summary: louis is a chef with an eating disorder, and harry is a waiter who doesn't find the irony as funny as he does.
warnings: eating disorder
title credit: cause and effect by maria mena, because of course
The restaurant bathroom is always busy and Louis hates it. If he’s going to spend time on his knees in front of a toilet, he at least needs privacy. There’s always a constant stream of customers, haughty businessmen chatting as they wipe their hands on expensive towels, and all Louis wants is some peace and fucking quiet to throw back up whatever he’s eaten.
There’s a staff loo he could use as well, of course, but he can't really risk that because Harry might be in there.
He’s known Harry for at least five months now, or so he thinks. The kid (yes, kid, he was barely nineteen when he sauntered on in with a head of loose curls and a baggy jumper that had holes in it) said he needed a job, desperately, and while Louis isn’t in charge of hiring, he is the head chef, well acclaimed with a few awards, even, so what he says, goes. And he’d liked the look of him, especially after Harry nearly tripped over absolutely nothing, glass of water spilling onto his hand. That’s probably exactly why everyone doubted his choice, even thought he was crazy, but. Louis just found him endearing.
By now, Harry’s learned the ropes and he’s the best on their staff. He’s got charm up to his ears that he can turn on in a millisecond, always able to convince women (and men; nobody is immune to Harry Style’s twinkle eyes) to order another dessert, another glass of wine, etcetera. The amount of tips he gets is ridiculous, but Louis definitely understands why.
It’s probably the reason Harry is the only person who knows about Louis’ diet. Well. He always argues that it’s not a diet, that it’s a disorder and it’s not healthy, but Louis ignores him because he knows what it is and he knows all he needs to do is lose some more weight and he’ll be satisfied, and stop. He swears.
Harry’d found out in a very mundane way, no big reveal, no shit-I-just-walked-in-on-you-purging or something movie-scene-dramatic like that. He’d stayed behind with Louis like he started doing a month in, watching him meticulously scrub at his cooking surfaces (there are cleaning people for that, yes, but they never do it quite right and it gives him a distraction from the almost never ending pain in his stomach), and when Harry mentioned he hadn’t had time for dinner, Louis offered to make him anything he wanted. He picked ravioli, and sang top forty songs while Louis worked.
They sat on the counter with topped off glasses of wine and ate together. Except, Harry devoured a whole bowl, and Louis only picked at one square, having trouble forcing it down. Harry’d asked why, and Louis told him he was on a diet. Harry asked how extreme that diet was, and
Louis shrugged, mumbling something about not really eating much. It was clear Harry figured out the rest himself, but he didn't push, because he’s Harry, and he’s not like that.
But from there on out he dropped hints about his worrying, tried to charm Louis the way he charmed customers (which worked, actually, but as soon as he left Louis was rushing to get his fingers down his throat), and has done basically everything that could still be considered subtle to make Louis eat normally. He hasn’t succeeded.
It’s after hours now, waiters clocking out with tired eyes and tired legs, sous-chef Greg bidding Louis farewell, stains on his white t-shirt from a minor bolognese incident they’d had. It takes a while for everyone to file out, as it’s a large restaurant, one of the best in the country, and certainly the top rated. Critics give fabulous reviews and though Louis nitpicks, as every chef surely does, he is aware of how good he is, is aware that he makes this place run. It just means there’s more people around to stall him.
He’s itching to get the earlier chicken parm out of his stomach, having needed to taste test their new recipe like all cooks do, and he knows he has about a ten minute window. Everyone leaves to have a smoke outside, and Harry will join them, before meandering back in. Louis waits until the last apron is hung up on the shiny silver hooks in the shiny silver kitchen, before hurrying through the hall to the staff toilet.
It’s empty, of course, but he locks the door just in case, because he’s not one to forget stupid things like that. He slides to his knees easily, practiced by now, and rolls his sleeves up like a person would before a fight. He supposes this is close enough. Two fingers past his tongue, a bit of stroking and it all comes back up, with barely any noise. Practiced.
He goes again, just to get the last of it, not wanting any leftover calories and such. When he’s done, he flushes, washes his hands, rinses out his mouth and checks his hair, of course, because he hates when his quiff deflates from being in front of steaming pots and pans all night. It’s decent, he supposes, definitely not as bad as it could be, or has in the past.
He walks back out the door, the hallway, and into the kitchen where Harry is standing with his arms crossed, unamused expression on his face. Louis should probably feel his heart drop or his stomach swoop but he doesn't, because he’d have to care to feel those. And he doesn't.
So he hops up onto the counter across from Harry, reminding himself that it should be easier to do so, he needs to be lighter, he could lift himself so much easier, before properly meeting the other man’s sage green eyes.
“Don't.” He sighs.
“But you can’t just-”
“Don’t.” He sing-songs.
“It’s not healthy-”
“Hey, how about you don't?” He asks sarcastically, and Harry finally slumps in defeat.
“Fine. Fine, but purely because I hate when you storm off or give me the silent treatment.” He grumbles, sliding up onto his usual perch.
There’s still a concerned pout to his lips but he swings his long legs back and forth, and from experience, Louis knows that's a good sign.
“I’m a teenage girl at heart, what can I say.” He shrugs with a smirk.
“Uhuh.” Harry hums, trying to look unamused. It doesn't quite work. “So Matt was just telling me about some flying pasta sauce occurrence? Is that why Greg looked like something out of a cheap horror movie?”
Louis snorts and bumps Harry’s knee with his foot, contently launching into the story and liking the way his attention never leaves him.
It’s a good night.
Harry is Louis’ best friend. He doesn't really have any others. There’s work friends, sure, but they’re not the same thing. Greg is funny and throws good parties, and the waiter staff is great too, Matt kind and entertaining, Pixie sweet and quirky, and Aimee’s basically flawless, but none of them are Harry. Louis can tell Harry anything. He doesn't, no, because he’s far too guarded for that, far too scared, but he knows that he could. He could tell him anything and everything and Harry would sit there quietly, nodding along at the right parts, offering a hand to hold or a shoulder to cry on because he’s Harry Styles and he’s basically a perfect human being. Louis often tells him he doesn't believe he’s real, to which Harry will pinch his bum and laugh at his undignified squeak.
