SIX YEARS LATER
Louis is speedwalking down the hospital corridor ahead of him, calling back to Harry to keep up. Harry rolls his eyes but lengthens his stride a bit, tries to keep a gentle, rolling rhythm going so as not to wake the little monster sleeping happily against his chest, strapped into her baby bjorn.
He can’t believe it’s been almost seven months since they were here last, running down the corridor together, excited and terrified they were going to be too late, even though Jenny’d called them the minute her contractions started and told them not to fret, that there was probably still at least half a day to go before they’d even be close to holding their baby.
They’d gone to the hospital anyway—hours before Jenny got there, even—and walked up and down the corridors while getting more and more strung out on caffeine from the ridiculous amounts of tea and coffee Louis kept getting them.
(You’d think they’d be old hands at this baby-having thing by now, but no; every time’s just as nerve-wrecking as the first one, and Harry wouldn’t want it any other way, really.)
Lydia had been born a little after three in the morning, eighteen hours after they’d got the call. Harry and Louis had been awake for another twelve hours after that, unable to keep their eyes off her as she slept on Jenny’s chest, both girls exhausted from bringing Lyds into the world.
Harry reaches the waiting area and is shown into a private room by one of the nurses. Niall is already there, bouncing excitedly in time with Louis, and Zayn’s probably on his way.
It’s a thing they do, waiting together when someone in their group is having a new baby. Louis and Harry had been first, second and third (which had surprised absolutely no one), then Niall, helping one of his best friends and her girlfriend have a set of beautiful twins, then Louis and Harry again with Lyds, and now they’re here for Liam.
“Any news?” Harry asks excitedly, as soon as he’s closed the door behind him.
Niall grins and walks over to give him a side hug, careful not to squish Lyds, or worse, wake her up. “Liam was out about an hour ago. They’re at 6 cm. Still some ways to go.”
“Well, sometimes it’s quick,” Harry says. “Kelly was at 5 cm when she came in. And then fifteen minutes later, she’d passed nine.”
“That was bloody scary, though,” Louis says. “I can go the rest of my life without ever having another crying woman in my arms begging me to kill her, thank you very much.”
“Well, she didn’t have time to get any pain relief,” Harry argues. “And Amy was big. You’d probably have given up long before she did.”
“Oh, I have no doubt,” Louis says. “Women are made of sterner stuff than us poor weak men, that’s for sure.”
“Either of you want anything from the cafeteria?” Niall asks. “I’m feeling a bit peckish. Been here since three.”
“See if there are any crisps,” Harry replies. “Oh, and a cuppa’d be nice. With some cold water in it, just in case.”
Niall leaves, and Harry lowers himself carefully into a chair, arching his back to try and trick his sleeping daughter into thinking that he’s still standing up. Lydia frowns and turns her head. Harry holds his breath. In the chair next to him, Louis is doing the same.
“There, there, sweetheart,” Louis murmurs, reaching over and stroking the pad of his thumb back and forth between Lydia’s eyebrows. “Sleep on, there’s a good girl.”
“I still want to know how that works,” Harry tells him, watching as Lydia’s frown smooths itself out and her breathing grows deeper again. “Magic baby spot, honestly.”
“Or magic hands,” Louis replies with a cheeky wink. “Something I’ve been told on more than one occasion.”
Harry rolls his eyes fondly and tilts his head, smiling into the kiss when Louis closes the distance between them. After six years of marriage and four kids keeping them more than busy, kissing Louis is still like taking the first sip of cold water on a warm summer’s day, and Harry can’t keep himself from deepening it a little, loving the familiar way they slot together just right.
“I should phone Lottie and check on the other kids,” Louis says reluctantly, after he pulls back. “See that everything’s all right.”
“Tell her that the fruit cup thingies are in the top right cabinet now,” Harry says. “I’ve had to move them twice since the last time she and Will took the kids. Amy keeps climbing up on the counter when she thinks nobody’s looking.”
“Are we completely sure she’s not actually half-monkey?”
“I think the shared DNA between humans and chimps are actually something like 98%, so technically, she’s almost all monkey,” Harry replies. “Might also be why Kira and Patrick are both obsessed with bananas.”
“Or those two just take after their dad,” Louis says with a smirk. “You’ll note that the ones with the blessed Tomlinson genes have completely normal relationships with fruit.”
“Well, I caught Ames trying to drink water out of the toilet yesterday,” Harry replies, “So we know she got your creative streak at least.”
“Oh God, really?”
“And she’d filled up cups from the play kitchen so the twins could have some as well,” Harry adds blithely.
Louis groans and drops his face in his hands. Harry is still snickering when Niall comes back, laden with paper cups and snacks, Zayn following closely behind him.
“You know, I don’t remember ordering one of those,” Louis tells Niall, and then gets to his feet to wrap Zayn up in a hug. “Good to see you, man. Been a long time.”
“Sorry about that,” Zayn replies. “Been a bit busy with the new gallery and everything.”
“Right. When’s opening night?”
