant’s apartment.
The first time Louis sees him is at 3am on election night. Which he will of course come to see as somewhat fortuitous, but not tonight. Tonight is the biggest night of his life, and if he’s honest, he barely gives Harry five minutes thought. Tonight, Harry is one of the many strangers he passes in the halls of the hotel.
It is 3am and it is election night and somehow – somehow – their ragtag-at-best, entirely-dysfunctional-at-worst, struggling-to-find-donations and really-much-too-liberal-to-be-a-viable-D
And it’s been nine months of traipsing across the country and sleeping three, maybe four, hours a night, nine months of numbersnumbersnumbers and if we can just get through this week then and well if we can just get this donation then and it’s been so many close calls and lucky breaks and fuck ups and highs and lows and they’ve won. They’re standing here, CNN on in the background as the President-Elect’s victory speech – the one he gave in this room, the one that Louis’ best friend in the whole world wrote – is played over on repeat and God. God. They’ve won.
Louis spots Zayn across the room and grins as he comes bounding over, drinks in hand.
“Oh my God!” Zayn yells in his face, smiling like an idiot and passing him a beer, “Oh my God!”
“I know!” Louis shouts back, because why the fuck not, because they’re all on the brink of hysterical exhaustion and enough tears have been shed tonight to drown them all, so why the fuck not. Louis thinks he might shout forever, or start stripping and dancing on the table in the middle of the room. Maybe he’ll jump off the balcony or bathe in champagne. He doesn’t know, or care, but God. God, he’s so fucking happy right now.
Zayn laughs happily and pulls him in for another hug – because that’s all anyone’s been doing all night, shouting and hugging – smiles into his hair and squeezes him tight before loosening his grip. They’re here. They’ve done it.
And the thing is, Louis loves all these people dearly. Most of the time, anyway. He’s met Liam and Niall through this whirlwind of a year, met Fearne and Aimee, met so many wonderful people who he now honestly counts as his closest friends. Hard not to, considering they’ve all breathed the same air and shared the same happiness and absolute, gutting disappointment for a year.
But with Zayn, it’s different, because he and Zayn have always sort of been a two-for-one deal. They’d left college as slightly disillusioned young Democrats together, moved on into ridiculous, $400,000 a year jobs together; Zayn in law, Louis in PR. And they’d kind of lost contact together, ridiculous codependency fading into a phone call here and there, an email a couple of times a week. But then it had been Zayn who’d come back, who’d knocked on Louis’ door in LA one night with a look that Louis hadn’t seen since college, bright eyed and excited, and said Louis. Louis, pack your shit up, we’ve found him. We’re going to get someone elected President. And Louis’d asked questions, sure, but he’d never considered saying no. And so Zayn took him back to the campaign offices in California (office is too kind, really, it was more a shed), introduced him to Nick, and Louis had been hired within forty-eight hours.
And now they’ve won. Ta da.
So he looks up at Zayn and smiles, cheers and hollers as the replayed speech comes to an end (it had only been three hours ago, up on the stage in front of them, flags flying and hundreds of them screaming, but he and Nick and Zayn and Liam and Niall louder), because fuck. They did it.
“We fucking did it,” he says happily, leaning up to yell into Zayn’s ear because it’s so, so loud, “we fucking did it.”
Zayn nods, and then he leans down to talk to Louis, looking like he’s just seen Christmas.
“Lou, I.” He smiles – beams – and takes Louis by the shoulder. “It just happened. He fucking offered it to me. Like, just now. I’m…Christ, Louis, I’m White House senior staff. Officially.”
Louis’ jaw drops to the floor and he pushes Zayn away, smiling like a moron.
“Why the fuck didn’t you lead with that, you idiot?” he shrieks, “Oh my God,” he says, and because he can’t think of anything else to say, he just says it again, “well fucking done!”
It’s hardly a surprise. They’ve been at the helm of this whole operation for months. No one but Zayn was ever going to be Communications Director. No one but Niall’s going to be his deputy and no one but Liam could possibly be Deputy Chief of Staff. Nick had hired them all – because only the effervescent Nicholas Grimshaw will be White House Chief of Staff, thank you very much – for these specific reasons, because he, more than anyone, believed in the cause. Just like all of them, Louis is pretty much Press Secretary already; there’s no one else for the job but him. Rationally, he knows it, but it’s still nerve wracking, waiting for it to properly happen.