It’s a busy night, a Saturday, and Louis is bustling around the kitchen, correcting techniques and adding seasoning however he sees fit, when there’s hands over his eyes and a cheesy “Guess who?”
He spins and raises a slightly impatient eyebrow, because he’s busy, but Harry just purses his lips, saying “So, erm, there’s a couple at one of my tables who wants vegan food? Do we even have vegan food? What even is vegan food?”
Louis huffs a laugh and weaves around busy staff, back over to a boiling pot where he stirs the noodles inside. “S’food without meat or dairy products.” He explains to a slightly disturbed looking Harry.
“How do people live like that?” The other man asks, aghast, and Louis hip bumps him.
“I dunno. Point is, there’s nothing on the menu, but tell them I’ll make them something special.” Louis tells him, pushing him towards the door in a mostly friendly get-out-of-my-workspace-before-I-hurt-yo
“Well aren’t you a just a saint.” Harry winks, halfway through the door.
“Oh you know it.” Louis drawls, before shoving him out.
He makes a vegan burger plate and hands it to Harry fifteen minutes later, slapping his ass at the disgusted expression on his face. He peeks nervously through the old style circle window, up on straining tiptoes to watch the middle aged couple receive their food, and eat it. They seem pleased enough, but of course, he worries.
Harry’s busy for a while with other orders, so Louis can't ask, but when he’s nervously drizzling chocolate sauce over tiramisu, the younger man leans in close to his ear and murmurs “They loved it, calm your tits.” on his way past.
It’s a good night.
Louis’ mood is a dangerous thing. It teeters precariously on a scale, and on good nights, ones where he gets astounding reviews from critics, or everything goes seamlessly, or Harry and him have one of their stupidly deep life chats, he’s perfectly fine. Perfectly perfect, even. But on bad nights, ones with complaints from customers, or kitchen accidents, or arguments with just about anyone, the scale doesn't just tip, it drops, and Louis does too.
The thing is, Louis is meticulous about his cooking. He knew from an early age it’s what he wanted to do, loved to do. He used to make dinner for his family, sometimes different meals for each sister, and it was never a burden but instead a joy, something he felt accomplished for, something he just enjoyed. He took the few cooking classes available before uni, and then studied hard, and then culinary school. He was good, great even, and his teachers often used him as an example. He worked hard to get a job here, tried his best and climbed the metaphorical ladder to get this position. He found his niche, and he stayed there.
So he’s not used to screwing up. It happens, once in a while, because he’s not a machine, but. But this is idiotic. He’s burned two sandwiches, overcooked a pasta dish and now he’s dropped a salad on the floor with a bang, scattering everywhere. There’s a dreadful moment of side eyeing from the others while he presses at his temples, before he hisses “Can someone fucking help me over here?” and a few people jump into action.
He needs out, so he rips off the silly chef’s hat Harry bought him for his birthday/Christmas gift and slinks out into the restaurant, scanning with his eyes. He spots the curly haired man over by the bar, where Nick The Arsehole works, chatting with him animatedly. Louis sighs at the inevitably smart ass remarks he’s going to hear, and marches over there to grab Harry by the arm.
The younger man only has to look at him for a half a second to know something’s wrong. “Louis? What’s up?” He asks, frowning.
Before Louis can answer, Nick chimes in with “Finally venturing out of your cave, then?”
“Shut up Grimshaw, I don't have time for your antics.” Louis huffs, not sparing him a glance.
“Antics? Are you accusing me of being a child?” Nick asks, tone puffed up with as much arrogance as possible.
Louis has no time for this. He turns to the annoying fuck and states “Children have more maturity and manners than you, so no, I’m not.”
“Ouch, I’m wounded.” The too-old-to-be-working-as-a-part-time-bar
Louis sighs, and feels it through his whole body. Harry notices, because of course he does, and leads him away quickly, giving Nick a stern look over his shoulder.
They make it outside into the cool spring air, Harry leading Louis to an empty spot on the brick wall. Louis slides down it immediately, elbows propped up on his knees, hands covering his face.
“What’s wrong, hm?” Harry hums, sitting beside him.
“I just. I’ve fucked everything up tonight, I keep fucking up, I don’t, I don’t wanna be a fuck up.” Louis whines, digging his palms into his eyes.
Harry wraps an arm around his shoulder and leans in close before saying, with seriousness he’s not used to, “Lou, you’re not a fuck up, and you know it. You’re the best chef in London, if not all of bloody England! You’re just having an off day.”
“I dropped salad everywhere.” Louis moans.
“And I walked into a glass door yesterday, so I’ve got you beat.” Is what Harry responds with.
Louis snaps his head up and looks at him half in surprise, half in utter glee. “You what?”
“Mhm, got the bruise and everything, wanna see?” The clumsy man taunts softly, face porcelain in the moonlight.
Louis sniffles and nods, watching as Harry lifts his fringe to reveal a purple-blue tinge to the corner of his forehead, not dark per se, but obvious still. He giggles, reaching out to touch, and when the younger man winces, he leans in and kisses it gently.
Harry breathes a silent laugh and pulls back with mirth in his eyes, making Louis roll his own.
“Okay, okay, I get it.” He mutters. “You’re more of a loser than I am.”
“Heyyyyyy.” Harry pouts, but it’s playful. “Do you wanna go get coffee to make you feel better? M’sure someone’ll cover for me no problem.”
And truth be told, that sounds lovely. Leaving here to spend time with just Harry, relaxing and talking and laughing. It would be heavenly. But he can't. Because coffee is never just coffee and Louis can't eat anything. Normally he could make up for it by starving for a day or two afterwards, but after screwing up so badly tonight, he feels the need to keep his stomach empty and growling. So he shakes his head with a sad smile.
