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Liam would forever refer to it as the worst day of his life. A couple of others came close – i.e. some of the numerous hospital trips he’d had as a child, Zayn breaking up with him, Zayn breaking up with him for good – but this one took the cake. This one was above and beyond every one of those because while it had started with a mountain of missed calls on his phone and an army of messages in his inbox, it had descended into hell the second Liam had pressed dial on Harry’s contact – since he was behind the majority of the phone calls – and been presented with two short, sharp sentences:

Louis’ in hospital.
He might not make it.

Fuck.

Swerving out of the entrance of the tube station closest to his work, Liam hailed a taxi frantically, all but leaping into the back.

“Harry, where?”

“St. Mary’s Hospital.”

Liam tried his very best to not think about how shaky Harry’s voice was as he passed the address onto the driver. He’d rarely seen or heard Harry stressed in the nine months he’d known him but Liam was also sure that new fiancé plus hospital equalled a pretty good reason. He ran a hand down his face. Oh fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck.

“Harry,” he eventually managed to gasp. “What…what happened?”

Harry croaked out an “I…” before he dissolved into tears. There was some swearing and different crying – higher pitched, less controlled…Georgia…fuck! – and then there was a new voice:

“This Liam?”

“Niall!” Liam cried, blinking back tears. “Please Ni’, what’s…what’s…”

“Liam, lad, calm down,” Niall coached, though he honestly didn’t sound any better. “I’ll take you from the start. The bakery got a phone call from the school, saying Georgia hadn’t been picked up yet and that they couldn’t get a hold of you or Louis. Georgia told them to try Harry and that worked, like, we came and got her but we couldn’t get a hold of Louis. And Harry was trying and trying…”

Niall hesitated but that was the last thing Liam wanted. “No, Niall please,” he begged, ignoring the odd look that earnt from the taxi driver in response. “Please, tell me.”

There was a deep sigh and a couple more muttered profanities. “Alright then, so Harry kept calling Louis and eventually someone picked up. Only it weren’t Louis, it was some ambulance technician. They said…You know how Louis’ been working at that property?” Liam nodded but before he could think to add words Niall continued on. “Well something – or rather several somethings – gave way and the framework collapsed. Louis…Li’, he got caught under it all.”

No,” Liam whimpered, gripping the phone so, so tight.

“Liam, I’m sorry. Lucky Lou’ had people on site with him and they called up straight away. Took awhile to get him out but, uh…his chest…it’s pretty messed up. Basically he crushed his ribs.”

Seeing the taxi take a left turn, Liam sent a prayer skyward. “Niall, I’m at the door. I’m coming.”

Hanging up, Liam swiped his card through the machine and then quite literally threw himself out of the vehicle, jogging down the hospital’s side until he reached the A&E. Niall, bless him, was hopping from foot to foot just outside the door, sprinting over when he saw him and encasing Liam in a bear-hug. Liam hunched over, burying his head into Niall’s neck and not giving a damn that Niall was scrunching up his suit something terrible.

“’s alright,” Niall was murmuring, “It’s going to be alright. Louis’ strong, he’s got this.”

Liam pulled away with a sniffle, wiping his nose with the back of his hand and doing his best to pull himself together. “Yeah, he is. How’s Harry? And Georgia?” he demanded as they stepped inside. He really needn’t’ve asked because no sooner had he crossed the threshold than a body was colliding with his.

“Liam!”

His name was a wail and Liam scooped Georgia into his arms despite the fact that she was seven and a half and most certainly too big for this. Her legs wrapped around his waist, her arms around his neck. Her body wracked with tiny sobs and Liam held her as tight as he could. A hand came to rest next to his on Georgia’s back and another was placed on his back as Harry folded himself around them.

“Liam…”

“Oh Harry.” Harry let out a whine and Liam adjusted his hold on Georgia so he could also slip an arm around Harry. “Come on Harry, we can do this. Be strong for Lou’, yeah? He wouldn’t go down without a fight.”

“No he wouldn’t,” Harry agreed, petting Georgia’s hair before forcing himself away. “Can you hold her for a bit? I…” he pointed to the bathrooms and then shook his head. “No, I need to call Jay. Can you hold her while I do that? She doesn’t…”

Doesn’t need to see me become a blubbering mess.