“I’m so fucking proud of you,” he says to Zayn, because maybe he’s had a bit to drink, “Amazing.”
Zayn laughs and rolls his eyes, but Louis knows he’s thinking the exact same thing. “You’ll be up next, Nick’s just taken Liam up to the Governor’s – the President’s, fuck – room now. Anyway, I gotta go find Perrie. I’ll see you in a bit, yeah?” he asks.
Louis raises an eyebrow, finishes his drink. “Can’t imagine I’ll be going anywhere, no,” he says idly, and Zayn flips him off, grinning as he melts back into the crowd.
It’s as the top of his head disappears into the throng of people that Louis sees him. A guy with a moleskine notebook. And, like, maybe it’s because he’s horribly drunk but that surprises him, someone here with a notebook and not a laptop or a tablet. Louis can’t figure it out, because he knows all the campaign reporters like his own family by now. He spends roughly half his day with them, more if they’re doing photo ops and events. But he doesn’t know this guy, so he saunters over to the table he’s sitting at, writing diligently.
“Hi,” he says loudly, obnoxiously, but he’s not too bothered by any of that tonight, “who’re you then?”
Eloquent, as ever. The guy looks a little perplexed, out of his comfort zone, but he smiles at Louis anyway, shakes his hand.
“I’m Harry Styles. Post,” he tacks onto the end, flashing his security pass. Louis cocks his head, confused.
“No,” he says, “no no no. You’re not…you’re not the Post’s reporter. That’s Alex.”
Harry just smiles, like Louis is a five year old and needs to be told the rules, which is so infuriating. “Alex was campaign reporter,” he says politely, “I’m White House reporter. As soon as you won, this became my job.”
“Oh,” Louis says, because even though in two months time it will be his job to talk to a roomful of reporters for a living, he apparently can’t talk to just one tonight. He reminds himself never to give a briefing drunk, if his behaviour tonight is anything to go by. He thinks he probably shouldn’t have to remind himself not to be drunk while representing the White House, but well. Whatever.
“Right,” he says, “sorry. Guess I’ll be seeing—“
Louis whips his head round at the sound of his name, sees Nick smacking the crowd out of the way to get to him. He motions with a nod of his head for Louis to come over, before retreating back to the lifts amidst congratulatory pats on the back and hugs from staff; right from secretaries to senior Democrats. You’d think Nick had just become President, judging by the reception he’s getting. Louis rolls his eyes, smiles, shakes Harry’s hand again. Because fuck. This is…fuck. This is it. He’s going to go up there and by the time he comes down he’s going to be White House Senior Staff.
“Bye!” he calls cheerily to Harry, and threads his way through the crowd to Nick, who’s holding the lift door open for him.
“Took you long enough, Tomlinson,” he says with a fond eye roll, and Louis can’t be bothered to say anything back. He’s so fucking happy.
“Yeah, yeah,” he mutters, and with that the lift opens with a ding to the penthouse suite of the hotel. Louis doesn’t expect him to be sitting right there, for some reason, because…well, he’s President now, and somehow in Louis’ brain that equates to not being sat in a room where Louis can just see him.
“Governor,” he blurts out with a smile, shaking his hand warmly, “congratulations. Just. Congratulations, the speech was brilliant. It all was.”
“Well, thank Zayn for that,” he says, beaming at Louis, “and not to put a downer on it all, but I believe it’s Mr President, now. Gonna need to remember that, if you’re Press Secretary.”
And Louis doesn’t really hear a lot after that, because yeah. Yeah. Greg James is President of the United States and unless he’s mistaken, he’s the fucking White House Press Secretary.
He doesn’t need to hear much more than that, and he completely forgets about Harry from the Post with his moleskine notebook.
Reuters. TIME. AP. San Francisco Chronicle. New York Times. Washington Post.
That’s his front row, his majors. There are four more, bigger rows with infinitely smaller publications to remember as well. His first briefing is in a matter of minutes, the last two months have passed rather quickly and now it’s January 21st and this is his job now. He’s thinks he might resign right now, if only to calm the army of butterflies in his stomach.
Zayn charges into the room with a few memos in hand, tosses them onto the podium where Louis is standing eyeing the as of now empty briefing room. His briefing room.
“Today’s mostly going to be about tax reform, I’m thinking, President’s first bill on the floor. Blah blah,” he says idly, tapping out a response to an email on his Blackberry as he talks, before pocketing his phone.