“Nah, I should stay. Make sure nothing else goes wrong.” He says, forcing a smirk. “I’ll be alright. Thank you though, Haz. You’re too sweet for your own good.”
Harry sighs, as if disappointed, but uses the arm around Louis’ shoulders to turn him into his chest, hugging him warmly. “I try.” He mumbles, and they don't say anything else.
Louis doesn’t stick around after work this time, instead claiming he’s tired and needs to sleep. It’s not a lie, but when Harry makes him promise he’ll eat, it is. He curls up in bed and bites the pillow through the worst of the hunger pains, refusing to consume anything. He can’t, he can't, he can't. He needs to be thinner, better, he can't keep messing up.
It’s a bad night.
Louis gets over it though, because he has to. He goes back in the next night and cooks better than ever, and gets a ton of compliments from the patrons, and multiple from Harry later that night when they heat up leftovers. Louis even manages to keep down half of a chicken sandwich (minus the mayo of course), and though Harry doesn't say anything, anyone could tell he’s proud.
Louis is often very jealous of Harry. Others, too, but Harry especially. Because he can eat and eat and eat and never gain a pound. He’s got muscular arms, trim legs and a six pack, all while being attractive on a model like level. Louis on the other hand, is all pudge. He’s got thick thighs and a fat arse and his stupid fucking tummy, that just will not go away. It’s better now than it was before, but it’s still there, it’s still visible, and it tortures him to know his shirts cling to it and show it off. That’s why he wears his apron at work even when he’s not cooking,
because at least it covers that.
He tells himself five more pounds, five more pounds, and then maybe you’ll look good. Except he never looks good, only slightly less bad, and that’s not enough. So he pushes through dizzy spells and stabbing pains, because he just wants to be likable. He just wants someone to look at him and think wow. That’s sure as hell not happening when he looks like he does currently.
“Shit, shit, shit, Louis, shit.” Comes Harry’s voice from behind him, and he glances up in between glazes of meat to see him looking pretty damn terrified, which definitely doesn't suit his face.
“What? What’s wrong?”
“Fuck, there’s a guy out there, right? On a date, with this stupidly gorgeous other guy, like shit, and here I am, and I’m just, I mean.” He’s stuttering, and it takes all Louis has not to coo at how unorthodoxly cute it is.
“Harry? Maybe explain first and ramble-slash-freak out second?” He suggests calmly, guiding him out of the way of the bustling kitchen staff.
“Right, right, he’s my ex. He dumped me like a year ago but we’d been together for ages and he meant the world to me but he found someone else and now here he is with this fucking top model and I’m gonna be their server!” Harry whines desperately, looking up at the ceiling and asking “What the fuck kind of karma shit is this, whatever I did, I’m sorry!”
Louis winces and puts his hands on his shoulders, soothing “Harry, jesus, relax, okay? We can figure something out. Just get someone else to trade off tables with you, yeah? And then...we’ll get someone to walk by holding hands with you to make him think you’ve moved on too. That sound alright?”
Harry sags in relief. “Alright? That’s brilliant, you’re an angel, I have an angel for a best friend.”
“What can I say, I was a bit of a mastermind as a child. Had to be with four little sisters.” Louis says, leaving out the part about still needing to be one now, to hide his hunger from others, to find ways around eating, to weigh himself over and over and over and still keep the numbers going down.
“Mm, can't even imagine. Really though, thank you.” Harry tells him earnestly.
“Don’t thank me, you twat. Go convince someone to be your pretend lover.” Louis smirks, going back to the food he’s preparing.
“Can you?” Harry asks.
“Can you do that? I want you to.”
“Why me? No, god no, take someone else, they’re all ten times prettier. Pix’ll do it if you buy her booze later. Nick’ll do it for free.” Louis is quick to deflect, head down.
“But I want you to.” Harry presses, and he really must be in idiot. Or blind. A blind idiot for a best friend.
“It won’t be convincing, you’re way out of my league.” Louis responds over the clatter of someone dropping cutlery. He doesn't bother looking over.
“League? Really? You believe in that bullshit? Come on, Louis, pretend to be my boyfriend, I want him to know I got someone hotter than him.” Harry pleads, tilting his head close to Louis’ to force himself into his line of sight.
“I’m hotter than nobody.” Louis mumbles.
“That’s one hundred percent not true and if you don't agree to this I can assure you I won’t be sticking around tonight.” Harry shrugs, voice steely like the stainless appliances surrounding them.
“We’re playing scrabble tonight!” Louis pouts, a little too loudly, because Greg snorts from behind them and Louis reaches back to smack him round the head without even looking.
“Yes and if you still want to beat my arse with your stupidly long words, you’ll be my pretend boyfriend.”
“I hate you.” Louis voices, and they both know it’s a yes.
Harry smirks and walks out of the kitchen doors backwards, all the while hushedly singing if I was your boyfriend I’d never let you go.
Louis’ disappointed when his brain decides to continue the song in his head, annoying swag, swag, swag on you making him want to bash his head in. Seriously. Why is this his life.
Harry’s hand feels lovely in his, despite its nervous state, fidgeting and clammy. Louis squeezes his fingers to calm him down, and follows Harry’s stare to see the man they’re attempting to one up, a guy with short hair and a sweet face. He’s cute, sure, but nothing compared to Harry. And the supposed model across from him doesn't stand a chance either. He whispers this to Harry, who scoffs and shakes his head in a jerky motion.
“Alright, come on, let’s go past.” Louis finally tells him, after they’ve stood there for at least two minutes.
Harry worries his lip between pearly white teeth and asks “Should I talk to him? Or is that desperate?”
“No, but we’re trying to be superior, so either he speaks to us, or nothing at all.” Louis nods. “You’re better than him.”
“Yes really. Now c’mon.”
Louis leads Harry by the hand, specifically sucking in his stomach in the hopes of seeming skinnier, a little less way way way inferior. Harry’s eyes are nervous but when Louis smiles up at him, half for show and half to give him a confidence boost, he grins back in his usual coquette way.