Possibly again, Liam thought to tack on because God only knew how crazy this evening had been up until now.

He nodded in reply to Harry’s question and watched him shuffle away, half-tempted to run over anyway when he saw Harry slump against a wall, folding over as he cried, words tumbling out of his mouth and into the phone pressed to his ear. Niall was watching him just as worriedly, waiting for Harry to hang up and disappear into the bathroom before following. Hoisting Georgia up a little higher in his lap, Liam ran his fingers soothingly through her curls.

“Lavenders blue, dilly dilly
Lavenders green

“When I am king, dilly dilly
You shall be queen.”

Georgia made the tiniest noise of contentment as she looked up at him with big blue eyes. “I love that song,” she confessed, knotting her hands together before slumping down against his chest. “But no one sings it anymore because it was Zaynie’s song.” Liam tensed and the girl sighed heavily. “It’s okay Liam, you don’t have to sing it. I know it’ll make you sad.”

Liam swallowed thickly because she was right but it hurt that she was because it was her song; not Zayn’s, not his, hers. Liam’s eyes suddenly widened. Shit. Zayn.

Niall and Harry shuffled back and Liam waited barely a second before excusing himself, passing Georgia to Harry and assuring them he’d be back soon. A pair of troubled eyes followed him but he didn’t care, striding purposefully to the door before stepping to the side. Liam scrolled down the contacts in his phone before hovering over one for so long that the screen darkened and then switched off altogether. The action spurred Liam into motion and he angrily unlocked the device once more, pressing his thumb to the name with more pressure than necessary. He could honestly say he was shocked when the phone was picked up but that didn’t mean he was too shocked to jump in, jump in first before the person on the other end even had a chance to breathe.

“You hang up on me and it’ll be the last thing you ever do. Fuck us and get to St Mary’s Hospital now. It’s Louis.”

 

***

 

Thanking the doctor one last time, Harry wearily trudged back to where Niall was sitting, Georgia precariously balanced on his lap as she dozed fitfully. At Niall’s questioning gaze, he nodded, the barest of smiles appearing. “Thank fuck,” Niall breathed, eyes sinking shut in relief.

Harry ran a hand through his hair shakily, feeling as if he’d just run a marathon. “Yeah, he’s…The doctor didn’t say all clear but…they patched him up Niall; Louis made it through surgery. Every hour from here on out is a bigger chance he’ll make it.”

“He’ll make it.”

It wasn’t a question and Harry knew it, choosing to nod instead. He looked around with a frown and then he actually did have a question. “Where’s Liam?”

“Um, outside?” Niall offered, looking just as perplexed.

Harry’s frown only deepened. “He still out there? Jesus, that’s…that’s a long time.”

“Well, to be fair, he’s known Louis over eight years,” Niall pointed out, managing to get to his feet without waking Georgia. “I think it probably hit him harder than it hit us, no matter how much you love Louis.”

Harry nodded slowly as he headed past reception, intending to say ‘goodbye’ to Liam and filling him in before heading up to Louis’ room. “Still,” he continued as they passed through the automatic doors, “I thought he would have stuck around to see…”

Harry petered off as incredulity slammed into him, Niall swerving to avoid him before he too pulled up abruptly. Wide blue eyes flew between Harry and the two people intertwined on the bench because… “Isn’t that…?”

Even though Liam’s body was obscuring most of the other person, Harry knew who it was; knew it as well as Niall did. Because of course there was only one person Liam would call and maybe he had a right to be there, maybe he’d spent years around Louis too, but that’d didn’t mean this was okay. Didn’t mean he could be there hugging Liam, comforting him, whispering soothingly into his ear, stroking his back softly because he…

“Zayn.”

Harry’s tone surprised even him by how clipped it was. Any thought he had of taking it back though was abandoned the second that Zayn, in contrast to Liam’s guilty look, sent him an impatient one. “Harry.”

Harry,” Liam pleaded, looking all too frightened the Harry would scare his ex away. “Please. I asked Zayn here. He…he’s known Louis a long time and…he had a right to know. It’s his friend too.”

“Was,” Harry corrected coldly. “Zayn was Louis’ friend. They haven’t spoken since January.”