“Right,” he continues, “checklist. Know what our line is for tax, yeah?”
Louis nods a little nervously, takes a sip of water. “Sure,” he says, “President James and the new Administration are keen to see…” he waves his hands, rolls his eyes. “I fucking know it. In addition to being a fantastic speaker,” he says with a smirk and a flourish, “I’ve also been saying the same thing for a year now. Move on.”
Zayn smiles. “Okay, fine. You know your procedure?”
“I’ve only been reading the goddamned press briefing every day since I was seventeen.”
“Touchy,” Zayn notes, “okay. Order the first row for me.”
Louis gulps. He’s maybe not so breezily confident about this part.
“Reuters,” he ventures as a start, “Scott Mills, right? From Reuters?”
Zayn nods. One down, forty odd to go.
“Cardle’s at TIME. Whoever’s here for AP, then…fuck.”
“Chronicle,” Zayn fills in, “Honestly, no one expects you to know ‘em all by now. If you don’t know, just point and say yeah.”
Louis nods. He ignores the voice in the back of his head that says, but you should know it.
“Chronicle, that’s Ferguson. Then the Times, Aiden, that’s fine.” He’d gone to college with Aiden. He’ll ask Aiden the first question, maybe, at least he’ll know his fucking name.
“Perfect, and then at the far right is some new kid from the Post. Harry Styles. That’s his name, I don’t know a lot about him but it should be fine.”
“Harry Styles?” Louis asks, because he remembers that name from somewhere, “Do I know him?”
Zayn furrows his brow. “Dunno. College?”
Louis shakes his head.
“No, don’t think so.”
“Bone him while we were on the road last year?”
“Fuck off,” Louis says with a withering stare, “never mind. Now if you’ll be so kind, I have a briefing room to hold court, so I’m gonna need you to leave.”
Zayn flips him off, but his face softens after a while. “G’luck, Lou. You’re gonna smash it.”
“I know,” he says, but what he really means is thank you, because I’m shit scared, and Zayn knows that, “record it for me, I wanna see playback.”
“You got it,” Zayn calls over his shoulder, and then he’s gone.
Louis tidies the podium and runs a hand through his hair, reads over his notes. He’s got this. He can do this. He’s going to be fine.
Journalists start filing in at five minutes to midday, and once they’re all seated he walks back out to the podium from where he’s been watching behind the door. It’s so odd, because Louis is the newcomer here yet he’s the one in the know, he’s the superior. It’s a strange dynamic, but Louis loves it. He feels a bit funny because this, this is it. This has been the pipe dream since he was seventeen, stuck in that shitty high school with his shitty teachers and shitty classmates and shitty everything. It’s happened, he’s done it, and fuck. Yeah. That’s nice.
“Good morning,” he says, voice a little raised as everyone finds their seats, “or should I say afternoon. I’m not sure, to be honest, but here we all are so let’s get going, then. For those’ve you who have for some unknown reason not learnt my name,” he winks, greeted with a murmured laugh, “I’m Louis Tomlinson and I’m the new White House Press Secretary.”
The journalists gathered give a round of applause at that and Louis smiles a little. Even if they are going to spend the next four years (eight, with any luck) fighting mercilessly with him, this is sweet of them. Kind of like how it’s sweet of a lady spider to have sex with the male before she kills him. Sweet.
“Oh, stop it,” he says dryly, getting a bigger laugh and yeah, this is good, this he can do. “I have no announcements to make, considering we’re still unpacking boxes, so I’ll take your questions.”
The cry of Louis, Louis, Louis goes up from the group, a flurry of hands and clicks and pens. He scans his front row, sees Aiden and smiles.
But then, out of the corner of his eye, he sees someone else. A young guy with floppy hair and interested eyes and a moleskine notebook. And he remembers now, how he knows Harry Styles, because he just so happened to be the last person Louis talked to before he got this job. And it doesn’t – shouldn’t – seem like much, but it feels funny to Louis, cosmically relevant somehow. And, well, fuck it. His eyes rest on Harry and he points at him with a small smile.
“Harry,” he says evenly, and he doesn’t miss the flicker of surprise in his face, as though Harry’s shocked that he’s remembered his name, two months on.
“Umm. Thanks, Louis, I’ve got one about tax reform and one about the President’s candidate for the UN Ambassador,” he says, surprised smile remaining on his face.