They pass the table and Louis watches out of the corner of his eye as Harry’s ex notices them, and seems shocked for a moment, before looking them up and down with at least a bit of jealousy, and that’s a win, he supposes. Harry leans down to whisper in Louis’ ear as they go, saying “Do your little giggle laugh, like I told you something dirty.”
Louis doesn't know what he’s talking about, but he makes an attempt anyways, trying for a bashful laugh and a blushy look down. He feels Harry smile against his ear, a touch that gives him goosebumps, and he glances backwards to see the younger man’s ex frowning at the table.
As soon as they’re around the corner, Louis’ being pulled into a tight hug.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you.” Harry’s saying, before lifting him up to spin him in circles. Panic jumps to life in Louis’ stomach, warning bells going off, and he pushes at Harry’s shoulders.
“Put me down, down, Harry, please.” He bites out, and he’s instantly put on the ground, Harry pulling back with a furrowed brow and no sign of his earlier dimples.
“You okay?” He asks, and Louis falters, flushing for real as he stares at his small feet.
“Just don't like people picking me up.” He mumbles.
“You know why.”
Harry frowns, posture sagging. “Yeah, I do. You’re not heavy though, you-”
“Don’t. You know better than to try.” Louis shrugs, pinching the bridge of his nose. “But let’s stop being depressing please? We totally just made your ex jealous, we should be celebrating.”
Harry’s expression lightens and he shifts anxiously, asking “Do you really think it worked?”
“Well he didn't pay an ounce of attention to his current beau, so yeah, I’d think so.” Louis smirks.
“Awesome.” Harry beams, before looking a little sad again. He leans down to kiss Louis’ hair, which is delightful but it only makes him feel shorter, and. Ugh. “Thank you. Means a lot, even though it’s stupid.”
“It’s not stupid. How about I mess with their food a bit? Not anything he’ll notice, but I could lick the plate?” He suggests, voice lilting hopefully.
Harry lets out a bark of laughter, covering his mouth with a hand after, like he can take it back. Louis smiles at the sight, and raises his eyebrows as if to ask what? I totally could.
“Can I lick it?” Harry questions mischievously, and okay, so maybe he’s a bit of a mastermind too. That could work very, very well in the future.
Harry misses their Taco Tuesday night that week because the rest of the staff is going out for drinks, and Louis doesn't feel comfortable. He stays back in the empty kitchen and makes the food anyways, stares at it for twenty minutes, and throws it out.
It’s a bad night until he gets a drunk text from Harry, apologizing and expressing through horribly misspelled words that he misses him and would rather be there.
Louis grins and reminds himself to bring paracetamol to work the next day.
Harry groans in relief when it’s placed in front of him alongside a plate of hearty breakfast foods, and hugs Louis tight, telling him he’s a god.
It’s almost eight o’clock the next Sunday and Louis is bouncing nervously in anticipation, incessantly fixing his side swooped hair, straightening his outfit, checking himself in the mirror. He’s lightheaded, not having eaten in two days, specifically for this night.
He has a date. He’s cutting his shift early, because he’s important and he can do that, and the guy, Noah, is going to pick him up and take him out. He’d met him a few days previous, gotten called out by Harry, saying some bloke wanted to give his compliments to the chef personally, especially if he’s cute. Apparently Harry falsely said he was, and that’s how Louis found himself being asked out to dinner by a fairly attractive guy with dark hair and stubbly cheeks.
The bathroom door opens and Harry’s head of curls leans in, lips pursed exasperatedly when he sees Louis’ nearly frantic state.
“Babe, you look fine.” He stresses, stepping inside. “Better than fine, you look amazing. Best you’ve ever looked.”
It’s all lies, that Louis is sure of, but he blushes anyways and shrugs one shoulder. “I hope so. S’been a long time since someone wanted to go out with me. What if he hates me?”
“He couldn’t. It’s impossible to hate you.” Harry tells him, rubbing his arm.
“That’s not true.” Louis grumbles, because Harry doesn't know, he’s never told the other man about his past, about his parents rejecting him and his friends abandoning him, and any boyfriend he’s ever had stomping on his heart on their way out. So no, Harry doesn't know.
But Louis doesn't tell him. Instead, he sighs and accepts the comforting hug he’s given, falling into Harry’s chest and breathing in his usual scent of cigarettes and vanilla candles. Louis often teases him for liking those so much, but it’s mostly so he doesn't have to think about how adorable it is.
“He’s gonna love you, cause you’re wonderful, and he’ll wine you and dine you and kiss you on the doorstep. And maybe fuck you into the mattress. Who knows.” Harry teases when they break apart, and though Louis snorts, he’s not convinced.
“And if he doesn't?” He questions, because it’s the bigger possibility.
“Lou-” Harry tries to argue, but Louis cuts him off.
Harry sighs and bops him on the nose. “And if he doesn't, I’ll be right here waiting for you. Say, eleven? If you don't show up, I’ll assume it went well. If you do, I’ll give you a big cuddle and we’ll get pissed. Sound good?”
Louis gives a half-smile, glad he’s got such an amazing best mate. “Yeah. Sounds good.” He whispers.
Louis tears through the basically empty kitchen at half ten, telling the one janitor in there that he’ll lock up for him. He’s surprised he has the composure to do so, because the second he’s in the bathroom he crumbles to pieces, falling to his knees and whimpering into his hand, face red with shame.
The date had gone so well at first, he was sure it was mutual, but by the end Noah made up a pretty terrible excuse as to why he needed to leave, and yeah, Louis can take a hint.
He hates himself and the food from dinner is churning in his stomach, even though he only ate a little over half of it. He crawls to the toilet and doesn't bother trying to calm himself, instead just waiting for a lull between hitches and plunges his fingers down his throat, gagging loudly.
The first bit comes up easy, as always, but it gets harder as he continues, because he can't stop crying.