“Actually, we spoke when you two got engaged,” Zayn corrected and in an instant he went from haughty to meek and it made Harry wonder if he’d ever been bold at all or whether he’d just been hiding behind an attitude because it was easier. “And…Look, everyone here knows just how much I fucked up. And no, Georgia’s asleep,” Zayn said when Harry went to scold him. “I checked. But this isn’t about any of us. This is about Louis. And no matter how much shit went down between us, I think living together for seven years warrants a phone call when he’s dying.”

And, holy shit, he was actually crying. Or rather, tears were escaping and Zayn was wiping them away as quickly as they fell and, for better or for worse, Harry felt his heart soften. Zayn didn’t let Liam comfort him which made it clear to Harry who had instigated it last time, but his eyes did desperately seek out Harry’s, the question in them so obvious.

“Pretty sure he’s not dying,” Harry answered, watching the pair collapse into each other, Zayn burying his face in his hands while Liam’s forehead came to rest on the base of his neck. If Harry hadn’t known all the shit that had gone on between them, he would have found it endearing. Instead, he found it highly concerning. But Harry pushed that aside, coming to crouch in front of Liam. “They think he’ll pull through.”

Think?” Liam squeaked, body shuddering alarmingly.

Harry grimaced, placing a hand on Liam’s knee. “Sixty percent chance he’ll pull through. There are worse odds Liam.”

“There are better ones too,” he bemoaned, whining when Zayn moved, thus dislodging him. “Zayn…”

“Sixty percent is better than I was expecting.” Zayn’s tone was blunt enough to startle Liam, his eyes whipping up. “And it’s more than enough for Lou’. So now, get up, get home, and get some sleep.” He pointed to the hospital. “You’re gonna have to be coherent if you’re coming back here tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow?” Liam stumbled over the word, looking between Zayn and Harry in alarm. “Tomorrow? Can’t I? I…”

Harry shrunk in on himself. “Sorry Liam but they said only one and I…”

“No, of course.” Liam jumped up quickly, taking Harry’s hands in his. “You stay with Louis. He needs you. He’d want you.” He shuffled over to Niall, holding his arms out pathetically. “Georgia…Can I take her?”

Niall smiled sadly, handing her over and trying not to reveal how troubled he was when Liam all but moulded around her. “Take her home, okay? I’ll grab a coffee for Harry and join you later. Still got fucking work tomorrow,” he muttered as he stormed off in the direction of Paddington Station, hoping to find something open there.

Harry watched him go, thoughts so consumed that he didn’t notice the quiet exchange behind him until he heard Liam bidding him farewell. Harry turned to wave with a smile on his face only to have it drop immediately because Liam had since handed Georgia to Zayn and Zayn’s hand was lingering on his waist.

Oh fuck no.

 

***

 

“You, kitchen, now.”

Those were the first words Liam heard upon having his pillow ripped out from under his head. Blearily turning his head to the side, Liam blinked up at Harry in confusion. The young man looked absolutely exhausted but there was also fury in his frame and…All too suddenly Liam became aware of the weight next to him, head snapping to the left and there, just as he’d suspected? dreaded? was Zayn. He wilted under Harry’s steely glare and nodded obediently.

Once Harry had grabbed some clothes from the wardrobe he shut the door behind him and Liam forced himself to sit up. He remembered having a near break down on the tube home, Zayn putting Georgia in his lap being the only thing that stopped him from panicking completely. He’d passed her back once they’d reached their stop, too weak to carry her, and had unlocked the door to the flat for Zayn. Liam had hesitated only a second before snagging Zayn on his way back down the hall after putting Georgia to bed, shoving him into Louis’ – well, Louis’ and Harry’s now, he supposed – room.

 

“One night,” he begged. “No hugging, no touching. Just…company, please? I just need to feel like everything’s okay.”

Zayn pulled against his hold, shaking his head adamantly. “We’re not okay.” He gestured between them furiously.

“I know!” Liam cried, hands flying into the air. “We’re a fucking mess Zayn but please…please.”

At the sight of his tears, Zayn sighed. “Fine Liam. But one night. One. Night.”

“If it makes you feel any better,” Liam huffed as he threw himself down. “I wouldn’t want more than a night with you. We both know how those end.”