“Go ahead,” Louis says, returning the smile, and they’re off.
Their first major crisis occurs eight days in. Which, Louis thinks privately, isn’t too bad, considering they’re running a country.
He wakes up at 3:54am, groggily sitting up as his phone buzzes infuriating loudly next to his bed.
“Yeah,” Louis mumbles, pushing his hair out of his eyes as he answers the phone, “what’s wrong? It’s four in the morning, Nick.”
“And of that I’m well aware,” Nick says curtly, sounding annoyingly awake and game-faced, “I need you in here, you’ll be briefing the press at nine and I need you here now so you know what you’re talking about.”
Louis perks up a little, flicks his lamp on and tries to clear the feeling of sleep from his head.
“What happened?” he asks quickly, shivering slightly against the January cold.
Nick sighs down the phone. He sounds tired already, Louis thinks. Louis only gets a few hours sleep a night; he can’t quite fathom how Nick could be getting less but he must be. Louis’ not sure if he ever goes home, he’s there at five or six in the morning when Louis gets in and he’s there at eleven or twelve when he leaves. And Louis and Nick have their moments; Louis drives him crazy and Nick pushes all of Louis’ buttons and some, but truth be told Louis kind of looks up to him. And – he’ll deny it under oath – but he’d really like to be as astute and shrewd and clever as Nick is one day. Nick is a natural at politics; he has an instinct for every situation. Louis respects that more than he’d like to admit.
“That’s for me to know and you to find out,” he snaps.
(Louis takes back every halfway fond thought he’s ever had about Nick fucking Grimshaw.)
“So why the fuck did you call me?” he asks irritably, tripping over his bedside table as he stands.
“I need you to come in. Now,” he says, and with that he hangs up. Typical.
Louis stumbles into the west wing at half past four, collapsing in his office with a cup of coffee and a damp coat. Liam pops his head round the door, looking about as fresh faced as Louis feels.
“D’you know what this is about?” he asks sleepily, and Louis just shakes his head, has a sip of the truly awful instant coffee he’s holding.
“No,” he says, “no idea.” He flicks his eyes down to the mountain of memos and announcements he’s got to sift through today. They can wait till a more godly hour, you know, seven perhaps. “Niall and Zayn here?”
“Yeah,” Liam says, “Fearne and Aimee too. President’s on his way over.”
Louis raises an eyebrow. For all of them to be here this early is unheard of, so far anyway.
“What do you think it is?” he asks, frowning slightly.
Liam just shrugs.
“I don’t know, but we’re gonna have our balls handed to us if we’re not in Nick’s office…” he glances at his watch, “…well, five minutes ago.”
Louis nods, reminds himself to go and buy a bagel after this meeting and follows Liam down the corridor to the office adjacent to the Oval.
As they walk in, it’s not the hive of activity Louis’d been expecting. Niall and Zayn look grave, Fearne too, and Nick is talking to Aimee quietly in the corner. He turns around and looks at them as they walk in, but doesn’t reprimand them for being late.
“What’s wrong?” Louis asks softly, and he can feel the way his brain kicks into overdrive, the way that side of him that is utterly and totally dedicated to this job turns on. Nick bites his lip, and ushers Louis and Liam over. He looks exhausted, Louis thinks, and it’s the last thought that enters his head before Nick opens his mouth.
There was a bomb.
And it’s the last time Louis turns up to work without having watched five minutes of CNN, because he walked in blind and he’ll never forget the way his stomach seemed to turn to liquid as Nick told him.
There was a bomb in the foyer of the Pakistani embassy, right here in Washington, about eight minutes before Nick called him. Twenty-seven people died, right here in Washington, in the middle of the night. And Louis feels fucking sick, because they’re people just like him, really. They’re people working for a government salary, doing what they can for their country. People just like Louis. Right here in Washington.
They spend a few minutes in somber silence until the President walks in, looking wildly overtired like the rest of them. He says a few kind words, this almost beautiful mixture of condolence and sincerity and practicality, and Louis remembers in that moment why he’d given so much to this. Greg is one of the most fantastic people he’s ever met, and Louis feels more honoured than usual to be on his team.
Greg and Nick leave for the Situation Room at that, Joint Chiefs following close behind, and there is no choice but to put behind the shock and the grief and to do their jobs. Liam heads back to his office to review the bill he has to negotiate up on the Hill today; Niall continues on the speech the President has to give on climate change on Wednesday, and Zayn and Louis try and wrap their heads around a way to talk about this story in an hour.