He’s so boring and fat and ugly and all he wanted was one person not to agree with that. He pushes his fingers down further, more forcefully, and though it begins to hurt, he keeps going. More of his food comes up and he rakes his other hand through his hair, clutching at it, no longer caring about its state. He can't stop shaking, and the next heave brings up blood along with vomit.
It’s dangerous, but he doesn't care, he really doesn't. Instead he forces the last of the food up, and even then, makes himself gag over and over until it’s just dry heaves and spatters of blood, wiping his trembling hands with toilet paper as he coughs up more red, and that’s when the door swings open from behind him. Apparently when he’s this upset, he is stupid enough not to lock it.
There’s arms wrenching him back, away from the porcelain bowl he spends too much time in front of, and then Harry’s holding him tight, too tight, but he needs that right now.
“No, no Louis, sweetheart, it’s okay, you’re okay, he was an idiot, a complete idiot.” He says fiercely, as if trying to brand it into him. Louis shakes his head though, burrowing into his neck.
“No, he was right.” He croaks, voice hoarse and painful.
“He wasn't.” Harry insists with quick kisses to his hair. “Anyone stupid enough to give you up doesn't deserve you.”
Louis wants to scoff but that would probably hurt his throat further, so he just wriggles in the vice grip Harry’s got him in, arguing “Cut the fucking crap, Harry, I’m nothing s-special. I’m nothing at a-all. Why can't I ever just be enough?” He sobs, desperate and broken. “Why am I n-never enough?”
“You are enough, you are.” The younger man squeezes him harder.
“I’m not, nobody likes me, everyone gets s-sick of me and how stupid and awkward and fat I am, fuck, look at me! No wonder he bailed.” Louis cries, hands fisting in Harry’s shirt. He only notices now that Harry isn’t in his usual uniform, but instead a band t-shirt and ripped jeans. It’s different, but he doesn't bother thinking much on it.
“I am looking at you.” Harry says in his ear, bringing him back to the present. “I look at you every day. And you must be blind not to see what I see.”
There’s a pause, where all they can hear is the vacuuming janitor outside the room and Louis’ ragged breathing. Harry’s making these soft little sounds of comfort in the back of his throat, like he wants to help further but he’s not sure if there’s a point in trying.
Thinking about his statement, Louis realizes he’s never actually thought about what Harry thinks of him. He knows he’s his best friend too, but other than that, he’s got no idea. He’s curious to find out, even in the middle of his breakdown.
“What...what do you see?” He finally struggles to ask.
“I see someone wonderful.” Harry murmurs warmly into his temple. “Gorgeous hair, pretty eyes, short but with enough personality to make him seem tall. I see a perfect body, I see no fat whatsoever, and I see walls. I see a boy with walls put up in his head because he’s been treated like absolute shit in the past, and he’s convinced it’ll happen again so instead he closes off from the world and does the abuse himself.” He continues, even though Louis’ whining under his breath in denial. “I see someone who can't even acknowledge how talented he is, not just at cooking, but at being intuitive and patient and understanding. I see a guy who hired me, the clumsy, two left feet, awkward son of a bitch who didn't stand a damn chance, just because he knew I needed the job. I see a really wonderful person. It’s just a shame he can't see it too.”
Another silence where Louis bites his lip so hard it bleeds.
“I don't believe you.” He utters, because he doesn't, not for a second.
“I know you don't.” Harry tells him, in an I-know-I-can’t-change-your-mind-but-I’m-a
“Not much longer. Just ten more pounds, maybe.” Louis mumbles tiredly, eyes falling shut.
“No, Lou, no more pounds. No more eating disorder.” Harry demands, or, as close to demanding as Harry Styles The Cupcake can manage.
“It's a diet.” Louis whispers, because it is.
“You’re lying to yourself.” Harry accuses.
“You’re lying to me.” He accuses back.
“But I’m not! I’m fucking not!” Harry growls, and disentangles them. Louis watches with heartbreak in his chest as Harry stands and paces back and forth, angry. He flushes the toilet to get rid of Louis’ stomach contents and then stalks back over to the sink, where he splashes water on his face, looking like he can't handle this.
Louis feels tremendously guilty, tentatively trying “I’m sorry.”
But Harry just huffs in further frustration, and Louis doesn't know what to do, everything he does, everything, just digs him further into the fucking ground. He scoots back against the wall and hugs his knees to his chest.
“Harry...Hazza please don't be mad at me. Not tonight. Please not tonight.” He begs, eyes welling up once more.
Harry spins back to take in his huddled form and then he looks guilty, crouching down in front of Louis to brush his ruined fringe out of his eyes, sighing. “Yeah, you’re right. Come on, I promised you a drunk cuddling, yes? But only if you at least have some crackers or something, I don't want you drinking on a broken heart and an empty stomach.”
Louis hates the cracker idea very very very much but he doesn't want to be alone right now either.
“Fine.” He grumbles, and takes the hand Harry offers. It feels even better than last time.
Louis can barely talk that night because of the damage his fingers did to his throat, but Harry tells wonderful stories to entertain him, and he dozes off with his face pressed into the younger man’s neck.
Louis gets over it because he’s Louis and that’s what he does. He throws himself into cooking, revamping the menu because he needs something to occupy his mind, and he tests all his recipes on Harry, who seems delighted that he’s found something to keep him busy and happy. Louis knows how upset he’d be if he found out it was actually because Louis’ realized he’s good for nothing other than cooking.
He’s currently sprinkling parmesan cheese into his tweaked lasagna recipe, Harry across the counter from him, tapping a rhythm onto his thighs with spare spoons. They’ve been a little off since the night of his utter meltdown, but Harry’s still wondrous Harry, so he hasn’t made a single comment.
“Is it ever weird?” Said man pipes up then, and Louis glances over to see him lying with his head hanging off the edge of the countertop, upside down. His cheeks are pink and hair finally out of his face, for once.
“What exactly?” Louis questions, adding another layer of noodle.