It was bitter and barbed and Zayn physically recoiled. His eyes burned with tears and Liam desperately wanted to take it back but Zayn slapped his hand away, forcefully toeing off his shoes and hurling himself onto the other side of the bed. “Fuck you Liam. Don’t touch me and just go to sleep mate.”

There was so much acid in the ‘mate’ that it made Liam’s skill crawl but he agreed because he was the one that had asked for this. He had asked and Zayn was giving in. And that…that was the first time Zayn had done that in a long, long time.

 

To their credit though, they hadn’t shuffled closer during the night, nothing incriminating to be held against them. Liam’s foot was resting against Zayn’s calf but that was as close as they’d gotten. Even when they’d been together they hadn’t been like Louis and Harry, spooning each other every night. No, they’d preferred their space in bed, comfortable enough in the fact that the other one was simply there. Removing his foot, Liam didn’t even bother dressing before padding into the kitchen, Harry looking like a zombie as he curled around an empty coffee cup.

“I’ll make you a top up,” Liam said, prying the cup from Harry’s grip and switching the kettle on. “Weren’t you at the hospital?” He suddenly stood bolt upright. “Is Louis…?”

“Louis is fine,” Harry placated, looking quite relieved himself. “But I have to go to work.”

Liam’s jaw dropped. “What?!”

“I know.” Harry’s head thudded against the counter. “Perrie’s currently in Spain with her three of her girlfriends and Ed’s touring somewhere up north so it’s just me and Niall and Babs. I mean, Barbara’s gonna try and let me go after the morning rush but short of shutting the shop altogether…” he shrugged helplessly.

“That’s rough,” Liam said, handing Harry his replenished coffee and dumping his own tea bag in the bin. His eyes narrowed. “Have you even slept?”

Harry shook his head miserably. “Barely. A snippet here and there but those hospital chairs and my back don’t really go together. I figured sleeping for an hour only though might just make it worse so I’m hoping to push through it.”

Liam hummed, blowing on his tea. “What time is Jay coming?”

“Liam. Let’s cut the bullshit.”

Liam froze, mug halfway to his lips. Harry looked downright murderous and if Liam hadn’t been present for the whole well-if-we’re-getting-married-then-I-get-some-say-over-Georgia-too fight – which, God forbid, had started because Harry insisted Georgia wasn’t allowed to skate anymore until they found her a suitable helmet – he would never have known this side of Harry existed.

“I don’t…” He licked his lips nervously and while Harry didn’t back down, his tone softened ever so slightly.

“Why is the man who fucked you over currently asleep in my bed?”

Okay, Liam was wrong. Harry hadn’t backed down at all. “Harry, I’m sorry! It really does sound terrible when you say it like that.”

“Liam, he ruined you,” Harry pointed out, razor-sharp. “Why would you even let him put his foot in the door?”

“Because my world was falling apart and unlike you I don’t have a best friend to talk to!” The volume and sheer honesty made Harry subconsciously step back. “You don’t know how lucky you are to have people like Niall, like Ed, who can be there for you. I have Louis. That’s it Harry! It’s been me and Louis and Zayn ever since I left school so when you take Louis out there’s only one person left I can talk to!”

“You could have talked to Niall,” Harry interjected softly.

“But it’s not the same,” Liam protested, voice hitching. “I barely even know Niall, really. I’m nowhere near as close to him as you and you know it. I know Zayn. I know him like I know Louis and last night I really, really just needed a friend. I needed someone familiar.”

Harry grasped his hands. “But Liam, Zayn’s not that person. You know he’s not. That’s why you haven’t called him in five months. You don’t even mention him anymore. You’re over him.” He pointed back to the bedroom where Zayn was still asleep. “Don’t let this happen. Don’t let him back in. Whatever he said, don’t-”

“He didn’t.”

Harry paused, head cocking to the side in confusion. “Sorry?”

“He didn’t say anything,” Liam said simply, staring into the depths of his tea in shame. “Harry, you don’t know Zayn so please, don’t ever speak about him like that. And I know,” he held up a hand when Harry opened his mouth, “That he’s done nothing to make you like him…But he wanted nothing more than to get out last night.”

“…what?”