Louis is shit scared. Because this isn’t politics, not really. Politics he knows, politics he can do, and talk about without thinking, politics is second nature to him. Politics is elegant and dirty and intellectual and instinctual all at once and Louis loves it, thrives off it.
But this isn’t politics. This is life and death and tragedy and it’s here, home soil. He probably passed some of these people at the Starbucks around the corner. They probably had their dry cleaning done at the 24-hour laundry two blocks over from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. And it’s just, it’s a lot, and it’s awful, and Louis has to try and make it coherent and short and rational to a room of forty-odd people who will then pass his comments on to the entire country.
And that scares him more than usual, today.
“Lou,” Zayn says quietly, “Lou, you alright, man?”
Louis lets out a humourless laugh. “No,” he replies truthfully, “but I have to be. So. Let’s do this, then.”
Louis opens his mouth to say something else, but doesn’t know what, so clears his throat and listens as Zayn asks him about who the President relies on most in times of crisis, considering his administration is still so young.
If the briefing room is usually a battleground, today it’s apocalyptic.
“Louis!” shouts someone from the back row, “Louis! Will President James address the nation?”
“Louis! Is the President looking into the possibility of this being an internal affair playing out on US soil?”
“Louis! What’s Ellie wearing to the Treasury Ball tonight?”
And he nearly responds to that with a quick two lines that would shut that fucking asshole up for good, but he doesn’t, because he’s so, so overwhelmed right now.
All the journalists are in, every single one, which hasn’t happened before. There are cameras lining the whole back wall, because this will go on proper TV tonight, prime time, not to mention the flashes of still cameras going off every few seconds. The room is in uproar, and they’re only fifteen minutes in.
He sighs, blinks, refocuses. “Cara,” he says, pointing to her in the second row, and the room falls silent after the appropriate amount of grumbling.
“Louis, what has the President put aside for today to focus on this crisis?” she asks. Crisis. Brilliant.
“The President has put aside a meeting with Treasury and his usual weekly defence briefing this morning so his full attention is on this incident,” he responds, “other than that, I can’t give you details of his private schedule.”
“So he’s not putting everything aside?” someone asks, challenging.
“No, I’m just saying, I can’t give you the full rundown of his schedule. The President is taking an much time as is required with this, I assure you,” he says through gritted teeth.
“That’s all I have time for this morning,” he says loudly. He just, he can’t do this right now. He’s told them everything they need and there’s a large part of him that hates the way this is being turned into dirty politics, can imagine the smarmy article tomorrow, and he just…he can’t, not right now. “I’ll brief again at 2pm. Thank you for your time.”
He leaves the podium through the right hand door and feels distinctly like he’s failed. And usually he’d go back to his office, watch his playback, get up to date on what he’s missed in the hour he’d been briefing. But today, today he can’t go up there, knowing he’s fucked up his part of this intricate chain.
He goes to the staff cafeteria, sighs and picks up a copy of the Post. He may as well see what he’s missed.
“Enjoying that?” a voice asks, sounding slightly amused. Louis looks up immediately, to see a smiling Harry Styles standing in front of him with two steaming cups of coffee.
“Hey, Harry,” he says, smile feeling as tired as it probably looks, “look, I’ve really got nothing else for you right now, I’ll be back at two—“
“I’m not here for that, I’ve got my story half done,” Harry says, still smiling; a little sympathy and a little, well, Louis would call it friendliness, but Harry’s a journalist, so that can’t be it. “You just looked a little stressed out this morning.”
Louis opens his mouth to say something terribly witty, but nothing comes out. He’s so tired.
“Yeah,” he says with a soft smile, “you could say that.”
“Coffee, then?” Harry asks, and with that he grabs a chair from the table over and plonks himself down opposite Louis, pushing a cardboard cup his way.
Louis eyes it suspiciously. “What’ve you put in it?”
“Truth serum,” Harry says, rolling his eyes, “truth serum and laxatives. Also I spiked it.”
“I’m kidding,” Harry says, “oh my God, sorry. Did I just say that out loud? You…you work for the President of the United States and I just said in the White House that I spiked your drink. I. I don’t even know. I’m sorry.”