“Cooking. Like, you work with all this food, and make all this food, yet you know you’re never going to eat any of that food? Isn’t it, like, hard for you, or something?” Harry inquires, tongue poking at his cupid’s bow.
“Nah.” Louis shrugs.
“But don't you hate food? So how can you work with it so well?” The other man asks, strained as he struggles to sit up.
“I don’t hate food. I hate eating food. I can cook food no problem. I just like making people happy, you know? Good food makes people happy, and it makes me happy to provide that.” Louis explains as he slides on oversized oven mitts to place the dish in the oven.
“That’s good, I guess.” Harry hums, slinging an arm around Louis when he perches beside him on the counter. “S’just weird, you know? Award winning chef with an eating disorder.”
Louis doesn't bother correcting him, hissing an it’s a diet, because there’s not really a point. He chuckles, instead, because that’s the better option.
“But that’s the best part, you see? It’s irony at its finest. S’funny.” He smirks, honestly amused.
But Harry mutters a curse and replies with “It’s not funny.”
“It is! It can be. Just have to look at it the right way.” Louis says, tracing patterns on his too big thighs.
“That’s not the right way, though!” Harry snaps, sliding off the counter to stand there and rub at his eyes in irritation.
Louis watches warily and hates that he’s seemingly always the one making Harry do this. But the younger man turns to him and quirks an expectant brow wanting a response.
“And what is, huh?” Louis asks rhetorically, getting worked up as well. “It’s hardly gonna go away anytime soon! It’s better to laugh about it than torture myself over it.”
“But you’re already torturing yourself by starving and purging! You’re hurting yourself, Louis. This could kill you.” Harry yells. Louis’ never heard him yell. “I can't stand for that. I just can't.”
Louis stares at where his nails are digging into his jeans, feeling his belly roll with fear, knowing what’s going to happen next. Harry’ll get fed up with him, sick of all his shit, and then he’ll leave. He knows this, because it’s been the same with everyone else. So he figures he should just do it for the other man, and save himself the agony of watching his best friend make excuses. He can't go through that again.
“Then don't.” Louis breathes. “If you don't like it, leave.”
Harry’s mouth parts in surprise, defiance sparking in his eyes. “Excuse me?”
“Look, I’m not gonna bullshit you here. I am the way I am. If you don't like that, then get out.” Louis states, calmness in his tone betraying the way he feels like he’s falling apart.
“Lou.” Harry sounds through a whoosh of air, as if he can't believe this. Which is ridiculous, because he’d be doing this one way or another. Soon too, probably.
Louis just raises an eyebrow, mimicking his earlier action.
“Fine.” Harry seethes. “If you want me gone, I’ll go. But it’s not my fault that you’re too fucking cowardly to admit you need help.”
And then he’s out the door, slamming it behind him. Louis sits there in shock for a while, wondering why he isn’t feeling it, why he isn’t breaking down like he’s always done. He runs every abandonment through his head but he still can't make it real, still can't make it hit.
The timer goes on the oven and startles him out of his trance, and he numbly walks over to it, removing the dish and putting it in the fridge to cool, no one to eat it now. He’s gone and ruined everything like always, and now he’s alone again. It always seems to end up that way, doesn't it?
On second thought, he pulls the lasagna back out and sets it in front of him, grabbing a fork and stabbing lightly at the food. Why can't he ever just be normal? Harry just wants him to eat and while no, the other man doesn't understand why he can't, why he really actually can’t, he’s only doing it because he wants him normal.
Why can't he ever just fucking eat? He spends his days cooking for others, why can't he ever just do so for himself? He glares at the dish in front of him and determinedly spears a chunk on his fork, lifting it in mid air and examining it. It’s got so much cheese, so many calories that will turn into increments on the scale but fuck, other people eat that no problem, so why is it making him nauseous?
Determinedly, he brings the food to his lips, blows on it to cool it further, and puts it in his mouth. It tastes perfect, and he knows it’ll be a hit with customers, but he has to focus very hard on swallowing. Another bite, and another, and his stomach is starting to swirl uncomfortably, and his hand is sweating where the fork shakes in his fingers. He makes himself take mouthful after mouthful of the hot lasagna, tears beginning to spill over. He hates himself for every bite, but he hates himself for hating that, and goddammit, he’s gone and eaten half the lasagna.
He stands for a moment, gripping the countertop with white knuckles, throat clearing itself repeatedly, head dizzy. He looks at the half empty pan and sobs, wondering just how fucking fat that’s going to make him, and that’s when the first heave of his stomach occurs, hard and forceful.
He barely makes it to the bathroom in time, body throwing it all up for him, fingers staying where they grab at his shirt between coughing/crying/puking fits.
He can't be normal no matter how hard he tries. No wonder Harry got fed up with him.
They’re awkward. It’s hard working with an ex best friend, especially one as special as Harry. His eyes darken whenever he sees Louis, lip furling in anger. To be fair, Louis’ just as agitated, dropping plates with a little more force than necessary in front of him, once even spattering soup on the hem of Harry’s shirt. The younger man had stormed off growling something about what a complete and utter cunt he was, and Louis thought, yeah. He knows how worthless he is.
Greg hovers more often than not. He badgers Louis with questions, asking what on earth could have broken up the power couple. Louis tells him to piss off. He sees the others do the same to Harry, who gives them the finger and nothing more. It’s such a Harry thing to do that Louis almost smirks. Almost.
He’s too broken inside to do anything other than work on autopilot.
He passes out once, thankfully already on the bathroom floor, because he’s barely allowed any food inside him since that night. Enough to keep going, because he’s not suicidal, but he just hates it so much, hates that his issue with it caused the best and only thing he had to leave him.
He misses him so much it hurts.
Louis’ been called out into the seating area a few nights later because a critic wants to compliment him, so he forces his shoulders to unslump and sits down with her, accepting her kind words with mostly real enthusiasm, smiling his first real smile in days. She tells him he’s astounding and he laughs, thanks her very much and offers her any dessert she wants, on the house. She picks chocolate cake and he shakes her hand, stands, and is suddenly hit with an intense head rush, not enough sugar in his blood to keep going.