Liam gave Harry a sad smile. “I pushed him in there, shut the door in his face, begged him to stay…I hurt him, had him in tears-” Harry sucked in a breath. “-but he stayed, because I begged.”

Harry’s hand grasped his arm. “Liam…I’m sorry.” His grip tightened. “Just…don’t let Zayn get the wrong impression.”

Liam was planning to nod sagely but Zayn took that very moment to shuffle out of Louis’ room, absently scratching at his stomach and it was a miracle he was even awake at 5 A.M. Louis would never believe it.

“We’re not getting back together.”

The words were blurted out and they hung in the air like an oppressive fog. If Zayn hadn’t been fully awake, he was now. His gaze snapped to Liam, eyes a little wider than normal and maybe he imagined the faintest tinge of hurt there.

“What?” he managed to ask thickly, glancing between Liam and Harry like a startled deer.

“Us,” Liam ground out. “We are not getting back together. Ever. Just to make that clear.”

Good,” Zayn sneered, clearly on board now, hands balled into fists by his side. “You made that clear last night and I made it clear five months ago. Don’t know why you’re even mentioning it.”

“Okay,” Harry said, jumping between them with his hands up. “Sorry I even brought it up. Everyone’s clear on the subject, so let’s drop it.”

“Fine by me,” Zayn mumbled, wiping the sleep out of his eyes before tossing a look Harry’s way. “And I know you don’t like me but at least tell me how Louis’ doing.”

Harry thought Zayn could have left off the first half of that remark but he wasn’t petty enough to call him out on it. “Louis’ doing much the same. It’s just time now.”

Zayn nodded thoughtfully, obviously gleaning so much more just from Harry’s stance and demeanour and Harry kind of admired and hated that about him. “Jay coming?”

“Train gets in around one,” Harry supplied, begrudgingly amused that Zayn and Liam had identical thought patterns. “She had to find someone to mind the girls. Didn’t want to drag them all down.”

“Yeah, probably a bit not good,” Liam agreed.

“So you gonna, like, take Georgia to the hospital with you until Jay comes?” Both Harry and Liam just stared at Zayn. He stared back. “What? You’re not gonna sit here until she comes, right?”

“I’m going to work,” Harry said slowly.

Zayn’s brow furrowed, turning to Liam. “So you’re staying home then?”

“No?” It came out more as a question. “I have work.”

Zayn’s eyebrows shot up. “You’re sending Georgia to school?! What the fuck? She’s gonna have what, four, five, hours sleep, her dad’s in hospital! How is she supposed to cope with that?!”

Liam looked at Harry frantically. Oh shit, he hadn’t thought of that. From the way Harry’s face had gone slightly white, he clearly hadn’t either. Harry fisted his hands in his curls, swearing under his breath. “I could take her to work…”

“You’d have to take her now,” Liam pointed out gently, making Harry swear once more.

“Drop her off before work?” Harry suggested, looking at Liam desperately. “On the way passed and she…”

“I don’t start work until three.”

Liam’s breath caught in his throat and he was pretty sure Harry had given himself whiplash. Zayn was doing that – typical to Liam, new to Harry – thing where he withdrew, soft and quiet as he toed the ground.

“I know I’m not ideal,” he continued, voice barely above a whisper. “But I can stay here and let her sleep? And then either when G wakes up or when Jay comes I take her to the hospital?”

“No.”

“Harry…”

Green eyes rounded on him. “No Liam. Sorry, but not happening.”

Sure, Harry could stand his ground but when push came to shove, Liam was no pushover either. Which is why he drew himself up to his full height, stance widening ever so slightly. “No, Harry, just listen. Zayn is right. Georgia is too exhausted to be dragged out of bed. He can mind her. He’s done it for years. Put Georgia’s well-being first.”

“Maybe you don’t remember but Rosie doesn’t like him,” Harry hissed.

“That’s not for you to decide,” Liam countered.

Harry folded his arms tightly. “Not for you to decide either.”

“No, it’s for her to decide.”

Harry went to snap at Zayn when he suddenly went stiff and that made Liam spin around and oh. Zayn was standing at the edge of the kitchen with Georgia in his arms. She looked uncertain and most definitely confused but perhaps what struck Liam the most was the fact that Georgia wasn’t diving straight for Harry, instead content to stay in Zayn’s arms. From the way Harry had stumbled ever so slightly, he’d realised that too.