It’s Louis’ turn to smile, slightly amused, as Harry turns bright red. “It’s okay, we’ll keep it a secret,” he says with a wink, “but what are you doing bringing me coffee, Harry Styles; spiked or not?”
Harry seems to recompose himself somewhat, takes a sip of his own. “I don’t know,” he says, “but you were really good up there today. That’s all really. Don’t…don’t beat yourself up about it. No one just knows how to deal with stuff like that. And you did well, especially for your first time.”
Louis considers making a first time joke but thinks better of it. This is absurdly sweet. And not in the lady spider fucking the male before she kills it kind of way. He’s just – genuinely, as far as Louis can tell – being lovely.
“I don’t know what to say, to be honest,” he says quietly, “but thank you. Really. How…” he pauses, suddenly interested “how old are you, Harry Styles?”
Harry smiles, seems unsurprised at the question. He looks awfully young, he probably gets it a lot. “You can just call me Harry, you know. But I’m twenty-seven.”
Louis lets out an impressed whistle. “Twenty-seven and already the Post’s White House reporter. Bit young for that, aren’t you?”
“Eh. This is a stopover job. I’m waiting for Foreign Correspondent.” Louis laughs at that, of course he’d be ambitious too. Of course he’d be one of the three journalists in the world for whom working in the White House is a stopover. Harry seems to pause, consider him. “Bit young to be White House Press Secretary, aren’t you?”
Louis ponders that for a moment, eyes Harry playfully, quizzically. “Not according to him,” he says with a smile, pointing at the picture of the President that hangs in the room.
Harry just snorts.
“You’re sort of a prick, aren’t you?” he asks, much to Louis’ amusement.
“Make no mistake about it, Harry, I am the biggest prick in this building. Coincidentally, I also have—“
His pager starts buzzing furiously on the desk; it’s Nick. He grimaces.
“Make that the second biggest,” he mutters, before sighing, gulping down the rest of his coffee. “I have to go,” he says, “but honestly. Thank you, for this. Even if you are just doing it in the vain hope I’ll leak you something good…thank you.”
Harry stands and puts his coat on as Louis does, picks his notebook up from the table.
“No problem,” he says, “we should do it again sometime.”
And Louis thinks that no, probably, they shouldn’t. Harry is a member of his press gallery. They’re working in the White House. And even getting a up of coffee together can be misconstrued as a million different things, can make people angry and accuse him of favouritism and partiality and get him – well, both of them – into all sorts of unnecessary trouble. But Harry’s looking at him with this lovely, earnest smile on his face and Louis knows how to read people. And he’s pretty sure Harry’s being nothing but utterly honest here.
So no, they probably shouldn’t do this again sometime.
“Definitely,” Louis says in spite of his brain telling him wrong answer, and Harry gives a small laugh and turns to make his way out of the cafeteria as Louis spots his pen still on the table. And usually he’d let it go, but it’s a nice pen, like a present people get from family members when they graduate college, expensive and ink and Louis’ pretty sure it’s engraved.
“Harry,” he calls across the room, “you forgot this.”
Harry trots back to him with a shake of his head, rolls his eyes.
“Early morning,” he says by way of explanation, taking the pen from Louis’ hand, and Louis is sure he’s not imagining the way Harry’s fingers linger near his. Harry pauses in front of him, looks at him for a moment before taking a napkin from the dispenser on the table.
“Just in case you ever need someone to buy you another overpriced caffeine shot,” Harry says as he writes, ink bleeding across the napkin but numbers still legible, “here.”
He hands the napkin to Louis and, like, Louis has all the journalist’s numbers in a drawer in his office. Harry must know that. But he takes it nonetheless, because fuck, it’s been a God awful morning and it’s not like it means anything. Harry’s just nice. Nice people trade numbers all the time. It’s nice.
“Thank you,” he says, but Harry’s already half way across the room.
Louis puts any fondness down to exhaustion and goes back to his office. He does, however, keep that napkin.
It’s not that it becomes a thing. It’s just that it becomes a thing.
“Louis!” Nick shouts a week after Louis’ impromptu coffee definitely-not-date with Harry Styles, bursting into his office.
“Yes,” Louis says tiredly, looking up before smiling disgustingly wide, “whatever can I do for you?”
“Shut up. I need you to start leaking a story.”
Louis thought this was going to be about his penchant for stealing Nick’s favourite highlighters. Apparently not.
“Oh,” he says, work mode kicking in, “yeah, sure. Sure, to who, what do I need to say?”