He wobbles and grabs at the table to steady himself, eyes closed and ignoring her concerned are you okay? He gets his bearings after a long moment of deep breaths, and he’s fine again, glancing around nervously to see if anyone noticed. It doesn't seem so, and he bullshits some excuse about having a migraine and hurries away.
He passes Harry on the way back to the kitchen and with that two point five seconds of eye contact, it’s clear the other man saw his stumble.
Louis ducks his head and keeps walking.
He’s been on the staff bathroom floor for a while now, just catching his breath. His eyes are closed and his head tipped back, tiles cold against his scalp. It’s been over a week and a half since he’s spoken to Harry, and god, he’s dying. His days are empty without the younger man, cold without his bear hugs, sad without his badly told jokes, far too long without his silly distraction games. He never realized just how much Harry meant to him until didn't have him to talk to. Some days he barely speaks a word at all.
He’s not in the loo to purge this time, instead just to stare at himself in the mirror and pinch at various areas of his body, rolling chubbiness between his fingers. It’s been a busy night, with a festival in town this weekend, so he felt the need to get away as soon as possible, and the only reason he’s still here is because he sank to the floor at some point and is too tired to move from there.
There’s noises coming from the kitchen and he assumes it’s the cleaning staff, because everyone else has gone home, but when he hears drawers being opened and cupboard doors being shut, he frowns and forces himself up off the ground, keeping a steadying hand on the wall just in case.
He ventures out into the hall and hears the distinct sound of something being chopped with a knife, fairly badly judging by the amount of scraping.
Leaning around the corner curiously, he’s met with the sight of Harry bustling about the kitchen, adding the finishing touches to what looks like turkey wraps. Maybe turkey wraps a ten year old would make. But still.
His curls are tucked behind his ears and his nose is scrunched in concentration, long, clumsy fingers trying to keep the filling in the tortilla, and failing. He’s muttering under his breath, and if they were still friends, Louis would tease him fondly. But they’re not.
So instead he tentatively steps into the room and asks, with as much haughty derision as he can muster, “What are you doing in my kitchen?”
Harry’s head snaps up and he rolls his eyes indignantly. “Cooking. What does it look like?”
“It looks like you’re trying to cook, and failing miserably.” Louis shrugs, trying to remain cool and collected. His heart is racing. Harry makes his heart race.
“Well excuse me for not being a master fucking chef like you.” Harry spits, and oh, right, he probably hates Louis now.
The older man sighs and fidgets for a moment, seeing Harry continue to struggle with the meal.
“You need to tuck it in tighter. Won’t stay otherwise.” Louis mumbles.
Harry tries to do so, but once back on the plate, the wrap falls apart once more. Louis huffs and stalks over there, taking it in his own hands.
“Here, look. You need to fold the bottom in, a bit like you would a paper airplane, yeah?” Louis guides, gesturing for Harry to do the same with the other wrap. He looks mildly annoyed, but does so. “And then you take this side and tuck it in tight, and then wrap the other side around, and then put the toothpick in to keep it together.”
Harry bites his lip, and after a fumble, manages to do it perfectly. Louis smiles proudly for a second before remembering their current situation, frowning instantly.
“So, um.” He clears his throat, avoiding Harry’s eyes. “Why are you cooking?”
He doesn't know what he’s expecting, but it’s definitely not “For you.”
“What?” He asks, doing a double take. Harry smirks in an I-knew-you’d-react-like-that way.
“I’m cooking for you.” He explains, arranging the plates. “Because you need to eat. And you need to have someone to make you do that. And you need me. And as much as my pride hates me for admitting this, I really, really need you too, Louis.”
Louis stands still in surprise, confusion halting his breath. “I?” Is all he stammers.
Harry laughs, pink in the cheeks. He pats the counter, indicating for Louis to sit on it, which he does. Harry takes one of his hands in his, warm and so much larger, the touch making him feel more than he has in days.
“Oh darling, you’re so stubborn sometimes.” He snorts, shaking his head. His fringe falls into his eyes and out of habit, Louis fixes it for him. When he realizes, he drops his arm quickly. “Lou, did you ever really listen to what I said to you? Well, I know you didn’t, cause you never believed it. But I mean, did you ever stop to think why tried so fucking hard to make you see what I do?”
It’s Louis’ turn to shake his head, not understanding. “No? You were bullshitting, I just. Assumed that was that.”
“I wasn't bullshitting, god, I just-” Harry cuts off, like he wants to continue arguing his point, but has better things to say. Which is proved true when he takes in a deep breath and continues with “Look, basically, I fell for you, okay? You’re just. You’re so amazing, and talented, and sweet, and goddamn fucking beautiful, and-”
And no, no, no, this is so not happening, no. That’s impossible, there’s no fucking way, and it’s all lies, and Louis’ shaking his head, trying to interrupt him with a whimpered “Harry-”
But the other man just talks right over him, never looking away.
“Nuh uh, not letting you shut me up this time. I’m getting this out whether you like it or not. I adore every bit of you, alright? I don't look at you the way you do. I don't see fat, or, or, or ugliness, or anything like that!” Harry tells him, pulling Louis into him when he attempts to hide his face. “I see a stunning smile, with a face to match, right, and skin I want to kiss every inch of, and, and a fit body that’s nothing but gorgeous! And I love you, your incredible personality and your silly sense of humor, and I just. I love you, with all your issues, and I promise I’ll love every number on that scale.”
Louis’ crying now, sniffling desperately into Harry’s chest, brain trying to force the words out, heart trying to drag them in.
“You just need to give me a chance, Louis. Give me a chance, and give food a chance, and you’ll be healthy, and we won’t ever fight like this again because I won’t be kept up at night panicking about you starving yourself to death, and.” Harry chokes up, and oh. They’re both crying. “God, Louis, all I want to do is make you happy. You try so hard to do that for everyone else, but can you just let me try doing that for you? You’re everything to me, and. I just wanna be the same to you.”