“Harry?” Georgia’s voice was oh so quiet. “Where’s Daddy?”

Harry’s bottom lip trembled, swiftly kissing her cheek. “He’s at the hospital but he’s okay. We can see him later.”

“Wanna see him now.”

Liam felt his own heart break, both at Georgia’s words and the way Harry’s face crumpled. “Harry wants to see him too,” Liam promised, brushing her hair tenderly. “But Daddy needs to sleep and the doctors need to look after him for awhile. You can see him when they’re done.”

She finally nodded, albeit reluctantly, and Zayn tapped her shoulder to get her attention. “But…we have a problem. Because we know you’re super tired but everyone has to go to work. So, you can go with Harry now, you can sleep a little more and go to the bakery when Liam goes to work, or you can sleep as long as you want here but it’ll be with me.”

Liam couldn’t help the tiny beam of pride that filled his chest because Zayn still knew how to talk to Georgia, still was the loving, doting godparent he’d always been. Georgia looked between them all uncertainly, punctuating the silence with a loud yawn. She then slid out of Zayn’s arms, walking over to Harry and gesturing for him to crouch down. Harry did so, frowning when Georgia cupped his cheek with a hand. “Rosie?”

“…would you be mad if I stayed with Zayn? I know we don’t talk to him anymore and I’m sorry Harry but I really want to sleep and I’m really tired and…”

“Georgia, take a breath,” Harry hastily ordered when she started to tense up. As she calmed down he sent a displeased look in Zayn’s direction before giving Georgia a tight smile. “I’m not mad. You had a big night. You can go sleep if you want.”

“Okay. Thank you Harry,” she mumbled sleepily, kissing his cheek and giving him a quick hug. “I love you.”

“Love you angel,” Harry breathed in response, watching her patter back down the hallway. He then dumped his tea in the sink. “Fine,” he snapped, sending Liam and Zayn a dark scowl. “But let it be known that I was against this and when Louis comes to skin you, I won’t stop him.”

The front door slamming shut echoed through the flat, causing Liam to wince. He scratched his neck before sheepishly turning to Zayn. “I gue-”

“No, you don’t.” Zayn’s voice was like ice. He barged past Liam and dropped onto the couch. “I’m going back to sleep. Here. I think we’ve said enough.”

With that he rolled over so he was staring at the back of the chair and Liam was left staring at Zayn’s back. Zayn was right and he knew it. Kneading his forehead, Liam decided to catch another couple of hours sleep himself. He was nearly back at Louis’ room before he groaned, back-tracking to Niall’s room and grabbing the spare blanket out from the wardrobe. Detouring through the living room, Liam laid the blanket over Zayn, hand lingering on his shoulder.

“There’s only one thing I didn’t say about last night: thank you.”

And if Liam felt Zayn tense under his hand, he didn’t say anything. He also didn’t say anything when he heard muffled sobs coming from the living room, the sound haunting him for days to follow.

 

***

 

Straightening Georgia’s checked poncho from where the wind had misplaced it, Zayn gave a reassuring nod to the little girl before making for the reception desk. He’d made it three steps before a hand slid into his and Zayn gripped it tightly because, in all honesty, he was just as terrified. He was sure his hand was shaking as he stood at the counter, drawing Georgia’s attention from her boots to his face, nose scrunched up as she studied him in something akin to worry.

“I’m fine,” he said in least convincing voice ever, turning to the receptionist with an uneasy smile. “We’re here to see Louis Tomlinson.”

She nodded, typing the name into the database, catching sight of Georgia as she waited for the computer to load. “Her father?”

Georgia shifted behind his leg and Zayn nodded, interlacing their fingers. “Yeah, he is. This,” he gestured at the hospital in general, “is all a bit scary.”

The lady smiled in understanding. “I know it is hun but everything will be fine.” She made an ‘aha’ noise, peering at the screen. “Room 298. He’s just been moved out of ICU, you’ll be happy to hear.”

A real grin appeared on Zayn’s face. “I am happy to hear.” He thanked the woman before leading Georgia towards the lifts.