“Next Saturday. You should come if you can. I know you’re madly in love with family life, but it wouldn’t hurt for you to actually get out of the house once in a while.”
“Hey, we do get out of the house,” Harry protests. “I took Amy and Kira to the library yesterday.”
“Somewhere not with the kids, then. Also, you have some kind of goo in your hair.”
Harry reaches up and feels the side of his head. It might be a bit crusty in places, probably remnants of the fingerpaint adventures this morning. Maybe Zayn has a point. Then again, Harry has had far worse things in his hair since they started having kids, so he isn’t too bothered about it.
“Well you look immaculate as always,” Louis says. “Seems rather unfair to ask us mere mortals to keep up.”
“Glad you think so,” Zayn replies. “I feel a bit shit, to be honest. Been going back and forth between London and New York like a bloody yo-yo lately. Jetlag’s killing me.”
“New York, eh?” Louis says with a small smirk. “Now, what could possibly be the reason for that?”
“Shut up,” Zayn replies, but he’s starting to smile a little as well. “It’s nothing official yet. But yeah. It’s looking good. I think we’re gonna give it another shot.”
“Are you moving to New York then?” Niall asks. “Or is Pezza coming back to London?”
“Still being negotiated,” Zayn replies. “Now, enough about me. How’s Liam holding up?”
“So, how does it feel to be a dad?” Louis asks, sitting down in the chair next to Liam. Harry’s gone back home with Lydia, and Niall and Zayn left a little while ago to hunt down some food.
Liam takes a sip of water and utterly fails to keep the smile spreading on his face even remotely in check.
Louis smiles back. He knows that feeling; God, does he ever.
“I’m really happy for you, you know,” he says, giving Liam’s shoulder a little nudge with his own.
“I nearly fainted in there, after it was done,” Liam says, still smiling like a loon. “They had to push me down into a chair and tell me to put my head between my legs.”
“Totally normal,” Louis assures him. “Happened to Hazza twice. He forgets to breathe when babies are involved.”
“Completely mental, isn’t it? I mean, you know how it’s supposed to go, but you don’t really know, you know?”
“I should get back,” Liam says. “Thank the others for me, will you? I wanna go cuddle my son.”
“Do that,” Louis replies, and then pulls Liam into a tight hug. “So bloody happy for you, man. All three of you.”
“All three of us,” Liam repeats stupidly. “Jesus fuck, I’m a dad.”
“You are,” Louis confirms. “You’re gonna love it.”
“I think I will,” Liam says. “Ever since we decided to give it a try, it’s just felt—so bloody right, somehow. Like it was a choice that just fit. You know, like when you go on stage for the first show on tour, and you’re nearly pissing yourself with nerves, but at the same time, you’re so ready to do it. And then you take that first note, and everything’s just—right then and there. Like a moment you’ve found that claims you perfectly.”
“Your fans are going to be heartbroken by you going on baby-related hiatus,” Louis says with a grin. “I, personally, think it’s a brilliant choice, just for the record.”
“I’ll be back in some form,” Liam replies. “I’m thinking of maybe shifting over to producing, though. Be closer to home. Solo stuff’s been great, and I still love performing, but—yeah.”
“I’m probably the last person you need to explain yourself to,” Louis says. “I get it, Liam. I really do. Now, go kiss your wife. Hug your baby. Go.”
“Thanks, Lou. See you in a couple of days?”
“We’ll visit as soon as you’re back home and settled,” Louis promises. “Now, go.”
Liam practically jogs out of the waiting room, and Louis can’t help but snicker as he pulls his mobile out of his pocket and opens up a new message.
On my way back. Liam’s a total sap. xx
Harry’s reply comes through a while later, just as Louis is starting the car.
Sap’s good. Also good: all 4 kids asleep and none of them in our bed \o/! xx
Louis’s finger hits the call button almost before he’s finished reading. He fumbles a little to get his earpiece in and then puts the car in drive and starts looking for the exit.
Harry picks up on the second ring. “Thought that’d get your attention.”
“Worst kind of tease, you are,” Louis says, turning his car around another corner.
“Mhm,” Harry agrees happily. “I’m also naked. And wet. Up to three fingers and thinking about adding a fourth. You think I should?”
Louis very narrowly avoids hitting the little ticket booth at the parking garage exit.
“I think,” he says, willing his voice to sound more or less normal, “that you are a menace. An evil menace. I have no idea why I even like you right now.”
“You love me,” Harry replies lazily, his breath hitching a little on the last word, and, God, Louis should really not think about what that little sound means when he’s speeding out of a parking garage and trying to overtake a lorry.
“I do,” he says instead, feeling the little happy tug in his heart that always comes with thinking about Harry. “Love you like mad. Completely off my tit about you.”
“Same here,” Harry says. “Now, come home.”
Home, right now, is about twenty-five minutes away, but it’s the middle of the night, and the roads are almost empty. Louis thinks about Harry’s hands—opening Harry up, getting him more and more desperate—and presses his right foot against the gas.
He can probably make it in fifteen.