When Harry pulls back, he looks just as scared as Louis feels, so that’s something
“You are.” Louis half-sobs, hands clutching at Harry’s half unbuttoned uniform dress shirt. “You’re the only thing I have and I can’t live without you.”
“Then don’t.” Harry says, offering a small smile at the repetition of Louis’ two week old words.
And Louis wants to listen to him so fucking badly, but the doubts and defense mechanisms in his mind keep warning him against that, and his voice breaks as he disputes “But you’re not making sense-”
“No, I’m making perfect sense. You just don't believe anyone could want you. But I want you. Look at me right now.” Harry orders, cupping Louis’ face and thumbing away tears. “Do I look like I'm lying?”
His eyes are bright with yearning, lip held nervously between his teeth. There’s tear tracks on his blotchy cheeks, and. He’s never looked more gorgeous.
“No.” Louis whispers.
Harry nods. “Cause I'm not. So do you want me back?”
It barely takes a moment before Louis is nodding too, a needy noise spilling from his mouth. “I. Yes. Fuck.” He stutters, because he does, and he’s feeling it all now, feeling his fingers twitch with the need to hold him, lips tingle with the need to kiss him, heart beat double time with the need to love him. He was right. Louis needs him.
“So can I kiss-” Harry goes to ask, but Louis presses their lips together midsentence, soft but passionate, both breathing into it as if they can't believe it’s happening. That’s probably true.
Harry’s mouth is warm and Louis wants to memorize the way he feels, tastes, smells. He wants to be the only one to know Harry like this, and that’s the thought that overrides any of his worries.
Call him selfish, but he needs to keep Harry Styles.
When they break apart, Harry’s beaming, dimples deep. Louis smiles and wipes the last of his tears, before tugging the younger man into a tight hug.
“I missed you so much.” He murmurs, and Harry sags into him further.
“Me too.” He sounds.
They’re quiet for another minute or so before Harry pulls away, stroking Louis’ hip. “So, to answer your previous question, that is why I’m cooking for you in your kitchen."
Louis laughs wetly and shoves him, gentle, before hauling him back in again to crush their lips together, because he needs needs needs to feel them once more. Harry smiles into it, tongue flicking out playfully to jumpstart Louis’ nerves, making them zing with excitement.
“If you think kissing me to distract me from making you eat is going to work, you’re an idiot.” Harry slurs into his mouth, hands gripping his waist strongly.
Louis nuzzles their noses and questions “Can I kiss you again because I want to?”
“Yeah.” Harry smirks. “Yeah, you can.”
They sit with their legs overlapping, and Louis eats every single bite of his turkey wrap. Granted, it’s not very big, but Harry kisses his temple and congratulates him on finishing. Louis congratulates him on managing to make something edible.
This starts a tickle fight, which ends in a make out session on the kitchen floor.
It’s a perfect night.
The next day at work, after hours of flirting and staring and sneaking off between orders, Harry stands in front of Louis on the other side of the counter, looking thoroughly unamused.
“Give me the dish, Louis.” He demands unconvincingly, trying to reach across and grab for it once again.
Louis simply holds it out of his reach, hearing Greg snicker from behind him. He’s pretty sure all of the kitchen crew is watching, and only half are trying to hide it.
“No.” Louis grins, sickeningly sweet.
Harry groans, pinching the bridge of his nose. “I’m keeping customers waiting.” He threatens, and Louis shrugs.
He brings a finger to his lips, tapping there as an order. Harry rolls his eyes but leans across to kiss him tenderly, sounds around them going silent. He nips at Louis’ bottom lip to get him to open up and swipes inside with his tongue, passionate and searching.
And then he pulls back, because of course he does.
Louis’ dazed as Harry winks smugly and takes the plate from him easily, sauntering out the double doors.
A chortle brings Louis back to the present and he spins to see everyone looking at him bemusedly, Greg seeming far too pleased with himself, probably thinking he knew all along. Louis sniffs haughtily and claps his hands together, calling out “Do I need to remind you all that I have the power to fire each and every one of you? Back to bloody work, come on, I might not be Gordon Ramsay but that doesn't mean you can watch my boyfriend and I like a romcom.”
Everyone goes back to work with either blushes or rolling of their eyes, and Greg starts singing if I was your boyfriend I’d never let you go, because this is Louis’ life.
They fall into each other seamlessly. There’s bickering here and there, mostly about Louis’ eating habits, but in the end Harry always convinces him to eat something, and while sometimes he still purges it back up, his boyfriend is never angry. He just pecks him on the lips and makes him promise not to do it again. Over time, those promises start to mean more, and he follows them.
He often doubts Harry’s love for him but the younger man seems eager to show it, keeping to his earlier words and kissing Louis all over, even when he squirms away because he’s so fat there, ew, but Harry simply tells him he’s perfect and sucks a hickey into wherever he’s at.
It seems they’ve found the right balance.
Louis still has bad nights but they’re vastly outnumbered by the good, and waking up in Harry’s arms is something he doesn't think he’ll ever get used to.
He doesn't know how he got so lucky.
They stay behind at the restaurant a lot of nights because it’s tradition, and once when they get drunk off champagne (Louis hadn’t purged in five whole days and Harry wanted to celebrate) Louis finally tells Harry everything, his whole past, all of it. He figures it’s best to lay his cards on the table now.
Harry doesn't reply for a moment.
When he does, he tells Louis about his own past, and shit, they’re not so different after all. He knows rejection and abandonment too, and they end up holding each other close, sharing brushes of skin.
For the first time, he starts to believe Harry might need him just as much.
Louis wins another award for his cooking, and the prestigious event is held there at the restaurant, the whole staff sticking behind to cheer and tease and congratulate him, including Nick of all people. Louis never lets go of Harry’s hand, and with the constant praise he’s been whispering in his ear, Louis has the confidence to sit on his lap, not worrying about his weight. Harry kisses him through a proud smile.
Louis’ wonderful, and it stays that way.