Nick takes a seat at the table in Louis’ office, sorts through a few pieces of paper and finds a bundle for Louis.
“Basically, it’s about the Immigration Reform bill. We’re going to introduce it to the floor early and I need that to be out there so that when we do it, oh so surprisingly, there are people out there who’ve done their research. Know what they’re talking about.”
Louis nods. “Yeah, I can do that. Who d’you want me to talk to?”
Nick shrugs, engrossed in his Blackberry. “Whoever you want, someone who writes for a major. Whoever you want.”
So Louis calls Harry. It makes sense; he has his number on a napkin in his briefcase.
“Hey,” Harry says half an hour later, slipping onto a bar stool next to Louis. They’re at a place a few blocks south of the White House; Louis’d thought it prudent to perhaps do this outside those walls. “Didn’t think I’d be hearing from you, to be honest.”
“I imagine you’ve got a lot going on.”
Louis laughs. “A fair bit of that is dealing with all of you lot running riot, you know that right?”
Harry smiles, offers him half a biscuit, which he takes.
“So. What’ve you get for me, Mr Press Sec?” he asks with an exaggerated wink, and Louis just shakes his head disbelievingly.
“Call me that again and I’ll give it to the Times instead, Styles,” he says primly, “I’ve got a leak for you, though. It’s gonna go public come Wednesday, you can publish tomorrow. When you publish, it comes from a senior White House source. Deal?”
Harry nods, pulls his notebook out.
“Deal,” he says. It only takes Louis ten minutes to talk him through it. Somehow, though, they end up spending an hour at the café. Louis doesn’t think too much about it.
“So,” Harry says as they stand to leave, “Second date, and all that, do I get your number too?”
Louis just about drops the twenty-dollar bill he’s pulling out of his wallet, eyes darting to Harry, who’s smiling easily.
“You have my number,” he says, “it’s in, like, every drawer in your office.”
“Yeah, but if I want to buy you coffee again, I don’t want to call through your secretary.”
Louis narrows his eyes playfully, and Harry laughs.
“Fine,” he says, “but if you start harassing me and I have to get it changed, I’ll have you fired before you can blink.”
Harry just grins, hands his phone over to Louis. Louis pauses for a second, because possibly he shouldn’t be doing this. This is maybe a bad idea.
He puts it in anyway, and he feels the blush go right to his toes as Harry sends him a text an hour later – hiiii. just wanted to say hi. you should invent a crisis or something because i’m bored. wait. is this harassment?
They get coffee twice more and by the second time they drop all pretence of work. Harry texts Louis one Saturday saying he’s bored writing an editorial and would Louis like to come to his place in the south of the city because he knows a nice café there.
And Louis is equally as bored reading over the President’s speech on values or attitudes or something equally as abstract and awful for Monday, so texts back yeah, why not? see you in half an hour! (He forgoes an x, for no reason other than this is his work phone and he’d rather IT didn’t see that.)
Harry wears tight jeans and a loose white shirt and has headphones looped round his neck. Louis teases him for looking like a dreadful hipster and Harry just shrugs because, well, by his own admission he is one, although still somehow knows all the words to the rubbish Kesha song playing overhead. Louis’ fascinated by him. He pushes that thought aside though, and drinks his latte.
Louis resolves that they probably shouldn’t do that again, and for a week he really does keep it strictly professional. He’s too busy to text his sisters, let alone a reporter in his briefing room, and any downtime he has is spent sleeping, not over leisurely cups of coffee. It’s fine. It’s under control. He’s a professional.
So when he bumps into him the next Saturday, they honestly are just both in the staff gym early in the morning; if one good thing comes from this job it’s that he can survive on very little sleep. Louis’ on his way out, breathing a little heavily, singlet stuck to his back with sweat and hair pushed messily off his face. He’s wiping his face with a towel when he crashes into Harry walking in, who gives a small yelp of fright. Louis bursts into laughter as Harry tears his ear buds out.
“Christ, Louis,” Harry says, laughing a little embarrassedly, “scared the shit out of me.”
Louis laughs, takes a swig of water. “Yeah, well. Wasn’t expected to walk straight into anyone at this time of day.” He glances at the clock, it’s just gone 7am. He cocks his head, eyes Harry suspiciously. “Why are you here, anyway? Doesn’t the Post have a lovely gym where you can work out free from, you know, our lot?”