“Zayn, what’s an ICU?” she asked, probably more words than she’d spoken to him ever since she’d gotten up. She’d been basically silent as she’d gotten dressed, refusing to let him make her breakfast, adamant that she could do it herself. It hurt but it was nothing more than he deserved. Really, he deserved less.

“An ICU,” he said as the lift started its ascent, “is a department called Intensive Care Unit and is for very sick people. If Louis’ no longer there, it means they no longer think he’s very sick. Only a little sick. Well, a little too sick to go home.”

Georgia studied her boots once more. “When will he come home?”

Zayn squeezed her hand. “When he can.”

Georgia accepted that, nodding as if he’d said enough and maybe he had. Georgia had always been clever. Stepping out of the lift, Zayn asked for directions at the nurse’s station in front of him and then led Georgia through corridor after corridor. They eventually arrived at the door just shy of one o’clock. Zayn had it in his mind that Harry would get there around much the same time and Jay possibly a little later.

Which was why he was suitably shocked to open the door and find Jay Tomlinson look over from the bed, stunned speechless. And…oh fuck, no, no, no. Asleep, he was supposed to be asleep! In every version of this Zayn had rehearsed, Louis was still unconscious, still recovering from surgery, sleeping off his injuries. Not staring at him with wide eyes that were narrowing and hardening by the second.

Urging his body forward, Zayn marched to the bedside, scooped Georgia up, and dumped her beside Louis.

“She just woke up, she’s had breakfast, she’s fine. I…Glad to see you are as well. Don’t scare me like that again.”

He didn’t run from the room. He didn’t. But, well, it was pretty fucking close.

 

***

 

Adjusting the flowers in his arms, Harry waited as Liam extracted himself from the lift, having somehow gotten the balloons Niall insisted they buy tangled inside.

“It’s not funny,” Liam pouted.

“’S a little bit,” Harry replied, bumping Liam’s shoulder playfully.

Liam had managed to weasel his way out of woke early though Babs, despite her best efforts, hadn’t been able to do the same with Harry – poor Niall was still there, pulling a twelve-hour-shift on little-to-no sleep. He’d crash the second he clocked off and Harry had pleaded with him to not bother coming to the hospital tonight; that he could come up tomorrow because they still both had to work and there was only so much the body could take before it gave in. Even now Harry was dead on his feet but he had to see Louis, had to make sure he was okay.

Reaching the door, Harry pulled it open, gasping when he found Louis awake. “Lou’!” He flew across the room, leaving a trail of sunflowers behind him but he didn’t care, peppering Louis’ face with kisses. “You’re okay, you’re okay. Oh my god, Lou’. I was…Boo, we were all so…”

“I’m fine,” Louis promised, only then to hiss as he tried to move, earning him concerned frowns from both Harry and Liam. “Okay, okay, not fine but getting there. Mum’s convinced I’m not dying, took Georgia to the café to get lunch because apparently she skipped breakfast in her haste to get here.”

“Can’t blame her,” Liam remarked, setting down the balloons. “Niall,” he said flatly when Louis raised a questioning eyebrow.

Louis laughed, and then swore and pressed a hand to his chest, eyes watering. “Please Li’, no laughing.”

“Shit, yeah, sorry, sorry,” he rambled, coming closer and settling down on the side opposite Harry.

“So sorry you’ll make it up to me?”

Both Liam and Harry exchanged suspicious looks, said looks only intensifying when Louis attempted to look innocent. “How?” Harry asked cautiously.

“Hmm, how indeed?” Louis pondered, tapping his chin thoughtfully before snapping, “Oh I know! How about telling me why the fuck Zayn Malik turned up here not one half hour ago with my daughter!”

“It was Liam.”

Liam gaped at him but Harry merely shrugged. Hey, he’d made it clear what his intentions were. He then gave Louis a sweet smile.

“Liam invited Zayn here last night and then took him back to the flat to sleep in our bed.”

Louis went very, very still while Liam went very, very pale. “Liam James Payne, you fucking what?!”

So maybe the nurses got called because Louis knocked his ribs in his yelling and flailing which sent him head-first into ten-out-of-ten on the pain scale but, in Louis’ opinion, it was worth it. So worth it.

 

***