They glance over to the corner where an overweight Congressman is lifting weights. The only reason Louis isn’t laughing is because they really do need the numbers to pass the Immigration Act through the House, and Louis isn’t about to fuck that up, not even for Harry Styles’ amusement.
“Nah,” Harry says, “I like it here better.”
Harry smiles a little too knowingly, for Louis’ liking. “Machines are better,” he says idly, almost challenging.
“Oh yeah? What else?”
“Also hotter clientele,” Harry says brazenly, and Louis nearly chokes on his own surprise but he’ll not Harry get the better of him.
“Yeah,” he replies evenly, before dropping his tone to a whisper, “Congressman’s looking good today.”
They get coffee. Louis ignores the fact that Harry skips his workout altogether.
The next two weeks bring with them an inexplicable loss of approval ratings on the west coast so they begrudgingly pack up camp mid-March and head over for a four-day tour of California. They’re hitting seven cities, covering off everything from schools to hospitals to businesses to homeless shelters, and Louis’ll be damned if they don’t get five points up by the next poll.
It’s just that it’s five thirty in the morning and they’re on the tarmac and it’s a little early for roaring engines in his face.
“Fuck,” Niall grumbles as they walk up the stairs and onto the plane. Privately, Louis never gets over that, that he’s walking onto Air Force One. It’s fantastic. “Fuck, it’s so fucking early,” Niall moans. Louis just grins.
“Sparkle up, sunshine, we’ve got a whole coast to charm,” he says, “could use our token California boy looking sprightly.”
“Yeah, you try writing a speech on Californian industry and it’s importance to the President and see how sprightly you feel.”
“Touchy,” Louis notes idly, “listen, when can I give it to the press to look at?”
They sit down in their seats for take off and Niall seems a little more interested in proceedings, which makes Louis nervous.
“Give us an hour, Zayn wants to look over it. Speaking of the press, though,” Niall says, “you and that Post boy seem to be getting on quite well. Styles, isn’t it?”
Louis swallows, concentrates hard on the paper in front of him. It’s the President’s schedule, he’s read it a thousand times, but whatever. Niall doesn’t know that.
“Yeah, that’s his name,” he says casually, “he’s a good leak, y’know, trustworthy.”
Niall nods. “Riiiight. Good leak. What’s he like on a treadmill?”
Louis can’t help looking up in surprise. No one was even at the gym that day. Niall seems sufficiently pleased with himself that he’s gotten a reaction, smiles smugly as he tightens his seatbelt.
“We went to see Congressman Turner yesterday, he mentioned seeing the two of you,” he says, “look, man, I’m not prying or anything. But you know how it looks, right, to people, if you’re hanging out with the press?”
Louis presses his lips together in a thin line. “We’re not hanging out,” he says shortly, “we ran into each other. It’s not a big deal.”
“I know that,” Niall says gently, and the thing is Louis knows he’s only saying it to look out for him, “it’s just. Be careful, Lou. Don’t get attached, or anything. He’s press. He’s not—“
“I’m not attached,” Louis says, “I’m not…it’s not anything. It’s just—“
Niall and Louis both look down the cabin to where a certain curly haired journalist is sticking his head out through the door to the press quarters.
“You promised me a window seat, fucking Aiden’s taken it. Help me out?” he asks, batting his eyelashes playfully, and Louis maybe wishes this plane would go down in flames or they’d suffer a lack of oxygen so Niall wouldn’t remember this. Instead of those events occurring, he smiles tightly and stands up just as the seatbelt sign goes off.
“Gotta go tend to the children,” he says to Niall, smile falsely bright, “you better give Zayn that speech. Coming, Harry,” he shouts down the cabin.
He can’t help but flick his eyes to Niall’s face as he goes. He can’t read it. He’s not sure that’s good.
He walks into the briefing room where Harry and Aiden are all but grappling for the front left window seat. It sometimes concerns Louis that these are the people responsible for informing four hundred million people about their government.
“You’re going to be the death of me,” he proclaims loudly, “all of you. But I promised Harry a window seat, so get lost, Grimshaw.”
Aiden looks thoroughly unimpressed as Harry smugly climbs over him and sits down.
“Thanks, Lou,” he says with a smile, before yelling as Aiden hits him in the ribs.
He wants to say no problem, but if the way he can feel himself gazing fondly at Harry is anything to go by, it really, really is.